Wednesday 25 November 2015
[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
Clean Energy Investment
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of clean energy investment.
It is a pleasure, Mr Bailey, to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the powers that be for accepting my application for an Adjournment debate on this subject.
Last week, I spoke in the debate on climate change, responding to the Pope’s encyclical in which His Holiness said:
“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”
As the Paris talks begin on Monday, it is vital that the world gets a strong deal to ensure the future of our planet for generations to come. We must also speak loudly and clearly about the new economic opportunities within our grasp. The challenge for the 21st century is how quickly we can fully benefit from the clean energy revolution.
As a patriot, I want the United Kingdom to be a global player, leading and innovating in the latest energy technologies and reaping the rewards, jobs and investment that will go to the leaders in this race. This requires an industrial and economic strategy fit for a world kept at less than 2° of warming. If that is the challenge and if that indicates the direction, I am afraid the Government have lost their satnav. The latest Ernst and Young renewable energy country attractiveness index puts the UK out of the top 10 for the first time ever. We now sit at 11th, behind Chile and the Netherlands, and the reason is simple. According to Ernst and Young it is
“death by a thousand cuts…At best it may be a case of misguided short-term politics getting in the way of long-term policy. At worst, however, it’s policymaking in a vacuum, lacking any rationale or clear intent.”
That is a damning verdict on the Government’s record over the past five years, a record with a very real cost from jobs and investment lost.
Investors do not have to choose the UK. If we do not make it attractive for them to invest in clean energy here, we will lose jobs in new technologies and their supply chains for the lifetime of those investments. That is exactly what happened when we lost out in the 1980s to other countries which saw the potential of wind energy.
I would never advocate that new technologies receive never-ending subsidies or that taxpayers and energy bill payers pay a penny more than required, but the Government’s actions cannot be justified only on those terms. The decision to charge renewable generators the climate change levy was a grab by the Treasury, pure and simple. Business plans that relied on that income have had to be ripped up. Drax lost a third of its share value in one day following the announcement, and as a result it and Infinis have launched legal proceedings against the Government. On 25 September, Drax said that policy certainty is no longer there to continue its involvement with the White Rose carbon capture and storage project.
Developing CCS is an important part of our clean energy infrastructure and I thought the Conservatives thought so too. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether what we hear through the media—that the Government’s allocation of £1 billion to support CCS innovation is to be cut—is true. In October, the report of the Committee on Climate Change, “Power sector scenarios for the 5th Carbon Budget”, said:
“CCS is very important for reducing emissions across the economy and could almost halve the cost of meeting the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act.”
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing this timely debate to the Chamber. Does she agree that without carbon capture and storage, there is no likelihood whatever of the UK or Europe meeting the emissions level targets that have been set for 2050?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and what is so sad is that we have the brains, the skills and the interest from investors, but we do not have the Government’s political will to be a leader in this important area of innovation. Too often, we talk big but end up following, and lose the chances that are opened up to us.
Under the coalition Government, the ambition for CCS stalled. The Government’s favoured projects, Peterhead and White Rose, have suffered from dithering and delay, and they have put a brake on the other part of CCS—the development of industrial CCS, which can protect our energy-intensive industries such as steel from carbon leakage, watching our jobs exported elsewhere in the world. Alongside that, the cheapest forms of renewable energy seem to be constantly under attack.
I speak as the contract lead for Shell at the Peterhead carbon capture project. I obviously cannot say too much about it, but it is in the public domain that SSE and Drax have both withdrawn from each of those programmes. Is it incumbent on us to ask the Minister whether she can give assurances that the projects will go ahead?
That is a very good question to ask the Minister. I hope that she will give some attention to the hon. Gentleman’s point. I have visited Peterhead and I know how important those projects are to communities around the UK and, importantly, to future generations in creating more jobs and opportunities for work here at home, but also for exporting those skills and expertise overseas.
The cheapest forms of renewable energy are under attack. We have seen rapid changes to the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariff, which have already cost UK jobs and are putting off investors. Cuts of up to 87% in the feed-in tariff for small-scale wind and solar are being proposed. The Solar Trade Association predicts that it could put 35,000 jobs in the sector and supply chain at risk, affecting jobs in almost every town in the country. Its latest survey, which is currently being carried out, has found that at least 1,500 jobs have been lost already. More than 70% of the companies that have responded so far have put employees on notice.
The ending of the renewable obligation one year earlier than expected in April 2016 and changes to the planning system seem economically illiterate when onshore wind is the cheapest form of clean energy. The latest analysis of the power sector from the Committee on Climate Change, which will feed into the carbon budget to be produced this month, shows that the potential of onshore wind is around 80 TW, which is over four times its current deployment.
As with all development, account should be taken of location and impact, but I have become used to big statements from Tory Ministers about changes to onshore wind planning guidance to placate their Back Benchers. When the dust has settled, that has not amounted to much, but it damages and undermines an industry that provides nearly £900 million in gross value added. We know the damage that business short-termism has inflicted on our economy, but this is political short-termism at its worst.
In June, the Minister, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), said the UK was on track to meet our interim EU 2020 target for renewable energy generation. Thanks to a leaked letter, we now know the UK will miss our EU 2020 renewables target by a large margin. In that letter, the Secretary of State is frantically lobbying the Chancellor to keep support in place for renewable heat and I hope that the Minister will tell us how that is going. The Secretary of State goes on to suggest that to meet our EU 2020 renewables target we—bill payers and taxpayers—should pay for renewable projects in other countries. Where is the patriotism and ambition for our country in that? It is an affront to people in renewables industries who have lost their jobs or fear for them.
The Secretary of State seems to have woken up belatedly to a car crash about to happen on her watch. The renewables sector does not want or expect to rely on subsidies forever. Across the sector, it wants to work with the Government to set ambitious and achievable cost reduction milestones. For example, solar provides 2% of UK electricity, but the Government are leaving no room for future growth. That does not make sense when the sector is so close to parity.
How do we get the UK back on track? Here are five recommendations and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response—if not today, perhaps in writing. First, the Government should set out right away the levy control framework for 2020-21 to 2025 or beyond. That would provide investors with confidence and certainty about what support will be available. Secondly, the contracts for difference auctions should proceed as soon as possible, including for onshore wind and solar. Contracts for difference were designed to drive down costs, so it is right that those technologies should be able to bid for them.
Thirdly, I ask the Government to look seriously at the Solar Trade Association’s £1 plan to safeguard the bulk of the industry and to sustain cost reductions that depend on market volume. Fourthly, the Government must stop shilly-shallying and commit to our CCS projects, both in Scotland and in Yorkshire. Finally, the Government should give their full backing to those councils that this week pledged to make their towns and cities 100% clean by 2050.
Clean energy technologies are an industrial revolution unfolding before our eyes. It is not tomorrow’s world; it is here today and gaining pace. Britain was at the forefront of the 19th-century industrial revolution, and the UK was instrumental in the computer revolution and the development of the internet. This is the industrial revolution that will shape our planet beyond our lifetimes and I urge the Government not to squander this opportunity for the UK to seize the prize.
Given the number of hon. Members who want to speak and the fact that we will want to give the Minister the maximum time possible to respond to the debate, it looks as though four or five minutes would be the appropriate time for speeches in order to get in everyone who wants to speak. I will not impose a time limit at this moment, but I ask Members to bear that in mind.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on securing this timely and important debate. It should surprise no one in the House that she has continued to throw her considerable energy and expertise into this area, both as a Back Bencher and as chair of Labour’s Back-Bench energy and climate change committee.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will no doubt have hoped to prop up investor confidence in her “reset” speech last week. She was right to hope for such a response, because clean energy developers are going bankrupt and investors are fleeing the UK. However, I suspect that she may have been disappointed. As my right hon. Friend said, EY’s most recent renewable energy country attractiveness index, published in September, is a damning indictment of this Government’s record on clean energy and the power that they have unleashed to scare off investment and the jobs that come with it. In November 2013, the UK was fourth in the world for investor confidence. In February 2014, we fell to fifth; in May 2014, to sixth; in September 2014, to seventh; in March 2015, to eighth; and two months ago, we fell to 11th—outside the top 10 for the first time in a decade. I can see why the Secretary of State was hoping for a reset.
Boosting investor confidence and achieving clean energy security will require more than warm words. Rhetoric does of course matter, and this Government have thrown their fair share against renewables, but investors pay attention to policy. They put their money where they believe there is a stable regulatory framework. That cannot be said of the UK market at the moment. Wave after wave of policies have deterred investors and confused consumers. The Government claim that affordability is king, yet the main focus of their attacks has been on onshore wind and solar—the two cheapest large-scale renewable technologies. EY calls that
“policy-making in a vacuum, with no rationale or clear intent.”
That lack of confidence does not exist in isolation. It seeps into other sectors, such as CCS and offshore wind. Investors will naturally think, “If the most cost-effective and proven technologies are being attacked, surely we will be next.”
On the point about renewable energy, I think, coming from the background of what is happening in Scotland, where we are pursuing a clean and green energy policy, that the short-term approach to policy that is causing uncertainty among investors needs to go. We need a long-term policy to be agreed across the House, perhaps by means of an all-party parliamentary group. That would reassure investors for the long term that the money that they invest will be secure. We need to get rid of the repair and maintenance that we seem to be so intent on delivering at the moment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course the key to good, stable energy policy is to have a long-term framework. Energy policy needs to last through more than one Government. Governments change every four or five years. Energy policy should be agreed and set out for the long term, to attract investment and so that we can regain our place as the world leader in this industry.
Uncertainty is this Government’s watchword. We have no idea what the size of the levy control framework will be post-2021. If we are relying on offshore projects with lead times of eight years or so, how can we expect people to invest when they do not know the size of the pot beyond 2021?
Is it not also extremely important, with regard to the levy control framework, that stakeholders should be aware of how this budget is being spent? It is not transparent at the moment, and people do not have a clue about what is being spent, when it is being spent and how it is being spent.
Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I totally agree with him.
The situation in which we find energy policy today can perhaps best be illustrated by the grotesque chaos of clean energy developers, starved of the certainty that they need, being encouraged to install diesel generators on their sites because the Government’s policies have led to the narrowest—frighteningly narrow—margins this winter. Approximately 1,000 diesel generators, second in carbon intensity only to coal, have been installed in the past 18 months, and another thousand are in the pipeline.
The Paris climate change conference starts in just five days’ time. I wish the Secretary of State and the Minister well, and I know that they will work hard to secure a binding agreement. They may, however, find that not everyone is taking them as seriously as they would like. The UK can take on global leadership abroad only if we are seen to be taking bold action at home. The Department of Energy and Climate Change does not exist in isolation. Our policies are noticed not just by investors, but by policy makers around the world. In passing the Climate Change Act 2008, Britain grabbed the baton of global leadership. Others took note and made steps to catch up. Now, we are being overtaken. Today, when we slash support for clean energy, the rest of the world looks on.
The hon. Lady makes a point about the Climate Change Act. It is true that we showed global leadership on that. However, no other country in the world has passed anything similar and, worse, the EU, for the Paris climate change talks, has put in a submission for decarbonisation that is significantly lower than what the UK is attempting to achieve. We have shown global leadership.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but nothing in what he said takes away anything from the point that we were the global leaders. I take great pride in that. The Conservative party supported that measure while it was going through Parliament, so it obviously agreed with it at the time.
A very important point must be put on the record: countries have different climate legislation programmes in place, but this country has never been completely out there on its own and other countries have attempted to do what we have done. There is a huge academic study of climate legislation across the world. Hundreds of countries have attempted to do what we have done—many of them very successfully. Of course we will need to take a higher burden in this country than, for instance, Poland, and that will be reflected across the whole EU target, but we cannot say that other countries have not followed us down this route. That is simply incorrect.
I shall wrap up quickly, Mr Bailey.
The Washington Post noted last week that although Britain had been expected to play a leading role alongside the Obama Administration, the decision to cut support for clean energy at home
“threatens to undermine Britain’s international authority”.
As the United States pushes ahead with an ambitious programme and the rest of Europe pulls ahead of us in meeting renewable energy targets, Britain’s capacity to lead on the world stage is being squeezed.
I am confident that the Minister will deliver a rousing defence of this Government’s record and the importance that she personally places on delivering a low-carbon economy in the UK and securing a binding global deal in Paris. It reminds me of the line that Joe Biden, Vice-President of the United States, is credited with coining. He said:
“Don’t tell me your values. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you your values.”
Attacks on onshore wind and solar, no extension of the levy control framework, the UK’s position as a world leader dropping like a stone and the fact that we are on course to miss our 2020 target—with such a record, the values are very clear.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on bringing this important issue to Westminster Hall. Yesterday afternoon in this very Chamber, we debated fuel poverty and its impact on households that have to spend at least 10% of their income on energy costs. In the discussion about ways to eliminate and eradicate fuel poverty, a debate about the future supply and funding of clean energy initiatives is highly appropriate. I say that we debated fuel poverty; I sat patiently waiting to contribute, but one of my Scottish National party colleagues was a tad over-verbose and I was unable to contribute. [Hon. Members: Name and shame!]
It was my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). If I had been able to do so, I would have said that the actions and policies of the UK Government are pushing more and more people into fuel poverty. Furthermore, by slashing investment in clean energy initiatives, the Government will not only hurt the renewable sector but make it harder for households to access clean energy.
Clean energy is a massive area, and we in the SNP have made our views on the shameful cuts to onshore wind well known, so, given the time constraints this morning, I will focus my remarks on solar energy. Before I do so, however, it is worth reflecting on the Government’s green credentials. In a few short months, we have seen the early closing of the renewables obligation for onshore wind, the removal of the climate change levy exemption, the scrapping of the proposed introduction in 2016 of the zero-carbon homes standard, the cutting of subsidies for biomass and solar under the renewables obligation, the changing of the accreditation rules for the feed-in tariff and the announcement of the ending of finance for the Green Deal Finance Company. So much for the Prime Minister’s pledge to lead the greenest Government ever.
During the election campaign, I spent a considerable amount of time campaigning in the town of Linwood in my constituency. It was noticeable that a large number of households in the town had installed solar panels on the roofs of their homes. I appreciate that that is a relatively common sight these days, but not usually on the scale that I saw in Linwood, where every second house seemed to have a solar panel installed. I raised the matter with one of my constituents and asked why the town had taken to solar panels as much as it had. He explained that when he and his neighbours considered the cost of installing them and the subsequent savings on their energy bills, they realised that solar electricity was the most cost-effective way to provide their energy at home. It disappoints me to learn of the Government’s plans to make severe cuts to schemes that support solar power, because they will prevent tens of thousands of people from accessing clean energy.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my astonishment at the fact that there appears to be no consultation between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government regarding the impact of the cuts on councils? In my city, those cuts prevented the installation of a thousand solar panels.
That is an entirely fair point, and I do not think that consultation is this Government’s strong point. The cuts do not make sense when we consider the significant growth that solar energy has experienced over the years. According to the Solar Trade Association, nearly 600,000 households in the UK have gone solar. That includes a 32% rise in solar installations in Scotland from 2013-14. Those figures highlight the popularity of solar energy. Instead of making moves to disrupt that growth, we should be encouraging more households to consider installing and using cleaner forms of energy.
My constituency accommodates a number of excellent organisations that work in the renewables sector, and we should note their importance to our local economy. They provide much-needed jobs in our area, and we should be very concerned about the fact that if we scale back our commitment to clean energy, it will put thousands of jobs at risk.
I want to give a quick indication of the impact in Northern Ireland. In the North channel, for instance, if we lose clean energy, as we seem set to do through Government policy by 2017, the Ulster Farmers Union has told me and other representatives that it is very concerned that momentum will be lost in the clean energy revolution. That will affect investment and the resulting benefits. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that not just urban areas but rural ones will lose out on solar?
I have not received many representations from Ulster, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for that one. Rural areas were discussed at length yesterday during the fuel poverty debate, so his comments are welcome.
Cuts to clean energy programmes send the message that we are abandoning our commitment to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. As many hon. Members will be aware, Scotland has world-leading legislation on carbon reduction, and we are making great progress in tackling climate change and reducing our carbon emissions. That has, however, been severely undermined by the UK Government’s decisions, and the UK is plummeting down the Ernst and Young renewable energy country attractiveness index, as has been mentioned. It should be noted that Scotland continues to outperform the rest of the UK, and it is one of the leading countries in western Europe for reducing emissions. The progressive approach adopted by the Scottish Government is praised by Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate body, who claimed:
“Scotland’s ambition to create a strong and healthy renewables sector and a low carbon economy is a shining example of measures that can be taken to diversify energy supplies, attain energy security and attract investments.”
Despite the success that Scotland has achieved, I fear that, once again, Westminster will force Scotland to tackle climate change with one hand tied behind our back and, as sure as night follows day, ensure that efforts to tackle fuel poverty are severely constrained. I urge the Minister and the Government to reconsider.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I welcome the contribution made to the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), not only today but over many years, and I support her objectives on this important issue. I am concerned about ensuring that we have a policy to tackle climate change, but also about creating jobs and creating a fluent, diverse, dynamic industry in places such as my area of north Wales.
When the Minister responds to the debate, I want to hear four simple commitments from her. I want to hear a welcome for the contribution that renewable energy industries such as solar, wind farm and tidal can make. We need a commitment to ensure that we help grow those industries in all parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Crucially, we have to learn from Joe Biden’s lesson, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) mentioned, and put our resources where our policy mouth is. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has mentioned the key decisions that we need to take to ensure that stability and future planning happen.
In my area, we have all parts of the renewable energy picture in place. My right hon. Friend and I were seasick together off the north Wales coast in February this year when we visited Gwynt y Môr wind farm, which opened earlier this year, in my constituency. I am sad to report that no Minister sought to attend the opening of the wind farm, even though it is the second biggest in the world, with €1.2 billion euros spent on turbines and €2 billion spent on the development overall. That is a massive investment, which creates jobs across the United Kingdom.
Only last week, I attended a wind farm presentation, where we saw that 220 jobs had been created in the Isle of Wight at Vestas for blades, jobs had been created at Lowestoft and 1,000 new jobs related to wind farms had been created at Siemens in Hull. I confess that we missed a trick in north Wales; we should have bid many years ago for that investment in manufacturing. We are now dependent on Mostyn docks in my constituency to assemble goods that are manufactured elsewhere, but there is opportunity for the future, because this industry will grow, to develop manufacturing across the country. Offshore wind at places such as Gwynt y Môr in my patch—the second-biggest wind farm in the world—Burbo Bank and North Hoyle have the ability to create jobs. Only last week, I met three apprentices employed by RWE Renewables to look at how they can learn skills for the future. This is high-skill, high-investment technology.
The Government could do more for tidal energy, which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We have done that in my constituency with SeaGen at Strangford Lough, which involved significant investment from our Government at home and from the industry. The opportunities for tidal energy creation are great. It is clean energy, and I am sure that it can be generated in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, as it can in others.
One of the points that I want to touch on—briefly, because time is pressing—is the proposal for a tidal lagoon off north Wales, which will match the wind farm energy that is now being proposed. We are looking at how we can develop turbines off the coast that have the dual effect of generating energy and preventing flooding. The Minister should look at those interesting developments. Time does not permit me to go into the matter, but I want to flag up to her the fact that she should look at the tidal developments in north Wales and consider how Government can support them.
Solar is not a random idea; it is a practical way to promote renewable energy, and solar equipment is manufactured in north Wales at Sharp in Wrexham and at Kingspan in my constituency. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has mentioned, however, the Solar Trade Association has said that it fears there will be 27,000 job losses in the industry because of the short-termism of Government policy. We need to address those issues.
I support my right hon. Friend in four areas: we urgently need to have an examination of the levy control framework for 2020; we need definitive statements on contracts for difference as soon as possible, so that people can plan; we need to look at the Solar Trade Association’s £1 plan; and, crucially, I would like the Minister to look imaginatively at how we can encourage public sector buildings—schools, hospitals and public council buildings—to develop solar.
I just wanted to come in on the topic of the Solar Trade Association’s £1 plan. In my constituency, 40 jobs are based in the solar industry, and I would be keen for the Government to look strongly at the plan. I reiterate that public buildings are very important for our energy security.
I agree with the hon. Lady and I am grateful for her support. Finally, on public sector buildings, at a time of reductions in public spending, there is a real opportunity to put investment up front, to save future energy costs to the public sector, and for the public sector to take a lead.
In conclusion, wind and solar energy are generators of economic success, and tidal lagoons could be. The Minister has an opportunity to give certainty to the industry, so that it can plan for future investment.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Bailey. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on securing this debate on a topic that is particularly important to Wales and my constituents.
Renewable energy has established itself as a significant contributor to the UK’s energy mix with considerable potential for further expansion. There is incontrovertible evidence that renewables are bringing down the wholesale costs of electricity, which is particularly significant for rural regions. An YnNi Llyn report revealed that in three rural wards in Pen Llyn, 43% of households were in fuel poverty and a further 33% were at risk; as an interesting aside, 69% of them were in transport poverty. There is a high level of dependency on unsustainable fuels, so it is deeply regrettable that the UK Government are effectively halting the previous progress on the deployment of low carbon energy and reverting to a policy of promoting fossil fuel generation.
It seems as though the UK Government are alone and swimming against the tide of worldwide scientific and political consensus that climate change is one of the most threatening prospects for mankind. The Government are also negligent in respect of the economic value of renewables, particularly in Wales. As a Plaid Cymru MP, I have always campaigned, and will continue to campaign, for responsibility over Welsh energy to be fully transferred to the Welsh Government. For as long as the UK Government refuse to do so, they should at least do what is in the interests of Wales on the Welsh Government’s behalf.
