Thursday 17 December 2020
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Fairs and Showgrounds
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call list system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall—I think everyone is here—and they are expected to remain for the wind-ups provided there is space in the room. Members are also asked to respect the one-way system around the room. Please exit by the door on the left. Members should sanitise their microphones using the cleaning materials provided before they use them and dispose of the cleaning materials as they leave the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of fairs and showgrounds.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, which was sought by me and fellow friends and Members of the all-party parliamentary group on fairs and showgrounds. One of the great and unique privileges I have as MP for Glasgow East is representing the largest settlement of showpeople in the country. My own home in Carntyne overlooks the many yards that host caravans and fairground equipment. Indeed, the train journey from the city centre, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), to Shettleston in my constituency largely passes the hundreds of showpeople families who live alongside the railway line.
I have learned a lot about the traditions and customs of showpeople from growing up in the east end and now being their Member of Parliament, such as how showpeople have long lineages in the community—many families have worked at the same fairs for generations—and identify as their own cultural group. In the 2021 census, showpeople will have the opportunity for the first time ever to identify as precisely that, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) who, when he was a Cabinet Office Minister, worked with me and the Showmen’s Guild to secure that. It is right that that option be available, because showpeople are unique.
Last week, I spoke to one woman whose children are the eighth generation to work as showpeople. This is a community with a rich history that deserves its recognition. I say all that because there is often a fundamental misunderstanding about showpeople, their history and their vital place in our communities. It is important throughout the debate that we remember we are discussing real people with families and lives; this is not about money and businesses.
In Glasgow East, showpeople are a huge and valued part of the constituency. They are small business owners who support the local economy, putting on seasonal fairs from summer fetes to Christmas markets, and often engage quietly in philanthropic work that is perhaps not celebrated enough. There are currently 340 operating members of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, and they have families, numbering 5,000 across Scotland, with the majority of them split between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central.
Put simply, showpeople have been a rich part of Scotland’s tapestry for hundreds of years and have a proud history and heritage. Indeed, this year the historic Kirkcaldy Links market did not go ahead, for the first time in several hundred years. I am afraid it is a sobering fact that even the second world war could not stop the market, but it unfortunately fell to the pandemic. I was greatly concerned when most major fairs were understandably cancelled for 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, because that greatly impacted the livelihoods of all showpeople. At the heart of the issue is how the Government’s financial support packages during the pandemic have continually excluded showpeople, mostly owing to the manner in which showpeople live and operate, such as not having a static business or shop front.
The community provides so much not only to my constituency and all across Scotland, but across the British Isles. They deserve the same financial support that other industries have received during the pandemic. We should follow in the footsteps of other European countries, and Belgium in particular, where the Government put in place several support measures for showpeople, including a delay in, reduction of or exemption from social contributions to be paid in 2021, as well as a bonus of €4,000 and, after 21 days of non-activity, €160 a day. Alongside a financial support package, there should be 100% relief on licences for the year, similar to the 100% business rate relief for static businesses, to help showpeople and their businesses survive this tough time.
It is not just Belgium that has put its money where its mouth is. Following a rather epic lobbying effort on the part of myself, Richard Lyle MSP and Alex James Colquhoun of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, I was delighted to see that a £1.5 million funding package was made available specifically for fairs and showgrounds in Scotland just last week. I would argue that it is time the UK Government looked to do likewise for guild members in England, who I know were looking on last week rather enviously.
Alongside the exclusion from the British Government’s support schemes, many showpeople have told me that there has been wild inconsistency in how local authorities have been treating fairs and showgrounds during the pandemic. Some local authorities have enacted strict bans, and others are being more lenient by allowing some fairs to go ahead. Put simply, there is a postcode lottery at local authority level, even though central Government guidance is crystal clear.
There are also inconsistencies in the regulations that fairs must adhere to in order to ensure that they are covid-secure—for example, there are different rules around mask wearing, social distancing and hand sanitising. Such inconsistencies have been exacerbated by different tiers with different rules, so there needs to be clear guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on which fairs can go ahead, with consistent regulations for fairs across the country. There is also a clear role for the Minister and his Department.
Many people have expressed to me concerns about local authorities cancelling 2021 fairs already, and I am afraid that guild members are right to feel that such decisions are a little premature and continue to put at risk their income for next year. Following last week’s news of the first vaccine roll-out, I think we would all agree that 2021 looks to be more hopeful for us all. However, I wonder whether more updated guidance could be dispersed to local authorities on the cancelling of fairs and shows for 2021.
Ultimately, this is all about security and certainty for a community who have experienced so much hardship this year. I am afraid that their concerns are not solely limited to the pandemic. The showpeople I have spoken to have raised the issue of red diesel. For many showpeople, their entire business, and often their sole revenue, involves the hire of mobile road-tow generators, all of which are engine-operated and run on red diesel. For many showpeople, red diesel is crucial to their business, and it is impossible for them to move towards using anything else at the time, as there is a lack of a commercially viable alternative. My understanding is that the change in tax relief on red diesel is expected to take effect from 2023, although some sectors, such as farming and fishing, will continue to be eligible for the duty. Many showpeople have described to me how the change will unfairly disadvantage them and their business, so I would be grateful if the Minister could reflect those concerns to his colleagues in Her Majesty’s Treasury.
Ultimately, this debate is hugely important in highlighting the cultural significance of showpeople, their history and their lineage, which spans many generations. The community have faced huge challenges as a result of the pandemic, and they now face financial hardship as a result of lost business. From uncertainty over their businesses and livelihoods, to insecurity over the future of fairs, it has been an incredibly tough year for them. I hope that the UK Government will express a genuine commitment to supporting showpeople and will consider the suggestions made by me and colleagues who speak in the debate. Ultimately, I hope that 2021 will be brighter for all of us, including showpeople, who just want to do what they do best: creating the fun of the fair.
The debate can last until 3 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 2.27 pm, and the guideline limits will be 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Mr Linden will then have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. There are five Back-Bench speakers, the first of whom is James Wild.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing the debate. As a fellow member of the APPG on fairs and showgrounds, I am grateful for the great work that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) have done on this issue over so many years.
As a new MP, my interest in this subject comes from the King’s Lynn mart, which is the oldest fair in the country. Its traditional Valentine’s Day opening ceremony marks the first event in the travelling showman’s calendar. This year, I was delighted to attend the 816th mart and be part of the procession through the town, before taking part in some competitive dodgem driving and whizzing down the helter-skelter. Despite what is known locally as mart weather, the event was typically popular, with families coming along to enjoy the rides and attractions with great optimism about what was to come. A little more than a month later, however, we entered a national lockdown and everything changed.
I am speaking in this debate to represent, in particular, my constituent Colleen Roper. She is the sixth generation of a fairground family, and I encourage everyone to visit her fairground, Rainbow Park in Hunstanton. Along with five other female showmen, she formed the Future 4 Fairgrounds group. They did so as wives and mothers, proud of their heritage, but increasingly concerned about the impact on the future of their families and that of the 20,000 showmen across the United Kingdom. They want to celebrate their history, to highlight the present situation and to talk about the future for fairgrounds.
In that spirit, I will focus my remarks on three areas. First, as the hon. Member for Glasgow East touched on, there is a need for greater consistency between the national guidance and how local authorities are acting on the ground. The DCMS position is admirably clear, as my hon. Friend the Minister recently set out to me in a written answer:
“Funfairs and fairgrounds…will be permitted to reopen in all three tiers as they were prior to this period”,
the second “period of national restrictions”. The answer also talked about
“how Local Authorities should support event organisers to hold outdoor events safely.”
That is great, so what is the problem? As we heard, the organisers need to get permission from local authorities. Future 4 Fairgrounds told me this morning that it has continued to see cancellations of winter fairgrounds and, even worse, that fairgrounds have been stopped from operating shows that they had been told could go ahead. That has been an issue since 4 July, when covid-secure events were allowed to happen.
Fairgrounds spent considerable amounts of money and effort to be covid-secure, and it has been incredibly frustrating for them not be able to have their events while other events have gone ahead. We should not underestimate either the financial impact of that, or the mental health and wellbeing impact of having all those events cancelled. Will the Minister work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide more encouragement, or perhaps even give direction, to local authorities to tackle that inconsistency, so that funfairs and fairgrounds can safely reopen across the country?
Secondly, fairgrounds are an important part of our rich cultural heritage. This is a profession that dates back hundreds of years. Showmen are businessmen and women, but they are also a community. The King’s Lynn mart was granted its royal charter by Henry VIII, and many fairs across the country have been a staple of their communities for generations. In the 1860s, Frederick Savage of Lynn began supplying steam-powered fairgrounds rides, as is recorded in the Lynn museum—again, I encourage people to visit. In the words of his 1902 “Catalogue for Roundabouts”,
“we have patented and placed upon the market all the principal novelties that have delighted the many thousands of pleasure seekers at home and abroad.”
Fairgrounds are places where memories are made. Despite that, as Future 4 Fairgrounds has highlighted, travelling fairgrounds are not being given equal status with theatres, museums and other organisations in applying to the cultural recovery fund. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister, when he responds to the debate, addressed those concerns and gave an assurance that any future applications will be considered on equal terms.
Finally, this debate is about the future of fairgrounds. They do have a future and they must have a future, but showmen’s lives have been put on hold. For all the families in the showmen’s community, there is a need for greater certainty for the winter events and for next season. Discussions are ongoing about the Lynn mart next year—I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to join me at that excellent event. I hope that in 2021, once again, across the country, people will be able to enjoy a local fairground.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing the debate.
I come from the best seaside town there is: sunny South Shields. We have had a static fair, Ocean Beach Pleasure Park, since about 1945. Before that, travelling fairgrounds would visit us on a regular basis. Both have continued to exist as long as I can remember, and both, despite me often being sick on rides, have always brought a great big smile to my face. Showmen and women are generous and kind people who make a valued contribution to our local economy. The money they make, they spend locally, and the footfall they generate benefits us all too. It is no wonder that some families come to visit them time and again, because the travelling showmen and women become part of our community, and we become part of theirs.
Over this pandemic, I have spoken to many of my local showmen and women. Just recently, I met a hard-working group of women campaigning not just to save their livelihood, but to preserve their heritage and culture for their children and grandchildren. As the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) said, the group is called Future 4 Fairgrounds. Those women told me, “This is not just a job. It’s a way of life and living. We are the fair and the fair is us.” It is deeply personal for them. They are mothers and wives who work day and night all over our country. They drive lorries, set up equipment and run businesses all year round. Fairs really are a family affair. It is a multimillion-pound business, which is about not just fairgrounds, but festivals, bonfire night, entertainment, Christmas light switch-ons, private events, weddings and much more.
Many showmen and women cannot help feeling that they are being discriminated against in the pandemic. From the evidence that I have seen, it appears that they are right to feel that way, because they are being discriminated against. What else could it be, when Government guidance said that, as of 4 July, travelling fairs could operate under all tiers, some with up to 2,000 people, yet time and again, after turning up and getting ready, overzealous local councils or public health teams have told them at the 11th hour to dramatically reduce their numbers or close down altogether? In some cases, the council has given them the green light, but the county council or parish council has come along and tried to override that decision. Yet funfairs have covid-secure measures in place and there is no concrete evidence to show that they contribute dramatically to the spread of the virus.
The final kick in the teeth is that when fairs have been told to close, nearby static fairs or theme parks have remained open, and markets have sprung up in their place. I cannot imagine how utterly soul-destroying it must be for them to travel for miles, unpack all their equipment, only to be told to pack it back up and then see another event, which is not as safe or secure, occupy the land and space that they were promised.
Fairs are limited in their ability to speak out, because they do not want to damage their existing relationships with local councils, or scupper their future events. Worse still, when they have been told that they cannot operate, the councils and public health teams have not been clear about why, so they are completely in the dark. They approach the next town or area not knowing whether the same thing will happen again.
I am unaware of any other sector where that level of inconsistency is being applied. Crystal-clear guidance is needed for councils to follow because, at the moment, it seems that they are picking out bits from the general guidance and making the wrong decisions. If there was ever a time that our nation’s spirits needed to be lifted by the fun of the fair, it is most definitely now. I hope that the Minister will at least commit to issuing clearer guidance.
Showmen and women have lost every season this year. They typically take only January as leave. The unique nature of their work, where some are self-employed and some have limited companies, and where many do not have premises, has meant that they are part of the 3 million excluded from Government schemes. The Chancellor and the Government deny that those 3 million people exist, but trust me, they do. If the party of business keeps burying its head, it will lead to the collapse of this industry and many others. A proper package of support is long overdue.
Some showmen and women were eligible for bounce back loans, which they have used to upkeep their equipment—maintenance, testing and insurance. As the Minister knows, however, those loans must be paid back. In short, the situation is unsustainable, with their debt increasing at a time when they do not know when they will be able to operate or have an income again. I sincerely do not want this part of our country’s heritage to disappear, so I hope that the Minister will be able to offer them something positive today, because right now it certainly is not fun, and it most definitely is not fair.
Thank you for allowing me to join this great debate, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing the debate and on his previous speech in the main Chamber, which resonated hugely with every showman family in the country. There are hon. Members present from Scotland, North West Norfolk, South Shields, Sedgefield, Southend West, as well as the great city of Gloucester. That represents a strong interest across the British Isles and strong voices speaking up for the Showmen’s Guild, its members and their families. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East said, this is above all about families and lives. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) made the point that we are all, in a sense, showmen. This is probably a good moment for me to declare an interest: I am an honorary member of the Showmen’s Guild—an honour given to me very kindly after some issues about education were resolved some years ago under the coalition Government.
We are all, in a sense, showmen, because we all have those early memories of candy floss, toffee apples and bumper cars. I remember my sisters on the horses on the merry-go-round. In today’s world, it is shooting down water slides, charging off into the sky on a rocket that hopefully comes back, the darts, the traditional air guns and the fluffy toys. All those things make up children’s memories in every generation, so in a sense we are all part of it.
