Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. I welcome the Minister to what I believe is her first full debate in the House and I thank everyone in the staff administration who has made it possible for us both to be present in the Chamber today.
“This crisis offers us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild our economy in order to withstand the next shock coming our way: climate breakdown. Unless we act now, the climate crisis will be tomorrow’s central scenario and, unlike Covid-19, no one will be able to self-isolate from it.”
Those are not my words but those of Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, his successor, Andrew Bailey, and other European bankers who argued this week for a recovery that places our net-zero objectives at its heart.
The last three months have been transformative, not just for millions of individuals and families but for institutions—look around this Chamber today—and for the entire governance of our country. The crisis has made us examine what and who we really value, recognise better the people on whom we depend and, amid the pain of separation, sickness and bereavement, appreciate the kindness of strangers and acknowledge our shared fragility and vulnerability.
While individuals have often felt powerless, unable to live their normal lives, the Government themselves have in many ways been empowered by an overwhelming threat and the public response, so unprecedented restrictions have been imposed and unparalleled amounts of public money spent to save lives and support jobs and businesses. Not just the extent but the speed of decision-making, innovation and delivery has been transformed. Government, organisations and individuals have made changes in days that in normal times would have taken years to achieve.
The fight against Covid-19 is far from over, but the first phase and the economic measures that anchored it are coming to an end. We need now to replace those short-term measures with a long-term strategy to rebuild the shattered economy, to replicate the sense of determination, to act at speed, to do whatever it takes.
The pandemic has distracted attention from the climate change crisis, but the imperative of tackling that overwhelming threat has not diminished. Without urgent and radical action, the world faces a dystopian future: extreme weather events; forest fires and melting ice caps; the spread of disease vectors; mass climate migration; and threats to the very existence of countries and communities vulnerable to sea-level changes.
The need for urgent and sustained action has been acknowledged internationally, but reaching the targets set out in the Paris agreement will be extraordinarily challenging. This year, CO2 emissions are expected to fall by 8% because of the global downturn that coronavirus has brought. To achieve our 2050 targets, we need to replicate that fall every year until then—and without bringing the world to a standstill.
After the last recession, there was a sharp rebound in emissions due to a wave of carbon-intensive stimulus packages. While it is tempting to rely on familiar levers, these would in reality bring lower returns and lock us into unsustainable models. Nor, particularly given the disproportionate effect in health and economic terms that Covid has had on the most disadvantaged—the poor, the sick and ethnic minorities—can another round of austerity be contemplated. The 2008 crisis taught us that recovery policies focused on investment were more effective at restarting the economy than austerity-based approaches.
Fortunately, when looking at investment choices and stimulus policies, we do not have to choose between tackling the climate crisis and rebuilding the economy. In fact, the evidence suggests that clean stimulus strategies are likely to result in net positive gains for the economy and for society. This is increasingly recognised through the strategies being pursued across the world, with ambitious and extensive green stimulus programmes. It is also why the business community is restructuring its investment plans accordingly. In the wake of Covid-19, global businesses worth $2.4 trillion have called for a green recovery plan, and over 200 leading UK businesses, investors and industry networks, ranging from Lloyds Bank to Greggs, from Tesco to Sky, have stated publicly:
“Efforts to rescue and repair the economy in response to the current crisis can and should be aligned with the UK’s legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest … we must use the recovery to accelerate the transition to net zero.”
So what are some of the practical, high-potential policy opportunities? Renewable energy in the UK has showcased what is possible, making renewables the cheapest form of new power in virtually every major economy. At midnight on Wednesday this week, Britain passed the milestone of having gone two full months without burning coal to generate power; 10 years ago, we depended on coal for 40% of our electricity. As electricity demand bounces back, our energy sector is set to create 400,000 new, clean jobs between now and 2050 to meet our net zero target. Our wind sector has already established pools of technology excellence in former coal communities, while further jobs will open up across the UK requiring a diverse mixture of skills, including, importantly, in rural and coastal areas. But to capitalise on this potential, we need to address barriers such as planning policies which create obstacles to onshore wind projects and the clean electricity they produce. Perhaps I might recommend my Private Member’s Bill on onshore wind to the Minister.
In transport, there are myriad possibilities, from electrifying railways and having overhead cabling on highways for HGVs to investing in clean public transport. Networks for walking and cycling have already been scaled in cities such as Manchester and London since the lockdown. Transition to electric cars needs to be fast-tracked. We need to drive both supply and cost reductions, offer financial incentives to replace polluting vehicles with electric ones, and accelerate plans for a national network of charging points.
During the current crisis, remote working has revolutionised how we participate in the economy. Many people have no desire to return to the tyranny of the five-day office commute and flights to non-essential meetings. We need to build on this. Investment in full- fibre broadband could be one of the most important enablers for behaviour change, reducing journeys, emissions and pollution while promoting social inclusion. Efficiency in housing and building offers another strategy area where what is good for the economy is good for net zero. Retrofit is a resource-intensive job creator, and one of the cheapest ways to reduce emissions, but has suffered from an uncertain policy framework. Fixing that can offer a quick first wave of demand for the construction sector, with knock-on benefits throughout the supply chain, as well as addressing fuel poverty. Public buildings, including schools and educational facilities, could lead the way.
Others will speak, I am sure, of the possibilities that the UK’s world-leading track record in R&D innovation can open up in areas such as hydrogen, batteries, carbon capture and storage, circular business models and much more. Our natural assets also hold immense potential, where investing in large-scale mixed tree planting, creating productive forests, and restoring carbon-rich peatland and marine environments, can act as critical carbon sinks while supporting countryside and coastal communities.
Not all this is down to government alone; our financial system must also play an instrumental role. We already know that, in the last decade, listed companies with green activities have performed better than fossil-fuel stocks and that, during the pandemic, ESG portfolios have fared better than conventional ones. Investors need to align their investments to our obligations under the Paris agreement, report on climate risks and set strategies to mitigate those risks. The pensions industry could and should make a game-changing contribution by setting a trajectory to redirect the $2.9 trillion in pension funds—our money—into sustainable investment.
Clean stimulus strategies have many attractions as a route to recovery. They bring substantial benefits, such as clean air quality, without the restrictions and sacrifices that the pandemic demanded and without a requirement to slash public spending. They generate high returns while many are mature, proven industries and technologies, not risky ventures. They are labour intensive, creating more jobs than traditional stimuli. Renewables projects have been shown to create twice as many jobs as the equivalent investment in fossil fuels.
Jobs matter enormously, particularly to the young, who face the worst prospects in the projected recession and its horrifying unemployment levels. The OECD report this week made very grim reading. The elderly have suffered most in health terms, but the young are most at risk economically. We need to re-gear our national approach to education, apprenticeships, reskilling and life-long learning, not only to ensure a sustainable future but to support workers whose sectors cannot be sustained, and in regions which need regeneration.
In recognising the profound damage done to our economy and the challenges there will be in rebuilding it, public support will be essential. Public support has been shown, in survey after survey across the globe, for Governments to act to avert climate catastrophe. But to maintain that support, the measures taken will need to be seen to be fair. We need fairness between generations, between regions and between industries. The IFS warned in its report today:
“Britain risks entrenching deep class, ethnic, gender, educational … and geographical divides unless the government acts to tackle inequality.”
Public assistance for conventional industries must be transitional and accompanied by obligations to disclose climate-related financial risks and clear decarbonisation targets. Fairness will also need to govern our tax and benefits regimes. That includes how we tax income and wealth, looking at bold new funding mechanisms for social care and, yes, looking at the triple lock on pensions.
The Prime Minister and other Ministers—the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, did it this morning—have spoken enthusiastically of their commitment to greening our economy, but in practice there remains a frustratingly piecemeal and inconsistent approach to policy-making. The urgency of transformation calls for a coherent vision and steely determination to deliver. Will the Minister indicate today that the Government are committed to placing a climate lens on every policy and Bill they introduce and that they will be explicit and transparent about the contribution each of their proposals will make to getting us to net zero?
I have focused so far on UK strategies, but if we did not know before we certainly know now that we are part of a global community. The world will not come out of recession, any more than it will address the climate crisis, by raising drawbridges and retreating into narrow nationalism.
The UK has an historic opportunity to lead concerted international action through our presidency of COP 26 and our hosting of the G7 next year. I have said before that I believe this country’s contribution to the fight against climate change will be measured not only in the scale of our national emissions reduction but, crucially, in the quality of our global leadership. I hope we will hear from the Minister today that the UK is already working to secure international support and co-operation for a global road map to net zero and the philosophy of building back better.
Clean, fair and sustainable strategies offer strong alignment between tackling the climate emergency and generating prosperity for all parts of our country. They will support structural changes that deliver social, regional and intergenerational gains. They can reskill affected workers, improve physical infrastructure, enhance environmental assets and promote well-being for current and future generations.
I end with a question posed recently by Sir David Attenborough: do we invest money into the practices that take us deeper into this crisis or the solutions that get us out of it? The answer this Government give to that question will define the shape of our economy and society for decades to come.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. As I have only two minutes, I will not develop the many points on which I agree with what she had to say. In the absence of the Government providing us with an opportunity for a two-day debate on the economy, which is what is required, I will focus on the catastrophe—for that is what it is—we face in the fourth quarter of this year as a result of the circumstances we find ourselves in. A great tsunami will sweep away the jobs of many people who thought they were in secure employment. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we could be looking at 3 million or more people with no jobs.
The extent to which those people will be able to find new jobs will depend on the nature of the recovery. Most people have abandoned the idea that it will be V-shaped; perhaps it will be L-shaped. How quickly the economy recovers will depend on how quickly we can end this lockdown and Ministers can get their act together and decide where our priorities should be.
Earlier today I asked the Minister to indicate what assessment had been made of the number of people who would lose their jobs as a result of two-metre distancing, as opposed to the one-metre distancing recommended by the World Health Organization. He did not answer the question. The Government will have to look at how quickly we can free up the economy and save those jobs that are disappearing even now. Many of the people on furlough schemes are already out of work and will find themselves unemployed when the furlough ends. The solution for the Government is not to put up taxes or cut public expenditure but to go for growth. To quote Ronald Reagan, the deficit is
“big enough to take care of itself”
in the short term.
My Lords, this is an important debate. As we all know, Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the domestic and global economies. Some 3 million people have applied for universal credit and a significant proportion of the workforce is furloughed. We are still uncertain about when schools and universities will return to normal or when graduates will be able to find jobs. Yesterday the OECD warned that the UK is likely to be the hardest hit of all major economies. That should concern us all, but it should also motivate us to break from the past and rebuild in a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable way.
I think we all agree that GDP, despite its importance as an indicator, should no longer be the only way we measure economic success. Among other things, we need to embrace means of improving well-being and boosting social mobility. A fairer economy means tackling health inequalities, rebalancing the regions and getting to grips with the issues that prevent individuals from certain ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds meeting their full potential.
Doing this will require new policies rooted in a new consensus. We need to change, from how we engage with businesses and citizens to how we restructure central government. For example, should there be a Minister with a formal responsibility for economic fairness? Should that Minister sit in the Cabinet? How will the Government ensure that such a Minister can work effectively across all departments?
The scale of the challenge we face is significant. Very little good will come out of Covid-19, but acceptance of the need to reshape our economy could be one glimmer of hope.
