Controversial plans to ramp up North Sea oil and gas exploration may not bring down household bills, the Energy Secretary has admitted.

Labour called Claire Coutinho’s remarks “astonishing”.

On Sunday night, Rishi Sunak confirmed tomorrow’s King’s Speech would include plans to legislate for an annual oil and gas licensing round to improve energy security.

A new law would require the North Sea Transition Authority to invite applications for new production licences on an annual basis, provided tests on import volumes and carbon emissions were met.

Ministers have claimed the move is vital to “safeguard the prosperity of our country”, but critics say it would simply hand billions in pounds of subsidies to fossil fuel giants.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak confirms controversial new North Sea oil and gas licensing

The UK Government press release said the change would “ensure we have a more secure and diverse energy system and as we make progress on renewables and new nuclear, our more robust energy mix will help to lower household bills in the long-term”.

The reference to lower household bills was in spite of North Sea oil and gas being sold at international market rates, not at a discount to UK suppliers or homes.

Speaking to the BBC today, Ms Coutinho accepted new licences may not have any effect on the cost-of-living, and said the principal economic benefit was through tax revenues.

“It wouldn’t necessarily bring energy bills down, that’s not what we’re saying,” she said. 

“But it would… raise a significant amount of money that would help us, for example, fund public services.

“Also fund transition into different forms of energy, for example, things like offshore wind and solar energy which more broadly and indirectly could help bring bills down.”

Her Labour shadow Ed Miliband said: “It is a stunning admission from this Government that, during the worst energy bills crisis in generations, their flagship King’s Speech energy policy won’t even take a penny off energy bills.

“The Conservatives are so out of touch that they have given up trying to bring down energy bills for British families.

“Instead, they will hand billions of taxpayer subsidies to the oil and gas companies making record profits, undermine our energy security and contribute to climate disaster.”

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Tessa Khan, executive director of the Uplift campaign for a just transition to Net Zero and a fossil-free UK, said the UK Government was trying to sell people “a pipedream”.

She said: “More North Sea licensing will do vanishingly little for the UK’s energy security and nothing for our unaffordable energy bills. 

“The fact is the UK has burned most of its gas, and most of what’s left in the North Sea is oil, most of which we export. 

“Thirteen years of new licensing under the Tories have produced 16 days worth of extra gas and as the government states, producing it here doesn’t change the price we pay for it.

"Rishi Sunak is playing politics with energy policy, when what we urgently need is a government that’s serious about bringing down people’s energy bills and ensuring we have a secure and affordable power supply.”

Tomorrow’s King’s Speech will be Mr Sunak’s first legislative programme as Prime Minister and his last before the general election due by the end of January 2025.

Many of the proposed laws are expected to be politically contentious and intended to create a dividing line with Labour.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has hinted at new powers for councils and the police to clear homeless people living in tents off streets if they are deemed a “nuisance”.

She claimed that for some people, being homeless was a “lifestyle choice”, a remark widely condemned as crude and offensive.

Mr Sunak today refused to criticise the comment, but also chose not to repeat it.

“I don’t want anyone to sleep rough on our streets,” the Prime Minister said.