In Gloucester and the western section of the Showmen’s Guild, we do not have fairs that have been going quite as long as the one in King’s Lynn, but the Barton Fayre on the Ham, for example, has been going for at least 130 years, and there are at least 60 families still living on Alney island and Pool meadow. They are invariably threatened every year by the possibility of flooding from the River Severn, of which the Minister will be very conscious, given his experience of that river. They all contribute hugely to the life of the city, just as they do to the lives of the towns and rural areas that other colleagues will refer to.
During the incredibly difficult time this year, the showmen were not just sitting at home grumbling because some of their fairs had been cancelled. They got up and used their skills in a whole number of other ways. Those who had the very long vehicles that take the big machinery to the fairs turned their skills to helping the supermarkets deliver food across the country, to ensure that those who are vulnerable and need protecting were fed.
As a society and a community, those are some of the most positive people we could ever hope to meet. They do not ask a great deal of Government. They are independent-minded. They want to be able to get on with life, solve their own problems and not fall back on the state the whole time. That is not their natural inclination at all, but at the moment, given this downfall of probably 80% of their normal income, they have turned to the Government for help, and there are one or two things that could be done.
First, the Government should signal to all local councils, and all MPs should make it clear in our communities, that it is possible to hold fairs; there is nothing in the law to prevent them. We should highlight that with sensible safety guidance and guidelines, these things can be done safely. That is really important.
The second thing is all about local councils and their ability to dispense cash grants to businesses in trouble. It is perfectly possible for every council to be able to consider applications from the showmen, just as they would consider applications from anybody else in their communities. I am calling on the individual businesses within the Showmen’s Guild in my city or elsewhere to apply to the council, and for the council to consider their cases really seriously. We do not want to find that those fairs, Christmas markets and the activities that the showmen have carried out for hundreds of years are suddenly no longer with us. That would be a huge sadness in every community group.
In our case, the fair did go ahead in the summer safely, but I was concerned to see that, elsewhere in the country, some of our colleagues in Parliament were questioning why the fairs were being held, calling for them not to happen and telling their councils that they disagreed with the decision. As a body, Parliament needs to be stronger in support of every community during their hour of need. It needs to support the showmen and the councils in making those brave decisions. We should remind our constituents that nobody has to go; these fairs are entirely voluntary events. Each family will make its own decision on its own bubble and safety assessment. That is a very important part of the individual responsibly for safety during this difficult time.
The Minister has been a good supporter of so many things during this difficult year. As he will know, the showmen are not just running fairs and Christmas markets, important though those two things are as the core of their activity. They also do other things. For example, all the catering at Kingsholm for Gloucester Rugby, at Twickenham, and possibly even at the Worcester Warriors, which is very close to my hon. Friend the Minister’s heart, is done by Showmen’s Guild members. Those activities have obviously also been hit this year. We are fortunate to have some spectators in Kingsholm, but nothing like the normal crowds that gather, as the Minister knows.
It has been a difficult year and we all want to support them. The structure of their businesses does not make it easy, as there are no business rates involved and the furlough scheme does not always apply, but we should think more widely because, of course, they are also employers of many young people—including at some point in the past, one of my sons—working for them in jobs that do not require huge skills but which give young people the opportunity to get their first work experience and learn the disciplines and customer service and so on that come with that. They are a key part of our society and our country. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister will agree with the two key points and about any further support he believes might be given.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this debate. It is not just the coronavirus pandemic that is causing such a tough time for fairs and showgrounds. There are many other factors.
One factor is certainly fashion. The APPG for these organisations used to be hugely important in the House of Commons, with a very large attendance and proceedings overseen by none other than the Speaker’s father, the noble Lord Hoyle. It was the thing to do to be at those events. Fashions have changed and there are many reasons for that. Of course, once America started to have Disney World and all those other things, people began to travel abroad, and when they came home to the rides that we provided, they thought it was not quite like that. They have had a very tough time.
Having seen the APPG wither away, it is marvellous that we now have strong voices from two parts of Glasgow, South Shields, Norfolk and Gloucester here—the hon. Members for Glasgow East (David Linden), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), and my hon. Friends the Members for North West Norfolk (James Wild) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham)—as well as my new colleague from the north of England, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell). I am very heartened that things are going to change. Let us be frank with each other. If we want to get things done, Members of Parliament need to lobby Ministers—it does not matter who the Government are. If the Government of the day think that there are not too many Members of Parliament interested in this subject, they just shrug their shoulders and it does not count. I am hoping that our numbers will grow and grow and we will become the powerful force that we used to be.
I agree with all the comments made by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I am simply probably going to repeat them. The community of shows and travelling fairs is a large one with more than 25,000 showmen in the UK. Many of those businesses, as we have heard already, are run by families who have followed the way of life for many generations and contributed to the economy and community life.
During the pandemic, many showmen have given up their time and effort to become keyworkers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, delivering food to supermarkets and vulnerable communities alike. Showmen have also wonderfully donated to NHS staff and hospitals all over the country, on top of their regular charitable work, which has raised significant sums of money for national and local charities.
The effects of the coronavirus restrictions hit the show and fairs community at the worst time possible. Having spent the winter repairing and maintaining rides, conducting safety checks and obtaining insurance and vehicle licences, they were forced to close down and miss all their peak months of operation, because let us be frank, that is usually Easter, Whitsun, summer and Christmas—as we know, there would have been something going on near Buckingham palace. It really has hit them at the worst time possible.
When businesses were allowed to open from 4 July, if covid-secure, show and fair operators spent thousands of pounds in order to ensure that their customers would be safe. Despite their efforts, as we have heard, councils throughout the country closed down the majority of fairs, although amusement parks and street markets were allowed to continue operating. That just is not right. For goodness’ sake, it all happens outside. It is unfair and it happened because there was not a strong enough voice in all parts of the House.
Councils were not given clear, specific guidance on the safety measures that fairs and shows needed to implement, and that led to confusion and the closure of all fairs. Many fairs that have been taking place for hundreds of years were forced to cancel—that is so sad—breaking a vital link to the surrounding community. Clear guidelines should be issued to councils to enable permission to be granted to fairs and shows in all areas of the United Kingdom. Those events, as the hon. Member for South Shields said, are part of the fabric of life in communities, and they bring in visitors to help the local economy, as well as being great fun.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, we can all remember the excitement when a fair or circus came to our area as children. We used to get so excited when the fair arrived on Wanstead Flats. Why I got so excited I do not know—but I did. A visit to the funfair was a magical experience, with candyfloss, which of course is bad for the health, toffee apples, which are bad for the teeth, and rides on the helter-skelter, which I could do. As for all the things that go round and round, my wife, not I, used to take the children on those. The carousel was a wonderful thing to behold.
The sights, colours and music were unforgettable, and the day usually ended with a journey home carrying prizes from the shooting gallery or other games. In my day it was a goldfish in a bag and, of course, as I was a child, if I never got the table tennis ball into the goldfish bowl, when the chap was not looking one of my relatives would cheat for me and just plump it into the bowl. Of course, there cannot now be live animals at fairs, and I think people go home with an oversized cuddly toy—which no doubt we put into raffles in our constituencies.
My own children loved to visit Never Never Land in Southend, just by the pier, which was owned and run by my late friend Mike Dolby—although that was not a travelling fair. I thought that the hon. Member for South Shields said that she had the best seaside town. We will argue about that outside the Chamber; but we are going to become a city, so if hers is the best town we shall be the best city. The children used to love the fun and fantasy that was everywhere. We cannot allow future generations to miss out on those wonderful childhood experiences. Why should they not have those fantasies? It is wonderful for children, and everything should be done to preserve travelling fairs and shows, to make new memories for families all over the country.
As has been said, the culture recovery fund that was set up to assist museums, theatres and other cultural centres has not been extended to showmen and fair operators, and I want to know why from my hon. Friend the Minister. As a valued part of our national heritage, surely showmen should be able to apply for assistance and grants to help them survive until restrictions are eased. It seems very unfair that they are being forced to shut down but are not receiving the financial compensation that is available to other cultural sectors. I am not going to shut up until we get help for them.
Finally, I want to make the case for the continued use of red diesel by showmen. The Treasury is currently holding a consultation on the use and taxation of red diesel, with the aim of restricting it to agriculture only. I know the arguments that the Treasury advances on that, but red diesel is vital to the show community. Other forms of energy are not appropriate for running rides or powering caravans. Increasing the taxation on red diesel would put added pressure on to businesses already hard hit by the pandemic. Let us give fairs and showmen a great Christmas by announcing that we will give them more financial support.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing the debate.
Fairs and showgrounds have been part of British life for centuries, and year after year showmen bring their families to run fairs in our constituencies and cities. There are around 10 local fairgrounds in the Sedgefield constituency, including Sedgefield, Ferryhill, Thornley, Trimdon and Newton Aycliffe—though I have to say I probably went up to South Shields, to be honest. They entertain all our local families and help our local economy. They are the pinnacle of many civic calendars.
Sadly this year, due to coronavirus, many fairs and showgrounds will not be in our towns and cities this Christmas time. Because of their history and importance in British life, we should do everything that we can to ensure that fairs and showgrounds are financially supported and treated fairly. There are more than 20,000 showmen in the UK. They have been bringing joy to the British public for centuries. Being a showman is a family business. They are a professional community with a long-standing history, which equates to a multi-million pound industry that has been passed down in families for generations.
In my constituency of Sedgefield, I have one such family-run funfair called Turners—a business with over 200 years of history and nine generations of showmen. For the last 167 years, they have been at the Sedgefield show. Their sense of community was evident during the pandemic, when they were unable to operate their own business. Showmen became key workers, with many using their heavy goods vehicle licences to help to supply supermarkets. Others delivered fresh produce to local people. Showmen also donated supplies to NHS staff in hospitals across the country.
The timing of the pandemic, as has been said, was particularly damaging. Travelling fairgrounds spend much of the winter preparing for next year, and because customer safety is their highest priority that involves spending huge amounts of money over the winter period on maintaining rides, conducting safety tests, and so on—it has all been mentioned already. The majority of travelling fairgrounds had just begun operating at the time of the first lockdown, which meant that they were forced to close and missed many of their peak operating times, such as Easter and several bank holidays. The industry missed out on millions of pounds that represent a substantial and necessary part of their annual income.
All through the pandemic, the major scientists in Government have constantly reinforced the importance of being outdoors and doing outdoor activities to help people with their mental health. The Government have recognised the importance of travelling fairgrounds in helping with those issues by making them one of the industries that are allowed, with covid precautions, to operate in all tiers. The Government allowed all businesses to open from 4 July, if they were covid-secure.
Travelling fairgrounds across the country rose to the challenge, with each spending thousands to ensure that they were safe for their customers. That leads me to my main point: there is such inconsistency between local authorities. The Government gave local authorities the power to decide whether fairs could operate, but why would some overrule the experts and restrict fairgrounds from operating on their land—95% of travelling fairgrounds are on local authority land—when theme parks, amusement parks, car boot fairs, markets, playparks and so on can stay open?
In the north-east, since 4 July three fairgrounds have been allowed on council land. In the summer, one took place in Newton Aycliffe, but on private land. Turners did a survey after it had finished, asking the families coming out of the fair whether they would come again and whether they felt safe. Remember, as was said earlier, it is about personal choice. No one has to go to a fair if they do not want to, and do not feel safe. All of the 482 families surveyed said that they felt safe and would come again, with most families thanking the operators for the opportunity to come to some form of normality and entertainment with their children, helping their own mental wellbeing.
As I mentioned, many fairs spent thousands of pounds ensuring that they were covid-secure; yet, like Turners, many were denied by local authorities, which stated that they were not covid-secure even though they had taken all the necessary steps. That is not consistent, and is deeply frustrating for showmen. Across the country, industries such as pubs, amusement parks and markets were allowed to continue operating while travelling fairs were forced by local authorities to close their doors, despite spending thousands to ensure that they were covid-secure.
Some local authorities made their decisions without providing any legitimate reasons. Theme parks were allowed to open while travelling fairgrounds were denied the same opportunity. That is simply unfair. All travelling fairgrounds are asking for is a level playing field—which is usually where they park. In addition, the Government have failed to provide enough specific clear guidance to local authorities on what they need to do to safely reopen.
Before this debate, I was approached by Turners Funfairs as part of the Future 4 Fairgrounds campaign, which has recommended several actions: I hope that the Minister and the Government can take note and consider these recommendations. First, the Government must put an end to the current inconsistency, to ensure that local authorities allow fairgrounds to reopen safely after the industry has spent a huge amount of money on ensuring the safety of its customers. Secondly, the Government should publish clear guidance to prevent local authorities from discriminating against travelling fairgrounds, whether that guidance is about enabling sites to be used or about supporting them financially.
It is vital that we support our fairs and showgrounds. We must support them financially and—equally importantly—ensure that they are treated fairly and can operate across a level playing field. I hope that the Government will consider those recommendations, and step in to end this inconsistency and provide the clear guidance that is needed. As we exit the pandemic, we will need such events to show people that a happier time is returning, and we must act now to ensure that they have a future that we can all enjoy.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone.
I thank all the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate; my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who diligently secured the debate; and the all-party parliamentary group on fairs and showgrounds, which works so hard in the background all year round. I also thank the showpeople themselves—those who have helped in their own local communities through the pandemic, as showpeople have often helped their own local communities—and the members of groups such as Future 4 Fairgrounds, for example Colleen, who I spoke to earlier. She described very well the situation that the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) laid out and the difficulties that many fairgrounds are facing. I recommend that the Minister look at the Future 4 Fairgrounds video on Twitter, which shows very well indeed the situation that fairgrounds face.
This year, we have seen the loss of so many fairs throughout the summer and throughout the covid lockdowns, which goes from the cancellation of very small local events, such as fairs and gala days, to the cancellation of huge events that have a long history and pedigree. In my own constituency, there is the Glasgow Fair on Glasgow Green, which is a chartered fair; its roots date from 1190 and it took its current form as a funfair from the 1900s onwards. Travelling showpeople brought penny geggies and other rides to the people of Glasgow, so that they could enjoy the fair holidays.