The horrific killing of George Floyd has forced us to confront race injustice, which must be tackled in the economy we build for the future—just as much as we tackle climate change, Brexit, Covid, generational injustice, regional inequalities and the fourth industrial revolution. I challenge every business to embed diversity and the Government to require every public company to put social and environmental stewardship on a par with shareholder returns. A shift to a green economy is urgent as we run out of time to limit climate change, and I support the proposals my noble friend Lord Oates will detail in this debate.
I turn to the gig economy, because I anticipate that many who have lost or will lose their jobs will turn to self-employment. As the IFS has said, they will be primarily the young, low-skilled and poorly paid—it could have added BAME—workers. The Government must at once implement the Taylor review and remove the abuses within the gig economy. Flexibility for a company should not equate to an absence of rights for a worker. We will need new approaches, such as portable benefits, minimum hours and a tax system that recognises risk.
Secondly, we cannot again face an abyss or allow so many to. The Government need to sign up to the universal basic services agenda, including in housing, to put a proper floor in place for everyone. That would also encourage creativity, innovation and risk-taking, which are vital to our future.
Lastly, in dealing with Brexit we must not take a “charge of the Light Brigade” approach. A senseless order must be countermanded and an effective negotiating strategy put in place to conclude transition, even if it means an extension.
My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate. The country faces the triple challenge in the next decade of the threat of climate change, the deepest recession for generations and the health challenges of Covid, all of which will exacerbate existing inequalities. I support much of what other noble Lords have said and will focus my remarks on the vital theme of digital inclusion.
As we discovered through the pandemic, the key to much of life in lockdown has been digital access—in churches, charities, schools, universities and business. As the Government recognise, one of the keys to a cleaner and sustainable economy is a fair and ethical digital sector, but it is the key responsibility of government to ensure equal access for all. The government report exploring the UK’s digital divide is to be welcomed, as is the DCMS industrial partnership through DevicesDotNow, announced in April, to provide equipment and access to as many as possible of the 1.9 million UK households without internet access.
However, the digital divide in this country was already substantial before the exacerbating effects of Covid-19. Only 47% of low-income households have broadband internet at home. Britain is ranked only 34th in the world in the broadband speed league. Brad Smith likens rural broadband to electricity. A fair, clean and more sustainable economy depends on possibility, not just affordability, of access. When will the Government commit to making digital access a fundamental right as essential as access to home heat and safe drinking water? Does the Minister agree that a post-Covid economy that lacks fast and affordable internet access for all cannot be fairer, cleaner or more sustainable?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on introducing this important debate. I speak as a civil engineer and draw attention to my interests in the register. In the limited time available, I will make three points. These relate to carbon, resilience of our infrastructure and prioritisation of resources.
First, on carbon, the Government have legislated to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. We have a long way to go to achieve this, and we must act quickly. We require smart engineering to minimise the use of materials and energy, while still ensuring the resilience of our infrastructure. This can be achieved by many innovations, including the latest digital and sensing technologies. We must be innovative with green stimulus programmes. We should be planning modern transport infrastructure, reducing car use and pedestrianising cities. We should construct more renewable energy sources such as offshore wind. Carbon capture and storage should be exploited for low-carbon production of cement and hydrogen fuels. All such initiatives will involve welcome new employment opportunities, requiring extensive technical training and reskilling.
Secondly, all the new infrastructure that we build must be cost-effective and resilient. Covid-19 has forced rapid changes in practice on our society. It demonstrates the opportunity to do things differently. We must not revert to designing and constructing infrastructure in the same way as before. We must apply the latest technologies to find ways of doing more for less, but still ensuring resilience.
Thirdly, how should we prioritise our resources? Much of our infrastructure is old; a lot of it is Victorian. We should exploit the latest digital and sensing technologies to optimise the assets that we already have by measuring and understanding their performance. We should fix them before rushing to build new infrastructure. In summary, we should exploit the very latest technologies in the post-Covid-19 recovery plan. We need all our engineering ingenuity to reduce carbon, increase resilience and preserve resources.
My Lords, we now know that we have a huge task ahead to secure our economy following the Covid crisis and our post-EU situation. As one of those involved in the rollout of development corporations in the most needy regions of our country in the 1980s and 1990s, I would support their implementation again to help us recover. Choosing the areas of the country most affected by the current crisis and installing development corporations under enlightened and strong leadership, we can replicate the success of the earlier examples that rejuvenated the local economies of many places, including the north-east and Yorkshire. The corporations not only produced fresh enterprise, including many new-technology businesses, but improved the environment in their areas of operation. Maintaining an emphasis on sustainability and job creation with an eye to future opportunities, they could again be the basis for recovery and greater geographical equality in this country.
One of the most important powers ceded to the corporations was that of fast-track planning. Decisions were taken and investment obtained on a new basis that fully considered all aspects of community needs and environmental enhancement. In many cases, we were able to encourage enterprise to come to local populations, thus minimising the need for unnecessary travel. The boards comprised representatives of business, workers and the community. In the main, they made very good decisions, and the evidence of success is still to be seen today.
Looking ahead, the challenges seem enormous, with the shrinking of our GDP predicted to be 12% this year. Many sectors are affected, but the remedies lie not in old approaches but in new technology, job creation and, of course, care for our environment. These things are not incompatible.
My Lords, I too believe that we should learn from the past without living in it. In 1998, we introduced the new deal for the young unemployed, which included in it a particular strand for environmental work, but crucially for training and for jobs of the future. We face an even bigger catastrophe now and therefore we should mobilise, learning from what happened previously, and ensure that we link that to further and higher education.
The importance of research and knowledge transfer cannot be overestimated, but this is a devastating moment for our university sector, as money that was previously coming in from overseas students, particularly postgraduates, which funded and cross-subsidised the research agenda, will not be available. I hope that the Minister will be able to encourage the research sustainability task force to come forward urgently and encourage the Government to take up its recommendations and fund them properly, so that we can take up the work of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield and partnership programmes across the north of England. This will help us to break the triangle of Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge as we rebalance our economy and our future.
Crucially, time is running out: we see from the discouragement of people using public transport because of the two-metre rule that traffic is already returning to previous levels. Pollution can even be tasted in the air that had become so clean over the past two months. Linking job creation for young people and research and knowledge transfer from our universities with immediate action to avoid a return to the pollution that we experienced earlier this year will be vital if we are going to have that sustainability for the future.
My Lords, I want to talk about one effect of coming out of lockdown on economic prospects for women. The Government have not published an equality impact assessment for the Coronavirus Act 2020 and other key policies such as the job retention scheme. The Minister for Women and Equalities has said that this would have a chilling effect on the advice given by civil servants.
The post-Covid recovery and the development of many children will be damaged unless the childcare sector is paid fairly by the Government. The government subsidy of so-called “free” childcare places only covers about half the actual cost, and many nurseries had already given up the ghost before Covid. Research by Childcare UK and the Early Years Alliance found that the epidemic could be the last straw for a further 25% of providers and that 150,000 childcare places could be lost. If we want mothers and fathers to play their part in the recovery, we must pay the childcare sector properly and fairly. Will the Minister please commit to looking at this?
My Lords, following the global trauma of World War II, a new and more progressive world order was established. At its heart were the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and NATO. At home, in a blaze of activity, we founded the NHS, brought into force the Education Act 1944 and created Beveridge’s welfare state. Our parents built a better world; now we must do that.
A tiny virus has reminded us of the vulnerability of all mankind, and that we are not an island cut off from the world. We must play our full part, but we can mitigate climate change only if the whole world acts together. Let us reinvigorate the depleted forces of global co-operation and collaboration. Let us seek to build on our common interest not to intensify division. Let us renew the attack on poverty and proclaim the advantages of the free flow of ideas and trade. Let us revive the global influence that we have long had.
The UK is at a low. My strongly anglophile French and German friends look askance at our travails. As we emerge from our horror, let us bottle the communal spirit of those who have clapped each week for the NHS. Let us reset our world. Let us drain the poison that has built up in our political system. Let us recover our ability for competent, careful and considered government. Let us address our many problems, as our parents once did, and build once more a fair, tolerant and prosperous Britain.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for securing this vital debate. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the life of every child in this country. Many of their households face reduced income, irregular working hours, increasing debt, greater risk of online harm, growing concern over mental health and well-being, and increased prevalence of domestic violence. Already vulnerable children have been made all the more at risk.
My work with the Children’s Society has drawn my attention to the disproportionate and detrimental impact of inequality and lack of sustainability on children and their households. By 2021, it is predicted that more than 5 million children will be affected by poverty in the UK. In Derby, the proportion of nought to 15 year-olds living in income-deprived households is as much as 47%. The gap in life expectancy between the poorest and most affluent areas of the city is eight and a half years, and the gap in healthy life expectancy is 19 years.
The inequalities that affect children in poverty run deep and are systemic, so the solutions need to be long term, taking account of the sustainability of the future for the children’s sake. Responding to the needs of every child in post-Covid-19 recovery strategies means keeping children and young people safe, protecting children and families facing financial insecurity, and supporting the mental health and well-being of all children in ways that support the recovery of the planet which they will inherit, rather than further damage it.
I encourage the Minister to ensure that government finds ways to hear the voices of children as our post-Covid-19 recovery strategies are shaped. Recovery strategies will contribute to a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable future only if they offer hope for every child and young person across the UK. Will the Minister commit therefore, as some previous Governments have done, to using family or young person tests to assess the impact of all Covid-19 recovery strategies as a mechanism for contributing to a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing this important debate and on her excellent speech. I want to confine my brief contribution to one aspect of the green strategy, or rather a blue one, to help with our post-Covid recovery. The blue in question is not party political but refers to the importance of wetlands. I am much indebted to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, a charity of which I have been a member for more than four decades, for working on this concept, which I fully support. Creating new wetlands will not only create much-needed jobs but will improve carbon capture and water quality, provide flood management and—highly importantly—ensure greater public enjoyment and improved physical and mental health. Of course, it will also hugely enhance our much depleted nature. It would assist in reducing coastal erosion and help regenerate neighbourhoods and towns. These projects do not always have to be huge scale, and we can do great things in urban areas too.
The aim would be to restore or create 100,000 hectares of wetlands. We do not always have to talk solely about tree planting and peatland restoration, important though they are. I also suggest that, in the provision of new housing, we could be innovative by creating new wetland cities, like the garden cities of a few decades ago, only wetter.
Following this terrible pandemic, we have an incredible opportunity to reset our world. Let us be bold and imaginative. I hope that my young granddaughter will enjoy a better quality of life than current generations.
My Lords, I declare my environmental interests as listed in the register. A rapid and resilient recovery from Covid-19 cannot be just a reversion to more of the same old ways. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for setting out the many ways in which we need to change. We have a real opportunity to grow back better, and that means a green recovery.
The noble Lord, Lord Stern, has elsewhere urged that the Government immediately promote measures that are fast, labour intensive and embed an economic multiplier effect. There are many shovel-ready programmes from the sustainability agenda that can deliver against those criteria, without necessarily using shovels. They can also promote intergenerational fairness by tackling the twin challenges of looming climate change and catastrophic biodiversity loss, which our children will inherit.