Constituencies across Wales, including mine, are already witnessing the damaging economic and social effects of the reversal of policy support for renewable energy. Community energy schemes are no longer emerging, and supply chain businesses in the sector—often very important to the local economy—are already contracting and struggling to survive.
The renewable energy business, Dulas, employs many people living in my constituency. It has seen an 80% drop in demand for its planning and environmental impact assessment services, owing to onshore wind and solar park sites being pulled. And for what reason? An audit of the Government’s policies on solar, the green deal and zero-carbon homes and offices shows that they will all lead not only to an increase in CO2 emissions, but to higher bills, according to a BBC report. Would the Minister honestly be able to look my constituents in the eye and tell them that the UK Government have the social, economic and environmental concerns of Wales uppermost in their mind?
Let us compare the situation in Wales with that in Scotland. In Wales, 10.1% of the electricity generated is from renewable sources; in Scotland, where energy is a matter for the Scottish Government, that percentage is 32%. Indeed, despite the fact that Wales is home to the second-highest tidal range in the world and 1,200 km of coastline, and is one of the most attractive locations in Europe for wind energy, it produces proportionately less renewable electricity than any other country in the UK. Yet Wales remains an exporting nation. She is an energy-rich nation. We produce almost twice as much electricity as we use, and the rest is exported to the rest of the UK. We want more to be generated from renewables, but our Government’s hands are tied.
I urge the Minister to work with her colleague, the Secretary of State for Wales, to ensure that energy is fully transferred to the Welsh Government in the Wales Bill: that would reflect the situation in the UK’s other countries, allow Wales to flourish as a resource-rich nation and resolve the confusion about onshore wind in the draft Wales Bill.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to give her assurance that the UK Government will ensure that up-to-date information is provided in the form of a comparison between the renewable energy roadmap, Government forecasts and the 2009 EU renewables directive. It is essential that Members and constituents are fully informed on whether the UK is likely to achieve its targets.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on leading the charge today. I apologise that I was not here at the start of her speech; I was here at the end, in time to hear her five recommendations, all of which I agree with. I hope the Minister considers them. I have no difficulty with them, although I do have further recommendations.
It is a shame that the debate has become a little bit political but, as it has, I make the point that in 2010 the UK was ranked 25th out of 27 EU countries for the proportion of electricity generated from renewables. That is not the case now and I am proud of that. Although I am in favour of renewables, I think we talk too much about them and not enough about decarbonisation. We must try to achieve the decarbonisation of our electricity supply, as the Climate Change Act 2008 mandates us to do.
In response to my earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) made the point that I was saying that we are acting unilaterally. I am not saying that. Importantly, what I am saying is that, from looking at the initial submissions to the Paris conference of intended nationally determined contributions, the EU’s consolidated submission for reduction in carbon is at a lower rate than we are achieving—and what we are mandated by law to achieve through the 2008 Act—in the UK. That should give us all food for thought: why that is and what the implications are. The implications may be positive, but people in Redcar and Motherwell might not always agree. We need to be cognisant of and responsive to that.
One of the reasons cannot be a lack of renewables in the EU. Germany has 30% renewables—perhaps more. It has a third more carbon emissions per capita than we do, because it burns so much coal. Incredibly, Austria burns 20% more carbon per head in 2015 than it did in 1990. That is extraordinary. When we cite the progress we have made in Europe, we need to be cognisant of what that means.
I did not say that we were acting unilaterally but, as we are citing European achievements, I use the example of France, which has significantly lower carbon emissions than any other country in Europe—even Scotland. I acknowledge, by the way, that the Scottish Government’s climate change targets are even more onerous than those of the whole UK. I gently say that I believe that those targets were missed last year. Nevertheless, they are in place. France is easily the lowest carbon emitter in Europe. Why? The reason is that about 70% of its electricity is produced from nuclear power. As a consequence, it has a massive start.
In the whole EU, 33% of electricity is produced from nuclear power. The UK is at about 19%, about the same as the total that we get from renewables. I am in favour of renewables and I would like to see more, but it is absolutely not feasible—not even worth thinking about—for us to meet our climate change objectives, particularly those to which we have signed up under the 2008 Act, without nuclear power being a central and dominant part of the solution. The Government have acted on that. I applaud that and I am sure that the Minister will talk more about it.
The other area on which we need to act more quickly is the removal of coal, which is why getting rid of coal and replacing it—at least as an interim measure—with gas makes a huge difference to our climate change position. We need to make more progress on that more quickly.
My speech was made by the splendid hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), and very much not by the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who represents nuclear power in this Parliament. The pied piper of nuclear power has managed to bewitch many people in this country, but the facts are devastating.
We are planning to build a European pressurised reactor, but such reactors have never produced enough electricity to light a bicycle lamp. The reactor in Finland was due to be generating electricity in 2009, and it is now six years late; the one at Flamanville in Normandy, France, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is seven years late. Both reactors are billions and billions over-budget and neither has any date for completion. This year, the reactor at Flamanville had a very special problem when the pressure vessel, a vital part, was found to be made of steel that was brittle and liable to crack. That will add years of delay.
The financial deal that we have agreed with the French, of course, is crazy—Alice in Wonderland stuff. The French are in it because otherwise EDF would go bankrupt; it has debts of €33 billion. The Chinese want to come in after all the sensible investment has gone because they want to take control of not just Hinkley Point but all the future nuclear power stations that might be built. That is the deal. We have bequeathed to China the future of our nuclear industry, and to China it is a deal, but it is not a deal financially because nuclear power has been a basket case.
Lapping the walls of Hinkley Point C, or Hinkley Point A and B as it is now, is an immense power source that we have neglected for centuries. Tidal power has already been mentioned. A vast cliff of water flows up and down the Severn twice a day, and it could be tapped with simple technology to produce electricity that is, of course, not only green but entirely predictable. People have attacked other renewables, such as wind and solar, for being uncertain, but we can predict the power of the tide virtually for eternity. The Government appear to be slowing down on schemes for tidal barrages at Swansea, Newport, Cardiff and north Wales, and we know about Strangford lough. When the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly considered alternatives, we were hugely impressed by what is going on in Scotland, including its real progress on hydroelectricity.
The blind alley—the nightmare—will be if there is another major nuclear accident in the world such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or Fukushima. Such accidents would be fairly reported in this country, and we might find ourselves in Germany’s position of turning against nuclear power. We would then have a half-built Hinkley Point, useless, having wasted literally billions of pounds on something that is unable to generate electricity because of public fear of nuclear power. We have these accidents about once every 10 or 15 years, and it is certain that there will be another in the future. Nuclear power is not the way forward; it is a technology whose time has gone.
I am quite happy to speak. I am very good at speaking. I spent 40 years as a hairdresser, so I can talk about any subject on the planet.
I was very interested in the speech made by the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat). I recently had a meeting on this subject with Senator Kevin de León, who is over here. He is the leader of the Senate in California, which is spending vast amounts of money on renewable investment—California is the seventh richest economy in the world—and investment has followed that policy into renewable energy.
We have heard about France and various other countries, but there is a lesson to be learned from California. We are doing well in Scotland on our clean and green image, and we want to keep that image at all costs. We are extremely concerned about where the policy of the green investment bank is going, and we need to keep a hand on the tail of that dog—in fact, the tail is now a stump.
Storing renewable energy is the missing link in this debate. Compressed air energy storage needs to be addressed by this country. I would call this country’s policy a traffic light—we have a green, an amber and a red—and it is more red than amber. We are going nowhere, and the policy uncertainty does not make sense. We were going in the great direction of following green, renewable, clean energy and clean air, and we now seem to be moving in the opposition direction from the way we want to go. I am unhappy with that, and I think most of this country’s taxpayers, who were mentioned earlier, are unhappy with the direction of travel. We need to get back to a firm policy.
Gas is short term; I believe it is all built on the extraction on shale from this country. I can speak for everybody in the country of Scotland: we do not want to go there until it is totally proven to be a safe, efficient method of providing heat. I do not think any of us is convinced. The Minister needs to address compressed air energy storage and the salt caverns underneath this country that run down through England. We need a policy statement if we are to invest money in storage, and then we can start looking at how we produce more investment in the renewables industry.
It gives me great pleasure to take part in this debate on clean energy. I start by applauding the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) for securing this timely debate.
My constituency of Linlithgow and East Falkirk has quite a reputation for energy firms of one sort or another, particularly around Grangemouth, the location of INEOS—perhaps that should be firms with quite a reputation. Today, however, I will comment on perhaps one of the lesser known success stories in the area: a positive, environmentally friendly firm called Verdo Renewables. I first visited the firm about five and a half years ago, accompanying the then First Minister of Scotland on a tour of the plant not long after it opened, and I made a return visit earlier this month.
I have therefore seen for myself the development of the firm’s Grangemouth operation and the success of its business growth, and a significant contributing factor has undoubtedly been the support of the renewable heat incentive. In case people do not know, Verdo produces grade 1 premium wood pellets and briquettes suitable for burning in multi-fuel stoves, log burners and open fireplaces, all made from locally sourced sustainable timber. Verdo has another plant in Andover. The firm has made a £53 million investment in the UK with a turnover of around £25 million. After several years of losses, it is now making a profit, producing 120,000 tonnes of high-quality, sustainable wood fuels. Verdo proposes further investments, but those investments are dependent on UK energy market conditions. RHI tariffs or similar support will be needed to maintain the firm’s current progress.
On my recent visit. I was pleased to see that, with current orders, the Grangemouth plant is at manufacturing capacity, and the firm has a number of plans to expand further by addressing the layout of the factory, developing adjacent land, increasing the number of production lines and storage capacity and, of course, generating vital local jobs. Unfortunately, those expansion plans are subject to uncertainty on whether RHI will come to an end. RHI has been critical in kick-starting the biomass heat market, and further efforts are needed to decarbonise the heat market if we are to meet EU and UK targets. Biomass heat offers a low-cost route to saving CO2 compared with other sources of energy. Cost reductions in biomass installations are being achieved, and further cost reductions in installations and fuel are now possible but only if sustained RHI support is available, whereas cutting all subsidies would potentially kill the biomass heating market. Industry sources believe that the UK pellet market needs to triple from its current annual 500,000 tonnes to be sustainable and commercially viable—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Bailey.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on securing this debate. I say to her personally, as a friend, that our Front Bench is weaker for her not being on it, and I am glad that both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) are serving our party as chairmen of our Back-Bench committees.
The future of clean energy investment in the UK is now more at risk than at any other time in history. The decisions to end subsidies for onshore wind early, to remove the guaranteed subsidies for biomass conversions and to consult on controlling subsidies to solar are putting investment in clean energy at a clear and present risk.
The Renewable Energy Association states that the UK is currently eighth in the world for investment in clean technology. When the companies and investment firms interested in clean technology look at the UK and compare us with France, Germany, China and America, the question must be asked: does chopping and changing strategy really inspire confidence? It is not just investment and companies that have been put at risk. In pursuing short-term decisions rather than long-term interests, Ministers have harmed the wider economy.
It is not as if the Government do not know that. In 2012, the BiGGAR Economics report, “Onshore Wind: Direct and Wider Economic Benefits”, for the Department of Energy and Climate Change found that, if different decisions were taken, onshore wind could be worth £1.18 billion in gross value added by 2020 and an extra 17,900 jobs could be created. That is in addition to the 19,000 jobs and £1.7 billion in GVA that onshore wind already supports in the UK economy, according to figures from RenewableUK. Equally, the removal of subsidies from onshore, biomass and solar suggest that there will be higher bills in the long run, because onshore wind is the cheapest method of achieving our 2020 obligation and solar the second cheapest. Any other method of achieving greenhouse gas reductions in the UK is likely to result in higher bills, not next year but for the next 20 years.
However, although encouraging investment in solar, wind and biomass by creating a stable and consistent environment will go a long way, the clean energy sector in the UK has no future without nuclear power. Although I am pleased to note that Ministers are taking action to replace the UK’s provision of nuclear energy by 2030, and then to dramatically increase it by 2050, I question the investment decisions.
While the UK accepts investment from China and France for new uranium-based reactors, India is preparing to build new thorium-based reactors. Thorium, unlike uranium, cannot be weaponised and reactors using it have a significantly lower risk of meltdown. Fewer raw materials are needed, and the construction and running costs are lower. Perhaps most importantly of all, the waste from thorium is minuscule and has beneficial applications in medicine and exploration. Indeed, this new technology is so impressive that China and the United States agreed a bilateral project in February to build two thorium reactors on the Chinese mainland. I wonder whether the Minister will commit to asking our new Chinese partners if they would be willing to share not only their investment but their expertise in thorium reactors.
The UK was close to leading the world on clean energy investment, and was quickly catching up with California. Decisions by this Government have put that at risk. Of course we can talk about clean technology, but it really is our last best chance for this country and I am seriously concerned that we are falling behind. I hope that today the Minister brings the type of urgency that we need.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on securing this debate and on her speech. It was a privilege to serve under her in the shadow Energy team in the last Parliament, when we frequently made the case that the Government’s energy policy was ineffective and incoherent. I listened to the Secretary of State’s recent speech—the much-lauded “energy reset” speech—but my assessment of the Government’s energy policy has not changed a great deal.
The Secretary of State said she wanted an energy policy that was affordable, but the Government have banned the cheapest forms of renewables, such as onshore wind, and they have an abysmal record on energy efficiency. She said that she wanted a system that was competition-led, but—I say this as a supporter of nuclear power—Hinkley Point C is at the heart of the Government’s energy policy, and it was certainly not a competitive system that delivered that. She also said that she wanted a system that was “consumer-led”, but the most popular forms of renewables are frequently undermined by the Government while shale gas, which may have a role to play but is frankly unpopular with the British public at the moment, is always lauded as the solution to everything. So the Government’s record is not good.
There are many ways to massage the figures on energy investment; I am sure that we will hear some of them today, or simply a comparison with the past. However, the key question is whether the level of clean energy investment in the UK at the moment is sufficient to meet our needs, and the answer is no.
The situation will almost certainly get much worse today. So much of DECC’s budget has to be devoted to nuclear decommissioning that absorbing the type of departmental cuts that non-protected Government Departments will receive today will require the loss of some very effective programmes. The renewable heat incentive is such a programme, and I can almost guarantee that it will be heavily reduced today.
In addition, no assessment of this country’s clean energy investment needs can be properly made without proper consideration being given to energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the only way to decarbonise our electricity and heat supply while also making sure that bills are affordable. On that issue in particular, the record of both this Government and the last Government is absolutely appalling.
The coalition Government’s record was very poor because their ambition for the number of measures installed was very poor and, frankly, their policies gave them to the people who were not in the most need. But this Government have managed to surpass the coalition Government by setting an even less ambitious target and, frankly, in some areas they have no policy whatever.
Improving energy efficiency is the urgent priority for UK energy policy. Scotland and Wales have the measures to be able to do a little bit more, but fundamentally the UK Government need to do more on energy efficiency and fuel poverty, or none of their energy policy objectives can be fulfilled.
I will say something specific about heat policy because frequently, and understandably, clean energy investment is devoted to conversations that are simply about electricity generation. However, heat policy is in many ways much more challenging—in fact, it is certainly more challenging— than electricity policy when we consider how we will meet our climate change targets while still giving people the security of supply that they need.
That is because low carbon heat requires us to heat our homes in different ways, and we have to choose from three broad options. First, we can electrify the heat load, but that is very difficult to do because the seasonal demand for heat is so strong. Secondly, we can build heat networks in new-build, but again that is difficult to do because there is less consumer choice with that option and, frankly, to retrofit heat networks is very expensive indeed. Thirdly, we can stick broadly with what we have at the moment, which is the gas grid, but seek to decarbonise some of that gas through green gas, anaerobic digestion and other technologies, and we can also make our boilers even more efficient in the future.
The choice between those three options must be made in this Parliament and at the moment I would say that we are either making no decisions or simply making poor decisions. Cutting carbon capture and storage when this country has the legacy of offshore oil and gas is, frankly, a terrible decision. Cutting the renewable heat incentive when we need to do more, not less, on heat is, frankly, a terrible decision. Banning onshore wind and sabotaging solar are, frankly, terrible decisions. Doing nothing on energy efficiency is abysmal, zero-carbon homes being stopped is appalling, and the green deal being abolished without a replacement being put in place is simply not good enough. I could go on and on, and I tell the Minister that the Government just have to start doing better.
We have had a very good debate this morning and I thank the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) for bringing this subject before us. Her speech summed up incredibly well the issues facing the renewable energy industry and the green industry as a whole, and what can be done to make things better. A lot of the discussion this morning has been about the problems that we have had. That is right, but we also need to start looking at the ways in which we can go forward.
The potential of clean energy in terms of jobs and investment has been summed up by colleagues from all parties in this Chamber this morning. We have also heard from hon. Members from all four nations of the United Kingdom, which shows how important the green economy can be to the United Kingdom. It can provide jobs in areas where previously it would have been thought incredibly difficult to provide employment. As for the opportunities in the future, we have heard about how we may have missed the boat in some regards in terms of manufacturing. To some degree, that boat may have sailed, but there is still huge potential for the future. A number of hon. Members have mentioned the potential loss of jobs in the solar industry if the cuts to the feed-in tariff go ahead; I very much hope that that will not be the case. We have also heard about the untapped potential of solar in Scotland.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley outlined her five-point plan for support for industry. My party would back all those five targets. Over and above those targets, however, there are a few things that I wish to see added to the mix. Last week in the debate on climate change, I raised with the Secretary of State the possibility of establishing subsidy-free contracts for difference for onshore wind. As we have heard from a number of Members, it is the cheapest form of renewable energy and compares very well with what we are looking at with nuclear. Albeit that there are different pressures on the system that are addressed by the technologies, I would rather see the investment going into onshore wind. As the industry suggests, it can be done without subsidy and to block that would be unpardonable. To block that in planning terms when the matter is devolved to Scotland would be ridiculous.
Over and above those five points, will the Minister consider whether the future CfDs can be brought forward from the dates announced last week? Having those CfDs at the end of next year could be damaging for certain projects. Is it possible to extend the lifetime of the CfD beyond 15 years to reduce costs further? The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—my pronunciation of such places is better than it would be for the constituencies of some of my Welsh colleagues—mentioned energy efficiency. That is often the Cinderella, and efforts on energy efficiency are even further behind than those on renewable heat. It is one of the easiest things, and a lot could be learned from the decision by the Scottish Government to put energy efficiency measures as a national infrastructure priority in Scotland. If that could be done on a UK-wide level, it would not only provide additional funding for Scotland, which would be welcome, but it would help the UK as a whole meet its climate change targets, reduce fuel poverty and boost the economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) mentioned the renewable heat incentive, which is the area where we struggle most in getting the step change required in investment. The technology is there, if it has the support. To see that support stopped would be foolish and very much a retrograde step.
One thing that we need to do, over and above all that, is look at energy storage. We have heard talk about some of the technologies that are there, but we need a proper strategy and support mechanism for storage to take off as an industry. There is huge potential in the green economy as a whole. Storage provides the balancing support that is required for the grid in terms of intermittent generation. I do not know whether the right thing is battery technology, pumped-storage hydro, compressed gas or whatever, but developing a strategy, providing a mechanism and, dare I say it, allowing the market to decide which solution is best is a sensible way of dealing with things.
We have heard a lot about the damage that has been done. The debate timeously falls on the day of the comprehensive spending review. A number of us who support the green economy have great fears as to what will be announced in a little over two hours’ time. The damage has been bad, but the situation is not irretrievable as yet. That may not be the case once the Chancellor sits down later this afternoon. We have heard suggestions from the right hon. Member for Don Valley about the potential for the support mechanism for carbon capture and storage being withdrawn as part of the comprehensive spending review. Frankly, that would not only be a betrayal of the industry, which has invested hugely, but a betrayal of our requirement to take the challenge of climate change seriously. If we are to do what we are required to do, carbon capture and storage provides perhaps the most straightforward solution in adapting to a new way of life. To pull the rug out from under it yet again would be completely and utterly unforgivable.
I will not use my full time to allow more time for others. That time will ideally go to the Minister, although my colleague on the Labour Front Bench may choose to use it himself. So many points have been raised by Members that it would be fitting to hear less from me and more from the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on obtaining this important debate and on how she put forward the case that, so far as the future of this country is concerned, the recent attacks on renewable and low-carbon energy have created a difficult set of circumstances for future investment and have reduced Britain’s standing in the world as a good place for renewable investment. That is an extremely important point to make, because renewable energy has enormous potential, and the recent investment in it has started to release that, particularly with solar photovoltaics and onshore wind. As a result of support and assistance, those technologies are coming close to market parity, but the rug is being pulled from under them. The subsidy was not permanent and was decreasing, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) said, the Government have made it a cliff edge. At the very least, that is being extremely reckless with future investment in renewables in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley set out a number of the changes that have taken place, and it might be useful to set them out again briefly. We have had the early closure of the renewables obligation to onshore and large-scale solar; planning rules changed to restrict the deployment of onshore wind; the announcement of the end of the feed-in tariff for small-scale solar; the scrapping of pre-accreditation for small-scale renewables; investment tax relief removed for community renewables; the scrapping of the zero-carbon homes target; future rounds of the contracts for difference under the levy control framework delayed; the scrapping of the green deal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) mentioned; and the extending of the climate change levy to renewable energy, effectively placing an additional carbon tax on the purchase of renewable electricity.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said that the ending of that exemption represented a grab by the Treasury. Indeed, it can be described no less starkly than that. It also comes close to retrospectivity, as those who benefited from the exemption for the climate change levy expected it to be phased out by the early 2020s. As my right hon. Friend set out, the sudden change now has led to serious difficulties for a number of the companies involved, including Drax and Infinis.