There is also the Kirkcaldy Links Market, Europe’s longest street fair, which was established in 1304 and runs over the course of six days. However, it was also cancelled as a result of the covid lockdown. Glasgow’s Irn-Bru Carnival is held at the Scottish Event Campus in my constituency. Last year, it celebrated its 100th anniversary as a carnival. It is a brilliant event; I remember my dad taking me to it when I was small and I have taken my own kids to it as well. It has all the joys of the funfair rides, but inside in the warm, which, in Glasgow in winter, is really quite important, because nobody wants it to rain on their candyfloss; rain would not do it any good. To have people going in and enjoying the carousels, the gallopers and the bumper cars—it is a really sad thing that we have not been able to enjoy these things through the course of this year.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East mentioned, many of the showpeople in Glasgow live in our constituencies: in my constituency, showpeople live in Bridgeton and Dalmarnock; and showpeople also live throughout the east end, and in Govan and Scotstoun. In addition, showpeople live in the Cuningar Loop, in South Lanarkshire. The families who live on the sites in these areas have been there for generations. We can look through the names of the families who live there and know who is related; there are grandparents and great-grandparents on the same sites as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all living very close together. This industry is very much a family industry and it deserves special recognition for that.
What has also been sad this year is not being able to engage with those families at the Scottish Showmen’s Guild annual luncheon, which is held in Glasgow every single year. Every year, I would go and meet those families, learn their stories, see who has had new grandchildren, and have a good chat about all the things that they are getting on with in their own areas. So, it has been very difficult this year for all of those people; I know that because I have been in touch with some of them.
As I think all Members have reflected today, this has been a very difficult and a very unusual year, and showpeople in particular have had their main source of income throughout the year taken away from them. They deserve to have financial support to see them through, because, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) mentioned, many showpeople have now gone into debt as a result of this year; some of them through bounce back loans, which they have been able to access. Some of them have had no support; some of them have been able to access the self-employment support scheme; and a smaller number have been able to access schemes such as the furlough scheme. When we consider the issue of loans, we see that it is really a difficult situation. It is not as if the showpeople are going to get that money back; it is not a deferral of income, but a complete loss of a year’s income, which is difficult to make back. Unless we all go on twice as many sets of waltzers next year, it is going to be difficult for them to make that money back.
In many cases, their outgoings have not gone away. As Jennyfer Taylor, who wrote to me, pointed out, testing and maintenance of equipment still has to go on to meet the safety requirements and make sure that everything is in good working order: when the fairs come back, they want to be able to start right away. They need to have that certification in place.
Somebody else who was in touch with me raised the issue of asset finance for rides, because some extremely expensive rides have been brought in from other places. The showpeople have loans on them—some are paying thousands of pounds a month on rides that they cannot take out and use. I understand that some asset finance companies have been quite flexible with people, but not all of them. Anything that the Minister can do to encourage asset finance companies to be as generous to showpeople as they can would be welcome.
I have been to the manufacturing units down in Dalmarnock, where they produce and maintain some of the rides. It is incredibly impressive to watch them being built up from bare frames, welded together and electronic devices put on to them to make the rides that we would all recognise. That is testament to those whose engineering skills have been honed through generations of showpeople and passed down through those families. Often the rides themselves have been passed down as well, and people say, “That’s so-and-so’s gallopers; that’s so-and-so’s waltzers.” They know them very well and would recognise the rides if they saw them at other shows. People understand that the ones they recognise are part of the heritage.
As the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) pointed out, many showpeople have diversified into other areas, such as the hot food vans we see at lots of events. The cancellation of music festivals and other events over the summer has stymied a huge amount of income that people who had diversified into those areas would have got. They may also have found it difficult to get support. It is not just candyfloss, toffee apples and popcorn, but hot food of various types—of great quality—that has not been able to be produced because the events that they service have not been there.
All hon. Members have spoken of the imbalance of funfairs at some fixed sites being able to open. Theme parks that are on a single site have been able to go ahead and continue, whereas travelling showpeople have not. There seems to be a real case of discrimination against travelling showpeople, who move around the country as part of their business and go to different towns and cities to set up their wonderful rides.
Despite being covid-compliant, rides have been refused, often at short notice. That is deeply unfair, because showpeople will have invested in taking the rides out and setting them up, ready to go. If there are hot food vans, they will have been buying in the food and the stock to sell, and then losing it at the last minute, with no compensation. We need to do anything we can to make that simpler for people so that they get the assurance of knowing that they are going get the rides open and that people will come through and enjoy them, buying the food and candyfloss.
I understand that the Scottish section of the Showmen’s Guild has worked closely with the Scottish Government to secure access to grants. I thank my colleagues in Scotland for doing that. The Minister must do all he can to make sure there is an equal scheme for those outside Scotland. Often, people who have rides in Scotland will go to the north-east of England with their rides, but people there cannot access the same support. If possible, there needs to be a scheme for England that people can access as well. I pay tribute to the chair of the Scottish section, Alex James Colquhoun, and all his colleagues, for helping to secure this. I know how hard they have worked on behalf of their members to make this happen.
Funfairs have a rich past and are a rich part of our heritage, with a special place in all our hearts. We can feel the warmth from everybody today about the experiences they have had. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) mentioned that he does not go on the rides; I love going on the rides. I really enjoy it—more than my kids, actually. Any excuse to go on! We yearn for that normality, and yearn to go back to the joy and excitement that funfairs bring. We must support the showpeople, whose skills have been passed through the generations, to get through this time, so that funfairs can go on to have a strong and vibrant future for all of us.
It is always a pleasure to be chaired by you, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this vital debate on an important matter, as well as colleagues from across the House for their contributions.
The hon. Member for Glasgow East passionately showed his connection to and support for showpeople in his comprehensive speech. I was particularly grateful for his support for showpeople in Belgium, and thank him and the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) for highlighting the importance of red diesel.
I thank the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) for showing his passion for the King’s Lynn mart, which, I must admit, I had not heard of before, and for his points about local authorities and the need for support from the coronavirus relief fund, which I will come to. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) gave a great exposition of the Ocean Beach Pleasure Park in her constituency, which I look forward to visiting when possible. She also raised the issue of the 3 million excluded, which affects showpeople and those who work in fairs and fairgrounds in particular, as well as the issue of the debts that showpeople have accrued.
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), as an honourable member of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, is uniquely qualified to comment on and represent the concerns of showpeople, and I thank him for his speech. The hon. Member for Southend West mentioned the decline of the importance of fairs and fairgrounds to Parliament, and the falling away of the all-party parliamentary group, but I am sure that under his and other Back-Bench Members’ leaderships, we can return to the glory days of supporting showpeople. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) highlighted the outdoor nature of fairs and fairgrounds, and their benefits for people’s wellbeing during the pandemic. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) highlighted the specialist manufacturing sector. I will also mention that, as it is important to this debate.
This year, we have seen the Conservative Administration show disdain for workers’ industries across all sectors in the UK. Fairgrounds have been ignored entirely. From the Great British seaside to the commons of our towns and cities, fairgrounds present a unique source of fun to be enjoyed by friends and families alike. Many of us have really fond memories of going to fairs when growing up, particularly in small towns. It was one of our first experiences of being able to go to something independently of our parents, in our early teens. My memories are of going to the Becky fair with my mates and, more recently, of taking my own children to the Leeds Valentine’s fair.
Fairgrounds employ thousands of workers nationally, but with more than 90% of events cancelled this year the sector faces unprecedented hardship, even though fairgrounds have made huge efforts to become covid-secure. The fairs are real family businesses, as so many hon. Members have said, with generations of people owning and working on them. Most are represented by the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, which speaks for nearly all our travelling funfairs.
The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech, but I say gently to him that it is a bit unkind to say that the Government have done nothing at all for showpeople. The key element to all this is the local council. My council, Gloucester City Council, not only granted the Willie Wilson funfair its usual fair, but actually extended the amount of time it could open, so more people could benefit from it. It is really down to councils, and I hope that both Labour and Conservative councils will respond to our points about supporting showmen.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Local authorities cannot provide the financial support and grants that the Government can, but I will come to the point about the trading aspects of fairs and fairgrounds, which is hugely important, as he said.
I recently met representatives of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, and the stories that I heard were heartbreaking. As the Minister knows, and as we have shared during the debate, many of those family businesses, which underpin much of our cultural heritage, sit at the heart of communities and often raise huge amounts of money for charity and engage with social initiatives. During covid-19, many showpeople became key workers: many used their heavy goods vehicle licences to help to supply supermarkets across the country, while others delivered fresh produce to local people who were struggling in lockdown. Some even donated supplies to NHS staff and hospitals across the country.
Swathes of the hospitality sector have spent a great deal of time and resource refactoring their businesses to allow them to provide a safe environment for their patrons during the pandemic. Fairground businesses, as we know, are based outdoors in the open air, and are no different. People across the industry have gone to great lengths in that regard, but while businesses in other sectors have been given priority to operate, they have been stymied and blocked. The Government seem to have totally forgotten about the travelling fairgrounds, or are just passing on responsibility without sufficient guidance and support. Businesses are struggling without adequate support from Government, as the direct cash grants for closed businesses are worth—at most—half what they were during the first lockdown.
Meanwhile, the one-off additional restrictions grant for local areas is inadequate and fails to take into account the circumstances of various restrictions in different places. Operators alone have had access to piecemeal self-employment grants that completely overlook each fairground’s numerous additional workers. In my neighbouring constituency of Leeds Central, the Valentine’s fair employs more than 700 people. None has received any financial support or reassurance that they can return to work next year.
The industry has been denied access to the closed local restrictions support grant, and does not appear to be receiving funding from the open discretionary local restrictions support grant—in any case, those grants will be worth at most half. Fairgrounds also do not seem to be in receipt of support from the additional restrictions grant, which, again, is flawed in its design, failing to take into account the circumstances of various restrictions. Grants from those imperfect schemes would still be better than nothing to the fairground sector, which desperately wants to be able to protect jobs, protect the industry, and offer much needed support to both employers and employees, many of whom operate without rateable premises and often as sole traders. The winter months are a period of preparation for the new year in the fairground industry. With no clear plan for their return and no financial support, operators have been left mired in uncertainty. Many find themselves unable to even pay for services missed during peak times of operation.
The Government gave local authorities the power to close travelling fairgrounds while retaining power over theme parks, which are allowed to open while travelling fairgrounds are denied the same opportunity. The Government need to create a level playing field and take a stronger hand with local authorities, as the hon. Member for Gloucester intervened on me to say.
The fairground sector was already facing significant hurdles before the additional complications caused by covid-19. Travel ambiguity and rising costs, a direct result of Brexit, add additional unnecessary strain. Those factors, alongside the squeeze and the pandemic, have left many on the brink.
When I met the Showmen’s Guild, it noted that 40% of members have reported rising insurance fees. Last year alone, one ride saw an insurance cost rise from £177 to £532, which is another issue that the Minister needs to address. He also needs to consider the supply chain. Many manufacturing businesses with a unique set of skills, which the hon. Member for Glasgow Central raised, are worth £200 million to the national economy.
On support elsewhere in the UK, the Scottish Government have issued £1.5 million to Scottish showmen to compensate for their loss of income, which was mentioned by the hon. Members for Glasgow Central and for Glasgow East. The devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales are likewise offering specific tailored support. The industry is really struggling. The Minister knows that nearly a quarter of the cultural recovery fund is yet to be allocated, but travelling fairgrounds are currently excluded. Could they now be included, even at this late stage? I want to hear the Minister’s views on that.
Who could deny that fairs and fairgrounds are a part of our nation’s cultural heritage? Even Simon and Garfunkel knew of Scarborough fair, although it ceased to exist 200 years before they penned their classic song. I hope the Minister has urgent solutions, or it might be only in song that people know of our great fairs and travelling fairgrounds in future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to respond on behalf of the Government to this important debate, which comes at the end of a hugely challenging year for the fairground and showmen’s sector. I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this debate. I know he has spoken regularly on behalf of the sector throughout this period. I thank all Members from across the House for their contributions today and for their involvement in the APPG. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) called for more Members to join.
[Christina Rees in the Chair]
Many Members have sent me written questions and so on over the past few weeks, and I appreciate their doing so. The interest in the issue in this Chamber is a clear demonstration of how important fairs and showground events are both to the UK economy and to our cultural heritage. It is an indication of the importance of the community of showmen, their identity and their contribution to life in the UK. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East mentioned, their contribution, for example, to charities and to their local communities during this crisis has not gone without notice.
Although the tourism and cultural issues are generally devolved matters—the devolved Administrations are responsible for any targeted financial support in their respective nations—I am on good terms and consult frequently with my devolved counterparts. I meet them regularly and will continue to do so. We learn from each other.
Outdoor events, broadly defined, make a huge and valuable contribution to our tourism industry. According to the Events Industry Forum, they generate £30 billion a year and employ directly over 500,000 people in the UK, with people having made around 140 million visits to our outdoor events of all kinds in 2018. As was mentioned, and as the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain itself suggests, the fairground industry specifically generates more than £100 million in gross value added per year. That cannot be sniffed at.
The absence of such events for much of this year has shown how funfairs and showgrounds support many of our social celebrations, be they summer or winter festivals, or longstanding and much-loved local events, as was mentioned. The past nine months of the covid-19 pandemic have been an extreme challenge for all sectors and businesses. Showmen are no exception to that. We recognise the widespread impact that covid-19 has had not only on the successful operation of those businesses, but on the whole community and families who keep funfairs and fairgrounds going.
I would like to set out some of the support offered by the Government to date and then look to the future. In March, the first lockdown hit the visitor economy hard. It wiped out our usually bustling outdoor events calendar, marking a period of immense hardship for many events businesses and their families. However, the Government acted quickly to help businesses through that period with an unprecedented package of support, including self-employment schemes, as well as a variety of grants and loan schemes, as was acknowledged by colleagues today, although I recognise that not everyone in every sector is always eligible for all of them.
