House of Lords
Thursday 2 May 2019
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Amputees: Limb Fitting
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to introduce a national system of recording (1) the number of, (2) the treatment received by, and (3) the dates of treatments for, new amputees attending limb fitting centres in England.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for his continuing interest in wanting to improve services in this important area. As an ex-surgeon he has significant expertise and insight. From 1 April this year, NHS England’s specialised commissioning has required all limb centres delivering amputee services to complete a data reporting template which will collect the information described. The data is not expected to be published as a national statistic but is collected to support the commissioning process.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her usual helpful reply. She has done so well in stimulating the Department of Health, because in November last year the department told us that it did not collect this information centrally—so I am very glad that she has had success. Will the information be collated?
My Lords, the data collection is not expected to be published routinely but is submitted by the provider to the relevant commissioning hub as a contractual requirement under schedule 6 of the NHS contract information reporting requirements. But I hope that my noble friend will be pleased to hear that we will be considering making available a summary of this data in due course once we have established that it has been collected and reported appropriately.
My Lords, being fitted with a new knee can completely change a person’s life. Can the Minister tell the House what advice is given to clinical commissioning groups about commissioning knee replacements? Living in Cornwall, I would be treated sooner than if I lived on the Isle of Wight. When does the Minister expect the wait on the Isle of Wight to be the same as in Cornwall?
My Lords, I hope that any variation in any service is dealt with and reduced as much as possible. As the noble Baroness will be aware, NHS England commissions the prostheses centrally and has a service specification. It has a duty to reduce inequalities in access to health services and in the health outcomes achieved, as enshrined in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Certainly the principle is to reduce inequalities.
My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. First, many people face an amputation as a result of diabetes. What progress is the national prevention programme making in reducing the number of amputations? Secondly, the Minister will know that NHS England organised a patient survey last year. It reported that one of the biggest issues for people was getting a comfortable and timely socket fit. People expressed frustration that it was not always a get it right first time situation. That is vital, so my second question is about quality control as well as collecting data.
I thank the noble Baroness. NHS England invested more than £9 million of transformation funding in 2017-18 to further reduce amputation rates in people with diabetes by putting in place new and expanded multidisciplinary footcare teams. Overall, the incidence of major amputations in England is now one of the lowest internationally because of this investment. As the noble Baroness correctly said, a review was undertaken. Clinicians will look at the outcomes of that review and take the appropriate action in due course to ensure that some of the complaints made have been addressed adequately.
My Lords, the military provide dedicated and important service and it is right and fundamental that we support them in their time of need. The Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel supports members of the Armed Forces community who require prosthetics and ensures that they receive the latest prosthetics, including with next-generation microprocessors. More than 97% of claims were approved in 2016-17 and more than £1.5 million was spent on prosthetic centres.
I am very sorry to hear of the experience that the noble Baroness’s family has faced. Sepsis is an important issue, and we are dealing effectively with ensuring that we bring it under control. All amputations as a result of whatever issue are taken very seriously and we are offering the same kind of service so that we cut down the variations in the system. The current review will take into consideration all issues that patients have raised.
My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about the relationship between amputations and type 1 diabetes, the worrying aspect is the great variation in amputation rates across England. Does the Minister agree that areas that have high rates of amputation should be asked to look at how they can follow the guidelines issued by NICE to reduce the rates?
I agree that it is important that we reduce the variations and that NICE guidelines are followed. NHS England’s service specifications include a duty to reduce inequalities. They set out a number of issues to ensure that there is improved access, including flexible appointments, rehabilitation and reablement—but the noble Lord is quite right that we must address the variations.
Does the Minister agree that the way to reduce the number of amputations is to reduce the causes of them, one of which is the obesity epidemic? If a person’s waist measurement is more than half their height, it means that they are eating too much of the gross national product.
Scottish Government: Discussions
My Lords, the UK Government have frequent engagement with the Scottish Government. UK and Scottish Ministers are due to meet on 9 May 2019 at the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations. I am scheduled to meet Scottish Ministers as part of the Defra devolved Administrations Inter Ministerial Group for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 20 May 2019. The agendas for both meetings are yet to be finalised.
My Lords, next week sees the 20th anniversary of the first elections to the devolved Scottish Parliament. I am sure that the whole House would want to congratulate the civil servants and legislators who, despite all the political ups and downs of the last 20 years, created such a stable institution that has legislated and budgeted on a consistent basis, despite one party rarely having a political majority. The success of the scheme was based on debate and discussion about the constitutional convention and very well thought-through legislation. In view of the fact that, whatever happens with Brexit, there needs to be a good, hard look at the UK’s constitutional arrangements and our relationship with the public, is it not the case that a model such as a constitutional convention, looking on an all-party basis at improving the governance of the United Kingdom as a whole, might be a way forward in these times?
The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the sterling efforts of all those civil servants who brought about a functioning and sustainable Scottish Parliament and, indeed, a Welsh Assembly Government. There has been extraordinary progress and it is right that we recognise that this is a process, not an event. Last year, the Government set up, alongside the Welsh and Scottish Governments, an intergovernmental review and it will be reporting soon. Let us see what comes of that. However, the noble Lord is correct that this is a process and we cannot let this be the end of it. We must make sure that it continues to deliver as we would like it to do.
My Lords, notwithstanding that the Labour Party campaigned in 1978 on a slogan of “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead”, will my noble friend use the opportunity of the meeting with Scottish Ministers to discuss their plans to secede from the United Kingdom while remaining subject to control by Brussels and, in particular, ask them to explain how they will avoid a hard border between England and Scotland? Doing so might help my noble friend with his problems over the backstop.
I will certainly raise several of those issues. I do not think it will surprise my noble friend to know that Scottish Ministers themselves often raise these very issues. The meeting I had was focused rather more on the environment and farming; none the less, the issues he raises are important and they will be part of the ongoing debate between the Scottish and UK Governments.
My Lords, on the relationship between devolution and separation, referred to by the noble Lord, will the Minister confirm that after 17 years of devolution, when the Scottish people were asked to decide whether to separate from the United Kingdom or stay in it, they decisively decided to stay in it?
My Lords, this time last year, during the final stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, never a day seemed to go by when we did not discuss common UK frameworks. Can the Minister perhaps update us on what is happening? It seems to have gone quiet. How will he ensure that in areas of shared responsibility there is parity of esteem and there will not be direction from Westminster?
The noble and learned Lord is correct. There needs to be parity of esteem in all these discussions. The intergovernmental review should look at the functioning of the frameworks. The existing joint ministerial committees can be improved, and I suspect that the improvements will emerge from the intergovernmental review.
My Lords, the Scottish Government decided to lower the blood alcohol limit for drivers, but I have not been able to find out whether that has been successful in reducing the casualty rate. Can my noble friend tell us whether it has been successful? If not, will he undertake to write to me with the stats?
My Lords, we should take this opportunity to congratulate those present who were Members of the first Scottish Parliament. We should go beyond intergovernmental discussions to look into inter-parliamentary contact, and take this opportunity to consider a more federal approach to the UK. Having set that in motion in 1997, we cannot now step back and say that nothing else can change. This is a perfect opportunity to make those changes. I hope the Minister will agree.
It is important that we continue to learn about what is going on. It is also true that, while we have very strong working relationships Government to Government, that might not be as well established Parliament to Parliament. There is no doubt that there would be a benefit in that—the learning of this House could well be useful in informing the Scottish Parliament. Beyond that, it will be difficult to see until we have the results of the intergovernmental review.
My Lords, the Scottish Government have taken a lead in agreeing that universal credit should be paid separately to each member of a couple—not least to protect women surviving domestic abuse. However, they are wholly dependent on the Department for Work and Pensions and changes to the IT system to enable them to implement the policies. What active steps are the department taking to help the Scottish Government do this, and thereby enable the DWP itself to learn from Scottish experience? If the Minister cannot answer, could a letter be written that can go into the Library?
The UK Government have been very diligent in reaching out to the Scottish Government on the devolution of benefits. This is for one very important reason: people’s lives are at stake, and their well-being is at the heart of this. I will of course send a letter to the noble Baroness setting out the answer to that question in greater detail, but please be assured that the UK Government take their role very seriously—as indeed do the Scottish Government.
Farming Communities: Rural Crime
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Crime, wherever it takes place, has serious repercussions. Assessments through the crime victimisation survey show that vandalism and theft were the most common crimes experienced by agriculture, forestry and fishing businesses. In addition to theft of agricultural instruments and machinery, fly-tipping, poaching and livestock worrying are also particular concerns for farmers. NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report 2018 estimated the cost of rural crime was £44.5 million in 2017.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I recently met with a group of Hertfordshire farmers, and among the many areas they raised with me was the problem of hare coursing, which is not only causing great damage to their land in some cases but means they receive threats of physical violence. It is a very difficult problem. The low level of prosecution shows that the current law is not making any impact on this at all, and those who have looked into it believe that some simple changes in the law could make a great difference. Would the Minister commit to looking afresh at whether we can reform the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828 to bring the seizure and forfeiture powers into line with the Hunting Act 2004?
My Lords, I also last week met Stuart Roberts, the vice-president of the NFU who farms in Hertfordshire. Clearly, the intimidation and fear of gangs arriving on people’s land, often at night, is wholly unacceptable and must be addressed. I take the point that the right reverend Prelate has made about some fairly old Acts, but there is also the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960. What the police are doing with Operation Galileo in Lincolnshire, where there was a 30% reduction last year, is a way forward. I also commend the six forces in the east of England which have come together to share intelligence to help put an end to this devastating activity for farmers, particularly those in the eastern and southern counties.
My Lords, is this not fundamentally an issue of police resources? The current policing formula does not really take account of the particular challenges and problems in rural areas. The Minister talked about organised criminal gangs; as we know, they are operating in a number of areas, stealing livestock and farm machinery, almost to order. They cause real distress to isolated local communities. Would the Minister agree to speak to his colleagues in the Home Office about how those communities can be better supported? In these isolated communities, people feel they are fighting crime on their own and they need help. It is a question of police resources and perhaps the Minister would take it up.
My Lords, I certainly will. As rural affairs Minister, I take the whole issue of the way in which rural communities are looked after very seriously. This is particularly important for isolated communities. The police resources allocation formula is a calculation that uses various data sources to share money between authorities. The formula predicts the relative workload or need for each category of police activity. As Rural Affairs Minister, I am keenly aware of the fact that there is a lot of work that can be done with rural communities, through working with the police and police and crime commissioners. I will certainly take this up with colleagues in the Home Office, because rural communities must be looked after.
My Lords, would my noble friend take this opportunity to congratulate the work of what I think was the first rural crime task force, set up by North Yorkshire Police? Will he use his good offices to ensure that rural crime is given a higher priority by the Home Office?
My Lords, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, it is very much the case that we need to work with the Home Office. We work with it very closely and also work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, on wildlife crime, for instance, and the National Rural Crime Network. Clearly, these rural crimes are devastating for rural communities.
My Lords, the 2018 National Rural Crime Network survey revealed that low expectations, underreporting, a perceived poor response on outcomes and worry are all contributing factors to an increased fear of crime in our rural communities. Dyfed-Powys, the largest police geographical area in England and Wales, including Brecon, Radnor and west Wales, commissioned a report on farm and rural crime from Aberystwyth University. Has the Minister read that? As a result of that survey, the police have radically improved their rural crime strategy in line with the policies in north Wales. Do Defra and the Home Office have plans to study the outcomes of these initiatives?
Yes, we will look at all surveys. I would like to refer to your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Rural Economy, which rightly highlighted that the fear and perception of crime is viewed as a problem in rural areas. In fact, 39% of people in rural areas are worried about becoming a victim of crime, compared to 19% nationally. These are issues that we need to address, and I am most grateful to the noble Lords on that committee for highlighting some of these points. The answer is that we have an honest endeavour to ensure that crime is addressed in all parts of the kingdom.
My Lords, I would like to return to the issue of hare coursing. As the Minister is aware, hares are declining throughout our countryside and hare coursing is particularly cruel. I thought the Minister was unusually—I emphasise the word unusually—unenthusiastic about pursuing this issue. Will he reassess the position and perhaps go back to the department to see what can be done to take some action on this important issue?
My Lords, perhaps it is just my manner. All I would say is that I addressed Operation Galileo. I commended the forces where these activities take place, which are about aggravated arrivals of people committing violence to property, putting farmers and their families in fear because of their aggressive behaviour, and illegal gambling. These are all gangs of people undertaking very considerable criminal activity. I use this opportunity to say that we need to work to stop them terrorising the countryside.
Homelessness: Local Authority Spending
My Lords, every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets or homeless is one too many. We have committed to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. It is for this reason that we are undertaking a significant programme of work to address this issue, backed by over £1.2 billion-worth of funding. We believe that our approach is working and we will publish a full evaluation of the rough sleeping initiative in the summer.
I know that the Minister shares my deep concern about those sleeping rough and so on, but the loss of billions of pounds over the past decade has affected the work that local authorities have been able to do. I have the figures; we shared them the last time we discussed this. In 2010, we had 1,786 rough sleepers; by last year, there were 4,677. There is something wrong here. We also have the figures for deaths of rough sleepers on the streets. In 2014, there were 475 deaths; in 2017, there were 597. This is not progress. Can we have a pledge that when the comprehensive spending review is undertaken it will restore the benefits that are so necessary for local councils to meet this need?
My Lords, the noble Lord and I did indeed exchange views on this previously. The difference in the way spending is dealt with is that the ring-fence was taken off in 2009—actually under the Labour Government. It carried on like that through the coalition years, with which the noble Lord will be familiar, and still remains the case. We need also to focus on the fact that money is spent centrally, in addition to what is spent locally. The £100 million announced in August last year is beginning to have an effect. To take an example of an authority, in Brighton and Hove there were 178 rough sleepers in 2017; in 2018, there were 64. Admittedly there are nuances of difference in the way the figures are calculated, but not enough to account for that significant difference. That spending is going on, and we have a Minister dedicated to this area of activity.
My Lords, the Minister will agree that one of the most important things with regard to homelessness is churn. If people fall homeless then they should be moved on. Has the Minister looked at the possibility of adopting the PECC method, which I have talked to him about? It is about prevention, emergency, coping and cure. He could then look at the money spent on the projects: is it keeping people lingering in the limbo of homelessness, preventing them becoming homeless or helping them to get out? We have to use something like the PECC method. It is free to the Minister—I invented it; there is no cost.
It is good to hear from the noble Lord. I pay tribute to what he does on the rough sleeping advisory committee; I know that he is doing very worthwhile work. There is much to commend PECC, as he says. Yesterday, I was in Redbridge, which is adopting Project Malachi, which we are helping to fund and which is connected with work. This sort of thing is the way forward. It is not the total answer, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, but it certainly makes a big difference.
My Lords, could the Minister confirm that one of the real problems underlying the Question from my noble friend, which he replied to in terms of funding, is the massive cuts in local government funding since the coalition and the Labour Government? This has been seen in the last week with a large care home going into administration. Other care home firms have gone into administration. The main reason for that is the discounts on care home fees that local governments have to have. The care home’s financial plan therefore does not work because of the cuts in local government.
My Lords, the noble Lord refers to a particular area where there is certainly a problem: social care. We await the social care Green Paper, which will helpfully inform us in this particular area. He will acknowledge—as will many other noble Lords across the Chamber—that this year, for the first time in a long while, there has been an increase in local government core spending. It is welcome, and I hope it will continue as austerity comes to an end.
My Lords, as always, the noble Baroness raises a very valid point. It is important to look at the link between different government departments and different areas of activities. This is a complex area. It is not just about spending; there are issues of addiction as well. I will write to the noble Baroness on that particular point, and copy it to the Library.
I welcome the significant sums that the Government are investing in this area. Can the Minister indicate what progress is being made in securing hostel beds in London for men and women with drug and alcohol problems, and in securing move-on accommodation for them?
My Lords, the noble Earl is right about the particular challenges in relation to addiction. He will know that we have designated 83 areas that are receiving assistance in relation to rough sleeping, which helps with hostel spending. They include all of the London boroughs and all of our big cities. I will write to him so that we can share it more widely, and ensure that the list of money going to those local authorities is in that letter and is copied to the Library.
My Lords, today we have local government elections, so it is important to recognise that the £16 billion that has been lost in the reduction of core funding to local government since 2010 cannot be matched by the £100 million—welcome though it is—that the Government intend to spend centrally. That will not solve the problem of homelessness. What will solve it is our local authorities having sufficient funding to be able to reduce homelessness, as we did during the Labour years.
My Lords, I repeat to the noble Baroness that the ring-fence came off under the last Labour Government. She is right about reductions, but it is not simply about local government spending. A lot of spending has come from religious and faith institutions, which we are helping with—and I cited the example I saw yesterday. A lot of good work is going on in authorities up and down the country, with money being spent on, for example, hubs to help with homelessness in Brighton and Hove. It is also important to make this distinction: I was speaking about rough sleeping, not homelessness. Homelessness is a much broader issue, as the noble Baroness will know, and presents very different challenges from the issue of rough sleeping. The figures we have been looking at are largely on rough sleeping, not homelessness.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
National Security Council Leak
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office. The Answer is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, the National Security Council takes critical decisions about keeping this country safe. It was established in 2010, in part following lessons learned from the Iraq war, to ensure proper co-ordinated decision-making across the whole of government. It operates with the full breadth of expertise in the room, with Ministers from the relevant departments, advisers and officials, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the heads of the intelligence services, and others.
The decisions which it makes are of critical importance to the safety of British citizens and of British interests, both in this country and around the world. For example, it is inconceivable today that the Cabinet could take a decision to commit combat troops without a full and challenging prior discussion in the NSC on the basis of full papers, including written legal advice, prepared and stress-tested by all relevant departments, and with decisions formally minuted.
I am sure the whole House will recognise how important it is that those decisions are taken in an environment in which members of the council and those who advise them feel free to speak their mind, with absolute certainty that the advice which they provide and the conclusions which they reach will remain confidential.
The leak investigation into the disclosure of information about 5G was constituted in order to ensure that the integrity of the NSC in general is upheld and that, vitally, participants in NSC meetings can continue to hold full confidence in its operation and the confidentiality of its proceedings. The Prime Minister has set out her response to evidence from the leak investigation last night and has thanked all members of the National Security Council for their full co-operation and candour during the investigation.
The unauthorised disclosure of any information from government is serious, and especially so from the National Security Council. The Prime Minister has said that she now considers that this matter has been closed, and the Cabinet Secretary does not consider it necessary to refer it to the police, but we would of course co-operate fully should the police themselves consider that an investigation were necessary. The House will recognise that it is the policy of successive Governments of different political parties not to comment on the detail of leak investigations and I will not comment on specific circumstances or personnel decisions”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer on such a serious matter. There are two issues here. One is the potential provider of 5G, where Ministers can argue their corner in Cabinet, in the NSC or with the Prime Minister; if they still do not like the decision, they can resign and make their case from outside the Government. However, what is not acceptable is to leak from the National Security Council to further one’s argument. This is a breach of trust and, probably, of the Official Secrets Act, as well as damaging to our relationship with close allies. Can the Minister reassure the House that our Five Eyes allies will not withdraw any support as a result of the leak? Can he explain on what basis the decision was taken not to refer this to the police, given that the Prime Minister believes there is compelling evidence that the Secretary of State for Defence was responsible for the leak and that we have heard this morning that the Met Police would not investigate this without such a referral?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. On the first issue that she raised, the 5G decision will be made public in due course and will of course be subject to the usual scrutiny. On the question that she raised about the confidence of our allies, the action that the Prime Minister has taken shows how seriously she takes the leak from the NSC. We are now in touch with our allies to reassure them about the steps we have taken to remain confident in the security of NSC discussions, so that they can continue to have confidence in us.
On the second question, I said a moment ago that the Prime Minister considers the matter closed and the Cabinet Secretary has judged it not necessary to refer the matter to the police. However, Ministers and officials would co-operate should the police want to investigate. The Secretary of State for Defence was dismissed for a breach of the Ministerial Code. I believe that the Prime Minister is entitled to have in her Cabinet colleagues in whose judgment she has confidence and whom she can trust. In this case, that confidence and trust have clearly gone.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question in the other place. I also fully accept his analysis of the role and responsibilities of the National Security Council but he may be over-optimistic in thinking that this matter is closed, not least because of the continuing vehemence of Mr Williamson’s denial and the continuing public expressions of anxiety from our partners in the Five Eyes. The truth is that whoever is responsible for this leak, it is an illustration of the continuing and corrosive effect of the breakdown in Cabinet responsibility in this Government. There are those who now claim that the decision of the Prime Minister is to be regarded as a vindication of her authority. I cannot resist making the observation that it would be rather better for us all if she had exercised that authority more frequently in the last three years.
I have great respect for the noble Lord, but I did not detect a question in what he said, just some comments. Personally, I deplore all leaks, NSC and Cabinet. Colleagues should be free to express their views frankly around the Cabinet table and, once they leave the Cabinet table, should keep quiet. I hope that what happened will re-establish more discipline and collective responsibility for decisions, and that people will respect the confidentiality of what happens in Cabinet.
I entirely agree with my noble friend and deprecate all leaks. This was absolutely a sacking offence, whoever did it, and it appears that it was Mr Williamson. However, does the Minister also agree that, notwithstanding the outrage of others, this is not a threat to national security? A conversation was leaked that should not have been, but there is no threat to national security. To bring the Official Secrets Act into it is a complete confection.
My Lords, this was a breach of the Ministerial Code, but it also appears to have been a breach of the Official Secrets Act. Would not civil servants who have been dismissed or prosecuted for breaching the Official Secrets Act now feel aggrieved?
The issue of whether the Official Secrets Act has been breached is a matter for the police and, ultimately, the courts. As I repeated in the Statement, the view of the Cabinet Secretary is that it is not necessary to refer the matter to the police. However, if the police want to investigate, we will co-operate fully.
I am most grateful, my Lords, and I associate myself entirely with everything that my noble friend has said about leaks and the severity of leaks from the National Security Council. I am probably the only Member of your Lordships’ House who knows Gavin Williamson very well, as my successor as Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire. Does my noble friend accept there is a human dimension to this? As we speak, his wife is in her home with the press camped around. Does the Minister accept it would be sensible, in view of the continued protestations of Mr Williamson, to reconsider referring this matter to the police? Mr Williamson has indicated he would welcome that and I think it would be to the satisfaction of all if it were done.
