I beg to move,
That this House recognises the uncertainty created by the result of the EU referendum for the protections currently in place for the UK’s energy security, climate change commitments and the natural environment; notes that the discussion leading up to the EU referendum made little mention of environmental protection or climate change and considers that regulations and ambitions in those areas should in no way be diminished as a result of the outcome of that referendum; has serious concerns about the signals being sent to investors in those sectors by continued uncertainty; and therefore urges the Government to identify and fill any legislative gaps in environmental protection that may arise from the removal of EU law.
The motion stands in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members in the shadow Cabinet.
Before the referendum vote, the Government were already facing major problems securing the energy needs, emissions targets and environmental protections that the UK requires for the 21st century. These problems were mainly self-inflicted: an energy policy that left companies and investors confused, with feed-in tariffs for solar changed retrospectively; an effective moratorium on onshore wind power, despite its being the cheapest form of renewable energy; the subsidy for offshore wind cut; and the Government failing to indicate what would happen to the levy control framework beyond the cliff edge of 2020.
Investors were told that the Government were simultaneously incentivising new unconventional gas and phasing out unabated coal by 2025, yet the £1 billion still remaining for the development of carbon capture and storage was cut just four weeks before the final bids were to be made, with the consequent announcement by Drax of the abandonment of the White Rose CCS project and the announcement by Shell that it no longer saw a future in the near term for the Peterhead project. The Secretary of State’s energy reset speech last November ended up leaving us the equivalent of 54 million tonnes of CO2 further from achieving the fourth carbon budget.
I must, reluctantly, agree with my hon. Friend. This is not good news; it is really bad news for all of us. The investment climate in the UK is in a really dire state. In fact, the UK has now fallen from eighth to 11th to 13th in the Ernst & Young index of the best countries for investment in low-carbon technology, when we have previously never been outside the top 10. These are really worrying matters.
I recently asked the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what action she was going to take to promote zero-carbon homes, given that the Government had announced last July that they were going to scrap the target set by the previous Labour Government for all homes to be carbon-neutral by this year. She replied that she could reassure me that an EU directive was due to come into force in 2020 and that she believed near-zero carbon emissions would help to reduce bills. Given that we are leaving the EU, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should take immediate action to reintroduce ambitious targets for zero-carbon homes?
What an excellent point my hon. Friend makes. She knows, as I do, that the Secretary of State was someone who saw the value in the UK’s staying in the European Union and in all the directives and regulations that came from Europe, which afforded the sort of environmental protections and energy policies that would secure our future. No doubt the Secretary of State will respond responsibly to today’s brief, but I think she will feel a great deal of sympathy both with the remarks that my hon. Friend has just made and indeed my own remarks from the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case about the lack of investment and about economic instability. Does he agree with me that now is a good time for the Government to reverse their decision to privatise the Green Investment Bank, and that when they negotiate withdrawal the Government should make a strong case to remain in the European Investment Bank? If those two things do not happen, we will be in really difficult times.
The hon. Lady, whom I regard as an hon. Friend, particularly on these matters, speaks with great knowledge. She is absolutely right about the Green Investment Bank, which was set up for a particular purpose: the Government recognised that there was a market failure. It was quite right of the Government to put the Green Investment Bank in place, but unfortunately the borrowing powers did not come quickly enough, and I think it is a huge mistake now to privatise the bank. It is a matter of deep regret to all who work in this environment. As for the hon. Lady’s remarks about the European Investment Bank, I shall come on to that subject later in my speech.
On the subject of insecurity in investment, National Grid has said that fuel prices are about to rise as a result of the Brexit result. My “Prepay Rip Off” campaign showed that consumers were being overcharged to the tune of £1.7 billion a year. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the Government outline what they are going to do to ensure that consumers are not ripped off further by having to pay more for their fuel?
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour has run a superb campaign on fuel poverty. She makes reference to the £1.7 billion that the Competition and Markets Authority report showed UK bill payers were being overcharged—overcharged by quite obscene amounts. It is, of course, right for the Government to come up with clear proposals about how to tackle that abuse, without just saying, as they have to date, that people need to be enabled to switch more easily.
This is one of the first of our debates to mention the result of the EU referendum. I know that the hon. Gentleman was on the other side of the argument, so it would be useful if he told us whether, when it comes to a vote, he will vote to leave the EU despite his heavy heart or will he vote against the wishes of the British people?
I always try to look at the motion in front of me on the Order Paper and make a judgment on it when I see what it says. I have done so for the past 19 and a half years, and I suspect I shall probably do it for the next few years as well.
Even the Government-dominated Select Committee has warned that what it calls the “hiatus” in project developments could threaten the UK’s ability to meet its energy and climate security targets, so when the Department’s own figures show the need for £100 billion of investment by 2020 to make our electricity infrastructure fit for purpose, the Secretary of State really does have to explain where she believes that investment is going to come from, given that investor confidence in her Department is at an all-time low.
Before the Secretary of State does so, however, perhaps she will confirm whether she instructed her Department not to prepare in any way for a leave vote, as the Prime Minister apparently directed. If that is so, can she explain why, because that is what business leaders out there are asking? It seems incomprehensible to them that the Prime Minister took such a gigantic risk with their future—a risk that will increase their cost of capital and the cost of energy to bill payers, both corporate and domestic alike—yet made absolutely no preparations for what might happen when that risk went the wrong way.
The IIGCC—Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change—a group of institutional investors representing over €13 trillion in assets, said in the aftermath of the vote to leave that it had brought
“considerable uncertainty and market turmoil.”
That only goes to prove that the art of litotes is not yet dead!
In the light of that dramatic uncertainty, does my hon. Friend agree that one thing the Government should do is to give a cast-iron guarantee that they will honour, post-Brexit, the environmental standards and undertakings that we have made in the EU to date?
My hon. Friend, who takes a consistent and committed interest in these matters, is absolutely correct, and the precise intention of this motion is to flush out those issues and ensure that the Government do precisely as he says.
In the aftermath of the leave vote, the Government’s own external adviser has stated that a future for the Hinkley C nuclear power station is now “extremely unlikely”. Vattenfall has said it is now reassessing the risk of working in the UK, which could jeopardise its plans for a £5.5 billion wind farm off the east coast of England, while Siemens has announced that it is putting a freeze on its future—not its current—clean energy investments in Hull as a result of what it called the “increased uncertainty” from the leave vote.
I must say that for all the talk from the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), about the “sunlit uplands” of the post-Brexit world, there is really no use in the Secretary of State trying to pretend that she thinks the vote is anything but a disaster when she herself is on record quoting the analysis of Vivid Economics warning that the result of an exclusion from the EU’s internal energy market could cost the UK up to £500 million a year by the early 2020s. The stock response of the right hon. Lady that Labour Members should not “talk Britain down” will simply not serve, given that these quotations come from her own advisers, industry leaders and, indeed, her!
Bloomberg New Energy Finance was not scaremongering when it said of the upcoming Brexit negotiations that they were
“likely to cause project investors and banks to hesitate about committing new capital, and could cause a drop in renewable energy asset values”.
That was an authoritative, independent commentator telling the unvarnished truth.
I always follow the hon. Gentleman’s comments with a great deal of interest, but is it not about time that he and his party moved on? The British people have delivered their verdict. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is not terribly helpful of people like him to continue to talk the British economy down in that way?
I understand that there is a need to move on, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must now look to the future, but I think that if he bears with me, he will find that that is what I am trying to do. Yes, I am critical of where we are, but the criticisms that I have adumbrated so far are not my own. They are criticisms made by the Government’s own advisers, they are criticisms made by industry itself, and, indeed, they are criticisms made by the Secretary of State. I am not talking the UK economy down; I am trying to set out the present situation with clarity, and then see whether we can move on from it.
Perhaps the Secretary of State could do the same as Bloomberg in telling the unvarnished truth, and inform the House what assessment her Department has made of the increased price of imported energy as a result of the falling pound. I will happily give way to her if she wishes to do so.
Perhaps, then, the Secretary of State could tell us what assessment her Department has made of the price premiums on loans that will be demanded by investors in energy infrastructure to cover the cost of political uncertainty. Is it 1%? Is it 2%? Again, I will happily give way to the Secretary of State if she wishes to inform the House what assessment her Department has made of those matters. No? In that case, I will give way to the spokesman for the Scottish National party.
Will the hon. Gentleman take the Secretary of State to task on what she intends to do to achieve the climate change targets in respect of completely decarbonising the transport and heating sectors in order to achieve 2050 targets?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is clear from what the Committee on Climate Change has said that the area in which the United Kingdom is falling behind most badly is not the power sector, but the transport and heating sectors. Of course, dealing with that does not rest solely with the Secretary of State; it also rests with her colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Perhaps the Secretary of State would find it easier to explain how the UK might continue to benefit from the EU internal energy market—or does Brexit mean Brexit in this regard as well? We really do need clear answers to all these questions. Perhaps the right hon. Lady can tell us what will happen to the four clean energy projects that are currently being assessed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments. She knows that the European Investment Bank has been the UK’s biggest clean-energy lender, having put €31 billion into clean energy over the last five years. Has she identified a replacement source of funds for such projects?
Perhaps the Secretary of State can explain why, last week, the Government pulled their funding for the only large new gas plant that had managed to secure finance under the capacity market scheme after Carlton Power was unable to secure the investment that was needed for the Trafford plant. The capacity market has resoundingly failed to secure the new gas build that it was introduced to incentivise.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady can explain—after the failure of the green deal, and after acknowledging that neither the warm home scheme nor the energy company obligation is sufficiently well targeted to reach those most in need—precisely how she proposes to address energy efficiency and tackle the fuel poverty experienced by 2.38 million of our fellow citizens. Let me correct that, Mr Speaker: 1 should have said 2.38 million households, in England alone. Perhaps the right hon. Lady might also explain why National Grid warned on Friday that the lights were kept on only by emergency measures last year. The fact is that the Government’s energy policy has pushed us further towards energy insecurity.
Our purpose in securing this Opposition Day debate is precisely to ensure that the Government cannot ignore such pressing concerns following the referendum. The vote to leave was not a vote for blackouts and soaring energy bills; it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that those things do not happen.
The Committee on Climate Change, which has a statutory duty to advise the Government on the most cost-effective route to decarbonisation, has always made it clear that early action is cheaper action. As its chief executive warned us last week, leaving the EU calls the mechanism of how we reach our targets into question. The Government’s policy failure has created a 10% gap in emissions projections towards our legally binding climate target for the mid-2020s, and they are nearly 50% short of meeting their intended target for 2030—that is, if the Secretary of State ever gets round to actually complying with her statutory obligation to set the target. I believe that that is now due to happen on Monday, which would make it only 18 days beyond the legal statutory limit.
Last year, the Environmental Audit Committee gave the Government a red card for their record on managing future climate change risks. The chair of the Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum concluded:
“we simply do not know the capability of the vast majority of stuff out there for current weather, never mind the future”.
The National Security Risk Assessment cites flood risk to the UK as a tier 1 priority risk, alongside terrorism and cyber-attacks, and, of course, it is our most deprived communities that face the greatest increases in flood risk. However, new evidence released today by the Committee on Climate Change renders starker than ever the threat to British households and businesses from a failure to manage climate change. Its published estimates show that, without increased Government action on climate adaptation, the number of homes at high risk from flooding will rise to well over 1 million even if we meet our current climate targets.
I apologise for intervening so early, Mr Speaker. Will the hon. Gentleman please explain the precise relationship between the European Union issue and the questions that he is raising about flooding?
I am sure you are correct, Mr Speaker, in referring to “his preliminary remarks”.
I am happy to explain that relationship. Unless we have clarity about the post-Brexit scenario, unless we know where we will be able to secure funds to replace all the funds that fell within the common agricultural policy to finance measures to mitigate flooding, and unless we are able to deal with land management in the way that was allowed by the European Union, we will not have clarity on these matters, and clarity is vital to adaptation.
We are living at a time of increased risk, and robust planning is required to limit harmful impacts on British communities and businesses. I say in all seriousness that, following the devastation of communities and cities around our country by recent floods, this new assessment requires a new response from the Government. Cuts in the budgets, and in the staffing capacity of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency, have left the UK increasingly vulnerable, and the Government must take responsibility for that.
The UK’s ability to face up to energy and environmental challenges—more than almost any other area of policy—was strengthened by our EU membership. Given that the Treasury’s principal response to the leave vote so far is a U-turn on the Chancellor’s core election pledge to balance the books by 2020—
I think you would like me to press on, Mr Speaker, so I will not. I have, I think, been most generous in giving way.
Given the Treasury’s response, it would be helpful to hear from the Under-Secretary, when he winds up the debate, precisely where he proposes to find the additional resources that are required for adequate flood defences to meet the new assessment. Last week, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the House:
“It is absolutely clear that it is business as usual while we remain members of the EU.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2016; Vol. 62, c. 1030.]
