House of Commons
Wednesday 15 January 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That Sir Alan Campbell, Mike Freer, Rebecca Harris, Amanda Milling, Jessica Morden, Iain Stewart, Mark Tami, Owen Thompson, and Bill Wiggin be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Parliament.—(Amanda Milling.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
My Department and I are 100% committed to supporting the Welsh Government’s ambition of 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, as well as to increasing Welsh language services across Whitehall and supporting the growth of the Welsh language in Wales. I am proud that my constituency is home to S4C, and welcome ideas from all Members on ways we can promote the Welsh language.
I am a keen supporter of the language and a Welsh learner myself. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Diolch yn fawr; thank you. Does the Minister agree that the best way to support the language is through economic prosperity, which means supporting jobs, skilled employment and projects such as Wylfa Newydd on Ynys Môn?
May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend on her fantastic election result? She has already brought an energy and a fizz to her part of the world, which will be appreciated across the House. I know that her father is watching these proceedings from his hospital bed, and he will be as proud as we are that she is among us.
As far as the Welsh language is concerned, I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s recognition that a vibrant economy and a vibrant language go hand in hand. The language of Wales is one of the oldest in the world and we are rightly proud of it—even those of us who are perhaps not as fluent as others. On the question of Wylfa, I cannot think of anybody better in the House to take forward that project. I am happy to commit to helping her to do that and I know the Welsh Government will be doing the same, so fingers crossed; we will definitely work together on our shared ambitions in that regard.
Shared Prosperity Fund
I have already had productive discussions with the First Minister and his colleagues. Only last week I met Jeremy Miles to discuss the UK shared prosperity fund, and I am excited about the opportunities that the fund will create to bind together the whole United Kingdom, tackling inequality and deprivation across each of our four nations.
Diolch yn fawr. The EU funding that comes to an end in 2020 has delivered more than £2 billion of investment in Wales since 2014. This money has been used according to priorities set in Wales, for Wales, by the Government of Wales. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that Wales will receive not a single penny less under the Government’s funding scheme, and that the priorities for Wales will continue to be set in Wales, by the people and the Parliament of Wales?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for strengthening the Union by coming here to support Welsh questions, which is very much appreciated. I hope that I can reassure him by describing the shared prosperity fund as a good news story, because for the first time in 45 years, a substantial sum of money is going to be distributed in Wales by Welsh politicians who are directly accountable to Welsh voters. That has not been the case for some time. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the collaborative approach I take with the Welsh Government over the distribution of the fund should ensure that it goes to the places where it is most needed, and is not—as some might argue has been the case in the past—blown on vanity projects. The relevant Minister in the Welsh Government is with me on this; we have a shared ambition to ensure that outcome, and to do so collaboratively and efficiently.
I am all for strengthening the Union, as most Welsh politicians are. I am completely against nationalism and all it stands for, but the reality is that I am also in favour of supporting the devolution settlement. This funding has always been controlled by the Assembly, so can the Secretary of State confirm that he will rule out subverting the Welsh Government by funding local government directly in Wales? Bypassing the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales will do nothing to strengthen the Union.
The Secretary of State answered the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) by saying that there would be a “substantial” amount of money. Will he, though, confirm that there will not be a penny less nor a power lost, as the First Minister of Wales put it, to Wales, and that spending decisions will in fact be taken where they should be—by the Welsh Government?
On the first part of the hon. Lady’s question, our manifesto commitment was clear on that. As for the second part, my discussions with Jeremy Miles so far have been very clear about taking a collaborative approach so that the UK and Welsh Governments, working together, ensure that this money gets to the right place in a timely fashion.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new post? I also congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), on his long-anticipated and—may I say?—long-awaited promotion to the Front Bench.
As Wales leaves the European Union, the Secretary of State will be aware, because we have heard it in the questions so far, that there are deep concerns about the continuation of structural and investment funding. I have to say that his answers to my hon. Friends have not been that reassuring so far. Can he clear up the uncertainty now with two unequivocal guarantees—not a penny lost, and the Welsh Government having complete control of the funding?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first question—there are lots of double questions going on—the answer is yes. That was in the manifesto and we made it clear. As for the second question, the Welsh Government do not even have complete control over the situation now, so he is asking about something that is not even the status quo. I think he should refer to his ministerial and party colleague in Cardiff—Jeremy Miles, who I have spoken to—who is perfectly adamant, and perfectly content, that this should be a joint UK Government-Welsh Government initiative. What the hon. Gentleman is hinting at is actually contrary to the policy of his own party in Cardiff.
May I warmly congratulate my right hon. and good Friend on his appointment as Secretary of State?
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that since 2000 more than £4 billion of European aid has been spent in Wales but communities have not yet felt the benefit of that money, and the prioritisation of that spend by the Welsh Government has been brought into question by many local authorities and businesses alike? Does he agree that this is an opportunity to reset the formula and reset the way in which money is distributed, and to enable Members of this House to have some influence on how it is spent?
May I, with your patience, Mr Speaker, start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend and predecessor? There is a saying in politics: “There is no such thing as real friends, only sharks circling waiting for a sniff of blood”, but no such situation would describe our relationship. He has done a fantastic job for Wales. He has boundless energy and I know that Wales will benefit from that again.
On my right hon. Friend’s comments about the shared prosperity fund, I hope I can reassure him by saying that this is a reset of the meter of the relationship between the Welsh and the UK Governments. It is absolutely right that he highlights the priority that we should give to this, which is getting the money to the right place in a timely way and in a way that is accountable to Welsh voters as it never has been before.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. Under the Welsh Labour Government, Wrexham has missed out on opportunities for the past 20 years. Can the Secretary of State give assurances that Wrexham will now start to receive benefits from the shared prosperity fund?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend too? It is going to be a day of congratulating new Members, which is a happy place to be.
I hope—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will confirm this in due course—that, as far is Wrexham is concerned, the answer is yes. As for growth deals, that is an ongoing and positive development for Wales on which further information will be made available as we proceed. It is absolutely right that my hon. Friend highlights the specifics for her particular part of Wales, and yes, we will certainly comply and co-operate with that.
May I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister to their positions?
The shared prosperity fund represents a unique opportunity for all parts of Wales to benefit from Brexit. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that it is essential that in the design of the architecture of the fund, the priorities of local authorities and the interests of the people they serve should be properly reflected?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the advice that he has so generously given me over the years. It should be a source of encouragement that the early conversations I have had with the relevant Ministers, including the First Minister in Cardiff, suggest that they are as attuned as we are, or are certainly getting that way, to the need to ensure that the shared prosperity fund money that will be benefiting Wales is targeted at the areas where it is most needed and recognise the arguments being made across all parts of Wales. There is a public perception that this is always just about Cardiff, but this will be more about more than just Cardiff, and it is my job and the job of the Welsh Government to ensure that that is the case.
I thank my right hon. Friend and west Walian neighbour for his question. The answer is yes. One of the reasons we are in this position—one of the reasons the Brexit vote went the way it did in June 2016 and the general election went the way it did in December 2019—is exactly the point he makes: people were beginning to lose faith. They knew that there were substantial sums of money, but somehow it never quite reached the places it should. The new arrangement—the reset to which I referred—will address exactly that point.
The UK Government are committed to supporting a productive, modern and vibrant steel industry in Wales. With that in mind, I have already had discussions with the Welsh Government and unions. I plan to visit the steel industry in Wales within the next few days, and I look forward to my meeting later today with the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who has initiated a meeting with other Labour colleagues to discuss the steel sector.
We know now that Liberty Steel is cutting 72 jobs in Newport, and although it is based in the seat of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), those job losses will affect people across our city—east and west. The losses follow the disastrous decision to mothball the Orb steelworks at Christmas. The UK steel industry is disappearing before our eyes, and it is happening on this Government’s watch. We can see with Flybe that this Government can take steps to save jobs and industries when they want to, so when will the Secretary of State sit down with his ministerial colleagues and agree a plan that will protect jobs, livelihoods and the steel industry across Newport, Wales and the rest of the UK?
I am pleased to say that that process is already happening. I am sitting down not only with my ministerial colleagues but with the hon. Lady’s ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, as well as unions and management, all in the space of a few days. I am absolutely conscious of the huge impact, uncertainty and worry that the current circumstances are resulting in. I will say it again: it is our shared responsibility with the Welsh Government to steady the situation and rectify the position. There are a number of ways of doing that; energy prices is one, and business rates is another, which we will look at closely to see how we can help.
This is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box in 2020, so may I wish all hon. and right hon. Members a happy new year? I welcome the new Secretary of State to his place, and I wish the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), well. Given the average length of tenure of previous Wales Office Ministers, his first achievement will be to last more than a few months. I understand that he is a junior Whip as well, which may be even more challenging.
The Liberty Steel announcement is yet another blow to the steel industry, following Tata Steel’s announcement about Orb. Our thoughts are with the steelworkers and their families at this very anxious time. I must commend my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for all the work they have done on this. I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard Welsh Government Economy Minister Ken Skates ask the UK Government to intervene more directly to reduce energy prices. Will he use his voice in Cabinet to make that call?
I thank the hon. Lady. I am sure the whole House will want to extend its congratulations to her on becoming a grandmother this week. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I hope she will not mind my mentioning that for the public record.
The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is, of course, that the UK Government made £53 million available in, I think, 2018, by way of compensation for energy prices. The conversation I want to have is also with her colleagues in Cardiff—perhaps she can lead this herself—about business rates, and where Welsh Government can help the industry in that regard as well. However, the shared ambition to make sure that there is a future for steel in Wales is absolute, and the hon. Lady can rely on the fact that I and my Cabinet colleagues will work to ensure that.
My question was about energy. In other countries, large companies pay far less for their energy. All that Welsh steelworkers need is a fair deal. Steel is a foundation industry, and this UK Government and this Secretary of State need to do far more. Will the Secretary of State act now, decisively—or will he be just a bystander in the decline of the vital steel industry in Wales?
The hon. Lady may have misheard me, but I have already commented on the £53 million being made available by way of compensation for energy prices, and I restate what I said just now: one way in which the Welsh Government could step in now, and help significantly with the certainty around steel, is by addressing the issue of business rates. It would be a powerful message if she and I, combined, could make that case to Welsh Government.
Last week I met Ken Skates, the Minister for Economy and Transport, to discuss how we can work together on infrastructure in Wales. I look forward to a productive and collaborative relationship with Welsh Government, and with Members in all parts of this House. In particular, I reaffirm this Government’s commitment to rebuilding the M4 relief road.
The Secretary of State’s predecessor long dodged giving answers to questions about the lack of electrification further west than Cardiff. Will the Secretary of State, and the Minister, do better, and get Swansea and west Wales the investment that they deserve by funding a more integrated system, such as a Swansea Bay metro?
My predecessors felt—and I share their view—that it would have been difficult to justify spending hundreds of millions of pounds on electrifying the line from Swansea to Cardiff, which would not have delivered any decreases in journey times. So we put £5.7 billion into the Great Western main line, £2.8 billion into the Great Western main line modernisation, over £1.5 billion into the Wales and borders route—all investments that have benefited Welsh travellers. We look to continue to do that, and I would be delighted to work with the hon. Lady to develop plans for further rail improvements in west Wales.
Diolch yn fawr, Lefarydd. Dw innau hefyd yn croesawu’r Ysgrifennydd Gwladol newydd a’i Weinidog i’w seddi ac yn gobeithio y cawn ni gydweithio efo nhw. [Translation: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I also welcome the new Secretary of State and his Minister to their seats, and look forward to working together.]
