It is a great honour to open today’s debate on Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. A cornerstone of the legislative programme set out in that speech is a landmark Environment Bill. The Bill will help us to make good our pledge to bequeath the environment in a better state than it was left to us, and it will play a crucial part in our efforts to meet the commitment made to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Leaving the EU is an historic opportunity for us to set our own course, and this Government are determined that this will include stepping up action to address both climate change and the decline of nature and biodiversity. These hugely important environmental issues of our time are two sides of the same coin; we cannot protect biodiversity without stabilising the climate, and we cannot tackle climate change without saving the wildlife and habitats that provide crucial life-giving carbon sinks. The trees, plants and peatlands that make up nature’s very own carbon capture technology will become ever more important as we strive to bear down further on emissions to meet the net zero target.
Judging by the Secretary of State’s voice, I think she is suffering from the same ailment as I am: a throat or chest infection.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge the commitment by the National Farmers Union and the Ulster Farmers Union, which I am a member of back home—I declare that interest—to achieving net carbon zero by 2045, and does she recognise that that commitment by the NFU can make things happen? It is very helpful in trying to achieve the target that Europe wants, we want and everybody else wants.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He correctly points out that the NFU has suggested going further and faster in meeting the net zero target in relation to farming, and I very much welcome that ambition, which is in tune with the reforms to farm support that I will come to in a moment.
The Secretary of State mentioned that trees are a natural carbon sink. The Scottish Government have a target of 10,000 hectares of tree planting per annum, which they are currently exceeding. The UK Government’s figure works out at an average of 5,000 hectares per year, and they are only delivering a third of that. Last year, 84% of trees planted in the UK were planted by the Scottish Government; when are the UK Government going to catch up?
The UK Government have a strong record of protecting nature and biodiversity, and we will continue to build on that with the Environment Bill that I am talking about.
The trees, plants and peatlands that make up nature’s own carbon capture technology are crucial in meeting the net zero target, and I welcome the opportunity today to reiterate the Government’s determination to address the two massive environmental challenges of nature recovery and climate change. We were the first major developed economy to make the historic commitment to meeting net zero, and we are taking action right across government to deliver on our climate commitments. The Cabinet Committee announced today will co-ordinate that work under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, demonstrating his personal determination to safeguard the environment.
The Secretary of State is right to talk about the importance of biodiversity and climate change. On the last point she made about the Committee chaired by the Prime Minister, can she assure the House that the devolved Administrations will be part of this, so that we do not have England-only legislation on climate change but we have it right across the United Kingdom and so that we are working unitedly?
I am going to make some progress.
We are a country that has shown that economic and environmental success can go hand in hand. We have cut our emissions by more than 40%—faster than any other G20 country—while growing our economy by more than two thirds. That includes a 25% cut in greenhouse gas emissions since the Conservatives returned to office in 2010.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; she is making a powerful speech and being very generous with her time. Will she support my call that we introduce a net zero test so that we can ensure that at every fiscal event—Budgets and comprehensive spending reviews—we are investing to deliver, and perhaps we could get the Office for Budget Responsibility to scrutinise that so that everyone has confidence, as I do, that the Government are absolutely committed to delivering net zero?
I am going to make a little more progress.
Only six years ago, 40% of our electricity came from coal; now that figure is less than 5%. In 2018, more than a third of our electricity was generated by renewables, and earlier this year the UK went a whole fortnight without using electricity generated from coal, the first time this has happened since the industrial revolution. We have the largest installed offshore wind capacity in the world, and annual support for renewables will be over £10 billion by 2021.
I am grateful for the opportunity just to say how wholeheartedly I support my right hon. Friend in what she is doing, particularly in the environmental space. Does she agree that the ability to take the leadership that the UK has demonstrated in so many areas to the rest of the world in the absolutely critical conference of the parties next year will help us to sell the benefits of the green transition and persuade every other country in the world to lift their eyes to the green prize?
My right hon. Friend makes a hugely important point, and I wholeheartedly agree and will return to it in a few moments.
We have committed to building on the record of success I have outlined, and we will accelerate the low-carbon growth that already provides more than 400,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. For example, we are supporting clean growth with investment of more than £3 billion in research and development. As we look ahead to the date when we end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, we are generating £2.7 billion in exporting ultra-low emission vehicles. One in five battery electric cars sold in Europe was built right here in this country.
A decade on from the landmark Climate Change Act 2008, which enshrined ambition in law and marshalled action across society, we are forging ahead with legislation for the second great environmental task: nature recovery.
To go back to the number of low-carbon jobs in the UK, does the Secretary of State agree that more could be created if the licensing process for contracts for difference auctions looked not only at price, but at quality and value added in the use of local supply chains? That would help to get preferential treatment for UK companies.
We will certainly look at all the options to create low-carbon jobs, including the ideas that the hon. Gentleman speaks about.
Just as the Climate Change Act set a path to reducing carbon emissions, so our Environment Bill will embed environmental principles at the heart of Government decision making. It will mandate the Government to set ambitious, legally binding targets on the pressing environmental concerns that we face as a nation, including air quality, water, resource efficiency, waste reduction and safeguarding nature and habitats.
On waste reduction, the Secretary of State will know that plastic is one of the big sources of pollution in our natural environment—particularly in our seas, but also on land. What pressure is she therefore applying to the manufacturers of soft drinks to move away from plastic, particularly single-use plastic?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the pressing concerns about single-use plastic. The Bill contains a number of provisions designed to cut down on avoidable plastic waste, which I will address in more detail in a moment. It includes the potential for the charges that apply to plastic bags to be extended to other plastics; it also includes better labelling to ensure that people are clear about whether the products that they buy are reusable or recyclable. It will help people to understand the best way to recycle by introducing a consistent approach to kerbside recycling, to increase the proportion of plastic that is recycled rather than ending up in landfill. We fully recognise the enthusiasm across our nation for tackling avoidable plastic waste, and our Environment Bill sets out a range of measures to help us to meet that challenge.
In Wales, we have the third-best recycling rate in the world, but that recycling ends up across the oceans in other countries. Does the Secretary of State agree that what is actually needed is wholesale reform of the whole waste hierarchy to put pressure on our producers to ensure that they hold responsibility not only for what they produce, but for how they clear up at the end of the lifecycle?
I agree that we need a real step change in moving to a much more circular economy, and I believe that our Bill will set us on that path. We are also funding programmes around the world to encourage a move to a more circular economy and more recycling across the world.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being very generous in giving way. She mentions the targets that her Government have set. She will know that research has just come out that shows that the UK Government are set to miss their legally binding targets of reducing emissions by 51% by 2025. I am very concerned that there are no targets on carbon reduction as part of their strategy. Will the Government introduce any? Surely they are the most important thing we need.
We are already subject to rigorous legal obligations in relation to our carbon budgets, and we are showing real progress towards meeting them.
Our Environment Bill will mandate setting ambitious targets rooted in science. A powerful new independent watchdog will be created to hold the Government to account on meeting the targets that we set. From a free-to-use complaints system to the authority to instigate and undertake investigations and the power to take the Government to court if necessary, the new office for environmental protection will have real teeth.
I want to take the Secretary of State back to the Environment Bill for two seconds, because it is important to set targets but even more important to have deadlines for meeting them. She will be aware of concerns raised today that there is a major loophole in the Bill that will essentially give the Government nearly two decades to meet the legally binding future environmental targets. Will she comment on those concerns? It is all very well setting targets by 2022, but not having to meet them for 15 years seems absurd.
I can reassure the hon. Lady by drawing her attention to clause 10, which provides for interim targets. The OEP will also have the authority to hold the Government to account on our progress towards meeting long-term targets.
