Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:26 pm on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare 3:26 pm, 6th March 2018

My right hon. Friend is a co-signatory to the letter, for which I thank him, and he makes an important point. It is not just vulnerable customers, of course; it is the many of the rest of us who are time poor. This is a far broader question than just vulnerable customers, although they are a key part of it. Many other families, either because they are loyal or because they just have not got round to it, have not switched. We need to persuade them to change their behaviour, and we need to change the market to help them to do so.

Choosing a new supplier should be no more complicated than changing our brand of coffee or corn flakes. The big six should have to work a lot harder to attract and keep our business. To be fair, as we have heard and as I think my right hon. Friend was alluding to, the regulator, Ofgem, has made a start. We have more than 50 new competing firms that are scrambling to take business off the big six. Smart meters are coming, and switching is slowly getting simpler, quicker, easier and less scary.

The Bill rightly says that the price cap should die after a couple of years, but what about the other details? Price caps, as we have heard, are dangerous things. They are fiendishly difficult to get right: they drive suppliers away if the price is set too low, and they gouge customers if the price is set too high.

So how do we design a cap that does not make things worse rather than better? Well, the Bill says that the price will be set by an all-knowing committee of Ofgem regulators every six months, but the international price of energy moves around every day. Although I am sure Ofgem is full of clever and well-intentioned people, no one is that clever. Any energy trader will tell us it is impossible to know what the price will be in the next six minutes, let alone the next six months.