Where specific issues were identified, we acted by securing additional money to be spent by local authorities aimed at helping many tourism and events businesses, including some that were outside the business rates system. Although I know there have been points where eligibility has not been possible, showmen have seen some success in applying for bounce-back loans, small business rate grants, local council discretionary grants and the self-employment support scheme. As I said, I recognise that that financial assistance has often been offered to operators and that the nature of the sector means that there remains a significant financial impact on the wider showmen community across all sectors, which has not received all the support. I urge showmen and fairground operators to continue to apply for all the available support, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) pointed out. I encourage them to apply for those grants that are available.
Throughout the summer, when restrictions were gradually eased, we helped fairs to make the most of the season. We cut the VAT rate on tourism, hospitality and leisure-related activities, including admissions to fairs, from 20% to 5%. We launched a variety of campaigns to try to encourage people to be out and about, including the Enjoy Summer Safely and the Escape the Everyday campaigns. We worked with the sector to develop detailed guidelines to make outdoor events covid-secure. As many hon. Members mentioned, becoming covid-compliant to provide security to visitors and workers in this sector has not come without significant cost and effort; I recognise that. VisitBritain introduced the “We’re Good to Go” standard, which over 40,000 businesses have signed up for, including many funfairs.
As hon. Members know, covid-19 forced us to adapt our approach in the autumn and strengthen social restrictions once again. I know that these restrictions have placed further strain on fairs and showground operators. However, I want to point out the measures introduced by the Government to mitigate some of those pressures. In response to November’s national lockdown and ongoing local measures, the Chancellor implemented further support for businesses and individuals, including extending various Government-backed loans, extending the furlough and self-employment schemes and introducing new grants.
I want to draw attention to those grants, which may be relevant to several businesses—not all, I recognise—in the fairground and showground sector and its supply chains. First, businesses that were legally required to close due to the restrictions, as was the case for funfairs during November, can receive up to £3,000 for the month. Secondly, many eligible businesses in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sectors that were not required to close but suffered reduced demand could receive grants of up to £2,100. While the Government have set suggested criteria for the funding that states that we expect it to be
“targeted at hospitality and leisure businesses”,
local authorities will determine local needs for supporting the recovery, and they will determine exactly which businesses to support through the grants. However, I strongly encourage them to consider applications from the fair and showground sector sympathetically. That clear message, repeated by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, is the one we need to send today.
Finally, we have given local authorities £1.1 billion through the additional restrictions grants to help business more broadly. Again, they can determine how much funding to provide to businesses through the scheme and which businesses to target. Guidance for ARG funding again encourages local authorities to
“develop discretionary grant schemes to help those businesses which—while not legally forced to close—are nonetheless severely impacted by the restrictions put in place”.
“businesses which supply the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, or businesses in the events sector”.
While decisions are at the discretion of local authorities, I encourage them to make funding available to the fairs and showgrounds sector and I encourage showmen to apply for the funding—again, that has been the consistent message from the debate. We will continue to work with the Showmen’s Guild to understand covid’s impact on travelling showmen and closely monitor the fairground industry’s access to these grant schemes.
It is important to keep in mind that any further support will need to be considered in the wider context of existing support for the wider tourism and events industry and the effectiveness of measures already in place. Of course, with the exception of periods of national lockdown, funfairs and fairgrounds have been permitted to operate since July and, far from ignoring the fairground and outdoors events sector, we prioritised it for reopening. Local authorities are responsible for permitting events in their local areas.
The Government have set out a broad framework in which funfairs and fairgrounds can go ahead if they follow covid-secure guidance, adhere to all the legal requirements and put in place every mitigation to ensure that their events do not pose a public health risk. My Department has produced advice for local authorities encouraging them to work closely with event organisers on a case-by-case basis to permit events to go ahead safely. It is also important to stress that we recognise the important role of local authorities. Even if an event has taken place in the past, it is not necessarily appropriate for it to take place at the same location currently or in the future—there may be pinch points, for example. A directive from the Government saying that such events must go ahead would therefore be inappropriate, because we must recognise the local authority’s role in identifying the particular local circumstances. As I said, pinch points or other perfectly reasonable considerations may mean that events should not go ahead.
The hon. Lady will know that, for example, the discretionary grant fund is £1.1 billion, and it was specifically suggested that that money should go to events and locations and businesses that perhaps have not been paying business rates—particularly those who do not have a permanent location—and again specifically to the hospitality, leisure and events sector. That is clear guidance to local authorities. As I have said, other guidance is available.
The guild has shown that where entities have been able to apply for grants, they have had success. I do recognise that that is not across the board, but it is simply not true to say there has been no support. There has been significant support. I encourage all entities to apply and I encourage those disbursing the money, and those at local authority level in particular, to look sympathetically at those applications.
The Minister is making a good point. To be fair, I think that the money is there, but what would be very helpful is if he could team up with his MHCLG colleagues to send a clear message to council chief executives and leaders that they should give real consideration to the needs of the local showmen and, if need be, find a councillor in touch with them to co-ordinate a needing so that the needs are understood specifically.
I thank my hon. Friend for his practical comments. I am happy to write again to MHCLG. The message is clear in the guidance. As far as I am concerned, those are exactly the kind of entities that should be receiving support and what the programme was designed for. I am happy to write again, but there is a record of where some have received the money. That in itself shows that they can and should be eligible.
One point made by several Members in the Chamber, including the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), but not addressed by the Minister is that the CRF funding is in his own Department. Will the criteria be extended to allow showpeople to apply for that funding?
I shall be coming on to that in a moment.
Where events have been permitted, there are numerous examples of safe, successful events going ahead, such as Blackheath’s August bank holiday funfair, the Tuckers fair at Birstall, near Leeds, the Charles Cole fair in Southampton and the Winter Festivals at Lakeside, Bluewater and Brent Cross. In my constituency, the local authorities have allowed fairs and other events, and have worked with organisers to ensure that those events are safe. I have seen a good relationship at first hand.
I therefore encourage and expect local authorities to allow fairs and other events to go ahead unless there are health risks that cannot be mitigated. I will repeat that, because this is a really important message: I encourage and expect local authorities to allow fairs and other events to go ahead unless there are health risks that cannot be mitigated. As well as providing vital income for showmen, such events have of course given local communities a much-needed sense of normality while putting in place appropriate mitigations to keep visitors safe.
With regard to the point that the hon. Member for Glasgow East made about local authorities cancelling 2021 fairs, we cannot guarantee what next year will hold, or exactly when covid restrictions will be lifted, but I share his belief that 2021 offers us all at least a glimmer of hope for a return to normality. Decisions about permitting local events are at the discretion of local authorities.
As set out in our guidance, I urge local authorities around the country to consider applications from outdoor event organisers on a case-by-case basis, according to the health situation in the area at the time, and not to issue blanket bans on future events without due regard for the safety measures that we know that such events can implement and put in place. My Department and the MHCLG will continue to engage with Public Health England, local authorities and fairgrounds themselves as part of the continuing reopening process.
Several hon. Members raised the issue of the red diesel duty. At Budget 2020, the Chancellor announced that the Government will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture, fishing, farming, rail and non-commercial heating, including domestic heating. The Government recognise that that will be a significant change. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Treasury, which had a consultation, as has been recognised. That consultation, I believe, has now closed and the Treasury will set out the next steps in due course once it has considered the responses to the consultation in detail. I am afraid I cannot say much more at this moment in time.
I appreciate what the Minister says about not being able to comment on the red diesel point, but my understanding is that some European cities have plug-in points, so that funfair operators do not even need to use diesel in city centres and so on—they can use electronic charging points for their vehicles and rides. Could he support the development of that kind of thing?
We are always open to good and creative ideas. We can look at what our friends in Europe propose to see whether we can mirror or copy anything.
With regard to the culture recovery fund, as with any fund, there are always eligibility criteria and a restriction on it. One thing we have been trying to do—I repeat this—is to get fairs and the outdoor events sector open as soon as possible. In fact, we prioritised it. Therefore, they are able to be open, although I recognise—as we have all said today—that there are restrictions on that. The classification of what is eligible, particularly for the part of the cultural recovery fund overseen by Arts Council England, included certain sub-genres. For example, circuses are a sub-genre of theatres in the Arts Council England classification. They were included, as well as areas where there is more of a live entertainment element and more often seating than in other areas.
There was a set of criteria. Most entities that received money from the CRF were unable to open when other entities were, so there had to be a broad set of criteria and eligibility in place. I recognise that not every entity that would like to apply is eligible or able to do so, but as I said, financial support and schemes are available. Although not everybody is eligible, I encourage everybody in the sector to apply if they think they may be, rather than discount themselves by not applying.
We will continue to engage with the funfairs and outdoors events stakeholders as we look into how to support them most effectively as they recover, including through the development of a tourism recovery plan, which I and my Department are overseeing. We know that there is plenty of work ahead of us, both in terms of reopening and the overall recovery, and I am grateful for all the constructive ideas that hon. Members have put forward today. I assure hon. Members that the Government are listening, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders on ideas to further support the fairs and showground industry.
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Ms Rees. I pass on my thanks to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for chairing the first part of the debate. I wish him and you a merry Christmas. We have had an excellent debate. It was never my intention for it to be combative, so I am genuinely delighted with how it has gone and with some of the things that the Minister has said.
I will sum up some of what hon. Members said in what was an excellent debate. The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) rightly paid tribute to his constituent Colleen Roper, who I have had dealings with for several months. She is tenacious in raising the issue, so he was right to put that on the record. He captured the history by talking about the royal charter established under Henry VIII for the King’s Lynn Mart. That is impressive and will not have been lost on the Minister.
In my experience, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) is not someone to be wrestled with often, as the Minister probably found several times. She rightly talked about the 3 million people who have been excluded, which is an indisputable fact. She quoted the ladies from Future 4 Fairgrounds, who said that it is not just a job for people, but a way of life. That is what I mean when I say that from my flat in Glasgow, I look into the yards where these people live, and I look at their caravans and equipment alongside them. It is a way of life for them and it is important for the Government to reflect on that.
I am jealous of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) as an honorary member of the Showmen’s Guild. He made an incredibly informed speech. I pay tribute to his work with the coalition Government on education. I was not unaware of that; I was looking at it only this week. I thank him for putting many of those points on the record. He spoke with a lot of authority on the issue.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), which should be, I believe, a city—we cannot get through a debate without putting that on the record—for his leadership of the APPG. It is probably quite frustrating when a young whippersnapper such as me comes along and starts prodding people to do lots of stuff, but he has a long track record of leading on these issues, and it is a pleasure to serve under his chairmanship of that group. There was a bit of a debate, in which I was certainly never going to get involved, between him and the hon. Member for South Shields. I think we can agree that the hon. Gentleman has the best seaside city resort and the hon. Lady has the best town. Perhaps we can leave it there without having a diplomatic incident.
For the purposes of Hansard, which I am sure will have got that wrong, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) was not at all suggesting that the best funfairs were in South Shields; I am sure he meant Sedgefield. He was right to talk about the nine generations that have operated over 200 years. I made precisely that point in my earlier speech about people’s long historical connection.
As Glasgow politicians, there is always a bit of banter between me and my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). We might disagree about who has the best constituency, but we do not disagree that the Irn-Bru Carnival at the Scottish Event Campus is much missed this year. We look forward to it coming back. She is right to put on the record some of the issues relating to asset finance. I and several hon. Friends from Scotland wrote to the asset finance companies back in March, and some have been helpful, in terms of being a bit more flexible. She is also right to talk about the impact of the way the Showmen’s Guild was set up in regions, and to put on the record the concerns of showmen, particularly in the north of England, who are missing out on the funding and will be looking to their colleagues north of the border.
The shadow Minister was right to press the issue of the culture recovery fund. Earlier in the year, I was a bit concerned about the fact that when the taskforce was undertaken, the Showmen’s Guild was told that it could not be part of it and had to be represented by the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain. That is akin to asking the Brownies to represent the Scouts. That did not go down well with the guild, so is there any way of ensuring that the culture recovery fund can be looked at?
The Minister has been pretty candid today, which was welcome, in acknowledging that some people have been excluded. If there is that acknowledgement, the logical follow-through is to adapt ever so slightly—we are not talking about huge numbers of people—who is eligible for the culture recovery fund.
I thank the Minister, because I genuinely appreciate his tone and the contact that I had with his officials in the run-up to this debate, and I look forward to the meeting that is forthcoming following the question to the Prime Minister. The Government and particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not shy away from a photo opportunity. The Minister should tell Rishi that being pictured on the teacups is pretty good—it probably trumps that Nando’s shot. The Minister would be welcome to join us on the teacups as well, of course. Any support that the Treasury could look at providing, particularly as we head towards the Budget in March, would be appreciated.
I am very grateful to the Minister for putting on the record quite so strongly his expectation that local authorities should not be cancelling fairs. I expect that this edition of Hansard will be going to just about every council officer from the Showmen’s Guild, so I welcome that.
The final thing that I want to talk about is diesel. I appreciate that that is not a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but could a formal representation go from the Minister to the Treasury to say that he has heard those concerns?
The Minister is nodding ever so slightly, so he is acceding to that request. If a letter could go to the Treasury outlining that, as the consultation has closed, that would be very helpful.
I want to take the opportunity to wish you, Ms Rees, and all hon. Members here a very happy Christmas. I am sure we are all looking forward to going on the teacups with Rishi when he gets his wallet out.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the future of fairs and showgrounds.
UK Hydrogen Economy
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK hydrogen economy.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Members will be aware that only three weeks ago, I sponsored the UK Parliament’s very first stand-alone debate on hydrogen, which was about hydrogen transport. I believe that it was a great success and I welcome the Minister’s proactive and helpful response. It is incredibly exciting that straight off the back of that debate, I have the opportunity to broaden the scope of the conversation today to encompass the UK’s hydrogen economy. It is right that I should touch on hydrogen transport, but I am keen to emphasise hydrogen’s important role in home heating, the gas network and industry, and its wider economic benefits for the UK.