Taking on board the recommendations of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and of the Environmental Audit Committee, the Bill extends the OEP’s proposed remit to climate change. More than half the Bill’s measures will apply beyond England, helping the environment across our Union from Shetland to the Scilly Isles. Measures requiring developers to deliver a net gain for biodiversity will provide millions of pounds to boost nature and access to open green spaces.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous with her time. As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I am pleased to hear that she has taken some of our recommendations on board. When she looks at improving water quality, will she consider whether there is a role for Ofwat? Its periodic reviews of water companies’ charging regimes should be linked to improvements in water quality in our rivers as a means of encouraging savings to customers.
I assure my right hon. Friend that Ofwat and the Environment Agency work together closely in their complementary roles in regulating the water industry. Ensuring that the water companies play their part in protecting the environment is vital. Our Environment Bill will help us to maintain and increase the pressure on water companies to cut down on pollution and improve their record on water quality and the natural environment.
The local nature recovery strategies in the Bill will help to join up the network of habitats that the Government committed to delivering as part of our 25-year environment plan. We will boost recycling and cut down on avoidable plastic waste and litter by ensuring that businesses pay the whole cost of the packaging that they produce, including disposal.
That is, of course, the case. I would always urge everyone not to drop litter; it is an eyesore that blights our communities and open spaces, and we are determined to tackle it. The Environment Bill includes significant new powers to crack down on fly-tipping and waste crime—those deeply antisocial crimes.
A range of measures in the Bill will help to ensure that more of the items that we consume are reusable, reparable or recyclable to help us to create the circular economy about which I was asked earlier. The Bill includes the power to create deposit return schemes for drinks containers and an extension of charging schemes for certain types of single-use plastic. We want to replicate the success of the plastic bag charge, which has led use to plummet by 90%—a great illustration of the enthusiasm and commitment of so many people to addressing the tragedy of plastics pollution in our oceans.
In more general terms, looking beyond the Environment Bill that we will have next week, can the Secretary of State give a cast-iron guarantee from the Dispatch Box that if we were to leave the European Union, the UK’s environmental protections, regulations and laws would be better than those we currently enjoy as a member state of the European Union?
No; I want Back Benchers to have all the time they need, so I will have to cut down on the points of information.
We will, for example, go further and faster than ever before on air quality, because we will be setting a legally binding target on PM2.5 fine particulate matter. Poor air quality is the biggest environmental threat to public health, and particulate pollution is the most damaging of all. Real progress has been made, but we need to do more if we are to ensure that children growing up today can live longer healthier lives. This Bill will drive that forward.
The UK is home to scientific excellence that has made us world leaders in environmental innovation, from Kew’s millennium seed bank to climate-resilient crops, but as well as backing the science and research that we need to protect our environment, we are also embracing nature-based solutions to tackle climate change. We have recently announced that we will plant 1 million trees to create three new forests in Northumberland, in addition to the 11 million to which we are already committed. We are restoring almost 6,500 hectares of peat land. That is our biggest carbon store, and it is home to some of our most threatened and fastest declining bird species, including the golden plover and the curlew. Through our agriculture Bill, we will seize this once-in-a-generation chance to combine support for our hard-working, brilliant farmers with support for our natural environment.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the previous Agriculture Bill, which fell at Prorogation, struck a neat balance between the interests of farming and the interests of the environment, with both sides being broadly supportive. Can she confirm this afternoon that it is going to be broadly the same direction of travel for the new agriculture Bill?
Yes, we would certainly envisage broadly the same direction of travel for the agriculture Bill when it is reintroduced. We very much value the input that Parliament previously provided, and all the fundamentals of the previous Agriculture Bill will remain intact.
Outside the EU, we can and will replace the common agricultural policy with a system that not only helps farm businesses to be more resilient, more productive and more internationally competitive but rewards environmental stewardship. From heathlands to hedgerows and from soils rich in carbon to better biodiversity, our farmers will be properly rewarded with public money for the public goods they provide. Breaking free of the CAP means that we can support a range of vital goals, including clean air and water, landscapes protected from floods, thriving plants and wildlife, and reduced carbon emissions and pollution. Brexit also means regaining control of our waters, so that we can manage our fish stocks sustainably, support our marine environment and give our fishing communities a much fairer deal than they have ever had from the common fisheries policy.
We are taking more action on climate change globally than any of our predecessors. We know that 70% of the world’s poorest people are directly reliant on the natural environment for their livelihoods We therefore believe that climate and nature programmes should be at the heart of our efforts to relieve poverty around the world. That is why the Prime Minister announced at the UN in September that we will double our international climate finance funding to at least £11.6 billion in the period up to 2025. He has confirmed £220 million of investment to protect international biodiversity and help to halt its decline. We share the grave public concern felt about plastics pollution in our oceans, and we are investing up to £70 million to fund global research to develop circular economies for waste around the world, working across the Commonwealth to keep plastics out of our ocean.
We are custodians of the fifth largest marine estate in the world, and we are on track to protect more than half of our UK and overseas territories waters by 2020, with a further £7 million recently announced to expand still further our highly successful blue belt programme. We are calling on the world to protect at least 30% of the ocean in marine protected areas by 2030, and 10 nations have already signed up to our new global ocean alliance. We are determined to make this happen.
Whatever our views on the climate protests, there can be no doubt that we as a nation find ourselves at a crucial turning point, and 2020 needs to be the year when the international community pulls together to agree time-bound, measurable and demanding environmental targets. We need targets for protecting biodiversity on land and in our ocean to help us to meet our climate objectives and tackle the tragedy of plastics pollution. That is what we will be asking for, as aspiring co-hosts of the crucial COP 26 conference in Glasgow next year, as we make nature-based solutions and biodiversity a central focus of our efforts to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.
In conclusion, the Government have one of the strongest records in the world on environment and climate issues. As the evidence becomes ever stronger, we are determined to escalate the UK’s response to the climate and nature crisis, both domestically and internationally. We believe that the Environment Bill published this week will be a big step forward in turning the tide on the degradation of nature and the natural environment. Combined with our legislation on fisheries, farming and improving the welfare of animals, this is a powerful reform package that will change things for the better in this country for decades to come.
There can be no doubt that we face a daunting task if we are to live up to our commitment to leave young people with a better natural inheritance than was bequeathed to us. We need a green economic revolution every bit as profound and far-reaching as the industrial revolution that this country once led. If we work together across the House and get this ground-breaking legislation on the statute book, we can lead global efforts to find solutions that work for climate, for nature and for people. I am happy to commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
We all know that we face a climate and environment emergency. We know that wildlife populations are collapsing, ecosystems are breaking down and temperatures are rising at an alarming rate. Since world war two, we have lost 97% of our meadows, 80% of our chalk grassland and more than half our ancient woodland. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ “State of Nature” report has also found that 41% of UK species that it studied had declined since 1970. It found that 15% were threatened with extinction and that 133 species were already extinct.
Public support for tackling this crisis is growing, and there are mounting calls for politicians to act now. Whatever anyone thinks about the recent protests, Extinction Rebellion has, alongside the youth climate strikes, dramatically shifted the conversation about climate and environmental breakdown. We must be under no illusion: this is also a matter of social justice. This year, one of the worst tropical storms on record killed over 1,000 people in Mozambique. There have been catastrophic fires right across the globe—in the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, Lebanon and Greenland—and record temperatures are being recorded all over the world.
We also know that, with just one degree of global warming, climate chaos will be a bigger cause of forced migration than poverty or political oppression. Poorer communities right across the world are the least responsible for the climate disaster, but they are the most likely to suffer its impacts. I was pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned international working and funding, because vulnerable communities in the global south are being hit the hardest. It is vital that those countries can receive financial support for any loss and damage. Will she confirm whether the Government will work with other donor countries to mobilise the financial support needed for those communities?
However, this debate is about the Queen’s Speech, and I welcome the inclusion of an Environment Bill. Yet, in the face of this global crisis, it was unfortunate that the Queen’s Speech itself did not contain serious proposals to tackle the threat of climate change. Where was the energy Bill to deliver the transformation to low carbon and renewable energy, which is essential to meet our climate targets? Where was the transport Bill, which would have delivered a transformation to a world-leading, clean transport economy?
