Dominic Raab has faced Labour calls to guarantee no-one will lose their energy supply or be pushed into fuel poverty this winter.
Amid the ongoing energy crisis, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner repeatedly sought assurances over supplies while also pressing Mr Raab to cancel the removal of the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit.
Ms Rayner at one stage asked Mr Raab if he would make the lives of working people easier or harder, with the Deputy Prime Minister beginning his reply with a fact check on the Chevening grace-and-favour mansion.
Ms Rayner had accused Mr Raab of “complaining” about having to share the “115-room taxpayer-funded mansion” with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Mr Raab noted Chevening is funded by a charity.
The duo traded barbs at Prime Minister’s Questions as Boris Johnson is still in the United States following his visit to New York and Washington.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Rayner accused the Government of hitting the pockets of working families by “cutting the income of a worker on £18,000 a year by over £1,100” with tax rises.
Ms Rayner said: “That is almost exactly the same as an average annual energy bill. Just as energy prices are ballooning they have chosen to take the money that could cover a year’s worth of bills out of the pockets of working people.
“The Deputy Prime Minister has said the solution is for people to work harder. So, can he tell us how many days a worker on the minimum wage would have to work this year in order to afford a night at a luxury hotel, say in Crete?”
Mr Raab criticised Labour’s economic record before adding: “Under this Government we cut income tax, saving every worker £1,200 each year, we have introduced and extended the national living wage so full-time workers are £4,000 better-off each year, we have doubled the free childcare for working parents worth up to £5,000 for every child every year.”
Ms Rayner countered: “He talks about the economy, he doesn’t even know how much his own holiday cost.
“So, let me tell him. A worker on the minimum wage would need to work an extra 50 days to pay for a single night at his favourite resort, probably even more if the sea was open.”
The Labour deputy leader added: “The Prime Minister has said it is just a short-term problem and we will leave it to the market to fix.
“So can the Deputy Prime Minister guarantee that no-one will lose their gas or energy supply or be pushed into fuel poverty this winter?”
Mr Raab replied: “The Business Secretary has made very clear the energy supplies will continue, that our number one priority is to protect consumers.”
Ms Rayner went on to joke there was a “shortage of hot air this week”, with Mr Raab “doing his best” to shore up supplies in Mr Johnson’s absence.
Mr Raab replied: “There’s no shortage of hot air on that side of the benches.
“The Business Secretary has been absolutely crystal clear – we’re seeing the challenge of wholesale gas prices rise all over the world, we will maintain supply this year, the Business Secretary has taken targeted action to support the two critical CO2 plants to make sure that not only do we see energy supplies through, but also food distribution.”
Ms Rayner concluded by telling Mr Raab to “go back to his sun lounger and let me take over”, adding: “Families across the country are worried about heating their homes while he’s complaining about having to share his 115-room taxpayer-funded mansion with the Foreign Secretary – the truth hurts, doesn’t it? – just as his Government are making choices that are making working families’ lives harder.
“A typical family is facing a tough winter this year: Universal Credit down a thousand quid; rent up 150 quid; gas bills up 150 quid; taxes up and food prices are soaring. Working people will have to choose whether to feed their kids or heat their homes.
“The choice for the Deputy Prime Minister is will he make their lives easier or harder? So what will he choose – will the Government cancel the Universal Credit cut?”
Mr Raab replied: “She should check her facts as Chevening is funded by a charity, not a penny of taxpayers’ money.
“Let me also tell her the most disastrous thing for energy bills of hard-working people across the country would be to follow Labour’s plan to nationalise the energy companies, which the CBI says would cost as much as £2,000 on bills.
“This Government is the one taking action to take the country forward, with a plan for the NHS, a plan for Covid and our plan is working – employment up, job vacancies up, wages up.”