The speech made by Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St. Ives, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. We have heard much this afternoon about the hike in energy prices. It is well-documented and concerning. However, I welcome the supercharging of the effort to boost homegrown clean energy, which will drive down costs, take the volatility out of the energy markets and cut our carbon footprint. That is all welcome, but more must be done now to help. Those changes will help in the future, but we need help in our homes now, as we have heard. We also need to look closely at the use of the standing charge—a daily charge on every household—which has risen to 50p plus, putting £150 more on the bill. I am concerned that these standing charges will never come down, so it is important that we raise the matter here and that we keep our eye closely on the use of them by energy companies.
We also know that food prices are on the rise, but we are not seeing the same kind of supercharging in the Government’s response when it comes to increasing homegrown food production. Now that we have left the EU, the Government have the power to prioritise food production, using money already available through the environmental land management scheme to supercharge food production to make sure that farmers have the confidence, security and funding to produce the food that we need. Surely if there was ever a time to boost food production in the UK it is now.
I know from speaking to many people in food, farming and fishing that the sector is willing to step up and increase production, but, at the moment, they are planning to sow less, rear less and fish less because of their concerns about the cost of fertilisers, fuel, energy and so on. The Government must look very closely at how we can supercharge homegrown food production.
The real squeeze is on household budgets, especially for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. One area that we have heard little about this afternoon is the cost of housing. Rents in recent years have rocketed. In my constituency, people can barely find a house to rent. If they can find one, a three-bedroom house costs £1,400-plus, which is a massive increase on perhaps a year ago. House prices have also rocketed in the south-west, and action is needed, and needed now, to address the matter.
I welcome the fact that the Queen’s Speech includes a levelling up and regeneration Bill, but it must be a response to the housing challenges in coastal areas in particular. Existing homes must be made more efficient; that would help with energy costs, as we heard from the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). New homes must be protected for permanent residence. It is far easier to get homes built in rural areas such as mine if local people know that they will meet a recognisable need, such as the acute need of housing.
More must be done to safeguard the homes in which people already live. Every week, I meet families who have been turfed out of their homes, and those homes are then flipped for other uses. Landlords are not entirely at fault, as changes in the tax system and the energy performance rating system have discouraged them from providing homes for local families. I welcome the Government’s recent commitment to changing the methodology of energy performance certificates, but more must be done to make sure that being a landlord, or providing homes for people to live in, is both attractive and secure. It is vital that the Government take more decisive action to support home ownership, secure a quality home for everyone who needs one and drive down the cost of those homes through good energy efficiency measures.