Examples of projects which could quickly start across the length and breadth of the country include scaling up energy efficiency retrofits in housing and other buildings, and building new homes that are energy efficient and zero carbon; investment in green infrastructure to enable people to walk or cycle to work, and to work remotely through accessible internet; and expanding tree planting exponentially—I declare my interest as chair of the Woodland Trust—both in urban and rural settings, to sequester carbon and benefit human health and biodiversity. There are many such examples.
Any public subsidy for recovery should pass a net zero test, and major infrastructure proposals should pass a net biodiversity gain test, to make sure that our recovery projects genuinely meet our longer-term objectives.
How about we introduce a national nature service, which could work on a new nature recovery network of projects and provide training, skills, jobs and healthy contact with nature for young people whose futures risk being blighted by the Covid crisis?
Lockdown has been a cyclist’s paradise, with much talk about active travel, but then the Prime Minister encouraged us to take to our cars again and told us that we must avoid public transport. At a stroke, the benefits of lower emissions, for our planet and for our personal health, are potentially lost. In fact, it is significantly worse than it was before the pandemic, because, normally, 14.5 million people drive to work across England and Wales each day, and 4.2 million people use public transport. A study by Westminster University predicts that there will now be 1 million additional rush hour vehicles using the roads. That is a 22% increase in London, for example, and it is unsustainable in every sense of the word.
Ironically, the virus has given us a glimpse of a less polluted, healthier world. The Government must seize the moment to introduce radical, comprehensive measures to reduce transport-related pollution, because transport is the biggest polluter. Such measures include changing the planning rules so that no new housing developments can be built until a safe, active travel network is in place; moving freight off the roads and on to rail; electrifying the railways; and reinvigorating the bus industry by funding greener buses and devolving real powers to local authorities to control them. We should reward those who work from home, and, wherever possible, we should take services to people in rural areas.
We need a sustainable transport revolution starting now and not at some distant target date.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing this debate. This is a key turning point: if we are to successfully transition to a sustainable and green world, we need to change how we value success and worth. The way we live now is almost entirely about the value of money. The success of a company depends on creating share value; the success of an individual is intricately bound up with the material goods he or she has. Even the health of our nation is now judged by targets of longevity rather than of quality of life. To change that, we have to understand that we need different kinds of rewards. This is a huge challenge. If a business depends, say, on growing palm oil in Malaysia or deforesting the Amazon for its key products, what will it say to its shareholders? How can we calculate reward in terms not of money but of public good? How can we start to value people’s happiness and sense of satisfaction over the size of their bank accounts? How can we bring fairness back into our reasonably unfair society? I would like to know from the Government whether these are being debated.
The community spirit generated during Covid shows that there are more rewarding values among us. I much look forward to the day when the shareholder’s value—their prize—is in not cutting down the rainforest. We must invest in a green economy and not return to business as usual, as happened after the 2008 crash. We must involve all, and that means starting with education. Just as we need a green recovery for the economy, we need a green recovery for education.
Our young people, from an early age, need and want to understand resilience and sustainability. As members of the Green Recovery for Education say, there is little point learning how to continue our traditional capitalist systems, as these are in many cases the very systems causing our planetary crisis. I therefore ask the Government a second question: what conversations are going on in the Department for Education to consider the proposals that young people themselves have set out through the Teach the Future initiative, to review our education system and teacher training so that we are equipped for the climate crisis and investing in net-zero facilities?
I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about moving further towards a more sustainable economic future. I have been a supporter of wind power for nearly 40 years, and I was vice-chairman of the parliamentary renewable and sustainable energy group for some 15 years in the Commons.
I want to concentrate on intergenerational fairness, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness. Like most noble Lords, I am in my later years; our future is behind us. Young people in this crisis have seen their education trashed, schools and universities closed, and exams missed. When lockdown is lifted, unemployment will shoot up; it will not be a good time to look for a job. We are facing a deep recession, possibly a global depression. The last one did not end well, and it left indelible scars on the world. Our prosperity and quality of life will be severely lessened and healthcare will suffer. If we older people are “all right, Jack”, and while our futures are largely behind us, we have mortgaged our country’s future and our children’s future.
The young are the least affected by this virus. Deaths among the young are very few—negligible in the under-20s and very, very low in the under-30s and under-40s, and only 12% of deaths occur among the under-65s. We, the older generation, have trashed the future of the young to protect ourselves. Will they forgive us?
We made a public health crisis into an economic and social catastrophe. We should lift the lockdown now completely, and those at high risk should shield themselves. My own view is that the virus swept through the population, starting as early as November. There may of course be a second wave, but let us at least give our young people a chance and some hope for the future.
I declare my interest in universal basic income as set out in the register, and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing this debate. Today, we are discussing what “strategies” after the Covid-19 shock could
“contribute to a fairer, cleaner, and more sustainable economy.”
Greens on these islands have long been calling for a universal basic income to help us recover from the shock of austerity, privatisation and inequality that our economic model has delivered.
We have also been calling for the universal services to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, referred. Universal basic income would dramatically reduce insecurity, a huge driver of unsustainable consumption. The case has been further strengthened in this pandemic, with so many falling unfairly into desperate poverty through the conditionality of our current benefits system and emergency measures.
With great timeliness, the long-awaited report of the study group for Scottish universal basic income—driven from the grass roots up by the Fife, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow councils—has been presented today. The report concludes that a pilot, which would run for three years, could provide a better understanding of how a universal basic income could impact poverty, child poverty, unemployment, health and financial well-being. However, the report says that delivering it would require the UK and Scottish Governments as well as councils to work together. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has expressed her “active support” for universal basic income.
Today the House has just made history by casting our first trial virtual ballot, bringing us into the 21st century while 19th-century queues form in the other place. I hope that we can also make history by seeing the noble Baroness the Minister promise for the Government to not get in the way of—and indeed, to actively facilitate—the exciting social innovation of universal basic income, and to take a world-leading role.
I declare my interest as a vice-president and former chair of the LGA. I thank local government for its tireless work in responding to the Covid-19 crisis in its communities and keeping public services running.
Councils are at the forefront of mitigating climate risks locally and supporting their communities to adapt to future changes. In order for councils to continue to play their full role in delivering a sustainable economic recovery, they need greater powers and flexibilities devolved at pace. As a member of the devolution APPG, which is looking into many of the important issues we are discussing, I encourage the Government to work with councils to develop post-Covid-19 economic recovery options.
A key component of sustainable recovery and growth will be the creation of green jobs. The Local Government Association has just published new research about the opportunities of low-carbon job creation. The jobs outlined in the report will be crucial to meeting the Government’s target of net zero by 2050, as well as aiding the economic recovery from Covid-19. Devolving national skills and employment schemes and funding to councils and combined authorities will be critical to ensuring that everyone benefits from these new local opportunities.
I welcome the Government’s work on devolution and their efforts to build a sustainable economy that levels up all areas of the country. I would also be grateful if the Minister could use her closing remarks to provide an update on the expected timing for the devolution White Paper and whether it will empower councils to deliver a sustainable recovery in their communities. By empowering local government, we can help our economy recover and deliver a fairer and environmentally friendly future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for tabling this important debate. The inherent unfairness in UK society has been laid bare. The people who have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis have been key workers in areas that include retail, transport, health and care settings. These essential front-line workers, often on zero-hours contracts, have to work. A disproportionate number of them come from BAME communities.
The Public Health England report of 2 June confirmed that black and Asian ethnic groups are up to twice as likely to die from Covid-19 and, shockingly, that deaths among black males were nearly four times higher than expected between 20 March and 7 May. We must work to still the huge unrest among these communities, and I, for one, want to state my support for the Black Lives Matter campaign. The PHE report failed to delve into the reasons behind the figures, but the Government have many questions to answer in the inevitable public inquiry that must take place.
The world had warning about the pandemic, but Governments, including our own, failed to act. We must not fail to act to tackle the warning of climate chaos that is hurtling down the track. If we do not act, the people who will bear the brunt will again be the most disadvantaged.
In rebuilding our economy, we must place greater value on people and on our planet. It would be foolhardy to do other than heed the many authoritative voices calling for just that, including the Committee on Climate Change, the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and more than 200 business leaders from the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, there is obviously a risk that, as the lockdown eases, we shall be tempted to return to those old ways of thinking and behaving which are at the root of so many of our environmental distresses. However, in order to change ways of thinking and behaving, we need more of a common mind, and we certainly need a strategy for developing and disseminating a code of environmental principles that are simple and memorable enough to be included in the national curriculum. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has already referred to the importance of education in this area. Principles are the vital step in formulating sustainable policies and assisting in their implementation and enforcement.
Of course, we already have a start in the principles derived from European legislation, which figure in the Environment Bill. The principles of “polluter pays”, prevention and the precautionary approach are a very good start, but we need to develop them in the light of recent public debate. It is important not to complicate things but, rather, to lift them out of the realm of international expert conferences and specialist papers so that simple and memorable environmental principles become part of ordinary, everyday conversation. A code of environmental principles ought to be at least as well known as the Highway Code. I believe that it ought to include a commitment to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Covid crisis has given us all the time to reflect on how we live now; I hope that we will not waste the opportunity.
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Association for Decentralised Energy.
The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of local community structures. This is the great challenge and the great opportunity in decarbonising heat, for heat is, at its heart, local. The best solution to decarbonising heat in any area is specific to, and determined by, that area. Coupled with the Government’s commitment to improve energy efficiency in homes, schools and hospitals, locally driven heat solutions will come together to create a decarbonisation landscape.
Heat networks have a unique role in capturing and using otherwise wasted heat. The Government have demonstrated their commitment to heat networks by announcing a new green heat network fund to support, in particular, those using waste heat. An example is a project in Enfield to supply waste heat to at least 15,000 homes. In due course, that will save 5,700 tonnes per year, equivalent to the carbon sequestered by over 6,000 acres of forest.
During the Heat Networks Industry Council’s launch last week, my right honourable friend the Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, underlined the alignment between government and the industry’s ambitious vision for the role of the heat network sector in delivering a net-zero future. This council is committed to bringing in investment and creating up to 35,000 new jobs. A project in Leeds is specifically committed to new apprenticeships and jobs. It is surely more important than ever to invest in upskilling and retraining to create a green-collar workforce for the future. The heat networks industry is fully committed to playing its part in a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy post this pandemic.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and express my enthusiasm for using the recovery strategies from Covid-19 to help contribute to a fairer society, a cleaner environment and a more sustainable economy. However, I also advocate that the lessons of the pandemic, and particularly the data that flows from the experience of the international lockdown, are used to inform the ambition of those strategies.
I recently attended, in a virtual way, a RUSI event on the general subject of future energy. Data presented to the discussion indicated that, for an extended period of time this year, 4.2 billion people have been under lockdown, only a fraction of the world’s airlines have flown and most people’s cars have barely moved, yet the forecast impact this year of this unprecedented lockdown, which has brought global economies almost to a halt, is an anticipated 25% drop in oil use and, as the noble Baroness said in her excellent opening speech, just an 8% reduction in carbon generation.
I offer that insight not to discourage ambition but purely to put a reality check on both the time and effort needed to bring about significant change in carbon emissions and to add realism to those who use the language of acceleration. The strategies that we conceive must be bold but they must also be anchored in reality or they will lose credibility and, in the context of COP 26, will most certainly fail to attract international consensus.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this timely debate. Covid has affected the way that we see ourselves and how we see the landscape in forming policy affecting our economy.
