Fuel Poverty

Part of Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:28 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:28 pm, 21st March 2017

I have just covered that. I am embarrassed that my remarks should be so ill-attended. The regulations for the new scheme, which launches on 1 April 2017, represent an increase from £310 million to £450 million a year. Combined with the warm home discount, that gives £770 million of support for low-income and vulnerable customers in 2017-18.

We have also taken steps to improve targeting. The eligibility criteria for the ECO scheme, which is proposed to run from April 2017 to the end of September 2018, will improve the targeting rate to 34%. We do not believe that is enough. The targeting rate can go higher, and the Digital Economy Bill, which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough mentioned, is currently going through Parliament and will enable greater data sharing and give the Government the opportunity to improve the targeting of the next generation of fuel poverty schemes, including the warm home discount.

When the regulations were made last summer, the Government stated that there is more to be done to target the schemes at those who most need them. That is still true, with the current targeting rate of fuel poor households at around 15%. However, Members should note that increasing that proportion in the current scheme, which is committed to 2021, would be at a cost to other low-income households. We will be mindful of that factor when making decisions on the future direction of the scheme.

Marion Fellows criticised the Government, whom she regarded as presiding over stagnant real incomes. All I can do is direct her to the fact that, last year, full-time pay grew by 0.7% in Scotland, whereas it grew by 1.9% in the UK as a whole. According to Scottish Parliament numbers, it fell for the three years following 2012.

I yield to no one in my admiration for Ian Blackford, and I was grateful for his support in being elected Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He also comes from a nation I deeply revere and whose history I greatly respect, but I am afraid that he has embarrassed himself in this debate with an unworthy attempt to personalise a very serious set of issues. Mine was a response to the gap, which the stricture on unparliamentary language prevents me from describing as anything more than disingenuous, between his words and his deeds. The fact of the matter is that these matters are devolved. Even so, the Government have offered support, as I described, through the ECO, the warm home discount and a hydro benefit replacement scheme of £58 million to reduce energy distribution charges. Were network charges made universal across the country, as he desired, 1.8 million people in Scotland would face higher bills, and only 0.7% would see reductions. Does he really wish to add to the bills of 1.1 million Scotsmen and women?