Tuesday 5 July 2022
[Mrs Sheryll Murray in the Chair]
[Relevant Documents: Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 8 and 29 June 2022, on National bus strategy: one year on, HC 161.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered zero emission buses in the UK.
It is a great pleasure to open the debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray—indeed, we will be turning the tables this afternoon when you serve as a member of my Committee—and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate.
I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry, and my comments will relate mainly to the manufacture and delivery of green buses in this country. There are many other connected issues, such as the franchising operations and how those are delivered, and the fares that are charged, but, given that one of the major bus and coach manufacturers, Alexander Dennis Ltd, is located in my constituency, I will concentrate on manufacturing. Alexander Dennis Ltd also has a factory in Falkirk, and I am sure the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) will be commenting on that.
Alexander Dennis Ltd sprang out of the Plaxton company, which has been established in Scarborough for more than 100 years, and it has 31,000 vehicles in service around the world, including the three-axle double-deckers that we see on the streets of Hong Kong, 200 battery electric vehicles being delivered to the Republic of Ireland, and 200 Enviro500 top-of-the-fleet double-deckers, which are being delivered to Berlin. The company truly is making a product for the global market.
Alexander Dennis Ltd employs 1,850 people in the United Kingdom on eight sites, and the company can deliver diesel buses—the traditional motive power—as well as battery electric buses, which make up the majority of the new-generation buses it produces, and hydrogen buses, on which other manufacturers are majoring.
Later this year, Alexander Dennis Ltd will deliver a fully autonomous bus. In some ways, it is amazing that the company is ahead of the rail industry. Apart from one or two examples such as the docklands light railway, the majority of trains still have drivers, despite the fact that trains run on rails and do not need steering, whereas Alexander Dennis will deliver a new generation of autonomous buses—driverless buses—which I believe will lead the way in making buses even more cost-effective.
Why are we here today? I am afraid that, despite the rhetoric from the Government, the orders for the 4,000 promised buses are not coming through. We were promised 4,000 zero-emission buses under the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme. We were told initially that they would be delivered during this Parliament, and Members will understand why the manufacturers got themselves geared up and ready to produce those buses. Then we were told, “Well, the buses will be on order by the end of the Parliament.” Most recently, we understand that funding will be available by the end of the Parliament. I am afraid, Minister, this is not good enough. We need to get those buses on our streets and delivering not only for those who work in the bus industry but for those passengers who genuinely want to use an environmentally friendly mode of transport.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on introducing the debate on what is a topical subject in the real sense of the word, and I am pleased to see the Minister in her place.
We in Northern Ireland have made a clear commitment to these new, zero-emission buses through Translink, and we have constructed a programme for the next few years, through to 2032, of which the Translink Gliders will be part, but for that to happen we all need to take advantage of the opportunity to manufacture those buses. We in Northern can do that, alongside the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents. Does he agree that Northern Ireland can be part of that greater plan for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to work together to produce these buses?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and every part of the United Kingdom should be able to benefit from the next generation of clean and green buses. Indeed, Northern Ireland is well placed because Wrightbus, which manufactures in Ballymena in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), can deliver hydrogen-propelled buses. I will say more about that later.
The ZEBRA scheme is a Government-led green initiative that the industry has responded to by designing the vehicles to help to deliver it. But where are the orders? The inertia threatens the Government’s net zero strategy. Bus registrations are already at an all-time low. The pandemic hit bus operators and passengers numbers still have not recovered.
We need volume production to sustain our three indigenous manufacturers: Switch Mobility in Leeds, Wrightbus in Ballymena and Alexander Dennis at its locations in Scotland and Scarborough. We need a flow of orders, not large orders in the future that would only favour Chinese manufacturers. The UK market for buses grew 28% in 2021 from a historically low baseline, but the massive, state-supported Chinese manufacturer Yutong saw its market share triple at the same time.
I would be the last person to advocate a protectionist policy; the “America first” policy was so damaging to vehicle manufacturing in America because it made steel and aluminium expensive and therefore manufactured products such as buses expensive. Competition always drives innovation and efficiency, but it must be fair competition. Not only does the Chinese economy run on rules different from those in Europe, but manufacturing in China benefits from lower energy prices. I remind hon. Members that China still buys gas and oil from Russia.
China also has disproportionate influence over supplies of raw materials, including lithium, which is vital to make the current generation of batteries. That is why we must also make progress on our own indigenous battery production by not only using Cornish lithium but setting up factories such as the Britishvolt facility that is planned in Blyth in the north-east of England. We must take the lead in looking at the next-generation solid-state batteries, which perhaps will not require the rare-earth materials and minerals that the Chinese have been so successful at cornering, particularly in some African states.
Some of the delays in placing orders are down to negotiations between operators and transport authorities to deliver, for example, bus priority schemes. There is no point in taking a zero-emission bus if it is stuck in the same queue as diesel and petrol cars. I hope the Minister can break the logjam and get the orders on the production lines here in the United Kingdom—not in China—and fitted with UK batteries, not batteries made in China.
The hon. Member for North Antrim would have liked to be here today, but instead I will say a little about how Northern Ireland is progressing. Wrightbus is now under the ownership of Jo Bamford, who is part of the JCB dynasty and has taken that company, which was in danger of failing, and brought it into the 21st century. It is majoring on hydrogen buses. There are great opportunities for hydrogen fuel cell buses, too, particularly when we can develop our green hydrogen market in the UK, because 95% of the hydrogen produced in this country is so-called blue hydrogen derived from natural gas. That will be a useful step on the road to net zero but, ultimately, we need green hydrogen produced by the fantastic nuclear industry in Cumbria, which I know the Minister—an atomic kitten, as she describes herself—will be keen to promote.
Buses are a really good place to start because they go back to the depot every night, so they can charge up and refuel. Hydrogen is not ubiquitous throughout the country, but if we are to move forward on it, buses will take the lead. JCB’s heavy plant operation is looking at spark-ignition hydrogen engines for large construction operations. Hydrogen is the future in many applications, and certainly for lorries that do not go back to the depot. In the meantime, battery electric is the low-hanging fruit that we can grasp quickly to deliver buses that do not need to rely on fossil fuels.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, when will the promised 4,000 ZEBRA zero-emission buses be on our streets? Secondly, what can she do to ensure they are British and not Chinese built? Unfortunately, a number of local authorities and bus companies have already ordered Chinese buses, which are currently on our streets. Thirdly—we need to be careful about this, because it is easy to grasp a figure out of the air and say, “This is the target”—after due consideration of what is practical, reasonable and can be delivered by the industry, when would be a realistic date to phase out the sale of diesel buses? That is particularly important because buses, unlike other motor vehicles, tend to have a very long operational life, so those delivered in 2027-28 are still likely to be on the roads in 2050, which is of course our target for net zero.
I thank hon. Members for listening to the points I have made. I hope we have a bright future with sustainable bus transport produced by British manufacturers such as Alexander Dennis Ltd in Scarborough, which is a very efficient, cost-effective factory. I look forward to hearing other hon. Members’ comments.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mrs Murray. With your permission, I will talk about the bus service that covers my constituency and the one you represent.
I thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for introducing this debate so well. Buses matter, and there are not enough debates about them in this place. There seem to be five debates on trains for every debate on buses, and I am afraid I am as guilty as other hon. Members for ranting about trains all the time, missing the fact that far more people use buses every day than use trains.
The right hon. Gentleman made a strong case for having a clear plan to move the propulsion of our bus fleet from diesel to electric or hydrogen. That matters. I will talk about the difference between electric and hydrogen buses—especially those that serve parts of the world such as the far south-west, where we have very intense urban areas in Plymouth but the bus network also provides lifeline services for our rural communities. There is not currently a single propulsion method that would work for both environments. That is why, when we look at zero-emission buses and the green buses of the future, we need to understand that fast-charging electric buses are a good idea for urban areas, and that we must invest in hydrogen to sustain rural routes, especially those with long distances between stops. That means a different type of infrastructure to go with the buses.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we need more British-built buses on our roads, but we also need more British-built infrastructure to support them. It is not only the capital cost of the buses that we need to look at: currently, a zero-emission bus is considerably more expensive than the equivalent diesel bus. That is result of the market not being able to sustain the volume of bus construction that we need to reduce those costs, and of the capital cost of innovation and experimentation on those buses to ensure we get the technology right. We need to order at scale to reduce the per-unit cost of buses, but we also need a plan so that local authorities, bus companies and transport bodies can invest properly in their communities.
Last week, I met our brilliant local bus company, Citybus—which also provides the Go Cornwall services that you will be familiar with, Mrs Murray—to discuss the ideal solution in Plymouth, which is additional fast-charging locations in Plymouth and a hydrogen network to sustain routes from Plymouth into Cornwall, west Devon and the South Hams. That means doubling the infrastructure that is required for a single bus company, although buses would be operated under different brands in different parts of the region. That is quite a considerable capital outlay.
The industry is looking for a clear direction. The right hon. Gentleman asked when the promised buses will come, which is fair. I think the Government have over-exaggerated and over-spun the policy.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the up-front cost of an electric battery or hydrogen bus is more, but of course the lifelong cost of the bus is less. It is a bit like nuclear energy: it is all up front. That is why the Government are introducing the scheme to reassure the market that it can invest in the buses. Incidentally, the majority of bus routes can manage on an overnight charge, but there are certain routes that might need a top-up during the day. Electric might not be the answer for very steep routes, which is where hydrogen comes in.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has been to Plymouth and has seen our hills. We certainly have a need currently for mixed-mode propulsion as a transition technology until we get to a 100% green bus fleet, so we need capital investment in that, and I agree with what he says about the per-unit price. Investing in low-emission and zero-emission buses is good not only economically, but for our public health and our planet, and we need to make that case much more.
When we look at how to support bus infrastructure, one of the things we need to decide is what that means in practical terms. Does it mean fast-charging bus locations that are not located at the bus depot, for instance? Do we need to encourage bus companies to buy up interim stops? They could simply be warehouse slots along major routes, for instance, where fast charging might sustain a bus and enable it to continue all day. However, Citybus has said it would need more buses to sustain a fully electric fleet. That is simply a factor of how long it takes to charge a bus and what the demand is during a particular period.
The hon. Gentleman is making a critical point, but does he agree that we must have a strategic, laid-out plan for how to achieve that? It cannot be left entirely to the bus companies to, for instance, purchase a portion of land where they can put their charging points. If we are to make sure this happens, it has to be strategic and Government-led, in co-operation with councils and companies. It will only happen if we all work together, which I think is the point the hon. Gentleman is making.
I am grateful for that intervention, because it leads me to my next point, which is about how we create that infrastructure. It needs to be created against a plan, which is one of the areas in which the Government could do more work, to put it kindly. Transport is a patchwork quilt, with devolved responsibilities, retained responsibilities and different councils having different responsibilities regarding bus services, let alone the procurement of transport systems—for instance, we have a very mixed picture on that score in the far south-west compared with areas such as Manchester or the west midlands. We need to have a clear plan so that we know that investment is timely and well spent. If, for example, we do not have an understanding that we will need more superfast chargers for bus services—but not at the main bus depot—to be built into the economic plan for our location, it is going to be harder for us to get the bus services that we need and the transition away from diesel engines that we all want.
When it comes to bus infrastructure, it is not only the charging infrastructure that matters: we have to make sure that people actually get on the buses. Bus patronage is a key factor in the transition to zero-emission buses, because if it continues to be below pre-pandemic levels, it will not be economically viable for many bus companies to invest in higher unit price buses, nor to run the frequency of services that communities deserve to keep them going. In Plymouth—as you know very well, Mrs Murray—our council plan to remove one third of Plymouth’s bus shelters, which makes waiting for a bus in a city famous for its rain a little bit more awkward. I want to encourage more people to get on a bus; I want people to use buses more frequently. That means the entire end-to-end journey for a passenger getting on a bus needs to be made more efficient, more comfortable, ideally cheaper, and more environmentally responsible.
That brings me to my final point, which is about air quality. A key factor in the drive to move from diesel buses to zero-emission ones, be they electric or hydrogen, is the impact of diesel bus fleets on the air quality of our communities. The air-quality improvements that we have seen in London since the ultra low emission zone was introduced, and in the trials that Transport for London has done in removing diesel buses from certain routes, have been considerable. I want a clean air Act to be introduced, and Labour has been making that case, but such an Act needs to be backed by actions to deliver cleaner air. One of those is to set a clear date for phasing out diesel engines, not just in cars and vans but in buses, too. Buses have greater usage than cars: a bus that is used nearly the entire day will clearly have a bigger air-quality implication than, for instance, a diesel car that is used twice a day for short journeys. That is why we need extra urgency when it comes to removing diesel buses: not just because of the carbon emissions, but because of the air-quality improvements, especially the reduction in the NOx—nitrogen oxides—that have such a bad effect on our lungs and our hearts in particular.
The hon. Gentleman is making absolutely the right point. One of the problems we have is that some very old buses still operate on routes around the country. Some of those buses—and, indeed, taxis—were displaced from London as the clean-air technology came in. We need to get rid of those old buses. The Euro 6 buses perform well on our streets, but we have all seen some very old buses up and down the country that still contribute a lot to poor air quality.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The cascading of older stock—be that train rolling stock or buses—to the regions means that, in many cases, they receive the poorer-quality engines and have poorer air quality. They will continue to have poorer air quality for a lot longer than some of our big urban cities, which are able to use their mass to invest in addressing the problem.
I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about Plymouth Citybus and its plans for the future. I want every bus in Plymouth and throughout the country to be a zero-emission bus, and I want to see more people use our bus services. I want to see them being made cheaper, but for that to happen we need bus companies and bus manufacturers to have the confidence to invest. I want to see more of those buses being British-built, and I want to see us proudly manufacturing the future of green transport in this country. I think that is possible, but for it to happen, we need the Government to have a clearer plan on the production and manufacture of not only the bus but the battery, and we need the infrastructure plan to accompany it. I sometimes feel that the infrastructure plan does not get a fair hearing in this debate, so I hope the Minister will respond on that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I am delighted to contribute to the debate, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for securing it.
Speaking in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, we see hydrogen as a key component in the zero-emission bus mix. Last week, I was delighted to take a bus journey from the Science Museum to Parliament, on a bus that seemed just like any other—there was no additional noise, the bus looked exactly the same and the seats were just as comfortable—but the key difference was that it was powered by hydrogen. This is the opportunity that hydrogen represents for us—one that is as revolutionary as it is unremarkable. Regardless of whether hydrogen is powering our buses, heating our homes or fuelling a large furnace, the experience is exactly the same as what we are used to, but without the negative emissions.
Hydrogen has uses that stretch much further than buses alone. Hydrogen can be used to power aeroplanes, such as in ZeroAvia’s trial. It can be used to power ferries and ships, and hydrogen in an internal combustion engine could even make the diggers of the future, as my right hon. Friend mentioned. What are the real benefits of hydrogen buses? They require much shorter maintenance periods, because a zero-emission bus—whether it is hydrogen or battery electric—has far fewer moving parts, so the maintenance schedule can be drastically reduced, meaning that more buses can be on the road at shorter notice.
That brings me to my next point, which is about the distinct benefit of hydrogen buses over battery electric. Battery electric buses typically take up to eight hours to charge, whereas a hydrogen bus, much like a diesel vehicle, could be back on its way in just eight minutes. To replace a diesel bus currently, a fleet operator may have to purchase 1.2 electric buses to make up for the charge time, with buses being off the road for a number of hours. However, because of both the shorter maintenance period and the ability to refuel quickly, it is possible to replace diesel buses with far fewer hydrogen buses, saving the taxpayer money in the long run.
Another benefit is that hydrogen buses can today support British jobs in the production of hydrogen. Anyone who has travelled here today via Westminster tube station will have seen the huge advertisements for BP’s investment in Teesside, which will produce 15% of the Government’s 2030 hydrogen targets in both blue and green hydrogen. On top of that, we also have investment from Kellas on the north side of the Tees, from EDF’s production of green hydrogen, and from Petroneum.
Hydrogen represents a real opportunity to reindustrialise areas such as mine, but it is also a whole-of-the-UK industry, because the majority of hydrogen buses are made by Wrightbus in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. When Wrightbus went into administration in 2019, it had only 56 staff remaining in the business, but Jo Bamford bought Wrightbus and refocused its efforts on hydrogen buses, and it is now on track to employ more than 1,000 staff this year as the firm with the largest hydrogen bus fleet in Europe and the second largest in the world.
To bring us back to the title of the debate, which is “Zero-emission Buses”, the biggest benefit of a hydrogen bus is that it is zero emission. In fact, in many ways, hydrogen buses help to clear up negative emissions, as they filter nitrous oxides while running and their only by-product is water.
I turn now to my asks of Government. My primary ask is this: do not forget about hydrogen. We hear all the time about battery electric buses—there are 35 times more battery buses than hydrogen buses in London—but although battery electric has a role to play, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) outlined, no one should be in any doubt that hydrogen fuel cells have distinct benefits and cannot be ignored, particularly for public transport uses but also in road haulage and emergency service vehicles. I expect hydrogen to play a key role in all three.
Secondly, the Government must support steps for the storage and distribution of hydrogen. It is no coincidence that now more people have electric vehicles, because there are far more readily available refuelling stations up and down the country. We need the Government to resolve the same chicken-and-egg situation that affects hydrogen transport in the UK and help put in place the necessary storage and distribution for hydrogen transport.
My final ask is this. The Government must also resolve the current issues with the renewable transport fuel obligation, which currently excludes certain types of hydrogen. I am hopeful that the Government are able to recognise and reflect that in their response to the recent RTFO consultation.
To conclude, hydrogen can and will play a key role in public transport, but if we are to be able to realise its full benefits, we need to put in place the right policy framework to help us achieve that. The Government are working towards that, and there are programmes such as the Aberdeen bus trial and the £3 million hydrogen transport hub in Teesside, which is the first of its kind in the UK. But we must do more. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is as passionate about hydrogen as I am about nuclear, and vice versa. Those are the fuels that will power the future, and I look forward to working with her to deliver them.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for securing this crucial debate on the future of bus and coach manufacturers. I am also a member of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry.
Like many others, I am very proud of my local bus manufacturer in the Falkirk constituency. I know so many of the people, and their families and friends, who have worked for that company for so long—some have spent their entire life in the same business. It is a testament to that model company, how good it is and how it retains its staff for so long.
The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby covered many of the concerns in his speech, so excuse me, Mrs Murray, for reiterating some of his well-made points—they were so well put over to us all. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), the Front-Bench spokesperson, will bring in the Scottish perspective and how well we are doing in Scotland.
Let me add some context on Alexander Dennis Ltd. Alexander Dennis is the UK’s largest bus and coach manufacturer, with a market share consistently above 60%. ADL offers single and double-deck vehicles under the brands Alexander Dennis and Plaxton, and has more than 31,000 vehicles in service in Scotland, the wider UK—including, of course, here in London—Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and the United States. It is the largest employer in the sector, with a global headcount of 2,100. In the UK, it has eight sites, employing nearly 2,000 people. They are all good, well paid and highly skilled jobs.
ADL is part of NFI Group, one of the world’s largest independent global bus manufacturers. ADL is the only bus and coach manufacturer in a position to offer custom-made buses and coaches spanning electric, hydrogen and, as of the latter part of this year, a fully autonomous bus service, as has already been said. I have watched these buses going across the Forth road bridge. It is quite scary to begin with, but they are being well tested. They will be of great benefit in improving the air quality of the whole area. I look forward to seeing them go into service. I advise anybody in this room—or anywhere else—to try to take a trip on board one. I think that would probably allay some of the fears that we would all have.
As well as UK buses being built in Falkirk and Larbert, which supports local supply chains, ADL is leading the charge for Scotland plc, setting the highest standards of engineering. A project that illustrates that is Scotland’s first built hydrogen fuel cell double-deck bus. Alexander Dennis was selected by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority as the supplier for 20 zero-emission hydrogen double-deck buses following a competitive tendering process. The 20 ADL Enviro buses are being directly purchased through the Liverpool city region’s transforming cities fund, and will be owned by the people of the city region. We have a proud history, grounded in heritage and tradition, with a long legacy in Falkirk going back as far as 1902. There are nearly 700 people employed in Falkirk and Larbert, and Larbert is the global headquarters of the business.
