Parliament Should "Have Never Gone On Recess" During Energy Crisis, Tory MP Says
A Conservative MP has said parliament should not have gone into recess as energy bills rise. (Alamy)
Parliament should have “never gone on recess” with energy bills rising and the cost of living crisis biting, a Conservative MP has said, as ministers are coming under increasing pressure to provide more support to help people pay their “devastating” energy bills.
On Friday energy regulator Ofgen confirmed the price cap for an average household would rise to £3,549 from 1 October, a record 80% increase on the cap of £1,971 that has been in place since April.
Further price hikes are expected in January and April when the cap will be reviewed again with wholesale prices having soared as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
But new government action on the unprecedented rise in energy prices has not been forthcoming, with parliament having been on its summer break since July, and Downing Street refraining from announcing any new policy until the contest to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister concludes on 5 September.
While energy issues have been raised by leadership contenders Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, one Red Wall Tory MP believed the “only people interested” in the contest are party members, and MPs should have returned to the Commons during the summer in light of the crisis.
"We should have never gone on recess," they told PoliticsHome.
“The country's on its arse, we've got a war in Ukraine, we've got a cost of living crisis, there's a real problem with energy bills.
“We should not be away from that place pretending nothing's going on in the country.”
Sunak today described energy bills as "the most pressing challenge facing the country" and said that as prime minister his priority would be to "protect the most vulnerable in society, including pensioners, and I want them to have certainty that extra help is coming".
A spokesperson for Truss, who is widely expected to take office as party leader, repeated her campaign pledge that she would “immediately take action to put more money back in people’s pockets by cutting taxes and suspending green energy tariffs,” but did not indicate that any new measures were planned to match the evolving scale of the crisis.
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi said that he recognised that there was a "real anxiety amongst the population, both in terms of people's household energy, gas and electricity, but also businesses" in light of soaring energy bills.
In a statement following Ofgem's updated energy price cap announcement, he reiterated the government's pledge to give every household £400 to help with increased bills, but admitted "we've got to do more".
"I've been working up options. I walked into this building on the 5th July, and I tasked the team with two things," he continued.
"One, let's get this £37 billion out of the door, so if you're a pensioner you get another £300. The next tranche of the £650 for the most vulnerable households, the 8 million households, is also going out.
"But the second thing I said was, we know, and I knew then that Putin will continue to use energy as a weapon as a way of getting back at us for the help we're putting into Ukraine.
"We need to remain resilient. We need to make sure that this isn't a sticking plaster. that for the long term we continue to help the most vulnerable who have no no cushion. And that's what I'm determined to do."
Tory MP for Scarborough and Whitby Robert Goodwill told PoliticsHome that the price cap news “underlines the need” for the next prime minister to take action.
“I think basically the incoming prime minister needs to address this issue, particularly I think targeting assistance at those least able to pay these very large bills,” he said.
Goodwill, who is supporting Sunak in the leadership contest, suggested that a National Insurance cut would signify “an awful lot of help for those with quite a bit of money,” but wouldn't necessarily help the most vulnerable, many of whom would not be paying high levels of National Insurance anyway.
“I think it underlines the need to do something that's targeting those most in need, but at the same time, affordable for the taxpayer and one that will have a proportionate impact on public borrowing, and therefore, interest rates," he continued.
“It underlines even more why I think Rishi is on the right track, in terms of targeting help to those who are going to have trouble paying their bills.”
His sentiments were shared by North Thanet MP Roger Gale, who tweeted that the crisis needs to be the “absolute priority” for the incoming prime minister, and the country should adopt a “wartime spirit” through the “very difficult winter”.
“There are measures that government can and must take to protect not only the most vulnerable but small businesses and care homes, for example, without which we shall all suffer further,” Gale said.
“We also have to recognise that we really are ‘all in it together’ and to do our utmost to help each other through what will be a very difficult winter.
“We need a ‘wartime spirit’ for what is in a very real sense a war.”
There have also been calls for ministers to provide more support from businesses, who are not protected by any form of price cap.
Labour MP Darren Jones, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said that many "will face bankruptcy because there is no price cap on their bills.
"The scale of the challenge will mean government will have to offer business grants, not just temporary tax cuts".
Elsewhere, opposition MPs have accused the government of being missing in action, as Labour leader Keir Starmer described the price rise as "devastating to people across the country".
He said he has a plan to freeze energy bills this winter, funded by a windfall tax on oil and gas profits.
“In the end, politics is about choices,” he explained.
“And this government is choosing to protect the profits of oil and gas companies, unexpected profits of oil and gas companies, rather than sticking up for and helping hardworking families and struggling businesses.”
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael told PoliticsHome: “A functioning government would have used today to launch their plan to help people through this.
“Instead Sunak and Truss continue to bite chunks out of each other and Johnson who in July was insisting that it was for the national internet that he had to stay on – had put himself on gardening leave.”
The former Cabinet minister added: “It feels like we are trapped on a ship with no one at the helm and drifting towards the rocks while the crew fight over which lifeboat to destroy first."
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