I can also say that I know Gavin Williamson well, having served in Parliament with him for five years and having been Chief Whip in that time. This is a difficult time for Gavin Williamson, his wife and his children, and I hope the media will give them the time and space they need to come to terms with what has happened. On the further steps my noble friend suggested, as I say, the Cabinet Secretary has judged it not necessary to refer the matter to the police, and the Cabinet Secretary will of course read the comments of my noble friend.
My Lords, how is this matter to be definitively resolved? The Government say the former Defence Secretary is guilty as charged. He is the third Defence Secretary to retire under a cloud, and he completely denies that he is guilty as charged. This is not just a question of the National Security Council; the Secretary of State for Defence is in receipt and a custodian of the most sensitive and secretive areas of British foreign policy and defence, even outside the National Security Council, so it has to be resolved one way or another. I do not know whether there is any guilt attached to the former Defence Secretary, but it is in the interests of this country to clarify this by a deeper investigation. If that means a criminal investigation, so be it.
The noble Lord uses phrases such as “guilty as charged”. The Secretary of State for Defence was dismissed because he was in breach of the Ministerial Code, which says:
“Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. She is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards”.
That is why the Secretary of State for Defence lost his job.
That raises a broader issue, but I hope that my noble friend is not suggesting that Ministers who have broken the code should remain in office simply to avoid the rotation to which he referred. If confidence has been lost, the Minister should go.
My Lords, 34 years ago today, I dropped some classified papers when I was rescuing a dog from a river. I was court-martialled for that and punished for it. There is a danger of double standards here, where there is no clarity as to exactly what the offence is. Are senior people in Cabinet being treated differently from all those below them in their organisations?
Any Minister who accepts office knows that he or she goes when the Prime Minister so decides—I speak as someone who has left the Government four times. I am glad that the noble Lord has recovered from the incident and that his career appears to have been unimpeded.
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s legal responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as detailed in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the implications of continuing climatic changes for global security and stability and for the world economy.
My Lords, I say at the outset how pleased I am to notice that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, are on the speakers’ list. Global warming is the ultimate world crisis with specific national dimensions. A warning 30 years ago spoke of the “insidious danger” of,
“the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, the oceans, to the earth itself … by degrading the land surfaces, by polluting the waters and by adding greenhouse gases … at an unprecedented rate … It is mankind … changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways”.
That was Margaret Thatcher at the United Nations in November 1989. I recommend to noble Lords a read of the entire speech.
More recently, in 2006, the specific dangers were spelled out in a government-commissioned report. It stated that all countries would be affected by climate change, but that,
“the poorest countries … will suffer earliest and most … Climate change … is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen”,
and, crucially, that,
“the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the … costs”.
That was the substantial Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, conducted by the then head of the Government Economic Service, Sir Nicholas Stern—now the noble Lord. He included a host of recommendations, including carbon pricing, technology policy and energy efficiency.
Carbon emissions are made by all countries. The top emitters are China at 30%, the United States at 15%, the EU 28 at 10%, India at 7% and Russia at 5%. Two-thirds of global emissions therefore come from the top five emitters. I fully accept that, looked at per capita, by emission intensity or in terms of cumulative emissions, the order changes, but not fundamentally. It is clear that the large emitters will need to reduce substantially to affect the global situation.
In this month’s journal of the Institution of Engineering and Technology—I declare more than 50 years’ membership—there is a worrying article asking:
“Is China returning to coal-fired power?”
It is based on a recent study by Global Energy Monitor, Boom and Bust 2019, which indicated that, while the number of coal-fired plants under development worldwide dropped steeply for the third year in a row, and coal plant retirements continue at a record pace, there is a glaring exception in China. It is claimed that observation by satellite shows that developers have quietly restarted construction on dozens of suspended projects. The China coal capacity cap has been reset at 1,300 gigawatts. This would allow an extra 290 gigawatts of new capacity—more than the entire coal fleet of the USA at present. The report warns that global climate goals cannot be met without a full halt to new coal plants and rapid retirement of existing operating plants.
The Sierra Club, a US environmental organisation with over 3 million members, says that the US is on course to phase out coal by 2030 and transit to a clean energy economy. However, more than half the world’s new oil and gas pipelines are under construction in North America, the bulk in the United States. Global Energy Monitor points out that these pipelines are locking in huge emissions for 40 to 50 years, when the scientists say that we have to move in 10 years. It is a worrying story from two large emitters. The UK started all this, of course, with the Industrial Revolution. The UK is obviously a low emitter on the world scale, but we are part of the third largest and we will remain part of the European Union integrated electricity market. We have responsibilities from a historical perspective as well as to the next generation.
How are we doing? The science is world class, but I am not so sure about the performance. The scorecard against the actions recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, does not look great. The special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a wake-up call. The problem is it might be the final call. We are only 11 years away from 2030, which is a tipping point. The main consensus is that if the temperature rise is not limited to 1.5 degrees centigrade by 2030 there will be long-lasting, and in some cases irreversible, changes to the planet’s ecosystems. Rapid and far-reaching changes are required for all society, with faster development and application of new technology, as recommended in the Stern report, followed up by today’s publication of the report by the climate change committee, I am pleased to see.
We cannot rest on the fact that we were the first nation with a Climate Change Act with legally binding targets. We and the world have continued population growth. We have doubts about new nuclear build for clean energy, which must carry the baseload in the future, even if we maintain gas with carbon capture and storage. We have abandoned wind-generated power on land. Energy efficiency via insulation is less than what it was. We have given planning permission for a new coal mine. I will repeat that: we have given planning permission for a new coal mine. It should be stopped. Listed building consents continue to stop the use of certain clean energy techniques. We continue with the third runway and fracking, on both of which I have changed my mind.
I want to be positive, but before that it is worth mentioning that the effects of careless land use have now led the United Nations to estimate we have only 60 harvests left before the world’s soils are too barren to feed the planet. Michael Gove has said that we are 30 to 40 years away from,
“the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”.
We need to take urgent heed of the science before it is too late. Young people are taking the science seriously. It is the facts they want—not fiction from vested interests. Earlier this year I spoke at a sixth-form college lunchtime meeting and when the students arrived they apologised to the lecturer for bunking off on strike in the morning as it was a Friday. They had been out in Hereford city centre campaigning on climate change. They are concerned. In the recess, my 11 year-old granddaughter asked us to be quiet while she watched and took notes from David Attenborough’s TV lecture on the facts of climate change for her school project. She is worried. An unnamed 10 year-old was quoted in the Times last week as asking the question:
“If the pollution goes on like now, how long have we got left”?
A few days ago I attended the meeting in Portcullis House to listen to Greta Thunberg. As I listened to this remarkable young woman I became more and more uneasy. I remembered that I moved the Second Reading of the then Climate Change Bill. Her reference to the UK’s “very creative carbon accounting” was powerful, and it does not really matter what your view of the statistics is, or who says what; the fact is that our figures are affected to a great extent by the closure of the old coal-fired stations, as ordered by the EU, and emissions from aviation and shipping are excluded, as are the emissions from our imports. Of course there has been progress, but we are unable to claim really serious changes in many of the issues, including carbon pricing. Where are the waves of new technology for clean energy and very substantial energy efficiency programmes?
The Climate Change Act, which started life in your Lordships’ House in 2007, was world leading then, but it now looks a bit modest. I might add that 2007 was the year I bought my first diesel car, on government advice. The Act allows for shipping and aviation to be included in the targets, so there is flexibility. After it has been more than 10 years on the statute book, these should be included.
As I said, I want to be positive. It is not too late. Governments, nations and individuals can all make changes. New technology is the key, and this has to include action on removal of the greenhouse gases that are already there, as set out in the joint report from the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, for example. Policies should include such things as afforestation of 5% of UK land, restoring wetlands and ensuring that building practices include using wood and cement with carbonated waste. I understand, though I have not seen all the details, that this is covered in the climate change committee’s report, which we will hear more about. The solutions should be mainly market driven rather than flat subsidies, because we need to create a new kind of economy, which has to be sustainable. The new economy has to be regulated, of course; therefore, government must play a role. Investment will not flow into new products and new ways of working unless there is confidence in a plan.
Here I come to my final point. Climate change does not fit our political system nor the electoral cycle. As Minister Claire Perry said last week in the Commons, there has been cross-party support and consensus building. In my view, this needs urgent strengthening. We need to fit the political system to meet the challenge up to 2030 at least. The status quo is simply not tenable. It needs national leadership from a Prime Minister to change the machinery of government to create a Cabinet committee, to include the three opposition parties, business, finance, agriculture, and construction as a way of locking in actions across the electoral cycle and creating confidence for investment in new products and techniques which are going affect every home in the land. Of course it needs high-level commitment from opposition leaders as well. I do not think it is any longer acceptable to hide behind the current excuse avenue of one Parliament not binding another. We need to make some changes.
Such a process as I have broadly outlined will not work on its own. Therefore, I see a role for a commission of climate action oversight, consisting of, say, seven Members of this House with powers to report to Parliament, the relevant political parties and the public on failures to act by such a Cabinet committee as I have set out, and its members, in the interests of achieving targets and working across the electoral cycle in the public interest. It is only by such changes, which I fully accept are wholly radical, that we can get a message to the public that something is different about this—that it is not the same as the other political issues we have dealt with. I might add that I propose that Cross-Benchers should be in the majority on such a commission, because that would give it greater force when dealing with the other place.
The Government and the elected House have to be in the lead and give a lead, but too often, and we can cite lots of examples, there is inertia for political and other reasons. I think that an oversight commission from this House, with the necessary powers, could provide the clout. I do not intend to take any further time, I am very grateful to all those who are going to contribute and I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He put his finger on the pulse by saying that he expects that we will all make similar speeches, but it is the action that must take place that will be the judge of what we say today. For three years, before I stepped down, I stood here as the Lib Dem spokesperson for energy and climate change, and I said over and over again that what shocked me most when I came into post was the utter lack of urgency in the Government’s approach to action on climate change. I said over and over that we needed to go further and faster, and I often said that the Government appeared to think that signing the Paris Agreement was an end in itself rather than a beginning.
This Government, without the strong leadership on this agenda that we had previously, during both the Labour Government, with the Climate Change Act, and the coalition, with Ed Davey and Chris Huhne as Liberal Democrat Secretaries of State and the huge advances we made under their stewardship, have pulled the rug from under that agenda. By the end of the coalition, we had made Britain the fastest-growing green economy in Europe. The amount of electricity from renewables had more than trebled. We had set up the Green Investment Bank, which up to the change in government had helped to fund £11 billion-worth of green infrastructure projects. In 2015 we had a record-breaking year, with millions of pounds poured into solar and wind energy and more homes powered by nature than ever before.
None of those things would have happened with a Conservative-only Government. We knew that at the time, but in the first two years of a Conservative-only Government we had a shocking list of anti-green measures. I shall not repeat the whole litany, your Lordships will be relieved to hear, but there was the precipitous cutting of subsidies for solar and wind, banning onshore wind, causing thousands of job losses in solar, scrapping the original £1 billion carbon capture and storage project, cutting the renewable heat incentive, pushing ahead with fracking, abandoning the zero-carbon homes policy—which was crazy—and on and on.
I am sure that when the Minister answers this debate, he will list what the Government have done, point to the industrial strategy and claim that they are totally committed but, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, actions will speak much louder than words. We have real enemies out there: climate change deniers and the massive vested interests of giant oil companies. We have a climate change denier in the White House. Make no mistake, other countries will use Trump as an excuse not to act themselves. The wonderful, hard-won Paris Agreement, which gave us so much hope when it presented a united global ambition to tackle climate change is now under threat, and the global consensus is in danger of unravelling.
The United Kingdom should be leading the charge to net-zero carbon. Thankfully, along came Extinction Rebellion and we have a moment of opportunity, but it really should not be necessary to bring London to a halt. We have made it clear what needs doing: we need action. I commissioned work to find a road map for what needed to be done to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050, because it is clear that the current 80% target, even if we were to meet it, which looks unlikely, would not deliver the Paris Agreement. Culmer Raphael and Iken Associates, the consultants I commissioned, produced a report that I know the Minister has read; he has quoted its title, A Vision for Britain: Clean, Green and Carbon Free, and content back to me from the Dispatch Box. A huge number of experts in the field were consulted and gave their time and effort.
Even if we manage to do everything in that report, we get to 93% by 2050. Yes, we can make it to zero carbon with that extra 7% reached by technological advancement, but we now need even more radical action. What would it take? I would say close your eyes, my Lords, but that is always a bit dangerous here. Just imagine, as the ordinary citizen leaves his or her home in the morning, the commute to work has changed radically. In large urban centres, there are car pools of electric cars that anyone can rent, and rental, club and car-share ownership schemes have proliferated. People still occasionally own cars, but they use them far less and all cars are electric, with charging facilities available from most lampposts. Autonomous cars pick up and drop off from house to office and vice versa. Buses, tubes and trains are no longer the cattle trucks of yesteryear as people time-share slots to share familial roles, with many couples and non-couples sharing the working day. The third runway at Heathrow Airport never happened. A national anti-obesity campaign got everyone to get off their bus or Tube one stop early and walk, and separated cycle lanes are now in place on almost all major routes.
Houses are carbon-neutral. Gas-fired central heating and cooking now comes from green gas, hydrogen or green electricity. Renewable energy is the standard form of energy generation: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and hydro dominate the market and prices have fallen dramatically over the past two decades and six tidal lagoons are now in operation. Hinkley Point was built but with vast public subsidy and coming in at three times the original price. It was, however, to be the last of its kind because before its construction was completed, nuclear was completely overtaken by massive changes in the energy market. Urgent and huge uplift in the provision of interconnectors took place in 2019. Fracking turned out to be a disastrous waste of time; the big companies abandoned their efforts as the geology proved too complicated and costly, not to mention the years tied up in local objections. People finally gained local control of the supply and delivery of their energy, with every household having its own battery storage and charging facility.
It has been years since carbon was allowed to get into the atmosphere as the technology of the 2020s saw capture and storage reach maturity. The exponential growth in renewables created an economic boom of huge proportions, and we are well on course to deliver the maximum rise of 1.5% in temperature. Industry cleaned up its act. We financed the transition in agriculture and land-use change, and we have a vibrant and successful circular economy. The financial institutions of our country changed the investment rules and regulations so that benefits to the planet and mankind were equally regarded alongside fiduciary duty. Exponential perpetual growth was frowned on as it was recognised that the world’s resources are finite. People self-regulated their eating of meat and accepted their ration of flying hours per year until the day that aviation became renewable. That is what it will take.
I like to think that the publication of our report helped to provoke Claire Perry into asking the Committee on Climate Change to look at zero carbon by 2050. This morning, the CCC launched its wonderful and extensive report on net zero. Britain’s future prosperity depends on developing an innovative, entrepreneurial, internationally open and environmentally sustainable economy where the benefits are shared fairly across the country and with future generations. This is indeed a climate emergency.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Climate Change Committee. I have come directly from the launch of the net zero report, asked for by the Government—the first Government in the world to ask for the mechanisms to meet what we agreed to in the Paris Agreement. I feel passionately that all-party agreement is the most important part of our system. I am also concerned lest all-party agreement becomes an excuse for a degree of unwillingness to move fast enough; a complacency sometimes comes from all-party agreement.
I have constantly objected to people who try to make party politics out of this, which is why I objected to my noble friend’s Daily Telegraph article talking about climate change and the Conservative Party, and why I think that last speech did not contribute to the debate at all. I do not care who has done it; I care about what is being done and what will be done. That is why the Climate Change Committee answered the Government’s request today. They now have to answer the facts, which are that we can reach net zero, not merely in carbon but in greenhouse gases, and that we can do so by 2050. We have made that clear and the mechanism is there. If the Government do not accept that, they will be saying that they accept neither the science nor, indeed, the best mechanism for doing so that has ever been produced. This is 600 pages of ground-breaking work that has already been recognised as a total game-changer—as important as the Stern report, if not more so—because it sets us all a real challenge.
But it means action now; it does not mean hanging about. There is a series of things that we have to do. I am pleased about the protesters, students and so on because they are saying to us, “You have a responsibility not to destroy our future”. I declare another interest, in the form of three grandchildren and two more on the way. I want their future to be guaranteed and it is we who can do that. It means that we must stop building crap houses which do not provide their owners with proper energy efficiency. It means having the kind of heating that does not need fossil fuels. It means doing something about the appalling condition of our soil. The fertility of our soil must be recovered because we need it not only for farming, but even more in order to sequestrate the carbon that itself is part of the soil fertility circle.
We need to bring aviation and shipping into the figures—and indeed, that is what we have insisted upon. There can be no sensible policy if we do not cover all those things. What we do must be market driven because otherwise there will not be strength enough to achieve what we need. But the market itself has to be driven by the terms under which it operates. The Government have to make sure that the occupancy advantages do not stop the change we need. That is a role of government. Regulation is not about the nanny state; it is about ensuring that the needs of the next generation are taken fully into account now, when we can make the necessary changes, which we have adumbrated in detail in this report.
Curiously, the new generation is threatened in a way that is utterly different from the threat we faced when I was growing up. Then, we were threatened by nuclear war, but it did not happen. Climate change will happen: it does happen. It is not a threat in the sense of being possible; it is happening now and unless we intervene, it will overwhelm us.
As I go around the country, I am fascinated to note that people no longer ask whether climate change is happening. The deniers have lost the battle because the science is so fundamentally clear. The new battle is not to make people believe in climate change; it is to take the steps that are necessary. We can take them and we can do so within the financial envelope Parliament set aside when our aim was 60%, let alone 80%. We can do it within the costs that we have allowed for today because government action has brought down the price of what we need to do, and further government action will continue to do that.
I finish by saying to my noble friend that we do not want fine words. We do not want comments about what we did, or why the Liberals or the Labour Party did not do what they could have done. What we want is a very direct statement. You asked for this report. You have got it. You put it into action.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this debate so passionately, and we have heard an even more passionate speech from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, whose work on the Committee on Climate Change is absolutely central to us getting this right. Some 11 years ago, I served on the Joint Committee on the Climate Change Bill, which brought in the very first legally binding targets. Some 20 years ago, I was working with my noble friend Lord Prescott in his department when he went off to Tokyo and was so instrumental in delivering the Kyoto agreements. I am glad he will speak later today.
Some of those earlier promises have not been fulfilled, either nationally or globally. Globally, we are not yet on course to achieve anything like the 1.5 degrees constraint of growth; it will be significantly worse than that, even if we adopt some of the measures that will be advocated today. Nationally, we have had a number of successes, but some of those have been by default. We have also seen the abandonment of policies that were delivering many of those successes, such as the premature ending of subsidies to the renewable sector, the abandoning of some R&D in tidal power and carbon capture and storage, the end of an effective programme of energy efficiency through the insulating of existing homes, and a pulling back on the regulations for new builds in this country.
We have had some success, but we need to be a little cautious about this. My noble friend Lord Rooker referred to Greta Thunberg’s assertion. Some people derided it, but she is essentially right that some of our claimed progress is a bit dubious. In particular, we have essentially exported the carbon emissions from our manufacturing industry to the Far East. Part of China’s escalation is because Britain and the rest of the West have moved their dirtier industries to the Far East. Therefore, an assessment of demand—including demand for imports—needs to be taken into account when we congratulate ourselves on our achievements in this area.
The Government have been clear that we need to do something about this, but the reality is that it has gone down the list of priorities. Brexit has dominated our lives. Other things impinge—the housing and social care crises and so forth—but this is the central issue that any Government need to tackle. Yesterday, at last, following Extinction Rebellion, David Attenborough and indeed the report from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, the House of Commons declared this an emergency. It was pretty obviously an emergency 20 years ago. We now need to treat it as such and to upgrade the actions on climate change within our government machine, this House, Parliament and the national consciousness. It has been downgraded and it needs to be upgraded again.
I have not had the opportunity to read the climate change committee’s report yet—it is a bit long; I will have a go at it tonight—but I hope it gives us a blueprint as we go forward, and I hope the Government take notice of it. There are some big decisions on the immediate agenda, such as the decarbonisation of domestic heat and of our transport system; we have made some progress, but still a very small proportion of our transport system is decarbonised. We need to look at developing hydrogen for both those purposes, as well as at things that themselves have some environmental impact as they rely on current battery technology.
We also need effective government machinery. We need proper regulations and, above all, the effective enforcement of and compliance with those regulations. For all the good words from Michael Gove and others, which I support, when we come to actually proposing the future principles and governance of environmental policy, climate change is not centre stage and the proposed Bill, which is yet to reach this House, is completely insufficient to ensure that the whole public sector—let alone the whole economy—is prioritising the fight on climate change.
I will use my last two minutes to talk about two things that have been mentioned but are normally prioritised down. We talk about emissions into the air, but I want to talk about soil and water. The combination of poor water management, increasing heat, less water being available and the insatiable demand of individuals and businesses for water in our country means we have to take much more drastic measures to control our use of water, such as leakage controls, water efficiency measures and control of the energy content of water infrastructure. We need to retrofit our houses and businesses with energy efficiency appliances, and we need better water catchment management in the first place. That needs to be delivered with the industry and with effective government intervention.
On soil, three or four years ago, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is not in his place, asserted that we had only 50 harvests left in northern Europe. That is the most frightening thing I have heard. It was the first time I had heard it, and I followed it up and read the literature behind it. It is truly terrifying. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, described, if we do not do anything about it, all our grandchildren will face within their lifetime a situation in northern Europe, and probably the globe, where the soil does not deliver the food, the biodiversity and the environment needed for human life to continue. It is a frightening thought that, 50 or 60 years from now, we will no longer produce enough food from our soil because of climate change, to a large extent, and bad agricultural practice and land use over the years.
Let us put those two issues back into the equation. Let us ensure that the Government take the situation more seriously. It is an escalating emergency, and I hope that we act on the report of the noble Lord, Lord Deben.
