Inflation

Wales – in the House of Commons on 23rd March 2022.

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Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

What recent steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of (a) inflation and (b) increases in the cost of living on households and businesses in Wales.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

What recent steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of (a) inflation and (b) increases in the cost of living on households and businesses in Wales.

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

Among a range of measures, the Chancellor recently announced a £200 energy bill discount for households across the whole of the UK, including Wales, as well as £180 million to the Welsh Government in recognition of the council tax energy rebate in England.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

About 1.5 million households across the UK depend on heating oil for their domestic energy needs. Last September, households could have expected to pay about £250 for a 500-litre delivery. Last week, those prices had risen to anywhere between £600 and £900 for a delivery of the same volume. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about how that burden could be mitigated for households at the mercy of that unregulated section of the energy market?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised this question. I am in that particular bracket myself, so I know exactly what he is talking about. There have been some interventions already. As far as conversations with the Chancellor and his team are concerned, they have been numerous up to and including this morning, but I think the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I ask him if he can possibly wait till roughly 12.30 this afternoon, when the Chancellor will spell out exactly what his own proposals are.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

With rising inflation and a cost of living crisis, a recent YouGov survey of Welsh voters found that 71% felt that their personal financial situation is set to worsen over the next 12 months and 27% said that they will struggle to pay their next energy bill. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Chancellor should turn his energy loan into a grant and reverse the £20 universal credit cut?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

Again, I can only say that it would be unhelpful and inappropriate for me to predict and prejudge what the Chancellor will be saying in the Chamber in a matter of minutes. All I can say is that these are conversations—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] I would like to, but I am not going to. These conversations have been a regular part of—have dominated—the Wales Office’s connection with the Treasury in the last few days and weeks. As I say, the hon. Member has not got long to wait, and I hope he can bear with me.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The boss of oil giant BP said last month that it had more money than it knows what to do with, which is completely the opposite situation to that of households right across Wales that cannot cope with record inflation and astronomical energy bills under the watch of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, so why will he and the Chancellor not agree to a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

There are two points I would like to make. The first one I have already made, which is not to prejudge what the Chancellor is going to say in his statement in a few minutes’ time, which will address this and I hope numerous other issues that are occupying the minds of Members across the House, in fact. As far as the second point is concerned, I am afraid a slightly well-trodden path of the Opposition is to confront every possible problem by finding somebody and taxing them. We do not believe that is necessarily the answer, because we want energy companies to be part of the solution and also to be part of future and ongoing investment in energy infrastructure, and they will not do that—and will not be able to do that—if all the Government’s responses are simply, as I say, to identify them and tax them. It may be a populist gesture, but it is not actually going to solve the problem that we both wish to try to resolve.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I am afraid the Secretary of State is completely out of touch with public opinion on this. Polling this week, published by 38 Degrees, shows that 69% of the Welsh public say that the Government’s energy bill loan package is not enough to help those struggling with their energy bills, and 67% support Labour’s windfall tax because it would mean £200 off energy bills now and £600 off energy bills for the hardest-hit households in Wales. This would be a tax on the unexpected profits of oil and gas companies, so why is he on the side of those oil and gas companies, not on the side of the Welsh public?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I think that just defaulting to a 38 Degrees petition as if that is some kind of solution to a very complex and long-standing problem is a cheap and populist way out of this. We are taking a more responsible view, as I hope she will hear from the Chancellor later. There have already been numerous interventions—for example, we have provided an additional £180 million to the Welsh Government in this particular context—so I urge the hon. Member not just to press the petition button and think that that is all the Opposition have to do. We have to do a lot more than that if we are serious about addressing the long-term challenges that face us all. None of us is without this: we all have constituents with these problems and we all know exactly the challenges she refers to.