Wales currently benefits from EU funding to the tune of £680 million a year, including many infrastructure projects—£4.4 million for Blaenau Ffestiniog, £3.4 million for Tywyn, and £7.5 million for Llanbedr airfield, to mention just a few in my constituency. But as we leave the EU, we sadly leave behind the principles that underpin such funding—principles whose objectives were to tackle deprivation, poverty and inequality. The old political adage says follow the money. Can the Minister and the new Secretary of State allay my fears that, after this Tory Brexit, the money will not mainly find its way into the constituencies presently coloured blue on the political map of Wales?
I ddechrau, a gaf I ddweud diolch yn fawr iawn am y croeso? [Translation: First of all, may I say thank you very much for the welcome?] Can I assure the right hon. Lady that this Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that Wales does not lose out by one penny as a result of Brexit. Indeed, as a result of the growth deals that will now be taking place in all parts of Wales, we are going to see hundreds of millions of pounds invested in the economy of Wales, levelling up communities.
I am delighted to hear the Minister’s commitment that Wales will not lose a single penny. We should be building the whole of our nation. One idea is a railway from north to south, so that we no longer have to travel to the neighbouring nation to go from one end to the other of our country.
I hope that the Minister has had a chance to look at the iTunes charts, where Dafydd Iwan’s protest song “Yma o Hyd”—“We’re Still Here”—has been going up the charts. It has reached No. 1 this week. It was originally, of course, released in the midst of Thatcher’s relentless attacks on Wales, and it might be time to update the lyrics:
“er gwaetha’r hen Foris a’i griw;
ry’n ni yma o hyd.”
[Translation: Despite Boris and his crew, we are still here.]
I thank the right hon. Lady. The north-south link has been talked about for years, and I look forward to seeing some costs on that. East-west links in both north and south Wales have finance available to them, and I very much hope that the Welsh Labour Government will again consider the commitment to the M4 relief road. I congratulate Dafydd Iwan on that fantastic song. As far as the Conservative party and this Conservative Government are concerned, with hundreds of millions of pounds going into growth deals for Wales, his other song, “I’r Gad”, springs to mind.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My predecessor, who managed to get tolls on the Severn bridge scrapped, has done wonders for the south Wales economy. The Welsh Government must now match the commitment shown by the UK Government, by getting the M4 relief road built and continuing to support the south Wales economy through a good transport link.
Mid-Wales Growth Deal
Over the past week I have held discussions with the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates, and I look forward to working collaboratively with our partners to discuss the mid and west-Wales growth deal.
The Minister will be aware that people in Ceredigion and across mid-Wales are keen to see swift progress on the growth deal. With that in mind, will he consider meeting groups and businesses in Ceredigion that are involved in some of those proposals, to see how we can get them implemented as soon as possible?
When I was invited to join the Government, one of the only things that might have dissuaded me was that I was planning to visit Ceredigion with the Welsh Affairs Committee—I believe the hon. Gentleman had arranged for us some whisky tasting and to see some cheese factories. I will therefore take his question as an invitation to visit Ceredigion. I hope it will go on to the Wales Office, and I look forward very much to accepting it—diolch yn fawr.
North Wales Growth Deal
Together with the Welsh Government and the leaders of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, heads of terms for the north Wales growth deal were signed in November 2019. The opportunities provided by that deal are the latest example of the Government’s commitment to levelling up communities across the United Kingdom.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. In the past 20 years, the people of north Wales, and the people of Aberconwy, have grown used to being overlooked and underfunded by a Cardiff-based, Labour-led Welsh Government. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that seven of the nine MPs from north Wales are now Conservatives. Does my hon. Friend agree that that represents a new chapter for north Wales?
May I offer the warmest welcome to my hon. Friend? This Government note that the people of north Wales appear to have rejected 20 years of Labour government, and have already begun to build an impressive piece of infrastructure—a political blue wall that now stretches from Ynys Môn to Clwyd South. I look forward to seeing that political infrastructure followed up by physical infrastructure, as we release hundreds of millions of pounds in the growth deals into north Wales.
I welcome the Minister to his place. I hope he lasts longer than his predecessors, and that I can meet him more than once about the north Wales growth deal—more than I did any of his predecessors. May I ask him for more money, because the money on offer is not enough? I also ask for a strategic growth deal, not a series of pet projects across north Wales.
We have absolutely no intention of allowing the sort of pet projects to go ahead that we have seen money wasted on in previous years. All growth deal projects will be rigorously scrutinised to ensure value for money, but at the end of the day, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to criticise the Government for putting hundreds of millions of pounds into the north Wales economy, then I plead guilty and I am absolutely delighted to be a part of the Government who are doing it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Last Thursday, we received the devastating news that more than 350 steel jobs will be lost in Sheffield, Rotherham and Newport—yet another blow for steelworkers, their families and their communities. When will the Government bring forward a comprehensive plan for the steel industry that tackles high energy costs and business rates and ensures that steel is at the heart of all infrastructure plans? Action is needed now. Will the Prime Minister stay true to his word and repay the trust of communities that voted for him only last month?
I thank the hon. Lady, and I can assure her that the Government are indeed embarking on a plan to do everything we can to make sure steel made in this country has all the competitive advantages we need. She makes some excellent points. In the particular case of Liberty Steel, I understand that whatever happens —it is a commercial decision for that company—all those affected will be offered an opportunity to remain within the GFG Alliance by joining a new company.
May I just put on record our pleasure at the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, hopefully, the restoration of the peace process in Northern Ireland? I know there is a statement coming on this after Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Will the Prime Minister let the British people know why, after almost 10 years of Tory Government, patients are waiting longer for essential NHS care, whether it is in A&Es, on waiting lists or for a GP appointment?
Well, passing legislation that will guarantee underfunding of the NHS, yes. The number of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E is now at its highest on record for the second month in a row. We have had months of promises, but people need action. There probably is not a family in the United Kingdom that has not been affected in some way by cancer, yet last year we saw one in four patients waiting more than two months for the start of their cancer treatment. How many more patients will face life-threatening delays because our NHS is understaffed and underfunded?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a massive demand on the NHS, which, as he also knows, is doing a fantastic job, particularly in oncology, where tremendous progress has been made. He is right to signal the delays that people are facing. They are indeed unacceptable. That is why we are investing in 50,000 more nurses, that is why we are investing in 6,000 more GPs, and that is why this Government are investing record sums in the NHS. We will get those waiting lists down.
Twenty thousand of those 50,000 already work for the NHS, actually, Mr Speaker.
Delays in cancer treatment can reduce a patient’s chance of survival. The target of 85% of patients being seen within two months was last met four years ago, in December 2015. Action is needed urgently.
Last week, we heard of the heart-rending case of a 92-year-old RAF veteran in Leicester who had to go through the indignity of waiting almost 12 hours on a hospital trolley because there were no beds available. I want the Government to apologise to him and many others and to explain why, despite the extraordinary efforts of NHS staff all over the country, over 2,000 patients had to wait more than 12 hours before they could get into a hospital bed last month alone.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the case of the RAF veteran, and I think everybody in this House will have every sympathy for people who have a bad and unacceptable experience in the NHS. We all share that. On the other hand, I would say that most people in this country—most patients of the NHS—have a fantastic experience of our healthcare, and we should pay tribute to our nurses and our staff. The hospital he mentions, Leicester, is one of those that, as he knows, we are rebuilding under this programme, with 40 new hospitals and 20 upgrades under this Conservative Government.
The A&E has already been rebuilt in Leicester, actually, as I understand it. The problem is that the Prime Minister promised 40 hospitals. In reality, it was 20 and then it became six. The issue of people waiting on trolleys is a very serious one. The number doubled in December and it is now at the highest ever level on record. The Prime Minister promised to put the Conservative party’s inadequate NHS funding pledge into law. Can he explain why it is necessary to cement into law a pledge that the Health Foundation has said is
“below the amount needed to maintain current standards of care”?
It is only under this Conservative Government that we have the resources that will enable us to invest in our NHS, and it is because of our stewardship of the economy, after the wreckage that Labour left when it was in office, that we have been able to make those colossal investments. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that not only was it this Conservative Government who rebuilt the A&E, as he correctly points out, but it is this Conservative Government who will be rebuilding the entire hospital in Leicester. We are putting more money into the NHS as a direct result of our careful management of the economy.
Well, I understand that another hospital has been closed to pay for it. The question is: why would the Government need to put into law an inadequacy of funding for our national health service? Health professionals have said that the NHS needs more money than the Government are saying in order to keep patients safe.
It has now been almost three years since the Government promised a Green Paper on social care and seven months since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and said he had prepared a clear plan to fix the crisis in social care. Well, what is the hold-up? Where is the plan?
I am delighted by the right hon. Gentleman’s constructive attitude, because as he knows, we intend to begin cross-party talks to build a consensus. I think there is a growing consensus in this country on the need to tackle the issue of social care, so that everybody has dignity and security in their old age and nobody has to sell their home to pay for the cost of their care. We can do it, and we will do it. With the help and co-operation of the Labour party and other parties in this House, we will go ahead with a fantastic plan for social care. I look forward to his support, but I point out to him that it is thanks to the Conservatives’ stewardship of the economy, and indeed the mandate of the people that we have, that we are now able to tackle a problem that was shirked not just by the Labour party, but Governments for decades after decades. We are going to do it now.
I do not know if the Prime Minister had a chance to read the Labour manifesto in the election, but we made it very clear that we have a plan—a very clear one: free personal care, more funding and support for carers. I am very happy to send him another copy of our manifesto so he can read it.
The Prime Minister said many times that he is going to put the NHS funding issue into law, but all this gimmick means is even longer waiting lists, more delays for cancer patients and more A&E departments bursting at the seams, while patients continue to suffer while he continues to provide excuses. If he is really committed to fixing the crisis that his Government have created over the last decade, he should end the empty rhetoric and back our proposals to give the NHS the funding it needs, rather than putting into law an insufficiency of funding. The NHS is our most precious national institution. Fund it properly so that everyone can rely on it—those that cannot afford private healthcare.
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is still fighting on the manifesto he submitted to the attention of the British people at the last election. It was pretty clear what they thought of it and of the credibility of the promises he made. It was also clear what they thought of what we were going to do. They see that we are the party of the NHS and that it is this Government who invest in hospitals, in schools, in policing and in bringing down crime. That is because the Government’s careful stewardship of the economy has led to record employment and record low unemployment, which is what delivers the tax revenues that enable us to pay for it all. Whenever Labour are in office, they wreck the economy, make unemployment higher and make us less able to pay for great public services. We are taking the country forwards; they would take it backwards.
Apprenticeships play a vital part in the progression of the kids my right hon. Friend is talking about, and it is right that we should follow his advice—he has been on this for a while now—and reform the apprenticeship levy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will be updating the House in due course on our proposals.
I congratulate all the parties in Northern Ireland on reforming the Northern Ireland Executive.
The Prime Minister sent a letter to the First Minister of Scotland rejecting the democratic right of the people of Scotland to have a choice over their own future. This was not a surprise: the Prime Minister is a democracy denier. I say to the Prime Minister that, as his colleagues privately admit, this position is undemocratic, unacceptable and completely unsustainable. He has shown utter contempt for Scottish democracy, for Scotland’s Parliament and for Scotland’s people. Does he accept that, by ignoring Scotland, by imposing Brexit and by his pursuance of cruel and punishing policies, he is strengthening the case for Scottish independence?
It was not only the right hon. Gentleman, who leads the SNP in this House, but Alex Salmond and his protégée, Nicola Sturgeon, who said at the time of the referendum that it was a once-in-a-generation event. He said it, they said it. They were right then. Why have they changed their minds? He is the denier of democracy.
