My Intervention at the Ministerial Statement on Energy Security

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Over the last 48 hours, wind has generated as little as 1% of our electricity, and it was at 2% when I checked this morning, while of course most of the homes we represent use gas for heating. Will the Secretary of State confirm that we need to get on with issuing more production licences for domestic oil and gas, which cuts the carbon dioxide involved and will enable us to keep the lights on, which we cannot do when the wind does not blow?

Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: My right hon. Friend is characteristically correct that we cannot always rely on a single form of electricity generation. As the French have found out, we cannot always rely on nuclear. I think France has 71 nuclear power stations in its fleet, but about half of them are down at the moment, so it cannot rely only on nuclear. I was discussing this very fact with my opposite number yesterday. I know that my right hon. Friend welcomes the ÂŁ700 million development approval cash that we have put into the first new nuclear since the 1980s, and he is absolutely right that we need a broad spread of different energy forms to ensure that we can provide the cheap power we require at all times.

My Speech at the Opposition Day Motion on Britain’s Industrial Future

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on a lively and informative speech. It was great to have a positive vision for the future from him. He rightly reminded us that many of the exciting new technologies and opportunities available to modern industry and business are being grasped by both the private sector and the Government working together. I congratulate him and his Department on that work. However, I urge him and the Department to greater efforts in the range of more traditional industries that are still very much industries of the future. We have a choice. If we make the right decisions on taxes, regulations, support frameworks and orders, we can produce more such things at home. If we make the wrong decisions, we will end up importing too many of them.

I start with energy. The Minister’s Department has a crucial role in organising our energy and the transition that it wants as well as ensuring that we have enough of the traditional energy forms when they are crucial to heating our homes and turning our factories. In this period of transition, we can do more to extract more of our own oil and gas. That is greener than importing it, because, in burning gas that comes down a pipe from the North sea, far less carbon dioxide is generated than if the gas were extracted somewhere else, transformed into liquid form and transported—at least half the CO2 is saved that would otherwise be generated. More importantly, that is a safer supply. Even more importantly, if we are still to have high taxes on it, we will collect those taxes. At the moment, the more we import, the more dead money goes out of our country to pay somebody else’s taxes, doubly burdening our industry with the extra cost of what are sometimes extreme market prices to secure the supply—when there is not a long-term contract—and extra transport costs that must be put into the equation for effective delivery.

I urge the new ministerial team to take up from where the old team were moving to and understand that there are quite a lot of good proven reserves out there now. Production licences could be granted in a timely way, and we could have more of our own import substitution and more secure supplies for the future. It is possible to work with the industry on existing fields so that maintenance schedules can be kept to a minimum and output can be maximised, particularly over a difficult winter. We all know that if anything goes wrong with the UK and European gas supply over the winter, it will be our industry that gets caught first; industry is very reliant on plentiful gas supplies for much of its important processes.

We must be careful about carbon accounting. I think a lot of us feel that it does not make a lot of sense to say that the heavy gas-using industries and other fossil fuel-using industries in the United Kingdom, such as cement, glass, ceramics, steel and so on, will be penalised because they are generating carbon dioxide in their process, only to substitute imports of those same products that will certainly produce more CO2, not only because of the long-distance transport, but quite often from the processes as well, as this country has often gone a bit further in more efficient processes than some import substitutes. So that, too, is an area that we need to look at very carefully.

On the car industry, I would like to expand a little on the intervention. Again, a difficult transition is under way and it can only go at the pace that the customers are willing to let it go. At the moment, as we have been hearing, a relatively small minority of the cars built in this country are full electric cars—something to do with price and range, and people getting used to the idea of the electric vehicle—and so during the transitional period we again have a choice: either we produce the diesel and petrol cars that people still want to buy, or somebody else does that and we end up importing them. Again, I do not think that that is a good course. I would not want to be ahead of some of the other leading car producers in the world in definitely ruling out producing vehicles that still sell well, when we have put a lot of investment collectively into developing more fuel-efficient vehicles, which have much less coming out of the tailgate.

My final brief point builds on one that the Minister eloquently made in certain contexts. We can do a lot more, as the Government are trying to do, with sensible purchasing of our own products. Of course, we do not want to buy products that are less good quality or too expensive. There has to be competition within the UK market to reassure the Government they are getting value, but just as we have always done with things like warships, so we can do for more essential products. We should give the home base the best chance and, if necessary, help people come in as major investors with their factories in order to do so.

My intervention at the Urgent Question on Asylum Seekers Accommodation and Safeguarding

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Government legislate urgently to deal with the obvious loopholes in the law that are exploited by people smugglers and economic migrants? And I share the concerns of my colleagues about the use of hotels in my area.