Perhaps she will understand that what concerns many of us is that, as soon as we are no longer members of the EU, many of the protections the UK natural environment currently enjoys will fall away. The clean air directive has been strenuously opposed in Europe by this Government, who tried to water it down for years; indeed our own Supreme Court has now found them to be in breach. I pay tribute to ClientEarth and its work in holding Government to account for the 52,500 excess deaths every year as a result of polluted air in the UK, and I pay particular tribute to Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London who used the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956 to unveil a new clean air programme.
The Government must remember that they have a job to do, and that includes taking concrete action to meet the legal air quality standards as ordered by the UK’s Supreme Court. The Government need to explain to the House if they will incorporate the provisions of the clean air directive into UK law and then begin to comply with its provisions in a way that they have, tragically, failed to do for the past six years.
The birds and habitat directives may well already be fully transposed into UK law, but we need to know if our beaches will still be protected from sewage by the bathing water directive or whether swimming through sewage will once again become a feature of a day at the seaside. We need to know which elements of the waste and electronic equipment directive were not transposed into UK law under the 2013 regulations and what the impact of leaving the EU might be for our recycling industries and our commitment to the circular economy.
No, I will not.
The fact is that fish and birds and insects do not carry passports; pollution is oblivious to the strictures of national airspace or inshore waters. If we wish to manage all of these, whether as pests, problems or resources, then it is better to do so in concert with our regional neighbours. The vote to leave the EU has made that harder. The Government must outline how they propose to overcome that problem.
The Environment Secretary told the House last week that the subject of continued subsidies to farmers up to 2020
“is not a decision I can make at this stage.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2016; Vol. 612, c. 1028.]
Surely it is a decision that should have been made long before anyone asked farmers to vote to leave the EU. Much of the subsidy that farmers receive is for environmental stewardship schemes and other land management practices that benefit biodiversity and wildlife. To turn round to farmers now and say that the £3.5 billion total of subsidy that used to flow each year from the EU into their pockets is no longer secure is not just an attack on farmers’ livelihoods; it is an attack on all the work that farmers do to enhance our environment and protect our landscapes.
These are not abstract challenges. Managing the risks born of the uncertainty from the referendum outcome is a responsibility for Government. Ministers must urgently identify any legislative gaps in environmental protection that may arise from the removal of EU law, and develop plans to replace any protections so that the UK does not become a riskier, unhealthier or more polluted place to live in or do business in.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments on the CAP, but he would be hard-pressed to find any conservation or environment group in the country that believes it provides a net benefit to the environment. There are bits that are good for the environment, but overall I do not think anyone would defend it as a net good for the environment. Surely Brexit gives us an opportunity to take those funds and tailor them in such a way that they genuinely are used to subsidise farmers in delivering a genuine public good? This is a massive opportunity.
I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that I have been a critic of the CAP, as he has, for many years, but the pillar 2 arrangements under the CAP and the environmental stewardship arrangements under the CAP were positive and there was a net benefit from those. I want the Government to set out the new arrangements they propose, so that we can be sure that the environmental protections remain in place, and that that money is not frittered away on something else.
The Government must provide answers to Parliament and the public, who want to be reassured that our environmental protections are not to be weakened in some Brexit bonfire of the regulations. The environmental protections we have enjoyed under the EU are not bureaucracy to be done away with; they are part of what it is to live in a civilised country that respects the natural world and believes that the only prosperous future is a sustainable one.
So, finally, I ask three key questions. Will the Government now move swiftly to ratify the Paris climate agreement? How will the Government press for access to the internal energy market? How will the Government ensure that energy bills do not go up as a result of the increased investor uncertainty following the vote?
Ultimately, the Government must commit to safeguarding environmental protections to at least the same level we have enjoyed within the EU, by passing into UK law all those regulations that would otherwise fall away upon leaving the EU.
I thank the Opposition and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) for giving the Government the opportunity to address some of these important questions which I know are high in people’s minds, particularly among stakeholders. I also want to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison): it may have escaped some people’s notice, but I did campaign on the other side of the EU referendum. I do agree with him, however, that we must move on: Brexit means Brexit and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, we will make a success of it.
It is true that the decision the country made on 23 June is of historic importance and it is true that the key challenge facing us now is to work towards a settlement that is in the best interests of Britain. But it is not true that, as the hon. Member for Brent North has been suggesting, our commitment to protect the environment, tackle climate change and provide homes and businesses across the country with secure and clean energy has faltered in any way. Our commitment to these tasks has not changed and will not change.
I have made it my priority to reiterate these points over the past fortnight. I have said that security of supply would be our first priority, and it remains so. My Department announced last week how much electricity capacity we intend to buy in the forthcoming capacity market auctions. This commitment is the backbone of our energy policy. I announced that the Government would accept the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation for the level of the fifth carbon budget, a long-term commitment taking us way beyond this Parliament to 2032. I have also made it clear that we remain committed to holding a competitive contracts for difference allocation round later this year.
While much remains the same, there is no point pretending that the vote to leave the EU is not of huge significance. There are risks for us to overcome, but this Government will continue to do our part to deliver on the energy and environmental challenges our country faces.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government intend to honour their commitments to the environment as set out in EU directives in the past, so that standards do not slip from the current standards, whether on air quality, flooding or climate change, and does she agree that there should be legislation to say that these should become minimum standards?
What I can say is that this Government’s commitment to a clean environment and our climate change commitments remains unchanged. I will address in my remarks climate change and energy issues, and I will allow the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), to address the environmental ones in his remarks, no doubt dealing with the exact points that have been raised.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a pity that Opposition Members seem to be suggesting that the EU has dragged the UK from darkness into enlightenment? Does she also agree that Britain has traditionally led the way in environmental legislation? I would cite particularly the Clean Air Act 1956, which the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) cited without a hint of irony.
I thank my hon. Friend and, as he rightly said earlier, we must move on. There are benefits to what we have already proposed and there have been benefits from the EU directives as well. They have raised standards in some areas, and I believe we will now maintain them and not allow them to slip at all.
We were speaking earlier about investment and how, unfortunately, investors are getting increasingly cautious. Will the Secretary of State do all she can to persuade her colleagues that we must remain part of the European Investment Bank, at least as long as the negotiations are going on, because if we withdraw right now there will be another huge amount of potential investment not coming into this country when we need it most?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question; I was going to talk about investment anyway. She is absolutely right to mention the importance of investment in securing our clean energy. Like her, I appreciate the impact that the European Investment Bank has had on supporting clean energy in this country and I would hope that our membership of it will continue. I cannot give her any commitments, however. I shall wait to see how this emerges as part of the negotiations, but I share her view on how important it is.
I commend the Secretary of State’s decision, in the midst of the post-Brexit turmoil, to publish the fifth carbon budget. I congratulate her on that. The Environmental Audit Committee has heard this morning from the National Audit Office that a 10% achievement gap has already opened up in the fourth carbon budget between 2023 and 2027. Will she acknowledge that the Treasury’s decision in the last spending review to cancel the carbon capture and storage competition will do little to encourage investor confidence in that area?
The hon. Lady is right: we have always known that we had an issue with the fourth carbon budget, and there is more work to be done. That is why it was a reasonable achievement to get cross-Government approval for the fifth carbon budget, and I thank her for her comment on that. There is still a lot of work to be done. There are policies to be decided on, and we will bring forward the emissions proposals by the end of this year in order to address those policies that are going to be needed in the 2020s.
In a former life, I was the rapporteur in the European Parliament for the European Investment Bank. We are not only a stakeholder in the bank; we are a shareholder and one of its biggest funders. It funds projects across the planet, not just within the European Union. Surely there is no risk to investment in the United Kingdom while those factors remain the same.
I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that position, which will no doubt give the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) as much comfort as it has given me.
I want to make some more comments on investor confidence, which is central to this afternoon’s debate. Since the referendum, I have met investors from across the energy spectrum: nuclear, renewables, energy efficiency—all areas in which we need investment. Yesterday, I spoke to members of the managing board of Siemens to reassure them of the commitments that I am setting out here today. Officials across my Department have regularly kept in contact with investors and energy companies to reiterate that message.
The message from business is clear. It still sees the UK is a great place to invest in. Britain remains one of the best places in the world in which to live and to do business. We have the rule of law, low taxes, a strong finance sector and a talented, creative and determined workforce. We have to build on those strengths, not turn away from them. Those factors combine with a clear energy policy framework and a strong investment-friendly economy to make the UK an ideal place to attract much-needed energy investment. The UK has been the fourth highest investor in clean energy globally for the past five years. This is investment in the energy infrastructure that we need to underpin a strong competitive economy, and this Government will do all we can to ensure that the UK remains an attractive place for investment. Whatever settlement we decide on in the coming months, those fundamentals will remain unchanged.
I want to underline our commitment to addressing climate change. Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat. It remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security. I attended the world-class team of British diplomats at last year’s Paris climate talks. Our efforts were central to delivering that historic deal, and the UK will not step back from that international leadership. We must not turn our back on Europe or the world. Our relationships with the United States, China, India and Japan and with other European countries will stand us in strong stead as we deliver on the promises made in Paris. At the heart of that commitment is our own Climate Change Act 2008. The Act was not imposed on us by the EU; it was entirely home grown. It was also a world first and a prime example of the UK setting the agenda that others are now following. And let us not forget that it was delivered with unanimous support from right across the House.
The Secretary of the State will be aware that the fifth carbon budget means that the UK is reducing carbon at a faster rate than any country in the EU and significantly faster than the EU’s intended nationally determined contribution put forward in Paris. Is the risk of Brexit not that we might go back on our climate change objectives, but that we will not bring the rest of Europe with us, given the leadership position that we have taken and the fact that we are moving so much more quickly than they are?
My hon. Friend, who knows this area so well, has raised an important point. I hope to be able to reassure him that we will be able to continue to use our influence to encourage the European Union to raise its game and to reach the high standards that we do, but I agree with him that this will be an additional concern, on which we will have to work to try to deliver.
It is true that we had to make tough decisions on renewable energy when we came into office last year, reflecting the need to cut costs and the need for technologies to stand on their own two feet. I will not shy away from taking tough decisions. We need technologies that are low cost and clean, to protect bill payers.
The Secretary of State mentioned India as being among the countries standing by us in respect of investment. Given that about 2,400 coal-fired power stations are planned or under construction around the world, including in India and China, does she agree that cancelling the carbon capture and storage project represents a massive missed opportunity for this country?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have been through the issue of CCS many times. We would like to have a CCS programme and we are working on an industrial strategy to address having such a programme. I know that he has played an important part, working with Lord Oxburgh in the other place, in ensuring that we put together a clear plan. At the time, we could not go ahead with the £1 billion that had been planned for the CCS proposal, but it is not off the table at all. We are still working towards having some sort of CCS proposals.
Our commitment to decarbonisation is clear, with £13 billion of investment in renewable electricity in 2015 alone and with investment in renewables increasing by 42% since 2010. We have already set out funding to be provided through auctions during this Parliament to support up to 4 GW of new offshore wind and other renewable technologies, and with the potential for deployment of up to 10 GW in total between 2020 and 2030 if the costs continue to come down. We are also making real progress to deliver new nuclear power in the UK, addressing a legacy of underinvestment. We have announced record investment in new heat networks to enable innovative ways of heating our homes and businesses. And we will lead the world by consulting on closing unabated coal-fired power stations. That commitment has been praised across the world, and we will be setting out further details of it soon.
All those commitments remain in place. They will help us to dramatically rebuild our energy infrastructure and they are underpinned by our commitment to carbon budgets, which is why the CBI, the EEF, businesses and investors from a wide range of sectors were all so supportive of our decision to set the fifth carbon budget.
We have a proud history of energy innovation. The world’s first coal-fired power station was built on the banks of the Thames in the late 1800s. The world’s first nuclear power station was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in Cumbria in 1956. And well before the EU referendum had begun in earnest, my Department was making sure that this country would remain at the forefront of energy and climate change innovation. That is why, as a Government, we have committed more than £500 million over this spending review to supporting new energy technologies. That means supporting entrepreneurs as they look to develop the innovations of the future—in storage, in energy efficiency and in renewables. As part of that programme, we will build on the UK’s expertise in nuclear innovation. At least half our innovation spending will go towards nuclear research and development. That will support our centres of excellence in Cumbria, Manchester, Sheffield and Preston. Our nuclear programme will include a competition to develop a small modular nuclear reactor—potentially one of the most exciting innovations in the energy sector.
Although I have focused primarily on energy and climate change, we must not forget the trade and businesses surrounding the environment and agricultural sectors, which are so profoundly affected by our decisions on tackling rising global temperatures. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs continues to engage with farmers, businesses and environmental groups to ensure that their voices are heard. It has been made clear to them that there will be no immediate changes and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will address the environmental issues later.
Trading energy within Europe and being an entry point into Europe for the rest of the world has provided significant advantages. Europe has led the world on acting to address climate change. The economic imperative that drove those relationships has not changed and openness to trade remains central to who we are as a country. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, we will work towards the best deal for Britain. As I have said, our challenges remain the same: securing our energy supply, keeping bills low, building a low-carbon energy infrastructure, and protecting the environment and farming. Our commitment to them is unbowed.
