Wednesday 14 July 2021
[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
Town Deals: Covid-19 Recovery
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Town Deals and covid-19 recovery
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.
For too long, towns across the country have been in decline. Once bustling with shoppers and visitors, they have become blighted by high levels of deprivation, a lack of opportunity, and empty shops, leaving a chasm, where there was once aspiration, for entire communities, particularly across the north of England. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up and unleashing the economic potential of towns across the country.
In the course of this Parliament, the towns fund will invest £3.6 billion across our country in communities such as Southport, Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool, Norwich, Darlington and many more. It will help to reshape and unleash the economic potential of 101 towns through regeneration, connectivity, skills and culture. This funding also includes the future high streets fund, which aims to renew town centres and high streets to make them more attractive places to visit, thereby increasing footfall, driving growth and supporting local businesses. That is exactly what Lord Street, in my constituency, and other parts of Southport need.
The pandemic has kept people away from the high street. Although more people shopping online is nothing new, restaurants have also adapted to a new model of working. People are eating takeaways and restaurant meals at home and they are shopping online. As convenient as that is, and as good as the hospitality sector in Southport has been at adapting, there is a real fear that hospitality and retail will suffer as we come out of the pandemic, because people’s shopping and leisure habits will have changed remarkably. In tourist economies such as Southport, that is not an insignificant thing. That is why we need to think differently about town centres and make them a destination, thereby giving people a real reason not only to visit but to spend money and to make return visits.
Town deals provide a meaningful avenue to rebuild many communities across the country as we emerge from the pandemic. That is why I very much welcome the bid submitted by my constituency: it has the potential to drive forward growth and investment and to create opportunity. I want to illustrate the benefits of the towns fund by informing hon. Members about how it will benefit Southport.
Let me explain for those who may be unfamiliar with my constituency that Southport is a coastal town in the north of England with a large tourism and hospitality sector. Its high street, Lord Street, was the inspiration behind the tree-lined boulevards of Paris today, including the Champs-Élysées. Today, however, Southport faces many of the issues that sadly are common in many northern towns that have missed out on decades of regeneration. Those who come to Southport will see the grandeur of what it once was, but sadly with a rising number of empty shops and marred by an increasing number of takeaways and vaping shops. We have improvements in educational standards, large-scale investment coming in and hundreds of new homes being built, but the town centre, like others across the country, looks like it needs support.
We started with £1 million of accelerated funding for shovel-ready projects: £900,000 was used to rejuvenate the market hall as a state-of-the-art facility with an innovative approach to dining—it opens next week—and a further £100,000 to create a “boulevard of light” on Lord Street. That, combined with securing a £37.5 million investment in my town overall, is allowing us to unlock our economic potential.
I pay tribute to Rob Fletcher, chair of the Southport town deal board, and to all those who have served on it, including the council executive member and officers, local businesses, leaders in health and education, and the consultant Turley. I also serve on the board, and that is what makes the towns fund different: not only do the Government believe in the economic potential of these towns, but Members have been invited to be directly involved with the projects and personally associated with the submissions. Together with stakeholders across my constituency, I have lobbied and supported the bid from day one.
The funding will see £30 million invested to create a new theatre, conference and eventing centre on the waterfront and a business incubator space, bringing highly skilled, highly paid jobs back to our town centre. The Southport town deal bid will help our town rebuild its reputation as the premier tourist destination of the north-west and allow us to attract millions of new visitors and business delegates. It has the potential to unlock £350 million of investment in our local economy. That is why the towns fund is so important. It is not just a spend; it is a true investment.
Key to the success of the deal is the private sector contributing many more millions into the local economy. Although I welcome Southport’s receiving such significant investment, town deals alone cannot solve the problem of dwindling town centres. Towns must change. I would like to say three things about that, and I shall say them very briefly as I know others wish to speak.
First, I want to raise with the Minister the issue of business rates, which are a significant barrier to businesses, particularly small businesses, in my constituency. Many of the buildings that stand empty in Southport today are large heritage buildings that are too big and too expensive to maintain; many businesses simply cannot afford the rising costs associated with their upkeep. If town centres are to resemble anything like what they once were, or even to adapt to the new normal, the Government must overhaul the business rates system and make it easy for businesses to open up in town centres. That would help to reward innovation and risk.
Secondly, I want briefly to mention parking charges. Local authorities have a role to play in creating change, encouraging investment and bringing people back to our town centres. It is extraordinary that, in this day and age, councils still take a short-sighted approach to parking. Local residents cannot travel into their own town centres and support small businesses without facing exorbitant charges or receiving penalties. They should be able to do so. Local authorities, including Sefton Council, should enable that to happen as soon as possible. They should incentivise shopping, as they do in many other towns—for example, Lytham, across the Ribble estuary, provides a period of free parking. My constituents want the same.
Thirdly, connectivity has a huge role to play in ensuring that towns can attract a greater number of visitors. That gives me an opportunity to once again raise with the Minister two important pieces of rail infrastructure that are critical if the Government are serious, as I believe they are, about levelling up towns across the country: the maintenance of a direct rail service to Manchester Piccadilly and the reopening of the Burscough curves, connecting my town with the northern corridor via Preston. If our economy is to bounce back strongly, the Government need to do more to ensure that towns, particularly coastal towns, are not disconnected from major rail networks. Connecting my constituency to Manchester and Preston is just as important to levelling up as are faster trains to London.
I recognise that, over the last year and a half, the Government have spent a total of £400 billion on measures to help our economy recover from the pandemic. In particular, I welcome the levelling-up fund, the furlough scheme, the business rates holiday, bounce back loans, new recovery loans, the self-employment income support scheme and the cut to VAT—and who in the tourism and hospitality sector could forget the eat out to help out scheme, which was a real lifeline for many constituents and businesses in Southport?
I have reason to be optimistic for Southport as we emerge from the pandemic. We have submitted a bid to the restoring your railway fund to reopen the Burscough curves. The major department store Beales has announced that it will return to our high street in August, its third reopening after those in Poole and Peterborough. Southport will get its own version of the London Eye, thanks to Pleasureland owner Norman Wallis. I look forward to Southport Cove being built and the £40 million investment it will bring and the jobs it will create. Despite not being in Manchester, it was ranked among the 15 projects to look forward to in Manchester by the Manchester Evening News. Our £37.5 million town deal, the second largest allocation in the country, is a testament to how right they are and to how much town deals can drive growth and investment. The Government are laying the foundations that will improve the chances for many in the future.
The Government are unlocking the full potential of towns and communities by giving them the support that they need to thrive. Given that the fund was announced at a time when the Government were tackling an unprecedented health crisis, that is particularly welcome. Some might have been forgiven for saying that the Government should have paused or slowed down and focused on the pandemic. Others might have encouraged a complete cessation of the deal. The Government have been giving hope and optimism to places such as Southport by helping communities build back better as we overcome the pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing this important debate.
It is vital that we level up areas left behind by rampant regional inequalities and a decade of austerity. My constituency of Leicester East suffers from structural disadvantages compared with wealthier areas of the country. The average weekly income for full-time employees in Leicester East is £420. That is £130 a week less than the east Midlands as a whole and £160 less than the UK average. The proportion of people claiming unemployment benefits is also higher in my constituency than it is at the regional and national level, as is the rate of food bank use, which has worsened during the pandemic.
I fear that the town deals will not address those severe inequalities. Indeed, the policy has faced repeated accusations of cronyism, gerrymandering and prioritising funding for Conservative-supporting areas. More than 80% of the towns set to receive Government funding through the £3.6 billion town fund are represented by Conservative MPs. Among the 86 towns that have had funding deals agreed so far, 72 are Conservative-held, five are in areas with both a Conservative and a Labour MP, and just nine are in Labour-held seats. That means that so far £1.6 billion-worth of investment has been signed off in Conservative constituencies compared with just over £200 million in seats held by Labour.
The process of selection and the criteria used by the Government have come under scrutiny, with both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office producing reports that were critical of the lack of transparency and impartiality. Rather than the 100 towns with the highest score being selected, it was decided that the highest priority towns in each region would be eligible by default, with Ministers then free to choose from the others regardless of their need, so some towns that scored very high on need lost out. For instance, my community in Leicester is one of the most deprived areas of the country, yet we were not eligible for funding, so it is hard to escape the conclusion that the towns fund is a vehicle for political corruption that uses the rhetoric of combating regional inequality to mask its nefarious party-political intentions.
Similar concerns exist about the Government’s levelling-up fund. Among 93 English regions placed in the priority group of three tiers to receive money from the £4.8 billion fund, 31 are included while not ranked as being in the top third most deprived places by the average deprivation score. Of those 31, 26 are entirely represented by Conservative MPs, with the others having at least one Conservative MP. Four places are in the uppermost level for funding despite being ranked in the bottom third of English regions by the deprivation score. All those areas have Conservative MPs, including Richmond (Yorks), the Chancellor’s constituency, which is among the top fifth of the most prosperous places in England according to the average deprivation score. That raises severe concerns that the levelling-up fund and the towns deals are not designed to address regional inequality, but instead are designed to benefit the Conservative party.
To assuage those concerns, I urge the Minister to publish the funding metric as a matter of urgency. I would also be grateful if he confirmed how much of the towns fund and the levelling-up fund is really allocated funding, and how much is repurposed funding that was already covered by previous initiatives.
I fear that there is a dangerous pattern emerging with the Government’s strategy. After 10 years of devastating austerity, they are now turning on the taps of public spending in areas that are electorally convenient for them. We cannot allow this hugely cynical pork barrel politics to continue. It is gravely damaging not only for neglected communities across the country, but for the health of our democracy. We need a bold, nationwide and internationalist recovery from coronavirus, including a radical green new deal to rebuild the country with a more just and sustainable economy. Instead of this damaging agenda in which only certain areas are allocated funding based on whether it benefits the governing party, we desperately need a recognition that in our country of deep and unequal wealth, the top 1% should be asked to contribute a bit more in order to fund the services that the entire country relies on.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing the debate. I enjoyed his speech, but there was one notable omission. He did not mention Southport’s most famous son, Red Rum, who lived in a stable behind a garage. He cured his ills on the beach and won three grand nationals from there. Hopefully, that will be remembered in Southport’s towns deal.
Lowestoft has its own towns deal, which will play a key role in the post-covid recovery and in transforming the town, making it a compelling place to live in, work in and visit. The town investment plan was produced with the Lowestoft place board, on which I sit, under the chairmanship of Stephen Javes, and special thanks must go to the officer team at East Suffolk Council, who are now hard at work in turning an exciting vision into a compelling reality. In many ways, covid has accelerated processes of change in our towns that were under way in any case, but it has hit Lowestoft particularly hard, and the immediate challenge that we face is to get people back into the town, where there are so many independent businesses offering bespoke and special products and experiences. That is the objective of the Bouncing Back campaign, which is being promoted by the Lowestoft Journal and East Suffolk Council.
There is also a need for private landlords to play their role in coming forward with realistic rents and lease expectations that properly take into account current market conditions. We need to step off the unseemly not-so-merry-go-round whereby tenants, full of expectation, sign leases with the benefit of a rent-free period. When that ends, they find their businesses unable to sustain an unrealistically high rent. They leave, then someone else comes in, and the whole saga is repeated. We need to stop this. I appreciate that it is not necessarily a matter for the Minister, but it is a matter for my previous profession as a chartered surveyor. From my experience over the years—I have not been in practice for more than 11 years—the commercial property sector has been much slower than, say, the agricultural sector to accept market realities and to adjust rents downwards when they need to go down, and in line with what tenants can afford to pay. Perhaps commercial landlords are clinging to the notion of the upward-only rent review clause, which is now very much a thing of the past. They and their lenders should fully accept—I acknowledge that some of them do—that this is in the past and work in the new reality.
The Lowestoft towns deal is based on the town’s rich history and heritage, and it seeks to take full advantage of the new opportunities emerging in the marine environment, in renewable energy and sustainable fishing, and in showcasing the south beach and the close proximity to both the Suffolk Broads and the Norfolk Broads. The initial public sector funding of £24.9 million will unlock a minimum of £354 million of private sector investment. A wide variety of projects are proposed, including the station quarter, the historic quarter, the cultural quarter and the marine science campus. They may well require some additional pump-priming from sources such the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund. My concern is that, at present, Lowestoft is unfairly disadvantaged in submitting bids to those funds. Despite high levels of deprivation, the town is neither in category 1 for the levelling-up fund nor is it designated a priority place for the community renewal fund.
Lowestoft is remarkably similar in many ways to Great Yarmouth, 10 miles up the coast, with the same challenges and opportunities. Yet Yarmouth is in category 1 and is a priority place. I do not begrudge Great Yarmouth that; it is right that it should have those designations, but so should Lowestoft. Nelson ward in Yarmouth is the 39th most deprived nationally, but Kirkley in Lowestoft is the 25th. In Yarmouth 20% of children live in low-income families but 25.5% do in Lowestoft. In Yarmouth, 22.5% of the population have been diagnosed with a long-term, life-limiting illness or disability; in Lowestoft, that figure is 28%.
The explanation given for that disparity and unfairness is that Lowestoft is now part of a large district council area, the recently formed East Suffolk Council, where there are far better-off places, such as Aldeburgh and Southwold, which conceal this hidden deprivation, though it is not so hidden from my perspective. However, I am not sure that argument holds water. King’s Lynn in west Norfolk—again, somewhere I have no grievance against, primarily because I used to spend summer holidays there with my late grandmother—is a priority place and in category 1. I do not have a problem with that. I do not deny that there are deprivation challenges in King’s Lynn, but is that really the case in places such as Brancaster and Burnham Market, which has been dubbed “Chelsea-on-sea”?
I am not holding out a begging bowl. What I am looking for is fairness and a level playing field. At present, we do not have that for Lowestoft. The Government have been helpful in enabling us to secure the funding for the Gull Wing bridge and the Lowestoft flood defence scheme, two vital infrastructure projects that are now under construction. Moving forward, we must be given the same opportunity as other similar places, in being able to submit bids to the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and the forthcoming UK shared prosperity fund, from the same place on the starting grid as towns and places with similar challenges.
I have written to the Minister highlighting these concerns. I have spoken to him and he has listened patiently. I urge him and his colleagues to look again and to right this wrong.
I thank the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) and congratulate him on introducing the debate, to which the Minister will reply. I always like to give a Northern Ireland perspective to such debates and say what we have been able to do there. I hope to be able to support the Minister. The reason we are able to do these things through our Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland is that the central Government here ensured that all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had the opportunity to respond in a positive fashion.
I understand that health is not a part of this debate, but that is another area where we could act collectively, with all the regions together. It is better to have a single strategy and purpose for us all to work together. That is just a by the way comment—it is not for this debate.
I have been astounded by the resilience and determination of our high street sector during this dreadful time. I always make it my business to shop local, and I know that other Members do the same. If I can get it locally, that is where I will buy it. If I cannot get it locally, I will look elsewhere, but I make it my business to shop in the wee bakery down the road and the clothes shop on the other side of the square. If I need any hardware stuff, I will go to Ray Grahams in Newtownards or N. G. Bell’s in Ballywalter. I do all my shopping locally because I know how important it is to support the high street. Before covid happened, we were getting to a stage where there were no vacancies whatsoever on our high street. Some have appeared over the last period of time but, thank goodness, most of them have been filled.
The high street, by and large, has been very resilient. From changing regulations to decisions made overnight, they have carried out what this Government have required of them with a stoicism that is the best of British, yet the facts are clear: for many, the threat of another period of lockdown will be the end of their business. Many high street businesses need the trade that they had before covid, and even if we get back to where we were then, I suspect that we will not see that level of trade again until we move out of covid in its entirety. Those businesses need continued support in the interim, and I am thankful that the Government recognise that need and are looking to meet it.
In Northern Ireland, our Minister for the Economy has put in place two schemes, the high street stimulus scheme and the holiday at home voucher scheme. Every person in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over will be eligible to apply for a pre-paid card worth £100 to spend in the local high street, which is designed to stimulate local businesses, including retail and hospitality sector outlets. Following the pandemic, that is a very positive scheme. Eligible individuals aged 18 or over will be asked to apply for that pre-paid card through a dedicated online portal. The card must be used in bricks and mortar businesses in Northern Ireland, and cannot be used online. Some online businesses say that that is a disappointment, but the scheme being specific along those lines means that people have to physically go to the high street, which is what we want to see. We want footfall to return and we want to see people out and about. It is encouraging that those high street stops that were able to open throughout covid-19 received lots of footfall, especially in my home town of Newtownards. The chamber of trade there has done some incredibly good stuff, and should be commended for it. The high street stimulus scheme means that some 1.4 million people in Northern Ireland will spend £140 million on our high streets, rather than online. It is a good scheme; it will have a multiplier effect that will help bring many more customers back through the doors of local shops in the retail, hospitality and other sectors.
The holiday at home voucher scheme will allow Northern Ireland households to claim back 50% for a stay of two nights or more in certified accommodation. This is another scheme that is very specific to the hospitality trade, because we in Northern Ireland probably depend on tourism more than most districts, although many colleagues in the House from Scotland, Wales and England will tell me that tourism is a key factor for them as well. Other vouchers will offer 50% off visits to attractions and tourism experience providers up to a value of £20. The central economic theme of my local council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, is tourism, because—I say this honestly, and very proudly—we live in a beautiful area. I live near Strangford Lough, and I am very fortunate to live there. It is a key tourist attraction. The Mount Stewart estate, which the National Trust is involved in, is a headquarters for us: it is a place of great historical value, and I have extended an invitation to the Minister of State for Northern Ireland to come over for a visit sometime in August. We also have the aquarium at Portaferry, the water sports and potential for tourism at Strangford Lough, and many other historical places to visit, so tourism is a really good theme for our council, and those moneys through the voucher scheme and so on have been able to help with that.
Vouchers will be allocated on a first come, first served basis, and each household can apply for each type of voucher. Households can then claim their voucher money back by uploading their receipt and voucher details online. The scheme will be launched in the autumn, because we figure that in the autumn things might be falling back a wee bit, so it will be good to have a scheme in place to drive demand after the summer season. I believe that both those schemes are a good use of public money and I congratulate the Ministers—it was Diane Dodds and it is now Gordon Lyons—on their research and work in introducing those schemes. We all eagerly await more details on the dates of release.
I referred to the active chamber of trade in Ards, which works proactively and positively in its engagement with all the shops in the high street in Newtownards and elsewhere. I will also make a plug for a former colleague who used to sit with me in the Assembly. Simon Hamilton stepped down and is now involved with Belfast chamber of trade. He is a guy with great potential and has great acumen for his job. I think that he also sees the benefits of all those things.
However, as welcome as this scheme most certainly is, it is not enough. I hate to say that, because it sounds terrible when someone says, “This is not enough”. However, I say it to make the point that there has to be an ongoing policy and strategy, because I believe that more needs to be done to secure high street shops. I noticed that one of the shops over here—was it John Lewis?—said that it would turn into some of its shops into flats and accommodation, so there is a trend for some to take away from the high street. But I think we need to strengthen the high street and facilitate online reach with a town centre base.
We all understand that every penny sown into viable businesses helps to retain employment, and I see great potential for employment. Such businesses bring dividends to the local economy, not only to local suppliers but to Government resources through sustained tax and national insurance contributions, because when we work, we pay our national insurance and tax, so we all benefit. It is like a merry-go-round—we work and then the money returns to Government, and hopefully enough money to sustain what we are trying to do.
That is why I was very excited to hear of the town and city funding. I know that my local council—Ards and North Down Borough Council—was immediately working out how best we could revitalise our town with that funding. However, an issue was that projects had to be almost shovel-ready. Fortunately, we probably had a great many schemes that were shovel-ready, but there was a problem with the planning system; it takes months upon months to navigate it. So I suppose it is a case of having the planning system in place to ensure that these schemes can go ahead.
Again, I know that this is not within the Minister’s remit, but I ask him in his summing up to say whether he has had any discussions with the Minister for the Economy in Northern Ireland, to exchange ideas and see what we can do to help each other, because I believe that wherever we are in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we should help each other. I also believe that we have ideas that go well in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. We can do it better together, and I certainly wish to encourage that.