Just the ending of the exemption may have been sufficient evidence for investors to decide that it was probably not a good idea to continue investing in the UK. However, when that measure is combined with all the other measures that I mentioned, it cannot fail but produce a bleak outlook for investors in renewable energy in the UK. As we know, because we are enjoined in the UK to export our renewable investments, it works the other way round; investors are not necessarily looking at coming to the UK only. They can go to invest in other places, and all the evidence is that that is beginning to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central pointed out that we have now fallen out of the attractiveness index top 10 for the first time since the list began, with a serious decline in our country’s renewable energy attractiveness.
The case is compounded by the fact that not only have events of the past three months weakened investment, but the Government are simply not taking decisions on various schemes for the next period. If the decisions were taken, we could enhance greatly the certainty for investment in renewables and low carbon energy. There is no certainty on the future of the levy control framework, as several hon. Members have pointed out. Not only is there no certainty on the future of that framework post-2020, but the opaque figures we are presented with at the moment for the levy control framework prior to 2020 mean that it is very uncertain whether there will be further auctions of low carbon energy over the next period, and, even if there are auctions, whether the content of those auctions will be sufficiently large to present any serious opportunities for investors to take part in.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned the Government’s heat policy shambles and the complete uncertainty over the future of the renewable heat incentive. Like him, I fear we may hear further bad news about that incentive this afternoon. As my hon. Friend also pointed out, there is no certainty on the future of the energy company obligation post-2017, and the green deal has been taken out and shot with apparently nothing to take its place over the next period. So that adds up to a really shambolic picture.
I should have mentioned it earlier, but I have to declare a family interest in the solar panel business. The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) mentioned that nobody turned up at an official opening. In my own constituency of Falkirk, in Denny, we have the world’s first Difgen, which generates electricity from a natural water source. I opened it with another couple of nonentities: Lord Colin Moynihan and Nicola Sturgeon. The significant difference is that they attended and turned up at meetings and official openings. Although it was a small-scale turbine, it was the world’s first. That signals the step-change that this Government should follow.
My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that the Government’s energy policies are in complete turmoil and are a shambles. Speculation has it that over the next three years, the number of staff in DECC may be reduced by up to 90%. How will that help the situation?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on a very real fear among many people. Future Government cuts will mean that the Department will no longer be able to function as a Department that can marshal investments together. If that is a consequence of the spending review being undertaken at the moment, it is a serious state of affairs not only for the future of energy management, but for the future of our investment in renewables overall.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) pointed out how much investment has gone into offshore wind, with the emergence of the Siemens arrangement in Hull, the Vestas investment on the Isle of Wight and the appearance of Gwynt y Môr, which he was recently able to attend the opening of, unlike some other people.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) pointed out the possible economic value for the future of renewables. Perhaps it is worth reminding the House that, according to a recent report by Cambridge Econometrics, the economic value of offshore wind over the next 20 years could increase UK GDP by £20 billion a year by 2030. It could create 70,000 more jobs and reduce gas imports by £8 billion, and emissions in the power sector could be three times lower than at present. That is the prize ahead of us as far as investment in renewables is concerned. That is the prize being dashed by what has happened recently and by the longer-term uncertainty that the Government have introduced in terms of support for renewable investment.
The Minister will say—has said, I am sure—that this is okay because our targets for the deployment of renewable energy to generate electricity look as though they might be reached. I remind the House—indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley underlined this point—that we are failing miserably to reach our overall EU energy targets in electricity, heat and transport. The recent letter from the Secretary of State, which came to public attention, indicated how badly we were likely to miss the targets over the next period. The EU is quite happy for us to overachieve in certain areas, even if we underachieve in other areas. The idea that because you have achieved in one area, you can then drop the baton in all the other areas and not worry about it seems a further misunderstanding of the task ahead of us.
Indeed, Mr Bailey. I was doing exactly that.
Finally, I want to emphasise the importance of the decisions that we take in the near future for our future energy supplies, and how important this debate has been this morning. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what she intends to do to get us back on track as far as these important investments are concerned.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who has done so much. She really does feel passionately about the importance of climate change and a clean energy future. I salute her for that.
Last week the Secretary of State set out a clear new direction for our energy strategy, with security and keeping the lights on at its heart. It recognises the need for investor certainty, but also that security is not possible without action on climate change. The system is not delivering for consumers if energy is unaffordable. So clean energy investment is critical to successfully delivering our strategy.
In the Paris climate change talks, the UK will play a leading role not only in meeting our own ambitions for our decarbonisation targets, which are some of the toughest in the world, but in working to influence other nations in being more ambitious about their need for a clean energy future. It is disappointing that so many Opposition Members are pretending otherwise. I believe we have cross-party agreement on the need for ambitious decarbonisation targets.
A key pillar of our new direction is to consult on a shift from unabated coal to gas. Gas produces half the carbon emissions of coal when used for power generation: it is one of the most cost-effective and significant steps we can take in reducing emissions from our electricity sector and sends a very powerful message to the rest of the world about the level of our commitment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) absolutely rightly made the point that in Germany and Austria, in spite of a high level of renewables deployment, emissions are increasing because of their use of coal. One of the biggest decarbonisation efforts we can make is to move from coal to gas.
I am sorry; I will give way in a minute, but I want to make some progress first.
From day one of this Government, our new nuclear programme has been fundamental to our approach to energy security and our shift to low carbon. Industry has set out proposals to develop 18 GW of new nuclear power for the UK, which could deliver around 30% of the electricity we will need in the 2030s. If built, the power plants will reduce our carbon emissions by more than 50 million tonnes, bringing an estimated £80 billion of private investment into the UK, with about 30,000 people employed across the new nuclear supply chain at the peak of construction.
The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) rightly expressed concerns about the security of nuclear. I assure him that both our existing nuclear fleet, which produces around 19% to 20% of our electricity every day, and our new nuclear fleet will benefit from the most stringent regulation from our independent Office for Nuclear Regulation.
Mr Bailey, I am trying to respond to Members’ points. If I give way to each Member on their individual point, I will not be able to respond to them all. I do apologise, but there is no time to give way to lots of Members.
I turn to renewables. We have been very clear that they have an important part to play alongside other technologies in our clean energy mix. I am happy to agree to the request from the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) that I welcome the decarbonisation impact of renewables. We are of course all delighted at the enormous success of the industry, but that does not mean that subsidies can continue as they were. The costs of renewables have come down significantly, and as the technologies mature it is right that they stand on their own two feet. That is why we are taking action on subsidies for onshore wind and solar, technologies that will be cost-competitive through the next decade.
The hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) all mentioned the important issue of fuel poverty, on which there was a debate in this Chamber only yesterday. All Members must recognise that the subsidies for renewable technologies are paid for by precisely those people who are struggling with fuel poverty, so excess subsidies simply cannot be afforded.
Take onshore wind, a technology that has deployed very successfully to date—so much so that without action there would be a risk that it would deploy beyond the 11 GW to 13 GW range we set out for 2020, which would have added more to consumer bills. That is what our manifesto commitment set out to address. Even with action, we expect to deliver more than 12 GW by 2020, comfortably within our range and enough to meet our ambition to deliver 30% of the UK’s electricity with renewables by 2020.
Similarly, more than 8 GW of solar is already deployed and even with the cost controls we are proposing, we expect to have around 12 GW in place by 2020. Evidence-gathering on costs and deployment-monitoring suggested that action was needed right across the range in solar, including for below 5 MW. There was a risk of projects being over-compensated and of adding to the overspend that we were already projecting for the levy control framework. We have consulted on proposals to constrain solar further under the renewables obligation and on changes to the feed-in tariff scheme more broadly.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) asked for more liaison with the Welsh Government on how we will meet our EU decarbonisation targets. We speak regularly with the devolved Governments, but I will ensure that those specific points are made. We are looking carefully at the more than 50,000 responses to the feed-in tariff review and will set out our final approach to all schemes by the end of the year.
On the future for renewable electricity, we are continuing to listen to ideas from the renewables sector about how we can best ensure a level playing field for established renewables to compete with other generation technologies. For example, some stakeholders have suggested the concept of a market-stabilising contract for difference. We would certainly welcome further industry views on that. Being tough on subsidies allows us not only to keep downward pressure on consumer bills, but to direct support where it is needed most: among the less established technologies. For example, it is right that we build on our world-leading position on offshore wind, with more than 5 GW already installed and plans for that to double by 2020.
Last week, the Secretary of State gave real certainty to the sector by setting a very clear challenge: continue to reduce costs quickly and we could support up to 10 GW of new offshore wind in the 2020s. If those conditions are met, we will make funding available for three auctions in this Parliament. We will set out more detailed plans in due course, but we plan to hold the first of these auctions, open to less established technologies, by the end of 2016. I acknowledge that the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig), said that he would like that auction to be sooner rather than later, but I have heard opposing views from industry. Some companies would like the time to get into a position to enter the first auction, so would like it to be delayed. There are always winners and losers.
As well as action on electricity, it is vital that we change how we use heat to warm our homes and buildings, and how it is used for industrial processes. Heat accounts for about 45% of our energy consumption and a third of all carbon emissions, so different approaches need to be tested. There are technologies with great potential—such as district heating, biogas, hydrogen and heat pumps—but it is not yet clear which will work at scale.
We have to develop a long-term plan that will keep down costs for consumers. We will set out our approach next year as part of our strategy to meet our carbon budgets. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) mentioned the value of the renewable heat incentive, and I entirely agree that it has been a valuable policy. As he knows, we will be setting out our plans later today in the spending review.
Looking further forward to innovation, we need to keep an eye on the horizon for promising future developments. Some of the solutions to the challenges we face may right now be just an idea on a drawing board or not yet even exist. There are technologies with great potential, such as nuclear, offshore wind, demand response and storage. In some areas, the UK is a world player in the development of technologies; in others, the challenges we face will require technical solutions specific to the UK, so we remain committed to supporting innovation.
Department of Energy and Climate Change funding is already helping to develop exciting new technologies with great potential, in areas such as energy storage, low-carbon transport fuels and more efficient lighting. Those and many more examples point to the creation of new industries and new jobs in the UK, so it is right that we remove the barriers to their development. The hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) mentioned the importance of storage, and I completely agree with him that it could transform the intermittency of some renewables.
To conclude, investors need clarity on our strategy for clean energy, and that is what we have now given them. New nuclear, new gas, existing and new renewable technologies will all help us to meet the challenge of decarbonisation in the power sector. We will set out our approach to heat next year as part of our wider strategy on carbon budgets, and we will continue to lead the way on innovation by pioneering the discovery of clean and cheap technologies for the future. We have a plan, and it is to deliver affordable, secure, low carbon energy for today and for generations well into the future.
We have certainly heard from all those who participated in this debate what a breadth of knowledge there is throughout the House. Everyone who spoke focused on the opportunities for jobs, skills and investment in their communities. When it comes to debates on climate change, it can too often be the usual suspects from the various green groups who take part. I have to say that I was saddened to hear the Secretary of State refer to some of those people as some sort of anti-capitalist pressure group arguing on these matters. The truth is that we are here today to stand up for British jobs and British investment.
It has been a bit like being in a comeback band, what with my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) being present, although I am afraid we are missing that very good former Member, Tom Greatrex. There was a great contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), as well as from my hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), although I might disagree with the latter on nuclear. I am also glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat); I actually agree with some of what he said about Europe and the decarbonisation target, but the EU submission for the Paris conference sets a target for the reduction in emissions of at least 40%.
What is today about? It is about jobs. Over the past few years I was helped greatly by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who supported me in my previous role. Who said this:
“We want the words: ‘Made in Britain’, ‘Created in Britain’, ‘Designed in Britain’ and ‘Invented in Britain’ to drive our nation forward—a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”?—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]
It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I could not agree more, but instead we have seen fragmented and retrograde policies that have harmed this important sector. What is so wonderful about the clean energy sector? It is a one nation industrial sector. It reaches out beyond London and the south-east. It is a contributor to balancing our economy, and investment in it is more evenly distributed compared with other sectors.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
I beg to move,
That this House has considered forced adoptions.
Forced adoption is necessary; sadly, there are circumstances in which it is right that the state removes a child from their birth parents. I have seen cases in my constituency that made me think, “Thank goodness that there is a system of adoption, that there are good people working in social services who intervene and that there are foster parents willing to care for children. Most of all, thank goodness that there are loving adoptive parents who offer loving homes to children who tragically were not born into one.”
But I have also seen cases that made me feel a little uneasy. I have met tearful grandparents who are about to see their grandchild for the last time and are adamant that social services never seriously considered them as alternatives to adoption. I have often listened to those who feel that their families have been broken up by what they regard as a cartel of family courts, family lawyers and social services. Taking a child from their birth mother by force is a very big deal. Those who make such decisions need to be accountable, but currently they are not. The family courts are shrouded in secrecy. There are too many cosy vested interests operating in ways that are simply not fair or just.
I am sure the Minister will tell us that we need to increase the number of adoptions. In a sense, I do not disagree. I am sure he will point out that there are almost 70,000 cared-for children in this country, and he will make a sound case when he says that surely more should be adopted. Superficially, that is a powerful argument. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the life chances of children who are adopted, rather than cared for, are vastly improved. Should we not, therefore, seek to adopt more? That is great, but if the unintended consequence of setting targets is that there is pressure to break up families who might otherwise stay together, I think that is wrong. Many of those 70,000 cared-for children are young people and teenagers. We need to ensure that the pressure to adopt does not lead to infants being removed from mum or toddlers from granny and grandpa.
It is reassuring to think that the adoption system and the family courts are presided over by dispassionate, wise experts who are always right—if only that were so. The Court of Appeal, in a judgment only two years ago, expressed real concern about the
“inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption”.
Criticism does not come much more strongly than that.
We like to think that expert witnesses must be right. Surely they weigh up all the evidence; after all, they are paid to do that for a living. But the truth is that many of the social workers and medical experts who testify on behalf of local authorities do so anonymously. Often, those unnamed experts give evidence about families they have never met and situations of which they have no first-hand knowledge. There is the notorious case of Fran Lyon, who I believe has, in effect, fled to Sweden as a result of the heavy-handedness of our family court system. Solicitors represent families in particular court cases, but the local authority against which the family wants legal advice is often also a long-term client of those solicitors. It is all a little too cosy. The Law Society might be happy with those arrangements, but others might worry that there is a legal cartel in the family court system.
I could make lots of cheap points by highlighting individual examples of injustice, but I am not going to do that. One does not need to look too far on Google or in the tabloid newspapers to find outrageous examples of injustice. The powerful case against the family court system and the adoption system at the moment comes not from individual cases, which rightly make us feel uneasy, but from the aggregate data. I submitted freedom of information requests to every local authority in England and Wales to see what proportion of care orders were converted into adoption orders. I will give hon. Members just three examples.
In the London borough of Enfield, over a six-year period between March 2009 and March 2015, there were 96 care orders, 93 of which were converted into adoption orders. That is a 97% conversion rate. In north-east Somerset, over a one-year period in 2013-14 there were 16 care orders, 15 of which were turned into adoption orders. That is a 94% conversion rate. In Reading, over a one-year period in 2013 28 care orders became 22 adoption orders. That is a 79% conversion rate.
It all seems pretty automatic: if someone gets a care order, they lose their kids. The staggeringly high rate at which care orders are converted into adoption orders suggests that justice is not being done. Once the legal process begins, almost nothing—not legal advocacy, not the circumstances of the family, not the willingness of loving grandparents to raise their grandchildren—can stop it. It is a done deal; it is a fix.
It is urgent that we make the process and the family courts much more open and transparent. Of course, being a cartel, they are not going to like it. Cartels tend not to like transparency. Hon. Members who were in the House in 2009 will remember a famous example of a cartel not wanting openness and transparency. But those are not arguments against openness and transparency; they are the arguments of a cartel.
Jack Straw, the former Minister, came up with some excellent proposals to ensure openness and transparency in the family court system. Unfortunately, his civil servants got their claws into the proposal, and the legislation that was passed was a watered-down measure that did not achieve what he set out to do. Sir Humphrey prevailed. The law does not belong to the lawyers; social services do not belong to social workers; and the family courts are not the fiefdom of a self-referential legal profession. I hope that Sir James Munby, who is leading a review, is prepared to take on the vested interests and has the courage to open up the system and break open the cartel.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. Nobody would deny the importance of safeguarding children who are at risk, but there is huge inequality in the system. Parents do not get the advocacy and support they require to be given a fair opportunity to show they can support their children. Instead, they have to go through a forced adoption.
I absolutely agree. The hon. Lady makes an incredibly powerful point. It seems that articulate, highly educated people who have access to information are able to fight off the system, but people who do not have access to information and are not as eloquent as lawyers tend to be trampled over by the system. Many of the most tragic cases I have come across in Clacton involve people whose love for their grandchildren is as strong as anyone’s, but they are just not very articulate and are therefore trampled over by the monstrously unjust and unfair system.
To ensure that even inarticulate grandparents get justice and a fair hearing, we should adopt nine proposals. We need to recognise the importance of balancing the necessity of some degree of privacy with the need to shine a spotlight into the family court cartel. These nine proposals strike the right balance.
First, we need to promote the more extensive use of special guardianship orders, which allow a child to be made a ward of an extended family member, such as their grandparents, and allow close supervision while, in many cases, enabling the family member to raise their grandchild. Secondly, placement and adoption order proceedings should be open to the media on the same basis as other family law proceedings. Thirdly, I want the introduction of a presumption to allow reporting of family court proceedings on an anonymised basis—in other words, references could be made to child A and mother B.
Fourthly, I would like to mandate the publication of all judgments, those from district judges on application, except perhaps where a presiding judge seeks and obtains a contrary order from the president of the family division. The default should be to publish judgments. Fifthly, we should mandate that all local authority witnesses, especially social workers, be identified by name and position held. Sixthly, we should require, on application and subject to administrative costs, all expert witnesses to list the previous court cases in which they have given evidence.
Seventhly, we need to publish on an anonymised basis all statements of case, skeleton arguments, case summaries and other documents prepared and exchanged by the advocates in a case. Eighthly, we need to go far beyond the watered-down Straw proposals and allow all media access to expert reports on an anonymised basis, with reporting restrictions imposed in exceptional circumstances only. Finally, we should allow unrestricted access to expert reports to academics for peer review on the condition that any research papers are anonymised.
The nine proposals are sensible and recognise the need for some degree of privacy. At the same time, they will ensure that the family courts cartel cannot continue to preside over the monstrous injustices that we never get to hear about. I hope that the Minister will take some of the suggestions on board. I am encouraged that the ideas seem to be gaining some measure of cross-party support. I hope that we can build a consensus around them and, on the basis of Sir James’s proposals, bring about legislative change.
Yes. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I have just come from a meeting organised by the Who Cares? Trust, for which the Minister does amazing work. It supports children who have spent a lifetime in care, so it is pertinent that I am here today to make some comments. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) on raising this issue, which is long overdue for debate in this House; it has had far too little exposure, and I hope that this debate will be the first of many.
Hon. Members from both sides of the House will have received in their mailbags heartfelt pleas from desperate families who have been caught up in the system. Such pleas often appear wholly incredible on first reading. It is only when hon. Members have themselves had experience of the system or get to know an ordinary family affected by it that they can ever fully comprehend what can happen to the families caught up in it. Few hon. Members will be aware that, in this country today, the state can remove a child from the care of its parents without consent and when no harm of any kind has occurred.
Before I first came to this place, I sat on fostering and adoption panels. For the first few years of my involvement, I was completely unware that the natural parents in the cases we were considering were contesting the removal of their children with increasingly despairing battles against the state. It struck me that many children had been removed because a professional believed a child might be at risk of future harm. That risk is not confined to neglect or physical harm; it includes emotional harm.
During the cases heard by the panel, natural parents were repeatedly depicted as having mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and complex family histories. Those human defects would be elaborated upon in such a way that it became unthinkable for panel members to challenge the depiction of the parents as unfit and incapable of parenting. If we ever questioned whether the parents could, with the right support, offer adequate care in future, we would be reassured with familiar phrases such as, “The child’s timeline could not wait for the parents,” “The parents were unco-operative with social services,” and, “The parents failed to prioritise the needs of their child.” The focus throughout was on finding fault in parents, rather than assessing whether their child was happy and thriving in their care. I can say from my family’s personal experience that there is no doubt that the process is one of the most stressful that any family will go through. Their voice counts for nothing. Their evidence is always doubted. There is nothing that they can say to prove their innocence.
A short debate cannot do justice to the seriousness of this issue, its consequences for children and families or the wider impact on society. Children taken from their parents, as I have just heard first hand, suffer the trauma of separation, rejection and loss. They also lose their identity, wider family, home, school, friends and all their connections. A childhood spent in care leads to permanent labelling, which is exactly what one young person said to me in the past half an hour. We discover that children who leave the care system are also labelled as potentially unfit to parent their own children. I have come across many cases in which care leavers have lost their child to the care system because they were deemed to have inadequate parenting capacity owing to their childhood spent in care. That sums up the situation.
The families affected are too often the most disadvantaged and least able to defend themselves from the powerful machinery of the state. I have often thought that if Charles Dickens had heard the stories and met the families whom I have met, he would have written a book about it—I am sure that George Orwell probably did. Despite forced adoption being the most draconian power that the state can exercise, the subject is hidden away, leaving families voiceless and impotent against officialdom.