My Lords, the context of this debate has changed radically over the past few months. Whatever you think of the tactics of Extinction Rebellion, what has been created by its disruption has put the environment on the agenda in a new way and with greater urgency. The debate in the other place yesterday on a climate emergency was Parliament catching up with more than 40 councils in the UK that have decided to act in response to this climate emergency, including Wiltshire declaring that it will be carbon neutral by 2030. Two-thirds of Britons are now said to agree that the planet is in a climate emergency.
I welcome the publication of the climate change committee’s report. This is a creative opportunity and not only a moment of anxiety. We are in an industrial revolution. I was taken by Greta Thunberg’s comment:
“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling”.
The Committee on Climate Change has set out the direction and detail of what it will do to respond to that challenge.
Net zero is possible and affordable. The cost of climate inaction will be more than that of achieving net zero. The business opportunities are considerable and we need to get on with it. This is urgent in the short term. The transition to net zero needs to be socially just and the costs fairly distributed. We should not use international offsets. The UK needs to continue to make firm commitments to developing countries to provide financial, technological and capacity-building support for their low-carbon development and resilience building. While 2050 is ambitious, 2045 could well be possible. A virtuous circle to spur greater action can be created by good policy.
In the faith communities of the United Kingdom there is a strong recognition of the need to change lifestyles and behaviours. We welcome the benefits that will follow, including cleaner air and warmer homes. We have already begun to embrace these changes, with thousands of places of worship powered by renewable energy and families committing to live simply and sustainably.
We need the greatest minds, hearts and souls committed to this task, with individuals, communities, businesses and government working together. I share the criticisms of others about some of the things the Government have or have not done, but the Government deserve to be encouraged for what they are doing in the right direction. The UK is giving significant leadership and has done so with a degree of cross-party consensus. That is important and I strongly support the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about the need to build on and strengthen that if we are to face the greater urgency of the current challenge. There is so much more to be done.
Could we agree a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2045? Such a target would require a cross-party approach. In the context of the climate emergency, some of the Government’s decisions are hard to comprehend. We need a much more coherent approach to energy. The continued subsidy of fossil fuels is now absurd and needs to end. The stimulus of renewable energy and greater efficiency is a priority. The inability to tax aviation fuel or to find a way to limit air travel is just plain stupid.
I recently asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, a Question about Woodhouse Colliery in Cumbria. He replied that the Government continue to be committed to the Paris agreement and referred to a request for advice from the Committee on Climate Change, which was published today. He went on:
“Cumbria County Council took the decision to grant planning permission”,
and that it was its,
“responsibility to consider this application in its role as minerals planning authority, and the Council would have considered all relevant material considerations, including environmental impacts”.
That is odd when local decisions about fracking can be called in by the Government and resolved centrally. We need joined-up thinking and action, and we need policy formation that provides a framework in which individuals make good choices.
On the eve of the Extinction Rebellion protest, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, said that it is as if we have forgotten who we are and we need to rediscover our relationship with one another, God and the creation. To live in a revolution is hugely demanding. It will need the commitment of parliamentarians to engage strongly with our communities and establish creative policy frameworks that get the best out of people, not just because of anxiety but for the love of this wonderful creation. In this, the faith communities are a resource for prayer, thought and action.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Windsor Energy Group and a consultant to Mitsubishi Electric. We always say that these debates are timely, but this debate really is timely, not just because of the recent protests or the mighty new plan presented so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Deben a few moments ago, but because we are raising overdue questions about the whole of UK energy policy and its present trend and the global climate struggle, which we and the whole world community are, frankly, now busy losing.
In my short time, I shall make three points. First, of course carbon reduction is an essential priority. I certainly do not question that. It is necessary, but some compassion is also needed. It is also a priority to provide affordable clean energy for the millions across the world who do not have it and for the millions in the developed world who have it but face extreme difficulties, including in many parts of our United Kingdom. It is utterly shaming that we are a nation of fuel banks—of agonising choices for some families between eating and heating and of ineffectual price caps. There is a real choice here on pace and balance to prevent serious social harm and economic damage. It is callous to ignore that or to pretend otherwise, and in practical terms it is unwise and self-defeating. We have only to see what happened with the gilets jaunes in France a few weeks ago to get a good idea of what happens if we get the balance wrong.
Secondly, we face a massive growth in electricity demand worldwide, not least from billions of people without any power at all. The future is electric. However successful we are with cheap renewables plus storage technology, which we must of course press ahead with, and however clever we are with conservation, electric cars, distributed energy resources, carbon capture and storage or any of the other very desirable technological improvements, the only way to meet this inevitable and huge demand will be through low-carbon nuclear power. Everyone knows that—it has been recognised throughout the world. France recognises it. It has now decided to delay the closure of its highly successful low-carbon nuclear electricity system to achieve zero emissions by 2050, in line with the aspirations of my noble friend Lord Deben. It cannot be done without keeping open part of its vast nuclear power low-carbon system. Germany is in a complete muddle. Having abandoned nuclear power, it is now seeing a higher level of coal-burning. CO2 is rising, not falling, and it has ended up 50% dependent on Russian gas, which is highly dangerous.
In the United Kingdom, we are trying to expand clean nuclear power but it is not going well. Hinkley Point C is being built with colossal burdens on consumers for years ahead. Wylfa is on hold, with Hitachi suspending operations. The Moorside plan has been completely halted by Toshiba abandoning it. The Chinese are taking over. They are going to build their own Hinkley nuclear plant at Bradwell and possibly at Sizewell C. We, and the world, cannot achieve even the present targets without substantially increased nuclear power. All the mess that we have got into with the British system needs a thorough review, because without nuclear power we will not deliver the green targets or keep within the legal bounds that we have set ourselves.
Thirdly, however well we do here, our climate fate will be decided in Asia and the US, and in China and India in particular. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others have recognised that. In 2018, emissions grew by 4.7% in China and 6.3% in India. In the US, by far the biggest per capita emitter of all, they grew last year by 2.5%, having fallen in earlier years because of the shift from coal to shale gas.
Throughout all that time, the UK has undoubtedly done comparatively quite well. We have reduced emissions but the trouble is that not only is there a heavy cost for the poor consumer but we account for only 1% of world emissions. The figure was much higher during the era of the Industrial Revolution but now it is 1%. Therefore, our influence on climate change worldwide will be only by example. In fact, even if we closed down the whole of the United Kingdom, the direct effect in the battle against climate change throughout the world would be marginal, as 99% of CO2 is pumped out elsewhere. Unfortunately, no virtuous little carbon-free zone would be maintained above us—it is not like that. We are caught up in the global system. Because of vast Asian demand as living standards rise, hydrocarbons will still be 74% of energy source by 2040, and 37% of energy still comes from coal, with many new coal-powered stations still being built, as earlier speakers have reminded us.
The lessons of this are clear: let there be protest and let the young and the old be motivated—that is fine—but let this protest be focused on real issues, without fantasy, and ideally without hitting and hurting hard-working people, the vulnerable or the weak, as I fear some measures have already done. Resources should be provided on a Marshall plan scale to put behind low-carbon technologies that will meet Asia’s colossal thirst for power and electricity, including clean coal technologies and particularly cheaper nuclear power. Smaller, cleaner and safer reactors may well be the solution, instead of the expensive behemoths that we keep building here, without great success.
Without this new focus, there is not the slightest hope of even meeting the inadequate Paris targets. Whatever we do here, legal or not legal, protest or no protest, that is the case and those are the facts. I hope that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will play its part—dare I say possibly a stronger part than in the past?—in bringing honesty and realism to the debate and in focusing on the real needs before it is too late. We do indeed need to think again urgently, sensitively and differently on all these issues.
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Rooker on securing this debate and on the excellent and, as usual, inquiring speech that accompanied it—and on the controversy. There is always controversy over climate change; it was certainly notable in the negotiations of the Kyoto agreement.
There was great emphasis by my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in another excellent speech, on partnership. One of the first things I did when I was appointed the European negotiator for Kyoto was to invite the noble Lord, Lord Deben, to join our delegation. That was the first example of the last Secretary of State joining the new one in partnership to deliver what was essential for climate change. His speech today shows us the excellent work that has been done by his committee, which has laid down the roadwork for the next stage of climate change and the move to a low carbon economy.
That was controversial at Kyoto, but then it was all about the science. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is not here today—he must have accepted that the science has changed. But at the end of the day there is no longer an argument about the science. The evidence is clear to us and the public have accepted it. The demonstrations now reflect much more than that—they reflect the anger that we are not implementing what the public thought we should be doing and what we set out that we would do.
I think they have been unfair in their criticism. Greta Thunberg was not right to say that things were not done. A global problem requires a global solution: it requires a global agreement, which was done at Kyoto; it requires a national one, which was agreed at Paris; and, as I will say in my speech, we need a regional agreement also, which I tried to implement at the COP in Poland.
To that extent, we have a framework. It is not right to say that nothing was achieved; something was certainly achieved internationally. Britain led the way, and continues to do so, through setting up a statutory committee to judge the Government on the policies they have said they would implement to cut carbon. That is a major change—it did not happen in any other country—and was at the first stage, so I am delighted about that. However, Greta was right that we are not moving urgently enough or with enough of the detail we get in the policies from the climate change committee. We need the political judgments to get on with it and implement the policies.
It is quite clear from that excellent report that controversy will continue—it is about targets, timetables and policies. I do not look forward to debates over the next 20 years about whether we have the targets, which direction we are going in, what needs to be done or whether we got 10% or 15%. For God’s sake, can we move on from that argument? This is an emergency. We have to do what we promised—probably even more—but that will be a big problem when we start talking about transport and housing. It is not just about money; it is an essential part of the requirement to get down to a low carbon level. As we all say, rich countries that poison the world with high levels of carbon need to produce low carbon economies. That means fundamental changes.
There are things we can do beyond just having arguments for 13 years—we will still have them, they will not go away, but we need something that provides more proof than people’s judgments. I propose my constituency of the Humber area. The Humber estuary is now moving towards being one of our great rivers of energy. Why? Because the new industrial revolution—that is what it is—is based on wind and water, as the last one went through all its stages based on coal and iron. Now it is about renewable energy—that means you need to have the low costs that come with renewable energy and an estuary to get out. That is because the real low costs come from a continental shelf out at sea. If we want to develop new energy sources, we have to have an estuary to go on. They provide us with a unique way of beginning to develop a low carbon economy.
I say to the Government that we must all get together to try to plan. We should not just rely on the climate change committee; it can show us the way forward, but why do we not produce a living lab? Why do we not look at an area that will implement that programme? The Government talk about an industrial strategy and they have talked about places of growth. Let an estuary become a place of growth. Why? Because it is unique, not only because it is an area which has the wind power.
Yesterday, I addressed a conference of 350 people in Hull where they are today planning the next stage of the growth of renewable energy. Any new industrial revolution is bound to be based on renewable energy. That requires access to the sea. The Americans were at this conference, because they now realise that renewable energy brings with it the technology for the development of the new carbon economy. This is a new industrial revolution. That is what we have to get over to people.
As I explained at this conference, the Humber offers a good opportunity for estuarial development. I am arguing this within the international framework at present. The Government have an industrial strategy—having caught up on all the debates at the moment about Brexit—which says that there should be places of growth. Let the Humber become a place of growth. We now have the new source of energy, the land for the new technologies and the supply industry that come from it and the traditional maritime infrastructure—ports and fishing—which now service that industry. We have the science. We have a river base that offers water power. You need an estuary to get out to the seabeds to get the low energy. The Humber has all of that. We even have holes in the ground for carbon capture. The North Sea industry gas was taken out and pipes were taken to the town. Let us take the carbon capture and dump it back in the North Sea, in the holes that are empty. That is another asset belonging to an estuary like the Humber.
There are many things we can do; some we still need to identify. I will finish on this point. We have to recognise that an industrial revolution is taking place. It requires certain location factors, which are all found in the Humber. I ask the Government to consider the idea of the Humber as a place of growth. We could call it the living lab, so that when arguments with the climate change committee are going on, we have some way of seeing whether those policies are working in this new, low carbon industry. It is a practical test against a lot of the hot air about targets and timetables. We need to be more practical. This would be the first step towards an emergency step to deal with the carbon and climate change problems we have at the moment.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on securing this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular my work with the Water Industry Commission for Scotland, which is the water regulator for Scotland. I also co-chair the All-Party Group on Water.
In setting the scene for this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, called on the Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the challenge of climate change. My noble friend Lord Deben referred to the role of the Paris Agreement and how to achieve what was agreed there through today’s report from the Committee on Climate Change. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is absolutely right to press for greater international commitments to match what has been achieved by the UK and Europe. I am pleased that he singled out the fact that India and China are the enemies of climate change prevention and that there are climate change deniers in the US.
Successive UK Governments have been pioneers in this regard. The UK was the first country to set a science-led, long-term and legally binding greenhouse gas emission target. We have to accept that science changes; the science has already moved on. Every household is playing its part, with the emphasis on renewables and clean energy technologies. Undoubtedly, this has led to higher fuel energy bills.
In 2018, renewables contributed 37% of the UK’s electricity supply and the UK has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010. The UK is also one of the largest international donors of overseas development assistance and we are thereby contributing to helping developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, echoing the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, I regret the Government’s focus on and obsession with fracking. There can be no surer way to increase our greenhouse gas emissions. I hope we will turn the corner and put an end to future prospects for fracking.
The conclusions of the climate change committee today are welcome. I congratulate it and its chair, my noble friend Lord Deben, on setting out the framework going forward. I have one question for my noble friend: why is it always those living in the south of England, in largely arable areas, who tell us to produce less meat and turn our heating down? Having represented upland farmers for 18 years in the other place, I accept that 65% of our land is best suited to grazing animals. I welcome the fact that farmers are committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across England and Wales by 2040. There are always smarter and more environmentally sustainable ways to farm and farmers are rising to that challenge.
Any proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will impact on British business, British consumers and British competitiveness. That is why I believe any action should be based on a multilateral, international approach—on initiatives such as that put forward on the eve of the forthcoming Future of Europe summit, to be held on 9 May, in a letter from 50 CEOs of businesses based across the European Union, calling for the adoption of the European Commission’s vision, A Clean Planet for All. The letter from these top European businesses calls on Heads of State and Government to endorse an EU strategy for climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. I believe we would do best to support that, whether we remain in the European Union or following Brexit. We should follow their lead.
Others have spoken of the great challenge of replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric ones, and the need to make air and sea transport more environmentally friendly. Like the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, I am fully signed up to what we have achieved in North Yorkshire by planting more trees. I direct the Minister to the Slowing the Flow at Pickering pilot project, where, by planting trees, making dams and creating peat bogs that take some 200 years to build, we have made a flood defence scheme at the same time. There is no better way to capture and store carbon than planting these trees.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that we must push for better catchment management and ensure that any new houses are built in appropriate places, not on functional flood plains, with proper infrastructure for resilience—in particular, a sustainable water supply with freshwater in and wastewater out.
I end with two questions to the Minister. In encouraging electric-powered vehicles, from which sources of energy will this electricity be supplied? If we are all agreed, which has been the main thrust of the debate so far—politicians, industry, farmers and even schoolchildren—will the Government ensure that we deliver on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and address the challenge of climate change, and that we do so by seeking international action?
My Lords, I echo the words of others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing this debate on what has turned out to be a very special day. I also declare my interest as vice-chair of the Committee on Climate Change and chair of its adaptation committee.
I want to talk about the lesser-known part of the Climate Change Act that covers climate change risk, and the actions that government must take to address it to keep the people of the UK safe in the face of a changing climate. However well we do on mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and even if we could cut them to zero by 2025, as Extinction Rebellion would like, or to the much more realistic target that the CCC has recommended today of 2050, we have to recognise that the climate will go on changing because of the lag in the climate system.
It will continue to get hotter. The threats of droughts and fires will continue to increase. Extreme weather events, such as the short periods of very intense rainfall that cause flooding, will continue to become more frequent. Sea levels will continue to rise, contributing more damage to coastal areas. Adaptation, ensuring that people, but also animals and plants, can continue to live safe and healthy lives in the face of these changes, will remain a critical area for policy, investment and action.
Section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament every five years containing an assessment of the risks to the UK of the current and predicted impact of climate change, and to take into account the advice of the CCC, which is the climate change risk assessment—the CCRA. The current CCRA—our second—was laid before Parliament in 2017.
Under Section 58 of the Act, the Secretary of State has a duty to lay programmes before Parliament, setting out the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government in the UK in relation to the adaptation to climate change; the Government’s proposals and policies for meeting these objectives; and the timescales for introducing these proposals and policies, addressing the risks identified in the most recent climate change risk assessment. This is called the national adaptation programme. Every other year we on the CCC review the progress on delivering the NAP. Our current NAP was laid before Parliament last year, and we will review it formally later this year.
The CCC’s advice to the Government on climate change risks, based on an extensive evidence report, identified 56 key risks and opportunities for the UK which should be addressed in the next five years, 38 of which were classified as “more urgent”— that is, where more action or more research was needed in the next five years. In our first scan of the 2018 NAP, the CCC has already pointed out that half of the 56 key risks are not covered by formal NAP actions, and that includes 16 of the risks identified as “more urgent”. I am not going to list these—our formal report in the summer will cover them in detail—but I want to highlight those particularly pertinent to this debate: the international aspects and the international risks, which include global stability and the global economy.
As we have heard, climate change will impact populations, economies and livelihoods around the world. An increase in extreme weather impacts can be expected to cause widespread loss of life and severe humanitarian crises. Patterns of agricultural production will be disrupted and, over time, will have to change. We will import impacts to the UK through the price and safety of food and other commodities, changes to the patterns of trade, disrupted supply chains and risks to overseas investments. An increased frequency of weather extremes will disproportionately affect low-income populations, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has reminded us, and countries such as the UK will increasingly be called upon to provide more humanitarian assistance. Efforts to build state stability and long-term resilience could be undermined. Further research is urgently needed to understand whether our current approaches to aid and development are contributing effectively to the long-term resilience and stability needed. We need to be aware of the danger that the need for humanitarian assistance, in response to an increasing number of extreme weather events, could shift international aid away from long-term development.
Climate refugees and climate-driven migration are likely to become increasingly problematic, with potential impacts on extremist politics in developed nations. Overall, the research evidence indicates that the key international risks to the UK all fell into the “more urgent” categories, with more action needed on weather-related shocks to global food production and trade, risks from climate-related human displacement—refugees—and more research needed on imported food safety risks, long-term changes in global food production, risks to the UK from international violent conflict, and risks to international law and governance.
None of these has any formal actions in the NAP. While the three relating to food production are mentioned in passing, the three relating to migration, conflict and the breakdown of international law and governance are not mentioned anywhere in the 2018 NAP. The first national adaptation programme, in 2013, set out the laudable aim of:
“A society which makes timely, far-sighted and well-informed decisions to address the risks and opportunities posed by a changing climate”.
The second NAP endorses this aim so why does it appear to ignore the international risks, especially as the UK, through our Prime Minister, is the global lead on resilience for the UN Secretary-General’s special summit on climate change this September?
The international risks are particularly difficult and sensitive: food security, refugees and migration, violent conflict and the breakdown of international law. But we as a society need to discuss these issues so that we can make well-informed decisions about how we want to address them. Some of these risks fall well outside Defra’s departmental remit but so do many of the climate risks to business, communities and infrastructure. Like climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation needs to be a cross-government priority. My questions for the Minister are: first, how do we ensure that adaptation is a priority right across government; and, secondly, why does our national adaptation plan appear to overlook the significant and serious international climate change risks to the UK, despite the positive lead we are taking on resilience to climate change?
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on securing this important debate and on his excellent and passionate remarks of introduction. Let me say first that we have much to be proud of. We are showing global leadership in combating climate change. For example, a recent PwC study reports that the UK is reducing emissions faster than any other G20 country, while still growing our economy. Moreover, 2018 was the cleanest and greenest year ever for electricity generation as renewables generated more than 37% of UK electricity, up from 6% in 2010. Greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by a quarter since 2010. The Government deserve praise for their actions to decarbonise the power sector, with emissions down by 64% on 1990 levels. These are excellent achievements but there is absolutely no room for complacency. There is so much more to be done, as my noble friend Lord Deben outlined so eloquently and as the report from the Committee on Climate Change today explains.
I will focus most of the rest of my remarks on the big challenge now, which is transport. Those emissions have actually been rising, partly as we are driving more but also because carmakers have not reduced emissions as quickly as they promised. Transport is now the sector with the highest level of emissions. I hope my noble friend the Minister will agree that this must change and that there is a huge opportunity for the UK to lead the world in the transition to electric vehicles. I declare an interest as a very happy driver of an all-electric car and I urge the Government to do more to promote this form of road transport and to get our market moving, as we are falling behind Europe’s leaders. Providing £1.5 billion for supporting low-emission vehicles through their Road to Zero strategy is a start. We are also investing £3.5 billion to reduce emissions from road transport but we need zero emissions, not just low emissions.
So far this year, fully electric vehicles have made up under 1% of new car sales. In Germany the figure is 1.7%, in the Netherlands it is 5% and in Norway, incredibly, 50%. This shows what can be done; there are significant benefits to the planet and to air quality for our citizens if we do so. The UK has more than 17,000 public charging points for electric vehicles, of which around 1,700 are rapid devices. This is an achievement, of course, but far more is needed. Without a better regionally spread network of charging points, we will not reach the leadership position and targets that we could achieve.
We need investment in infrastructure. I hope that the Government could encourage more of our long-term investment funds, including local authority-funded pension schemes and other investors, to look for the stable long-term returns that can come from investing even more in climate change mitigation measures and improvements to our infrastructure. These long-term pension funds have huge resources available; I refer my noble friend the Minister and your Lordships to my registered interests in this area. I believe those resources could be far better utilised in securing often inflation-linked returns, which can help meet their liabilities, by investing in not just the income-producing elements but the early-stage infrastructure. That can deliver better ways of managing the risks and returns of these funds than chasing, for example, government bonds.
Early-stage infrastructure and environmentally friendly investments can deliver equity-like returns to investors willing to seek alternative sources of risk premium, other than pure equity or hedge funds, and alternative sources of stable returns—often inflation-linked—outside both the gilt market and the conventional and supposedly low-risk bond markets. These have potentially been heavily distorted by central bank policies and we do not yet understand what that has done to investment risk for long-term investors. Climate and environmentallyfriendly investments should be a core part of any risk-return management assessment for long-term investors.
