Tuesday 7 September 2021
[Sir David Amess in the Chair]
East Midlands Economy
Colleagues, I realise that we have not done things in person for a very long time, so everyone is rusty and not everyone will be aware of the procedures. This is not a pointed dig at the proposer of the debate, but please do ensure that you get here in good time. There are no longer any call lists; if you want to speak in a debate, drop the Chair a note beforehand. However, I will still call those who have not done so today. We are juggling with the time limits, but everyone will be called, so please do not be selfish and take other people’s time.
To return to my script, Members still have to wear masks when they are not speaking, I am afraid. That is still the rule. Members should send their speaking notes by email to Hansard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of the East Midlands economy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, to be just on time and to bring this important debate to the House about the economy of the east midlands, which follows on from the Adjournment debate I held in July about devolution for our area. It has been a busy summer and lots of progress has been made on the proposals and on wider developments and major projects that I hope to put across to the Minister this morning.
It is clear that the east midlands has huge untapped potential and must be at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up plans in the spending review and the levelling-up White Paper this autumn. I hope to take the Minister through some of those developments this morning. As Members might imagine, as a Notts MP and the Nottinghamshire County Council leader, I will have more to say on Nottinghamshire, but I trust and hope that colleagues will chip in about the proposals and opportunities across their constituencies.
For context, the east midlands is home to over 5 million people and over 175,000 businesses. We have a diverse mix of counties and cities, with market towns, countryside, and distinct cultures and communities. It contains world-class business, innovation and manufacturing excellence, and the region’s economy of £99 billion has untapped potential for growth. Despite that critical mass and potential, the east midlands has received some of the lowest levels of Government investment and private investment over many years compared with other parts of the country.
Back in July, I met the Prime Minister and laid out four huge opportunities for the east midlands that can create jobs, unlock housing and growth, and get the region up to a level of support and investment that is in line with other parts of the country. Those major interventions are all coming together this autumn, with a number of key decisions on which the Government need to come down on the side of investment and development in our region.
First, the East Midlands Development Corporation—the devco—represents a major opportunity to regenerate and to create jobs and homes on key sites. It gives us the opportunity to masterplan our area to ensure that we are bringing forward the very best employment opportunities; that we are leading the way on green growth and environmental policy; and that we are offering investors a very attractive opportunity to simplify the planning process to get things done at pace. It currently sits over three sites, but in the future, with the right democratic oversight, it could be used to bring forward further sites across our region.
This development vehicle could be a major weapon in our armoury, with the right Government backing. If we can utilise it effectively into the future rather than continuing to adopt a piecemeal approach, with all sorts of different vehicles and delivery mechanisms popping up all over the place, we can take a long-term strategic approach to our region’s growth. Therefore, key decision No. 1 is to back the development corporation in the planning legislation this autumn, and give it the powers and guarantees it needs.
Secondly, there is the east midlands freeport. Colleagues lobbied hard last year to secure the east midlands as one of the key sites for a freeport to take advantage of our post-Brexit trading opportunities and to boost business and jobs in our region with a unique proposition: the only inland freeport in the UK, built around an airport rather than on the coast. This has the potential to act as a hub and as the heart of the wider freeport network, as well as the logistical centre of the UK, with its key geographical location and proximity to major road, rail and air connections.
The outline business case will be submitted this week. Once again, I and MPs across the region call on the Government to back us to help deliver this freeport, along with the council and business partners; to support our vision to level up the east midlands; to create jobs and opportunities for people in our region; and to maximise the potential of this package of projects I am going through today. The whole will be bigger than the sum of the parts if these actions can be taken in unison.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is making a powerful case about the need for investment, but that case is fundamentally undermined by the Government’s constant dithering on the eastern leg of HS2. I have never known a Government to spend so much money on a project so unenthusiastically. Over the summer, we have again seen the suggestion that the eastern leg will be cancelled. Does the fact that the Government will not once and for all commit to the eastern leg of HS2 not fundamentally undermine the case he is making?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; he has neatly predicted my next paragraph, which is about the integrated rail plan and Toton. All sorts of rumours have gone around over the summer. As the chair of the east midlands HS2 delivery board, I have had a lot of conversations with Ministers and officials about this matter and have pushed for the certainty that he asks for. HS2 is a major opportunity for the east midlands. I recognise that it is not universally popular, so I am not going to go on about the benefits of the eastern leg in full or the wider project, but this is a debate on the east midlands, so I will focus on the local part.
The key, for us, is that Toton is a major centre for our future growth. It is a site where we have invested almost a decade of work and planning, and tens of millions in infrastructure and preparation, including direct tram connections to Nottingham city, where there is huge interest in investing in skills, research and innovation, as well as in commercial and residential development. Success for Toton could unlock plans to the north, around Chesterfield and Bolsover, for a major engineering centre built around HS2, which has the potential to create 2,500 jobs in an area of north Nottinghamshire and north Derbyshire that should be at the heart of the levelling-up agenda. Those are former coalfield, post-industrial towns—the epitome of the kind of red wall areas that need support and to which we made big promises of support at the last election.
I have to confess that I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s reaction to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins). Is he suggesting that the connectivity that the HS2 eastern leg would provide—not just a station at Toton, but the fast connections to Leeds, York, the north-east and Scotland, as well as the connection to the west midlands—somehow does not matter and is not essential to the future success of our region?
I thank the hon. Lady for that. She knows that that is not what I am suggesting, and she will no doubt have seen over the summer that few have been as vocal as I have been in their public advocacy for HS2 and the eastern leg. The key thing for the region is that, whatever HS2 looks like, it involves that key investment at our Toton site, unlocking opportunities for jobs and growth in the north of the county, and tying together our local transport network and connectivity across the east midlands to boost our economy. There is huge potential: I believe that the eastern leg in full would create enough jobs, investment and economic opportunity up the length of the route to pay for itself and to be of huge benefit to the country. I am just focusing on the key priorities for us from the east midlands perspective. Whatever the IRP looks like, those are things that must be in it to benefit our region.
Whatever anyone’s view on HS2 as a whole, given that the PM has committed to delivering it in some shape or form, the key for our region is Toton, and the surrounding plans and projects form a big part of the IRP decision. Whatever the Government decide and whatever form it ultimately takes, the Department for Transport and other Departments must work with us, the region, Midlands Connect and other local stakeholders to include the Toton plans and make the most of that investment.
I know that decisions on the IRP are to be taken soon. As the chair of the HS2 strategy board, I would welcome a conversation with the Secretary of State for Transport ahead of that decision about what is possible and about ensuring that key local priorities are part of that decision. I know the headlines will be about how much track is going down and whether HS2 goes from place A to place B, so there is a risk that our local requirements will be lost. That cannot be allowed to happen. For us, whether it is a win for the area and whether we can support the decision as local stakeholders ultimately depends on the details. Does it deliver growth, and where? What is the impact on our regional connectivity? Will it help to deliver projects like the Robin Hood line, access to Toton and the midlands rail hub? Those are key questions that need to be answered in the IRP. I trust that the Minister will pass on my request for that conversation with the DFT.
It is worth saying that these sites—Toton and the related freeport—could all benefit from partnership with the devco, combining the existing opportunities and incentives with a master-planning element and simplified processes for the development corporation to deliver bigger, better and faster. It is important that it has the right oversight, and I will get on to that, but bringing key sites together under this delivery mechanism could supercharge the whole package. As I said, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. This is a package of interventions, with key decisions to be taken in the coming months.
Point No. 4 is about devolution. I held an Adjournment debate on this topic in the summer before we went into recess, in which I laid out the potential benefit of devolved powers for our region and the impact we could make on our communities if we could make bespoke local interventions. We could improve our skills offer, intervene where there are health inequalities, improve and join up our transport network, boost economic development, collaborate more effectively across different authorities, and plan for housing in a more strategic and joined-up way. There is a lot we could do with the right powers and budget devolved to a local level. The Government have asked for proposals, and in Nottinghamshire at least—clearly, I cannot speak for other areas—we are extremely interested in that conversation. We have spoken with Ministers and officials. We have a clear idea of what we want to achieve and we want to be out there, leading the way.
Following all those conversations with local and national stakeholders in Notts, we agree with the Government that the best way to deliver devolution in areas such as ours is through the mechanism of county deals. We want to bring forward deals for Nottinghamshire and Nottingham, using our existing legal framework for collaboration—our economic prosperity committee—to manage a joined-up approach to delivery, working with our districts and boroughs. In return, we are offering a package of local public service reform, bringing both tiers together under the EPC to deliver more efficient and effective local services. We have agreed to that across all the Nottinghamshire local authorities; we have done much of the work and planning in the background already; and my chief executive and I will camp on the lawn outside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government until we get the thing done. The Minister just needs to say the word and set us up a pitch in an appropriate place.
Although I am not party to all the local discussions, I hope that colleagues across the region will be able to put forward similar deals for Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire in due course, giving us all access to the huge potential of those devolved powers and offering us the opportunity to work together across the region on delivery. That could also give us the ability to work together on the oversight of these projects—the development corporation, the freeport, HS2 and others—and allow us to steer the ship for future sites and projects. I recognise from the Prime Minister’s speech that he clearly sees devolution as a mechanism for delivering the levelling-up agenda. We want to be at the heart of that; I certainly want Nottinghamshire to lead the way, and to be among the early adopters of this project.
As you can see, Sir David, the four projects as a package are linked and interdependent, and if delivered together could be much more than the sum of their parts. As a region, the east midlands does come together already, so we have strong foundations on which to build. Under the leadership of Sir John Peace, chairman of the midlands engine, public and private sector partners from across the region have been working on HS2, the development corporation and our freeport ambitions. That has led to a strong sense of trust and confidence among senior stakeholders, and we know that we have the good will and the momentum to do more. Currently, we are working with Sir John on plans to capitalise on that good will by strengthening our regional partnership. We call that partnership the alchemy board, and I am confident that it can provide us with an effective east midlands partnership umbrella, so that local devolution efforts have a place to share and develop significant opportunities on a regional level. There is work to do to make changes to bring that together, but we have the building blocks in place, and I think it is an attractive proposition.
I hope it is clear that on a regional level, we have some key projects and a vision for the future that can create wealth across the east midlands. Those four things are already under way and are coming together this autumn for decisions. With Government support, they can create tens of thousands of jobs and thousands of homes, and change the life chances of people in the east midlands. If the Government deliver the powers for the devco in their planning legislation; if they back our freeport bid and support us through the full business case to reach delivery stage; if they ensure that whatever the bigger picture on HS2, Toton forms a big part of the IRP, and that our local connectivity and economic growth also form a big part of that plan; and if they agree to get us on track for early devolution packages, in line with their own policy goals to be announced in the White Paper this autumn, we will be well placed to level up the east midlands and to deliver on the Government’s own promises. All of this is already under way, and all of it fits with the Government’s own plans and priorities, so we should get on with it. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some positive soundings on that today.
We can add to that list a ton of other projects, including growth corridors, midlands engine rail, the midlands rail hub, Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production fusion energy, Space Park Leicester and Infinity Park Derby. My colleagues will no doubt add many more projects to that list, but it is an exciting time in the east midlands, and this autumn is a particularly exciting time, with key things coming together.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument for more powers and more funding for the region. I know that there is an appetite for people to have more control over those sorts of investments, but this happens in a context of national policy. In his own constituency, more than 10,000 families will lose £20 a week when the universal credit cut kicks in next year. What impact does he think that will have on the local economy in his constituency, and what is he planning to do about it?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. It is hugely important that we support people in my constituency and around the east midlands to meet their basic needs from day to day. Off the back of the covid recovery, we need to ensure that we put people in the best possible place. Vitally, we are helping people to get by and to get back into work. We are helping people to interact with our economy, to get out there and to overcome their fears. We are working with businesses to reopen and grow. At the county council, we are absolutely invested in supporting vulnerable people, as we have done successfully throughout the pandemic, and I pay tribute to the many thousands of staff who have been working incredibly hard to do that. Regardless of national decisions, we will work hard at the local level to support everyone across Mansfield and Nottinghamshire over the coming months and years.
The key point is that we need Government support on some key decisions this autumn in order to back the east midlands, which has consistently been bottom of the tables for public and private sector investment, and which should therefore be top of the levelling-up agenda. We have a package that already exists and that could boost our economy and improve the life chances of the local people whom the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) mentioned. I therefore call on the Minister and the Government to back the plans to make these four key decisions in favour of the east midlands this autumn.
Colleagues, if you want to make a speech, keep bobbing up and down as we once did. If you came here only to make an intervention, that is fine, but you must stay until the end of the debate at 11 o’clock. There is no Scottish National party contribution today. The Minister and the shadow Minister will take about 10 minutes each. We have worked out that if everyone speaks for four or five minutes, you will all have a say.
I apologise for having been slightly late into the room. The security door worked all too effectively: it kept me out.
I am mindful of your remarks, Sir David, and I want to leave enough time for everybody else. I have slightly mixed feelings about taking part in the debate, because I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) said, to a degree. For example, he talked about the freeport, which I think most of us support and hope will be successful. However, I must admit that I am a little sceptical. We have had freeports before, without their bringing about a massive transformation. As he rightly identified, it will all depend on whether the Government are enthusiastic and willing to come forward with investment. When looking at any of the statistics about the east midlands, one thing that is crystal clear is how frequently we are at the bottom of the heap for Government investment, particularly in transport.
I want to pick up on something that the hon. Member for Mansfield said about prosperity and the wellbeing of families. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) identified the number of people who are in financial difficulty and who will be affected worse if the Chancellor follows through and withdraws the universal credit uplift. I notice how often Conservative Members talk about the best way out of poverty. Whenever they talk about people who are in poverty or who are having difficulties—not necessarily those in dire poverty—they say that the way out of poverty is through work. That is true, but only if the work is sufficiently well paid to enable people to survive, to put food on the table and to support their families. Something like 76,000 people in the east midlands are in zero-hours contract jobs.
I actually agree with that. The projects that I have talked about today represent a huge opportunity, because the joy of master planning and things such as the development corporation and the freeport is that we as public stakeholders can interact with business and the market. We can lay out the kinds of jobs and sectors that we would like to see, and ensure that those jobs are better paid than those that already exist. Rather than having logistics sheds on the side of the M1, we can get jobs in clean tech and green energy and ensure that there are better opportunities for people in our communities.
I am certainly in favour of all those things and very much hope to see them happen.
However, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) put his finger on a very real difficulty. I have been involved with the business community in a variety of ways for many years, and one thing I know above anything else is that what the business community values above everything is stability and certainty. My hon. Friend referred to the uncertainty that continues to hang around the HS2 project. Whatever the degree of enthusiasm for it, I think most of us here today support it and feel that, if it is going to happen, we certainly do not want the east midlands to be left out, or the eastern leg not to be continued, or the Toton project to fall through, because of all the potential opportunities that would be created by those developments. I therefore accept the value of what the hon. Member for Mansfield says could happen; it is just that, as I have already said, I have a degree of scepticism about whether, under this Government, it actually will happen. It is delivery that matters, as he himself said in his closing remarks.
I am very conscious of the need to leave enough time for the many colleagues who are here to contribute; indeed, I am pleased to see how many are here to participate in this debate. I am extremely fortunate, in that some of the industrial jewels of the east midlands are not only in my city of Derby but in my constituency—Rolls-Royce and Alstom, to name but two, with Toyota just outside the city. We are blessed in having world-beating manufacturing success and world-beating opportunity. Nevertheless, like the rest of the east midlands, we are bedevilled by insufficient investment, training and skills. So often, what the business community complains about more than almost anything else is insufficient skills—well, it is a lack of certainty, usually followed by a lack of skills, that it complains about most. I am therefore mindful of the difficulties and the way in which the east midlands needs Government investment and support in order to prosper.
I will pick out—I suspect that the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) will wish to do the same—the project that is potentially available. One of the many other ways in which the east midlands has lost out is in—I am not quite sure what to call it—this contest for Government Departments or agencies that are being dispersed from London or set up afresh. As you will know, Sir David, there is in the pipeline a new headquarters for the future of Great British rail, and all of us in Derby, across the parties and universally across the business community and other communities, absolutely believe that the best possible place for that investment—apologies to anybody who has a competing interest—would be Derby.
In Derby, there remains a tremendous concentration of rail companies and other companies associated with the rail supply chain and so on, which we believe is the greatest such concentration anywhere in the world. We believe that to be true, and as nobody has ever contradicted us or found another example of such concentration, we are fairly confident in that assertion.
I share the hopes and aspirations of the hon. Member for Mansfield for the east midlands and its future, and I passionately hope that some of the promises that the Government are making will indeed be delivered. However, I share the doubts expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, which I suspect will be expressed by other Labour Members, about how much faith we can place in the prospect of the Government really delivering on their promises. I very much hope that the Minister will say enthusiastic things about such expensive and comprehensive projects that I will be satisfied, and I look forward to hearing his speech.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is great to be both back in the Chamber and able to speak about the east midlands, which is a region that we do not speak of enough in this place. I look forward to the Minister getting a clear message from all of us here about how important a focus on the east midlands will be in the coming months and years.
Although those of us here today will probably not agree on absolutely everything—I am sorry to say to the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) that in a moment I may just pick up on one or two points she made—in general, the combined and aggregate view of the people in this room, and indeed in the east midlands, is that we of course want to see our area doing better, and we also want Government support for it in the right places and having the right, effective outcomes. Overall, that will help us all across the east midlands, from the very north, where I am, to the very south, where some of my colleagues in this debate are.
We have much to celebrate. It is important to understand the achievements that we have made, or are in the process of making, to recognise the importance of where we need to go forward. I was pleased to see the freeport, which I am sure colleagues will talk about in a moment. It will be transformational for the region, especially for particular parts of it, but even those of us who are a little further away from it are glad that it has come.
There are also the things that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) talked about—the longer-term and more strategic issues that we need to tackle in the east midlands. They are also positive. I look forward to working with him and other colleagues on those in the years ahead.
Everyone in the next hour will make the case for individual areas, I am sure, and I want to make the case for my area. We have already achieved good progress on broadband, which is hugely important for rural areas in particular, in constituencies such as mine on the edge of the Peak, in places such as Barlow and Spinkhill.
We have successfully convinced the Government to spend a lot of money in Staveley and in Clay Cross through the town deals. We are one of only a handful of places to get two town deals in close proximity, and we are very grateful for that. It is now the responsibility of the local councils, which we are working well with, to ensure that the money is delivered effectively into projects that change our area for the long term.
Only a few months ago, we had the very good news that we were going to get a new free school in our area on the old Avenue regeneration site. That is another example of where, after a decade of aspirations but being unable to deliver them, we are now plugging the gaps in funding and finding ways to deliver the things we need for local communities.
We have great opportunities, some of which I share with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins). I look forward to, and will continue to support, opportunities such as the long-awaited Staveley bypass, which is now moving to the next level, which is positive; the work on the A61, which is being led by Derbyshire County Council, to try to secure long-term improvements there; the possibility of reopening rail along the Barrow Hill line; regeneration for towns such as Dronfield, Killamarsh and Eckington in my patch; and the actual physicality of what the integrated rail plan—when we see it—does for my constituency. Everyone, whatever their view of High Speed 2 or other aspects of train policy, wants to see an outcome to the integrated rail plan and what it means for individual constituencies.
In the couple of seconds I have left, I want to say one thing. Infrastructure is vital to our area, just as it is to every other area around the country. However, infrastructure is not everything. That does not mean that the primary message from this debate to the Government and the Minister should not be that we want more infrastructure—we want the ability to build a more successful east midlands over the long term—but there are many other elements of Government policy where the state can help that we also need to consider.
We need to ensure that we are levelling up across education. One of the things that I completely agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) about is the need to level up on skills. We also need to level up on aspiration, opportunities and ensuring that people in our areas know that they can achieve things in a way that, when I came out of school in Chesterfield 20 years ago, we did not used to be sure of. If we do that, combined with the infrastructure improvements that I am sure will be talked about for the next hour and have already been articulated, we will have a great case to make for our region in the coming decades.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this debate. I am pleased to see that so many colleagues wish to take part. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) was disappointed not to be available this morning, because he is serving on a Bill Committee.
Over the past 18 months, my constituents—all our constituents—have faced the most incredible challenges as a result of the pandemic. Far too many people have lost their lives, or lost loved ones, and many people have lost incomes, jobs and businesses. No one knew that we would face a pandemic, but some of the weaknesses in our economy, which covid has only made deeper, were known. I am afraid that the Government have consistently failed to address those and, more than that, have wilfully made them worse. They have failed to take the action that we all know is necessary to ensure that the east midlands can grow strongly in the future.
For many people in my constituency and our region, making ends meet, keeping a roof over their head and putting food on the table is a constant worry. That is not news; for far too many constituents, economic insecurity has become the norm. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) highlighted, 76,000 workers are on zero-hour contracts. If they get sick, they do not get paid. If they challenge their employer, they face losing their job. They cannot plan for the future, and they cannot imagine how they could ever own their own home.
Even those with regular employment feel uncertain about the future. That insecurity has taken its toll. Over the last decade, wages in the east midlands have fallen by more than £10 per week in real terms. Homelessness has increased by 55% since 2010. In 2019-20, before the pandemic hit, there were 101,534 food bank referrals in our region.
We can do better and be better—we all want that—but it requires Government action: not words about addressing regional imbalance, not promises about new investment, but action. We need promises to be kept and we need investment to be delivered.
I want to say more about the action needed, but first I will talk about what is not needed: next month’s proposed cut to universal credit. More than 9,500 households in my constituency face losing more than £1,000 a year as a result of the Government’s plan to make the biggest ever overnight cut to social security. Not only will it be devastating for the families who need that £20 per week; it will be very bad news for our local economy—the local shops and businesses where they spend that money. Taking £20 a week away from almost 40,000 families in Nottingham is taking millions of pounds away from Nottingham businesses and struggling high streets. It comes in the middle of a jobs crisis and threatens our economic recovery.
That is not just an issue in Nottingham; across the east midlands region, 389,680 families will be hit by the cut to universal credit. A quick bit of maths: that is £400 million a year out of the east midlands economy. As has been highlighted, 40% of those low-income families in receipt of universal credit are working families. Cutting the incomes of those who are unemployed or on low pay is shocking. Cutting their spending power is economic madness. I hope MPs on all sides will stand up to the Government and do the right thing for their constituents and the east midlands. There will be an opportunity to do that tomorrow, I believe.