This is a good debate to be having and I thank the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), and the Labour Front Bench team for giving us the opportunity. It is a shame, however, that the hon. Gentleman did not get beyond his introductory remarks in what was an excellent overview of the issues.
SNP history is being made today in that it is the first time that the full force of “Team Callum” has been deployed at the same time. We will hear later from my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr)—or, as I like to call him, the junior member of the team.
Today’s debate feels a little bit like the last day of school. There is a little bit more work to do, but not a huge amount of Government work is going on as we discuss things, pick over the bones of Brexit and ask questions about how we go forward. I am sure that the Secretary of State is pleased—as we all are—that we have a new Prime Minister because that will help to ease some of the uncertainties that were building up and it is welcome that we will not have several weeks of uncertainty. I hope that the Government use the summer recess to come up with some plans, because plans are badly needed.
Last week, we discussed the excellent Energy and Climate Change Committee report on investor confidence and were able to discuss some of the issues affecting the sector that have been exacerbated by the Brexit vote. It is fair to say and it bears repeating time and again that Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and we will be doing everything in our power to ensure that we do not leave. We should change the lexicon slightly and refer either to “Exit” or perhaps “Wexit”. Scotland is not for leaving, and our Parliament and Government have united around keeping Scotland in the European Union. However, the uncertainty afflicting the United Kingdom following the vote will have some effects while we wait for clarity about our maintained position in the European Union
On energy bills, The Guardian reports today on uSwitch research suggesting that, since 23 June, 12 providers have pulled their cheapest fixed-rate tariffs and replaced them with more expensive deals. That is the impact of Brexit, which will be felt by consumers and those who can ill afford to pay more. The weak pound will have another cost impact as the UK is a net importer of electricity. Such things will drive up bills and are an unfortunate consequence of the Brexit vote. The future of interconnection is also uncertain. Interconnection is important and represents a valuable and sensible Government aim. I have often said that we should not see it as a way of importing cheap electricity from the continent, as the Secretary of State said in her “reset” speech; we should be using it to export electricity to the continent. We should be investing in domestic, low-carbon electricity generation, for which Scotland has immense and highly enviable potential.
The prospect of cheap electricity from the continent is also slightly questionable. Exchange rates will obviously change over time, but the assumptions about future interconnection decisions built into the sums might not look so good when the pound is not faring so well against the euro. Such things will come out in the wash, as we say in Scotland, but we need to look at energy policy and interconnection to see whether it is the right thing to do.
Hinkley is another big question about which we have had some discussion and it will come as no surprise to anyone on the Government Benches that the SNP is not in favour of it. We have discussed it ad nauseam, but it bears repeating that the economics of Hinkley were, in the views of my party, myself and a large number of people in the Chamber, highly dubious. The fundamental economics have only been undermined by the Brexit vote, and we need to reconsider them. We cannot afford to have all our eggs in this particular basket, because if it does not happen—I suspect it will not—there will be a rather large hole to be filled. We cannot, like we did with the Brexit vote, enter the unknown with no back-up plan.
To give some shape to the hole that the hon. Gentleman mentions, does he agree that it is shocking that the expected fall in wholesale electricity prices has driven up the Government’s estimate of the whole lifetime cost of Hinkley to £37 billion from the £14 billion of only a year ago?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The costs are eye-watering. Given the extent to which Hinkley is an international project, the costs could rise even further still. It is time to have a sincere look at the plans and to decide whether the project is possible, but I strongly assume that it is not, so we require a back-up plan. If we do not address the huge strains on our energy system, the bread and butter of keeping the lights on will be put in jeopardy—perhaps not today but in the decades to come. It is incumbent upon the Government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change to act now.
We also need clarity from the Government on the position of the internal energy market in the European Union. The Vivid Economics report that was cited last week and again today about the potential of being outwith the system adding £500 million per annum to the costs of our energy system is sobering. When DECC and the Government as a whole are engaged in their summer homework of working out how to get out of this particular pickle, I suggest that ensuring that we keep the co-operation of the IEM should be high up the agenda because it delivers for us here and for folks abroad. It will help us to meet the trilemma of energy costs and should not be sold down the river lightly.
To maintain security of supply, the time has come to scrap Hinkley and to invest in viable and cheaper forms of domestic energy, including onshore wind, on which we need to lift the embargo. We need the contract for difference auctions that the Secretary of State has mentioned. They should be as wide as possible, technology neutral—as they are supposed to be—and no one should be excluded from bidding. We need to get serious about building the suggested new gas plants, and I will make the case for Scotland again: if we can get the anomaly of transmission charging sorted, we are ready to go with gas plants in Scotland that will contribute significantly to reducing the forthcoming hole in energy production.
Above all, we need to invest in energy efficiency. The Scottish Government are doing strong work and that needs to be replicated right across these islands. If we are to deal with an ever more challenging set of energy circumstances, including where we get it from, the best way is to use less of it. The benefits for everyone are substantial in the long term.
On climate change, I agree with the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who is no longer present, that it is regrettable that the UK will not be a member of the European Union. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for her role in the Paris talks, where the UK played a strong hand—perhaps not as strong as I and others would have liked, but it was played well and resulted in a pretty good deal. The fact we are no longer going to be at the heart of the decision-making process is regrettable, because the UK can be proud of what it has done on tackling climate change and has more it could offer the EU. We need to work out how that will happen in a renewed relationship with the EU, but there will be an absence and that is regrettable.
I have some specific questions to ask about what the process will be and what the impact of Brexit is on our commitments from the Paris talks, which have been touched upon. Our nationally defined contribution was the European Union’s NDC, and I am not clear whether that still applies to us. I assume it does, as we are still a member, but we can and should do more. I am also unclear about some issues on the ratification of the deal. Do we have to ratify this before the Brexit deal is concluded? Is there an impact on the EU as a whole? I understand that the EU ratification process requires all member states to ratify before the EU can ratify it as a whole. Ultimately, the UN requires ratification by the 55 countries that account for 55% of the emissions. So are there implications for us? Are there implications for ratification by the EU? Are there implications for the whole deal if we are not able to do that?
I may not answer all the hon. Gentleman’s questions in this intervention, but let me say, as I did not pick this up from the questions put by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) either, that we are pushing for early ratification of the Paris treaty on behalf of the United Kingdom.
I thank the Secretary of State for that intervention and very much welcome it; that is progress and I hope it can be done. I do not think there will be any opposition on that—none will come from Scottish National party Members.
I do not want to go through the negativities, but on the eve of the Paris summit we had the sweet and the sour. We had the sour on CCS, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) referred. The sweet was the commitment from the Secretary of State and the Government on coal. That was welcome and it was a significant step forward, but are there questions about its deliverability now? I think that there are, as the commitment had a subtle caveat, which was that it would be done only if and when it was possible. The combination of the effects on investor confidence and the lack of clarity on a number of these things will make it more difficult to meet the conditions required to have that coal taken off the system. There is a requirement to look at that again. Above all, although we all welcome the fact that we are getting the fifth carbon budget and that it agreed with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, we do need the action plan. That is the fundamental thing; the bread and butter of this is how we do it. The ambition, determination and commitment is there, but it will come to be only if we have a viable plan. I do think this is achievable, but it has become more uncertain because of the Brexit vote.
In conclusion, yesterday’s events probably put us in a better place than many of us expected to be in. We do not have the added unwelcome uncertainty of a nine-week leadership contest, but a power of work needs to be done by Government over the summer. I hope the Secretary of State continues in her post to do that. I look forward to continuing to work with her and to marking her homework after the summer recess.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate. Oppositions, being Oppositions, often fire questions at Governments and this is a particularly difficult time for a Government to answer all the questions. We are about to change Prime Minister, there will probably be a substantial reshuffle in the Government and Ministers will then get down to dealing with the consequences of what the British people have decided.
Many of the points made by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) were, “What’s going to happen with regulations?” and, “What’s going to happen with things we have signed up to?” I do not believe this Parliament is going to go through every piece of European legislation we have passed over the past 40 years and decide whether we want to keep it or not. The most likely outcome is enabling legislation that rolls everything we have agreed with the EU into UK legislation, with this Government and future Governments at their leisure then being able to pick through what they want to do. That is the most sensible approach. It may mean that we get rid of some legislation in some areas and in others we strengthen it. Whatever the outcome, this Parliament will make sure it picks what is best for our country. We must bear in mind that quite a lot of the legislation has been agreed with 27 other states. Some of it may not be that applicable or relevant to us, but there may be things where we want to improve standards. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) said, our environmental record on clean air and everything else predates our joining the EU, and the UK has often been more vociferous in these areas than many EU states.
The hon. Gentleman said that most of our air quality legislation predates the EU, but of course the Clean Air Act 1956 was all about stopping people burning things in London and creating the big smogs—it made no mention about diesel particulate matter, because diesel cars had not been invented then.
I shall make a little progress, if I may.
My guess is that we will have enabling legislation and we will deal at our leisure with the consequences of Britain leaving in terms of the detail and the European directives we have signed over the years, with this Government and future Governments determining their priorities.
I now wish to talk about energy. I am sure that when the Secretary of State was given her tasks the first thing the Prime Minister said to her was, “Don’t let the lights go out.” Given the capacity, the grid and demand, that is probably her principal concern in her job and it was probably the principal concern of her predecessors. I am pleased with many of the things that the Government have done, but we do have to increase capacity, and where I disagree with the comments from the SNP and others is on the fact that we do need nuclear capacity as part of that. Whether the deal is a good or bad one depends on crystal ball-gazing over the next 40 years as to what will happen with energy prices. They are terribly difficult to predict. All I predict is that they will go up and they will go down, but I do not know when. In the last Parliament, the Labour party had a policy of freezing energy prices, but the moment the party made that its policy, energy prices started to fall, which proved that freezing them was probably the worst thing to do. We all know that energy prices go up and down, and that that is to do with the market; it is not necessarily about our being in the EU.
I also caution colleagues against drawing any long-term conclusions from what has happened in the markets, given that it has been only about two weeks since we had a vote to leave the EU. Long-term interest rates have fallen, the pound has gone up and gone down, and markets have gone up and gone down. I suspect that over the next year or two there will be a bumpy ride in some markets as decisions have to be made on our future. The UK Government have to do our best to increase capacity, and that means nuclear power, more gas and fracking. I know a lot of people do not like fracking, but there is a natural resource that we have to make use of.
There is one area where I might have some disagreement with the Secretary of State. She mentioned running down some of the coal-fired power stations, but until we are certain that some of the investment is starting to kick in, I would be a little reluctant to close off some of that capacity, because it will be challenge for us to keep the lights on in the future. The problems we have in capacity are largely caused not by this Government or the coalition Government, but by the previous Labour Governments, who put off taking decisions. In particular, they had a White Paper that did not even include nuclear power. I welcome a lot of what the coalition Government did and what this Government have done, but we need to improve confidence and investment so that we have more capacity in the energy market.
I welcome a lot of what the Government have done. There is no reason why this country should not still be at the forefront of fighting environmental damage. I still think this country can provide lessons to the EU. I do not believe our leaving will be a disaster; it is a great opportunity for our country. We have to make it a success, and I am sure this Parliament is perfectly capable of making decisions that benefit our citizens rather more than some of those made in the EU.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms).
We have heard today that environmental problems do not respect borders. I would like to posit an alternative argument to the one just advanced by the hon. Gentleman, who said that everything was pretty much okay. I say that things are not that okay and that Britain’s membership of the EU has been instrumental and crucial to the improvement of UK air quality, the cleaning up of water pollution, the management of waste, and the protection and enhancement of biodiversity. It has also given us a global platform on which we can show global leadership in tackling climate change.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair—I can see several colleagues from it dotted around the Chamber here today—carried out an inquiry into the effects of EU membership on UK environmental protection. We heard from a wide variety of witnesses, including business people, academics, politicians and non-governmental organisations. The overwhelming majority told us that the environment was better protected as a result of our EU membership.
We do not have to look too far to find examples of that protection. In the 1970s, the Thames was biologically dead. It may not look any cleaner from the Palace of Westminster than it did in the ‘70s, but it serves as a great reminder of how EU membership has cleaned up our environment. We can now see seals and dolphins—I have yet to see one from my window. Otters are now in the high end of the Thames. That success story has been repeated up and down the country, as once dead rivers have been brought back to life. Where once it was dangerous to swim, now it is safe for people and wildlife alike. The EU water framework directive has cleaned up our beaches and our rivers, and the marine strategy directive has encouraged us to set out that ecologically coherent network of marine protection zones. It has not been an easy task and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), for his work in this area.