I hope that we will have further opportunity to discuss the matter fully, and I hope to secure a Chamber debate. I thank the hon. Member for Clacton for his work in this area, because he has taken the first step, and I encourage him to continue to fight this cause. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are slowly becoming aware of the matter through their casework, but they are often unable to take up such cases because they are already in the legal system. The only way in which we can represent such families is to be a voice for them here. It is an incredible privilege that we have a platform on which to raise the issues that the world does not get to hear about. I also thank the excellent Minister for Children and Families for being here. He is all too well aware from his extensive experience of the family courts of the difficult and sensitive issues and of the impact on children and their families. I know that the subject is of utmost importance to him and his Department.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) on securing this debate. I recall all too vividly our early comradeship on the then Children, Schools and Families Select Committee between 2008 and 2010. Our paths have gone in slightly different directions since then, but I have always looked on in admiration of his crusade to bring greater transparency to public life, and this is another area to which his attention has been drawn.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for her contribution. I know that she, too, will pursue the subject personally in the months and years ahead.
The debate gives me the opportunity to set out the Government’s position in an important and sensitive area for which I have had the privilege of being the Minister responsible for the past three and a half years. The first principle on which the system of family justice in England is rightly based is that children live with their family wherever possible.
When concerns about a child are raised with a local authority, the law under the Children Act 1989 is clear about looking at what support or help a family might need to enable the child to remain with the family. Achieving that objective includes work not only in the local authority, but with other agencies.
As hon. Members have recognised, however, where a child remains at risk of suffering “significant harm”—we could have a long debate about a definition—the local authority may apply to the courts to take a child into the care system as a looked-after child. Many tens of thousands of children are either a child in need or on a child protection plan and should be receiving support services from the local authority and others to ensure that they have every prospect of remaining with their family. The vast majority of such cases never get anywhere near a court.
When cases do go to court, parents should have legal representatives who are appointed to support them—for which legal aid rightly remains available—to ensure that their views are heard and that evidence presented by the local authority can be challenged. I spent many years doing that myself.
In addition, applications made to the court are subject to separate scrutiny by the child’s guardian, who must submit his or her own analysis of the evidence. On many occasions in my experience, a child’s guardian was the one who was able to give a robust challenge to the local authority’s case on behalf of the child. That is an important part of providing an independent view of the veracity of a case before any decision by the judge. The court’s paramount consideration is, of course, the welfare of the child, which is known as the paramountcy principle.
Where it is decided that it is not possible for children to remain with their parents, the law is clear that local authorities must consider placing a child with relatives—including grandparents, thousands of whom do an excellent job of supporting and bringing up their grandchildren —and friends before considering other permanency options. We have supported that approach through means such as the advancement of family group conferences, at which families are brought together at a much earlier point in their contact with local authority services, so that they may come up with a plan to keep the child in the family and to enable the family to have the support necessary for a sustainable situation. We have announced the extension of shared parental leave to grandparents, so they are in a better position to put themselves forward as potential carers.
In some cases, however, despite the best efforts of the family to provide an alternative, it is in the best interests of children to be placed in foster care or to be adopted. I know from my family’s experience about the huge difference that fostering and adoption can and does make to children who have had a difficult start in life.
The key is always what is in the best interest of the child. That is why we have not, as the hon. Member for Clacton suggested we have, set targets for the number of adoptions—there is no chasing of adoption targets, which simply do not exist. Every decision must take account of a child’s individual circumstances and need.
In discussing adoption, it is important to remember the context. Without giving too long a history lesson in the few minutes I have remaining, the Adoption of Children Act 1926 was the first time that adoption was made legal in this country, but that was after the United States of America, Canada, Australia and many other countries had already done so. In 1968, 25,000 children, a large number of whom were babies, were adopted under adoption orders. In 2014, about 5,000 children were adopted, of whom 230 were under the age of one, according to the latest figures. Therefore, only 16% of children leaving the care system were adopted, with the majority returning to their own families after a period in care.
That illustrates, first, that societal shift has meant a corresponding shift in the role of adoption and, secondly, that the outcome being pursued for children is not relentlessly that of adoption irrespective of what is in their best interest. Many children are now achieving permanence through many different routes, such as supervision orders, what used to be residence orders and are now child arrangements orders, or special guardianship orders, which I will come on to.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 makes it clear that children cannot be adopted without the consent of their parents unless the courts are satisfied that the welfare of the child requires such consent to be dispensed with. The circumstances in which a court might take that view can be that it is satisfied that the parents cannot be found, that the parents are incapable of giving their consent, or that it has reason to believe that the welfare of the child or children requires parental consent to be dispensed with. That is a stiff and strict test, which Lady Hale reiterated in a recent judgment.
England is not alone in having an adoption system that includes adoption without parental consent; so, too, do Germany, Italy—in what is known as a special adoption—Sweden, Norway and 24 other European countries. The recent announcement by the Prime Minister was all about ensuring that where adoption is in the best interest of the child, there is an early placement for the child, to form the bonds that are so important as children grow up and as they are starting to be nurtured by their adoptive family.
As the hon. Gentleman understands, I am not in a position to comment on individual cases, but I was going to say—this was drawn out in the Re B-S judgment by the president of the family division—that there is still some inconsistency in the practice of social workers. Evidence submitted to the courts in support of such a draconian step—the severing of the legal tie between children and their birth parents—might not be of the quality and depth of analysis required for the judge to make such an important decision.
The president of the family division made that point throughout the judgment, so we need to concentrate on the quality of social work. The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a big reform programme under way to improve the knowledge and skills at the core of social work. We want judges to have clear opportunities to question the evidence supplied by social workers and to know that it is of sufficient quality to give them confidence about making a good decision.
On special guardianship orders, it is also important to look at the numbers and the rapid change in their role in permanence decisions on children in care. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we should encourage more special guardianship orders, but, as he knows, since their inception in 2005, we have in fact seen their use increase year on year. Since 2011, the number has in fact doubled.
Yes, the increase is a positive development, but it is also apparent that the changes in the use of special guardianship orders have led professionals and others—reflected in some research by Jim Wade—to be concerned that special guardians are not always being assessed or supported appropriately or consistently. Some children are being placed with family members with whom they have no relationship or, in some cases, whom they have never met. We have seen a substantial rise in the number of babies under the age of one leaving care under an SGO from 130 in 2010-11 to 620 in 2014-15. Such a position was not envisaged at the inception and crafting of the special guardianship orders, which is why we are reviewing whether the assessment—important for a child placed under an SGO—is of the veracity that it needs to be and whether support is available should a child be placed in such a placement.
I only have 40 seconds left to refer to the hon. Gentleman’s points about the lack of openness of the courts. It was helpful to hear him recognise the fine balance to strike in such matters. The media have been allowed access to most family court hearings since 2009. The need for openness in the family courts, however, has to be balanced against the need to protect the privacy of the child. We know that children are concerned about the details of their case being made public, which is why the judge has the power to order reporting restrictions if deemed necessary to safeguard the identity of the child. Going beyond that requires careful consideration.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the president of the family division is consulting on the matter, and we look forward to his response, so that we may see what more we can do to ensure confidence in the family justice system.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
UK Musicians Performing Overseas
[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered UK musicians performing overseas.
Last Friday was a significant day for two UK music artists. Adele released her third album “25” and after only three days on sale it had sold an amazing 2.3 million copies in the USA. It has now achieved the feat of being the album with the greatest number of sales in its first week of release in America. In the UK, the album is likely to sell at least 800,000 copies in its first week of release. On the same day, Benjamin Clementine was awarded the 2015 Mercury prize for album of the year for “At Least For Now”. That critical acclaim in the UK for Benjamin follows commercial success across Europe earlier this year.
As a nation, we are fortunate to have such talented musicians who are enjoyed across the world and contribute to a sector that according to UK Music is worth £4.1 billion to the economy and provides exports of £2.1 billion. A look at this week’s international singles and albums charts shows that Adele is No. 1 in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the USA. Her album is No. 1 in Australia, Austria, Belgium—I could go on. She is a worldwide British musical phenomenon.
The other thing those two artists have in common is that neither would have achieved their success without the opportunity to perfect their musical skills in front of audiences overseas, where they can grow fan bases and support. Adele’s debut concert tour of 2008-09 to support her first album “19” focused heavily on north America, which has no doubt contributed to her appeal there. Benjamin Clementine spent a number of years busking and playing bars and hotels in Paris before becoming popular in the French music scene, where he has been described as
“la révélation anglaise des Francos.”
That is easy for me to say!
The specific contribution of musicians, including songwriters and composers, to the UK economy is £1.9 billion, and they are responsible for export revenues of £926 million. To maintain those impressive figures, it is vital that the Government work with international partners and other countries to overcome specific barriers that act as a restraint on a musician’s trade. In this debate, I want to focus on specific difficulties for UK musicians performing in America and, in particular, the challenges of securing visas to perform there.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) recently tabled early-day motion 609, which I expect many Members in Westminster Hall have signed. I understand that almost all parliamentary parties have signed up to it, which demonstrates the fact that we are discussing a genuine cross-party issue, which should reassure the Government in their response and their dealings with their American counterparts.
The American market is key. According to the latest figures, north America is second only to Europe as the biggest music market in the world, generating revenues of $5.24 billion. For decades, breaking America has been a key measure of success for UK artists and such achievements significantly benefit our economy. Aspiring UK musicians relish the opportunity to perform in America. Annual showcases such as South by Southwest and Warped Tour are significant events in the development of a musician’s career.
The difficulties about four years ago that UK bands had in attempting to get visas to perform at South by Southwest led to a campaign, spearheaded by John Robb of punk band the Membranes and by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), to address problems with the system. The process whereby UK musicians apply for a US work visa is long, complex and prohibitively expensive. While musicians understand the reasons for requiring visas, particularly at a time such as this when we are experiencing heightened security issues, the administration of American visas can nevertheless act as a significant barrier to a musician’s trade. The application process requires face-to-face meetings in either Belfast or London, which may require expensive overnight stays for bands or musicians who live outside those cities. It is worth pointing out that more than half of musicians earn less than £20,000 a year.
While the campaign in 2011-12 did result in some successes, notably the US embassy in London engaging and designating an official to act as a liaison for the UK music industry when problems arise, in the past year the Musicians Union has received an increasing number of complaints from its members who, through no fault of their own, have had to cancel shows and rebook flights due to difficulties and delays at the US embassy in London. Bands have had to cancel 5,000-capacity shows in the US and I have been provided with case studies by UK Music, the Musicians Union and others I know that further illuminate the continuing problems in acquiring visas.
While I appreciate that we are referring specifically to the US, the problem is much wider than that. I am sure, Mr Howarth, that you are familiar with the metalcore genre, in which case you may be aware of the Australian band I Killed the Prom Queen. In the last week they had to endure three days in a Malaysian jail because of visa issues—I imagine that was their toughest gig. Also, as a result of changes to the US visa system, a guitarist who has spent more than 25 years performing in America, typically for two-month tours, now needs a new visa for each working period. Previously he was able to use a visa valid for two or three years each time he performed in the US. Now, however, to avoid paying $2,250 each time a visa is required, artists have to know all the dates of the gigs they are performing two or three years in advance. That is simply unrealistic and ignores the way in which musicians work.
Secondly, there is the case of a long-established UK punk band who I am sure you are absolutely familiar with, Mr Howarth: the Membranes. John Robb, a member of the band, wrote to me today and said:
“The situation is now ridiculous. I just got back from a US tour with my band…it cost £5,000 in visa fees and having to pay visa agents large amounts of money to process our forms and arrange meetings for us…US bands pay £30 to come to the UK—and of course we were given the visas late which meant we have to cancel the first 2 dates of the tour and rebook our flights meaning we lost several non-recoverable air fares. American promoters and agents are fed up with the situation and the feeling in the UK and Europe is that bands are giving up on touring the USA.”
Similarly, Welsh folk band Calan had to cancel an appearance at a festival in Cumberland in America and lost a considerable amount of money on flights as a result. That was due to delays in band members receiving returned passports after their application for visas was approved. Their problems were intensified by poor communication from the embassy in explaining the delays. Finally, and particularly troubling, is the experience of a folk artist who was sent back to the UK after suffering an anxiety attack following an aggressive interrogation by a border guard at immigration control. She was told that that episode may hinder any future applications she makes for American visas.
What is striking about the problems associated with UK musicians performing in the US is that American musicians, as Mr Robb said, find it comparatively easier to perform in the UK. Typically, the costs for a four-piece UK band to go through an American visa application process would be £2,500, whereas research shows that when a promoter brings a US musician who holds a US passport to the UK, they can enter without a visa but with a work permit issued by the promoter at a cost of £21. A tier 5 temporary visa for a creative or sporting person costs just £225.
Adele is not a new phenomenon, and the likes of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin are just a few of the UK acts that have had considerable success in the US. It was the creativity of our nation that inspired the creativity of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and enabled Jimi Hendrix, the great American artist, to establish himself here.
I am pleased to report that the music industry, ably led by the Musicians Union and involving UK Music, is attempting to form a taskforce to address problems caused by the American visa system. That is a welcome development, particularly in the run-up to next year’s South by Southwest, which is under four months away.
I would like to draw the House’s attention to a number of areas where the Government may be able to take forward work to alleviate problems with the system. The discussions between the European Union and the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership present an opportunity to eliminate barriers to trade. As part of TTIP, I understand that the EU is looking at overcoming certain visa-related issues that create difficulties for citizens of some EU member states who want to enter the USA. Those discussions should be expanded to address some of the problems for musicians that I have outlined today. I look to the Government to take that work forward with their EU counterparts.
Before such a solution is achieved, certain other interim measures could be put in place through direct liaison between the UK Government and American authorities. First, our Government could impress upon the American embassy the need to engage again with the UK music industry to monitor problems associated with the US visa system for our musicians. The US ambassador himself has kindly allowed the annual Rock the House finals to be hosted in his London residency. That competition is very close to this place, and it is a project I am now proud to be patron of, having taken over from the former Member for Hove and Portslade.
Ambassador Barzun also addressed the Music Publishers Association’s annual general meeting this year, and his enthusiasm for music should be considered an advantage to our officials in their engagement with the embassy on this issue. Either the embassy or Government could establish a special helpline for periods of high intensity in musician visa applications, such as in the run-up to South by Southwest, which could then be promoted by our industry among the community as a way to address any specific concerns.
Secondly, certain sensible steps could be taken so that America does not have to compromise its visa system entirely. That should include an ability to add dates to a tour once a visa application has been made and granted to a musician, without having to start all over again.
Thirdly, the Government could work with local councils to offer our public buildings—county council offices, registry offices and so on—as a place to hold embassy interviews, so that bands do not need to travel to Belfast or London at great cost. While there could be a fee for that facility, it is unlikely to be as expensive as having to travel and stay over in London or Belfast.
Finally, the Government’s work with the Creative Industries Council should be co-ordinated to consider issues associated with visas. I understand that the Creative Industries Council has a trade sector advisory group, for example, which brings in the work of UK Trade & Investment and others. VisitBritain, as a vehicle for promoting UK tourism overseas, should also be engaged.
We are very good at exporting music, but that relies on maximising the performing opportunities for our musicians so that they are discovered in new markets. Music tourism alone generates £3.1 billion for the UK economy, according to figures from UK Music. I thank UK Music for all its research and hard work in this area.
This issue affects not only musicians but crew members, some of whom I have talked to recently. I know a UK sound engineer who makes his living working for bands right across the world, in particular in the US. He has missed out on so much work due to US visa difficulties. One band he works for has been forced to spend many thousands of dollars just to organise his visa. He also told me about his experience of having to renew his passport in August. He had four days back in the UK, supposedly for down time. He spent one day in Liverpool at the passport office and two days in London, getting a visa; that is not a lot of down time. That is a ridiculous situation for a regular worker in the music industry to find himself in. He also told me that the problem is much wider, with the current system holding back a lot of great, talented people in our country who work in our music industry and could be working abroad but are not.
A few years ago, BBC 4 broadcast a three-part documentary entitled “How the Brits Rocked America”. The series described the unique relationship between American music fans and UK music, and their appetite for it. There are a huge variety of circumstances in which musicians seek to perform in the States. It may be a solo musician performing a one-off concert, or groups of musicians performing at showcases and tours in venues right across the country. There is a clear need for a cultural exchange that benefits all on fair, reciprocal terms and allows for an efficient flow of work opportunities for artists from both the USA and the UK.
Before concluding my speech, I want to say a final word about an issue not specifically related to American visas yet relevant to the debate. Like any right-minded person, I was shocked by the appalling events at the Bataclan in Paris and the massacre at the Eagles of Death Metal concert. That was an attack on our way of life, perpetrated by twisted, evil scum and, specifically and appallingly, an attack on largely young, innocent people who like nothing more than going to gigs. Despite those incidents, everyone who loves music—including me, my children and hon. Members present today—must remember that live music events should not be deemed dangerous activities, and are in fact life-enhancing experiences. I hope that other hon. Members will join me in welcoming the efforts of our Government and Governments around the world to protect our musicians and audiences at home and abroad at this challenging time for international security.
Order. Before I call the first speaker, I am sure everybody would want to associate themselves with the hon. Gentleman’s final comments. I should personally thank him for adding to my admittedly patchy knowledge of contemporary music, particularly given that the highlight of my own performing career was in St Aidan’s social club in 1968, for which we were paid £5—and we were probably overpaid at that.
I hope to enlighten you further about other types of music, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on bringing this important subject to the Chamber, and I echo his revulsion at the recent events in Paris.
Last week, I found myself in China on an overseas trip—my first one as an MP, and my first time in China. I noticed a building that looked very familiar, with Chairman Mao’s features adorning the side of it. I had never been there before, but I then had a memory jolt: I had originally seen the building in a copy of Smash Hits from 1985, when Wham! toured there. At the time, the fact that they had gone over there to play was hailed as a big cultural thawing process. They were an interesting early ’80s band. They not only lyricised about sleepless nights on an HP bed but were astute chroniclers of Thatcher’s Britain, chanting “DHSS” throughout some of their tunes. They also broke through cultural barriers to play on the Great Wall of China.
While our delegation leaders, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and Lord Mandelson, kept saying on every visit we did, “This is an all-time high for relations between China and Britain,” and, “We’re entering a golden era,” I wonder whether George Osborne’s success in China had been prefigured by George Michael’s success there 30 years earlier. Whenever we have these two-country international cultural exchanges between, for example, the UK and America or China, barriers are broken down, but visa issues can complicate that form of what we might call knowledge transfer.
Regarding China in the post-Wham! era, things seem to be mixed. The British Council had a UK-China season of cultural exchange earlier this year, launched by Prince William. Three newish bands did residencies in different cities, and all that apparently went very well. However, according to Nathaniel Davis, a Brit abroad and music promoter with an agency called Split Works, which does alternative music in China, there is something called “the process”, which is about lyric checks and live video reviews—the background checks that have to be gone through for the setlist of every band.
Nathaniel told me about the time frames involved: “the process” can take 30 days, which is prohibitive to British musicians playing overseas. In fact, the Communist party’s Ministry of Culture has prevented concerts by Kraftwerk, Bon Jovi, Maroon 5 and Björk by denying them visas because of various statements they have made about Tibet and the Dalai Lama. However, those people are German, American and Icelandic, and we are talking about British musicians today.
Nathaniel says that the issue is less about censorship than the difficulties that promoters face when trying to book bands, in getting the visas and then promoting the concerts and selling the tickets in a reasonable time frame after they have gone through all that. He described a Kafkaesque situation involving the band who won the Mercury prize last year, Young Fathers, because they needed original documents and until then it had been scans. In the end, however, that was all resolved happily and they played the Echo Park festival in Shanghai.
However, Nathaniel says that the situation in China is “relatively benign” compared with what is required in the US. Promoters constantly have stories about myriad difficulties for bands wanting to enter America to play. America is not a one-party state or a people’s republic; it is meant to be the land of the free. Conversely, when American bands come to Britain, there are virtually no costs when they apply for visas, so the situation is blatantly unbalanced. We are two countries with a special relationship, a common language and in some sense, common customs and culture, but we have wildly divergent policies on this issue.
The main issue that the British Council has pointed out to me appears to be a lack of reciprocity. We do not subject American musicians to interviews, but let them get in under this light-touch permitted paid engagement route. Even across the border in Canada, in order to perform, an artist apparently simply shows their letter of invitation or contract and the border officials will green-light them into the country.
By contrast, getting UK musicians into the US is expensive and labour-intensive. A few years ago, the Hallé orchestra in Manchester—the UK’s longest established symphony orchestra—had to cancel a US tour because of the time and money needed to secure visas for its players, which would have blown its finances. That case illustrates many of the problems.
Processing an entire orchestra through the application and embassy interviews would have meant 100 work permits and weighed in at a cost of £45,000. They can be obtained only from the US embassy in London, as the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty pointed out. Manchester is getting on for 200 miles away from London. Each member of staff would have had to be interviewed and fingerprinted, and the orchestra’s spokesperson said that it “simply couldn’t bear” the visa fees plus 100 trips to London. They said that the decision was “very frustrating and sad” for all those concerned, but that £45,000 was a substantial proportion of what the costs would be.
As a London MP, I am usually not the first to complain about things being London-centric—I quite like that sometimes—but that case demonstrates how lopsided things are. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, if people are nowhere near London and Belfast, they are stuffed. It is not only about the expense and inconvenience, but the time. It could potentially involve two days out of a normal schedule for northern and Scottish bands.
