Neil Parish calls for greater competition in the heating oil industry

Neil Parish raises calls for proper competition where customers can easily switch from one provider to another. He particularly highlights the limitations available to customers in remote areas who rely on heating oil.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in the debate. I endorse many of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) about the tariffs, the need for competition and the need for people to understand those tariffs. The only way the market will work is by ensuring that there is proper competition and that people are able to switch easily from one company to another, without those companies having tied the consumer in.The policies of successive Governments, both the Labour Government and this coalition Government, are driving up the price of energy. There must be competition between the companies to keep the overall level down, but in the end consumers will pay more for their gas and electricity. Our green policies are good, but they cost money and they will cost the consumer money. We must be realistic about how we deal with that. I have every sympathy for the fuel poor but the addition of a green tariff is bound to push up energy prices. We need greater competition and we must look after the poorest in society.I will now make some specific points. Those who can access pipeline gas to heat their homes, however much the price might have gone up, are actually—dare I say it?—the most fortunate, because those who have oil heating are paying even more. Not only are they paying £1,400 for 2,000 litres of oil, which it does not take the average household long to get through, but they might live in a house that is listed or has traditional windows, which they cannot replace with double glazing, or solid walls, which are very difficult to insulate.I congratulate the Minister on the money he has put forward to help insulate such properties in rural areas, but I do not believe it is enough. As I said at the start of my remarks, the whole idea is that the green deal is essential because energy prices will continue to rise, but the trouble is that many of my constituents cannot necessarily get the green deal because the figures do not work with the cost of insulating solid walls, for example. Ultimately, those consumers in my constituency and across the country will end up paying more for the insulation than they will save on their energy bills, and that is something we need to deal with.We talk about competition in the gas and electricity markets, but where is the competition in the heating oil industry? There is virtually none. It is almost a cartel—I can say that in the House—so there is no competition. Two years ago we saw prices almost double when there was snow on the ground. Some of the worst snow in the United Kingdom was in Northern Ireland, but the prices there did not rise as much as they did on most of the rest of the mainland for the simple reason that there is greater competition there because more people have oil-type heating.The previous Minister referred the oil companies to the Office of Fair Trading. I want that to be pursued, because consumers who cannot get gas must get either liquefied petroleum gas or oil, and LPG is usually dearer than oil and covers the same spectrum of prices. That is absolutely key. I want to see exactly what we will do to help those consumers in my constituency and many other rural constituencies. It is not just rural constituencies; there are old cottages in many town centres across the country and they have to be dealt with. I want to see real progress in that regard.My final points are on energy security and what we will do in future. It is no good simply saying that we have shale gas; let us actually try to exploit it. Look at what has happened to the gas market in America—I am not suggesting for one moment that we have the same amounts of shale gas—where the price has been reduced by about two thirds. We also have a lot of coal, believe it or not. It is not fashionable to burn coal, but clean coal could be quite effective, and gasification could be another great use of that resource.Meanwhile, will we rely on gas from the Russians? I spent 10 years in the European Parliament and know that various European countries, especially Poland, do not like the idea of the Russians being able to turn off the gas and hold Europe to ransom. We have the whole mix of energy, but we must face up to the fact that—it is no good the Labour party saying otherwise, because they pursued the same type of policy, which is to drive up energy prices—if we are going to drive up prices, we have to make sure that the poorest in society can get help and that those who are not on mains grid gas have particular help because of the high cost of their bills.| Hansard...Later intervention during Minister’s winding up speechNeil Parish: DCC plc owned between 40% and 50% of the heating oil market and also trade as BoilerJuice and GB Oils. Will the Minister ask his officials to investigate the dominance in the heating oil market of one particular company?Mr Hayes: I have to say that in my hon. Friend’s constituency there are really only two principal heating oil suppliers. He is right that that does not create necessary competitive pressure. I shall certainly ask my officials to consider such issues. Indeed, my hon. Friend made a powerful and persuasive speech on the subject during the debate.| Hansard