In reducing transport sector emissions, I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that having vehicle fleets for company cars is an extremely effective mechanism. The company car market is often overlooked and we could encourage more zero-emission company cars. The Government certainly deserve praise for showing leadership last year by committing to end petrol and diesel sales by 2040. However, it is vital that the Government confirm urgently that future rates of company car tax, beyond April 2021, can bring in the 2% rate for zero-emission vehicles for multiple years beyond that. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could take that back to his department.
I fully agree with my noble friend Lord Deben that this should not be a party-political issue. Encouraging institutional investors to take on more responsibility for investing in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and helping to mitigate the impact of climate change, which is already under way, is for global security and economic stability a national issue, not a political one. I shall not dwell on my concerns about the reduction in government resources that will potentially result from our problems on Brexit. Notwithstanding any of this, by utilising long-term investment resources we could play a leading role in this area of critical importance to the planet, and we must.
I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this debate at a time when we are coming to understand that the timetable for dealing with carbon emissions is much shorter than our generation had hoped. The science underpinning our understanding of carbon emissions and the consequences for the planet is not in doubt. Like my noble friend, in preparation for the debate I read Mrs Thatcher’s speech to the 1989 United Nations conference. She was of course one of our very few Prime Ministers with a scientific background. She spoke then of the,
“vast … amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere”,
and the destruction at the same time,
“on a vast scale of tropical forests which are uniquely able to remove carbon dioxide from the air”.
It caused surprise at the time but everything she was concerned about in that speech has been borne out by accurate measurement and the evidence of our own eyes.
It is also now clear that we are not moving fast enough to check the growth of carbon gas emissions and that our faith in our ability to find solutions quickly is misplaced. It was nearly 20 years after that speech that a Labour Government were able to bring forward the Climate Change Act 2008, which provided a target of reducing emissions by at least 80% below the 1990 figures by 2050. That target now looks much too leisurely, and the IPCC report of 2018, commissioned by the 195 signatories to the Paris climate agreement, tells us that we simply do not have until 2050.
Despite much good work by the Committee on Climate Change and much effort to reduce emissions from transport and power generation, not enough has happened. There have been welcome efforts to reduce demand for water and heating, but the hoped-for technological solutions to avert or swiftly mitigate the increase in emissions have not been successful. Nuclear power generation has brought with it unsolved problems of disposal of nuclear waste. Wind and hydrogeneration are making a useful contribution, but neither can be rapidly accelerated, and wave power is not proven. Neither have technological efforts to mitigate emissions been successful. There is at the moment no effective method of carbon-emission storage. The proposed investment of £1 billion in 2015 in finding a solution was cancelled a year after it was proposed.
One approach has, however, been a success, and ironically does not depend on technological innovation. Nearly 30 years ago, the Prime Minister spoke of using tropical forests as carbon sinks to mitigate the growth of emissions. In the intervening years, we have realised that we can enlist nature, both as a global community and, significantly, within our own borders. I speak with the benefit of being briefed by my daughter, who works for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. The combined expertise at CCI, a collaboration of conservation academics and biodiversity organisations, continues to prove that the restoration and recovery of nature—forests, yes, but also peatlands, wetlands, coastal systems and uplands—creates effective carbon sinks, as well as contributing amenities for us all.
One of the most measurable projects recently undertaken is the Great Fen, a large area of the Fens in Cambridgeshire, which used to be increasingly exhausted low-productivity farming land, but has now been rewatered. The process just involved turning off the pumps that have kept that land as farmland since the Dutch engineers installed them in the 17th and 18th centuries. A lot of careful water engineering created the Great Fen. This is now both a lovely park, which provides a wild place to visit for the growing populations of Peterborough and Cambridge, and, critically, a substantial carbon sink. My noble friend Lady Young, alas, is not here today, but she chaired the organisation that brought this about, and I wish she were here.
Several working projects are now managed by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, including Summit to Sea in mid-Wales and the Cairngorms Connect project in Scotland. The primary focus of these projects is the restoration and recovery of critical ecosystems, but we can expect carbon sequestration, hydroecological changes including flood management, air quality changes and collateral community renewal as added value. Nature-based solutions, in short, are the low-hanging fruit in efforts to counter damaging carbon emissions and mitigate the effects we are already experiencing from climate change.
A report published in 2018 by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that it is possible, using natural solutions, to contribute 37% of the reduction in emissions necessary to keep the increase in global warming below 2% by 2030. It would not be difficult to expand this work; it can be done largely as a matter of water engineering. But the Great Fen was partly funded by philanthropy, and Summit to Sea and the Cairngorms projects are largely funded by private individuals and the Arcadia Fund set up by Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. However, enabling more developments of this sort to contribute to alleviating emissions cannot be achieved by even the most generous private philanthropy. Government money and the will to push through development will be needed to use to the full our natural assets of wetlands and land exhausted by intensive farming and deforestation. This is an area that cannot be left to the market.
Money for measurement and cost-benefit analysis of this area would also be well spent. Good work is happening in several places on researching the precise costs and measuring the benefits of this sort of expansion. Centralising this research could present the Government with a wide choice of projects, with the costs and benefits set out, so that decisions could be made and action taken quickly on which proposals to support. I hope that, in winding up the debate, the Minister will agree on the importance of developing projects that use nature and our land, and can be developed quickly.
My Lords, in February 2004, I introduced a debate on climate change in your Lordships’ House. It was prompted by the stark warning of the then Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, who said that,
“climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism”.
The Blair Government took Sir David King’s advice seriously and worked up a consensus on the way forward, a point powerfully made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in his excellent introduction. That Government established a Joint Committee of both Houses—of which I was fortunate to be a member—to work on a draft Bill. It took evidence and advice. It proved a worthwhile way forward and the resulting Climate Change Act was a world first. I believe that everything the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said needs to be a lesson learned today.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, was a little upset by the remarks of my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who criticised this Government for squandering four years and the progress made until 2015. Consensus does not mean we should not be able to criticise lack of action where it happens. That is important too. I hope we will build a consensus today, but at the same time we must expect critical friends, or even critical opposition, to move us forward.
I will spend most of my speech on an issue that was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Rooker, Lord Deben and Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and possibly others, and that is soil. Soil has such a critical role to play in both mitigating and adapting to climate change, so it is a good thing that Defra is working on a new strategy, but I must say to the Minister that the call for research does not explicitly mention carbon storage or climate change. Perhaps it is implicit.
Much worse was an issue I discovered from my recent Written Question: there is a chronic shortage of soil scientists. The answer to this Question on 5 April was that there are five professors of soil science in England and Wales, and 25 academic staff in total. That is certainly not enough to action Defra’s requirements for an innovative approach to monitoring soil health in England and Wales. I ask the Minister what urgent action the Government will take to resolve that issue, if we are going to develop appropriate soil metrics and a new environmental land management scheme, as the Government have set out in their future farming Command Paper and the 25-year environment plan. We must resolve this lack of soil scientists.
There is an interesting international soil initiative. I declare an interest here as a part-owner of a vineyard in France. After the Paris climate change accords of 2015, an initiative was launched by the French called 4 per 1000. Basically, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases by 4.3 billion tonnes a year and the world’s soils contain some 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon as organic matter. If we increased that organic matter by just 0.4% a year, primarily by improving and restoring degraded agricultural land, it would go a long way towards halting the annual increase in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. At the same time, it would improve a lot of other things such as soil fertility, which would help food production, water and biodiversity. Those are all worthwhile efforts.
Changing attitudes to soil involves farming very differently. No-till farming is now gaining hold. There is also more mixed farming, with fewer monocultures. Perhaps the plan will look forward to taxing the bad—that is, nitrogen-based fertiliser—and we have already had a lot of discussion about rewarding the good by helping farmers who increase natural capital and farm ecologically. In that regard, I should perhaps declare my co-chairmanship of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology.
Equally important is clear labelling for consumers, because they need to know that they are buying something that is the best. That brings me to my last point. In the last century, we had labelling of what miles per gallon a car would do; in this century, we need much clearer labelling about carbon footprints. Perhaps we even need to move to a system of personal carbon allowances, with labelling telling us just how much of our personal carbon allowance we are using up. I hope that some think tank will return to personal carbon allowances. Even since 2012, when the last substantial work was done on this issue, all sorts of mechanisms such as phone apps have been developed that make it much easier for a person to know exactly how much carbon they consume. There are those who, like me, want to combine climate change issues with social justice issues. Of course, those with the biggest incomes are often the biggest emitters of carbon, through flying more and having two cars, bigger houses, et cetera. The UK is in a great position technologically to enable us to maintain our lifestyles but to reduce our emissions.
My Lords, it is with huge pleasure that I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on bringing forward the debate today and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on his report, because it is brilliant timing on both their parts. It has been a very happy time for me to listen to the debate; some of the speeches have been incredibly passionate and have saved my having to say some of these things—in fact, I have quite a few scribbles through my notes because others have said what I wanted to say and much more passionately.
It is notable that today we have had the news that the Indonesian Government have decided that they have to move their capital, Jakarta, because some parts of it are sinking at a rate of 10 inches a year. It is the first capital city to move for climate change reasons, which is perhaps an indicator of the way things are going.
For me, the Extinction Rebellion campaign has been a breath of fresh air. It has drawn the climate and ecological emergency to the forefront of political debate. It has moved the debate from whether all this is happening to when we can start to deal with it and thereby preserve humanity and some of our valuable ways of life. That it has been able to cut through all the Brexit noise and force politicians such as us to confront the issues is proof that its tactics are legitimate and highly effective. It joins the ranks of peaceful earth protectors across the world who risk so much in the pursuit of a safe climate and a secure future.
Extinction Rebellion has three simple, core demands. The first is to tell the truth, so that Parliament, having declared a climate and ecological emergency, must work with other institutions and other groups to communicate the need for change. The second is to act now. The Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. The climate change committee’s report has made some valuable headway, but it was written before Extinction Rebellion’s campaign had really got under way. Sixty per cent of people agree with Extinction Rebellion’s aims, which means that the political climate outside these Houses has moved on and that we can be more ambitious. I am afraid that the net-zero aim of 2050 is not only unambitious but shockingly weak and will not take us to the place of safety that we all need. It is a game-changer; it is wonderful that it has happened, but it is not enough. The third demand by Extinction Rebellion is to go beyond politics. The Government must create and be led by the decisions of citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological issues.
Let me go into those issues a little more deeply. Telling the truth means admitting that the Government’s existing climate legislation is too weak and too slow. It requires the Government to admit that they are planning to miss their legally binding climate budgets and are trying to find ways to water them down already. It means writing the Paris Agreement into UK law and sticking to the targets. It means having an honest conversation with the electorate about what this means and the scale of change that is needed to set us on the right course.
Telling the truth also means using the statistics and data honestly. It means no longer saying that we have outperformed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy, when we know that this has happened partly because we are importing more from other countries and pretending that their emissions do not count. We cannot fiddle the figures any more; the Government cannot cheat any more on this. Luckily, the climate change committee has advised including shipping and aviation emissions in government figures, which I hope will remove the option of Heathrow expansion, but we should also include our imports. There is always a lot of whataboutery in respect of China and other countries, which are perhaps not doing their bit. We have to accept that we are encouraging their emissions by our imports. We should take responsibility for those import emissions; at the moment, we do not.
Telling the truth means being honest with one another and with ourselves that this is a terrifying state of affairs. Anyone who is not afraid for the future of our planet is either uninformed or living in wilful ignorance. Acting now means taking at least the same amount of political will, Civil Service resource and legislative time that has been spent on Brexit and applying that to the climate and ecological emergency. It means a two-year parliamentary Session with a Queen’s Speech focused entirely on climate and ecology, cancelled recesses and endless statutory instruments. It means strong and far-ranging manifesto commitments from all the political parties which are then implemented obsessively for years to come.
We are acting for the future of our planet, for the future of humanity and for the future of our children and grandchildren. We are acting for the needs of nearly 8 billion humans on earth, along with millions of other species with which we share our home.
Acting now also means serious enforcement and legislation. It means massive state intervention in huge market failures, radical taxation and subsidies, nationalisation of certain industries and the creation of a million climate jobs. It means zero-carbon homes, enormous green infrastructure projects and forging happier, healthier lives with a much smaller footprint on the earth. It also means banning fracking and writing off huge fossil fuel reserves—I advise any Peers who have fossil fuel investments to get rid of them now.
I have had my six minutes; I am going to end. Greta Thunberg said that we should be panicking. Personally, I have been panicking for years. A friend of mine once said that my worst character flaw was saying, “I told you so”. I want to say to the House today, “I told you so”. We have to get on and actually make a difference.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this important debate about critical decisions being taken by societies and Governments on the key issues of human-induced climate change and the important decisions that need to be made about the future. Yesterday’s report in the UK was certainly a significant contribution.
I declare my interest as a former head of the Met Office, which is a world-leading organisation for climate change research. I am also involved in UK universities, which play a world-leading role in climate science.
Decisions are greatly benefiting from the excellent explanations of the science from the BBC and other media and the many practical measures being taken. Even schoolchildren have been following this. Other noble Lords have referred to their grandchildren; I refer to my scientific granddaughter, who has also greatly enjoyed these programmes. These programmes and public demonstrations, and notices on French motorways, are explaining the need to reduce the artificial emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We have to avoid the steady rise in concentrations of these gases to avoid a gradual rise of temperature in the atmosphere and on the ocean surface.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, emphasised, public debate and decisions are now focusing on the damage to societies and infrastructure caused by floods, fires, high winds and rising sea levels. The classic case of this is small countries in the Pacific which are likely to have to evacuate their islands as a result of sea-level rise. Environmental dangers to agriculture and industry will also have high costs, as other noble Lords have emphasised. Evidence of human-induced climate change is particularly visible in the polar regions, not only in the melting of sea ice and glaciers but also in the significant effects on weather patterns at lower latitudes, as we have seen with the varied jet stream and polar vortices now regularly referred to in the media. It is quite something when you have to use new expressions to explain the changes taking place.
Noble Lords might be surprised to hear that these models are also extremely important in reassuring about the future. As we learned at a Royal Society meeting in 2015, these models show how, if the rise of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases was to cease—as many noble Lords have talked about—the models show that this would actually lead to the climate patterns returning. In other words, for much of this century we are still in a situation where, if the policies are correct, we will see a return to the nature that we want.
We also need to continue science in order to debate with climate sceptics. There is still a problem with some leading newspapers, as I saw to my surprise on the central page of the Times yesterday. As has been commented on, critical policies for reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere depend on reducing emissions resulting from human activities such as industry and transport and on finding the direct, innovative responses that we need in industry, transport, deforestation and controlling the vast emissions from natural sources of hydrocarbons, such as high melting permafrost and fracking in the northern United States. Soil and water policies are also critical, yet the World Meteorological Organization, at which I used to represent the UK and in which we are very involved, has, regrettably, begun to consider the possibility of downgrading the historical importance of international water programmes. This is an important matter which I hope the Foreign Office will take on board.
Technological developments must minimise the dangers to society and enable new low-carbon designs for societies, especially in endangered and highly populated urban areas where temperatures are threatening human health. For example, solar collectors are a new technology which can be used to minimise high temperatures in tropical urban areas, as large cities in China do now. Urban dangers are also important in coastal areas subject to extreme flooding. We must also consider the exposed, mountainous areas in Nepal. There are other examples where energy technology policies need to be combined with different types of electricity generation. This is why, in the UK, wind and solar have to be combined with other energy systems, particularly nuclear, that can operate in weather conditions when the renewables cannot.
In Asia, the generally low winds and cloudy conditions are driving the need for nuclear energy in, for example, Laos, Vietnam and Singapore. These countries are currently planning for future energy based on nuclear fission, but at the same time there is growing public and private investment in Europe and the United States in nuclear fusion, which may be providing clean energy in the next 10 to 20 years. I declare an interest as a consultant to Tokamak Energy Ltd. Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs in superconducting magnetic fields, in which the UK is a pioneer, and plasma physics, we may see this. The great advantage of fusion is that it will not produce radioactive waste, mentioned by other noble Lords. Indeed, the technology will eventually safely reprocess waste, which is one reason why I am so interested in this advanced technology. I am confident that it will benefit society, as previous developments of science and technology have done.
Considering and explaining the benefits to society is an important role for world leaders. Mrs Thatcher, from long ago, has been spoken about. Let us hope that, when Mr Trump comes here in May, we give him an earful of what the House has been hearing this afternoon.
My Lords, global warming needs urgent action, but it must be conducted simultaneously both horizontally across parties and internationally, as we have heard, and by us all acting at several vertical levels to form a unity of purpose. Extinction Rebellion is waking up people at all four levels. At level 1, individuals now see themselves needing to change their behaviour. At level 2, small enterprises, NGOs and charities are innovating and co-operating. At level 3, huge corporations now see that they must change direction. At level 4, we in government must respond with urgency today at national and international level. I will speak on actions at these four levels. Unless we act at all levels in harmony, we will fail and become extinct as a species.
At the level of the individual, noble Lords will know that I am a practitioner and advocate of mindfulness and yoga. I practise these, and want others to join, not just for health but to change the way I think and act. When one is at the normal, everyday, lower level of consciousness—at one’s amygdala—where we have a “fight or flight” response, one thinks only of me and my family, and now and next week. When one is able to experience mindfully a higher consciousness, one starts to think of the wider good of all beings, and the longer perspective of all time. People are waking up to the realisation that we need to think and act in this long-term, selfless, compassionate way. I met yesterday with the Adot foundation, which says that “giving is receiving”. Its mission is to spread the use of its website, adot.com, which shows that experiencing something greater than one’s habitual self is life enhancing and can save the planet.
I will cite one example at the next level, where small projects need our support to grow and work together. The IPCC says that the barriers to reforestation are lack of political will, finance and stability. It knows that massive tree planting can help save the planet. A registered UK charity, TreeSisters, is already planting 200,000 trees a month. It is calling for reforestation to be embedded in every individual financial transaction. Last year, consumers in the UK made 26 billion transactions. If each transaction over, say, £25, had contained an embedded forest restoration charge of, say, 50p, we would be well on our way to planting the trillion trees for which the planet has space. An independent, ethical lifestyle media company MyGreenPod, is already doing this, adding 50p to every financial transaction on its online marketplace, which sells only products that are good for people and the planet. We as government should set out a way of helping all businesses in the UK collect and donate this surcharge, thereby being a light to all nations.
At the third level, many huge corporations are aware of the issue and have been trying to help for years. As a retailer, I worked for an enlightened company that was conscious of the use of resources and the need to save waste. For those reasons, we used no fancy packaging, no costly window displays and no advertising. We used energy-saving lighting and established the Volcani institute of agriculture in Israel that invented drip irrigation, the Weizmann Institute of Science that pioneered solar energy, and the Shenkar college of textile technology and design that created clothing that lasted for years rather than months. But this is now an emergency. Most businesses today are not designed in the context of the developing climate emergency—hence we must urgently redesign entire industries and businesses.
Last week there was an urgent letter written to the Times, signed by prominent people from huge organisations, including friends and colleagues whom I know to be serious on this point. They included Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, Sir Tim Smit from the Eden Project, Jake Hayman, of Ten Years’ Time and the son of our former Lord Speaker, Bevis Watts of Triodos Bank and Gail Bradbrook of Extinction Rebellion. They suggested that businesses should make a declaration that we face a climate change emergency and organise a session at a full board meeting to consider the case for urgent action. They are going to encourage the senior management teams, of which we are part, to do likewise.
Fourthly and finally, to tie all this together we in government must act. There are organisations waiting for new Bills to come from the Government, and they will go into businesses and help them change. The Global Conscious Movement—GCM—is such a grass-roots global consultancy established to utilise the talents, energy and creativity of young professionals to teach big companies the principles and practices of sustainable business. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for this debate. I hope that this House can persuade Her Majesty’s Government to see the urgency and act forcefully and speedily to address this crisis, so that my grandchildren, Ziva, Asher, Elian and one yet to be named, like the grandchildren of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, will be reading Hansard in 30 years’ time and thanking us for having saved the planet.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, certainly knows how to get things done. No sooner did this subject for debate appear on the Order Paper than the streets of London were clogged with Extinction Rebellion demonstrators, yesterday the Commons voted to declare a climate emergency and today we have a 660-page report from the Committee on Climate Change. I think that that is tremendous. Another tremendous thing was how the Extinction Rebellion demonstration was received. I have some critical things to say later, but I thought that the tabloid newspapers would be full of “3 billion tonnes of CO2 released by cars jammed by Extinction Rebellion”, or “Ooh, look how this demonstrator travelled to London in a gas guzzler”, I thought that the establishment would turn on them, but in fact it has not. The demonstrators and their leader were received with great seriousness and respect, and I applaud that.
However, I do not entirely agree with the protesters, for two reasons. First—and this has even been a feature of your Lordships’ debate—we tend to forget how much progress has been made and in how many areas in this field: not just in public consciousness but in actual change. Some 47% of our electricity came from low-carbon sources in 2016: that had doubled since 2010. You can have Parliament sitting through every recess in history but you will not get faster action than that. I fear that campaigners tend to ignore such facts; they turn instinctively to the contemporary language and wisdom that Governments and politicians are fools and liars. Politicians have many faults—we have many faults ourselves—but we are not, on the whole, fools or liars.
Secondly, while applauding their motives, I think that some of the policies they seem to advocate are actually counterproductive in dealing with climate change. Take GM technology. We will have to be able to feed the world in more difficult circumstances in future, yet there has been a knee-jerk reaction against GM technology. I know that the greens are divided on nuclear power, but far too many people instinctively oppose nuclear power, which is the cleanest source of all. As we have heard this afternoon, new forms of nuclear power may emerge which combine safety and a big contribution to reducing CO2.