I have been clear that we need a multifaceted approach to decarbonising our economy and meeting our net zero goal. One technology alone will simply not be enough. Instead, we must move to a model where we use the best renewable fuel or technology for the job at hand. By advocating for our hydrogen future, I am in no way detracting from electric vehicles, biofuels or carbon capture and storage, among other central aspects of the matter. I believe that those must be used in conjunction with hydrogen to ensure that we do not have any gaps or holes in our decarbonisation efforts. Hydrogen, however, presents a unique opportunity for us to corner the market and become a world leader in hydrogen use and production, in a way that we simply do not with electric vehicle batteries or in the wind farm supply chain.
The UK is the perfect place to be a hydrogen power, because of expertise, home-grown companies, North sea assets and our developed infrastructure. Our wind farms provide clean renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and underwater pipelines can in theory ferry that hydrogen to and from the continent. I have reiterated time and again that a strong UK hydrogen industry will create thousands of jobs across the country, cut our carbon emissions dramatically and boost our post-covid and post-Brexit economy.
In my speech on hydrogen transport a few weeks ago, I spoke at length about the flexibility and freedom offered by hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which are practically free of CO2 emissions. Energy is stored as compressed hydrogen fuel in hydrogen vehicles, which means that they can drive up to 700 km without refuelling, and just like a conventional car they take only a few minutes to refuel. The deployment of hydrogen is likely in vehicles that travel long distances or that have high utilisation, such as buses and heavy goods vehicles: those are less suited to electrification, and the consumers demand rapid refuelling.
I am particularly impressed by Wrightbus, which is building 3,000 hydrogen buses in the UK for use across the country by 2024—the equivalent of taking 107,000 cars off the road. I have highlighted that if the 4,000 zero-emission buses announced in February had been hydrogen buses, the economies of scale would have revolutionised the transport sector, helping to achieve cost parity between hydrogen and diesel buses. We need that to happen as soon as possible.
A major step in achieving cost parity would be the reform of the renewable transport fuel obligation. I have written to the Government this week to stress the need to reform the RTFO so that electricity from any renewable resource can be considered eligible. I intend that that increased hydrogen production will encourage more councils to buy hydrogen buses and boost UK manufacturing, and that the resulting stable hydrogen supply will speed up the process of cutting carbon from heavy transport sectors.
The hon. Gentleman rightly indicates that we should encourage the purchase of British vehicles. Should not the Department for Transport now, particularly as it will be free of supposed EU regulations after 1 January, prescribe that the moneys it provides for more environmentally-friendly vehicles ensure they are built in the UK, and not in China or elsewhere?
I welcome that follow-up. I always say that we should, where we can, buy British and buy the best, but one of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that we can have our pick and choice of the world. I want the best to be built in Britain.
Let us turn back to the RTFO, which I know the Minister is terribly interested to hear about. A reformed RTFO will prevent taxpayers’ money from going to battery manufacturers in the People’s Republic of China. Such a simple amendment could ensure that we incentivise the manufacture of hydrogen buses by British firms, and establish ourselves as a major player in the sector. I am sure that that allays some of the concerns of the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar).
Hydrogen holds much promise beyond buses and HGVs, with important developments in the rail, shipping and aviation sectors. Only this week, I met virtually with the team at Hybrid Air Vehicles, a wonderful British company that is looking to revolutionise short-haul regional air travel, direct city-to-city connectivity and air tourism by way of building a practical and economical hydrogen plane. They have a working prototype and, if all goes well, will be the first to be issued Civil Aviation Authority approval post-Brexit.
Hybrid Air Vehicles is not the only British-based company in this space. ZeroAvia, a UK-US enterprise, has secured £12.3 million of UK Government funding for a certifiable 19-seat market-ready aeroplane capable of flying passengers to the UK from 2023, with letters of intent in place already with operators. That HyFlyer project is a great leap in realising the Government’s jet zero ambitions. Only last Saturday, British Airways announced that it was partnering with ZeroAvia to explore how hydrogen can power the future of its fleets. Elsewhere, Aeristech boasts market-leading hydrogen fuel cell compressors, with its 25 kW fuel compressor making it possible to deliver the power output needed for even the heaviest industry vehicles, including in aerospace.
Across the transport sector, the UK is at the forefront of innovation, from large companies to small enterprises. At one end, there is the diminutive but mighty Riversimple Movement, a hydrogen car manufacturer based in Wales, which has ambitions to build up to five small factories around the UK, creating thousands of jobs. We move up to the scale of Johnson Matthey, a British firm that is a global leader in fuel cell development, with its technology ending up in roughly a third of fuel cells globally. If the UK can maintain that advantage, we can steal a march on hydrogen, as China did on batteries.
I have been very active in discussing the hydrogen transport sector, but I am also greatly enthused by hydrogen’s potential across the UK economy. Home heating currently accounts for around 23% of national emissions, with the UK well known for having the oldest and least energy efficient homes in Europe. It has become clear to industry, and to parliamentarians, that decarbonising our gas grid is of the utmost importance if we are to meet our net zero target. Hydrogen in the gas grid will play a key role in reducing the cost of the decarbonisation of heat. Its high energy density enables it to be stored cost-effectively at scale, providing system resilience. Furthermore, hydrogen heating can be implemented at minimal disruption to the consumer, and the UK holds world-class advantages in hydrogen production, distribution and application.
Hydrogen behaves in much the same way as natural gas, and is therefore ideally placed to be utilised in existing gas pipe infrastructure. The UK is different from most European countries in terms of the number of properties connected to the gas grid and the readiness of our distribution network. In fact, 85% of homes in the UK are connected to the gas grid. Therefore, repurposing the gas grid to run off green gases has to be a vital part of the solution as we decarbonise our existing buildings.
Of course, we need to restrain all sorts of leaks in our systems, whether from our gas pipes or our water pipes. I know that there are water pipe leaks as well, and I agree that we will need to upgrade certain elements of pipe. If we want to push at the very start, hydrogen will work very quickly, but of course with all technologies we need to maintain the infrastructure, which I know the Government will do very well.
In the boiler sector, Worcester Bosch and Baxi are leading the way in producing the world’s first hydrogen-ready boilers, which can run off either pure hydrogen gas or natural gas, including natural gas blended with up to 20% hydrogen—a mixture that all boilers can utilise, so we are ready to go with that mix. Hydrogen boilers have a distinct advantage over heat pumps, which are another solution, in that they are many thousands of pounds cheaper, costing about the same as a gas boiler. It is estimated that a hydrogen boiler will cost £2,500, whereas a heat pump for a house will cost between £6,000 and £18,000. That is important in terms of fuel poverty, as the cost of heat pumps is potentially unaffordable for some families.
Furthermore, a hydrogen boiler does not take up much space and takes a matter of hours to install. In contrast, an average of three days is needed to fit a large and unwieldy heat pump. It is also worth bearing in mind that the electricity grid has five times less capacity than gas, and relies on gas in the winter to prop it up, making the gas network the obvious choice for resilience purposes.
If there are subsidies for heat pumps, why are there not considerable subsidies for the production of hydrogen? There should be, as that would also help to bolster more jobs. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) raised with me the need to train up more boiler installers so that we have those skills. The Government should be supporting that.
I am pleased to note that the Government have helped initiate a number of projects that have demonstrated the technical and economic viability of hydrogen as a pathway to decarbonising the gas grid. I have been privileged to learn about many of them since my election, although hon. Members will agree that the preference for similar-sounding names is quite the tongue twister. They include the Hy4Heat programme, the HyDeploy project run by ITM Power, Cadent and the Northern Gas Networks, the H21 project led by the Northern Gas Networks, National Grid’s HyNTS Hy Street experiment, and SGN’s H100 Fife project.
The Net Zero Teesside and HyNet large-scale projects are crucial to stimulate the mass production of hydrogen so that we can move from theory to reality when it comes to home heating. Those projects are a firm demonstration of the Government’s interest in and commitment to hydrogen as a technology to help us achieve net zero. They have also provided evidence of the technical and economic viability of hydrogen as a pathway to low-carbon heat, and have helped us address some of the inherent challenges of rolling out technology. In addition, the geographical spread of the projects across the United Kingdom—many are in left-behind areas—shows that hydrogen can play an important part in the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
The success of those projects shows that the distribution, transmission and production of hydrogen must be a priority for the UK. However, the UK is at risk of being overtaken by other countries that have more aggressive and developed approaches to hydrogen. For example, Germany has earmarked €9 billion for the expansion of hydrogen capacity, targeting 5 GW by 2030 and a further 5 GW by 2040. Japan established its hydrogen strategy in 2017, which has given industry the confidence to invest.
To date, the UK has lacked the clear policy framework that exists in Japan, and Government investment has been lower than in countries such as Germany. That is precisely why the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan was so welcome, and why the forthcoming hydrogen strategy must be ambitious, wide-reaching and published as soon as possible.
Having addressed hydrogen transport and home heating, I now turn to hydrogen’s potential for use in industry. That is of great importance to constituencies in the former red wall such as mine, Rother Valley. Traditionally, my area has relied on energy-intensive industrial processes. Sheffield is, of course, famous for steel making. It is vital that we decarbonise our industry and provide our factories with renewable energy that is powerful, in ready supply and affordable. Rother Valley bore the brunt of British coal’s lost competitiveness compared with cheaper foreign imports, and the high cost of energy and the struggling industry has been the narrative ever since. We now have a chance to ensure energy sustainability for generations. In doing so, we will turbocharge our national industries in the post-Brexit world.
In the light of that, I warmly welcome National Grid’s ambitions to build a hydrogen transmission backbone consisting of pipelines connecting major industrial hubs across the UK. Such hubs exist in Humberside, Teesside, south Wales, Grangemouth in Scotland, Merseyside and the Isle of Grain in Kent. The concept is that significant volumes of hydrogen will enable the build-out of 100% hydrogen pipelines to decarbonise early adopters in industry and transport. Cadent is planning a similar idea of piping 100% hydrogen by Pilkington’s glassworks in Ellesmere Port so that the factory can reduce its costs and stay open to save jobs.
Members will know that I am always keen to focus on my region of Yorkshire and the Humber in this House, which is why Zero Carbon Humber is of such relevance to me and to industry in and around my constituency. Humberside is currently the UK’s largest carbon emitting industrial area, but Zero Carbon Humber aims to make it the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster. It is a wonderful example of the Government working hand in hand with the private sector to fund an ambitious endeavour. It is a staggering statistic that H2H Saltend in Zero Carbon Humber can produce more than half the Government’s planned 1 GW of hydrogen by 2025, and is one of the few places in the world where hydrogen, carbon capture and offshore wind congregate to create a “super place”. The towns and villages around Zero Carbon Humber offer opportunities for hydrogen neighbourhood heating trials, essential for decarbonising the heat networks I spoke about earlier.
Around my constituency, steelmaking is a huge carbon emitter, but it is also a huge employer, as it is across the UK. On Humberside, hydrogen can be injected into blast furnaces in the steelmaking process, displacing fossil gasses and producing steam as a by-product rather than carbon dioxide, although any CO2 is captured and stored. We need that technology in Rother Valley and South Yorkshire to protect our plants and factories and to give British steel the boost it so badly deserves.
I envisage the Zero Carbon Humber project being recreated in Rother Valley, tying in with my plans for a hydrogen valley in my constituency. My hydrogen valley will create high-skilled jobs for my constituents, attract investment and new industries to the area, and decarbonise the towns and cities of South Yorkshire.
ITM has already acted, building the world’s largest electrolyser factory on the border of my constituency and expressing its desire to build large hydrogen refuelling stations across our nation. In that vein, the Government must encourage the development of net zero industrial clusters across the UK. That is a crucial way to revitalise left-behind areas, protect and create jobs, decarbonise polluting industry and help our manufacturers adapt, to ensure that they not only avoid closure but thrive in our green future.
I have so far addressed the UK’s hydrogen economy by sector, demonstrating that we can use hydrogen to decarbonise transport, the gas network and industry. What are the benefits to the British economy of such a hydrogen economy? The Hydrogen Taskforce believes that hydrogen can add up to £18 billion in gross value added by 2035 and support 75,000 additional jobs in every part of the United Kingdom, many of them in the north of England.
Industry, offshore wind and CO2 storage assets are currently concentrated in the north, meaning that investment in hydrogen production is likely to create and protect more jobs in areas that have been hit hardest by the covid-19 crisis. The existing pipeline of hydrogen production projects has a strong regional spread and will support the Government’s levelling-up agenda. More immediately, the business community has told the Treasury that is has £3 billion of shovel-ready private investment hydrogen projects and is merely awaiting the right policy framework and commitment from the Government.
As the UK looks to bounce back from the covid-19 crisis, investors in hydrogen offer sustainable economic growth opportunities that will kick-start the green recovery. Speeding up hydrogen solutions will allow the UK to build on existing areas of expertise and global leadership. With a value chain that spans production, storage, transmission and distribution, along with downstream appliances, this growing global market can support thousands of jobs in the UK for decades to come.
With the benefits of the UK’s hydrogen economy ringing loudly in their ears, the Government must act decisively and boldly, to steal a march on our competitors and cement Britain’s place as the hydrogen nation. I have already mentioned the absolute necessity of the prompt publication of the forthcoming hydrogen strategy. In addition to that, I have several policy asks of the Minister.
I will first reiterate my policy asks from my hydrogen transport debate, which, unsurprisingly, are still relevant three weeks later. Those were to set ambitious targets for the mass commercialisation of hydrogen technology; to stimulate supply and demand in parallel, focusing initially on regional clusters; and to ensure relevant Government Departments work collaboratively.
However, this debate has a wider scope, so there are additional specific policy asks. Generally, we must ensure that the upcoming hydrogen strategy sets out a clear road map for how the UK will create the renewable hydrogen it needs. We must institute long-term, stable and predictable policy and regulatory frameworks to reassure investors. We must ensure that the Government and Ofgem make decisions quickly and decisively. We must support hydrogen innovation by funding research and development. We should support trials of 100% hydrogen. Government industries should now invest and collaborate to ensure that technology, development and commercialisation take place in tandem.
