The government has rejected an amendment to the Queen’s Speech tabled by the Labour Party, which called for a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies to support struggling families, as 310 MPs voted against and 248 in favour.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told MPs that ministers are “ready to do more to help” but that it would “reject all opposition amendments to the Queen’s Speech as a matter of precedent” because it is for Rishi Sunak to “introduce fiscal measures and indeed all future decisions on tax will be made… in the usual way”.
Ed Miliband introduced the amendment – that parliament “respectfully regret” that the Queen’s Speech failed to announce a windfall tax “in order to provide much-needed relief from energy price increases for households” – earlier this afternoon.
Addressing the Commons during the debate, the Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary described the cost of living as an “unprecedented social emergency” and a “looming economic threat”, urging ministers to take action to help.
Miliband said the question at the “heart” of the debate was “whether the gracious Speech, this government and this Chancellor is up to the challenge this emergency represents”, adding: “Now, the Chancellor wants us to believe that his measures in response are the best we can do. But they are not. Not by a long shot.”
The Labour frontbencher told parliament: “What makes [Rishi Sunak] even more culpable is that there is something that could help staring him right in the face – where the case has become unanswerable, where the government has run out of excuses, where oil and has producers are making billions – a windfall tax.”
He rejected the government’s claim that a windfall tax would be anti-business, telling MPs this afternoon that the profits of oil and gas companies are “unearned, unexpected, and the British people are paying for this windfall”.
Miliband said a “massive U-turn is lumbering slowly over the hill” and told the Chancellor: “Swallow your pride, and get on with it. Because every day he delays is another day when the British people is denied the help they need.”
He said that the Chancellor had failed to respond adequately to rising energy bills despite having “three chances in the last seven months”: when the first price rise was announced by energy regulator Ofgem in August, at the Autumn Budget in October and at the Spring Statement in March.
Miliband urged Sunak to re-read his autumn Budget speech, adding: “It would make even him wince. It is a model of complacency. He drunk his own Kool-Aid.”
He said it was “apparent to everyone” that what Sunak offered in the Spring Statement was “woefully inadequate”. “People were literally pleading with him to do more on energy bills. But he just doubled down on his failure,” he added.
“At every step of the way, the truth about this Chancellor is that he has been in denial, he has been slow to act and he has been wholly out of touch in his response.”
Miliband highlighted the impact rising household bills are having on Universal Credit claimants, saying: “They won’t be able to afford to pay their bills, they will get deeply into debt, and they will go without food. It’s already happening to millions.”
“I would have no idea how I would cope in these circumstances. Would any member of this House? Maybe the Chancellor can tell us what somebody in these circumstances is supposed to do?”
“If you’re the Chancellor of the Exchequer and you can’t answer that question it should tell you something that you are failing in your duty to the people of this country who most need your help,” he added.
Miliband concluded that the Queen’s Speech “does not remotely rise to the short or long-term challenges the British people face” but added that MPs could “make a difference” by supporting Labour’s amendment.
“We have all heard from our own constituencies what families are facing. This is an emergency for millions of people. A windfall tax could make a difference.
“Use this opportunity to tell the Chancellor to act. It is the right thing to do, it’s the fair thing to do. The case is unanswerable. And if they do not, they will have to explain to their constituents why they refuse to support the help that could make a difference now.”
Responding to the comments made by Miliband, Sunak admitted that the next few months “will be difficult” but claimed: “There is no measure any government can take, no law we can pass that can make these global forces disappear overnight.”
He said the Conservatives “don’t believe that windfall taxes are the simple and easy answer to every problem” but said that the party wants to see energy companies who have made “extraordinary profits” investing those back into the UK. He added: “If that doesn’t happen soon and at significant scale, then no option is off the table.”
Some Conservative MPs have also backed Labour’s proposal for a windfall tax to help support struggling families with rising bills. Treasury committee chair and Tory MP Mel Stride said today that he would support the measure, saying he thought the arguments put forward by Miliband were “generally sensible”.
Fellow Conservative MP Robert Halfon also expressed his support for a windfall tax this afternoon, as well as a pump watch monitor to ensure cuts to fuel duty are passed on to consumers, and described oil company bosses as the “new oligarchs”.