I know that my local council is making plans to prepare for new tranches of funding and I ask Ministers back home to work closely with local councillors to ensure that the funding goes where the need is. Local councils are on the frontline; they have the staff and the local councillors to push the strategy and the policies, so I think councils are the places where the schemes and the tranches of funding should be directed.
I have been made aware of a tremendous project. I am very pleased to encourage all new projects in my constituency of Strangford, and we are in discussions with planners and some of the developers who are keen to provide what I will refer to as “a staycationer’s dream”, in the form of glamping in the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom. It is a new scheme in Grey Abbey, the neighbouring village to mine. I think it has incredible potential, as do the developer and the council.
However, we need infrastructure in place to secure this wonderful environmental proposal, which will bring money into the local economy as well as preserving the beauty of nature in the area. That proposal is attractive because it is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, which we want to preserve. It will also be good if we can tie some tourism into that in a way that is not obtrusive or overly visible but takes advantage of that outstanding natural beauty. Can we look at towns being able to use towns funding to enhance their potential for tourism? I know the Minister will refer to tourism when he sums up, which is a key issue for all of us who are speaking and others who were not able to come to the debate.
I believe that local councils are best placed to advise the Government on how to get every penny to where it needs to go, and ultimately back into the coffers. I look forward with pleasure to the Minister’s response and the contributions of those who speak after me. I hope he will assure us that councils will be able to advise and will be involved in all future town deals.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing this important debate, and I thank him for supporting me, in his other role as Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Private Secretary, with the matter of Walley’s Quarry landfill in my constituency, which I will touch on later because it relates to the town deal and the need to solve that problem before we get the benefits of the investment.
Before I talk more about Newcastle-under-Lyme, I want to start by addressing some of the comments of the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe). Let me quote at some length from one of her colleagues:
“For far too long the ambitions, needs and values of nine million people in towns across Britain have not been heard.
Our economic model treats cities as engines of growth, which at best drag surrounding towns along in their wake, causing life to become harder, less secure and less hopeful for too many people in towns in recent decades.
Our political system is blind to the values and experiences of people who live in our towns, wrongly treating cities as a proxy for the national opinion.
After the EU Referendum starkly exposed the growing gulf between towns and cities, it is clear that this is no longer sustainable.”
Those are brilliant words. They are the words of the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who represents another northern town, when she launched the Centre For Towns back in December 2017. Actually, it was the Conservative party and Government who took that agenda, ran with it and spoke to the people who felt they had not been listened to. Meanwhile, at the election, the Labour party doubled down on their votes in the cities and from people who voted remain and wanted to reverse the referendum result, whereas in most of the towns in the red wall, such as the one I have the honour to represent, people voted leave, wanted to be listened to and wanted their vote and their town to be respected. It is little wonder that the results of the election followed from that.
I believe that only 22 of the 101 towns invited to bid were in districts controlled by Conservative administrations and 39 were controlled by Labour administrations, so on the point that the hon. Member for Leicester East made, this is really about people voting with their feet, because they saw that this Government were proposing to offer something to towns that had been left behind for far too long—towns such as Wigan and Newcastle-under-Lyme. I make absolutely no apology for that, and I am really glad that the Government have finally grasped the nettle on towns that have been left behind. That is not necessarily a consequence of politics. It is as much about economics; it is about people moving to cities and the globalisation of jobs. It is also about the change in retail—many of our high streets depend on retail. I will say a bit more about that.
On 8 June, 30 towns received funding in the most recent wave of town deal funding—the Secretary of State announced a total of £725 million—one of which was Newcastle-under-Lyme. I am very proud of our bid and our board, of which I am a member. I thank Trevor McMillan, who is also the vice-chancellor of Keele University in my constituency, for his leadership of the board, and Councillor Stephen Sweeney, the deputy leader of the council, for his role on it. We put in a tremendous bid, and we managed to get nearly the full £25 million, which will be incredibly valuable in regenerating Newcastle-under-Lyme.
I also want to put in in a word for some of our other bids. There are many schemes, as the Minister knows. Newcastle College, which is one of the best further education colleges in the entire country and was one of the first ever to get “outstanding” across the board from Ofsted, has a bid for an institute of technology. Obviously, that is not within the Ministry’s remit, but there is an enabling bid with it because the site that it wants requires that we move the council’s depot, which is in completely the wrong location, to somewhere else on the site. There is an enabling bid through the levelling-up fund, and there is also a community renewal fund bid in.
I agree completely with what the hon. Member for Strangford said. We need to find better ways of helping local authorities and local community organisations to get bids. A lot of these places have not had investment and do not have the experience of putting in bids. They do not necessarily have a pipeline and things that are shovel-ready. The community renewal fund, in particular, was on a very tight timescale that also coincided with the local elections. We got a good bid together, but in some ways it is the same people who always bid for things, so I want to find ways to reach out to communities— even villages and parish councils—that could bid for some of these things but do not have the expertise or the resources to do that. We need ways to support our authorities and councils, even down to parish council level. That would be really welcome in making sure everybody can bid in to these funds in the future.
I will speak a little bit about Newcastle’s bid, which has three main objectives. First, to open up new growth opportunities through enhanced physical and digital connectivity. We will have new electric vehicle charging infrastructure and improved wi-fi across the town centre, better public transport and better cycling measures. Secondly, we will encourage increased footfall in the town centre by diversifying and enhancing it. We will demolish and redevelop lots of previous sites. Some have been demolished already with the advance funds. There is not much to point to at the moment because things are going down, but very soon things will be coming up again, and I know that will be a real moment of hope for the town.
Finally, the bid aims to channel investment into regenerating communities, particularly some of my most deprived wards such as Knutton and Chesterton. The master plan for Knutton includes improving business accommodation, a new village hall and village green, 240 new homes and improvements to road safety. There will also be investment into Chesterton and Cross Street, enabling high-quality housing for the local community—not only new housing but replenishing and replacing the existing stock.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned electric vehicle charging. Yesterday, his colleague, the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) proposed a ten-minute rule Bill that I think will be critical for the future if we are looking towards electric vehicles, and I was pleased to sponsor it and pleased that the hon. Lady brought that forward. The hon. Gentleman mentioned development, and I think the hon. Member for Kensington referred in her introduction yesterday to all new developments having those key charging points in place. Does he feel that that should be part of this?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We absolutely need to ensure that we think about future technologies and those that are here today when we undertake development. We see that on the estate now; I think Speaker’s Court is having charging infrastructure installed. If we are to build new buildings, it makes sense that they should have those places for charging.
I should also mention that, as well as the £23.6 million from the town deal, we secured £11 million from the future high streets fund, which means the levelling up funding already secured by Newcastle-under-Lyme is more than £34 million, with other bids currently in. That future high streets fund bid is so crucial to the actual recovery from covid, which is the title of the debate. Unfortunately, covid has exacerbated trends that were already there in our town centre. We have lost an awful lot of tenants on our high street. We have a large high street and the Ironmarket pedestrianised area, but there is unfortunately an awful lot of empty shops at the moment.
The solution obviously cannot be more retail, because people are shopping online. We need more hospitality and housing in the town centre, and that is exactly what our future high streets bid will do, with the redevelopment of the long vacant Ryecroft site and the pulling down the old civic offices, which I believe is beginning this week, although it will take quite a while because there is a lot of asbestos and it has to be done carefully. Again, these are real signs of regeneration. Things that have been left derelict and vacant for far too long are finally being addressed by this Government, by our town deal bid and by our future high streets fund bid.
That all shows the commitment of the Government to levelling up places such as Newcastle, which are long overdue some TLC, basically. Once we have got it all done—it will take a few years—we will actually have a better high street. We will build back better. We will have more skills, with a skills centre opening in Lancaster Buildings that will help people get back into jobs or to reskill, and we will have more attractive public spaces. That is important too, because the physical infrastructure of a town centre is so important for people’s experiences.
I should mention a couple of private sector issues blighting Newcastle that I think the Ministry should have an interest in. We have a large student flat building that has been left unfinished for many years, called the Sky Buildings. It is incredibly difficult to work out who can actually handle that process. Various companies have gone through liquidations and takeovers. The investors appear to have lost their money, but that has not been finalised as such. The council is not in a position to take it over through a compulsory purchase order because it is probably more of a liability than an asset now. This sort of thing can blight town centres. We need to find better ways of dealing with unfinished buildings, where the architect or the builders have essentially gone bust and left something unfinished, which can blight an area from a long time and discourages further private sector investment coming in.
Finally, it would not be a speech from me without my mentioning Walleys quarry, the landfill in my constituency. We already have £34 million of investment, and it will be nearly £50 million if we get this institute of technology bid, and these will make Newcastle such a better place, but there is a bleak cloud hanging over the town, and that is the landfill and the odour coming from the landfill. It is principally a DEFRA issue and a Department of Health and Social Care issue. However, it requires a multi-agency approach, and Staffordshire County Council and the Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council are involved as well. Any help that the Minister’s Department can give us in getting this situation resolved as quickly as possible will be vital, because the stink from the landfill is undermining what is excellent news for Newcastle. When I announced the £23.5 million, people were obviously pleased but all the money in the world will not help unless we get this problem resolved. Through the Minister, I plead again to the Secretary of State and will raise it at Prime Minister’s questions.
Newcastle-under-Lyme has so much potential. Finally we are unlocking it with this investment. I thank the Government for what they are doing and my hon. Friend the Member for Southport for calling this important debate.
It is good to see you in the chair, Mr Rosindell. I appreciate the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Opposition,. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing the debate. Southport is a town I have enjoyed visiting but did not know it was the model for Parisian boulevards—never let it be said that Westminster Hall debates are not educational. I agree about the need for good connectivity to Manchester so my constituents can enjoy the Southport Eye, and I look forward to seeing it.
This is an important topic and useful opportunity to look closely at what the Government has promised under the town deals, how much has been delivered and to consider whether this the right way to drive recovery from covid-19. I thank the Members who have spoken in this debate. We have heard about the importance of reasonable private rents, need for reform of business rates, shopping local and wider access to funds. The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) made important points about areas that have been left behind under austerity.
Labour wants to see towns up and down the country thrive, and we are pleased for any community that has managed to receive funding from the towns fund, but we have to put this into context. There is a reason why so many towns are struggling, in desperate need of investment, regional inequality is rife in this country, and high streets are at breaking point. It goes back far beyond the covid crisis. The Government likes to talk about levelling up, but over the last 10 years they have imposed £15 billion cuts on local authorities. I hardly need to point out that outweighs the one-off £3.6 billion towns fund that will benefit a minority of English towns. The pandemic has heaped even more pressure on local councils, but the Government have broken their promise to fully compensate them for the costs of tackling covid-19, leaving a further gaping funding gap to cover and forcing many to raise council tax to cover costs, making local families pay.
The long-term decline of the UK’s high streets, with footfall down 10% since 2012, has complex reasons behind it and has left around one in 10 high street shops standing empty, even before coronavirus hit. In the past decade, 773 libraries, 750 youth centres, 1,300 children’s centres and 835 public toilets have closed down largely because of austerity. In addition, our social care system is in crisis. After several years of kicking the can down the road, the plan for reform, which the Prime Minister claimed he had already prepared, has not been forthcoming. Families, care staff and local authorities are crying out for that plan. Most recently the Government appear to have confirmed our worst fear: the Chancellor intends to proceed with the £20 cut to universal credit from September, which will push more than half a million people, including 200,000 children, into poverty. How can the Government claim they are about levelling up one day and plunge some of our least well-off citizens into difficulties the next? That is not the way to recover from covid-19.
Even if administered fairly, the towns fund would only act as a sticking plaster over these problems. However, we do not know if it has been administered fairly because, typically of this Government, the allocations process is—I am being generous here—opaque. Let us not forget that a town in the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government own constituency of Newark was selected for funding under the towns fund by the then Communities Minister, the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), while the current Secretary of State selected Darwen in the former Minister’s constituency.
The allocation should have been a fair and open process but instead Ministers seem to have stitched up back-room deals that aim to funnel money into relatively wealthy areas and away from those who need it most. Ministers refused to consult directly with elected mayors with the process concerning towns in their regions, despite the Government’s own officials explicitly recommending that they do.
Investigating the allocation process for the towns fund in November 2020, the Public Accounts Committee said:
“The selection process was not impartial…The justification offered by ministers for selecting individual towns are vague and based on sweeping assumptions. In some cases, towns were chosen by ministers despite being identified by officials as the very lowest priority…The Department has also not been open about the process it followed and it did not disclose the reasoning for selecting or excluding towns. This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process, and has risked the Civil Service’s reputation for integrity and impartiality.”
If the Government have nothing to hide, why not be transparent about the decision-making process?
For those who have been lucky enough to get some funding, it is now almost exactly two years since the towns fund was announced and the Government are still vague about what they actually hope to achieve using the fund and how they intend to measure success. Since the fund was announced, only 5% of the money committed so far—£90 million out of the promised £3.6 billion—has been paid out. Heads of terms have only been agreed with 53 of the towns, and it is unclear whether one single project has been delivered in full. In fact, there is a concern that, with so many delays, some projects may not be viable by the time the Government have finally stumped up the money.
The Government say they are aiming to deliver town deals by 2025-26. In a time of severe economic downturn following the pandemic and with support such as furlough ending and universal credit being cut, we need to support the covid recovery with a sense of urgency and boost local areas in that context. It only fuels the suspicion that the Government are more interested in stretching out the announcements when it most suits them, rather than urgently stimulating local growth and job creation.
If we want the towns fund to help with the recovery, how do we know if it is working? In a written answer earlier this week, the Minister said:
“The Department will publish a monitoring and evaluation strategy for the Towns Fund. This strategy will set out the evidenced framework and theory of change, which underpin the evaluation methodologies for the Towns Fund, a work plan, timeline and key milestones, and a bibliography.”
Two years after they announced the fund, the Government say they “will publish” their strategy, so they have still not laid out how they are going to monitor and evaluate the fund.
Any funding for our towns is better than no funding at all, and Labour supports those who have been lucky enough to get something, but what about the majority who have not? This is, after all, the same Department that has announced a levelling-up fund that again pits regions and nations against each other for crucial funding and that will hand money to wealthy areas held by Cabinet Ministers ahead of areas in greater need.
The methodology prioritised the Chancellor’s own local authority for regeneration funding ahead of more deprived areas, such as Barnsley, Flintshire, Coventry, Plymouth, Salford and the Wirral. Prioritised constituencies included those of four other members of the Cabinet. This Government cannot repair even a small part of what they have destroyed over the past 10 years using piecemeal pots of funding, let alone build back better from the covid pandemic.
Labour supports funding for every town and every region, and that has to be done transparently, fairly and with a say for local communities. Through the towns fund the Government are making promises to a minority of English towns, with many of those in need losing out. The Government need to set out a detailed account of exactly what the towns fund aims to achieve, what it will fund and, importantly, how it will measure success. Piecemeal pots of funding do not make up for a decade of cuts to local communities.
Now, more than ever, we need to give all our local areas the funding they need to recover from the covid pandemic. The real yardstick of success will be if this Government put opportunities on everyone’s doorsteps. We have seen little evidence so far that the towns fund will do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing the debate and on opening it in the passionate way that he did. He talked fiercely about protecting his community, securing investment and enhancing it for the future. That really shines through to every Member in the House and, I am sure, to his constituents as well.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. The towns fund is a cornerstone of the Government’s levelling-up programme. It is delivering investment to towns and cities to help reshape their future, provide opportunities for regeneration and help businesses and communities thrive.
I am delighted for my hon. Friend the Member for Southport that his constituency secured a truly transformational town deal, worth £37.5 million. The town investment plan that was submitted last year constituted the largest investment into Southport from the Government in the town’s history, and I am delighted he was successful. He played a vital role in that process and worked hard in the town hall with local stakeholders, and I thank him for his support.
In 2019, we announced that 101 places had been invited to develop proposals for a town deal as part of the £3.6 billion towns fund. The towns are spread right across the country. Many are birthplaces of industry that have been centres of commerce for centuries. Others are bastions of the maritime economy along our coastline. They are all different, but what they all have in common is that too many have been underinvested in and left behind as investment focused too heavily on big cities in our country.
Town deals, such as the ones in Southport and Newcastle-under-Lyme, are about reversing that trend. They are about providing investment and confidence at such a crucial time for our economic recovery, and about driving long-term regeneration, growth and productivity in communities. We are investing in new uses for often unloved spaces on high streets and in towns, creating new cultural and economic assets that will benefit communities for many years to come. We are connecting people through better infrastructure, both physical and digital, such as the new walking and cycling routes in Torquay and the creation of the new Digi-Tech factory in Norwich.
Where towns are particularly vulnerable, we have already made some investments as a rapid response to the effects of covid-19. Last year, we provided all towns with grants of up to £1 million to make improvements that can have an immediate impact on their recovery and people’s experience of their town. In Burton upon Trent, they have used that funding to make their main shopping street much more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians. In Southport, part of the funding has gone towards refurbishing the market hall to create an exciting new food and drink venue, which I understand is opening very soon; I look forward to visiting when it does.
We have seen many towns take creative approaches, such as repurposing empty shops as vibrant community and business spaces. Each town that was selected to bid for a town deal was eligible for investment of up to £25 million. Of course, that was not guaranteed, but many, such as Southport, secured more in exceptional circumstances. I am delighted to say that we have already committed over £2 billion under the towns fund. We have offered town deals to 86 places across England and will be making announcements on the final 15 towns very soon. The Chancellor announced a further 45 of them in his Budget earlier this year.
Southport is a great example of why the investment is so transformational, as it will be critical in unlocking Southport’s vision for opportunities for investment in the private sector, about which we have heard about this morning, and in allowing the town to develop through further benefit from sustainable growth in the long term. I was pleased to hear about the passion of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport for seeing projects that are funded through the town deal continue to develop.
I look forward to the outcome of the county council’s restoring your railway fund bid, which my hon. Friend talked passionately about. I understand that Southport’s plans for reinstating the Burscough Curves would give residents much better transport options, with an hourly rail service between Preston and Southport. I know how important that is to his constituents, and I know that he has been in discussions with colleagues at the Department for Transport regarding the railway links between Southport and Manchester. They are working closely with the local transport authorities on revisions to the current train timetables, to address all the concerns raised by his constituents. I know that includes particularly strong feedback around access to the southern side of Manchester from Southport and Wigan.
On 7 April, we announced the £23.6 million town deal for Truro, which will help transform Cornwall’s capital into a connected river city and support its vision of becoming a modern economic, cultural and green capital for its residents and the wider community. More recently, in June, we announced a further 33 town deals, including the others in Cornwall. They are hugely exciting projects and have the opportunity to turn around so many towns and communities that have been underinvested in. We want everybody, no matter where they grew up or were born, to have the opportunity to access the right skills and education, and to have the access to police and health services that they deserve. Direct investment will help the transformation, which is needed now more than ever.
The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) talked about the town deals selection process, and there was an interesting debate—even without my help—about that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) raised some very effective rebuttal points. I can reassure the hon. Lady that the selection process was based on an evidence-based methodology that was comprehensive, robust and fair. We used a range of metrics to determine which towns would be selected for the first town deals. All towns selected were in the more deprived half of towns in the UK. Ministers made the selection due to the need for more judgment-based accountability and decision making, and we have ensured that towns traditionally left behind were secured as part of that.
