Energy Prices Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25 October 2022.

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Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on whether Parliament should agree to the legislative consent motion on the Energy Prices Bill. I should say that I join with the minister in supporting the suspension of rule 9B.3.5 in the standing orders in relation to the LCM on the bill. As I have made clear in previous debates, I am rarely comfortable with suspending standing orders to move bills or LCMs through without full process and, particularly, without consideration by the relevant committee.

On that note, it bears mentioning that the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, within the remit of which the LCM falls, has, in my view—I declare an interest as a member of that committee—shown itself to be an effective and non-partisan scrutiny body that adds significant value to LCM considerations. However, in this case, as the minister did earlier, I note that the Energy Prices Bill is going through as emergency legislation and that it will complete its final amending stage today, which is also the day that Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee meets, and that royal assent is expected tomorrow, which is 26 October.

Further, in relation to the processes, I understand that, following consultation, the convener of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee is content with the suspension of standing orders and that a lead committee report is not required in this case. Therefore, in the circumstances, the Scottish Conservatives are content to support the expedited process.

I turn to the substantive LCM. The Scottish Conservatives welcome the Energy Prices Bill. By providing the legislative framework to deliver the UK Government’s energy price guarantee and energy bill relief scheme, the bill will provide much-needed support to households and businesses right across the UK. No one has been unaffected by the eye-watering rise in wholesale prices of gas and oil in the past couple of years. That has resulted from a range of global factors, including countries recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and of course the reduction in Russian supplies to Europe following the appalling invasion of Ukraine. That is why I agree with Patrick Harvie that energy security is so important in this country, which is yet another reason why we should support our North Sea oil and gas industry.

It is our understanding that the bill will cap the cost per unit of electricity and gas for domestic customers for a period of six months, until 1 April 2023. The purpose is that the average household, which is a defined term, will have annual energy bills of £2,500 rather than £3,549, which was, otherwise, projected. Furthermore, the bill appears to write in an equivalent price guarantee for businesses, charities and public sector organisations for the duration of that six months. It is only six months, but, unlike Mr Harvie, I feel that that is the right length of time. It will get us through the winter and then we can have a review, which will ensure that the mechanism can be stress-tested against what was projected, what was intended and what we have seen in practice by that point, during the winter months. Then we can decide what is the best and most productive mechanism going forward.

I think that the Energy Prices Bill is the right way forward, but, as ever, where an action of the UK Government would make changes in Scotland it is absolutely right that the Scottish Parliament considers whether to agree to it. I have listened to the minister propose that this Parliament should give its consent to the Scottish provisions of the Energy Prices Bill and on that I agree with him.

Interestingly, the minister suggested in his peroration that this Parliament does not have the powers to do all that it wants to, but I remind him of my speech right before recess, which he conveniently appears to have forgotten, in which I pointed out that this Parliament has all the powers that he needs and, indeed, thanks to the largest-ever budget settlement in devolution history, it also has the funds to do what it needs to.

The UK Government is doing the right thing to help consumers, businesses, charities and the like during this difficult time and it is important that the Scottish Parliament both acknowledges and welcomes that. The Energy Prices Bill and the attendant LCM will provide a lifeline to households and businesses this winter. Therefore, the bill should not be delayed and should be added to the statute book as soon as practically possible. Accordingly, I have no hesitation in confirming that the Scottish Conservatives intend to support the motion consenting to the UK Parliament legislating on devolved matters in the bill.