Does my hon. Friend and colleague agree that one of the things that we found in the Committee’s study was, in essence, that the European Union is a union, which therefore has minimum standards that are ratcheted up? It does not allow individual members to undercut other members on the environment, which means that there is a platform across Europe, and across the globe as well, of best practice.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but of course the setting of those minimum standards does not prevent individual member states from going above and beyond them. Vitally for business, it also provides a common baseline and a harmonised market for products. That is absolutely crucial for UK businesses as we move forward into the uncertainties of a Brexit world.
EU membership is also key for air quality. Successive Governments have dragged their feet on this very difficult issue. Since 2010, the UK has been in breach of EU legal air quality limits in 31 of its 43 clean air zones, and one of those is in my constituency of Wakefield. Although London tends to get all the attention—as a cyclist in London I am certainly aware of the very high pollution levels—constituencies such as Wakefield with the M1 and M62 crossing by it have severe burdens of cardiovascular disease and lung disease as a result of the breaching of those limits.
EU legislation has allowed UK campaigners to hold the Government to account. The High Court has ordered Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come up with new air quality plans. In April, those Ministers were back in court over allegations that their plans were still insufficient to bring the UK’s air quality in line with EU minimum standards. There is a series of question marks about what will happen to air pollution standards in the brave new Brexit world.
On biodiversity, the nature directives have preserved some of the most treasured places, plants and species in our country. Many of our best-loved sites, such as Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia, are protected by the EU.
The birds and habitats directives are the real jewels in the crown of our environmental protection. Does the hon. Lady agree that, even if we do keep them in British legislation—as I hope we do—what we must do is ensure that there is a proper enforcement mechanism? That is what the EU has provided us with, and we will need to create a new enforcement mechanism that is as rigorous as possible.
I do not think that anything can be guaranteed in this world. The first step is to hear from Ministers, but it is said that today is like the last day of term. I wish the Under-Secretary well in whatever future role he is called on to play in the Government. He has been an excellent Minister, and he has appeared before the Environmental Audit Committee many times. I do not think that anything should be taken for granted. As a passionate pro-remain campaigner, I took part in many debates during the EU referendum campaign, and I heard many different versions of Brexit depending on whom I was debating with.
In an interview with The Guardian, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) described the birds and habitats directives as “spirit crushing”. He said that if we voted to leave, “they would go”. We will have to see whether his version of events is the same as that of the new Prime Minister. He also said that leaving the EU would free up both common agricultural payments and up to £2 billion in “insurance and incentives” for farmers. Nowhere in that do I hear anything about the need for protecting species, wildlife, and plant life. There is no mention of the vital services provided by soils and bogs or of the need for the restoration of bogs and peatlands, which we recommended just a month ago in our excellent report on soil, and which was echoed this morning by the Adaptation Sub-Committee report of the Committee on Climate Change. So, we have seen otters, hen harriers and bitterns making a comeback, and the referendum result could put all that progress at risk.
The EU has also played a key role in promoting investment in sustainable businesses and technologies. Investors need clear policy signals emanating from strong legislative frameworks, and, to be fair, those frameworks are provided by the Climate Change Act 2015. However, our Committee has received some mixed messages from the current inquiries into both the Department for Transport and the Treasury. In particular, I posed a question on the cancellation of the carbon capture and storage competition, which has had a massive debilitating effect on investor confidence. We do not want to get into a position where consumers are not spending and investors are not investing, because that is absolutely disastrous not just for the economy, but for the UK’s environmental progress.
Twenty years ago, in 1997, the UK sent almost all of our household waste to landfill. Now we recycle almost 45% of it, although I was disappointed to see those numbers slightly dip last year. The Treasury introduced the landfill tax escalator in response to the EU landfill directive. Over the past five years, according to the Environmental Services Association, the waste and resources management sector has invested £5 billion in new infrastructure thanks to this long-term policy signal. Those policy signals are vital as is the need to keep investing in infrastructure if we are to meet those 2020 waste targets—if they still apply in UK law. [Interruption.] A sip of gin to keep me going. A slice next time, please.
I shall end on the topic of microplastic pollution. The Committee is concluding its inquiry into microplastics—tiny particles of plastic, which can come from larger particles of plastic that are broken down, or from products such as shaving foams, deodorants, toothpastes and facial scrubs. Unfortunately, it seems to be the higher-end products that have not been cleaned up as quickly as the mass volume scrubs. We are finding that the particles have washed down the sink, passed through sewage filtration systems and ended up in the sea. Anyone who has had a dozen or half a dozen oysters recently will have consumed about 50 microplastic particles. For those of us who like seafood, that is something to reflect on. Bon appétit.
Over a third of fish in the English channel are now contaminated with microplastics. As an island nation we must take the problem of microplastic pollution seriously. The way to solve the problem is to work with our partners in the EU. Those are not my words. It is what the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told our Committee when he gave evidence just before the referendum on 23 June. If the EU takes action to address an environmental problem, it creates not only a level playing field for businesses, but an opportunity to market environmental solutions.
Brexit raises a series of questions. There is the issue of the circular economy package, which is the EU’s drive to get us to reduce waste, recycle more and have a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials, such as paper, glass and plastics. That would have driven new, green jobs in the UK economy. The decision to abandon all that has left investors reeling.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), the shadow Secretary of State, about Siemens’ decision to freeze its investment in the wind industry in Yorkshire, Hull and the Humber and we face a protracted period of uncertainty. When the Under-Secretary of State appeared before our Committee as part of that EU inquiry, he told us that the vote to leave would result in a “long and tortuous” negotiation. That has not even begun yet.
The period ahead is fraught with risks. The UK risks not being regarded as a safe bet, and investors may no longer wish to invest their cash in UK businesses. Significantly, contracts are no longer being signed in London because the risk of London no longer being part of the European single market means that people want contracts to be signed in a European country so that if something goes wrong, contract law will be enforceable across all the countries of the European Union. That will have a very big effect on our financial and legal services.
That is the point I was making. When looking at where to put new foreign direct investment, investors will look again and go to the area of least risk. Those risks are reflected in the economy.
We found out from our inquiry that the environment and the UK’s membership of the EU had been a two-way street. It forced us to take action much more quickly on waste and on water, but it also acted as a platform from which we could project our own British values, particularly in relation to climate change. DECC Minister Lord Bourne told the Committee that the UK’s voice was louder in Paris because we were part of a club of 28 countries. I worry about the global agreement reached at Paris and the possible damage to achieving those climate change targets as a result of our withdrawing from the European Union.
In the 1970s the UK was the “dirty man” of Europe. Economically, we were the “sick man” of Europe. Since then we have cleaner beaches, we drive more fuel-efficient cars, we have more fuel-efficient vacuum cleaners, and we can hold the Government to account on air pollution. Environmental problems do not respect borders, and require long-term solutions—much longer than the five-year term of a Government or, in some cases, the two-year term of a Treasury Minister.
EU membership has allowed the UK to be a world leader in tackling environmental problems with our brilliant science base and our pragmatic civil service to provide good nuts-and-bolts solutions to many of the challenges we face, and created British business as a world leader, whether through its retrofitting diesel buses in China or helping the Indian Government with water management for the Ganges delta. These are knowledge and services that our country can export proudly because we have been clean in the European Union. The result of the referendum has caused a great deal of political and economic uncertainty. I hope we will get some reassurances from the Government about the threats that it poses to our common home, and the actions that any new Government will take to ensure that we leave a better future for our children.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), for whom I have a great deal of respect in her role as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, although I would like to be a little more positive about life post-EU than she was.
I am pleased to speak about the important subject of post-EU referendum implications for energy and the environment. The environment is something that we cannot avoid. It affects us all: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the soils that produce it, the trees that take in the carbon dioxide, the flora, the fauna, the landscape—everything we touch. It is essential that we deliver policies to determine that we can have a healthy life, and that all God’s creatures can have a healthy life, too.
As we have heard many times today, much of our environmental legislation stems from Europe. We have been instrumental in writing much of it: the birds directive, the habitats directive, the bathing water directive and the air quality directive. The motion states that in the run-up to the EU referendum, “little mention” was made of environmental protection. Actually, a lot of people, including myself and some of my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber, as well as many from the Environmentalists for Europe group, did refer to environmental aspects. Interestingly, it was the media who gave the environment little coverage, as statistics show that the environment featured in only 1.7% of the referendum coverage in all media, and 0% of television coverage. People were talking about it, but that was not picked up, and that is one of the issues we face.
Once one starts talking about the environment, people engage with it, so I have set up an environment forum in Taunton Deane. I held a debate in the forum about the EU and the environment. Opinion was not in favour of one side or the other, but the event was a big talking point, and more than 100 people turned up to it, which shows that there is interest in the subject. We are where we are, however. We are out of Europe, and we have to move forward positively.
I shall mention a few small concerns that have arisen to show that we have some immediate problems to sort out. For example, I have been contacted by a number of landowners who were about to sign their higher level stewardship contracts for the next 10 years to protect precious parts of our habitat, but they are now holding off. I would like some reassurance about what will happen and where the money that is required will come from. We do not want to lose those wonderful protected habitats while people wait to find out what happens. Similarly, on other greening issues for farmers, we do not want to risk farmers being forced to plough up field margins, edges or ponds because they do not know what is happening with their environmental protection money or where it is coming from. Some reassurance on that, even for the short term, would go down well.
Nobody today has mentioned farmers or landowners, but they are the people who own all the land that we keep talking about. We have to work with them. The same applies to fishermen. I have heard rumours—I do not know whether this is true—that fishermen are now ignoring many of the marine protections because they think that we are out of Europe and therefore the protections do not apply any more. It would be extremely helpful to hear some reassurance about that.
What now? As I said, we should be positive. We have a real opportunity to take ownership of the environment and to adopt the systems and frameworks that work best and deliver for us. Now more than ever—we have talked about this in the Environmental Audit Committee—is the time to start building in sustainability and a healthy future, and to think more about how every Department delivers on these things.
We should, for example, think about how infrastructure works when it goes through special landscapes or land with ancient trees. We should think about how our homes can be more sustainable. We have touched on all this, and I am pleased the Government are undertaking an inquiry to look again at sustainable urban drainage system, and the carbon efficiency and energy efficiency of homes, but we need to build those things in.
We should also think about how we reduce the impact of flooding. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is carrying out an inquiry into flooding, which will bring forward really useful ideas about how to build flood resilience into our land use plans. This is the time to get all these things in, so we have a great opportunity. We can also do more on low-carbon energy generation and transport so that we have lower emissions and reduce our terrible air pollution statistics. All that is possible with clear planning for and thought about land use.
I have talked to lots of bodies about these issues, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the Ancient Tree Forum and the Soil Association. However, I have also spoken to farmers and landowners, and I reiterate that we have to work with and support them if we are to deliver what we need.
I would like to suggest some things that we should consider. As the hon. Member for Wakefield said, EU legislation sets our targets regarding air and water pollution, and it was the EU that took us to task if we did not hit them. We must therefore ensure that we set targets and have a system of checking and reporting back—I suggest annually—on how we are doing. I urge the Government to ensure that we do not lower our air or water-quality standards. We have heard the shocking statistic that 50,000 people a year die from air pollution-related diseases, so we would be crazy to lower those standards. I am sure that the Minister is listening to that point.
I have a few thoughts about how to proceed, although some have been mentioned by other Members. Let us transpose the relevant EU directives into UK law—we can then amend them as we think fit, but let us at least have them—and let us keep special areas of conservation. Let us also do more on the world stage, because we really need to. We need to increase our global influence with bodies such as the UN and the OECD. The Bern convention and the animal welfare legislation are really important, and we also need to stay part of Natura 2000.
I applaud the fact that DEFRA has been working away on its—I will not say elusive—25-year plans for farming and the environment. That is excellent, but let us see those plans as soon as possible, and let us make sure that the environment is inextricably interwoven with farming production targets. We have a great opportunity, so let us make greening slightly less complicated for farmers. Most farmers are keen to undertake aspects of greening, but some of the forms that they have to fill out and the demands that are placed on them are so tortuously complicated—I heard this only this morning from a barn owl expert who works with farmers across the south-west—that some farmers are thinking of not bothering in the future if we cannot simplify the system. To deliver what we need to deliver, we need to make things easy to do.
While we are rewriting our plans, let us get in some soil monitoring. Let us recognise that soil is an ecosystem, not just a growing medium to be abused. Let us also deal with the circular economy. DEFRA suggests that that could bring in £22 billion of savings, so let us look at that and build it all in.
I reiterate that subsidies will have to be part of the system, but let us work out how they are given to our farmers and landowners. I suggest that they should not just be based on land ownership, but that farmers and landowners should have to deliver something for them, whether that is green services or food production. Perhaps caps should be put in place. If someone has 3,000 acres of arable land in the east, is it right that they clock up so much per hectare? Why not have a cap so that everything is on a level playing field? Farmers and landowners are discussing these issues countrywide, as are environmental organisations, so let us put all their findings together and build them into our forward-thinking plan.