The Conservative party signed up to the Smith commission, which recognised the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future. That is the reality.
The Prime Minister lives in a fantasy land, but people across Scotland know the reality of his broken Brexit Britain. The truth is, the only union he is truly interested in is his union with Donald Trump—a partnership that threatens to sell off our precious national health service. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister called for the replacement of the Iran nuclear deal with, as he put it, a “Trump agreement”. The public deserve the truth. What backroom deals are being done with Donald Trump? Why is the Prime Minister putting our NHS at risk? Repeatedly during the election campaign, he promised that the NHS was not for sale. Will he now commit to supporting the SNP proposal for an NHS protection Bill? Without that commitment, what price will he make us pay for his toxic Trump deal?
Actually, the SNP welcomed our statement on the JCPOA yesterday; but, seriously, this is the problem with the SNP. Scotland under the SNP is the highest-taxed part of the UK. Its deficit is six times the UK average. Maths and science in schools in Scotland, unlike any other part of the United Kingdom, is going down in the PISA rankings. That is no fault of the pupils of Scotland, by the way. It is the fault of the Government of Scotland, under the SNP, who are not giving them the chances that they deserve because they are obsessed with breaking up the United Kingdom. Change the record!
My hon. Friend speaks well for the interests of his constituents, and he is absolutely right. As I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), of course we are rolling out superfast broadband—gigabit broadband. We have put in £5 billion, the legislation is on track, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has given me every assurance that Arundel and South Downs will be very well catered for.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the new Office for Environmental Protection will have powers to hold the Government to account, but let me draw his attention to the record of this Conservative Government. Under this Government, we have seen carbon dioxide emissions fall by 42% from 1990 levels, despite a 75% increase in GDP. On some days, most of our energy now comes from renewable sources. We will be leading the COP26 summit, where we will introduce enforceable limits not just for this country, but for the whole world.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on what she has done personally to support that campaign. She is absolutely right to stress its vital importance for the whole country. Dementia is one of the biggest challenges that we face, which is why we are doubling funding. As my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has said, we want to make a moon-shot effort to isolate the causes of dementia, and to cure it if we possibly can.
A constitution, democracy and rights commission will be established to examine the broader aspects of the constitution and to develop proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates. Careful consideration is needed on the composition and focus of the commission, and further announcements will be made in due course.
I can tell my right hon. Friend that our independent courts and legal system are admired around the world. We will continue to ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of individuals against an overbearing state while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.
We will go ahead and, as I said yesterday, I think that a good balance has been struck, in getting Stormont going again, between those who need truth and those who need certainty in the protection of our armed services. I want to reassure the House that nothing in the agreement will stop us going ahead with legislation to ensure that no one who has served in our armed forces suffers vexatious or unfair prosecution for cases that happened many years ago when no new evidence has been provided. We will legislate to ensure that that cannot happen.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything that he is doing to campaign for the George Eliot Hospital in his constituency, and I thank the staff there for everything that they do. The people plan will be coming forward in the spring, but I fancy that he already knows some of the details: 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors in general practice and 6,000 more primary care professionals in general practice. Today, as he knows, the House is legislating to ensure that we guarantee record multi-year funding for our NHS.
As the hon. Lady knows, we have raised our concerns about the operation in northern Syria with the Turkish Government and with President Erdoğan several times. We certainly deplore any abuse of human rights and the suffering that she has identified. May I make a proposal to the hon. Lady? I would be happy to look at the details of the case she has raised myself, because I am deeply concerned about what is happening.
Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for everything he does to promote and protect animal welfare. This Government brought in the toughest ivory ban in the world, and we are bringing in new laws on animal sentience and to cut the illegal smuggling of puppies and dogs. As we come out of the EU, we will of course be able to ban the live shipment of animals, which has been a disgrace for so long and against which the British people have campaigned. The Labour party, however, is still trying to work out whether it wants to rejoin the EU or stay in the customs union and the single market, making any such reform of the protection of animal welfare impossible. It is time that Labour made up its mind.
Given the Prime Minister’s post-Brexit vision for an outward-looking, global Britain and given Africa’s huge potential for trade and investment, will he update the House on the Government’s plans for next week’s UK-African investment summit?
Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has followed such matters with great interest over many years. The summit on 20 January in this country will be a chance to show people not only in the UK, but around the world, particularly in Africa, our huge commitment to Africa, our massive investments in Africa, and the massive opportunities to strengthen our long-standing ties, bonds and commercial relationships.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is talking through the back of his neck. There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme, and we will continue to participate in it. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will be able to continue to come to this country.
At the end of this month, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the nation will come together once again to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The theme for this year is “Stand Together”. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Holocaust Educational Trust, which says that, welcome though they are, signatures in books are not as valuable as action? Will he commit to more action to stamp out antisemitism and all intolerance in this country?
I will be commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day along with my hon. Friend and others. As he knows, this Government and this House—people across the House—want to do absolutely everything we can to stamp out the resurgence of antisemitism. As someone who is now 55 years old, I find it absolutely incredible that antisemitism is rising again in this country in the 21st century. It is a disgrace, and we must stamp it out.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have doubled the scheme and will ensure that not only the Scottish agriculture sector, but the agriculture sector of the entire country has access to the seasonal workforce it needs. That is why we are introducing a points-based immigration system that will enable this country to get the skills that it requires.
Child sexual abuse is not a thing of the past in this country. Over 4,000 offences of online child abuse were recorded by the police last year. Organisations such as Facebook and Instagram find it easy to analyse our online shopping habits but less easy to keep children safe. Can my right hon. Friend say how the Government will continue to make it their priority to protect children from sexual abuse online?
My right hon. Friend raises a subject of massive interest to the House and to the whole country, and we are indeed very concerned about what is happening online. The Cabinet discussed it yesterday, and the online harms White Paper sets out our plans to make companies more responsible. We will be taking further action in the near future to stamp out this vice.
I thank all those involved in the important progress in Northern Ireland.
When my mother was widowed with three young children, bereaved families received small payments until the youngest child left school. In our case that would have meant payments for 14 years, except my mother died too early. The duration of the payments was reduced in 2017, and a new bereavement support payment was paid for only 18 months. Many of us feel that is far too short. Will the Prime Minister deliver on his Government’s promise to review the new bereavement support payment, and will he meet me and charities helping such families to discuss how we can better care for bereaved parents and their children?
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have noticed that it has become even more difficult to secure a seat on the Government side of the House following the general election, which reinforces the point I tried to raise in the last Parliament through a letter to the then Chair of the Procedure Committee on the need to take part in Prayers in order to secure a seat.
I no longer have a relationship with God in a way that would be recognised by many, but those of us who do not have faith, or who subscribe to a faith other than the established Church, are required to take part in Prayers in order to secure a place. There is the possibility of placing a pink card with “Committee” written on it, but today the Doorkeepers, because no Committees have yet formed, rightly declined to make a pink card available to me.
Mr Speaker, for those of us who do not want to take part in Prayers and who do not want to have to sit through them to secure a place, could you ask the Doorkeepers to make pink cards available in advance of the Committees being formed? Could you also ask the Procedure Committee to look again at the issue in this Parliament so that those of us who find it uncomfortable are not placed in this position?
First, I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman; I know what it was like in 1997. What I would say is that the pink card system is something the House has chosen to do when Committees are sitting, but Committees are not sitting and I will not instruct the Doorkeepers to do something against the procedure of this House. He is quite right: I think the matter needs to be taken up with the Procedure Committee, and I am sure he will continue to do so.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not being able to give you more notice of this.
It has come to light that a newly elected Member of this House has misled the press about his involvement in an exploitative and demeaning website called sugar-daddy.net. The involvement of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis) was highlighted following press reports about complaints to Bridgend trading standards. He denied links to the website on the record, but Companies House records clearly contradict that statement. Information that I have received from a former employee of his also contradicts this statement.
At a time when public trust in politicians is already damaged, Mr Speaker, can you provide guidance on whether the House and, more importantly, the people of Bridgend can expect an apology from the hon. Member, to go some way towards making up for this appalling behaviour?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Many of my constituents and their families have given money to a charity called St Margaret’s Hospice on the basis that it would spend that money on an in-patient unit in Yeovil, but it has closed that unit. Unfortunately, the Charity Commission investigation that I helped to get under way was not able to prove “bad faith”. What avenues are open to me to engage with Ministers to examine the way in which the Charity Commission legal frameworks operate to make sure that such potential cases of mis-selling do not go unpunished in the future?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that Big Ben is in the news at the moment, but may I ask you to make sure that when Big Ben opens up to the public, members of the public and constituents will not be charged for climbing up to the top to see Big Ben?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will more than likely be aware of the mistake made during Prime Minister questions by the Leader of the Opposition, when he indicated that there would be a statement after PMQs about the Northern Ireland issue. I understand that there will be no such statement. Perhaps you could confirm that, Mr Speaker, and also how Members might get elaboration and clarification on this in this House, particularly on the financial settlement that followed last week’s agreement, so that we can ask questions about that.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sorry if I inadvertently misled the House. I had been led to believe that there was going to be a statement today, which is why I made the reference to it. I must say that I am a bit surprised that there has not been a statement yet on something of such importance as the reopening of Stormont in Northern Ireland.
I am sure that as soon as a statement is to be made the House will know and I will ensure that Members are aware of it.
NHS Funding Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Orders Nos. 50 and 57)
Secretary Matt Hancock, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Robert Jenrick, Secretary Thérèse Coffey, Secretary Gavin Williamson and Edward Argar, presented a Bill to make provision regarding the funding of the health service in England in respect of each financial year until the financial year that ends with 31 March 2024.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 6) with explanatory notes (Bill 6-EN).
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 14 January).
Question again proposed,
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
A Green Industrial Revolution
May I start by congratulating you on the superb way you have taken over the speakership, Mr Speaker? The atmosphere in the Chamber demonstrates the dignity and respect that we all want to see, and I commend you and your Deputies for the leadership you are showing.
Speaking of leadership, I wish the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) all the best in her party’s leadership contest. It takes courage to put oneself forward, and I commend her for her service.
Also on leadership, there is one woman—the first ever female Conservative leader—who definitely deserves 10 out of 10: Margaret Thatcher. Just over 30 years ago, she became the very first global leader to warn of the dangers of climate change at the United Nations, saying:
“It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways.”
She predicted that
“change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.”
How right she was.
Mr Speaker, you recently called the Australian wildfires
“a wake-up call for the world.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 235.]
I agree. From wildfires in Australia to flooding in Indonesia and record temperatures across the world, the impacts of climate change are in the here and now. People throughout the UK and around the world are calling for us to act, and we are doing just that. Just as the UK has led the past 30 years of climate action, we will lead the next 30 years, seizing the opportunities of the green industrial revolution.
Since Margaret Thatcher made that speech in November 1989, the UK can be proud of its record of action. Since 1990, we have cut our emissions by 42% while growing our economy by 73%.
In 2017, low-carbon fuels produced more electricity than fossil fuels for the first time, and in that year we also saw the first coal-free day for a century, followed in 2019 by the first coal-free week and coal-free fortnight. Building on the world’s first climate change Act, last year we became the world’s first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change altogether by 2050.
We obviously welcome some of the things that the Secretary of State has outlined, but on the net zero target that she just outlined, Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said in his covering letter to an update report that
“policy ambition and implementation now fall well short of what is required”
to achieve the target of net zero by 2050. Is the Secretary of State going to address that in her speech?
I will indeed address it, and I can also tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government have taken the advice of the Committee on Climate Change in setting our legally binding commitments to net zero by 2050. Throughout the year, we will set out precisely how we think we can achieve that.
