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Tory former ministers seek changes to major energy legislation

Conservative former ministers have voiced support for changes to what the Government describes as the most significant piece of energy legislation to ever go before the Commons.

The Energy Bill seeks to unlock investment in low-carbon energy technologies, increase resilience and produce more energy in the UK, and lower energy bills in the longer term.

MPs debated the Bill’s second reading in the Commons after a number of changes were forced on the Government in the House of Lords, which included a ban on new coal mines and steps to increase the energy efficiency of housing and business premises.

Tory former energy minister and chairman of the UK’s net zero review, Chris Skidmore, gave his backing to the Lords’ amendments and said he would seek to reintroduce them if the Government rejects them.

Whilst he said he welcomed many provisions in the Bill, Mr Skidmore said there is scope to go further with “cross-party support”, adding: “The Lords amendments that have been added into the Bill are all welcome additions.

“Indeed, many of these were recommendations in the net zero review.

“I will therefore be supporting their continued inclusion and if needed will be seeking to re-table many of these amendments.

“I will also be seeking to work across the House as chair of the all-party group on the environment to table additional amendments that I believe are realistic and achievable but will help the Government meet both the needs of the energy sector and also the Government’s own legal net-zero commitments.”

He added: “While they may not thank me today, in time looking back, I hope that the minister and the Government will understand that I and others who seek to improve this Bill had no choice, for there is no time left in which to act.”

Conservative former cabinet minister Sir Alok Sharma asked for clarification on whether the Government would support the Lords’ amendments, particularly one which would force the energy regulator Ofgem to have regard to meeting the UK’s net zero emissions target.

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We’ll be looking very closely at the proposed amendments… it is the case that the regulator is already very largely focused in that direction.”

Elsewhere, Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood said: “Why does this measure include a proposal for 140% increase in imported energy through interconnectors which will make us more dependent and very vulnerable?”

Mr Shapps responded: “This last winter for example we’ve been able to export to France, providing us with income… they work in both directions, and they provide the reliability in some cases.”

Conservative former minister Alec Shelbrooke criticised plans which could see a levy introduced on gas and electricity suppliers to support low-carbon hydrogen production.

He said: “The costs that we pass onto the public have to be minimised. And I honestly hope that the minister will take note and take away, before the committee stage, about the hydrogen levy.

“I think it’s misguided and it’s in the wrong place, and we have to take the public with us on this and we can’t keep just adding to the bills of people to try and make this work.”

And Conservative former cabinet minister George Eustice called on the Government to bring forward an amendment to allow oil boilers to run on renewable liquid fuels, raising concerns over the cost and practicality of the current plan to ban new oil boilers in 2026, which he said would affect 1.7 million households.

He said he would seek such an amendment if the Government does not bring one forward.

Shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband said Labour would support the Bill, but warned “many of the measures” are “long overdue”.

He said the Bill “still lacks the urgency and long term strategy that is required”, and warned: “It’s too half-hearted on the zero carbon sprint that we need. It does not take sufficient measures to make working people the priority in the energy transition and… it does not put Britain enough at the forefront of the race for low-carbon jobs.”

He said the Bill should be used to match the US and EU’s rush for green investment, and branded Mr Shapps the “dinosaur-in-chief” over a lack of progress on building more onshore wind.

Mr Miliband said: “He’s the self-styled TikTok moderniser, but he’s more a sort of pterodactyl nimby stuck in the past on this.”

Opening the debate, Mr Shapps said: “This is in fact the longest and most significant piece of energy legislation to ever come to this House. It’s a critical part of making Britain an energy-secure nation.”

The Energy Secretary said the Bill was aimed at “liberating private investment in clean technologies” and building the market for such technologies including heat pumps, as well as exploiting the potential of carbon capture and storage and low-carbon hydrogen.

He also said it would “strengthen energy security and minimise costs to consumers” including by introducing an Independent System Operator and Planner, and prevent “malicious actors” from threatening UK energy security.

He added:  “I hope members across the House will recognise the opportunity the Bill represents: massively increased investment and jobs and economic growth, to support our long-term ambition to lower energy bills and ensure that in future we power Britain from Britain.”