Does the hon. Lady agree that one easy early win would be to do something quickly about engine idling? All of us could turn off our engines when stuck in traffic and at traffic lights. It costs nothing, and we could do it now.
That is an extremely important point, and we could do that straightaway, but we need a proper, comprehensive transport Bill to tackle things more widely.
My team will be going through the Environment Bill line by line, but there already seems to be evidence of some weaknesses. The proposals are weak on funding commitments, on enforcement, on genuine independence and on cross-departmental, centrally driven leadership. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) has talked about the time it takes for things to come in, and Greenpeace has exposed the serious loophole in the Bill which means that no legal action could be taken against Ministers on any potential failings in air and water quality, plastics or nature restoration until 2037 at the earliest. The Secretary of State talked about interim targets, but we need serious action now and targets that come much earlier.
If we are to reach the World Health Organisation’s targets by 2030, does my hon. Friend agree that is imperative to bring forward the date on which we will stop selling new diesel and fossil-fuel cars from 2042 to 2030? We also need a staged plan of how to get to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, but there is no such detail in the Environment Bill at the moment.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The matter was mentioned during Labour’s party conference this year, because we are taking this very seriously.
My concern is that the Conservative Government have a track record of missing environmental targets on air quality, major pollution incidents and biodiversity, and last year a leaked document showed that the Government had abandoned altogether an agreed target to restore 50% of England’s sites of special scientific interest to a favourable condition by 2020. It is therefore disappointing, but unsurprising, that the legally binding targets will not apply for nearly two decades.
Once the Government’s record on climate change and the environment is examined more closely, we find practices and policies that completely undermine and work against efforts to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. The Government continue to use UK export finance to support fossil fuels, but it is totally hypocritical for the UK to limit extraction at home while promoting extraction abroad. The Natural Capital Committee recently concluded that only half of our habitats currently meet minimum quality targets, with bees, butterflies, birds and many plants species continuing to decline.
My hon. Friend has already mentioned the fact that we are financing fossil fuels overseas while trying to reduce their usage here, but we also consume 3.3 million tonnes of soya per year, 77% of which comes from high-risk deforestation areas in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. It is one thing to talk about protecting natural habitats here, but if our consumption habits are contributing to deforestation overseas, we are not really solving the problem.
Whatever we do to try to protect the environment and solve the climate and ecological emergency, it is incredibly important that we do that on a global level. If we do not, we will never achieve the results that the planet needs.
The Government had to be dragged through the courts time and again following their refusal to take adequate leadership on illegal levels of air pollution.
I have the dubious honour of representing the constituency with the most polluted road outside London. Large trucks go up Hafodyrynys Road spewing out all sorts of noxious fumes from diesel engines. However, the council is hamstrung because it cannot introduce emissions charging zones, as we have in London, and there is a lack of charging points for electric vehicles. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should grasp the nettle, invest in infrastructure and roll out emissions charging zones?
I agree. Air quality is referred to in the Environment Bill, and we will be pushing hard on those areas in Committee.
I am particularly concerned about Natural England’s budget. For those who do not know, Natural England is the body responsible for protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and its budget has been cut in half. Staff tell me that they barely have the resources to cope with their basic statutory requirements. In addition, unprecedented cuts to local authorities mean that we have seen a boom in fly tipping, and local habitats are being neglected right across our communities.
The Government have effectively banned the cheapest form of renewable energy—new onshore wind—through restrictive planning measures and the removal of subsidies. There has also been a total failure to capitalise on the enormous potential of tidal power with the Severn barrage and now the Swansea Bay project failing to win Government support. Instead, the Government still seem intent on promoting fracking in the face of overwhelming local opposition. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether she personally still supports fracking?
Perhaps the most recent and telling anti-environmental Government decision is the scrapping of the UK’s commitment to respect current EU environmental standards—the so-called “non-regression” provisions of the draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration. In his letter to Donald Tusk announcing the change in policy, the Prime Minister said that the right to diverge was
“the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.”
Ditching our current environmental standards is necessary only if the vision for the UK is of a race-to-the-bottom, deregulated country that prioritises free trade over high standards. Furthermore, research has predicted that a hard Brexit could see a rise in the UK’s imported emissions roughly equal to the territorial emissions of the Netherlands in 2017.
Labour tabled a motion calling on this Parliament to declare a climate and environment emergency. The text of the motion, unopposed by Government, clearly stipulated that a fully costed cross-departmental plan to address the climate and environment emergency would need to be brought before this House within six months. The deadline is 1 November—just two weeks away—so will the Secretary of State confirm that her Government will meet that commitment and bring a plan back to the House before the end of the month?
Labour has been calling for cross-departmental co-ordination on the climate and environment emergency for years. The Government have finally listened, as we hear that the Prime Minister will chair a new Cabinet committee on climate change. There is possibly no one more ill-suited to this role than a Prime Minister with a history of climate denial, from a Tory Government who have dismantled the UK’s solar and onshore wind industries, overseen a collapse in household energy savings measures and stalled the UK’s progress on cutting emissions. This new committee must be transparent in the frequency and outcomes of its meetings, and it must focus on species decline and the restoration of our biodiversity, as well as climate change adaptation. However, a committee is not a plan of action. The Government were charged with bringing back a fully costed, cross-departmental plan to the House of Commons, and that is what we need to see. When it comes to tackling the biggest issue of our time, this is simply not good enough. The Government need to act on this, and act urgently.
As colleagues can see, there is massive interest in this debate. I will therefore impose a four-minute time limit. It will apply after the Scottish National party Front-Bencher, but I am sure the next speaker will bear it in mind.
I will, Madam Deputy Speaker. Every time I stand up in this House now I am conscious that it could be the last time I speak here, but if it is, I cannot think of a better subject. There is something worth celebrating: the degree of cross-party consensus on this global issue. Although there are different nuances as to what the solutions are, what more the Government should be doing and what the record of the other side was, we should think about what happens in the United States, where this is a deeply partisan issue that divides on political grounds. We must welcome the fact that we agree with so much of the science behind this.
This is an international problem; the United Kingdom is responsible for 1.2% of global emissions, whereas China is responsible for 27.5%. In recognising the international nature of the global problem that we face, I celebrate the Prime Minister’s announcement at the United Nations General Assembly in New York of a doubling, to £11.6 billion, in our contribution to the international climate fund. We are helping other countries to achieve the level of decarbonisation that we have achieved here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who was the climate change Minister, told me that she would frequently sit in Council meetings in Brussels looking across the table at people talking nice talk about carbon emissions but not achieving even half of what this country has achieved since 1990. We have decarbonised by 37% whereas France has done so by just 13% and Spain has actually increased its emissions over that period.
Yesterday, I met a senior member of Extinction Rebellion and when discussing things with him and many of his colleagues in recent weeks around this part of town I have tried to understand what is going on. Is it a revolution? Is it a movement? I am with them in spirit, but not in effect. My worry is this: our constituents are, broadly speaking, sympathetic to what ER wants to achieve, and what we are trying to achieve here in the new legislation and on the other subjects we talk about relating to climate change, but they will soon start to turn a tin ear to an organisation that stops people travelling by public transport. I know this is a wonderfully free-flowing, slightly anarchic organisation, and there is something glorious about seeing it, but there is also something deeply worrying if it is going to turn people we need to be supporting our cause away from it.
I wish to make one final point. The ambitions in the Environment Bill are very high indeed. I have been involved in some aspects of it, and I am pleased to see that it has survived mauling by other Departments, Bill Committees and all the things that usually weaken legislation, and that it is strong. I am sure it will be improved as it goes through its process. I shall leave the House with this thought: we face a global problem, and Britain is currently a leader in decarbonising, in ocean protection and in trying to address the declines in biodiversity, but if we do that just within England and the UK, we will have failed. We need to keep the international focus and make sure that we are working with others. I hope that I will have the chance to vote the Environment Bill into law before the next election.