The guidance recommends that preparation should start six months before the start of the engagement. However, as people who know bands and who have played in bands will know—you will remember this from your playing days, Mr Howarth—six months is an eternity. Getting people to plan that far in advance is often impossible. Delays can lead to flights, shows—and for the Hallé, full tours being cancelled. Pretty much any time a professional musician or band wants to perform in the US, even if they are performing for free or being paid outside the US, they need a work visa. That seems unduly harsh.
Figures from the Musicians Union say that over half of all musicians are paid less than £20,000 a year, so it is a precarious industry. There are also additional costs and hidden fees, such as legal fees. Some musicians have been penalised by airlines for carrying instruments on board; they have been made to pay for extra seats. There are those kinds of things. I found one blog, which said:
“Technically, hiring an immigration attorney is not required,”
but that they can help with the visa process, because it is
“counterintuitive and filled with traps for the unwary”
and that “a small inconsistency” or even a typo can result in denial.
The very few exceptions are as rare as spotting a unicorn. I think there are certain cultural programmes, although there are lots of hoops to jump through. If people did perform for free, there are some exemptions—where people would be called “visitors for pleasure”—but otherwise, a full work visa is needed, and woe betide anyone who mixes up their categories. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, if someone uses a regular tourist visa and gets caught, that is unauthorised employment and there are dire consequences, such as removal from the country and a subsequent ban on re-entering the US. That will count against any future application for a work visa or a green card.
The hon. Gentleman pointed out some ways forward. Even with no instant slashing of fees, there are steps that could massively simplify and expedite the whole process of obtaining visas for overseas visiting musicians, and for artists, writers and academics—as a former academic, I ought to say something for them. A clause could be negotiated in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Perhaps we could negotiate the removal of these obstacles, because they are restrictive barriers to trade at the end of the day. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the use of alternative locations to London and Belfast. Interviews could be carried out at town halls.
I have slightly different figures from those cited by the hon. Gentleman. The House of Commons briefing says that the British music industry contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy, which I think is about twice as much as what he said—I think he said £1.9 billion or something like that—but UK performers need to be able to tour key markets such as China and the US. Whether it is Wham! or the Hallé orchestra, both nations benefit culturally from inter-country musical exchange. The countries benefit as well as the coffers of the Exchequer. George and Andy, like Elton a decade before them, helped to demystify China, paving the way for our delegation visit.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: the American embassy now needs to engage directly with musicians via bodies such as the Musicians Union, the British Council and others to devise a workable system for UK musicians to perform in the US. The tourability of everyone, from bubblegum pop bands, to our finest orchestras, to Adele, whom he mentioned, will be seriously jeopardised if things remain as they are.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Howarth. For once, I have very little to declare in terms of interests, as I am entirely tone deaf, but I appreciate other people’s musical acumen, which is why I am here to speak today.
Economic analysis data demonstrate that the UK’s music industry makes a vast contribution to the UK economy. Figures published by UK Music indicate that between 2014 and 2015, although other sectors have been struggling in these times of austerity, the music industry has continued to grow by 5% year on year. Last year, the music industry contributed £4.1 billion to the UK economy, £2.1 billion of which came from musical exports. It provides a large number of jobs—approximately 117,000 full-time jobs—and generates additional revenue from the thousands of musical tourists who visit the UK each year to attend music gigs and festivals or to revel in our rich music history. That also has a knock-on effect for local businesses and communities, creating vibrant local cultures, generating wealth and encouraging economic growth.
Given the obvious value of our music industry, it is important for artists to be able to promote their music abroad, to build fan bases, boost exports and attract more musical tourists. However, it seems that, as described, performing overseas can be problematic and expensive, particularly for musicians in the early stages of their career.
I understand that at present a number of sources can provide assistance to musicians to help them to work abroad. It is mainly financial, but does not reach many artists. Through this scheme, funding is available to UK-registered independent music companies and can help artists to progress from being established UK musicians to being commercially successful international acts, but it does reach the vast number of acts and not everyone can receive funding.
It seems that when performing overseas, many of the issues encountered by musicians relate to cumbersome policies and procedures. I supported a recent early-day motion recognising the specific difficulties for UK musicians in obtaining work visas to perform in the US. In this regard, I note that guidance issued by the Musicians Union, highlights that, except in very specific circumstances, all performances in the US require a visa regardless of whether the artist is being paid. It is a two-step process, and to perform abroad, a petition must be filed by a company in the US before an application can be lodged in the UK. Thereafter, all UK visa applicants must attend an interview at the US embassy in London or Belfast. That can be a long process, and for anyone who does not live locally, it may be difficult to attend the interview.
The visa process is expensive and may cost thousands of pounds, with fees for processing being incurred in both the US and the UK. If an act has backing musicians or crew, more than one petition is required and each petition in the US is charged separately. Also, if the act is not represented by a US company, it will have to employ immigration professionals to act as the petitioner on its behalf. It seems that the cost for the services of such companies can range from approximately $800 to over $8,000. If the visa is required within three months, additional fees are incurred for an expedited service, with the US charging $1,000 to process an application within 10 to 15 days.
It has been highlighted that many artists find the application process complicated, confusing and unpredictable, which can lead to mistakes by the applicant and the officials processing the application with long delays and increased costs and losses. When applications are delayed, acts that are keen to ensure that they can meet planned dates may have to pay additional costs to try to have their applications expedited, or they may hold off booking travel arrangements until the last moment, which can impact on the cost of flights. That can sometimes result in whole tours being cancelled or postponed, so in addition to losing money on the US tour, artists may also lose money by having to forfeit booked travel and accommodation and by missing out on other bookings that they had refused on the assumption that they would not be available.
Those up-front and hidden costs make it very difficult for musicians who earn under £20,000 a year to meet visa requirements, particularly if they are travelling to perform at free shows aimed at raising their profile. In some circumstances, it may be possible to be exempted from visa requirements on discussion with the US embassy, but that occurs only in very specific showcasing situations, which stipulate that the artist should not yet be a full professional musician.
As a result of these issues, some desperate musicians may risk entering the US to perform without the correct documentation. Surely, the system should be workable, so that people are not placed in this situation and do not go to these extreme lengths. The early-day motion that I signed called for the US and the UK to devise a more workable system for UK musicians to perform in the US, and I reiterate that request to the Minister today. Given the music industry’s value to our economy, surely that would be advantageous for both sides of the Atlantic.
I commend the recent success of my local band, Single by Sunday, which won a competition at the weekend for its musical ability. I very much hope the Minister will make strides with such applications, so that Single by Sunday can soon be touring the US.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), chair of the all-party group on music, on securing the debate and on his opening remarks. He covered much of the ground in his speech very well and I associate myself with his remarks about the Bataclan attack in Paris. People getting together to enjoy one another’s company, whether at a football match or music gig, represents the best of humanity, and people killing others while they enjoy themselves for the sake of a twisted ideology represents the worst of humanity. We are here to celebrate the best of humanity in our wonderful musicians and to try to help them a little, with the assistance of the Minister, to pursue their profession, career, trade and art with a bit more freedom and more opportunities to travel and play abroad.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and I thank the other hon. Members who have contributed, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) whose Wikipedia entry describes her occupation as writer, columnist, politician, senior lecturer and music DJ. She did not mention that in her contribution, but I am sure we all look forward to witnessing that talent during this Parliament. She pondered on what would be the contribution to Chinese history of the famous tour by Wham! of the People’s Republic of China. The answer may be the same as that given by Zhou Enlai when asked about the French revolution’s influence on history: it is too early to tell. No doubt we will eventually find out what contribution Wham! made to Chinese history.
Is it any wonder that from time to time we are condemned for western imperialism by those in the far east?
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on her contribution. She said she was tone deaf, but I thought she hit exactly the right note with her contribution. She has colleagues who are very musically talented, including the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who plays in the legendary parliamentary rock band, MP4, with me and colleagues from other parts of the House.
Moving on to our discussion today, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty and other hon. Members outlined the contribution that the music industry makes to our economy, particularly to our export revenue. When our balance of payments is in significant deficit the industry makes a positive contribution. There is always a danger of double-counting, but the figure for UK music of around £2 billion is credible, and nearly £1 billion of that comes from the work of musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists in foreign currency revenue from overseas. A significant amount, estimated at £42 million, comes from foreign currency through live performances of UK music. Music is a significant part of our economic strength and our cultural strength, and the soft power of the industry’s contribution to promoting democracy, freedom and our cultural values across the world is highly significant and should not be underestimated.
There have been some welcome developments in recent years, including the music export growth scheme, which the Government introduced in the last Parliament to support musicians through grants enabling them to develop, to tour and to play overseas. That scheme is very welcome, but what is not welcome is the fact that musicians who are supported by it, or by Arts Council and other schemes, are sometimes denied the opportunity to tour overseas and subject to excessive costs if they do. Recently, there has been a particular focus on musicians touring in the USA, because of a number of cases that have been highlighted.
Let me say that I am extremely pro-USA and a big fan of American music. I have an American wife. I first went to America with my guitar—I was not stopped at customs—when I was 19 years old.
It was a lot longer ago than that—it was a long, long time ago.
The cultural exchange between the United Kingdom and the United States, particularly in relation to music, is one of the world’s great cultural jewels. The tremendous cross-fertilisation we have seen over many decades between music in the United Kingdom and America is a wonderful thing, and the Government should cherish, develop and support it.
I want, however, to highlight a couple of cases, in the hope that that will lead to better procedures in future, because there have been some worrying cases recently. One, which the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty referred to, was that of Kizzy Crawford, a young singer from Wales. Kizzy has in fact played at the House of Commons—in one of my other roles, I chair the all-party group on folk arts, and Kizzy played earlier this year at one of the little showcases we have from time to time in the Jubilee Room, just next door to this Chamber. She is a wonderful young talent, with a bright future in the music industry, and she has the potential to become quite a big star.
Kizzy visited the US earlier this year, having been invited to participate in a showcase in Kansas City. She travelled first to Canada to do some gigs there before moving on to the United States. All was going well, and she even cleared US customs, going through pre-clearance at Toronto. Unfortunately, her flight was cancelled, and she had to spend the night at her hotel with her manager and musicians. They returned for the flight the next day, but as they were going through US customs, Kizzy was pulled aside into what I believe is called secondary, where she was questioned.
We should bear in mind that this young girl was—I think I am right in saying—18 years old at the time. She was a young girl from Wales embarking on her musical career, and she was not well equipped to deal with being heavily questioned in such circumstances. She was pulled away from her support mechanism—her manager—on her first visit to America as a musician. It was quite a traumatic experience for her, and it is understandable—I say this as the father of a 21-year-old daughter—that she was frightened. She had a bit of a panic attack, as a result of which she was detained in a locked room for several hours.
Kizzy was eventually refused entry into the United States, where she was supposed to play a showcase in Kansas City, despite having funding from the Arts Council of Wales for the visit, and despite having the correct paperwork, visa and so on. She was also told that being refused entry at the border could have a major influence on her ability to visit the United States again as a musician and would automatically mean that she would have to obtain a visa for every visit to the United States.
At this point, I want to praise UK Music and its chief executive, Jo Dipple, for the work it does in this area. I also want to praise the Musicians Union—I declare an interest as a member—under its general secretary, John Smith, and its assistant general secretary, Horace Trubridge, for the tremendous work that it does in this area.
As a result of Kizzy’s case, there was a degree of lobbying, and I, among others, got in contact with the US embassy. In terms of what then happened, it is fair to say that the same might have happened in the UK. As MPs, we know that those who write to the Home Office about particular cases of refusal of entry do not always get a full and helpful response. In this case, however, there seemed to be a difference between the attitudes of the State Department and the Department for Homeland Security.
Through the embassy, the State Department had issued Kizzy with all the right documents, allowing her to go to the USA and play in this showcase, and there should not have been a problem. However, that process was separate from the process of the Department for Homeland Security, which, understandably, has to protect the USA’s borders and do its job. None the less, one wonders why Kizzy was pulled aside in the way she was and whether there was any racial profiling in this case. I do not know, but it seems that Kizzy was singled out for pretty harsh treatment for a young musician simply travelling to the USA. It is concerning that there seems to be this disparity between the attitudes of the State Department and the Department for Homeland Security.
I do not think that that was deliberate, but this is not an isolated incident. The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty mentioned another case, involving the band Calan, who are also from Wales. They also encountered great difficulty when they sought to enter the United States. At first, there was a bureaucratic problem involving the computers at the US embassy, which, in fairness, affected everybody, although it was a bit of a nuisance. Subsequently, however, the band did everything they could to get the right clearance, paperwork and visas so that they could fulfil their engagements in the United States.
Initially, Calan did not tour as a whole band, because two of their members could not gain entry. Subsequently, the band ran into problems again, even though they thought they had the right paperwork. In an email to me, their manager said:
“our issue might not be with the embassy but rather homeland security. Calan travelled in what they thought was the correct way…But my main issue is the way they were treated and although there might not have been the right stamp in their passport they had paid for a visa and had a copy of the approval notice…Not letting them into the country was a little over zealous I feel.
They sat around for about 7 hours then had their laces removed along with belts and were put into a cell with other people with a toilet with no door. Then the next day they were escorted to a caged van and taken to the plane. The atmosphere in the holding room was extremely unpleasant with guards being incredibly rude and impatient.
I understand that they have to treat everyone in the same way but to treat them in the same way as criminals was uncalled for. If this was a one off incident then it might be unfortunate but other musicians have travelled to the USA for perfectly valid reasons and been turned away and treated badly.”
I hope that today’s debate will open up a dialogue between the Government and the US embassy. We have heard today of the support the US ambassador gives to music, and he is a tremendous music fan—I attended the Rock the House event at his residence earlier this year, and it was incredibly generous of him to give that facility over to allow young people the opportunity to play music. Unfortunately, the very positive example he is setting is being let down a little because of what happens when people get over to the other side of the Atlantic.
As well as opening up a positive dialogue, it would be helpful—there are moves to do this—to have more pre-clearance in the UK for people travelling to the United States. It is possible for people travelling to the United States to pre-clear immigration in Ireland, and there are plans for more of that to happen in the UK. I do not know whether the Minister knows anything about that, but does he think it would be a positive contribution to solving the problem?
UK Music has raised the issue of A1 national insurance forms for employees who go overseas for two years or less. Musicians have apparently been having difficulty in getting those forms from HMRC, and UK Music would like the Government to consider what could be done at HMRC to speed up the process. Also, musicians have problems when flying musical equipment to the United States, when the band needs an approved US company with a business premises, a federal tax ID and a previous shipment history, which restricts options to fly equipment as cargo within the USA; equipment can be moved only by cargo plane, and they operate between a minimum number of cities, and are less frequent and much more expensive. That is an additional problem.
I look forward to the Minister’s response and hope that he will say something positive about the steps he is taking. As the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty said, the debate is a cross-party initiative. We are all here for the same reason, because we love British music and want the rest of the world to love it too. The only way that can happen is if our musicians can travel freely. I hope that today’s debate can contribute to that.
I declare an interest as a former professional musician. I graduated from what was the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. My studies there were the most fantastic start in life—an immersion in the world of music, studying the technical elements and history, and of course working on, living, sleeping and breathing that interest along with people who shared it.
I remember with pride the day I graduated. I strode down Buchanan Street in Glasgow wearing my gown and an old gentleman came up to me and said, “Now, you think you’re fair Airchie today, don’t you, doll?” I said, “Well, yeah, of course I do, because I’ve just graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.” He said, “Oh, and what did you play?” and I said very proudly that I played the piano concerto by Mozart, K.488; and he said, “Oh, you played the piano. Aye, but doll, can you play ‘Spanish Eyes’?” I had to fess up “No,” but I could play Mozart K.488.
Why do I tell that story? I suppose it is to illustrate how much when someone is truly immersed in music they eat, sleep and breathe it. It is a passion and a calling. I have always described myself as doing various things, and I am currently the MP for Edinburgh West, but music is part of my passion. I think I probably speak for many musicians who feel that way.
Something else that I did not know at the time I have been talking about, having studied the classical range of musical styles, was marketing myself in the world of music. That is still a common problem, although courses in all the conservatoires and fantastic UK institutions focus on marketing much more. They tell people how to understand what their product, brand and unique selling points are, to look at their cash-flow modelling and contingency, and so on. I have learned those things through the course of my life, but they do not come naturally—and why should they? It is not unreasonable for us to recognise that the unique skills that enable musicians to express themselves and drive them to give of themselves are special and different. We do not want musicians to take on so many business skills, including visa application processes, that they lose the essence of what gives so much joy.
I agree with all the comments made about how precarious a musician’s life is. It is not just about the net profit or, frequently, the losses; it is about how difficult it is to make a living in the world of music. Imagine someone getting to the point where they are doing the right things and they want to go to other climes, such as the United States, and do something marvellous, giving and also taking—because we all learn from each other. It is a struggle for young musicians even to get to that stage of looking abroad, to foreign climes. In Scotland we have many fantastic musicians. Those are not only classical musicians such as the National Youth Choir of Scotland, which plans to go on tour to Los Angeles next April, but also folk musicians. There is a strong bond between the United States and Scots who have gone there.
What I am asking today is that we step back from the specifics of process and cost and reflect on why music, creativity and the arts are so important: they take us out of ourselves and give us something special and different. In this uncertain world, with events such as the recent ones in Paris, we should surely look outwards more, which means reaching out to artists and creatives who have something to give.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on securing the debate. He has a long-standing interest, and valuable experience, in the area in question. I associate myself and the Scottish National party with his concluding remarks about the atrocities in Paris, and particularly what happened at the Bataclan. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who signed my early-day motion on the subject of US visas for performing musicians, and I welcome the speeches by Members with experience of such areas, which demonstrated the cross-party concern and consensus on the issue.
I tabled my EDM after learning more about the challenges that musicians in Scotland and the UK face in securing visas for the United States, at an event at the University of Glasgow, in my constituency, during the October recess. The event was organised by UK Music and designed to encourage students, and others starting out in the music industry, in their careers as artists or in backstage and support roles.
The location was very appropriate, because the University of Glasgow plays an important role in nurturing talent, and in teaching skills for music careers; but also because the west end of Glasgow—the part that I represent—and the city as a whole are home to one of the most vibrant music scenes in the UK and probably the world. Glasgow is recognised as one of nine UNESCO cities of music. My constituency is home to a number of well-known and successful musicians and, indeed, venues such as the Oran Mor and Cottiers theatre, which are renowned for the gigs and performances that they have hosted over the years. I declare something of a personal interest as well, because I have a number of good friends who have made their career in Scotland’s thriving folk scene. I may reflect on some of their experience.
We have heard various statistics on the importance of the music industry to the UK economy, and specifically the statistic about the export revenue from UK music. In 2014 that was some £2.1 billion, £42 million of which came from live performances. Yet we have also heard that more than half of musicians, and especially those early in their careers, will earn less than £20,000 a year. There is something of a tension between the overall value of the industry and the individual experience of a highly competitive market. I know from the experience of good friends what dedication and hard work are needed to make a success of such a career. That no doubt makes artificial barriers such as those that we have heard about all the more frustrating.
Several interesting case studies have come up in the debate, and the issue is not limited to the United States. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) outlined the challenges in what historians will from now on clearly refer to as the “post-Wham! period” of China’s history. She also mentioned Canada where the story is perhaps slightly more positive. Canada, and Nova Scotia especially, plays an important role in nurturing young Scots artists. I have many friends and acquaintances who have been over there for the feis and folk scene, and that has nurtured their talent and given them exposure to different cultural influences. The ease of entry that the hon. Lady described must help with that.
One of my friends, Adam Sutherland, is a highly talented fiddle player and composer. Over the weekend, when I was speaking to him about the debate, he put out a call on the social media for any case studies—within hours, if not minutes, dozens of people were saying, “This is an issue. I’ve been affected by it.” A few of them have provided me with stories not dissimilar to those that we have heard. I think that it used to be an issue with the US embassy that interviews were conducted at 8 o’clock in the morning, so it was almost impossible to go for a visa interview without travelling and staying overnight—at huge cost, as those of us who are getting used to staying in London are discovering. I understand that that issue has been resolved, which is welcome. Perhaps that demonstrates that there is some openness to change and a willingness to introduce some flexibility, but I have heard stories similar to the ones that we have heard today.
I heard from a US-based promoter who works with several UK bands that despite having the support of her local US Senator, she has been unable to make progress with certain visa applications. She spoke of visa officers adhering strictly to the letter rather than the spirit of the rules and having little or no understanding of folk or traditional music. There does seem to be a particular challenge for folk and traditional musicians. The configuration of bands is often different and a bit more fluid than might be the case for a mainstream four-piece rock band. As we have heard, the instruments can also be more complex and varied, and likewise the technical support and management required.
The friend I mentioned is a member of a 12-piece band—the Treacherous orchestra. We can only begin to imagine the costs and logistics facing a band of that size and the complexity of organising a tour anywhere, let alone having to overcome the visa challenges that we have heard about. But I have no doubt that that band, like so many others in Scotland’s thriving music scene, would, if they tried to organise a tour to the States and did have the opportunity to crack that market, go on to major international success.
At this point, it is worth reflecting, as others have, on the intrinsic value of a live music performance. Very little music is composed to be heard as a recording. It is to be live, lived in, a living thing in its own right—unique and memorable every time it is performed and heard. Live performances are also important as ticket and merchandise sales often provide valuable income streams to artists, especially when the cost of recorded music is being pushed down by online retailers and streaming services.