Alexander Dennis is committed to supporting the UK Government’s ambitions, but it is almost at breaking point and the Government need to deliver on their funding promises. The company is investing heavily in UK operations in facilities across the whole of the UK. I want the Minister to listen to this: Alexander Dennis is investing in innovation, engineering, production, apprenticeships, graduate programmes, people development, after-market support and, most importantly, a zero-emission future. These bus and coach manufacturers are well driven, but the Government are not matching their ambition, even though the policy is driven by the Government.
I have two questions for the Minister. The UK Government said that they are committed to their promise of 4,000 British-built buses. Could she outline what steps the UK Government are taking to protect British bus and coach manufacturing jobs, many of which are in my Falkirk constituency? I would like to hear about that in detail. Finally, the zero-emission bus regional areas scheme delays are unacceptable, frankly. It has been over a year. I have been outside Parliament speaking with Baroness Vere, who promised that they would arrive imminently. That has not happened, and it is unacceptable. Manufacturers were promised that the funding would result in new orders that would and could then be built in Falkirk.
The UK bus and coach industry is still desperate for a shot in the arm. It needs certainty on the delivery of that promise. If the trend of stagnation and the inertia continues, there will—no maybes—be serious consequences for the future of UK bus and coach manufacturing in the likes of Falkirk. What action are the Government taking to resolve those crucial concerns?
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) on securing the debate. I, too, am a member of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry. It is great to see such enthusiasm for buses. I was the bus Minister for the Bus Services Act 2017, and it was not that easy to generate enthusiasm from colleagues. The situation is much improved.
As has been said already, it is buses that do the heavy lifting of our public transport system. We must remember that carbon emissions from transport are 30% of our total carbon emissions. No progress on getting people to switch modes, on boosting passenger numbers on buses or on removing carbon from our bus networks will mean it is much harder for us to hit our overall net zero objectives. Thus, I strongly support the initiatives to boost the roll-out of zero-emission buses across the country. It has been happening for a little while—as bus Minister I did some of this work, but the work also predated me. The work on that goes back to the last Labour Government, when the technologies became available and the bus Ministers at the time saw the opportunities and grabbed them. It has been happening in stages over a period of time.
I was clear that the technology has presented significant opportunities, and it has been made clear in the debate so far that there are different technologies available. The points on hydrogen made by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young), who always speaks with passion and detail on this subject, were spot-on. The hydrogen opportunity is exciting and it is also changing quite fast.
We have many electric buses in Harrogate and Knaresborough already. They have been delivered by The Harrogate Bus Company and we are shortly due to have some more. There is a £20 million project, which includes £7.8 million from the county council, as part of the zero-emission bus regional areas scheme, or ZEBRA—quite a catchy name—and an investment of £12 million by Transdev, which is The Harrogate Bus Company’s parent company. That will deliver 71 new electric buses for North Yorkshire, with 45 based out of the Harrogate depot, and they will be split approximately 50:50 between single and double-decker buses. The first route to enter into service will be the busy Harrogate to Knaresborough route.
It is also worth noting that as the transition develops, with the buses entering service from summer 2023, dependent on the supply chain—that is the advice I have received from the bus company—that will include the popular 36 route, which is quite famous in the bus world. Stepping on to the No. 36 bus is like boarding an aeroplane and turning left, with libraries and charging points—it is a very comfortable experience. I hope that the Minister will visit and experience that one day.
There are a number of lessons that I would like to share with colleagues about the rolling out of electric buses. It is not as straightforward as just purchasing the buses from the manufacturers—though that is not straightforward either, as has been made clear. There are other things in play here. I want to build on some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. He, and all colleagues, are clearly right about the environmental merits of the buses. He also mentioned the longevity of service, with buses entering service and staying there for a long period of time, while churn of the fleet is incredibly helpful in meeting our air-quality objectives. A Euro 6 bus that enters service now is probably replacing a bus from Euro 4 standards, but a Euro 6 bus emits only 4% of the pollutants of a Euro 4 bus. That is not zero-emission but, my goodness, it is significant progress, so fleet churn is quite critical.
I want to highlight some of the lessons we learned from the first phase of electric bus roll-outs in Harrogate. There were operational issues that customers did not see. Quite the opposite, in fact, because customers saw a fantastic new fleet of vehicles that are, by definition, well designed and more modern. They loved the environmental benefits and particularly liked the smooth ride, which is a feature of an electric-powered vehicle anyway, so they were popular with passengers. However, it is not that easy for them to enter service because that may require a reconfiguration of a depot and a transformation of engineering skills at the bus company. If someone has spent many decades working on large diesel vehicles, pivoting overnight to suddenly maintaining electric fleets is not possible, so significant training is required.
The biggest challenge was the electricity supply to the bus station and getting all the underlying utility works done. That was not a straightforward matter and it took a considerable time to get it all right. There are different methods of charging, and in this particular case it is like a train, so a pantograph comes out of the top of the bus, charges in the bus station and then the bus can go off and do its route around town. It is about lots of small charges that people do not even know are taking place as they get on and off the buses because there is a pantograph above them. It is very effective.
I share that information because I think it is critical that the back-office and structural work is considered in the roll-out of electric vehicles. In some parts of the country, significant work will be required to the electricity network, just as for the roll-out of electric charging points.
The hon. Member is making a sound point. I am concerned that the lack of power connections, not only to bus depots but to our ports, means that many non-standard equipment—buses, JCBs, cranes and other things—that could be electric in the future will not be because they do not have the power infrastructure. Does he agree that we need not only a bus strategy but a power strategy that works with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that those places get the resources they need to decarbonise?
Yes, getting power to the right places in the right quantities will clearly be critical. There will be areas where there are greater levels of usage, and we will need to heavily over-invest up front to make that happen. Whether that is best done through BEIS is a different question; I would suggest that a slightly more localised approach might be better. However, the point about power delivery is clearly correct, as is the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough about the up-front investment required. It is an up-front cost, followed by long periods of service. I know that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) was talking about the vehicle costs, but that up-front cost must also include the infrastructure.
That is the critical point that I want to make to the Minister. Will she please consider how the roll-out of these vehicles, whether hydrogen or electric, is done? They are fantastic vehicles, will make a huge difference to the quality of life in the areas they serve, and will help hit our net zero objectives. However, we must ensure that the infrastructure in the background is correct, so the work must take place in parallel. Getting that right will help speed the deployment of the vehicles. I know that that is her objective and that she is very passionate about doing this, so that is why I share this information today.
That is quite phenomenal timing, Mrs Murray. Thank you for calling me, and I also thank all Members for their contributions. I am sorry that I could not be here for them all. I had to go over and chair something and then come away. It was quite a run back for an old boy. I was breaking the Olympic record to get back here in time. Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.
First of all, I thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for leading the debate. This word is often used in this Chamber, and I will use it again because it is the right one: he has championed this case on many occasions here in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber. He is not a stranger to this issue, so I am very pleased to hear his comments and those of others.
We are living in a very modern world where we are all more aware of emissions and the impacts they can have on our society. That is especially the case with transport, which, it is fair to say, is one of the largest emitters of carbon. We must have the correct strategies in place. I mentioned that in my earlier intervention on the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). We need an overarching strategy.
I know that the Minister is always very eager to answer on these issues, but we need a strategy for the whole of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I know that the responsibilities lie separately, but it is good to have a strategy where we can all aim for the same goal. Perhaps we can even all get there together. It is good to discuss this matter and share ideas on improving our transport modes and choices.
There is no doubt that, since the pandemic, people are less inclined to use public transport. People would say, “There’s disease, there’s covid—be careful,” so public transport probably fell out of favour for a period. That may be for hygiene reasons or because of higher transmission levels, or merely because we are not used to using public transport in the same way. However, there is a strategy in Northern Ireland.
The point the hon. Member makes is absolutely right. Many people who use buses are pensioners using their concessionary passes and, of course, they were the people who were most fearful of mixing with others on public transport during the pandemic. That was a real hit for the bus companies.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The way in which those problems all came together was like a perfect storm. We have a strategy in Northern Ireland, as I mentioned in my intervention on the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.
As I was saying, commuter journeys are 25% lower than pre-pandemic levels, so there is a target to achieve. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how it will be achieved. Transport authorities in England have published a local bus service improvement plan. If Members get the chance, they should read, because it certainly does look good. It aims to increase local bus services and the number of bus lanes.
There are also plans in place to reduce our public transport emissions by phasing out the selling of non-zero emission buses by 2032. I am pleased to say that in Northern Ireland we are on the right track. Our Translink Gliders, run by Transport NI, were designed to improve the efficiency of mass transit in the city centre of Belfast by connecting areas of Belfast to outskirts of the city centre, and that comes down as far as us in Strangford and Newtownards. In 2021, the scheme was extended to the wider Belfast areas, so it took us in. Gliders use electric hybrid technology, which is a much better alternative to a purely diesel bus, so there are many things that can be done. The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to hydrogen. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is not here, but Wrightbus in his constituency is a leader in the field. It is really good to see that.
By using Gliders, we have been able to improve congestion, encourage the use of public transport and provide a more environmentally friendly mode of travelling. The peak year before covid was 2018-19—every year before covid was a peak year, but the covid years became peak for a different reason—with 84.5 million passenger journeys, which is a considerable contribution by many towards zero emissions. I believe that the general public wish to address the issue of emissions.
Last Thursday, I asked the Minister a question on behalf of those of us who live in rural areas. Bus travel is not always our first choice. We take other modes of transport, such as walking or cycling. For us, bus travel is about travelling from where we live in the countryside to the main towns. We have a park and ride system and can then use Gliders to get around. There are good things we can do, and the Gliders have to be emission free. It all helps with the bigger picture.
I am also pleased that a local park and ride has been approved in my constituency. That has been made official in the last month. It will enable employees who work in Belfast city centre and many others to park and avail of public transport instead of driving. People living on the Ards peninsula, Ards town or even as far as Donaghadee, close to Bangor, can come to the park and ride in Ards and then use the Glider transport. That will definitely help with the issue of zero emissions, and those zero-emission buses are part of that.
While effort has certainly been made across all areas of the United Kingdom, there is still a long way to go. The United Kingdom has a target to reach net zero by 2050, but that will not come from England alone. We all support the commitments made at COP26 and by our COP26 President, but there must be a joint approach. Although NI transport policies come from Translink, a funded body with a different arrangement than that on the mainland, we must ensure there is parallel discussion to reach our target goals. I know that the Minister is very agreeable to my points. She always responds and has those discussions with me. The Minister does not need to answer today, though I would be very pleased if her civil servants were able to give an idea of what discussions have taken place with Ministers at the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in particular, Transport NI.
Some £525 million has been allocated for England to support the delivery of zero-emission buses. Some £320 million of that has already been allocated, with the remainder due to be allocated by 2024. Funding is an instrumental part of ensuring that we can meet our targets, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to that. It is good to see the Minister in her place to back that up as well.
I encourage the COP26 President and the Transport Secretary in particular to engage with our Infrastructure Minister and the relevant bodies back home to assess how the devolved Assemblies can play their part in meeting our levelling-up and transport targets. We will play our part in Northern Ireland, because we believe we have a big role to play. Northern Ireland’s first zero-emission buses have made their way on to the streets this year. We must ensure that we continue this progression to hydrogen and battery-electric transport across the UK in order to have an efficient bus strategy and sustainable green transport. I know that we all want to see that, and we know the Minister has been given the task.
I look forward to hearing from both shadow Ministers—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands)—who are from this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, always better together, and I hope we can devise a strategy to energise us all, every region together.
I am going to call the Front-Bench spokespeople now, but I would like to leave a couple of minutes at the end for the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) to make his winding-up speech. First, I call Gavin Newlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry, on securing this important debate. The right hon. Gentleman led us off rather well by setting the scene on the issues facing the sector and pointing out that, despite the rhetoric, orders for the 4,000 buses are not coming through. He said that the Government’s delivery timetable seems to be sliding. I will touch on that in my speech.
The right hon. Gentleman also talked about progress in Northern Ireland, which I found a little strange because in Scotland we have, by a long way, more zero-emission buses on the road per capita than anywhere else in the UK.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) mentioned that there are many more people travelling on buses than on trains, which I will cover as well, and talked up hydrogen and the need for a hydrogen network around Plymouth and its many hills. He also mentioned the impact of zero-emission buses and low-emission zones on air quality, on which I agree absolutely.
It came as no surprise to anybody that the hon. Member for Redcar (Jacob Young), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, spoke up on the issue of hydrogen and mentioned other uses for it, such as zero-emission flying. He also referred to ZeroAvia, which I have met as well, and which is working with Loganair in my constituency on zero-emission flying.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) rightly spoke of the excellence in engineering manufacturing at Alexander Dennis Ltd in his constituency. I look forward to visiting ADL over the summer recess. My hon. Friend also spoke about investment, apprenticeships and graduate schemes, which show that we are investing in people as well as a zero-emission future.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) spoke of the welcome increase in parliamentary interest in buses since he left his role as bus Minister. I am sure there is no correlation whatever. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the 71 buses that North Yorkshire secured through the ZEBRA scheme and the first routes identified if and when the buses are delivered.
The inimitable hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about Wrightbus not only on behalf of his colleague the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), but in relation to the issues and opportunities for rural transport. Indeed, I have spoken regularly about zero-emission buses since my appointment as SNP transport spokesperson. Driving that is the fact that buses are fundamental to public transport. No other mode of transport has their flexibility and capacity, particularly in urban and suburban areas.
As we have seen over recent weeks, no form of transport gets more attention than rail, which has been mentioned. The strikes across the network were headline news all that week, but yesterday huge swathes of the road network ground to a halt due to protesters campaigning against the high cost of fuel. Today’s papers mention that briefly, but try finding a bus strike being reported in such depth as the rail dispute, even though buses carry far more people than trains every day of the week.
We need to make buses more high profile and more attractive, which requires more investment and new vehicles, but also other infrastructure. Investment in zero-emission vehicles will be for nothing if we cannot drive a modal shift on to buses and away from private transport. That is why the bus partnership fund set up by the Scottish Government is so important, providing funding to local transport authorities to work with bus operators in identifying bricks-and-mortar improvements to bus infrastructure. We should add that to the extensive concessionary travel scheme under which anyone in Scotland aged under 22 or over 60 pays nothing to travel on a local bus. The investment going into not only our infrastructure, but on making bus travel financially attractive, is unprecedented since devolution.
Bus still has the highest modal share of any means of public transport, although that share has been dropping over the long term, both north and south of the border. If we are serious about the climate emergency, that trend must be reversed. The new green, clean buses are one aspect of the picture for commuters and leisure travellers to make the switch, even if only for part of their journey.
The new under-22 free bus pass aims to get younger folk into the habit of using public transport, because over the past few decades many young people have spent their years growing up being driven in private cars by family members. Over recent years, the Scottish Government have put real zero-emission buses on the roads. They are in use every day to transport thousands of passengers, including in my own constituency, with much more to follow in the coming years. Indeed, Renfrewshire, which I represent, has more zero-emission buses on the road than any other area on these isles bar London.
I would not seek to compete with Renfrewshire, but does my hon. Friend agree that organisations such as Community Transport Glasgow, which is based in the Shettleston area of my constituency, are also doing their bit and playing their part on the path towards net zero? Will he commend Graham Dunn, who runs Community Transport Glasgow, for the work that it is doing to try to make that journey in Glasgow?
I do indeed congratulate Graham Dunn and Community Transport Glasgow in Shettleston. My hon. Friend has spoken to me about this on a couple of occasions. Of course, I welcome competition to Renfrewshire from other areas, but it will have to go some way to draw level with Renfrewshire.
Despite all that progress, a lot more still needs to be done, but the trajectory that Scotland is on is very clear—a fully decarbonised public transport network, encompassing bus and rail, by the middle of the next decade, providing everyone in the country with the option of making a real difference in the fight against climate change.
By contrast, the Transport Committee, on which I sit, heard some instructive evidence from the bus operators themselves last month. The managing director of Go-Ahead reported that less than 0.6% of its fleet across England is zero-emission, while the commercial director of Transdev said that the equivalent figure for his company is 2%. That Committee session took place after the Secretary of State confirmed to it that of the 4,000 zero-emission buses promised by his Government by the end of this Parliament, only 51 of the ZEBRA scheme buses are on the road in England.
I am curious about that, though, because the answers that I have received from the Department state that zero buses had been ordered through the ZEBRA scheme since funding was made available, but it hoped that orders would go in later this year. Another answer stated that 50 buses were on the road, but that might relate to previous schemes. Could the Minister clear this up in her closing remarks? Two and a half years have passed since the pledge for 4,000 buses. First, how many have actually been ordered? Secondly, how many are on the road? And thirdly, when will all of the 4,000 buses actually be delivered?
The Transport Committee also heard from Switch Mobility, one of Britain’s biggest bus manufactures. It believes that, on current plans, 2,000 zero-emission buses can be delivered by early 2024, but that the Government face “a serious challenge” in delivering the other 2,000 that they have pledged by the end of 2024. It is also unlikely that there will be an election in December 2024. So far, that challenge has been wholly unmet by the Department for Transport. The 4,000 bus pledge has been made by everyone from the Prime Minister down, but as with so much else, the relationship between utterances from the Dispatch Box and the real world of hard facts has only a passing resemblance to the truth.
Last Thursday, the Secretary of State, in answering a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who has many Alexander Dennis workers in his constituency, said that they would see 4,000 buses on the road by the end of this Parliament. In March, he said the same and that we are on track to do so. Yet, as we heard in the opening speech today, all the evidence from the industry and, quite frankly, from basic arithmetic shows that that is patently not the case—unless the UK Government want to include the buses ordered by the Scottish Government. Transport is, of course, devolved, so any policy or pledge by the UK Government cannot include figures from Scotland, as the Scottish Government are free to do as they wish on transport policy. Could the Minister confirm in her closing remarks that the 4,000 bus pledge refers only to England, because that is all that the current constitutional set-up actually permits?
It is a shocking indictment of the priorities of the Department and of the UK Government that more than a year has passed since the publication of the national bus strategy, complete with a foreword from the Prime Minister in which he tried to convince us how big a fan of buses he actually is—except, perhaps, when he is travelling back from Cornwall on a Government jet. The ZEBRA scheme that was intended to drive that 4,000 pledge in full has delivered so little, while continuing to promise much more.
England deserves better—much better. While the Secretary of State takes every opportunity to film another epic for TikTok, other Governments on these isles are getting on with the job of transport decarbonisation. Already, 300 buses have been delivered under the Scottish ultra-low-emission bus scheme. If we multiply that by 10, that gives us 3,000, which is the number that could be delivered in an English context. Now, with the roll-out of ScotZEB—the Scottish zero-emission bus challenge fund—a further 276 buses are on the way, with £62 million of additional funding. All in all, Scotland’s zero emission bus fleet will be the equivalent of over 5,500 buses on the road in England. That is astonishing progress, given the budgetary constraints imposed on the Scottish Parliament and the challenges that the past few years have thrown our way.
Moreover, picking up on a point made by the former buses Minister, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, the bus emissions abatement retrofit scheme—or BEAR, which is easier to say—has seen over 700 mid-life buses retrofitted to the latest Euro 6 standard in Scotland since low emission zones were announced, and a further 379 are to be fitted under the current round of funding. For context, per capita, if that policy were to be introduced in England, it would cover nearly 11,000 buses. There is no reason why England should lag so far behind Scotland: it is in all our interests to make the transition to net zero transport as quick and seamless as possible. Decarbonisation is a net benefit for each of the nations, but also benefits our global efforts to tackle climate change and, in turn, make public transport a more attractive option.
Whether it is zero-emission buses, active travel—on which we will soon see nearly nine times more per head spent in Scotland than in England—electric vehicles, rail electrification, driving modal shift, or public electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the UK Government are so far behind the Scottish Government that it is embarrassing. I urge the DFT—or, in slight defence of the DFT, perhaps it is more likely to be the Treasury—to talk to its colleagues in Edinburgh, learn lessons from what is clearly working in Scotland, and roll that out in England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship for the first time, Mrs Murray. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby—an absolutely beautiful place, where I have spent a lot of my holidays over the years—on securing this important debate.
