Conservative MPs have warned that the flagship Energy Bill is a “recipe for energy disaster” and risks making customers pay more to deliver “cultish” eco-policies.
Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg was among a group of Tories who pressed ministers to “keep people with us” and avoid “undue burdens” while reforming the energy sector and pursuing net-zero emissions targets.
The Bill seeks to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, unlock investment in low-carbon energy technologies, increase resilience and produce more energy in the UK, and lower energy bills in the longer term.
The Government avoided a potential rebellion from some of its backbenchers by announcing ahead of Tuesday’s report stage debate that planning permission for onshore wind farms was to be relaxed.
Energy minister Andrew Bowie also confirmed changes to remove the proposed hydrogen levy on households and said the Government will explore the potential of renewable liquid heating fuel for heat by issuing a consultation within 12 months.
But several Tory MPs expressed concerns over the wider impact of the Bill and suggested it risks going too far too soon.
The Bill cleared the Commons after MPs voted 280 to 19, majority 261, to approve it at third reading – although the division list showed nine Tory MPs, including Sir Jacob, rebelled to oppose it.
Another rebel Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the backbench Tory Net Zero Scrutiny Group, told the Commons: “I have to say, I absolutely despise this Bill.”
On the plans that could see property owners who fail to comply with new energy efficiency rules facing prison, he said: “I do feel that when we create criminal penalties in this place, it is a duty that it is discussed properly that we put our fellow citizens potentially in prison for 12 months for an unknown offence of the future relating to net zero.
“This is going to be the first time that we are potentially criminalising people in this country for not being adherent to this new code of net zero. We should not be doing this lightly.”
The MP for South Thanet also argued the Bill will “drive even more of our high-energy businesses offshore and China will be very pleased that they can sell us more solar panels and wind turbines based on their steel that are being produced on the back of very cheap coal power”.
He went on: “This is a recipe for not energy security, this is a recipe for energy disaster and I could talk at length about what is wrong with the net-zero proposals, banning cars, banning oil boilers, banning this, banning that, that’s not what we do as Conservatives.
“We actually allow freedoms, we allow the market to decide and this Bill goes in the wrong direction.”
Sir Jacob said several amendments tabled by Mr Mackinlay sought to “ameliorate the burden this Bill is placing on all of our constituents”, adding: “Throughout this Bill, we are creating cost and regulation and penalties and obligations.”
He added: “We need to keep people with us and we risk losing them if we put undue burdens on them.”
Sir John Redwood, another Tory former minister, said: “The wish to carry through a great electrical revolution is going to require a lot of goodwill from the British people.
“My worry about this legislation is that it may antagonise them by being unduly restrictive and particularly by the threat of civil and even criminal penalties on some of their conduct.
“We need to persuade people that the green products are going to be cheaper, better, more acceptable and make a more general contribution, we shouldn’t be trying to bamboozle them.”
Richard Drax, Tory MP for South Dorset, said the “green revolution is coming”, but added: “We cannot impoverish our country to meet some, well, I’d like to call it in some cases almost cultish policy … until we can afford it, until it works, that’s when I think we should adopt all these policies.”
Opening report stage, Mr Bowie said: “This world-leading, historic Bill, a Conservative Bill, will deliver for this country cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy.
“It will level up this country whilst contributing to levelling down bills for the British people.”
For Labour, shadow climate change minister Alan Whitehead said the “long passage of time” that it has taken for the Bill to progress in Parliament has had a “real effect on investors” seeking to support the low-carbon economy.
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