We have heard that UK Music and the Musicians Union have suggested a number of solutions to the current difficulties facing musicians who wish to perform overseas, especially in the United States. I hope that the Government, and any representatives of the US embassy who are listening, will take those suggestions in the constructive and helpful spirit in which they are offered.
The US has a valuable network of consulates across the United Kingdom, including a valued and respected presence in Edinburgh. Allowing visa processing or interviews to take place there would be warmly welcomed —not only by Scottish artists but, I suspect, by those from the north of England. The UK Government are proud of their special relationship with the US Government, so I hope that they will bring some of their diplomatic influence to bear on this issue.
The Scottish Government and Creative Scotland are taking what steps they can to promote and support artists who wish to perform overseas. I want to highlight some industry initiatives, such as the FolkWaves project, which promotes Scottish music to all kinds of radio stations across the world by allowing musicians to upload their singles to the website and global broadcasters to download the latest releases. That avoids a lot of logistical challenges in terms of posting CDs or demo tapes or other things that had to be done in the past.
In January, venues in my constituency and across Glasgow will play host to the 22nd annual Celtic Connections festival, a celebration of folk and world music that brings together the best of Scottish and global talent and that is worth millions of pounds to the city economy. I say to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) that perhaps MP4 should apply to give a performance, which I have no doubt would be a sell-out. I will say the same to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) when I see him.
I am looking forward to seeing one of my favourite American bands, which, as anyone who was in the main Chamber for the EVEL—English votes for English laws— debate will know, is They Might Be Giants, performing as part of the festival. If you want to continue expanding your musical horizons, Mr Howarth, you should know that they are also playing the Shepherd’s Bush Empire here in London on 4 February—an unrivalled night of musical entertainment guaranteed.
As Scotland and the UK get ready to welcome artists from all around the world, not just to perform but to learn and to share experience and creative energy, let us hope that some reciprocity can arise from this debate. As other hon. Members have said, in troubled times in particular, music should be a force for bringing peoples together, for cultural exchange and the promotion of harmony—in all its forms.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on securing this important debate. I associate myself with the remarks that he made regarding the atrocities in Paris. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) put it, music represents the best of humanity. It is in some ways an unfortunate—indeed, horrific—tribute to the power of music in our culture that the Daesh terrorists chose to target it and those who enjoy it.
I do not have much of an interest to declare. I should perhaps say that I am taking piano lessons. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) could no doubt teach me much, but I have no intention of performing in the US or anywhere else. Despite that, or indeed because of it, I understand very well the contribution that music and its performers make to all our lives and how they make our lives better. That is why I am particularly pleased to speak in this debate.
There have been many thoughtful and powerful speeches on the power and value of UK music, whether it is adding £4.1 billion to our economy or contributing in other ways. The creative industries have been growing three times as fast as the national economy in recent years—if only the whole economy could follow the example that musicians are showing us.
In addition, of course, there is the cultural value. Music bridges divides, bringing us together. It creates bonds between people. Few things can jog a memory more quickly than hearing an old song. In my part of the world—Newcastle and Gateshead—music has been playing a role in regenerating the city. Sage Gateshead is a great example of how culture can act as an anchor for, as well as a symbol of, a stronger economy. The UK does music well, and we have for some time. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West entered the US with a guitar, I think he said, and was not turned back, but also, as part of the cultural contribution, the Animals, from Newcastle upon Tyne, were part of the British invasion of the American charts, accompanied by a significant presence on American soil, as the iconic photograph of the Beatles landing in the US shows. “The House of the Rising Sun” is a brilliant example of cultural fusion between the US and the UK and particularly the north-east.
Live music employs 25,000 people in the UK. We have many world-beating venues, although some of them are disappearing, and, as we have heard, world-beating festivals, which were attended by 9.5 million people last year. As we have also heard, just this week, Adele has broken the US record for first-week album sales.
Like other hon. Members here, I am a good socialist—if not a Maoist—and I am keen to share our music with the world. In fact, in many ways, we already do that. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) about what I think we should call the Wham! intervention in China’s cultural evolution. Our recorded music exports are booming; they were up 17% last year. UK artists account for one in seven of all albums sold worldwide. That is a phenomenal statistic, which shows our contribution to world music culture.
We are one of three net exporters of music, and UK artists accounted for four of the five top-selling albums in the US in 2012. Those included One Direction, which became the first British group to have two albums debut at No. 1 in the Billboard top 200. I doubt whether One Direction ever had much of a problem organising a US tour, at least not from a visa point of view, but, as we have heard today, many artists are having problems with the US embassy visa procedure, and it seems to be getting worse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty contributed some depressing examples. The well-established exchange of culture and ideas—whether written declarations such as that of Thomas Paine, or musical contributions such as those of One Direction—has been a foundation of the long-standing friendship between the US and the UK. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow has described the increasingly complex and costly processes for getting a visa, including being forced to go to London or Belfast to attend a face-to-face meeting, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned, and facing costs of £2,500 or more. Given the low earnings of many musicians, those costs, combined with the potential travel and accommodation costs, prevent many acts from taking their music abroad.
Although the Minister is not directly responsible for that, I hope that today’s debate will provide him with the opportunity to tell the House how he has been supporting our young musicians by tackling those barriers, and I would like to offer him the Labour party’s support—it is nice to be able to say that—in his endeavours. What have the Government been doing about the matter? It is not new, although the situation has become increasingly difficult. Are his officials aware of the issues, and how long have they been monitoring them? Perhaps he could say how we got here. Has there always been such an enormous disparity between the costs and difficulties faced by UK musicians going to the US and those faced by US musicians coming to the UK?
What meetings and discussions have the Minister and his officials had with the US embassy regarding its engagement with the music industry? Has the Minister discussed that with representatives of the UK music industry, particularly those such as the Musicians Union that represent smaller or less-established acts? Is he aware of the great work that is, as has been mentioned, being done in that area by UK Music? Have he, his Department or its agencies had any discussion about simplifying the visa system for musicians? I am sure that he shares the enthusiasm of those in this room for UK live music. He is in the best position to bang the drum for the industry and UK art with the United States, so can he tell the House how his Department and the various agencies that have an interest in this area—UK Trade & Investment, the British Council, the Arts Council and so on—are working together to make sure that we are all pulling in the same direction?
I agree with the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty that we should also work with European partners. I merely observe that I hope that we continue to be at the heart of Europe after the European referendum. Will the Minister commit to keeping the House updated reasonably regularly on the progress he is making?
One of the biggest barriers, as we have heard, is the requirement for visa applicants to attend an interview in London or Belfast. I hope that the Minister will recognise that, despite the fact that most arts and culture funding is focused in London, there is a huge wealth of artists and musicians in towns and cities across the country—particularly, I would say, in my own area of Newcastle—and for many of them, the burden of travelling to London for a visa interview seems to be an unnecessary barrier. Can he commit to finding a solution to that problem? I realise that the answer ultimately rests with the US embassy, but I hope that he can turn his famed charm on the ambassador and his officials.
Ambassador Barzun was recently in Newcastle to launch the cultural festival that we will have there in 2017 to commemorate 50 years since Martin Luther King was given an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University, and at which many American musicians will certainly be playing. The ambassador is a strong supporter of cultural exchange, and his cultural attaché has been a great support to us in planning the festival.
Finally, although we have focused today on problems with the US visa system, what are the Minister and his Department doing to monitor the situation in other high-value export music markets? I look forward to his response.
I am grateful for the chance to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and to take account of the contributions made by many other hon. Members. May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth? It is an impactful point that in 1968 as I was being born, you were thrashing out tunes in a club. I think that that links us in some strange way.
I thank my hon. Friend for proposing this important debate. He is extremely knowledgeable about the music industry, and he is a vigorous supporter of that industry in the House. I echo his and many other hon. Friends’ comments about the horrific attacks we saw in Paris a week ago on Friday, particularly the attack on the Bataclan. Everyone has acknowledged and understood that that summed up why the events of that day were an attack on our way of life, because the opportunity to gather and listen to music is one of the manifestations of a free society. That is yet another reason why that day filled us with such horror.
I was lucky enough to meet the French digital Minister the day before the attacks, and the meeting reminded me of the strong links that exist between the UK and France across all our creative industries: not only music but film, video games and many others. I want to forge and strengthen such links, and even more so in the light of what happened on that horrific Friday, which will live in our minds forever.
My hon. Friend made a number of important recommendations, and I will pick those up as soon as possible. As this is the day of the spending review, I want to acknowledge the very good settlement that the Chancellor has given to the arts, because that supports investment in music. In the lonely hour I spent before the Chancellor got to his feet, I did not anticipate how good the settlement would be. As I make my remarks, I will make clear some of the support that the Government are giving to the music industry in general.
My hon. Friend made specific points about engagement with the US embassy, the ability to add tour dates should there be any delay, the possibility for the US authorities to use public buildings in the UK to make access to visa services easier for musicians, and the role of the Creative Industries Council. We also had important contributions from other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who talked about her experiences in China. Her experiences in a left-wing environment reminded me of my early engagement with music, because I was a west Londoner too, and I well remember going to see the Redskins perform at the Hammersmith Odeon. The message,
“Neither Washington Nor Moscow”—
the title of their best-selling album—
“but international socialism”
never quite got through, but I was pleased to see that the shadow Chancellor, who brandished Mao’s “Little Red Book” when he responded to the spending review today, has clearly taken that message on board.
I want to pick up on a point in the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton about how airlines treat musicians. I hope that the message goes out from this debate at least to our own domestic airlines about some of the representations I have received from musicians. I hope they will treat musicians fairly when they travel abroad and that, for example, musicians who want to carry their violin or trumpet case on board will be allowed to take those instruments on board as carry-on baggage. I will obviously not suggest that for a double bass or a set of drums, but I hope some common sense can be used.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) mentioned the upfront and hidden costs that can have an impact on musicians, such as visa delays, which not only cause frustration, but can increase the cost of a tour. The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is a well-known supporter of the music industry, and also plays in the legendary band, MP4. He talked about the US-UK relationship and rightly praised the work of Jo Dipple and UK Music, which is fantastic across the piece on music policy, as well as the Musicians Union.
I was humbled by the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson) considering she is a highly qualified musician. I was interested to hear about her experiences, and I think that she will speak with some authority on music issues in the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) on tabling the early-day motion calling attention to the issue that has now been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty.
Many hon. Members have talked in great detail about the strong link between America and the UK. That relationship is unequivocally a good thing. From Acker Bilk to Adele is not a great leap alphabetically but, from 1962 to November 2015, they bookend almost 100 British singers and groups who have reached No.1 in the Billboard charts, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Queen, David Bowie, Bananarama, Kim Wilde, Def Leppard, Leona Lewis, Coldplay, Taio Cruz and a host of others. I could take the rest of my time just listing British musicians who have had an impact on the American charts.
Rightly, many hon. Members wanted to use this opportunity to praise the whole UK music industry. It is a salient and telling fact that five of the top 10 global recording artists last year were British, and one in seven albums sold worldwide was by a British artist. In fact, a British artist, Mary-Jess Leaverland, won the Chinese equivalent of “The X Factor” last year. Sam Smith has had No.1s from Canada to New Zealand, as has Ed Sheeran. Music is one of the things that makes our country great.
It is important to say—and hon. Members pointed this out—that we are talking not just about artists, but about sound engineers, producers, promoters, roadies and many others. Those speaking in the debate have been well informed by UK Music. Some people gloomily forecast that the writing is on the wall for live music and the music industry, but I disagree. I see the vital contribution of the live music scene not only to the worldwide scene, but to the UK’s economy. All around the world, people of all ages arrange their diaries around music festivals, which in many cases provide life support to their local communities. We will continue to support and promote the environment for UK music.
As I have money on my mind, I want to note that between 2012 and 2016, the Government have invested £460 million in a range of music and cultural education programmes. We are introducing tax relief for orchestras, which comes in next April. We recognise that music tourism generated more than £3 billion of spending, and 500,000 people came here just because of our music. I also mention, as it is very relevant to the debate, the music export scheme that we started a couple of years ago, which has helped so many musicians to go abroad. We do not just export our music; we welcome music from around the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty will know that the Taiwanese king of pop, Jay Chou, was so taken with the UK that he got married in Selby Abbey earlier this year, promoting a rush of Taiwanese tourists.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) asked what the Government are doing about the issue. I will need to check the records but I am certain that when the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) raised this issue in the House, I wrote to the American ambassador. She is quite right. We have to be careful as this is a visa system operated by another sovereign country but it is right for Ministers and, indeed, other Members of this House, to raise representations and make suggestions. I am not the only one who can do this: other Members can as well. Everyone who has come across the new US ambassador—I do not know whether we can call him new now—will know that he is a passionate supporter of the music industry, and I am sure that he would hear and take on board hon. Members’ concerns.
Does the Minister agree that the restoration of a dedicated person within the embassy would make a big difference? I have been involved with making phone calls to people I know who work at the embassy over the weekend—these problems often happen then. It would be such a big help if there was a dedicated line for people to call—
I will stop my hon. Friend there because he will get a chance to respond in a couple of minutes. On that point, I will make that representation to the ambassador. It is an interesting point that the Arts Council has a dedicated official who helps artists coming into this country and works closely with the Home Office. I want to ask him about the point about adding tour dates and, potentially, to make the offer of public buildings. I certainly think that we could make representations about an office in Edinburgh. It is not my job, by any stretch of the imagination, to tell the US embassy or Government how to run their affairs, but I could make that suggestion.
Finally, on the Creative Industries Council, we have a sector advisory group for the creative industries, which brings together UK Trade & Investment, the British Council and others. I will ensure that that is on the agenda of the sector advisory group at its next meeting, which is co-chaired by me and the head of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie. Now it is time for me to “lay me down” my notes, and I will sit down and allow my hon. Friend to respond.
I will be very brief. I am actually quite heartened by what I have heard this afternoon. I am particularly encouraged by the words of colleagues from both sides of the House. This is clearly a huge issue that is stifling creative talents from the UK and affecting their ability to expand their careers abroad. I do not think we have heard any dissenting voices this afternoon, and I am particularly encouraged that the Labour party seems to be on board. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) had three very good stabs at my constituency name but, if she does not mind me saying, it is Selby and Ainsty, and I think the ambassador is Ambassador Barzun.
I just want to correct something on the record. I do not think that I wrote to the American ambassador, and I do not want to mislead the House. I think we took it up with officials. This issue came across my desk about three years ago. I just wanted to make that clear so that Hansard do not report me misleading hon. Members—[Interruption.]
Absolutely. It would be very encouraging if the Minister was able to write to the ambassador now. It is good news that the Minister and the Government take this issue seriously. These people’s careers have a lot to offer our country. We must remember that many musicians are on relatively low wages of £20,000 or less, and the cost is simply prohibitive for them to be able to get to the United States to perform their work. I am encouraged by what the Minister said regarding the possibility of liaising with the embassy regarding public buildings so that people do not have to travel to Belfast and London. I conclude my remarks by thanking everyone else for contributing. Hopefully, in the next few months, we will have an update to report.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered UK musicians performing overseas.
Mr Shaker Aamer
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Government response to the return to the UK of Mr Shaker Aamer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. My interest in this matter stems from various press reports, such as this BBC report from the time of Mr Aamer’s return suggesting that he would be entitled to a large and secretive sum of compensation, allegedly in the region of £1 million. That, apparently, is in line with compensation paid to previous inmates of Guantanamo Bay who have returned to the UK.
I wrote to the Minister on this subject and, as always, he wrote back to me swiftly and directly, for which I am grateful. I could read out the whole letter because it is only a couple of sentences long, but I will not. The important sentence states: “In 2010, Kenneth Clarke, the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, made a statement in the House of Commons. In it he noted that Her Majesty’s Government had inherited the issues around the treatment of UK detainees held by other countries from previous Governments and that these issues needed to be addressed.” The letter goes on to say: “To that end, Mr Clarke informed the House ‘that the Government have now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.’ The details of that settlement have been made subject to a legally binding confidentiality agreement.”
I wrote to the Minister asking for confirmation that Mr Shaker Aamer will not be entitled to money, and that is the response I got, so I think it is fair for me to assume that Mr Aamer will be in line for substantial damages. If the Minister wants to intervene at any time to tell me that that is not so and to rule it out categorically, I will happily cut the debate very short and finish now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On a day when the Chancellor has announced difficult decisions in the spending review, many of my constituents will be horrified at the thought of compensation being paid to Mr Aamer. Will my hon. Friend reflect on that for a moment?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government and other groups who fought for 14 years for the release of this resident of Britain, Shaker Aamer, should be given a lot of credit and that nothing can ever compensate somebody for the loss of liberty for 14 years without charge? However, if compensation of a monetary value should be given, surely it is the US Government who should be giving it.
I will not comment on what other people have done, but my hon. Friend is certainly right to say that, if anybody is going to pay compensation, it should not be the British taxpayer given the enormous amount of time and money that British officials have spent trying to secure Mr Aamer’s freedom.
I will now set out some of the generally accepted facts. Mr Aamer is a Saudi citizen; he is not a British citizen at all. He was born in 1968 and moved to the UK in 1996. He subsequently got married here. He was given indefinite right to remain here and submitted an application for British citizenship. Before that application went through, he decided in 2001 to leave and move to Afghanistan, which at the time was run by the extreme Islamic Taliban Government.
The war in Afghanistan broke out in 2001, while Mr Aamer was over there. He was able to get his family out of Afghanistan, but he chose to stay there. In, I believe, November 2001, he was kidnapped by Afghan nationals and handed over to American nationals who imprisoned him. On that basis, I fail to see why the British taxpayer should become responsible for handing over to him a cheque for £1 million. He may be completely innocent of terrorist activity, but he certainly chose to embark on a very risky course of action of his own volition.
My hon. Friend is probably right, but I am not putting him on trial. I have given the generally accepted facts: he chose to come to the United Kingdom as a Saudi citizen; he got married here; he applied to become a British citizen; and, before that application went through, he moved to Afghanistan. He apparently preferred to live in Afghanistan in 2001, and he was captured by Afghan nationals from the Northern Alliance and handed over to the Americans. There is no doubt about any of that, so I am just citing facts. He may be completely innocent of any terrorist activity, and I will assume that he is for the time being.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s clarification. Unfortunately, as he knows, some facts have not yet been proven, and the Minister might give us more information on the question of any torture and the presence of British people during that torture. There are therefore many complicated issues with this case.
There are certainly a lot of facts that have yet to come out, and I might refer to a few in a minute. I will first address the statement by the then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), in 2010. He made a couple of points setting out why he would make large payments to the previous Guantanamo Bay inmates who returned to the UK.
I will not try to read it out but, in summary, the former Lord Chancellor said that the Gibson inquiry would not be able to begin until the claims had been resolved. My first question is: why not? I do not see why outstanding claims should prevent an inquiry from being set up. In any case, the Gibson inquiry subsequently ended because apparently nobody was satisfied that it would be impartial. There is no Gibson inquiry now, so that particular problem will not occur in the case of Mr Aamer.
My right hon. and learned Friend’s second point was that he felt there was absolutely no admission of culpability in any of the matters to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) has just referred. If we, as a Government or as a country, are not culpable of any misdeeds in these people’s cases, why on earth are we not saying so and fighting the court cases? If there is any culpability, it certainly does not lie with any Minister of this Government or the previous coalition Government; the blame will rest with someone else—so maybe someone else, and not the British taxpayer, should be held accountable.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I will come to in a minute because there are three families in that position in Monmouthshire.
The then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, made the point that the cost of fighting a court case was
“estimated at approximately £30 million to £50 million over three to five years of litigation.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 753.]
That is a very high figure, and I find it hard to believe, but I am not a legal man. In any event, if we are right then we should fight these cases. We should not simply have a situation where people can pitch up and say, “I’m going to sue the Government for £1 million and it will cost you more than that to defend the case, so you’ll have to give me the money.” This Government should be a Government of principles and if we believe that we are in the right, we should fight these cases and not simply hand out cheques to people.
Exactly, and I wonder how much of that £30 million to £50 million would be the costs being submitted by the lawyers working for these people—actually, the statement does not make that clear, so I cannot comment. However, my hon. Friend makes a very good point.
If the Government showed a willingness to go to court, it might well be that Mr Aamer’s extremely expensive lawyers would think twice about bringing the case to court. There is certainly an implication of that in this report from the BBC and other press reports. In this report, Mr Stafford Smith, one of the main lawyers involved, implied that he was not going to bother suing the Americans because he had no chance of getting money out of them. As far as I am concerned, let Mr Aamer’s lawyers fight for their money in Britain, and let the Minister and the Government do everything in their power to stop them from getting it.
There are facts that need to come out here. Mr Aamer himself obviously felt that the extreme brand of Islam favoured by the Taliban at that time in 2001 was preferable to anything on offer in the UK. He chose to go out there to Afghanistan.
Hang on; I will give way in a moment, but perhaps my hon. Friend can clarify this matter if she knows anything about it. Mr Aamer claims that he was working for a charity in Afghanistan. I have scoured the internet and looked at every report I can find from everybody that has had an interest in this case, and I have not been able to find out anywhere the name of this charity.
There are lots of principles at stake here and I think it is very worthy of us to debate them, but I do not believe that we are here to put somebody on trial who was in prison for 14 years without any trial, and without their being present here today. Will my hon. Friend please stick to the principles of this very worthy debate and avoid putting Mr Shaker Aamer on trial here today?