I will reiterate a point that was made earlier. Despite wanting to understand the party political points made about this, we have tried to invest in towns that have been underinvested in for too long. The hon. Lady tried to cut the cake in a way that suggested it was done unfairly, but when we look at the local authorities controlled by the towns we have invested in, more than half are controlled by Labour councils. As the local government Minister, it is my job to push back on the implied assumption that parliamentary constituencies are more important than local authorities in the control of political parties. The delivery of the funds by Labour-held local authorities is really important. Only the Labour parliamentary party seems to be raising concern. The Labour local authorities are working constructively with us to deliver the investment that they are so passionate about for their communities, so I do not accept the points that the hon. Lady made.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), raised a point about making sure we can continue to deliver the town funds despite the challenges that covid presents, which is a really valid point. I can certainly reassure him that we are working closely with all the towns that have been offered town deals to make sure that all of their projects can still be delivered even in this challenging time. Councils and town halls have the opportunity, if they wish and think it appropriate, to re-submit individual projects, but we have not had any applications yet. We will certainly work with them through the delivery concerns that some of them have raised. That is really important as we look to help them through the response to covid. The hon. Gentleman also raised a point about the monitoring and evaluation strategy. I can reassure him that we are looking to publish that as soon as possible, hopefully before the summer recess. I also want to reassure him that we have had that work peer reviewed to make sure it is comprehensive, robust and done in the right way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) raised important points about the categorisation of the levelling-up fund. I was glad to hear the positive news in his constituency about the £24.9 million investment in Lowestoft that is being delivered. That is clearly hugely positive. I was also pleased to hear about the bounce back scheme being run by his council, which sounds extremely positive. I will be very interested to hear more about that. I will reassure him that when we look at delivering funding during this Parliament, we want to make sure that communities benefit from the many different funding streams being delivered. They all have slightly different policy objectives and goals, and therefore different assessment and eligibility criteria, which is why, for example, he secured the town deal, but I can reassure him there is the opportunity to be successful in the levelling-up fund. He clearly has that opportunity as the Member of Parliament to ensure that he helps the council prioritise the bid in Lowestoft, because that is the appropriate way to do so. We will look at that very carefully. That is why we thought it was so crucial MPs should have a role formally to suggest support for individual bids, but I will happily look at his local authority and perhaps provide him with some detail about the methodological process after this debate.
I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme that £34 million has already been secured. I thank him for his work on that. It is exciting to hear that funding is coming through now, starting this week. He talked about the importance of making sure councils have the capacity to deliver the work, which is a crucial point. That is why, as part of the levelling-up fund process, we are providing category 1 councils with £125,000 to make sure they have the ability to do that. We are looking closely at what more can be done to support councils with capacity challenges. We absolutely recognise that that is an issue that has been raised. As I say, that capacity funding is extremely important. He made passionate points about his levelling-up fund bids. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on those today, which I am sure he will understand, but I very much look forward to seeing the outcome of the bids.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport talked about the importance of business rates reform. He will understand the Chancellor is undergoing a comprehensive fundamental review of business rates and will report later this year, but I know his comments will have been heard.
I want to pick up on the comment made about local authority funding, and I am afraid I have to disagree on that. For the past two years we have had local government finance settlements with the support of the whole House. Not one MP objected to the finance settlements that were supported. There was a 4.6% rise in core spending power around the country. Conservative councils are raising council tax by less than Labour councils are around the country. We are trying to take steps to make sure that all councils get the support that they need. We took deliberate policy steps that were welcomed by the Labour party this year as part of that settlement, for example, by making sure that we equalise the social care grant by the tune of £390 million, redistributing money away from councils who are raising more money than they need, and making sure that councils which were not able to deliver services were still getting that support.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked passionately about the impact on the high street during covid. He is right, of course; we have seen this comprehensive shock delivered to the high streets and we are trying to support them as best we can. I will pick up that point—I missed the name of the Minister he suggested I speak to, but I will make sure that I take up that invitation as well. We are also delivering funding through the welcome back fund, through business rates support, through our business grants, and through all the support the Chancellor has outlined.
I am sure that all Members would agree that we need to support investment in communities and towns around the country. Southport’s ambitious town deal is just one example of the transformative investment we are making right around the country to ensure that places too often overlooked get the support they need as we emerge from this crisis. We are getting money to where it is needed the most and we are involving communities and councils every step of the way. I will just finish by echoing the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport—we are working to ensure that there will be optimism in places like Southport.
I thank all Members for their participation in the debate today, which shows how much they want the best for their constituents. The tone of the debate has been passionate but polite, which is always the best way to conduct affairs on such issues. I would like to go through a few points made by hon. Members.
The first is from the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) who talked about the scrutiny and political imbalance in the judgment of where the town deals have been based. I, like anyone, will look at how we make decisions. I am certainly interested in the decision of my local Labour authority—which has three parliamentary constituencies, two Labour and one Conservative—to put levelling-up bids in only for the two Labour ones and to forget about the Conservative one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) is absolutely right—private landlords who own so many of the buildings on our high streets and in our towns have a massive part to play in this. They have to show that they want to see the best for our towns and our communities as well. I have not forgotten about Red Rum, by the way. There is a huge mural to Red Rum overlooking the waterfront area, so every visitor is reminded of Red Rum’s history in our town.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) gives us a constant reminder of how important it is to make sure we support the whole of the United Kingdom. I am a bit envious of the fact that if I lived in his constituency I would get a pre-paid voucher to go spending on the high street. I think that I would probably spend a bit more than £100, which is the entire idea behind the scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) was absolutely right when he talked about towns being left behind for too long. We are fed up with the ripple effect that if we throw money into a city, the towns at the edge will get some of it. We need to start investing in our towns. That is exactly what our town did in Southport, and it has done what it says on the tin. It has brought and is bringing in private investment week by week into my town. Not Government money; the Government money has been the stimulus for the £350 million.
Shops are reopening again on our high streets. Big department stores reopening, for example, is a real testament to how much how much enthusiasm is around it. I would say that we have already delivered two projects, the first being the boulevard of light which was delivered months ago, and the second being the Market Hall reopening next week, so if you want a fantastic dining experience, please come to Southport. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) is only a train ride away still, and I would welcome him to come and see how fantastic that is. Finally, I would say that our towns do have a future, but it is our duty, our responsibility to make them stronger.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Town Deals and covid-19 recovery.
Dog and Cat Meat Trade
[Relevant documents: e-petition 555039, Make the consumption of dog and cat meat illegal; e-petition 308926, Urge the Chinese government to stop the annual Yulin Dog Eating Festival; and e-petition 318423, Pressure Chinese & Korean governments to end slaughter of cats & dogs for meat.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government efforts to end the global dog and cat meat trade.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Dogs and cats have been our faithful companions for not just centuries but millennia. The beginning of human interaction with dogs and cats predates recorded history, and the earliest confirmed dog has been dated to 14,000 years ago—long before we domesticated animals such as sheep. Our relationship with dogs even predates the concept of agriculture.
Cats, meanwhile, are known in our popular culture as being among the favourite animals of the ancient Egyptians. Although research has yet to find a conclusive answer to exactly when they were domesticated, it is clear that they have been part of our everyday human life for thousands of years.
In the UK, we pride ourselves on being a nation that loves our pets. I know that you love animals, Mr Rosindell, and so does the Minister and a lot of us in this Chamber. It is estimated that there are more than 12 million dogs in the UK, and millions of households, including mine, own one. Millions of our households own a cat, and it is estimated that there are just under 11 million in the UK. These animals provide us with support when we are depressed and, importantly, they never judge us, unlike some people.
To many, particularly those who have been through difficulties brought on by covid-19 in the past year, our pets are a lifeline. Our love of pets is not a recent phenomenon. Nearly 200 years ago, the Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, from my neck of the woods—where I am originally from—Richard Martin and the Reverends Arthur Broome established the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more commonly known as the RSPCA, which has grown to become one of the largest charities dedicated to protecting animals, and not just here in the UK but globally.
Our dedication to animal welfare can be seen in the legislation that the UK has passed: 199 years ago the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822 and the UK’s first animal protection law were enacted. In the years since those Acts, there has been the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the Hunting Act 2004, further improving animal welfare in the UK. It is clear that this Government are proud to carry on that tradition of leading on animal welfare. They have demonstrated that in recent months by passing the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, and they are set to pass the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, both of which clearly demonstrate that they are willing and actively attempting to take action to further improve animal welfare standards in the UK.
I believe that we are one of the best nations in the world for animal welfare, and that is backed up by recent data and reports that show that we are the third-best globally in this field. I hope that one day we will be No. 1. Sadly, across much of the world, the poor quality of animal welfare regulations and legislation means that millions of animals, including dogs and cats, continue to suffer needlessly. Despite the companionship, loyalty and trust that they show us, every year millions of dogs and cats are killed around the world so that people can consume their meat.
I would like everybody listening to this debate to close their eyes for a moment. Imagine being locked in a cage, barely fed, struggling to stand from hunger. Living conditions are squalid and the sounds are of another animal suffering. Eventually life will end, often through barbaric means such as being beaten or boiled alive. I am sure that we can agree that no living thing deserves to suffer like that. Yet, sadly, that is a reality for millions of dogs and cats each and every year.
I have recently seen footage from the animal welfare charity Four Paws, of a puppy being boiled alive, the ultimate cruelty. That barbaric act was harrowing to watch, and that image will remain with me for ever. According to Four Paws, 10 million dogs and cats are killed in south-east Asia yearly. Humane Society International estimated in 2016 that 10 million to 20 million dogs were killed for their meat in China, 5 million in Vietnam, 2 million in South Korea and 1 million in Indonesia.
The consumption of cat meat has been reported to be on the rise in certain countries too. Research suggests that more than 4 million cats are killed in China, along with a further 1 million cats in Vietnam, purely for their meat. Those numbers are so large as to be barely comprehendible. They represent the reality, scale and prevalence of the trade in the world today.
Next week, I plan to interview Nara Kim, an activist from the Humane Society who works in South Korea to combat the trade on the ground. She was involved in the break-up of the Gupo dog market in Busan. Over the course of her career, she has helped save hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs. I take my hat off to her. I have also recently spoken to the NoToDogMeat Foundation, led by the wonderful Julia de Cadenet, about the actions of the group on the ground in countries where this practice is common. That group has taken an active role in communicating on the ground to those in the industry, and it has been involved in actions, including saving 1,300 dogs that were bound for the Yulin dog meat festival in China.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing forward this debate. It is an issue I have been interested in over the years and on which, along with colleagues, I have pursued legislative change. Does she agree that we have said plenty to China over the years about the dog meat trade? It is now time to take steps to bring about change. Chinese officials repeatedly say that they will politely listen to our concerns but refuse to do anything. Perhaps we must consider bringing into use any and all peaceful means at our disposal, to effect real change and to end the barbaric trade that the hon. Lady describes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I completely agree. This matter is too important. It cannot be a talking shop; we need to see real action. It is a barbaric practice and too many animals suffer.
Nara and Julia are shining examples of the fact that one person can make a noticeable difference, and of the work that has been done by individuals and groups in the third sector to combat the dog and cat meat trade. Although such individuals and groups make a real and notable change on the ground, more can be done, particularly by Government, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) just suggested.
I am proud that the UK has already taken a leading role in improving animal welfare standards globally, including by sending troops to protect endangered species and moving towards banning the importation of hunting trophies. Yet it is possible for us to play a more proactive role in combatting the barbaric dog and cat meat trade, which is an unnecessary and morally indefensible industry.
How could the UK go about that? The answer is simple: through our soft power. Make no mistake, in this field the UK is one of the major players in global affairs. We have one of the five seats on the United Nations Security Council. Our TV and radio shows are played across the globe, and our diplomatic service is widely respected in the vast majority of countries. In terms of soft power, the UK punches significantly above its weight, which is an achievement we should all be proud of. With our presence on the global stage, we can make a real and significant difference in this field, whether through programmes to educate people in the countries I have mentioned or by lobbying Governments about the benefits of abandoning and ultimately outlawing this practice.
In order to maximise our effectiveness, it is important to note that the nature of the trade varies from country to country. For example, in South Korea dogs that are ultimately destined for the meat trade are factory farmed, whereas in other nations, such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is far more common for dogs to be taken directly off the streets, often to be sent hundreds of miles away and, ultimately, slaughtered. If the Government were to take a more proactive approach to tackling this issue, such considerations must be taken into account, in order to maximise our impact and effectiveness in working for the best possible result. For instance, in the countries where it is more common for dogs to be taken off the streets, we should seek to increase our education programmes and outline the dangers of eating meat from these sources, and the prevalence of meat from these sources in the wet markets in those countries.
Although we are yet to determine the true origin of covid-19, one of the most widely held beliefs is that the disease originally occurred in animals and jumped to humans through the consumption of meat. It is more likely, given the minimal regulation of the dog and cat meat trade when the meat is sourced from the streets, that a disease will again jump from animal to human through this trade. Taking steps against this trade will therefore have a real and profound impact on our ability to combat the next potential pandemic.
What other steps can the Government take and why should we take them? One of the most important actions that we can take, in my view, is to make it clear to the Governments of the countries I have mentioned that we fundamentally disagree with this practice, giving reasons why we disagree.
In conclusion, I thank Humane Society International, Four Paws and the NoToDogMeat Foundation for their evidence and data, all the great work that they have done in this area, and their support in helping me prepare for this debate. In my view, the dog and cat meat trade is morally wrong in the world today, and there is little defence for it. The Prime Minister and his wife Carrie have both written about this issue recently with regard to the Yulin dog meat festival. The treatment of animals by this trade is barbaric. Although there are many amazing charities and individuals trying to fight this practice, more can be done.
I am proud to support the Government in its domestic animal welfare policies and the measures they have taken to help animals abroad. It is my hope that in the future the Government will consider what more we can do to combat the global dog and cat meat trade.
It is lovely to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell. I know that you have a great interest in animal welfare, so we have a room full of people, albeit small in number, who are passionate about this issue. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) for securing this debate. Of course, as she has said, we are a nation of animal lovers. I want to put the names of my two cats on record—Raffa and Mr Tipps—without whom my life would not be the same. Animals are so unjudgmental, are they not? They are also a delight, although I am always amazed at how long they can sleep for, while I have to work for hours.
As my hon. Friend rightly said, citizens in this country find the consumption of dog and cat meat absolutely inconceivable. The Government strongly agree with that view and are appalled by the prospect of dogs or cats being consumed. I myself have spoken quite vociferously on this issue as a Back Bencher, which she might remember. Indeed, I went on the Victoria Derbyshire show to talk about exactly this issue of dog and cat meat sales overseas, with a group of other organisations that she referred to in her speech.
I truly believe that we have a world-leading record on animal welfare, which my hon. Friend has referred to. Over the last decade, we have made great strides in ensuring that we offer animals the care, respect and protection that they deserve. Just recently, as she also referred to, we passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which came into force on 29 June. It realises the Government’s manifesto commitment to increase the sentences available to our courts for the most serious cases of animal cruelty. I know that lots of parliamentarians pushed for that, and I am very pleased that we brought it through. The Act provides one of the toughest sanctions in Europe.
We also launched the action plan for animal welfare this year, which sets out our future aims and ambitions in this space, both domestically and internationally, cementing our commitment to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader on animal protection. Our continuing work also includes replacing outdated practices with those that provide better welfare outcomes for our animals, and positively affecting other nations through the examples we are setting and using our international influence, which has been much referred to.
At this point, I want to reassure hon. Friends, Members, and anyone else listening that it is already illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK. There are strict rules for food businesses on the slaughter and production of meat for human consumption, and dog and cat meat would not be permitted under those requirements. The Government see no evidence that dog or cat meat is being sold or consumed in this country.
As the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and I were saying beforehand, we understand that it is illegal to sell dog meat, but I understand that it is not illegal to consume it in the United Kingdom. In the past, I and the hon. Lady’s colleague —I am sorry, I cannot remember his constituency, so I will not mention his name—were pursuing legislative change with the former Minister. Do the Government have any intention of considering legislative changes to make it illegal to eat dog meat in this country?
I have asked that question myself, but we already have a raft of different pieces of legislation that make it illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK, and those strict rules that we have for the food industry mean that one could not slaughter or sell the meat. There is no evidence of people eating dog or cat meat in the UK, and any meat imported into the UK has to be accompanied by health certificates to attest that it has met certain requirements. The UK has strict procedures in place to prevent meat such as dog or cat meat entering our food chain.
As set out in our action plan for animal welfare, our work on animal welfare extends far beyond our borders. That work includes our membership of international organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, which was created in January 1924 to fight animal disease at a global level. It now has 182 member countries, and it now also plays a unique global leadership role in advancing animal welfare. This includes publishing a global animal welfare strategy, producing a terrestrial code for animal welfare standards, and putting food safety and animal welfare at the heart of its mission.
In addition to our own offences applying to cat or dog meat entering the food chain, I am glad to see that the US Government have also prohibited the slaughter of cats and dogs for human consumption, and a similar ban on slaughter was put in place in Taiwan in 1998. The Republic of Korea has its Animal Protection Amendment Act 2007, which prohibits some of the cruel methods used to handle and slaughter dogs. In Thailand the Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Provision of Animal Welfare Act was enacted in 2014. This was Thailand’s first law focused on preventing animal cruelty, and it protects domestic pets, working animals and animals being kept for food. The UK continues to work with the Thai authorities to promote international welfare standards, to see whether others can adopt our methods and those adopted by other nations doing more than, for example, Thailand in this space—as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood suggested, we are having influence in that soft-power way.
We can see that the work being done in this House is driving change elsewhere, but in addition the Government commend the work undertaken by non-governmental organisations such as Four Paws, which is doing a lot of very good work—I was horrified to hear about the video that my hon. Friend referred to. Humane Society International is also doing very good work, as is the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, building support for animal issues and driving change.
The Government have made a clear manifesto commitment that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. The UK is rightly proud of our high-quality food and animal welfare standards. We will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure that any future trade deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers across the UK.
We will be introducing an animals abroad Bill in this Session, which will focus on encouraging high animal welfare and conservation standards internationally. My hon. Friend will be very interested in that Bill. It will drive forward our manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals, to ensure that UK imports and exports of hunting trophies are not threatening the conservation status of species abroad. The Bill will also look to ban the import and export of detached shark fins and ban the advertising and offering for sale of specific low-welfare practices abroad. We will introduce the Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.
As an independent trading nation, we have a great opportunity to work with other global trading partners to promote animal welfare standards internationally. We will build on those opportunities, many of which have now arisen because we have left the EU. We can go out there to really work on this agenda, to make animal welfare standards a key priority, in line with our domestic standards.
My hon. Friend touched on wet markets. There has been a lot of talk about that, and the suggestion of a potential covid link. We have been very clear that a transparent, independent and science-led investigation must be an important part of the international effort to understand how covid-19 started and how it spread. Phase 1 of the WHO-convened covid-19 origins study was always meant to be the beginning of the process, not the end. We are working with partners to support a transparent, evidence-based, expert-led phase 2, including, as recommended by the experts’ report, studies in China. It is vital that phase 2 does not face the same delays as phase 1 and is given full access to the data necessary for the next part of the work—I think my hon. Friend will agree that is very important. It is not about blame; it must be about learning what can be done to better manage any similar outbreak in the future.
Further afield, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will continue its work to raise concerns about the welfare of animals with other Governments and international authorities, as my hon. Friend is encouraging. It does that at every suitable opportunity, including as part of the post-covid recovery. Using that soft power is important, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) also raised that point in his intervention. I hope I have given some assurances that that is exactly what this Government are doing.
I am personally very proud of the example we set here in the UK in promoting animal welfare at home, but also of the measures taken to help abroad. We will use all levers on the world stage as we continue to combat the world trade in eating dogs and cats. I hope that what I have said gives assurances. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood for securing the debate and for constantly raising the issue, which so many people agree is very important.
Question put and agreed to.
Climate Change: Wales
[Peter Dowd in the Chair]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate, and that they will be visible at all times, both to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I would also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered measures to combat climate change in Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd.
Despite being confronted with a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, climate change remains the single largest existential threat to people across the world. The UK has a responsibility, as one of the first industrialised countries, to combat climate change and take a progressive, proactive approach to mitigate and reverse its effects.
In Wales, we are extremely fortunate to have access to natural resources that can provide cutting-edge alternatives to curtail our reliance on fossil fuels. How we deal with these issues in the next few years will have a defining impact on future generations and their wellbeing. Changing climate will cause huge problems across the globe and lead to massive population displacement and challenges for food production in many parts of the world. Rising water levels, loss of biodiversity and extreme weather events have already been seen in many places, and we must take urgent action to tackle that.