The climate emergency seems to be the kind of emergency where a lot gets said and a lot less gets done. We meet here in this leaking, cavernous, old museum to discuss this climate emergency while outside it people have been banned from protesting about the possible extinction of us as a species. That is an interesting juxtaposition—one to note for our memoirs, should any of us ever get to write them.
I was in Aberdeen at the weekend, for the social event of the season, of course. There is something about the granite that whispers about the enormous length of time that this planet has been spinning around, changing, developing and surviving. You get to thinking about the species that no longer exist, about how some of the extinction events were on a massive scale and about how no species is guaranteed to survive any of those events—that means us too, whether the protests have been banned or not. But we would never know it from looking at the political and governmental response—or inaction—to this emergency.
This is not something that has been sprung on us, either. It is not as though this is news that no one saw coming. The man with the cleft stick has not just arrived, out of breath and anxious, with the news that we are all stuffed. Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring” nearly 60 years ago—something that we mark as one of the base cases of the modern environmental movement, but she was not the first voice. George Perkins Marsh spoke about the urban heat island effect and the greenhouse effect, and called for a more considered and sustainable development. That was in 1847, three weeks and 162 years ago. In his lecture, he commented that the ideas were not new even then and that he had borrowed them from Peter Pallas, a Prussian zoologist of the 18th century.
The Irish physicist John Tyndall proved the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect in 1859. Later that century, 1896 to be precise, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius calculated how much atmospheric carbon dioxide contributes to global warming and published the first calculation of the global warming effects of human emissions of CO2. His work inspired the American Thomas Chamberlin, who published the next year on the CO2 feedback loop that drove the ice ages and might now be driving us to a tipping point. In 1934, the US Weather Bureau issued its first analysis of temperature change, which inspired the Englishman Guy Callendar to analyse historical temperature records and calculate a half-degree warming between 1890 and 1935. From there, he built the theory that burning fuel increases atmospheric CO2 and he coined the term “greenhouse effect” in 1938. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee said that pollutants were causing climate change and time was running out to turn it round.
The science is not new; it has been there for 250 years or so. It has, for sure, been developing, but it is not some fad; it is not a crazy fashion that the kids are all getting down to. It is dusty old stuff from the history tomes. But here we are talking again about the climate emergency, and protestors have been banned from London. There is a massive irony in the failure of this UK Government to take any sort of effective action, in that the greatest hero for many of them would be Margaret Thatcher, and she was the first leader of a major state to call for action on climate change. The 1988 Toronto conference was treated to some stark evidence produced by scientists. Thatcher, perhaps because her training as a chemist made it easier for her to understand the language, took up the baton and issued the call. She said it was a key issue and her Government allocated additional funding to climate research. It was, however, mainly relabelled or redirected from elsewhere—they were Tories, after all. Thatcher made that call 31 years ago, yet here we are once again talking about the climate emergency and the protests are banned.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988 and in 1990 issued its first report, which confirmed the past scientific findings and issued warnings for the future. Those warnings have continued ever since, but I am starting to wonder whether familiarity is breeding contempt, because the warnings are getting starker and the flash headlines are getting scarier, but the action is not getting any more urgent.
The Environment Bill, which we finally got a sniff of this week, appears to be a howler of a missed opportunity. Apart from the toil of reintroducing EU protections into UK legislation, it misses the chance to be ambitious and claim a future worth having. It promises net zero emissions in 31 years—so, incredibly, we are at the halfway point between Thatcher pledging that the UK would get serious about the environment and the Government actually doing something. If the captain of the Titanic had been warned about the iceberg well in advance and started a discussion about what to do that carried on long enough to watch the thing tear a hole in the side of the ship, while the debate was still about which way to turn, he would be in about the same position we are in now. It is past time for talking and long past time that we should have been doing. It is time to inject a sense of urgency into the climate emergency.
The House can take it as read that the Scottish Government are doing things better, but this should not really be about party political point scoring or engaging in the constitutional debate. Let us see what the UK Government could offer to help to address the problems we all face. It is time the Government introduced some real measures to address the UK’s greenhouse gas output. They could copy Scotland by being guided by the Committee on Climate Change. Members may have heard of that committee; it was set up by the UK Government, although its calls to action are little heard by Whitehall. They are heard in Scotland, though, and the Scottish Parliament and Government have taken action. The climate change Act kicked off a serious attempt at addressing the problems, and it has not abated since. That is why the United Nations climate action conference will be in Glasgow next year.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because it is important that she puts it on the record in this House that the measures taken in Scotland have been taken on the basis of cross-party consensus. Does she agree that the way we achieve our targets in this country in respect of net zero is by working together, rather than doling out dollops of sarcasm in the form of a speech?
Me, sarcastic? The very idea! I appreciate the cross-party nature of some of the talks in the Scottish Parliament—that is of course welcome—but at a time when the UK Government are suggesting putting up VAT on renewable technologies, including solar, wind, biomass and heat pumps, from 5% to 20%, I think there is still a lot more discussion to be had between the different parties.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is such cross-party support, it is ridiculous and shameful that the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), continued to block onshore wind in Scotland? That is not cross-party consensus; that is affecting investment in Scotland.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. When it is still the cheapest of renewable energy technologies, it is shameful that onshore wind is excluded from competing for Government-supported contracts. I hope the Secretary of State is paying full attention to that point.
The United Nations climate action conference will be in Glasgow next year, and I understand that the Prime Minister wants to take a day trip to it for flag-waving purposes. May I advise him to take the train, not the plane, and to take the time to listen, rather than just bluster? He might even come away from it with some ideas to start implementing a plan to help with the problem that the world faces.
Perhaps the Whitehall mandarins could take a leaf out of Scotland’s books and work towards zero-carbon aviation. Scotland is decarbonising Highlands and Islands Airports and working with Norway on electric trains. We all know that transport is the second-biggest dumper of greenhouse gases, because we have all read the IPCC report. The same source tells us that, in fact, road transport is even more of a problem than air transport. Nearly three quarters of transport emissions are road-based, while around a 10th are accounted for by aviation. It is everyday transport that we have to address. Where is the UK Government initiative to copy the Scottish Government in supporting the roll-out of electric charging stations? Where is the parallel commitment to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the next dozen years?
The biggest greenhouse gas pest is electricity and heat production. Where are the incentives for renewable energy production? Not only are there no new incentives, but the old ones were taken away, and the costs of connecting Scotland’s vibrant and growing renewable energy producers to the grid are far too high. When will we see Government action to address those issues?
As the shadow Secretary of State asked, given that there is a climate emergency, to which the UK Government have finally admitted, where is the ban on fracking? This unconventional source of gas is banned in Scotland because there is no good case to be made for it. In some parts of England it is damaging people’s houses, impinging on their lives and possibly damaging their health. Get rid of it—it is a nuisance at best.
The Environment Bill, over which we will cast a jaundiced eye next week, seeks to embed in law the 25-year environment plan that was created under a previous Government. It was unambitious at the time, became rapidly outdated and is now a bit of a joke. Ministers should not withdraw it—we have wasted enough time already—but they should be prepared to make major changes to it during its progress through Parliament, and to accept amendments from others to make it something worth passing. I have a suggestion to offer that the Government and the Secretary of State can do relatively free of charge: why do they not invite the climate protesters into the room, ask them what they would put in the Bill, see whether they can get a bit of support in the House, and then pass something that is actually worth passing?