Finally, I am going to touch on energy, because it is referred to in the motion. I am pleased that the Energy Secretary has committed to delivering secure, affordable and clean energy. I welcome the system that is enabling consumers to switch to lower-cost energy to help with bills. I really welcome the commitment to continue leading on climate change, to which many colleagues have referred. I also welcome early ratification of the Paris agreement, and I reiterate praise for the proposed climate change system, which the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) referred to, so I think we are all together on that.
The Government have committed to low-carbon energy. They are phasing out coal and are also committed to nuclear. The south-west is pressing ahead with the commitment on Hinkley Point, which will be a crucial part of our economy, delivering 7% of our energy. I welcome the Government’s involvement in establishing the National College for Nuclear, and there will be a big spin-off for Somerset, where Bridgwater College has just linked up with Somerset College in my constituency. That is spawning not only new engineers, but the new skills that we will need to move forward in the low-carbon energy sector that has to be part of our brave new world.
To conclude, let us not be negative. The Government must listen—I am absolutely sure that they are listening. We must link farming closely with the environment for the good of the nation. That will deliver for the environment and, indeed, for us all, in terms of health, wellbeing and life chances.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for graciously allowing me to make my maiden speech in this really important debate.
I am deeply honoured to be standing in this Chamber as the new Member of Parliament for Tooting. When I think about this Chamber’s long and proud history, and about the women and men who have sat here before me, and all they have achieved, I feel humbled. They include Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan and, very recently, Jo Cox, to name but a few. I am also reminded of the vast responsibilities that we in this Chamber are entrusted with over the coming years and the magnitude of what we must achieve for our country. I would like to talk a little about that task and about the mindset with which we should approach it.
First, however, I would like to talk about where I come from—Tooting. It is hard for me to adequately express my gratitude to the people of Tooting for putting their trust in me. During my campaign, I said I would be a passionate, energetic and tireless representative for absolutely everyone in my constituency, and it is with that promise that I intend to serve.
Just two months ago, I was working day and night on our NHS frontline in A&E as an emergency doctor. Now I find myself wandering the corridors of Westminster, grappling with vast piles of dry booklets and mistaking Members’ offices for lady Members’ rooms—it has happened.
It was a piece of good news that set me on the journey that brings me here today: the election of our new Mayor of London, my good friend Sadiq Khan, with the largest personal mandate in British political history. From the first time I met Sadiq, it was clear that he was destined for greatness. When I became a councillor, he took the time to offer me support and guidance, as he remembered well what it was like for someone to suddenly find themselves holding the responsibilities of elected office. Sadiq spent 11 years working tirelessly for the people of Tooting. His commitment to equality, justice and inclusivity is inspirational. Whether he is celebrating International Women’s Day year after year, breaking bread with every religious community, or talking to children about how they can achieve no matter what their background, Sadiq’s interactions are always warm and welcoming. He truly believes in the power of people and communities, as he has shown throughout his time representing Tooting—and now the great city of London. He has made improving the environment a top priority in City Hall, and has already started tackling the important issue of air quality in London. This debate gives us an opportunity again to see what a difference we can make in the House when we get legislation right—legislation like the Clean Air Act 1956, which was passed 60 years ago following the London smogs of the 1950s.
I will endeavour to build upon Sadiq’s fine legacy, standing tall for all of Tooting. Sadiq’s shoes are big to fill, but then I have the benefit of much higher heels to help! We share a lot in our histories and our characters: our surname; a love of football; and a keen interest in boxing. Perhaps most importantly, Sadiq and I are children of Tooting who are now choosing to raise our families in the very streets where we grew up. We have one important difference, though: my dad was not a bus driver—[Laughter.] However, my mum did work in the local petrol station, so—who knows?—perhaps Sadiq’s father filled up his bus there.
As a Tooting girl through and through, I never like it when people say, “Tooting is becoming a fantastic place to live.” Anyone who has lived there for as long as I have knows that it has always been great, with the wonderful green open spaces of Tooting and Wandsworth commons, the iconic Tooting market, and the lido, which has been open for residents of Tooting to swim outdoors for 110 years. There has always been a rich tapestry of communities living harmoniously alongside one another. That unity should be celebrated, and I will defend it with every fibre of my being. That unity is woven into me—it is an essential part of who I am. When people ask me where I am from, I say: “I’m half Polish, half Pakistani; raised in England; married a Welshman; and I am 100% Tooting.”
There is a serious point in this, though: what binds us together. In Tooting and across the country, it is a sense of common purpose. The selflessness that drives community groups and charities binds us together. Tooting’s many local businesses, traditional and modern, not only fuel our thriving economy, but bind us together. St George’s hospital and our NHS, where everyone is treated with equal concern, based not on their race or religion but on their need, bind us together. In these fragile times, we should never forget that these charities, businesses and proud national institutions are important not only because they provide us a service or grow our economy, but because they bind us together as local residents, as citizens, and as human beings, too.
So why am I here now? Well, life was not easy growing up, but I always had the bedrock that was the love and support of my mum, Maria, even in the face of adversity. She was on her own, a single mum, but like a small army, showering my brother and me with praise and providing a palpable sense of possibility. She gave me hope. She showed my brother and me that even people from our background can achieve anything with hard work and determination. She instilled in me a deep-rooted determination to help others who have seen hardship and who fight for social justice. But I am also here because of Labour. My dream of becoming a doctor became a reality not only through my own hard work and support from my family, but because a Labour Government made it financially possible for me to access a world-class medical school at Cambridge. That is one reason why my ambition will always be for Labour to win power, not just to sit on these Opposition Benches.
I have served in an ice cream shop, I have fried eggs at a hotel, and I have aided patients, but my proudest job is being a wife and a mother. My heart bursts with the love I have for my husband, Tudor, and my two young daughters, Anaiyah, aged three, and Layla, aged just one. They are an immense source of strength to me, and will continue to be so over the coming years.
We must now all look to those coming years. They will be turbulent and challenging, and in them history will be made. This House will be responsible for shaping Britain’s future in the 21st century by guiding, overseeing, and providing accountability for the most important negotiations our country will have seen for decades. In that period, important and defining questions will be asked about who we are as a nation and who we want to be, about the legacy we will leave the next generation and the generations after that, and about the relationships we want to have with our friends and allies across the whole world.
Britain has always been an outward-looking country—one that does not shy away from the challenges that face us all. My experience as a doctor, and internationally all over the world, has taught me a lot about those challenges. I have lived and worked in squalid refugee camps, pulled dead bodies out of floodwater and watched children suffer as victims of war. I have witnessed aching, aching suffering. My commitment is to be a voice for those who have none, to find hope for those who have lost it, and to build strength for those who are weak, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. We all bleed, we all breathe, and we all feel pain. The sound of a parent losing a child is an international language. It is, tragically, a sound that is increasingly common in our unstable world.
We live in a time of insecurity and change without parallel in recent history. Europe is in flux. The middle east is in crisis. The axis of global power is shifting. The old certainties no longer seem so certain. It is all too easy to write off calls for international social justice as irrelevant when we ourselves live in such difficult and uncertain times— “We have so much to do to sort out our own country; why should we be thinking about responsibilities overseas?” That is to misunderstand what social justice is about. It is not simply a goal to be ranked and prioritised in relation to other goals; it is about how we think and who we are. It applies to everything we do, whether protecting our NHS in the UK, protecting workers’ rights in our negotiations with the EU, or working to seek peace in Syria and Yemen. Everywhere I look, there is work to do.
Here at home, I pledge to bring my years of experience in, and deep commitment to, our NHS in order to stand up for it. I could not be prouder of my NHS colleagues at St George’s hospital and elsewhere who work day and night, with little thanks for the work they do. Anyone who has worked in the NHS—indeed, anyone who has worked in any of our vital emergency services—knows well the feeling of leaving behind the comfort of home and family, day after day, night after night, selflessly to work gruelling hours in difficult circumstances, and serving the communities we love without complaint. I will work to protect them from the attacks they are under. Our NHS staff see work as a vocation, not as a job. This is why they have been so damaged by the recent mishandling of the junior doctors contract, and it is why nurses are so distraught when they see their bursaries axed. It is morally reprehensible that student nurses are forced to seek food banks, or that women in medicine are penalised for having children.
I have already asked two questions in my short time in this House, and I am afraid I shall not stop asking questions until I get satisfactory answers. In these times, who knows how long I may be sitting here? What I do know, and what I can tell Members, is that I am going to make every single minute, every single day, count for the people of Tooting, and of Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
What an absolutely fantastic, brilliant maiden speech we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). I have served in this House for 14 years, and I have to say that that is the best maiden speech I have ever heard. It was eloquent, moving and witty. It talked about Tooting, about history, and about where we are and where we are going. My hon. Friend is a great credit to Tooting, and a great credit to her family. I know that her mother, Maria, is here, as are her brother, her best friend, Monique, her husband, Tudor, who I am very pleased to hear is from Neath in Wales—I hope to be sharing a Joe’s ice cream later in the summer if all goes well—and her supporters in the Gallery. [Hon. Members: “And the Mayor of London.”] I will be mentioning the Mayor of London. It is fantastic to hear about Tooting and it is great to have the Mayor of London back with us today.
This debate is about the environment. Our concern as we break free from Europe is that we will no longer have mandatory standards of air quality. I am very proud that Sadiq Khan, our Mayor of London, has made headway after two terms of, frankly, indolence from the previous Mayor in terms of making progress on air quality. There are about 9,500 premature deaths a year in London alone as a result of air pollution, largely from diesel cars and vehicles. The number across Britain, according to the Royal College of Physicians, is 40,000. We are talking about lung disease, heart disease and strokes, and problems for children, whether they are in the classroom or in the womb.
I am very pleased that Sadiq Khan is present. I was with him last week when he launched his new air quality standards on the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956, and I look forward to ultra-low emissions zones using the latest technology. The Minister may know of the new technology from America that uses lasers to count the emissions of each pollutant from each car, thereby setting standards for emissions standards.
One of my main concerns about leaving Europe is that mandatory standards will no longer be enforceable in the courts. I am glad that ClientEarth is taking the Government to court to ensure that we deliver those standards. The fact that it has to take them to court shows that, left to our own devices, we are in danger of becoming the dirty man of Europe again, which was our embarrassing former status. The World Health Organisation has standards, but they are not enforceable. I hope that the Minister will say that we will sustain and honour our commitments not just to air quality standards, but to all EU standards. We have a responsibility to make future laws ourselves, but unless they are integrated and harmonious they will not work as a platform to make the world a more sustainable place.
My hon. Friend has touched on the important issue of the fines levied for breaches of air quality standards. Does he think that there is an important job to be done in terms of joined-up government? The British Government will pass the fines down to local government, even though issues such as local government housing targets are also controlled by central Government. That means that not only will local government have to approve new developments in areas of towns and cities that suffer from poor air quality, but the British Government will pass down fines to it for doing so.
That is a concern. I promoted the Air Quality (Diesel Emissions in Urban Centres) Bill to give more powers to local authorities, with Government support, to introduce more air quality zones and testing, and to encourage the use of trams and hydrogen and electric-driven transport systems. We need not just a series of zones that have to reach minimum standards, but improved air quality for all people across all our nations. We do not want the Government to pass the buck or to revert to becoming the dirty man of Europe again. We have had a lot of benefits from being in Europe. My constituency of Swansea West has some beautiful, blue flag beaches, and we do not want them to revert to becoming like the old low-tar and high-tar beaches of the past.
Responsibility for research and development in environmental innovation is shared across Europe, but we are in danger of risking that. We were leaders at Kyoto from Europe, and we were leaders in Britain and throughout Europe on the elimination of chlorofluoro- carbons and on closing the hole in the ozone layer. We do not want to miss such opportunities in future, but I am sad to say that we are likely to do so.
The Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change had a meeting today to discuss the latest problems with adaptation to climate change, including what we have to do in relation to flooding and changes in biodiversity, water supply, health, food and so on. We need to face those big challenges together, so I hope that the Minister will reassure us that we will be working together, not just floating off on our own and becoming worse and worse environmentally.
The environment faces challenges from the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the US. Now that we are leaving, we will find that we cannot veto, influence or change those negotiations; we will be a bystander and we will have to live by those rules, which at the moment do not protect the environment from investors. We run the risk of being fined by big fracking companies. Loan Pine sued Canada for hundreds of millions of dollars when there was a moratorium on fracking in Quebec. I do not want that to happen in Wales, Scotland or elsewhere when companies are given the open door by the new Administration.
I am pleased and honoured to be a member of the Council of Europe. I am a rapporteur on both TTIP and fracking, and I hope that the advice from the thorough reports will be taken up by the Government. I am glad to say that I am also a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and we have said that working together as one with Europe has to be good to retain standards. We do not want to see us undercutting other countries with regard to the environment for competitive reasons, which would bring everybody down.