First, it is important to set the wider context. It is just months since the Prime Minister launched the centrepiece of his levelling-up agenda, the national bus strategy. He trumpeted from the hilltops his love for buses, and how his Bus Back Better strategy would address the vast disparities between services in London and those in the rest of the country. Less than a year on, the Government’s ambition—limited from the outset—has declined even further to a point at which the funding could realistically only satisfy the ambitions of two transport authorities. Prior to the pandemic, more journeys were made on buses than on any other form of public transport—almost 4.5 billion. However, due to 12 years of Conservative cuts, the loss of 134 million miles of bus lanes and an inadequate statutory framework, those vital transport links have been left to decay. Bus coverage is now the lowest it has been in decades. According to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that there are now what it terms “transport deserts” in rural communities. Austerity has seen this Government slash public subsidies for buses: more than 5,000 bus routes have been cut across the country, leading to passenger numbers slumping by 10%, while fares have more than doubled.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. Does she agree that many people who do not have a car and rely on bus services also rely on other types of public transport, such as trains? Does she worry, as I do, that if we see continued industrial disruption of our train services, many people will end up buying a car and will not only be lost to the trains in future, but to the buses? Will she join me in condemning the strike action that will hit hardest the people who are most vulnerable: those who do not have cars?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The paragraph I have just read out answers his question: over 12 years of Conservative Government, we have seen a massive decline in passenger usage, and as a former member of the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, I can tell him that what we really need is better investment in the buses. What passengers want is reliability, affordability, and—particularly if we are talking about net zero—a comprehensive charging strategy, but that is not what is on the table.
In my region of South Yorkshire alone, one third of routes are at risk, and only one bus in the whole of South Yorkshire will be en route after 10.30 pm. That is how bad it is: one third of our bus services are going to be cut. That is no way to be now, when we are aiming to achieve net zero. We should be aiming to build the confidence of passengers, and the way we do that is affordability, reliability, and—in future—proper charging facilities.
Is the hon. Lady able to tell us whether the Mayor of South Yorkshire has responsibility for transport in South Yorkshire, like the Mayor of London has responsibility for transport in London? Will she join me in condemning the fact that the Mayor of London is seeking to cancel a whole swathe of bus services in our capital city?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the Mayor of South Yorkshire runs South Yorkshire buses. He has only just been appointed, but prior to that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who, with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), worked on a total review of our buses, and the Government turned it down. It is a problem for us that it has now come to this. One of the reasons the Government turned it down is that they halved the levelling-up budget. Their decision to do that is why we are in the pickle we are in now.
I will come on to talk about the Mayor of South Yorkshire, but if the Government announce that a certain amount of money is available, then cut it by half, there will be cuts to the bids that have been put in, as has happened in South Yorkshire. It is despicable. This is not levelling up; it is managed decline.
The national bus strategy was an opportune moment for the Government to right the many wrongs of failed deregulation, but it offered nothing for those who were looking for a bold vision to reverse the loss of millions of miles of bus routes across the country. It was a missed opportunity for the Government to revolutionise the bus industry and ensure that funds are properly directed to deliver the transition to electric and low-emission vehicles that they promised.
What is more, the Government are already backtracking on their meagre progress. Ministers have announced funding for less than half of the 79 areas that bid for funding. Even those that were successful got less than they asked for. Liverpool City Region asked for £667 million and got just £12.3 million. The reality is that the Tories promised transformational investment in bus services, but millions of passengers are instead seeing managed decline. The Tories have dramatically downgraded the ambitions of local communities and slashed bus services nationwide. That is proof that they simply will not and cannot deliver for the people who need it most.
The Conservatives want communities to put up with shockingly bad bus and rail services. Meanwhile, Labour in power across the country is fighting for better. Labour leaders in power have a simple transformative vision to make buses cheaper, greener, faster and more reliable. Labour Mayors are using their devolved powers and funding to bring down the cost of living and put more money in people’s pockets. They are making local public transport—buses in particular—better and more affordable. Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin and Steve Rotheram, to name just a few, are investing millions of pounds in new routes and services. The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, recently introduced free travel on buses on Sundays. What is more, bus fares are set to be capped at £2, saving passengers up to £1.50 in West Yorkshire, and in some cases more than £2 in Greater Manchester. Steve Rotheram has also announced plans to bring buses back under public control so that he can build a London-style system that will make travelling around cheaper, greener and more reliable.
Meanwhile, Oliver Coppard has made improving public transport the centrepiece of his mayoralty. That follows the work of his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central, who gave the green light for the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to investigate franchising. Oliver Coppard is fighting the Tory bus cuts, which represent a betrayal of communities across South Yorkshire.
That is the backdrop. The truth is that we cannot afford more Conservative failure. We need a bus service that is fit for the climate crisis and creates good-quality, reliable jobs across communities that are victims of rural poverty. The 4,000 zero-emission buses that the Government announced represent a tiny proportion of the buses on the road, and even that limited ambition is crumbling under scrutiny. The Government have still not specified how the remaining 2,000 buses of their 4,000-bus commitment will be funded. They will not tell us how many are on the road. That uncertainty is hampering manufacturers’ ability to develop a short or medium-term business plan, and is therefore impeding their ability to commit to further investment in the UK. As the APPG for the bus and coach industry has stated, it is highly unlikely that 4,000 buses will be on the road by the end of this Parliament, even if funding is allocated for their purchase. So far, very few orders have been placed with UK manufacturers through the ZEBRA scheme, which is having a detrimental impact on the order books of UK manufacturers.
The UK manufacturing industry should be leading the way in the creation of zero-emission buses—I completely agree with the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), but we simply do not know what proportion is manufactured in the UK. Labour party research has revealed that, far from supporting British manufacturers, ZEBRA funding has been used for hundreds of Pelican Yutong buses from China. The Department’s own website features an article boasting about the £200 million boost to businesses, alongside a photo of a Chinese bus. Can the Minister guarantee that all buses that the Government support through the ZEBRA scheme will be made in the UK? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that pledge is maintained, given that this is a direct opportunity to support UK manufacturing jobs?
Zero-emission buses have the potential to contribute markedly to the decarbonisation of the transport sector. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) said that if we sorted all the buses out now, we would cut emissions by one third, because we know that one third of emissions comes from homes, one third from business and one third from public transport. That is a quick win if the Government wanted to sort it out and focus more investment on buses.
Most of all, the Government have to increase passenger numbers, because without those passenger numbers, buses are not of much use. That is the key. We badly need the Government to rebuild the manufacturing sector. It is important that other small companies, rather than the big ones that we have heard about, are allowed in to make this country’s manufacturing base more successful and gain more investment.
The clean transport revolution should mean not only cleaner air and reduced emissions for UK towns and cities but tens of thousands of jobs for British people. British manufacturers should not miss out on these opportunities. The Government need to get their act together—and fast. We need to solve this problem in a positive way for the country, for users and for businesses that would then employ workforce.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mrs Murray. It is also a pleasure to respond to this debate. I would like to begin by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for securing the debate. We have stretched on that subject and I am very happy to respond on all the matters that have been raised.
I hope that I can reassure Members, and I will set out how I will take further action, which will start with a visit to Alexander Dennis. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, one of the benefits of my trip of Ballymena was visiting Wrightbus and seeing for myself the ingenuity with which that company had been turned around, increasing employees, and diversifying production with both battery electric buses and hydrogen. It is helpful to see that in action and to appreciate the amount of UK content that Wrightbus so proudly talked about.
I forgot to invite the Minister to Scarborough to come to the factory, and to meet a company called Mellor that is intending to build another factory to build smaller buses on the Scarborough site using the skills that we already have in the town.
I am delighted to accept that invitation, and I pledge to visit both Alexander Dennis and Mellor during the summer recess. Buses are at the centre of public transport networks. We have all talked about that this morning. They have an essential role to play to achieve net zero, driving that green transformation and creating the cleaner, healthier places that we all want to live in.
I will begin by setting out what we have done and how we are investing £525 million of funding to support the introduction of zero-emission buses over the course of this Parliament. There have been many questions about how many buses there are and which part of the UK they are in. The indicative funding shows that we have funded 2,921 buses across the UK. The breakdown for that funding is 84 buses in Wales, 138 in Northern Ireland, 548 in Scotland, and 2,151 in England. Not all of them are on the road.
The caveat is that the UK has funded the buses. How the Scottish Government want to use the money from the UK Government is, of course, up to them. I am being absolutely clear that the indicative funding has supported zero-emission buses across the UK.
In response to the hon. Member for Strangford, clearly the climate has no boundaries, so we need to work together—all four corners of the United Kingdom—to solve the grand challenge of decarbonising our transport system, which is what I am setting out. I also want to make it clear that not all of the zero-emission buses are on the road. Many of them will be ordered this year, and I hope to take further action to chivvy that on, because I absolutely understand why we want to support British innovation, manufacturing and apprenticeships, the training and graduate opportunities, and the value that British manufacturing provides to our communities right across the country. That is where we are on the numbers.
One thousand, two hundred and seventy-eight zero-emission buses have been supported through funding from both rounds of the zero-emission bus regional area scheme, or ZEBRA—a new kind of horsepower. We have announced nearly £270 million in funding to 17 areas through both the fast track and standard process of the scheme. As Ministers, we are super-keen to ensure that that progress continues. I am keeping a keen eye on it, and it is really pleasing to hear from officials that the 17 areas funded through the scheme are now progressing towards the delivery of their projects.
I really welcome the news that Stagecoach, working with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, has placed orders for all the buses for its project. The remaining successful areas are at various stages of conducting their procurement processes. It is great to note that Kent County Council launched its tender for vehicles earlier this year, and I expect to see the introduction of further procurement competitions in the coming months. I anticipate that further orders for buses will be placed following the conclusion of the procurement processes, and I also expect to see the majority of buses funded through the ZEBRA scheme to be on the road in local communities around the country by March 2024—that is the latest indicative date I have at the moment for those funded buses to be on the road.
Additionally, up to 300 zero-emission buses will be supported through the Coventry all-electric bus city project, which is supported by £50 million in funding for the West Midlands Combined Authority. This will ensure that every single bus in the city of Coventry is zero emission by 2025, and I was really pleased to see that the first order for 130 electric buses was placed in December 2021. I therefore anticipate that they will be on the roads of Coventry by autumn this year.
Furthermore, more than 100 zero-emission buses have been supported through the ultra-low emission bus scheme, with hundreds more zero-emission buses supported in London as a result of Government funding. We must build on that and go further by introducing even more zero-emission buses. There is more than £200 million of dedicated funding for ZEBs over the remainder of the spending review period, and the Department can provide more information on how the funding will be allocated in due course. To further incentivise the transition, we also introduced an uplift for ZEBs through the bus service operators grant in April 2022.
There has been much discussion today of different areas and particularly of the stimulus for the bus industry. I feel confident that the combination of future funding and incoming orders can provide that stimulus. UK bus manufacturers are well placed to benefit from those orders, which will support new green skilled jobs in local communities such as Scarborough and Whitby and help to spark a clean recovery for the sector.
While I am aware that 4,000 buses are a good starting point, they are only a starting point, representing approximately 10% of the overall fleet. We need to go further and faster to decarbonise the entire bus fleet—indeed, the entire transport network—across the country. That is why, as stated in the national bus strategy, we are committed to setting an end date for the sale of new diesel buses, with an expectation for when the entire bus fleet will be zero emission to be announced shortly. To support those ambitions, in March of this year, we consulted to determine when to end the sale of new non-zero-emission buses and launched calls for evidence on decarbonising our coach and minibus fleets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young)—surprise, surprise—bigged up hydrogen. He and I share a passion for industrial communities really benefiting from hydrogen production capacity, which the Prime Minister has doubled to 10 GW. Our approach to the delivery of zero-emission buses is technology-neutral. Local areas under the ZEBRA scheme could apply for funding for both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses, depending on the technology best suited to them. However, I understand that we must drive down the cost by driving up the market and driving up demand. That is why we are funding hydrogen buses and also zero-emission road freight demonstrators, which are not limited to buses and more about supporting heavy goods vehicles. The Department for Transport is investing £200 million across hydrogen, battery electric and catenary to understand where heavy goods vehicles will need to be charged in future. I hope that will increase the number of publicly available hydrogen refuelling stations across the UK from the current 14.
It is also interesting to respond to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), because I was in Sheffield visiting ITM, which is a fantastic British company investing to provide some of the world’s biggest—if not the world’s biggest—gigawatt production of electrolysers. The Government are backing hydrogen and I work closely with BEIS. The Department for Transport is creating that demand, and we have set out the certainty that the hydrogen economy has an incredibly bright future in Britain under this Government. On 26 March, the Government announced that the West Midlands Combined Authority has received funding from the ZEBRA scheme to support the introduction of 124 hydrogen buses and refuelling infrastructure, in the country’s largest ever hydrogen bus project. Meanwhile, the Advanced Propulsion Centre supported an investment of £11.2 million to develop and manufacture low-cost hydrogen fuel cell technology for buses and create a hydrogen centre of excellence with Wrightbus in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
I have been blessed with sharing the debate with two former Transport Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough for his point about the infrastructure, which is right. As we embark on this transport revolution, we need to ensure that it works for everyone, everywhere. That is why I work closely with BEIS, Ofgem, National Grid and the distribution network operators across the country to ensure that we have the connectivity for electric and the generation capable of supporting the transport revolution. Without that, we clearly will not be in a fit position.
I have set out the commitment from the Department, and across Government, to zero-emission buses. I would like to go further to understand how we can support British-built buses. The supply chain for ZEBs is global, and UK manufacturing sources key components, such as vehicle batteries, from foreign-based companies. Foreign-based companies are expected to continue to play an important role in the supply of ZEBs for the UK market. I want to explore whether there are other relevant factors—I am sure there are—that we can build into that requirement that may help to encourage competitive bids from UK firms, without compromising wider commercial outcomes and delivery. I will take that away, and I look forward to updating Alexander Dennis when I visit the company during the summer recess.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I am conscious of the time. I mentioned in my speech that transport is devolved and that, for that reason, the 4,000 bus pledge must be England-only. Can she confirm whether the 4,000 bus pledge is UK-wide?
I will have to come back to the hon. Member on that point. I am not aware of what has been said. The climate sees no boundaries, so if the Scottish Government are making particular progress, let us meet and understand how we can learn from each other. That is the grown-up thing to do.
In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to set out what the Government are doing and what more we need to do. I hope I have reassured my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby about the Government’s commitment and determination and the fact that we acknowledge that there is more work to do. I thank all Members for their contributions, their support for the bus sector and their enthusiasm for the decarbonisation of the transport system. We know that emissions from the transport sector represent the overwhelming majority of emissions in the UK. That is why we are putting so much Government investment into road, rail, aviation and local communities to ensure that there is the infrastructure to support the transport revolution the UK needs.
I thank all colleagues who have contributed to the debate. What is clear is that we are all on the same page. We all want to deliver the same things—not only the carbon dioxide reductions that zero-emission buses will deliver but the air-quality improvements we want to see in our town centres. To use the word the Minister used, I am pleased that this meeting may well have “chivvied” her and her Department into understanding the importance of getting those orders on to the production line. There is a real risk that Chinese opposition—companies in China do not play under the same rules, and the state there is more interventionist—could result in Chinese companies taking the lion’s share of orders in the future. That would be a disaster for innovation and jobs in the UK.
Let us not forget that if we manufacture buses in the UK, business rates, income tax and corporation tax—hopefully, at some point in the future—are paid in the UK. A lot of that money stays in the UK if those orders are placed here. I hope we have chivvied the Minister to chivvy her officials and local authorities around the country to get on the front foot and deliver those buses. We must not forget that buses that are delivered in 2030 will still be on the road in 2050, so we urgently need to get on with it.
The Minister has made it clear that the Government have put their money where their mouth is—£525 million is a lot of money. Unfortunately, we have not seen that being delivered as quickly as possible, for a variety of reasons. While the pandemic does get blamed for an awful lot of things, it did actually have a real impact on some of the bus operating companies and the local authorities delivering bus services.
I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. I ask the Minister to pass on my thanks, and the thanks of the all-party parliamentary group, to Baroness Vere, who has been very keen to engage with us. We took her to see various zero-emission buses on the Embankment, and she was absolutely convinced, as I am, that we can deliver for Britain. We can deliver clean buses and good, clean jobs, and, as we move forward into the run-up to 2050, buses and public transport will have their part to play.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Winnington Bridge Corridor
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Winnington Bridge corridor proposal.
It is a real pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mrs Murray, overseeing this vital debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for taking the time to hear the concerns of the constituents of Tatton as well as those of a neighbouring constituency, Weaver Vale, about Winnington bridge and the urgent need for it to be upgraded. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for being here today to support this debate and this campaign.
This is the new battle of Winnington bridge. The original one, often described as the last battle of the civil war, took place on 19 August 1659 and resulted in a win for the Government. Today I hope to elicit a win for the constituents of Tatton and the surrounding areas, and that there will be no need for much of a battle. Rather, I hope the Government will see common sense and common purpose and support the levelling-up bid to allow the upgrade of, and improvements to, this bridge.
As history points out, Winnington bridge, which crosses the River Weaver, has been a vital piece of infrastructure for many a year, and it remains so. In fact, its importance only grows, and it now carries the A533 trunk road between Northwich and Barnton. That is a major route, yet it is served only by a single-lane swing bridge. To cross the bridge, three lanes of traffic are funnelled down into one lane, which then allows people to cross the bridge single file, one way. I will repeat that, as most people cannot quite believe it: three lanes are funnelled into one for a single-file crossing.
The current bridge was built in 1908 to enable passage from one side of the river to the other and to allow use of the waterway below, allowing growth of the area’s developing chemical industry. This crossing was deemed to be so important in developing both Cheshire’s and Northwich’s economy that a “newfangled” swing bridge was constructed; it was one of the early electronically operated ones. I am sure the Minister will agree that a lot has changed since 1908 and that what was deemed state of the art back then, in an area surrounded by fields and with only a few houses, is far from what is needed in 2022 and certainly does not cater for heavy goods vehicle lorries and the mass movement of cars. That traffic now serves a thriving business area and local communities, and keeps increasing in this most sought-after part of the country.
The bridge has needed replacing for many years, and the levelling-up agenda and the levelling-up fund now allow the issue to be addressed. Cheshire West and Chester Council has identified Winnington bridge as the single most important piece of transport infrastructure for the area and has submitted a bid to the levelling-up fund—the deadline for bids was meant to be tomorrow, but I hear that it has now been extended. Please let the record show that I am pledging my support for that bid—one that the Government need to support and get behind too.
The project will include a new road bridge across the River Weaver, conversion of the existing single-track bridge, as a cycle-and-pedestrian-only option, and the undertaking of three junction improvements between the bridge and Northwich town centre to create a corridor scheme to fully address the congestion issues and create a cycle link from Barnton and Anderton through to Northwich town centre amenities and national cycle network route 5, thereby serving the residents of the villages of Barnton, Anderton with Marbury, Comberbach and Little Leigh.
The current bridge is an unsuitable crossing now and in the long term. The bridge is a prime crossing point for residents, the number of whom, in the last 10 years, has grown exponentially because of the 1,200 new homes built around the bridge. That number is only set to grow further, with an extra 473 new build homes having been approved or already having existing valid planning permission. On top of that, another 1,555 are proposed on the Winnington Works site. That means that there will be thousands of new residents in the local area, who will be using the bridge every day to get to work, school and the local amenities on either side of it.
The increase in cars on the road and commuters in those new houses will only worsen the already long queues and increase the emissions in the area. So bad is the annual wear and tear on the bridge that approximately £1 million to £2 million is spent every five years to retain it in its current state. Such has been the traffic use of late—it only keeps increasing—that in summer 2020 essential bridge maintenance costing approximately £980,000 was required to replace deteriorating parts of the 110-year-old bridge to ensure that it can continue to operate. A heavy goods vehicle traffic ban on the bridge to reduce the load is not feasible, as it serves as a vital artery for a successful industrial estate in Barnton.
We need a permanent solution now, as maintaining the bridge is not only costly but disruptive. A constituent has reported that congestion at peak times is ridiculous. The condition of local roads due to construction traffic is of lunar standards. We are constantly battling poorly planned roadworks, and it is impossible for a person to see a doctor when they are ill.
I cannot emphasise enough how much this problem has affected local people on so many levels, and it is only getting worse as more houses are built without a second thought to the existing community. Repeated closures for repairs cause significant congestion on top of the already long delays. Worried residents write to me saying they fear for their lives. Lives can be lost due to the extra time that emergency services take to navigate around the road closures. One constituent said:
“I was on ‘Battle’ Bridge”—
as it is now known—
“when an ambulance was trying to get through to Barnton. This was totally impossible. Because of the three-way permanent lights at the foot of Soot Hill, this was blocked completely.”
My constituents are rightly worried about the impact on local life. I hope the Minister will agree to speak to the whole Levelling-up team to ensure they are fully aware of the multitude of problems associated with this out-of-date, totally unsuitable, unworkable old bridge.