My final point is about fracking. I shall dedicate my remarks, at slightly greater length, to Natascha Engel, who resigned as fracking tsar this week because the industry is being health-and-safetyed out of existence. I know that some noble Lords have spoken on this. My knowledge is confined to that which I gained when I was on the Economic Affairs Committee which completed, on your Lordships’ behalf, a very serious inquiry into fracking. The bottom-line conclusion is very simple: it halves the amount of emissions that would otherwise take place from fossil fuels and there are no serious risks involved. One witness who appeared before the committee complained that fracking meant using lots of chemicals. That is quite true: you use a lot of H2O in fracking. I asked him what chemicals he had in mind that he did not think were very good. His answer was that he was a hairdresser and could not be expected to answer such questions—this was the leader of the anti-fracking lobby in one area. It is great that he got involved, but we have to be careful that reason does not get lost in all this.
Another danger is that I am not sure that doing everything we can to reduce our emissions is going to solve the problem, particularly while we have a climate change denier in the White House. There may have to be new high-tech solutions which cut through. I commend the work of a former Economist colleague of mine, Oliver Morton, and his book The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World. I will not go into the individual projects—iron fertilisation, for example. This is going to be a real challenge for those who believe, as I do, that we face a threat here. Are we going to take the attitude that these projects are welcome? If the scientists tell us that they will make a big contribution to reducing global warming, should they be embraced? Or are we going to get a lot of glib rhetoric about how this is just a way to get around reducing emissions, and lots of scaremongering about dreadful, and probably imaginary, side effects?
In the end, protests will not solve this crisis. Technological advance, mature policy-making and brave politicians will be needed for that. I hope that the demonstrators will in future deploy not just their hearts but their heads, in support of measures that really could avert this genuinely terrifying threat.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for securing this debate. When we talk about climate change we need to remember who our opponents are: unless we know our opponents it becomes very difficult to make a case. When we talk about climate change we are advancing three propositions. First, there is climate change. Secondly, it is created by or fuelled by human activities. Thirdly, it has or will have certain consequences, such as droughts, floods and agricultural crises. Those who deny climate change deny either one or all three propositions. They deny that there is climate change; or they might say, yes, there is climate change, but it is not created by human activities; or they might say, yes, it is created by human activities but the consequences attributed to it are highly exaggerated and we do not believe it. The important thing for us, therefore, is to show why these three propositions, on which our case rests, are all valid.
I do not have the time to go through all that, but I think we can point to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the NASA report that claimed that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is due to human activities and the fact that in our country, in the House of Commons when the Climate Change Act was going through, 463 MPs supported it and only three were against it. I think one can show, in looking at these considerations, that there is a scientific imperative to deal with the problems climate change poses.
In addition, there is a second ground on which climate change can be pressed, and that is the democratic ground. Morally, of course, we ought to be concerned with the consequences of our actions and how they affect future generations. In this case, it is not just future generations in the abstract. We are talking about future generations concretely present in the shape of children of 12, 13, 14 or 15 asking for their rights. If we ignore future generations, we are ignoring the consequences of our actions for actual, living people and invite intergenerational warfare, which is hardly what we should be asking for.
Having made out the case for climate change control, I want to ask a different question and face the opponents on our side. Obviously, we need to do a great deal at the individual and collective levels on climate change. Look, for example, at the way the report published this morning by the climate change committee demands that we do and do not do certain things. For example, it says that the thermostat must be set at 19 degrees centigrade, that people should not be eating or should be cutting down on beef and lamb, that they should take the bus to work rather than a car and use light bulbs of a certain kind. We are also told that if you are against climate change, you should not travel by air or use packages, because packages contribute between 20% and 30% to greenhouse gases.
If we start thinking along those lines, fully implementing the policy on curtailing the impact of climate change, look at the consequences. Is it realistic to say to people, “You must not travel by air or use bulbs of a certain kind”? It is, but only up to a point. It becomes invasive into people’s lives and liberties. How paternalistic and illiberal it sounds for the Government to produce a report asking people to behave in certain ways. Controlling or countering the reality of climate change requires a profound change in our ways of thinking and living. Unless we genuinely believe that we are prepared to make those changes, we should be careful in what we advocate.
Another thing is worth bearing in mind. We cannot localise climate change: it is a global phenomenon. We therefore need to tackle it globally, but at the global level there are poor countries and rich countries. Poor countries cannot carry their share of the burden. Are rich countries prepared to show more altruism? Again, unless we are convinced that rich countries are prepared to make that sacrifice, it is difficult to discuss climate change. My view is that we should certainly push for climate change measures, but bearing in mind that it will involve sacrifices on our part here in the West and making painful changes to our ways of thinking and living.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing this timely climate change debate today. It is an opportunity for us all to focus on and support a strong, determined, non-political pathway for change. As public concern about climate change has increased to levels we have never witnessed before, that concern must be addressed. Climate change has moved to the top of the political agenda, resulting in an urgent need to instigate more decisive action for future generations. Yesterday, the other House acknowledged the climate change plan, which could make Britain the first major economy to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. That is a dramatic change from the current target of a reduction of 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
The UK has become the biggest user of offshore wind energy farms. They have grown up in a relatively short number of years as costs have fallen significantly, with further enhancement to develop the so-called carbon capture utilisation and storage facilities. To continue reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and help to drive net emissions to zero, the UK needs to build a number of CCUS plants to hold those millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, that the Humber region is host to one of the UK’s biggest on and offshore wind farms in the UK.
On the face of it, we have a colossal amount to do. The people expect more in the agenda of addressing change. We need to tackle the growing environmental crisis now, because the longer we delay, the harder it will be. Last year, 6.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere per head of the UK population, so we must look at the mechanism to bring that down to zero. Everything must be included in the mix for those massive future changes: transport, retrofitting of housing, replacing boilers with heat pumps, and major changes in food production, to name a few. As climate change takes hold, we are now seeing increasing storms, rising sea levels, disappearing coral reefs, catastrophic flooding and ice caps melting. Current temperatures are on course to rise by 3 degrees centigrade, leading to devastating heatwaves and raising the risk of large-scale, irreversible impacts.
Five years ago, nearly 63% of UK electricity was generated by coal or oil, compared to 15% by renewables. Last year, the equation had changed from 63% fossil fuels to 44%, and the proportion for renewables had risen from 15% to nearly 32%. That is a good marker, and 2018 was the greenest and cleanest year.
I mentioned food production. Management practice must improve in agriculture, helping to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which will have an impact on future diet requirements and the costs associated. We have also seen a loss of crop yields, wildlife and wetlands. Our countryside has a large part to play in climate change, and we must use it to the best advantage: for example, by freeing up land to plant trees, and looking to increase forest cover from 13% to 17%. Miles of hedgerows have been pulled out, so we need those reinstated. Shrubs can absorb carbon dioxide, as well as enhancing the environment. Nature is waiting. What is the latest number of tree-planting schemes started, completed or in the pipeline?
I am pleased that the UK is leading by example in reducing annual emissions by more than 43% since 1990, but much more is needed. Time is of the essence. As my noble friend Lord Deben said, we cannot hang about too long; we must get a move on to reach the goal of a zero-emission target, enabling our future economy to be cleaner, smarter and more efficient for our future generations.
As we say, we are all in this together: people young and old want to play some part in driving that challenge for change, and in recent days we have seen a call for action. There is no doubt that climate change is the most profound environmental challenge facing the world today. We have a target date for net zero of 2050, but we must have well-designed policies to reach that goal, and climate change must be placed at the heart of our economic agenda.
My Lords, in preparing for today’s debate, I looked at the text of a lecture on the subject of the atmosphere and the threat of global warming that I delivered exactly 25 years ago, and which remains on my academic website. It does not seem to be out of date, for the reason that, by 1994, the science of global warming was well established. However, there were uncertainties about the speed of the onset of the process of global warming and its liability to be accelerated through feedback effects. One of those feedback effects is due to the melting of polar ice. It was uncertain how rapidly melting would proceed. Bare seawater is much more absorptive of radiation than are ice and snow, and their melting would serve to accelerate the process of global warming, but to an unknown extent. The melting of the permafrost releases large quantities of methane gas, which has a far greater warming effect than carbon dioxide; this will also serve to accelerate global warming. Photosynthesis, which captures carbon dioxide, and biological decay, which emits it, are both enhanced by warming, but it was uncertain which of these would advance more rapidly. However, the destruction of forests has proceeded at pace, which has reduced the rate of carbon sequestration.
A further reason for the uncertainties was the difficulty in predicting the human response to the crisis of global warming in its various phases. I asserted that the crisis, which was then presently threatened, would become imminent at some stage and then, in a short time, become actual. The nature of the human response would depend to some extent on the duration of these phases. The feedback processes have proved stronger than was widely imagined, and the human response has been much weaker, and the crisis has indeed become actual sooner than one might have imagined.
At the time, there was some optimism that effective action would be taken to staunch carbon dioxide emissions, but these have grown steadily. In 1994, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was less than 360 parts per million by volume. The emissions are following an exponential trend and, today, the concentration exceeds 400 parts per million. Ice core data suggest that the pre-industrial concentration was perhaps 275 parts per million. The ultimate effect of the present levels is bound to be disastrous. The eventual levels may be much higher.
The main reason for the increased burden of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been the advance of manufacturing and the increasing adoption of western lifestyles in the developing economies of Asia. American emissions have been largely unchecked, while in some European countries, such as the UK, they have declined slightly. We have passed rapidly from the era of recognition, when warnings were widely broadcast and timely action to avert a climate catastrophe was first called for, to the present era, which could be described as the age of reckoning, when the catastrophe is upon us. We have squandered our early opportunities and must now act with extreme urgency.
This country has achieved much less in reducing its carbon expenditure than many of us might imagine. It is true that, in generating electricity, we have largely replaced our coal-fired power stations with gas-fired plants and wind farms. Also, our total consumption of electricity is slightly less than it was in the 1980s. These developments have been enabled in the UK by an ongoing process of deindustrialisation. However, if we reckon the carbon costs of what we consume, these have not been reduced. Much of what we consume is now manufactured in countries in which carbon emissions have grown rapidly; other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made that point. Moreover, the climate change committee tells us that we are liable to miss the targets for the reduction of our domestic carbon emissions that were cast in legislation.
How should we react to these circumstances? I will describe three plausible reactions. The first is to adopt a counsel of despair. Our own carbon consumption must seem insignificant in relation to the global total. It can be asserted that our efforts at self-restraint in our emissions cannot have much of a global effect, that they cannot be to our advantage and that they will allow others to act with less restraint. I reject this outlook.
A second and more moral stance is to pursue the course of self-restraint with renewed vigour. It has been proposed that we should seek to exploit renewable sources of power—wind and sun—with increased determination, while enhancing the efficiency of our uses of energy. We should curtail our use of personal transport and insulate our houses. I support these nostrums of parsimony and abstemiousness. However, the difficulty with such a program of austerity is that it would be unlikely to afford us sufficient margins of additional power with which to pursue the electrification of heating and transport, which will be the key to further reductions in our emissions.
The third recommendation is that we should pursue, with the utmost vigour, a technological revolution in the generation and use of electrical power to produce a plenitude that would allow us to supplant all other sources of power. To achieve this, we need to build more nuclear power stations. The surplus power from these stations, which would occur at certain times if they are run at a constant level, should be used to generate hydrogen by electrolysis. The hydrogen would be a source of power in times of high demand for electricity. It should also be available for use in the fuel cells that should power our public and private transport. This technological revolution—the pursuit of which will demand courage—is liable to create a thriving economy, which should be capable of exporting to the rest of the world its solutions for confronting the scourge of global warming.
My Lords, I thank most warmly my noble friend Lord Rooker for his powerful introduction to the debate and his consistent and ongoing work in this area. It is also important to take this opportunity to put on record our cross-Floor appreciation of the unremitting and passionate commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in this sphere, as well as of the similarly total commitment and enthusiasm of my noble friend Lord Prescott.
It is sometimes important in debates to listen to other people, not just ourselves in this House. The leadership provided by Greta Thunberg has impressed us all, and has been there in the leadership of so many members of civil society for a number of years. I quote Christian Aid:
“There is a global climate emergency. Climate change, which has been largely caused by developed countries, is wreaking havoc in many developing countries. Many are forced to declare a state of emergency due to extreme weather and climate impacts, such as Mozambique in the aftermath of”,
“Climate change is now the biggest factor setting back efforts to end poverty. Extreme weather and climate impacts hit every populated continent in 2018, killing, injuring and displacing many millions of people, and causing major economic damage. 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record, with average global temperatures nearly 1°C above the pre-industrial average. Current international pledges to cut emissions place us on track for around 3°C of warming—which could have a catastrophic impact. Climate injustice is rampant: richer countries have continued to delay the necessary action and defended incumbent industries and vested interests such as the fossil fuel sector. Meanwhile demands by developing countries for more finance and technology have been largely ignored. Climate finance is not a matter of aid but a matter of justice to repay the debts owed from using up the global carbon budget”,
in our industrial revolutions in the past. It continues:
“Averting further serious impacts of climate change requires an urgent, rapid, and large-scale response by governments all around the world, action and investment which are tantamount to a state of emergency. A state of emergency is justified: the usual politics of incremental change is not enough to cut GHG emissions fast enough. There is massive public support in the north and global south for rapid, large scale action to protect the environment. Politicians must wake up”.
They are right. Indeed, the Secretary-General of the UN himself was right when he spoke out so strongly last year, reminding us of our responsibility to take international action. If we hear nothing else from the Minister in his response today, I hope that he will make a reassuring and convincing case that the arrangements for an emergency are in fact being put in place across government and that all departments are being encouraged to see their role and to play a full and active part in bringing together the essential aggregated policy that will require the mobilisation of the Government as a whole.
Others have spoken of their grandchildren. I will say only this: when I look at my grandsons and granddaughter, and when I think of the generations beyond, I do not know how we can face them unless we take action. What my noble friend Lord Rooker said in opening this debate is crucially important. This is no longer the time for expressions of good intentions and moral conviction; this is the time for action and we need to see it taking place. We have heard from my noble friend that the arrangements and the policies necessary to fulfil what should be done are in place. It is now a matter of putting them into action.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Green Purposes Company that holds a special share in the Green Investment Bank. It is a delight to take part in a debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, given his key role in this House and in Parliament when the Climate Change Act was finally approved just over a decade ago in 2008. It makes me wonder whether determination and enthusiasm about this issue runs on a 10-year cycle. I hope that it does not and that it will be a bit more consistent over the next 10 years. I want also particularly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on his work on the Committee on Climate Change. Along with a number of other noble Lords, I was privileged to be at the presentation of the report this morning. We were asked by the chief executive, Chris Stark, to read the whole document because it is comprehensive and it will do us good. That is quite a big ask for us these days, but it is good. Having said that, one of the things about this debate is that it generates passion, which there needs to be, along with some attitude. I was a little disappointed with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, when he attacked my noble friend Lady Featherstone. Believe me: you are both on the same side on this issue, and I am sure that that is true for this subject more generally, as it was back in 2008.
It is important not only that we agree but that we call government to account, because that is what Parliament and this Chamber is partly about. It is impossible not to, as my noble friend did, mention the car crash at the time of regime change in 2015. Then, frankly, onshore wind disappeared, carbon capture and storage ended, and there was the vandalism of stopping the zero carbon homes initiative. Not only that, the Department of Energy and Climate Change was abolished, which illustrated all too well where we were. The person who instigated that is no longer in the Government and in fact is no longer in Parliament; he edits the local evening rag in London and is doing a great job there. But what that says to me is that if there is one thing the Government need do on climate change—be it the current Government or whatever we have in the future—it is to get the Treasury on board. We have to make sure that more than anyone else, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the standard bearer for climate change and this particular crisis. For the past four years we have been resting on our laurels because of those changes. While I do not for a moment question the authentic wish and determination of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, Claire Perry MP and Greg Clark MP to implement this policy, more needs to happen.
The outcome of resting on our laurels is that the Committee on Climate Change now says that we will not meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets even as they are at the moment; that is, aiming for an 80% reduction by 2050. The fourth budget will start in 2023, which is only four years ahead. I have only one question for the Minister. I cannot ask him whether the Government will commit to meeting the aims set out in the report published this morning because that is not reasonable. The Government first have to consider it. However, can he tell us what actions the Government will take to meet their current commitments to the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? At the moment we have had a lot of very good and worthy pieces of paper. We have had a number of strategies, including the Resources and Waste Strategy, the Clean Growth Strategy, the 25-year environment plan, and the Road to Zero Strategy, but what is the outcome of those?
Let us look at some of the major emitting sectors. On power generation, yes, the past Administrations of this country have done very well. We now have a hole in terms of nuclear, given that the Toshiba and Hitachi stations do not look like they will go ahead. However, the one thing I give absolute credit to the Government for is carrying on with contracts for difference for offshore wind. A further 900 turbines are going to be delivered under the present plans. That is excellent but it is not going to do everything, so we need to improve in that area.
Heating, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, is a big issue. We have got nowhere on that and we are still discussing it. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, brought up transport. We are seeing emissions rise through use of white vans for mail order deliveries. While I have not looked at the sales, I have checked the stock of electric vehicles. What percentage of our total stock of motor transport is electric? It is 0.2%: one-fifth of 1% of vehicles on our roads are electric, so we still have a huge distance to go. Sir John Armitt of the National Infrastructure Commission reminded us only last week that we absolutely must have a working infrastructure of charging points. That will give people the courage to buy electric vehicles because they will know that they can drive them anywhere. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said, we do not have that at the moment.
I turn to agriculture and land use. The NFU has now committed to zero carbon by 2040, although that is quite sketchy. But, again, we are seeing no real action. Our peatland areas are of concern to me. They act as one of our biggest carbon sinks, but we still have a voluntary code governing the use of peat in horticultural compost. That use is actually going up rather than coming down. We need mandatory controls on that. I am delighted that Claire Perry has said that we should have carbon capture and storage schemes operating by 2030, but we have already been told by other experts that as things stand in the sector, it will not happen commercially.
The new chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, Chris Stark, told us earlier that in the past the plan was to do all of these things serially, working through the major sectors one after the other. We now have to do them all at the same time and that is going to be a challenge, but it is doable with our current technology. I want to congratulate the Committee on Climate Change on not factoring in future technologies. The report is on existing technologies and, taking the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about bringing the date forward, I hope that, when that technology changes, the date is brought forward. It certainly needs to be.
I have perhaps sounded a little pessimistic. As I did in the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in the Moses Room only a month ago—which was rather less well attended—I will go through some of the huge benefits we get from meeting these targets. One is clean air, which is already a rising political issue. Another is better health. We are going to have higher and better-skilled employment and, I believe, strong and robust economic growth in this sector. We will also have a circular economy—it is not just about carbon emissions—in which we use the resources of our planet again, circulate them and make that sustainable. By following this new trajectory of zero carbon by 2050, we as a nation take back that leadership on climate change that I believe we have partly—only partly—lost over the last four years.
I have really enjoyed this debate. What I really like about it is the passion, the attitude and the fact that we are agreed; there are no climate change deniers here today, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, mentioned. We now know that this is the truth. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches might want to call the Government to account, but we are desperate to join Members of all other parties and none in this House to work towards the solution and achieve zero carbon emissions in 2050.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this very timely debate and thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I congratulate him on his introduction and his choice of title,
“that this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s legal responsibility”.
Against the background of recent events and demonstrations, it is time to show leadership and reset the parameters, taking legislative action in addition to resetting policy areas. I declare my interest in having five grandchildren.
Parliament is excellent at framing policies, debating issues and defining problems. However, there is a general lack of profile of this activity outside Parliament, such that to the public there seems to be a lack of activity, urgency and will. It is certainly not helped by trivialisation in the media, whereby today’s important report by the Committee on Climate Change is portrayed as merely calling for everyone to wear a sweater and turn down the heating. If only it were that simple. Dialogue with the public has certainly been helped by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, admitting that not enough has been done, in contrast to the self-congratulatory stance recently taken by other members of the Government. By all means we will give credit where it is due—as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, admits—but let us get real. The climate emergency movement is to be congratulated on the way it has raised the profile of climate change and underlined its importance. Let us take up the challenge rather than argue about how to police such protests.
First, we need to get our figures right. Rather than self-congratulatory responses, let us look at whether Greta Thunberg is correct and include all forms of emissions, including aviation and shipping. Let us look at the built environment and at democratising responses so that everyone realises not only that they have responsibilities but that they must take individual action. All organisations must also undertake their own audits and put their own interpretations on how they must respond in their actions.
Let us look at the pace of change. The IPCC has given Governments its assessments of the science. The pace of change must quicken to bring about a new, green industrial revolution. In recognising and identifying what this information tells us, it is for Governments to reset legal targets for eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions within a demanding timeframe. Labour is taking the lead on this, and it is interesting that the Committee on Climate Change agrees in principle with the Labour target to achieve net zero emissions before 2050. This requires milestones to be set ahead to build in a pathway to survival and the elimination of threats. In recognition of the right culture that must be embedded throughout government, local authorities, organisations and individuals, these targets must apply across the board. For example, energy efficiency measures must include upgrading all buildings and households to an EPC band C standard by 2030 to undertake the demand-side response in addition to the decarbonisation of supply. The democratisation of response must be inclusive, so that Governments do not cut and curtail needed contributions from feed-in tariff schemes, necessary infrastructure development such as the continued successful rollout of smart meters, and other technological advances.
These targets will then set the parameters against which the Government and Parliament must develop sustainable, stable policies consistent with net zero emissions. The Liberal Democrats are certainly right to point out the policy reversals following the coalition’s end that mean the carbon budgets could well be missed. Yes, assumptions will need to be made, such as that nuclear new build will materialise to de-risk the extension of old, obsolete power stations. Yes, power margin tolerance must be expanded by reducing demand through energy efficiencies. Yes, developments are needed in battery technology and storage to cope with the divergence in responses to weather patterns as regards whether the UK is experiencing a long high-pressure period. Yes, more difficult solutions are needed in transport and heat, so that having eliminated coal—with the exception, at the moment, of China—we now turn with urgency towards eliminating oil and diesel.
Contributions from noble Lords have highlighted other important areas such as sea levels, farming, soils and water, hydrogen, afforestation and rewilding, investment funds, biodiversity and air, international effects, offsets and actions and social justice. All these issues and options for change must be identified, pursued and communicated. The Government, Parliament and public life have the necessary forums and structures to be utilised: the all-party groups, the National Infrastructure Commission, the various committees on climate change, the Environmental Audit Committee and universities’ academic modelling activities, abilities and research, with parallels in the devolved Administrations.