On climate change, it was agreed in Paris that we should set a target, using the 1750 baseline, for our world temperatures to go up by no more than 2 °C. We have already moved up 1 °C, and, on the basis of carbon dioxide that is in the pipeline, it has been calculated that the figure is already 1.5 °C up, which was the Paris aspiration. That means that we need to move towards zero-carbon technology and carbon capture. Regrettably and shamefully, however, the Government, even before leaving Europe, have abandoned their aspirations and plans for carbon capture. As an environmentalist, I am really concerned not just that we will become the dirty man of Europe, but that we will start playing dirty to reduce standards in order to attract jobs as we face tariffs, which is one of the inevitable consequences of the Brexit vote.
I will present a Bill tomorrow on UK environmental protection and the maintenance of EU standards. It gives the Government the opportunity to sign up to at least keeping the current standards and to not sink back while the EU moves forwards. I hope that that will be agreed.
I view the vote for Brexit with great regret. I hope that we will have a second referendum on the exit package, so that people will know precisely what they are voting for, and if it does not deliver on their reasonable expectations they will have the option of defaulting back to recover membership of the EU again. We will see how it goes. Government Members are shaking their heads, but I do not think that we should continue to walk into what may be an environmental disaster.
Finally, I want to say once more that the hon. Member for Tooting made a fantastic speech.
It was a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin- Khan), whose speech was excellent, in both content and delivery. My son is a junior hospital doctor and I know how hard doctors work. We need more scientists and doctors in the House of Commons, so for that reason, too, she is really welcome. I congratulate her.
The implication of the Opposition’s motion is that somehow, by leaving the EU, we will become the dirty man of Europe and that, without the glad hand of European legislation, we will go back to our dirty ways.
I want to talk about climate change police, particularly how far ahead we are of the rest of the EU, and how Europe’s slow pace is causing increasing difficulty for the rest of the world.
People are right that environmental protection and policy is cross-border. We produce 1.3% of global emissions. Since 1990, the UK has decreased its carbon emissions by 28% and the EU has decreased carbon emissions by 21%. That figure includes our contribution of 28%, so the rest of the members have done a bit worse; although that in itself is not a disaster. What is extraordinary is the variability between different countries in Europe on carbon emissions since 1990: Austria has increased emissions by 14%, Ireland by 7% and Poland by 14%; Germany has decreased emissions, but not by anything like as much as we have. It is really quite bizarre.
Quite often, people talk about countries such as China as being the issue when it comes to emissions. However, the reality is that the Chinese are taking the whole issue a great deal more seriously than a number of OECD countries are. China has 40 to 50 nuclear power stations under construction. It increased its proportion of energy from nuclear by 30% last year, and from renewables by 20%. That is a huge effort. The truth is—
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point that China is making commendable progress in respect of nuclear construction. However, is it not also the case that, along with India, it is constructing up to several thousand coal-fired power stations? The argument, as was well put by the Prime Minister of India, Mr Modi, is this: why should we come to the banquet, have only a dessert and be presented with the bill?
I have a lot of sympathy for that argument, and that is why we have to cut more slack for these developing countries. I am going to come on to talk about coal, but in November the Secretary of State in this country said that we were going to phase out coal by 2025. The following week, Germany commissioned a brand new lignite-burning power station. That sort of behaviour plays to the point just made by the hon. Member from the Scottish nationalists that it is very hard to lecture the Indians and the Chinese on coal when there are countries in Europe, this year, commissioning brand new coal power stations.
We have talked about how important Paris is. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) made the point that we may well be close to 1.5% anyway—it is a statistical model and it is quite hard to tell. However, the fact is that the INDC that the EU, including the UK, put into the Paris commitment is approximately half as onerous in terms of decarbonisation as that which the Climate Change Act 2008 requires us to do in the UK. We will reduce our emissions by the fifth carbon budget by 57% in 2030. The EU offering was a 40% reduction, which includes the UK’s 57%. We are seeing the result of this already. Last year, carbon emissions across the EU as a whole increased by 0.7%. I accept that that was only one year, and that this is not something to be looked at one year at a time, but 18 of the 28 countries in the EU either had no decrease in emissions or an increase. For completeness, in that same time the UK reduced its emissions by around 3%. Those statistics are from Eurostat.
I want to talk more widely about why it is that the EU has lost its way on climate policy. There is a fixation on coal in the EU. Germany is often regarded as being a leader on renewables, and it is; Germany has far more renewables than we have. However, it also has much higher carbon emissions than we do. The reason for that is the coal that it has: Germany has four times as much coal as the UK, and it is not four times more populous. There are parallels in other countries. Does it matter? Perhaps not, in one sense; someone has to lead, and it is us. However, the DECC website shows that electricity prices in the UK for domestic consumers are something like 50% above the EU mean—our gas prices are not—and our industrial prices are about 80% higher. Why does that matter? I come from a constituency in the north of England, where we still try to manufacture things. It is very hard to talk about rebalancing the economy and the northern powerhouse on the back of differentially high energy prices.
I do not think that the EU has taken the position that it has on purpose. So why is it that the policy objectives of reducing carbon have not been realised? The first error that was made—this is true of a lot of directives—is that there was confusion as to the target. A lot of the early EU directives were about renewables and not decarbonisation, which is a secondary target. The consequence is that CCS, which we have talked about, was not emphasised, gas as a transition fuel was not emphasised and nuclear was not emphasised—the biggest omission of all. Of all EU electricity, 30% comes from nuclear. The fact that, for many countries in the EU, that is not even regarded as part of the solution is quite bizarre.
Two or three hon. Members this afternoon talked about CCS, and I regret that the UK is not pushing ahead with that. However, it really beggars belief to say that that is a European issue when a number of countries in the EU, including Germany, have banned CCS. It is not a question of not developing it; they have banned it.
The other error that the EU has made is to create a general parity between different types of fossil fuels. Coal and gas are very different indeed in terms of their materiality on this. One reason why the UK does a lot better than the EU is the amount of gas that we use and the fact that we have displaced coal with gas. I like to quote this statistic: if the world were to replace all the coal that we currently burn with gas, that would be equivalent to five times, or a factor of 500%, more renewables. To pretend that that is not part of the solution is just plain wrong. One reason that people regard it as not being part of the solution is that the pathway has been mistaken for the objective.
Yes, at some point we need to get to an emissions level below that which is afforded by gas, but the truth is that emissions are cumulative. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) said that we may well be close to the 1.5% in terms of particulates and all that goes with them. That is true and it is a cumulative effect. Carbon does not go out of the atmosphere for a very long time. It is not just about pathway. For that reason, gas should have been far more of a factor in this than it has been.
I recognise the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. If methane were being released from fracking at that level, it would represent that percentage. However, I do not think that that is the case in the United States of America. I am prepared to be corrected on that, but I do not think anything like that amount of methane is being emitted by fracking in the United States of America.
I do not accept that that is true, but if it was, it would apply to fracked gas only and not gas generally. Most of our gas is liquefied natural gas from Norway and Russia. That said, various papers have been written on the amount of methane coming out of wells in the United States, and I do not think that the evidence is quite as the hon. Gentleman said. I think we should leave it at that for now, and maybe have a coffee afterwards.
The other thing that was not done was that the EU has no price for carbon. The emissions trading system was an attempt to put in place a price for carbon. However, because of the recession, carbon permits became very cheap indeed and it became no issue at all. We in the UK then established a carbon floor price. The EU Parliament debated that and it was blocked by MEPs, particularly those from Germany, so there is no price of carbon in the EU, which would have fixed some of this.
The result of all this is a policy that overly emphasises renewables as a solution, without taking into account some of the other things that we could have been doing, such as nuclear, CCS and the displacement of coal with gas. Result: we see in Germany a country with very high renewables, but also very high carbon emissions. Something like 15% of Germany’s total energy and 30% of its electricity come from renewables, but because of the amount of coal it produces, its carbon emissions are a third higher per unit of GDP and a third higher per capita than those of the UK.
So, there is an issue with our leaving the EU. It is not an issue of us learning from the EU how to reduce carbon emissions; it is a question of the EU not being held to account for the level of emissions that many of those countries are currently going on with. If Brexit has got a downside in terms of environmental policy around climate change, it is that the leadership that the UK has been able to demonstrate—so far, perhaps unsuccessfully—to the EU on climate targets will not necessarily be so evident in future.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was immensely frustrating to me that the environment received so little attention during the referendum campaign, despite the best efforts of my fellow members of the steering group of the cross-party Environmentalists for Europe. It seems like a lifetime ago that I stood on a rather windswept beach in Hove with my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), and Sir Stanley Johnson, the father of the hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), brandishing a beach ball and exhorting people to remain for nature. Brighton and Hove voted to remain, and I am sure that that was entirely down to our efforts with the beach ball that day. I am proud, too, that my constituency voted to remain. The public voted narrowly for Brexit, however, although I do not believe that they voted to remove the environmental protections that have served us so well over the years.
Much that is good has flowed from our EU membership. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and others have said, Britain was once dubbed the “dirty man of Europe”. We used to worry about acid rain, but our sulphur dioxide emissions fell by 89% between 1990 and 2010, and our nitrogen dioxide emissions were down 62% thanks to EU directives, the EU ban on leaded petrol and the requirement for catalytic converters in cars.
I represent a constituency that has an air quality management area. My hon. Friend will know that there is a public health issue here in respect of obtaining clean air. Does she think that it is incumbent on the Government to tackle the air quality issue so that we narrow the health inequalities that are endemic in constituencies such as mine?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Sixty years on from the Clean Air Act 1956, it is clear that many urban areas, in particular—although not just urban areas—are still suffering greatly from air pollution. It is an issue of social justice, because people in poorer communities tend to be most affected. The Government have been taken to court on the matter by ClientEarth and, whether we are in the European Union or outside it, we need to see further action on the issue.
It is hard to believe that we used to allow untreated sewage to flow into our seas before the EU’s bathing water directive forced the UK Government to make our bathing waters fit for swimming and to test for bacteria such as E. coli. In 1990, only 27% of our bathing waters met minimum mandatory standards. By 2014, 99% complied. The EU’s waste framework directive has been the driving force behind our domestic waste policy, requiring us to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020. As we have heard, it looks as though the UK is moving slightly backwards when it comes to progress towards recycling targets, and that needs to be halted.
The nature directive protects our most threatened habitats and birds, with beauty spots such as the New Forest, the Brecon Beacons and Ben Nevis designated as special areas of conservation. Post-Brexit, many of those protections would still apply in certain scenarios, but not in others. There is a lot of uncertainty, and I am keen to hear some early indications from the Minister of what our negotiating stance will be, as well as some reassurance about the importance of such protections. My understanding is that if the UK were to negotiate membership of the EEA, most EU environmental legislation would continue to apply, including measures covering pollution control, chemicals and waste management but not the bathing water directive or the birds and habitats directive. If the UK were outside the EEA, most environmental legislation would cease to apply. The main exception would be when companies sought to export to the EU; they would be obliged to conform to product standards and other requirements in order to do so.
Many EU directives have been transposed into UK law through primary or secondary legislation under Acts other than the European Communities Act 1972, and that legislation would continue to apply until it was changed by Parliament. EU regulations would present a different problem for the Government, however. They are directly applicable in the member states, so they could immediately cease to apply. A thorough audit must be carried out and clear guidance given to the House and the general public—who felt, throughout the referendum campaign, as though they did not really have the information that they needed to make the momentous decision that lay before them—about what protections could be under threat in each possible scenario, so that they can make up their minds about which of the scenarios they ought to support. We also need to know what the Government intend to do in each case.
There are, however, serious doubts about DEFRA’s capacity to do that. We know that the Department was woefully unprepared for a Brexit result; the Secretary of State told us that there was no plan B. The coalition Government slashed DEFRA’s resource budget by 38%, and the Chancellor last year announced a further cut of 15% for this Parliament. DEFRA and its agencies have lost a quarter of their staff. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us how the Department will begin to review and untangle EU directives and regulations when we know it does not have sufficient staff or resources for even its day-to-day work.
I urge the Government to bring in experts from outside Parliament—for example, Professor Tim Lang and the Food Research Collaboration—who are already gathering ideas, meeting, discussing and trying to collate a strategy for how we should proceed. We need to know from the Minister which civil servants from DEFRA and DECC will take part in the EU unit led by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), and what their remit will be.
I am concerned that if some in the Government have their way, we will have a bonfire of protections. Some of the most prominent leave campaigners are also climate change deniers, and there has also been much anti-EU rhetoric over the years, casting environmental protections as an over-bureaucratic burden rather than a benefit. The Chancellor, before he became an EU enthusiast, tried to claim that those protections placed
“ridiculous costs on British businesses”—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 808.]
but the Government’s review proved him wrong.
During the referendum campaign, the Minister with responsibility for farming, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), vowed that the nature directives would go after Brexit. He described them as “spirit-crushing green directives”—although, to be fair to him, he later said that that comment was slightly misrepresented. He also said that the marine strategy framework directive, which requires member states to achieve good environmental status in marine waters by 2020 and promote a more sustainable approach to marine-related economic and social activities, would go. We need reassurance from the Minister that those voices will not prevail in the post-Brexit scenario.