I thank the right hon. Lady, my constituency neighbour, for giving way, and I commend her for her excellent and impassioned speech. This issue is a great example of how Parliament works at its best; we are two neighbouring parliamentarians who do not share each other’s political points of view most of the time, but we both strongly back this excellent scheme. As she says, this bridge will unlock many opportunities. Not only will it improve connectivity—I know that, like me, she has been stuck in that traffic for many hours, as have our residents—but it is a pathway to building more than 1,900 houses, and it will draw in about £40 million of investment from Tata Chemicals Europe, safeguarding nearly 400 construction jobs for the future. This is probably one of the best levelling-up applications that Ministers and the Department will receive, and it has cross-party support. It has to happen, and it genuinely will level up people and infrastructure.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, my constituency neighbour. On the extra congestion, something else that we need to bear in mind with the current cost of living crisis and the rise in fuel prices is that people are anxious that they will be left sitting in a car with the engine ticking over, going nowhere, for long periods of time, which is costly, wasteful and bad for the environment. Something has to be done. Building a two-lane road bridge, with the adjacent grade II listed bridge converted into a pedestrian and cycle bridge, is the best option, as evidenced by the feasibility study carried out by Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Other vital projects hinge on the Winnington bridge, as the hon. Gentleman alluded to. The Winnington Works in Northwich is a proposal to redevelop the brownfield site there—the old Tata Chemicals building—for a mixed-use development comprising approximately 1,500 new homes, with employment opportunities, public open space and a primary school, along with a range of other community facilities. This is just the type of project that we want to see the Government delivering in our area—one that takes a holistic approach to housing. However, the project relies on crossing the bridge with heavy building materials, demolition equipment and supplies to get the development going. We cannot build it or let people live there because they would not be able to get into or out of their new homes.
My constituents are rightly worried about further development where they live without this vital piece of infrastructure. They have said,
“I’m sure the developer will produce snazzy plans and glossy magazines for a terrific new housing estate, but they can’t build new roads or bridges that will be needed to get to and from those homes. Northwich and the surrounding areas have contributed its fair share of new housing developments”
and there will be many more, but we cannot have them
“without innovative solutions”
to the transport issues we face. There we have it: broken promises from developers and previous officials are leading to an infrastructure crisis.
There are so many benefits to the project being done that people on all sides are supporting it, as my constituency neighbour the hon. Member for Weaver Vale said. That includes the council, which estimates that the work could create an extra £16 million a year for Northwich in additional spend in the local shops and services and create 300 new jobs, with up to 2,000 more jobs being created during the construction phase. The Canal & River Trust would also be delighted with the upgraded bridge. Property developers will have a chance to invest in the local area. Residents will have improved roads and cycle lanes, safer routes for the emergency services and public health services, and cleaner air and less congestion. The opening of the corridor would change the daily lives of those in Anderton, Barton and the surrounding areas of Northwich and deliver part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
If the Government are truly determined to deliver the levelling-up agenda to all parts of the country, there could be no better place to invest and deliver it than in the construction of a new Winnington bridge. I therefore ask the Government to support the bid, just as I am doing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray.
As a civil engineer, nothing gives me greater pleasure than the opportunity to hear a speech about a bridge. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) for raising this important issue. I would like to put on the record, because the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) is present, my appreciation for the great work that he did as a shadow Minister. I was disappointed to see him step down from that role, but am delighted to see him here for this debate and look forward to working with him in future.
I want to celebrate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton and her tireless work and campaigning for Tatton, on not only Winnington bridge but wider investment across her constituency. It is clear from her speech that she deeply understands the rich history and present needs of the community in Tatton. Her continued interest and engagement in representing the needs of her constituents, which is exemplified through her numerous written questions and debates in Parliament, is nothing short of remarkable. The Government’s central mission is to level up the United Kingdom by spreading opportunity more equally throughout the country and bringing left-behind communities up to the level of the more prosperous ones. I am delighted to have the opportunity to set out our ambitious plans to address that, ensure the success of the whole country and realise the potential of every place and person across the UK.
We have already made good progress towards levelling up through initiatives such as rolling out gigabit broadband, introducing a fairer school funding formula, opening freeports, increasing the national living wage, recruiting more police officers and creating local mayors with powers devolved from Westminster. However, as Members will agree, we must go further. That is where the levelling-up White Paper comes in to build on the billions of pounds already invested in local areas over the past few years—funding that has benefited places across the United Kingdom, including my right hon. Friend’s constituency of Tatton. It is our plan to reverse this country’s striking geographical inequalities and radically improve the United Kingdom.
Through a mission-based approach, the White Paper will boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector, especially in those places where it is lagging. The White Paper will also promote a more equal spread of opportunities and public services, especially in those places where they are weakest. Perhaps most importantly, the paper will help to ensure a sense of community, pride and belonging in local places by empowering local leaders to drive that work forward.
Although the strategy is set, I know that Members are interested in what it really means for their local places and communities. I am proud that my Department will deliver the £2.6 billion UK shared prosperity fund, which will trailblaze a new approach to investment and the empowerment of local communities to level up and build pride in their place. The fund is a central pillar of our ambitious levelling-up agenda and a significant component of its support for places across the UK. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased that Cheshire West and Chester was allocated almost £13 million of funding through the UK shared prosperity fund, with more than £13 million also allocated to Cheshire East.
Importantly, new initiatives announced in the White Paper will build on the success of a wide array of funding schemes that are already in progress. Through programmes such as the levelling-up fund, which has been raised today, the Government are already providing crucial capital investment in local infrastructure throughout the United Kingdom. To help the Government to maximise the benefits of this vast funding landscape, we will also set out a plan to reduce the unnecessary proliferation of individual funding pots and streamline our bidding processes. Through that work on funding simplification, we will also promote robust monitoring and evaluation while ensuring investment tailored to local institutional landscapes.
Let me talk in more detail about the levelling-up fund and touch on what the Government have already been doing to level up local places and invest in communities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton called this debate to discuss that funding, through which we are investing in infrastructure that improves everyday life for residents across the UK. The second round of funding will look to build on the success of round 1, which saw £1.7 billion awarded to 105 successful projects throughout the UK. That included £232 million awarded to 12 successful projects in the north-west of England—the highest funding award for any English region in the first round of the fund.
We recognise that community pride, such as that in Winnington bridge, is incredibly important. That is why the levelling-up fund is focused on regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets. I know that Members and their constituents are interested in those themes, which are a key part of the levelling-up agenda.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Department for Transport investment in the constituencies of Tatton and Weaver Vale—and wider Cheshire and Warrington—has been considerable, with more than £470 million allocated in recent years. The DFT has provided considerable support, and that includes £192 million invested in widening the A556 between the M56 and M6, including a bypass around Mere. The Department is also delivering a smart motorway between junction 16 for Stoke and junction 19 for Knutsford in Cheshire.
Cheshire has also benefitted from significant funding to improve local rail infrastructure, including up to £50,000 for the restoring your railway ideas fund round 3 —a catchy title—to develop an early-stage proposal to reinstate passenger rail links between Middlewich and Gadbrook Park. A successful bid was also submitted in round 2 of the restoring your railway fund for a new station at Beeston castle and Tarporley.
Those are just a few examples of how the Government are investing in the wider area. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that in Cheshire we are well on the way to levelling up transport infrastructure and improving the experience of residents and visitors alike.
I continuously say this in the House, but it was only a year or so ago that part of Northwich station collapsed. We are still waiting for things to move forward, so there is not too much of a rosy picture on transport.
As the right hon. Member for Tatton said, the development would be on the brown belt. Without the bridge, there cannot be any development, so no bridge means no development—that would be our approach as local Members of Parliament and councillors. The bridge would really open up opportunities for the Government, the people and the local MPs.
I completely respect the hon. Member for the passion with which he conveys his case. I hope he will understand that, as a Minister in the Department, it would be completely inappropriate for me to suggest or indicate support for the bid, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton mentioned, has not been submitted because we are waiting for the portal to be opened.
In recent years our towns and high streets have faced a number of significant challenges to growth, which covid-19 has exacerbated further. These are places at the heart of our communities and local economies, creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and injecting billions of pounds into our economy. Our £3.6 billion towns fund has harnessed the economic success of towns and high streets throughout the country, levelling up opportunity to ensure that everyone can contribute to, and benefit from, economic growth. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, more than £69 million of the towns fund has been committed across Cheshire via the Crewe and Warrington town deals and several successful bids into the future high street fund competition.
As Members may know, the levelling-up fund is competitive, with funding distributed to places across the UK on the basis of successful project selection. I know that many places, including Winnington Bridge, are preparing applications to the fund ahead of the launch of round 2. As my right hon. Friend outlined, local investment has the power to change local lives by creating jobs and further investment for places. The aim of the competitive funding is to empower local areas to identify and bring forward genuine local priorities. It will fund projects prepared in collaboration with local stakeholders that have clear benefits to the local community and are aligned with a broader local economic strategy.
I hope my right hon. Friend will understand that I will not be able to discuss the bid during the period of competition. As Members may be aware, the launch of the application portal for round 2 has been delayed, and work is ongoing to launch it as soon as possible. We will ensure that applicants have sufficient time to upload their bids. In the interim, a full suite of support materials has been published to help places to develop high-quality bids.
I again extend my thanks to my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Weaver Vale for contributing to the debate. I and the Minister for Levelling Up, The Union and Constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), look forward to working closely with them and their communities as we deliver the ambitions of the levelling-up White Paper and deliver capital investment in the places that need it most.
Question put and agreed to.
Energy Security Strategy
[Geraint Davies in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the British energy security strategy.
It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I am grateful to Members for participating in this important debate. The issue of energy security has never been so important. Putin’s onslaught on the Ukrainian people, the obscene profiteering of the oil and energy giants and the petrol retailers’ opportunist price hikes have led to soaring energy bills, with Ofgem warning that up to 12 million households could be plunged into fuel poverty this year. Too many of my constituents are grappling with the terrible dilemma of whether to heat their homes or put a warm meal on the table. Meanwhile, Putin’s efforts to weaponise Russian gas and oil have forced Europe to reckon with the challenge of charting a course towards energy independence. All the while, the window for avoiding climate catastrophe is rapidly closing, with the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating clearly that we must decarbonise at a speed previously thought to be unimaginable.
The forthcoming energy security Bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever to be brought before Parliament, but the strategy outlined by the Government fails to come near the task of tackling the scale of the crisis we face. The energy security strategy offered the Government the opportunity to harness the potential of our wind, tide and sun and deliver a greener and more independent energy system. However, while the Government have gone beyond their manifesto commitment and even the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee with the target of delivering 50 GW of offshore wind power by 2030, that scale of ambition is not matched for other renewables. The Government’s refusal to support new onshore wind developments is particularly disappointing, given the massive public support for new wind farms.
I will try to cover that later in my speech.
Onshore wind can meet the growing demand for electricity as our economy decarbonises, but also, importantly, it could help us to transform the economic fortune of left-behind communities, with the potential to boost the UK economy by more than £45 billion and create 57,000 new jobs. By accelerating the development of the 649 individual solar and wind farms that have already been granted planning permission, we can eradicate the need for Russian gas imports entirely. Putin’s ransom demands can be safely ignored.
There are many of us who had hoped that the Prime Minister might undo the draconian planning restrictions for onshore wind, introduced by the Cameron Government, that have made it virtually impossible to build new wind farms in all but a handful of local authorities. In 2020, the Prime Minister reversed his predecessor’s decision to exclude onshore wind from the contracts for difference scheme. Our hopes for a repeat performance were bolstered in the weeks running up to the publication of the energy security strategy, which appeared to commit the Government to tripling onshore wind capacity by 2035. That would have been a bold, progressive policy and a sign of a Government who understand both the needs of our country and the public mood. However, the plans were strangled at birth by Tory Back Benchers and their allies in the Cabinet, some of whom have happily taken small fortunes from fossil fuel giants and so-called climate sceptics. Now, the strategy explicitly rules out the planning reforms that are essential to unlocking the promise of onshore wind.
It is not just onshore wind that is being ignored by the Government; the UK has half of all Europe’s tidal energy capacity and many experts agree that no country anywhere in the world is better placed to exploit the remarkable power of the tide.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Given that we have the amazing River Mersey separating our two constituencies, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to operate at speed to support the Mersey tidal power project?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Mersey tidal project alone has the potential to power more than 1 million homes and produce almost as much electricity as Hinkley Point C at a fraction of the cost, yet around 14 GW of tidal capacity has been cancelled, lies dormant or is languishing in the early stages of development. The strategy makes no commitment to supporting tidal power—an omission that has rightly been described by the British Hydropower Association as “incomprehensible”.
I thank the hon. Lady for that point. The Minister will point towards the considerable up-front costs of tidal power as a barrier to progress, but such a view ignores the fact that all renewable technologies are expensive in their infancy, as well as the fact that some of these installations could have lifespans of more than a century.
The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on getting this debate organised. My constituency of Weston-super-Mare fronts on to the Bristol channel, which is the largest source of potential tidal power. He is right, of course, about the up-front costs being significant and the lifetime costs being lower. However, even factoring that in, the total lifetime levelised costs of tidal power are, from all the figures I have seen, dramatically higher than anything else out there. Has the hon. Gentleman seen figures that I have not?
I have only the information that we have received, and it has all been fact-checked. Quibbles about the costs of tidal power look frankly laughable when we consider the strategy’s proposals for new nuclear capacity. The Prime Minister’s refusal to unleash the full force of the renewable revolution has left him with no choice other than to bet big on nuclear power, with a target of more than tripling our current capacity by 2050. That is perhaps the most radical segment of the strategy, requiring as many as eight new facilities to be given approval in as many years and calling for the roll-out of new nuclear—including small modular reactors that are as yet commercially untested—at an unprecedented rate.
I want to be clear: I have never been opposed to nuclear power. It has a vital role to play in meeting new electricity demand in the coming decades, and it is right that we begin to undo decades of under-investment and invest again in jobs and skills in the nuclear industry. However, we must question the viability of the plans. The Government are calling for the roll-out of new nuclear at a speed and scale never before seen in this country, and the risk of falling short, without having adequately invested in alternative forms of energy, is enormous.
Even more dangerous to our future are the strategy’s proposals for the future of North sea gas and oil. For the UK, the question of how we end our reliance on Russian gas and oil is critical; however, for the millions of Ukrainians whose homeland is being devastated by a Russian war machine fed largely by energy exports to the west, it is truly a matter of life and death. That is why I fully support the Government’s commitment to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
However, we must be careful that in standing up to Putin’s aggression we do not end up dealing a devastating blow to our efforts to tackle the threat of climate change. It is quite frankly absurd that instead of using the crisis to begin to end our fossil fuel addiction once and for all, the energy security strategy instead looks to authorise the North Sea Transition Authority to begin a new round of licensing this autumn. It will take an average of 28 years for these installations to begin production, meaning that they will do nothing to improve our energy security or reduce prices in the short term, while locking us into new fuel consumption that the UN Secretary-General has correctly described as “moral and economic madness”.
I warn the Minister: future generations will not forgive this Government for failing to lay the foundations for a fossil-free future. They will not look kindly on Conservative Governments’ abysmal record on improving energy efficiency, from the Cameron Government’s decision to cut the “green crap”, which sent the number of loft and cavity wall insulations plummeting by 92% and 74%, to the collapse of the green homes grant scheme, which ended up costing precious jobs in my region of the north-west.
Our country has one of the oldest and least energy-efficient housing stocks in Europe, and that is costing millions of people dearly every month when they get their energy bills. The energy strategy is totally devoid of any credible solutions to make mass insulation a reality. I urge the Minister, in the national interest, to reach out to the shadow Secretary of State for climate change and net zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), and get to work to implement his proposals to insulate 19 million homes over the next decade.
Another issue that the energy security strategy ignores is the enormous potential for community energy to contribute to a more secure and resilient energy supply in the UK. Had the Government backed community energy schemes back in 2014, we could now be producing up to 3 GW in community energy. Instead, there has been almost no growth over the past eight years. That is the consequence of the Government’s fundamental failure to reform energy markets and licensing rules, which forced community energy schemes to assume around £1 million in up-front costs if they wanted to build renewable generation infrastructure.
I agree with some of what the hon. Gentleman says and disagree with other points. I represent a largely rural constituency in Suffolk where many homes are reliant on heating oil. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that more needs to be done to support those homes to transition to a different type of energy, with more incentives in the system to do that?
I agree. We need to look into hydrogen as well as oil for people living in rural areas of the country. It is a problem, but one that we can overcome.
There can be no more secure a form of energy than that owned and produced by local communities and sold directly to local residents. With the energy security strategy soon to come before Parliament, I urge the Minister to take on the proposals of last year’s Local Electricity Bill and to empower community energy schemes to sell their power to local consumers.
I want to mention something that I know is anathema to the Minister and his colleagues, but which is essential to deliver the fundamental changes to our energy system that are so desperately needed. We need to recognise that the sector should be a service working for the public good. It should be taken back into public ownership. The handover of gas and electricity in the 1980s to Sid the shareholder and his mates down the street was always a cruel deception. The energy companies were bought and run by corporate giants. They were privatised to provide profits for the big stock market players, and poor Sid was bought out before he could turn a penny. It resulted not in a shareholders’ democracy but a corporate plutocracy.
At the very beginning of the current crisis, the chaotic system of private ownership was a serious blow to our energy security. Not only has it meant that ordinary people are victims of soaring energy prices in a way unseen anywhere else in Europe, but it left the whole energy market in the hands of private monopolies with little concern for the interests of our country or its people. It has tied the hands of successive Governments when developing the responses to the climate crisis that we desperately and urgently need.
By taking energy back into public hands, we can plough profits into driving the decarbonisation of our energy grid and funding a state-owned renewables company to pioneer technological innovation in the sector. We can ensure that the British people get to decide what happens to resources that should belong to us all. We can ensure that the pace of the green transition is dictated by the demands of the crisis we face and not by the whims of private shareholders.
I am looking forward to what I hope will be a lively and wide-ranging debate. Let me reiterate that the decisions that Ministers make in the coming months will not only have implications for whether we can keep our country running during the approaching winter and whether we can defeat Putin’s use of gas as a ransom demand in his war against the Ukrainian people; they will determine the existential question of whether we leave future generations a planet ravaged by climate and ecological breakdown, or one that is greener and more secure than ever before.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this debate.
I think we have all understood, intellectually, that our energy supply is a national security issue, but that reality has smacked us in the face this year with the way that Putin has weaponised energy supply. We have seen that a global spike in demand causes British families real pain in their pockets. The Government are trying to do what they can, but those forces are ultimately beyond their control. They can mitigate the impact, but they cannot totally prevent the problems. I welcome a lot of what is in the energy security strategy, not least the fact that it puts us on track to have 480,000 clean jobs by 2030 and £100 billion of private investment. The Government should invest in these technologies, but we will only get to where we want to be if we access private investment to support them.
We have been world-leading in eliminating coal. I very much welcome the Government’s ambition to have 25% of our electricity capacity come from offshore wind and to trial onshore wind as long as there is local support for it. I look forward to seeing how much local support there is, given how many complaints I get about other planning issues. If the support is there, it is absolutely the right thing for us to do. I have had lots of correspondence from constituents about solar panels. Some people have already got them up and would like to see many more of them up. I welcome what the Government are doing to make it easier for people to put them on top of their houses and buildings.
I have a number of great colleagues who are champions of hydrogen. It will be very important to their local economies. It will not be so important to mine, but I very much welcome the fact that we will be developing new systems for transporting and storing hydrogen. Many people think it has a huge part to play in our energy security.
We know that a lot of our problems come from energy efficiency, in respect of both homes and buildings. I have been campaigning to try to get new homes to be built to the latest environmental standard that Government set, rather than the one that existed at the time planning permission was granted, which is often five or six years earlier. It means that house builders are able to get away with putting in things that they know have got to be retrofitted in just a few years’ time. I think that once a certain time has elapsed after planning permission, houses should have to be built to whatever the latest standard is that the Government have set.
I welcome the temporary relief on VAT for energy efficiency projects for houses, but we are going to need a very large retrofitting programme. It is important to get the new homes right, but we need to learn from the green homes grant scheme and put in place the right retrofitting programme; then we will not need as much energy as we are using at the moment. Similarly, the Government are providing welcome financial support for people to get heat pumps, but it is still too expensive for most people. The manufacturing competition that we will have this year can, I hope, do something to bring down the cost of that technology. I have a significant number of constituents who would like to put one in if they could, but they just cannot afford it.