Wales is a small country, but it can play a big part in the solution. The Welsh Government are taking a progressive and proactive approach to mitigating and reversing the effects of climate change. I am proud that the Welsh Government have gone further than the target set by the Climate Change Committee for the UK and committed to a net zero target by 2050. That is an ambitious target, but one which we have to reach if we want to tackle temperature rises.
When I was granted this debate, I was contacted by the excellent parliamentary Digital Engagement Team and asked if I would like them to use their channels to engage with the public on this issue. The responses that came in were varied and really thoughtful. I would like to thank everyone who got in touch with ideas and comments. There were 168 replies to questions on a wide range of topics, such as reducing consumption, changes to transport use, and housing. There are too many excellent contributions to mention them all, for which I am really sorry, but I would like to pick out a couple and respond to them.
Wendy, along with others, said that we should:
“Retrofit or convert housing stock to passive housing to maintain human health while reducing dependence on energy sources to warm or cool homes”.
The Welsh Government are making £13 million of funding available through the innovative housing programme. The aim of that programme is to make 1,800 homes across Wales more energy-efficient. As well as helping to reduce energy bills for residents, optimised retrofit will help reduce the carbon footprint of each home. There are currently around 1.4 million homes across Wales that need to be made more carbon efficient to help with the 2050 net zero target, so getting retrofit right and making it happen by delivering the skills and training needed will be key to building a strong future economy and helping to tackle the climate emergency.
Several respondents to the consultation highlighted the importance of restoring nature. Both Joshua and Jools suggested that there should be targets for nature restoration and tree and woodland planting. I am happy to say that just this week, Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change in the Welsh Government, announced that Wales will plant 86 million trees in the next nine years.
To achieve our net zero target, we need to plant 43,000 hectares of new woodland. Planting those trees will not only help avoid catastrophic climate change, but create jobs and address the nature emergency, increasing wellbeing and mitigating floods and air quality issues. Hon. Members can find out more about that scheme and the support for individuals, organisations and companies that want to get involved in planting on the Welsh Government website.
As part of that, Wales is also putting in place a timber strategy. Using timber in construction has a number of benefits, including the capture of CO2 during growth, acting as a carbon store for the lifetime of the structure, and it can be used again after the building is no longer in use. The Welsh Government want an increase in off-site manufactured homes as a way of reaching net zero, and the timber industry will play a big part in that.
In Gower, we have one of the most efficient storers of carbon, our fabulous salt marshes. They are a haven for wildlife, with more than 20 species of salt marsh plants, which in turn support insects. They are also used by juvenile fish, and many different birds roost in them. Protecting and, in places, expanding salt marshes could store millions of tonnes of carbon and offset emissions.
I pay tribute to the National Farmers Union, which is encouraging farmers across the UK to take positive steps to make their farms net zero by 2040. We celebrate their positive actions leading up to COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November. There are so many farmers and growers, not only in Gower but across Wales, who are positively demonstrating that they are committed to taking net zero measures on their farms, to help the sector reach the 2040 ambition. I saw that at first hand recently, when my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and I visited the farm of NFU Cymru president John Davies. To see that vision in action and discuss the future of Welsh farming was very positive.
Climate change does not respect borders. We all know that the only way to tackle climate change is to work with other countries. That collaboration is sadly lacking in the relationship between Wales and the UK Government. Having promised to electrify the main line to Swansea, the UK Government decided to go only as far as Cardiff. After the big fanfare around the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, the Government decided not to go ahead with the project. That decision meant that, instead of becoming a world leader in tidal technology, we will now have to rely on other pilot projects to pave the way. I believe that Swansea bay will get a tidal lagoon but, instead of being able to export the associated expertise and technology, someone else will do that. We have got to push forward for Swansea and I commit to doing that.
There are many more subjects I could have covered, from halting all new road-building projects, to reducing our reliance on private cars, to buying local produce to reduce food miles. I thank everyone who got in touch with me about the debate; I will pass on all their comments to the Welsh Government. I want to finish with a quote I heard yesterday in Lee Waters’s speech. Mark McKenna, of the wonderful Down to Earth Project in my constituency of Gower, said:
“The solutions are there, we need to invest and we need to plan.”
I am pleased that that is what the Welsh Government are doing.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this important debate.
The UK Government have been a world leader on this issue, with a 10-point plan presenting a vision for the UK that is green and more prosperous, and at the forefront of the industries of the future. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations have to work together to implement measures that will combat climate change.
In my constituency of Bridgend, an increasing number of residents are contacting me about air pollution, which concerns them a lot. They are worried about high levels of pollution outside schools, in particular from idling vehicles. They fear that that can be a cause and aggravating factor of many respiratory diseases. and action is needed. With little thought for wider infrastructure to support communities and a lack of investment in safe routes to schools, the local authority in Bridgend aids that growing epidemic of idling vehicles and worsens the pollution around our schools.
It is reprehensible that our Welsh colleagues in Cardiff Bay have halted plans for the M4 relief road to ease congestion in south Wales. That would also help with the levels of pollution around Newport. We agree with the Welsh Government that decarbonising the transport sector presents a key challenge to overcome to reach net zero, but rather than halting the development of necessary infrastructure, the UK Government’s vision for a net zero Wales includes accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles. Electric vehicle infrastructure funding schemes such as the on-street residential charge point scheme, the electric vehicle home charging scheme and the workplace charging scheme are examples of the Government helping to achieve 100% zero-emission cars and vans by 2035.
Wales will also benefit from further funding to aid our movement towards a greener economy, including the £289 million industrial energy transformation fund, the £250 million clean steel fund, the £240 million net zero hydrogen fund and the £1 billion carbon capture and storage infrastructure fund.
Decarbonising the UK steel industry is fundamental to our ambitious green industrial revolution. A movement to lower-carbon iron and steel production is essential to meeting our net zero goals. To do that, we must invest in new technologies and processes. Although the Tata Steel site is in the neighbouring constituency, in Port Talbot, many of my constituents work there, and it is concerning that they would struggle with the movement to the more mature technology of carbon capture, but a movement to hydrogen power, rather than coal power, could be a way forward.
The clean steel fund will support the British steel industry through the challenges of decarbonisation while ensuring that we hit the net zero target in 2050. We must also invest in the development of new technologies that can help ease our movement to net zero emissions and assist in combating climate change. I am proud that my constituency is home to some of the industry leaders that are developing those technologies. One such company is Cenin Renewables. It is at the forefront of visionary thinking: it purchased the first Tesla battery in Europe and is an early adopter of photovoltaic power production. It was recently awarded the Queen’s award for sustainable development, and its pioneering Solcer House, developed in conjunction with Cardiff University, is a blueprint for the carbon-negative and energy-positive home of the future.
A lot of constituents contact us about this issue. There are a number of people with a range of views on how best to proceed. Working together is in everyone’s best interests and in the best interests of our long-term future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am very pleased to speak in the debate. It is about an issue of great importance to many Newport West residents, and this afternoon I am giving voice to their concerns and calls for action.
It is no longer a surprise to any of us that we face a dangerous and very real climate emergency. We cannot sit back and watch our country burn, flood or, indeed, collapse without taking action—and we need to take action now. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this debate on measures to tackle climate change and for all she does to preserve our planet and protect our environment in Wales and here in this place.
As well as being the Welsh Labour Member of Parliament for Newport West, I am the shadow Minister for the natural environment and air quality in Westminster. While many of my departmental responsibilities are powers devolved to the Welsh Government, measures to tackle climate change in Wales are very much at the top of the agenda. We need to implement bold, ambitious and proactive measures to tackle climate change in all four nations of our United Kingdom.
Like so many of my constituents, I very much welcome the bold commitments of the Welsh Labour Government to tackle climate change. Those commitments are exemplified by the creation of a Minister and a Deputy Minister for Climate Change. That is a reflection of how important the battle to save our planet is to Welsh Labour and to the First Minister.
In recent years, there has been sterling work in Wales that has seen more innovative ways of developing renewable energy and has ensured Wales is one of the top three recycling nations in the world. We have also seen more than 800,000 trees planted and more than 843 water refill stations installed. These are tangible and pragmatic policies that carry the people of Wales with them and that mitigate the worst effects of climate change. However, for all the positive steps taken in Wales—and there are many—there is still so much more to do. With the horrific flooding in Wales last year, we saw that we have far more to do to stem the unbeatable flow of physical effects triggered by climate change.
As the shadow Minister for the natural environment and air quality, I also have the delight of covering waste and recycling. Those are two important areas that see me often looking to Wales for inspiration. It is a case of, “Where Wales goes, so go the rest of the nations.”
I am pleased about the steps being taken in Wales to develop a national forest, which will give us the ability to offset emissions. I support the plans to ban 10 of the most common single-use plastics, such as straws, stirrers and plastic cutlery. I am proud that Wales currently has the third highest recycling rate in the world. Last year, 65% of all household waste across Wales was recycled and back home in Newport West we recycle 66% of waste, which saved over £5 million and prevented 21,000 tonnes of polluting emissions.
The Welsh Labour Government are committed to achieving a carbon neutral public sector by 2030 and to co-ordinating action to help other areas of the economy to make a decisive shift away from fossil fuels, including academia, industry and the third sector. We need rapidly to expand our ability to produce energy from renewables and I pay tribute to the companies developing offshore wind turbines in the Celtic sea and other areas. We also need to develop energy sourced from tidal and wave power. We need to ban plastics that cannot be recycled or composted, and I pay tribute to companies like TIPA who are developing compostable plastic packaging, which is another way of limiting our waste production.
I am gravely concerned that Tory inaction in England could have an impact in Wales. Indeed, the Welsh Labour Government may have difficulty taking the actions the people of Newport West want to see. For example, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 means that the Senedd may be limited to banning just three plastic items to align with the low aspirations of England. Put it this way, level up with Labour in Wales or get left behind with the Tories.
Like so many of my constituents back home in Newport West, I urge this Conservative Government, from the Prime Minister down, to wake up and smell the coffee. We have no time left to waste. If they do not want to act, if they lack ambition and do not want to take the steps necessary to preserve our planet and protect our environment, they should get out of the way and let Labour lead.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), who is a fellow member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, where we have heard from witnesses and discussed in great detail climate change and renewable energy in Wales.
I grew up in rural Wales at Lake Vyrnwy, a few miles south of my constituency, and there I experienced a community that had a healthy balance with nature. Our water came from a small reservoir above the hotel that my father ran in the hills and was filtered through a sand bed. A few years before we moved there, the electricity was still generated by the hydroelectric unit in the Vyrnwy dam, and I hope one day it can be back in action.
This highly formative experience has played a key part in my championing renewable energy schemes in Clwyd South, such as the hydroelectric potential of the River Dee in Llangollen. I warmly welcome the decision by members of Llangollen Town Council in April to set up a task-and-finish group to investigate the feasibility of using the site of decommissioned hydro units in the town.
Further up the River Dee in Corwen is the perfect example of a community energy project, namely the Corwen community hydro power scheme. People came together as a community to build a 55kW, high head hydro scheme in the town. The scheme is 100% owned and run by the community. The success of this first project has led to a second, larger project in Bonwm, near Corwen, where work is expected to start this autumn on building a 100kW hydro scheme, which will be completed ahead of the end of feed-in tariffs in July 2022.
The Corwen projects have benefited significantly from the support of the local landowner, Lord Newborough, whose Rhug estate has put sustainability firmly at the heart of its business mission, particularly through its own renewable heat and power generation. That has led to the recent announcement that Rhug has won a net zero award from the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council.
There are many other examples of fantastic measures to combat climate change taken by residents and organisations across Clwyd South, including Wrexham and Denbighshire Councils, community councils, local companies, farms and voluntary organisations. I am delighted that the UK Government are pursuing dynamic and effective policies to support these local measures at a national level.
Spanning clean energy, buildings, transport, nature and innovative technologies, the UK Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment to unlock three times as much private sector investment by 2030, level up regions across the UK and support up to 250,000 highly skilled green jobs. The plan presents a vision for a UK that is greener and at the forefront of industries for the future. Through it, we will position the UK to take advantage of export opportunities in new global emerging markets in low-carbon technologies and services, providing jobs, supporting levelling up, and reinvigorating our industrial heartlands in Wales and across the rest of the UK.
Specific examples of the plan are many, but I will just mention one. That is the investment of £582 million in plug-in vehicle grants to incentivise take-up of zero or ultra low emission vehicles. Of course, this is as applicable to Wales as it is to the rest of the UK. Also, the cross-Government net zero strategy will be published ahead of COP26. Work is already under way across Whitehall to help inform the ambitious plans across key sectors of the economy. The strategy will set out the Government’s vision and how they will meet its ambitious goals as we transition to net zero emissions by 2050.
In conclusion, I am proud of the measures being taken by the UK Government to combat climate change, and their reflection in many exciting projects under way in Clywd South. I am also pleased that the Welsh Government are being closely engaged in this policy making and strategy, as we work together to create a greener and more prosperous Wales.
It is great to be under your chairpersonship today, Mr Dowd, and it is a pleasure to join this debate, which was secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi).
I will just remind us of the scale of the problem that we face. Global temperatures are now 1.2° C higher than the 1850 base rate and are rising at 0.1° C a year, so by 2025 the world will breach the Paris limit of 1.5° C. In fact, the temperature is already plus 2° C over Europe and plus 3° C over the Artic, because of differential impacts. That means that for every second of this debate, 8,500 cubic metres or 8,500 tonnes of ice will melt from Greenland.
In particular, we have seen a massive escalation in the Chinese production of carbon. China now produces more carbon than Europe and the US combined—7 tonnes a person, compared with 5.8 tonnes in the UK. However, on a consumption basis, the UK produces 8 tonnes a person. The reason I mention this is that the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 committed to measuring our consumption as well, because we cannot simply subcontract out all our manufacturing and reduce our carbon footprint but then import it all.
That is particularly the case for steel, because Welsh steel has 50% less carbon than Chinese steel. What is needed is a carbon border tax. It is being initiated by the EU, it will be agreed at COP26 and is certainly supported by Wales, so that we have fair trading and do not have a situation where the Chinese are allowed to continue producing more and more carbon. China’s carbon production will not peak until 2030; it already has 1,037 coal-fired power stations and is planning another 300. Closing our coal-fired power station in Wales, at Aberthaw, accounts for 55% of the Welsh reduction in carbon. We need to think very globally about this issue, as well as taking our own initiatives. I am proud that the Welsh Assembly Government are the only Government, not only in Britain but across the world generally, to have sustainable development as part of the country’s constitution and the Assembly’s founding principles.
I welcome the initiative for the national forest. Clearly we need to plant trees—everybody knows that—because they store carbon, but we also need to use trees in our buildings as carbon stores, in place of concrete in particular. If concrete was a country, it would be the 13th biggest producer of emissions.
It is important that the UK Government back that approach and, indeed, stop the burning of wood. We have a ridiculous situation where we are importing millions of tonnes of wood, in particular hard wood, which we are simply burning. That wood could have been made, with minimal effort, into a pulp that could be used to insulate buildings, and it would remain as a carbon store.
I welcome the roads review: we cannot keep on building roads. That is not to say that we will not build any more roads, but we need to halt and think about whether we can plan differently. On that basis, I very much welcome today’s announcement by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which is calling for HS2 to be an England-only scheme. That makes a lot of sense, because obviously HS2 does not run through Wales: it is more beneficial to Scotland than to Wales, and the UK Government tell us that it will displace jobs from Wales. I welcome that proposal, which should unleash a fair share of funding: in the same way that Scotland gets the money, this should unleash billions of pounds for Wales. I very much hope that will mean that we can make good the promises of David Cameron about railway electrification, and that we can get a high-speed frequent link to Bristol so that Bristol-Cardiff-Swansea, which is 3 million people, has the same level of service as Manchester-Leeds, for example. That has about eight services an hour; we have one.
I also welcome the move to reconsider how we improve and increase home working after the pandemic, and conversations at both a UK and, in particular, a Welsh level about local procurement to reduce our carbon footprint and help local jobs. Indeed, the Development Bank of Wales has a criterion that says, “If you want investment, you should ideally be contributing to net zero. You should be contributing towards economic growth, and you should have local involvement and inclusion in jobs creation.” I welcome that approach, as well.
In Wales, of course, we are blessed with wind, waves and solar, and I hope that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower has mentioned—we see the lagoon project delivered, perhaps with extra added value through the new proposals that have been put on the table. That will bring with it a mixed bag of other benefits, as well as energy.
I hope that we will work in partnership with the UK Government and that, when the Welsh Government come forward with new ideas, the money will follow to serve all our interests in helping to contribute towards a more sustainable world. Again, that includes the contribution at COP26. It will be interesting to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who will be winding up this debate for the Government: he is a former climate change denier, but I think he may have suddenly seen the light and agreed that we need to combat climate change. Obviously, this is an issue on which we might have wanted to hear from a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister or a COP26 Minister as well.
Turning to the issue of plastic, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) mentioned that we have a problem with the Internal Market Act, in that we will not be able to recycle as much plastic as we would like. I very much welcome the fact that the Welsh Government’s initiative to tax plastic bags has been taken forward. I welcome taxing plastic, but the UK Government’s planned level of £200 per tonne is far below that of the EU, which is £685 per tonne. We need to increase that to reduce the amount of plastic used, because frankly, there is going to be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 on current United Nations projections.
We do need to work together, and I am pleased that the Welsh Government have said that, from a public sector point of view, their planning and ambition is to be carbon neutral by 2030 by using a combination of net zero buildings—that would include wood, as I have mentioned—confronting mobility and transport, more electrification and hydrogen-generated transport, and better land use, including the woodland plan.
Finally, we on the Welsh Affairs Committee have heard that British Airways has been buying up large tracts of land, in Ceredigion in particular, by way of carbon offset. The Government need to do something about that. These schemes were meant to preserve the Amazon rainforest, not to put Welsh hill farmers out of business with no net impact on the climate. Let’s all work together. Well done to the Welsh Government, and let’s have the UK and Welsh Governments working together so that we can focus on COP26 and provide a shop window to the world on best practice for all to emulate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Dowd. I first of all pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), both for securing the debate and the tone in which you opened it. Your tone made me rip up half my speech, and I appreciate that balance. I also echo your comments on digital services and the engagement around this debate, which I think is terrific.
I could touch on the comments of other Members but, in the good old tradition of Welsh Westminster Hall debates, the Welsh Government are good and the UK Government are bad, unless the Member is a Conservative, in which case the UK Government are good and the Welsh Government are bad. We have approached this debate in the usual fashion. I will try to break that down a little bit. I appreciated a lot of the global context that the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) introduced. I was taken aback today at Prime Minister’s questions when it was noted that 52% of the world’s urban global greenhouse gases come from 25 cities, of which 23 are in China. Clearly, the pressure on COP26 this year is immense.
There is excellent best practice coming out of Wales, and there is excellent best practice coming from Powys County Council and the Welsh Labour Government. There is also a huge amount of work, finance and regulatory change coming out of the UK Government, and it would be churlish for Labour Members speaking after me not to at least acknowledge that, if those before me have not. It is absolutely fascinating to see the pace of change. I will touch briefly on an issue that I have a little bugbear with the Welsh Government about— I have been nice, but I will have a little bash—and that is new road building.
Montgomeryshire is blessed with clean air and low emissions. The one thing that has helped Montgomeryshire more than anything to tackle emissions and improve air quality is the Newtown bypass, with Welsh Government studies and independent studies unquestionably showing that emissions have dropped around Newtown—the biggest town in my constituency—and the quality of air has improved. That is to be hugely welcomed.
In conjunction with the banning of new petrol and diesel cars, that means that road building in the future will be very different. The vehicles on the roads of the future will emit very different pollutants, if any. It is old-fashioned and traditional thinking to see road building in the traditional sense—that the roads will have heavy-polluting vehicles on them. They will not. Clearly, that is demonstrated by the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles. Clearly, that is demonstrated by great companies such as Riversimple in Powys investing in hydrogen cars. Clearly, that is demonstrated by the huge investment in hydrogen production and electric car production in this country. I hope there is time for a pause for thought. I welcome that this is a review and not a blanket ban, but road building projects in the future should not be judged on the environmental effects of the past. That is incredibly dangerous thinking as we see smaller, better, cleaner cars emerging on to our roads.
