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Green Investment

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2023

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the environmental provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act 2022 in the United States of America, and (2) the Green Deal Industrial Plan announced by the European Union in January; and what plans they have to prevent any resulting leakage of future green investment from the United Kingdom.

I think that the noble Lord wants to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper; I hope so, anyway. The Government welcome international action on climate change, and work closely with allies and partners to ensure that we can collectively drive global decarbonisation. We continue to assess the impact of international policies on UK investment to ensure that we meet our net-zero and economic growth ambitions. The UK has made significant progress in decarbonising and growing our economy, and we will continue to back our ambitious targets with impactful domestic policy and targeted funding.

My Lords, I will try to be a little more fluent in my follow-up question. This is very serious. Industry and many people see the Inflation Reduction Act and the EU response as a real threat to us—piggy in the middle—as an economy and on where we need to go on green investment. I do not get the impression that the Government have a plan here. It looks like we are a rabbit frozen in the headlamps of trucks coming in both directions. Is there really a plan coming for how we will survive this onslaught from our economic neighbours?

The short answer to the noble Lord’s question is yes, in essence. He is right to point to both these actions as potential threats, significantly so in the case of the US. The protectionist measures are the problem; we have no problem with it finally coming to the decarbonisation table. We are still waiting to see the details from the EU and will know more next week, but it does not look as though there will be much protectionism there: certainly, from the outline that I saw, none of the items listed is a particular threat. We are looking at this very closely across the Government and will be responding in due course.

My Lords, is this so-called Inflation Reduction Act not in fact an outright protectionist measure, very much pointing the wrong way for those of us who want freer trade worldwide? The Secretary of State says that she has been talking with like-minded countries about what to deal with and how to face the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has raised. Can the Minister assure us that, in the United States, we are talking to a like-minded country—we thought that it was—and explaining to it the collateral damage, which could be considerable, from this ill-considered measure?

I assure my noble friend that we are talking to the US about the provisions, but the legislation is the legislation. We all know the history of why it ended up as it did in the US Congress. Nevertheless, we will continue to engage the US, make our points and argue for open, free and fair competition.

My Lords, yesterday, Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland published a report which showed how oil and gas workers could lead a just energy transition, with a training scheme that was standardised between offshore oil and gas and the new offshore industries, including wind, tidal and wave, to allow workers to take their skills to the new sectors. Will the Government act on those recommendations?

The noble Baroness has an advantage on me as I have not seen that report, but we have the North Sea transition plan, which does many of the same things that she talked about. As I have said before, we still have a need for oil and gas in the medium term during the transition, but the essential skills that many of those workers bring will be very useful in the new economy.

My Lords, the Government have adopted a state-level strategy, signing memoranda of understanding with various states: Indiana, South Carolina and North Carolina. Their focus is on clean tech and green trade. What other states are the Government currently in negotiations with, what are the expected benefits, and why should we be negotiating with individual states rather than the United States on this front?

The noble Earl raises important points with regard to trade negotiations. I am not familiar with the details so I will have to write to him.

My Lords, there is a grotesque misnomer here. The Inflation Reduction Act will in fact raise trade barriers, push up prices and thus increase inflation. Worst of all, like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, it is likely to set off a series of beggar-my-neighbour retaliatory measures, not least from the European Union. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that this country remains wedded to the principles of free trade and that, if others put rocks in their harbours, we will not retaliate by putting rocks in our harbours?

My noble friend makes an important point. I know how committed he is to and how hard he works for the principle of international free trade, which we totally support. We want to engage with the US on these matters but we need to convince it and, of course, the EU that free, fair and open trade benefits everyone. That is the key point that we need to put across to them.

My Lords, the scale of potential investment in both the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU green deal shows a key recognition of just how much opportunity there is in investing in net-zero projects. The European Commission cites 35% to 40% of all jobs as potentially affected by the green transition, while analysis by Princeton University’s REPEAT project suggests that the policies in the US Act will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Any leakage of investment away from the UK will also leak jobs, as the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggests. I ask the Minister to be specific about what steps the Government have taken to protect these opportunities for our communities to level up. For example, can we expect to see reference to this in next week’s Budget?

The noble Baroness would not expect me to go into detail but we will set out our plans shortly. However, it is important to recognise that the UK has made excellent progress in attracting private investment into low-carbon sectors. PwC’s 2023 annual global CEO survey found that the UK is now in the top three in the global investment market, second only to the US and China. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated that, in 2021 and 2022, the UK saw £48 billion of net-zero investment coming into the UK.

My Lords, while I recognise the concerns about the anti-competitiveness issues with the Inflation Reduction Act, I wonder whether the Minister has looked at the specific provisions in it in relation to onshore wind. There is support for investment and production, whereas in this country we make the infrastructure of onshore wind subject to far more difficult provisions than any other sort of infrastructure and we have kept it out of investment incentives. When are we going to change those policies?

The noble Baroness is dogged in her support for onshore wind and makes an important point. She will know that it is now eligible for CfDs and we are looking at how we can ensure more onshore wind investment with the support of local communities.

My Lords, given the Minister’s positive reply to his noble friend Lord Hannan, do the Government retain an open mind with regard to Tata, or other organisations not based in the UK, seeking up to half a trillion pounds of taxpayers’ subsidy money?

The noble Lord would not expect me to comment on detailed negotiations with particular companies. We have long had a policy of open and free trade, but we have some relatively limited and targeted investments, including in the automotive sector, which have proved very successful. We are not going to follow the lead of the US and close our borders to foreign competition.

I congratulate the Government on the investment in National Savings bonds. Will my noble friend tell us what the level of investment has been and what type of projects have benefited from them?

My Lords, is it not the case that the American policy is being driven by the fact that living standards in America—and in Europe and here—have been dropping? The gap between rich and poor is getting wider, and Governments have so far failed to address that problem.

I do not agree with the noble Lord. There are reasons why the US adopted its policy —investment, which we welcome, into green renewable energy, et cetera. Of course, the US is starting from an awfully long way behind the UK. One of the reasons it has to put in such large subsidies is that it has not provided the long-term legislative certainty that we have.

My Lords, mention of rocks dropping into harbours by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, brings to mind ships. On protectionism, what is our view of the latest legislation being passed by the EU, which seems to indicate that defence procurement will be from countries remaining in the EU and not go more widely?

The noble Lord is always ingenious at getting defence and ships into every Question. I would need to speak to my Ministry of Defence colleagues for their response to that.