Government do not just need to avoid doing the wrong things; they need to start doing the right things. The east midlands has consistently lost out on Government investment, which has had a huge impact on our success. GDP growth in the east midlands over 20 years has been below the UK average. Productivity has remained below the UK average over the same period; indeed, it has been in relative decline. Doing something to turn that around and make our region more productive is essential, yet the east midlands receives the lowest public expenditure on economic affairs, on services per head, and on transport in total and per head.
Transport spend in our region declined to just 58% of the UK average in 2019-20. If it was funded at the UK average, we would have £1 billion per year to invest in improving transport networks. That really matters, because it is about investing in the future and making us a more productive region. No single issue is more important in transport investment than building the HS2 eastern leg in full, as the Government have repeatedly promised. That will benefit millions of people in our communities—even those who never set foot on a high-speed train. It will create thousands of apprenticeships for young people and skilled jobs for talented employees, and will regenerate our area, particularly around Toton. It will act as the catalyst for private sector investment to turn our great ambitions for our regions into a reality.
Of course, there are transport benefits, too. It is absolutely essential that we get more people and freight travelling on our railways if we are to hit our zero carbon target. It is essential that we improve our connectivity east to west—east midlands to west midlands—and to the north: to Sheffield, Chesterfield Leeds and further north still. We must give people a real alternative to travelling by car.
The Government have repeatedly promised investment in the east midlands transport networks and have repeatedly broken those promises. I feel like a broken record on this issue, but I have been campaigning for the electrification of the midland main line for more than a decade. It was paused, then delayed, then scrapped, in direct contravention of promises made to my and all hon. Members’ constituents in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Now I fear that exactly the same thing will happen with HS2. Well, we cannot stand for that to happen, and I hope the Minister will take the message back to the Government that the east midlands deserves better than to be left at the bottom of the pile. He must listen, and the Government must change their view.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
Despite the east midlands once being one of the most prosperous areas in the UK thanks to its thriving manufacturing base, decades of underinvestment has curtailed productivity, stifled economic growth and held back social mobility. That, coupled with the Leicestershire County Council area receiving the least central Government funding, stifles our development. But that would be to look to our past, and this debate is about the future.
Recently, the region has seen a resurgence of its economic potential, which accounted for 5.9% of UK GDP in 2019, thanks to growth in a number of new and innovative sectors, such as life sciences and hydrogen technology. The latter is of particular national importance, given the push towards green technology.
Alongside the groundbreaking research from our fantastic universities such as Loughborough University, companies such as Intelligent Energy, which is looking to build a new state-of-the-art gigafactory in the region as a centre of hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing in the UK, are leading the way in this area. Such a factory would not only create hundreds of local jobs but would help establish the UK and the east midlands as a world leader in hydrogen fuel cell technology.
The Energy Research Accelerator is also bringing together local research-intensive organisations and a research community of nearly 1,500 researchers to undertake innovative research, develop the next generation of energy leaders and demonstrate low-carbon technologies that will help shape the future of the UK’s energy landscape, but if we are to harness the true potential of those sectors, we must invest further in skills, infrastructure and research and development. The Government have already committed to their levelling-up agenda by directing significant investment towards the region and stimulating business growth, following an incredibly challenging year for businesses.
The freeport at East Midlands airport will not only act as a customs hub, boosting international trade, but will create a highly skilled ecosystem, becoming a magnet for inward investment and business expansion and acting as a springboard for opportunity throughout the region, creating tens of thousands of new skilled jobs. The gravitational pull of the freeport will bring jobs and growth from across the world to the only freeport based at an airport. That is great news for the east midlands.
We already have some excellent forward-looking businesses in the Loughborough constituency, such as Morningside Pharmaceuticals, ERGO, Jayplas and JRE Precision Engineering. Each one is a global player, groundbreaking and integral to the future of our region and our country. That is not to mention the life science cluster based at Charnwood Campus—the first life science opportunity zone in the country, with superb businesses already based there and capacity for more; companies are looking to come to the region, with labs and offices ready to go.
The £16.9 million town deal funding for Loughborough will also ensure that local residents have the skills needed to support local businesses. It will fund projects such as the Loughborough College digital skills hub, and the already thriving careers and enterprise hub. With match funding, those town deal projects are worth more than £40 million.
Loughborough College in itself is a driving force for training and skills, adapted and shaped by the jobs market in which it thrives. Last week, we held a jobs market in the centre of Loughborough that offered literally hundreds of jobs. Thorn Baker, for example, had 75 jobs available. The place is really beginning to thrive. That is in addition to the huge £7.8 million investment in Loughborough from the getting building fund, which not only helped to play a role in creating a global sports hub in the town but has gone towards highways infrastructure to improve accessibility to Loughborough and Shepshed at junction 23 of the M1.
The east midlands is transforming and creating an identity for itself as a leader in innovation and cutting-edge technology. It is time to capitalise on not only our geography but our skills. Inward investors are looking for a place where their business can succeed, for the skilled workforce needed to drive their business forward, and for a great place to live, in which case the future is bright for the whole of the east midlands, but it shines like an Olympic gold medal here in Loughborough.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing the debate because it is an incredibly important one. I enjoyed the case he made for the need for investment and focusing that on Toton. However, there was an elephant in the room during his speech and that is HS2. I do not believe that the plans he outlined are credible without HS2. He seemed to be making the case that the infrastructure can happen with or without HS2, and I simply do not buy it. HS2 is fundamental to that investment in our region and to the interconnectivity that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) spoke about.
I came into this place in 2010 and I have been through four elections in which the Conservative party has spoken about their commitment to HS2 and the midland main line infrastructure and electrification. Throughout those four elections, the consistency of the Government’s message on investment in the east midlands has been matched only by the consistency of their failure to deliver that spending. I have been an MP for 11 years and in every term of those four Tory Governments, we have had big promises, let-downs, dither and delay.
When the Minister gets to his feet, he has an opportunity to tell us finally that the promises made in 2010, 2015, 2017 and three months after the 2019 election that the eastern leg of HS2 would be delivered is not—as the Government are constantly briefing—about to be pulled from under our feet, but that there is actually that commitment. When people look back on this era of politics, they will find it incredible that for 11 years a Government had its biggest infrastructure project yet looked so unenthusiastic about it. I cannot think of any other Government policy in history that has been supported more by the Opposition than the Government themselves. That is the reality with HS2.
It is true that our region is taken for granted and ignored. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South referred to the difference in transport spending between the east and west midlands. In the east midlands, the average transport spending per head is £287.32. Just across in the west midlands, it is £489.70 per head. Almost twice as much is spent on transport in the west midlands as in the east midlands. Why is that?
The reality is that I am a very unusual Member of Parliament. I am a Labour MP in the east midlands who is not from a city. There are 37 MPs in the east midlands who are not in Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, and 36 of them are Tories. This Government absolutely take the east midlands for granted, and why should they not when right across the east midlands they see Tory MPs elected while they fail to invest in our region? Of course they will think the voters of the east midlands will comfortably vote for them.
My party has a big responsibility to face our electoral failure over the last 11 years. I look across the hall to lots of colleagues whose constituencies were Labour for many years. They are in those seats now, and the voters of the east midlands and my party need to consider if we are going to get investment in the east midlands, it needs to be a more competitive area because this Government believe that they can take it for granted.
The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) referred to the Staveley bypass. That is something that he and I are very committed to. I did a recent survey and know that there is huge support in my constituency for that bypass; it is something that has been spoken about over many years. Derbyshire county council needs to speed up the process of delivering the bypass, as many of the projects that were announced at the same time are now much further ahead. I would like the Minister to know that there is a real cross-party commitment to going ahead with the Staveley bypass, and I hope that we will soon have good news about it.
The east midlands region is crackling with innovation and with a desire to get on and deliver, but, as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) said, it is being held back by a failure of investment in our region. We really need to see that turned around now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this debate.
I think those of us here in this room are all incredibly lucky because we represent a vibrant, dynamic and creative region. As other Members have said, we are the heart of the UK’s logistics and manufacturing industries; the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) talked about the industrial jaws of the United Kingdom. I was fortunate to be able to visit JCB in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), and see the amazing innovation that has been taking place at its Foston plant, where it has invented the world’s first hydrogen-fuelled combustion engine.
We are leaders in food and drink; we have some fantastic companies in my constituency of Rushcliffe—perhaps too fantastic, as I do not think they did wonders for my figure over lockdown. We have fantastic stilton producers at Cropwell Bishop and Colston Bassett that, contrary to counter claims made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), produce the best stilton in the world—whatever she may say. We also have wonderful wine producers such as Hanwell wine estate and Eglantine vineyard; we have a thriving farming sector across the region; and we are leaders in so many different types of green technology. I have mentioned hydrogen at JCB, but we also have the GeoPura headquarters in my constituency, whose hydrogen generators are powering everything from festivals to film sets. We are leaders in biodiversity restoration; we have BeadaMoss in East Leake, Rushcliffe, micro-propagating sphagnum moss to be used to restore peatlands and to create new growing mediums that will replace peat in several years. The statistics back up what I am saying. We have fantastic innovators across the region; 90% of manufacturers have innovated in the last two years; 96% plan to do so again in the next two years.
We do have our problems, and they have been set out very clearly by Members on both sides of the room today. Our productivity is below the national average; we have a polarised workforce with a lot of people in very highly skilled jobs—based around our universities and our tech companies—but we also have many people in much lower paid jobs. The average income in the east midlands is £70 a week below the national level. We also suffer from low public sector investment; we have the lowest levels of public expenditure and transport spending per head.
We have also suffered, perhaps, from a lower profile than other areas of the country. The west midlands, for example, has one focal point provided by the city of Birmingham and its Mayor. Its share of funding has reached parity with the average amongst English regions in the last few years; we in the east midlands still have only 75%. We hear a lot about levelling up and we see a lot of Government Ministers going to Teesside and the west midlands; we see their Departments following them there. If levelling up is going to spread opportunity over the whole country then it is going to have to involve more places than just Teesside and the west midlands—however wonderful they may be. One of the places that really needs that focus and support from Government is the east midlands.
I totally agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. Is not the point I just made the reality? Areas such as the west midlands and the north-east are politically competitive. Here, the Tory party is able to take for granted that it is going to get Tory MPs elected and that is why we have failed to get the investments of some of those other regions. Is not electing more Labour MPs the answer?
Maybe that says something about how voters in the east midlands feel the hon. Gentleman’s party has taken them for granted. As a result, they have returned Conservative colleagues, who are here today fighting for more investment in the east midlands.
If everybody in every community having a fair chance at life is what levelling up is about, if it is about people being able to benefit from strong public services such as a great education and having the opportunity for a great career, wherever they live in the country, we have to focus on areas such as the east midlands that have, historically, been underfunded and have not had the Government focus that they should.
We have some great tangible opportunities right now in the east midlands to reverse that. The one I have been most closely involved in is the east midlands freeport, which would cover three sites: one in Leicestershire, one in Derbyshire and one in Nottinghamshire in my constituency of Rushcliffe, based at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site, which is being decommissioned in a few years’ time. The east midlands freeport would create more than 58,000 jobs and would see investment in skills, research and development. It would see Ratcliffe-on-Soar transformed into a centre for new energy technologies and a zero carbon academy, creating those high-skilled jobs and fantastic careers that we have been discussing this morning. It will also enhance and build on existing partnerships between academia and business across the region, which we need to capitalise on. It will be the best connected freeport in the country: it will connect East Midlands airport to global markets and, in doing so, will connect the companies at the heart of our manufacturing and logistics industries to it too. It will also connect the east midlands via road and rail to the wider network of freeports across the country and, in that way, offer us a national as well as a regional opportunity.
The second opportunity is HS2. I appreciate that it is not the responsibility of the Minister’s Department, but I hope he takes away the message of frustration from colleagues on both sides of the House at the length of time it is taking to get a decision about the eastern leg. We have seen a vaccine created and rolled out across the United Kingdom in less time than it has taken to make a decision about the form in which HS2 is going to come to the east midlands, if it comes at all. I hope the rumours that it is going to be axed are not true.
HS2 has great potential. It would add £28 billion to the region’s economy every year. It would increase east-west—a well as north-south—connectivity, which is vital. Today, we talked about how connectivity and trains are important, but it is about more than trains. It is about massive redevelopment at Toton. It is about improving local transport connectivity across the region. It would send a clear signal from Government that we are investing in the east midlands, that the east midlands is not the poor cousin of the west midlands, that it will not be left behind and that we are committed to making sure that the east midlands shares in the levelling-up agenda. I hope the Minister can give us some assurance that that will be the case. I certainly hope that he will take the message back from the debate to his colleagues in the Department for Transport and I also hope that we can hear something about his support for the east midlands freeport, which is something that he knows Members on both sides have been working hard to support. We have an excellent bid now—one that capitalises on our net zero potential, our connectivity and creating highly skilled jobs and training across the region, which is much needed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing the debate.
As my right hon. and hon. Friends have already detailed, a decade of cuts has devastated our communities and people’s lives. People have been pushed into poverty, there is a homelessness epidemic, bus routes have closed and schools are falling apart. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said earlier, in 2019, the east midlands had the lowest public spend on economic development and transport and the third lowest on public services.
On top of more than 10 years of austerity, the Government’s failure to protect lives and livelihoods during covid has caused further economic misery and injustice to our region. Businesses have folded and people have lost their jobs. Retail and hospitality sectors dominated by low-paid workers —often women—have been particularly hit hard. Many are trying to get by on furlough pay that is less than the minimum wage, or even without any financial help at all. In Nottingham East alone, more than 14,000 families are set to lose £1,000 a year when the universal credit cut comes into place. Most shameful of all is that the majority of people in poverty are in working families.
Coming out of the pandemic, we need well-paid, secure jobs that help produce the kind of society that we want to live in. It is not enough just to develop our economy; we need to decarbonise it as well. There are no jobs on a dead planet and we must invest with the future in mind, not just the present.
Booming manufacturing once dominated Nottingham’s economy and our city was renowned as the centre of textiles, but from the 1980s manufacturing declined. For my grandparents’ generation, half of Nottingham jobs were in manufacturing, compared to just 4% in 2021. There is a huge potential for a new generation of green manufacturing jobs in and around our city and region; good-quality, well-paid jobs in sectors such as recycling and reuse. Rather than exporting our recycling content abroad, where much of it ends up dumped in the ocean, when will the Government bring these jobs to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire?
Will the Government put the money where their mouth is when it comes to tackling climate change and levelling up? Can the Minister provide a figure on Government investment in green economic development in the east midlands over the last five years? Can he provide details of conversations he has had with representatives of renewable and green industries about economic investment in the east midlands? Will he agree to meet me and representatives from local green industries to discuss capital investment in our region and opportunities for support from the Government?
With the scale of the climate and ecological emergency, that demands nothing less than post-war scale investments and economic transformation—a green deal. All of us, regardless of party politics, would be letting down those we represent to demand anything less today.
The Local Government Association website provides a list of devolution deals over the last decade. As the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) mentioned, they include deals for Cornwall, Tees Valley, the west midlands, London, south Yorkshire—the east midlands is nowhere to be seen. For how long can our region be overlooked when it comes to Government investments? We saw that the Chancellor’s constituency—among the fifth most prosperous in the country—has benefited from levelling-up money. In constituencies such as Nottingham East, more than one third of children are living in poverty. When are we going to get our fair share? Can the Minister tell us whether the east midlands will get at least the £8 billion that the west midlands received with the Conservative Mayor?
Finally, I would like to stress the importance of devolving and investing in a way that is truly transparent, democratic and empowering for our local communities, because devolution should not mean handing power and money from one man in Whitehall to one man in a region. Communities need a real say in how this money is spent, so that they can be part of building the kind of economy that works for them and creating stable, well-paid jobs in the here and now, investing in industries that will protect the environment, and ultimately giving their children the future that we all deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing the debate. I am pleased to be here today as a proud east midlands MP to discuss the future economy of our region. With the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda, we will ensure that long-forgotten communities across the east midlands finally get the investment they deserve.
Recent research by the Government has shown that there is a growing gap between the east and west midlands, which is likely to widen further over the next decade as a result of the delivery of phase 1 of HS2 and associated investment. We simply cannot allow the east midlands to be left behind. Does the Minister agree that a simple way of tackling the spending imbalance for the east midlands economy is to deliver HS2 in full, including Toton, as well as Chesterfield? Given his earlier comments, I know that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) will agree.
There have, however, been many recent funding commitments from the Government for my constituency of Broxtowe, including £21.1 million from the towns fund deal for the town of Stapleford, as well as an opportunity to bid for £20 million for the town of Kimberley as part of the levelling-up fund. Both commitments will be hugely welcome in my constituency and will have a large impact on the lives of many of my constituents. The knock-on effect of that investment will be to create new businesses, jobs and other opportunities for my constituents for years to come. It will also ensure that the local economy will not just survive after covid, but will thrive.
Transport investment is a key driver of productivity and economic growth. The fact that the east midlands has consistently delivered GDP growth close to the UK average from very low levels of transport investment is testament to the commitment and ingenuity of the thousands of small to medium-sized enterprises that are the backbone of the region’s economy. Terminating HS2 at East Midlands Parkway, or somewhere that is not Toton, will not achieve the transformational benefits for the east midlands that the full eastern leg will deliver. Toton is also ideally located to serve the wider Nottingham area, particularly the major employment opportunities to the west of the city centre.
It is my belief that connectivity is key to truly levelling up the east midlands. That does not just mean transport; it also means digital connectivity. The east midlands region has some of the worst interconnectivity within the whole of the UK. I recently heard about an individual taking business calls from his shed, as that was where he got the best reception. We simply cannot expect growth and prosperity within the region when individuals do not have the digital connectivity they deserve. In November, the midlands engine all-party parliamentary group, which I co-chair, will be holding a meeting solely on broadband and connectivity within the region. I encourage all Members present to attend, if available. I also ask the Minister to outline plans to further address the disparity in digital infrastructure within the midlands.
The future of the east midlands economy looks bright, as long as the necessary investment and infrastructure that has been promised is delivered in full. It would be a misstep not to deliver HS2’s east midlands hub at Toton. I am also keen to see expansion into green industries. The east midlands already has some fantastic local businesses, developing groundbreaking technology and ways of making society greener. In my capacity as co-chair of the midlands engine all-party parliamentary group, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), I recently visited the businesses in her constituency that she mentioned earlier, GeoPura and BeadaMoss. Both are fantastic green businesses that are leading the way within the industry.
I would like to see the east midlands become the focal point for green energy and development in the UK. The Government have already gone some way towards doing that, by setting a clear ambition to support 2 million green jobs by 2030 through the green jobs taskforce. In order to ensure that the east midlands prospers post covid, the Government must break the long-term cycle of under-investment and provide a long-term commitment to invest in the east midlands economy.
I want to finish my remarks by making it clear that, in order for the Government to fully deliver on their promise to level up the east midlands, we must deliver the eastern leg of HS2, and it has to go through Toton.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing this incredibly important debate on our beloved east midlands.
My constituency of Bassetlaw, which is in the very north of the region, has had many connections, such as with Yorkshire. There has been debate over the years about whether we should have joined the Sheffield city region and so on, and perhaps we have taken our eye off the ball at times. I want to see Bassetlaw being a key player in the east midlands, which it can be, and making full use of the economic benefits.
On that subject, I would like to talk about the STEP project in Bassetlaw, which we are very keen on. It would be a major boost to the area. In the last couple of days we have seen the old West Burton A coal-fired power plant fired up again. That shows the importance of having flexible and varied supplies of energy, but we see a real opportunity to look at the next generation of energy production and green energy—for example, with fusion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) mentioned.
We have some excellent rail links already, but we would like to see more. We have the east coast main line and potential for more, such as the Robin Hood line, which has been mentioned. I have constituents in Retford who are very interested in being joined up to that. Of course, the A1 runs through there as well, and we would like to see some improvements to the exits. The east midlands freeport brings some great opportunities for East Midlands airport, and we have the benefit of having Doncaster Sheffield airport just over the border. The freeport is a really great benefit for local manufacturing and logistics companies, and I am a big supporter of it. I want to see it succeed.
I fully support the efforts of my colleagues to make the case for HS2 going through Toton. It would be a big boost for the region as well as Nottinghamshire. So many positive things are going on in our region, and colleagues have mentioned devolution. A strong east midlands can help to supercharge our local economy and give us all a lift.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) were present today, I know that she would mention her campaign to have the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs open an office in Melton Mowbray. Unfortunately, she could not be here, but I fully support her in that and wish her luck.
I will finish my remarks, as I know we are short of time. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield for highlighting this issue. We have a great region in the east midlands. Let us make the most of it, and let us supercharge our economy and go forward together.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David, and I thank you for the opportunity to reply to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing the debate. I agree with him that the Government need to come down on the side of investment and innovation in the region.
I also thank the other speakers, who made important contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) gave us an important reality check on the Government’s actions and made the vital point that, in order for the economy to flourish, work needs to be properly paid. We need stability and skills, without which businesses and the economy cannot thrive. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) made an important point about the cut to universal credit, which is taking money out of local economies. She also exposed the lack of transport investment in the region over a long period of time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) talked about the importance of HS2 and focused on the inequality of transport spending in the region—not just on rail, but on things such as the Staveley bypass. Road transport is important as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) talked about the impact of Government policy and cuts, the vital importance for the future of green jobs, and transparent devolution deals.
We have heard lots of good words about the future of the east midlands economy. The east midlands does not operate as a single entity, with a regional centre, like my own in Greater Manchester, which is why so many Members from different parties have spoken about how vital transport links are, which I will return to shortly. It is instructive to compare the east midlands with other regions. Compared with the rest of the country, east midlands GVA growth figures are lower and there are lower levels of investment, especially Government investment. Productivity is lower, more people than average are in insecure work, a higher number on zero-hours contracts and median gross pay is lower. Of the 446,000 key workers across the east midlands, 40% are paid less than £10 an hour. There is work to do to fulfil the great potential of the region.
People in the east midlands are significantly more likely to be employed in manufacturing than in the rest of the UK. That is a distinctive, important and good feature of the region, although a number of those jobs are in lower-value manufacturing, which is more susceptible to economic shocks. With traditional manufacturing in decline, it is important to consider alternative options for the future. We have heard from several Members about good work already underway, seeking to boost jobs and prosperity in the east midlands, and release the potential of the region that we have heard about so often.
