Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:47 pm on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth) 6:47 pm, 6th March 2018

I thank my opposite number, Dr Whitehead, for his characteristically calm and sensible remarks. Indeed, it has been fantastic to listen to the level of calm and intelligent debate we have had today, with so many very well-considered views.

There is really strong consensus across the House both on the need for the Bill and, broadly, on the scope and structure of the proposed legislation. For that, I want to thank several groups of people. I thank my civil servants, who have done a good job in producing the current draft. I also very much thank the BEIS Committee, which is ably chaired by Rachel Reeves and has several extremely committed members from both sides of the House. Giving evidence to the Committee was a terrifying experience, but their scrutiny and suggestions, which we have fully incorporated into the Bill, prove the excellence of such a method of pre-legislative scrutiny.

I thank colleagues on the Conservative Benches and, indeed, on the other side of the House, who have helped us to improve the legislation prior to this point with their very considered suggestions. I thank in advance those Members who will serve on the Public Bill Committee and will contribute to our further debates, because we all want the cap to be in place well before the year-end, and it must have a smooth passage through the House of Commons to achieve that aim.

I need to single out two Members. The first is my hon. Friend John Penrose, whose campaigning championship in this regard has really electrified the parties on both sides of the House about the need to act. As we heard today, Caroline Flint has brought the best of her wisdom and experience to this debate. It was a pleasure to listen to both Members’ speeches.

I want very quickly to recap the purpose of the Bill and to refute the growing idea that we have in any way dragged our feet. I was struck by what my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach said about how the best form of legislation is evidence-based. We have had the CMA review, and we have taken the time to consider the fact that freezes do not work terribly well, and to have the regulator bring forward reasonable and welcome improvements. For example, we saw only this week the ending of the back-billing problem whereby people could be back-billed over many months, ending up owing thousands of pounds. The regulator has got the message strongly.

The Bill is a time-limited, intelligent intervention that will help to accelerate the transition to a more competitive market. It will give more powers to the regulator, which is right. The market has changed significantly since the original days of liberalisation. We have some extremely empowered customers, and we also have a large pool of customers who are less engaged and have ended up on poor-value tariffs. The cap has to be set to maximise investment, competition, innovation, switching and improved efficiency, and it will be accompanied by a whole package of other measures—the so-called carapace that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test mentioned—such as smart meter roll-outs, same-day switching and so on.

The Bill will also be a doughty defence of consumer rights. Indeed, my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, my hon. Friends the Members for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and the right hon. Member for Don Valley really stood up for their constituents and what the Bill will mean for them.

The Bill is not an attempt to extend political control over the industry. I champion the fact that since privatisation we have seen more than £80 billion invested in the industry, with power cuts halved and network costs down 17%. As my hon. Friend James Heappey said, we need billions of pounds more of investment to drive forward an exciting low-carbon, distributed energy future. The last thing we would want to do is to scare off that level of investment.

I will say something gently to the Opposition, because they could not resist a poke, about the idea that their policy is for a cosy array of mutual companies. The shadow Chancellor has said, “We want to take these industries back.” We know what that means: borrowing billions of pounds, raising taxes for millions, and none of the further investment that we need. It would be entirely the wrong thing for the industry. The Bill is a clear signal that we believe in well-regulated competitive markets as the best way to deliver service and value for all customers, and that we will act on market failures to give regulators more power to improve market conditions.