In closing, we all know that really doing something will not be easy. We know that it will entail changes in lifestyles that we have not yet properly considered. We can call it pain if we really must be dramatic about it, but if we do, we should at least compare it to the pain that comes from doing nothing. If not enough is done, some of the people who park their comfortable bahookies on these Benches might find themselves representing constituencies that start to disappear. Frankly, I do not expect the Government to make any real moves in the near future—if Brexit has taught us anything, it is that denial and delusion sit comfortably on the Government Benches—but I do hope that somewhere over on that side of the Chamber exists someone who will raise a questioning voice and ask whether it might be a good idea to do something. Who knows—there might even be a Thatcher fan who thinks that some action should be taken in her name. In the name of the wee man, though: it is a climate emergency, not a coffee morning. It is time to start acting like it is important. Talking is always good, but action is even better.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock).
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s speech and the Government’s proposed Bills, especially the Environment Bill. It is high time that we pulled everything together to get the environment right. I wish to make a plea—the Secretary of State referred to this in answer to a question—relating to the agriculture Bill, on which we have done a great deal of work. Can we make sure that the food we produce, animal welfare and environmental qualities all work together? We should work those things not only into the agriculture Bill, but into the Environment Bill.
As far as the fishing Bill is concerned, we can not only gain more access to waters and fish, but do things a bit more like the Norwegians, who shut down overfished areas overnight and open up other areas if there is plenty of fish there. There are many benefits to managing our own waters. The common fisheries policy was very cumbersome, as was the common agricultural policy.
I welcome the idea of the Prime Minister’s chairing a cross-Cabinet committee to deliver on and help with climate change. The air quality debates and inquiries that we have done with four Committees show that we all have to work across Departments and local government—everywhere—to create better air quality, especially in 43 hotspots throughout the country. It is essential that we take action, not only with our vehicles, but in everything we do, including by improving air quality for all our citizens.
In my role as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, I want to find practical solutions that continue to decarbonise our economy and protect the environment by using more renewable energy, but without harming businesses or reducing standards. Since 2010, the Conservative party has invested more than £52 billion in renewable energy. As a result, we now have enough solar power for 2 million homes and a world-leading offshore wind sector generating more offshore wind than the rest of the world combined, though one would not have thought so, listening to the Opposition.
I commend the Government for listening to the EFRA Committee and including climate change in the remit of the new Office for Environmental Protection, but it must be answerable to Parliament, it must be independent and it must not just be about judicial review, which is very often about process, not the targets we need to meet.
I welcome the announcement today that the Prime Minister is to chair a new Cabinet committee dedicated to climate change in order to cut emissions across Government. When we conducted our joint air quality inquiry, we did so across four departmental Select Committees to show the Government that action across Government was needed to cut those emissions. I do not want to go into too much detail on the Environment Bill today, but let me repeat that the new OEP must be strong and independent.
We need more investment in home insulation and energy efficiency schemes so that we can use less energy in the first place. As one of the wealthiest developed nations, the UK must continue to lead from the front and to demonstrate best practice for clean growth in the world.
I welcome the cross-party consensus around stronger action on climate change, but action there does need to be, including in the Environment Bill. In 2006, as Labour’s Housing Minister, I put forward a 10-year plan for zero-carbon homes by 2016, including a regulatory timetable, that was backed by the housing industry and environmental groups, but sadly it was ditched in 2013. We still need that stronger action to cut emissions from new and existing homes as part of our action on climate change.
I want to talk about the importance of public transport as part of our action to cut carbon emissions and the desperate need for more support for public transport in our towns, which was missing from the Government’s agenda, but first I want to make a point about the Government’s Brexit plans. It is deeply disappointing that the Government seem to be moving away from a Brexit deal with a customs union, rather than towards one, as that idea lost by only three votes in Parliament in the spring and is something that many Opposition Members have argued for. Fundamentally, we have to make a choice about what kind of trading nation we wanted to be: do we want our closest trading relationships to be with our nearest neighbours, through a customs union approach, and built on safeguards, standards and workers’ rights, or do we instead, as the Government seem now to argue, want the price to be deregulation and an opening up of markets to the biggest global corporations, risking cuts in environmental standards and prioritising a deal with Trump’s America?
I tried to intervene on the Secretary of State about this. I and the Chair of the Select Committee tabled new clauses 1 and 4 to the Agriculture Bill to say there should be no lowering of standards in any future trade deal, which I think was one reason why we did not see the Bill after last December. Does my right hon. Friend agree it is important that when the Bill comes back, such provisions are back in there?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want rising standards and support for higher standards. It is the only way to cut carbon emissions, support our environment and protect our workers’ rights.
There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to address the serious challenges facing our towns and the unfair deal they are getting. We see that particularly in public transport. Our bus services have been cut and our trains, particularly across our northern towns, are still rubbish. We are not getting our fair share of investment. Billions of pounds is locked up in transport investment in our cities, while in Normanton we still have only one train an hour to Leeds, even though it is just half an hour away, and we still do not have disabled access at busy stations such as Pontefract Monkhill and Knottingley. We had the awful situation of a constituent in a wheelchair having to crawl over a bridge because the Government, despite our requests, refused to fund the basic disabled access. Moreover, we still have rubbish Pacer trains and no proper plan for transport in our towns.
That compounds the wider problem of the growing gap between our cities and towns. Our towns, which have strong communities, are great places to live and are proud of their history, are getting an unfair deal, and Tory austerity has hit them harder. As public services budgets have been cut, many public services providers have pulled services out of towns altogether. We have lost libraries, sports centres, magistrates courts, police stations, fire stations, hospital services, maternity units, swimming pools, Sure Starts, jobcentres and council services, as so many of these services have shrunk back into the cities. We are supposed to travel to the nearest cities instead, but the public transport is not there, because bus services have been cut and the trains are inadequate.
Private sector investment, always pursuing economies of scale, is pulling in the same direction. Banks, ATMs and post offices in our towns have closed. The big cities and shopping centres may still be able to compete with Amazon, but our smaller town centres are struggling with business rates and parking charges, and having their heart taken out. The numbers of new jobs are growing twice as fast in the cities as in the towns, and as our town centres have shown, foreign direct investment in the cities is accelerating and our towns are not getting a fair deal. The Government’s stronger towns fund is still a top-down approach and only reaches a certain number of towns. Areas still have to bid and most towns still lose out.
We need a proper industrial strategy for our towns, which is why the Labour party’s approach of more investment in our towns, listening to towns and putting power back in towns is so important. We need towns to be at the top of the list, not the bottom, so that they can get our fair share of funding. We need public services back in our towns with a proper guarantee. We need a fair deal for Britain’s towns.
I welcome this Queen’s Speech, but before I talk about the environmental measures in it, I want to show my support for a couple of other measures, particularly the serious violence Bill. Serious violence is a concern in all our communities, so the Government’s action is really important. I also look forward to supporting the Domestic Abuse Bill. The regulation of internet companies is long overdue and I am proud that a Conservative Government are pressing ahead with that. I also welcome the good work plan, which is looking at new ways of modernising the workplace. I am sure that Ministers will be look carefully at shared parental leave, flexible working and outlawing maternity discrimination so that more and more of the 2 million women in this country who are economically inactive can get back into the workplace and be productive members of our economy.
The Environment Bill represents a real step change in what is available in this country for protecting our environment. All Members of Parliament are trying to ensure that we have the right balance in our constituencies between protecting our environment and fulfilling our ambitions to create strong, vibrant and successful communities. I think that the measures in the Bill will help us go further in achieving that.
In particular, I want to bring to the fore measures intended to improve air and water quality and to help to restore habitats. In Basingstoke, we are already working on such measures, so we welcome further support. My local authority is already campaigning to clear the air at a very local level by outlawing idling engines, and our local county council is working with schoolchildren through the “My Journey Hampshire” programme to ensure that they are aware of what we can all do to improve air quality.
On water quality, I would like Ministers to consider what we have achieved in Basingstoke to clean up our River Loddon. By working with local water companies to reduce phosphate levels in the river, we have achieved a step change in phosphate concentrations. Our river is now on the boundary between moderate and good in relation to the water framework directive, and all that was achieved by working together in the community with our water companies.