The importance of East Midlands airport, along with the rail freight terminal, is key. A number of Members talked about that and the work of the East Midlands Development Corporation in aiming to link the HS2 station at Toton with the airport. We also heard about the development at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site, which is another important growth opportunity for the region. There is good partnership work going on, driven by groups such as the midlands engine partnership and Midlands Connect. We also heard about the plans for the east midlands freeport. Many might question the overall strategy of freeports creating growth across the country, but it is undoubtedly a good opportunity with potential for the east midlands region.
We have not focused so much today on the hard work carried out by local authorities, which have been at the frontline fighting the covid pandemic, and will now play a crucial role in their communities’ recovery. They need to be funded properly, so that they can play their full role as place-makers, driving growth for the region. Having imposed £15 billion cuts on local authorities over the past 10 years, unfortunately the Government recently broke their promise to compensate local authorities fully for their costs in tackling covid-19, leaving some of them with very big funding gaps and putting local services at risk.
The piecemeal funding pots that we have heard about, such as the levelling-up fund, which pit regions and nations against each other for vital funding, do not make up for a decade of cuts to local communities. We need support for people who live in the region, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East. The universal credit change will hit almost 390,000 families in the east midlands, pushing many into hardship. Cutting the budgets of those families who need it most is not only wrong, but bad economics. That £1,000 a year is money that could be spent on local high streets in the east midlands. Instead, it will be taken out of the economy just as we are trying to recover.
It is clear that East Midlands airport is key for jobs in the region and future economic ambitions but, like other regional airports, it has suffered through the lack of an adequate sectoral support package from the Government. The Labour party has advocated a sectoral deal for aviation that protects jobs and the wider supply chain, safeguards the environment, and ensures that companies benefitting from the aviation sector rebase their tax affairs in the UK. If regional airports such as East Midlands airport are not given adequate help through the challenges of covid, the local economies that depend on them will be undermined.
We have heard a number of times that a key priority for the region should be improving connectivity. The eastern leg of HS2 is vital for economic growth in the east midlands. The potential indefinite postponement would be a massive blow to the economies of the cities and counties of the region. I look forward to assurances from the Minister that the leg will go ahead as promised, as requested by many Members this morning. If this is another broken promise from the Government, it will be a betrayal of the communities in the east midlands.
My hon. Friend is right about the uniformity of view that the east midlands has had a poor deal from this Government. We expect, during such debates, for Labour MPs to be critical of the Government; that is the role of the Opposition. However, were we to put together a Facebook video of the criticism of the Government in the debate, it would include excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) about the east midlands being left behind under a Conservative Government. Those, too, would be compelling pieces of evidence.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that the Minister is listening to his own side, not just to Labour. We have been making this case for a long time, but it has been made strongly, as my hon. Friend says, on both sides of the Chamber.
There is a strong view that the biggest single thing that the Government could do for the east midlands economy would be to improve transport and connectivity, including the full electrification of the midland main line—a continuation through Leicester up to Sheffield. Apart from the environmental benefits, that would reduce journey times north and south. There is the Robin Hood line and the restoration of direct trains from Leicester to Coventry: the only significant cities anywhere in the UK that do not have a direct rail connection. A Government commitment to those kinds of transport investment would be real evidence of levelling up for the east midlands, which has, as we have heard a number of times, the lowest transport investment in the UK.
The final issue that I will mention, though certainly not the least of them, is the emergence of new green industries, which has, again, been mentioned by those on both sides of the Chamber. Labour believes that it should be a priority of the Government to bring forward a green new deal and an ambitious package. We are proposing £30 billion of capital investment to support the creation of up to 400,000 new low-carbon jobs. There is engineering and manufacturing expertise in the east midlands that should be well placed to make the most of those new opportunities, and the east midlands should get its share of the jobs of the future.
Labour wants to see the east midlands thrive, along with our regions up and down the country. We need to address regional imbalance. The UK economy was already highly regionally imbalanced—perhaps the most regionally imbalanced major economy in Europe—well before covid hit. The pandemic restrictions have made existing inequalities worse. The uneven impact of lockdown on different sectors means that some areas have been much more affected than others, and the Government’s ill-defined levelling-up concept needs to address those inequalities. It must mean good-quality, secure work and job creation that helps us meet our climate ambitions. It has to mean a fair social security system for anyone who cannot work, whether due to economic shocks or illness.
Future economic success must mean the Government giving local areas the investment that they need to recover from the covid pandemic and rebuild strongly, with opportunities on everybody’s doorstep. We cannot afford any more broken promises from this Government. That is our challenge to the Minister.
Thank you, Sir David. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and indeed to be back in Westminster Hall. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this important debate, and thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. The thing that has been shared universally is a passion for securing the best possible future for the region, and securing investment and the maximum support possible for everybody’s constituents. That goal is absolutely shared by the Government.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield on all the progress that he has made in his role as the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council. We all recognise that such strong local leadership is essential for securing our economic recovery and for levelling up. I join the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), in thanking all local authorities in the east midlands for the hard work and leadership that they have provided in leading the way through the recovery.
We are committed to unlocking economic prosperity across all regions of the country. We want to address long-standing geographical inequalities, deliver economic opportunity and improve lives right across the country. As the Prime Minister announced in May, our landmark levelling up White Paper will be published later this year, and will set up bold new substantive policies that will improve opportunities, support businesses and boost livelihoods across the country, including in the east midlands. Indeed, an east midlands MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), has been appointed the Prime Minister’s adviser on levelling up. Only last week, our officials were in the east midlands to hear first-hand some of the opportunities available in the region, and some of the challenges faced.
The levelling up White Paper will be a natural continuation of our commitment to support local places. We are already backing that up with our ambitious investment programme, including the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund that was announced at the last spending review. That will be available to all parts of the country and will help improve everyday life. It will include regenerating town centres and high streets, improving connectivity—we heard about that this morning—and investing in cultural and heritage aspects. Those are exactly the kind of projects that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said are so urgently needed in the region.
I was listening carefully to what the Minister said about levelling up. He has heard how the east midlands receives lower than average Government investment in a whole range of areas, including transport. Is it his Government’s intention to address that shortfall? When he talks about the levelling-up fund being available to the whole country, does he not envisage priority being given to an area such as the east midlands, which historically has missed out, to level us up? Is that his intention?
We have been clear about the areas of the country that are in the highest categories of need. The levelling-up fund is based on the fund’s priority themes of economic recovery, transport connectivity and regeneration. We have recognised that need in three districts in Nottinghamshire: Bassetlaw, Mansfield and Newark and Sherwood, as well as the city of Nottingham, which has been identified as a category 1 priority. In Derbyshire, Derby and the districts of Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales, Erewash and High Peak have been identified as category 1, as has the city of Leicester. Those bids are being assessed and an announcement will be made later this year.
Will the Minister publish the metric by which those calculations are made? I do not understand why the Chancellor’s constituency, which is among the top five most prosperous in the country, has been considered a priority for levelling up, but not constituencies such as ours, where the Minister has heard that over a third of children live in poverty.
I just outlined the numerous places in the east midlands that are in category 1. Significant information about the indexation is published on the Government’s website. I urge the hon. Lady to look at that.
There is an important role here for the Members of Parliament. We recognise that formally in the levelling-up fund and we encourage the hon. Lady to make a case through that. We recognise the significant number of category 1 places in the east midlands. We have heard significant pleas for extra investment in the east midlands. A number of Members have talked about making sure we deliver that on the ground. We have made significant investments in the region in recent years, including committing £212 million for nine town deals: two in north-east Derbyshire, one for Loughborough and one for Stapleford. We are investing £49 million in five high streets in the east midlands, over £370 million in the local growth fund and £64.5 million in getting building funding. That will help to drive local growth and economic recovery in the region. Some of those are already bearing fruit at a local level. The £2.6 million local growth funding we awarded for the Vision University Centre Mansfield is helping West Nottinghamshire College to address the skills gaps in the area. The £3.7 million of local growth funding has supported the opening of the Museum of Making in Derby in May 2021, as part of the redevelopment of the historic silk mill. There is £9.5 million of local growth funding supporting the opening of a technology institute—a new build that provides facilities for skills development, to meet the needs of the automotive industry in Leicestershire. The east midlands has received over £3 billion in covid recovery grants, including small business and retail, hospitality and leisure grants, local restriction grants, support payments and restart grants.
We think partnership working will be key to levelling up. On the proposed East Midlands Development Corporation, we are already engaged in some excellent joint working with local partners. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield highlighted the key intervention in the four opportunities that he spoke about. We are currently considering the draft business case with propositions at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, East Midlands airport and Toton. I commend the councils involved, including Nottinghamshire County Council, for maintaining that momentum by setting up a company as an interim vehicle in establishing a locally led urban development corporation. That really shows the intent and local leadership. As set out in the Queen’s Speech, we intend to reform the development corporation legislative framework through the Planning Bill to ensure local areas have access to the appropriate delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration.
This partnership approach will be crucial in developing plans for another significant opportunity in the east midlands. I was of course pleased to see that the east midlands freeport was selected early this year as one of eight new prospective freeports, subject to business case approval. Of course, East Midlands airport—the largest dedicated cargo operation in the country—is based in the prospective freeport. It will be a key economic asset in the east midlands. The right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) said that will happen only if the Government share the enthusiasm to deliver those projects—we absolutely do.
I particularly want to put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) for all her work in driving the project forward, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) for his support. We recognise the scale of the opportunity that the project presents for the east midlands. The region’s connectivity to other freeports and the combination of airport and rail port create a distinctive offer for the region. We are keen to see all partners working together to deliver this for the east midlands and build a strong outline business case, due for submission very shortly. We will continue to work with colleagues across the east midlands to develop robust plans to capitalise on the local growth agenda that can be delivered here.
We heard a lot about HS2. We absolutely recognise the good work done by local partners, including Sir John Peace, Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect to identify the potential impact of HS2 on Toton and the wider east midlands. The IRP will be published soon and will outline exactly how major rail projects, including future HS2 phases, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers in the midlands need and deserve.
I certainly heard the passion and the unanimous voice from hon. Members about providing certainty on the project. Of course, we will take that back to colleagues at DFT and ensure that their voice is heard. I particularly want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) and the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) for making the point clearly that certainty is required. Given the long-term significance of decisions within the IRP, it is of course right that we carefully consider those priorities and take on board evidence from a wide range of stakeholders before making the final decisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) talked about the importance of delivering fairer council funding. She is aware that we had to postpone the review of relative needs and resources due to the pressures on councils getting involved in that conversation during covid. We think that was the right path, but we made some changes this year, including extending the rural services delivery grant and providing £240 million of equalisation. I look forward to working with her as we continue to have a conversation about how to ensure councils are funded fairly. Of course, there was a 4.5% rise in core spending power for the east midlands this year, which she welcomed and supported at the time.
On devolution, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield for his contribution, and I listened carefully to the arguments that he made. I am very grateful for the comments from the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) and for her support for securing a devolution deal. I recognise that it is a complicated picture across the region, but we certainly look forward to having the discussion.
There is so much more that could be said. I thank hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. I will certainly reflect on the points that have been made. I will take back to colleagues at the DFT and my Department the points about providing certainty, and we look forward to continuing to work with colleagues as we invest in this hugely important region and this important part of our agenda.
I thank all colleagues who contributed to this very important debate and, as well as raising their local concerns, backed these key regional economic projects that will create jobs and growth and support our residents in all our constituencies across the area. I welcome the positive words from the Minister on those key projects, and the point he made about the significant investment through the towns fund and the levelling-up fund. I look forward to seeing a longer-term proposal for levelling up and what it means for our communities in the White Paper this autumn. Perhaps we can have some long-term certainty about funding in the spending review. I am sure we will all continue to fight for these key projects for growth and the benefit of our constituents over the coming months and years.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Impact of Floods in North Westminster
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the impact of floods in Westminster North.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, in this short debate.
I am grateful to the Minister for being here today and for this opportunity to raise an issue that has been hugely important to my constituents this summer. I will ask for her help in holding Thames Water to account for its very poor performance in the aftermath of the floods in my constituency and in getting responses from it to a number of unanswered questions about how the floods occurred. In doing so, this debate will also have implications for water companies and flood preparation in other parts of the country.
Before I turn to the specific events that happened in Westminster North, I will briefly refer to the context in which they happened, because they clearly took place in the context of rising flood risks, arising in particular from climate change. We know that climate change is impacting harder and faster than even our worst fears a few years ago, and that devastating floods have wreaked havoc across the world, from New York to Germany and elsewhere. We have to accept the reality that extreme weather events are the new normal. Also, while poorer communities are always at greater risk of damage from such extreme events, floods or other kinds of extreme weather—such as the extremely dry weather that causes forest fires—are no respecters of postcodes.
So when Thames Water points to an exceptionally slow-moving weather system concentrating unusually high rainfall in a particular area, as was the case in my constituency in July, it may indeed be right. The question is whether such a powerful monopoly provider as Thames Water should have done more to anticipate and prepare for such events. Also, given the history, which I will refer to in a moment, why did the preparations that had been made fail and why was Thames Water’s immediate response to the flooding so inadequate?
Westminster City Council also has duties in this area. After the introduction of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, responsibility for local flood risk management, including surface water run-off, groundwater and flooding from ordinary water courses, was passed to lead local authorities, of which Westminster City Council is one.
Westminster City Council had already identified, via its floods policy, that:
“Due to the heavily urbanised nature of Westminster, and the predominantly Victorian drainage infrastructure, there is a widespread risk of surface water flooding…It is expected that sewer flooding may occur within Westminster and a consistent risk profile is therefore applicable. There is a risk of groundwater flooding within Westminster, and this risk is likely to be exacerbated by increased below ground development (basement extensions etc.).”
The issue of basement extensions has been a hugely controversial one for me in recent years.
The council’s floods policy continues:
“There is a residual risk of flooding due to the failure of either water mains or canals”.
The council recognised in the policy that:
“Further enhanced surface water flood risk modelling was undertaken…in 2015…The study considered the impact of climate change on surface water flood risk assuming a 20% and 40% increase in peak rainfall intensity.”
The council is currently undertaking its own review of the July floods and we expect a report imminently. However, it is already clear that the increased risk of flooding, due to climate change in particular, was understood.
So what happened on 12 July, the day of these particular floods? In the afternoon, intense rain impacted on an estimated 500 properties, mostly, although not entirely, in the Maida Vale area. The water rose incredibly quickly and in addition to the rain and the overflow, sewage pipes backed up, covering many homes—particularly basements—with raw sewage. Thousands of calls were made to Thames Water, with little or no response from it in the immediate aftermath of the flooding.
The London Fire Brigade was in attendance and many local residents spoke of there then being a specific intervention by the fire brigade, which led water to drain away “like a plug being pulled out of a bath”. Over that night and the next day or two, hundreds of residents and businesses were left in crisis, due not only to the damage but to the obvious health risk associated with the sewage overflows.
After a varyingly slow start, which was particularly slow by Thames Water, staff from the council, from housing providers and then from Thames Water got to the scene to support people and begin the clear-up. People helped their neighbours magnificently and many staff worked very hard in the aftermath to ease the distress. Even so, people fell through the net. One constituent, who is HIV positive and currently receiving cancer treatment, was put into a hotel and no payment was made. My office was dealing with him on the night after the floods when he was crying in the lobby because of the lack of support.
Many people had to be urgently rehoused after their home was flooded with sewage. That was not organised for a couple of days and, even now—as recently as last week—I heard from a woman who is still confined to a single room in her home as she is immune suppressed and the rest of her home is badly affected by the damp and mould, to which she cannot risk prolonged exposure.
Those affected and many others in the at-risk areas want to know why the water rose so fast and why the sewers backed up and then why the water disappeared so fast once the London Fire Brigade attended. They deserve to know whether anything could have been done sooner to avert disaster as the rain fell. A typical comment went, “As you might know, the water levels dropped very suddenly after the fire brigade attended on our street and seemingly opened a flood valve or removed some kind of obstruction. The rain was still falling as heavily as it had been, but the water went, in my case, from 70 cm deep to ground level within minutes. Thames Water are blaming heavy rainfall but that does not explain how the water just dissipated.”
Many, although not all those affected in Westminster—the problem was particularly concentrated in the Maida Vale area—have a wider question. After localised flooding some 10 years ago, ward councillors, residents and I pressed Thames Water to increase drainage capacity in the W9 and NW6 areas. This was strongly resisted for some time. Thames Water took the line that these were 100-year events. We counter-argued that there had now been two 100-year events in the course of just three years. It gave in, and in the middle of the last decade, new tanks were installed under Tamplin Gardens in W9 and additional capacity was increased, with major works around Warwick Avenue and Westbourne Green lasting two years.
In 2012, Thames Water told us it would complete the Maida Vale sewer flooding alleviation scheme over the next two years, saying that the alleviation project would cover four wards in the Maida Vale area and be good news for the 400 or so residents who have experienced sewer flooding over the past few years, some of whom have been flooded with sewage up to nine times.
The heart of the matter is this question, which Thames Water and, to some extent, Westminster, must answer. Why did a major alleviation scheme designed to cope with 100-year events fail so spectacularly within just half a decade? Was the additional capacity insufficient and should that have been foreseen six or seven years ago? Was the system properly operational? Were there any blockages in the system? Were the drains clear and properly maintained? If the rain that fell on 12 July was a 300-year event, as we have now been told, how long before it fails again?
If Thames Water now suggests that we cannot build our way out of the severe weather-related flood risk, how and when will a package of alternative measures be put in place across agencies to achieve a reasonable level of protection?
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate because several hundred of my constituents were equally affected by the floods she is describing. Thames Water candidly described its response to me as “bloody awful”. It said it was under new management with new shareholders, but it is always under new management and new shareholders. That is the problem. It was exactly the same 10 or 15 years ago, when the same properties were flooded for the same reasons and the schemes have either been cancelled or have not worked. Does she agree that, like the Thames tunnel and the Bazalgette sewers we rely on now, whoever ends up paying for and delivering this, it needs Government direction, because this is a serious matter that repeatedly affects our constituents?
My hon. Friend is right. We are constantly told that Thames Water is under new management. That management always seems to enjoy a level of remuneration that would make my constituents blanch. It continues to charge costs to consumers and is seemingly impervious to the kind of challenges and questions that he and I are raising.
We were told by Thames Water at a public meeting at the end of July that this event was simultaneously unforeseeable and yet also likely to happen again. Legally, its position remains that it is not liable for the damage arising as a result of the flooding. It claims that London’s sewers were never designed to deal with rain on that scale, and yet relies on the fact that its systems meet the targets as evidence that it was not negligent. If that position holds and is reaffirmed by the inquiry set up by Thames Water, this question arises: how can targets be adjusted significantly to reflect the changing weather expected over the coming years before more homes are affected by similar events?
Almost everyone who was in touch with me and ward councillors over the days and weeks after the July floods has good grounds for feeling that Thames Water failed them with its response that night and in the aftermath. A significant minority of people whose homes were flooded are still suffering and feel that their housing providers, council and Thames Water have not acted as swiftly and caringly as they might have done, despite many of the employees stretching every sinew to help.
What assessment has been made of the capacity in local authorities and housing providers to resource their emergency responses? They have been cut back drastically in the past decade and, as we saw with Grenfell, an effective emergency response cannot be guaranteed without the staff available to deliver it. Increasingly, they also have to be able to manage more than one crisis at a time, or in close succession.
Has the Minister undertaken an assessment of the capacity of local councils and others to support residents who lose everything in disasters such as this? Local support payments are designed to patch the increasingly large holes in social security, not to help what might be hundreds of people on lower incomes who are uninsured and left without furniture, clothing and toys. Also, local support payments offer assistance only to those on qualifying benefits—excluding people on working tax credits, for example.
Locally, we have organised crowd funding and worked with the local voluntary sector to relieve hardship. I congratulate such volunteers and One Westminster for their assistance; they have been significantly more supportive of the community than has Thames Water, which I asked to contribute to the hardship funding quite separately from the issue of liability—a request that has been ignored. Why is it that volunteers and community organisations can raise more money for people who have been devastated by floods than the powerful monopoly water provider can?
I turn back to the flood itself. The threat of recurrence now haunts us locally. How are the Government working with local authorities in areas such as mine, where large numbers of basement properties are understood to be at particular risk? Westminster’s 2019 flood policy states:
“Self-contained basements or basement flats wholly or partially below ground without freely available access at all times to a habitable space above ground level within the same dwelling are ‘highly vulnerable’”,
“applicants are encouraged to incorporate flood resistance and resilience measures as part of the design…to prevent water ingress and to reduce flood damage should flooding occur.”
Is encouragement enough, however? How will that be monitored? Where will the responsibility lie in privately owned properties, whether freehold or leasehold? What rights do private tenants have? Who would pay for such alterations to social housing? The time for warm words and vagueness is definitely now over; in terms of damage and indeed safety, we need firmer action. Do the Government have plans to scale up the expectations of local councils—backed by the necessary resources—to review, report on and deal with factors that expose residents to flood risk?
Then there is Thames Water. Ultimately, as I said, residents feel that Thames Water let them down catastrophically. One typical comment was:
“Thames Water were extremely slow in dealing with this emergency and when they made an appointment either didn't turn up or if they did were several hours late. They then arrived with a dust pan and brush and a bottle of bleach and were quite unhelpful commenting always how it was not the fault of Thames Water and what a wonderful company they are.”
My constituents believe they deserve compensation for the damage caused, although Thames Water has already been quick to deny liability. Will the Minister assist my constituents and me in pressing Thames Water to ensure that the already somewhat foot-dragging independent inquiry is now completed as a matter of urgency, so that we have absolute clarity on the sequence of events on 12 July? How can my constituents hold Thames Water to account more effectively given the obvious imbalance in power and resources between them—me—and a private company of such size enjoying a monopoly position as a provider? I and hundreds of local residents need the support of the Government if capacity is to be increased, people protected and Thames Water held to account. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
As ever, it is a delight to see you in the Chair, Sir David.
I thank the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) for securing this important debate. The issue has clearly affected so many people’s lives, as we saw in the news during the summer. I pay tribute to all those who helped: the emergency services, and in particular the Environment Agency and the fire services, who really led on this emergency.
My heart goes out to all those people who suffered; I come from Somerset, so I know about flooding. I have also visited a great many people around the country, so we know how devastating flooding can be for people. I do not underestimate what it is like, and nor do the Government: we have doubled flood funding to £5.2 billion in the next spending period, which will put in place more than 2,000 new defences around the country.