The Local Electricity Bill has already been touched on and I am sure it will be mentioned by other Members. More than 300 MPs now support it. It would be remiss of me, the lead sponsor, not to touch on it briefly before I close. We have not done enough in this country to support community energy projects. They are hugely popular where I am and I am sure in a lot of other places, but most small-scale generators of community energy are still faced with licence agreements that are more than 500 pages long, and set-up costs are between £250,000 and £1 million. Successive Governments have tried to do things to help more community energy into the market, but if we look at the Licence Lite scheme, we see that only three such licences have been granted since 2009. None of them have got to operation yet and none of them have involved community energy.
I have been working with Steve Shaw and other powerful people to try to get to a position where we can generate more community energy. I know that the Minister believes in its potential. We have been working with his officials. Essentially, the system is too complex and time-consuming at the moment. We need to find a way to get people a clearer route to market, to give them greater certainty over the price, revenue and contract length. We probably need a system that enables them to team up with an existing supplier so that they can take advantage of its metering and compliance capabilities, which the smaller-scale generators will be unable to do.
People disagree about whether we should have nuclear, fracking and new oil drilling. They argue about which is the best form of renewable energy to put the most money into, but they do not tend to disagree about community energy, because they think it is a good thing. If we can do more to help that, it could be an important part of our energy security strategy.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing the debate.
Energy security is as important as ever in the face of the climate emergency and the need to get to net zero, but also in the light of more recent events, which have seen energy prices and household energy bills soar. There is some good news: the less we depend on fossil fuels, the better for the climate and household bills. It would therefore be completely wrong of the Government to go back to more fossil fuel exploration. Instead, an even more ambitious plan for the roll-out of renewables is the right way forward.
The opportunities are fantastic and plentiful. I have mentioned just one, which is floating offshore wind. I believe that Britain could be a true global leader in this field, and the Minister will find in me a passionate and true supporter of all efforts to help the development of floating offshore wind in this country. There are fantastic opportunities, and we need to help develop them. There are some barriers as well, but the opportunities are amazing, and Britain could truly be a leader and an exporter of renewable energy.
Perhaps the hon. Lady will answer what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) did not: what would the back-up arrangements be? We have had quite a number of days this summer when wind has generated only 2% of our energy, and we have been using coal as back-up. What is the back-up, and is that not part of the cost of wind?
I thank the right hon. Member for his intervention, because it goes to the core of the argument. There are already models, and they have been around for some time. The idea of having a baseload is old-fashioned thinking, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wantage (David Johnston) for mentioning community energy. We need much smaller devolved energy supply and production, rather than massive, centralised providers, and the idea of a baseload is becoming more and more obsolete. Indeed, if we had floating offshore wind, whereby the generation of electricity takes place far out in the sea rather than on the shallow seabed, there would be enough energy to meet Britain’s demands.
I believe in going even further and exporting renewable energy. If we do not do it in Britain, other European countries will come forward. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has been to briefings on floating offshore wind, but it is fascinating to see the enormous amount of energy that such installations can produce. If we do not take the opportunity, the technology will be used by other countries and they will become the leaders in that technology instead. I say to the Minister that I am a passionate and true supporter of any Government efforts to support floating offshore wind. It is a new technology, but it is very encouraging and interesting.
Home installations should have been a key part of the Government’s energy security strategy, but they were not. Instead, the energy efficiency of our homes is among the worst in Europe, and the Government are leaving people to suffer with high bills and heating costs. Meanwhile, the Government have failed to invest in more renewables, particularly onshore wind, but as I have just mentioned, I believe that they should be seriously looking at offshore wind and floating offshore wind. They have instead committed to eight new nuclear power stations, and the Minister is aware of my well-known objection to that. The Government have not reversed the effective ban on onshore wind, and the new nuclear power stations will add £96 a year to people’s energy bills.
We have already discussed how expensive nuclear-powered energy is compared with renewables. EDF previously estimated that the cost of funding the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk will add up to £12 a year to household energy bills for every family in the country at its peak. The Government have confirmed that each new nuclear power plant will add around £1 per month to energy bills during construction. There are just over 26 million households in England, Wales and Scotland, meaning a bill of £2.6 billion a year is set to land on households because of the Government’s failure to plan ahead and invest more in renewables years ago. This comes as the energy price cap has risen by just under £700 on average, with further increases expected in the autumn.
The Government recently passed a new law that will allow them to add levies to energy bills to fund new nuclear plants. It is madness, as I keep saying. The Liberal Democrats attempted to exempt at least the most vulnerable from the additional levies, but the Government rejected that proposal. Investing in renewables instead would come at a fraction of the cost currently set aside for nuclear.
There is huge potential for more community-scale renewable energy, which has been mentioned today, and I ask the Minister to respond on that point. We need more community energy and, as has been said, more than 300 MPs are behind it.
The biggest advantage of community energy is in bringing people behind the need to get to net zero. We are going to face many disruptions in order to get to net zero by 2050, and bringing people on board will be the most important thing we can do. Community energy is the best place to drive the movement to get people behind net zero. We have already heard about the difficulties, but nothing is beyond us if we really have the political will to achieve it. My ask of the Minister is to respond positively on how we can remove the existing barriers for community energy.
The measures necessary to tackle climate change will take a big effort and cause a lot of disruption. The Government must acknowledge that there will be disruption, but community energy is one way of making sure that people are fully behind it.
In the past decade, community energy has seen little to no growth. The Environmental Audit Committee has noted that, between 2020 and 2021, community energy increased by a meagre 31 MW, less than 0.5% of total UK electricity generation. An enabling mechanism would not only protect families from soaring energy bill costs, but benefit the economy through job creation. It is clear that it would open a stream of jobs and economic wealth. For example, the 2020 community energy groups across the UK have more than 3,000 volunteers and almost 500 full-time staff. It is estimated that a twentyfold increase would create almost 60,000 skilled jobs, and that is at the lower end of the forecast.
Will the Government include in the upcoming energy security Bill an enabling mechanism, such as that proposed by the Local Electricity Bill, to protect individuals, families and the environment at such an essential time? As we have already heard, there is much support for such a measure. I hope the Minister will focus on answering that question.
Thank you, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on bringing this debate before us today.
I support a great deal of what is in the energy security strategy. The measures to diversify our electricity supply are welcome, necessary and absolutely essential, particularly with what is going on in Ukraine and internationally, as we have already heard from numerous contributions. There is a great deal to applaud and support in the document. However, the problem is that, while most of the measures are good, necessary and welcome, they are very long term. We cannot build a nuclear power station or even an offshore wind farm terribly quickly. Most of them are several years away at a minimum, and some of them a great deal longer than that.
Of course, the energy crisis is now—today. All of us have people in our constituencies who are struggling with their bills, which are bad already and will be even worse this autumn because, as we have already heard, of the expected rise in the energy price cap. There will be another swingeing increase and people will find that what is difficult today will be impossible by then. I urge the Minister to consider some short-term measures in parallel with the Bill, to ensure that we do not forget the pain. We need measures to deal with some of that pain as fast as we decently and respectably can.
We have already heard from pretty much everybody who has spoken so far about the importance of insulation, so I will not belabour that point, other than to say that it is right and we need to do more about it. We can do something about it and the effect will be instant for householders. There is a problem with supply and getting enough skilled people to install the rotten stuff, but if we can get that solved—we should start now—it is the sort of thing that will happen much faster than the time it takes to build an offshore wind farm. We should have begun already.
Equally, the energy security strategy has a gaping hole when it comes to the review of electricity market arrangements, or REMA. Onward has today published a good report on what needs to be in that review. In summary, everybody has been saying for several years that the cost of renewables is falling. In fact, the cost of offshore wind is a fraction of what everyone expected it to be today, which is excellent news. The problem is that none of that is showing up in our energy bills because our energy market, particularly our electricity market, is a slave to the international price of gas. That is what it tracks and that is what dictates the bills that we all get. We need to reform that market and allow those lower renewable costs to feed through to customers. The money is there. It does not require windfall taxes or Governments to intervene through the benefits system or council tax rebates. The money is there if we can just get the flipping stuff to feed through a different market mechanism—an open market mechanism—and land in the bills on people’s doorsteps
A lot of renewable energy sources—offshore wind farms, for example—have been built under contracts for difference, which the Minister and his predecessors have been very good about. A lot of those contracts for difference are now massively in the money. In other words, they are a great deal cheaper in relation to the power they produce than the charge that we are all getting on our bills. We could take the green energy levies, which are already on our bills and which add to them, and say, “Those could be negative—they could be discounts.” Everybody could receive a rebate on their bills if we let the negative price differential between the contracts for difference, which have been signed up to, and the real price today feed through to our energy bills. That is just one example of the kind of change we could make. It could happen fast and it would prove to people that green levies do not always have to be expensive. In fact, they could be beneficial and create great retail buy-in to the notion of green power.
Finally on these short-term measures, later this year the existing energy price cap legislation will come up for either roll-over or renewal. I want to make an urgent and earnest plea to the Minister: rather than just rolling the thing over, we should instead reform it dramatically, because it was originally introduced to do something entirely different from what it has been doing. It was introduced originally to try to get rid of the loyalty penalty, which penalises people who do not switch. People were being ripped off left, right and centre if they did not switch, and that added cost to the market overall, which is mainly focused on people who are loyal, but it was spread across the entire market and ultimately raised overall prices.
The cap is hideously expensive to administer and imposes enormous complexity and hedging costs on energy market firms, many of which have gone bust because they did not get their hedging right. If we can simplify that cap, change it dramatically and change how it works, we can strip out all that cost. If we strip out all that cost, that rebate, discount or reduction in costs can be fed through to the customer. Again, that could result in a lower overall cost to our hard-pressed constituents, all of whom are struggling now and all of whom will be struggling even more.
There is a lot to admire, to applaud and to support in the energy strategy, but an awful lot is missing. We need to address that quickly and urgently, and it needs to happen now in order to make a difference to all our hard-pressed constituents as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. The fact is that if we took the approach of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), we would not have moved on from the use of coal. In the 19th century, coal powered virtually everything, but then oil and then gas started to power things. We have to move on. There has to be a short, medium and long-term strategy. It is fine if people want to ask me, “Well, what are your plans for next week and the week after that?” We can have lots of plans for next week, but there also have to be plans for the medium and long term, and that is what the energy strategy is about.
I will in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the alternative energy supply if wind drops off. It has to be part of a comprehensive package—that is the issue. Energy has to be available and one does it in a variety of ways. It is not simply about a turbine going down and that being the end of the matter. There are designs available out there, for example in Cape Cod, where a company, developer, Government or state—call it what you will—can ask about an area’s topography and then design wind turbines to maximise the capacity, and that is built into the strategy. That is how it is done—through technological use of the topography, so to speak.
The hon. Gentleman completely misrepresents my views. I was an adviser to the new electricity-generating system at the time of privatisation, when we encouraged and designed a system that carried out a massive switch out of coal and into gas because it was cleaner and a lot cheaper. That was the first green revolution. I hope he will withdraw his slur on me.
If telling the truth is a slur, I certainly will not withdraw it. The fact of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman has to come into the 21st century. The system is not working. We have a privatised, market system that, quite frankly, is not working. The problems we are now having because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine just reaffirm that the model is not working and that we do not have the disparate energy supply that we actually need.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) said on market reform, so I will not go into that. He also raised the issue of tidal power. My constituency is on the Mersey and overlooks a lot of turbines, but for a long time, since I was a member of Merseyside County Council 40 years ago, we have also been trying to get the Mersey barrage. There are lots of examples of barrages working well across the world—I did have a list of them, but I do not have it to hand—and they are priced relatively well. That is also case in other countries that are pushing the green agenda. The Netherlands are using their topography, as are the Spanish. The Japanese are now virtually in the position where they can have 100% efficiency with wind and a variety of other sustainable energy plans. India, Australia, France, Germany, China and the USA are moving ahead. Yes, the UK is doing well, but we are not doing well enough. We have to move on as much as we possibly can.
One of my concerns is the Government’s approach to community energy companies. A letter from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to a colleague says:
“The right to local energy supply already exists under the Electricity Act 1989 and Ofgem, the independent energy regulator, has existing flexibility to award supply licences that are restricted… Changing the licensing framework to suit specific business models risks creating wider distortions elsewhere in the energy system, which could increase costs for other consumers and further unintended consequences.”
I do not believe there is any evidence whatsoever for that—quite the contrary—so it would be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about it. In my opinion and that of many other people, that letter is not factually correct. For example, in a local network, energy loss through the system is significantly lower. That has not been factored into the Government’s strategy, but it should be.
The Secretary of State’s letter effectively pooh-poohs the idea of local community enterprises on the grounds that they will distort the market—well, if we do not have a distorted market at the moment, what precisely do we have? We are here today to push the Government to create an energy market that serves the country. I do not want to go into the issue of nationalisation and public ownership of the energy sector, because my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) has already done so, but at the very least we have to have a good look at it, because the market is not working. It is as simple as that, and I would challenge anybody who tells me it is. We have to move on, and as the coalition Government said in their July 2011 UK renewable energy road map—we came to a bump in the road somewhere between 2011 and now—
“The nations of the United Kingdom are endowed with vast and varied renewable energy resources. We have the best wind…and tidal resources in Europe.”
That is as true today as it was 10 years ago, but I am afraid we are not using all the advantages we have as a nation. We have almost an inbuilt potential energy supply, but we are not using it. It is about time that the Government get to grips with that and use what we have now, not just in the future.
I welcome any measure to buttress our energy security. Ministers are right to be alert to the difficulties we face. I am concerned about this decade. Once again in this debate, we have heard many ideas about nuclear, wind and solar—new technologies that may make a great contribution in the next decade—but our task today is to reinforce all the things that the Minister is doing to keep our lights on for the next three or four years. Our more immediate task is to see what contribution the United Kingdom can make to getting Russian gas and oil out of the European system. We need to make our contribution, providing more of that supply from our domestic sources as part of our war effort. We need our people, who want to keep the lights on and the boilers running, to feel secure that we will make our contribution in case Russia turns the taps off.
It is simply not true that renewable energy projects will take until next decade to be developed. In fact, many of them are waiting; it is just that they cannot be connected to the grid. Can the right hon. Gentleman correct what he has just said about renewable energy projects?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady, and other Members who have made similar contributions, do not understand that I am dealing with the problem of intermittency. In order for all the extra wind they want to be useful, there needs to be a way of timesharing the wind power. We already have days on which wind and solar together produce less than 10% of our electricity, and most of our constituents are not using electricity to drive or to heat their homes, so that is a very small proportion of our total energy.
The vision of wind requires mass battery storage—we seem to be years away from the technology and the investment required to do that—and/or conversion to hydrogen. Green hydrogen would be a perfectly good answer, but again, we are years away from the investment, the practicalities and the commercial projects that could turn that wind energy into hydrogen. My constituents would love it if they could get hydrogen today. They do not want to have to rip out their gas boiler; they would quite like to be able to route more hydrogen through the existing gas boiler and make their contribution to the green revolution.
However, MPs have to be realistic. Our prime duty is to ensure that our constituents can live in relative prosperity, keep the lights on and have access to decent energy for their requirements. At the moment, most of our constituents get to work and to the shops using a diesel or petrol van or car; most heat their homes and water with a gas, oil or coal boiler. Very few use electric technology for that. If there was the great popular electrical revolution that they have bought into, and they could suddenly afford the electrical products and liked them, we would have a huge problem, because we would be chronically short of electricity generating capacity.
The true electrical revolution on the scale that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) would like would require an enormous investment in new electrical capacity. If everybody went home tonight and plugged in their car, which uses more electricity than the rest of the home, and heated their homes using electricity, there would need to be a big increase in capacity. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shaking her head. She wants to get real! Does she really want to cut off her constituents because she so hates them using gas?
This is about choices. We cannot forever get stuck in the past, as we have just heard. We need to look forward to the future. Investment in renewables is the only way I can see as the right way forward. Yes, that needs adaptation; yes, that needs our constituents to come along. However, it is a necessity. We cannot bury our heads in the sand.
Once again, the hon. Lady is in denial. She will not answer the intermittency problem. Does she ever look at the hourly and daily statistics on the grid to see, quite often, how little of our power is renewable-generated? That is because of physics and weather. We have to find technological answers to that. Now, there are technological answers, but at the moment they are not being adopted. They are not commercial and they have not been trialled properly; there may be safety issues and all sorts of things.
The right hon. Gentleman is so fixed on this idea of commerciality. There will potentially come a point when the taxpayer—for the sake of argument—decides that the Government are going to invest. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has an ideological obsession with the Government not doing that. However, in the current situation, does he not agree that the state might sometimes have to do just that?
But that is happening. We already have one of the most over-managed systems because successive Governments have put in all sorts of subsidies, tax breaks, interventions, price controls and all the rest of it to try to send those signals. That is why we have the current mix—it is not the exact mix the market would have produced.
I fully accept that there is often a role for Government when we try to develop new technologies. I have no problem with that. However, it does require agreement on what that technology is, agreement on the scale of the effort needed and realism about how many years it would take. It is all very well for the Members present to say that they have a vision of everybody using an electric car and having a heat pump. However, if their constituents cannot afford it or do not want it, it does not matter what Members think—they have to deal with the world as it is. We cannot lecture our constituents into having a heat pump. They will have a heat pump when it is affordable, when it is a good product and when they think it makes sense, and they are nowhere near coming to that conclusion at the moment.
The crucial question in this debate is what more the United Kingdom can do at this critical moment. We have to help our allies and friends on the continent who are gas short and oil short and want to get Russia out of their supply system but cannot do so because it would collapse their industry, while Russia is financing a war by selling its oil and gas into Europe as well as elsewhere. I think there is a lot more we can do.
I urge the Minister to see it as both a patriotic duty and a crucial duty to our allies to work closely with our producers and owners of oil and gas reserves in the United Kingdom and maximise output as quickly as possible. Some of the output can be increased quite quickly; for others, it will take two or three years to get the investments in. Will the Minister do everything he can to expedite it? We owe that to our constituents, because gas and oil are too dear—every little extra that we can produce will make a little difference—and confidence in markets might be affected. Above all, we owe it to our allies, who will otherwise be financing Putin’s war.
Thank you for calling me to speak in the debate, Mr Davies. I thank the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing it. By doing so, he ensured that we all have a chance to feed into the process. Given the feedback from all parts of the Chamber, the issue creates much interest. There might be some differences in how to do things, but the realisation of the goal—what we have to achieve—is clear to everyone. It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in his place, and I look forward to his response.
Only this morning, in a Westminster Hall debate on low emissions from vehicles— buses in particular—we had the chance to look at a greener environment in terms of transport. Another Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison)—had responsibility for that debate, and the interest in it was also significant. The issues surrounding our renewable energy strategies are extremely important.
This is certainly a “right now” issue, because it is about how to address the situation right now. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) spoke at some length about the issues across the world that would have an impact on us all, with millions affected by the rise in energy prices. As others have said, I fear that this autumn and winter we will feel it, and that our constituents will see something different and even more difficult than in the past. I look forward to discussing the progress we should be able to make on behalf of our constituents throughout the United Kingdom.
Mention has been made of nuclear power, of which I am a supporter. We do not have nuclear power in Northern Ireland, although I wish we had, because it would help us to reduce some of our energy costs, which are quite extreme. The Government, however, have a clear strategy on it, and one that I support, so I hope that the nuclear power part of their strategy is successful.
The Minister has regular discussions with the Department for the Economy Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Gordon Lyons. In the past, the Minister has been interested in hydrogen issues, and in Northern Ireland we are keen to realise that potential and the initiatives that are moving forward, as we can across all parts of the United Kingdom.
The energy security Bill was listed in the 2022 Queen’s Speech, the first energy bill since 2013. We have witnessed two to three years of the covid pandemic and, furthermore, Putin’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, which has restricted the supply of gas to the European market, causing extortionate price increases for domestic and industrial users. Renewable energy can generate electricity at around one sixth of the cost of gas generation in the UK and, with the energy price cap expected to reach nearly £3,000 this winter—up from £1,200 in April—that is the proof we need to focus our priorities on reliable flows of affordable energy.
Over the past couple of years, there have been considerable efforts to increase our use of renewable energy, which I support, although I think we have to be realistic about what is achievable. The right hon. Member for Wokingham, who spoke before me, also indicated that. It is not that we are against renewable energy; it is just that we need to look at the bigger picture and at what it means. That is what he was saying.