Restoring habitats is also very important in my borough, which is 95% rural—my constituency is predominantly urban. We can achieve those restorations only as a result of the incredible work of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the local catchment partnerships. We need to ensure that those organisations continue to get the support they need for the work they do. I am proud to have worked with the wildlife trust recently to undertake “pollinator promise” programmes with my local schools and communities, because that sort of thing can really raise awareness. I urge Ministers to consider what more can be done to support bus companies in areas such as Basingstoke to clean up their buses, to improve water quality through new technology and to restore habitats.
The Chineham Brownies asked me to mention that they applaud the Government’s plastics strategy and work to ensure that we reduce the use of plastics through a plastic deposit scheme. I urge Ministers to follow that programme through. My local authority has been named by Friends of the Earth as the fifth best local authority in England for tackling climate change. I am proud of that, but there is more to do.
In the summer, Parliament declared a climate emergency and required the Government to bring forward a cross-departmental plan of action. In July, Parliament agreed to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 target for greenhouse gas emissions from 80% by 2050 to net zero. The Minister at the time emphasised the importance of crafting new policies to address the change.
One might have thought that the Government would be hard at work doing that. One might have thought that there would be a lively understanding of the pitiful state of our emissions in relation to the task, even if Ministers are fond of telling us how well we have done previously in driving down emissions. As a country, we produced 428 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018, so we will need permanently to cancel at least 12 million tonnes every single year if the net zero target is to be achieved in good time.
One might have thought that the Government would be hard at work anyway, in the light of that change to the legislation, addressing the manifest failings that they are experiencing in implementing existing targets under old legislation. Let us remember that the clean growth plan, introduced in October 2017 as a response to Parliament’s agreement to the fifth carbon budget, was, by its own admission, well short of meeting that budget, drawn up under the original 80% emissions target—equivalent to 141 megatonnes of CO2, or a 9% overhang in admissions. One might have thought that addressing that manifest dereliction of duty and putting us back to the starting line for making the accelerated progress in emissions reduction that is an imperative under the net zero target would be a priority for the Government.
One might therefore have thought that the Queen’s Speech would set out a sturdy list of measures explaining how the Government will legislate to underpin this enhanced ambition and put us back in a position to take the urgent measures needed to meet our own and international targets. I am sure that Her Majesty the Queen anticipated being able to read out something like, “My Government will introduce a series of measures in this Parliament that will give effect to our agreed ambition of securing net zero emissions by 2050.” She might have added, “or even earlier.”
Well, there was no such luck. With the marginal exception of the Environment Bill, which is important but will not lead to much in the way of carbon emission reductions in its own right, instead what the Queen did read out bore no relation to that, except for the following phrase in the very last sentence of the speech, when she said that her Government
“will prioritise tackling climate change”.
I am sure that Her Majesty was far too polite even to conceive of articulating the thought, “Well, if that is so, how come there is not a hint of any actual priority being given in the 1,500 words I have just read out prior to the five words I now have to add on to my speech—almost, as it were, as an afterthought when it had been realised by someone who wrote the speech that nothing had been said about climate change up to that point?”
We have, after all, a different Government. It does not escape notice that some of those who were working the hardest in government to make a reality of our climate change ambitions are now not only out of government, but in a number of instances are out of the parliamentary Conservative party entirely. Perhaps it is just that the new Government do not think very much about climate change, but it would have been rather more honest to have said that, rather than doing nothing and then sticking five words at the end of the speech to assure us all that they are very serious about it all.
So what might a Queen’s Speech that did take climate change seriously have included? The Government might have brought in legislation to ensure that sales of internal combustion engine cars ceased by 2030. That measure alone would save us 98 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum from then onwards. They might have introduced legislation requiring all homes over the next 20 years to have available to them the means to become fully insulated and energy efficient. That would save about 100 megatonnes of CO2 annually. They might have introduced legislation that set in motion the decarbonisation of heat in those homes, mandating electrification of heat, the introduction of biogas into heating supply and hydrogen supply in urban circumstances. That would save about 50 megatonnes—
I welcome the Queen’s Speech and some of the many measures that it contains. I also thank my right my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for mentioning from the Front Bench the curlew—a bird that is the symbol of the Staffordshire Moorlands district. We are delighted to hear that it is going to be protected. Given the time limit, I will not go through the many elements of the Queen’s Speech that I did want to cover. There is much that should be celebrated, and I am sure that we can get the cross-Chamber consensus that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke about to get these measures through.
I want to mention just two points that are particularly pertinent. The first is a subject that the right hon. Lady also mentioned, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller)—that is, buses. Rural buses in constituencies such as mine have suffered dreadfully over the past few years. Bus services and routes are being reduced or eliminated, and routes are going. This is not good for our towns and villages. Regular, clean buses make for vibrant towns and villages. May I ask that a real emphasis is put on ensuring that there is support for rural bus services, especially given the impact on climate change and carbon emissions in our rural areas?
Staffordshire Moorlands experiences a particular issue with regard to school transport provision. A recent case, which I have raised with the Transport Secretary, has meant that county councils are unable to allow children to travel on school buses if they are paying passengers unless those buses are fully disability compliant, because the payment for the empty space turns the bus into public transport. From next month, children in some villages in my constituency will be unable to get to school. A bus will leave their village with empty seats on it, and they will be unable to get on it, causing more carbon emissions as their parents have to find alternative arrangements. I urge the Government to look for some form of exemption in the short term for these county councils, and then to provide support for the county councils—this is an issue not just in Staffordshire—so that they can replace the buses with disability-compliant, green buses that will help us all.
My second point concerns the immigration Bill, and it is a subject with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be very familiar: the rights of those people in Northern Ireland who identify as Irish. The Belfast/Good Friday agreement was in no way a result of both the United Kingdom and Ireland being members of the European Union; it would have happened anyway because of the determination and strength of resolve of so many people across Northern Ireland. But the fact that we were both members of the European Union meant that some issues regarding the rights of citizens did not need to be codified because the citizens’ rights accrued to citizens of the European Union were accrued to everybody.
Those people in Northern Ireland who choose to identify as Irish—which they are absolutely entitled to do—are therefore now extremely concerned about how they will be able to maintain their Irish citizenship, living in Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, but not wanting to be British. I urge the Government to ensure that measures are included in the immigration Bill to ensure that those rights are respected and that people in Northern Ireland who choose to identify as Irish can continue to live in their homes as they have done for years and years—peacefully and happily, prospering after the Good Friday agreement and able to exercise their rights.
I am pleased to take part in this debate today. There is no more important issue facing us than protecting the planet for future generations. We must test the measures in the Queen’s Speech against their ability to effectively tackle climate change and ensure that they go beyond warm words. In the short time that I have, I want to raise a number of issues that emerge from the Queen’s Speech.
It is good to see social care mentioned again in the Queen’s Speech, but little precise information is available about how the Government intend to fund it adequately and to standards that uphold dignity in old age and are befitting of the 21st century. Given the huge delays to the social care Green Paper, the Government must set out in detail how they intend to fix the crisis in social care that is affecting many of our constituents. Labour has committed to ending zero-hours contracts, ensuring that carers are paid a real living wage, giving access to training and ending 15-minute care visits. As a start, the Government must commit to this also.
It is good that additional money is available for education, but it is not clear how it will be distributed. We need a new policy from the Government that will rebuild and refurbish schools that desperately need it, whether or not they are in areas of high growth.
It is interesting that the Government have somewhat belatedly turned their attention to the problems in the justice system. I have three prisons and a youth offending institution in my constituency, and perhaps know more than most the devastating impact that cuts to prisons over the past decade have had on staff and prisoner safety. Years of cuts to prison services have left our staff and prisons in an increasingly pressured and violent state. Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and rates of self-harm among inmates are at record highs, and this must be addressed.