The hon. Member for Westminster North has focused very much on surface water flooding, and in the new Budget we have escalated the importance placed on that issue. Approximately a third of that spending will be on surface water flooding schemes, so although it did not help the hon. Lady this July—although there are some schemes within her constituency—that issue is going to receive much greater emphasis going forward, and rightly so. Surface water flooding is the most widespread form of flooding in England, with around 3.2 million properties at risk. As the hon. Lady pointed out, the effects of climate change combined with population growth mean that we are expecting more of these related issues.
However, everybody—not just the Government—has a responsibility for managing water effectively. In England, the statutory responsibility for managing flood risk falls to the risk management authorities, including the Environment Agency and the lead local flood authorities. The Environment Agency has a strategic overview role for all sources of flooding, and although it does not lead on surface water flooding, it does provide support and advice on risks and facilitates effective partnerships.
I have just been on a visit to Merseyside and West Yorkshire, and have seen some very good examples of those partnerships working to get over some of the problems that people are facing. The lead local flood authorities—county and unitary councils—have the lead operational role in managing all local flood risks, including surface water, and are responsible for identifying the risks and managing them as part of the local risk management strategy. Alongside this, the highways authorities have responsibility for the road network, which includes highway and road drainage maintenance, and water and sewerage companies are responsible for maintaining the public sewer network to ensure that the area is well drained.
As the hon. Member for Westminster North said, we saw devastating flooding this summer, not just in Westminster but around the world. Here, we had those incidents in July and August: the Met Office recorded over a month’s worth of rainfall in just a few hours, and the localised nature of the downpours meant that certain areas were incredibly badly affected while neighbours were not affected at all. It was quite extraordinary, as I think the hon. Lady will agree. The flooding witnessed in north Westminster was primarily due to surface water. This kind of event occurs with extreme rainfall, where the water simply cannot drain away as quickly as it is arriving.
I want to stress one of the central points of the argument: Thames Water built a £17 million flood alleviation scheme, completed just six years ago, to deal with exactly this problem in exactly this area, yet it failed catastrophically. We have been unable to get Thames Water to properly respond to us about why that happened—whether it was a planning issue or an operational one. That is one of the key things that I would like the Minister to help me get Thames Water to respond to.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I hear what she says. Measures were put in place when the Met Office gave its warnings, but of course it was all so quick: the fire brigade swung into action, but those things that the Environment Agency could whizz into place, such as trash screens, just could not cope with that flooding or the sewage overflows and so forth. That is what the Thames tideway tunnel project is going to address, and I have a meeting with those involved later this afternoon. However, the hon. Lady is right that questions need to be asked about that new development. As she referred to, a big public meeting was held with Westminster City Council after the flooding.
I will just finish this bit and then give way. There were lots of people—the council, Thames Water, the Environment Agency and so forth. They have committed to doing this independent review, which is crucial. As Minister, I need to wait until we hear the consequences of that review and the Westminster section 19 investigation before making any further comments. I will be looking at that with interest and I will be happy to have a conversation with the hon. Lady when we have got that, because we do need to get these things right.
Of course, Ofwat is the regulator and Government set the policy. We are working on our draft policy statement to Ofwat for the next period and will be highlighting surface water flooding more than ever before, along with things like water quality and the whole sewage issue. We are doing a lot on that in the Environment Bill, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intrude. Thames Water has told me that the tideway tunnel, which is very welcome in preventing pollution going into the Thames, would not have helped in this situation. It would only have helped properties very near to the river, because this was high tide and therefore some water would have been let through. It would not have helped my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North or most of my properties that way.
What would have helped is the Counters Creek flood alleviation scheme, the £300 million project which went down the middle of Kensington and Hammersmith and would have protected those two boroughs. That was cancelled by Thames Water and has not taken place. Will the Minister accept that we need an inquiry into why that did not happen and what can now be done to prevent exactly the same properties flooding on a regular basis?
Of course, many different schemes are underway, but the Thames tideway tunnel is the biggest scheme we have taken part in for decades. It will address serious issues around mixing of the waters and sewage overflows in times when we get these extreme weather events. It will make a big difference. I will put your points to them this afternoon.
All flooding projects are ranked and rated according to properties protected, delivery and so forth. There is strict protocol for that. The Environment Agency is involved in trying to find out what happened at this incident. It took part in a resilience forum after this event and is very engaged in advising and helping.
I want to take the opportunity to talk about surface water. It is pertinent, because we just published an updated report on surface water management, setting out progress in delivery of our surface water management action plan. David Jenkins did an independent report on surface water and drainage responsibilities. Key highlights include Government funding to provide better surface water flood risk maps in 28 lead local authority areas by summer 2022. That site list will be crucial to the areas mentioned and those across the country, so that people know what is happening. That is what the hon. Gentleman is getting at, I think. We need a clear view of what the situation is on the ground, what is working and what else needs to be done. These flood risk maps will be really important. Improved mapping will provide over 3 million people with more detailed information about local surface water flood risk.
The Met Office and the EA are scoping out a new approach to provide faster communication for surface water flood forecasts when an incident is deemed likely, which would be helpful since people need to react very fast. Water and sewerage companies are working with other risk management authorities to produce drainage and waste water plans, ensuring that drainage and sewerage systems are resilient to withstand these future pressures. Again, Thames Water will have to do that, and it is working on that now. The Government are making these plans a statutory requirement through the Environment Bill. Weirdly, that was not statutory before, and it will be important to looking at the issues the hon. Member for Westminster North is dealing with. We are considering right now the guidance and reporting necessary to ensure timely action in areas with greater surface water flooding problems.
Alongside all that, the Government are investing more in actions to mitigate surface water flooding overall. In April 2020, we made a change to the partnership funding arrangements, which are already having an effect. In July, we published our investment plan over the next six years, which includes £860 million in investment this year to boost design and construction of more than 1,000 schemes. We are aware of the big issue and more than a third of those will tackle surface water flooding, including in London, with two schemes in Westminster. They are the Kilburn Park Road surface water scheme, which should be completed by March 2022 and will better protect 44 properties, and the Upbrook Mews surface water scheme, which should be completed by March 2025.
Alongside that, I have been given assurances that Thames Water is also taking action through its surface water programme. That is investing £3 million in partnership with five local authorities and will be investing a further £1.5 million through a wider call for projects. That project could come under the scope of the reference made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). It will help better manage surface water entering the sewer network and enable the implementation of a sustainable drainage system, while also creating green spaces and amenity value, because a lot of that is also linked to the schemes. I have seen some of the schemes and they are extremely welcome in neighbourhoods; they make the whole neighbourhood look and feel better while having the double-whammy achievement of helping to sort out the flood risk, the drainage and so on.
We are also working with 25 local authorities across England, investing £150 million in place-based resilience innovation projects. Some of those will include mitigating surface water and flood risk, and the outcomes will be shared with other local authorities and risk management authorities, so they can learn from those projects and—if we find something that particularly works and would apply, for example, to Westminster or Thames Water—adopt some of those measures.
In addition to the Government’s investment, water companies will be investing more than £1 billion between 2020 and 2025 to reduce the impact of flooding on communities across England and Wales. They have proposed an additional £2.7 billion of environmental investment through the Government’s green economic recovery fund. Some of those projects have been accelerated, partly owing to the impacts of covid and the lockdown, because there were so many spin-offs from those sorts of projects. A lot of those include measures such as blue-green infrastructure, natural flood management and partnership working at a catchment scale, which is important. It is not just about what is happening outside our door, but where that water is coming from and what has affected it further up the catchment. That still applies to all the London areas as well.
The Environment Agency works with lead local flood authorities to manage surface water flood risk through strategic planning, supporting the development of projects, access to Government flood and coastal erosion risk management funding and access to regional flood and coastal local levies. The regional flood and coastal committee levy plays an important role in the financial support for the development of the lead local flood authorities—all those titles are very wordy, are they not, Sir David? That can help fill the funding gap outside the direct legal lead local flood authority funds and the grant in aid, as well as paying for Thames flood advisers to provide additional service on scheme development. I know the EA teams are working with the Greater London Authority, Thames Water, Transport for London and the local authorities on sustainable urban drainage systems, flood risk, water quality and all those measures.
Our ambition is to make a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion and work to manage and mitigate the effect of surface water flooding will continue at pace. I hope I have demonstrated that I mean business about this, as do the Government, contributing towards implementing the flood and coastal risk management policy statement. We are working with stakeholders on all of this. We will be undertaking a review of maintenance responsibilities to examine whether existing local buyers are efficient in ensuring local assets are maintained and expertise is shared across authorities. I think the hon. Member for Westminster North will be interested in that.
We are also reviewing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government the policy for development in areas of flood risk. Finally, the storm overflows taskforce will make recommendations on lots of those issues as well as sustainable drainage and the sewage outlets. I hope I have demonstrated my commitment. I am always very happy to talk to the hon. Lady and I thank her for raising the subject today.
Question put and agreed to.
Nuclear Fuel Manufacturing
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
Welcome, everyone, to this session at Westminster Hall. It is good to see you all in person. To begin with, I need to remind everyone of the guidance. It is not my guidance; it is Government guidance and guidance approved by the House of Commons Commission, encouraging all Members to wear masks when they are not speaking. Please will Members and members of staff give each other space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room? Also, could Members’ speaking notes be sent to Hansard by email, please? Similarly, could officials communicate electronically with Ministers? I understand that Ministers can read emails and texts, so that should not be a particular problem, and it helps to make sure that we follow the guidance. Thank you all for your co-operation.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered continued nuclear fuel manufacturing in the UK.
It is a pleasure to move the motion under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I know that you are very passionate about manufacturing and skills, so I cannot think of a more appropriate person to be chairing today’s debate.
Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing plant is located in my constituency of Fylde. It is not just a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant; it is the United Kingdom’s only nuclear fuel manufacturing plant, so by any definition that makes it a key UK strategic asset. That is a theme that I want to touch on later in my speech. Beyond that strategic importance, over 800 people are employed directly at Springfields, with employees hailing from the full breadth of the north-west’s nuclear arc, and with the wider supply chain employing countless thousands more. Indeed, Government estimates indicate that fuel fabrication facilities in the north-west support over 4,000 direct and indirect jobs, including roughly 400 people at Urenco in Capenhurst, who are likely to be impacted hard by any drop-off in demand at Springfields.
Among these employees, roughly a third of those who work on site began their career as apprentices, jumping at the chance of what were jobs for life, as 2,000 people have done since apprenticeship schemes started at Springfields 71 years ago. Among those was the current managing director, Brian Nixon. I hope that demonstrates that these are secure, well-paid jobs, of the kind that must be at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, particularly in a sector that has at its heart the north-west’s economy with its industrial base.
Beyond the local economy, our nuclear industry is also helping to forge the UK’s path towards achieving our net zero ambitions, having already produced the nuclear fuel that has powered the equivalent of 20 years’ energy consumption since 1946.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman shares my concerns that the UK had to fire up West Burton A yesterday, and that we are now 3% dependent on coal this year, at a time when the Government are talking about phasing out the use of coal for electricity generation by 2024. If we are to achieve our green credentials, particularly in the year of COP26, we have to look at all the options, and nuclear is inevitably among those options.
The right hon. Lady has made a very powerful point that I think everyone present would agree with. As we look to build towards that low-carbon future, with the backdrop of an ever more uncertain world, we must also strengthen our energy security. Sovereign manufacturing capability must be at the heart of that, particularly that of our sole civil nuclear fuel manufacturing site, which of course is Springfields. One lesson that the pandemic taught us is that when countries—including our closest allies—meet obstacles, they will seek to protect their own interests. It is simply inconceivable that in the thriving nuclear industry of the future, we may be reliant on overseas markets for the core parts of our reactor supply chain.
From an environmental perspective, it is also believed that existing uranium stocks could be enriched and used to make fuel. Existing stocks are sufficient to power Sizewell C throughout its lifetime, and Springfields Fuels Ltd has built an industry hub, working closely with bodies such as the National Nuclear Laboratory.
Let us look at the challenges. Although the future is full of promise for Springfields and the wider UK nuclear sector, significant and urgent challenges remain—namely, a short-term drop-off in fuel orders that risks causing redundancies and, more worryingly, the irreplaceable loss of skills. At the heart of this is the likelihood of early closure and uncertainty around Dungeness B, Hinkley B and Hunterston. With 70% of site income related to advanced gas-cooled reactor fuel manufacture, that uncertainty has seen a sudden drop-off in demand. Given the possibility that manufacturing on existing orders will end as early as 2023, this really is an urgent situation, and retrospective action cannot resolve the issue.
We are also waiting on decisions from the Government about the next generation of reactors—the small modular reactor fleet—with Sizewell C and other proposals still to be approved. Even with approval, construction will take several years, which means a lengthy gap until Springfields-manufactured fuel is in use. That ambiguity is causing delays in ownership-level decisions about the future, adding to the uncertainty, particularly among the workforce.
In the short term, to cope with the drop-off in demand, Springfields needs to find sources of income to support continued work and employment. To date, the redundancies have been voluntary, but that will likely not be the case going forward for employees, management and the unions. I pay tribute to Unite and Prospect for the incredible way in which they have engaged on a cross-party basis to represent the interests of their workforce. I have corresponded with constituents working on site, who have made their feelings clear. Some other opportunities in the wider nuclear sector are also proposed, such as decommissioning, but the site’s unique selling point is its ability to produce nuclear fuel, and that must be protected.
So what are the solutions? As the Minister knows, I come to this debate not with challenges but with key asks. First, it is important to say that this is not a company or a sector in decline. The need is just for support to help bridge the gap before the new technology comes into play and we usher in a golden age of new nuclear. There is a world-class skills base at the site, with plenty of opportunities on the horizon, particularly in the latter part of the decade. The Government need to take a long-term view of the industry. Given that no similar facility exists in the UK, those skills will be impossible to replace. Many of the people who have taken voluntary redundancy were there as apprentices, and the collective knowledge among those people really is quite something. To lose that is shocking.
The vision for net zero looks to 2050, and to lose a key component in a low-carbon industry in the mid-2020s, at the start of our net zero journey, due to a short-term approach is incredibly counterproductive. In the long term, it is essential to have a holistic approach that incorporates as much UK involvement in new deals as possible. For example, Lancashire is already at the heart of SMR—small modular reactor—manufacturing in the UK, and that technology of the future creates huge export potential.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous with his time. Trawsfynydd in my constituency is widely recognised as one of the best sites, and the first of its kind, for SMR. I am sure he will welcome the Welsh Government’s appointment of Mike Tynan to Cwmni Egino, the company that will bring this forward. His point about the risk of losing skills relating to fuels and generation per se is critical. If the Government are serious about looking at nuclear among our options, we have to maintain those skills.
Indeed. If I may comment without embarrassing the right hon. Lady, she is a true champion of the workforce in her constituency, and she never misses an opportunity to make the case for investment in her area and champion that technology.
However, this new technology can be achieved only if the Government set out their vision for the UK’s future SMR fleet, including a regulatory framework and site proposals.
On SMR and AMR, I welcome the investment, particularly from the United States, but a way for investors to demonstrate their commitment is for them to promise to manufacture fuel in the United Kingdom. I strongly believe that a commitment to produce UK fuel for UK reactors must include all future UK projects and the possible transition of existing EDF contracts to Springfields. To achieve that, it would be a huge step forward if the Minister held meaningful discussions with EDF and US investors to work towards gaining such assurances on future contracts and to move some of the present contracts to the UK.
There are many ideas about the next phase, but one is that Framatome could manufacture at Springfields under licence, or that Westinghouse could manufacture Framatome fuel under licence, which would help to bridge the gap without a major renegotiation of EDF contracts. Indeed, having discussed this possibility—only yesterday, in fact—I know that EDF would be open to having a requirement for UK-manufactured fuel written in to contracts, as it works to solidify the long-term future of its key UK operations. EDF actually wants that clarity and certainty, which would go some way to securing Springfields.
As mentioned, there are huge opportunities on the horizon, but without the go-ahead from the Government, they remain something for the future. Therefore, it is key that the Government affirm their backing for UK nuclear and approve proposals for new reactors. With the spending review coming up and COP26 rapidly approaching, I cannot think of a better time for them to do that than now. However, we cannot just think about Sizewell C, which will provide opportunities for Springfields to fulfil the required contracts; we also have to consider the future, over the next 60 years, of what reliable nuclear energy looks like.
Support for other future opportunities, such as reprocessed uranium, is currently a growing area, and countries such as France rely on fuel imported from Russia. We are a neighbour and strategic partner of France, with a strong nuclear safety record, so with Government support and investment, this is something that Springfields has the expertise to commence work on in earnest.
To conclude, I cannot stress enough that, given the time-sensitive situation we find ourselves in, decisive action is needed at the earliest opportunity to protect this strategic national asset, and the Government must do whatever it takes to safeguard that asset’s future. Mr Betts, coming from Sheffield, you will know that Sheffield Forgemasters was regarded as a strategic national asset, and thank goodness action was taken to protect it. To stall further on nuclear would lead to irreplaceable skills being lost and facilities potentially closing. This is an industry with a great future, but it needs the certainty that Government support on investment and future projects can give.
The employees who I have discussed today are genuinely world-class; many of them are unique in this country in terms of what they do. However, they are ready to take on the new challenges that exist. Government must work with industry to guarantee that UK nuclear fuel will be produced in the UK, and give the go-ahead to the projects that will create those orders. If we do that in a timely way, both the workers and the plant would have a future, a national strategic asset would be protected, our journey towards low carbon would be a safe one, this country would achieve energy security, we would be able to export fuels, with the AMRs and SMRs, to many other countries around the world, and we would truly be heralding a golden era. I call upon the Government to seize this opportunity.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing this important debate at such a critical time, when we need to secure a carbon-free UK as soon as possible.
The UK’s civil nuclear sector is among the most advanced in the world. Fuel production, generation, new build, and research through to decommissioning are key components of that. They provide tens of thousands of highly-skilled jobs, many in the north-west, particularly in Lancashire near my constituency of Preston, where fuel production is concentrated.
Nuclear power is one of the largest and most reliable sources of low-carbon energy and electricity in the UK. It has an essential role to play in the transition to net zero. The UK currently has only one new power station under construction. Without rapid progress, we will have what is referred to as a nuclear gap. The nuclear gap currently means that the UK’s only domestic nuclear fuel manufacturer, Springfields in Lancashire, is facing a very uncertain future. It was a pleasure to meet the trade unions on College Green today and discuss the problems that the industry faces. It was nice to see them and great that they are fighting for the industry in the way that they are.
The UK has something like 15 existing reactors, generating about a fifth of the electricity in the UK, with 13 others at various stages of construction or planning. The majority are due to reach the end of their operating lives and be shut down before 2030. In September 2016, the Government gave the final go-ahead to Hinckley Point C, which will be the first new nuclear power station for a generation. There is no doubt that we need new build if we are to have that carbon-free future.
A new nuclear sector deal was passed in the Government’s industrial strategy, and £200 million was promised by the Government to support the industry. However, since then, major events have put that future in doubt. In November 2018, there was a collapse of private sector support for a new plant at Moorside. In 2019, the Hitachi project at Wylfa in north Wales was suspended, which cast doubt on the future of nuclear plants per se. I know that the Government have consulted on alternative finance models for the new reactors and are currently in negotiations with EDF about a new nuclear plant, but it is essential that they give these industries that firm support—the hundreds of millions of pounds that was talked about originally—so that the jobs and technology remain in this country.
A number of factors have contributed to the decline in construction. Obviously, up-front costs are a big barrier, but once they are out of the way, it starts to look far more viable. The meltdown of Fukushima, the closure of THORP—the thermal oxide reprocessing plant—and nuclear waste disposal are all problems that are being overcome and, with further research and development, can be overcome, I think, in a reasonable time.
A push for faster action on nuclear is needed, which includes bringing forward legislation for the new funding model. Springfields, as the hon. Member for Fylde said, is the UK’s only civil nuclear manufacturing site. It is a source of high-value employment in the north-west and is critical, along with aerospace, to the Lancashire economy moving towards a carbon-neutral future. That carbon-neutral future is at risk. There is a possibility of anything up to 120 redundancies at the site, which currently employs around 800 people and supports around 4,000 jobs across the wider supply chain. Prospect and Unite, the trade unions, have since said that axing more than 10 roles would put that carbon-neutral future at serious risk. The Government urgently need to bring forward a mixed-energy policy, which should include carbon-free nuclear.
In addition, nuclear technology plays a part in many other areas, particularly in industry and higher education. Some universities across the UK are offering courses related to the nuclear industry, including my local university, the University of Central Lancashire. The National College for Nuclear is a cornerstone of the Government’s policy. Courses are being offered by five education providers, including two near my constituency of Preston, at Lancaster & Morecambe College and the Lakes College in west Cumbria.
I also understand that an advanced nuclear skills and innovation campus, which has an eight-month pilot launch from June this year, is now based at the Springfields site, with leaders from industry and academia, including UCLan, the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) refer to Mike Tynan. I have known Mike for years, from when he was based at Springfields. I understand he is now at the University of Sheffield, which I am sure is not unknown to you, Mr Betts. UCLan also offers modules on decommissioning waste and environment management on the nuclear fuels cycle.
There is a lot of controversy around the industry at the moment concerning the involvement of China and China General Nuclear, which owns a significant stake in Hinkley Point C, and our involvement with France. One thing is certain: we have to co-operate with China to develop a carbon-free world. China is a huge country with a huge population and must be part of the solution, not just seen as a problem, as in the case of the very poor debate and decision over Huawei. We can either stay in the 20th century or move forward, with partners such as China and France, who have got so much to offer the industries. In conclusion, investing in new nuclear is a no-brainer, so let us get on with it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing a vital and timely debate. I pay tribute to the unions who welcomed me and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) to the Springfields plant a few weeks ago, so that we could see for ourselves the role it plays in that community. I also pay tribute to the workers down the years—60 or 70 years—at Springfields, many of them my constituents. Along with Capenhurst and Calder Hall, the site has been one of the key drivers of our nuclear industry in the post-war era, underpinning so much of our economic development.
The domes of Dounreay might be more worthy of heritage protection but they relied on Springfields. The current fleet of nuclear reactors also relies on Springfields in the here and now, but the footprint and the numbers employed at the site have declined over time. Employment is now in the hundreds, not the thousands, and cannot afford to be lowered further.