I will give way once more to my hon. Friend, but lots of people have been saying lots of things in defence of Mr Aamer; nobody has been telling us about this charity that he was working for. If my hon. Friend knows anything about it, I ask her to enlighten us.
Yes, I have information, but it needs to be given in a court of law if it is relevant. I do not believe that it is valuable here. I believe that if my hon. Friend needs this conversation, then the lawyer must be here, Mr Shaker Aamer must be here and we must go back 14 years, when a trial should have taken place.
No, I disagree with my hon. Friend. If she knows the name of the charity, then she should say so; it is not listed anywhere else. And while she is at it, she ought to try to find out, or the lawyer ought to explain, why Mr Aamer was apparently arrested on a fake Belgian passport when he was in Afghanistan, because fake passports are not normally de rigueur when one is doing work for aid agencies.
The hon. Gentleman should perhaps really abide by the points made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias). Is he not abusing his position here and taking advantage of parliamentary privilege to try to put on trial a man who spent 14 years in custody without ever having allegations proved against him or ever being put on trial? Is this not a matter where due process should take its course? I hope that is what the Minister will tell us. Frankly, to try to besmirch this man’s name after everything he has been through is really quite disgraceful, and it takes advantage of parliamentary privilege.
I am amazed by what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because this matter is surely relevant. If Mr Aamer was in possession of a fake Belgian passport, that needs to be discussed. I am not besmirching him; I am not even saying that he was in possession of a fake Belgian passport. I am saying that it was widely reported and has not been denied.
The second point is that I am saying there is a lot of information that has been put out there about Mr Aamer by his lawyers, among others, but nobody has seen fit to tell us the name of the charity that he was working for.
The first point is that Shaker Aamer himself has not had the opportunity to put his side of the story. I am sure he will do so at some point, and therefore this discussion is at the very least premature.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to ask about due process and to question the Minister about how the Government conduct litigation. In my humble opinion, he is not entitled to come here and attack a man who has suffered grievously and not been shown due process, and to add insult to injury by doing what he is doing today.
The hon. Gentleman can relax, because I am not attacking Mr Aamer at all; if I was attacking him, the hon. Gentleman would know about it. I am just raising a few questions. When I am in attack mode, I am in attack mode, and I am not in attack mode. I am actually giving him the benefit of the doubt—
I find this absolutely extraordinary. These are perfectly reasonable questions to ask, given that this man is apparently about to receive £1 million of taxpayers’ money in secret, which I think is outrageous. Three young men from Monmouthshire have lost their lives fighting in Afghanistan. They did not choose to go there; they did not go and choose to live under this extremist Islamo-fascist state that Mr Aamer decided was a worthy state to go and live under. They were asked to go there by the British Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who is sitting next to me, made some proper points in this debate. What I have here is a list of the sums that people will get paid if they receive serious injuries in the defence of their country. The absolute maximum that someone can get if they have lost both arms and both legs is £570,000. That is for people who have been doing their duty for this country. This man, Mr Aamer, not a British citizen at all, was given the right to come over to this country because of our generous ways. His family, as I understand it, have been looked after by the state ever since he disappeared off to Afghanistan with them—
No, I am not giving way again, because I asked the hon. Gentleman to answer a straightforward question last time, and he said he was going to and then he did not.
Let me finish by saying that it is absolutely outrageous that British servicemen and women who lost arms and legs in Afghanistan fighting those Islamo-fascists who had launched those disgraceful attacks on New York, while Mr Aamer was apparently out there in Afghanistan by choice working—allegedly—for some sort of charity, will now get only half as much money as Mr Aamer. He is not a British citizen; he chose to go and live in a foreign country; he was kidnapped by members of some other militia in said foreign country; and he was put in prison in another foreign country. It is wrong that the British taxpayer should be expected to pick up the bill for that.
Mrs Moon, you and my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who has secured this debate, will appreciate that there are some things that I can deal with straightforwardly in this debate and some matters that are not appropriate to raise, which are subject to proceedings that would not be appropriate to refer to. Obviously, if there are any security matters that I am unable to raise, my hon. Friend will appreciate that, given his experience of this House, and I know that he will not test me on them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the House. Shaker Aamer is the last UK resident to be released from Guantanamo Bay. As my hon. Friend will be aware, Mr Aamer was released and returned to the UK on 30 October into Biggin Hill airport. Other Members secured debates earlier this year, seeking Mr Aamer’s release, and as you will know, Mrs Moon, there is an all-party group on Shaker Aamer. Those Members have made their arguments and those arguments are now, of course, in the context of Mr Aamer’s release, but I appreciate that other Members—my hon. Friend is clearly one of them—who may seek to question why this Government went about trying to seek Mr Aamer’s return to the United Kingdom.
Forgive me, but I will just make this fundamental point, because I think we can find a synthesis across this Chamber if we all understand it. Indefinite detention without fair trial is fundamentally unacceptable. That is central not only to our view of the legal process but, more than that, to the ethical framework on which that process is built. It is an a priori assumption that detention without trial is unacceptable, and I am absolutely certain that my hon. Friend, who is about to intervene on me again, will agree with that.
Actually, I was just going to point out, with the greatest of respect to my right hon. Friend, whom I have known for a long time, that that is not what I have raised here. I am not making any comment about Mr Aamer’s detention. I am making a comment about the prospect of his receiving a secret payment of £1 million or thereabouts. That is what I am raising today.
That is what my hon. Friend has raised in part, but it is impossible to consider it out of the context of the circumstances that prevail in respect of Shaker Aamer. My belief, which I am sure my hon. Friend and the whole Chamber shares, is that the fairness of any judicial system is vital to its popular acceptance. The unintended consequence of Guantanamo Bay is to create a perception of unfairness, which potentially fuels distaste for and hostility towards the US and her allies. With that in mind, the UK Government committed to making best endeavours to bring Mr Aamer back to the UK. Representations on his behalf in which the UK position was made clear were made by Ministers at the most senior levels, including by the Prime Minister to President Obama. The whole Chamber will be aware of that, because it was the subject of some publicity. The fact that the US Administration agreed to review Mr Aamer’s case as a priority and then release him demonstrated our close ties once again.
Following the return of Mr Aamer, it is important to emphasise that the UK is not considering accepting any further detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The timetable for the closure of that facility has not emerged, but Members will be mindful that it remains a matter for the US Government. Members will know that President Obama has commented on that a number of times. In respect of Mr Aamer, officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across the Government worked to ensure that the return happened quickly and securely.
In view of the motion’s wording, will the Minister tell us whether the Government are looking into the allegations that UK personnel may have been present at times when torture was administered to Mr Shaker Aamer, whether in Afghanistan or in Guantanamo Bay?
I will in a moment. I am not sufficiently accomplished to remember all the interventions and then respond to them in sequence. I need to do them one by one, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) made her point and put it on record, but she must know that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the details of anyone involved in alleged events in Guantanamo Bay, and I certainly cannot do so in this debate.
Does the Minister not agree that the allegations of torture are simply that—allegations? Those allegations are besmirching the American Government, and I have as much right to ask why Mr Aamer was out there on a false passport, working for a charity that I cannot find out anything about, as others have to suggest that he was tortured when he got there. They are all allegations, and that is it.
With the combination of assiduity, perspicacity and good hearing that my hon. Friend personifies, he will have heard me use the phrase, “anyone involved in alleged events”.
Returning to my script, I understand that the public will have concerns in respect of a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay returning to the UK and the potential security implications. My hon. Friend articulated some of that today, but it is important for me to say that I cannot comment on why Mr Aamer was detained in the first instance or provide any details, as I said at the outset of the debate, on security arrangements in this individual case. It has been a long tradition of successive Governments not to do that, and it would be entirely inappropriate for me to break with it today, given the sensitivity of these matters.
I reassure the whole Chamber, however, that the first duty of any Government is to protect the security of our citizens, and we take that duty extremely seriously. Any individual seeking to engage in terrorism-related activity should be in no doubt that the relevant authorities will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security and ensure that they are brought to justice. Recent events around the world, particularly so close in Paris, have demonstrated that the threat remains real, severe and dynamic.
The Chamber will not be oblivious to the fact that both the Prime Minister and the director of MI5 have made absolutely clear that we have foiled no fewer than seven different terrorist plots in the past year alone through the work of our security services and police. That is ample illustration of the urgency, severity and character of the work we are doing. The police and security and intelligence agencies already have a range of powers available to them, stretching from prosecution for criminal offences relating to terrorism to executive disruption powers, such as the imposition of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.
Dealing with Syria, we have a wide range of powers to disrupt travel and manage the risk posed by returnees. Those powers include the ability to temporarily seize and retain travel documents to disrupt immediate travel and the creation of a temporary exclusion order to enable the UK Government to temporarily disrupt and control an individual’s return to the UK.
Of course there will be those who criticise some of the measures as an infringement of civil liberties, but I disagree. They are about protecting precious freedoms from terrorists who want to steal them from us. Our legislation is robust, and because of our determination to get the balance right, those powers are matched with appropriate checks and balances, safeguards and judicial oversight. We remain confident that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the tools available to deal with those who seek to threaten the UK.
There have been comments in the media, reflected in my hon. Friend’s speech today, about any payments that may be made to Mr Aamer. I refer those present to the statement that my hon. Friend referred to by the then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). On 16 November 2010, he stated that
“the Government have now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The details of that settlement have been made subject to a legally binding confidentiality agreement.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 752.]
I am repeating a point that my hon. Friend made, and I know he would not expect me to go further than that today.
As the statement I just read out said, the settlement is subject to a binding confidentiality agreement. That is not uncommon in law. My hon. Friend is a distinguished parliamentarian and an authority on a number of matters, and he will know that it is not uncommon to have confidentiality agreements in such cases.
The former Justice Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, noted that the Government of the time inherited the issues around the treatment of UK detainees held by other countries from previous Governments and that the issues needed to be addressed. He said that failure to do so would mean that our reputation as a country that believes in the rule of law and fairness, as was described earlier, risked being tarnished. As was also set out in that statement, no admissions of culpability were made in settling the claims and none of the claimants had withdrawn their allegations. It was a mediated settlement where confidentiality is a common feature. I am therefore unable to provide any further comment on legal action brought by those detained in Guantanamo Bay than that already provided by the statement.
It is open to Mr Aamer to bring a damages claim in the US. That was raised in the course of considerations, and it is a matter for the US justice system. I cannot comment on that, and I cannot comment on what Mr Aamer plans to do, because I do not know.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the UK has long held that indefinite detention without trial is fundamentally unacceptable, because it is unreasonable and unfair. The rule of law depends on popular acclaim. It depends on us all believing that we will be treated fairly, properly and equally. My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister has asked the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the themes and issues set out in “The Report of the Detainee Inquiry”, which was published by the Government in December 2013. I have outlined as far as I can Mr Aamer’s immigration status and the measures in place to deal with any individual engaging in terrorist-related activity. In addition, I have reminded those present of the statement by the former Justice Secretary on the damages claims brought by those detained in Guantanamo Bay and the mediated settlement that followed. I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased to have had the opportunity to put these matters on record, and I know that he feels strongly about them. With the respect I offer him, I hope that he will respect my position in not being able to add further to these matters on this occasion in this House.
Question put and agreed to.
Low Emission Zones
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the introduction of low emission zones.
I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. It is great to host this debate on the vital subject of establishing low emission zones in the UK. Although I will focus my attention on the wider benefits of low emission zones across the UK and why they should be introduced, it will come as no surprise to Members that I would like to use my own constituency of Bath as an example of how the introduction of low emission zones will benefit a UNESCO world heritage site.
I also want to outline why the outcome of the Government’s recent consultation on air quality must lead to the introduction of a standardised set of rules and regulations for establishing low emission zones across the UK. In layman’s terms, I want to see an off-the-shelf low emission zone system that can be picked up from Government and dropped into a community such as Bath in a much easier way than is currently the case. With the European Court of Justice’s deadline for a proposal on how we can bring Britain’s air quality up to legal standards almost upon us, we need to look at the introduction of low emission zones and how they can be implemented as quickly and successfully as possible.
It is not only in terms of deadlines that time is ticking. Air pollution is having a devastating impact on the nation’s health, and that simply cannot be ignored for much longer. In my view, a national strategy is needed to ensure a continuous and unified approach to implementation, so that drivers are not expected to comply with a variety of different regulations and restrictions as they travel around the country.
Bath, unbeknown to many outside the south-west, has a huge problem with air pollution. Many of its buildings are constructed out of the famous yellow Bath stone, but they are slowly blackening in many areas. Air pollution levels in Bath far exceed legal limits and are causing problems to constituents’ health and wellbeing, as well as the health of the many tourists who visit our city. Bath relies on tourism for much of its income, and the situation puts tourism at risk.
I will show the Chamber a map, which, at the request of the Chairman, I will hand to the Library. It is famously known as the “corridor of death” map in Bath, and I have a copy courtesy of the Federation of Bath Residents Associations. The map shows the dangerously high levels of air pollution in Bath, which have increased further since it was published in 2009. A study in Bath showed that road traffic contributes a staggering 92% of the total NOx concentration, with heavy-duty vehicles contributing between 24% and 57.1% of that. Those figures are promising in that they show that a restriction on the movement of vehicles through central Bath will reduce the contribution that traffic makes to pollution levels in the city.
Earlier this month I raised the issue with the Secretary of State, who visited Bath prior to the election. She stood with me on the corner of London Road and Cleveland Bridge and we breathed in the air pollution together. She was clear at the time that the Government would like to introduce a standardised system of low emission zones around the UK. This was music to the ears of members of the Federation of Bath Residents Associations who were in attendance, along with local residents from Camden and Walcot in my constituency.
Since then I have welcomed both the European Commissioner for the Environment and the Conservative MEP for the South West, Julie Girling, to see the situation at first hand. At our meeting, we discussed Bath’s special case and called for Bath to become a special case study for air pollution by the European Commission. Given our unique world heritage status in the UK, our bowl-like geography as a city, and the Bath stone that I mentioned earlier, which seems to take on pollutants in a more destructive way than other building materials, it is important that we have a low emission zone. I want to thank the Bath residents associations, including FoBRA and the city centre residents associations, for championing these changes in Bath.
Low emission zones work to deter the vehicles that produce the most harmful gases from entering certain areas of the city. They are not prevented completely from entering, but face large fines if their vehicles are not adapted to reduce the levels of emissions produced. Air pollution contains many different substances, and is one of the biggest causes of man-made pollution in the UK. Road transport, particularly transport that uses diesel engines, contributes the most. The zones restrict the vehicles that have the worst effect on air quality with a system of local charging and regulation.
The idea is that individuals and particularly businesses with a large fleet of vehicles make simple changes to their vehicles, or alternatively replace them, so that they can drive through the area without receiving a charge. This will in turn protect the environment from ever worsening pollution levels. Such zones have been introduced elsewhere in Europe, with Germany having a national framework of more than 70 low emission zones, which has produced staggering results. Berlin alone saw a 58% reduction in diesel particulates, which obviously has had a huge, positive effect on the health of the local population.
Bath needs a handful of major infrastructure projects to reduce the amount of traffic in the city, thus reducing air pollution further. The introduction of a low emission zone will need to work as part of a wider strategy to reduce the amount of diesel cars passing through the city each day. In the previous Budget, the Chancellor championed the cross-party transport strategy that I hope will be implemented by my local authority—the first time it has been run by Conservatives in a very long time; in fact, ever. Only with this combined approach can we reduce the scarily high pollution levels in the city.
Low emission zones are not a new thing to the United Kingdom; the low emission zone in London provides a brilliant starting point for a national strategy. London began with the introduction of charges for vehicles that failed to meet emissions standards and is set to see the introduction of an ultra-low emission zone in 2020.
On a similar note, I am pleased that Transport for London has announced that new black cabs will no longer use diesel and must be capable of running on an electric battery from January 2018. 1 recently met Calor, the gas supplier, which advocates adopting liquefied petroleum gas taxis that would be another clean alternative that could help businesses adapt to the introduction of low emission zones.
Outside London, low emission zones have already been introduced in a handful of places across the UK, including Oxford, where many of the main roads in and out of the city have controls in place, and Brighton, which introduced a low emission zone for buses at the start of this year. Bath and North East Somerset completed a feasibility study in 2014. It found that air quality improvements could be made with the introduction of a low emission zone in the central area of Bath. I want to build on this study by working with the Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to use the introduction of a low emission zone in Bath as a template for a system that could be replicated across the country in areas of dangerously high air pollution.
The technology currently exists for the police and/or local authorities to prevent high polluting vehicles from accessing built-up areas. The problem really rests in the inability of councils to enforce vehicle access. We need to find a way to enable local authorities to do that. We need to ensure there is improved collaboration on this issue. My understanding is that areas across the country have struggled to introduce low emission zones because Government agencies, including Highways England, the police service and a mixture of local authorities, have not been working in partnership in an effective way to deliver these zones. My hope is that, following the publication of the Government’s consultation, a framework will be introduced to ensure that these problems are ironed out.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be exemptions in low emission zones? A class of vehicle that should be exempt is the historic vehicle. The Government define such vehicles as vehicles more than 40 years old. They are used for many charitable and fundraising events and are a feature at most weddings. As they make up only 0.6% of licensed vehicles on the road, their contribution to pollution is negligible. I declare an interest as the owner of several such vehicles and as chairman of the all-party historic vehicles group.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I do not wish to be the most unpopular person at every wedding in Bath, so I completely agree that certain vehicles need an exemption, particularly vehicles that cannot be updated. A 40-year limit seems a very sensible one if such vehicles make up only 0.6% of the total number of vehicles on our roads. If a national framework were introduced, such exemptions could easily be included so that drivers would not have to check the policy of each individual zone on their route.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for calling for this debate, because York’s infrastructure and the geography of the vale of York very much mirror what he has described. Is not the urgent issue, though, the need to address the level of nitrogen dioxide in fuels? We should address that immediately, alongside the other measures he has mentioned.
I agree that we should be doing all we can to reduce pollutant particulates from our vehicles, whether that is NOx or carbon dioxide. I have given some examples of the exciting new technologies that are available. Whether we need to invest heavily in hydrogen vehicles or introduce the Calor LPG taxis I mentioned earlier, there is a range of technologies out there to help to reduce vehicle emissions. I must say at this point that there is an incredibly exciting new vehicle emissions plant in Bath that is working to reduce vehicle emissions in real-world testing. Hopefully we will see more investment in such plants. Bath is a very similar city to York; they were not built for cars, as the hon. Lady and I know. As a result, unfortunately we are sometimes constrained as to what can be done. If a new standardised system of low emission zones comes in, I hope that our councils will be able to work together closely.
I urge the Minister to consider the introduction of a national framework for the introduction of low emission zones so that any local authority in the UK that needs to take urgent action to reduce air pollution can easily implement a low emission zone without being stopped by red tape and disagreements—that goes for York as well. Our country desperately needs a standardised system of low emission zones. Our economy cannot face a hefty fine from the European Union, and we need solutions that can be implemented smoothly.
Finally, back to Bath. A number of big infrastructure projects are being discussed locally that would directly benefit from a low emission zone. An implemented zone would encourage further use of park and ride, or the use of an alternative link road between the A36 and A46—I have been lobbying the Chancellor on that heavily—to avoid people having to drive through the city. I am concerned that Highways England might try to block any proposed low emission zone, and hope that the Minister will support me in changing its mind. Bath needs red tape and bureaucracy to be cut so that it can use solutions that will make it a beautiful city fit for the 21st century. The first move is to introduce a low emission zone to both protect the iconic Bath stone and prevent the health of residents from deteriorating any further.
It is a pleasure to speak on this issue. I do not have a large contribution to make. Usually I am a man of many words, but on this issue I will be a man of few words. Nevertheless, I want to contribute to the debate if I can. I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for calling for this debate. I very much look forward to the responses by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), and by the Minister, who always brings a flair to his responses, so I look forward to hearing him. I remember the Adjournment debate in which he fiercely defended the lion as the national emblem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I live in and represent a largely rural constituency, Strangford. I am fortunate that when I get up in the morning I can breathe the fresh sea air of Strangford lough. I live in the countryside and because of that I have never had to deal with the emissions referred to by the hon. Member for Bath. I have been very fortunate to have always lived in the countryside, and I thank God for that. My constituency is not directly affected by the problems arising from high levels of emissions, but neighbouring constituencies experience a lot of congestion, and when I join those queues of cars, as I do when I go through Belfast or to the airport—wherever it may be—when I am sitting in the car, with the traffic nose to tail, I understand what it means to have all those emissions around. Even if the windows are up, this is the time of the year when heaters are going, drawing emissions into the car.
There is pollution from cars, but also from the large volume of air travel. Perhaps the Minister can give his thoughts on that. It seems to me that there is an understanding of the issue of emissions from air travel. Some of the planes that are being built now would help to address that, but until the transition to those new planes, we have to deal with the issue as it is, as the hon. Member for Bath said. Pollution brings with it the ultimate effects on the climate, which we cannot ignore, as well as the negative effects on public health, particularly in places close to where emissions are emitted. We have a duty to our citizens when it comes to public health, and we must address that.
The Minister will reply within the scope of his departmental responsibility, but there are other responsibilities, and perhaps he needs to work with other Departments. When he responds, I would be interested to hear about his relationship with, for example, the Department of Health, and about how he will work alongside other Departments to make things better. It is through no fault of their own that citizens come into contact with or are subject to dirty air as a result of emissions. They should not have to suffer the consequent negative impacts on their health. More needs to be done to protect people from the detrimental health effects of being around dirty and polluted air. We have moved on a great deal. We can all remember those grainy images on TV in the 1950s and 1960s—well, I am not sure whether everyone can, but I can—where smog just enveloped everyone, and they had to live in and breathe it. Thank goodness we have made gigantic steps to stop that.