The COP 26 meeting in Glasgow, which was due to take place this year, has of course been cancelled. Before that, there had been an attempt to create a series of drumbeats to allow policy announcements showing our commitment to net zero and the wider ambition of decarbonising the globe. Most of those have now been placed on hold, but I look to the Minister to give a commitment that this will not be for much longer and that we will begin to hear again about how the Government intend to meet their obligations to deliver net zero and how they intend to work with their global partners. The opportunities are still there, and the technologies, innovations and ideas are all still ready to be delivered. Therefore, I look forward to hearing from the Government when they will institute a timetable for setting out very clearly their ambitions and the concrete policies that they will deliver to meet their net-zero commitments.
My Lords, according to the recent letter from the Prime Minister, as from 15 June all shops will be able to reopen. This means that thousands of small and large shops will open, provided that a safe distance between people is managed. Places of worship will be allowed to open from this weekend, and zoos and drive-in cinemas will also be allowed to reopen from 15 June. All that will bring thousands, perhaps millions, out on to the streets and open grounds. The coronavirus is still alive and the Government’s decisions could cause a spike in the pandemic across the country, thereby putting enormous strain on the NHS and other front-line workers.
All this will require the population to follow the guidelines. The risk lies in whether this will be possible. The videos of the recent processions show that social distancing was not observed. The effects of this will be reflected in coming weeks. The Government might be taking an enormous risk in opening things up prematurely. There is obviously a need to calibrate between priorities of health and the economy. The decision is one of the most difficult for any Government for perhaps the last two centuries.
My Lords, the conditions created by the pandemic and the lockdown will probably result in this year representing the largest annual reduction in carbon emissions. The crisis and this result should, with the right approach, enable us to achieve reductions in our emissions to zero by 2050, stimulate the economy and create jobs. The crisis should be a springboard to achieving these objectives. It is anticipated that our GDP will fall by 12.8% and unemployment will be at about 7.3% by the end of 2020. My concern is that there will, in addition, be regional inequalities, which our Prime Minister is keen to level up. Therefore, it is important for us to take appropriate and immediate medium-term measures. During the pandemic, there was a need to spend, spend, spend. Now that we are coming out of the crisis, our motto must be to think green, to achieve growth and to create jobs. I commend the Prime Minister for his commitment to spending £2 billion investing in greener transport, including providing walking and cycling facilities.
We must all ensure that all the BAME communities are fairly treated in all aspects of the country, including the business sector, as part of our future strategy. This is a wake-up call for us to do so. What is the Government’s reaction to the two letters sent to the Prime Minister by 200 business leaders and the Committee on Climate Change, and how are the proposals being considered?
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on this excellent opportunity to debate how we will achieve zero carbon emissions in 2050.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about the importance of transport. Cars and trucks are probably the biggest polluters in this sector. We need radical solutions. One example is the retail system. We now can happily buy anything for home delivery the next day. The shops are replenished several times a day with multiple deliveries, often in white vans. This is all backed up by worldwide logistics, including air freight, container ships, 40-tonne trucks, distribution centres et cetera. We are still building motorways, mainly for trucks. So how do we reduce the carbon footprint?
There are many solutions. Clearly, rail freight into the city centres is one, as are electrical cycle last-mile deliveries. Most of all we need to change our lifestyle, with fewer choices in shops. Do we really need air-freighted avocados every day of the year, unless there is a carbon tax attributed to them? We must have a massive reduction in car use, but the Government are still advising us to use cars rather than public transport. What about the people who do not have cars? The Government seem to have forgotten them, or they just do not care about them. Perhaps they should withdraw the car advice. I hope that the Minister will say something about that today.
On Monday, I raised a question about Manchester City Council not participating in a new cycle scheme for the Manchester area. Two days later, it applied to the Government for financing. I am pleased to hear this and hope that many other local authorities will support it.
We have the opportunity now to change our environment and set an example to the rest of the world. I hope we can do it.
My Lords, as we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we must find clean technologies that encourage investment, create jobs, provide opportunities and training for young people and address the climate crisis. I recommend one such innovation, which the Government should encourage in every way. As we build new homes, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Risby, that we need to find local ways to heat them that do not use fossil fuels. In County Durham, the council has partnered with the Coal Authority and private developer Tolent Construction to provide district heating for a new garden village from the geothermally heated water that floods a network of disused coal mines in the area. I was very interested when I read about this because I live in north Wales, on top of a lot of disused coal mines, where there is a large development of houses in a village called Llay, which is less than half a mile from the shaft of the tragic Gresford coal mine. However, I do not believe that such an innovative solution to space heating is being used there.
The system works by pumping the water from the mine—which, year round, is always warmer than the air above—up through a heat exchanger. Warm water is then distributed to the homes and businesses in the new Seaham Garden Village. This renewable energy reduces the heating bills of local families, which contributes to equality, half of them being in affordable homes, provides jobs for the local economy and encourages investment in the area, as well as providing low-carbon space heating. There are hundreds of disused coal mines all over the country, many in disadvantaged areas that need levelling up. Will the Government invest in this innovation elsewhere to leverage private investment and create jobs? It is a nice irony that coal mines, which once contributed to global warming, can provide part of the solution to stopping it.
My Lords, I too welcome this debate, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but there is a danger that, as we turn our attention to high-level economic issues, we lose sight of down-to-earth, human realities. We have reached a point in the Covid-19 nightmare where questions of high-level policy and planning for the future are becoming more and more essential, but if we allow that human face to become less important, we will have lost one of the most important aspects of a sustainable economy of the future.
For that reason, I emphasise one aspect of that human face: 4.5 million people in the United Kingdom have become unpaid carers in society as a direct result of the pandemic. This is in addition to the 5 million carers already involved. Thousands of people have had to make serious personal decisions affecting their everyday lives. They have had to weigh up responsibilities for family life when they have been crucial in every aspect. To organise caring duties while holding down paid work is a dilemma and far from easy. The recent announcement of the bubble relationship will ease the strain for some, but the bigger question remains: as we move towards national recovery, can that army of carers receive proper recognition and support for the burden that so many carry? Flexible working and a genuine appreciation of the human problems by employers are only two of the issues that we face in a fair economy and a fairer future. I urge the Minister: please do not lose sight of the human face of recovery at this time.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the chair of trustees of the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership, as I want to focus on the urgent need for a cleaner economy with clean air.
Air pollution causes lung damage and is linked to early death. It can cause irreversible change to children’s growing lungs and hearts. Moreover, people living in the poorest areas are more exposed to air pollution, reinforcing unequal health outcomes. It is bad for everyone, but for the 12 million people in the UK with a lung condition it poses a real threat to their health. A spike in levels of pollution can lead to worse symptoms, flare-ups and even hospitalisation. It also damages their quality of life as it can stop them leaving their houses for the justifiable reason that they fear dirty air. Research from around the world also shows a possible relationship between higher levels of air pollution and an increased risk of dying from Covid-19. More work is needed on why that happens.
One of the few benefits of the lockdown is that it has led to cleaner air with lower levels of NO2 and particulate matter. We must not lose this gain. That means that we must develop policies for active travel, a reduction of car use, clean air zones and strengthened clean air laws. I welcome the announcement of £250 million funding for local authorities to promote walking and cycling with new guidelines on the need to take action urgently. However that is a very small amount of money, and I hope the Government will bring forward more funding for policies of this sort as well as advancing the requirements for electric cars.
Lastly, can the Minister confirm that, when the Environment Bill returns, it will commit to reaching at least WHO guideline levels on particulate matter by 2030 at the very latest?
My Lords, we have learned much from Germany in recent months. Germany has met the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic far better than us. Its policy of test and trace and its devolved structure of government have resulted in a much lower death rate from Covid-19, which stands at a quarter of ours.
Perhaps the Government will therefore now look very closely at how Germany is planning its economic recovery from the pandemic. It has announced an enormous fiscal stimulus worth €130 billion, with measures for the short, medium and long term. There will be a six-month cut in VAT to encourage consumer spending and a €300 payment for every child. There will be much more research investment in green technologies and significantly lower taxation on electric cars.
In the UK, the Chancellor has announced an intention for a green industrial revolution, and I hope he keeps to it. The UK is well positioned to build on the achievements of my party in government, which encouraged green investment and, particularly, renewable energy. We should just note that our electricity supply system ran without coal-fired electricity throughout May, when wind and solar power produced 28% of our electricity. We should build on that, insulate more homes and invest in a much more widespread electrical charging infrastructure.
Yesterday, the OECD forecast that the UK economy is likely to shrink by between 11.5% and 14% this year. The implications are very serious. Above all, we must avoid a return to 1980s levels of unemployment and, in particular, youth unemployment. Many young people have lost schooling. They may find their hoped-for career unavailable or non-existent. It will be necessary for our schools, colleges and universities to alter the courses they offer to reflect a changed economy and to be resourced accordingly.
My Lords, I make no apologies for devoting my remarks today to the international aspect of climate change, while many other speakers, led so admirably by my noble friend Lady Hayman, whose debate is so topical, will very justifiably be focusing on what we need to do ourselves. It is a simple fact that we in this country acting on our own cannot make any serious impact on global warming or the mitigation of climate change, but nor can we hope to play an influential part in the essential international effort if we do not set an example by what we are doing at a national level. Those two aspects are two sides of a single coin, and right now we are not winning the toss with either side of the coin.
The challenge of ensuring that the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow succeeds in consolidating the implementation of the Paris agreement and in strengthening action beyond its commitments is certainly no easy one. The postponement of that meeting is of course time lost, but it could prove a cloud with a silver lining if we factor in the consequences of Covid-19 and use them as an opportunity as well as a grievous blow. For COP 26 to be a success, three conditions must be met. First, it must be a genuinely co-operative venture, which will mean working closely with others, including the European Union. Secondly, we need a critical path to success in terms of objectives and method. Paris showed it can be done, and Copenhagen showed how not to do it. Thirdly, we need to make a political input at the highest level, because decisions at Glasgow will be reached only if they are supported at that level. So far, I can see no sign of any of these conditions being met.
A word now about Africa, on which your Lordships’ committee on which I serve will shortly produce a report. Africa is a victim of climate change, from desertification to sea level rise and deforestation. It is not a cause of that change. It has as yet underused capacity to mitigate those changes through the development of renewable energy: solar, wind and even hydro. By helping Africa mobilise those resources, we will be furthering our interest.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, not just on securing this debate and leading it so expertly and comprehensively but on her work on establishing the Peers for the Planet group, which is also working outside the Chamber to take forward many of these issues.
I would also, perhaps unusually, like to endorse the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in his speech which followed that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. He spoke about the tsunami coming towards us economically, and I would add that there is the impact on children right across the country, particularly vulnerable children, in their education, mental health, sport and physical activity with the closure of schools. There is a lack of an adequate strategy in the four nations of the UK to recover that educational opportunity, particularly for the most vulnerable children.
But I want to focus on the sustainable development goals. The Prime Minister said in May, shortly after he returned from his enforced period in the hospital, that he wanted to see a
“fairer, greener and more resilient global economy”,
and that he wanted to “build back better”. Indeed, he said on 28 May that
“there is every need for us to work together to get our shared goals back on track, including … the Sustainable Development Goals”.