The European Commission’s “fitness check” of the directives and, tellingly, their regulatory burden, is due to report soon. In the largest response ever to an EU consultation, more than 500,000 people called for the nature laws to be kept and to be better enforced. More than 100,000 of those responses came from UK citizens. British organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have been instrumental in defending the directives, not just in the UK but across Europe.
Another example of the European Union discussing issues that affect the UK—it is not a question of legally binding obligations being imposed on us, but we certainly ought to be part of the negotiations—is the EU circular economy package, which was agreed at the end of last year. There have already been reports that during the negotiations, the UK tried to water down the package, arguing against mandatory targets and priding ourselves on inserting the word “voluntary” throughout the text. Scotland has brought forward national plans to implement the package, and Wales has its own blueprint for moving to a more circular economy. What will England do now? If the EU circular economy package is properly implemented—that is quite a big “if”—the potential for new jobs and innovative new lines of business is huge. I would like the Minister to reassure us that we will not allow Brexit to derail our progress.
A further example is the neonicotinoids ban. The European Food Safety Authority is reviewing the EU’s restrictions on the use of neonics and the latest scientific evidence of their harm to bees and other pollinators. Its assessment will inform whether changes should be made to current EU restrictions and, indeed, whether they should be extended to cover all crops. Will the UK base its view on future regulation on the EFSA assessment? Or, since those restrictions were only introduced in the first place thanks to the EU, do the Government see that as an opportunity—as the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) does—for overturning the current ban?
I also want to mention the impact on farmers and the managed environment. The common agricultural policy is far from perfect, but it is a lifeline for British farmers—around 55% of their income comes from EU subsidies. Britain’s lack of food self-sufficiency, which now stands at 61%, makes us overexposed and vulnerable to Brexit. As most experts are agreed that prices for imported food are likely to rise, we will have real difficulties offsetting that with more, much needed British-grown food, given how reliant the sector is on free movement of labour from within the EU and on migrant labour—I think I am right to say that 38% of workers in the food and farming sector come from outside the UK, and their situation is much in doubt in a post-Brexit scenario.
The leave campaign promised that a post-Brexit UK Government would be more generous to farmers, but we know that the UK lobbied for cuts to CAP support. We also know that the UK had the option of transferring 15% spending to pillar two for rural development, but only opted for 12.5% modulation, showing worrying signs about the possible direction of travel.
There are already too many examples of the Government not meeting EU requirements. As I have said, they had to be taken to court by ClientEarth for breaching EU clean air laws, as well as by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Angling Trust over their failure to protect our rivers, lakes and coastal areas from agricultural pollution. The water framework directive required “good” ecological status by 2015 in all water bodies, but only 19% of those bodies currently comply. Some beaches have been de-designated by the Government so that they do not have to warn swimmers about poor water quality or test the waters.
Finally, some people were worried that by staying in the EU we would end up as a signatory to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and that our hard-won environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards could be compromised as a result. For example, the EU does not allow hormone-pumped meat, but the US does. What happens now? Just when the EU looks as if it will resist TTIP—signals from France and Germany suggest that it will do so in its current form—will Brexit mean that the UK Government end up negotiating a bilateral trade deal with the US? If so, will our much weaker bargaining position mean that we cede ground on those important standards? Rather than “taking back control”, bilateral negotiations with the US could leave us with even less control. With so many unanswered questions, and faced with losing EU protections, Ministers need to assure us that Brexit will not mean environmental degradation and pollution spiralling out of control.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. As well as having a fantastically named constituency—it is much easier to remember than Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk—the new hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) did herself proud and stood tall for Tooting today. There were so many Labour MPs on the Benches around her that I wondered whether she was going to make a bid for her party’s leadership.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig)—the other half, as he claims, of Team Callum. He failed to mention that he calls himself Callum 2.0. He is taller and has more hair, but anyone who can see his shoes knows that there are clearly some flaws in the design.
We do, absolutely.
This has been an excellent debate—it is a shame that we did not have more such debates prior to the referendum. SNP Members did everything in our power to promote the case for the UK remaining in the European Union, and a key part of that was about keeping the protections that EU legislation has brought in the workplace, and on human rights and the environment. Unfortunately, those issues were too often brushed aside in the fierce political contest that we experienced during the referendum. Indeed, as we have heard, the environment scarcely featured in the debate about Britain’s membership of the EU.
The environmental protections that we have enjoyed in this country for decades, which cover areas such as air and water quality, emissions, waste, chemical regulation, and habitat protection, are all underpinned by EU legislation. Britain’s membership of the European Union has had an extremely positive effect on the quality of Britain’s beaches, our water and rivers, and on the air that we breathe. It has underpinned protection for many of our rarest birds, plants and animals, and their habitats. Like so many other questions on the detail of Brexit, the question of how we will continue to protect those precious assets needs a coherent answer.
Whenever we look at an issue in more detail, the value of European collaboration becomes clear. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) told the country just days after encouraging us to vote to leave:
“There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment.”
It is not clear how that picture of intensifying European co-operation squares with the Home Secretary’s statement yesterday that “Brexit means Brexit”.
On matters that stretch across a range of different fields that are vital to our prosperity and wellbeing, there has been little more than evasion and confusion from the Government thus far. That is why Ministers must do everything in their power to clarify how they will take forward the protection of the UK’s environment in this new political situation. There is so much about the EU that we do not want to abandon. For example, as part of my other brief, I have noticed in meetings on the digital single market a strong view that it makes sense to continue to adhere to EU directives and projects, even though we have voluntarily given up the capacity to shape them.
It is worth considering how the country’s approach to the environment has been shaped since it joined the EU. As many hon. Members have said, in the 1980s Britain was known as “the dirty man of Europe” because of widespread pollution of air, land and water. There is a risk that Britain will end up regaining that reputation. Although the UK has sometimes willingly followed the drive for environmental standards, and even at times led the way, it has taken years to get this country to meet some standards that are considered the norm in Europe.
When we consider environmental protection, it is worth remembering that in addition to the inherent worth of our landscape and ecosystems, there are key economic benefits to protecting biodiversity. Our natural environment in Scotland contributes an estimated £21.5 billion to the Scottish economy. Scotland also provides the major part of the UK’s contribution to the EU-established Natura 2000 network of protected sites, with more than 15% of our land designated for a wealth of habitats and species.
During the campaign, we heard nothing from the Brexiteers about what a vote to leave would mean for the habitats directive, for the circular economy, with its need for long-term planning and investment, or for issues around water quality, on which the UK still has a lot of catching up to do. What we did hear was a deep and often ideologically driven opposition to “red tape”. That red tape includes measures that protect rare species and unique habitats, and that prevent companies from damaging the environment or using dangerous chemicals in their products. It is now time to put the rhetorical bluster about red tape behind us and move on to focusing on what the Government’s red lines will be as they undertake these negotiations. If their priorities are muddled, or if key protections are sacrificed for short-term gain, we could be living with the impact for generations. Wherever all the moving parts of this constitutional crisis end up, we must ensure that the UK continues on the right path. As a range of environmental groups asserted before and after Brexit, co-operation and collaboration within Europe and with the EU works, because we do not solve such problems in isolation. My nation, Scotland, understands that, but does this House and do this Government also understand?
When considering this question, and in respect of investor confidence, my concerns are as follows. Investment in oil and gas renewables, or any energy or environmental project or initiative, relies on, among other things, stable legislation. Investors must be able to rely on the conditions under which they are prepared to invest lasting for, preferably, the duration of that project or initiative. That has not been the case with this Government and previous Governments.
There have been about 18 legislative changes in the oil and gas sector in the past 15 years. Allied to that, there has been the withdrawal from green initiatives such as the zero-carbon home policy. The green deal home improvement fund was abolished. Solar subsidies have been cut and the onshore wind farm subsidy has been removed. The door has been opened to fracking and a cap for biomass fuel subsidy has been introduced. The UK Green Investment Bank has been privatised, the green tax target on renewable energy investment has been abandoned and green car incentives have been cut. Particularly significant for me, as I worked on one of the projects, was the cancelling of the competition for carbon capture and storage.
That is an excellent point well made by my hon. Friend.
The legislative changes in that short list can do nothing but discourage investors from investing in new energy production. The cancellation of the £1 billion carbon capture and storage competition initiative set out in the 2015 autumn statement will make it almost impossible for the UK to meet its climate change targets.
My hon. Friend highlights one reason why there is concern among Opposition Members. I have a degree of faith in the ministerial team who are sitting on the Treasury Bench. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), and the Secretary of State understand the challenges. In this place, however, all too often the Treasury decides. Will my hon. Friend join me in pushing for a member of the ministerial team in the Chamber to become Chancellor?
I thank my hon. Friend for his commendable comments. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Matthew Bell, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, said:
“if you don’t have CCS, then you really need to virtually completely decarbonise your transport sector and completely decarbonise your heating sectors, in order to deliver on the 2050 ambition”.
Since both these sectors seriously lag behind in the decarbonisation of energy production, this seems extremely unlikely, to say the least. The underlying message of the changes is that the cost of subsidising renewable energy has been underestimated by the Government. That has led to the Treasury’s withdrawal of the green deals for consumers, housebuilders and energy investors alike. The Government have instead put all their eggs in the dual basket of fracking and nuclear energy, neither of which looks to be progressing very smoothly, and that makes achieving the UK’s mandatory climate change targets highly unlikely. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is no longer in the Chamber, touched on the problems of Hinkley C. As anyone can see, this history of successive short-termist UK Governments continuously moving the legislative goalposts can only undermine investor confidence. Brexit will only serve to exacerbate that problem further, which was a point well made by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who is no longer in the Chamber.
On energy security, last year I was a member of the European Energy Market Design Committee. The Committee was at a very early stage of engagement, but the potential for cross-European energy sharing among EU members via interconnectors and the like was striking. I wonder if that Committee will even sit again this year, given Brexit. It should be obvious to all that an efficient interconnector network and shared energy design across Europe would benefit all. When the wind is blowing in Scotland, as it invariably does, the energy that is generated can be used elsewhere. If there is no wind, but the sun is shining in Spain, we can share that mutual benefit. I sincerely hope the Committee does meet again, but we have just made things much harder for ourselves as we try to co-ordinate European efficient energy supply from without the EU.
I should say at this point that Scotland has no intention of suffering the fallout from Brexit, the ramifications of which are still to be understood. As my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen South and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) both pointed out, we are staying in Europe.
I, like most sensible politicians, turn to independent experts for opinions and answers to questions about complex matters such as the natural environment. My points about the circular economy have been well made by other Members, so I will skip on to my next point.
The Institution of Environmental Sciences is currently conducting a survey of its members, in which it asks:
“What impact do you think the UK’s decision to leave the EU will have on environmental protection?”
An overwhelming 81% of highly educated, experienced environmental professionals consider that
“Without binding EU law, it is likely environmental regulations will be weakened or scrapped in the UK.”
A pre-EU referendum survey of members of the Institution of Environmental Sciences showed that 68% were in support of the UK remaining in the EU. The UK has been disproportionately successful in securing funding for research projects in the environmental sciences and other sectors due to the strength of our science base. Under the seventh framework programme, FP7, which ran from 2007 to 2013, €1,704 million was spent on projects falling under the environment theme. Of the 4,055 projects funded under the FP7 environment theme, according to the Community Research and Development Information Services, 603 were based in the UK, which made us second only to Germany, with 645.
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point about the contribution of EU funding to research. I recently visited the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. While I was there, it was announced that it would receive a significant six-figure sum from Europe to fund some of its research, but obviously it is now very worried about what Brexit will mean. I also went to Harper Adams agricultural University, which does amazing work with lasers, drones and all sorts of hi-tech research. Again, that is dependent on EU funding to a large extent.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady and share her concerns about funding when Britain leaves the EU. Brexit does not bode well for the future of positive environmental projects in the UK.
I want to ask a number of questions of the Minister and to make a final point. First, Scotland has an incredible opportunity to be a world leader in a range of renewable technologies that are a vital part of our energy supply in the UK. They help the environment and create jobs in communities across Scotland. What steps will the Secretary of State and her Government take to ensure that Scotland remains at the forefront of renewable and offshore industries?
Secondly, the recent vote to leave the EU has plunged the UK’s energy sector into further uncertainty. The SNP calls on the UK Government to halt their damaging programme of austerity and to inject the economy with the investment necessary to stimulate growth and create a healthy environment for investors and consumers alike. What will the Government do to protect businesses and consumers from the Brexit fallout?
Thirdly, the SNP believes that enhancing energy efficiency in homes throughout the UK can provide valuable benefits to individual consumers, from improvements to quality of life to reducing fuel poverty, which is a key issue that has not been touched on enough today. The energy efficiency of homes should be a top priority so, in that respect, what does the Secretary of State intend to do to reduce fuel poverty? Fourthly, what do she and her Government intend to do so that we will hit our climate change targets and keep the lights on?