Equally, I want to be nice: Wales has led. The plastic bag tax is hugely welcome. To give credit where credit is due, the Welsh Government led on that issue, and now the UK Government are following. We must do that more in future: where there is best practice across a border—in Wales, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or across the channel into Europe, or even further—we need to share best practice. We should not be shy in stealing ideas; after all, I read Hansard regularly and we normally steal each other’s speeches, so we might as well share each other’s policies.
In closing, I will draw the private sector into this. Of course, there is a lot of public money and regulatory change, but tomorrow I will visit Garth Holiday Park in Machynlleth, in the middle of Wales, to celebrate its private investment in electric vehicle charging on the site. A huge amount of EV charging facilities are going in now. Wipak in Welshpool—if you pick up a pack of Cathedral City cheese in this country, the packaging comes from Welshpool, in the middle of Wales—is investing hugely. It is a European-based company that manufactures in Wales, and it is investing millions over the next years to improve its production and to help us achieve our net zero ambitions.
If we do this together—the UK Government, with their sheer scale and international leadership, the Welsh Government, with their devolved powers and regulatory functions; and the private sector as well—we can achieve it. I fear that if we continue with a dogmatic, narrow vision of, “We are bad, you are good. This is right, this is wrong,” we will not get anywhere near the achievements that we need, and we will do a great disservice to the constituents that really care about the issue.
Mr Dowd, I have added to the greenhouse gases with my six minutes, so I will sit down, but I very much welcome this debate.
Thank you, Mr Dowd, for allowing me to leave early to go to another Committee; it is much appreciated. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on securing this timely and important debate ahead of COP26 this autumn.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), I was reminded of the proximity of the conference this week when my hon. Friend and I welcomed and spoke at an event for the Young Christian Climate Network, which was stopping in Newport as part of an epic 1,000-mile relay on its way to the conference in Glasgow, not only to raise awareness of climate change, but to raise awareness of the UK Government’s promises to tackle climate change. It really did typify the dedication to climate justice shared by so many young people across our society—a generation that will really help to define the future of the planet left to them, so I thank them.
I also want to point out that in Newport East we have two of Wales’s 12 youth climate ambassadors, Maham Aziz and Poppy Stowell-Evans, who very much reflect that passion for a sustainable future. Members can hear more from Poppy, who will speak virtually at the all-party parliamentary group on youth action against climate change next week, so watch this space. The youth climate ambassadors’ campaigns are around making businesses in Wales more responsible for their carbon emissions, and they focus on the amount of plastic that people use. Those are initiatives that we would all like to get behind.
There are lots of volunteers and organisations across my constituency doing great work to restore local habitats and biodiversity, which goes hand in hand with the fight against climate change. I want to thank the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for its work in the Newport wetlands, the Gwent Wildlife Trust in Magor Marsh, the Rogiet wildlife-friendly village team, the Woodlanders, and the Bee Initiative at Penhow. As the young marchers we met last week said, “This is a critical decade for action to prevent climate change and for action to prevent future harm to our planet.”
The Senedd Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee’s third assessment report was published last month. It highlighted that in our children’s lifetime, Wales will experience wetter winters with drier, hotter summers and sea level rises of up to 2½ feet along our coast. I have looked at the maps and I have a coastal constituency, which is why it is so important, as other hon. Members have said, that the Welsh Labour Government have set a legal and ambitious commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and are pushing to get that ambition even sooner. Ambition is critical. Inaction is not an option; nor is doing the minimum.
We were the first country in the world—I was here at the time, along with the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies)—to pass a Climate Change Act in 2008, and under the Welsh Labour Government we were the first country in the world to enshrine in law the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, ensuring that any decision that our Government make must serve the needs of our children and grandchildren, including on environmental issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower said, we have a Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change, too.
Others have highlighted our national recycling rate, which is at an all-time high of 65%. I say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) that the UK Government could learn from that as we are the third best recycling nation in the world and the best in Europe. I thank Wastesavers at Newport Council for its work, and I look forward to the new youth centre in Magor opening shortly. As others have mentioned, we also have the national forest for Wales to improve air quality and remove harmful greenhouse gases from the community.
Others want to speak, so I will finish here. There is clearly much more to do. Lots of hon. Members have mentioned decarbonising steel. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was right about the dangers of importing steel, which can make things worse. UK steel should be right at the heart of a green recovery, in terms of jobs and new skills, but also in terms of providing steel for solar energy, the tidal lagoons and for electrification. Green jobs for the future in new industries are important to us, too, as are transport, housing and energy efficiency—all of which are in Labour’s green recovery plan.
Wales and Labour have shown a lead on environmental issues, which the UK Government would do well to follow. As the host of COP26, the UK Government must strain every sinew to keep the possibility of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees, in line with the goals of the Paris agreement. We owe that to the young people who are out there campaigning for that this week.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate, which has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), and to follow the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). The debate enables me to highlight the opportunities that my constituency of Ynys Môn has to contribute to the Government’s net zero 2050 target and to tackle climate change in Wales.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Wales and my constituency in particular could be fundamental to tackling climate change, not just locally but globally. Anglesey stands on the brink of becoming a centre of excellence for energy production. Morlais and Minesto are honing in on tidal energy and wave production, with innovative operations planned off the coast of the island. This month, the National Nuclear Laboratory has established a new office in M-SParc. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Welsh Government are seeking to establish a thermal hydraulic facility on Anglesey. There are currently only two such facilities worldwide—one in Italy and one in the US. In the March Budget, the Chancellor and this Government committed £4.8 million to develop the Holyhead hydrogen hub. And there is, of course, Wylfa Newydd.
Wylfa Newydd offers the best new nuclear power site in the UK, possibly the world. Anglesey is known already as energy island, but in all honesty it feels like we are treading water. To truly tackle climate change and to achieve our 2050 net zero targets, the UK needs a base-load generating capacity that can only be met consistently and within the timescales offered by new nuclear. Wylfa Newydd has the potential to power 2 million homes. It offers Wales’s biggest single contribution to tackling climate change. Not only that; it is a site that has the support of local people and would offer 8,000 construction jobs, 1,500 long-term, permanent, skilled, well-paid careers and thousands of supply chain roles across north Wales.
Wylfa Newydd would not just tackle climate change but transform the economy of north Wales, give our young people the opportunity to stay in their communities and keep the Welsh language alive for generations to come. I simply cannot overemphasise how important Wylfa Newydd is to Wales.
The UK Prime Minister has declared himself a “fervent supporter” of the project, but to make this happen we need a catalyst, and that catalyst is freeport status. A freeport would turbocharge Anglesey’s energy island credentials and give Wales a step change in its route to achieving net zero. This year, as we host COP26 and commit to building back better and greener, let us take a stand and show the world that Wales and the UK are truly committed to tackling climate change. Let us find a way to make Wylfa Newydd happen. We need the UK and Welsh Governments to work together to bring a freeport to Anglesey. Climate change is real and we cannot afford to delay when we have hard targets to achieve. Every day of delay is a day of irreversible damage to our fragile globe.
I end by echoing the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams). Now is the time to cast aside our differences and work together, for the communities of Anglesey and the future of Wales, our Union and our children’s future in the world.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this debate.
We are in the grip of a climate emergency. My constituency of Cynon Valley has in recent times seen some of the worst effects of climate change. Last year, Storm Dennis had a devastating impact on it, and it was followed by a heatwave and further flash flooding. We worry about the future for our children and grandchildren. The Committee on Climate Change’s recent report on Wales’s progress on tackling climate change was damning and sobering. It found that 26 of the 61 climate change risks have increased in severity over the past five years, and that more action is required on 32 of them. It concluded that current plans are not sufficient and that the Welsh Government need to take urgent action.
Words are not enough. We need urgent action now at the local, national and international levels. I am pleased to say that in Cynon Valley and Wales, we are stepping up. Tackling climate change was one of my key pledges when I was elected, and since then it has underpinned everything I do. I have worked and continued to work alongside local people and groups in my constituency to do everything we can to tackle climate change.
We are taking a grassroots, bottom-up approach to bring about positive change. I am currently holding a series of climate assemblies in my constituency, involving a range of individuals and groups, on green jobs, transport and energy. I thank all the groups that have participated. We have our next one on transport next week. Speakers on those topics have included Member of the Senedd Lee Waters, future generations commissioners, Professor Calvin Jones of Cardiff University, and the Wales TUC, to name a few. The speakers are followed by a discussion in which people can put their ideas for change. We are going to produce a summary report of recommendations, called a Cynon climate action plan, which we will disseminate widely.
Local people have the power to force change from the bottom up, but leadership and sound decision making is needed from those in power. It is a two-way process. We all have a part to play, but there are major decisions and actions for the Government to take.
As I say, the Welsh Government have stepped up. I remain extremely proud that we were the first nation in the world to declare a climate emergency. I very much welcome the renewed energy, determination and urgency shown by the Welsh Government since the Senedd elections in May to address climate change. Mark Drakeford, our First Minister, said:
“The environment will be at the heart of our decision-making…In my new government, the environment doesn’t just have a seat at the Cabinet table, it will be a consideration in all we do.”
The Welsh Government’s recently published programme for government contains a raft of policies to help achieve that, from a clean air Bill to a target that 45% of journeys must use sustainable modes by 2040. As others have said, a new climate Ministry has been created to turn those words into action. The Welsh Government are not afraid of taking action—sometimes difficult and contentious action—in a short period of time, including a freeze on new road-building projects while a review is undertaken, which I very much support. Only yesterday, Lee Waters MS announced a national call to arms to plant more trees, which others have already spoken about.
The same cannot be said of the UK Government, who have paid lip service to climate change but remain hellbent on spending £27 billion on their new road-building programme, despite the findings of the Transport Action Network that it breaches the UK’s legal Paris agreement commitment to tackle the climate crisis and critically undermines the country’s standing ahead of the COP 26 summit. They have given themselves the power through the internal market to undermine some of the Welsh Government’s progressive determinations, as my hon. Friends have already mentioned.
That is why we will continue to take local action and mobilise to bring about change. Our Cynon climate action plan will be submitted to COP 26. I will take the recommendations to Parliament and push for change in all forums, including the Chamber and the all-party parliamentary climate change group, of which I am a member. I will also continue to support the climate and ecological emergency Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I will continue to call on the UK Government to give Wales our fair share of funding to enable us to fulfil our climate ambitions. We could be a world leader in moving towards a carbon-neutral economy. We have the resources in this country to do so much more.
Fundamental changes in society are required if the climate crisis is to be avoided. We cannot stop the acceleration of carbon emissions unless we change the way society works. As Professor Calvin Jones of Cardiff University has said, capitalism is bust. We must end the exploitation of fossil fuels, tackle multinational corporations, and instead put people before profit. Naomi Klein and Professor Tim Jackson both feel that we cannot sustain the current way of organising the world economy, exploiting all natural resources in the name of profit.
In conclusion, as one of my constituents, Morien Morgan, who has taught me so about climate change, has said,
“We can’t let future generations down and say, ‘It’s too late now. We’re on the Titanic so let’s open the drinks cabinet, strike up the band and dance until the end.’”
This is bigger than any party political stance. In Morien’s words, “This is existential”, and as another constituent said to me:
“We don’t own this planet. We only borrow it from our children and I want to leave it in a state that they can enjoy and benefit.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am very grateful to my good and hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this important debate. It is also a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, my good and hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) Valley. Sadly, like her, my constituency of Pontypridd and Taff Ely has seen at first hand the devastating impact of the catastrophic flooding events and climate change.
In a matter of hours in February 2020, more than 300 homes in my local area were impacted by the worst flooding in a generation. In an instant, millions of pounds’ worth of damage had been caused to businesses, homes and local infrastructure. Indeed, the national lido of Wales, a wonderful space right in the heart of my constituency, was closed for more than a year after being absolutely devastated by flooding. Now, more than a year on, people are still feeling the effects of the floods, including through challenges getting access to home insurance, and there are also those who, sadly, are struggling with the long-term mental health impacts of flash flooding.
Communities such as mine are, sadly, not alone. Up and down this country, both in Wales and beyond, there are cities, towns and villages that have been devastated by the effects of climate change. The sad fact of the matter is that, left unchecked, climate change will lead to more catastrophic climate events such as floods, not just in Wales, but around the world too.
It will come as no surprise that I have genuine fears about the UK Government’s commitment to supporting those at risk. Colleagues may be aware of the real fight that I and other Rhondda Cynon Taff representatives, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Cynon Valley, had to put up to secure funding for Wales following the devastating flooding last year.
Although I am pleased that the UK Government eventually came up with some cash to help communities like mine, it is clear that only the Labour Government in Wales really understand and are truly committed to taking flood prevention seriously. Alongside our fantastic local council in RCT, they have acted quickly to support those hit hardest by the floods, both through emergency financial support and in bringing forward flood resistance measures for at-risk homes.
The Welsh Government have also recently committed to funding additional flood protections for more than 45,000 homes across Wales. Rather than spending funding on bureaucratic reports, they are focused on making real, lifelong changes that will support and protect communities.
Colleagues may be relieved to know that I also want to use my brief time today to show support for a number of other ambitious measures in which the Welsh Labour Government are investing to tackle climate change. In 2019, the Welsh Government introduced mandatory regulations on new housing developments to help reduce flood risk and improve water quality. Sadly, the important topic of sustainable urban drainage systems is not spoken about often enough, but the science really does speak for itself. Despite evidence showing that SUDS address flooding in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner, the UK Government have completely failed to introduce such regulations in England. I therefore look forward to hearing from the Minister what consideration the UK Government, particularly the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have given to the possibility of introducing mandatory SUDS in England, too.
The Minister will also know that the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way on tree planting, as other Members have said. The creation of a new national forest stretching from the north of Wales all the way to the south is a vital step forward, not just in creating a sustainable timber industry for the future, but in supporting local communities by creating new cultural and recreational opportunities across Wales.
When we discuss climate change, it is absolutely vital to consider the impact that our actions and our Governments’ actions across the devolved nations are having on the lives of future generations. I have regularly been inspired by the fantastic engagement shown by young people in my community on the question of climate change. From plastic in our oceans to littering in our green spaces, climate change and environment policy is brought up time and again on school visits and on my social media channels.
A few weeks ago, I visited Tonyrefail Community School in my constituency to hear from young people about the issues affecting them. We talked about everything from recycling centres to single-use plastics, air pollution and overfishing, and their fears about the impact of climate change on the future. It is clear that young people in my community understand the scale of the challenges that we face, yet the Tory Government are doing everything in their power to make it harder for the Labour Government in Wales to take steps to address climate change.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and this Government’s shameless attempt to undermine devolution and the democratic rights of the Welsh people are having an impact on the Welsh Government’s ability to legislate on issues such as single-use plastic. The Welsh Government reaffirmed in the 2021 elections their commitment to abolishing a number of single-use plastics, but they now face an unnecessary uphill battle to put that into action. On air pollution, yet again the Welsh Labour Government are setting and meeting far more ambitious targets than those at UK level. The UK Government voted down on multiple occasions attempts to include World Health Organisation clean air targets in the Environment Bill, despite clear evidence of the impact of air pollution on the health of the most vulnerable. But thankfully, all of us representing communities in Wales can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the Welsh Labour Government have confirmed that they will be legislating to set the highest international standards for air quality in law through the forthcoming clean air Bill for Wales.
Lastly, it would seem remiss of me not to refer to the coronavirus pandemic, which obviously is having an ongoing impact on all our lives. That is particularly true for our manufacturing and aviation sectors, which are both vital employers in my local area. As we see changes in manufacturing and industry across the UK, the Government have an opportunity to make radical interventions to ensure that skilled jobs are available across the whole country. We need proper, coherent policy from the UK Government to create jobs in green manufacturing. Labour’s plan for an electric vehicle revolution is one such plan. We have to ensure that electric cars are affordable for everyone and, crucially for communities such as mine, we need to ensure that charging points are accessible all over the UK and not just in London and the south-east.
I urge the Minister, if he is as committed to the Union as his party claims to be, to particularly work with and learn from the Welsh Government. The impacts of climate change are happening now for us all to see, and the Minister is in a position of real power to create positive change. I sincerely hope that he and his colleagues across the Wales Office and in DEFRA are listening. Diolch, Mr Dowd.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on securing today’s debate and on her excellent and passionate speech laying out the challenges in front of us. Today’s debate has on the whole been very consensual and positive. I think that nobody in this room or, hopefully, across Parliament would underestimate those challenges. The fact that, as my hon. Friend mentioned, there were 168 replies to the online consultation regarding this debate demonstrates the level of public concern about these important issues.
During the debate, we have heard about, and my hon. Friend highlighted, the actions of the Welsh Labour Government. This week, there was the announcement about 86 million trees being planted over the next few years. It was also highlighted that, unfortunately, the electrification of the railway line to Swansea and the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon are two examples that demonstrate a lack of action from the UK Government.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis) talked about decarbonisation, electric vehicles, the new technologies in his constituency and the opportunities to work together across his area. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) rightly said that we cannot sit back; we have to take action, and urgently. She also commended the pragmatic policies of the Welsh Government, including the national forest and the ban on single-use plastic—albeit with the challenges that are in place around that—and the fact that Wales has the third best recycling level in the world. I particularly liked her comment about levelling up with Labour in Wales—or not, as the case may be.
The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) talked about his experience, in formative years, with hydro projects in his area and about measures across the constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who is particularly passionate about these issues, talked very eloquently about the scale of the problems facing us, the global challenges and global temperatures. He also talked about the need to look closely at supporting the Welsh steel industry against cheaper imported Chinese steel, and he particularly welcomed the Welsh Affairs Committee report with regard to HS2 being an England-only project and the need for a positive impact on funding in Wales.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) talked about pollutants and the plea to follow best practice, wherever that may be. He commended the Welsh Government on the plastic bag tax, and referred to the challenges around road building and the cleaner vehicles of the future, which will be a positive step forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) talked about young people in Newport and the work that has been done by the voluntary sector, including the wetlands trust, the Gwent Wildlife Trust and the Newport Wastesavers. Having spent time in a previous life working in the voluntary sector in that area, I know how passionate the voluntary sector is across Newport.
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) talked about the opportunities in her constituency and that BEIS and the Welsh Government are looking at a thermal hydraulic facility, which will be the third of its kind in the world, if it comes about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) talked about the challenges of flooding caused by Storm Dennis, the need to step up and the importance of grassroots, the power of local people and a bottom-up approach. I am sure we all look forward to seeing the Cynon climate change plan in due course. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) talked about the flooding challenges of Storm Dennis and the required flood prevention works that are being taken forward by the Welsh Government and local authorities.
A number of hon. Members mentioned that climate change is one of the most important and talked-about topics among children and young people during school visits. That demonstrates a positive view of the future. That young people care about these issues so passionately should give us hope that these issues will be taken forward. One thing that has stuck with me is the strapline from the Rio summit in 1992: “Think global, act local”. That stuck with me, as I was quite a tender age at that point—well, tender-ish. We can all do our bit locally, which is the important message. We can all do our bit in our communities and schools, and add our small contributions together to make an impact across the country and the globe.
We know that our planet and way of life, in this country and around the world, is facing an existential threat from climate change. In the past few weeks, we have seen record high temperatures in the Pacific north-west, and we are increasingly familiar with extreme weather events closer to home, including the floods that affected my constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley, for Pontypridd and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), as well as other areas across south Wales and other parts of the country. I think it was the wettest February on record.
All that underlines the fact that this is not a challenge that can or should be left to future generations; it is one that we must face now, together. I, too, am proud that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley highlighted, the Senedd was the first Parliament in the world to vote to declare a climate emergency in 2019. That is why the Welsh Labour Government have brought forward measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Wales, with a target of net zero emissions by 2050. That target is vital to protect our planet’s future. It is an ambitious one that will require concerted effort from all of us: Governments, industries, communities and individuals.