For transport, we must aim for at least some of the 4,000 zero-emission buses to be hydrogen buses. Most importantly, we must reform the RTFO to allow renewable energy from all sources to be eligible. We must introduce changes to the bus service operators grant to stop discrimination in favour of diesel vehicles, and the Department for Transport must build on the University of Birmingham’s hydrogen train success, by supporting hydrogen train fleet development. Additionally, we must support the opening of 100 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025, to support the roll-out of hydrogen transport.
For the gas network and home heating, we must support the roll-out of hydrogen-ready boilers for existing homes by 2025 at the latest; outline in detail how the vision for hydrogen towns can be delivered; set out how the gas grid can be repurposed to enable the safe distribution of hydrogen; enable hydrogen to be blended into the gas network; and ensure that the heat and buildings decarbonisation strategy promotes a technology-neutral approach. We must also provide clarity on the business models that underpin hydrogen—for example, carbon capture and storage, pricing and demand mechanisms.
For industry, we need to lay out specific hydrogen production targets, prioritise the reskilling and upskilling of workers, and ensure that there is early decision making on permissions, business models and the role of regulators. I appreciate that this is a substantial policy list, but I hope the Minister will be able to enlighten me about his plans, both verbally during this debate and in writing at a later date.
As I draw to a close, I reiterate that I believe the hydrogen economy will be transformative for the UK. Not only can it decarbonise across all sectors, ensuring that we achieve our net zero target, but it protects industry and retools it for our green future. The hydrogen economy will create skilled jobs in left-behind areas, such as Rother Valley, revitalising parts of the UK that have suffered the grim effects of deindustrialisation.
We have a unique opportunity to corner the hydrogen market, positioning Britain as the world leader in the production and use of hydrogen. That will not only be a shot in the arm domestically as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, but it will enable UK plc to export our technology and expertise around the world in a post-Brexit age. The hydrogen economy will improve our energy security and resilience, which are critical in light of both the devastating pandemic and hostile Chinese and Russian relations. However, in order to reap these rich rewards, I urge the Government to act now to avoid losing out, as we did with batteries and the wind farm supply chain. We have first-mover advantage, but other countries are waking up; we must be ahead of them.
In a brave new decade with many unknowns, we do know that decarbonising our economy is important for environmental, economic, security and health reasons. Hydrogen can be one part of our energy solution, used in conjunction with other technologies, if we take action now to ensure that the UK’s hydrogen economy works for everyone, and we confirm our place as the hydrogen kingdom.
Of course. It is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Until my election to this House in the general election in December last year, I worked for Shell, and Shell has worked on hydrogen; I personally did not work on hydrogen there, but I did work for Shell.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship today, Ms Rees.
I start by thanking the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) for securing this debate on an issue that is extremely important to so many areas across the United Kingdom, including my own constituency. Drawing on his own expertise in the sector, he spoke in great detail and outlined many of the issues that will be of the utmost importance for the hydrogen strategy. I thank him for that and for his dedication in raising these issues in what is his second debate in the House of Commons.
To reach the Government’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to honour the Scottish Government’s commitment to achieve the same goal by 2045, we will need to maximise the use of all potential options for decarbonisation. Until this point, hydrogen has been a massively underused option, but it is one that should be prioritised in Government planning and funding in the future. In particular, we need to be aware of the fact that, while electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels are widely accepted by the public—and their imaginations—right across the United Kingdom, the concept of hydrogen as a potential low-carbon secondary energy source is still alien to most of them. Therefore, I first urge the Minister to consider what steps the Government can take to maximise public understanding of hydrogen as a vital asset in combating climate change.
[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]
I welcome the Government’s White Paper, which outlined their aim to increase the UK’s low-carbon hydrogen production capacity to 5 GW by 2030 and committed them to publishing a more detailed report in 2021 focusing on the UK’s hydrogen strategy. I urge them to publish the report without delay. Hydrogen is one of the key concepts of the future that will take us towards our climate goals.
When the Government publish their strategy, the projects and partnerships already implemented across Scottish businesses and by the Scottish Government may be relevant. I am always a keen advocate of learning from and sharing best practice right across the United Kingdom, and I would highlight in particular the Green Hydrogen for Scotland partnership between ScottishPower, BOC and ITM Power, and the Aberdeen hydrogen bus network, which introduced the world’s first hydrogen-powered double-decker bus earlier this year.
I would also highlight the hydrogen heating pilot scheme to be introduced in 300 homes in Fife by the Scottish Government in 2022. That scheme and the idea of using hydrogen for heating homes have been well documented in the past. It is particularly attractive in constituencies such as my own. East Kilbride was a new town developed just after the second world war, and now contains a significant proportion of ageing and dense housing stock where heating pumps may not always be a viable option.
The Government’s White Paper mentions plans for neighbourhood hydrogen heating trials. I press the Government to consider the possibility of new boilers being fitted as hydrogen-ready. Given the industrial age of my constituency and the housing stock I have described, I ask that the Minister consider East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow as one of the pilot sites when the Government consider those options.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles must also be viewed as a crucial option in securing a transition towards green carbon-neutral transport. However, Government funding for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and stations must be prioritised and detailed in the report on the hydrogen strategy that is due to be published.
In my constituency, a study undertaken by ScottishPower Energy Networks concluded that if all the fossil fuel-powered vehicles were changed to battery electric vehicles, a significant upgrade of the electricity grid would be required. It was estimated that that would take five years, cost £10 million and involve a new major substation and the laying of nearly 70 km of new cables. Hydrogen may well offer a cheaper alternative to electrifying every vehicle on our roads. It has the potential to be rolled out with significantly less disruption to transport networks in coming years and is ideally suited to many parts of the United Kingdom—particularly many of the rural areas of my constituency and across Scotland. Far more research is needed, and ring-fenced funding must also be allocated, if we are to see hydrogen playing a pivotal role in the transition to renewable and low-carbon energy.
Hydrogen also presents tangible opportunities for sustained future employment in my constituency and across Scotland. For example, TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory, located in East Kilbride, is the UK’s designated institute for flow measurement and is part of the UK’s national measurement system, which is already funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The measurement traceability it provides underpins every fiscal and financial transaction that occurs in the UK for liquid or gaseous fuel, traded on readings from flow meters. I have been out to visit, and although I cannot assure the Minister that I understood absolutely all the scientific information that was imparted to me, I certainly tried my best.
The laboratory has been transitioning jobs from oil and gas to the hydrogen sector already and has been working to establish national facilities that will be world-beating. These will provide measurement traceability that allows hydrogen and carbon dioxide for carbon capture and storage to be traded accurately, which I understand is of the utmost importance. Would the Minister, or another Minister from BEIS, be willing to meet me and representatives from TÜV SÜD to discuss potential Government support for the proposed clean fuels metrology centre? That would provide the measurement capability for the UK that will be essential in the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel and the energy vector going forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing the debate. While hydrogen is the new kid on the block, and much work needs to be done to advance its use from a technical perspective and to enhance its economic viability, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will be a vital component of the zero-carbon economy.
Hydrogen is highly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways, whether in transport, heat, power generation or energy storage in industry and agriculture. It could also transform local economies all around the UK, bringing new business opportunities and new jobs to areas, many of which have been left behind. There are colleagues taking part in this debate from all around the UK. We are not in competition. The opportunities in our respective constituencies should complement each other. They are part of a jigsaw that covers all four nations, and we need to piece together that jigsaw to benefit all the communities that we represent.
The piece of the jigsaw that I shall concentrate on is Suffolk and Norfolk—including the Waveney constituency —in East Anglia. While we do not possess any significant industrial clusters, there is an opportunity to harness hydrogen across a large geographical area to create a blueprint for how it can be deployed at scale to decarbonise our energy, transport and heating systems and to revolutionise the way in which we do business, thereby bringing prosperity to the region. I shall briefly outline the opportunities available.
There is the opportunity to ensure a smooth transition in the southern North sea oil and gas basin by redeploying infrastructure and expertise built up over five decades to create a leading hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage hub around the Bacton gas terminal in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker). From there, we could connect into the planned European hydrogen backbone, as Bacton already hosts two gas interconnectors. Hydrogen exports could provide new and important revenue streams. With a large cluster of offshore wind farms already operational, being developed or planned off the coast of East Anglia, there is the opportunity to integrate hydrogen production and storage to provide a valuable alternative to curtailing power generation at times of surplus when the wind may be blowing too much.
There is also the opportunity to reduce emissions from large emitters such as the gas-fired power station in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), which could be adapted to take a blended hydrogen fuel. This week, the Government announced their support for the Sizewell C nuclear power station in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). Sizewell C has the potential to make huge quantities of green hydrogen using both electricity and heat, which can be used by transport and other industry. Next year, at Sizewell B, EDF plans to install a small hydrogen electrolyser that will fuel clean construction plant, HGVs and buses. The infrastructure for that could be made available to council vehicles and, in due course, other local businesses to run hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
There is the opportunity to decarbonise portside operations and shipping activities at the east coast ports of Harwich, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. From those ports, one would also seek to decarbonise road and rail freight. To turn to the rail network, the east Suffolk line, which runs from Ipswich to Lowestoft, is a vital link for the Waveney area to the rest of the country, but it does need to be improved with faster journey times. For that, we could use hydrogen-powered trains.
Finally, East Anglia is the breadbasket of the UK. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests due to family farms in Suffolk. There is an exciting opportunity for the region to be an exemplar of low-carbon agriculture, with hydrogen-fuelled tractors and combines, hydrogen-fuelled grain stores and vegetable processing plants, and environmentally friendly poultry rearing and processing facilities.
This is a compelling and exciting vision. What do we need to achieve it? Locally, we need to pull together a wide variety of interests across a large geographical area and many business sectors, so that we can promote the hydrogen economy of the east in a coherent and co-ordinated way. Nationally, Government must provide the framework for the industry to grow. The announcements in the past month are extremely welcome. The Government must now go further.
As we heard, the hydrogen strategy must be published as soon as possible. There must be a public endorsement of hydrogen as a central component in the transition to net zero, supported by a target percentage for hydrogen in the UK’s energy rates. There should be a support programme for the manufacture and deployment of UK fuel cell technologies, which matches world-class technology with investors of scale. There should be a move away from promoting competitions between regions and towards funding for well-managed, joined-up and collaborative initiatives. Finally, there should be clarity on the role of the UK’s regulatory framework with regard to hydrogen.
Hydrogen provides an incredibly exciting future for Waveney, Suffolk, East Anglia and the whole of the UK. There is a great deal of work to do. From my perspective, it is good to end what has been an awful year on an upbeat and positive note.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing this debate and his comprehensive introduction.
There was some criticism, slightly reflected in the hon. Gentleman’s positive introduction, about the comparison with other countries in terms of investment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), speaking from the Front Bench earlier in the week, mentioned that. Today, however, I want to be positive about the Government’s strategy as it stands. [Interruption.] I am being positive to the Minister and supporting him. I will support the issue of financing, particularly because of a point raised by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), which was eloquently put, about this not being a competition but a jigsaw. I will refer back to that excellent point.
I am here to represent the case for my own region in the north-west and, in particular, Cheshire, which has a historical position in the chemicals industry through the salt mining that took place in mid-Cheshire for many years. In the energy sector, we also had strong nuclear expertise, through Warrington and Capenhurst in my constituency. Energy is part of our region’s DNA. There are offshore wind farms, which we share—as well as the ambition to drive forward our own hydrogen project—with north Wales, in the cross-border area represented by the Mersey Dee Alliance. The scheme that we are keen to promote has widespread support across Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire and north Wales. Our local enterprise partnerships and the North West Business Leadership Team are behind it, as are the local councils.
The exciting opportunities that we have in Cheshire and Warrington will give us the chance to drive forward a new hydrogen economy at pace. Industry is at the forefront of proposals that are deliverable quickly, and which will protect and support high-value employment and can create thousands of green jobs in the local economy. One of the main projects is HyNet, which could start capturing industrial carbon dioxide emissions as early as 2025, if the Government make speedy decisions on the industrial decarbonisation challenge programme.
Hon. Members may be aware that the north-west region has the highest concentration of advanced manufacturing and chemical production in the UK and industry accounts for nearly a quarter of the region’s 40 million tonnes of annual CO2, so if the Minister can drive this forward, he will make a real difference.
As part of the projects that we are proposing, Liverpool Bay gasfield owner ENI has now been licensed to store CO2 permanently. Detailed design work is already under way on the pipelines needed to connect the Ellesmere Port industrial cluster to the CCUS—carbon capture, usage and storage—facility.
We also have the potential to start producing low-carbon hydrogen at scale by the middle of the decade, subject to the positive decision on HyNet. The Essar refinery complex at Stanlow could ultimately produce 18 TWh per year of low-carbon hydrogen for use to fuel industry and transport and, potentially, to feed into the gas networks in nearby homes. I say again to the Minister and the House: we already have the human infrastructure —the expertise—as well as the physical, in place and ready to go.
Time and again, even when there is the expertise, Whitehall puts new capacity down south, as it did with nuclear. There was considerable nuclear expertise in Cheshire, yet the next development was put down in Oxfordshire. More recently, with vaccine production, Whitehall had a choice between Oxford and the north-east. Once again, it chose Oxford. Must we not change that mindset in Whitehall?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Slightly off subject, in Cheshire we also have expertise in pharmaceuticals, and lost that to the south-east. We hear about levelling up, and I am sure that he and I will be pressing the Government to match their slogans with reality. I say that with a willingness to work with the Minister.