Robert Jenrick MP, Minister for Immigration: My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are reviewing whether further changes to the law are required. One area we are particularly interested in is the modern slavery framework. That is important and well-meant legislation, but unfortunately it is being abused by a very large number of migrants today, and if we need to make changes to it so that we can ensure that it is not exploited, we will do so.

My Intervention at the debate on the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords]

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Chief Secretary explain why the bank is investing in a very expensive cable electricity link between the United Kingdom and Germany, given that we are in the same time zone and have similar weather, and both countries are chronically short of electricity capacity? It does not sound like a good idea to me.

My Intervention in the Ministerial Statement on National Security

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): What urgent action will the Government take so that we grow more of our own food, produce more of our own oil and gas, and refill our depleted reservoirs? Having more domestic supply of the basics is now fundamental to national security, given the obvious threats from Russia and others.

Tom Tugendhat MP, Minister of State for Security: I will not comment on the details of the taskforce, but I think I can safely say that that is a little beyond even what I was hoping for. I will not go into details, except to say that my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the reality is that supply chains in our country and around the world have changed as covid has influenced different issues, and sadly the nature of the decoupling that some states have sought to pursue has changed the way in which we must consider our own security.

My Intervention at the Home Secretary’s Statement on Western Jet Foil and Manston Asylum Processing Centres

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly support all that the Home Secretary said in her opening statement: she spoke for the nation in saying we need to control this problem, and she spoke for all those caught up in these tragic events. I hope that all men and women of good will get behind her, and that the Home Office fully supports her in making sure we can speed up processing and return all illegal economic migrants to the safe countries they came from.

Rt Hon Suella Braverman MP KC, Secretary of State for the Home Department: My right hon. Friend speaks a lot of sense, as always, and he is right; the British people have had enough of an out-of-control borders system. It is incumbent upon this Government to address that, and I know for a fact that this Prime Minister takes the problem extremely seriously, and I know he will leave no stone unturned until it is fixed.

 

My Interventions during the Second Reading of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly support the Bill and congratulate the Minister on his presentation. I hope that the Government will urgently reform the energy directives and regulations that have made us cruelly import-dependent such that we now have to buy excessively expensive energy on the world market when we should drive for self-sufficiency.

Dean Russell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. It is ultimately about ensuring that we are doing the right thing by people across the country. The truth is that the Bill is a framework, and this is not the time to debate the minutiae and the details as there will be plenty of opportunities for that in Committee, the future stages and statutory instruments. We should welcome the Bill’s framework, which is about taking back control for the country.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for all the great work that has been done on the draft legislation. Does he not find it an odd paradox, or contradiction, that many Opposition Members come to this place apparently to form laws but do not believe we can ever make a law that is good, and we need to rely on EU law in so many areas where I think we can actually do better?

Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is wise, as always. But it is even odder than that, because there is this very strange view that laws that came in without any scrutiny at all—regulations of the EU that became our law automatically—cannot be removed without primary legislation. That is just bizarre.

The laws with which we are dealing came in under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act. Either they came in with minimum scrutiny but could not be amended or changed, or they came in with no scrutiny at all. I know that my hon. Friend Sir William Cash disagrees with me on this, but we are not using this procedure to repeal Acts of Parliament. Even though these measures have the effect of introducing EU law, an Act of Parliament has had full scrutiny in the House, and to be repealed it deserves full scrutiny to be taken away. That is the correct constitutional procedure.

My Intervention in the Urgent Question on Great British Railways

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): When will the Government and railway companies come forward with proposals for an improved pattern of services that attracts many more fare-paying passengers? We need to get the deficit down very quickly and the best way of doing so is by getting more people paying fares willingly.

Kevin Foster, Minister of State, Department for Transport: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clearly, demand patterns have changed dramatically during the pandemic. For example, a lot fewer people are commuting into London at 7 am to 9 am and then leaving between 5 pm and 7 pm, or they are doing that three or four days a week rather than five, so there is a need to look at how we can adapt. We are giving slightly more flexibility to some operating companies, and looking at how we use our ticketing and, in particular, our ticket pricing. The rail sale was a great way of getting a lot of people on to trains that might otherwise have been relatively quiet, producing new revenue to the railways. In addition, as I said in response to the SNP spokesperson, Lumo is targeting traffic that goes by air to get it on tracks.