We need to look at Springfields’ future. We know that the ultimate parent owners have uncertain intentions, at best, about the future of the site, so policy needs to move at pace. We have heard that advanced gas-cooled reactor closures are likely to be brought forward, creating a gap around 2024 before demand for nuclear fuel increases once more, as new reactors come on stream.
I know that the Government have a nuclear fuel working group. I welcome that, but working groups come in many forms and shapes. Every Department has a multiplicity of them. Some of them operate without a Minister even being aware. I know from my own time as a Minister that, if it was moderately important, I might try to attend the initial meeting to set the agenda and make it clear that it mattered to me. If it was really important, I attended every single meeting. I urge the Minister to send a signal to and sit on the shoulders of her no doubt fantastic officials to attend every single meeting. This is really important, not just for Springfields but for our future national security.
We rightly hear a lot about net-zero, green recovery and the levelling-up agenda—sometimes too much for my personal taste—but here in the Lancashire countryside is the living embodiment of those three agendas. I have always argued as an MP for more high-quality, high-skilled jobs on the Fylde coast, near my relatively deprived coastal town of Blackpool and Cleveleys. Here they are, just a few miles away, in the Lancashire countryside. There can be found the National Nuclear Laboratory and a clean fuels technology pod. The site trains many apprentices, as we have heard, including for firms in my constituency, such as Victrex.
We are in a state of concern because we do not know what the future holds. We risk losing it, like the British empire, in a fit of absence of mind. But it is a vital national capability. It cannot be recreated from scratch. If we lose the golden thread, the continuity of the skills base, we will end up dependent either on the French Framatome or—in my view, unlike that of the hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), even worse—on the Chinese.
Framatome already supply Sizewell B. They already have the contract for Hinkley Point C. In my view, there should be a guarantee of UK fuels for UK reactors written into all future contracts. Framatome already get through processed uranium from Russia. Springfields could do that. The site cannot just be mothballed in the hope that a future Government might wake up. If Springfields really is seen by the Government as a piece of critical national infrastructure, as I firmly believe that it should—and I would welcome a commitment to that effect from the Minister—that has to mean something in practical policy terms. Warm words today will not be enough for my constituents, who want an action plan to bridge the nuclear gap, secure their own jobs and secure the nuclear future of this country.
I thank the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) for raising this important issue. We are all interested in this issue—that is why we are here—but it is also an issue that we cannot ignore, because of the importance of the subject matter. I have raised this topic on a number of occasions, and my position on it has been clear. I am pleased to see the Minister in her place, and I look forward to her response, as I always do. I should put on record that I have supported nuclear power all of my political life, in this Chamber, in the Assembly and formerly in the council as well.
My position has been solidified by the push, the correct push, for greener energy where possible, within the confines of the cost, which we cannot ignore either. I was reading in the press recently that, if you ask people whether they are in favour of green energy, the majority will answer, “Yes, we are.” When you tell them that supporting green energy may mean a 10% or 15% increase in their energy prices, all of a sudden what it means for people becomes much more real. It is important that we pursue green energy, but—it is a debate for another day, to be fair—we cannot ignore the implications of some of our decisions.
I recently read, in a briefing by EDF Energy, that nuclear is the only proven, reliable low-carbon electricity source and that it is vital to achieve our climate targets and create highly qualified jobs, mostly outside London, as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I see some Members here who are very supportive—indeed, we are all supportive—of the levelling-up agenda, but we want to see what it will mean for our constituents. I would very much like to see Northern Ireland being part of the levelling-up agenda on this issue, as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—as I always say, Mr Betts, better together. I know that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) would wholly endorse that; I am surprised he has not said, “Hear, hear!” That is facetious, but he understands the circumstances. There are occasions when we can do better together, and this is one of them. We need to see similar investment and equality of spending across all of the regions of the United Kingdom, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well. I wish to see that happen.
The only thing I would add to the motion is the word “safe”—we need to make sure that nuclear fuel manufacturing in the UK is safe. Safe nuclear is the only proven, reliable low-carbon energy source that we have. I have always made it clear that we can and should use nuclear energy, but only to the highest safety standards. That does cost money. There is a cost implication, as there always is. It means ongoing investment, which is why I was interested to learn that currently over 85% of the UK’s nuclear fuel is manufactured within the UK, predominantly by the existing advanced gas-cooled reactor power stations. Fuel fabrication will decline, with seven out of eight of the UK’s current nuclear fleet, responsible for around 20% of the UK’s zero-carbon electricity, currently scheduled to be offline by 2030.
I am sure we have all heard the selling points regarding the potential opportunity that Sizewell C in Suffolk presents to secure a future for UK nuclear fuel manufacturing, should that project be approved. It is right and proper that it is explored, and that we have all the information necessary to take it forward. The hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) referred to China’s position. I cannot agree with him. I am not anti-China—it would be wrong to be so—but we need to know about China’s intentions. We need to know what they are about: if their investment could be used to our advantage as well as to their advantage, that is good, but not if it is solely to their advantage. It is our land and our country, and we need to have the last say on what happens. If protections are in place, we will want to see them before this project can be fully considered.
Hinkley Point C in Somerset has already supported around 71,000 jobs, so we cannot ignore the jobs that are created through these projects. It uses a supply chain of more than 3,600 businesses, and has an estimated economic value to the UK of £18 billion. Those jobs in small and medium businesses throughout the supply chain, and the economic value that this project has to the UK, cannot be ignored. That skilled workforce and supply chain need a clear future; they need to know what is happening as well. I want Northern Ireland to be part of that supply chain, so perhaps when the Minister sums up, she can give us some indication of how Northern Ireland can play its part in that. I would certainly like that to be part of the Government’s commitment; I do not doubt that it will be, but I just want to hear it for Hansard and on the record, please.
Together, Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C will produce enough zero-carbon electricity to power 12 million homes—again, that is incredibly important and cannot be ignored. EDF is building the UK’s first nuclear power station in a generation at Hinkley Point, and I am given to understand that the electricity generated by that plant will offset some 9 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, or 600 million tonnes over its 60-year lifespan. Again, those figures cannot be ignored, and we should be encouraged by them.
The Energy Technologies Institute has identified the two key cost drivers of new nuclear power stations as construction and financing, and building this series is key to lowering both. Hopefully, we can address both of those drivers by having the series and plan in place; I believe the Government are committed to that strategy and that plan. I have been told that the cost of financing Sizewell C will be lower because of the reduction in risk through building the second project in the series, and because the funding model—the regulated asset base model—enables investors to receive a steady return on their investment during construction, meaning that they will be able to provide capital at a lower cost. I am a great believer in ensuring that investors have a return; I would respectfully suggest that we want to see a return for them, but not an exorbitant one. However, we have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that investors can invest their money and get that return.
I look to Government, and in particular to the Minister, to provide a response setting out their vision—and her vision—of low-carbon energy, and how this can be achieved for all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by using safe nuclear power, with a viable financing option in legislation and in operation. If we can do that, I believe we will all benefit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has articulated so many of the arguments and points in this debate so well. It was a great pleasure to visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) to see the amazing facility at Springfields, and to get such a strong sense of how key it is—not just to our nuclear future, but in the framework of our energy future—and the importance of nuclear as a reliable form of energy. This, after all, is what the debate is about.
I not only met the organisation there; the National Nuclear Laboratory is sited there as well. I heard the powerful representations and views of the trade unions, Unite and Prospect. Their championing of the workers there, and the clear collaboration and close relationship between the management of the site, the workers and the union movement, is such an important thing for the future of any organisation. Working together is such a key part of the success and, hopefully, the ongoing future success of the site, but we need to understand what ought to be a fairly straightforward debate.
Fundamentally, we need clean, reliable and affordable energy to meet not only our current needs but our future needs as well. We do not know what the future will bring, but I would certainly like to see far more industry being located in Britain. China, India and many other countries around the world have been very competitive. We have been losing a great deal of heavy industry, and we need an energy supply that industry and heavy industry can use in an affordable way to be competitive with those countries, and with Germany as well. Germany is going down in terms of nuclear, but by doing so it is going up in terms of coal and other fossil fuels. That does not really fit in with what we normally hear about our European neighbours, which is that they are far more environmentally friendly than us. By turning their back on nuclear, they are embracing carbon emissions.
With our ambitions for COP26 and our leadership in this area, we ought to be looking at those sources of power that can reduce carbon emissions. It is the Government’s agenda; it is the international agenda. Nuclear is a key part of that, but we have to think about the steps that we need to take to get there. There was a bit of controversy recently about coking coal being produced in Cumbria rather than being imported for the British steel industry. It is so important that we take the effective and right judgments, and not only for the short term for British industry. Whether it is the Minister or the wider Government, we have to reassure industry and the nuclear sector that we have a future here, and will not export our industry overseas and feel good about exporting our carbon emissions to countries that perhaps have slightly lower expectations and standards than we do.
We need to support British manufacturing industry. We also therefore need to support reliable energy, baseload or firm energy, as I think the term is now, where we know, day or night, whatever the day of the year, we will have the energy that we need for industry and for homes—for cooking and for heating. We ought to be able to rely on that. As highlighted earlier this week in The Daily Telegraph, the UK produced a record of 14,286 MW of energy on 21 May, which is extraordinary, but earlier this week or last week we dipped down, just from wind, to 474 MW. That is not reliable energy that people wanting to keep a warm home in the middle of winter can rely on. It is not what industry can rely on, especially the steel industry. The next generation furnaces will be reliant on electricity. How can the steel industry run an arc furnace if it cannot rely on the energy supply?
It all goes together and the nuclear industry is key. This is technology that we have at the moment. We know how nuclear energy works. We know that we can produce stations that are reliable and cost-effective. We often hear about wind and solar energy, but there are significant technological problems with those forms of energy when it comes to providing firm energy. Until we have storage of that energy, so that when the peaks happen we can store the energy to take us through more difficult times, those forms of energy will not be as reliable as industry and homes need.
It is very positive that the Government have an increasingly strong hydrogen agenda. Again, that relies to a significant extent, it seems, on carbon capture and storage and that is not yet at scale or cost effective. Again, this is more technology that will probably be quite expensive and has not yet arrived. Perhaps in the longer term, we will need those technologies, but in the shorter term, we need more reliance on nuclear. That is where Springfields plays such a key part. It produces the fuels now and will produce the fuels in the future, but there is a short-term gap that needs to be bridged.
With more of our nuclear fleet being decommissioned in the very near future, we need to secure the future of the Springfields site. As My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde highlighted, we should perhaps renegotiate with the French nuclear industry to make sure that we can manufacture in the UK, perhaps under licence or whatever kind of relationship. We can do that. We also have the promise of massive investments in the nuclear fleet, because they are very expensive projects. That is some level of leverage we can use with the French, and I am sure we will be able to get a deal that ensures that we can keep those skills. That is such a key part: having Springfields there for the short, medium and longer term means we keep the skills in the United Kingdom.
Not only my hon. Friend but the team in Government and the COP 26 President have to have that ambition. We need to speak out more consistently. It is disappointing—I do not know how true it is—that the sense in Glasgow is that the nuclear industry is not being welcomed to participate in COP 26. It ought to be a key part of it. I hear the COP 26 President speak passionately on a regular basis about other forms of energy, but I do not hear the same passion about the nuclear industry. For the nuclear sector, for long-term investment, we need to hear far more about the British Government’s commitment to the sector—not just Springfields but the sector more widely—because that is what creates confidence. If people, whether from my constituency or more likely my neighbours’ constituencies of Fylde, Blackpool North and Cleveleys or even Preston, are to take up an apprenticeship, they must have confidence in the future. There are other companies—British Aerospace and others—that can take that talent, but Ministers need to give confidence to the next generation of engineers and scientists and other people coming through that this is a career for them.
We have to see the sector also within the framework of national security and strategic national interest. If we lose the skills and the businesses, it is very difficult if not impossible to bring them back. It is also a question of Hinkley C and the skills there. We need to have that certainty about building the rest of the nuclear fleet, when that is going to happen and what type of nuclear fleet we are going to have. If those engineers and that talent at Hinkley C do not have jobs to go to, they will use their talents in other projects around the country. When we get around to building the next nuclear power station, that talent will be gone. For reliability and effectiveness in terms of delivery, we have to secure that talent, just as we need to secure the talent in Lancashire. It ought to be seen as a key part of the levelling-up agenda, not just for championing Lancashire, the north west and the border, and the north of England, but even for Derby North. I do not know what kind of next-generation nuclear fleet we are going to have, but Derby is going to be a key part if we choose to have small modular reactors, perhaps of the Rolls Royce design. I am sure we have a strong voice in Government championing the cause. It would be lovely to hear it a bit louder.
Thank you, Mr Betts. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing this debate and colleagues from around the House on joining in what might be called a celebration of nuclear, to which I know the Minister will respond positively.
My hon. Friend made absolutely clear his views of the future of civil nuclear fuel manufacturing in the UK at Springfields in his constituency, and made the case as strongly as any of us could have expected him to do, with a crucial role for Sizewell C. In the remaining minutes before the wind-ups, I want to touch on that crucial aspect of this debate, but then widen it fairly swiftly into the role of nuclear in the United Kingdom, as hon. Members have tended to do.
The crucial thing is that the case for nuclear has to be restated again and again, because it has not always been clear that this Parliament has supported it. Whereas nuclear energy itself has continued to deliver consistently throughout the past 60 years, political views have ebbed considerably over that time.
Ultimately, although the 103,000 jobs and important supply chains are clearly vital to the economy, that is not the fundamental reason why we need nuclear, which is, in summary, the only proven low-carbon power that does not raise emissions, even in extreme weather. Over the past 60 years, it has consistently delivered more than 20% of the UK’s electricity needs. We know that those needs will rise so it is crucial that we plan for the future. If the criticism of democracy is sometimes that we only think in terms of five-year election cycles, it is vital that nuclear is the exception to that short-term thinking.
I listened with interest to the thoughtful comments made by the hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) about the sector about which he knows so much—engineering, nuclear and skills—but the fact is that unfortunately his own party’s failure to do anything for the best part of a decade led to a loss of skills, the sale of British Energy and our dependence thereafter on foreign investment and skills. Much has changed since 2010, of course. Crucially, with the construction at Hinkley Point, we have the opportunity for the first time in a very long time to build up domestic skills, which can then continue at Sizewell C. I hope very much that the Minister will indicate that there will be further opportunities in the future to build additional nuclear power stations, thus taking on the skills from generation to generation, reducing the cost, increasing our skills, possibly enabling us to become exporters of skills again, and reducing our dependency on foreign skills.
The mood music at the moment is encouraging. None the less, I understand that the 18 GW proposal at Sizewell C has not yet reached financial agreement. Anything the Minister can say on that would be welcome. Meanwhile, we have all been slightly sidetracked by the huge opportunities in renewable energy, not least offshore wind and the sector I have spent a lot of time on—marine energy. I encourage all hon. Members who are supporters of nuclear to look at what is being achieved by Orbital Marine Power off Orkney in the north of Scotland. It is a remarkable generation of marine energy. In a sense, all that complements what we can do with nuclear, because it opens another great opportunity, which is to generate hydrogen at or very close to our nuclear power stations. I would welcome it if the Minister commented on what progress we might make on that over the next two or three years.
My constituency of Gloucester has been the nuclear operational headquarters for British Energy and now EDF Energy for a long time, operating all the existing nuclear power stations in Britain. Of course, we hope to take our nuclear skills in a new and different direction with a bid to become the hub, at Oldbury and Berkeley, for the development of nuclear fusion. We are very keen to see the operation at Barnwood play a major role in the development of Sizewell C. As colleagues have mentioned, the opportunities for skills, careers and well-paid jobs in a sector that is so vital to everything we do is enormous.
Can the Minister give us any update on Sizewell C? When will the Government consider the next project thereafter and how fast we can take forward the development of hydrogen at our nuclear power stations? I hope that my comments supplement and complement what colleagues from around Westminster Hall have said in support of a sector that is so vital to our future.
We now move on to the Front-Bench speeches. We have slightly more than the normal 10 minutes. We will allow two minutes for the mover of the debate to wind up at the end, so you have about 12 minutes. You do not have to take that time, of course. I call Alan Brown of the SNP.
Thank you, Mr Betts. Thank you for your guidance. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I have a funny feeling that it might not be a pleasure for other hon. Members to listen to my contribution, because, not for the first time, I might be presenting a minority and contrary view in the room. That said, I congratulate the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on initiating the debate. It is only right that an MP fights to retain and create jobs within his or her constituency. He has been ably supported in that by the hon. Members for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), for Bolton West (Chris Green), for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) and by—from the adjacent constituency—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), as well as the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham).
It is clear that Springfields has been an important employer through the years, with highly skilled jobs that are well paid. It is clearly very important to the north-west region of England, which I appreciate. However, if we are looking forward, when we consider the need for the production of nuclear fuel within the UK, we need to look at the strategic picture. In that strategic picture, we have to ask whether nuclear energy is required at all.
Even more important, we need to understand the cost and risks of nuclear energy and the state of the nuclear energy generation market. There are too many false narratives from the nuclear industry, though it is very successful at lobbying. Briefings from EDF argue that it is the only proven reliable low-carbon technology—many hon. Members have said that today—but, by way of an example, last year, Scotland generated 97% of the equivalent of its electricity demand from renewable energy.
Looking ahead to Sizewell, EDF argues that, with Sizewell being a copy of Hinkley Point C, there will be cost savings in that building. That might be the case design-wise, but there are different access and construction logistics to consider at Sizewell and the fact that it is still mired in the planning and environmental impact assessments, before it can proceed on to detailed design, means that nothing is certain in terms of cost at Sizewell.
It is also nonsense to say that these projects are cost-comparable with other technologies. The reality is that Hinkley Point C has a strike rate of £92.50 per megawatt-hour, for a 35-year concession contract, compared with offshore wind, which now comes in at £40 per megawatt-hour for just a 15-year concession contract. At the moment, nuclear is roughly four or five times more expensive than onshore and offshore wind. Even if the Government agree a regulated asset base funding model for Sizewell, that will not account for such a cost differential.
I do not want to debate whether the hon. Gentleman ought to approve of nuclear, but there is a question about the reliance on wind or solar panels. Perhaps there is a surge or abundance of energy at one point, but if at night we have high pressure and no wind, how do we power things at that point? At the moment we would typically be reliant on gas or coal. What will the source of power be in those times?
I will come on to that. The hon. Gentleman himself touched on carbon capture and storage. It has not been proven at scale yet, but it is nearly there. We are looking at hydrogen. The Government have their own hydrogen production targets, as have the Scottish Government. Hydrogen can clearly be used from storage. The regulatory regime should be changed for the capacity market so that storage can be collocated with renewables and used to access the capacity market. The Electricity Act 1989 should be changed so that electricity released from storage is not double charged as a generator, which happens at the moment. There are other things in terms of Government strategy and regulation that would help advance the situation.
It is not quite the same as nuclear fusion, which is always 50 years away—or that is what is always said. On the other technologies, be it battery storage or carbon capture and storage, is there any certainty about the dates when these will become viable technologies?
I have to admit that there is not absolute certainty, but it is predicted that the first key carbon capture and storage plant could be up and running before another nuclear power station will be constructed. We are getting very close to the final investment decisions on these carbon capture and storage plants. That in itself will give the market an indication of where that is going. We will be looking at the next year or two for the final investment decisions.
Turning to the recent history of the nuclear sector in the UK, it is obvious there has been a market failure as well as a failure of Government strategy. Clearly, that has impacted Springfields in the demand for nuclear fuel. Hinkley point C is the most expensive nuclear project in the world. When the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) became Prime Minister, she threatened a U-turn on this project, but then caved in and signed the deal anyway. The cost for Hinkley is now estimated at £22.5 billion, which is an increase of 25% on the estimated cost when the deal was signed. The Government tell us that cost increases are tied up in the risk and that EDF carries that burden. The reality is that no company can afford losses of £4.5 billion or 25% of the original cost estimates, so electricity bill payers must be paying for it somewhere along the line.
The sign-off for Hinkley was supposed to send signals to the market to allow other sites to be developed to generate competition and bring down prices. Since then, we know that Toshiba has walked away from developing Moorside and Hitachi pulled out of Wylfa and Oldbury. The good news for us electricity bill payers is that £50 billion to £60 billion of expenditure has not been committed. From a UK Government perspective, that should have been the realisation that their nuclear aspirations were in tatters. Unfortunately for Springfields, that is three pipeline projects that they could have accessed now lost. Worse, Hinkley point C is now predicted to come online in June 2026 instead of 2025, but it is a possible 15 months away on top of that, so it could be September 2027 before unit 1 of Hinkley comes online. We will have to bear in the mind that the European Pressurised Water Reactors system has still not been shown to be successful. Flamanville in France is expected to generate in 2024—12 years late. Finland’s project is due to come on to the grid next year, but that is 13 years late.
I have to watch my time, I apologise. I can come back maybe. Taishan in China was held up as an exemplar when it went online, but it has now been taken offline because of safety concerns. If China General Nuclear Power Corporation is involved at Hinkley and the consortium for Sizewell, the fact that Taishan has got safety concerns should be ringing alarm bells for the Government. We talk about energy security, but the reality is that we have a reliance on France’s state-owned company EDF and on China’s state-owned company China General Nuclear Power Corporation. That kind of blows our energy security argument. I have not heard any answers alternative to that in here.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He consistently mentions France. President Macron recently said that by generating more than 41% of the energy in France, “nuclear makes us autonomous”. Macron also said,
“It preserves French purchasing power, with a kilowatt-hour 40% cheaper than our European neighbours.”
That is what Macron said worked for France. In actual fact we are helping France by paying EDF, effectively helping to subsidise the French nuclear market, so that does not make sense to me. It is by the by. We will also have interconnectors coming from the EU, including France, that do not pay grid charges. In the north of Scotland Scottish renewable energies pay the grid charges, so French nuclear energy comes here at no charge, whereas Scottish renewables have to pay charges to connect the grid. The actual system is not thought through properly and that is why we need a much better strategic look at things.
Going back to the timeframe before Hinkley is operational, it is certain that seven of the existing eight nuclear power stations will be offline, because we know that the advanced gas reactor stations are all closing earlier than planned. We heard that Dungeness went offline seven years early. Four more stations will go offline in the next three years. Nobody is going to bet on Torness and Heysham making it to 2030. The existing market demand for nuclear fuel production in the UK all but ends before Hinkley comes on stream. That is why it is so critical to think about and debate the future of Springfields.