In 2020, the UK had turnover of £41.2 billion in renewable energy, with Northern Ireland, the smallest of all the nations and a population of only 1.8 million, contributing almost £1 billion to that total turnover. Furthermore, in 2021, back home, 41.3% of our electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, which is a brilliant accomplishment. In Northern Ireland, I believe that we are doing something good. The Minister is aware and supportive of that.
Multiple times, I have raised the importance of enabling community energy and of allowing our local communities the opportunity to empower their own energy strategies. We might not have had as much success with that as we would have liked, but we have all been inundated with emails, calls and letters from constituents who are genuinely concerned about whether they will be able to pay their bills this winter. Domestic energy security is at the forefront of our priorities.
The Prime Minister himself has stated:
“Energy companies tell me they can get an offshore wind turbine upright and generating in less than 24 hours but that it can take as much as 10 years to secure the licences and permissions required to do so.”
Although the Government’s aim to produce more hydrogen power, wind turbines and green affordable energy is welcome, I am afraid that 10 years for permissions is doing little to support the British economy. Perhaps the Minister will indicate how that period can be shortened.
We are collectively on the right path to producing a more secure energy strategy, but that provides little assurance to those facing large energy bills today. The Northern Ireland Department for the Economy has stated that non-domestic electricity consumers account for 51% of Northern Ireland’s total electricity consumption. Elevating our green, clean and affordable energy strategy gives our local businesses a monumental opportunity to save money and contribute to our 2050 net zero targets.
We had a tidal project in Strangford a few years ago. It was a pilot scheme and seemed to go quite well, but it never came to anything. I was really disappointed. I know that the Government here supported that, along with the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am not trying to throw the Minister a curve ball, but were there any discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly, and Gordon Lyons and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to see if that could be progressed? I believe it could do much good. Queen’s University biology station at Portaferry was very involved in that and is keen to progress the project.
The Energy Security Bill marks an unprecedent opportunity to ensure that businesses and homes can stay warm this winter. If we bring an end to our reliance on fossil fuels, as the Government have stated they will, we have the capacity to support global efforts to strengthen energy security. We must take advantage of our wind resources, tidal resources and energy sources in the United Kingdom at a price that our economy can afford. If our economy can afford it, customers can afford it and our constituents can pay their bills. This should be, without doubt, a national effort.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this debate. It has been great to hear a range of views.
It is obvious to many that the Westminster style of government is often one that seems to tinker around the edges and prioritise flashy point scoring over a long-term strategy. That is why it is strange to see something that calls itself a strategy, but is really just tinkering around the edges, rolled into multi-year plans. The energy security strategy comes at the right time to address the climate crisis and the cost of living, but fails on both fronts, not least because of the gaping holes in it.
I will first touch on the near total lack of support for tidal energy, which we have heard from other Members.
The hon. Gentleman reminds me of the point that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made about cost. The Sihwa tidal scheme in South Korea, the Rance scheme in France, the Annapolis scheme in Canada, the Jiangxia scheme in China and the Kislaya Guba scheme in Russia all want to expand because they recognise that it is a cheap way forward.
I agree. We do not even need to look that far; we only have to look at hugely innovative tidal projects like Nova Innovation in Leith, which could be game changers with the right support, yet the strategy’s only commitment to any tidal energy is to simply explore it.
The energy sources need a guarantee and ring-fenced money every year. After years of campaigning from Members in my party in particular—I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford)—the Government finally agreed last year to provide £22 million in ring-fenced funding for tidal energy. That is welcome—I make no bones about that—but £22 million simply does not reflect the huge potential of tidal, which can produce more than 15% of the UK’s energy generation capacity, according to a Royal Society report last year. A £71 million pot, which is what the aforementioned Members had been pushing for, could unlock £140 million of private investment, creating around 400 jobs, whereas the £22 million mentioned before would unlock only £20 million and create only 100 jobs.
Whether it is £20 million or £70 million, there is no guarantee that the funding will continue. How do we and, more important, investors know that it is not just a one-off? The reality is that without this funding they will be forced to compete for contracts with long-established companies. It is like trying to force a start-up to compete with Google completely unaided.
Geothermal energy is another area that gets only a passing mention in the strategy. The strategy ignores the huge potential of and appetite for mine water geothermal, which is a way to tap into heat from water in abandoned mineshafts, using the past to power our future. The Coal Authority and local activists are doing great work on this front, but central Government funding is patchy and unco-ordinated. We have heard about the projects in Spain and the Netherlands, which have already taken research from Scotland—Midlothian, in fact, in 2003—and rolled it out into huge-scale geothermal projects.
My constituency of Midlothian, with its huge wealth of geothermal mine water potential, could be an energy powerhouse if the Government got their act together and supported a pilot or a large-scale trial. It is not just my constituency, though; across Scotland, mine water could deliver £333 million of economic growth and about 9,800 jobs, yet the strategy does nothing to unlock that potential. That reinforces the points made about projects that could move faster and be brought online very quickly.
For a far better model, look at Norway. Our Nordic neighbour relies on hydro and heat pumps, while exporting its oil and gas to neighbours. The combination makes it a far more resilient to geopolitical shocks, such as those we are currently suffering from. Scotland could and should follow suit, and would were it not for energy being reserved to this place. We have the skills. The heat pumps used in Drammen were made in Glasgow, for instance.
The UK is underdeveloped when it comes to district heating, relying on individuals to pick up the cost. Of course, that is intentional; it drives individuals into fuel poverty while making huge profits for the suppliers. This is why the strategy’s commitment to £30 million of heat pump investment is money spent in the wrong place. It should be invested in large-scale district heating solutions. Instead, it will end up with consumers forking out once again.
I cannot pass over the scandal that sees Scotland facing the highest grid charges anywhere in Europe. Our grid still works on outdated assumptions that prioritise the construction of plants near large population centres. In the green energy age, it is rural communities that will generate our power—from the coasts of Orkney to the hills of Galloway. It is time that we overturn the current model.
We then come to nuclear. Where do I start? Nuclear build costs have trebled over a decade, while solar and wind costs have more than halved. No wonder Hinkley Point C is now nearly 50% over budget and running five years late. If we are serious about the “security” in “energy security”, we cannot ignore the radioactive elephant in the room. Nuclear waste still needs to be buried for hundreds of years; there is literally no other working solution. It is time for the Government—and Labour—to drop their nuclear obsession and come into line with the Scottish Government, who recognise the contribution that nuclear has made in the past, but oppose new nuclear stations while the current technology renders them slow to build and environmentally unsustainable.
Of course, the strategy works within the parameters of the Government's contracts for difference. When contracts are awarded based on big wallets rather than national interest, it is unsurprising that so many of Scotland's turbine manufacturing yards are struggling to stay in business despite their huge potential.
Energy efficiency has been ignored once again. Technology and methods that increase the efficiency of our energy use will reduce energy demand, which gives us better security should crisis hit. British homes lose heat up to three times faster than European homes. From the sick man of Europe, we are becoming the cold man of Europe, but instead of pushing for new builds to be insulated and energy efficient, we are stuck with retrofitting. Yet again, the mindset is to tinker around the edges. The Scottish Government spend a whopping four times per capita more on energy efficiency measures than the UK Government. Will the Minister commit to following suit?
I do not know whether the Scottish Government’s opinions matter at times, though, given that they were not even consulted prior to the publication of the strategy—something they have been very critical of, given the major role that Scotland plays in meeting the UK’s energy needs. It is clear that Westminster just cannot bring itself to overhaul the outdated status quo, even when a crisis demands it. For as long as Scotland remains part of the UK, we will be held back by its antiquated and unco-ordinated private energy systems. Scotland cannot afford this broken system any longer, so I look forward to next year, when we can have our own say.
We have had a comprehensive, well-informed and thoughtful discussion this afternoon, instituted by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), whom I congratulate on securing the debate. It is particularly prescient to have the debate right now, because, as right hon. and hon. Members know, we are expecting the imminent arrival of the energy security Bill, which will have to legislate for all the changes we need to implement to make our system much more resilient, energy-efficient and, indeed, internationally secure. I look forward to seeing how many of the essential measures are in Bill. The Opposition intend to insert in the Bill as many of the things that are missing as possible, to make sure that we have a secure, forward-looking energy strategy for the future.
The content of the Bill will essentially be the recently published “British energy security strategy” paper. As I have said on previous occasions, I can describe it best by using the immortal words of Eric Morecambe, when he said he was
“playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”
Members under the age of about 50 might not get that, but it is a very important indication of where the energy security strategy is.
I will discuss the notes that are being played and the order in which they are being played in a moment, but before I go any further, I would like to firmly shoot the canard that has been repeatedly raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who has intervened in this debate and others to talk about our energy system as if it were vulnerable because of the fact that the renewables we produce are somehow intermittent, so we need something else to back them up and the something else clearly cannot be renewable. He suggests that the way we are going is therefore inappropriate for our energy security. In fact, at its absolute bottom line, our energy security is best served by moving completely to a series of renewable arrangements as quickly as we can, because that will give us complete security of energy supply, complete security of energy operation and, indeed, complete security of customer prices for the long-term future. At the moment, prices are going through the roof, particularly as a result of international gas prices and, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, the obscene invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. That ought to be our watchword as far as our energy security is concerned.
In addition, our energy security should be bolstered by energy that we do not use. We could have a much more secure energy system if we used much less energy than we do at the moment. As the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) and for Wantage (David Johnston) said, the key is a substantial programme of energy efficiency for homes and offices, which it is estimated could result in the use of 25% to 30% less energy. Imagine the improvements to our energy security that such a reduction in our long-term energy use would produce! That programme could be started in the very short term.
I refute the idea that to enhance our energy security, we must enhance our production of gas, oil and other things. As the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, our energy security is tied up with getting to net zero. Not succeeding in that would be a great source of energy insecurity. Whatever short-term improvements might be made in gas supply, the idea that we should turn on new oil and gas to enhance energy security does not stack up as part of our overall path.
So to the canard. It is untrue—simply untrue—that the intermittency of some of our renewables is fatal to our energy security because of the inability to run a lights-on system, which is what we absolutely need. It is untrue because of our increasingly smart energy systems. Because of the way our current energy systems work, they waste a lot of renewable energy by constraining it. The introduction of batteries, inter-seasonal storage and the use of other existing storage such as pumped storage, which we have in substantial amounts, will back up the systems where production is intermittent. In addition, not all renewables are intermittent. Biomass and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which the Climate Change Committee is considering, would not be intermittent; nuclear is not intermittent. Nuclear is so unintermittent, actually, that it is not easily able to cope with the sort of system that we will have in the future, in the quantities that the Government are indicating.
One of the most important newer renewable technologies, which is not completely reliable over 24 hours but is completely predictable in terms of a number for the energy system, is tidal—both tidal range and tidal stream. Tidal power is completely predictable—the tide comes in, the tide goes out, and we know when it will happen. It is different in different parts of the country, so we can add different tidal elements in different parts of the country. It goes into the grid on a wholly reliable basis. One major criticism of the energy security strategy is that it does not take tidal technology much into account, which is a grave omission.
There are at least three wrong notes in the strategy: tidal; energy efficiency, which is it clear the Government are doing nothing much about, even though it is an urgent national priority to get energy efficiency measures seriously under way; and the reform of electricity market arrangements to create an electricity market that is fit for the sort of changes that we will undergo, particularly with renewables, which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare mentioned. REMA should be an absolute priority right now, but it appears that the Government are not taking it very seriously. They have one line, I think, in the energy security strategy, saying that they are consulting on REMA at some stage.
The sort of changes we must make are an absolute priority now—not least, as the hon. Member said, getting us off the gas standard as far as our energy prices are concerned. That can be done pretty quickly and would make an enormous difference to our energy prices and indeed our energy security. I am sure the hon. Member and I have different notions of how that might best be done, but I look forward to debating that when the energy security Bill is brought forward. If that is not in the Bill, I will try to put it there. I will be interested to hear what the Government have to say in response.
Generally, the energy security strategy contains many of the right notes, but they are being played in the wrong order. As Members have mentioned, we are still not taking onshore wind seriously, with substantial planning obstacles remaining. Unless we have the infrastructure in place, delivering 50 GW of offshore wind will remain a wish rather than a reality. We certainly must deliver hydrogen as soon as possible, but we still have not properly resolved the debate between blue and green hydrogen or on delivering green hydrogen in the best way for the future. Of course, we are also still a long way from getting a serious carbon capture and storage programme in operation. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) failed to mention this entirely, but moving the Acorn project down the pecking order of industrial clusters could deal a real body blow to carbon capture and storage.
There is range of things in the energy security strategy that could lead to an enormous increase in this country’s energy security, but the strategy will probably not deliver because of what is omitted from its contents and because of the rather lackadaisical way in which the Government are pursuing a number of these imperatives through the strategy. My message to the Government is that they should include the notes they got wrong and play the notes they got right in the right order. If they do that, I think they will have a much better energy strategy. I look forward to debating how we can do that when the energy Bill comes before the House. Hopefully, we will end up with a much better energy security strategy as a result of getting that Bill into a good shape.
Thank you, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this important debate. I do not have much time to respond, but to start I would like to briefly recap the context in which the British energy security strategy—the BESS, as I might call it—came about.
For years, of course, the UK has been dramatically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and building up home-grown, low-carbon energy. Just 10 years ago, nearly half of our electricity came from coal—the most polluting fossil fuel. Now, that is down to under 2%. Our hugely successful offshore wind sector is the largest in Europe and second only to China in the world in terms of deployed volume. All those policies are the result of decisions made by this Government over the past 12 years. Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine has given this work new impetus, as Putin’s weaponisation of the global energy supply makes clear. Energy security is a matter of not only decarbonisation—as vital as that is—but national security. The UK is not dependent on Russian hydrocarbons, but the war’s impact on the global market has been severe and affects us all.
Turning to the debate, the BESS sets out the steps we will take to generate more clean energy in the UK for the UK in the longer term to protect our national security, reduce our emissions, create new jobs for our people, revitalise industrial heartlands and drive down bills for consumers.
I will deal with a few points raised by the hon. Member for Birkenhead. He said the Government refuse to support new onshore wind. That is not the case. We will be consulting on developing partnerships with supportive communities that wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits, which could include lower energy bills. He talked about tidal energy, which cropped up in a few Members’ contributions. Actually, this Government were the first to commit a dedicated pot—in contract for difference allocation round 4, which is taking place right now—of £20 million for tidal energy projects. If people have a specific tidal energy project they wish to show us, will they please get in contact with my Department? I have been shown a number of tidal energy projects in recent times in areas near the constituency of the hon. Member for Birkenhead, such as Colwyn bay and Deeside.
The hon. Member talked about our so-called reliance on Russian oil and gas. No, less than 4% of our gas last year was imported from Russia. That will be down massively this year. We are phasing out Russian oil, which will not be more than about 10% of our oil by the end of the year. Russian coal will also be prevented by the end of the year. There is no dependence on Russian hydrocarbons in this country in the same way there is in many of our European neighbours. The hon. Member also attacked the new round of licences, but he will know that the new round later this year will take into account the climate compatibility checkpoint, which we have been consulting on, and we will release the results of that consultation in due course.
Remarkably, the hon. Member then said there will be no forgiveness for this Government because of our record on renewables and energy efficiency. I found that extraordinary. On energy efficiency, we have gone from 14% of properties in bands A to C being energy-efficient in 2010 to 46%. That still means there is work to be done; 54% do not yet meet the standards we would like them to. The hon. Member says there will be no forgiveness for this Government, but I do not know what he thinks the last Government will be given for their performance. Our figure is 46%, but we lifted it from 14% when we took power. Similarly, on renewables, 43% of our electricity is now generated through renewables. That is a very good figure, but it was 7% when we took power. If there is no forgiveness for a Government that achieve 43% through renewables, what hope is there for a Government that only produced 7%?
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) made an excellent speech on, again, the importance of energy efficiency. We are spending £6.6 billion in this Parliament to ensure we get more energy-efficient homes, and £450 million has been committed to the boiler upgrade scheme. My hon. Friend has been a consistent and dedicated promoter of the Local Electricity Bill. He is right that there is good consensus on this. The Government support local electricity generation. I have also met the campaign groups. There are funds available, such as the levelling-up fund, which is used quite frequently. There is the example of a local community energy scheme in Glastonbury, which has benefited from that levelling-up fund. I have reintroduced the community energy contact group to ensure we are talking to the sector. The group had its first meeting on 10 June.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made the good point that there is plenty of wind in the UK, as we benefit from all the waters around us. We have 15 times the waters that Germany does, and UK waters are two and a half times the land mass of Germany. None the less, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) made a good point about the intermittency of wind. Of course, we can get greater diversity if we have more seas involved, but that will not entirely obscure the issue of intermittency. That is why he is right that we need nuclear as well. I am forever hopeful that the Liberal Democrats will change their ideological anti-nuclear stance, which they have had at least since they were in coalition with us. In coalition, they were warming to the idea of nuclear power. Unfortunately, that has been lost.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made an excellent speech with some probing points. REMA is referenced in the British energy security strategy, and work is moving at pace. How can we get from a low-capital cost, high-generation cost energy system that is not particularly intermittent to a high-capital cost, low-generation cost system with intermittency? He is right to raise the point about the implications for our energy system going way beyond generation targets.
On green levies, as we set out in the heat and buildings strategy and in the net zero strategy, we will launch a fairness and affordability call for evidence on options for energy levies and obligations to help to rebalance electricity and gas prices, and to support green choices, with a view to making a decision later this year.
The price cap will remain in place until at least the end of 2022 to protect millions of customers. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare will keep an eye out for the energy security Bill to see how we might take that further. As he will know, this year we are delivering a total of £37 billion in cost of living support to customers, including a £400 non-repayable grant
The speech from the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) was well put together but fundamentally anti-free market. I can see why the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) decided that he would be a suitable shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury—to not make sure that control was kept over the public finances. I have already addressed the points about community energy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham made a strong and probing speech, as he always does on energy matters. He is right that it is our patriotic duty to ensure not only that we get off Russian gas, but that our European friends and neighbours do as well. That is why National Grid tells me that this summer, the UK is playing a major role in filling European energy storage. About 15% is coming either from the UK or via the UK, using our liquified natural gas capabilities.
My right hon. Friend made a strong point about intermittency. Nuclear is the answer; it is the only proven way for reliable, non-intermittent electricity to be produced at scale. He is also right about hydrogen, but he is not quite right to say that we are not bringing forward more fields. Licensed fields that have been consented and have come on stream include Blyth, Elgood, Tolmount, South Hook, and Alwyn East—I can give him a longer list. Other fields are coming on stream.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made important points. I will have to write to him about the Strangford tidal scheme. He is definitely right to say that nuclear, and Northern Ireland, are part of it. Gordon Lyons and I meet regularly, including to discuss hydrogen.
The SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson), gave a familiar list of complaints. He said that he wants tidal schemes. As I mentioned, we have funded £20 million of dedicated support. He wants ringfenced and guaranteed money every year. Well, that is a typical SNP position. If there were a separate Scotland running a 9% budget deficit, which is what it would be doing, I do not think that ringfenced and guaranteed money would be available for anything—the hon. Gentleman perhaps needs to go back and have a look at the finances in the event of separation. Grid charges are a matter of Ofgem, but it is worth recognising that Scottish consumers benefit from lower charges, which is important. I cannot understand, in the light of Scotland’s incredible nuclear tradition, why the hon. Gentleman is so opposed to nuclear.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) is right about constraints. That is why we are looking at hydrogen batteries and storage. He is quite right about biomass, and on blue and green hydrogen we are doing both. I had better leave some time for the hon. Member for Birkenhead to reply.
I am grateful to all Members for their powerful contributions, including the Minister, even though he likes to have a little pop now and again—we take that with a pinch of salt.
I will take the Minister up on what he said about major tidal projects, and I will write to him about them. I thank him for taking the time to participate in the debate, but I warn him once again that he must not let the Government falter in their ambition to deliver a greener and more secure energy system that serves the interest of many, not just the privileged few.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the British energy security strategy.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the size of the British Army.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The subject of this debate is more relevant this week than many others. After the NATO summit in Madrid, at which the Secretary-General called for a “fundamental shift” in the alliance’s deterrence and defence, there is an increasing realisation that British defence policy needs some urgent updating. When Russia began its bloody and brutal invasion of Ukraine, the world changed. Not only is it the largest armed conflict since world war two, but the rules and norms that govern war are being torn up daily by the Kremlin. Today, all our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in the barbaric attack on the supermarket in Kremenchuk, and with the people of Ukraine as they face even more hostilities.
