Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde 4:20 pm, 6th March 2018

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We would not want a situation in which energy companies, especially big energy companies, seek to delay the implementation of the measure for that reason through appeals to the Competition and Markets Authority. Perhaps the Government could consider having a time-limited window of appeal lasting for a matter of weeks in which any appeal could be looked at by the CMA. I am not sure whether recourse to judicial review, with a case tied up in court and argued by incredibly expensive lawyers, is the solution to the problem. I am not sure where the transparency is in that, and I am not sure that judges are the best people to make a determination. I shall say a little more on that as I proceed.

Appeals on price controls are always to the Competition and Markets Authority. This is consistent with every other comparable sector, including telecoms, water, and aviation, and there are very good reasons why. Energy suppliers, just like National Grid and distribution network operators, invest huge sums into our energy infrastructure. The Treasury has estimated that approximately £250 billion of projects are in the pipeline in the coming years. All companies require certainty to deliver these projects and they only get this if Ofgem sets a fair and accurate price.

In most cases, if Ofgem gets it wrong, National Grid, DNOs and their shareholders can make their case to the economic experts at the CMA. They know that they have effective recourse against Ofgem’s decision and they have certainty that the CMA will not allow any price cap that places these billions of pounds of investments into our vital energy network at risk. Under the Bill, however, retail suppliers are being sent out on to the high wire only to find that this effective and long-standing safety net has been removed from beneath them. Should Ofgem fail, the Government believe that judicial review will adequately cushion their landing—it will not.

As I have mentioned, the CMA is designed precisely to consider such appeals. As an expert appeals body, it has specialist panels with experience of deciding whether price controls have been set properly through consideration of the economic merits of each case. In contrast, a judicial review would consider only whether Ofgem reached its decision reasonably and in accordance with the relevant procedure. A judge with legal—not economic —training and with no specialist expertise would be asked to assess whether these deeply technical price control issues were fair and accurate.

If we follow through with this and allow such uncertainty to fester, even if only in the minds of our major energy suppliers, what assessment has been done of the impact of that on investment in our energy market? What assessment has been done of the impact that the initiative will have on the prices that consumers on non-default tariffs will be asked to pay? I have asked to be furnished with that information, but the Government do not have it. They answered that this calculation will depend on the methodology employed and the ultimate decision taken by Ofgem when setting the level of the cap.

I can be persuaded to agree that the Bill should pass without considering the future supply in this country—at least for this afternoon. I can be persuaded to agree that Ofgem sets the methodology. I can be persuaded to agree that Ofgem sets the level of the energy price cap. However, I cannot be persuaded, because it defies simple logic, that Ofgem has the sole preserve of wisdom in these matters. I cannot be persuaded that there should be no possible recourse to the Competition and Markets Authority.