The 17 sustainable development goals agreed by the United Nations in 2015 give us a framework for a recovery that would ensure that we also do that as part of a healthy planet. They are domestic as well as international.
I welcome the Minister to her place today, and I ask her to say in her reply in what way the UK Government will build the sustainable development goals into their plan for economic recovery. On Tuesday, more than 100 business leaders and organisations called on them to do so, and I hope that the Government will respond positively.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing this fascinating debate. My home is in Cornwall, where our economy is largely based on agriculture and tourism. We have some of the best beaches and moorland in the country. Once known only for pilchards and tin, Cornwall is now recognised for fine food from our local farms and coastal waters. Educational standards are low but rising. Aspiration is on the up too. However, there are still too many who have not been as far as Devon.
In the past 20 years, and thanks to excellent fibre broadband right across Cornwall, young professionals have moved down and increased the diversification of employment opportunities. Falmouth University has been a great asset in supporting local entrepreneurship.
Sadly, however, we have a dependency on the car for travel. Too many cars are diesel powered—cheap to run, but not helpful for our air quality. Electric cars do not yet have the range to get about, and hybrids are expensive.
Using sun and wind, we now produce 37% of our electricity from renewables, and we are looking at how floating turbines could deliver jobs and prosperity to our coastal communities. I must not forget geothermal schemes, which are in the very early stages.
London outstrips Cornwall’s economy by a factor of nine. Fifty years ago, 70% of our labour force worked on the land. The same percentage now works in food production, but not in farms. Our economy is growing. We had Objective 1 status, and, were we still in the EU, we would be eligible for more targeted support. Our MPs reassure us that it will continue. Can the Minister confirm this?
How our smaller businesses will thrive after Covid is another issue, but the local council, the LEP, and business and community organisations have a hunger for success. I feel sure that resilience, borne out of established partnership working, will stand Cornwall in good stead.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hayman on securing the debate and declare my registered interests. Over the past few days, we have heard the forecasts of the scale of the hit that the UK economy could take this year. Investment is needed on a massive scale to rebuild the economy post Covid. It is essential that this investment focuses on building back better.
We have seen the devastating effects of one ecological crisis, in Covid. This must surely focus minds on working to avoid another, in the form of climate change. We must use post-Covid investment to focus on key recovery and our net-zero targets. The macroeconomic case is rock solid, with the Government able to borrow at negative real rates to invest in clean industries with high rates of return.
A key gap is investment in nuclear. Nuclear is currently the only mature low-carbon technology that can provide large quantities of firm, non-variable power into the grid. To mitigate the risk of no firm power alternative being available to meet the 2050 targets, the build rate of nuclear needs to expand significantly. The key issue remains the cost of capital, and the Government urgently need to clarify their approach to funding new nuclear. Will the Minister clarify in what timescales a decision and announcement will be made on the model for funding new nuclear?
Fairness must also be a priority of the recovery. Thousands of new high-skilled jobs are needed to rejuvenate and level up the regions of the north and the Midlands, where I live. We need an evidence-based plan for recovery that fits these regions. Data must play a key role in how government policy is targeted. I highlight the excellent work of the Midlands Engine Economic Observatory’s independent economic review; it provides a unique dataset on the Midlands economy, which should be a key reference point for designing a recovery plan that fits the Midlands. Does the Minister agree on the importance of this data, collated at a regional level, to government policy-making regarding the levelling up agenda?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on her excellent speech, and indeed on her starring role in this House last week. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on his following speech, which linked the potential problem of mass unemployment after this crisis with meeting the green agenda. It is stark staring obvious that we need a Keynesian boost after this crisis, linked directly to providing green infrastructure, which we will need as a society for the next generation. We also need what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned: an opening up of the economy, so that people can get back to those companies that are working at the moment in as safe and speedy a way as possible. We need to put the two together.
Having been in government and seen these situations before, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 and 2009 crisis, I know that it is one thing to say that we need a big programme of public works and quite another to have shovel-ready projects. There is one massive shovel-ready project ready to go: HS2, the biggest infrastructure project in Europe. The Government have already let £16 billion-worth of contracts for the first phase of HS2 from London to Birmingham. More than 10,000 people are employed. More than 200 construction sites are in operation, with HS2 staff on them. That is almost all of the construction sites for HS2—they have been specially prepared with social distancing and the other measures needed to ensure that the work can proceed.
It is very clear what we need to do: we should accelerate the building of HS2 north of Birmingham. Legislation is before your Lordships to take the line up to Crewe. The detailed route planning has been done through to Manchester and Leeds. We should take the advice of Martin Sandbu, the FT columnist, in his excellent new book The Economics of Belonging. He argues that we should take a leaf out of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s book of the 1930s and have an equivalent approach to that of the Tennessee Valley Authority. We should accelerate the building of HS2 to Manchester and Leeds; legislation should come before this House to get the line all the way up to Manchester and Leeds by 2030. We should get on with it.
At the end of this debate, the Minister has a golden opportunity to agree to that, and to unleash the huge constructive potential of HS2 to generate tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and, ultimately, even to take it up to where the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, lives, in Scotland.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for two reasons: on getting the debate, but also on her excellent opening speech. She used a phrase that I was going to use: this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We need transformation and it absolutely cannot wait.
The coronavirus crisis has shown us how the Government can move heaven and earth when they listen to scientists, put ideology aside and go all out to avoid disaster. There is a lot that Ministers can learn from this response and carry forward for the climate and ecological emergencies that we face.
The Government must put net-zero carbon targets at the heart of their economic policy. The Treasury should be required to produce carbon budgets for every single economic policy, showing how they will contribute to the Paris climate goals. We must stop propping up failing, planet-destroying companies with tax incentives and cheap borrowing. We have done far too much of that already in this crisis.
A green new deal is needed that can reshape our economy and create good and secure jobs that enrich our lives, communities and planet. Right now, the Government could provide access to online training and learning for all jobseekers and furloughed workers, to develop skills and knowledge for the green economy.
Greening our homes is still way overdue. Alongside grants and interest-free loans, the Government should abolish VAT on home improvements. We are all spending a lot more time at home; let us make it easier and more affordable to make our homes greener, comfier and more beautiful places to live and work. To all those sceptics who say, “How much will this cost?”, I say: how much will it cost us if we do not do it?
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on her contribution to the debate, and thank her for encouraging me to speak, as a member of Peers for the Planet. I am an unusual member because, as a businesswoman of long standing—I refer to my register of interests—I am essentially practical. I question the wisdom of virtue signalling and I argue for all countries to play their part, so that we are not disadvantaged economically.
I want to make practical progress on plastic. The crisis has shown that it is the magical substance that its inventors found it to be: flexible, light, clean, cheap and indestructible. It is being put to great use in PPE, ventilators, contactless payment and screens in shops, but the scale of indestructible plastic use has been a growing worry for years, and the crisis is creating an even larger mountain of plastic waste. As we know from experience, this will clutter watercourses and reach the sea, where it will mass in hotspots and have a devastating effect on wildlife and fisheries.
Can we use the crisis to introduce reform in the UK, and to dispense with the patchwork of different systems that I see when I move from Wiltshire to Southwark? There must be a single system of bins for both household and business waste, and a single, clear post-Brexit system of labelling, showing what can be recycled and what cannot. With an advertising campaign of the kind that the Government have pioneered on Covid, citizens and business will get behind recycling. There have been literally years of consultation on different schemes and taxes, and mixed signals from different departments, but mountains have grown, and we have witnessed an unacceptable delay in bringing in a single system to encourage the right consumer behaviour. As others have said, Covid gives us an opportunity, here and elsewhere, to change the paradigm.
My Lords, a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy in a more equal and socially just society cannot just be an aspiration: it must be seen as critical to our survival. We must build back better. This debate is indeed timely, with many people thinking that a target of 2030 rather than 2050 to be carbon neutral is actually needed. The situation of lockdown will have caused mental and emotional health difficulties for many. These came on top of pre-existing, deep-seated fears—in particular, but not exclusively, among young people—about the climate emergency. However, many will have walked and cycled in streets free of traffic and breathed cleaner air than for many years. New plans must be put in place to limit road traffic and ensure that there is not a return to the massive use of the car.
Nelson Mandela said:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
But, as one noble Lord said earlier, a change in education is needed, too, to ensure that we have a focus on the climate emergency and on sustainability in our classrooms and lecture halls. We also have the opportunity to help young people, with projects such as Imagine 2030 being run in Hammersmith and Fulham, to help people look at what changes are needed and how they can help to make them.
The TUC has focused in its report not just on equality issues, vital though they are, but on the need for a plan towards net zero carbon, with a just transition for workers across the economy, rebuilding the UK’s industrial capacity but on the basis of what a carbon-neutral economy and society actually needs. This will require investment in education and training at all levels and will offer a real chance for a more positive future, rather than the dystopian vision foreshadowed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in her opening remarks, if we do not act.
My Lords, the Motion calls for a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy: three separate goals, all of which I endorse. As for fairness, we all seem to agree that we cannot simply go back to the world we had before. With at least 10% unemployment forecast by the Bank of England and even more by the OECD, there is no doubt that young people will be the worst hit. It is generally accepted—perhaps the Minister can confirm it—that the apprentice scheme needs to be extended and become universal.
I also wonder, with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, whether this is the time to contemplate the introduction of a universal basic income. This concept has a lengthy and not entirely utopian origin: although it started with Thomas More’s Utopia, it was taken up by Tom Paine and ended up with the approval of the monetarist Milton Friedman. Even President Trump has introduced legislation giving $1,200 per adult under certain income limits. Is it not time to look at this here?
As for a cleaner economy, we have all welcomed the clearer air as a result of lockdown. I support all the proposals of my noble friend Lady Randerson, but is this not also the time to bring forward the date for the scrapping of diesel cars from 2040 and to introduce a scrappage scheme for existing cars? In addition to the climate benefit this would provide, it would also provide a boost to the hard-hit car industry, with an encouragement for hybrid and electric cars.
Finally, as for a more sustainable economy, we must increase investment in green technology. One of the great achievements of the coalition was Vince Cable’s introduction of the Green Investment Bank in 2012: before the sale to Macquarie in 2017, £12 billion had been invested in UK projects. The Government must ensure that significant sums are now invested in green technologies, including, of course, hydrogen projects, in which Germany has recently announced a €9 billion investment. The concern, of course, is that hydrogen investment will be significantly less attractive now that we are leaving the EU’s single energy market at the end of December—yet another own goal by the Government.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests and I start, as others have started, by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on obtaining this debate, which has produced such excellent speeches. Of the subjects she raised, I shall focus on fairness. Without seeking to detract in any way from the horror of the disease, I note that Covid has helped to expose the lack of equality that exists between different sections of our society. There is the black minority and other discriminated minorities, the disabled, the elderly and the deprived members of our society, and indirectly there is the education of our children. Individually and cumulatively, these consequences are not only unfair but arguably result in contraventions of the Human Rights Act and damage society.
When I was a High Court judge, a small book was produced and made available by the Government with the title The Judge Over Your Shoulder. The picture on the cover was of a very frightening judge—I do not know whether it was a caricature of myself. I do know that it was intended to convey to civil servants that what they were doing could be breaching the law, and judges could intervene to prevent this happening. This is exactly what judges are doing and have been doing for more than 20 years now. However, the judiciary can intervene only if a member of society or a public interest body makes an application to the court to seek relief.