The Secretary of State will know that the Government are off track when it comes to the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but I wish to take her up on the constant repetition from the Government. She says that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 42% since 1990, but she knows that if we calculated consumption-based emissions and factored that in, our emissions have actually fallen by only 10%. Does she agree that we need a common understanding of what is facing us? If she keeps using numbers in a slightly misleading way, we are not going to get to where we need to be by getting our emissions down.
On the one hand, the hon. Lady is absolutely right: the carbon emissions figures for the United Kingdom do not take into account our consumption emissions or, indeed, our contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions around the world—both are important points. On the other hand, I would take issue with her from a philosophical point of view, because in order to measure progress, we need to have measurements, so it is incredibly important to talk about our UK territorial emissions at the same time. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady constructively, as she and I have done previously on a number of occasions, to make the UK’s ambition to lead the world in tackling climate change a reality in the run-up to COP26.
I will make some progress and give way again in a moment.
As the cooling towers have come down, wind turbines are going up in their thousands, with offshore wind capacity increasing by more than 500% under Conservative Prime Ministers. We can all be proud that no other country in the world has more offshore wind than the UK, with a third of global capacity off our coastline. This is creating thousands of future-proof, planet-saving, profit-making jobs, as well as skills investment all around the United Kingdom.
Many of my new, true blue hon. Friends have green-collar jobs in their constituencies. The constituency of Sedgefield makes underwater-cable protection systems that are exported all over the world. Great Grimsby leads the world in offshore wind operations and maintenance, while in Blyth Valley, where I was proud to pay a visit to support our excellent new colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) during the general election campaign, our offshore renewable energy catapult recently tested the world’s longest offshore wind turbine blade. At over 100 metres, it would, if we stood it next to Parliament, be taller than Big Ben.
The Secretary of State talks about offshore wind, but does she agree that this Government have effectively banned onshore wind, which is the most tried and tested of all forms of renewable energy technology? Will she commit to bringing that technology back across all parts of the UK?
What I can say to the hon. Lady is that onshore wind produces electricity for 10 million homes in the United Kingdom. We are promoting offshore wind as the most effective way to increase our power generation from renewable technology. It is a huge success story for the United Kingdom and something of which we can be proud. She will be aware that the Conservatives are committed to producing 40 GW from offshore wind by 2030.
The Government’s policies are not sufficiently ambitious to meet their own climate change targets. Does she agree that according to the Government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, the UK is even off its own climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050?
As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), we work very closely with the Committee on Climate Change. Our target of net zero by 2050 has been set on the basis of its recommendations so that we can grow our economy, sustain our future and contribute to tackling global climate change in a way that is sustainable for the UK, with the creation of green growth, so I am confident in that regard. We will bring forward more measures throughout the year to help us to meet that target of net zero.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. She mentioned the cooling towers coming down. Was she aware that the four cooling towers of Ironbridge power station came down during the course of the general election, and that one of the companies interested in that industrial brownfield land is one of the leading companies involved in driverless vehicles? If the company is successful, I hope that she will come and open the factory.
My right hon. Friend might be setting up a bit of contest, because I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is sitting next to me on the Front Bench, will be fighting me for that honour. None the less, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) makes a really good point about how, particularly in some of our areas of heavy industry, the fossil fuels of yesterday are giving way to the green future that we all want. He gives us a fantastic example of the work that is going on.
We have made great progress, but there is still much more to do. Our challenge now is to ramp up and scale up successes such as offshore wind, providing new sources of pride and prosperity across our United Kingdom.
In the first industrial revolution, our pioneers from Scotland to Cornwall forged their own path, and in so doing they became the envy of the world. James Watt’s Prussian rivals travelled hundreds of miles to sneak a glimpse of his steam engines in Birmingham. Richard Trevithick travelled as far as Peru to personally oversee his engines. Today, like them, we must be the first movers, not the last to act. From creating supply chains for electric vehicles to decarbonising our industrial clusters and designing low-carbon buildings, the opportunities of net zero are immense. In 2020, the first year of a new decade of decarbonisation, we must seize those opportunities.
The Secretary of State has outlined a number of important stats. Local councils such as mine—Ards and North Down—are specifically involved in achieving climate change standards and environmental targets. Will she consider implementing a reward system for councils that are specifically involved in education and setting targets for them to achieve? If we do that, we may encourage councils to do even more.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good suggestion. It is clear that central Government will not be the only actor in spending taxpayers’ money and driving every bit of innovation; they will be hand in glove with local civic leaders and, really importantly, the private sector. Government must set the direction and provide incentives, and then let others take the mission forward.
My right hon. Friend rightly highlights Cornwall’s history in new technologies. Is she aware that large deposits of lithium have been identified in Cornwall? That has the potential to put Cornwall at the forefront of technology once again and to revive our precious mineral extraction industry. Will she ensure that her Department gives that fledgling industry all the support it needs to thrive?
I will make more progress before giving way again.
Crucial to this debate is the UK’s global leadership. The UK contributes only about 1% of global emissions, and that figure is falling. We cannot solve the challenge of global climate change just by doing the right thing at home, so we are using our strength to help to transform the world, from doubling our international climate finance contribution to nearly £12 billion to using our £1 billion Ayrton fund to support the world’s most vulnerable—for example, by designing clean stoves for the billions who rely on firewood. In 10 months’ time, COP26 in the fantastic UK city of Glasgow will be a seminal moment for climate action, as well as a massive opportunity for British business—a giant global shop window for the UK’s clean tech prowess, with countries across the world heading home with their pockets crammed full of British ideas, technology and expertise.
The Secretary of State mentioned electric vehicles and charging points, and Slough Borough Council, in my constituency, is leading the way in Berkshire. Although we gratefully receive platitudes regarding the good work of local authorities, what measures will the Government put in place to support excellent councils financially, in addition to those mere platitudes?
There are far too many initiatives for me to talk about now at the Dispatch Box, but one example is the £1 billion that was recently announced for electric charging infrastructure. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I shall send him a full submission on the subject.
What the Secretary of State says about electric vehicles is absolutely right and I applaud it. My vast constituency comprises 5,752 sq km and has 18 charging points, so that is a move in the right direction. My point, however, is that electric cars are expensive—more than most people can afford. Does the right hon. Lady agree that a tax break—perhaps through the PAYE system —should be considered as a way to encourage people to buy electric cars?
My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is sitting right next to me, and he and I work closely on all sorts of incentives for people to move away from fossil fuels and toward decarbonisation. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, transport is a key target area and we will talk more about it later.
I will make more progress before I give way again.
From fighting climate change across the world to backing British ideas, we need a thriving economy to pay for it all. That is why I have set out my Department’s clear mission to build a stronger, greener United Kingdom. That mission is underpinned by three priorities: to lead the world in tackling climate change; to solve the grand challenges facing our society; and, quite simply, to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. Today, as well as prioritising the pathway to net zero, we are solving the grand challenges facing our society, backing a new generation of problem solvers in science and business. From space technology to life sciences, the UK is developing satellites that measure climate change and creating ways to help people to enjoy five extra healthy years of life by 2035. From artificial intelligence to robotics, and from advanced manufacturing to green tech, the UK will seize the opportunities offered by this new industrial revolution. That will be underpinned by our commitment to increase our research and development spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider what I have just said in explaining the achievements, the ambition and what we are actually doing in practice. Perhaps he just needs to listen to what I am saying.
To seize the opportunities that lie ahead, we must make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. This Government will back business to the hilt, promoting inward investment and new export markets while also stamping out the poor practices that can sometimes give businesses a bad name. Our plan is to reduce burdens on business by reviewing and reducing business rates, and by resolving the scourge of late payments. As we leave the European Union, we will protect business confidence in supply chains, securing the best possible trading arrangements with our European partners. From diversity to sustainability and beyond, we will hold businesses to the same high standards, putting in place reforms to keep the UK a world leader in audit, corporate governance and transparency.
I wanted to congratulate the Secretary of State on one thing that caught my eye in both the Queen’s Speech and last year’s Environment Bill: the biodiversity net gain mandated for planning authorities when making their decisions. That has not yet taken effect. Ealing Council has a meeting of its planning committee tonight. Will she encourage me by making a new year’s resolution of ensuring that such committees adopt the measure now so that the bulldozers do not sacrifice our nature? The future of our planet is at stake.
The hon. Lady will hear that there is a lot of support for her initiative across the Chamber. She is right that we do not want Government to be telling people what to do; we want people to draw their own conclusions and to seek to protect and preserve our incredibly valuable biodiversity, our green spaces and our precious habitats for future generations.
At the same time as making the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business, we want our employment Bill, to which we committed in the Queen’s Speech, to make sure that work is fairly rewarded. We want to protect workers’ rights and ensure fair pay, to create a world where flexible working is just called “working”, and to do more to support the crucial work that people do as carers and parents, helping people to balance work with the other things that matter in their lives.
Margaret Thatcher ended her UN speech in 1989 by saying:
“We are the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself—preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder.”
I hope that that is something on which we can all agree, whatever our party or politics. Thirty years ago, politicians could barely have imagined the technologies that would be available today. Today, we can only dream of the world of 2050. Together—as a House, as a country and as an international community—we must act. Our action can make a global difference. Instead of self-doubt, we need self-belief in our ability to build the low-carbon, high-tech United Kingdom that we all want, a stronger, greener future for people across our shores, and a sustainable future for our planet.
I thank the Secretary of State for her kind comments. Of course, she will understand what I and the other Labour leadership candidates are going through at the moment. Putting yourself forward and standing up for your principles is a noble pursuit, but it is also certainly an interesting one—I will say that much.
I agree with much of what the Secretary of State said in her speech, but that ambition needs to be matched with sufficient action. I hope she takes the comments that I am about to make in the spirit in which they are intended, so we can work across the House and reach a solution to the climate emergency.
I pay tribute to my colleagues Danielle Rowley, Laura Pidcock and Sue Hayman, who were sadly unable to take their place after the general election. Each one of them has been a champion, fighting against the climate emergency, and their policy work will leave a mark on this House for years to come. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) to his new role on the shadow DEFRA team. I am sure he will also leave his mark in the years to come.
Climate change and environmental breakdown present an existential threat to our society. I doubt that there is a single Member of this House who would disagree with me. Seeing off that threat by investing in new industries and technologies, and the restoration of our natural world, has the potential to bring jobs, new wealth and new pride to all the regions and nations of the UK. Again, I doubt there is a single Member of the House who does not want to see that.
So we start from a position of agreement on the green industrial revolution, which, in a nutshell, is about achieving just that. But to make it happen, rather than just talking about it, three qualities are required that are lacking in the Queen’s Speech: honesty, ambition and fairness. We need to be honest with ourselves and with the electorate about what the science says is necessary to avoid planetary catastrophe; we need to be ambitious, deploying our resources and testing our inventiveness at a pace and scale that is commensurate with the challenge; and we need to be fair, tackling climate change in a way that is socially just, that leaves nobody behind, and that meets and exceeds the expectations that people have for their lives and their communities.
I turn to the first quality—honesty. The Queen’s Speech references the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the world’s leading scientific body on the subject, says that the entire world needs to reach net zero by 2050 to avoid more than 1.5° C of warming. Given the UK’s historical responsibility for climate change, and our wealth and resources to do something about it, we clearly need to be ahead of the curve on this, and we need to be honest that 2050 is not good enough—not if we are serious about keeping our people safe. I urge the Government to revisit this target.
My hon Friend is making an excellent speech. COP26 is coming to the UK this year. Is that not an additional responsibility for the Government, not just a historical one? Is it not true that we have a responsibility for the entire planet as the president and host of COP26?