By the mid-2030s, HyNet could be capturing more than 25 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, or two and a half times the target that the Government hope to achieve by 2030. Together with our production capability, that makes Cheshire and Warrington, and the wider Mersey region, a prime candidate to be one of the first low-carbon industrial clusters in the UK. There are also wider domestic applications for using the gas network. Hydrogen can be stored as a pressurised gas, ready for use in the pipes. Hon. Members have already referred to that. Cheshire also has the largest UK storage capacity for hydrogen, using the network of salt caverns that I have referred to. They have excellent geological properties and are one of the more cost-effective options, making them a preferred site for development.
My plea to the Minister and hon. Members is not to set up a beauty contest, playing off one region against another, when there is capacity, capability, expertise and desire across the UK. Five clusters are bidding for funding. For them all to get what they want and need, the funding pot, I am informed, would have to be increased by around £20 million to £30 million. The alternative is to exclude one of the clusters from the funding. That is why I mentioned the question of funding at the start.
I welcome what the Government have proposed, but it would not take much of an increase for everyone to get a piece of the action, so that the jigsaw that my friend the hon. Member for Waveney talked about is not missing a piece. We all know how frustrating that can be. This is a great opportunity for all of the UK, and I hope that the Minister will seize it.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. It is lovely to hear a time limit mentioned when I have a 25-minute talk—I will pull it right down to three or four minutes.
It is a pleasure to follow my near neighbour, the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson). He said a tremendous amount of the things that I was going to say—he must have seen my speech. However, I have learnt that when things are worth saying, say them several times, and I certainly will. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford). He made an excellent opening to this debate, and covered so many points.
To start, may I ask the Minister a question? Has he yet been in a hydrogen car? I suspect that the answer is no. Last week, for the first time, I had the pleasure of test-driving a new hydrogen car. I will let the Chamber into a secret: it was just like driving a normal car, but with one crucial difference—there were no carbon emissions. That is the real benefit that we will get from investing in and moving forward with hydrogen.
We are quite some way from the mass roll-out of hydrogen vehicles. When we sat in a hydrogen car in Warrington and I said, “Where can we fill up?”, the answer was Rotherham, which is about 200 miles away, or perhaps 100 miles away. By the time someone had driven from Rotherham to Warrington and back, they would not be able to go to many other places without filling up. We have a huge job to do as a nation to get ready for hydrogen, because as yet there is nowhere in the north of England to refuel a vehicle.
Despite that, hydrogen is certainly the future of our long-term energy needs as we head towards net zero. We have a lot of opportunities in Warrington, Cheshire and the wider north-west to drive forward a new hydrogen economy at pace. I say that because, as the hon. Member for City of Chester indicated, energy is in our DNA in Warrington, certainly with nuclear, but with hydrogen development too.
Encouragingly, the industry in Warrington is at the forefront of proposals that are deliverable quickly and that protect and support high-value employment. We could see perhaps 6,000 green jobs in the local economy as a result of investing in hydrogen. Key businesses in my constituency, including Novelis, one of the UK’s largest aluminium recycling plants, and Solvay, a key employer based outside Stockton Heath, have been in touch to invite the Minister to Warrington to see some of the opportunities that hydrogen could present for their sectors.
By 2050, our energy system will look very different from today. One of the most advanced schemes that will contribute to that is HyNet, which could start capturing industrial carbon dioxide emissions as early as 2025—just five years away—if the Government make speedy decisions on the industrial decarbonisation challenge programme, which is my key ask for the Minister today. By the mid-2030s, HyNet could be capturing more than 25 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, which is two and a half times the national target that the Government hope to achieve by 2030. The north-west can really contribute to that target.
As the hon. Member for City of Chester said, there are wider domestic applications too. I talked earlier about driving a hydrogen vehicle for the first time. I also chair the all-party parliamentary light rail group. We have seen huge developments in hydrogen-powered trams. We have been looking at them in the United Arab Emirates, and I am looking forward to getting on a plane and going out to see them in the not-too-distant future.
For use in the gas network, as has already been mentioned, hydrogen can be stored as pressurised gas ready for use in the pipes. Cheshire has the largest UK storage capacity for hydrogen in the salt caverns, which have excellent geographical and geological properties, and are one of the most cost-effective options, which makes them a preferred site for development.
We could start to produce low-carbon hydrogen at scale by the middle of the next decade at Stanlow, subject to a positive decision on HyNet. Together with our production and storage capacity, that makes Cheshire and Warrington, and the wider Merseyside corridor, a prime candidate to be one of the first low-carbon industrial clusters in the UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) said, however, it should not be a competition between areas of the UK; it has to be a jigsaw that comes together. Without every part of the UK contributing, we will not see the UK benefiting in the way that it could.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) on his work as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen. I hope that he will not mind me saying that in the north-west, we have that deep manufacturing history. The project will play a critical role in our fight against climate change by producing, storing and distributing hydrogen to decarbonise the north of England and north Wales.
In short, HyNet is a game changer that will provide a bedrock to level up across the north-west. It will create about 6,000 permanent highly-skilled green jobs and deliver clean hydrogen energy into our local network to heat our homes. Businesses and investors need to be confident that their investments will deliver a reasonable return for risk, and consumers need to be confident in upgrading their heating systems with potentially costly and disruptive net zero solutions.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) is no longer in her place, but she made an incredibly valuable point: people do not actually understand hydrogen at the moment. I talked to my wife the other evening when we were looking at the hydrogen car and she said, “Well, how does hydrogen work?” She had never really seen it. We have a real challenge in the UK, and as a Government, to convey that message to consumers so that they understand the benefits of hydrogen.
To conclude, I look forward to seeing the UK’s hydrogen strategy in spring 2021, which should set out the UK’s business models and revenue mechanisms, and the Government need to secure the private sector investment that is needed to ensure we can get the most out of hydrogen production as we head towards net zero.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing the debate and on his considerable enthusiasm and the detail with which he presented it. I think we all agree that hydrogen has considerable potential, but at present that is exactly what it is. I do not mean that in the way that the electricity industry talks about nuclear fusion—nuclear fusion is the future and always will be. I mean it as a call to action, so that we explore the production and utilisation of hydrogen at pace. One benefit of covid has been to demonstrate how, without cutting corners, we can evaluate systems and roll them out. We, particularly Whitehall, need to learn from that.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) slightly chided me to say that we were going off topic, but given the way that the Government work, it is absolutely crucial that we get to the heart of this and change the processes within government, otherwise we will find it very difficult to survive in this future world. Key to this is the civil service’s addiction to process, with extended timescales and time not being a factor. That is true under Governments of all parties. It is enormously important that Parliament relentlessly holds it to account to get things moving.
It could be argued that both Brexit and covid enable and also force the Government to change. That means that we are compressing processes but also, and equally importantly, paralleling them: trying different approaches, seeing what works, and seeing what does not work and shutting that down.
To start with transport, buses and trains are a considerable component of the hydrogen economy and contribute to clean air, particularly in urban areas—by definition—but an important issue is where they are made. Up until now, the Government have been indifferent to where they are manufactured. We have the capacity in Ballymena, Falkirk and Leeds to produce the buses, but what those facilities need, of course, is a market. They need to get on the manufacturing learning curve. The operators need to get the operational experience and find out what the issues and problems are. There needs to be continuing feedback between operators and manufacturers, and that will of course enable us to secure the export markets that have been mentioned.
It might be that, in some conditions, batteries will prove to be better. We need to test that out and assess what will work. We need to learn the lessons that have been mentioned before about where we missed out on batteries and allowed that work to go abroad. We have the largest installation of wind farms in Europe, yet so much is manufactured abroad. Governments, including devolved Administrations, have not focused on that enough.
On domestic heating, nobody mentioned that town gas is composed of a substantial percentage of hydrogen. It might be a much better answer, as was mentioned, than heat pumps for flats and terraced properties, which is a big issue in moving to alternative form of heating.
Also, we need to look at how the production of hydrogen will take place. Let us be realistic. If we are going to roll out the utilisation of hydrogen, some of that initially, but hopefully very shortly, will need to come from hydrocarbon sources. That might be dealt with by carbon capture, but I sometimes think that that is the easy answer that people trot out to deal with that. We need to move much more towards green sources of hydrogen, and we therefore need to look at the institutional barriers. It is truly extraordinary that in the first two months of this year, National Grid paid wind farm operators £72 million to not run their wind farms. That is absurd, and it has been going on for a decade.
Indeed. I was not being dismissive of wind farms; I was talking about the institutional barriers. That is not a technical barrier; it is an institutional barrier. It is the same with nuclear. The problem is that in order to qualify for the renewable transport fuel obligation that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Rother Valley, new capacity has to be utilised. We have existing capacity, even though it is not needed. At the same time, we are paying the wind farm or nuclear operators, and that is acting as a barrier to producing cheaper hydrogen. These are the sorts of areas where Ministers, with the support of Parliament, need to be cutting through. We obviously also need to look at the question of energy storage—hydrogen is an effective form of energy storage—but we need to do a proper evaluation.
I am mindful of the constraints on time. I am slightly concerned about the Government’s announcements, because I would like to see a bit more cost accounting. I would like to see a proper analysis of how much each different system is costing. I am not saying that we should not have a subsidy at a certain stage. I would like to see it being a diminishing subsidy, because we have to exercise that rather than all having our pet theories and ideas, important as they are for driving the process. We need to make sure that this is affordable going forward. If we are to compete in an international market, that is where it will really be tested—whether something is affordable or not. I shall yield to the Chair and conclude my remarks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing this important debate. Climate breakdown is not a distant threat; it is happening here and now. The World Meteorological Organisation found that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. Human-caused climate change has already been proven to increase the risk of floods and extreme rainfall, heatwaves and wildfires, with dire implications for humans, animals and the environment. It is true to say that without immediate Government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. This will cause unimaginable disruption and could cost millions of lives, most immediately and sharply in global south countries, which have contributed the least to climate change.
The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that we are only as secure as the most vulnerable among us, and that rapid social and economic change really is possible. At this unprecedented moment, the Government must consider all possible interventions and regulations in order to phase out the extraction of fossil fuels and to transition to renewables as soon as scientifically possible. Hydrogen has a crucial role to play in this endeavour, as well as in providing much-needed jobs as we rebuild from the coronavirus crisis. A report released earlier this month by the Offshore Wind Industry Council suggested that the UK’s green hydrogen industry could generate £320 billion for the economy and sustain 120,000 jobs by 2050.
I was proud to be elected on a manifesto that pledged to trial and expand tidal energy and invest to reduce the cost of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production. Significant amounts of energy are lost in using electricity to produce hydrogen and then in burning hydrogen to produce electricity. The cheapest and therefore most widely used hydrogen is made from reforming fossil fuels, which involves using energy to convert fossil fuels into hydrogen and CO2. To make the process carbon neutral, that CO2 must then be removed by carbon capture and storage.
The production of green hydrogen through electrolysis is currently much more expensive. I challenge the Minister and the Government to commit to and focus their investment on making this cleaner form of hydrogen cheaper and more widely accessible. Otherwise, we risk the same fossil fuel companies that have profited from the climate crisis continuing to dominate and possibly even hampering our move towards renewable.
It is particularly vital that we introduce a zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes as part of heat decarbonisation. We must urgently roll out technologies such as heat pumps, solar, hot water and hydrogen and invest in district heat networks, using waste heat—
Okay. The green industrial revolution on which I was elected would have upgraded almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes to the highest energy efficiency standards, reducing the average bills by £417 per household per year by 2030 and eliminating fuel poverty. That speaks to the fact that, in any green industrial revolution, it is vital that the protection of all workers and communities is guaranteed during the transition to renewable energies and a socially just economy. The climate crisis is clearly a class crisis and it must be the big polluters and corporate giants who bear the cost, not ordinary people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. Like everybody else, I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on bringing forward this important debate—his second debate. He has a huge interest in the subject and spoke very well on it. Believe it or not, I agree with pretty much everything he said.
Because of time constraints, I will not pay tribute to everybody who has spoken, except to say that it has been a very good debate. I agree with pretty much all the contributions. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) said it is not a competition, but then made a very valiant plug for East Anglia. Everybody else said that it is not really a competition, but we have to be careful. The way some of the system is set up by the Government at the moment, with picking clusters ahead of others, makes it very much a competition. I would like to see a greater commitment from the Government on taking out carbon emissions, particularly through CCS, and on giving the go-ahead for five or more clusters rather than a couple at a time.
For the most part, when it comes to hydrogen, the UK Government say the right things and have set out some very welcome measures in the White Paper. If the UK and Scotland really are to be world leaders in this technology, it needs more work and greater financial commitment. The reality is that the White Paper was a year and a half late, which has had knock-on consequences for the rest of the policies that follow. The planned production of a hydrogen strategy is obviously welcome but, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley said, we cannot wait any longer. We really need that strategy to come out as soon as possible in 2021.
Germany published its hydrogen strategy in June 2020, so if we do not watch, the UK is going to be a year behind Germany. As we know, it has committed €9 billion. The £240 million net zero hydrogen fund may be welcome, but over a 10-year period, it looks quite paltry compared with Germany’s €9 billion. The UK plan target of 5 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030 is welcome, but it is the same as Germany’s. Could greater ambition be shown, to get ahead of the game?
When it comes to hydrogen business models, the UK Government are again behind the curve. The proposal to finalise those models in 2022 should and could be speeded up. We know the contract for difference process has worked well in bringing down the costs for renewables, although there are issues about the supply chain, but CfD could still be looked at for hydrogen production. Meanwhile, the effort—I am repeating myself on this point—that has gone into plugging nuclear is beyond belief. Let us put that effort into hydrogen and CCS and other low-carbon technologies.
Again, although the UK has made good progress in decarbonisation, 27 million homes are still reliant on fossil fuels for heating, and transport is still a huge contributor. In both those sectors, hydrogen will be pivotal, as has been said. On heating, we still need to see the buildings and heating decarbonisation strategy, and a future homes strategy is required. As the hon. Member for Rother Valley said, we need to look at a whole mix of options for our decarbonisation. Heat pumps, for example, are welcome, but we need a clear strategy and technology selection framework for that to develop and go forward. The way in which those measures will be paid for also needs to be evaluated, because there is a limit to what can be passed on to consumer bills. We already have too much fuel poverty in the UK; we cannot risk any more.
