Week 5 September – 11 September
In a week when Parliament came back from its summer recess, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, attended the G20 Summit in China, and the government announced plans to lift the ban on opening new grammar schools, what did James Heappey do?
Speeches and written questions
James Heappey spoke several times in Parliament this week, firstly at Prime Minister’s Questions and later during two House of Commons debates.
During PMQs on Wednesday Mr Heappey asked the Prime Minister a question on the issue of high speed broadband. He raised the example of event he held the previous week where local residents and businesses could claim a £500 voucher from Connecting Devon and Somerset to fund an alternative broadband connection capable, asking whether the Prime Minister would “confirm that the Government remain committed to delivering a universal service obligation of at least 10 megabits per second by 2020?”
Later on the same day James Heappey spoke multiple times in a debate about the Paris Climate Change Agreement, his first contribution to the debate was an intervention during the debate’s opening speech by Barry Gardiner, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Wells MP took issue with what he saw as Mr Gardiner’s manufacturing of a disagreement, saying “I think that there is consensus on both sides of the House that we should ratify it [the Paris Climate Change Agreement]. All member states of the EU must ratify it in their time, so in my view, his sense of urgency is also manufactured.”
Mr Heappey’s main contribution to the debate came later on when he gave a lengthy speech on the matter of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, as well as alternative and renewable energy issues. He started his speech by affirming his belief that the agreement reached in Paris last December will be ratified by the UK government, “as far as I can tell, there is consensus in the House on tackling climate change and ratifying the Paris agreement.” He again dismissed the idea of there being a division in the Commons on the issue, “To present a picture of disunity is rather unhelpful when there is real consensus of opinion in this place that we must all tackle this real challenge together.”
He then sought to alter the frame of the debate by looking at the opportunities presented by decarbonisation, specifically focusing on the issue of supplying energy for heating. He described an occasion in which he met a man on benefits and living in fuel poverty in east London and how a district heating system had helped him heat his flat. “Once the district heating system had been installed, he had put £30 on to his new meter in his flat. He had done so in October; when I went to see him at the beginning of March, there was still £13 left on the meter. He had heated his flat for an entire winter for seventeen quid. That is just extraordinary. It is socially just to adopt such policies; it does not just help tackle climate change.”
James Heappey also pointed to a hospital in London carrying out “socially just” energy policies, laying out how the hospital “combined heat and power station to cut down its energy bills by synergising heat and electricity.” It realised it could sell the excess heat to a district heating system at low cost. He described as extraordinary how it was able to us the proceeds from the heating network have allowed it to build a new cancer centre.
The final example the MP for Wells pointed to was a chain of hotels he knew of that were installing combined heat and power stations, “It is making huge savings on its energy costs while still absolutely meeting its customers’ needs for roasting hot water at whatever time of day. It is achieving that while saving money and decarbonising.”
Mr Heappey’s speech focused on this theme of finding new and profitable ways of decarbonisation rather than subsidies. Warning about the overuse of government subsidies for renewable energy, he said “Sound climate change policy is not about the levels of subsidy. Subsidy can become a crutch if we are not careful. The Government have used subsidy as a lever to grow the renewables industries to the point at which they can go it alone.”
Bringing his speech to a close he briefly touched on the plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, “as far as I can see, new nuclear is the only low-carbon generation technology that is ready to guarantee now that it will meet our baseload needs in the middle of the next decade. We cannot wish away the reality that our existing nuclear fleet will decommission in the next decade or so.”
Looking to the future of energy policy, James Heappey said he sought to “champion decentralised energy, a digitised smart energy system and the incredible economic and industrial opportunities that come with it.”
The following day Mr Heappey spoke at length in another Commons debate, this time on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (essentially a period of further development of advanced digital technologies). His first contribution to the debate was an intervention during a speech by Ronnie Cowan, an SNP MP. He gave more detail on the hospital he mentioned in his speech the previous day, “Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London has been able to install in a hospital a combined heat and power system that saves it £2 million a year on its operating costs. It has done that not through Government promotion but because the technology is there and it has sought to adopt it, and it is doing immediate good for that public service.”