It needs to be recognised that we have not developed all the tools we may need. We need to revisit carbon capture and storage; tidal power still needs to be trialled and the Swansea tidal scheme reassessed; flexibility and its costs will need to be included. Naturally, the costs of these transformations need to be borne in mind. Putting all these costs at the door of consumers and households as a way to avoid action and responsibility needs to be examined—not to overburden consumers but to reassess the balance with taxation. Making consumers pay is regressive. If ever there was a creative accountancy scheme it was the Government’s levy control framework. The costs of delay and deferment of action must be recognised.
Can the Minister map out the Government’s response? Will the Government update the Climate Change Act to incorporate the new targets from the Committee on Climate Change? Will the Government use the forthcoming environment Bill to set out new milestones and necessary action? Will the Government broaden the forthcoming White Paper on energy to set out the wide-response policy developments needed? The Minister today needs to start the answers, and the Government need to use the vehicles to answer pertinent questions such as: why are emission reductions diminishing year on year, falling by only 1.5% last year against 3.2% the year before and higher percentages in earlier years? Can the Minster explain why the UK’s emissions from industrial processes, waste management and even agriculture rose between 2016 and 2017? Can he answer how the Government will meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Can he explain why emissions in the transport sector are higher than they were in 2010; why electric vehicles represented only 2.7% of new car sales in the UK in 2018 against, for example, a high 31% in Norway; and does he take responsibility for the UK’s sluggish transformation of the transport sector?
This debate has highlighted how we need to respond. It is a challenge to examine every aspect of everyday activity, and the Government need to reorganise and recognise the legal responsibilities that cannot be avoided.
My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing a timely and high-quality debate. I also thank him, as always, for his positive tone. He perhaps does not like me saying that, but on this occasion he was positive—I should probably say that he does not always want to be positive on other issues.
All noble Lords have made clear the importance of working together and, looking back on the history of these matters, I am reminded that that is what we have done. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned my friend Lady Thatcher, who made a great speech in 1989—a time when my noble friend Lord Deben was in government and possibly even wrote the speech—the first from a government leader warning the rest of the world about the dangers facing us.
In talking about the history, it is worth mentioning the cross-party support for the Climate Change Act 2008, which the Labour Government took through. As the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, will remember, it had support from the Opposition. We recommended amendments increasing the targets, which the then Government accepted and we all took forward. This Government are well aware of their responsibilities under the Climate Change Act and, however much the noble Lord worries about the fact that no Parliament can bind its successor, he knows that we have followed that Climate Change Act and stuck with it. We have not sought to amend it downwards, if I can put it that way, and want to continue with it. It is important for us to remind ourselves of the history of what we have achieved under the coalition Government and the current Government, and what we are still achieving.
That legislative framework, with its ambitious package of policy proposals, has been matched by a vigorous programme of international action as we work and invest to help other countries mitigate and adapt to—I am grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said about adaptation—the impacts of climate change. I hope that, as a result, this country can offer leadership and encouragement to the rest of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked for action. There has been and will continue to be action on what we can achieve domestically and what we can do in the wider world, either by our individual actions or through the process of offering encouragement.
As the House will be aware, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will publish an energy White Paper in the summer which will seek to address the challenges arising from the transformation of the energy system over the coming decades. That will be important, as many of my noble friends have pointed out; my noble friend Lady Altmann referred to electric cars and the strains they will put on the electricity system. The White Paper will take a long-term view of the energy requirements—up to 2050—consistent with what the Government wish to do on climate change.
We are already seeing the impacts of climate change around the world. Our actions have been determined but we know that more is needed. Last October, the IPCC published its special report on global warming. Its conclusions were stark. Our current rate of warming could see us reaching 1.5 degrees as soon as 2030, which would present many of the threats highlighted by noble Lords in the debate, including to food security, water supply, infrastructure, biodiversity and the ecosystem as a whole.
The science is now clear, and we are witnessing a groundswell of public concern, to which noble Lords have referred. There is an increased sense of urgency and more vocal demands for action. That is why we are seeking to a play a role, both domestically and internationally. I shall address both roles in turn, starting with the domestic sector.
Our legally binding carbon targets, set by our world-leading Climate Change Act, are among the most stretching in the world. We have achieved a great deal since 1990: we have reduced emissions by 42%, while growing our economy by 72%. Doubts have been expressed—first, by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and then by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others—about the system of accounting. We have to accept the system that we have, because we cannot change it unless we have the agreement of others. Perhaps that could come in the future but, at the moment, under the current system of accounting, we have reduced our emissions by 42% and, importantly, increased our economy by 72%.
At this point, it is worth looking at the opportunities presented by the growing green economy. Some 400,000 jobs have been created, and we estimate that that figure could rise to 2 million by 2030. The sector is growing faster than the main economy—up by some 11% per annum—with exports estimated to be worth between £60 billion and £170 billion by 2030. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to opportunities at a local level for areas such as the Humber and what could be—and I am sure will be—achieved there. If the noble Lord were to invite me to the Humber and show me what it is doing, its local industrial strategy and opportunities, I would be more than happy to go. However, one should also look at other opportunities, and I will refer to those in due course.
In 2017, we published our clean growth strategy, setting out our policies and proposals for further decarbonising the economy in the 2020s and the illustrative pathways out to 2050. The strategy also sets out our investment of more than £2.5 billion to support low-carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021, as we seek to realise the opportunities—I again stress the word “opportunities”—of the global shift to a low-carbon economy. I shall give just a few examples of the action we are taking.
In power, 50% of our electricity now comes from clean sources—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for reminding the House of this—and by 2025 we will have phased out coal from our energy mix in its entirety. As a Cumbrian, I shall pause here, because I see the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his place. Since there was some mention of consent being granted for a new deep mine in Cumbria, I will say that that decision has been made. However, it is not coal for energy consumption but coking coal for the production of steel. At this stage, we have no other way of producing steel without using that coal. The alternative would be to import it across the seas from other, possibly rather dubious, parts of the world. I think it is better to take it out of the mines in that mining area. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, does not agree with me.
On 7 March, we published our offshore wind sector deal. It pledges that 30% of British electricity can come from offshore wind by 2030. We have seen dramatic growth in the use of offshore wind and, it is worth reminding the House, an enormous reduction in the cost of offshore wind. We have seen the same in solar power as a result of its use, with enormous reductions in the cost. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked us to continue to look at tidal and mentioned the Swansea Bay barrage scheme, which we rejected on the grounds of cost. We will of course go on looking at issues such as tidal, but I do not think there are likely to be opportunities for dramatic reductions in costs for schemes of that sort because they are largely about putting large amounts of concrete—a rather carbon-producing product—into the ground, whereas with offshore wind and solar there are genuine opportunities to reduce costs, and we will continue to do so.
There are other renewables that we will continue to look at and research. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, that I was very interested to see old mine shafts in a mining park in Glasgow being used as heat pumps. I do not understand the science of it—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will no doubt help me out on this—but it is wonderful to see that old mining areas can possibly make a contribution to renewables by making use of those old mine shafts and what goes with them.
There are all sorts of other things that we can and will be doing in research into renewal. One thinks of all the work that goes into storage. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, touched on the production of hydrogen from nuclear power stations. One can also look at the production of hydrogen from wind farms—I have seen it in Orkney—that can be used in transport or other things. We can do research into artificial intelligence and other such things to improve the smartness of our grid. All this can improve energy efficiency, make better use of power and reduce our consumption. I could go on, but I would be in danger of running out of time.
I now turn briefly to my noble friend’s report. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for all the work they have done in producing it. It is a great, big, square book. As they said, there are 600 pages, and I make an honest confession that I have not even opened it yet, because I got it only this morning. However, it will be studied in the department by Ministers in due course. I believe we acted rightly and quickly in commissioning that report from independent experts from my noble friend’s committee to provide that advice. It has come at a crucial moment and will be worth serious study. I guarantee that we will study it and I guarantee my noble friend that, in due course, my right honourable friends the Secretary of State and Claire Perry will respond to it and take it forward in the most appropriate way.
I said that I want to talk about what we are doing domestically, but it is also very important that I now turn to our role internationally, what we are doing and how important it is. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, talked about that from his experience. We can do an awful lot not only by example—I refer to the history—in the way we have shown how individual countries can cut their emissions and at the same time grow economically. We can show that since we have possibly the best record in the G7 or even the G20 since 1990, but obviously we can do more and we will continue to do more. We have offered to host COP 26 next year, which will be a pivotal global moment to take stock, encourage global ambition and prepare the ground for further action.
We know, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said, that climate change is a risk multiplier with the potential to exacerbate global instability through resource stress, population displacement and the impact on trade and global economic and food security. For too many people, climate change is already a matter of life and death. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, stressed this. Millions around the world have been left without homes or livelihoods, as we have seen recently following the cyclone that affected Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. We are promoting climate security internationally and are helping Governments build resilience while reducing emissions. Through the UK-led Centre for Global Disaster Protection, we are working with developing countries to increase their preparedness for and resilience to climate change and natural disasters. Through our world-leading international climate finance, we are supporting cleaner economic growth and so far have helped some 17 million people with improved access to clean energy and some 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change. Between 2016 and 2021, we are providing at least £5.8 billion in climate finance and are aiming to spend half of that on building resilience and half on emissions reduction.
I shall say a word or two about that. I remind the House—I think this was a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann—that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced only yesterday three major new aid programmes to help farmers across Africa and in southern Africa affected by climate change and to boost climate resilience in Ethiopia. We are also playing a key role in the commitment from developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year in climate finance from 2020. The UK will co-lead efforts on resilience and adaptation ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate action summit in September. Investing in resilience not only reduces the risk to lives and livelihoods but is the opportunity we talked about to create jobs, spread prosperity, accelerate development and enhance security.
I believe this has been a good debate and that—
I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting, but he is obviously coming to the end of his speech. Our green targets, and indeed those of the wider world, depend heavily on the successful development of low carbon nuclear power. As I indicated, and as is widely seen, our nuclear power programme is in some difficulties at the moment, yet my noble friend has made no mention of that. Would he do so please?
I repeat a commitment that I have given to my noble friend before—that we remain committed to nuclear power. I accept that we will not have the Moorside development in Cumbria that we were hoping for, nor the Wylfa development, but we continue to believe that there is a role for nuclear power. We continue to get considerable amounts of energy from nuclear power. My noble friend will no doubt be ready for the White Paper that I talked about earlier and there will be further announcements from my right honourable friend in due course. However, I offer him my assurance that we certainly continue to see a role for nuclear power.
I believe that I am coming to the end of my time. I end by thanking the noble Lord and giving that assurance. I believe that we and all other parties and other Governments have achieved a great deal. We have demonstrated to the world how emissions reductions can be delivered while at the same time—I think this is important—growing not only our own economy but those of other countries. Lifting countries out of poverty will be better for them. There is no point in imposing a hair-shirt on ourselves if it imposes an even worse hair-shirt on the rest of the world. We will continue to take action in the United Kingdom, taking our strong progress to date as a template for going further, and we will help other countries to do the same.
My Lords, I am grateful for the privilege of kicking off the debate this morning, and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed. I want to say one thing: it was no accident that at no time in my speech did I refer to any specific political party. I am not interested in Labour or Tory targets; this issue has to transcend the parties so that we do not get a gap, as we have had over the last few years, and we have to deliver. If we get the economics of climate change right, we will be on the verge of an economic boom in a way that we never envisaged in the past.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is my privilege to move that the House takes note of this government publication. I am very grateful for the opportunity to secure this debate and, in my case, to return to the issue of antimicrobial resistance. I was fortunate enough to have a debate on this subject about three years ago, and indeed other noble Lords have also initiated debates on it. It is important that we do so. Today is a powerful illustration of where we can give ground to the climate change debate. However, there is more than one issue on which it is really important that we have these opportunities for debate, not least because they give us the chance, over a slightly longer period, to realise the complexity and multifaceted character of the challenges we face and the need for us to work intensively and consistently to deal with them.
I am grateful to noble Lords for participating in the debate. It is evident from conversations I have had and communications I have received that, for every one of us here, there are two or three more who would have liked to be here and to have contributed. I hope that future opportunities will offer themselves.
It is not in the custom of this House to say so but, if it had been down to me, I would have been “taking note with approval” of the Government’s national action plan. I say that very straightforwardly. My purpose is not to criticise the national action plan but to commend the initial five-year plan and the refresh published in January. The timeliness of this debate was further illustrated by the fact that on Monday the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance reported to the Secretary-General with a document that said:
“Unless the world acts urgently, antimicrobial resistance will have disastrous impact within a generation”.
In many debates we have understood the scale of the threat that we face. Indeed, when I was in the coalition Government, we included, for the first time, AMR as one of the top-tier risks in the national risk assessment and we understood its character. I was proud of the fact that shortly after I ceased to be Secretary of State—although none the less the work had begun—we saw the publication of the first five-year action plan, which ran from 2013 to 2018.
An illustration of the nature of the problem we face is that UK data—the Minister may refer to some of it later—clearly shows that there has been a significant reduction in antibiotic prescribing for animals and there is clearly some reduction in the extent of drug-resistant infections that animals for food production are harbouring. In human health, there has been something like a 6% reduction over five years in the prescribing of antibiotics, which compares with about a 6% increase in the preceding five years. None the less, the burden of infection and antibiotic-resistant infections among the human population in the United Kingdom is not going down. It is at best stable and some specific drug-resistant pathogens are increasing.
That tells us—it is something that I think we all know—that we are dealing not with a static problem but with a dynamic threat. The problem is that bacteria are rapidly evolving and adaptable, and the number of drug-resistant pathogens will rapidly increase. They have the capacity to swap DNA, so they will be able to acquire resistance to new antibacterial agents. We are also seeing the emergence of some drug-resistant pathogens; they are resistant to a number of antibiotics. Indeed, I noted that about three and a half years ago America was particularly worried about the presence of a pan-resistant infection. I think it was resistant to about 21 different antibiotics. Therefore, it is not simply a case of increasingly having to combine antibiotics and other treatments to deal with these drug-resistant infections; we have to try to ensure that we reduce the threat.
The UN document, published on Monday, also said:
“The challenges of antimicrobial resistance are complex and multifaceted, but they are not insurmountable”.
That goes to the heart of this debate. From looking at the list of speakers, I know that this afternoon we will understand that there is a range of approaches, all of which have to be pursued. I do not for a minute say that the issues I propose to focus on are more important than others on which we have to work. Antimicrobes in the environment and so on are very important but I do not propose to dwell on them. None the less, it demonstrates that the original national action plan published in the United Kingdom and the international work that has been done have focused on a one-health approach. However, it is terrifically important that we understand that we have to work across the environment, animal health and human health to make progress. The joint publication by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs demonstrates the Government’s commitment to working on a “one health” basis.
I will focus on one sentence from page 74 of the Government’s January report, which relates to the development of new therapeutics. The report says that one of the Government’s objectives is the development of “alternative strategies” to try to ensure that we can bring forward new therapeutics to deal with and combat antibiotic resistance. Part of that means that we therefore need to understand how we can develop new therapeutic agents. Part of that is academic research; it is not just about therapies, but diagnostics—I think in the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Rees, instanced the Longitude Prize which Nesta was pursuing. That continues, four years later, with the objective of delivering additional diagnostics. Prizes for academic research seem to be stimulating a range of teams to try to respond. Not only do we have to promote and fund academic research but pull the fruits of that initial academic work through to therapeutic agents we can deploy in practice for human health.
We seem to be going backwards on this. I think three major pharmaceutical companies have ceased their antibiotic research activity in the last 18 months—including Novartis, which is notable given its scale and reputation. In America a start-up company was developing a therapy that was given FDA approval in July 2018 for the use of plazomicin in complex urinary tract infections. This company filed for bankruptcy in early April. Over the course of last year, it secured no more than about $1 million of business. What is happening here? A new drug is approved for use and there is no revenue to support it. This is exactly the problem for antibiotics. Novel antibiotics such as these get a relatively narrow indication for use, because antibiotics are not broad-spectrum—they are very targeted. Also, as they come into use, they are pretty much a last-line therapy for use in rare circumstances, so they do not get bought very much. This company, like many pharmaceutical companies starting out, could be supported across the so-called valley of death by the funding support of CARB-X, only to find that there is a desert. There is no funding to make this happen.
That is where the Government in this country are looking to develop a new business model that helps bring through those new therapies, but that is a way off. A project team is being established and it will probably be something like another 18 months beyond that before we see what this business model may look like. We need more urgency. We need to think about what this model looks like, and at least put preparations in place, even if we have to add data and specifics to it as the work goes along.
The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Gatley, published a seminal review and report on this. First, he said that we want play and pay. That is, those in the pharmaceutical industry should be either engaging in this research—that is, playing—or paying. Frankly, I do not think that will work. It will just be treated as a tax on the pharmaceutical industry. He now seems to have said that he is rather giving up on this and that therefore the Government should take it over. I am afraid there is no evidence to support the proposition that Governments are better at innovation than the private sector. We need to combine in public and private partnerships. In that context, we need, as I think the Government intend, to recognise that this is about giving those bringing forward new therapeutics the confidence that they will be paid for. From the Government’s point of view, that has to be a proportionate and reasonable amount, and it has to be attractive.
The UK represents 3% of the global drugs market. We will not be able to do this on our own. That is why I return to the point in the Government’s national action plan that we have to work internationally—not just as the Government do with the Fleming Fund, promoting national action plans and better prescribing globally, which is absolutely right and very valuable, but through the richest countries coming together. They have to establish, effectively, a global fund. We have a global fund for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis at the moment; perhaps they could enhance and add to that— it would be a substantial enhancement—to pull through the new therapies that will enable us to combat antibiotics.
That will require action from America, Japan and ourselves. I should declare an interest as chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group, and I particularly mention Japan because it has the presidency of the G20. In Osaka at the end of June, for the first time Health and Finance Ministers will meet together shortly before the Heads of Government do. Health and finance should be talking together, because in so many contexts the economy and the health of the nation fundamentally depend on each other. That is a moment. I know my counterpart in Japan—who, as it happens, is a former Japanese Health Minister—and his colleagues would be very interested in working together through the G20 in Osaka to launch an initiative that would enable us to deliver on a major programme for issuing prizes for research and determining the price that will enable us to pull through new therapeutics for the future.
With apologies for the many other issues that need to be covered—I know that many noble Lords will want to raise them—I will focus on that one. I hope the Government will use the global leadership that the United Kingdom has already demonstrated, not least with the marvellous work done by Professor Dame Sally Davies, who is due to retire in the autumn—knowing her, I do not think she will be letting go of this at all. We will welcome her to Cambridge in the autumn, but I suspect that she will continue to travel the world pushing this issue forward. We have the research, the capacity, some of the resources and the ability to take a lead internationally to bring new therapeutics and diagnostics through to the marketplace, and demonstrate that we can stem the tide of antibiotic resistance. I beg to move.
I congratulate my noble friend on getting this debate. Prior to this has been a debate on climate change, but this is just as important. We know from my noble friend’s fine speech the importance of finding a solution to AMR. I will certainly not repeat any of the things he has said so eloquently, but it is good news that the Government in their five-year plan are taking this extremely seriously.
First, I declare an interest as having a small number of shares in a company called Helperby Therapeutics, which is involved with trying to find a solution to the AMR problem. There is no question that the world is facing a crisis. Although there are still some climate change sceptics, I do not think that there is anyone who does not believe that we are facing a catastrophe on this.
Margaret Chan, the former director-general of the World Health Organization, said that,
“antimicrobial resistance is a global crisis—a slow motion tsunami. The situation is bad, and getting worse”.
The problem has really arisen because pharmaceutical companies have thus far failed to find a solution. What is particularly worrying is that many of the big pharmaceuticals have left the field, basically because of the massive costs of bringing a drug to the market and the prospect of not being able to make it economically viable.
A documentary film called “Resistance Fighters” has just been made. I mention it so that noble Lords can keep an eye out for it, as the hope is that it will air on television in England. The film shows how much the problem has been ignored for a long time, against better judgment, and makes it clear how new resistance mechanisms could emerge that were hardly conceivable until recently. It also looks at how the mass use of antibiotics in animal fattening can lead to the uncontrolled release of resistant germs into the environment. Negligence and powerful economic interests, which put profit well above the well-being of people, have been putting lives at risk.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, will talk about the use of antibiotics in animals, but I will quote one set of statistics which I found particularly interesting. In 2016, 80% of all antibiotics administered in the USA were used in animal feed. That is a total of 15 million kilograms, which is equivalent to 300 milligrams of antibiotics per kilogram of produced meat. All hearings on the topic of antibiotic growth promoters were completely blocked in the US Congress for 40 years, despite scientifically proven correlations. Most recently, the US pharmaceutical industry made an annual turnover of $13 billion with antibiotics in animal feed. I think that is quite something.
There was an interesting article in the Times on 14 February, entitled “Rise of superbugs puts everyday surgical operations in jeopardy”. It said that:
“Tens of thousands of patients in Britain are struck down by superbugs because antibiotics to protect them during surgery have failed, a global study says.
One in five infections picked up during common operations worldwide is resistant to standard antibiotics, suggests research that reveals how far resistance to drugs has advanced towards a so-called doomsday scenario”.
I had a successful operation for colon cancer 18 months ago and was given a large course of antibiotics to ensure that no infection developed—and none did. It was quite a thought that if antibiotics did not work, in the worst-case scenario, that antibiotic treatment would no longer be possible. Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, has warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse”.
The Times article describes a study which looked specifically at gastro-intestinal surgery,
“which is carried out a million times a year in British hospitals”,
and where infection is really quite common. The study showed that antibiotics were becoming measurably less effective. According to the article, Dr Harrison of the University of Edinburgh said that,
“the results could apply to many more of the five million surgical procedures carried out in Britain each year”.
That is an astonishing number—5 million procedures. The article continues:
“Nicholas Brown, a consultant medical microbiologist at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge and director of the campaign group Antibiotic Action, said the findings were a sign that standard preventative antibiotics were failing. He said: ‘The doomsday scenario, the end of the antibiotic era, is in some countries only a theoretical possibility but in other countries it is beginning to have a very significant impact’”.
