Conservative MPs have been accused of siding with “profiteering oil and gas companies” as they voted down calls for a windfall tax to help ease cost-of-living concerns.
Labour tabled a Queen’s Speech amendment asking for a new tax on the profits of oil and gas producers to provide “much-needed relief” from soaring energy prices for households.
Conservative former minister Robert Halfon and Mel Stride, Tory chairman of the Treasury Committee, both indicated support for the policy, with the former labelling oil company bosses “the new oligarchs”.
But the amendment was rejected in the House of Commons by 310 votes to 248, majority 62.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, responding to the result, said: “Conservative MPs have chosen to side with profiteering oil and gas companies over working people.
“Millions are being walloped by soaring bills and prices – having been left badly exposed to this crisis after more than a decade of standstill wages and cuts to social security, overseen by successive Tory governments.
“All the while the likes of Shell and BP are registering eye-watering profits.”
Shadow climate change and net zero secretary Ed Miliband said: “Every Conservative MP who voted against the windfall tax tonight has condemned millions of families to misery and anxiety as they struggle to pay their energy bills.
“Tonight a message has been sent by the Government that they will do everything they can to protect the oil and gas companies, and refuse to act to protect families. It says everything you need to know about where the Tories stand.”
Mr Miliband earlier told the Commons he would have “no idea” how he would cope with soaring energy bills if he was on the basic level of Universal Credit.
He added on the windfall tax: “The truth is, they have run out of excuses, and amidst the chaos and confusion about what their position is, I think a massive U-turn is lumbering slowly over the hill.
“But I say this to the Chancellor: swallow your pride and get on with it.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak repeated his claim that “no option is off the table”, and that only if oil and gas giants do not invest their profits back into “growth, job and energy security” could the policy could be introduced.
Mr Halfon told MPs: “The oil bosses are earning multimillion-pound salaries and getting multimillion-pound bonuses, they are in essence in my view the new oligarchs and I would urge him (Mr Sunak) to consider both a windfall tax on the oil companies, which we can then use to cut taxes for the lower paid or cut energy bills, and also introduce a pump watch monitor to make sure that there is fair competition, that consumers get a fair deal at the pumps.”
Mr Stride said: “We have heard of the windfall tax in great detail today. I would support that.”
He added: “I do think the arguments that he (Mr Miliband) has put forward are generally sensible, and I’m very pleased in turn that the Chancellor has indicated that the door is at least partially open, albeit caveated on the investment performance of the companies concerned.”
Conservative MP Laura Trott argued windfall taxes would be discouraging competition.
She explained that while BP and Shell could absorb a windfall tax, the problem would be with the “smaller players”.
Ms Trott said: “(Mr Miliband) was absolutely right when he said that BP and Shell have not said that this is a disaster for them, but in many ways they wouldn’t. They are huge players in this market.
“Actually, they can absorb a windfall tax. The problem will be much more with the smaller players, the discouragement to competition that this might result in. And I strongly believe that the best way we can drive down prices in this market is by encouraging competition.”