I do not want to encourage litigation, and this can be avoided if the Government and officials comply with the law. To achieve this, it is healthy for administrators to know that there is a judge looking over their shoulder. However, the courts can perform their role only if applications are made to them. Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult for judges to do this. This point was strongly emphasised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a letter it wrote to me just two days ago which said:
“We’re here to stand up for freedom, compassion and justice in our changing times. We do it by promoting equality and human rights ideals and laws across the nation. Our work is driven by a simple belief; if everyone gets a fair chance in life, we all thrive.”
My Lords, I declare my interests in the register and join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on calling this very timely debate and introducing it so eloquently. Environmental sustainability must lie at the heart of any government policy. The results following the Covid-19 lockdown have been dramatic and the OECD report this week, which other noble Lords have referred to, highlighted the potential damage to the UK.
I welcome alternative means of transport to work, particularly walking and cycling. In their much-heralded and promised review of cycling strategy, I hope that the Government will use their good offices—I urge my noble friend the Minister in responding today to do so—to address the legal loophole which is also in my Private Member’s Bill on road traffic offences, and set penalties for road traffic offences caused by cyclists and riders of e-scooters. Currently, deaths and serious injuries caused by cyclists, such as in the tragic loss of Kim Briggs, do not attract the same penalties as those for other road users. This is the legal loophole I seek to address, where death or injury is caused by their actions, and I hope that we can move forward. I note that many countries have banned e-scooters on safety grounds, and I hope that the Government will be mindful of that when they address this issue.
Covid provides an opportunity to address the balance between rural and urban economies—in particular, access to internet and mobile phone signals. So often, poor mobile phone signals and poor connectivity hold rural businesses and farmers back: they need the tools to do their job.
My Lords, in partnership with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Greater Manchester local enterprise partnership has launched the Build Back Better campaign, an initiative that sets out to build back the economy and create a better opportunity for a strong and successful recovery from Covid-19. Among the emerging themes are the need to embed good employment practices and deliver a sustainable low-carbon and green economy across the Manchester city region.
In Greater Manchester, 30% of households do not have access to a car, so public transport and a city region’s ability to shape its networks are essential to prevent people being left behind figuratively and literally. The Clean Air plan can form an important part of Greater Manchester’s post-lockdown recovery, cleaning up our commercial vehicles and providing bus operators and taxi drivers with the necessary funding to move to a modern green fleet. We are finally beginning to understand the value of the working classes—the drivers, delivery men, refuse men and council workers. They should be given the best employment rights in the world.
However, this is all aspirational; we need real powers devolved to deliver these things. Those powers, in transport and planning, have been outlined by other speakers today. City regions understand what city people need. We need support from the Government. It is not always top-down; sometimes we on the ground understand the needs of our communities. The sooner the Government get that and begin to devolve real powers to real city regions—that was the deal when we all signed up for them—the sooner we, all around this country, can deliver the services that our communities demand and which, at the end of Covid, will surely give us a better society for all.
My Lords, like others, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Hayman for introducing this debate in such an excellent way.
What is Covid-19 about? Fundamentally, it is about cutting our numbers. What is climate change about unless we respond to that challenge? It is about cutting the numbers of the world’s population. The issue has not been raised so far in the debate today. As I see it, at the heart of our problem is our human desire to acquire more and get bigger—to multiply and to grow, particularly materially, and as quickly as possible. I think nature is now hitting back.
We have triggered a steep rise in the population of our species; in the last 200,000 years it had barely moved. The Duke of Edinburgh celebrated his near-century birthday yesterday. In 1918, the population of the world was 1.8 billion. It is now 7.8 billion. The projection is that, by 2030, it will be in the order of 8.5 billion, yet scientists tell us that there is no way that the planet can sustain this continued growth. When we went into lockdown, I sent a Written Question asking what the Government are doing to try to restrain the growth in world population and, if possible, reverse it. I had a helpful reply about efforts to assist with contraception in many parts of the world, but we need more than that—much more. Covid-19 is just the first of many hits coming our way unless we address the fundamental issue of trying to bring all the parties together—churches and everyone involved with the growth in population—to seek a change in the direction in which we are going.
My Lords, at a time of nationwide stress, sorrow and bereavement, it may seem crass to point out the upsides of Covid-19. But they are real enough; not least in the cleaner air and cleaner waters we have seen pictured across the world, from Venice to Beijing by way of the Himalayas. People are, of course, wasting less, walking and cycling more, supporting local shops and, above all, caring for each other.
The pandemic has effectively pressed a reset button on how we think and act, presenting a unique opportunity to change ourselves permanently for the better. It would be utter folly not to seize that opportunity. The pandemic has created the greatest economic challenge of my lifetime—“a total catastrophe”, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth described it—but as we take on the monumental task of rebuilding our economy, why would we not grasp the opportunity to do so in a greener way that tries to protect the natural environment? Why would we not seek to stimulate the creation of new jobs in green industries such as renewable energy? Why would we not invest in better home insulation, greener new housing, the development of hybrid- fuel aircraft or the national rollout of superfast fibre broadband?
We could even free up our frustrating, snail’s-pace planning system. The public clearly accept that something must be done. Opinion polls show solid support for ensuring that our post-Covid recovery is a green one, and revolution is most definitely unnecessary to achieve that ambition. Accelerated evolution with the encouragement of the entrepreneurial spirit will do the trick. I earnestly believe that we must build back, and build back better, to ensure that the next chapter in our national story is greener, cleaner, stronger, fairer and more caring than the one we are leaving behind. I caution, however, that this should not be at any cost. We must retain perspective: urgent action to save and create jobs is vital.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing this debate. I begin with a couple of general points. There is no way out of the worst economic crisis in living memory if the Government do not reject their magical thinking of pre-Covid days. Tax rises will need to happen from old and new sources, austerity must be shown the door and sustainability and diversity must be our watchwords. The Bank of England will not be able to just keep printing money; that way lies Argentina. The OECD prediction of the UK having economic shrinkage of 11%, even without a second spike, must surely send a red alert to our EU negotiations. As noble Lords have said, a new national consensus on investing in our public transport, our public services, our young people and our green, clean future has to be number one on the Government’s to-do list.
I have one more specific point. It is 50 years since the Equal Pay Act received Royal Assent. The IFS states that mothers are more likely to have quit for family reasons, lost their jobs or been furloughed since lockdown. They are the majority in the current shut-down sectors, and their jobs’ futures are as fragile as feminism in a Trump White House. What hope can the Government give to prevent women becoming Covid afterthoughts?
My Lords, the palpable improvement in air quality over the past three months has been the silver lining in the Covid cloud. In London, there has been an average fall in nitrogen dioxide levels of 26%, with even greater reductions in some of the capital’s traffic hotspots. Across the UK, some cities have seen reductions of up to 60% compared with the same period last year.
We will all benefit from this given the well-evidenced connection between air pollution and physical as well as mental health, but a study from Harvard has uncovered important links between air quality and Covid-19. It found that even a small increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate matter—the main source of which is vehicle emissions—leads to an 8% increase in the Covid-19 death rate. This is of particular relevance as we think about not just a cleaner economy post Covid but a fairer one.
Air pollution inequalities are mainly an urban problem, with research finding higher levels of pollution in the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods and in areas with a population more than 20% non-white. This means that ethnically diverse communities are, in general, exposed to higher levels of air pollution, increasing their already greater susceptibility to Covid-19. It is therefore surprising that this aspect of risk was not addressed in the recent Public Health England report on the disproportionate impact of the disease on our black, Asian and minority ethnic populations.
Can the Minister tell us whether the Government have plans to design differentiated recovery strategies for those areas more heavily affected by poor air? Cleaning up these pollution hotspots would not just maintain the unanticipated gains in air quality, it would help to tackle some of the UK’s most stubborn and persistent health inequalities. Levelling up is a laudable aim and one I support, but it cannot just mean rebalancing between north and south, urban and rural. It must also mean addressing the inequalities rife within our cities.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Like other speakers, it is surprising to me—or perhaps not—that this year’s lockdown may have done as much to reduce the impact of human behaviour on the climate as almost any other thing that we have tried to do in previous years. I find that curious. As the previous speaker mentioned, there could also be a link on the health side between pollution and those most affected by Covid.
Climate change is often presented as being in opposition to jobs and the economy. On one level, I do not blame the Government for focusing on getting the economy going in the short term and not necessarily taking a climate-orientated approach; whether we sell diesel cars or electric cars, people need jobs, and the Government will have to do a lot to get everyone working. However, I had a thought recently when I looked into the origin of the pandemic and our response, which made me wonder whether there is another way to attack this issue as we rebuild our economy and look at climate change—and how we can mitigate it—afresh: looking at resilience as a uniting theme.
As a country, we now know that we are vulnerable in terms of health and what is going on with the planet, as well as in business, because our many supply chains all over the world have been shown to be fragile. In future, we should make the goal not just to help the planet from a climate perspective or to create jobs and get the economy going at whatever cost, but to focus on how to make sure that this never happens again. How do we ensure that however many millions of people are never at risk of losing their jobs because those jobs are primarily physical or, perhaps even worse, easily automatable? How do we ensure that our transport networks continue to support the country in future lockdowns? Can the Minister address this in her reply and talk about how the economy recovery plan will build a more resilient economy and society in future?
My Lords, I have a concrete, radical suggestion. Covid has proved that our way of doing politics, especially parliamentary business, cannot be restored to how it was. Whatever we do about decanting from the Palace of Westminster and restoring it, we cannot move back into it permanently. We must immediately and urgently commission the building of a new Parliament as soon as possible. That would make possible the latest electronic and other facilities that have been so brilliantly and quickly introduced to this Parliament. Let us make Parliament socially distanced, so that people may sit next to each other with proper desks, proper distances and proper equipment, and so that people living in remote areas of the United Kingdom do not have to travel all the way here to be part of Parliament. Let us build a modern, roomy and technologically well-equipped Parliament that decentralises the politics of the UK.
My Lords, my gratitude goes to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for allowing us to discuss fairness and sustainability in the same conversation.
I will focus on fairness, with two particular themes. First, as a result of this pandemic, many companies have decided that well over a million graduate placements or internship opportunities should be cancelled and removed from their working opportunity. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, said, this trashes the generation coming after us. I cannot understand why certain sectors have thrived in the course of the last 10 weeks to four months of this pandemic and therefore ask the Minister to give us clarity on that. The tech sector and anyone involved in food retail, distribution, health equipment, pharmaceuticals, any aspect of microengineering and, of course, computerisation and mobile have all boosted their massive profits and incomes legitimately. Surely they could mop up the internships and graduate work necessary to protect more than a million young people from coming out of university and finding there is no sustainable work for them. Will the Minister commit to rounding up the chief executives of those companies and requiring them to mop up the places left behind by other businesses?
Secondly, on fairness, this is the week of George Floyd’s funeral. One great aspect of unfairness that remains in our society is the unique way in which black and ethnic minority people are harassed by our public services, particularly the police. If we are to have a fair society, we need sound experimentation in ending stop and search and seeing whether that delivers better criminal outcomes. After all, the tension on our streets will not go away unless a fair future is available to those people as well.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for initiating this critical debate and I thank noble Lords for their important contributions.