My hon. Friend is spot on. We have an opportunity now to show on the world stage that we really mean business when it comes to tackling climate change. We need to lead the world, and not just in terms of the industries we support in the UK. We need to lead by example and encourage other countries across the world to take as robust action as I hope we will do over the coming years.
My hon. Friend is making some good points. Does she agree that another advantage to the early adoption of a zero-carbon target is that we can lead the world in the products we have developed and sell them around the world? When we left government in 2010, we had set a target for passive house standards for all buildings by 2015. One example of Government failure in this area is that this Government removed that law, meaning that new houses are not currently being built to passive house standards. We are falling behind in new builds and environmental standards, and should be calling on the Government to address this. They should be ashamed of what they have done.
My hon. Friend is right. It is important to note that markets are incentivised by robust targets, but that targets alone are not enough. They need to sit alongside a robust industrial strategy that supports our industries, all the way through from our steel sector to our automotive sector, so that they are capable of delivering the change at the pace that is required.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that, despite the grand statements from the Government, they are missing all the targets that they are putting in place due to their own mediocre measures? Does she also agree that the cuts to renewable energy subsidies need to be reversed, and that we need to ensure that the Government work towards jobs in the green industries—unionised jobs? Rather than just talking a good game, the Government actually need to deliver.
My hon. Friend is spot on.
We need to be honest that we are off track when it comes to meeting our targets, inadequate as they are. In fact, according to the Committee on Climate Change—the Government’s official advisers—the UK is even off track with regard to meeting its old target of an 80% reduction by 2050. The UK’s CO2 emissions fell by only 2% between 2017 and 2018. Politics aside, that is nowhere near good enough. Let us be honest about what it means. It is not like failing an exam or a driving test. Failing on climate change means devastating fires sweeping across Australia and the Amazon. It means critical threats to food security, water security and the entire ecosystem, on which we all depend.
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. Although the comments in the Queen’s Speech are certainly welcome—I will come to them in more detail shortly—they do not sit alongside a robust strategy to support the creation of a market for electric vehicles. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) made a point about the affordability of electric vehicles. They are not cheap and most people cannot afford them, so we have a duty to create the market by providing incentives. The Government should use their own procurement to ensure that their fleets are electric by a specified date, and we should ensure that fleet operators are incentivised to make their fleets electric so that the vehicles can transition into the second-hand car market. There is an essential need to ensure that people who want to buy new electric vehicles can afford to do so, with options ranging from scrappage schemes all the way through to incentivisation.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, Orb steelworks—the only producer of electrical steels in the country—was mothballed just before Christmas. With investment, the plant could provide an end-to-end supply chain for the electric vehicles industry so that we would not have to import this kind of steel. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely crucial that the Government step up and support our steel industry, which could play a key part in this green industrial revolution?
My hon. Friend is quite right. It is devastating to see the impact of what has happened in her constituency. We need to tackle the climate emergency, and we need a robust industrial strategy to sit alongside it. This is the biggest economic opportunity that the country has had in a generation. By tackling a huge societal and environmental need, we can support our industries and create the new green jobs of the future. Unfortunately, although we talk about targets, and about providing help here and there, we are not backing it up with a comprehensive industrial strategy that supports our industries. What was lacking in the general election campaign—although certainly not from the Labour party—was support for the steel sector, with a robust strategy ensuring that the steel industry plays a key role in our infrastructure projects and the technologies of the future. That is what I would like to see from this Government.
On honesty and ambition, the hon. Lady said that net zero by 2050 is not good enough, so I am sure she will welcome the fact that the Scottish Government have legislated for net zero by 2045. During the general election campaign, Labour started talking about net zero by 2030. Currently, 27 million homes rely on fossil fuels, so getting to net zero by then would mean changing over 52,000 homes a week every week from 1 January 2020 until the end of the decade. What are Labour’s plans for doing that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. Certainly, there is no point in having a target without having an ambitious plan to deliver it. We know from the work of leading scientists across the world that the majority of the work that needs to be done even to reach net zero by 2050 must be done by 2030. That is an inescapable fact and that is why we have to move so quickly.
The Government have started to work towards insulating social homes. That is welcome, but it is not enough. We need to look at how we can support the UK’s 27 million homes to take part in a home insulation programme that will not only tackle climate change but help to bring down bills. We had an ambitious package for that but unfortunately we did not deliver that message strongly enough in our election campaign.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s rhetoric is far away from the action that we actually see? In Greater Manchester we have a clean air crisis where people are literally dying because of the quality of the air. When the Mayor of Greater Manchester made an approach to Government for grant support to help taxi drivers and the self-employed to transition to new vehicles, the Government were not even willing to meet him halfway.
My hon. Friend is quite right. We are expected to encourage our localities and our regional governments to take part in the climate emergency and to do their best to deliver plans on a local scale, but they are not being given sufficient resources to be able to do so. That is not acceptable, because this is a national crisis and a local crisis. That goes right to the heart of the point about public transport. We need to make sure that all the workers involved in transport are given the opportunity to deliver transport that is eco-friendly, but they are not, particularly taxi drivers. Taxi drivers, in many cases, cannot afford to transition to electric vehicles as rapidly as we need them to, and we must provide the support that is necessary for them to be able to achieve that.
A little earlier, the shadow Minister implied that climate change was causing the raging fires in the Amazon and Australia. The fires in the Amazon are caused by mankind trying to create agricultural land, not climate change, as I would expect it is very wet out there. In Australia—this goes back to a question I asked earlier—75% of fires are caused by arson.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s points, but we need to move beyond discussions regarding climate change denial and recognise the scale of the task ahead of ahead of us, because the science is clear. We are facing a climate emergency, and if we do not take robust action and lead the world, we will not have a world left—it is as simple as that.
I am very disappointed that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) has mentioned the 75% figure, which was also mentioned by the Foreign Office Minister who gave the statement on the bushfires last week. It is fake news that is being spread by climate change deniers in Australia. A letter to The Guardian from a number of well-renowned climate academics, including several from Bristol University, was published yesterday. I think the true figure for arson is less than 1%. I would like to make sure that that is absolutely on the record.
I thank my hon. Friend for her point because she is quite right.
With reference to civil society groups like Extinction Rebellion who have been urging those in power to tell the truth about climate change, I was alarmed by reports that the Government’s response was to defend the recommendation to list them alongside neo-Nazi terrorists. That is an absolute disgrace. I urge the Secretary of State to speak to her colleagues about this. It is absolutely absurd that our school strikers and our climate activists who were trying to fight to be heard here in Westminster are being listed alongside terrorist organisations when they are simply trying to save the planet and deliver a world for their future and that of their children and grandchildren.
I have no doubt in my own mind that the landslips, the flooding and the collapse of roads is being caused by climate change: I come from the land of the mountain and the flood. Highland Council and all rural councils, not just in Scotland but all over the UK, are faced with the cost of the restoration works. Adding to the hon. Lady’s suggestion that the money is not there, does she agree that we need a dedicated income stream for the devolved institutions in the UK to pay for these repairs, because otherwise it is just going to get worse?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments because he is quite right. As I said earlier, we cannot keep having discussions about whether climate change is real. It is real, and we cannot detach ourselves from the situation in thinking that it is something that happens to other countries across the world and it is not going to affect us. It is already affecting us, and even if it does affect other countries across the world we will need to help the people in those countries. We also need to recognise that for a country like ours that is so reliant on imported food, any disruption to any part of the world disrupts our quality of life here. That is why it is so important for us to protect the people here in the UK by making sure that we lead across the world on this. I am sure that we have collaborative agreement across the House on that point.
A moment ago the hon. Lady was talking about civil society organisations. I absolutely agree with her about the excellent work done by Extinction Rebellion and others. Will she join me in congratulating the student climate network, People and Planet, which only this week announced that over half of UK universities have now divested from fossil fuels? Does she agree that it is about time that we in this Parliament got our house in order? I have been trying, along with other colleagues, to get our parliamentary pension fund to divest from fossil fuels. That still has not happened. Will she join me in saying that it is long overdue that we take this step?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and associate myself with them wholeheartedly. I thank her for all the work that she has done in this House over the years really to put this issue on the agenda at a time when others did not want to talk about it, quite frankly.
Let me move on to the second quality that is required—ambition. The purpose of the Queen’s Speech should be to look forward—to set out the Government’s future plans—but most of the climate section looks backwards, sadly, to the Government’s record over the past 12 months, and even this is confusing to many. There is reference to £400 million of funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, but this was first announced in the 2017 Budget. The Queen’s Speech also references an industrial energy transformation fund, but this was announced in the 2018 Budget. We were told that 53% of electricity now comes from low-carbon sources, and that sounds good, but is it really ambitious enough? As any energy expert will tell you, electricity is the easy part. Only 11% of the UK’s total end energy consumption, including heat and transport, comes from renewable sources. Only 7% of the UK’s heat demand is met by renewable sources. As Labour set out at the general election, to get on track to a net-zero energy system, we need low-carbon electricity at levels of above 90% within a decade.
The Government reference their doubling of international climate finance, and this sounds good until you realise that this money is not new or additional and that the Government are effectively raiding the aid budget to pay for it. The Government want to ensure that everybody is within 30 miles of an electric charging point, but that does not sound particularly ambitious to me, to be honest. Nor does the commitment to end the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries when 60% of our plastic waste exports are actually shipped to OECD countries. Should not the Government be asking why we are producing all that pointless plastic in the first place and cut it off at source rather than dumping the problem overseas?
There are of course welcome features in the Queen’s Speech, such as the commitment to invest £800 million to develop the UK’s first carbon capture and storage cluster by the mid-2020s. But I remember the time in 2010 when the coalition made a £1 billion commitment to CCS before scrapping it again in 2015. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the UK’s carbon-intensive industries will not suffer the same fate as when the last promise was made? Why is it that as the climate crisis worsens the Government appear to be treading water and going backwards? Tackling the climate and environmental emergency and capturing the massive opportunities of the green economy require ambition. We needed to see an emergency plan for the first 100 days of Government—a plan for every year of this Parliament and a plan for the decade ahead. Sadly, the Queen’s Speech does not come close to this.
I now turn to the third and final quality—fairness. Rapid decarbonisation across our economy requires fundamental changes in the way we work and the way we live. Done badly, this presents big risks to people’s livelihoods. Only by socialising the costs and the benefits of decarbonisation will we be able to take the public with us through this change, but the Queen’s Speech does not set out a plan to do that.
To give an example, fossil fuel workers have powered the country for decades. We need a clear and properly funded plan for what will happen to those workers and their communities as we move to a renewable energy system. We tried to set out proposals at the election for a just transition fund. The absence of a plan for a just transition in the Queen’s Speech is a major omission, and I urge the Government to do better and start listening to and working with trade unions on this as quickly as possible.
It was more than 30 years ago that NASA scientist James Hansen presented his findings on climate change to the US Senate. Nobody could reasonably argue that we have done enough since then, and now we are running out of time. We cannot afford another lost five years. I urge the Government to work with us and Members across the House to correct the obvious shortcomings of the Queen’s Speech and their agenda, and to develop a package of measures that can secure the future all of us deserve. There is still time, but it is running out.
I intend to speak briefly, as I am conscious that there will be a large number of extremely high-quality maiden speeches this afternoon. I wish to raise a very niche subject while my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is still in her place. I feel privileged to be called so early in the debate, following only the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State.