Minutes later Mr Heappey rose to give his speech to the debate, it was long and touched on a vast range of different issues. He started by mentioning that there was still some contention as to whether this is currently the third or the fourth industrial revolution, but said that reading about the topic had led to him developing his thinking on the changing nature of energy policy.
A large portion of James Heappey’s speech was about challenging the idea that consumers would have to change their habits in a changing energy market, “The idea that we have to change our consumption habits to meet a changing energy market sounds like a nightmare to most people, but the reality is that we already have many of the technologies in our homes.” He also pointed to the importance of smart meters, “As Ministers know only too well, the smart meter programme is the keystone in achieving the digitisation of our energy system, and I know that they will be keen to push on with that roll-out at best speed.”
Another part of Mr Heappey’s speech focused on electric cars and he commended the government’s actions to increase the number of electric cars on the roads. He pointed specifically to “the £4,500 that they contribute towards the car and the contribution they make towards a charging point at the buyer’s home” and described such policies as fantastic. However he said more work needed to be done in growing charging infrastructure across the country if more are to buy electric cars.
He began to bring his speech to a close by saying that focus on energy infrastructure was just as important as more high profile technology issues, “The bottom line is that, while we will focus very much on our digital infrastructure with broadband and 5G mobile phones and we will worry very much about the preparedness of our airports and air routes, as well as of our roads and rail, the energy infrastructure is just as important.”
The MP for Wells cast nine votes this week, all on the Finance Bill.
On 5 September Mr Heappey voted five times on the Finance Bill. He voted: against a proposed amendment that would require the Chancellor to carry out review of corporation tax treatment of UK oil and gas companies; against an amendment that would abandon plans to lower the rate of corporation tax from 18% to 17% for the financial year 2020; against a proposed new clause that would require the Chancellor to carry out a review of the tax regime which applies to Scottish Limited Partnerships on levels of tax avoidance and evasion by such partnerships; against a proposed new clause that would require the Chancellor to carry out a review of the UK tax gap for the previous five financial years; and against a proposed amendment that would make women’s sanitary products manufactured, acquired or imported any date before or after 1 April 2018 no longer subject to VAT, rather than leaving the Treasury to choose the day when the changes take place.
On 6 September Mr Heappey voted a further four times on the Finance Bill. He voted: against a proposed amendment that would abandon plans to reduce the rate of capital gains tax; against a proposed new clause that would require the Chancellor to carry out a review into changes to the tax on dividend income implemented the Act affect directors of microbusiness companies; against a proposed new clause that would prevent the raising of VAT on energy saving materials; and for a government amendment that would delay from 1 October 2016 to 14 November 2016 the introduction of excise duty of aqua methanol.
Mr Heappey voted with the majority and was loyal to the government on all nine votes this week.
Energy and climate change committee
Even thought the Department for Energy and Climate Change was abolished by Theresa May when she took office as Prime Minister, the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee still exists and is publishing reports. However it has not carried out any evidence hearings in the week since Parliament came back from summer recess.
While Parliament was away the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority published data on MPs expenses for April and May 2016.
During the two month period Mr Heappey claimed a total of £12,498.35 through 27 expenses claims. The most expensive of his claims was for a subscription to the Parliamentary Resources Unit (PRU) for £2,671. The PRU is a scheme available to Conservative MPs which makes the process of hiring researches by allowing research staff to be shared among subscribing MPs.
James Heappey claimed £7,944.80 on accommodation and constituency office rent. The rest of Mr Heappey’s claims throughout April and May were mainly small claims almost all below £50 for things like office stationary.
One of Mr Heappey’s claims during this period was made on 14 April for a banner, it was listed as an stationary purchase in the office costs category. It says he claimed and was subsequently paid £-9.60, that’s minus nine pounds sixty. My best guess at what this means is that it relates to a claim made on 26 October last year, a banner for £9.60. I believe he made the claim back in October accidentally on his expenses when it was for personal use, realised this in April and decided he needed to pay back the IPSA the £9.60. Rather than be forced to repay the claim, he submitted a claim which allowed him to repay it voluntarily. I have no assurances that’s what happened but it is my best, and I think most likely, interpretation of the evidence available.
All of Mr Heappey’s claims for April and May were paid in full and none have had to be repaid to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.