I do not always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but I agree 100% with him that an urgent two-day debate on the economy is critical and that it is extraordinary that this has not happened already. I might not agree with everything that the noble Lord would say in that debate but the idea that he, and almost every other noble Lord, is limited to two minutes in debates on issues as important as this is absurd. I hope that the House of Lords Commission will look at this again.
How we respond to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and rebuild our economy in its wake could not be more important. After all the sacrifices that have been made, after all the suffering that has been endured and after all that we have witnessed of the heroism of our front-line workers, this is not a moment to return to business as usual. It is a moment for a profound rethink about what we value in our society and how we can rebuild our economy to reflect those values.
Do we want to continue with an economy and society in which 10% of the population holds 50% of the wealth while NHS staff and care workers struggle to make ends meet, where 4.2 million children were living in relative poverty in 2019 and where the IFS expects that number to rise to 5.2 million by 2022? Do we want to continue with an economy and society in which 45% of children from black and minority ethnic groups live in poverty, compared with 30% of the population as a whole and 26% of the children of white British families, and where 72% of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one parent works? Do we want to continue with an economy in which not only are poorer people living shorter lives but, as research suggests, life expectancy is going down for some? Do we want to continue with an economy that fails to transform itself to tackle the climate crisis, misses the economic opportunities to lead the way on green technology and condemns future generations to an impoverished economy laden with stranded assets and trapped in feedback loops that destroy wealth and endanger our planet?
Those are the questions that we must answer. If the Government go back to business as usual, it will be clear that their answer is, “Yes, that is what we want.”—or, at least, that is what they will tolerate as a price for maintaining the status quo, although, as we know, it is future generations who will end up picking up the bill. I do not think that this is what the British people want, and I hope that it will not be the direction in which the Government travel. We have much work to do to tackle the challenges posed by pre-existing structural injustices in our economy, which are now being compounded by the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis: the lack of social mobility across our society; gender, racial and intergenerational wealth disparities; the discrimination that still exists in the workplace and with regard to access to capital; and the desperate plight of many of those on universal credit.
Yesterday, the Social Mobility Commission published its report on the government response to its recommendations over the past seven years. It marked the Government’s responses to 76% of its recommendations as either red or amber—that is, that the Government had made either little or no progress or insufficient progress towards meeting them. The Government had met less than a quarter of its recommendations in full. The report notes that social mobility has never been more important, as the young and the poor will suffer most from the economic downturn as a result of Covid.
However, despite the rhetoric of government that it intends to level up opportunity, it is not acting to make its words a reality. If we are to build a dynamic and sustainable economy, it will be critical that we improve social mobility and remove additional obstacles facing BAME communities. Sadly, the Government’s record in that respect is no more encouraging. Their response to most of the recommendations in the report on Race in the Workplace by the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, was one of either obfuscation or rejection—another opportunity to show that black lives matter was not taken.
Likewise, as we rebuild after Covid, we need to recognise the role of SMEs as the backbone of our economy. They need continued access to capital and protection from the frequent failures of the banking sector to provide the support they need. SMEs are particularly important to the economy for BAME communities and often find access to capital the hardest. The Government must give clear direction to the banks that, after all the assistance provided to them in the banking crisis, they now need to assist in supporting the productive economy.
It is critical that we get these things right as a country, and it is equally critical that the steps we take to emerge from the Covid crisis are rooted in delivering a green recovery and a sustainable green economy for the future. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, if we do not act decisively now, the climate crisis will deliver an increasingly dystopian future for all of us the world over. We have to use this crisis to accelerate our progress towards net zero.
I welcome the fact that the Government have placed themselves under a statutory obligation to meet the net-zero target by 2050. But the truth is that we are nowhere near taking the policy steps necessary to achieve the objective. The Government have to accept that their words will become increasingly hollow if they do not start to match them with actions. To date, the Government seem determined to pursue an approach that seems to be a combination of Saint Paul,
“the good that I would I do not”,
and Saint Augustine,
“Lord, make me chaste—but not yet.”
We cannot afford for this approach to continue. Meeting our obligations under the Paris agreement will be incredibly challenging in any event. We therefore cannot afford to waste a moment in seeking to tackle them.
An immediate step, which was raised by a number of noble Lords, is the need for an urgent programme to start retrofitting our existing housing stock, which contributes about 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. This would not only tackle climate impacts but would be a source of employment across the whole of the country. It should be a priority for the Government’s green recovery plan, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what concrete steps the Government are planning in this regard.
Equally, we cannot go on building homes that do not meet zero-carbon standards. My noble friend Lord Stunell introduced such a policy of zero-carbon homes during the coalition Government only to see it scrapped by the Government that followed. As a result, we are allowing developers to profit from building properties that are not fit for purpose, while handing on a bill for the future. As the climate change committee has made clear, if we do not tackle the energy efficiency of existing housing stock and new build, we have absolutely no prospect of meeting our zero-carbon objective. We also need to look at the sort of innovative district local heating schemes raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and other noble Lords.
The UK’s cutting-edge capacity in research and development, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, highlighted, offers us the opportunity to ensure that the UK is a leader, not a laggard, in building a productive and competitive green economy. However, as my noble friend Lord Shipley said, if we are to take advantage of that capacity, government will need to think hard about how it supports investment, research and innovation. Clean hydrogen is one area where the UK has the opportunity to lead the world, but it will require government investment to support research into scaling up cost-effective production through electrolysis from renewable energy sources. Tackling the challenge of producing cost-effective green hydrogen will be vital to tackle climate change, and we need government to take a much more committed and focused approach in that regard.
There is so much we need to do across every area of government if we are to build a fair, clean and sustainable economy. Above all, it will require a massive shift in the mindset of the Treasury and the Government as a whole. The Government have to recognise that the debt we have incurred and will continue to incur over the period of this crisis has to be managed for the long term, that we need significant investment to build the new green economy, and that any return to austerity will betray our people, exacerbate our economic challenges and do nothing to transform our economy.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing this debate, and thank her for her excellent speech, which put forward real policies backed by evidence that not only is it possible to achieve a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy but that it is the right thing to do.
This is the third debate on the economic recovery post-Covid-19 in the last three weeks, and I thank all concerned for their contributions. This third debate takes us into the strategies that could contribute to a fairer, cleaner, and more sustainable economy here and, as the noble Lords, Lord Duncan and Lord Hannay, reminded us, through our international co-operation to greater effect.
It has been an excellent and wide-ranging debate, even although individual contributions have been severely curtailed. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, even taken together, we miss out when individual contributions to debates are so limited in time, and speaker numbers are so restricted. Your Lordships’ House has a lot to offer, and we should be heard.
On a fairer economy, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe suggested that we had to think about the economy in wider terms than just GDP, and I agree. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned the recent IFS review of inequalities, which argues persuasively that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought existing inequalities in our society to the fore. As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and other noble Lords reminded us, it says that it also risks exacerbating them.
Among the risks the report identifies are, as the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, pointed out, a widening in wage and employment inequalities. In the short run, it is overwhelmingly the low earners who are in shut-down sectors, being furloughed and at risk of unemployment. In the longer run, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said, more reliance on technology and working from home could favour the more highly educated at the expense of others.
There has been a widening in health inequalities. In the short run, the crisis appears to have widened even further the gap in death rates between better-off and less-affluent neighbourhoods.
There has been a widening in ethnic inequalities. Some minority ethnic groups, especially those of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, are much more likely than others to work in shut-down sectors. Black groups are disproportionately represented in key worker occupations and, sadly, have been contracting Covid-19 at far higher rates than the white majority.
There has been a widening in generational inequalities. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, those leaving school or university this year will enter the toughest labour market in more than a generation, and workers under 25 are twice as likely as those over 25 to work in locked-down sectors.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, mentioned a widening in gender inequalities. The additional childcare and housework, as people stay at home and schools and nurseries are closed, has inevitably fallen far more on mothers than on fathers. There must be a risk that this disproportionately inhibits work and career progression for mothers, when progress in closing the gender wage gap had already stalled.
There has also been a widening in educational inequalities. The report points out that private schools are almost twice as likely to be providing online teaching as the state schools attended by children from the fifth most deprived families. So there is a long way to go for a fairer economy.
A cleaner, more sustainable economy is also a challenge that we can no longer afford to ignore. Last week, almost 200 chief executives, from companies including HSBC, National Grid and BP, signed a letter to the Prime Minister, which said:
“Efforts to rescue and repair the economy in response to the current crisis can and should be aligned with the UK’s … target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.”
As the CCC chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in a recent letter to the Prime Minister, recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. The Government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock in higher emissions. The Committee on Climate Change’s advice to the Government is that actions to recover from the pandemic, in all UK nations, should be based on six resilience principles, which are worth looking back at.
We should use climate investors to support recovery and jobs; these should be labour-intensive, spread across the UK and ready to roll out as part of a targeted and timely stimulus package. We should lead a shift towards positive long-term behaviours. The Government can lead the way by introducing new social norms that benefit well-being, improve productivity and reduce emissions—this goes back to the point about not relying so much on GDP. There should be strong policies to reduce the UK’s vulnerability to the destructive risks of climate change, and to avoid a disorderly transition to net-zero carbon. There will be more worldwide floods and other climate change difficulties, and we must prepare for them.
We should embed fairness as a core principle—this goes back to the earlier point about the fair economy. The benefits of acting on climate change must be shared widely, but the costs must not burden those who are least able to pay, or whose livelihoods are more at risk as the economy changes. As they kick-start the economy, the Government should avoid locking in higher emissions or increased vulnerability to climate change in the longer term. Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on their taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments, whether supported by the Government or not, should be resilient to future climate risks. As the CCC chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in a recent letter to the Prime Minister, the Government should use the funding that they are currently giving to companies to force behaviour changes in support of a greener economy.
Finally on this list, we should strengthen incentives to reduce emissions when looking at tax changes. This is a matter for the Government, and they must take it seriously. Revenue could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices for sectors of the economy which do not bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. Global oil prices provide an opportunity to increase carbon taxes without hurting consumers at the present time.
If we want to build a fairer economy, we need to recognise that people are not affected equally by the Covid-19 pandemic, either in the immediate risk to health or in the negative social and economic consequences. In particular, some minority-ethnic groups, people in certain key worker occupations, and those in low-income jobs, are often at much greater risk, and of course these groups often overlap. Does the Minister agree that the immediate policy response should take steps to address these inequalities, and that we need to understand and mitigate the underlying systemic and institutional factors that can underpin them?
Today’s debate has come up with a huge range of ideas about what a green new deal would look like in practice. We should expect to see an army of workers planting trees, building wetlands around our countryside, retrofitting insulation of our existing housing stock and office buildings, working on new green technologies, and expanding the digital capacity of the country. This is all good stuff, but what about a scrappage scheme focused on switching private and public transport to electric vehicles, and, as others have suggested, local heating schemes and more, and more systemic, recycling approaches? Taken together, such a package could provide people—particularly those entering the labour force this year—with much-needed job security after a period of turmoil, and benefit everyone’s financial security through lower energy bills.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, possibly the most important task must be for the Government to stop the piecemeal, incoherent approach that we have seen in policy-making in this area so far. Can the Minister confirm that this is on her agenda? At heart, this boils down to the Government coming up with a fair green rescue plan to drive up demand and reduce business uncertainty in the long term—a strategy which focuses on creating a fair society with good employment derived from sustainable investment and cleaner growth.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their words of welcome. My first appearance at the virtual Dispatch Box was to answer a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on building a fair, clean and more sustainable recovery. It is therefore a particular pleasure that I am able to respond to a full debate on such an important subject. I add my words of congratulation to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on securing it.