Of course, Governments must take a lead. Through the Warm Homes scheme, the Welsh Government have installed energy-efficiency measures for more than 60,000 households experiencing fuel poverty. They have also invested in major renewable energy infrastructure projects, including the Awel y Môr offshore wind farm and the world-class centre for marine engineering at Pembroke dock. All the while, they have taken action to combat and limit those technologies that threaten our climate and environment in Wales, including opposing fossil fuel extraction and maintaining a ban on fracking. Wales has reached the milestone of generating more than 50% of the energy we consume from renewable sources, up from 19% in 2014.
Of course, there is more that must be done for us to meet the 2050 target and ensure a sustainable future for all communities in Wales. Colleagues will know that, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West and others, the Welsh Labour Government have recently established a new ministry for climate change, under the leadership of Welsh Ministers Julie James and Lee Waters. It is fair to say that this bold decision to bring housing, transport, planning and energy policy together under one roof is a clear signal that the Welsh Government will use all the levers it has to tackle the climate emergency. The Senedd and the Welsh Government will expand renewable energy generation by public bodies and community groups in Wales, working towards challenging targets in the public sector and community renewable energy capacity by 2030.
The transition to a fully green economy requires difficult choices. In Wales we are embedding the concept of a just transition through social partnerships, bringing together Government, trade unions and employers to consider the action that must be taken. These are just some of the measures that are being taken in Wales to combat climate change and I hope that there can be close co-operation with the UK Government, something a number of Members have called for this afternoon, as we focus all our attention on hitting that 2050 target.
The UN climate summit COP26, which this country is hosting in Glasgow this year, is a critical moment for our planet and for our country. The eyes of the world will be upon us and I hope that Ministers across Governments will use the opportunity to provide the meaningful leadership that we and our planet need. I hope the Minister can provide us with some of those necessary reassurances today.
Thank you for your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I join the congratulations for the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones). He just said that this is a positive and consensual debate, and all I can say is that it probably is. You should see us in Wales when we are disagreeing with each other, Mr Dowd—but that is another matter.
The UK is the first country in the world to have enshrined legally binding carbon budgets into legislation. We are now into our fifth carbon budget and have recently committed to a sixth, which will set the UK on course to achieve a 78% emissions reduction by 2037, having achieved 40% so far, which is no mean achievement. This target is consistent with the Paris agreement, and the goal is to limit global temperature rises to well below 2 °C and pursue efforts towards 1.5 °C.
The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) made a point about the fact our contribution is not going to count for much unless the rest of the world follows. He is quite right and this is one of the rare occasions when I agree with him. I want to put in context the rest of what I say, because it will be easy enough for hon. Members to say, “Well, you could be doing more.” The point is that if we want the rest of the world to follow us, we had better do what we are doing well and we had better do it without there being an obvious, drastic cut in living standards for everyone in this country as a result of the actions we are taking. If we saw living standards cut and people being thrown out of work because of action we were taking, the rest of the world, particularly countries like China, most certainly would not follow us and therefore we would defeat the whole object of what we are doing.
It is estimated that four times more low carbon power generation will be needed by 2050. We cannot predict what the balance of energy generation technologies will look like, but we can take bold steps now to build the foundations of a low carbon system that is mindful of the need to keep costs as low as possible for consumers and the taxpayer, for the reasons I have just mentioned.
The next contracts for difference auction in December will aim to support up to 6 GW of renewables across Great Britain, which is enough clean low-cost energy to power up to 10 million homes. That mechanism has already played a key role in driving up the terms of renewables while driving costs down. The next auction will include revenue support for floating offshore wind, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and which has significant deployment potential in the Celtic sea, where wind speeds are particularly strong. The Secretary of State for Wales and I have been to Pembroke Dock to look at the infrastructure there. We had a virtual meeting yesterday with one of the companies that is looking to deploy renewable technology there, and very exciting technology it is.
Some of the Swansea Bay city region growth deal projects were mentioned in passing as being funded by the Welsh Government, which of course they are, but hon. Members seemed to overlook the fact that they are also being 50% funded by the UK Government. We are very proud to be supporting those projects, including the Pembroke Dock marine programme, which is developing innovative floating offshore and wind technology.
We are also very well placed for marine energy generation more widely, providing it can offer clear value for money. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ran a call for evidence on marine energy last year, and we are considering policy related to wave and tidal stream energy as a result of the submissions we received. A few weeks ago, I visited the Morlais Menter Môn project in Ynys Môn, which has been championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie). Although that project is still being put together, from what I have seen it is well advanced, and I am confident that we may well see that project going ahead. Obviously, that depends on the business case, but it is an exciting and innovative project.
The hon. Member for Gower mentioned the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project, and I chaired the Select Committee inquiry into that with a Labour Member. There is a legal case going on at the moment, so I am not going to say too much about it, but I urge anyone interested in that project to look at the transcript of the meeting in which we heard from the developers. Since then, I have met Swansea Council to discuss the Dragon energy island proposal, and I can tell the hon. Member that I have a great deal of confidence in the competence of the council. That scheme is in its early stages, but neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has any problem at all with the principle of tidal lagoon development.
I thank the Minister for the positive comments he has made about Labour-run Swansea Council and Dragon energy island. In any conversations that he has with other Ministers, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales or the Prime Minister, I urge him to push that agenda forwards for the future of Swansea.
All I can say is that it has a lot of potential. The figures that were put to us by the leader of Swansea Council were very positive, but obviously the council has to make its case to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is certainly not something that we have any problem with in principle.
We are developing a business model to support the application of carbon capture, usage and storage technology to the power sector. That, along with a range of other measures that we are taking, is of particular relevance to Wales, because of the higher proportion of electricity that Wales has historically generated from fossil fuels. We are taking the next important steps to cultivate next- generation nuclear technologies, committing £385 million for small and advanced modular reactors and £222 million for the UK’s first fusion power plant. Both actions align well with Wales’s advanced nuclear ambitions across fission and fusion technologies. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn is particularly interested in those schemes.
That leads me to make another point: a lot of the actions that we are taking need the support of all those who care about the environment. One of the problems we have had with nuclear power is that those people who have clamoured loudly for electricity to be generated from carbon-free sources have not always been willing to commit themselves to technologies such as nuclear, which delivers just that and does so in a predictable fashion that allows the national grid to function properly. The regulation of the electricity network is a matter for Ofgem, and £2.7 million has been earmarked for investment in the distribution networks across Wales and Merseyside for the period from 2015 to 2023.
Turning to business and industry, I am sure hon. Members will welcome the Government’s commitment of £21.5 million to the south Wales industrial cluster, matching £18.5 million committed by industry. South Wales is the second largest industrial cluster in the UK in terms of greenhouse gas emissions—hence the need for targeted action in the region. That funding will enable the cluster to undertake detailed engineering studies into hydrogen and carbon capture infrastructure and to develop a strategic decarbonisation plan. I was very pleased to be in Swansea last week, discussing the region’s low-carbon growth deal projects. Those tie in with the aims of the cluster and are, of course, being supported financially by the UK Government.
All parts of Wales have the opportunity to benefit from funding through the £289 million industrial energy transformation fund, the £250 million clean steel fund, the £240 million net zero hydrogen fund and the £1 billion carbon capture and storage infrastructure fund.
In addition to our funding commitments, we are working to establish policy frameworks to support our industrial partners to make the transition to net zero. We have confirmed a new and ambitious UK emissions trading scheme to create the world’s first cap and trade market for greenhouse gas emissions and, as announced in the recently published industrial decarbonisation strategy, we are encouraging low-carbon fuel switching and growing the market for low-carbon industrial products. Meanwhile, we are developing business models to financially incentivise the take-up and usage of key decarbonisation technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen.
Turning to transport, as my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) pointed out, we will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. All cars and vans will be 100% zero-emissions from the tailpipe by 2035. Between 2030 and 2035 all new cars and vans will be required to have a significant zero-emissions capability, which would include some plug-in and full hybrids. That will of course entail a lot of changes for consumers, and it is only fair that we bear that in mind.
I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment at the blanket decision to stop building roads across the whole of Wales, because the roads of the future will not throw out the emissions of the roads of the past. He mentioned one in his constituency. The problems of congestion in Chepstow are appalling. We are seeing World Health Organisation guidance being breached. We know what the solution is: a bypass. At the moment, it cannot happen because the Welsh Government have halted all road building. That is a matter of great disappointment to many of us.
The measures that we have taken on transport send an unequivocal signal on the direction of travel that we are pursuing in partnership with industry towards a zero-carbon transport future, but as well as top-down market creation we also need bottom-up technological innovation. In that field, Welsh innovators are ahead of the pack, following in the footsteps of the fuel pioneer from Swansea Sir William Robert Grove, who I looked up on Wikipedia last night. He had a very interesting background.
We are looking to attract at least one gigafactory to Wales. We are supporting the development of electric heavy vehicle trucks in Cwmbran, in the factory that I know as Lucas Girling because I was one of the subcontractors there for many years. It is now known as Meritor, and we backed it with £15.9 million. I am looking forward to going back and visiting, and meeting some of my old friends on goods outward again.
Innovative companies such as Riversimple, which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited last week alongside the Secretary of State for Wales, are developing hydrogen vehicles. Riversimple took me out for a spin in one recently in Monmouth, and good fun it was too. That is being supported by £1.3 million. In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £4.8 million for the Holyhead hydrogen hub—another scheme that was championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. It is a proposal that aims to supply hydrogen fuel to the heavy goods and maritime vehicle markets on Ynys Môn. I am also aware of the exciting opportunity presented by the LanzaTech proposal to develop sustainable aviation fuel in south Wales, which came up during my visit in Swansea last week—[Interruption.] You are looking at me purposefully, Mr Dowd. I wonder whether I am exceeding my time limit.
I am on a proxy, Mr Dowd, so I am happy to carry on.
Those projects and more show that Wales is leading the way when it comes to low-carbon transport innovation, and they will play a key part in the UK-wide effort to decarbonise the sector, which we will say more about as we publish the transport decarbonisation plan. The plan focuses on the challenges that we need to overcome to reduce transport emissions and ensure that the UK reaches net zero by 2050. It will also review the existing forecasts of future transport emissions from each mode of transport and set out a range of actions to drive further decarbonisation.
The Government are taking a range of actions to put our homes, which comprise a tenth of Welsh emissions, on a pathway towards clean power. A comprehensive overview of the key near-term actions that we will take will be set out in the heat and building strategy, which we expect to publish soon. The strategy will set out a range of policy levers to encourage consumers and businesses to make the transition to clean heat and improve the energy efficiency of buildings. We have already announced our intention to consult on the territorial scope and a key market mechanism to support the delivery of 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. Hydrogen will be considered as a potential decarbonisation option for heat, and we will be assessing the case for encouraging or requiring new gas boilers to be readily convertible to hydrogen in preparation for any future conversion of the gas network. We will continue to work with the Health and Safety Executive to enable up to 20% of hydrogen blending in the gas network by 2023, subject to the success of testing and trials.
We recognise that different areas will have different heat decarbonisation requirements. Heat networks are one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing carbon emissions from heating, and their efficiency and carbon-saving potential increases as they grow and connect to each other. We have already provided £7.9 million to the heat networks in Cardiff, and I was very pleased to be able to visit them virtually back in April. There is another one in Bridgend, which I hope to see shortly— not virtually, but in reality. Backed by £36 million, the Active Building Centre in Swansea is one of Wales’s most promising innovation projects, working to transform the way in which buildings are designed, constructed and operated by integrating power generation technology into the fabric of the building itself, and of course there is a growth deal in the Swansea area, which is focused on retrofitting buildings. Again, that will be supported by the UK Government.
Central Government clearly have a leading role to play in the net zero transition. We can set regulations, help to incentivise the adoption and development of net zero technologies, and provide further funding for strategic projects. However, in Wales we are seeing our local partners rise to the climate challenge as well, through the city and growth deals and backed by £790 million of UK Government funding. Our colleagues in north Wales are paving the way for tidal energy and new nuclear technologies. Swansea’s low-carbon growth programme is pioneering hydrogen, marine-energy and low-carbon buildings. I have been very pleased to visit those regions and see first hand the innovative projects they are looking to deliver. Cardiff has identified energy and the environment as one of its priority sectors, and I am absolutely certain that, as the mid-Wales growth deal develops, it too will be pursuing net zero projects as part of the development.
Our job is to deliver a green industrial revolution that has reducing emissions as its core objective. It is also about jobs and levelling up: the infrastructure we build and the technologies we develop to reach net zero will spur on a whole new wave of economic development. It is estimated that delivering the net zero infrastructure required by the south Wales industrial cluster alone could create up to 5,000 jobs. Depending on the extent of local supply chain engagement, Rolls-Royce estimates that 40,000 jobs could be created across north Wales and the north-west of England if the production of small modular reactors reaches its peak. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult forecasts that the first Celtic sea floating offshore wind projects could deliver 3,000 jobs across south Wales and the south-west of England, an opportunity that would support the Government’s target of reaching 60% of UK content in UK wind projects. Driving up prosperity and driving down emissions is the approach we are taking to confront two Government priorities simultaneously: levelling up across the UK, and fulfilling our obligations to reduce dependency on fossil fuel.
To conclude, the Government are in no doubt about the need to take bold and ambitious action to rise to the challenge of climate change. We have made significant progress, with emissions 40% lower now than they were in the 1990s. We do understand the need to go further, and we will work with local communities, partners, businesses, the Welsh Government, and international partners to do so. This is a collective effort in which we all have a role to play, and I thank hon. Members for their contributions today.
I thank the Minister for his detailed response, and all Members present for participating in today’s important debate. I want to reflect on a few things that have been said, particularly the words of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), who spoke about thinking global and acting local. That is so important, because so many of the community councils have been making really great progress in my constituency.
In Mumbles and Pennard, they have a plastic-free mission. There is a wonderful place called Pennard Stores. If hon. Members ever go down to Three Cliffs, they should go to Pennard Stores—Jamie runs it—because it is carbon neutral and everything there is just magnificent. These are small actions that local businesses and councils are taking, and it even goes down to the individual. There is a young boy called Sonny, who goes every day to do a litter pick, and we have two-minute beach cleans across Swansea bay. These things make a difference to climate change in Wales.
I thank hon. Members for their excellent contributions to the debate. One of the things that the Minister did not mention, though, was the electrification to Swansea, which was one of the Tory Government’s big promises to constituents in Swansea. That is a massive disappointment.
The hon. Lady is quite right to say that I should have mentioned that. I was on the Welsh Affairs Committee—and she may have been as well—when this issue was looked at. The reality is that the costs of electrification from Cardiff to Swansea were absolutely extortionate and had gone up and up. The journey times were not going to decrease in any way, so there was no benefit to the consumer. If we recognise that we have a certain amount of money to spend on such projects, it would have been better—this is what the Government felt—to spend it somewhere where we were actually going to have more of an impact on carbon dioxide emissions.
I, too, was on the Committee, which is why it is really interesting to see the money going into HS2. It would not have been beyond the wit of man to realise back in 2015, when those promises were made, that it was going to be a challenge, and it is a challenge. The Minister makes a valid point, but it is still a lost dream now, and that is what is disappointing about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) said that inaction is not an option, and I think that all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate agree that that is the case.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered measures to combat climate change in Wales.
Children and Families: Cross-Government Strategy
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice to support the hybrid arrangements. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered developing a cross-Government strategy for improving outcomes for children and families.
First, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a serving councillor and unpaid vice-president of the Local Government Association. I also put on the record my thanks to the LGA and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose research I will draw on in my speech.
The NSPCC’s report, “Bringing the global to the local”, suggests that the UK continues to have a child protection system that is among the best in the world. However, a good childhood goes beyond effective protection from harm; we need to consider how we support children to thrive. Child protection is a good example of where cross-Government co-ordination is required. I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s recent comments about corporal punishment and hope that the Minister can press colleagues across Government to consider bringing England into line with Wales, Scotland and most of our international allies with a reasonable chastisement rule—something that is well evidenced in the research for another NSPCC report, “Equally Protected?”
However, the key thing for all Government policy is that it works well in practice. For most children, the key things in their life will be education and healthcare, and on the whole these things work extremely well at giving our children a great start. The challenges arise when we start to address more complex issues in areas such as public health, child poverty, enrichment activity, financial education and preparation for the world of work, and almost every Government Department has an impact on children and their welfare.
I particularly commend the Minister for her work on the programme to support children during school holidays. It has been a great illustration of both how complex but also how effective cross-Government co-ordination can be, with Departments, including the Department for Education, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, all having a direct stake in both the process and the outcomes for the children involved. This programme, as strong as it has been, has not high- lighted something that is simply a covid issue; it has demonstrated a challenge that has existed for decades, which covid has brought into even sharper focus.
So why is it timely to consider the cross-Government co-ordination of children’s policy now? First, this is an opportunity to consider how we articulate our ambitions—what we as a country want to achieve for our children. Secondly, today I will make the case for the boring but absolutely essential task of sorting out what one might term the plumbing of the system—the complex web of budgets, policies, markets and providers that we need to support our children as effectively and efficiently as possible. Many across the sector argue that we need to think about what our plan looks like for the future.
I will consider first the question of ambition. The purpose of this debate is to press the case for a clear sense of cross-Government ambition for children. All political experience shows that government—manifestations of the state such as local authorities, schools, health authorities and police forces—is very good at fulfilling the specific tasks it is given by legislation. That is why, for example, councils have prioritised their legal obligations under our child protection system in response to the tough choices driven by financial pressure.
However, the downside to that is that by keeping our policies for children in a state of “just about managing” across some parts of government, we forgo the opportunity to make the strategic decisions that bring about the long-term benefits we want to see, which I have heard the Minister and others articulate their desire for. Many of those things have lifetime cost implications for the state, as well as significant human consequences.
It is right, for example, that the Government have set out a cross-departmental strategy on the environment and climate change. The focus brought by COP26 has enabled us to see all parts of government thinking about how our actions contribute to achieving those climate goals and working with all kinds of stakeholders on the action that they need to take. In the same way, I call for a clear, cross-government strategy for children that sets out what we want to achieve for the health, education and wellbeing of our youngest constituents. On the whole, we have a system that supports children well, but it remains inconsistent in some respects. From early years health and nutrition to entry to university, we still have some distance to travel before we can say that our youngest constituents are able to make the best of the opportunities that our country seeks to offer.
I turn briefly to the specifics. Our children would benefit from a clear set of national outcomes—a list, perhaps—starting from consistent, high-quality antenatal support, as argued for by some, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) in her recent review, through to access to vaccinations, early education, the financial benefits from the Treasury relevant to childhood, accountable education providers with a restless ambition for every child, and a clear national offer on enrichment to engage all young people in the opportunities and responsibilities of our society.
That brings me to the heart of the issue. As the Local Government Association publication “Rewiring Public Services” highlighted, setting out ambitions is all very well, but unless we think through how to fulfil them, we are setting ourselves up to fail. The research base emerging from the network of What Works centres brings together a good deal of evidence in this respect. It highlights how the best value for the taxpayer is often achieved through programmes, such as the troubled families programme, that move away from specific, legislatively mandated actions to locally co-ordinated interventions.
We need to consider that schools are the one place where the state has eyes on almost all children. They have a unique opportunity and responsibility in all aspects of a child’s life. Too often, our system has prioritised institutional performance rather than the outcomes for every child. We need to think, across all life stages, how we maximise the achievement of every participant—something that remains a legally mandated responsibility of local authorities, but which currently relies on a complex web of often conflicting interests across different providers. We need to ensure that regulation supports the delivery of those national priority outcomes. Anecdotal examples of high-performing institutions are clearly not a proxy for the rigorous pursuit of ambition for all.
We need to bolster the power of our local authorities to fulfil their statutory role as champions for children. Public health is a clear example of this. In practice, many councils have been pushed to accept mixed-quality contracts passed on from historic NHS providers. We need to ensure that NHS bodies welcome the scrutiny of accountable local colleagues and welcome the opportunity to reconfigure services so that, for example, child protection and health visiting become a seamless experience from the point of view of a vulnerable child, rather than a process of navigating an internal market.