That is why, for me, the UK Government should have a nuclear diversification or transition policy to help to save jobs or create new jobs as alternatives. We have the North sea transition deal; why not something similar for nuclear? Communities all over the UK have financially benefited from the jobs created by nuclear, but they need replacement jobs. These communities need to be supported, not left behind. That is what I suggest the Government need to look at.
We hear that Hinckley has created a lot of jobs, but a £22 billion project should create thousands of jobs. It is not difficult with that level of expenditure. If we look at the £20 billion that the Government may commit to Sizewell, I would argue that this money could be better spent in creating other jobs UK-wide. We are truly world leading in wave and tidal energy development, and floating offshore is getting there. Why not invest in the future? As I said earlier, hydrogen development is getting close to a commercial reality. These considerations need to be part of that transition.
The nuclear baseload argument is an outdated concept. That was confirmed by the former chief executive of the National Grid in 2015. Can the Minister confirm that taking these existing nuclear stations offline will not increase the risk of the lights going out? Moreover, going forward, a report by Good Energy and the Energy System Catapult has demonstrated that net zero can be achieved without the need for new nuclear. I suggest that the Minister needs to look at that.
Although we hear about renewables and fluctuations, large-scale nuclear is inflexible. Indeed, having more large-scale nuclear in tandem with renewables is a problem. That is why we have the constraint payments for renewables as well. I refute the arguments about baseload and energy security. I am not sure that the future is therefore nuclear, in the way that we keep hearing, because that argument has not held up to date. I ask the Government to revisit their strategy, please support these communities around the UK, and look at diversification and a fair transition.
I congratulate the hon. Member on securing what is an important debate, not just for the future of the plant in his constituency, which we are talking about this afternoon, but for the wider question of our strategic future, when we look at the future of nuclear at all.
I do not want to be a party pooper, but this debate is about Springfields nuclear fuels. There is a lot I could say about all sorts of things, such as the role of hydrogen in the economy and whether, when the wind does not blow very well, other forms of thermal power may be needed. However, we need to concentrate our minds not on the future of our entire nuclear programme, but on Springfields nuclear fuels. What is unique about Springfields nuclear fuels is that it has single-handedly held up the entire UK nuclear programme for four or five decades now. It has provided pretty much all the fuel for the Magnox systems. It now provides the fuel for advanced gas-cooled reactors, and it should hopefully be able to provide the fuel for the new nuclear power stations coming on stream.
The role of fuel is usually unsung, but it is crucial to the whole process of nuclear power. There is a popular perception, which I am sure is not shared among hon. Members here, that using nuclear fuels means finding some uranium, enriching it a bit and sticking it in a pot to make the energy. That is very far from the truth. It is a highly skilled operation, requiring intensely developed engineering skills, which are involved in making the rods and the pellets, which must have the right specification and order for the particular form of nuclear reactor for which they are being made.
There is also a whole load of ancillary activities, some of which have been mentioned, such as the reprocessing of uranium to go back into the rods. That is another very highly skilled enterprise, far from the perception of this being a pretty simple journeyman activity that anyone can do. No, not anyone can do it. In the case of the UK, there is only one company that can do it—Springfields nuclear fuels. We need to see Springfields nuclear fuels not just as part of the nuclear landscape generally, but as a vital national strategically important component of whatever our nuclear programme was and whatever it will be.
It should be a cause of enormous alarm for hon. Members if there are suggestions that somehow this strategically important national asset will either be downgraded or lost in the not too distant future. There is a very real prospect of that because, as hon. Members have said, despite its crucial and honourable history backing up the nuclear industry in the way that it has, it is finding it difficult to get contracts for the continuation of its excellent production activities. I think there was some work recently for the Norwegian nuclear corporations, but there is a real gap in what is coming up—what we know will be an important requirement, particularly of Hinkley C and certainly of Sizewell C when they eventually come on stream. There is a substantial gap between that time and now. There is a real prospect, therefore, of that company—which is owned by Westinghouse, a private US company with no great feeling for UK national strategic interests—dying, not for lack of praise but for lack of an immediate future between new nuclear and modular nuclear reactors coming on and where we stand now.
The hon. Gentleman himself mentioned that Hinkley C is coming on stream in 2026—maybe even later than that. I will come to the arrival of Sizewell C in a moment, which is probably at the heart of his questions, should we develop modular nuclear reactors that are even further off.
I try to set myself a self-denying ordinance of not straying too far into wider issues such as firm power, but I would say that carbon capture and storage is very well developed already, and is up and running. I have actually been to see a carbon capture and storage plant operating at full scale in Canada.
However, it is not a question of whether carbon capture and storage can actually do the work, and it is not that the technology has not been developed to make carbon capture and storage perform the entire chain of activities—sequestration, storage, transport, and so on. It can do all those well and at scale; that has already been proven. It is a question of how quickly we can develop carbon capture and storage and put it into operations, so that it works from the day they start, with carbon capture and storage on the back of them, rather than developing operations that are carbon capture and storage-ready, but where carbon capture and storage is not on the back of that process. That is really a question of planning and investment, more than anything else, but it needs to be done in the right place at the right time. That is the end of my diversion.
The issue for Springfields nuclear fuel, therefore, is that there is clearly a substantial valley of death before what Springfields can reasonably expect for its work for the future. If we leave it at that, it is inevitable that, even if it eventually survives that gap and comes through well in the end, that may well be at the cost of all the skills in that organisation and most of the workforce; and, at a time when Springfields’ services absolutely will be required in the national interest, its ability to spring back may well have expired in the meantime.
As a country, we cannot let that happen. I therefore congratulate the unions, Prospect and Unite, for campaigning strongly for that view of Springfields as a company. It is beholden on the Government to take that view as seriously as the workforce do—and, I think, all of us in this Chamber do—in their responses and reactions to this particular issue.
When looking at the nuclear sector deal that was signed in 2018, I was interested by this statement from the Government on securing fuel capabilities:
“We will work with the UK nuclear fuel industry to ensure continued, commercial operation of their facilities and secure the long-term future of these important UK strategic national assets to deliver future energy security as well as ensuring the UK nuclear fuel industry continues to deliver long-term UK economic benefit”.
That is what they committed themselves to in the nuclear sector deal. However, as far as I know, nothing has yet been done about that.
Therefore, my first question to Government is: does the Minister intend that that nuclear sector deal commitment will actually be carried out? Are the Government looking seriously at ways in which Springfields nuclear fuels can be properly supported during this period of its existence and assured of remaining in existence as we move to whatever the next stage of our UK nuclear programme is?
My second issue is also important. Are the Government serious about moving on the programme for the already existing nuclear facilities and bringing in arrangements to give greater certainty on the development of Sizewell C? I refer to what hon. Members have also mentioned this afternoon: the regulated asset base arrangement or similar. If the Government do not like that arrangement, an alternative could give certainty to the development of Sizewell C in the next period. As I am sure the Minister knows, there is a row going on between Departments about whether the regulated asset base should be introduced for Sizewell C. That needs resolving. Something needs to come out shortly to get that programme under way. That is also relevant to the future of Springfields nuclear fuels in the way I have described it this afternoon.
I have two direct questions for the Minister, both relating to the future of Springfields nuclear fuels, which we want to see secured. We want to make sure that the Government play a full role in securing that future, so that we can say that that national asset is in good shape and in good hands. In passing, there is a question mark about the future ownership of Springfields nuclear fuels. As a national asset, perhaps it should be a Government agency, so that we can secure its activities for the future in a way that befits its importance to the country.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) for securing today’s really important debate and my parliamentary colleagues for expressing their support for the UK’s nuclear sector and future.
I will start by reaffirming the strategic importance of maintaining our sovereign fuel manufacturing capability, as set out in the 2018 nuclear sector deal. As many hon. Members have said, the UK is a world leader in the nuclear fuel cycle, which is a testament to the highly skilled workforce currently employed at the Springfields and Capenhurst sites and in the wider UK supply chain. Maintaining and developing that skilled workforce will be critical to delivering our net zero ambitions. I welcome the Westinghouse launch of the clean energy technology park last year. Such commercial ventures support collaboration and low-carbon research. Development and business are central to the UK’s transition to net zero. I am aware of the short-term challenges facing the Springfields site as the UK’s advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet retires. However, as we look forward to the 2030s, I agree with my hon. Friend that the site could and should have a bright future. That leads me to the Government’s commitment to nuclear power.
The 2020 energy White Paper sets out our vision for the transformation of our energy system, continuing to break the dependency on fossil fuels and moving homes and businesses to clean energy solutions. We have not yet made the full transition away from coal, let alone decarbonised our energy system, but “The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” highlighted the key role of nuclear power in delivering the deep decarbonisation of our electricity system alongside renewables and other technologies.
This is an exciting time for the nuclear industry. This Government are clear that nuclear has an important role to play in decarbonising the electricity system, and in meeting carbon budget 6 and net zero targets. In the energy White Paper and “The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”, this Government committed to advancing large, small and advanced nuclear projects as part of our future low-carbon energy mix, heralding what my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde called a golden age of new nuclear across the regions and nations of the UK, thereby contributing to the levelling-up agenda.
That includes at least one large-scale nuclear project, and in December 2020 we announced that negotiations with EDF on Sizewell C had begun. Those negotiations are already well under way. Moreover, as the Secretary of State has said in the House, we will bring forward legislation in this Parliament that will further commit us to creating more nuclear power in this country.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I will come on to that issue later.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) noted, nuclear could have a role in beyond grid applications such as low-carbon hydrogen production. Last month, we published the UK’s first ever hydrogen strategy, confirming our support for low-carbon hydrogen production across the United Kingdom. In addition, we have announced up to £385 million in the advanced nuclear fund to invest in the next generation of nuclear technologies, with an ambition to employ small modular reactors and to develop an advanced modular reactor demonstrator as early as the 2030s.
I also recognise the importance of developing our fuel-manufacturing capabilities to support these ambitions. My Department, in co-operation with the National Nuclear Laboratory, has delivered a £46 million advanced fuel cycle programme, aiming to develop world-leading skills and capabilities in advanced fuels and recycling. Recently, we announced a short extension to the programme, which will focus on advanced nuclear fuels for use in small and advanced modular reactors. The programme has been delivered at the National Nuclear Laboratory facility located on the Springfields site in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde.
I will also touch on the Government’s levelling-up agenda. We remain committed to addressing the economic disparities across the whole of the United Kingdom. The civil nuclear supply chain is playing an important role, currently supporting over 59,000 jobs across the United Kingdom in the areas where high-skilled, high-value jobs are needed most, including, for example, in the north of England and north Wales. As we develop the next generation of nuclear technologies, with the emphasis on high-quality manufacturing, I agree with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that it would be excellent if the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland could play a part in that process.
I was delighted to hear that nearly 2,000 apprenticeships have been delivered on the Springfields site over the last 70 years. These kinds of training opportunities benefit not just the site and its workforce but the surrounding communities. Westinghouse and Springfields Fuels Ltd should be proud of their impressive achievement.
We keenly anticipate the outputs of the trial of the advanced nuclear skills and innovation campus at the Springfields site, which the hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) drew attention to. We hope to see the successful collaboration between industry, academia and the National Nuclear Laboratory to support skills development. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) rightly pointed out, the objective should be to create careers, not just jobs.
As previously mentioned, the Government recognise the importance of maintaining and developing a strong nuclear skills base in the United Kingdom. I am aware of the plans for redundancies on the Springfields site this year. My Department has been working with Westinghouse, the National Nuclear Laboratory and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to explore opportunities to support the workforce on the Springfields site. We will also continue to encourage vendors and developers to maximise their UK supply chain content, including fuel, wherever that is possible, in order to support the economic growth of the UK nuclear sector’s supply chain.
Finally, I will reflect once more on the strategic importance of our sovereign fuel manufacturing capability and on the ability of the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West reminded us, to provide cost-effective support to reduce our reliance on imports, which may have a bigger carbon footprint. This Government would like to see the UK continuing to pioneer nuclear technologies in the lead-up to net zero. Our success will be underpinned by the capacity of our civil nuclear supply chain, including fuel manufacture. We are already considering, along with operators, fuel producers and the research and development community, how best to meet the needs of future nuclear power stations, including the opportunities provided by small and advanced modular reactors.
We also continue to work closely with our nuclear fuel industry and trade unions via the nuclear fuel working group, as noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), to explore ways to secure the industry’s future. Those discussions are wide ranging, and I understand that EDF and Framatome are actively involved. Further Government support is under review as a part of the spending review. Further communications on the subject can be expected following the settlement.
In the meantime, the nuclear fuel working group that we have set up will meet again this month and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys said, it is important that we continue the dialogue and make sure that opportunities and ideas are given proper consideration. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth is taking a very active interest in this important issue.
The Government have made a clear commitment to nuclear as part of our future low-carbon energy mix. The UK’s success in achieving our net zero ambitions will be underpinned by the critical work carried out in the civil nuclear supply chain. We will continue to work with the nuclear industry to maintain our sovereign capability and the benefits that it brings for the local workforce and surrounding communities.
I begin by thanking you, Mr Betts, for the way in which you have chaired today’s very important debate. I also thank colleagues on both sides of the House for the very constructive way in which they have contributed to today’s debate, particularly the hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Chris Green) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham), and of course both Opposition spokespeople for their very important contributions.
I thank the Minister for her very thoughtful reply to today’s debate. There are many audiences who are listening. There are investors who are looking potentially to invest in the UK, and they will take some heart from what she has said. There is the workforce and the trade unions, which are concerned about their jobs, and they will have heard a clear commitment from the Minister and the Government to work in a constructive way to secure a future for Springfields and invest in the next generation of nuclear reactors, which obviously will be fuelled in the UK. There are also those who are involved in the nuclear working group, and of course EDF are key partners in that.
I encourage all parties to work, in the days and weeks ahead, in a constructive way, with one mission: what do we have to do to secure jobs and skills at Springfields, and what do we have to do to get key decisions taken in a timely way to secure that plant’s future and ensure that we have the bright nuclear future that all of us are confident that we can have?
Next week is nuclear week in Parliament, and there will be many events throughout the course of the week. We have got that off to a fabulous start today. We have certainly made the case for Springfields, but the work will continue.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered continued nuclear fuel manufacturing in the UK.
Affordable Housing in the South-West
Before we start the debate, I have to advise Members, in line with recommendations from the Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission, that they are encouraged to wear masks when they are not speaking and to give proper space to each other when seated or leaving the Chamber; that Members’ notes should be passed to Hansard by email; and that officials should communicate with Ministers electronically. That is the advice that I have to give, so I have given it.
Before I invite David Warburton to move the motion, are any other Members intending to speak in the debate? No? Obviously, Members can intervene, if their intervention is taken, but they can speak only with the mover’s permission.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the supply of affordable, good quality housing in the South West.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister, and indeed to Members from the south-west, for being here for this important and timely debate. I would also like to put on the record my thanks to the House staff for making this debate possible on the very first day of our welcome return to Westminster Hall proceedings.
I have been contacted by many constituents, across a kaleidoscope of different jobs and situations, who are struggling to get on to the housing ladder. I hope that this debate will show the extent to which good quality, affordable housing is needed in the south-west, and that we will be able to highlight some practical solutions for addressing this issue. Of course, it is particularly important at the moment, when the pandemic has hit people’s finances and house prices are rising quickly: house prices in the south-west have risen by an average 8.4% in the past year. The pandemic has led to an explosion in home working, which itself has accelerated the flight from cities to rural areas as homeowners rethink their lifestyles. Some areas in my constituency have seen house prices rise by more than 20%, so far too many people, especially young people, have little chance of owning their own home, and the supply of truly affordable homes is just not sufficient to meet that demand.
I believe that everybody deserves a place to call their own: a place for families to raise children, and for people to build lives. As such, I very much welcome the efforts of this Government, and the success of Homes England, in trying to make home ownership more accessible to more people. At the last election, we pledged to level up every part of the United Kingdom through investment in infrastructure, skills and jobs, and by reducing health inequalities. There has been some great progress so far, but there is still much more to do, especially when it comes to housing in the rural south-west. I stood on a manifesto that committed us to building at least 1 million more homes over the course of this Parliament, and in Somerton and Frome, house building will be critical to the long-term recovery from the pandemic and addressing the generational gap in home ownership.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on having secured this important and timely debate. Over many years there has been an incredible increase in demand for housing in the south-west, including, I am sure, in his constituency. Does he share my view that it is impossible to build enough houses to meet the demand, and that we have to take other measures to intervene in the market to manage the demand for houses as well as the supply?
My hon. Friend makes a tremendously apposite point. It is a very good point indeed. The answer is yes, we do: the demand is such that the supply is always going to be vastly outstripped by it, so we need to look at other measures. I hope that when the planning Bill comes forward, it will help us towards that route and show that there are other opportunities out there.
The region’s job market has been among the worst hit by the pandemic, sitting alongside the rocketing house prices that I have mentioned, with affordability only expected to worsen. That means overcrowding, homelessness and a generation of young people unable to move out of their parents’ home or live near their workplace.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important and timely debate. Does he agree that part of the problem is that there seems to be a culture of Members of Parliament across the House instinctively opposing planning applications for new homes? It seems to be in the DNA of some of them. In fact, we should get excited, especially as Conservatives, and be enthusiastic about the opportunity, aspiration and hope that a new home provides. Obviously, we have a very great social need.
My hon. Friend makes a tremendously good point. It is important that planning applications are seen in the round. As I will go on to describe, we need to maintain the beauty and special qualities of our rural towns and villages, while at the same time providing the homes that people so badly need.
In 2019-20, the total housing stock in England increased by about 244,000 homes. The number of new homes each year has indeed been growing for several years, but still not quickly enough to meet the demand. Estimates put the number of new homes needed at up to 345,000 per year. That means 42,000 new homes are needed each year in the south-west alone, and yet we are building fewer than half the homes required to plug the gap. We must do more, not only to match supply to demand but crucially to ensure that new homes are genuinely affordable and built where they are needed most—and, yes, that does mean protecting our rural villages from overdevelopment.
As Mrs Thatcher said, borrowing the words of the Scottish Unionist Noel Skelton, Britain should be a “property-owning democracy”. Back in the 1960s, when the Government were building more than 300,000 new houses a year, that ambition was achievable, but the same is not true today. Annual supply needs to increase by a further 23% by the mid-2020s to meet the Government’s own housing target, and by another 39% to reach the National Housing Federation’s recommendations.
There is general agreement that we need more homes, but there is less agreement, both in politics and in the housing industry, about how best to achieve that step change. I believe that there are three key areas where the Government and industry can work together to meet housing need. The first is public sector land reform. Priority for public land sales should change from maximising cash to the provision of public housing.
Secondly, we must adequately invest in building new affordable and sustainable homes where they are needed, creating jobs across construction and the supply chain and building the confidence of consumers, investors and developers. The recent £8.6 billion funding allocation from the affordable homes programme is a good start, but it does not cover the long-term funding gap and the structural barriers that have to be addressed.
Thirdly, there needs to be greater flexibility in the delivery of affordable homes. The most effective way to do that would be for the Government to allow developers to decide what tenure their homes should be on completion of a property so that we generate solutions that respond to the latest local need and allow the building of the right homes to continue in all economic conditions.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. Does he agree that in coastal constituencies such as mine, it is about not just building homes but the people living in those homes? At least one in five new properties becomes an Airbnb or a second home, and we are increasingly looking at ghost towns in the winter. We need to address that in the planning Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The growth of second homes that are rented out and do not become family homes is a problem throughout the south-west. That is precisely the opposite of what we require, so I could not agree more.
I hope that the reforms in the forthcoming planning Bill will have a significant impact on that and much else, and a positive one on housing delivery. There is anxiety in rural Somerset, where we suffer from predatory applications by developers. Our current planning system has too much bureaucracy and too little engagement with local communities, and too much advantage is given to large property developers to the detriment of local businesses and our town and village communities.
The way to address the housing shortage is through developing brownfield sites and easing the process determining change of use designations, rather than through giving an automatic zoned presumption in favour and removing mechanisms for democratic oversight.
There also needs to be greater clarity in the three land categories, with stronger safeguards against unwanted development. The permission in principle approach must be improved, with a final say from our local planning authorities, to protect our communities. I look forward to the Bill being published and will look at it closely, because at the heart of planning are the homes we live in, the schools for our children and the protection of our countryside.
This debate is about the entire south-west region, but across most of Somerset there is a particular and urgent issue preventing almost all new housing delivery. Somerset is in the midst of a phosphate neutrality crisis, which is preventing housing development and creating a significant backlog. This issue, which relates to the protection of the Somerset moors and levels under the Ramsar convention, is costing the Somerset economy millions of pounds and derailing house building in our county. However, it is also of broader national importance, with nutrient issues affecting 34 local authorities in England, delaying the construction of 30,000 to 40,000 homes at the last count.
The publication of a phosphorous budget calculator, which has been approved by Natural England, is a positive step, but the issue very much still rumbles on. In the short term, it looks as though Somerset would benefit from the development of a phosphorous trading auction platform, like that being trialled for nitrates in the Solent, to give small and medium-sized developers a mechanism to provide mitigation. I know that efforts in this area are already under way, but providing mitigation typically involves nature-based projects that take land from agricultural production. This land-hungry approach would negatively impact the farming industry and be slow to become operational. In Somerset, for example, the construction of a colossal 630 hectares of wetland would be needed to offset the 11,000 homes currently delayed across the four affected local authorities. It can take at least three years to construct an established wetland and assess its effectiveness before anyone would be able to move into their new homes, creating more delay and worsening the local housing crisis.
It appears that the more expedient solution is rapid capital investment in sewage treatment works to capture nutrients closer to the source before they enter our watercourses and reducing the mitigation required for new developments. I would ask the Minister to work closely with his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as I am sure he is doing, to find a solution to this problem as a matter of urgency.
The south-west has suffered from a historical fiscal concentration on London and the south-east, alongside soaring house prices, so if we are to rebalance our economy and properly level up, investment in genuinely affordable housing will be key. I am ready to work with groups such as Homes for the South West, a coalition of the south-west’s largest housing associations, to help to facilitate that and generate not just new homes but the jobs and investment that our region and communities need so urgently.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts; we normally meet in other circumstances—equally pleasurable, I may say. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), who is a determined and doughty campaigner for his constituents, on securing this debate and on seeing so many colleagues here from the south-west, including my hon. Friends the Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), as well as an interloper from Oxfordshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who is never knowingly under-represented. It is very good to see them all here in this important debate.
The Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing. We have been doing that since 2010. We have delivered some 542,000 new affordable homes in that time, including 382,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 149,000 are homes for social rent. In the south-west, an area that my colleagues know well, we have delivered over 83,000 new affordable homes, including 25,800 affordable homes for ownership and nearly 55,000 affordable homes for rent, so we are committed to driving up affordable home ownership.
We all know that the housing sector is a bellwether in our country for our economy and growth. That is why we have done all we can to keep the industry, more than any other sector, open and active during the pandemic. It is also why we are investing £12 billion in affordable housing—the largest investment since 2010—and that includes £11.5 billion in our affordable homes programme, which will deliver, economic conditions permitting, 180,000 new homes across the country. Approximately half of those will be for affordable home ownership, supporting aspirant homeowners, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome made clear should be a Government priority. It will also double the number of social rented homes, with around 32,000 supplied through this programme.
We have already made significant progress with the programme. Just last week we announced the first allocations for strategic partnerships under the programme, committing around £8.5 billion to boost home ownership and build homes that the country needs, including more social and affordable rental homes. In the south-west we are placing more than £1 billion—one of the largest allocations—to deliver 17,500 new affordable homes across the region. We are confident that that investment will support our determination, not just to build more homes but build more homes of the right type in the right places for local people.
We know that in the end that it is not just about supply, it is about quality. Most of us want to live in strong communities, with a unique character, heritage and culture, that is reflected in the buildings, streets, neighbourhoods, parks and places in which we pass our daily lives. The national planning policy framework has been amended to make it easier for residents and planners to embrace beautiful, practical design, while rejecting the ugly, unsustainable and that of poor quality.
An expectation has been set that all councils should develop a local design code—an illustrated design guide that sets the standard for a local area—with input from local people. We have published a national model design code, a toolkit to empower councils and local people to set these standards. In addition to the changes that Government are making to improve design quality in the current planning system, we believe design performs a key component of the fundamental changes that we have set out in the “Planning for the Future” White Paper. I will say a little more about that in a moment.
We are also committed to improving the energy performance of all properties, not just new build, not only because it will help us achieve our ambitions to reduce emissions as well as reduce fuel poverty, but because warm homes mean healthier homes. The data published by the English housing survey on the condition and the energy efficiency of homes show a marked increase in the energy performance certificate ratings of houses across England over the past 10 years, reflecting the continuous improvement of energy efficiency across our housing stock.
Since 2009, the percentage of homes with an energy performance certificate rating of C or higher in the south-west has nearly doubled. That is a success of which we can be truly proud. From 2025, homes built to the future homes standard will be expected to have at least 75% lower carbon emissions and be zero-carbon ready, without the need for expensive retrofitting. That is no easy task, but it is vital if we are to keep up the momentum. It will mean better quality homes, and homes that are of a higher energy efficiency standard, and it will mean homes that will not have to be changed further as our electricity grid changes and improves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned levelling up. As we all know, that is at the heart of the Government’s agenda. We are committed to raising productivity and growth in all places, increasing opportunity for everyone and improving public services. That is why, alongside the investment through the affordable homes programme, the Government are investing over £400 million to support levelling up in the south-west, through the getting building fund, the future high streets fund, and the towns fund. From Glastonbury to Penzance, we are investing in infrastructure to improve everyday life.
In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome, we are investing £800,000 in the Bruton enterprise centre—I suspect that he knows this as well as I—to provide modern high-quality office and light industrial space to help the next generation of small and medium-sized enterprises to grow and thrive, and to give his local community jobs and income commensurate with their desire to have good homes that they can afford to live in. Slightly further afield, his constituents will also benefit from the Yeovil western corridor, which is supporting the delivery of 1,160 much-needed homes for local people, and about 1,670 new jobs. We want people across places to feel that they can get on in their lives in their local areas, and we want people in places such as Somerton and Frome and the rest of the south west to have confidence that the Government are delivering their economic and social priorities.
My hon. Friend raised home ownership, and quoted Noel Skelton. This Government are as committed as Margaret Thatcher’s to helping to make the dream of home ownership a reality. We are operating a range of different schemes to achieve that. More than 734 households have been helped to purchase homes since spring 2010 by the Government-backed Help to Buy and right to buy schemes. We are now introducing First Homes, which will be sold to first-time buyers with a discount of at least 30% on full market value, making deposits and mortgage requirements cheaper and opening up the dream of home ownership to more people. The discount is set in perpetuity. It is passed on to future buyers, so the local community can benefit in the long term. When I say local community, I mean local community, because we know that local first-time buyers find it difficult to afford homes in the areas where they want to live and work.
Key workers can find themselves unable to live in the communities they serve, so crucially with new homes local authorities will be able to set local connections for key workers through the First Homes base criteria, based on the needs of their local communities. We will deliver 1,500 First Homes via a nationwide pilot, the first of which will be available towards the end of this year. Beyond that, we have introduced an expectation that a minimum of 25% of all affordable homes secured through developer contributions should be First Homes. That will deliver at scale 10,000 new first homes every year for local people to benefit from. We have also introduced a new type of exception site, so that sites wholly focused on delivering First Homes will be able to come forward for planning permission outside local plans. That means that in local communities where the ability to buy is challenging and communities are struggling there will be more opportunities to purchase homes.
My hon. Friend and others also raised second homes. We all recognise the benefits that second homes can bring to local economies. During the staycation of 2021, large parts of the south-west benefited from a lot of people coming to spend their money in the area, but I recognise that large numbers of second homes can have an adverse effect on some areas. That is why we have introduced a series of measures to help to mitigate those effects. In 2013, the Government removed the requirement for local authorities to offer a council tax discount on second homes. Some 96% of second home owners are currently charged at the full rate. That means that the owners of those properties will be paying 100% council tax, contributing fully to their local communities. In 2016, the Government introduced higher rates of stamp duty land tax for those purchasing additional properties at three percentage points above the current rate, which are part of the Government’s commitment to support first-time buyers.
I am very happy—in fact, keen—to discuss with colleagues other measures that we may sensibly employ to ensure that there are adequate homes available to local people in such a way that we are mindful of unintended, undesirable consequences, such as the increase in house prices. I am very happy to discuss those ideas with colleagues.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of phosphates and asked that we work closely with DEFRA to deal with the challenge of nitrates and nitrate neutrality in developing the right number of homes in the right places for local people to enjoy. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and I set up a taskforce between DEFRA and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to find short, medium and long-term solutions to the problem, such as providing nutrient neutrality calculators and better local catchment maps, provided by Natural England, as short-term measures to help local authorities plan ahead; medium-term measures, such as better waste water treatment; and longer term measures, such as changes in agricultural practices, to ensure that we reduce nitrate and phosphate issues to enable us to build the sorts of homes that we need to build. He is quite right that the issue affects significant numbers of potential planning applications, which has a negative consequence for local authorities in terms of council tax and fees forgone. It is an issue beyond the bricks and mortar that people want to live in.
I strongly share my hon. Friend’s passion for the supply of affordable, good quality housing for his constituents, the south-west and the rest of the country. It is a key priority for our Government. As I have said, we have made some real progress and continue to invest in the supply of new, good quality, affordable homes, but we must not be under any illusion that our work has stopped or can stop soon. We will continue to improve standards. We will continue to reform to ensure that good quality, healthier homes are delivered as fast as possible as we exit the pandemic. We have an ambitious housing agenda that underlines our determination to build the homes that the country needs, build back better, build back stronger and ensure that people in the south-west and in Somerton and Frome have the homes they want and deserve, so that they can have a great quality of life with their friends and families.
Question put and agreed to.
Global Britain: Human Rights and Climate Change
I remind hon. Members that the guidance from the Government and the House of Commons Commission is that Members should wear masks when not speaking and give each other space both when sitting and when leaving the room. Members should give their notes to Hansard by email and officials should communicate with Ministers electronically as well. That is the guidance I have to pass on. We now move on to the matter in hand.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Global Britain, human rights and climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I am delighted to have secured this debate—a timely debate, given the circumstances—which will consider the interacting and integral relationship between the Government’s declared ambition for developing a global Britain, universal human rights and the ramifications of climate change, which are obviously global in their nature. I hope that today’s debate will further our shared hopes and wishes for the forthcoming COP26 summit, and that it will be a meaningful success. I think we all wish the Government well in that enterprise.
More than 20 years ago, the Government proposed the idea of what was then called an ethical dimension to foreign policy, famously announced by Robin Cook. I was a Member at the time and I remember Robin Cook on the steps of the Foreign Office declaring that there would be an ethical dimension to foreign policy, I suspect, to the dismay of some of his colleagues and possibly also to some of the professionally straight-faced officials standing behind him. I hope I am not being too sceptical in saying that.
That policy made it explicit that in the modern world
“foreign policy is not divorced from domestic policy but a central part of any political programme.”
Robin Cook said very clearly:
“Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.”
That must be the yardstick, must it not? What we would want for ourselves is what we would want for other people.
Those are fine words, and I do not need to entertain the Chamber with the outcome, or perhaps the lack of outcome. Tellingly, looking at the four priorities that Robin Cook outlined, I have picked out some words that give something of a flavour. He used words such as “security”, “disarmament”, “prosperity”, “exports” and “jobs”. He talked about improving the quality of life in the UK and the quality of our environment, and as I said a moment ago, said:
“Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension”.
We can see the direction of travel in his remarks.
Looking at the present, with a commitment to delivering unparalleled socioeconomic change by achieving net zero by 2050, it is clear that domestic policy is, at least rhetorically, geared towards fighting climate change. Yet, the Government and UK foreign policy in general have unfortunately undermined the climate effort, tarnishing the UK’s international credibility and, in some instances, exacerbating rather than lessening the decarbonisation challenge.
I have to concede that many other countries are doing no better. There was a report today from the Clean Air Fund that noted that between 2019 and 2020, Governments in the world gave 20% more in overseas aid funding to fossil fuel projects than to programmes to cut air pollution, which those very projects cause. However, it is the Government who have delivered unprecedented cuts to our international aid budget. It is also the Government who have continued support for hydrocarbon projects that undermine our collective climate goals, and it is the Government who have largely missed the unique opportunity of being both the COP26 co-host and president of the G7. That challenge, which has largely been missed, is one of delivering leadership and securing climate action in a decade that will make or break our collective future. It is, indeed, an emergency.
From addressing climate change to the debacle in Afghanistan, it is quite clear that we must revisit the aims and the claims of global Britain, which is in the title of this debate. We must ask fundamental questions about what the UK Government’s foreign policy priorities are and how they intend to deliver them.
Against the backdrop of the climate crisis, rather than sending gunboats or aircraft carriers overseas, or securing some fairly marginal trade deals at present, the Government should revisit the notion of an ethical human rights-based foreign policy. By beginning with such a policy framework we can capture the human rights challenges posed by climate change; we can establish responsibility and frameworks for action. We can use existing international law and thus promote and enable collective buy-in by the global community. It is an extremely practical way to start.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I am glad he mentioned Afghanistan, because I believe it was a turning point for our thinking on global Britain, whatever than means. The US is going towards a more isolationist position, which leaves the UK somewhat stranded. The rational course of action is to improve our links with Europe, especially on security and defence. Does he share my concern that the incumbents of very important Ministries in Whitehall are probably the last people to rebuild those important bridges?
We are in danger of going off on somewhat of a tangent, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As far as our party was concerned, when the votes came in on the invasion of Afghanistan and the military action there, I was one of the 17 who voted against. I think I am the last person standing of that group. The point that we made at the time was that we should internationalise the response to the conflict by drawing in actors who were not involved in military action in the first place. That is a fine aim for action on climate change—drawing people in is obviously the way to do it, rather than sending gunboats.
The climate crisis has been described as the biggest threat to our survival as a species, and is already threatening human rights around the world. Rising global temperatures are driving unprecedented harmful effects, from drought to floods, rising sea levels to heat waves, extreme weather events and the collapse in biodiversity and all ecosystems. In both its scale and its devastation, climate change is the ultimate threat to the freedom and rights of human kind and to our environment—they all come together.
Most directly, environmental instability threatens basic human rights—the right to life, the right to health and the right to development. The World Health Organisation believes that between 2030 and 2050 alone, climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths every year. That is the scale of the effect. Those deaths will occur from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress—a multitude of effects with one overriding cause: climate change.
Life will be harder for millions of the most vulnerable people in the world, especially children. By 2040, one in four children—around 600 million—living in areas of extremely high water stress, will be vulnerable. The World Bank believes that an additional 100 million people could be impoverished by 2030 due just to climate change. The potential for increased migration is obvious, and our response needs to develop. In the short term, we have our strategies, debates and disputes, but we must look properly at development in-country and in neighbouring countries.
Other freedoms, including the right to self-determination and political freedom are also threatened. It is no surprise that in some of the countries which are most threatened by climate change there are the most despotic regimes and the most conflict, death and disease.
Rising sea levels, which take no account of sovereignty, so prized by the Government, now affect the very existence of several island countries. That is the scale of the problem. Conflict is made more likely by climate change, as I said a moment ago. In Syria, sustained drought brought about by changing weather patterns is widely seen to have been a substantial contributing factor to the brutal civil war there; a conflict that has claimed 500,000 lives and has already led to mass displacements and migration. I concede and congratulate the Government—the previous one, at least—on the huge spending that the UK made in response; there was 500 million almost immediately. That is certainly a very good thing but, again, it provides an idea of the scale of the problem.
I am glad that these dangers are recognised, and I welcome previous ministerial comments calling on countries to ensure that climate action complies with human rights obligations. I hope that in his closing remarks the Minister will expand on these comments and detail how the UK Government are seeking to hold countries to their climate change commitments in a manner that respects and builds on human rights, especially given the UK’s current status in world affairs.
It is clear that we simply cannot say any more that we did not and do not know the consequences of our actions, which have become abundantly clear, if we continue to degrade the environment and pollute our atmosphere. As the UN Secretary-General has noted, we are
“on a code red for humanity”.
We must act accordingly, yet I fear that the Government are failing to meet the challenge. Prime Ministerial slogans about world-beating global Britain have not generated significant success ahead of COP26 and the UK’s performance as president of the G7 has been disappointing. One such failure was the inability to secure a definitive ban on the use of coal by the world’s largest economies at the G7 summit in Cornwall, and the promise of $100 billion climate-change assistance for developing countries has been largely unfulfilled.
More reports abound about the isolation of the Prime Minister in his own political group. His recent policies, ranging from international aid cuts to promoting domestic coal production, have gravely undermined his diplomatic efforts ahead of the summit in November. The Foreign Secretary yielded to the Chancellor with his savage cuts to the UK’s aid budgets, and actual world-leading programmes crashed because of fiscal circumstances—that was the real effect. However, as leading commentators have noted, the Chancellor managed to increase the UK’s defence budget, including finding money for nuclear weapons.
Worryingly, the UK has pledged £720 million of UK exports finance to support an offshore liquid gas project in Mozambique, at the same time as hosting COP26 and chairing the G7. Taken together with the domestic climate-change record and continuing Back-Bench opposition to net zero commitments, the Government have largely failed to present a credible climate-change action strategy to outside partners, which could be leveraged to inspire global action at COP26.
To close, as we head into the final straits before COP26 in November, the UK’s diplomatic efforts compare poorly with, for example, the French, who co-ordinated the Paris agreement. Their co-ordinated Government-wide approach led to the global success of the Paris agreement in 2015. The French-negotiated agreement could be the basis and the solution for this Government’s performance, and the reason for that is quite obvious.
The 2015 Paris agreement was the first universal, globally agreed, legally binding climate-change agreement explicitly to include human rights, requiring parties to “respect, promote and consider” their human rights obligations as they address climate change. That is why today I urge the Government to revisit the concept of an ethical foreign policy, particularly after the bloody events in Afghanistan, and for the Government to become an actual green force for good.
The public understand and value human rights, international law provides definitions, obligations and parameters, and existing international organisations can be a guarantor. The frameworks and the opportunities to do the right thing are there. This Government just need to seize them.
We have 24 minutes and seven speakers, so there will be an initial time limit of four minutes. I ask Members to be as brief as they can. If Members take interventions, I will have to allow a minute extra, which will come off somebody else’s time. That is just the reality of the situation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. The title of the debate is of interest to me as the leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe. I will try to touch on the three elements of the debate: global Britain, human rights and climate change.
I stress that the global Britain aspect of the debate starts and continues with Europe. We may have left the European Union, but we have not left Europe. The Council of Europe is an organisation of some 47 member countries. It is almost twice the size of the EU and it does a tremendous amount of work. A good example of its work is the Istanbul convention, which looks after the rights of women and tries to prevent domestic violence. Although we have not yet ratified the convention, it is changing the law in this country to ensure that we can ratify it; we have signed it. The Council of Europe is an important organisation, of which we are a part, and I play a particularly prominent role in it, not only as the leader of the delegation but as a vice-president and, effectively, as a deputy speaker.
The question of human rights is allied to the Council of Europe. Both the Foreign Secretary and I are keen on human rights and the Council looks after the European Court of Human Rights. That is not an EU body. It is owned by the Council of Europe. The countries that have had the most cases brought against them there are Russia, Turkey and Romania, in that order. The UK does very well in terms of cases brought before the Court, and something like 92% or 93% of them are dismissed before they even get to a hearing before a judge. Our continued membership of the Council of Europe is an important aspect of the role that we play in human rights.
In climate change, the Council is also playing a good role. At the Council of Europe, I have supported John Prescott’s paper on the role of climate change in estuaries in a cross-party effort to take it forward and to deal with the elements of climate change across the board. On 29 September, there will be a whole-day session about climate change. Speakers include a Belgian, a Greek, a Turk, a Portuguese chap and a German chap. We have another person from Portugal, as well as people from Switzerland and France and, of course, myself.
That is an important measure for us to play a part in. After all, another member of that organisation is Russia. If we can keep the pressure on Russia to follow the climate change agenda that we have all set, we will have achieved a tremendous amount in global terms. I am confident that we can bring Russia to heel when it comes to fulfilling its obligations on climate change and that we will be able to take that forward and sit back in a few years’ time and look at it with great confidence.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this incredibly important debate.
As we speak, Madagascar teeters on the brink of what the United Nations has described as the world’s first famine caused solely by climate breakdown. Four years of drought have left more than 1 million people reliant on food aid, while 30,000 people in the south of the island are suffering from what the World Food Programme categorises as the most severe level of food insecurity. Whole families are forced to survive on a desperate diet of locusts and wild plants, and the worst may be yet to come. In a country that is responsible for at least 0.1% of all global emissions, we see most clearly the devastating potential of the climate crisis to strip people of their most fundamental rights, from the right to a livelihood, sanitation, food and housing to the right to even life itself.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report predicts that the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Madagascar will be repeated across the globe as we barrel towards 1.5° of warming above pre-industrial levels. No country will be spared the devastating consequences of environmental meltdown, but the fallout will be felt hardest by poor countries such as Madagascar, which bears the least responsibility for the crisis with which we are grappling. Within the next decade alone, our planet will be rocked by rising levels of starvation and water scarcity, escalating violence and civil unrest, the erosion of civil liberties and democratic institutions, and mass displacement on an unprecedented scale. That is why Amnesty International, along with many other leading human rights advocates, is so unequivocal in its belief that the climate crisis is also a human rights crisis.
Time is fast running out to ensure that future generations do not have the precious rights that we take for granted snatched away from them. If the Government are serious about global Britain being a force for good in the world, they must recognise the debt that our country owes to the communities who exist on the frontline of environmental collapse. After all, few countries have benefited more from the exploitation of fossil fuels and countries in the global south than the UK has. That is why in November the UK must lead the way with its international partners and work to deliver a comprehensive and appropriately ambitious package of support to help developing countries in decarbonising their economies and building up their resilience to extreme weather events.
We also need to improve accountability in this field. Too often, giant multilaterals in western nations are allowed to wreak devastation on vulnerable communities with total impunity. That has to end. I want to see the Foreign Secretary working towards the establishment of an independent international body to assess the effects of climate change on human rights and to hold the state and private actors to account.
We also need an urgent reassessment of our own practices, such as the offshoring of plastic waste abroad. Finally, all of that will mean nothing without a commitment of support for those living with the fallout of climate chaos now. The Government’s decision to do away with the Department for International Development and slash overseas aid spending was a cowardly abdication of their responsibilities, which could have life or death consequences for communities in Madagascar and across the world who so badly need that support. If we are really serious about being a world leader in climate action and human rights, we must urgently restore the original target of 0.7% of GDP in overseas aid spending.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Mr Betts. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak and I commend the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing today’s debate. Although we might not always see eye to eye, I hope he will indulge me a few minutes to draw attention to the fantastic initiatives that the Welsh Labour Government have implemented and committed to. I will start with the steps being taken specifically to tackle climate change.
We all recognise that there is work to be done, but I am immensely proud of the bold actions that the Welsh Labour Government have taken, which have often eclipsed both in time and ambition the policy announcements and seemingly endless consultations undertaken by the UK Government. From plans to tackle single-use plastics, including straws, stirrers, cotton buds and cutlery, to their commitment to extending the national forest to promote landscape and sustainable tourism and support the green economy, it is clear that the Welsh Labour Government have a vested interest in protecting our planet for future generations. The same can be said of the Welsh Government’s commitment to sustainable housing options. In 2019, the Welsh Government introduced mandatory regulations on new housing developments to help reduce flood risk and improve water quality. We have all seen the terrifying effects that flash flooding can have on communities across the UK; my own community was hit by devastating flooding last February and is still recovering, a year and a half on. Colleagues across the political divide support sustainable options, particularly when it comes to flood prevention, yet sustainable urban drainage systems are yet to be introduced to planning regulations in England. This is despite the science showing that these systems can have a huge positive impact.
It has been said before, and I am almost certain it will be said again, but it really is the case of where Wales leads, England follows. I am a proud Unionist. Our United Kingdom is at its strongest when our cultural differences are acknowledged and celebrated, not used to incite division. I support steps taken to sustain the United Kingdom’s position on the global stage, both in terms of upholding human rights and tackling climate change. However, I must also highlight the worrying impact that the UK Government’s half-baked trade deals are having across the country. This week, The Guardian reported that exports of food and drink to the EU have suffered a disastrous decline in the first half of the year due to Brexit trade barriers, with sales of beef and cheese hit the hardest. Far from global Britain, we are now at risk of resembling little Britain—at best.