It is interesting that there is no mention in the Queen’s Speech of specific issues facing women prisoners. We know that many women in prison should not be there, particularly those who have children or who are pregnant. Offender management policy needs to be reviewed, with much more emphasis placed on women’s centres and less on sending women to prison, especially as the Government seem so reluctant to invest in the women’s prison estate.
The Government have announced that they will publish a national infrastructure strategy to set out their plans in all areas of economic infrastructure. So far, so good, but how will this be delivered? Changes to building regulations are long overdue to take on board the Hackitt review proposals for improving safety. The response to date from the Government has been too slow. I hope the changes to the regulatory framework can be made as quickly as possible. It is also amazing that the Queen’s Speech contains no new measures to deliver the genuinely affordable housing that the country needs to address the housing crisis.
It is also interesting that there is a pensions Bill but nothing on WASPI—the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign. That is surely a disgrace. It is good to see that the Department for International Development will champion action on climate change and girls’ education, but it will be able to do this only if its budget is not constantly raided or reduced. Finally, I would have liked to see more about how universities will benefit from more money going into science and technology, and what the Government intend to do about the Augar review of post-18 education and its impact on the future of university funding.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and to hear her talk so movingly about prisons, which, as she knows, is a great interest of mine. However, climate change, as even I—and she, I think—would admit, is the most important issue we have to deal with at the moment.
As the smallholder, cider-maker and beekeeper, as well as farmer’s daughter, that I am, this subject comes very naturally to me. I am thrilled to welcome the new Environment Bill, which is the first major legislation in this area for 20 years. It is interesting how this Bill looks to manage the impact of human activity on the environment. That is something we see a lot of locally. We are a very high-growth area in Banbury and Bicester. We are proud to top the leader board for new housing, and we are proud that at least some of that housing—not all yet, but we hope that it will be—is what is referred to as passive housing. We think that environmental standards can go hand in hand with good growth.
We are pleased with the east-west corridor. We are not nimbies. However, as the Secretary of State for Transport is in his place, let me say that I will continue to lobby on behalf of those of us who oppose High Speed 2 passionately. We are pleased to see the Oakervee review, and we hope that clear recommendations will come out of it. We oppose HS2 because we feel that the business case has never been satisfactorily made, but we are of course worried about environmental damage as well. I have always talked a great deal about ancient pasture and ancient woodland being important, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Transport for helping us to stop immediate works on ancient woodland. Once they are gone, we can never get them back.
On that note, I am the corn bunting species champion. There has been a 90% reduction in that creature in my lifetime because of loss of food sources. Once it has gone, it can never be got back, so I welcome the nature recovery strategies, which should assist with that. Everybody knows that I am a keen litter picker, because I make most colleagues join me annually on the Great British Spring Clean, so I will not go into that now.
In the time available to me, I would like to talk about today’s announcement that the Prime Minister has managed to achieve a deal. It is great to be in this debate, where there is a lot of coming together across the green Benches. Climate change need not be a party political issue, and “MPs for a Deal”, which I am proud to be involved with, has shown me that brave and principled Members from across the House are willing to come together in the national good.
I gently say to party leaders on both sides of the House that we are all stronger if we permit dissent. We survive in this country with broad church political parties, rather than endless coalitions. That is a strong and useful feature of our democracy. I cannot be the only one who is kept awake worrying about what will happen in the next fortnight. Counting “MPs for a Deal” members going through the Lobby in support of the deal is what helps me get to sleep. I have a dream—I think that line has been used before—which is that we pass a deal and move on to a world where HS2 phase 1 is cancelled, and we can all debate climate change.
There is so little time that I will just make one main point, and it is a very simple one: the Government should tell the truth on the climate crisis. Telling the truth on climate is one of the demands of Extinction Rebellion and the youth climate strikers. These are strange times indeed when telling the truth is a radical act, and yet on this issue, that is exactly what it is.
We could make a start by telling the truth about our climate record. Ministers regularly claim that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in the UK by 42% since 1990. But that is not the whole truth, because the Government’s own figures show that if we calculate emissions based on consumption over the past 20 years, our emissions have fallen by just 10%. That is relevant to the comparison with China made by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), completely overlooking the fact that many of China’s emissions are linked to producing goods that we then import. Of course, if we simply outsource our manufacturing, it is not surprising that our emissions appear to go down, but that is not a globally just and responsible attitude to emissions reduction.
What is more, historical reductions are no indicator of future progress. Coal is all but gone from the power sector, which means that the biggest source of reduction so far has now been exhausted, and there is little sign of the policy required to ensure that the necessary reductions continue.
The UK was the first member of the G7 to legislate for a net zero emissions target. I welcome that, of course, but other countries have more ambitious goals. Norway has committed to net zero by 2030, Finland by 2035, Iceland by 2040 and Sweden by 2045. My point is that 2050 is not global leadership. In an emergency, you do not dial 999 and ask for the emergency services to come in 30 years’ time; you want them to come now, because the emergency is now.
A target on its own does not bring down emissions—action does. What does the Committee on Climate Change say about the Government’s actual actions? In one of its most recent progress reports to Parliament, it states that
“actions to date have fallen short of what is needed for the previous targets and well short of those required for the net-zero target”.
The Government of course know it, because their own projections show that we do not have policy in place to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets and that the gap to meeting them is getting wider.
That matters not least because what is scientifically relevant is not just reaching net zero, but the amount of carbon emitted before we reach it. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate of the available global carbon budget for a 66% chance of remaining within 1.5° of warming is 420 gigatonnes of CO2. Professor Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey has estimated that the UK’s fair share of that remaining budget is just 2.5 gigatonnes. On current reduction trends, our production-based emissions will exceed our fair budget in 2026—in just seven years’ time. Using consumption-based accounting, which I have argued is a fairer way of doing it, we would actually exhaust our available budget in 2023—in just four years’ time. That means reaching net zero is not enough; we need deep carbon reductions in the next few years to stand a chance of staying within a safe and fair budget.
When the Government claim that they are acting with the required urgency, I think we need to bear in mind these stronger figures. When they say that they are going to bring forward action, we need to say that we need that action now. For example, they say they have a document on transport coming up, but we want action now: bring forward the ban on the sale of petrol cars and end aviation expansion now.
At the beginning of last year, I was moved when I visited Calais and listened to the stories of some of the refugees there who had been forced to move from their homelands against their will—some because of violence and conflict, some because of persecution, some because of a lack of jobs and some because of climate change.
It is now acknowledged that climate change is one of the biggest drivers of forced migration. Indeed, the European Union predicts a tripling of refugees for this reason by the end of the century, and the World Bank predicts 143 million climate migrants escaping crop failure, water insecurity and sea level rises. That is why it is essential that the UK’s effort—not just, but primarily through our international development work—focuses on all these matters: on conflict, jobs, and climate change and the impact of climate change.
I regretted the fact that the Green Investment Bank was sold into the private sector. I thought that it was a great institution and could have been developed. That is why I would ask the Government to consider the introduction of a UK investment and development bank, which could put a lot of effort and money into tackling climate change both within the UK and indeed internationally, particularly in developing countries.
One of the most remarkable projects I visited when I was a member of the International Development Committee was the community forestry programme in Nepal, which has been going for more than 30 years. It is a combined effort of the British and Nepali Governments. What I saw there were forests right alongside cities that were not being cut down for firewood or charcoal, but being preserved and providing jobs because they were owned and managed by the community themselves. This is something the Department for International Development should be proud of and should seek to establish in conjunction with local communities elsewhere in the world.
As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ethiopia, I have seen that country make remarkable progress in renewable energy—whether hydro, geothermal, solar or wind. In fact, it wants 100% of its energy production to be green. It is through the creation of green jobs, climate-smart agriculture and much else that we can tackle both the shortage of jobs in the developing world and help with the mitigation of climate change.