Finally, we need a clear process across government for driving these ambitions. Ofsted would not accept a local authority’s saying that it cannot fulfil a priority because it is someone else’s department. We must apply the same principle in Whitehall. A Government with a substantial majority, ambition for levelling up, the support of great Ministers with experience in the area—all these things are an opportunity for setting out a new ambition for what it means to grow up in the UK in the coming decades. That cannot simply be about addressing deficits and failings; it needs to be about having that sense of ambition. Too often, deficits and failings are patched up—with great, but often piecemeal initiatives—and long- term challenges still need to be addressed.
Growing pressure on the special educational needs and disability system is pushing education budgets to breaking point in many areas. Department for Education figures suggest that there is more than £1.4 billion in school surpluses, and many schools on the Department’s radar have excessive surpluses. Councils are criticised for spending on child protection rather than early intervention, but the law of the land makes this inevitable. In respect of refugee children, the Home Office owns the national transfer scheme, designed with the Department for Education and local authorities to improve capacity, but market failure in the system sometimes means a lack of placements for willing local authority participants to procure.
In conclusion, we need to apply the excellent research base that has developed—from many organisations, including those funded by the Department—to build on the depth and strength of the experience of our local authorities and our schools. We also need to set out across government that clear vision of our national priorities for our children, so that we have a system that consistently supports all our children to thrive and make the most of the opportunities that our country has to offer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) for securing this important debate about how we work across Government to improve outcomes for children and their families. I am also grateful for the focus on this topic through the Lords Public Services Committee. The Secretary of State for Education is the lead Cabinet Minister for families and has spoken about the critical importance of families in ensuring the best start in life for children and young people. The Government have been clear that providing the right support for children and families is a priority across policy and decision making, particularly for those with vulnerabilities. We all share an ambition to ensure the system works and delivers the best outcomes.
Over the past decade, we have worked consistently to improve outcomes for every child. For example, I am proud that through the work of the Department for Education, alongside schools, the attainment gap has narrowed at every stage of education. However, we know the pandemic has thrown up additional challenges, and families and children rely on policies and programmes owned across Government. For example, that means being able to access a good school and early education place; the welfare support system being there when families need it; providing first-class child and family health provision through our NHS; and, where families need more support, ensuring that the right, targeted services are in place through children’s social care, early help, special education needs and disabilities services, and multi-service providers, such as family hubs.
Departments must keep families front and centre of all they do, and I am proud of the progress the Government have made in joining up services for children and families. I assure my hon. Friend that Ministers and officials have never worked more closely together than over this pandemic period. I have had frequent meetings at the Home Office with the Minister for Safeguarding, at the Department of Health and Social Care with the Minister for Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health and the Minister for Care, at the Department for Work and Pensions with the Minister for Welfare Delivery, at the Ministry of Justice with the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and Lord Wolfson, and at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with my the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis). All these meetings have brought us together to better our approach to protect the most vulnerable children and young people.
At official level, Departments continue to partner to deliver the cross-Government vulnerable children and young people’s programme, which has reported to the Cabinet Office since April 2020—right at the beginning of the pandemic. This approach has cemented strong cross-Government working and includes both central Government Departments and agencies, such as Ofsted, Public Health England and NHS England. Cross-Government work has been essential to ensuring children and young people continue to have access to the critical services they need and deserve, even over the challenges of the past 16 months. These services have continued to operate, thanks to the dedication of frontline workers, including health visitors, NHS mental health service providers, social workers, school teachers and staff.
To support local services, we have co-ordinated across Government an increase to funding for councils. An additional £4.6 billion of un-ringfenced funding in 2020 to 2021 went to councils for both children and adult social care, with another £1.5 billion-plus this year. My Department is providing an additional £3 billion for education recovery, which comes on top of investment of over £14 billion in schools over the three-year-period, compared with 2019 to 2020. The schools budget will be over £52 billion next year.
When schools were closed to most pupils, we provided £450 million for the national voucher scheme to support pupils eligible for free school meals when they stayed at home. However, many children missed out on opportunities to have fun with their friends, and parents had little respite from caring for their children. That is why we have also expanded our holiday activities and food programme this year and are making up to £220 million available to local authorities across the country to co-ordinate free holiday provision, including healthy food and enriching activities. The Department for Work and Pensions has provided more than £400 million in local authority welfare schemes, including the covid local support grant, which is to support families and individuals to stay warm and well fed. The primary focus of those grants is children and their families.
I very much welcome the Minister’s commitment to enrichment, and I highlight the particular benefits that flow from that approach in policy terms. I am sure that, as constituency MPs, we have all heard from headteachers, school governors and parents in our areas that one of the striking features of the pandemic has been not so much the loss of learning, but the loss of learning skills. There is a real concern among those involved with education about the impact that will have on young people’s ability to return to full engagement. I commend the Minister’s position and promise to do anything I can to strengthen it and drive forward that approach to enrichment, which is absolutely crucial in making up for those lost learning skills.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Another thing that our young people have missed out on is having fun and gaining the confidence to meet new friends. They gained that in previous years, when we piloted our holiday activities and food programmes. To take him up on his offer, I ask him to please visit and support the holiday activities and food programme in his constituency and encourage others to do so. Perhaps I can encourage you to do so too, Mr Dowd.
This is about children getting confidence back when they have missed out on so much. They have been amazing and have given up so much. In doing so, they have saved the lives of others. We owe it to them to help them rebuild and have the fun that is such an important part of childhood and the teenage years.
Beyond the pandemic, there are many ways that Governments can come together to improve outcomes for children and families. Often, that is through the delivery of local services, which I have described already. That will be overseen by national Government.
We in national Government take an active role to shape and influence delivery, ensure it aligns with national priorities, and support co-ordination across departmental boundaries. For example, MHCLG’s supporting families programme helps families experiencing unemployment, domestic abuse and mental ill health, and supports other priorities, including school attendance and reducing crime. But it is not the only programme to use strong collaboration between services and Departments to help families with that wide range of issues. The reducing parental conflict programme works with all English local authorities to help them integrate help to reduce parental conflict in their local support for families. Violence reduction units are bringing together local partners in the 18 areas most affected by serious violence to deliver an effective and joined-up approach to tackling violent crime and its drivers, especially when it affects children and young people.
We are also tackling youth crime by addressing the risk factors for offending at an early stage. That includes boosting investment in local multi-agency youth offending teams, which provide holistic support to children who have committed offences or are at risk of offending. We must continue to work in those strong partnerships to improve outcomes for our children and families, especially the most vulnerable.
The pandemic has shown us just how important it is to get this right, but there is much more to do to ensure that families, parents and carers benefit from services, and that the services are seamless and built around their needs. That is why we are doing a SEND review and a care review, and are working with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) to support the implementation of the early years healthy development review and all those recommendations. That is why we are improving children and young people’s mental health support with significant reforms and investment.
The public commitments that we set out in the joint Green Paper are only one part of the story. I have been working with ministerial colleagues, the Department of Health and Social Care and across Government more widely to produce the covid-19 mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan and to see that delivered. It includes extensive actions we are taking to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
We are also leading a cross-Government approach to champion the family hub model, providing more than £14 million of investment and working with DHSC, DWP, MHCLG and the Ministry of Justice. Family hubs bring those services together and aim to secure greater impact from those services for children and families.
I welcome the Government’s initiative on family hubs. We often still hear that mental health is a Cinderella service, especially for teenagers at the point of transition to adulthood. I have had examples of constituents being told by the children’s side of the service that it is unwilling to take them on at the age of 17 because they will not be seen before they become an adult, and adult services saying that it will not see them until they pass their 18th birthday. Does the Minister agree that that is an example of the kind of area where rigorous accountability is needed, to ensure that the ambitions rightly set out by Government are fulfilled in practice?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for family hubs. I have a little bit of constituency pride—my family hub, the Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service, which supports the mental health of teenagers and young people, was recently the regional award winner in the NHS Parliamentary Awards. I am very proud of them.
It is so important that teenagers can also access that type of support. It is exactly those sorts of transitions that we have been looking at most deeply, not only with the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, but also through the mental health action group, which brings together a broad range of expertise on young people’s mental health and is chaired by myself and my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities. We have been looking at how we can support young people through, for example, the transitions from primary to secondary school and from secondary education on into higher education. At key transition points, they need additional help, especially at this time.
As we continue to take steps towards recovering from covid, we must not lose any of the benefits that have come to us by the close working relationships that have been strengthened in the pandemic. I know I speak on behalf of all my ministerial colleagues when I say we are committed to continuing to work together to ensure that we grow those relationships further. Just before the pandemic, we made changes to multi-agency working. We strengthened the duties placed on police, health and the local authority to work collaboratively to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of local children. It is clear that multi-agency arrangements are needed.
The recent Ofsted review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges was a prime example of bringing young people’s departments, local services, charities and parent groups together to identify the issues and deliver those cross-societal solutions to ensure that our children do not grow up thinking that harassment and abuse are just a normal part of their childhood. My Department, the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are all working really closely to ensure that we interweave our responses into the Ofsted review, the violence against women and girls strategy and the online safety Bill, to maximise the collective response and make that deep-rooted change. We have to reset the dial and we only do that by working together.
We have recently published revised statutory guidance on keeping children safe in education. We are working with local authority safeguarding partners and the sector on tightening the statutory guidance, to interlock all those wider efforts to best support our children and young people.
The pandemic has strengthened local partnership working between schools and colleges and local authorities with social care and other services to identify and support vulnerable children and ensure their regular school attendance. Those multi-agency safeguarding partners are continuing to work in their committed partnerships to keep children in care safe and to keep them well. Yes, there is a lot more to do, but I am so proud of what we have achieved to make life better for children and families.
I want to take a moment to thank all my colleagues nationally and locally for their efforts, and to reiterate my personal commitment to work across Government, across programmes and across initiatives in order to place the needs of children and families at the heart of everything the Government are striving to achieve, and to ensure that we work with our partners in local government to make sure that they also can help to achieve this.
Question put and agreed to.
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered space debris.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. If the covid pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can no longer take the unexpected for granted. The lesson that we must learn is that we need to look elsewhere for other seemingly unfathomable scenarios, recognising that they sadly may come true one day. Already the pandemic has hastened our awareness of other looming catastrophes. Heat domes over Canada and the western United States, combined with rapid glacial Arctic ice melting, have demonstrated the need for urgent action on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but where else might the next catastrophe occur?
One answer, I believe, is staring straight above us in the skies. After being reshuffled out of Government, I found myself promoted to spending much more time with my three-month-old daughter. Obviously, my working patterns were slightly different, and I would often find myself at three o’clock in the morning comforting a baby in our downstairs living room, and staring up at the skies under our conservatory roof. Without sounding too middle-aged, I do not remember ever being able to spot so many shining pinpricks of light, each one a satellite making its swift but steady path across the Earth’s orbit, when I was a child.
It turns out that my early morning thoughts were not just the product of sleep-deprived delirium. We are living in a boom age of satellite production. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, UNOOSA, as of April 2021 there were 7,389 satellites in space—a 20% increase from April 2020. That is welcome news in terms of telecommunications, but who pays—not for the satellites themselves but for the risk that the proliferation of such projectiles poses for the sustainability and, indeed, future viability of the Earth’s orbit?
I believe that this is a threat that we must wake up to before we find ourselves in a catastrophe that has the potential to cause equal, if not worse, economic devastation than the pandemic. By way of a history lesson, the question of who is responsible for what we send up into space has long been debated. The Magna Carta of space law, the outer space treaty, was signed at the 1,499th plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on 19 December 1966. For the most part, it is the primary piece of international legislation that guides how nations operate in space. Within that landmark text, article VI states:
“Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty.”
Therefore, national Governments are now, as then, held responsible for the activities of companies, public or private, that operate in space, yet this has not prevented an accumulation of dangerous space debris, which is littered across our orbit and for which no one seems to have been held accountable.
Currently, there are an estimated 34,000 objects greater than 10 cm in diameter in orbit, 900,000 objects of between 1 cm to 10 cm in diameter in orbit, and a further 128 million objects of between 1 mm to 1 cm in diameter in orbit, and all are capable of seriously damaging or destroying vital satellite equipment. As the British astronaut Tim Peake observed, it takes only an object the size of a paint fleck to crack the windows on the international space station. Those numbers are beside the number of defunct and non-operational satellites—currently 2,900—that have sadly led to collisions, such as the Iridium-33 collision with the derelict Kosmos-2251, which caused a significant dispersal of debris. We also have the case of the Ecuadorean NEE-01 Pegasus satellite, which collided with a discarded Soviet fuel tank in 2013, seriously damaging that nation’s only satellite. Those are just two of an estimated 560 satellite break-ups, explosions, collisions or anomalous events resulting in fragmentation.
The risk of a collision in space is still low, but conjunction warnings and collision avoidance manoeuvres are becoming commonplace for satellite operators and the international space station. Most recently, in March this year, the EU’s Galileo satellite GSAT0219 was forced to perform a collision avoidance manoeuvre in response to the predicted impact of tracked space debris, which turned out to be an old Soviet rocket that had been in orbit since 1989. The international space station has been forced to conduct 27 collision avoidance manoeuvres since August 2020, with manoeuvres becoming ever more common. Apparently, it is not the harshness of space, the distance from their families or even illness that is cited by astronauts on the ISS as their greatest fear; it is getting hit by a piece of untracked debris flying past them at 40,000 km per hour.
The threat of space debris is also apparent in the increased militarisation of space and the testing of anti-satellite weaponry, most recently by the Russians and Chinese. When we talk of military satellites, we automatically think of cold war-era spy satellites, but anti-satellite weaponry has now advanced from the realm of star wars under Reagan to become a very real and dangerous issue. In 2007, China’s intentional destruction of the Fengyum-1C decommissioned weather satellite through the use of a ballistic missile was a success, because the satellite operated at the same height as many American and Japanese satellites. It was destroyed, but it caused a massive dispersal of debris, which is still a problem today. That single explosion has accounted for 10% of all catalogued debris. Should anti-satellite battle strategies continue to be developed, we will fail to prevent Kessler syndrome, whereby an exponential splintering of satellite debris leads to further collisions, from developing.
That concern is not simply confined to missiles, as Russian satellite operators have engaged in anti-satellite proximity operations, positioning satellites in harmful trajectory of critical western satellites. In 2014, a Russian satellite named the Luch was purposefully moved into proximity to both Italian and French military communications satellites. Additionally, in July 2020, the Russian military satellite Kosmos-2543 released a high-speed projectile from its main body, causing the American Space Force to declare that the activity was
“consistent with a test of a new anti-satellite capability.”
Although the projectile failed to collide with another satellite, the capability to shoot down satellites from satellites has now been proved feasible. The test occurred after an April 2020 test of the Russian Nudol system, which is designed to engage satellite targets in low Earth orbit. More recently, from July 2017 to December 2019, the Chinese satellite SJ-17 made a series of manoeuvres with other Chinese satellites that took them past the UK Ministry of Defence’s Skynet 5A satellite.
The issue is important because it puts everything, from our military satellites to our global navigation satellite system services and environmental Earth observation satellites, in danger. Manoeuvring satellites around others is exactly the kind of misguided bravado that could cause a cascade of debris to form and then cut off our use of satellites—and future satellites—for our low and medium Earth orbits. Unfortunately, there is painfully little international agreement that prevents nations from recklessly using their satellites or even equipping their satellites with weapons that are not weapons of mass destruction or nuclear weapons.
The Russian Government’s choice to fire a projectile from Kosmos 2543 proves that the interpretation of article IV of the outer space treaty, which prevents nations from putting WMD or nuclear weapons into space, applies only to WMDs or nuclear weapons. We have a gap in the treaty.
As so often in international affairs, we have a problem that is growing in a less than adequate direction from current international treaties, and a global response that can only be described as lacking. Yet that has begun to change, as the recent G7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall proved with a joint statement on space debris, giving some much-needed leadership in an area that is vital for the continuation of human development, both in space and on Earth. In the joint statement, G7 leaders pledged to promote a
“safe and sustainable use of space to support humanity’s ambitions”.
The statement went on to
“recognise the growing hazard of space debris”,
highlighting the fragile nature of our planet’s upper atmosphere and promoting the desire for nations to co-operate in the safeguarding of space. Additionally, the G7 agreed on the importance of continued international collaboration and the promotion of both public and commercial efforts to clean up our low and medium Earth orbits.
Increased awareness, investment and specific regulation will be vital for a path forward to prevent the increase in space debris, removing what is currently a problem, and preventing irresponsible satellite activities in future. The joint declaration from the G7 was a strong step forward towards building strong space regulation and fostering the continued international partnerships between nations and private enterprises. However, more must be done to hold all space-capable countries and companies accountable for the shared good of our Earth orbit.
This problem will continue to be more apparent as the number of satellites, space missions and even commercial flights to the edge of space increase. I am sure we were all at the edge of our seats on 11 July last week when Sir Richard Branson came home after successfully visiting the edge of space during Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight. I congratulate Virgin Galactic on that achievement. Although that milestone should be celebrated, Virgin Galactic’s mission success highlights the increased interest and ultimately the increased accessibility of space.
Additionally, missions to provide satellite broadband to the world, including the 3 billion people who do not have broadband access at the moment, by companies such as SpaceX, OneWeb and the many state-owned Chinese aeronautical companies, will require the deployment of thousands, if not tens of thousands, more satellites. Those mega constellation projects have already begun, as there was a 28% increase in satellites from 2020-21.
SpaceX’s Starlink constellation has already launched 1,730 satellites as of May 2021, with a total of 42,000 planned over the next few decades. Truly, we are living in a second space age of which we can all be proud, and thankful for the development of this remarkable technology, but the dramatic and continued increase in the number of satellites being launched means that we need to have an awareness of the increase in the amount of space debris and the real danger that it will pose to our modern world.
Many of the satellites that we rely on provide services for GNSS, also known as GPS. That is classified as an invisible utility, and for good reason, because without GNSS nearly every branch of critical national infrastructure would be in obvious jeopardy. Communications, emergency and hospital services, finance and transport all rely on GNSS to operate smoothly, and all rely on satellite services.
To put the importance of GNSS into perspective, a 2017 report by London Economics calculated that the economic impact on the UK of a five-day disruption to the network would put thousands of jobs at risk and cost around £5.2 billion—a major disruption to every aspect of modern life not even being counted in that figure. A disruption of that magnitude is not out of the question, and we need to face the reality. With more satellites comes more debris, and more opportunities for a serious accident to occur, as space travel becomes commercialised and access to space becomes ever more possible.
Should we continue largely to ignore the issue of space debris, we risk developing a situation where the upper atmosphere becomes completely unusable—that Kessler syndrome that I mentioned of an hypothesised scenario, where due to the amount of junk in space, pieces begin to collide with each other on a far more regular basis, causing a cascade of debris, effectively cutting off use of our lower orbit.
This growing number of satellites are becoming dependent on support technologies to avoid not only the increasing debris we are inevitably creating but other satellites. According to Holger Krag of the European Space Agency, today 15% to 20% of all satellite-avoidance actions involve manoeuvres away from other active satellites. That means that there is an increasingly established process of satellite operators contacting each other and co-ordinating actions to avoid collisions.
All that takes time and resource, contingent on fuel levels, satellite response times and successful co-ordination from operators. Because there is no universal system, such as an air traffic control for satellites, we are wasting fuel, decreasing response times and lowering the lifespan of satellites. International standards and agreed regulations will be incredibly important, moving forwards into this new space age. Thankfully, the UK, even though it is not a tier one space power, much as I would like it to be higher up that agenda, has been leading the way on space debris, by using our brilliant diplomats to push for an updated international legislative framework, aimed at modernising space law, and creating consistent legal frameworks that will help create sustainable space development.
The UK was among the first international partners to join the US-led Operation Olympic Defender, an effort to build closer co-operation with allied nations in securing and protecting space. The UK has also worked with the UNOOSA to encourage the development of space debris removal technologies. In addition, space domain awareness is a critical enabling capability, if the UK is successfully to manage the threat posed by space debris, including its removal.