Frustratingly, the same can be said of the UK Government’s tackling of modern-day slavery. A decade of cuts to policing has led to a situation that is regularly reported to be out of control. In 21st-century Britain, I am shocked and appalled that the number of victims of modern slavery has been rising year on year, with over 10,000 people referred to the authorities in 2019.
As a Member of Parliament representing an area with a devolved Government, I am extremely passionate about sustaining Wales’s position on the global stage, but that does not need to come in the form of separation from the United Kingdom. Instead, if we are to truly tackle the impact of climate change, the infringements on human rights and the myriad other issues raised here today, then surely a united approach involving the devolved nations is the most productive way forward. The UK Government can and should do better, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these pressing concerns.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the chair, Mr Betts, and I also thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for highlighting the urgent need for Government leadership, not least at a time when we see the G7 intersecting with COP26. In my city of York—the only human rights city in the UK—we weave human rights together with climate rights; we believe that together they deliver a just agenda.
The events in Afghanistan this summer have ricocheted through the Government, demanding that the Government seriously question their priorities. The UK Government have spent around £37 billion on a war that has resulted in a shattered country, now on the edge of a humanitarian crisis due to crop failure caused by climate failure—or should I say human failure. The country is now so fragile that we fear that to talk about human rights seems understated, since the right of humans just to exist there is the only thing we can focus on. The UK has spent the equivalent of just 10% of the war’s cost on development aid in Afghanistan. If the balance between development and defence had been reversed, if we had chosen to use our soft power to support the region rather than destroy it, if we had spent our time building bridges not conflict and instead of provocation chosen reconciliation, what a difference we could have made. If we had traded in ethics and ethical goods, not arms and aggression, what lasting good we could have done alongside others.
The term global Britain, in itself, imposes a colonial superiority from a nation that has over the centuries used its influence to extract wealth, resources and even people for its own economic advantage. When we examine our shameful history, we soon realise our part in driving global destitution, climate degradation and international instability. Our export portfolio hardly causes us to lift our heads from this shame; trade has been at the expense of rights and the climate—not in aid of it. It has been transactional, not relational and transformational. Arms sold to nations such as Saudi Arabia—which protect neither human rights nor the climate—are one such example that shows that trade, rights and climate are interwoven.
We should harness a different approach—one that seeks to advance equality and reparation, and economic and climate diplomacy—and lead a new dialogue on peacemaking and trade justice. We should collaborate with others, not exert power over them. Hardwiring simple principles will demand a different emphasis on our trading priorities, but will leave a more stable and equal planet. A carbon border adjustment mechanism or a border tax would ensure that we minimised carbon use through trade, instead of offshoring climate destruction activity, while keeping our country clean. It would ensure that we took responsibility for substandard practices in making all the products we purchase. Fundamentally, it would shift us from a consumerist approach to a collaborative one that advances values and enhances the people and planet we interact with.
In a post-Afghanistan world, the UK must never again return to its hard imperial roots, but instead must find its soft power as one of many collaborators, not as global Britain but as Britain humbly repaying the debt we owe this planet and all who inhabit it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this debate.
Climate change is inherently a human rights issue. From the right to housing, food, water and sanitation, to the right to development and cultural and political rights, climate change is already damaging the rights of countless people across the world. Human rights must be the principle that underpins our approach to COP26. That means making progress on the issue of loss and damage. Nations have been ravaged by the covid pandemic while facing climate impacts that are causing devastation. Those vulnerable communities deserve new and additional finance to compensate for the irretrievable non-economic loss. It also means reversing the heartless cut to foreign aid, including climate finance projects. It means solidarity with those worst affected by climate change, including the rights of indigenous people. Collectively, indigenous people protect about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. They manage 25% of the Earth’s land surface and a third of the carbon stored in tropical forests. We must listen to their voices, needs and concerns, and ensure that their rights are respected in the decision-making process.
Under article 6 of the Paris agreement, countries are able to sell their over-achievement of the Paris goals to other countries that have fallen short. That allows countries to maximise emissions reductions without concern for indigenous people’s lands. It has been six years since the Paris agreement. This year, the UK must go further than the Indigenous People’s Pavilion. It is absolutely vital that the UK ensures that at COP26 human rights language is put back into article 6.
The Government must also get their own house in order on human rights. In the year that the UK hosts COP26, the Government are pushing through a Bill that the charity Liberty describes as one of the worst and
“most serious threats to human rights and civil liberties in recent”
UK history. The Bill is a thinly veiled reaction to the climate protests that we have seen over the past few years. Grassroots activism has played a critical role in getting the climate emergency on the political agenda. Let us not forget that it was thanks to the right to protest that there was a moratorium on fracking in England.
The climate emergency has evoked strong feelings, especially among young people. It is their generation that will bear its brunt. It is their generation whose human rights are threatened most unless we significantly reduce emissions. Curtailing their voice and their right to be heard before and during COP26 is simply the wrong thing to do.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on bringing this issue to the Chamber. Human rights is an absolute passion of mine, and the most fundamental right is the right to life. The right to life and quality of life are impacted by the environment and increasingly by environmental change. This is not a phenomenon impacting the third world alone, although we all agree that the impact of climate change is devastating in the extreme. Nations are suffering droughts or floods, and just a few weeks ago Texas experienced dire shifts in their cold snap that saw a loss of life and a cost of $21 billion.
The problem is caused by us all, and therefore the remedy must be from us all—those in this Chamber, those in this place and those outside this place. I believe in a sovereign God. I believe that He knows the end from the beginning, that our days are numbered and that He will call us in time with that eternal plan. However, I also believe that He has appointed us to be good stewards of this Earth, and that when we fail in that duty, we reap the consequences. We have failed in that duty, and my granddaughters’ and grandsons’ generation will reap the consequences, with extremes that will impact on their future quality of life. I accept this, but I also accept that we can still make a change. We can use this change to improve the outcome, and that is what we must do.
It is clear to me that climate change and human rights are intrinsically linked, and it is right and proper that our legislation reflects this view. I welcomed the Government’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement in 2015, and I believe that we must do better to fulfil our commitments to that agreement. That is one reason why I was shocked and upset to learn that the Government were reducing overseas development aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income. That, too, has an impact on how we battle climate change and fulfil our obligations. Respectfully, I will use this opportunity to again request that the Minister understand that the Government cannot come close to honouring our word without honouring this commitment. I know that the Minister is an honourable man—I am not saying that he is not—but we really must deliver that.
I support the calls by my colleagues who have spoken—and the hon. Lady who will follow me—for less talk and more action. We are calling for our obligations to be fulfilled and not reprioritised, and for us to do what we can to leave this world better than we found it. What a responsibility we have, as MPs in this House, to do just that and deliver. I understand that we need China, India and so many other nations to buy in, but their excuses do not excuse us from doing what we need to do. I ask the Government to increase international aid, recognise the firm link between our environmental and humanitarian obligations, and do what we can, now, in this House, in Westminster Hall today, through our Minister, to effect positive change.
Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this debate, and for his welcome remarks on the need to move to an inclusive global human rights-orientated foreign policy approach. He rightly draws attention to this Government’s failure to take full advantage of the UK’s roles, both as co-hosts of COP26 and as current president of the G7, to secure definitive climate action ahead of November.
Equally worrying is our relative failure compared to the efforts of the French Government in 2015 to secure conclusive global engagement, or even to mobilise a common cross-Government approach to the upcoming summit. “GB: Global Britain”, as a slogan, has frankly failed to mean anything tangible in Whitehall, let alone to our partners abroad. Alliteration is not the same thing as action.
However, I would like my remarks today to focus on the broader issue of migration and displacement that is attributable to climate change, as referred to by my hon. Friend. That is, of course, an issue that is real and pressing, both here in the UK and abroad. The UN Refugee Agency believes that already, due to increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, more than 20 million people, on average, are being internally displaced annually. Despite such suffering, appropriate descriptions, such as the term “climate refugee” are yet to receive a solid legal basis that would, following accordingly, give them international protection and rights. I therefore invite and would welcome a comment from the Minister today on the Government’s approach to the rights of people displaced by climate change, and on how the Government will be raising this point at the upcoming COP26 summit.
Displacement due to climate change is also happening here, in the UK. In my constituency lies Fairbourne, and the UK’s first community facing decommissioning. These are people who do not know where their homes will be, and what the value of their community is, per se. Will they be kept together? How will the infrastructure be dealt with, and what remains of that community? What are the rights of these people? All of the legislation that we have in place overrides their rights. Until we know what their rights are here, it is difficult for us to talk about those abroad. They have been left in limbo, by both the UK and the Welsh Government, and by our wider modern economy and social safety net. Their plight demonstrates that if we, even as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, cannot properly respect and look after our own, we cannot expect developing nations, who will be more affected by climate change than the UK, to do so?
To close, I hope that the Minister and the Government will take on board my hon. Friend’s call for an ethical, human rights-based foreign policy that acknowledges the importance of international law, the role of international institutions, and the inviolability of human rights, both here and abroad.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this hugely important debate.
Let me begin by saying one thing about which there is no doubt—we are living through and experiencing the beginning of a climate emergency. The effects of global climate change, which scientists have predicted for the past three decades and more, are happening now. July was the hottest month on record and across the world we witnessed extreme weather events: deadly wildfires spread across Europe and north America, and devastating flooding caused chaos in Germany and China. Those are but a few examples.
Last month’s IPCC report was damning, with the UN Secretary General António Guterres describing the situation as
“code red for humanity”.
If emissions continue at their current rate, global temperatures will rise more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. There is still time to stop that from happening, but emissions must be cut dramatically by the end of this decade and not a moment later. As we approach COP26 in November, the UK Government must lead from the front, ensuring that new and ambitious targets are agreed on to avert this unfolding climate disaster.
Sustainable development goal 13 calls for
“urgent action to combat climate change”.
Without that, the devastating consequences of climate change will undo hard-won development gains. Let there be no doubt: the poor and the wealthy are not affected equally by climate change, and that is true of nations as well as individuals. The cruel reality is that despite the world’s poorest and most vulnerable contributing the least to climate change, they are most at risk from its negative effects and the least equipped to withstand and adapt to it.
Oxfam has calculated that the richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for more than half of the cumulative emissions between 1990 and 2015. The wealthiest 1% were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much CO2 as the poorer half of the world combined, which is something for all of us to consider and reflect upon.
The climate crisis disproportionately affects individuals and groups who are already marginalised as a result of structural inequalities. The World Bank has predicted that climate change will push over 130 million people into poverty in the next 10 years. Additionally, the World Health Organisation predicts that climate change will cause a quarter of a million additional deaths a year through malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea and heat stress.
Climate change fundamentally impacts human rights—the right to life, to food, to water and sanitation, to health and to housing, among many others. It exacerbates inequalities between the poor and the wealthy, between ethnicities, between genders and between generations. Climate change is a human rights crisis.
We know that the G20 countries are responsible for almost 80% of global annual emissions. Net zero emission targets by 2050 are, frankly, too little, too late. Wealthier countries must take the lead by decarbonising more quickly. Before, during and after COP26, a human rights-focused approach is essential to tackle the climate crisis and to secure a just transition.
Sadly, at a time when we need international co-operation to tackle climate change, those who lead us in the UK Government espouse an empty slogan of “global Britain” that goes against just that. As warned, the decision to slash the aid budget is fundamentally undermining the UK’s efforts to show any leadership in tackling international climate change. For example, in May the COP26 President visited Indonesia and called on others to move forward with plans to reach net zero. Yet just weeks later, the same UK Government cancelled a highly effective green growth programme that was designed to prevent deforestation in Indonesia. Similarly, in Malawi the Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience, or PROSPER, project, which focuses on training farmers in climate-smart and adaptive agricultural practices, has been cancelled by this Tory Government, halfway through its implementation. That not only breaks trust with those communities but sends a message to those countries yet to determine their contribution to the Paris agreement that the host of COP26 does not take its obligations on climate change seriously. Frankly, it does not care.
Global Britain, if it is to mean anything, should be about listening to and supporting these marginalised communities in tackling this climate emergency, and not about cutting their funding and shutting them out. Tragically, with just over 50 days until COP26, those communities will not have their voices heard, as vaccine inequity means they cannot attend, and once again decisions will be made for them, rather than with them, a further indication that so-called global Britain is, under the Tories, nothing but a poor and nasty little Britain.
Finally, in the last Westminster Hall debate that I attended in person, I called on the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in placing human rights at the centre of their climate justice fund response and to establish a climate justice fund. Since then, the Scottish Government have doubled their world-leading fund to £24 million over four years, in stark contrast to the UK Government, I would like to hear from the Minister today whether he is willing to initiate such a fund now.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this important debate—diolch yn fawr iawn—which is, as has been said, appropriately timed, following some of the worst years of environmental catastrophes and the unequivocal evidence from the IPCC ahead of the crucial COP meeting. The hon. Gentleman will know how seriously the Welsh Government take these issues and how they are incorporating them at the heart of their policies.
Let us remind ourselves of the two key facts in the IPCC report. The last decade was hotter than any period in the last 125,000 years, and scientists can now link specific weather events to human-made climate change.
I commend the speeches made by a range of hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell). There was also a typically passionate speech from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
Human rights were rightly referenced in the 2015 Paris agreement, because the fortunes of all aspects of life, including that of humanity, are inevitably intertwined with the functioning of ecosystems on this small blue dot, whether that is access to food and land or to water and sanitation, or the prospects of women and girls, right through to the implications of conflict driven by climate change. In 2015, the UN Environment Programme executive director described climate change as one of the greatest threats to human rights in a generation. If global Britain is to mean anything—we have seen the concept starkly drawn into question in recent weeks—we have to ensure that climate sustainability is at the heart of all of our international policies, from trade, through business and development assistance, to our defence and our diplomacy. That is why it was so disappointing to see such little reference to it in the recent Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office human rights report.
I have just a few examples from recent weeks—we have heard many today. Just a few weeks ago, Haiti endured another devastating earthquake, and on top of that, the impact of a hit from Tropical Storm Grace. Thirteen thousand Rohingya refugees were forced to relocate after intense rainfall and landslides in Bangladesh. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead about the situation in Madagascar and potentially one of the first climate famines, with families forced to survive on eating a handful of insects. In Ethiopia and South Sudan—we will discuss the situation in Tigray tomorrow—hundreds of thousands face starvation, with the implications of climate change coming on top of conflict in the region.
Climate change not only physically threatens lives, but potentially unwinds decades of progress in other areas, such as education, infrastructure, access to clean water, food, sanitation and healthcare. Five hundred million people rely on ecosystem services worldwide as a source of income and to put food on their tables. The total number of people affected by natural disasters over the past decade has tripled to 2 billion and the WHO speaks of the impact on infectious diseases and an additional 250,000 deaths.
For some countries, particularly small island states, sea level rises could threaten their very existence. That applies in our British family, in our overseas territories. The British Virgin Islands experienced a devastating hit from Hurricane Irma, which cost £2.3 billion in 2017, with public schools destroyed and others rendered unusable. Yet, because of Brexit, they have lost €7 million in funding from the EU global climate change alliance plus and are yet to get answers from the Government on how that will be replaced. I hope the Minister can answer that question. What role will our overseas territories and our wider family play at the upcoming COP? What representation will they have?
Many hon. Members referenced migration as a result of climate change. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that more than three times as many displacements happened in the years 2008 to 2018 as a result of environmental disasters than from conflict. Let us not forget that that is a period that includes the disasters in Syria and north Africa. If what we are seeing from climate change dwarfs that, we should all be deeply concerned.
Climate change is of course a threat to the amazing progress made in the last decades on the rights of women and girls, because environmental hazards that lead to crises often mean girls dropping out of school to help their families to engage in the daily search for drinking water, as well as other aspects such as forced marriage.
In the face of the climate emergency and the impacts that we have heard about in powerful speeches today, it is deeply disappointing that the FCDO has been cutting its support for key programmes as part of the official development assistance cuts. That has been criticised by the director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, not just for the cuts themselves but for the impact they will have on our diplomatic position at the COP conference. Here are two examples: the Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos programme and the Green Economic Growth programme in Papua, which had been described as highly effective, have been cut. That is absolutely absurd. Will the Minister set out how much of the cuts to ODA has hit programmes with climate change as a key or majority component? Conversely, how much funding is still going into fossil fuel projects, directly or via other agencies?
The Government have yet to come forward with how they will allocate or spend the £11.6 billion that has been promised. Can the Minister give us some details? How will that be scheduled over the next few years? What discussions has the Minister been having with the Home Office and other colleagues about the implications on migration changes and refugee flows as a result of climate change?
The Labour party would put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy, and climate change at the heart of all our policies. As has been said, those two things are absolutely intertwined. We would seek the action needed to tackle them.
I will. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this important and wide-ranging debate, and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. I will try to respond to all the points raised, and I note that I need to give the hon. Gentleman a couple of minutes at the end of the debate.
Let me begin with Afghanistan, because a number of hon. Members rightly mentioned it as uppermost in our minds. Incredibly brave human rights activists and project partners were among the 15,000 people that the UK evacuated from Kabul between 15 and 29 August. The Foreign Secretary has led work with other countries in the region to ensure safe passage to the UK for those eligible. That is our immediate priority. We have committed to resettle 20,000 Afghan nationals most at risk from human rights violations and dehumanising treatment, under the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, which includes 5,000 in year one.
We are continuing to work for human rights in Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary has set out a plan and is building an international coalition to that end. He has been clear that holding the Taliban to account on human rights, particularly their respect for the rights of women and girls and members of minority groups, which hon. Members are passionate about, must be one of the four touchstone priorities for any future international engagement. Hon. Members are right to be concerned about the rights of women and girls under the Taliban regime. That is why we are working to ensure that we have maximum moderating influence over the Taliban, and to ensure that the gains of the past two decades are not lost.
As hon. Members will recall, when the Government published its integrated review in March, we put the UK’s role as a force for good in the world front and centre of our security, defence, development and foreign policy. Our work on human rights and the environment are two areas where that is particularly evident. As part of the integrated review process, the Prime Minister set out that in 2021 and beyond the Government will make tackling climate change and biodiversity loss their No. 1 international priority. In the birthplace of the Magna Carta, with one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies, we are deeply committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. It is in the DNA of this Government and has been of successive Governments from both sides of the House. It is not just about doing the right thing; it is evident that climate change, as described eloquently by many hon. Members, and human rights abuses and violations pose a significant threat to our national interests, our economy, our borders and our security. Tackling those is a huge priority.
The recent working group contribution to the sixth assessment report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change removes any doubt that human activities have warmed the planet and caused widespread and rapid changes to the climate. The report shows clearly that without immediate and drastic action, the impacts will be severe. We know that some of the changes to the planet are irreversible. It is clear that we must decarbonise the global economy faster. We can only achieve that through more ambitious national actions and international collaboration.
Every conversation that I, as Minister for Asia, and my colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have with our counterparts involves deep discussion on ensuring that countries come forward with ambitious nationally determined contributions. As we approach COP26, we have a clear plan to deliver a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced set of negotiated outcomes that can halt rising temperatures and help those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We have heard about many of those this afternoon.
We are focused on four priorities for the summit: mitigation, adaptation, climate finance and collaboration. As I have said, we are asking all countries to come forward ahead of the summit with ambitious commitments on reducing emissions, increasing climate finance and scaling up adaptation. We need every country to commit to net zero and we would like to see 2030 emissions reduction targets as part of their nationally determined contributions. We are working across governments, businesses and civil society to make real progress in the largest emitting sectors of power, road transport and land use, and to bend the curve on biodiversity loss and deforestation.
We have lobbied donor countries to step up their climate finance commitments in order to meet the goal of $100 billion a year that was agreed, as has been mentioned this afternoon, as part of the Paris agreement. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) referred to the £11.6 billion we have committed to double our climate finance over the next five years. We are doing all we can to deliver a summit that will be a turning point, and we are working closely with our public health officials, the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and all our partners to ensure that we have an in-person event to enable all those who need to to participate on an equal footing.
The hon. Member for Arfon was right to speak passionately about both climate change and human rights, as did many other hon. Members. We are alert to the potential for climate change to undermine the enjoyment of human rights. As the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) mentioned, without action on climate change, according to the World Bank and other organisations, 143 million people could be displaced by 2050. We are calling on countries to ensure that any action they take to respond to climate change and environmental degradation complies with their human rights obligations. It is also imperative that the actions we take globally to tackle climate change will support those countries where humanitarian needs are greatest. That was amplified by the contribution from the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), when he referenced the issues facing Madagascar.
Women and girls are an example of those who are affected disproportionately by the consequences of climate-related displacement, which has been a theme of many speeches this afternoon. For that reason, since 2018 we have committed to both the global compact on refugees and the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. By realising global climate finance targets and supporting credible strategies to help the vulnerable adapt to climate change, we can prevent and mitigate its impacts on lives, livelihoods and the human rights of those most affected.
We are committed to using COP26 to amplify the concerns of countries vulnerable to climate change and to agree actions to address their concerns. Briefly, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who was right to highlight the role of the Council of Europe on human rights, on his sterling work as a senior member of the Council.
We are committed to delivering a carbon-neutral COP26 summit and I thank the hon. Member for Arfon for his good wishes to the Government on delivering it successfully. I am conscious that I need to give the hon. Member a few moments to sum up, and I apologise that I have brought it down to about 80 seconds.
I thank all hon. Members who took part. The debate has been a rich source of comment, analysis and points for action. In fact, the debate should be of interest to anyone who is concerned about climate change. That should be everyone, not just anyone.
I cannot summarise what has been said in just one minute, but there is a breadth of interest, knowledge and information, from the Council of Europe to Madagascar to Fairbourne. That should give people pause for thought. I am glad to give credit where credit is due, of course, but the burden of my speech was that we should start from a specific point and that should be human rights, from which other actions will flow. We are in the Westminster Hall Chamber and outside, in the other Westminster Hall, there is a plaque that people look at every day as they pass. That is the spot where Sir Thomas More stood trial and, of course, was condemned. He is famous for lots of things, but he is famous for five words: “no man is an island”. No island is an island, for that matter, so let us have some action from this island.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).