[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — Fuel Poverty

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:39 am on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 10:39 am, 19th January 2011

The golden rule with the green deal is that the saving has to be greater than the long-term cost. Accordingly, measures can be considered-for example, more efficient boilers and thermostat controls-that will help to meet that energy efficiency goal and to fit within the total golden rule that I have mentioned.

The root of the problem of fuel poverty is that price rises and changes are reflected in the cost of energy. I am very disappointed that most energy suppliers announced price increases before the winter. I join the hon. Member for Islwyn in paying tribute to EDF, which deferred a price increase until after the winter. We should recognise good practice where it occurs, and EDF's customers will recognise and appreciate such action. In addition, we want a complete end to retrospective increases, where customers are only told after an increase has come in that it is going to happen. We want to do more to help consumers switch by requiring more helpful information to be provided on bills, and we are pleased that Ofgem has announced a market review to consider the large increase that it has seen in the profit margins of such companies.

As Sir Robert Smith mentioned, rising commodity prices have been reflected in consumer prices. The increase has been on a rising trajectory, and I think that most hon. Members would assume that the price of oil-currently, $90-plus a barrel-will continue to increase. We are looking to the same companies to rebuild our energy infrastructure. Some £200 billion needs to be found to upgrade our energy infrastructure, because of the lack of investment over recent decades. Accordingly, an enormous amount needs to be done by the companies and we need to recognise that. I am pleased by Ofgem's work and by the evidence that Alistair Buchanan gave to the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change yesterday. I am in absolutely no doubt whatsoever about the robustness and thoroughness of the Select Committee's investigation and the real powers that it has to address these issues.

Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Islwyn not only on securing the debate, but on giving hon. Members the chance to address these issues at an important time of year, when they are very much on people's minds. I also congratulate him on the constructive and thoughtful way in which he introduced the debate.