What should UK defence policy look like in the face of this new geopolitical reality? The answer is an approach that reflects the new world we live in, where alongside our friends in Europe, we take more responsibility for our own defence and that of our allies across the world. There is plenty in the integrated review and the defence Command Paper that I agree with: clearly, the Army must modernise, and the £24 billion that will be spent on emerging technology will help us tackle new types of threats. However, the lesson from Russia’s invasion is that we cannot continue to slim down the size of our Army. We must be clear-headed and steely-eyed when it comes to assessing the threat we face from Vladimir Putin. That means a renewed commitment to our conventional military capability and an end to cuts.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I agree with much of what he has said and, I am sure, what he is about to say. Does he agree that one thing we are going to have to look at much more seriously now is putting more boots on the ground in other NATO countries, particularly those in the eastern parts of Europe that face towards Russia?
I totally agree. I got into some trouble in certain quarters when I said that early on in the conflict; it was not something people wanted to hear at the time.
The Minister will know that I have consistently challenged the Government on this issue—I have form. Over the past 10 years, I have warned against cuts to the size of the Army. In 2013, I said that cuts to capacity would seriously restrict the ability of our country to defend itself. At the time, with the number of armed personnel at around 140,000, I felt as though we were retreating from being a significant player in the western alliance. In 2016, that number went down to 100,000, and there I was in the House, warning the Government that their course of action simply was not the right one. We now face the grim reality of soon having a limited capacity of 72,000 armed personnel. The fact of the matter is that those numbers are nowhere near good enough for a key player in NATO. As the Minister knows, I usually engage in constructive criticism, but it is crystal clear that the Government have their heads in the sand on this issue—or more specifically, the Prime Minister does.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He is absolutely right: as of January 2021, the RAF figures were down by 6%, and the Army and Royal Navy figures by 5%, so we clearly have a problem. We also have increasing demands on our NATO commitments across Europe and elsewhere. We now have Sweden and Finland coming into NATO, which will strengthen it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way of increasing the numbers might be through the Territorial Army and the reserves? I have always campaigned for extra soldiers to be set aside for Northern Ireland, where recruitment is high, but we have not seen those numbers yet.
My old friend nearly always intervenes on my speeches—on everyone’s speeches—in a very constructive way. I agree with much of what he says, and I will come to that specific point on recruitment in a moment.
The Prime Minister is a great fan of Churchill. In fact, I picked up his book on Churchill for £1 the other day—it was quite a bargain. Then, it was shown on television, and I was asked why I had it on my bookshelf. It is quite an interesting book actually. The Prime Minister is erecting a Churchillian façade, but the truth is that he has found himself at odds with NATO by reneging on his manifesto commitment to keep defence spending at 0.5% above inflation. He has given up on that, which is not acceptable and puts us all at risk.
The Minister knows that I find the Secretary of State to be a breath of fresh air. I like him, I work with him and I think his was a very good appointment. He is in the wrong party—never mind—but we agree on many fundamental issues, such as wanting to see the Prime Minister reform his approach to defence spending. The Secretary of State has rightly been calling for increases in personnel numbers. However, that raises the question: why was the defence Command Paper so quick to make those cuts in the first place?
I congratulate and commend the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. Does he not agree that the very fact that we have been shrinking our armed forces for years has encouraged the likes of Vladimir Putin? Although I welcome the increase in spending to 2.5%, does he, like me, question the 2030 timescale? Is it fast enough? It is a long way off and others might be tempted or encouraged to act in the meantime.
Mr Davies, harmony is breaking out in this debate. I obviously do agree with what the hon. Gentleman says.
The cuts will create gaps that will not be filled for years. New procurement can take decades to come to fruition, which leaves us vulnerable to any future escalation with Russia, China or other parts of the world. I am with our Chief of the General Staff, who reminded us:
“you can’t cyber your way across a river.”
It is crucial that we maintain the equipment that guarantees our ability to defend ourselves and our allies.
I represent Huddersfield, where we had the David Brown engineering company, which for years made the gears for the Challenger tanks and many of our marine craft, so we have been a very proud player in providing the right kind of equipment for our armed forces. Can the Minister please tell us what plans he has to fill the gap when he cuts the Challenger battle tanks and Warrior infantry vehicles, or when troop numbers are reduced to 72,000 in 2025? I hope he can give us an answer.
Throughout my time in Parliament I have been devoted to evidence-based policy. As you will know, Mr Davies, I was here last week I with an air quality monitor on me, and this room is not up to World Health Organisation standards for air quality—I tell everyone that that is the case. However, the evidence from the Defence Committee is clear: we are still years away from being able to field a war-fighting division, which itself would be hopelessly under-equipped. If the British Army were to fight Russia, our men and women would be forced to go into battle in obsolescent armoured vehicles. Those are not my words; they are the combined opinion of the Defence Committee.
The Government are cutting our Army on two fronts: first, by reducing numbers and equipment, and secondly, by completely failing to procure the military apparatus we so desperately need. The latter is one of the most important points. Over the past decade, we have seen a string of procurement disasters. Millions of pounds have been wasted, with an embarrassing lack of results. The Ministry of Defence must learn from its mistakes and implement new processes for procurement, so that not a single penny is wasted.
I want to see increased spending on defence, but the public must be able to trust the Government to extract value for money. I do not deny or step back from this point: if we want to have more defence, someone has to pay for it, whether by taxation or cuts in other Departments or another way. The fact of the matter is, if the public trust us to spend the money wisely, it would be a lot easier to increase taxation.
The Government insist on cutting our current capabilities without procuring replacements. This is a very worrying approach, with likely a very poor outcome. Lord Richards, a former defence chief, said that “mass still matters” and that cuts to personnel are
“an asymmetric attraction to one’s opponents”.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He has been a long champion of our armed forces. The analysis we sometimes get from Government, and which we may hear from the Minister today, is that when it comes to the size and structure of our armed forces, it is determined by threat. The problem is, as my hon. Friend will know very well, that we do not know what the threat is going to be next week, next month or next year. We certainly do not know what it is going to be in three, five or 10 years’ time. Given that that is the state of affairs, will my hon. Friend join me in urging caution at reducing the number of people who serve in our armed forces? They are our insurance policy. We do not know what is around the corner. Therefore, we should be very cautious about reducing numbers, particularly at this point in time.
My hon. Friend will know how much I agree with that. In every town and city—in Wales, Yorkshire and all over the country—we used to have recruitment centres where people learned how to join the Army and got information and advice. That has all been abolished. I would love to see them come back. They offered a very good career and fine skills training to whole generations of people.
Our allies agree. Former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mullen has said that we risk not being able to contribute on the world stage if we continue to cut troop numbers. Under current plans, we would not have been able to act decisively in the Falkland Islands nor have the strength to stop the genocide in Rwanda. It is imperative that we build up the capacity to act in defence. There is no doubt that the United States is willing to be the world’s police force. The United States is tilting towards Asia, so European nations like ours must take responsibility for their own defence. As I have said, technological advance is welcome, but it is not a panacea. Mass still matters and cutting troops is taking the wrong action at the wrong time. I remember the days of recruitment centres. Let us get back to recruiting more full-time soldiers.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has rightly united this House. It has brought us all together. It has woken us up to the real threats to peace in Europe. It has shown this place at its best. We have worked together and agreed on Russian action. It is now time to unite behind a new approach to defence, where we stop the cutbacks and invest in our ability to defend ourselves and allies. This is Britain's 1937 moment. The west faces an uncertain future, and our defence policy should reflect this.
I am honoured to respond to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) in what is a very important debate. I acknowledge his long-standing track record in raising defence issues; I know he feels passionately and sincerely about these matters.
Of course, the Government acknowledge the urgent need to ensure that our armed forces are up to the challenges they face. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the defence Command Paper, which I am sure everyone present will know well. Those who read and reflect on its contents will acknowledge that the threat of Russia is front and centre when we identify the risks this nation faces, with page 5 noting:
“Russia continues to pose the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security.”
Our response to that threat in the context of our membership of NATO drives forward the transformation plan set out in the Command Paper, which is manifested in the Future Soldier programme. We should acknowledge the fact that the Russian threat, prior to this February, was seen as being a centrally important driving factor in the urgent need for us to update and modernise our armed forces and make them more deployable, lethal and agile.
Let us reflect on what Future Soldier actually means. Thanks to the £24 billion increase from the multi-year settlement, which runs until 2024, we have the resources to fund an Army of 100,000, combining regulars and reserves; we should also mention the civil servants and private sector partners. We have to understand that in the context of both lethality and mass. Clearly, mass is important. However, what we have seen in recent years—particularly in February’s outrageous and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine—is the fact that, while mass matters, it matters less than lethality, deployability and sustainability. We were heading towards that lesson in the Command Paper, but our experience since February has made that even more urgent. That is something of which we are taking great note.
Of course, the reforms bound up in Future Soldier will see the British Army reformed into brigade combat teams, making them more self-sufficient as tactical units and better-integrated with digital communications. For once, all our soldiers will be able to speak to each other right across platforms in all five domains. In practical terms, that means that artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles and systems, air defence, engineers, signals, logistics and infantry will all be connected and combined in the traditional doctrinal sense. They will also be much more potent in the modern sense of being able to speak to each other and bring effect to bear in a much faster and more agile way. That is the output of lethality: bringing military power to bear more quickly and in a more effectively combined arms manner.
I should also mention that with the new laydown of infantry divisions, we have our Ranger battalions, which will be a forced multiplier when it comes to working with allies. In concert with that doctrinal response of wanting to be better-formed, better-connected and more potent, the equipment platforms are a critical component. It is important to note that we have invested more than £43 billion in the Army’s equipment plan over the next decade—£8.6 billion more than was originally planned in the integrated review. That will bring state-of-the-art equipment.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield asked about Challenger tanks and so on. The new array of platforms includes Boxers, the upgraded Challenger, more mobile deep fires capability and ISTAR assets—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. That range of better military equipment, driven by the £43 billion equipment plan, is very important. As part of that, we will seek to learn with great urgency the lessons from Ukraine.
The challenge is to be more doctrinally capable, and we had some of that doctrine in the defence Command Paper and the Future Soldier plan. We need to be better equipped and, importantly, better integrated with allies, because we have to see our defence response in the collective context of our membership of NATO which, I am sure we all agree, has been the cornerstone of our defence for many years.
Our sustained forward presence with allies is really important. We should acknowledge that our presence in Estonia on Operation Cabrit has been hugely important, and we will increase that to ensure that the total presence is some 3,000 people, including a one-star headquarters. Working with allies will allow us to be much more on the front foot. As I said, it is also about ensuring that allied countries are more capable, which is why our new range of battalions, and the security force assistance battalions, will seek to build capacity with allied partners. We saw that par excellence with the amazing strategic outcome of a very tactical weapon: the impact that the next-generation light anti-tank weapons had on the Ukrainians’ ability to defend themselves from invasion. Delivered by this country, with training provided by UK personnel, it was a remarkable example of the force multiplier and the amazing capacity of a tactical weapon to have a strategic effect when utilised in the right manner. That is a really important point to make.
Since the excellent defence Command Paper and the plans for Future Soldier were rolled out, and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, we will continually review our posture, just like any other organisation. This time last week, the Chief of the General Staff made it clear in his speech to the land warfare conference, which was followed by a speech from the Defence Secretary, that we need to mobilise in order to ensure that we accelerate all our plans. They are very good and very sound, but we must now ask how we can accelerate everything that we have been doing in order to mobilise all our assets to meet the urgent threat. Op Mobilise will allow us to ensure that no gaps are left and that any wasteful activity, or anything that distracts from the main effort, is attended to.
The leadership shown by the Defence Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff is already having a galvanising effect on the defence community and the British Army in meeting the threat. We have an honourable heritage in helping Ukrainians—not just with the delivery of lethal aid, but with the magnificent Operation Orbital, which has run since 2014, training some 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers. The fact that we now have Ukrainian partners and others improving their warfighting skills on Salisbury plain is a really good sign of the energetic focus of the entire British military in empowering our Ukrainian allies to better respond to the threat that they face.
Op Mobilise will boost readiness. It will speed up all the technological advances that we seek to make as part of Future Soldier, and it will reconsider doctrines. The CGS was very clear when he said:
“If we judge that revised structures will make the Army better prepared to fight in Europe”,
we will look again. The context of his remarks was commendable, because he started his speech by quoting Brigadier Bernard Montgomery, who said in the desert in 1942 that if the only reason we do something is because we have been doing it for a long time, perhaps we should do something else.
Op Mobilise, and a highly energetic appetite for focusing on the threat, will accelerate our plans. I will resist the temptation to speculate about levels of investment, because I do not think it would be useful for a humble junior Minister to speculate about the exact year in which more defence investment will be made by the Government, but both the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary have made it very clear that more is required and more will come. At the point at which that is delivered, I think they will have the overwhelming support of the British public and our international allies, and we should have that confidence too.
Question put and agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered funding for bereavement charities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. At the end of March 2020, just as we entered the first lockdown, I was contacted by a constituent, Michaela Willis. Today, I want to share her journey.
In the late 1990s, Michaela founded and was chief executive officer of the highly regarded National Bereavement Partnership charity. It was set up to give support to those affected by the issues that arose from the Bristol Royal Infirmary public inquiry and the infamous retained organs scandal. She had lost a baby there herself.
Michaela was chair of the Bristol Heart Children’s Action Group, and chair of the National Committee Relating to Organ Retention. Her charity served both the public and health professionals by providing a helpline surrounding sudden and traumatic death, especially when there were complicated circumstances.
Michaela went on to be a lecturer in death bereavement and human tissue studies, obtained an MSc in healthcare ethics from the University of Bristol, undertook an audit of 36 hospitals and five universities and wrote the bereavement standards for the Irish Government. She was a member of the board for the Retained Organs Commission and the Human Tissue Authority and sat on the council of Action against Medical Accidents. She was also on the board of North Devon primary care trust for six years. In 2002, Michaela was awarded an MBE for her services in this area.
Michaela contacted me to say she was thinking of coming out of retirement as so many people she knew in hospitals around the country had been in contact about what they were dealing with as the pandemic took hold. We are not good at talking about death in this country, but Michaela is an expert. It was clear to both of us that bereavement support was going to be needed even more than normal as we headed into the first wave of the pandemic.
Each year in England around 500,000 people die, leaving bereaved families and friends to deal with the aftermath of loss. My grandmother died on Friday. At 98, it was perhaps not unexpected, but the hole it leaves and the shock for my mother, uncle and our extended family is palpable. As a family, we will muddle through. Most people are able to use their inner resources, combined with support from family and friends, but others, particularly if the death is shocking or living circumstances are difficult, will need the support of trained bereavement professionals to find a way through their loss.
Around 30% of closely bereaved people need organised opportunities to reflect on their grief and get support. A further 10% of people struggle intensively with complex or prolonged grief, and need specialist grief or mental health interventions. Prior to the pandemic, between 20% and 30% of bereaved adults were not able to get the support they needed. As we headed into that first wave, we saw a scared population, with a growing number unable to say goodbye to their loved ones, and a medical profession seeing overwhelming levels of death every day in so many wards around the country.
Michaela clearly had the know-how to do this, and do this she did. I did what I could, not least getting Openreach to kindly lay 5 km of fibre so she could run a helpline from the depths of North Devon. She pressed on throughout the period. I remember discussing with the Cabinet Office—some others here joined those morning calls—and explaining to the Minister that we were going to set this up from the depths of Devon. We were looking at unprecedented levels of death, loss, grief and associated psychological dysfunction.
In the last two years, more than 30,000 people have contacted the National Bereavement Partnership. Over those two years, the charity has witnessed individuals experiencing grief at many different stages, with so many exhibiting severe and varied emotional turmoil. It can be extremely frightening, and can have a detrimental and damaging effect on those who are in desperate need of support, but cannot access it. Indeed, the distinct lack of access to services was the very reason for the National Bereavement Partnership’s inception. As Michaela says:
“We have by far outstripped our own expectation of the demand for the services the charity offers, with contacts to the helpline ever growing with people who need the right kind of support along with talking space and talking therapies.
Access to funding has become increasingly competitive over recent years, with bereavement secondary to charities supporting life-saving treatments and heart-wrenching causes. In the 25 years I have worked in the sector, many will have heard me say ‘death is not sexy’ (for want of a better phrase, but sadly it is fitting)…Media also plays a significant role in impacting on where donors place their money and supporting a charity with either a feel-good story, or a brutally heart-wrenching story, is frequently more favourable to bereavement.”
There is an increasing gulf between the National Bereavement Partnership’s funding capacity and its increase in contacts—people who are desperate for help. That charity has had to pause its waiting list for counselling, as it cannot meet demand. It saddens all of us immensely that that charity is not able to help and support people at the early stages of their struggle before their ability to cope becomes more diminished, causing many other issues in their lives and with an inevitable knock-on impact on the NHS. The past two years has shown the National Bereavement Partnership that if it can assist at an early stage and talk coping mechanisms and strategy, that grief journey can be very different.
The covid-19 pandemic and its continuing legacy has brought unprecedented levels of grief and psychological dysfunction to those suffering a loss. There was grief pre-pandemic, and there are many unique pandemic and aftermath grief risk factors including dysfunctional grief, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, general psychiatric distress, disrupted meaning, and functional impairment in treatment seeking.
Those factors are coupled with many living losses and contending with varying levels of emotional wellbeing and mental health, and the coping strategies that people turn to in order to get by are truly alarming. They include alcohol, antidepressants, antipsychotics, worsening mental health including self-harm, risky lifestyles, suicidal ideation, and gambling. The National Bereavement Partnership has taken more than 30,000 calls and delivered over 80,000 hours of helpline services and over 10,000 hours of counselling. However, demand continues to outstrip the current supply.
The service provided by the National Bereavement Partnership is more personal and proactive, enabling reduced numbers to free up valuable NHS time, and is therefore dramatically more cost-effective. It describes many callers as having evidenced PTSD symptoms, psychiatric distress and functional impairment. A smaller, but still concerning, percentage have reported clinically significant symptoms of dysfunctional grief. It is imperative that access to talking therapies is available. The counsellors at the National Bereavement Partnership strive to address the breadth of psychiatric distress in those bereaved by a covid-19 death and its aftermath, and hone their skills in promoting meaning making in the wake of the trauma and loss generated by bereavement during the pandemic.
Living losses have dramatically compounded grief, and in some cases have taken on a life of their own. People feel bereft by significant losses in their life, including the loss of a job, furlough, the loss of their way of life, the loss of a home, debt, the loss of relationships, or just the loss of normality as they once knew it. Now, substantive increases in the cost of living are creating changes that are increasing anxiety for people.
The National Bereavement Partnership has described receiving an abundance of calls from those who have lost loved ones by suicide, and those people’s struggle at being left behind. Sadly, that charity also receives more calls than it would like from people contemplating suicide because of personal loss. Its staff work with any support they have and look to find additional support. Those who suffered losses during covid times, who missed routine treatments, or who were affected by a sudden and traumatic death also have complications on their journey, as the expected passage of such an event was not as it should be and services were more skeleton than normal.
The National Bereavement Partnership says that it was in a position to provide 105 hours of helpline service a week and 12 sessions of counselling to heavily triaged callers who were in need, but, as a victim of its own success, it is having to signpost many callers on to a waiting list or to other charities, as for several reasons, it is unable to keep a sustainable funding flow. The callers who that charity puts on a waiting list are those who its staff feel are the most able to wait, or those who they can refer to other services. However, those services are already full, and people end up on a never-ending merry-go-round of being passed around. Preventing such a merry-go-round was the very reason the charity set itself up in the first place. However, due to the lack of funding it is currently experiencing, the National Bereavement Partnership’s helpline output has also had to be reduced. It could instantly lift back up to full capacity at a moment’s notice—all of its team members are on stand-by. Voluntary support is invaluable, but not sustainable for optimum service delivery.
The charity feels that it has been let down by grant funders, who had promised significant funds, which were then diverted to other worthy causes, notably Ukraine. The sadness of that is that the charity has again witnessed a spike in contacts due to the impact that the war is having on people, yet it is struggling to cope. The charity and I believe that it has proven that it excels at service delivery when sufficient funds are in place. The service is well received and has had tremendous feedback. It prevents many people from having to use the NHS, prevents a deterioration in mental health and, in some cases, saves lives.