I want to pick up briefly on some of the comments that the Secretary of State made about the generation of clean energy. I urge her to ensure that, when we are generating green energy, it must be properly green. She also spoke of new technologies. I absolutely agree; there are many new technologies coming forward that will enable us to generate power and deal with waste in much greener ways, but we must scrutinise them incredibly carefully, to ensure we do not make mistakes that will be around for many generations to come.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comments and the policies included in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. I particularly welcome the introduction of a landmark environment Bill, the introduction of an Office for Environmental Protection and the personal commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to chair a new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change. The environment Bill will cement our position as a world leader on air quality, biodiversity and plastics reduction; I know I am correct on that because I am quoting directly from the Conservative research department brief—something that I would commend to all new Conservative Members.
Those three points are of particular interest to us in Romsey and Southampton North, and now I come to the niche comments that I wish to make. Members may have heard me raise with the Prime Minister last week the fact that US company Wheelabrator is planning to build, under national infrastructure rules, a giant incinerator in my constituency to burn commercial waste, between the beautiful, picturesque Test Valley villages of Longparish and Barton Stacey. Notionally, it will generate energy from waste, but it is in fact many miles from any connection to the national grid, and significantly, it is not close to a demand for that energy. It is within a few miles of an area of outstanding natural beauty and the South Downs national park. It is proposed to be twice the size of Winchester cathedral, but, of course, devoid of any of the architectural merit of that building. It will be in excess of 40 metres high, with chimneys that are 80 metres high. The plan is to locate it adjacent to the River Dever, which is known the world over for its fantastic fly fishing and is a tributary of the River Test. The incinerator will be situated above the aquifer and will be pumping pollution into the atmosphere, putting the biodiversity of this precious area at risk.
My asks of the Secretary of State today are wholly in line with her and my aspirations for a reduction in carbon emissions, enabling us to meet our net zero target and supporting her goal of better air quality, and totally in keeping with the aim to reduce waste, including plastics. We simply cannot keep looking to incineration as a solution to landfill. It is not good enough, and it is not green enough.
I turn to relatively recent history. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) mentioned the Treasury’s October 2018 Budget, which stated:
“the government wants to maximise the amount of waste sent to recycling instead of incineration and landfill. Should wider policies not deliver the government’s waste ambitions in the future, it will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste, in conjunction with landfill tax, taking account of the possible impacts on local authorities.”
I know that my friends at Hampshire County Council would wish to emphasise the point that we have to be cognisant of the needs of local authorities, but the proposal in my constituency is not a local authority project; it is a massive commercial venture.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about businesses being held to account for their actions. This commercial venture seeks to make money by putting pollutants into the atmosphere. It pays no heed to the specific qualities of the landscape or local biodiversity. I want to put on record the determination of local residents to oppose the project by whatever means necessary, and would especially mention the brilliant campaigners of Keep Test Valley Beautiful. I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that we hold to our commitments to improve air quality, reduce waste and protect our precious environmental diversity.
The word “revolution” means either an overthrow or a radical and pervasive change in society, especially one made suddenly. Have we really had a green industrial revolution? Have we had a revolution in Government? I would suggest that, if anything, there has been a counter green revolution, given that the Tory Government scrapped the Department for Energy and Climate Change, thus highlighting their priorities in recent years.
I have to acknowledge that we have made fantastic strides forward with renewable energy, but has it been a revolution? I would argue that, owing to the UK Government chopping and changing strategy, the process has been too stop-start to be classed as revolutionary. We have seen a welcome increase in the deployment of renewable energy, and UK Government support has facilitated that, but owing to policy changes, there have been too many peaks, troughs and, in some cases, catastrophic failures because of the actions of the UK Government.
The first example of that is onshore wind, which was deployed to great effect in Scotland, with prices falling rapidly due to the initial Government policies. It was a renewable energy revolution that Scotland embraced—one that saw 75% of gross electricity demand met by renewable generation in Scotland in 2018. However, the Tory shire prejudice against onshore wind means that the Tory Government are now blocking onshore wind across the UK, against Scotland’s wishes.
The Committee on Climate Change states that onshore wind capacity in the UK needs to increase from 13 GW to 35 GW by 2035 as part of the net zero transition, yet there is no route to market at present for onshore wind, despite it being the cheapest form of electricity generation. The former Secretary of State for Scotland should hang his head in shame for blocking the redeployment of onshore wind in Scotland. A report by Vivid Economics estimates that this could cost 2,300 jobs in Scotland and add £50 a year to everybody’s energy bills.
As the debate on Scottish independence re-intensifies, we need to remember the broken pledge and propaganda on onshore wind in 2014. We were told how well Scotland does out of onshore wind subsidies, how that would continue and how the UK as a whole would support onshore wind in Scotland, but instead the subsidies were removed a year or so after. That is another broken promise in 2014 that the public need to be reminded of.
When we consider renewables and wind in particular, it is a reminder that the transmission charging regime is a straitjacket around Scotland. The punitive charges, especially in the north of Scotland, can be a deal breaker for some developments. The charging system needs a complete overhaul to allow deployment of renewable energy for maximum benefit.
Similarly, we need a timescale for the delivery of interconnectors to Scotland’s islands. The change in classification for island onshore wind so that it can bid in pot 2 contract for difference auctions is welcome, but without the interconnectors these opportunities cannot be maximised. Ofgem needs to reconsider its rejection of a 600 MW interconnector to the Western Isles. Why is it holding out for a less ambitious 450 MW interconnector?
We need greater strategic vision from the UK Government on interconnectors. We need interconnectors to the continent and Norway, because of the abundance of hydroelectric energy. Is it not telling that Ireland is getting an interconnector to France, paid for by the EU at a cost of half a billion pounds? What does that signal for the future direction of the single energy market, and where does Brexit and a possible no-deal crash-out leave the UK without those vital interconnectors?
In the past—in another policy change—we had the carbon capture fiasco, when the Treasury pulled £1 billion that was on offer, and which looked set to deliver carbon capture and storage in Peterhead. That was a wasted opportunity—money down the drain with nothing to show for it—and it cost 600 jobs in Peterhead and ruined the chance for the UK and Scotland to be a world leader in that technology. I am asking Westminster to please back Scotland’s CCS potential. With 35% of the available capacity in the whole of Europe, we could still be a world leader. However, it needs a fast start, and better investment in Scotland. The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that carbon capture is not a wish; it is a necessity in order to hit net zero by 2050.
Solar energy was another possible success story, yet, when it was looking good, the Tory Government pulled the feed-in tariffs and now they have quadrupled the VAT on solar installations, so they have destroyed the industry just as it was heading towards subsidy-free installations. That is another example of a UK Government policy revolution wreaking havoc on an industry. The VAT decision must be reversed as soon as possible.
And yet, when it comes to nuclear and the Government’s nuclear obsession, money is no object. We signed up to Hinkley Point C, which has a 35-year concession at a strike rate of £92.50 per MWh, and yet, as the Secretary of State is aware—she spoke about the benefits of offshore wind—offshore wind now has a strike rate of £40 per MWh for just 15 years, so it is about three to four times cheaper than nuclear energy. Why are the Tory Government continuing to pursue new nuclear projects? It makes no sense. [Interruption.] Can the Secretary of State explain why?
And the Secretary of State will know very well that that baseload is becoming a moot argument. It was argued that Hinkley Point C was required by December 2017 for the baseload to stop the lights going out. Now Hinkley will not be delivered till 2025 by the earliest, and the lights have not gone out. That shows how much the market has changed. Half the existing nuclear power stations will be decommissioned by 2024, and they cannot be replaced by new nuclear stations in that time, so the Government really do need to look again at their strategy, and new nuclear power stations is not that.
The Government say that the National Infrastructure Commission have said that there should be only one new nuclear power station, because of the change in renewables technology. Again, it seems that the Government are not actually listening to the body they say they are listening to.
As an alternative to nuclear, we also need to look at sector deals for investments such as marine and tidal energy, and also floating offshore wind. Where are their sector deals and what is happening with those?
Has there even been an industrial revolution? Again, I would suggest not. The UK Government failed to back the technological development of onshore wind and the fantastic opportunities there. That led to the manufacturing sector of that industry being developed elsewhere, particularly Denmark. That was a massive lost opportunity, and it cannot be replicated by other emerging technologies.
Even now, when it comes to offshore wind, the CfD auctions do not include a quality mechanism that would allow bidders to be rewarded for using local supply chains. That would be an ideal way to generate industrial jobs around the coastal communities, and it would provide greater opportunities for companies in Scotland, such as BiFab and CS Wind. Why are the UK Government not willing to incorporate such a procurement quality assessment mechanism in the auction process? It makes sense, and it would also reduce the construction carbon footprint for the delivery of such projects.
If we are to hit net zero in the UK by 2050, we need a proper green industrial revolution. We need the large-scale development of CCS, which, as well as creating jobs, will allow a long-term just transition for the oil and gas sector. We need radical measures to decarbonise our heat. Our domestic heating systems are the elephant in the room when it comes to the net zero target. I said earlier that 27 million houses relied on fossil fuels for heating, so a change in that mechanism for 27 million homes needs to be a proper revolution. It is likely that we shall see gas central heating boilers change to hydrogen boilers, and we know that hydrogen blending is a short-term transitional measure in decarbonising the gas network, but we need the strategies and policies in place, and the necessary changes in regulation to allow that to happen. There, too, we need concrete plans from the UK Government.
If I may switch back to Scotland, Scotland has been attempting to undergo a real green industrial revolution, but again we have been hampered by UK Government policies, the U-turns and the lack of strategic vision. Where is the energy White Paper that we were promised last year? It is ridiculous to have a clean growth strategy, an industrial strategy, but not an overarching or a linking energy policy that brings those together. We need to see that sooner or later.
Where is the Government response to the National Infrastructure Commission? We are still waiting on that. That is another organisation that states that energy efficiency should be treated as a national infrastructure programme. It would create jobs and it reduces carbon emissions, energy demand and fuel poverty. And yet, again, the Tory Government have not addressed that. They previously chose to go down the route of the green deal, which actually forced people to take out loans. Then the green deal led to scandal, with the mis-selling of solar panels by the company HELMS, leaving thousands of people with 25-year loans and faulty installations. The UK Government have still not rectified that. Will the Secretary of State consider that as well?
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government spend four times as much per capita on energy efficiency measures as the UK Government. For that, they have been praised by industry, third sector organisations and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. Put simply, Scotland leads the way in energy efficiency, and by 2021 the SNP Government will have invested £1 billion in energy efficiency programmes.
The one energy efficiency measure that the UK Government brought in is the energy company obligation scheme—ECO. But the Committee on Fuel Poverty states that that is not helping the people who require it the most. In effect, that means that those who struggle to pay their bills for energy costs now pay extra on their energy bills for ECO, which is then funding energy efficiency measures for those most likely to be able to afford them. That is completely bonkers. There is also a really serious point, because every year 3,000 people in the UK die as a result of fuel poverty—the second-worst rate in Europe. Urgent, coherent action is needed to address fuel poverty and to address energy efficiency measures.
Scotland leads in energy efficiency, and we also lead in climate change registration targets: the first Government to call a climate change emergency; a net zero target for 2045; and a 75% target reduction by 2030. According to the Committee on Climate Change, Scotland has become the leading UK nation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. However, these latest targets are world-leading. Our 2030 target goes beyond what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states is required globally to limit warming to the 1.5°, as per the Paris climate agreement. We have also taken the difficult decision not to reduce air passenger duty when it is devolved. In the past couple of days the UK Government have been flip-flopping on that, and are all over the place when it comes to APD.
Going forward, the Scottish Government’s “Programme for Government” puts the green new deal at the heart of Government policy. Securing transition to net zero will be the primary mission for the Scottish National Investment Bank, supported by £130 million this year. The creation of the SNIB will provide £2 billion of long-term capital to businesses and infrastructure projects, to help transform the Scottish economy, and again reduce carbon emissions. That contrasts directly with the UK Green Investment Bank, set up by the Tory Government and then sold off without assurances of green aims or a UK focus.
