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Labour Will Force Energy Debate In Commons As Worry Over Bills Bites

Ed Milliband (Alamy)

6 min read

Labour will force a King's Speech debate on energy independence and energy bills on Thursday - with more than three quarters of people "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about affording energy bills this winter, according exclusive polling for PoliticsHome.

Shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband has said he will lay out how Labour plans to "bring down energy bills once and for all and make Britain energy independent" on Thursday in a debate on "making Britain a clean energy superpower with lower bills".

"Our Energy Independence Act will mean we make more clean power that we control at home in this country, through GB Energy, our publicly owned energy company, to deliver cheaper, cleaner power for the British people," Miilband said. 

Exclusive polling for PoliticsHome by Savanta has found anxiety about energy bills is extremely high among the public heading into the winter period. 

When asked whether they were concerned about being able to afford energy bills this winter, 32 per cent of people said they were "very concerned" with 44 per cent reporting they were "somewhat concerned". 17 per cent said they were "not really concerned", with just 5 per cent saying they were "not concerned at all". 

There also remains a strong appetite for government support on energy bills, with 68 per cent of people saying that Government is not doing enough to help people with bills this winter. 25 per cent believed it was. 

In the King's Speech on Tuesday, the government said its new legislation on energy – which includes licensing new oil and gas fields – would "strengthen the United Kingdom’s energy security and reduce reliance on volatile international energy markets and hostile foreign regimes". 

However, it did not announce specific measures to address what experts are calling a "winter crisis" of energy debt from years of high energy bills combined with the cost of living crisis.

The Prime Minister's spokesperson has insisted that growing domestic energy supply is one of a “wide range” of factors that could help to reduce household bills.

“First and foremost, this is about energy security, but we know that bills are subject to a wide range of factors," they said. 

"Reducing vulnerability to imports from hostile states to make us less exposed to international forces, and having a robust energy mix, can help lower bills in the long term.”

Domestic energy bills soared following Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine last year, with around half of Europe's gas supplies coming from Russia. 

Ofgem's energy price cap peaked at £4,279 in January 2023 and, while it is expected to remain substantially lower at around £2,000 this winter, it is still significantly higher than the £1,277 it was in October 2021 before bills began to soar. 

While government intervened last winter with a package of energy bills support – which included a universal £400 rebate for each household and its Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) alongside it capping the average household bill at £2,000 – a similar package of financial support has not been announced this winter. 

Chair of the energy security and net zero committee, MP Angus MacNeil, told PoliticsHome the King's Speech should have contained something to help people with energy bills this winter. 

"I'm very concerned about this winter given a quarter of bill payers are £8.9bn in energy debt," MacNeil said. 

Ed Miliband
Shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband has said the King's Speech "won't even take a penny off energy bills". (Alamy)

"It's a function of poverty and inequality in the UK that this is happening. This means real stress for people.

"I think when there's that many people in energy debt there should have been some help in The King's Speech."

He added that he believed if the winter was particularly cold, that emergency support would have to be considered in parliament. 

"I think that if the winter gets very cold there's going to be a question to the House," MacNeil continued. "The government would probably be forced to act."

MacNeil also felt the government's plans to issue more drilling licences for fossil fuels "is not going to make much difference either way, and certainly not going to make any difference to bills".

Adam Berman, deputy director of energy policy at Energy UK, told PoliticsHome that while the government's pledges on renewables and addressing grid problems were "welcome", "long overdue" and had the potential to bring down the cost of bills in the long term "a plan for delivery" was needed. 

"While there's lots of detail about oil and gas extraction offered in all the kinds of supplementary publications alongside the King's Speech, the government has provided no new suggestions of how they will ramp up the renewables or how they will solve these grid problems," Berman said.

"We absolutely agree with the intention, but we'd also very much welcome a plan for delivery. And that's what we're lacking at the moment.

"As the government have themselves conceded, more oil and gas extraction in the North Sea would not impact prices because we trade in global markets – and our gas simply is not significant enough to bring down prices internationally."

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said the government is "running out of gas both figuratively and literally" – and criticised the lack of support for people struggling with energy costs.

"There was nothing in the King's Speech which will help people stay warm this winter - no mention of an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households nor a Help to Repay scheme for the record numbers currently in energy debt," Francis said.

"Meanwhile, the government's plan to award more oil and gas licences is not the answer, what we need is much more investment in insulation and homegrown renewables.

"In fact, the past 13 years and hundreds of North Sea licences have yielded just 16 days worth of gas coming onto the grid, not enough to keep people warm every winter."

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for Warm This Winter, also said the government's new drilling licences would not reduce rising energy bills and criticised the lack of help for struggling households in the King's Speech. 

“The Government’s own energy minister Claire Coutinho admitted yesterday that these new licences will do nothing to lower people’s astronomical energy bills," she said. 

"The King must have been speaking through gritted teeth delivering this licence for oil and gas giants to print money at the cost of the planet and people.

“We need cheap, clean renewable energy and home insulation as millions are already in debt, pensioners are afraid to put the heating on and families can only afford to heat one room.

"It’s a national disgrace and that is why we are demanding the Government mends the broken energy system and are calling for an emergency energy tariff in the Autumn Statement to help the most vulnerable.”

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