That I can respond from a physical rather than a virtual Dispatch Box, albeit one protected by a wipe-down plastic box, is a sign of the small steps that we have been able to take to ease social distancing measures and begin the process of carefully reopening our country and our economy. There is, of course, a huge distance still to travel. As we do so, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oates, that we cannot simply seek to go back to business as usual, but should take the opportunities from some of the very difficult and disruptive changes that this virus has brought about to do things differently —to build a recovery strategy that will contribute to a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy.
The first step towards doing so has been to put in place measures to protect people’s livelihoods and the economy while we have taken measures to control the virus. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has noted, it is precisely because this disease is not a great leveller, but instead affects some of the most disadvantaged in our society in the most profound ways, that the scale of government action has been so great. Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, £19.6 billion has been claimed by businesses to support 8.9 million furloughed jobs. Some 2.6 million people have made claims for a total of £7.5 billion under the self-employment scheme, and over 780,000 bounceback loans have been approved, worth over £23 billion. Nearly 2 million people have been granted mortgage holidays. The Government have increased the value of universal credit and the local housing allowance, and provided £3 million for accommodation for rough sleepers. Importantly, we are now translating that into funding for over 3,300 homes, to make that transition off the streets permanent.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, noted, it is not just the scale of the action that has been unprecedented but the speed at which these programmes have been set up and able to put money into people’s pockets. At a human level, it has provided a layer of security for people at a very difficult and uncertain time. Economically, it has been essential to efforts to reduce the long-term impact of this pandemic and minimise the chances of future economic scarring. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that we are not complacent about those prospects; we will not be able to protect every job or business, but we know that the costs of inaction would be far greater.
We also know that, as we turn our thoughts from immediate protections to rebuilding our economy, we must focus our energies on ensuring that it is one in which everybody has the opportunity to thrive, while driving clean and sustainable growth across all regions of the UK. Noble Lords will know that, last year, we became the first country to legislate to end our contribution to climate change by 2050. We remain more committed than ever to that goal, and, next November, the UK will host the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Glasgow.
This year’s spring Budget reinforced the UK’s strong track record in this area. Announcements included £460 million for tree-planting and peatland restoration, over £1 billion of further support for ultra-low emission vehicles, at least doubling funding for energy innovation, and tax measures to encourage greater energy efficiency and reduce plastic waste. We have already committed £2 billion for cycling and walking over the course of this Parliament, to support our ambition to encourage more people to opt for these greener modes of transport.
This week, we held our first recovery round tables, bringing together businesses, business representative groups and leading academics to consider measures to support economic recovery and ensure that we have the right skills and opportunities in place for our workforce over the next 18 months. These round tables cover five key themes, including ensuring a green recovery, capturing economic growth opportunities from the shift to net-zero carbon emissions, increasing opportunity and levelling up economic performance across the UK through skills and apprenticeships.
I should now like to turn to some of the specific points made by noble Lords. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, set out very well, the challenge before us is to restart the economy but without returning to the previous levels of carbon emissions. We must put a green recovery at the heart of government and I reassure noble Lords that climate change plays a central role in government decision-making. We have already legislated to end our contribution to global warming by 2050 and a number of government measures embed that approach. Under the Climate Change Act, the UK is the first country to set legally binding carbon budgets that limit the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted over a five-year period. We have the Green Book guidance for evaluating and appraising the policies of the Budget and the spending review. They account for the cost of extra carbon emissions as well as the wider social costs and benefits of a project. We are reviewing that Green Book and the process for allocating spending to ensure that all the regions and nations of the UK have the opportunity to spread and drive growth.
We will seek to take action across all sectors of our economy, and a number of noble Lords raised the energy sector. Renewable electricity generation has more than quadrupled since 2010. It now gives us 38.9% of our total electricity and for the first time exceeds the share of generation from gas. Using research and innovation to reduce the costs of meeting net zero will be essential and will put the UK at the forefront of the new technologies needed to decarbonise the economy. The Spring Budget therefore committed to at least doubling the size of the Energy Innovation Programme. We will also create a carbon capture and storage infrastructure fund to establish this technology in at least two sites by 2030.
The noble Lord, Lord Risby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about heating, which accounts for 18% of our emissions. We will need to get that to virtually zero if we are to meet our climate change targets. To support this transition and future-proof our infrastructure, the Government committed in the Spring Budget to over £400 million of new funding for low-carbon heat pumps and heat networks and are consulting on improving standards in new homes.
A number of noble Lords raised transport. As I said, to encourage greener modes of transport, we have introduced a £250 million emergency active travel fund so that people can use cycle and walking routes while public transport is more difficult for them to use during this pandemic. This will encourage them not to return immediately to their cars. The Government have also committed to ambitious targets to increase zero-emission vehicles on the roads and are consulting on bringing forward the phasing out of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 to 2040. On air quality, the Spring Budget allocated an additional £304 million to enable local authorities to take immediate steps to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions, bringing the total funding to £880 million.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the right reverend Prelate were right to say that we must embrace not only new technologies in transport but new ways of working, to reduce the demand for transport. To do that, we must recognise that the digital infrastructure is just as important as our physical infrastructure. The Government’s existing superfast broadband programme has shifted its focus to delivering gigabit-capable broadband and has already delivered full fibre to more than 370,000 premises.
On biodiversity, as promised in our manifesto, the Government will invest £640 million in England to plant more than 40 million trees and restore 35,000 hectares of peatland. The 2019 spending round included an extra £30 million for biodiversity measures, and the Government are providing up to £25 million of match funding to help communities to create and enhance wildlife-rich habitats through the Nature Recovery Network.
On climate finance, last year we launched the Government’s Green Finance Strategy, with an ambition to align private sector financial flows with clean, environmentally sustainable and resilient growth and to strengthen the competitiveness of the UK financial sector. We have also worked with the City of London to launch the Green Finance Institute to cement the UK’s position as a global hub for green finance.
As noble Lords have noted, we cannot meet this challenge on our own and, as I said, the UK is hosting COP 26 next year. In the run-up to November 2021, the UK as host will continue to work with all involved to increase our climate action, build resilience and lower emissions. The new date will also allow the UK and our Italian partners to harness our upcoming G7 and G20 presidencies to drive our climate ambitions. Last year, the Prime Minister committed to doubling the UK’s international climate finance to developing countries to turn the tide against climate change and species loss. The UK spend on climate finance over the past eight years has already helped 57 million people to cope with the effects of climate change. This ranges from support for poor farmers to grow climate-resilient crops to preserving water in areas facing an increased risk of drought, while investing in systems to help communities affected by extreme flooding and other effects of climate change.
A fair recovery will also require international efforts to tackle Covid. The IMF predicts that global GDP will fall by 3% in 2020, while GDP in emerging markets and developing economies will fall by 1%. This would be the worst recession since the great depression and much worse than the 2008 financial crisis. It is also predicted that sub-Saharan Africa will experience its first recession in 25 years, and DfID modelling suggests that an additional 70 million people could end up living in extreme poverty. That is why the UK has redoubled its efforts on the international response to Covid. We have committed over £700 million in ODA-eligible spending to the Covid response as well as reprogramming existing country spending to this effort. We are the leading contributor in the G20 towards global efforts to produce a vaccine. Perhaps I may also reassure noble Lords that the sustainable development goals remain at the heart of our approach.
Moving on to the economy, we must also ensure that we build a fairer recovery at home. Noble Lords have raised the prospect of looming unemployment as the furlough scheme comes to an end. As my noble friend Lady Eaton said, green jobs will be essential to provide new opportunities for those affected and the Government are committed to working with local government on this. We also remain committed to bringing forward a devolution White Paper.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, referred to the Taylor review and the forthcoming employment Bill. We are committed to bringing forward the reforms contained in that review. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, spoke movingly about a new cadre of unpaid carers brought into being by Covid, while the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Burt, talked about the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on mothers. I would like to reassure all noble Lords that the Government will keep the human face of recovery in the forefront of our minds, although I will have to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, on a universal basic income. I am just not able to make the promises that the noble Baroness asked for.
A number of noble Lords raised the tragic death of George Floyd in America and the protests that it has sparked here in the UK. They are not just about events abroad, but the racism and inequalities faced by black people here in this country. To build a fairer country, we must recognise that black lives matter. We must listen, engage, converse, reflect and, importantly, act. One of the tools that will help us to do so in government is the Race Disparity Audit. It shines a light on outcomes for different ethnicities. It is guided by the principle of “explain or change” and has already led to a programme of work by the DWP to tackle high unemployment rates in 20 hotspots; to taking forward the recommendations in the Timpson review of school exclusions; and to taking forward the recommendations in the Lammy review of the disproportionate treatment of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. However, I know that there is more to be done.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and others have pointed out, the Public Health England review into Covid has shown the disparity of its impact on different ethnicities and communities and, as a number of other noble Lords noted, the disparities in its economic impact too. The Public Health England review is an important piece of work, which sets out firm conclusions. We are taking its initial findings very seriously. As the review makes clear, there is more to do to understand these disparities and what we can do to close the gap. We are determined to address them, and that is why the Equalities Minister will be taking forward important work to build on this review, including considering what changes might be required to future policy and existing guidance, as well as how data collection and quality can be improved.
A number of noble Lords raised how the current social distancing measures have impacted on our economy and on particular sectors as we move out of the lockdown. Perhaps I may reassure noble Lords that the two-metre rule is kept under constant review, including by looking at evidence from other countries. At the same time, noble Lords have talked about the careful balance between protecting our economy and protecting our health. These two are not mutually exclusive. The lockdown has had a significant impact on the country’s health, and the recovery will be held back if we face a second peak in infections, so this is a careful balance and we will continue to be guided by the science.
The contributions to the debate have highlighted the link between the impact of the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis on young people and our next generation; if we are not able to address both of these, we will have failed in the question of intergenerational fairness. Those contributions have provided rich food for thought as the Government develop our recovery plan and ensure that we do not fail that test. I once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for securing this valuable debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I congratulate her on a comprehensive and indeed encouraging wind-up speech. My thanks go to everyone who has contributed and made this a rich and fascinating debate. It has been wide-ranging and covered an enormous number of subjects.
Despite that diversity, there are three themes that I would like to highlight which for me emerged as moral imperatives going forward. The first is the multiple inequalities in our society, and the fact that we will be able to say that we have succeeded only if we address them in the policies that we adopt. The second is the effect on the young, who are most at risk not only from the economic consequences of the pandemic but from the potential consequences of unmitigated climate change. My generation, the post-war generation, has had a golden life in many ways. We were not tested by war as our parents’ generation was but we have a test now, and that test is the legacy that we leave to our children and grandchildren.
The third theme is the need to rise to the scale of the challenges that we face and, perhaps above all in this excellent debate, to recognise that we will be judged not only on our words but on our actions.