We know that transport is a major carbon emitter. If we are looking at the roll-out of electric vehicles, I suggest that we need to look at Norway. It has undertaken a real revolution towards electric and low emission vehicles. In 2019, 58% of new car sales were of plug-in low-emission vehicles and 42% of overall sales were of fully electric cars. Meanwhile, here in the UK, flags are being waved and we are supposed to celebrate the fact that we have reached 3% sales of electric vehicles. According to the Committee on Climate Change, the UK deadline of 2040 for the phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles is way too far ahead, and even then the plans for its delivery are too vague. I suggest that the UK Government look to a small, independent, prosperous country such as Norway for inspiration, and to see how things can be done properly.
The UK has made strides regarding carbon emissions, but, as we have heard, there is a long way to go. While we look for solutions, nature is unfortunately undergoing its own climate change revolution. We have seen that with the bushfires in Australia, the 4 million hectares of Siberian forest that burned a few months ago, and the fires in Greenland, Alaska and Canada. The six hottest years on record have been the last six consecutive years, with warming oceans and melting ice. Things are critical, and Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said that the UK’s efforts to deal with climate change have fallen short. Indeed, in the interim progress report he states that
“policy ambition and implementation now fall well short of what is required.”
We have a Prime Minister who ducked out of TV debates on climate change, so we are looking for real leadership on this issue. I am glad that Scotland is showing such leadership, but I know it could do so much more if it were a small, independent country that was able to grasp the nettle in the way that Norway has.
Order. I remind the House of the informal time limit of 10 minutes—we will be quite rigid about that—and Members should observe the usual courtesies when a maiden speech is being delivered. I have great pleasure in calling the next Member to make a maiden speech, Simon Fell.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and may I welcome you back to your position in the Chair? I am grateful to be making my maiden speech in this debate on the green industrial revolution. Although mine is the first maiden speech delivered today, it is daunting to follow the contributions made by colleagues from both Government and Opposition Benches over the past couple of days. I watched those speeches, feeling increasingly green as they went on, and I do not think those Members need my congratulations. Indeed, when they rise up the ministerial ranks, I hope they will look favourably on me.
I will also gladly comply with another tradition of the House and pay tribute to my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Barrow and Furness, John Woodcock. Despite hailing from the wrong side of the Pennines, John was a staunch and passionate defender of that beautiful but often neglected part of the world. He fought to secure the Dreadnought programme in the shipyard, and he brought that same focus to the fight against antisemitism and injustice wherever he saw it, no matter the personal cost. John and I have clashed many times over the years, but his affection for Furness shines through and I wish him the best for the future.
Barrow and Furness is hidden away, but it is a remarkable place. Stretching—almost—from the Old Man of Coniston in the north, all the way to Walney Island in the south, Barrow is beautiful, with an industrial town at its beating heart. We are home to the national endeavour of building our nation’s nuclear deterrent, and we have a proud history of shipbuilding, from ocean liners to Royal Navy flagship vessels and submarines.
It was not always that way. Furness is rich in mineral deposits such as copper, nickel, cobalt and iron ore. Indeed, during the 1830s, prospecting for iron ore led to the creation of the town of Barrow as we know it. A collection of sheep farms rapidly turned into a Victorian town of high standing, an iron exporting giant, a ship- building hub, and then into a world leader in submarine production. That is the work on which many—almost one in five—of my constituents rely, either directly or through our substantial supply chains. I will focus on ensuring not only that my party honours its commitments to sustain that work, but that we seek to grow our capability by renewing the Astute-class boats and seeking wider opportunities.
Barrow and Furness is not just about submarines. Our market towns, from Ulverston to Dalton and Broughton-in-Furness, are bustling and—I urge hon. Members to note this—ideal for weekend visits and Easter holidays. People can watch the grey seals in South Walney, with Piel Island, which used to repel marauding Scots from the harbour, but now welcomes them as tourists, on the horizon. From local craft shops to the best pies in England, Furness’s real natural resource is its people, and there is no place with a stronger sense of community.
Coming off a gruelling election campaign, we often find ourselves thinking about what would have happened had we zigged rather than zagged, or if life had taken us in a different direction. The joy of an election, as all hon. Members will know, is meeting people, and hearing on the doorstep what they want for their families, futures and community. That same joy also comes from the people with whom we spend our election campaigns, and if hon. Members will indulge me, I wish to pay tribute to five people without whom I would not be standing here now. First is my father, Peter, a bounder of hedges and disrespecter of people’s gates—I would not be here without him. I also pay tribute to my wife, Pippa—my rock—to my mother, Meriel, who kept me sane, and to Ben and Brenda, who despite having a candidate who would not listen to them, made my campaign a success. I fear that if I listed everyone I should thank the orchestra would play me off, but they know who they are.
We also lost people this campaign, and I will take this opportunity to remember Pam Whittam, the kindest and most determined stalwart of my local party, whose cooking I still think about in idle moments, as well as Rory McClure, former mayor of Barrow, former president of Furness Rotary, and a dedicated local councillor and friend. I miss them both terribly.
I campaigned on a slogan of “Securing Furness’s Future”, which is not a pledge I take lightly. Furness’s future is at stake, and it is hard not to argue that we are a left-behind community. The A590, our main road, is dangerous and prone to flooding. The A595 runs through a farmyard. When our rail franchise fails—as it does all too often—our people are left stranded. One point that is especially appropriate to raise in this debate is that our current rail service is so poor that it is pushing people off public transport and back into their cars. That is why I look forward to working with Front-Bench colleagues to strip Northern of its franchise, and deliver a reliable and improved rail service on the Furness line.
We in Furness have a tremendous opportunity to be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution. We vie with Hull to be host to the largest offshore wind farm in the world—a title I very much hope we will soon regain. Up the coast in Copeland is Sellafield, to which a number of my constituents make a daily journey, through the farmyard that I mentioned. We in south-west Cumbria are already pioneers of renewable energy, but there are further opportunities on our doorstep. Our coastline is the ideal place for a tidal barrage, the development of which would cement the Cumbrian coast as a northern powerhouse in renewable energy, skills and capability. The impact of such a concentration of renewables businesses in Morecambe Bay and the Cumbrian coast would be transformative. That remote and beautiful part of England could become the epicentre of the green industrial revolution. We have the people, we have the skills; we just need the chance, and I look forward to working with colleagues on the Front Bench to explore the viability of those bold projects.
On the doorstep, I was told time and again that traditional Labour voters were lending me their votes. I consider every vote to be lent—we have to earn those votes, and to earn them again we must deliver on our promises to level up communities such as Barrow and Furness, to renew our town centres, finally to tackle existing deep-set poverty, and to invest in our NHS and schools. I shall pursue those things with a single-minded focus. It is an incredible honour to be standing up and speaking here, and I will work daily to earn the trust that the people of Barrow and Furness have placed in me. I look forward to fighting for them in the years to come.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell)—that is clearly where he gets his ease of manner, and he already seems like a veteran of the Chamber. I have never visited his constituency, but perhaps it is about time I did.
I wish to pay tribute to my colleague, Sue Hayman, who represented another Cumbrian seat. I wish she were here today to contribute to this debate, because she did so much, particularly on Labour’s “Plan for Nature” and animal welfare manifesto, and as our Front-Bench speaker shadowing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She will be very much missed.
The planet is facing a climate and ecological crisis, but forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I do not have complete confidence in the Government’s ability to rise to the challenge. Since we returned after the election, two ministerial appearances at the Dispatch Box have raised my concerns. We had a statement on the Australian bushfires, and the Foreign Office Minister managed to get through her entire opening statement without putting the situation in the climate context. When a number of us challenged her and said, “Surely, if you are talking about the Australian bushfires, you should be talking about why they are happening?”, she got quite cross with me and said that we should be treating it like some sort of disaster where we just come in afterwards and patch things up, rather than looking at the root causes. As we have already heard, she repeated the 75% arson claim, which has been thoroughly debunked.
We also had an urgent question on Flybe yesterday. Again, in the Minister’s initial response, with regard to bailing out an airline and possibly cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights, there was no mention at all of the impact on carbon emissions and pollution. Surely, no matter what your views on whether Flybe provides an essential service, you have to mention climate change if you are serious about trying to reach net zero.
Another thing that really worries me is that the COP25 climate change talks took place during the election campaign. A number of us had been hoping to attend, but were obviously unable to because of the election. We have not had a ministerial statement on COP25. We should have had an oral statement, particularly as we are hosting COP26. COP25 is widely regarded as a failure—very little has achieved. I would have expected, at the very least, a written ministerial statement assessing what did not happen in Madrid and putting forward a plan for how we can get things back on track as we host COP26 in Glasgow later this year.
In terms of what is in the Queen’s Speech, I welcome the direction of travel set out in the environment Bill. I particularly welcome the decision to locate the new Office of Environmental Protection in Bristol. I can think of no better place for it, given the level of expertise we have in the city. My concern, however, is particularly that the long-term targets do not need to be set until 2022 and potentially cannot be enforced for almost two decades. Reference has already been made to the fact that the carbon budgets, which give us interim targets, are slipping. We know that we are not going to meet the recycling target for this year. We cannot just have one goal that we aim to reach two decades into the future. We have got to have a way of monitoring it and holding the Government to account in the short term as well.
The OEP will not be truly independent and will lack the power to hold the Government to account. In the previous Parliament, I sat on both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which undertook pre-legislative scrutiny. Both Committees made that point. There is also no commitment to non-regression. When we should be seeking constant improvement, we can do better than our current standards. We certainly should not be going backwards. National infrastructure projects will not be subject to biodiversity net gain. Increasingly, net gain is looking like net parity. Again, we should be seeking improvements and not trying to just hold things as they are. The National Trust is particularly concerned that the historic environment has been excluded, even though the 25-year environment plan put it on a level playing field with the natural environment. There is no commitment to a national tree strategy, which is a crucial nature-based solution. While I am here, I would also make a plea for us to restore our peat lands. They can be an incredible carbon sink, but if we allow grouse moor owners to set fire to them, the environmental degradation that goes with that releases a huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere. We need action on that.
On a global scale, we heard the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) talk about the need to measure consumption, rather than just production. There is absolutely no way that we are looking at the true picture unless we do so. The UK, for example, consumes 3.3 million tonnes of soy per year. Some 77% of that comes from high-risk deforestation areas in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. We know that land use is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services.
On UK Export Finance, it is a shame that the Secretary of State is no longer in her place. She was boasting about some of the work we do on reducing carbon emissions overseas, but, as the Environmental Audit Committee found, UK Export Finance spent £4.8 billion on fossil fuel projects overseas between 2010 and 2016. In fact, well over 90%—I think 95% or 96%—of the amount it spends on financing energy projects overseas goes on fossil fuel projects, rather than on cleaner renewable projects. That is almost equal to the total spending on international climate finance. There is no point boasting about what we do on the one hand, if we then finance the private sector to do damaging fossil fuel exploration on the other hand.
The agriculture Bill has not been mentioned yet. Last time it was before us, I spoke on Second Reading and served on the Bill Committee, which concluded in December 2018. There is a sense of déjà vu to hear it announced again. I think it was published a couple of hours ago and there have been only a couple of minor tweaks to the previous Bill. That is disappointing. It is disappointing that the Government did not use this opportunity to think again about how farming can tackle the climate, nature and health crises all together. Those three dots simply have not been joined up. From my perspective, it requires a transition to sustainable agroecological farming by 2030, as proposed by the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. I hope, in the new Parliament, to reconstitute the all-party group on agroecology, which I chaired for a number of years, and I will be tabling the same amendments in support of whole-farm systems that I tabled in the previous Parliament.