Professor Anthony Coates, who started Helperby Therapeutics, told me that, as the big pharmaceuticals leave the field, it leaves just a handful of small companies, including Helperby, to “fight on alone”. If that were not bad enough, one of the most promising pharmaceutical companies filed for bankruptcy a few weeks ago—my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to this. This was because it had developed a new antibiotic entity, which cost $500 million to develop. To recuperate these high costs, the company marketed its product for nine months at a price of $10,000 per course. Basically, that price is too high for the antibiotic market, although cancer drugs sell successfully for a lot more than that. The company sold only 50 courses in nine months, and this was not viable.
Professor Coates told me that he was very concerned that all the rest of the handful of small companies developing antibiotics were in the same boat. In other words, they are developing expensive new chemical entities, so when they get to market, they will struggle to survive. Interestingly, Helperby is going down a slightly different route by experimenting with the combination of existing drugs. If it can make that work, that will be marketable at a much more reasonable price.
Professor Coates also said that he thinks the thing that is missing from this key market is market-entry rewards. This is a reward to companies which reach the market with a new antibiotic or combination. The Government introduced NHS incentives for new antibiotics, which is a good start, but unfortunately it did not make any difference to the company which has just gone bankrupt. Professor Coates also said that he thinks that this will make no difference to other small companies, including Helperby, because they nearly all launched in the USA. Apparently the NHS does not have a very good reputation for welcoming new drugs. Perhaps that is one of the things that the Government could look at.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on securing this very important debate. My interest in this issue is partly due to the work I do through the International Longevity Centre UK, which I established 20 years ago. It is one of 16 organisations across the world which looks at these sorts of issues. The ILC-UK, following the UN’s high-level meeting in 2016, held its Jack Watters memorial debate on the subject and produced a report on antimicrobial resistance in 2017. That report links to one of the ILC’s other key workstreams: the promotion of vaccines. I chaired a meeting on that vital issue in this House only last month.
This debate is very timely given that the Government published their new five-year plan in January of this year. There is now renewed vigour from the Government to tackle this issue. I hope that it will be tackled because, as noble Lords have said, this is a major, worldwide challenge and it needs to be taken very seriously. I cannot overemphasise that. The health of our whole population is at risk, but especially that of older people, who are more vulnerable to illness and disability than younger people. I was grateful to receive certain facts and figures from the British Society for Immunology, which points out:
“AMR could turn back the clock a century on medicine”.
It is of course alarming to read in the action plan that AMR might already cause 700,000 deaths every year worldwide and that this could rise to 10 million by 2050, which is partly why I welcome how seriously the Government are taking this issue. The UK has been a world leader, from David Cameron taking the issue so seriously back in 2013 to the review from the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, in 2014 and the work of Dame Sally Davies, which we have mentioned, as well as useful scrutiny from both Houses of Parliament. Now at last we have the new action plan.
In my brief remarks I will focus on the action plan’s acknowledgement of the importance of vaccination’s preventative role and how we might better stimulate R&D into vaccines. While encouraging the development of new antibiotics is obviously sensible, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, recommended, the ILC report agreed with his other recommendations to develop new vaccines and use existing ones more effectively as a way of reducing dependency on antibiotics.
The World Health Organization has calculated that, if coverage of existing vaccines was increased, millions of days of antibiotic use could be prevented. For example, if flu vaccination rates increased, antibiotic use would surely reduce as the incidence of flu fell, as well as from a decline in secondary infections caused by flu, such as ear or sinus infections. In the ILC’s Jack Watters debate, Professor David Salisbury argued that there was “no debate” about whether more should be done to increase the coverage of a wider range of vaccines across the life course. I very much agree with that. I note that the O’Neill review calculated that vaccine programmes save society 10 times their original cost.
The list of potential new vaccines that Professor Salisbury hoped to see developed in coming years ranged from Alzheimer’s to respiratory syncytial virus, as well as more obvious ones such as norovirus and TB. As the British Society for Immunology has pointed out, vaccines are the most preventative health tool in human history. Like me, it also wants to see significant investment in novel vaccine research, in particular into bacterial infections such as pneumonia and sepsis—I am a member of the All-Party Group on Sepsis.
This is why I hope the Minister can reassure me that the action plan will help to create the right environment to incentivise the science community on vaccine development, which historically has a poor commercial return on such investment. I was struck by what the Society for Immunology said in its briefing: that less than 5% of pharma venture capital investment over the past 10 years went into AMR. I hope that research on vaccine development is not held back by the focus on developing an AMR of “last resort”, the return of which is uncertain, and for recognition that a co-ordinated cross-government approach across all relevant sectors is urgently required if this is to be achieved.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on securing this debate. My contribution will focus on just the farming aspect of the issue.
I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord that the whole point of this issue is that it is a one-health problem. One of the lessons is that we cannot divide human health from the health of the animals we eat. If animals are kept in a way that requires them to be dosed with antibiotics on a frequent and routine basis, then of course we should expect to affect human health as microbes learn to find ways around being killed.
The problem is very well exemplified in the pig industry, because when piglets are weaned very early, after say just 20 days as opposed to 40 plus days, they are likely to suffer from diarrhoea and lose natural resistance, so of course they are dosed. I praise the pig industry for making efforts to reduce the use of antimicrobials by about 50% in the last two years, which is a pretty big reduction. However, data from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate shows that in 2017, the last year I have data for, the UK pig sector still used about 130 milligrams of antimicrobials per kilogram of pig. Compared to our neighbours in Holland or Denmark, that is still very high. Why is it so high still? I am not sure; perhaps the Minister will know why. In the Dutch and Danish pig sectors, use of antimicrobials is less than half the UK’s use, at 53 milligrams per kilogram in the Netherlands and 46 milligrams per kilogram in Denmark. There is quite a big room for improvement. Moreover, reduction in the use of antimicrobials in the UK pig sector has in part been achieved by relying on extremely high use of zinc oxide in the feed. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether it is true, but I understand that there is a link between such zinc oxide use and the rise of MRSA.
Turning to chickens, broiler chickens in particular, ionophores are the antimicrobial compounds that specifically target bacterial populations in chicken production. Those of your Lordships who have been around a broiler chicken plant will have needed a strong stomach to do so since they are kept very intensively. Ionophores are routinely added to the feed of the most intensively farmed chickens to prevent the serious intestinal disease coccidiosis. No veterinary prescription is required. This disease occurs when chickens eat other chickens’ droppings, so intensive systems where tens of thousands of birds are kept permanently indoors in overcrowded conditions are likely to need to be dosed frequently.
One of the issues for the Government is that, if Brexit happens, they will be looking at with whom to make trade deals. The Government should consider the effect of making deals with people who are encouraging intensive farming when looking at agricultural trade deals and where our food will come from. I do not think that it is any coincidence that antimicrobial resistance is much higher in the USA when we look at how much of its food comes from intensive farming. The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe is concerned about the overuse of ionophores in poultry production and has called for the drugs to be made prescription-only. I wonder whether that is something that the Government are considering.
I am pleased that the Government have brought in their five-year action plan, but there is an issue that I would like to ask the Minister about this afternoon. The plan fails to give a clear commitment to carry over and incorporate into domestic UK legislation, should we leave the EU, the EU’s recently agreed legislation that bans routine preventive use of antimicrobials. I am particularly worried because a Question was posed in the House of Commons by Kerry McCarthy MP as to whether the Government will ban routine preventive use. The Answer was simply:
“Ministers have confirmed the Government’s intention to implement restrictions on the preventative use of antibiotics in line with new EU legislation”.
That does not sound like a ban to me. There will be a couple of problems with that. First, it will be in conflict with the new five-year plan. Secondly, if we try to export any food products to the EU, they will of course be unacceptable in EU terms. The Government need to come off the fence and say that they will entirely implement the ban as envisaged by the EU.
Finally, I turn to the remarks made at Portcullis House on 13 February by Professor Mark Woolhouse, who is the professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University. He makes the point that, in the context of this, an issue is that the UK Government’s emphasis on actions and research is still happening in silos when it comes to surveillance. The challenge is joining up the surveillance across the human, livestock and environmental sectors. Cross-sectorial transmission studies have been unsuccessful because they are not large enough in scale, and research access to routine surveillance data will be crucial for understanding the spread of AMR. Coming from such an expert, this is a very serious issue, and one that the Government need to address by supporting research that is bold and, as he says, mission orientated, and funding it sufficiently so as not to undermine their five-year action plan.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for this most necessary debate, which covers vital aspects of life and death. So much parliamentary energy and time has been spent on Brexit that a subject as important as antimicrobial resistance has not been as prominent as it should have been on the parliamentary agenda. However, I congratulate Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, for what she has done to help the UK become one of the world leaders in the subject. Antimicrobial resistance is a world dilemma. Governments across the globe should work together and treat this as an emergency problem which must be solved.
The World Bank has predicted that globally, AMR will lead to increases in morbidity and mortality, increase the burden on healthcare systems, increase extreme poverty and could inflict heavy losses on the global economy. The European Medicines Agency’s leaving London for Amsterdam does not give a good message to the world about our status in leadership, new medicines and safety. We will not have voting rights. We will be second-class members if we leave the EU.
I must declare an interest. I had sepsis last June, and know only too well the difficulties of combating infections. Sepsis needs quick diagnosis and antibiotics, but there is a problem getting the correct antibiotic for the appropriate infection. One needs accurate, rapid tests. After nearly a year, I am still battling an infection which persists in going up and down—even though I have the help of three hospitals and the advice of a cousin in Australia, who is a professor of microbiology. I mention this to illustrate how challenging these infections are, especially if they are resistant to treatment. During the year, I have witnessed the stress and pressure some hospital departments are under. The shortage of experienced staff and the difficulties of communication are of concern. There is no doubt that Brexit is not helping. Many much-needed nurses and doctors come from Europe. Many of our doctors and nurses go abroad, where the grass seems to be greener. One never knows what infection will emerge.
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell your Lordships what the Government recommend about Candida auris. The Sunday Times has said that:
“Eight patients in hospitals in Britain have died after becoming infected with Candida auris, the deadly Japanese super-fungus”.
The revelation by Public Health England illustrates the scale of the threat from the super-fungus, which emerged just 10 years ago in Japan, equipped with the fearsome biological armoury that lets it flourish in hospitals and resist most drugs and disinfectants. To date, the microbe has been found in at least 25 British hospitals. What seems to make Candida auris unique is that it spreads so easily from person to person. Once in the bloodstream, it circulates and multiplies, causing sepsis. I congratulate the UK Sepsis Trust for trying to make Parliament, hospitals, GPs, schools and the general public at large aware of sepsis.
With antimicrobial resistance, it is vital that we get new antibiotics. However, a disaster is unfolding in the antibiotics market. In the global struggle against superbugs, Achaogen is a biotech at the front line. Its failure is the latest symptom of an ailing antibiotic market. Its antibiotic, plazomicin, was, in 2018, approved by the UK food and drugs administration for treating complex urinary tract infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria. It is a vitally needed drug, and just one of many new antibiotics we need to replace drugs that are rapidly losing their effectiveness against superbugs. Its loss, for lack of funding, is a tragedy. This was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and I think it is worth mentioning again.
On a more hopeful note, Carb-X, a global partnership dedicated to accelerating research to tackle the global rising threat of drug-resistant bacteria, with up to £550 million to invest, is said to fund the best science around the world. Its portfolio is the world’s largest development pipeline of new antibiotics, vaccines, rapid diagnosis and other projects to prevent and treat life-threatening bacterial infections. It is encouraging that the UK, the USA and Germany, and several trusts and foundations, are working together. The headquarters are at Boston University. I hope they have great success in helping to protect humanity from the most serious bacterial threat before us. We need better preventive measures as well as alternative treatments, including innovative ways to use the body’s own immune system and healthy bacteria.
I am trying a new treatment for wounds—Acapsil. It is micropore particle technology, a white powder applied to the wound surface. It consists of small particles composed of a network of very fine pores. It removes the toxins, and enzymes are excreted by the wound surface. It does not kill the micro-organisms. It is hoped that it is effective on antimicrobial-resistant infections. Another exciting discovery is that golden kelp, the common seaweed from the rocky shores of Mindelo in northern Portugal, has been found to contain microbes that could bolster the war on superbugs.
I would like to ask three questions. First, what are the Government doing to speed up detection of AMR throughout the NHS? Secondly, do the Government recognise the value of accurate antimicrobial susceptibility testing in safeguarding the remaining effective antibiotics, while accurately monitoring the newly emerging AMR and screening potential new antibiotics? Thirdly, are they aware that the Central Public Health Laboratory in Colindale is involved in an international consortium that has developed a rapid antimicrobial susceptibility test, but that in over two years it has received no direct funding to establish that test capability here?
I have a farm and pony stud. I support vets by saying that they should have the right to prescribe and dispense veterinary medicines, including antimicrobials, according to their responsible clinical judgments. The welfare of animals, as well as humans, must be paramount.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and congratulate him on securing this debate on the incredibly important topic of addressing AMR. It is absolutely essential to see AMR as the economic and security threat that it is.
I will talk first about animal husbandry. The Government must make a clear commitment that any future trade deals will require any meat and dairy produce imported into the UK to meet at least the same standards relating to antibiotic use that apply to meat and dairy products produced in the EU, because over 40% of the UK’s total antibiotic use is in animals.
Contamination can occur from animal waste, human waste, pharmaceutical manufacturing and the use of antimicrobial pesticides on crops. There is no doubt that more funding is needed on AMR to kick-start early research into new antimicrobials and diagnostics. We must conduct in-depth research to better understand the impact of AMR pesticide exposure on humans, animals and the surrounding environment, and identify and promote best management practices to minimise exposure when applying antimicrobials as pesticides. There should also be more global transparency over antimicrobial use on pesticides, by collecting and sharing information on the amount and types used on crops each year. Sharing knowledge is so important.
We now see antibiotics reaching the environment in many ways, such as through sewage run-off and the run-off from food producing units such as farms. In particular, there is the impact of effluent from factories on our nearby water systems. Action is needed, too, so that regulators can set at least minimum standards for the treatment and release of manufacturing waste, and drive much higher standards through supply chains. It is vital that we have better commercial return on R&D; it is little wonder that firms are not investing in antibiotics, despite the very high medical needs. We need new ways to reward and enhance innovation.
What matters now is that action should support reducing the unnecessary use of antimicrobials and, I emphasise, revive investment in their development. Rapidly growing global demand for antibiotics is necessary to improve access to life-saving medicines, along with economic development. But all too often it reflects excessive and unnecessary use, rather than genuine medical need, so by reducing unnecessary consumption we can have a powerful impact on resistance. Educators, farmers, the veterinary and medical communities and professional organisations need to pledge to make better use of antibiotics and help save vital medicines from becoming obsolete.
The rise and spread of antimicrobial resistance is, as we have heard this afternoon, creating a new and potentially dangerous generation of superbugs. The UK needs to help ensure that AMR remains a global priority by continuing to lead international policy. As we have been informed, by 2050 it is estimated that AMR will kill 10 million people per year—more than cancer and diabetes combined. That is the scale of the threat that we face. The ambition for AMR is, by 2040, to have new diagnostics, therapies, vaccines and interventions in use, together with a full AMR research and development pipeline for antimicrobial alternatives, along with diagnostics, vaccines and infection prevention across all sectors.
Government and other funders must act to ensure that the market can offer sufficient commercial incentive to keep pharmaceutical companies active in this space. They should conduct studies to evaluate the effectiveness of existing wastewater treatment processing in the removal from it of antimicrobials before its discharge into environmental waters, and investigate and identify the factors that result in treatment inefficiencies and failures in processing methods, or the infrastructure failures. Studies have found APIs in rivers, treated and untreated manufacturing wastewater, and sediment downstream of industrial wastewater treatment plants.
We have evidence, too, of the clear priorities that will support greater progress in addressing antimicrobial-resistant microbes in the environment. As I mentioned earlier, high-risk areas, such as the disposal of waste from healthcare facilities and manufacturing, could be prioritised and addressed at local and global levels to reduce the potential risks to human health posed by having those microbes in the environment. Unfortunately, we have not seen a new class of antibiotics for decades, because an overuse of antimicrobials has increased the rate at which resistance is developing and spreading. Again, we lack the new drugs to challenge these new superbugs. Governments and other funders must act to ensure the antimicrobial market can offer sufficient commercial incentives to keep pharmaceutical companies active in this space. Where testing is clinically appropriate and recommended by NICE, action should be taken to address the perverse financial incentives that may discourage use. I emphasise that we must work in collaboration to improve national and international understanding. We have a major global challenge ahead of us.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for securing this debate. Like him, I commend the new national action plan on tackling antimicrobial resistance. There is no doubt that antimicrobial resistance—that is resistance to microbes—is a major global challenge. The O’Neill commission’s final report in 2016 warned that, if unchecked, by 2050 AMR could lead to 10 million deaths and a $100 million cost to the economy globally. That has been referred to earlier. There is no question that antimicrobial resistance is a truly major issue.
These figures are frequently used in the introduction to discussion of antibiotic resistance. That is the resistance of bacteria to particular drugs. I emphasise, perhaps needlessly, that while all bacteria are microbes, not all microbes are bacteria. This is significant when considering drugs, which are often specific. As a veterinary scientist and in the context of the involvement of animals in this issue, I will focus on antibiotic resistance. I declare my interests as a long-standing member of the BVA and a former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
The first point is that the AMR figures that headline my contribution, quoted in the O’Neill report, include the consequences of drug resistance in malaria and in viruses, notably HIV and the human tubercle bacillus. These are undoubtedly major causes of mortality in humans globally, but in none of them is there a connection to drug use in animals. I make this point not to diminish the problem of AMR, nor that of antibiotic resistance, but it is important when addressing this problem to accurately distinguish its component parts in order to rationally tackle it.
Having clarified that, and excluding the above three infections, the resistance of some bacteria to antibiotics is still a substantial problem in human medicine. While it is generally accepted that this is primarily a result of the use of antibiotics in humans, there is undoubtedly some connection to the use of antibiotics in animals. These situations particularly involve food-borne infections transmissible between humans and animals, such as E. coli, campylobacter—which is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK, usually non-fatal but debilitating—and salmonella. They also involve some other directly transmissible infections, to which those who work with or keep animals may be particularly exposed, such as MRSA.
There is still much uncertainty, in many of these situations, about the extent of the flow of resistant bacteria between animals and humans, and indeed the environment, and its direction—because we must remember this is bidirectional. We badly need more research on this, but molecular typing methods are increasingly helping to elucidate these questions. There have been some important results recently from several groups using molecular characterisation, which have shown that bacterial populations of E. coli and salmonella in animals and humans may remain more distinct than hitherto suspected.
Notwithstanding this, the veterinary profession and livestock industries have taken the issue of antibiotic resistance very seriously, and have made huge progress in reducing or restricting antibiotic usage in animals—I am talking about Europe and the UK particularly—to safeguard human health, while maintaining animal health and welfare, and livestock productivity. There has been a concerted effort by animal industry bodies—particularly in fish farming, but also the poultry and pig industries, to be fair to them—and the British Veterinary Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, the British Equine Veterinary Association, the Responsible Use of Medicines Agriculture Alliance and the National Office of Animal Health. These bodies have variously produced literature, information, posters, training courses and toolkits, and have set voluntary targets and restrictions.
This has all been strongly supported and monitored by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which introduced guidance some time ago in its Code of Professional Conduct requiring veterinary surgeons to be responsible in their use of medicines and antibiotics. For the avoidance of doubt, I make it clear that the use of antibiotics in animals for growth promotion has been banned in Europe since 2006, and antibiotics are available only by prescription from a veterinary surgeon for animals under their care.
The remarkable progress in reducing and restricting antibiotic use in the UK is documented by the latest UK One Health Report, published in January this year. This shows that, between 2013 and 2017, there was a 40% reduction in the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, achieving below the 2018 target advocated by the O’Neill commission report. This translates to a reduction of antibiotics in animal use to 282 tonnes, and of so-called high-priority critically important antibiotics, as defined for human use, to 2.2 tonnes. In the same year, 2017, the corresponding figures in humans were 491 tonnes for all antibiotics and 17.1 tonnes for critically important antibiotics.
But we must not be complacent. Further voluntary targets were agreed in 2017 for reducing antibiotic use in eight key livestock sectors. Those targets variously include reduced use, particularly of high-priority critically important antibiotics; improved monitoring and data collection; and knowledge-exchange initiatives.
As has previously been said, the issue of antibiotic resistance is global. While good progress is being made in the UK, there is still uncontrolled use of antibiotics in both humans and animals in many countries. In an age of globalisation, the global movement of humans, who carry millions of bacteria with them every time they go anywhere, as well as of animal products, will continue to introduce antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains into the UK no matter what we do here, as was stressed by the O’Neill report. United, coherent global action is required and the UK has been a strong leader in that respect. The importation of resistant bacteria is of particular concern post-Brexit. Like several speakers in today’s debate, the BVA and others have called for rigorous standards requiring the responsible use of antimicrobials on farms to be incorporated into future trade deals, with certain conditions put in about minimal antibiotic usage. This is a particular issue with regard to the US, for example, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, alluded. I assure him that I do not defend the scale or purposes of antibiotic use in animals that we see in the US. Can the Minister assure the House that the threat of importing antibiotic-resistant bacteria on meat products will be carefully considered in negotiating future trade deals?
The new UK five-year action plan sets out ambitious measures nationally and internationally in both human and animal usage to tackle AMR. In animals, a target is set to reduce antibiotic use by 25% between 2016 and 2020, with new objectives set beyond that for the next five years. In the longer term, and in addition to the reduction and restriction of antibiotic use, it is essential that we seek better ways of dealing with bacterial infections to avoid drug use, such as improved hygiene, biosecurity and other measures, particularly the development of vaccines—that has been mentioned, so I shall not emphasise it further. Vaccines against endemic disease are particularly needed. The Government are to be congratulated on mentioning the importance of endemic diseases in their Health and Harmony policy statement in 2018.
Will Her Majesty’s Government consider making available financial support under the public money for public goods agenda that we see in the Health and Harmony document and in the coming Agriculture Bill for measures that will reduce the development and spread of antibiotic resistance?