 

My Speech in the Treasury Estimates Motion

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I am glad the Minister agreed that the £60 billion for the energy scheme will of course adjust according to market prices, and let us hope that the current downward trend in some of the gas prices is continued. We need a mild winter and other bits of good fortune, otherwise we could be back facing even bigger bills. I am sure we are all appreciative of the fact that the new Chancellor wishes to review the scheme after March, because this is a very expensive scheme and there may be better ways of doing it to contain the expenditure.

I hope, for example, that consideration will be given, where price controls are still being offered to consumers, to limiting the amount of subsidised fuel any household can buy to a reasonable amount for a normal household, so that those who are in richer households and making much bigger demands on the fuel system would pay for the additional fuel they need—if they are lucky enough to have a heated swimming pool, or whatever it is—and would pay the full price on the extra fuel that such luxuries require. That is offered as a hopeful idea of how one can start to grapple with the very high costs of this scheme without in any way undermining the crucial guarantee to all those who are struggling with their bills already and want this kind of security.

I also have some concerns about the Bank of England estimate. It is quite true that, from Chancellor Darling onwards, quantitative easing decisions have always been jointly taken by Chancellors of the Exchequer and Governors of the Bank of England. One of the main reasons why they have always been joint decisions is that the Bank of England always understandably insisted on a complete capital guarantee against losses on the bonds, because it was envisaging buying so many bonds that they became very big for the Bank of England balance sheet, and it wanted to be reassured that the Treasury and taxpayers stood behind the system in case of losses.

To the extent that this supplementary estimate is to make good losses on bonds that the Bank of England is selling, I have these questions. First, why does the Bank of England think it must sell bonds at this juncture, when the United Kingdom bond market, the American bond market and lots of other bond markets around the world are particularly depressed by the need for a counter-inflation strategy based on high interest rates? We are crystalising a loss that, as I understand it, the Treasury then has to pay for, whereas if we have an unrealised loss, no payments are of course needed until eventual redemption, and very often the redemption value of the bond is considerably higher than today’s price in the market. I cannot quite understand why the Bank needs to sell these bonds now, and as this has always been a joint policy in which Chancellors have been very heavily involved and have heard Bank of England advice—Chancellors had to sign it off because the taxpayer is at risk, not the Bank of England itself—I hope this will be carefully re-examined.

To those who say that we do need to be selling bonds as well as putting up interest rates to curb inflation, I would say they should be careful not to overdo it. If the Bank really does feel it has to tighten even more, it can do so by a further rise in interest rates; it does not have to do so by selling bonds. Very directly, as we see tonight, the sale of these bonds can realise a loss and then can trigger a cash requirement on taxpayers and the Treasury at an extremely bad time for such a cash requirement. I think all of us have much better priorities than paying for bonds that are underwater, when we see the current state of the economy and the need to route more money to individuals and companies in the right ways, to see off a longer and deeper downturn and provide some balance in the public accounts. I ask the Minister and Chancellor to think again, and to talk again to the Governor of the Bank of England about their joint responsibility. They must ask whether this is really the right time to be crystalising losses, resulting in unspecified amounts of money that will have to be paid.

My Speech during the Energy Prices Bill debate

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome the Government’s announcement today that this scheme should be time-limited to six months and that a different scheme should be developed against the possibility that energy prices remain very high for the months thereafter. I do not think that we can go on indefinitely at the rate of the cost of this particular scheme over the winter. If this continues, we need to target the support much more clearly on the many people and families in this country who could not afford the bills otherwise and leave those who have rather more money and are using rather more energy on luxuries to pay more of that for themselves. We have time to sort out a scheme that we can target better. I am sure that this Committee, and the dialogue that will continue, will make sure, through pressure from Back Benchers and Front Benchers, that we do not leave anybody out. It is very important that everybody has proper support one way or another so that they can afford their energy bills this winter and beyond.

I am also sure that the long-term solution is more domestic energy. We cannot carry on relying on unreliable imports, which can, at times, force our country to pay extreme prices on world markets to top up our gas or electricity because we do not have enough for ourselves. We are a fortunate country with many opportunities to produce fossil fuel and renewable energy. We have been a bit lax in recent years in not putting in enough investment, so I hope that the Secretary of State will look again at the incentives—as I am sure he will—and at the predictability of contracts and investment, so that Britain is a great place in which to invest for these purposes, and so we can exploit more of our energy and have more reliable supplies, even generating a surplus in some areas so that we can help Europe, which is very short of energy and does not have many of our natural advantages.

My concluding point is that we cannot go on for too long with a complex net of subsidies, price controls and interventions without damaging the marketplace more widely and sending the wrong signals, so I am glad that this measure will be short-term. We need a better system for the future so that there can be plenty of support for those on low incomes if energy prices remain high, but also much more investment to solve the underlying problem.