EU Referendum: Energy and Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:40 pm on 12th July 2016.

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Photo of Callum McCaig Callum McCaig Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Energy and Climate Change) 1:40 pm, 12th July 2016

This is a good debate to be having and I thank the shadow Secretary of State, Barry Gardiner, and the Labour Front Bench team for giving us the opportunity. It is a shame, however, that the hon. Gentleman did not get beyond his introductory remarks in what was an excellent overview of the issues.

SNP history is being made today in that it is the first time that the full force of “Team Callum” has been deployed at the same time. We will hear later from my hon. Friend Calum Kerr—or, as I like to call him, the junior member of the team.

Today’s debate feels a little bit like the last day of school. There is a little bit more work to do, but not a huge amount of Government work is going on as we discuss things, pick over the bones of Brexit and ask questions about how we go forward. I am sure that the Secretary of State is pleased—as we all are—that we have a new Prime Minister because that will help to ease some of the uncertainties that were building up and it is welcome that we will not have several weeks of uncertainty. I hope that the Government use the summer recess to come up with some plans, because plans are badly needed.

Last week, we discussed the excellent Energy and Climate Change Committee report on investor confidence and were able to discuss some of the issues affecting the sector that have been exacerbated by the Brexit vote. It is fair to say and it bears repeating time and again that Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and we will be doing everything in our power to ensure that we do not leave. We should change the lexicon slightly and refer either to “Exit” or perhaps “Wexit”. Scotland is not for leaving, and our Parliament and Government have united around keeping Scotland in the European Union. However, the uncertainty afflicting the United Kingdom following the vote will have some effects while we wait for clarity about our maintained position in the European Union

On energy bills, The Guardian reports today on uSwitch research suggesting that, since 23 June, 12 providers have pulled their cheapest fixed-rate tariffs and replaced them with more expensive deals. That is the impact of Brexit, which will be felt by consumers and those who can ill afford to pay more. The weak pound will have another cost impact as the UK is a net importer of electricity. Such things will drive up bills and are an unfortunate consequence of the Brexit vote. The future of interconnection is also uncertain. Interconnection is important and represents a valuable and sensible Government aim. I have often said that we should not see it as a way of importing cheap electricity from the continent, as the Secretary of State said in her “reset” speech; we should be using it to export electricity to the continent. We should be investing in domestic, low-carbon electricity generation, for which Scotland has immense and highly enviable potential.

The prospect of cheap electricity from the continent is also slightly questionable. Exchange rates will obviously change over time, but the assumptions about future interconnection decisions built into the sums might not look so good when the pound is not faring so well against the euro. Such things will come out in the wash, as we say in Scotland, but we need to look at energy policy and interconnection to see whether it is the right thing to do.

Hinkley is another big question about which we have had some discussion and it will come as no surprise to anyone on the Government Benches that the SNP is not in favour of it. We have discussed it ad nauseam, but it bears repeating that the economics of Hinkley were, in the views of my party, myself and a large number of people in the Chamber, highly dubious. The fundamental economics have only been undermined by the Brexit vote, and we need to reconsider them. We cannot afford to have all our eggs in this particular basket, because if it does not happen—I suspect it will not—there will be a rather large hole to be filled. We cannot, like we did with the Brexit vote, enter the unknown with no back-up plan.