When looking at the 27 million homes that are still reliant on fossil fuel heating systems, and others that are reliant on electrification, it is impossible not to see hydrogen as the only large-scale conversion approach. Even so, the full large-scale roll-out of hydrogen would be in 2030, which means that every week for some 20 years, 27,000 homes will need their heat sources decarbonised. That is a huge task that requires much planning, and perhaps even an independent body to oversee it—like the switch from town gas, it will require a massive effort. Manufacturers in the UK already make hydrogen-compliant boilers, so will the Government mandate the sale and installation of hydrogen-ready boilers by 2025? That is an industry ask.
I welcome the H100 trial in Levenmouth and Fife, where up to 300 homes will be powered by green hydrogen. Interestingly, that project is funded by the Scottish Government and Ofgem, but no money is forthcoming from BEIS as yet. I wish Scottish gas networks well with that trial, and I hope that it will lead to an unlocking of money from and trials by the UK Government.
As has been touched on, hydrogen blending has long been talked about and planned as a way of initially reducing carbon emissions from the domestic heating system. There has been a lack of joined-up thinking on that, however, because, as I hope the Minister knows, the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations 1996 need to be changed to allow that blending to take place. That is a must, but the Government keep holding off on it. The Health and Safety Executive is consulting on that, but the time that we need for the consultation process, and to decide what to do and whether to change the regulations, could be a barrier to what the industry wants to do.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) mentioned, another facilitating requirement is a robust measuring system to allow the trading of hydrogen. That is a simple but necessary step. Those ideas have been waiting in the National Engineering Laboratory’s funding proposals for too long. The proposals ask for £10.5 million for a clean-fuels metrology centre, which could be the world’s first, and I have written to the Secretary of State about it. If the Minister could meet or write to my hon. Friend about that, it would be much appreciated.
On transport, hydrogen needs to play a major role in the reduction of shipping and aviation emissions. Again, for joined-up thinking, I urge the UK Government to include those measures in the 2050 net zero target. Those international emissions must be included if we are really serious about net zero. The Scottish Government have included those emissions in their 2045 net zero plans to drive innovation and industry. Other welcome initiatives include the world’s first hydrogen-powered crane—I welcome the Department for Transport’s £400,000 grant for that—and the setting-up of the Jet Zero Council, as well as the Airbus plans for ZEROe.
Aberdeen has led the way on buses with the introduction of 15 of the world’s first hydrogen double-decker buses. The Scottish Government invested £3 million in that project, but another £8.3 million came from the EU. In future, that money must be replaced by the UK Government if we want to roll out more hydrogen buses across the UK. As has been touched on, that is a fantastic manufacturing opportunity for bus companies such as Alexander Dennis and Wrightbus.
Will the UK Government provide a capital subsidy for ultra low emissions vehicles, including hydrogen buses? Will they consider changes to the bus service operators grant to move away from diesel buses? As the hon Member for Rother Valley asked, will any consideration be given to subsidising hydrogen as a fuel to incentivise its use? That could be done through the renewable transport fuel obligation. Again, for a forward-thinking strategy, will the Government set targets for the roll-out of hydrogen HGVs and buses? Those are all sensible measures that would help to create that step-change process.
Finally on transport, it is clear that the maritime sector is also gearing up for change. I welcome the HyDIME project—that is hydrogen diesel injection in a marine environment—that has been supported by £400,000 from Innovate UK for the design, construction and integration of a hydrogen-diesel dual fuel conversion system to take place on a commercial ferry operated between Kirkwall and Shapinsay. The project will unlock the licensing system to allow further projects to follow. Ports across the UK are looking at developing hydrogen as a fuel and the design of hydrogen-fuelled ferries.
Away from transport, Scottish Power’s Whitelee wind farm project proposed in my constituency demonstrates that the co-location of renewables and hydrogen production is on the cusp of commercial profitability. The proposal is to develop and install a combined solar photovoltaics, green hydrogen production facility and battery energy storage system in the existing wind farm site. It is proposed that hydrogen production will commence by 2023, with that sold as transport fuel within the Greater Glasgow area. That is the joined-up thinking that we really want to see developed across UK.
I cannot mention hydrogen production without mentioning Peterhead and St Fergus. The UK Government need to make up for the betrayal on that project and include it within the first CCS cluster to be given the go-ahead. I hope the Minister can confirm that while the White Paper shows only Grangemouth on the map of the UK, it will look at the overall project that links with St Fergus in the north and the hydrogen production facility. We also need the oil and gas transition deal to be signed off.
I can see I am getting a look from the Chair, so I will wind up. There are fantastic opportunities at stake here and I really hope that the UK Government grasp that. We need to see policies put in place going forward.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing the debate, having guided it through the Backbench Business Committee process. He made an excellent case for the relevance and importance of the hydrogen economy, as did pretty much every hon. Member who spoke. It was a great pleasure to find that, far from my previous preconception, we have such a number of dedicated hydrogen geeks in this House able to put forward the debate in such a knowledgeable and concise way for our edification.
I do not need to reprise too much of that content, because we agree that the potential for the hydrogen economy in this country is not only bright but essential in our drive to net zero. We heard about how hydrogen will play a substantial role in the decarbonisation of heat and the efficiency of energy going into homes. We heard that it is more than possible to inject hydrogen into the system—after all, town gas used to be about 50% hydrogen before natural gas was introduced into the system, so it is not a new thing, but it could aid us enormously in getting down to net zero in our heating. Beyond 20%, we can envisage hydrogen towns, hydrogen islands and a whole range of hydrogen-heated areas. I was slightly disappointed to see in the energy White Paper how the Government are only thinking about consulting on hydrogen-ready boilers for the future. We need to get on with that now. Let us mandate hydrogen-ready boilers across the country tomorrow so that they are ready and we have the proper equipment to make it work when these things come to pass.
We also heard this afternoon about the role that hydrogen can play in heavy vehicular transport. I was slightly disappointed to read in the 10-point plan that the Government are consulting
“on a date for phasing out the sale of new diesel heavy goods vehicles”.
I hope that that can be done pretty immediately. We need to phase them out and replace them, as far as possible, with hydrogen-based heavy goods vehicles, because that is the obvious fuel for long-distance logistics.
We also heard about developments in other areas of transportation. Hydrogen trains and hydrogen buses are an essential part of our low-carbon fleet for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and others spoke about the enormous opportunities in industrial clusters for the development and use of hydrogen. Those clusters stand ready to go now, and we need to get behind them as quickly as we can. Getting that work under way is a very important part of the future of the hydrogen economy.
I will briefly sound a little note of caution, which hon. Members did mention—albeit in passing—about the future. We need to recognise that hydrogen does not grow in the ground, but is produced; the question of how we produce it will be an essential element of the future health of the hydrogen economy. Hon. Members briefly mentioned the distinction between grey, blue, red and green hydrogen. We are getting an increasing number of colours in the hydrogen market.
Green hydrogen is, of course, hydrogen produced by electrolysis and therefore completely carbon neutral in its production and deployment. As the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) said, grey hydrogen comes from the process of cracking it from gas, with the obvious outcome of a large amount of carbon dioxide that has to be CCS’d if it is to become blue hydrogen and have any hope of taking part in the low-carbon economy. If we allow the production of hydrogen over the next period to go into the grey rather than the green camp, we will overthrow a lot of what we want to do regarding the low-carbon element of the hydrogen economy.
I earnestly ask the Government—I raised this briefly in BEIS questions yesterday—to consider very carefully what they back with the £240 million hydrogen fund announced in the 10-point plan and the energy White Paper. If that goes into grey hydrogen production, we will not have sorted out for ourselves a very good base for the hydrogen economy in the context of low carbon. If, on the other hand, we ensure early on that we have a head start in the world on the mass production of green hydrogen, we will not only put our hydrogen economy securely on a low-carbon base, but have tremendous potential export opportunities for jobs and industry—particularly the industrial clusters that were mentioned.
It is essential that we invest early in green hydrogen to get the hydrogen economy going properly. I have seen the very interesting minutes of the meeting that the Minister got together in June to discuss those points further; that was very much an element of the Council for Science and Technology briefing that he took part in. I hope he has firmly taken the message on board about future hydrogen production. Hydrogen has a bright future, but we have to create it in the right way to make it as bright as it can be. If we get it wrong at this stage, we will regret it severely, in terms of our net-zero carbon ambitions.
It is a real pleasure to conduct this debate with you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I am very pleased to be taking part. I am conscious that we have to revert back to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) at the end, so I have only about eight minutes—that shows how full of content and well informed the speeches were. It is a real pleasure, as Energy Minister, to take part in a debate in the House of Commons with so many right hon. and hon. Members participating at such a high level. It is the House of Commons at its best.
We heard a range of opinion, but we broadly agree about the way forward and the potential dynamism of the hydrogen economy. I pay special tribute to my hon. Friend for the tireless, indefatigable way in which he pushes hydrogen at every opportunity. Even though my officials might not agree, I hope he continues to do so, because it is absolutely necessary for Members of this House to hold the Government to account. I am very happy to take part in these debates and express the Government’s point of view, share some of our thinking and respond to points that Members of the Opposition parties make.
The first thing I want to talk about is investment. One hears all the time about the German strategy—I have read the German strategy and the EU strategy this year. Ours will be different because we are looking at blue hydrogen, which the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) alluded to, and green hydrogen. The EU and German strategies talk almost exclusively about the production of renewable hydrogen. We in this country, given our North sea heritage and the assets there, want to do both. Ours will be a very interesting strategy. It is the first ever hydrogen strategy that the Government have produced. When it is published in the first half of next year, I look forward to having more debates and answering more questions about it.
This has been an extremely busy time for the energy industry. The Government have had the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the second point of which was all about hydrogen. It outlined our ambition for a 5 GW capacity. Subsequent points in the 10-point plan referred to the use of renewables and decarbonised sources of fuel in jet propulsion and marine transport. A number of Members mentioned the role of hydrogen in transportation. It is absolutely right that we should be focusing on HGVs, for which it is particularly suited.
I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) that I have been in a hydrogen car. I was not driving it—I was there in a ministerial capacity, so someone else was driving—but I look forward to taking that step in the imminent future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley and the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) have done a great job in this debate of highlighting the strengths of the HyNet industrial cluster. Everyone has said, “Let there not be a beauty contest,” yet they have been very good at presenting the particular attractions of their areas. They have done a very good job on that. I am on the record as having pledged to visit HyNet, hopefully in the next few months. I have spoken to representatives of the cluster on Zoom and in various other forums, and they are doing a fantastic job in pushing this agenda.
On deployment, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said that we should be going faster. We can always be going faster, and he is absolutely right to be holding the Government’s feet to the fire. We should seek to deploy a lot of these business and financial incentives earlier, and I am working closely with officials to do that. However, I cannot stress enough that the success of the hydrogen deployment will involve a substantial degree of private capital and private investment. If we look at the deployment—the success—in making the offshore wind industry in this country the biggest installed capacity of any country in the world, we see that the reason it happened was that something like £94 billion has been spent since 2010—the vast majority of which was private capital. It was not merely a function of the Government writing cheques; it was a function of the Government creating a framework and creating a CfD process, which private capital could participate in and spend and deploy the resources to develop the capacity. So I have to stress—it always comes up, and it is quite right for Opposition Members to push the Government on it—that ultimately the strength of the investment and the vast majority of the capital that will be deployed will come from private sources, which is a recipe for success.
I should mention the fact that we have hydrogen trials and that the Prime Minister announced in his 10-point plan that we want to see a hydrogen town. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun rightly raised the issue of the gas standards needing to catch up with the potential of hydrogen deployment. I have a conversation on that subject with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care on a regular basis, because ultimately that is their responsibility, given the health impact and the relevance to health and safety.
There are so many other points that I want to raise. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is no longer in her place, made a very good point about how we should try to bring the public with us. Even today, there is not much knowledge or engagement from our constituents or from people across the country with regard to hydrogen issues. It is quite legitimately a job of Government to improve that situation. However, it is also the job of all of us as MPs to try to get that message out, because it is not simply the Government who have the platform—the bully pulpit. Each and every one of us here, as individual MPs, can also make the case.
The right hon. Gentleman has wonderful timing; I was just coming to the points that he made. He made some very good points, particularly—if I may say so—about town gas. He is quite right, and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test made this point as well, that the transition from town gas to natural gas that happened in the 1960s and 1970s was a whole-country endeavour. He is also right to point out, as I think the hon. Member for Southampton, Test also did, that town gas was largely composed of hydrogen. So in a way, having hydrogen in the gas network is not so novel an idea; it has happened before. Of course it was a much dirtier gas then, but hydrogen as the basis of a heating system is something that we can certainly achieve.
The last thing I will say before I conclude—
We can discuss that issue at another time; I am afraid that I am limited by time constraints today.
The last thing that I will say in conclusion is that this is not a beauty contest; there is huge opportunity for every part of the country to benefit from the hydrogen revolution. I look forward to speaking to right hon. and hon. Members about how we can best deploy capital in the levelling-up agenda. The fact that HyNet is represented by Members on both sides of the aisle, and also other areas, is a really good sign. We can work together to bring about the hydrogen revolution.
Very briefly, I listened carefully to what the Minister said. I noticed his use of the term “the hydrogen strategy in the first half of next year”; I was under the impression that it was in the first quarter of next year. I just wonder whether it has been pushed back. I also remind him about my comment on RTFOs.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate—there were great speeches. I completely agree with the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who talked about bringing the public on board with us. We need to explain why hydrogen is better. It is very simple to understand an electric vehicle; I think people get confused by hydrogen cars and engines. We need to explain hydrogen. The Government have a job to do on that.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for talking about agriculture. That is a sector that I had not actually thought much about, but he is right—Rother Valley is 75% rural, and we can put hydrogen into our tractors and our processing equipment. It covers everything.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) talked about local companies, which I mentioned. It just shows that everyone can benefit.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).