The UK military recognise the need to understand this rapidly evolving and dynamic landscape in order to protect, defend and regulate the UK’s space interests, and to mitigate the threats posed to the UK’s assets and critical national infrastructure, and to play its part in assuring safe and responsible behaviour in space.
In January this year, a new space domain awareness software capability, known as Aurora, went live for operations and was successfully deployed into the Defence Digital’s MOD Cloud ICE. The software was designed, developed and deployed by CGI in partnership with the Royal Air Force and the UK Space Agency, as part of work to enhance the current UK Space Operations Centre.
Space is inherently dual use in nature, with congestion and debris an issue for both military and commercial satellite operators alike. The UK has a long-standing heritage in space domain awareness, and arguably has one of the best space domain awareness sensors in Europe in the form of RAF Fylingdales. Current and planned defence radars can contribute to space domain awareness through the inherent sensitivity, range resolution and discrimination capabilities. They benefit defence and wider Government objectives, and should be progressed at pace. RAF Fylingdales is also renowned for its whole-force approach to space operations, working with industry partners to develop this capability. British company Serco has been working with the RAF and now Space Command to deliver the RAF Fylingdales orbital analysis servers and sensor support for over 55 years. Serco is now exporting this heritage and skillset to support US Space Command with deep space surveillance.
Commercial space operators also have a large part to play, and a vested interest, in creating a sustainable space environment. Last week, in a speech at Space-Comm expo in Farnborough, which I attended, Rajeev Suri, chief executive officer of Inmarsat, set out a vision for
“an unrelenting commitment to sustainability in space”.
Mr Suri also highlighted the need to pay close attention to the potential risk of collision and the growing challenge of atmospheric pollution posed by deorbiting satellites, particularly during the recent rapid expansion phase of mega constellations, which I have spoken about.
The UK already has fast-growing capability in debris removal technology. The UK team at Astroscale are leading the mission operations for the world’s first commercial debris removal mission, ELSA-d, which is currently in low Earth orbit, preparing for the capture of a dummy defunct satellite, using a magnetic-capture docking-plate mechanism, in the next few months. This mission will be a milestone moment for the deployment of debris removal services, including Astroscale’s next phase partnership with OneWeb, via the European Space Agency Sunrise programme, to develop the technology to remove multiple pieces of space junk in a single mission and to demonstrate the commercial viability of a future service, ELSA-M.
At the same time, the UK is witnessing a surge in start-up space companies that are placing sustainability and environmental concerns at the heart of their missions. For example, Black Arrow, which plans to become the first net-zero launch company, is investigating the innovative use of new, environmentally friendly propulsion fuels and recoverable and reusable rocket launchers, to demonstrate to the space industry that we can chart a new net-zero course for space.
We need not invest in clean-up missions and sustainable space technologies simply out of altruism. It is important to recognise the potential growth that the space sector can provide for UK plc. Figures released in May by the UK Space Agency showed that sector income rose by 5.7%—from £14.8 billion to £16.4 billion—between 2016-17 and 2018-19. I would wager that it has risen higher still over the past two years. Over the same timeframe, employment in the sector increased by 3,200, to 45,100 people, and supportive R&D technology investments relating to space activities increased by 18%, to £702 million.
In short, the space industry in the UK is in a good position to not only do the responsible thing and help solve a growing problem, but to be successful while doing so. The UK needs to build itself a space-centric education pipeline to properly capitalise on the growing environment of the successful UK space industry. Investing in R&D technologies such as robotics, autonomous systems, quantum computing and satellite technologies will help the UK capture a space industry market share that is bigger than it already is. Currently, the in-orbit servicing sector is estimated to be worth $4.4 billion, and, should we act fast and invest in the best bets when it comes to space debris removal, we should be capable of capturing at least $1 billion of this market by 2030.
Central funding will be a key solution to this technological problem, and the UK Space Agency, via the UK Government, has been leading the way in helping develop new and innovative technologies for cleaning up space. In 2020, the UK Space Agency allocated £1 million to companies to assist tracking space debris. In addition to awarding £2.5 million to Astroscale UK in May 2021, only a few weeks ago the Government invited space firms to apply for a share of up to £800,000 in funding for the purpose of cleaning up space. For this initiative, the UK Space Agency is seeking to fund additional debris removal feasibility studies and develop debris removal mission concepts and system designs. Due in part to this renewed funding, the number of jobs in the UK space sector has increased, and overall income in that industry continues to rise. Continued funding, paired with internationally recognised regulation, will be the key to ensuring that we can tackle space debris as a nation.
For the UK to take the much-needed serious step in global leadership and position ourselves as a leader in space sustainability and debris removal, we must continue to encourage the development of environmentally sustainable space assets. The ELSA programme from Astroscale is a strong start, but we must continue to invest in our UK space assets and our cutting-edge R&D programmes in this field. By encouraging the commercialisation of space debris removal, we will also be fostering a financially lucrative industry that can be driven by the UK and create future UK jobs. This can be accomplished by increasing the scope and financing of the recent UK Space Agency phase A study, which is aimed at supporting space debris removal proposals. I urge the Minister to look at that study.
We can also take a leadership role globally by ensuring that regulation keeps up with industry development, and specifically by making it mandatory for companies to develop satellite sustainability contingency plans and encouraging partnerships with companies such as Astroscale for satellite end-of-life services with the use of docking plates. Regulation can also aim to ensure that low Earth orbit satellites have the capability to undertake collision avoidance manoeuvres and encourage the development of a space traffic control system. By establishing a “pay now or pay more later” system to encourage companies to prepare satellites for removal or face serious costs later if they are forced into collision avoidance manoeuvres, we will encourage companies to establish sustainability plans. Consistency and transparency in these matters will encourage space industry investment.
We must also remember that as global Britain, we need to leverage our international alliances with global partners such as the United States, Australia, Japan and India to establish agreed regulation and resist aggressive actions from other countries, such as China and Russia. With these partners and more, we can help establish a “net zero space” sustainable development goal to face this growing challenge in our lower and middle Earth orbits over the coming decades.
Two years ago, when I was an Energy Minister at the same time as being space Minister, I signed net zero into law, committing the UK to becoming the first major nation and the first G7 country to state that we would have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Two years on, 75% of the Earth’s land mass has now committed to a net zero target ahead of COP26 this year, which just goes to demonstrate the leadership role that the UK can play globally. We can demonstrate to the rest of the world what can be achieved, so let us now take this opportunity to show leadership on space debris internationally, and to push for a net zero space environment and lead the world in the sustainable use of space.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd. I thank the right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for having secured this important debate, and I pay tribute to him for his work as the vice-chair of the parliamentary space committee and thank him for his analysis of the issues around space debris, as well as the space history lesson. Space is such a fascinating topic, and every time we discuss it in this House, it never fails to inspire awe and excitement. Britain has a proud history of space exploration. In fact, to add to the history that the right hon. Gentleman set out, the British Interplanetary Society is the oldest space advocacy organisation on Earth; there may be other, older ones elsewhere of which we are not aware.
Here on Earth, as we aim to enter, as the right hon. Gentleman set out, a more socially conscious era of green growth, protecting and keeping our Earth and seas clean is commonly discussed, but rarely do we look up and think about how clean the sky beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is. That is one reason why this debate is so important—because we are addressing an under-discussed topic on which the Government have failed to provide direction, and exploring the opportunities, as set out so eloquently by the right hon. Gentleman, that may arise from the need to address space debris.
I will not repeat all the statistics that the right hon. Gentleman set out, but it is striking that there are more than 900,000 objects currently orbiting the Earth, with 23,000 of those being pieces of man-made debris larger than 1 cm. Since 1957, there have been 10,680 satellites launched into Earth’s orbit, with around 6,250 still in space, which is impressive, but only 3,700 are still functioning. If any two were to collide, the result could be catastrophic, creating thousands of new pieces of dangerous space junk, as the right hon. Gentleman set out. These objects could stay in orbit for hundreds of years, putting at risk working satellites that people depend on for everyday services.
The threat is not only far above our heads. In May this year, an 18-tonne chunk of metal that was once the core stage of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket crashed down to Earth, narrowly missing the island of the Maldives. Last year, research for the International Astronautical Congress revealed that the 50 most dangerous objects currently in orbit were all large rocket boosters, mainly from Russia, left drifting around our planet.
As the right hon. Gentleman suggested, the removal of hazardous materials on Earth or in space presents a significant commercial opportunity. A joint venture between the UK and Japan, the Tokyo-based firm Astroscale, which has control centres in Oxfordshire, launched two rockets to begin the process of cleaning up some of the 9,000 tonnes of space debris. I am pleased that it is leading the way. What discussions has the Minister had with Astroscale, and what steps is she taking to support the British-based clean-up firms of the future? I am pleased that at the G7, as the right hon. Member for Kingswood alluded to, the UK joined our allies in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the EU and the US to take action to tackle space debris. Those nations agreed that we need global standards on space debris and committed to the long-term sustainable use of space. However, what will that look like in real terms? Can the Minister tell us when we will see a long-term, sustainable plan for space debris? For that matter, can she tell us when we will have a space strategy?
The space industry generally is worth more than £14.8 billion per year and has grown at a rate five times greater than the wider economy since 1999. The success of this sector helps to drive prosperity across the UK. UK space businesses spend around £750 million annually, with around 1,500 UK suppliers based across every region of the UK. Many of the jobs created in space manufacturing are also highly productive, with the average salary of an Airbus UK space employee, for example, standing at £51,000—nearly 50% higher than the UK national average. The UK’s proud history in space exploration, research and development makes us an excellent launchpad for future growth and for leadership in the space debris domain.
The UK and its place in the world are changing. We have left the European Union, which meant turning our back on the Galileo project that we did so much to bring about, at an estimated cost of £1.2 billion to the taxpayer. The Government then U-turned on plans to develop a rival, sovereign GNSS system, at a cost of a further £60 million. Can the Minister tells us the status of our sovereign satellite navigation capability? The right hon. Member for Kingswood set out the possible impact on our economy of space debris reducing or stopping GNSS services.
The Secretary of State has decided to take control over strategy and policy away from the UK Space Agency, handing the almost £600 million budget directly to the Government. Yet, as I have mentioned, we remain without a long-term, specific space sector deal and have not received an update on the space growth partnership since its launch in March 2018. Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made by the Space Growth Partnership in achieving its stated aim of the UK making up 10% of the global space market by 2030? What role does she see space debris clean-up playing in that partnership and in that growth? What analysis will be conducted of the market risks and national security risks that the right hon. Member outlined?
The Government talk excitedly about global Britain, but Labour wants to see an interplanetary Britain, powered by a booming space sector. Space is not just for the stars; it impacts every household in the country. From climate change and rural broadband to transport and agriculture, from our smartphones to our credit cards, the UK space sector helps us all prosper. The satellites at risk from space debris are central to providing those services.
The Government have failed to come forward with a clear, long-term space strategy to fully unlock the potential of the sector. Without such a strategy, the hard work of our space sector—developing spaceports, rocket launchpads, space domain awareness projects, military grade software and satellite projects that are critical for our vital infrastructure—cannot be fully realised. If we are to ensure the success of those programmes, we must understand whether we have the industrial capability to do so. Part of unlocking the potential of our space industry is knowing how we utilise our industrial base to achieve our goals, and in turn where we need further investment and finance to encourage outward investment by UK businesses.
There is no strategy for external investment or for skills—in particular, diverse skills. The space sector needs the skills of everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, region or age, and it is not as diverse as I am sure the Minister would like. There is no strategy for that. There is no strategy for industry and manufacturing, for sovereign navigation satellite capabilities or for whether and how we will compete with SpaceX and others. Instead, we have the manifesto of a Government who have their heads in the clouds—they certainly do not have a strategy for space. Down on Earth, the sector is still waiting to hear about the future of the new regulations introduced under the Space Industry Act 2018, particularly those dealing with administrative burdens and liabilities.
Nothing better illustrates the lack of strategy and transparency than the purchase of OneWeb despite the advice of experts and the concerns of the UK Space Agency. First we were told that it would be a part of our sovereign GNSS programme, but then it was not. We still do not know what the Government have planned for OneWeb. We heard that it may be part of our approach to space debris. We do not know whether that huge investment will ever support jobs in the UK space sector if the satellites continue to be manufactured in Florida. I would appreciate it if the Minister gave some clarity on the space strategy generally and specifically on OneWeb.
The space sector provides the UK with many opportunities to grow our economy, push technological boundaries and boost our soft power by developing strategic interdependence with our allies, which I very much support. I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Kingswood secured this debate, but as the Minister for space until 2019, he oversaw and was responsible for many of the policies that he referred to and the lack of an ongoing, sustainable strategy, or indeed any strategy, for our space sector.
A year ago, UKspace set out the urgent need for a coherent, cross-Government space strategy, and we have still not seen one. Labour would seek to support our sovereign capability in the space age and build on the UK’s proud history of technological innovation and space exploration. Labour is passionate about the long-term future of the space sector and its potential to provide high-skill, high-paying jobs across the UK and step up to deliver a long-term sustainable strategy for managing space debris with UK businesses and our national security at the heart of this interplanetary clean-up.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) on securing this incredibly important debate and on continuing to champion our space sector throughout his time as a Minister and in this House. I know that he recognises how important to the UK the risk of space debris is, as he noted in his excellent piece in The Times this morning. It is always a great pleasure to hear from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). I share her passion for the amazing space sector.
Over the past decade, the space industry has become one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors. It currently employs more than 45,000 people and generates £16 billion annually. The UK has grasped the opportunity by encouraging space sector growth, facilitating the development of space ports to launch satellites from the UK and investing in the OneWeb satellite broadband constellation. But it is important to recognise that space is getting crowded. Although space may seem vast, the orbits around Earth are a limited natural resource, and we must use them responsibly and protect them for future generations, including my granddaughter. It was interesting to hear my right hon. Friend talk about staring at the stars with his daughter.
The growing issue of orbital congestion and space debris could limit the benefits that we get from space and, in the extreme worst case, prevent our use of it altogether, so where does that leave the United Kingdom? Space debris is a global challenge that requires an international effort to remedy, as has been said. Nearly 3,000 working satellites share those orbits, and it is estimated that there are 130 million pieces of debris, about 30,000 of which pose a significant threat.
In the next decade, we expect to see growth to more than 10,000 active satellites in orbit, and we do not want a similar growth rate of debris. The UK has active partnerships in multilateral, intergovernmental forums, including the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its sub-committees, and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. We continue to lead in those forums, working with international partners to agree best practice, develop guidelines and support initiatives that enable and promote sustainability and limit the potential for accidents in space. To ensure that UK space operators meet international guidelines, approaches to space debris mitigation are a key part of UK spaceflight regulation that are considered during the licensing of their actives.
At the G7 in Cornwall last month, the UK facilitated an agreement between nations to strengthen our collective efforts to ensure the sustainability of space for all. That includes how we limit the generation of new orbital debris. We are not only talking; we are investing in technology to address this issue. Currently, our main mitigation against collisions between satellites and debris lies in our ability to detect, identify and track objects in space and take evasive action.
The UK Space Agency is working in partnership with the Ministry of Defence to improve our capability to monitor and warn of hazardous space events. In January, working closely with the UK Space Operations Centre, the UK Space Agency began piloting national collision warning services to enhance our national space surveillance and tracking capabilities. Also, joint civil and military space domain awareness helps to protect UK satellites in orbit and our critical national infrastructure, which is reliant on space services. However, as the amount of debris and the number of active satellites increases, accurately predicting potential collisions becomes harder.
The risk of collision and the number of false alarms can be minimised with better tracking and through the use of emerging and innovative new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to sort through the mountains of data. However, if the volume of debris and the number of satellites in space continues to increase, as we expect, this action alone cannot fully mitigate the risk. Protecting longer-term UK interests in space will mean reducing the debris population and preventing the creation of new debris. We must look to tackle the cause of the problem, rather than just addressing the symptoms.
Space debris removal is not yet a common capability. However, space agencies, including NASA and the European Space Agency, have launched innovative programmes to combat debris, and the UK has played a real leading role in this activity. In 2019, we invested £80 million, through the European Space Agency, in debris and clean space activities, including research into detecting and tracking debris, lessening the burden of collision avoidance, limiting the production of more debris and cleaning up existing debris.
Working with Switzerland and through the European Space Agency, we are contributing to a satellite mission that will be able to capture and deorbit large pieces of debris. And recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting Astroscale to discuss its privately funded ELSA-d satellite, which right now is demonstrating technology that removes different satellites from orbit. In fact, it was absolutely fantastic to see. Both these missions are looking to utilise the operation centre that we built in Harlow precisely to manage and operate such innovative missions.
There is a commercial opportunity emerging in orbit servicing and in managing the safe disposal of satellites once they are no longer useful. Just last week, Edinburgh-based Skyrora announced a challenge to find and remove Prospero, the first British satellite to have been launched successfully by a British rocket.
Businesses across the world, but particularly in the UK, are developing the innovative technology to address this market, which is estimated to be worth over £2 billion over the next 15 years. We want UK industry to lead when it comes to the sustainable use of space. Last year, we awarded £1 million in grant funding to support projects led by United Kingdom companies, focused on mitigating the effects of harmful debris. This year, we will award a further £1.2 million to continue to develop the enabling technology and £800,000 to study the feasibility of a national mission to remove debris from orbit.
However, we recognise that UK leadership in this area can only trigger change if it is supported by international regulatory standards that require companies or nations to remove debris, in order to create a commercial market. Therefore, we should lead global discussions on the right safety and security norms, and ensure compliance with international obligations in space debris mitigation, while we invest in the research and development to best capture that commercial market of the future.
With significant strategic opportunities ahead, the UK needs to be the shaper of this evolving landscape. By taking leadership in space sustainability, the United Kingdom can drive national and international capability development, and regulatory advances. We can lead international action to establish rules governing the sustainable use of space through close working with allies and multilateral engagement. We must also continue to protect our industry and critical national infrastructure, and better understand the orbital environment through joint civil and military space domain awareness.
I can assure the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central about our imminent space strategy, which we will launch in due course. Timely and sensible Government support will allow us to grow our industrial and academic capability, in order to support UK industry in taking opportunities in the emerging orbital market. This activity could quite literally provide a rocket boost to the economy.
We have an excellent opportunity to secure a leadership role in space sustainability, and with it a bright, sustainable future for the space and satellite application industry, which will deliver benefits for generations to come.
Thank you, Mr Dowd, for your chairmanship of the debate. I thank the shadow Minister and the Minister for their contributions. It is clear that we share an equal passion for the importance of the future of space sustainability and what role space debris removal can play in that sustainability.
This is the first debate that has ever been held in Parliament on space debris, despite it being an issue that has been known about in the space community for more than 55 years, since the signing of the outer space treaty. The UK has a unique opportunity to show international leadership in this area, backed by future investment. I hope that space debris is part of the UK space strategy that the Minister outlined—it has every right to be so.
I have been contacted by a wide number of industry and academic experts. I am delighted that the Minister has met Astroscale, but I hope she might attend a roundtable of experts on space debris that I might organise in the future, with people from industry and academia, including Imperial College, the Open University and Leicester University. It is amazing how many people have been working on this subject.
We have the opportunity, just as we do with net zero, to set out a vision of net zero space. Let us be the country that does that, in the same way that we are the country that has led the charge on net zero. Net zero is so important now for setting out the future vision of our green economy. Setting out a future for our space economy can be built around a sustainable space environment, in which the UK can lead the way.
The Minister is doing a great job and I would urge her to think about how this issue can fit into her wider vision on space, and to attend the roundtable that I might organise as a result of this debate. I thank everyone for attending and speaking in this first debate on space debris and setting out why it is such an important and critical issue to resolve for our future, to avoid any future scenario where we are unprepared. The unexpected can be anticipated if we expect it, and I hope this debate has woken us up to the risks that space debris could case if it is not tackled for the future. I hope it places a marker in the ground—a sustainable marker, which can be removed, of course—that demonstrates that we can act, we need to act and we need to act fast in order to prevent collisions in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered space debris.