The aim of low emission zones should be welcomed, and such zones could achieve real results if implemented properly. As always, though, we need to be mindful of the potential unintended consequences. I wholeheartedly support what the hon. Member for Bath said, but there is a cost factor, and we should be very cognisant of that, and of what it means. It is all right for many of us, including me, to say, “Let’s take the steps and make the difference,” but if we add in the cost factor, perhaps people’s zeal might be tempered slightly.
I wholeheartedly agree. I am here to support low emission zones, but, if I can, I want to put into the debate the cost factor, because it has to be addressed. At the end of the day, we all pay for these things. I agree with the hon. Lady: if 82 people die in York every year because of emissions, let us do something about it. But I am asking who is going to pay to make that happen and how it will work. Will it be local councils, direct funding from Government or something else? We need to look at that. I am not saying that we should not do anything—we should—but I want to be told where the funding is coming from. That is the issue.
Might low emission zones negatively affect economic activity, particularly small and medium-sized businesses? Of all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland has the largest number of small and medium-sized businesses, which could be directly affected. Large businesses will be able to replace vehicles that fall short of the targets with relative ease compared with SMEs, and local, indigenous businesses will be hit hard if they are hindered in their ability to operate as a result of the introduction of low emission zones. I support the purpose of the debate, but make that point because we have to be honest and realistic about what is achievable. How do we achieve the goals that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) wants, that I want and that everyone else present wants? Perhaps we could alleviate concerns by introducing an exemption system or some sort of assistance for SMEs, particularly indigenous businesses.
We need to take action on this issue. The cost to the climate is too much, as is the cost to our quality of life.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Does he agree that if a zone is introduced heavy-handedly it could have the effect of making shoppers go to out-of-town shopping centres where parking is free, rather than go into town or city centres? It would therefore hit small businesses in our towns and cities.
As always, the right hon. Gentleman brings his experience and knowledge to the debate. I thank him for that intervention, which helps us develop our debate. I hope the shadow Minister and the Minister will respond to it. It should be done in the right way, and this debate is about how to achieve our goals.
I believe that, as public representatives, we should be bound to do our best to promote better public health. In Berlin, there have been real results from such zones. There are examples from around the world of where they have been successful. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bath mentioned this in his introduction—I am sorry if I missed that bit—but I think Berlin shows how it can be done. There has been a 58% reduction in diesel particulates and a 20% reduction in NOx. There is no doubt that the LEZs and ultra-low emission zones in Berlin work; it is just a matter of addressing the concerns that other hon. Members outlined.
We have to address the issue of emissions. We have to save the lives that the hon. Member for York Central wants to save in a way that we can afford. If we set goals and targets, I believe we can address the issues of emissions, the climate and public health while having as little a negative impact on stakeholders as possible. I am sorry for labouring that point.
I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate. I declare a family interest: I have a relative who is involved in charging points in Scotland. I want to make that open and plain.
I have been here only since May, but I have been impressed by the knowledge that we gain. I am proud and privileged to be a member of the Environmental Audit Committee. The Minister appeared before us and gave us wonderful information about the Volkswagen scandal. I cannot say that I agree with him, but I was totally impressed by his knowledge of the situation. He was particularly honest, and everybody in the Committee appreciated it.
There is huge cross-party recognition that we need to do something. Some years ago, I visited Bath and Wells and the surrounding district—if I remember correctly, Cheddar gorge is in that area—so I know it is extremely busy. It is a beautiful area that I would go back to if I had time, but I totally get what the hon. Gentleman meant when he described it as a death route. The map that he produced is probably significant to lots of people in the House.
The area that I represent is similar to that of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I have the benefit of being 10 minutes away from canals, mountains, hills and rivers. We are building fish ladders and hydro pumps, and there is a general trend towards getting people out and about, walking and cycling, which can only be good for public health. One of our biggest employers, Alexander Dennis Ltd, has just signed a £2 billion contract with a firm from China to deliver all-electric buses. Hopefully, we will see them on the streets of London and Bath in the future.
Local authorities in Scotland have issues, too. To go back to what the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, we have had more than 2,000 deaths from air pollution in Scotland. That is not good enough; it is not acceptable. I wholeheartedly go along with everything that is going forward. We need a local strategy and we need to take local people and communities with us, but we have to be mindful of how it will impact on businesses, town centres and city centres.
A Dundee taxi operator has the UK’s largest electric taxi fleet, with 40 such vehicles. The University of Dundee— I do not know why I am going on about Dundee; I am from Falkirk, so I will probably get a row about that when I get home—has got seven electric vans and is rolling out 12 electric bikes. It aims to reduce its CO2 emissions by 9 tonnes, which will save £10,000 a year. Those are all good, practical steps towards lowering emissions. I think the whole country should work towards the national strategy. In Scotland, we are working towards it as fast as we can.
The hon. Gentleman referred to electric cars. Interestingly, during the May election, one of the things that people said on the doorstep—and, indeed, on the day of the election—was that they wanted to commit to driving electric cars. Many people wish to make that move. I certainly see that in my constituency. We have installed our first few electric power points in the town of Newtownards, which is a magnificent step in the right direction, so things are moving forward. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the time has come for the Government to harness the energy of our constituents who want to see this happen?
I totally agree that we need to harness that energy. In fact, in an earlier debate today we spoke about the need to store renewable electric energy and to produce it when it is required. I do not yet fully understand the Chancellor’s autumn statement—once I have read into it, I will—but I believe he said that he is going to put more money towards renewable energy. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me on that point.
People want electric cars. From memory—I have not researched this thoroughly—most people travel less than 30 miles a day in and around their own areas. The majority of people do not travel long distances. Therefore, to go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford, having electric charging points in town centres would be great. When we build infrastructure, new shopping centres, schools or hospitals, we should put electric charging points into the construction plan whenever those things are built; it should be like ensuring disability access. That makes absolute sense to me.
I totally agree with what is going on. I am glad I have come along to represent the Scottish National party, and I am happy to share my knowledge at any time in the future. I thank the hon. Members for Bath and for York Central.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on securing this debate, and I thank other colleagues for their contributions. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.
We need to introduce a network of low emission zones. The health impact of air pollution places a huge burden on this and future generations, so we need a genuine long-term solution. Air pollution-related conditions cause thousands of premature deaths in this country every year. Children growing up around severe air pollution are five times more likely to have poor lung development, and long-term exposure leads to an increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease.
Although the majority of harmful substances come from industry, in urban areas as much as 70% of harmful pollution comes from road traffic. Diesel emissions are a particular culprit, as other hon. Members have said. The World Health Organisation has identified diesel fumes as a cause of lung cancer; it classifies diesel exhaust as a group 1 carcinogen, which places such fumes in the same category as arsenic and asbestos. That tells us how dangerous pollutants from diesel are, and it puts the seriousness of the Volkswagen scandal in perspective.
We urgently need to introduce low emission zones to protect the vulnerable from exposure. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide on London’s Oxford Street are three times over the EU limit and are the highest concentrations in the world. A low emission zone has been implemented in London, and an ultra-low emission zone is on its way, but much more needs to be done, not least because this is a UK-wide issue. The EU’s limits for nitrogen oxides are regularly breached across the UK. Some 31 of 43 areas in the UK already exceed the limits set out in the 2013 EU ambient air quality directive.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The more information that is available on this topic, the better. We need more ambition to clean up the air we breathe.
Worse still, the glaring inconsistencies between test data and real world emissions mean that the accuracy of the Department’s assumptions on air quality improvements must also be called into question. Given all the recent media coverage—colleagues might have seen Monday’s “Panorama”—which has seriously challenged testing data, will the Minister assure us of the robustness of the Government’s current consultation and that projections are based on accurate modelling and real world figures?
The consultation is right to suggest that there is more we can do to tackle air pollution, but the Government describe the plan as
“a plan for a plan by others”
and dodge any time-bound targets or real responsibility. The UK is also facing fines from the European Commission of £300 million a year for contravening emissions limits and failing to have a plan to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air.
A few years ago, the Government gifted themselves the power to pass such penalties on to local authorities in areas of high air pollution. At the same time, those local authorities faced deep cuts to their budgets. In Wales—you may recognise this, Mrs Moon—we call that a hospital pass. The buck is being passed without the real power to fix the problems being identified. While the Government’s approach relies on devolving obligation and accountability to local authorities, it does so without providing any additional resources or the tools for the job.
Local authorities of course have a significant part to play, but the scope of the problem absolutely requires national oversight and guidance, which is the sort of thing that the hon. Member for Bath was talking about. We should be shaping a clear path by granting local authorities the powers that they need to reduce air pollution from vehicle emissions. That means delivering a national framework for low and ultra-low emission zones, implemented locally and informed by local intelligence. The decision-making and responsibility for reducing air pollution cannot be palmed off if local authorities have insufficient direction or investment.
While the Government’s plan refers to a national framework of clean air zones, the proposal lacks detail and needs development. Providing local authorities with a national framework would enable far more coherence. Examples from elsewhere, including from the Netherlands, show that such an approach would be a step in the right direction. How does the Minister intend to achieve the necessary improvements given the hefty budget cuts to his Department and local government announced earlier today?
In conclusion, a framework of low emission zones in the UK would be worth while and cost-effective and would make a real difference, but the Government need to throw their full weight behind the framework to ensure that it delivers the benefits it promises for our health and for the health of generations to come.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship eventually, Mrs Moon. As your husband was a distinguished ecologist and created the local government network of ecologists, I am pleased that it should be an environmental subject that I have the privilege of presenting in front of you. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate and thank others for their contributions, which I will try to wrap together, to consider what is a surprisingly tricky, important and evolving subject.
The first question is one of science, about which the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) made several points in a couple of interventions. One of which was about the chemistry of diesel engines and their nitrogen dioxide content. I think that she was getting at the fact that diesel burns at a different temperature to petrol, producing more nitrogen dioxide. She also pointed out that some emissions may come from technically low emission vehicles. Nitrogen dioxide is our major concern today, but we are also concerned about particulate matter, and, as others mentioned in the debate, sources of emissions extend to other things apart from vehicles, including non-road mobile machinery, such as construction machinery, and domestic boilers. The sources extend right across the spectrum of vehicles, including buses, taxis, heavy goods vehicles, light goods vehicles and cars.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), the shadow Minister, also focused on science and modelling. The modelling that we undertake in Britain is sophisticated, taking nearly three months to run, and European Union-accredited. It is unbelievably complicated, involving the overlaying of emissions and the balance of the fleet. For example, when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) is driving through his area, his vehicle will have an impact on emissions in a particular place, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned emissions from planes, which need to be put into a totally different part of the model due to atmospheric dispersion. The model therefore includes sources of emissions, a climate model, including how the wind moves things around, and the road network, and out of that we attempt to calculate nationally the number of micrograms per cubic metre. As pointed out by the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Bath, local situations will always arise in which things are being captured that may not be captured by the national model. Equally, the national model will be much better at reliably catching the national picture than can be achieved on a grid basis.
The shadow Minister mentioned Oxford Street, and I absolutely agree that the situation is shocking. It is terrible that the levels, at 120 micrograms per cubic metre, are three times the EU limit. However, I gently challenge the idea that that is the worst in the world. Someone on a visit to Beijing, Delhi or a number of cities in Latin America will find considerably higher levels, but the situation on Oxford Street is indeed shocking. Such levels will have a serious impact on human health, which was raised by the hon. Member for Strangford.
There is also the question of cost: what do we do about the problem, and where do we allocate the costs? We now have a better understanding of the cost to human health, which has two elements. There is the indirect cost to human health. There is the value that we put on our own lives and the fact that people, if they have lung diseases or heart diseases, may die prematurely. The Treasury attaches an economic value to that, which is a slightly bizarre process. There is also the direct cost to the national health service of trying to treat people. The hon. Member for Strangford challenged us to try to integrate much more how we use the NHS budget, public health, how we think about air quality and the measures that might be taken by my Department or the Department for Transport.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) for his speech. His example—as he said himself, it was perhaps more Dundee than Falkirk—shows how we can learn from the devolved Administrations again and again. In environmental policy, we are already learning from Wales’s approach to recycling and from Scotland, in particular Zero Waste Scotland. Different approaches are often taken across borders. The Dundee example of electric vehicles and potentially electric bicycles is something that we are happy to learn from, and we are happy to exchange ideas across borders.
The fundamental challenge posed by the hon. Member for Bath and the shadow Minister was, “What on earth do we do about this? How do we address these problems?” The shadow Minister put his finger on two problems, one of which was how to get the balance right between the national and the local. He was saying that it is all very well the Department pontificating and saying, “This is where we want to get to,” but the local authorities are given the job of responding to it without resources. The other problem was how to allocate the resources and costs, which was also the challenge of the hon. Member for Strangford.
One way of understanding the dilemma is to look closely at the exact example raised by the hon. Member for Bath. How does the balance work? Bath, fortunately, is modelled not to be in exceedance by 2020. This is a devolved issue, but the cities we are particularly concerned about in England are Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby, Southampton and London. They are our major concerns and we have a different approach to each city—Bath is a good example. Forty micrograms per cubic metre on average of ambient air quality is an EU-set target, but we want to do better than that, because of the benefits to human health. We would like to reach the target sooner rather than later.
Since Roman times, Bath has been a great symbol of health in this country. It was where Roman tourists and 18th century tourists alike went for their health; it is a world heritage site based on the idea of health. We should certainly have a clean air zone in a place that is seen as a great symbol of health.
The council in Bath has led in a number of ways. This is a good example of the local-national thing. The council already has an extraordinary project on bicycles—Bath’s answer to the Boris bike—which has just launched and has 5,000 bikes in operation. The council has a good approach to electric vehicle charging and has more than 20 electric vehicle charging points, with businesses also building their own charging points. It has invested in hybrid buses. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been proud to co-operate in a small way on the Bath website and on some of the research into moving towards low emission vehicles. Now Bath has come forward with a proposal to have its own low emission zone, which we welcome.
There has to be a national contribution, which I will set out in a moment, but the reason why getting the balance between local and national is vital is that we can see in a single road such as Rossiter Road in Bath an exceedance reduced by 18 micrograms per cubic metre through a single local intervention. It is not sensible for the Department to fantasise that, sitting here in London with a 300-mile screwdriver, we have a solution for 28 cities. Much will be about having active traffic management systems.
One Labour MP, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), came to me with a brilliant idea about how to resolve diesel pollution issues caused by passenger vessels docking in port. It involved setting up electricity charging points, so that the vessels did not have to run off their diesel engines. He found a solution that involves the local enterprise partnership and the local council. Such solutions can have much more of an impact much more rapidly than our simply mandating things from the centre.
As for cities where we will be in exceedance by 2020, however, we are clear that we will take action. The Government are determined to be in compliance. In 2020, we will be judged on whether we are below 40 micrograms per cubic metre in every city in England, with the exception of London, and we will be in compliance in London by 2025. We will ensure that we put structures in place to support local initiatives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath made a final challenge: can we produce a standardised system of low emission zones to be rolled out across the cities? Yes, of course we can. The point of our consultation is to provide four straightforward models of what low emission zones—what we call clean air zones—can look like. The first model deals with buses and taxis; the second with buses, taxis and heavy goods vehicles; the third with buses, taxis, HGVs and light goods vehicles; and the fourth one goes all the way down to cars.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point and one we will have to think about. We have to get the balance with simplicity right, and that is what we are trying to achieve. The request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath for a straightforward, simple system was a good one. The objective is for an HGV driver to know that the same rules apply throughout England or, ideally, if we can work with the devolved Administrations, throughout the United Kingdom, so that we do not have different rules in different places. Provided we can achieve simplicity and a national standard, however, I can see a good argument for excluding historic vehicles. In essence, because the low emission zones would be standard, provided that HGV drivers had a Euro 6 diesel engine in their lorry, for example, they would know that they could enter any of the zones anywhere in the country, as such vehicles would be exempt. We do not want to end up with a situation in which any individual business has no idea what is happening when it turns up somewhere.
We have made some progress since the 1970s. The hon. Member for Strangford reminded us about the problems of smog, which were much worse. In the late 1940s, some incidents cost thousands of lives over two or three days. Since then, we have reduced sulphur dioxide by a dramatic 90%, which was an extraordinary achievement, particulate matter by 73% and the nitrogen oxides, NOx, by 62%, but we can still do better and we have a huge opportunity to do so. The Government have put £2 billion into that.
The real game in town is to ensure not only that by 2020 or 2025 we meet the targets, but that by 2050 we are in the lead and that, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and his exotic car, we are predominantly driving electric vehicles. We can see the direction in which we are going: Britain should be in the industrial lead, and we should be the country where such vehicles are manufactured and tested.
The Berlin model is interesting in a couple of ways. First, it has had a good result; the system was put in quite early. Secondly, it was done without cameras. The German system is simply to say, “You will not drive into the centre of Berlin if you have less than a”—I cannot remember exactly what the rules are, but people must have in their vehicles something along the lines of a better than Euro 4 petrol engine or a better than Euro 6 diesel engine. However, there are no cameras to monitor licence plates. The German citizen appears to be so law-abiding that the system relies simply on the police to turn up and inspect the tax disc.
Our assumption is that we would do better to follow the London example of having cameras to recognise people’s number plates, rather than relying on that German system, which is nevertheless an example of how Berlin achieved something pretty remarkable at a very low cost. It did not have to put up any camera infrastructure, or do anything at all; the authorities simply told people not to drive in with certain vehicles and, in essence, that was that.
I note the Minister’s concern about some of the larger cities, but some of the smaller cities and in particular, as we have heard today, the historic cities have problems and pockets of very high emissions, which cause concern. Will he look specifically at some of our historic cities to ensure that they can be part of the wider programme to reduce emissions?
Let me take the opportunity to conclude on exactly that point, because the hon. Lady has summed up our discussion: it is about exactly that balance between local knowledge and national.
The whole point of our consultation is to feed in the complexities. One thing that we have picked up is that there is, of course, a real problem with historic cities. The problem can be geographical; my hon. Friend the Member for Bath said that his city in essence sits in a bowl, and the pollution tends to congregate in it. The problem in York is a medieval street network, or just narrow streets, as potentially in the centre of Leeds, creating a real problem of congestion. A diesel engine might run well on the open road, but the problem is that, as soon as the vehicle gets stuck on a hill, its engine is pumping out a great deal of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. That is why we want our process to be an open one that embraces the offers made by York and Bath, gets behind them and clears the obstacles out of the way.
The Government’s main objective must be to bring into compliance cities that are not in compliance. However, as I said, the European target is simply a compliance level and we really encourage people to do better. Any city that wants to do better will find a huge benefit for human health and tourism: Bath alone, with its millions of visitors, is bringing in £400 million a year in tourism. It will also be good for businesses. We want this country to be a place where people are proud to breathe the air.
One of the key issues in historic cities, however, is that while we may have the ambition of introducing electric cars, we cannot just dig up the roads to introduce electric car charging points. One thing we are having a lot of difficulty with is getting through the planning process to introduce charging points in cities. Will the Minister guarantee that he will go away and work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to streamline the planning system for electric car charging points?
That is a very good challenge, which will apply to many of us. We see the same challenge in the installation of broadband and insulating historic buildings, as well as in electric infrastructure, and DEFRA tries to use different mechanisms to address that. We sit on taskforces on housing and infrastructure, which provide good opportunities to raise that point. I absolutely take the point that historic cities are different. They operate differently and it will not always be possible to have a solution for an historic city that can be applied to a new city.
I thank the Minister for accepting my intervention and for his contribution. There seems to be a lot of willingness across the UK to introduce these schemes and he has spoken about introducing cameras and background administrative systems to help implement them, so how will the Government financially help local authorities to implement these good ideas?
The answer to that, I am afraid, is that we are still completing our consultation on the plan. The plan will be printed by the end of the year and a final answer will be presented to the shadow Minister on exactly that. We have just compiled more than 700 different responses and we are going through them to try to understand what local authorities wish to do in their different towns. We are trying to work out how many projects will involve cameras and how many will involve light goods vehicles, HGVs and taxis. Some will want to invest money in hybrid buses, while others will want to go for electric charging schemes and others will want active traffic management systems to move traffic around in different directions.
The plan, which will be the answer to that, will be scrutinised carefully by the Opposition and also by ClientEarth, the Supreme Court and the European Commission, all of whom will look at it to ensure that they can be confident that we can deliver by 2020. That is the document that we wish to present at the end of this year.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for attending. This is a really important issue on a change. We did not know much about nitrogen dioxide until relatively recently: the first scientific evidence on it came out of when the “Six Cities” study in the United States that began on particulate matter and moved on to nitrogen dioxide began to identify correlations between pollution and morbidity. We still do not completely understand the chemical processes and health implications. We know that there is some kind of correlation between these substances and effects on human health and that we have to act to reduce these substances, but this is something that Governments were not really focused on even as recently as five to seven years ago.
Science is changing all the time. New research is coming in and we have doubled our numbers in a lot of these areas. I am very grateful to those who have participated in the debate and we look forward to working with everyone around the table and every local authority and devolved Administration to ensure that we provide what everyone in the United Kingdom wants: that the invisible substance that we breathe and on which we depend and our children’s lungs depend is safe and clean and that British air remains something that we proudly breathe.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the introduction of low emission zones.