Sustainability has been problematic. The charity feels that its cause is not feelgood, and it finds that hard to sell to potential funders. It is also important to recognise at this point how many charities struggled to raise funds through the pandemic: the circumstances were difficult for fundraising. The partnership is a new charity, set up in the heart of the pandemic, so some of the natural fundraising streams have not been available to it. Furthermore, after going to great lengths, the charity found some funders that have not delivered, which caused additional friction in service delivery. It received governmental support in the past, enabling it to deliver an optimum service for a time, but the funding was short-lived. Not continuing it was short-sighted because when the service is sustainable, it eases the NHS, stopping more people from having to enter our valuable health system and giving independent support to people who call and need it.
The charity feels that, to continue to do its work and to deal with the increasing demand on its service in a world where access to funding is stark, it needs to find financial support now—before effective services are lost, increasing pressure on other already overstretched services, in particular the NHS. I have also been overwhelmed by the number of other bereavement groups and charities to have contacted me ahead of the debate to highlight identical issues elsewhere in the sector.
The charity will continue to seek funding from as many areas as it can, and I hope that anyone listening to the debate and feeling like making a donation will be able to, and will work with the charity to see what else can be done to support it. It launched with speed and yet, in a matter of months, became the key player in the sector, given the complete service it offers. Ultimately, good bereavement support leads to good mental health and wellbeing in a world that is crippled by losses. Rather than being ignored, that should be embraced.
The charity’s financial requirement to meet the demand of the service—all it needs per month—is £20,000, with an additional £10,000 of expenditure each month targeted at counselling. That is all. Some numbers we talk about in this place amount to billions, but this is really not that much. However, without support from somewhere, this vital charity will not be able to continue. I applied for the debate to highlight the issues for the charity that, in a tiny way, I helped to set up in that first lockdown. It was not really for the people of my constituency, because our pandemic was smaller than in many other parts of the country, but from the depths of North Devon one woman reached out across the country. Other bereavement charities have also contacted me to highlight the variance in their funding and the concern that integrated care boards will not give bereavement support the priority that it rightly deserves and needs.
The NHS needs a senior lead for bereavement. The issues that stem from grief, if left unsupported, cost the Treasury nearly £8 billion a year through reduced tax revenues, from a cost to the UK economy of £23 billion a year. This week, Michaela is the joint author of a paper in the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, which details that there have been more than 6 million deaths globally from covid-19, including nearly 175,000 here in the UK. Each death has been estimated to affect an average of nine family members. We know our mental health has been damaged by the pandemic, and those who lost loved ones—and we with them—must ensure the grief and distress they and we have unfortunately experienced.
We must also ensure that that grief does not lead to another pandemic of highly distressed mourners. We must find a way to fund such vital services more effectively, to ensure that the knowledge and experience of someone like Michaela can benefit those who so need it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on bringing the debate forward. The topic is something that I deal with nearly every day—bereavement charities, if not their funding. We always see the funding; we do not always see the charitable work that they do, but we see the end results. The hon. Lady outlined clearly and helpfully the importance of the funding.
In our own constituencies we have all had direct contact with bereavement charities. These last two and a bit years, where death has been much more apparent to us all, have been difficult. Across this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 160,000 people have died due to covid-19. Just over 4,000 of them were in Northern Ireland. I have worked with some of the bereavement charities that do such fantastic work.
This is by no means an easy topic. There are often no words to describe the pain of losing a loved one. As elected representatives, we may deal with that more than most, because people come to us with their issues. We feel the pain of those who have lost loved ones. It is something that we will all experience at some time in our life. There is no rule book when it comes to coping with loss. There are no parameters, rules or ways we can follow. The one thing we always need is support from family and friends and from our elected representatives, which the hon. Member for North Devon does in spades. We are fortunate in the United Kingdom to have a long list of charities that work tirelessly to provide support for the bereaved, so it is great to encourage them all and to look to our Minister to see how we can ensure they continue their work and do it better, as the hon. Lady said.
When death comes, more often than not it is the Church—the minister, pastor or priest—who comes to offer support, and family gather round. The hon. Lady referred to the rise in suicides across the United Kingdom, which was on my mind, too. We had a spate of them in our constituency and it was very hard, because they were mostly young people. The hurt, pain and loss was perhaps greater because they were young—not that it should be any more of less for anyone, but when young life is lost, it has a big effect.
As we know too well, the covid-19 pandemic caused many people, old and young, to lose their lives. There has been an immense feeling of loss since the beginning—that resonates with us all. Members will recall only too well that I lost my mother-in-law, but I got great reassurance from my family and our local church. That does not take away the pain of the loss and the hurt, even if I know my mother-in-law is in heaven. It is fair to say that everyone copes differently. We all have different ways of responding and dealing with things.
I want to praise the work of NHS Charities Together, who have allocated £125 million to a range of projects that aim to support NHS staff, volunteers and patients who are coping with bereavement. All those wonderful people have done incredible things. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), is one of those NHS staff, and we thank her for her contribution, as well as the hon. Member for North Devon, who spends a few days a week working in this area. We all appreciate it.
NHS staff are among those mourning the loss of loved ones during the pandemic. The personal grief of many of them has been made all the more complex by isolation from family and friends while working in high-pressure environments during covid-19. King’s College Hospital is among those that have launched a bereavement service for NHS workers, recognising the pain, soreness and hurt among staff members and responding positively. The service also offers free telephone and face-to-face support for the relatives, partners and friends of any patient who died in the trust’s hospitals during covid-19. That is another example of people starting things that were not there before to respond and to help.
Back home, each social care trust has publicly available bereavement services. Charities such as Cruse Bereavement Care—a group with which I work regularly, as I do with Marie Curie, the Samaritans and the Compassionate Friends—have proven instrumental in providing support. Naming them all, as I have done those four, is all well and good, but we must ensure that they can carry out their services, which we may rely on one day. It is our duty to ensure that those charities are financially stable so that they can. The hon. Member for North Devon is right to bring the debate, and we look to the Minister for a response.
The stats state that, on average, 26% of people want to talk about their grief but do not know how to, or they talk to a professional. Some people out there have never been able to cope, and I believe that we must do something for them. The support is out there, and there is no stigma around it. Bereavement will not go away, but to prevent further hurt, mental-health deterioration, self-harm or even suicide, which the hon. Lady referred to, we must ensure additional funding for bereavement organisations so that people have access to the help that they need.
I call on the Government and the Minister to consider the funding of bereavement and mental health strategies. I know that the Government have committed a substantial amount of money to mental health, which I welcome. Could some of that money be made available for bereavement care? If so, we might answer the hon. Lady’s question by finding a way to help those returning to work after a bereavement with readily accessible schemes across the whole of the United Kingdom.
We all have to face bereavement someday. We will face it ourselves; we will face it for those close to us; we may face it multiple times. Bereavement charities are central to the healing process. The funding and strategy to respond are therefore critical, and that is why the debate is so vital. I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing it, and I look forward to the other contributions, especially that of the Minister.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for bringing forward such a vital debate. Unfortunately, its topic has been of much greater importance over the last couple of years.
The death of a loved one is a pain that haunts us all; for many, it can have a deeply profound impact. We must recognise that covid-19 has added urgency to our understanding of grief and the importance of bereavement support. As we have heard, such support can take a number of different forms—from formal methods of support, such as prescription drugs and counselling, to informal methods, including the advice of family and friends on managing grief. Everyone experiences grief differently and it is not a linear process, so support needs to differ from person to person and from case to case, and it may change over time.
Sue Ryder’s recent research, “A better route through grief”, found that 70% of people in the UK could not access the support that they would have liked; 63% accessed informal support; and only 34% were assessed for some type of formal support. Almost one in five people said that the barriers that prevented them from accessing formal support were a lack of culturally relevant services, and a lack of services in the recipient’s language. I am sure that everybody on all sides of the House would agree that we all have a duty of care towards our constituents. Those statistics are simply not to be borne. No one should be unable to access support because of their culture or language.
I thank the hon. Lady for setting out the fantastic initiative and expertise of her constituent Michaela, who is clearly a formidable campaigner. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke with his usual knowledge and with the compassion that he is so well known for across this place. He spoke about how important funding is, particularly given the last couple of years. He also spoke about the loss that he suffered in his part of the world due to the pandemic; today we remember everyone lost to that horrible virus.
The Scottish Government are leading in this area, with a mental health transition and recovery plan that recognises the importance of ensuring that high-quality, person-centred bereavement care and support is available to those who need it. That has been delivered through targeted spending towards mental health, with 10% of Scotland NHS frontline spending going directly into the area. That is a simple step we can take to ensure that supporting our constituents’ needs is at the very heart of what our NHS health boards do. I formally recommend that the Minister explores the potential of that; I am looking forward to hearing what the Government intend to do.
The Scottish Government have funded a number of charitable organisations, including Child Bereavement UK, Includem and Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland, to ensure that additional support is available to individuals and families at the point of need. My own office manager was able to access the Cruse Bereavement services over the past year after the loss of her father. She has explained in great detail and applauded the quick access to a qualified specialist within two weeks of initial contact and the time, dedication and individualised support given by the team. That has all been made possible from the additional funding that was put in place, which has in turn cut down waiting times and made services far more accessible and wide-ranging.
Much more must be done. The Government should fund a marketing campaign to actively support grassroots charities and promote the support available to grief sufferers. That would allow grief to be recognised with a formal, bereavement-specific pathway that accounted for its multifaceted impact on individual lives. It would also encourage employers and workplaces across all four nations to understand the importance of a compassionate approach to a healthy working environment. My SNP colleagues within this House have long campaigned for legislation on paid bereavement leave, particularly in the case of miscarriage. The loss of a baby is a pain that no parent should have to endure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) introduced a private Member’s Bill last month to change the law to ensure that those who experience a miscarriage are given at least three days of paid leave. Tomorrow she will present a ten-minute rule Bill, which, if successful, would introduce statutory paid leave for parents who experience miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy. While two weeks of parental bereavement leave and pay is in place after stillbirth, there is no such support for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy.
While bereavement is a fact of life, if a fraction of the costs associated with it could be mitigated with better support at the right time, we could boost our economy and have a healthier society with a greater sense of wellbeing at its very heart. I urge all Members within this Chamber, and indeed the whole House, to support the Bill tomorrow and in doing so take a positive step into making the four nations a compassionate and empathetic place for all those experiencing bereavement.
It was approximately six years ago that you sat next to me when I made my maiden speech, Mr Davies, and today is the first time I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing this important debate, and all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions.
People, including us in this place, are growing more comfortable about sharing their own experiences of loss and grief. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for kindly mentioning my professional experience with those needing bereavement support. Last year I had the very painful personal experience of losing my father after a long, protracted, difficult and painful battle with dementia, which came on when he was very young. No one can prepare someone for how they will cope with the loss, and everyone will react incredibly differently. The only sure thing we know is that everyone will go through it at some point.
It is important to remember that everyone deals with loss differently. I threw myself into exercise and relied on a support network of my friends and family. Together, we mourned for the life lost and the experiences we were never able to have. Others require professional help.
I will take this opportunity to thank the palliative, neurological and bereavement support charity Sue Ryder, for the assistance it provides to so many families, and Lottie Tomlinson, who has done so much to break down the stigma that still exists around bereavement. Lottie speaks from the heart about navigating the loss of both her mother and her sister, and the different experiences she had in getting informal support from her family and professional support after the loss of her sister.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to bereavement. Indeed, it is different for everyone, depending on whether they have lost a child or even, in the case of the hon. Member for North Devon, a grandmother—I am so sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s loss. No amount of comments such as “She had a good innings” can take away from the pain and loss that she feels, because the family had her in their lives for 98 years and that really counts for something. All our love and support go to the hon. Lady’s family at this time.
The pandemic robbed so many families of the opportunity to say a final goodbye. That has had a profound impact on people’s ability to grieve. The mental health impact of that is enormous. Around one in 10 people bereaved will suffer from prolonged grief disorder, resulting in severe mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the report released by Sue Ryder last week, 70% of respondents reported that they could not access the type of support they would have liked after a close bereavement. The most common barriers to accessing support were that it was not culturally specific, or not provided in the recipient’s language. That has to change. There is a postcode lottery on bereavement support, and that should not be the case. Some local authorities do a fantastic job with limited resources, but it should not have to be that way. So much for levelling up if some areas cannot even afford dignity in death.
Bereavement charities and local authorities should not be living hand to mouth when it comes to bereavement support. The Government must have a clear strategy that tackles the social isolation and loneliness that people often experience after a death. It must ensure that all family members are provided with information about bereavement support services in all appropriate languages.
In A&E, where I work, when a patient dies, there is all too often little joined-up working. I know local bereavement organisations and am able to signpost loved ones to them, but not everyone is able to do that. That is where the development of a specific bereavement pathway would be incredibly useful for frontline workers. It could ensure that relatives are given the information that they need at a time of crisis by hospitals, GPs and charity services. That would help healthcare professionals to find the right support for anyone who has experienced a bereavement, and should be supported by a public health campaign to promote awareness of the different services available.
I would again like to thank everyone who has shared their experiences in order to help to tackle the pernicious stigma still associated with bereavement. It is clear that there is a long way to go to ensure that bereavement services get the support they need to support all of our communities at their darkest hour. I urge the Minister to take the comments made today into account. I know that the UK Commission on Bereavement is currently working to analyse and understand all the evidence that it has received, and I look forward to its report this year.
Experiencing the death of a loved one is one of the hardest things a person will go through. Unfortunately, the last couple of years have made that an all too stark reality for too many people. The humanity was stripped out of grieving; it is high time that it was put back.
Thank you very much, Mr Davies. It is also my first time —and a real pleasure—to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this important debate and using her voice to support a local charity and its role in helping people all the way through the pandemic. I also congratulate her on her role in getting broadband to so many of her constituents at such a vital time. I am sure they were very grateful.
It is vital that bereavement support is available and accessible to those who need it, when they need it. People who have been bereaved navigate their grief in different ways, as we have just heard in the moving testimony from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), about the sad death of her father. I, too, would like to pass on my condolences at his untimely death. She threw herself into exercise, and some people can manage their grief in that way, with the support of loved ones—family and friends. Our role as Government is to signpost the options for support to help people through this journey, however they need that. Probably all of us have suffered a bereavement, and I understand how overwhelming the emotions associated with grief can be. From conversations with bereaved people, bereavement support organisations and my policy officials, I know that there is still more to do to overcome the stigma of grief.
As part of its “Time to grieve” campaign, Independent Age recently came to the Department of Health and Social Care to deliver to me an open letter about the importance of emotional support services. I was pleased to meet the representatives from Independent Age, as well as a number of bereaved people who had made the journey to the Department, in Victoria Street, to join them. It was deeply moving to hear their harrowing stories of loss and grief. They included people who had been, very sadly, bereaved by covid-19. I heard how much all the restrictions had impacted their ability to go through the difficult but normal mourning and grieving processes. I gained so much from that experience and the conversations that I had, and I would like to thank those people. I know that it was not easy for them to come. It took a great deal of time, and it took a great deal of strength to share their stories.
I know that many people still feel unable to speak up about their grief. We must encourage people to have conversations, whether that be with personal support networks or specialist bereavement support organisations, about their feelings and experiences. There is no quick fix for grief. But as a society, we can collectively tackle the stigma and make it easier for people to share their feelings and to seek the support that they need.
At the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the Government recognised the unparalleled circumstances and the need for additional bereavement support due to the increase in deaths. And as the pandemic progressed, we recognised that the restrictions on social contact that were in place to limit the spread of the virus disrupted the grieving process for many. That made it much more difficult to say goodbye and led to some people experiencing more complicated grief.
In 2020-21, as part of a wider package of mental health support, we provided more than £10 million of funding for mental health charities, including several bereavement support organisations. One organisation to benefit from that funding was the National Bereavement Partnership, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon has referred to in this afternoon’s debate. I know that the National Bereavement Partnership was able to achieve some invaluable outcomes with the funding. It bolstered its capacity to provide support for those suffering mental ill health and anxiety following a bereavement; and it was able to provide support through its helpline, a befriending programme, a signposting service and therapeutic interventions. I am truly grateful for all its hard work during this tough period.
Other organisations funded by the Government during this time were able to achieve some fantastic outcomes, such as increased signposting, online resources and training events, and increased capacity to run helplines and webchats. They were also able to advise people of something that perhaps not everyone knows: people can now self-refer for NHS talking therapies. If people go on to the NHS website and search for talking therapies, they can self-refer to get that support if required.
The wider fiscal and economic context meant that we were not able to extend the additional grant funding to bereavement support organisations beyond March 2021; it was for a specific period. Outside the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, bereavement support services are commissioned locally, based on the needs of the local population. We know, though, that in the past it was not always clear whether clinical commissioning groups or local authorities were responsible for providing or commissioning bereavement support. As a result, it could sometimes fall through the cracks. However, the establishment of integrated care systems, as of last Friday, in places across the country will help to improve collaboration among commissioners, local authorities and other partners. The integrated care system for Devon is now established, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon will be meeting its representatives very shortly. She will be pleased to hear that we have added palliative care services to the list of services that an integrated care board must commission to ensure a consistent national approach and support commissioners in prioritising palliative and end-of-life care. To support that, NHS England will introduce new statutory guidance as well as technical guidance and tools, which will include bereavement support as part of a wider package of palliative and end-of-life care services.
I was interested to hear about the many achievements of Michaela Willis and how many people she has personally helped. It was sad to hear her powerful testimony that the National Bereavement Partnership has had an abundance of calls from those who have lost loved ones, including by suicide, and from people contemplating suicide as a result of personal loss. The NHS long-term plan has ensured that every local area has services for suicide bereavement support. By the end of the year, these services will proactively communicate with bereaved families within days of a sad death to offer their support. The Government can provide better support in other ways. For example, we know that fewer people from minority ethnic groups access bereavement support services, so we are working with the National Institute for Health and Care Research to commission research into the barriers that prevent minority ethnic groups from using these services. That bid is backed by at least £350,000, and we expect the findings of the research in 2024.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said that many people may experience complex grief. We recognise that, and we are working with the National Institute for Health and Care Research on other areas relating to bereavement support, including prolonged grief disorder, on which further research could be commissioned. We will continue to work closely with the bereavement support sector on the matter. In June 2021, in response to the pandemic and the societal impact of the huge numbers of individuals and families suffering a bereavement, the UK Commission on Bereavement was established. Its remit is to explore issues and make recommendations to Government on how to support bereaved people better. Alongside launching calls for written and oral evidence from bereaved members of the public, the commission is informed by a lived experience advisory forum and is working with stakeholders in the sector via a steering group. I have met with the commission and I await the publication of its report in September. Knowing the extent to which its report is informed by the voices of the bereaved, I look forward to reading the findings and recommendations. I have made a commitment that the Government will formally respond to the commission’s report.
I have been actively engaging with a range of bereavement support stakeholders. Their main concern is the lack of join-up across Departments on areas that impact bereaved people. We have listened and acted to address that. I directed my officials to set up a cross-Government working group to discuss cross-cutting issues that relate to bereavement support, and I am pleased to say the working group first met earlier this year, with representatives from 10 Departments. The working group continues to meet on a regular basis and has met with the UK Commission on Bereavement to discuss its initial findings.
The pandemic has been the largest public health challenge in the past 100 years. Its legacy is clear: thousands of bereaved families are grieving the loss of a loved one. So bereavement will form a central component of the public inquiry into the Government’s handling of covid-19. As a Government, we are working with the bereavement sector to ensure that support is available for those who need it. We must break down the factors that create barriers to bereavement support, such as ethnicity. Our research with the NIHR will help us do that. I thank all those who have lost friends, families and loved ones and have shared their deeply personal experiences with me, either directly or through the UK Commission on Bereavement. To all bereavement support organisations, I want to say thank you. The services they provide are vital for their communities. I encourage bereavement support organisations to reach out to their local integrated care system to understand the support on offer and how they can help deliver bereavement services.
Finally, to my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, I am truly sorry to hear about the loss of her grandmother—my condolences to her and her family. I, too, lost my grandmother, who was nearly as old at 96. I still have her as my screensaver on my phone. It cheers me up every time I switch my phone on. It is still very sad and a loss that is keenly felt. I thank my hon. Friend for her strength in bringing forward this important debate and championing her local charity. I hope that the information I have provided will be instructive, so that she can carry on those discussions with the integrated care system in Devon.
It is a pleasure to have you in the chair, Mr Davies. I thank the Minister for her words. I hope that this is the start of a conversation and that, by talking about some of these difficult things in this place, we are able to move these things forward. I thank the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan)—my grandmother was one of her constituents. I place on the record my thanks to all hon. Members for their kind words this afternoon. I would dearly like to make this a tribute to my grandmother Mrs Doreen Fitch.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered funding for bereavement charities.