I, too, pay tribute to the efforts of the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, and the O’Neill commission, which have been hugely important in galvanising national and international attention on this subject.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for giving us the opportunity to talk about antimicrobial resistance, because, as we have heard, it is one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous health challenges. It could put back the clock and make many of the treatments which we take for granted, such as the surgery undergone by the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, far too risky in future.
It is not often that you read a book by an eminent doctor whose findings not only scare you but had obviously scared them too. However, that is what I found when I recently read the book about AMR by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies. Near the beginning of the book she says that the findings of the group of experts she brought together were simple: first, we are losing the battle against infectious diseases; secondly, bacteria are fighting back and becoming resistant to modern medicine; and, thirdly, in short, the drugs no longer work. She admitted to feeling rattled about that, and so am I. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on the latest iteration of their comprehensive plan to tackle AMR, and welcome the fact that the plan outlines actions to control AMR both within and beyond our borders. I also welcome the fact that the plan for the next five years has brought the four nations of the UK together, unlike the previous version.
One principle of the plan is reducing the need for using antimicrobials to limit the opportunity for microorganisms to evolve resistance to them. I will mention three ways of reducing the need for these medicines: immunising the population against the diseases that might require such treatment; tackling the spread of infection; strengthening the natural immunity of patients and supporting their general health so that they can fight off infections themselves.
Vaccines are of course the most effective preventive health tool in human history, and have been able to eradicate entire diseases such as smallpox. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned, expanding the use of existing vaccines would have a major impact. For example, universal coverage of children by the pneumococcal vaccine would avert 11.4 million days of antibiotic use in children under five each year. However, we also need new vaccines, but no new class of vaccines has been discovered in decades.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was absolutely right to focus on money. There are major financial barriers in the way of developing new antimicrobials. It is now five years since the Health and Social Care Committee in another place urged,
“tangible and rapid progress in this area within six months”.
However, as the House has heard, in the last few years, since discussions have been ongoing between the industry and the Government about the deterrent effect of the current funding model, three multinational pharmaceutical companies have left the market. Significant government investment is also needed in novel vaccine research, to tackle an increasingly urgent global problem.
Although the UK cannot rescue the situation alone, the unique nature of the NHS gives us the opportunity to demonstrate a new funding model that could work for both of these groups of pharmaceuticals and set an example to other countries. I was therefore pleased to see that the Government and the industry have agreed a new funding model for antimicrobial development and supply that will provide more stable income to the companies, while providing the NHS with novel antimicrobials which can be held in reserve by doctors for use when older, cheaper medicines no longer work because resistance to them has been developed. I understand that the new model will delink the payments made to companies from the volumes of antibiotics sold, basing the payment instead on a NICE-led assessment of the value of the medicines and supporting good stewardship.
When will the Minister be able to report on the timeline for the full implementation of this pilot scheme and how will the Government assess whether it has been a success? Will the new model also be used to fund the development of new vaccines, many of which are badly needed in countries that cannot afford to develop them themselves but which are often the source of infection outbreaks in this country?
Infections are spread around the population by many means, via water, food, air droplets and poor sanitation, and we are fortunate in this country on most of those issues. However, what should be most easily prevented are those infections acquired in healthcare settings. This is particularly dangerous because patients are at their most vulnerable and may have compromised immune systems. Healthcare-acquired infections are among the most serious modern public health problems worldwide and many are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so effective HAI management is vital to slowing the AMR crisis. It is therefore critical that the NHS puts in place system-wide processes, such as screening and surveillance programmes, and the highest possible level of hospital hygiene and sterile practice that can help tackle HAIs and reduce their incidence. The Government must also maintain their focus on HAIs to ensure that infection rates, which have been falling, do not start to rise again. Unfortunately, they have now plateaued.
Across the NHS, there is regional variation in hospital-acquired infection rates. According to freedom of information data, almost two-thirds of hospitals do not offer point-of-care testing, a tool that could help provide real-time information on patients for a range of infections. Only eight out of 50 trusts routinely carry out point-of-care testing for infections such as flu, and less than 10% of trusts test for a full range of infections, such as MRSA and others. Some trusts consistently appear among the best, and some consistently among the worst, for reported cases. Of course, one has to ask whether these trusts have better or worse reporting mechanisms, or whether they have more or fewer cases to deal with. But whatever the answer, can the Government assure me that the focus is still on getting these figures down? Personally, I would be very reluctant to go into a hospital with a poor record on this.
Optimising use—for which read “reducing unnecessary prescribing”—requires both public and medical education. Patients need to know that it is sometimes for their own benefit when their doctor tells them they do not need antibiotics but advises them instead to go home, rest and take plenty of fluids, and not to go to work or school and spread it around. On a system-wide basis we need to be able to report on the percentage of prescriptions supported by either a diagnostic test or a decision support tool. There is a target for this in the plan. Will the Minister say whether there are online learning packages and easily available diagnostic tools, so that GPs can be supported to make the optimum decisions about prescribing?
We should not ignore the potential of strengthening patients’ own ability to fight off infection without the use of antimicrobials. Malnutrition can reduce the body’s own defences, and it is a disgraceful fact that there is malnutrition among the poorer sections of the UK population today, particularly among children and older people. I have even heard of malnutrition among long-term hospital patients because of the poor quantity and/or quality of hospital food, or the fact that no attempt is made to ensure that the patient eats it. This factor cannot be ignored when considering how we can reduce the spread of disease. Will the Minister say what action is being taken to tackle malnutrition?
Another aspect of boosting natural immunity—mentioned, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham —is the role of microbiome; that is the 39 trillion microorganisms that occupy our bodies. Of course, some can be harmful, but the majority contribute to health. There is some evidence that a healthy, varied gut microbiota can have a beneficial effect on our immune system. Specific bacteria in the gut have been associated with immune development, and we know that germ-free mice have less well developed immune cells. Altered populations of bacteria are associated with a host of diseases, from allergy, asthma, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases to obesity. However, we probably still do not fully understand which specific bacteria are important for health. A better understanding of the community of bacteria that affect our health is needed. This is a promising area of research, so will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are investing in research into the contribution the microbiome can make, particularly to immunity against infectious diseases?
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate and revealed again the depth and breadth of the knowledge and passion your Lordships’ House has on this issue. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for initiating the debate and the Library and many other organisations for their helpful briefings. I feel I should declare that I am a member of a CCG. I say that because it is rare to see a subject that is the victim of as many acronyms as the NHS, but this field certainly challenges that, combining as it does health, farming and the environment, the research and science communities, pharma businesses and international organisations. I was very grateful for the list of acronyms at the front of the Government’s five-year paper.
As noble Lords have said, we know that AMR currently results in 700,000 deaths globally every year, that by 2050 that could be 10 million, and that it threatens to turn back the clock on a century of medicine, rendering modern surgery, organ transplantation and chemotherapy too dangerous to use. Preventive treatment is needed, as the report says, to curb the spread of bacterial diseases requiring antibiotics. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, vaccines are the most effective preventive health tool in human history. We therefore need to expand the use of existing vaccines to have a better impact.
One of the most serious issues in the fight against AMR, which almost every noble Lord mentioned, is that no new class of antibiotics has been introduced for more than 30 years. Antibiotics are quite unlike any other category of drug, because every dose of antibiotics poses the risk of encouraging bacteria to adapt and develop resistance. That was illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, in her description of the fight she has been having, which we have discussed on several occasions over the past year.
The Government’s five-year action plan is indeed an impressive document and a step along the road. I join the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in saying that we may not be moving as quickly as we should. That has been echoed across the Chamber. Of course, it is not the complete solution, and serious questions have been asked in the debate. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, in saying that the plan is disappointing in that it fails to give a clear commitment to incorporate into domestic law the European Union’s recently agreed legislation that bans routine preventive use of antimicrobials. It is a pertinent question at this point. Article 107.1 provides:
“Antimicrobial medicinal products shall not be applied routinely nor used to compensate for poor hygiene, inadequate animal husbandry or lack of care or to compensate for poor farm management”.
That is not being incorporated into UK law, as far as we can tell. I agree with the noble Baroness that the answers given to questions in the Commons were ambiguous, to put it mildly. Perhaps the Minister could take this opportunity to clarify the issue.
When I discussed the five-year plan with my noble friend Lord Winston, who regrets that he cannot join us this afternoon, he said two things to me. The first was that meeting this challenge will be well-nigh impossible given the dearth of lab, technical and science staff in the NHS at this moment. Secondly, he said that investment in research needs to be much greater and the follow-through more effective. My noble friend would have put those points more eloquently and, probably, more forcefully than I have, but neither of those issues is new; they have been articulated in your Lordships’ House over a long period.
Part of the NHS long-term plan talks about the delivery of the five-year plan we are discussing today. Will the staffing review address technical staff, of which there is a terrible shortage? They are essential for the delivery of both the NHS long-term plan and this plan. We know that the issue of research is not just about funding to deliver ground-breaking research. The UK does a great job in training PhD students, but loses a lot of talented people because the post-doctoral period is so unstable. We need continued support for interdisciplinary networks to strengthen research and develop capacity. Does the strategy address that issue as robustly as the emergency that we are facing requires?
Many noble Lords mentioned market failure, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, dwelled on in his opening remarks. According to Professor Dame Sally Davies, the reason for that is in part that the easy wins have been made and there is now a fundamental failure of the market for new antibiotics. Given the growing threat of AMR and the need to conserve and use current and future antibiotics carefully to preserve their effectiveness for as long as possible, it is clear that pharmaceutical companies are aware that any new antibiotic they bring to market will be prescribed only very sparingly rather than as a first-line treatment during its patent life, thereby reducing its profitability. I found that idea very dispiriting because it seems that we must address market failure. The report of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Gatley, also recognised and addressed this issue.
That is even more discouraging when one realises that, over the past five years, we have seen pharmaceutical companies withdraw further and further from the development of antibiotics. In June last year, the latest company, Novartis, exited the market, bringing the total number of companies involved in antimicrobial drug development to six. The issues of market failure and disinvestment are incredibly important; therefore, the Government’s scheme to delink the price paid for antimicrobials from the volume sold is also crucial.
Even more depressingly, Professor Dame Sally Davies argued that the industry needed to step up and act in a socially responsible way, pointing out that tackling AMR was also in its interest. In her evidence to the Commons Select Committee, whose report I found extremely useful, she said:
“I am disappointed by the number of them”—
“who have said quietly over a drink, ‘Well, Sally, we know you’re going to solve this. The Government will have to pay, so we’re waiting until you pay’”.
Where is the social responsibility? What terrible short-sightedness. To go back to the point about losing modern medicine, what is the point of developing the world’s greatest cancer portfolio if there are no antibiotics to rescue the patients? Yet industry expects us in government and the public sector to fund this, or that it will happen through somebody else being corporately responsible.
This market failure might lead to catastrophic consequences, as referred to on pages 74 and 76 of the five-year plan. It rightly states:
“The UK cannot solve such market failures alone”.
I question that because I should not like to think that the idea that we cannot solve this alone because we are 3% of the world market means that we do not try to do things in this country to turn this round. Our NHS has huge purchasing power: it pays billions of pounds to pharma, which makes billions in profit from these sales, for the drugs and treatments we need. We must have some leverage here. I ask the Minister: if a UK university or small pharma company found a new antibiotic, surely our Government would find a way to make sure that it was developed and brought to market. They would not wait for this to happen on the world stage, would they? I really want to hear that we will not have a repeat in the UK of the situation described in the MRC report, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I received that report; the story of Achaogen was a graphic one of market failure in developing a new antibiotic. However, the noble Lord did not ask something that I wish to ask: what will happen to that drug? Achaogen developed a drug that can treat the most serious superbugs; therefore, it is not much needed so the company did not make enough money and went bankrupt. Where has that drug gone? What has happened to it? That is an important question.
Let us hope that the people who buy it are public-spirited enough to know that they need to develop it and that that can be done. That puzzled me when I read the fascinating article, which I recommend to noble Lords. I thought, “A new antibiotic is out there and it is not available to us, for goodness’ sake”.
I congratulate the Government on the five-year plan. It is important, however, that the impetus behind it works, that the incentivisation schemes unlock investment in AMR, that we do not face the same issues being faced in America, and that implementation of the plan is speeded up.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for securing a very important debate which has been filled with expertise and wisdom from all sides. I am grateful to him for saying that, if he could, he would have chosen to make this a “take note with approval” debate, which is not always the case when debating a government strategy.
My noble friend is right that antimicrobial resistance is one of the most pressing global challenges that we face in this century. Unchecked AMR threatens the achievement of many of the sustainable development goals, including those affecting health, food security, trade and labour supply. The World Bank estimates that an additional 28 million people could be forced into extreme poverty by 2050 through shortfalls in economic output unless resistance is contained.
In recognition of the threat of AMR, we published the strategy in 2013 and, as my noble friend has rightly said, we can count many significant achievements over the five years since. I pay tribute to him for the role he played in developing it before he moved on. We have seen unprecedented levels of research investment and collaboration, with £350 million having been invested since 2014. We have also reduced antibiotic use in humans by 7.3%, as he noted, and as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who is an expert in this area, rightly pointed out, sales of antibiotics for use in animals have reduced by 40%. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said that this is of value only alongside the development of comprehensive surveillance systems, which we have also been putting in place.
Finally, resources and campaigns have been delivered for front-line staff. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Redfern and Lady Walmsley, said, they have an essential role to play in changing the culture and communicating with the public. I would like to point to a particular tool which has been developed, known as “Treat Antibiotics Responsibly Guidance, Education and Tools”. It turns into a fantastic acronym—TARGET—which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will like. It is a toolkit of evidence-based resources to help clinicians and commissioners in England to reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing. Some 99% of CCGs promote this to their GP practices. I hope that responds to the question raised by the noble Baroness.
However, we must be up front about the scale of the challenge that AMR presents here at home, let alone in developing countries. As has been noted in the debate, resistance continues to increase. Between 2013 and 2017, we saw a 35% increase in resistant infections in humans here in the UK. Just as my noble friend says, this is a dynamic problem that requires a dynamic response. However, I would like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on her questions about Candida auris. It can establish itself within the hospital environment and be difficult to control, but currently the NHS has no persistent outbreaks. It is an uncommon fungus in the UK and our surveillance shows a low risk to patients in healthcare settings. No multi-drug resistant strains have been identified and there have been no deaths in NHS hospitals.
In order to respond to the dynamic challenge we face, the Government have recognised that no single five-year plan could deal with it, so we have set out our vision for a world in which AMR is contained and controlled by 2040 and we will continue to play our part in tackling the global problem of AMR by modelling best practice at home. Further, by supporting progress internationally through strong action to prevent infection generally, we will contain the emergence and spread of resistance. Alongside this vision we have published a five-year AMR national action plan which sets challenging five-year ambitions that will begin to fulfil the vision.
I would like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on the question she raised regarding the workforce. Unlike the NHS Five Year Forward View, the NHS Long Term Plan commits to implementing the AMR national action plan which sets out to assess current and future workforce needs for strong infection prevention and control as well as antimicrobial stewardship. This should ensure that we develop the correct workforce targets. This is reassuring in terms of hoping we can achieve the priorities we have set out in the plan.
Our new plan includes a strengthened focus on infection prevention and control, renewing our commitment to halve levels of healthcare-associated Gram-negative bloodstream infections by 2023-24. It includes a world-first target to reduce the actual numbers of resistant infections, with an aim to reduce them by 10% by 2025. We will go further on our previous ambition to reduce antimicrobial prescribing, reducing it by a further 15% by 2024, strengthening stewardship programmes and raising public awareness, while ensuring rapid and timely treatment with antibiotics where it is essential to save lives. Through greater interoperability of data, we will develop real-time, patient-level prescribing and resistance data to inform antibiotic treatment, optimise life-saving treatments for serious infections and help develop new interventions to reduce AMR.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Walmsley, are absolutely right that better use of diagnostic testing is essential. However, we found many challenges in this area over the last five-year period with the previous plan. We believe that, through data linkage work, by 2024 we will know which diagnostic tools and tests have been used in support of every prescription for antibiotics and will be able to target improvement. There is also further research work going on, which I will come back to.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, raised the important issue of vaccines for humans and animals, which play a key role in tackling AMR. One of the nine ambitions for change set out in our 2040 vision is to minimise infections in humans and animals. Optimising the use of effective vaccines will be critical in achieving this ambition. The national action plan includes commitments to stimulate more research into and promote broader access to vaccines. One of the ways in which we are doing this and supporting the development of the uptake of vaccines in lower and middle-income countries is through the Global AMR Innovation Fund and the UK vaccine network, as well as through our significant contributions to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and, more recently, through CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—which, we understand, is having a significant impact on the pipeline.
My noble friend Lord Crathorne raised the question of the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. He was rather put right by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, but I will just repeat for the sake of certainty that since 2006 antibiotics for use as growth promoters have been banned in the UK and Europe, and they will continue to be.
This brings me on to a point raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady Thornton, and a point of clarification on the response to Kerry McCarthy. The Government have confirmed their intention to implement their restrictions on the preventative use of antibiotics in line with EU legislation, but this will require a consultation with all interested stakeholders following the usual processes when amending domestic legislation. I hope that is a reassuring clarification. If noble Lords would like to follow up in writing, I shall be happy to respond on that.
I will respond to a follow-up point that also came from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, regarding trade agreements and AMR. I assure the House that any future trade agreements must work for consumers, farmers and businesses in the UK, and we will not water down our standards on food safety, animal welfare or environmental protection as part of any future trade deal. I hope that is a reassuring response.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but following the debate I shall raise his point regarding AMR funding associated with the Agriculture Bill with the Minister and return to him.
I will now move on to the question regarding research and treatment development. Building on our research co-ordination and collaboration, we must continue to invest in research and to support the development of new, alternative treatments, vaccines and diagnostics. As noted by noble Lords from across the House, this is clearly essential if we are to make progress on the aims we have set out in what is rightly an ambitious plan.
Significantly, as my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Crathorne point out, the plan includes a commitment to lead the way in testing solutions that address the failure of companies to invest in the development of new antimicrobials. We are the first country in the world to announce that we will test new models that pay companies for antibiotics based primarily on a health technology assessment of their value to the NHS as opposed to the volumes that are used. This is an exciting and important step and we must fight hard to push it forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about timelines. NICE and NHS England are leading on this complex work and a core team of experts and specialists are already in place. There is no delay in pushing forward this work. We anticipate it will take 18 months to two years to complete. The current NICE appraisal processes take about 49 to 60 weeks but this project requires a bespoke process to deal with the complexity of considering the full dimensions and value for antimicrobials. I look forward to reporting back to the House as the project continues.
We are sharing our learning with other countries and encouraging them to do the same or similar. I hope that we can push for this to be raised in international fora, as it is only when these kinds of pilots happen on a global scale that we can hope to see real progress. We hope that the data generated from this work will help other countries to think about how they value these precious drugs and how we can work with the industry to overcome market failure.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of a global fund. We have made some initial progress with the Global AMR Innovation Fund, GAMRIF, which has been set up. We are pushing at every opportunity to improve collaboration and to get support for it. However, it is a challenging picture and I hope to be able to report more progress in coming months.
On co-ordination, the national action plan was co-developed across government departments, agencies, the health family and the devolved Administrations, with an input from a wide range of stakeholders. We intend to continue in that vein as it is the only way in which we will make effective progress. The UK has played a lead role in strengthening international co-operation to tackle AMR, not least in securing the UN declaration at the General Assembly in 2016.
I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, for his ground-breaking early work and expertise in this area. I join others around the House who have paid tribute and expressed gratitude to Dame Sally Davies in advance of October. She has been a driving force on the global stage on this agenda. I have no doubt that, whatever happens in the autumn, her leadership will continue from Cambridge and beyond. It will be of tremendous value to the United Kingdom and everywhere else that she goes.
Whether it is getting it right with new antimicrobials and getting them through the pipeline or it is supporting the development and testing of rapid point-of-care diagnostics, the Government are clear that we want to improve the whole system. I am pleased to update the House: today I announced a new and expanded accelerated access collaborative to serve as an umbrella organisation for UK health and innovation. The new AAC will work with patients and the system to pull through the best and most cost-effective innovations, to get them to clinicians and patients faster than ever before. This includes the use of digital tools and health tech alongside the best new medicines. From new diagnostic tools to better identify people who need treatment, to improved ways of monitoring usage to ensure that patients complete treatment courses, together these innovations will help to address the growing threat of AMR.
I hope that with this information I have covered the points raised by noble Lords today. We can be proud of the work that we have done in the UK to secure AMR on the global agenda, not only as a health issue but as a “one health” issue with an enormous social and economic impact. We have invested to turn declarations into concrete actions and to support countries to develop their capacity to tackle AMR, improve global surveillance and undertake vital research and development. Through this plan we are setting out our challenge to ourselves and to other countries to continue life-preserving work to preserve antimicrobials for future generations.
In closing, I do not think that I can do better than to follow my noble friend in quoting from the IACG report to the Secretary-General:
“The challenges of AMR are complex … but they are not insurmountable”.
We should take courage from this, but should remember that our success will depend on the urgency with which we drive forward this response and the continued success in securing international collaboration. I believe that together we can achieve that.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her excellent response to a really good debate. I am very grateful. I said at the outset that I hoped that the debate would bring forward a range of expert views relating to the “one health” concept, and it did exactly that. I am most grateful to all those who contributed to enable that to happen. The debate demonstrated the complex and multifaceted character of the problem. I share the Minister’s hope that it is indeed surmountable.
I shall say just a couple of things. First, on growth promotion and trade, the issue is that only now are some countries beginning to recognise that they have to stop antibiotic use in growth promotion and its widespread prophylactic use in animals. That happened in Europe in 2006, but it happened in 2017 in America for growth promotion and only now are the Indian Government bringing forward proposals in this respect. There is an international aspect that we need to work on.
My final point is that I entirely understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said. The point of the national action plan is to be the best in the world—the best in class—and to demonstrate what can be achieved. If we can achieve those targets, it will be fantastic, but it has to happen elsewhere. Not only turning a national action plan into its equivalent in other countries but creating international global action, which was the burden of my contribution, will be central to a more effective response overall, which we all want.
House adjourned at 4.37 pm.