Renewable energy storage and efficiency are key to the future of UK energy. More needs to be done on non-intermittent green energy, so I urge the Secretary of State to invest in pumped storage, particularly at Cruachan and Coire Glas in Scotland.
We have had an important and revealing debate—revealing because it has confirmed our worst fears: that the Government called a referendum without first carrying out an analysis of what might happen should the electorate opt to leave the EU. It can be called nothing but reckless to enter upon a process without first carrying out a risk assessment. The analysis should have come first, as we have heard from many hon. Members in this debate.
This has been an excellent debate, however, with a deep understanding of all the impacts of leaving the EU. The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), talked about the impact on climate change and the impact it is already having on some of the poorest people in our communities—2.83 million households are already in fuel poverty and, as we have heard, fuel bills are rising. We also heard an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the outstanding Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, highlighting many of the protections at risk if we leave the EU, along with the advances of the past 40 years—40 years of marriage summed up in two years of divorce. In particular, she highlighted the issues of air quality, water management, waste and, of course, biodiversity protection.
We were privileged to hear today the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). It was a tour de force. She brings to the House the energy with which she served her patients in accident and emergency and her community, and we are honoured to have her in the House. I know that she will be an excellent advocate for her constituents for many years to come. We also heard excellent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has been a strong campaigner on air quality and emissions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who said many of the things I wanted to bring up. She brings great expertise to the House. We heard from other hon. Members across the House concerns about the impact of leaving the EU.
It was the Government’s determination that we should have a referendum, but first the impact of leaving should have been analysed—clearly, remaining would have resulted in normal policy processes. They could have then shared the outcomes with the electorate. We have heard today about the many risks. Not only should the impact assessment have taken place, but there should have been an understanding of the volume and depth of our regulatory ties with the EU and some scenario planning for what environmental protections the Government would prioritise should the pound plummet, as it is at the moment.
For instance, a member of the public asked me whether pillar 2 of the common agricultural policy would be implemented in full or whether the Government would scale back on the £563 million currently received back from the EU, and whether they would meet their match-funding obligations. We need to know the detail. How will farmers maintain a competitive edge while addressing conservation challenges and ensuring sustainable protections? We have not heard from the Government how much legislation is tied up with the EU. It is estimated that about 70% of our environmental protections originate from Brussels, but what is the real figure and how integrated are we? We have not heard from them how much resource is needed to carry out detailed analysis of the impact of leaving the EU in the context of the cut to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of 57% by 2020. Neither have we heard what amount of resources would be necessary to renegotiate each regulation, if that is the path we go down. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms) suggested an alternative way forward.
How will we—or will we not—engage with the EU in the future on so many of these important environmental issues? How will we regulate, police and enforce the new UK-based law system as it affects the environment in respect of what currently occurs in the EU courts? What will be the mechanisms of the future? We still do not know. We have not heard about the costs of the necessary work and we have not heard even whether the people with the right skill sets are present in the Department at this time. We have not heard how the fall of the pound, wiping millions off the value of our economy, will impact on environmental projects and research. Neither have we seen any analysis of the global impacts. Perhaps the Government plan is simply to buy the whole package off Europe, but at what price? Will the cost be the same as for existing EU nations or will we pay more for those benefits? These are questions that must be answered.
Many Labour Members are concerned about the global impacts on the environment because we believe that protecting our climate and environment is one of the most important functions of Government. We are already witnessing a massive impact of decades of neglect. We see floods and famine, disease and drought, climate change and conflict, and we see population migration as a result, the impact of which can be felt across the globe, including on us here in the UK. The environment does not respect national borders. From the macro level to the micro level in respect of the loss of habitats and species, the Government have a weighty responsibility to drive forward a programme of responsible stewardship.
In 2010, the UK led the world on issues such as climate change and improving the environment. Opposition Members are proud of that, even while we acknowledge that there was so much more to do. As we have heard today, when it comes to dealing with climate change issues, we have slipped out of the top 10 nations and are now ranked 13th in the world—not the way in which we want to progress on these issues as we move forward. The UK led the EU as a major player on the global stage for environmental protections. We want to ensure that we maintain a strong voice as we move forward, rebalancing our natural environment. The strength of our influence, however, is now unclear. We will no longer be at the EU table, pressing the EU to go further.
Given that we have a falling and failing economy, I must press the Minister to commit to legislate to secure protection on all environmental measures that we are currently obliged to meet in the EU. How will he advance them, and how will he regulate to ensure enforcement of them? As we look back at our history, we do not want to become known as “the dirty man of Europe”; we want to make real advances on where we are today. Labour is clear: the Government must act urgently to replace these vital environmental protections in full.
On the most simple level, I want the Minister to clarify whether we will see—before the summer recess as the Government committed to provide—the two long-awaited 25-year plans for food and farming and the plans for the environment, or are these now placed in the box marked, “We did not have a leave plan, so we do not know what on earth we are going to do”? Will the Minister please provide some clarification today?
Labour wants to ensure that external pressures still lean on this Government. On air quality, we saw the World Health Organisation report released earlier today. Air quality is a public health issue; it impacts on people’s respiratory functions. As someone who worked in respiratory medicine for 20 years, I understand the impact that bad air can have. We have heard today how up to 50,000 people’s lives are ended prematurely as a result of the quality of air in our country. Yes, people are dying prematurely.
We need to know what the Government are going to do about the urgent question of air quality. It is already a serious issue in my own city of York, where people are dying prematurely, and I am aware of plans for developments that will worsen the air quality in our city. There are questions that we must address, from the question of how many trees we will plant to the question of how we will protect the provisions of important directives, to which so many of my colleagues have referred today. We want answers to those questions. The Government must set out their strategy for the future, which they failed to do before the EU referendum to take account of a possible leave vote.
Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us today. Will he commit himself to continuing to apply the precautionary principle when scientific data are not complete, or will he agree with the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and adopt the much weaker United States risk-based approach, which imposes limits on the way in which pesticides, genetically modified crops and food management are dealt with, so that profit is often placed ahead of environmental protections? We have a right to know the answer, as do the people of our country.
If there were time, I would raise many more of our concerns about the Government’s environmental protections. Ours is a fragile and complex environment. Over the last decades, we have worked diligently with our European friends and neighbours to rebalance our environment and climate, and today the Government should have made clear how they will advance the progress that has been made so far. We cannot afford further delay. We believe that the Government must, as a matter of urgency, replicate the multitude of EU directives in UK law. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how he will secure our environment for the years to come.
Let me begin by paying a huge tribute to the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) for an extraordinary maiden speech. It contained five elements that, I think, encapsulated the heart of this debate. First, there was her extraordinary sense of history, and the commitment that she showed in talking about Nye Bevan and the Clean Air Act 1956. Secondly, there was her sense of responsibility, and of the scale of the challenge that we face. Thirdly, there were her energy and optimism. Fourthly, there was her sense of place: she said she thought people who said that Tooting was becoming a fantastic place were missing the fact that—as she felt—it had been a fantastic place all her life. Finally, there was her sense of the importance of humans in the history of the landscape, whether she was talking about the lido at Tooting or about her own community and family.
In general, through her rhetoric, through her language and through her love of this place, the hon. Lady—as the Member of Parliament who has entered the House at the moment when we are leaving the European Union—gave us a real reason to be optimistic about Parliament and the sovereignty of Parliament. The five elements that she contributed represent exactly what we hope to bring to the British environment in the future.
An enormous number of questions have been asked today. The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), asked the Government to respond to specific queries on—I think—nine separate occasions. I counted 35 questions posed by him, and a further 117 posed by other Members. I have approximately nine minutes in which to answer those questions, and, with the House’s permission, I will therefore focus on the natural environment rather than on energy issues, with apologies to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig)—Callum senior. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell), who initiated an extremely erudite discussion of many energy-related issues, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who drew attention to a number of ways in which domestic legislation underpinned UK energy policy, and explained that some of the references to the European Union were a little misleading.
I shall not be able to engage as fully as I would like with the forensic speech made by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), although it was an extraordinary speech which raised an enormous number of very important points. However, I shall try to deal with those points in the round.
In essence, four main types of point were made in this debate and they form the structure of an answer. First, the importance of being deeply optimistic about Britain’s future outside the EU was pointed out, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and the Secretary of State. That is partly, as the Secretary of State said, because of the very real strengths that exist in this country. As Members on both sides pointed out, we derive immense positives from our membership of the EU, and they have been concisely listed. The hon. Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), for Bristol East and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) laid out the powerful progress made over the past 42 years in air and water quality, and that is driven by EU law and EU financial assistance, and by the structures of the EU that protected our landscape. As the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) pointed out, it is important for our international industry to ensure we have uniform standards so there is not a race to the bottom. We cannot simply think about this island as though we were not exposed to environmental factors from abroad; 85% of our birds are migratory, and between a third and a half of our air blows in from other countries—that is the air pollution coming into our country. Indeed, our terrestrial biodiversity is dependent on ensuring there is not acid rain and sulphur dioxide raining on the peat bogs and grasses on which we depend.
However, as my hon. Friends the Members for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) and for Poole (Mr Syms) pointed out, we in the United Kingdom had a strong tradition of environmentalism long before we joined the EU. Indeed, the history of environmental protection in the UK stretches back almost 1,000 years to the formation of the royal forests in Scotland and in England and the habitat protection brought in place to nearly 23% of our land mass at that period, and it carries on through the contributions of Walter Scott and Wordsworth to ensuring the protection of our landscapes. Indeed, over the next four years we will be celebrating several anniversaries: the centenary of the Forestry Commission, founded in 1919; the anniversary of our national parks, founded in 1947; and the anniversary of the Clean Air Act, passed in 1956.
There will be opportunities available to us from leaving the EU. The hon. Member for Brent North pointed out that there have been some advantages from EU funding for flooding, but there have of course been significant challenges too. One way in which we would like to address natural responses to flood management is by planting trees. In order to do that, we need to be able to look at flexible and intelligent ways of moving money between what are currently quite rigid budget structures. If we are dealing with farmers planting trees on their land to slow the flow of water, we need to think intelligently about how the payments we give for agriculture, the environment and flooding can work together, rather than against each other. When looking at laws, we need to ensure we remain flexible with regard to the best of modern science, and there are ways in which rigid legal structures brought into place by 27 member states have in the past made it difficult to respond to recent evidence. Members raised the question of inspections and fines as well, and, again, those rigid inspection regimes have, at their worst, sometimes discredited the very environmental regulations we wish to protect. Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) pointed out, there are perverse consequences of parts of the CAP for the environmental conditions we value so much.
The principles on which we now need to move forward were laid out very powerfully by this House, and by the hon. Member for Bristol East in her initial intervention, and they seem to me to be sixfold. They are the principles of realism, of humility, of honesty about conflict, of being honest with the public, of confidence and of identity. I shall expand briefly on those principles. First, on realism, we have to acknowledge that leaving the European Union will not mean leaving government behind. People will continue to be frustrated by bureaucracy and they will continue to have to respond to procurement regulations. We will continue to have to operate in an international environment. We will have to make compromises.
On the principle of humility, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane rightly pointed out that not everyone in this country is always interested in the environment. We have to be realistic about our power and about our capacity as a Government to respond. On the principle of honesty about conflict, land remains a deeply conflicted issue. We must not imagine that simply leaving the European Union will overcome the serious conflicts between different land uses in our constituencies. There are conflicts between people’s desire to build housing, people’s desire to create renewable energy, people’s desire to produce productive food and people’s desire to protect the species and habitats that we value so much.
The principles of confidence and identity are perhaps the most important of all. The decision in the referendum was made by one of the most well educated, well travelled populations in the most mature democracy on Earth, and we need to ensure that we recognise the legitimacy of that democratic choice. We need to put our full energy and optimism behind it. We need to understand, in responding to this, that the British identity—this extends to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—is based fundamentally on our land.
In moving forward, we need to reassure people. As the Secretary of State pointed out, we need to play a full role in all our international conferences. We need to ensure, for example, that we play a responsible and reliable international role in the forthcoming conferences on biodiversity and on the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES. We could also be far more imaginative.
Absolutely not. I disagree strongly with that intervention. However, the hon. Gentleman has shown the optimism we need through his focus on technology, just as the hon. Member for Bristol East did through her focus on the markets in China and India. There is so much potential out there in the environment. We could show the lead in the Amazon rainforest. We could show the lead in defining, through our natural capital approach, what it means to take a British initiative—[Interruption.]
In conclusion, land and the conflicts around land have been fundamental to the problems in our society since the days of Cain and Abel, but we can be confident in this country. We have extraordinary natural scientists. We have a rich civil society with 9 million people connected to environmental non-governmental organisations. We have extraordinary legal structures in place. We have incredible new Members of Parliament, such as the hon. Member for Tooting, bringing their energy and optimism to this House. If we can bring all that together, we can prove in the future, as we have proved over the last millennium, that the British landscape and environment, and their extraordinary combination of productive food and nature, can remain at the heart of our national identity for ever.