I would also like the Government to adopt the previously proposed new clause on supporting county farms. We have heard a lot of warm words on this. In a session I chaired at the Oxford Real Farming conference, the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), made clear his commitment to county farms, which are a great way for new entrants who cannot afford to buy land at today’s prices to enter the market. They are also a good way to direct the growing of local healthy food and restoring nature. I hope we can pin the Government down on that.
We need a long-term financial commitment, which farmers have been asking for, on delivering public goods to be set out in the Bill. The Government have now ring-fenced the overall farm funding budget for the next five years, but there is still no indication as to how it will be divided up. Based on independent analysis by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trust, at least £2.9 billion is needed for the new environment land management schemes. The Bill is also missing a duty on the Government to routinely assess the scale of financial need and a strong baseline of regulations for land managers to adhere to.
I tabled new clause 1 in the Report stage of the Bill, which then suddenly disappeared in December 2018. I think one of the reasons it disappeared was that the Government were convinced they would lose on new clause 1. New clause 1 was designed to ensure that there would be no lowering of environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards in any future trade deals. The Government talk about that a lot, but when I raised it at Brexit questions last week, mentioning the National Farmers Union’s concerns and its request for a trading standards commission to be established, the Minister was incredibly dismissive. We know that the Government will come under significant pressure from the Department for International Trade to lower standards in any future trade deal once we leave the EU, and that will lead to a race to the bottom. As I said, it is not just environmentalists but the NFU and everyone involved in the food sector in this country who do not want to see that.
Finally, if I can just ask where we are in terms of some of the animal welfare proposals. There is a lot of support for the sentencing Bill, which will increase the sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years. I hope that will be brought back soon. Where has the sentience Bill got to? Again, the Government promised several years ago, I think in 2017, to introduce a sentience Bill. They still have not done so. I urge the Government to bring it forward as soon as possible.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I first say that it is a pleasure to be giving my maiden speech with you in the Chair? Thank you for all your help and guidance to new Members since we arrived here on whatever day it was in December—it feels like a long time ago. Secondly, may I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris)? I do not think I would be here today without his help, guidance and, most importantly, his friendship over the past six years. Finally, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on his excellent maiden speech.
I would like to say a couple of words about my predecessor, Richard Burden, who had a long and distinguished service in this House over 27 years. He definitely built up a reputation over time in Northfield. Richard Burden and Roger King, another former Member in the constituency, struck up a good partnership campaigning together on local issues, especially the development of the North Worcestershire golf club that we have all been campaigning against. They also shared a huge passion for motorsport. Unfortunately, we part in respect of my skills in this area, which can be described in this way: I had to ring up my uncle once to ask him what the flashing gravy boat meant in the car, to which he coolly said, “It’s the oil light—you need to change your oil.” Although my skill base in this area may not be the same as theirs, my enthusiasm for the motoring industry is just as high, and we need to celebrate it and make sure that it is still a distinguishing part of our country.
Birmingham is home, and I have lived there for my entire 30 years. It is rapidly growing and it has been known as the city of a thousand trades. It was an integral part of the industrial revolution in the UK, as was Northfield. Northfield, Kings Norton, Weoley, Allens Cross, Rubery and Rednal, Frankley, West Heath and Longbridge are all very distinctive parts of my constituency. They all started off as villages in north Worcestershire and were later consumed by the ever-expanding Birmingham. Now, 100 years later, they are a key contributing part of our city, especially in industry.
The two things that most people think about when you mention Birmingham, Northfield are, of course, the Cadbury family and Austin Motors—latterly, MG Rover. The Cadbury family left behind a lasting legacy for south Birmingham in many physical forms, including the Manor Farm Park, the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital and, although it is not quite in my constituency—it is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid)—the Lickey Hills. They were a caring family who ably demonstrated the compassionate side of capitalism and the good things that can be done. Jobs, training, community and a decent standard of living were their legacy and their values, and that lives on today in Northfield.
Austin Motors—latterly, MG Rover—has been synonymous with Longbridge and Northfield for many, many decades. Indeed, this week, many former employees will be saddened to see demolition beginning of the two main plant areas on the site, but with our changing economy, we must adapt and embrace our new green industry to ensure that we use it to create more jobs and wealth, provide better homes and increase our connectivity between cities and suburbs, and cross-borough. We must make sure that we use every possible opportunity from our new green industry to make that happen.
All of this creates life chances, because as the Prime Minister says, talent is equally shared across our country, but unfortunately, opportunity often is not. I stand here feeling that it was absolutely unthinkable that I would ever speak in this Chamber. We hear stories—I think the former Member for Rutland and Melton, Sir Alan Duncan, once said that he remembers hiding under the bedsheets as a teenager reading “Erskine May”. I was similar, but it was a dictionary because I hadn’t the foggiest what was going on and did not understand what most people were talking about.
Talking about life chances makes me reflect on my own roots. I was born in a part of Birmingham called Kingstanding, which was the largest council estate in Europe when it was built. I went to a secondary school that in 2004, just before I left, had a pass rate of 11%. My parents are incredibly hard-working: my mother is a dinner lady and my dad is a van driver. My grandparents have worked in industries in Birmingham, too. My grandad has always said to me that anything in life can be achieved as long as you have two things: concentration and dedication. He also says that you can say whatever you like to anybody as long as you smile—I have tried that a couple of times, but it does not always work out for the best.
Since leaving school there have unfortunately been several times when I have picked up the Birmingham Mail and seen pictures of people who I went to school with who have gone to prison, for a variety of crimes. It often makes me think, “How did it ever happen, and why?” My secondary school had some fantastic teachers—I remember two in particular: Mr Hopkins and Mrs Hare, who I hope to bring down here one day to thank them for their support during my teenage years. They gave it their all and they cared about the students at that school, but something was desperately wrong in the system at the time, and too many people left school ill-equipped, without the skills that they needed to succeed in life.
I stand here with an enormous amount of responsibility on my shoulders and a passion for what I want to try to deliver while I am in this place. I obviously want to do well by my constituents in Birmingham, Northfield, and to do well by Parliament and this country as we try to restore faith in this place and re-establish our national pride. I also want to do well by and champion the working-class kids up and down this country who wake up every day with ambition and zeal and want to realise their opportunities. I think it is through the new green industry that we will create those opportunities and realise those dreams.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) and for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on their excellent and most entertaining maiden speeches. I am sure that we will hear a lot more from them during this Parliament.
I am very pleased to speak in this debate, and I was following very closely the Secretary of State’s words. One of the key issues that we need to resolve, whichever side of the Chamber we sit on, is the growing economic divide between the north and the south. I will refer quite extensively to a new report published by Sheffield Hallam University, “The State of the Coalfields 2019”, which details the situation, identifying not just problems, but solutions.
In the UK, power and finance is concentrated in the centre, in the near exclusive control of Whitehall and Westminster. This has led to decades of under-investment in the north-east and former industrial communities such as mine. I believe that our economy and country as a whole will not succeed post-Brexit if we remain exclusively reliant on the success of London and the south-east. Today, I will focus on the green industrial revolution and the economic benefits that it could bring to constituencies such as mine— Easington, in County Durham.
I am very proud of Labour’s manifesto and I thought that our Front Bencher, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), made a terrific contribution at the start of the debate in outlining the advantages of Labour’s green industrial revolution. In my lifetime, the north-east was one of the engines of economic success. It powered the industrial revolution and has a long and proud history in shipbuilding, coalmining and engineering. In Murton, where I live, the colliery was the mainstay of the village, providing employment and coal for the nation’s furnaces from 1834 until it stopped production in November 1991. It employed my father, uncles, cousins and grandfather.
Labour had planned to make the north-east a centre for the next industrial revolution—the green industrial revolution. Indeed, Labour’s manifesto set out not just slogans, but specific pledges: £13 billion of new investment in the green transformation fund, including plans for Crossrail for the north, expanding our ports, particularly on the Tyne and the Tees, a steel recycling plant in Redcar, and manufacturing facilities to support the Dogger Bank wind farms. We would have had 80,000 well-paid new green jobs. We heard about investment in manufacturing electric vehicles and the benefits of expanding the electric vehicle charging network. That would protect the 18,000 workers directly employed in the automotive sector in the north-east while reducing emissions and improving air quality. Also important is the upgrading of housing—the national figure was quoted earlier—from which 1.2 million households across the north-east could benefit. It would reduce bills, eliminate the vast majority of fuel poverty and make our homes healthier and more comfortable.
It is important that we consider the record of the last Government. It is not just a feeling or an impression, but certainly true that former coalfield constituencies such as mine have been at the sharp end of austerity and suffered disproportionately. If we grouped together all the coalfield areas, some of which are now represented by Conservative MPs, into one distinct region, it would have a population of 5.7 million and would be the poorest region in the United Kingdom, so the shared prosperity fund that Ministers talk about needs to be targeted at regions and former coalfield areas such as mine in the north-east.
The IPPR North research department found that between 2009-10 and 2017-18 the north-east saw a £3.6 billion cut in public spending, while the south-east and south- west together actually saw a real-terms £4.7 billion rise. Indeed, my local authority, Durham County Council, had a 40% budget cut—almost £250 million—at a time of increasing demands on services. We also have to hold the Government to account for their industrial policy, or lack of it: the abolition of One North East, our regional development agency; the scrapping of our Minister for the North—someone who could be an advocate for a joined-up government—and of specific measures to help with employment in my region; and their failure to support the industrial base, as several Members have mentioned, particularly the steel industry on Teesside.
I ask that the Minister consider the report by Sheffield Hallam University’s centre for regional, economic and social research. It contains some specific actions that I think he will find are very well thought through and evidence based. It documents the consequences of a legacy of failure that stretches back several decades and which manifests itself in many ways. For example, health problems are more widespread in former coalfield areas; more than one third of residents aged over 16 report health problems lasting for more than 12 months; and although the number of jobs is increasing, it is doing so at only half the rate we see in the main regional centres and a third of the rate we see in London, which widens the economic inequalities in coalfield areas such as mine.
The current focus on the City and financial sectors of the economy disadvantages coalfield communities, which have a higher proportion of manufacturing jobs. Such is the scale of the intervention needed—the Secretary of State mentioned some figures—that to raise employment to the national average would require 80,000 additional residents in work in the north-east and to raise it to the level of the south-east our region would require an additional 170,000. Part-time work accounts for a third of all our employment, there is a skills shortage, which is not helped by education cuts, and we have fewer degree-level qualifications. The young and better qualified have little option but to move out of coalfield communities to meet their employment aspirations. Welfare reform has hit us particularly hard, with £2.4 billion having been taken out of our communities—money that would otherwise have been spent in the local economy.
I want to conclude with some specifics. I have obviously got a vested interest in promoting the green industrial revolution. The north-east is the home of UK manufacturing. We have the most productive car plant in the world producing electric vehicles the world wants to buy. I know of constituents driving polluting diesel vehicles who would love to switch to electric if they could afford it. In my constituency, we have the commercial space—office and factory units—to accommodate the green businesses of the future, and at the end of this month Biffa will be opening a new £27.5 million plastic recycling plant in my constituency. Also in my constituency is Drilcorp, specialists in renewable technologies, heat pumps and geothermal systems, while our East Durham College has established a technical academy that delivers courses and training in engineering and manufacturing, including renewable technologies of the future. The Minister has an opportunity—I am asking for his help—to unleash the immense potential of our former coalfield communities and of constituencies such as mine.