Locally, I very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on the point she made about school buses. That needs to be tackled immediately, as does the lack of rural and town transport. There I agree very much with what the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said about the importance of such transport to the development of towns.
As a party—I admit that I have been too slow to support this in the past for various reasons—we also need to push onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of energy. I ask the Government to look again at their attitude towards that, and indeed towards tidal. We must also look at planning regulations and at how we can encourage and perhaps legislate for new homes to have inbuilt solar panels and electrical charging points. All those things are much more expensive to retrofit than to put in new.
Finally, I welcome the inclusion of the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch in the Queen’s Speech. I have seen the impact of a lack of concentration on patient safety in Stafford. Patient safety is critical, but this is not just about healthcare investigations; it is also about our culture, and I welcome the new culture on patient safety that I see now percolating through the NHS, particularly in Stafford.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) who I believe is one of the few Conservative Members who gets the scale of the challenge before us. Most Members of the House agree that something needs to be done, but the difference between many Conservative Members and Labour Members comes down to the speed, scale and ambition of that change. For example, in 2017 the Government’s manifesto stated that they would plant 11 million trees over five years in their efforts to challenge and tackle the climate crisis. Compare that with Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has just planted 350 million trees in 12 hours. That tells us everything we need to know about the scale of the Government’s ambition when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.
You took the words out of my mouth.
Labour Members are committed to nothing less than the total transformation of our economy—not just how it works, but for whom it works. So many of us who came into politics as Labour Members understand that the fight against the climate crisis is the fight against inequality. Why? Because we know that the poorest 50% of people in this country, and between countries, consume just 10% of the resources and emit just 10% of the carbon. The wealthiest 10% consume 50% of the resources and emit 50% of the carbon. It is therefore clear that the fight against climate change is also the fight against global and domestic inequality. The poor cannot give up what they do not have; they cannot give up carbon that they are not emitting. The people who can are those at the top—the top 10%; the top 1%. Those are the people who must give up their carbon and their use of resources.
My hon. Friend—I will call her that—the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) has said that the Queen’s Speech contained just six words about the environment, and there was not a single mention of the climate and ecological crisis facing our planet. That is hardly surprising, given this Government’s track record on the climate emergency. We have had a green light for fracking, and fossil fuel subsidies have been boosted by billions. Onshore wind has been scrapped and solar support axed. The green homes scheme has been eviscerated, and zero-carbon homes abandoned. The Green Bank has been sold, Swansea tidal lagoon stuffed, and Heathrow expansion approved. After 10 years of that, the Government tell us to trust them to tackle the climate crisis, but many Labour Members, and many members of the public, are extremely sceptical about their claims.
Even though we face a climate and ecological crisis, that is not a collapse. This is a turning point—that is what a crisis is—and things may go one way or another. This is a crossroads. That is why Extinction Rebellion, youth climate strikers and all those who understand the scale and urgency of the issue are fighting so hard for the future. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion and I have introduced the green new deal, and why Labour Members are pushing forward the green industrial revolution. If that is to be the future for our economy, we need a transformation in our transport system, housing, heat and energy, and a complete modal shift in the way we live, work and consume. Let us take, for example, electric cars. We know that we cannot build 31 million electric cars. That is how many petrol and diesel cars there are on our roads. There is not enough cobalt on the planet for us to be able to build all those cars, so we will require a complete transformation of how we travel.
I will finish with a quote from someone who has already been mentioned today, Rachel Carson, the author of “Silent Spring”. She was one of the first people to alert us to this environmental catastrophe. She said:
“Humankind is challenged as it has never been challenged before, to prove its mastery—not of nature, but of itself.”
That is the challenge. Can the Government prove mastery not just of themselves but of their ability to tackle the climate crisis? It is time to get a grip.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis). I recognise the passion with which he speaks about these issues and I share his concern.
I am pleased to be able to speak briefly today in this important debate. I very much welcome the measures contained in the Queen’s Speech. Other Members have covered the urgency of the need to tackle climate change so I will not repeat that argument, but it is right that this place is prioritising climate change and it is right that our constituents continue to contact us about climate change. I believe that this Government are prioritising measures to address climate change.
The new Environment Bill will ensure that environmental principles are at the centre of every decision the Government take. Tackling climate change is one of the issues that Scotland’s two Governments need to work on together. I believe they need to work better at it. The UK and the Scottish Governments are both world leaders in reacting to our climate change emergency, and they must continue their joined-up approach. That is why I was so disappointed by the opening speech by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). It was full of sarcasm and weak political point scoring, rather than recognising that both Governments need to work together on this issue. Our constituents expect us to work together and not engage in cheap party political point scoring.
It is important to acknowledge that the UK is a world leader in meeting the challenge of climate change face on. The UK was the first major economy to introduce legally binding long-term emissions targets and the first to announce a legally binding net zero target. We have cut emissions by more than 40% since and decarbonised faster than any other G20 country. We need to continue and step up those efforts, but they are remarkable achievements and as a nation we do not always give ourselves credit for them. I am optimistic that humanity will overcome this climate emergency. The way we will do that will not, I am afraid, be by spraying fake blood on Government buildings. It will be by changing our habits as a nation and through advances in technology: electric car battery improvements, advances in carbon capture and finding more sustainable ways of growing food.
Much of that work can start at home. I am pleased to see much going on in my own constituency in the Scottish borders. Scottish Borders Council, for example, has saved over 250,000 staff miles with its fleet of hybrid cars. Its newest high school, in Jedburgh, will be one of the first plastic-free schools in the UK. I have met community organisations such as A Greener Hawick and A Greener Melrose, which are passionate about encouraging people to live more sustainably. Alice and her team at Sea the Change in Eyemouth run beach cleans and outdoor explorer programmes, and organisations like Plastic Free Borders are sharing ideas about how to reduce the use of single use plastics. Such groups, which are encouraging changes in habit and capitalising on increased public awareness, have a huge role to play in how we tackle this emergency.
The final issue I want to raise is electric cars and how we ensure that every part of the country, particularly rural areas like those in the Scottish borders that I represent, can take advantage of them. I would very much like the UK and Scottish Governments to do more to ensure that all communities, regardless of whether they are rural or urban, have sufficient electric charging points to ensure that every resident who wishes to make the change to electric car use can do so.
Since I was first elected, I have received thousands of emails and letters about climate change—about animal extinction, air pollution and rising sea levels—but I am sure I speak for many of my colleagues when I say that the most heartbreaking letters that I receive are the ones from schoolchildren. It is the topic that children write to me about most often, and I have had letters from children as young as five. I shall quote just a couple.
Lila, who is eight, wrote to me in February:
“I am worried about higher sea levels, hurricanes and animals becoming extinct. We have written a list of things we can do to help. My sister is vegetarian and I do not eat red meat any more. My family are giving money to a reforestation programme”.
Jayda, from St James Hatcham Primary School, wrote to me in July:
“I have an idea to save the planet. People need to stop using plastic. They should use paper instead and recycle. Maybe we could plant more trees and we’ll have more oxygen as well”.
With the help of her teacher, Chiamaka, who is just five, wrote to me about flooding:
“I feel sad when I see floods and when people lose their houses. How can you help them?”
We are all terrified about the future of the planet, but it is children and future generations that will pay the price if we continue on this track. The UN predicts that by the time the children writing to me have left school and are starting jobs or university, global warming will be close to reaching 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Extreme heatwaves and floods will have become widespread. Wildfires will be more common. Fresh water availability will continue to fall, and droughts will have increased. By the time those children are my age, temperatures could have risen by 2° C. Melting icecaps, warming seas and deforestation could trigger a “hothouse” state—meaning that human actions will no longer have any impact on rising global temperatures.
By the time those children have retired and potentially have grandchildren of their own to worry about, the global temperature could be close to 4° C above pre-industrial levels. Two thirds of the world’s glaciers will have melted, increasing sea levels and drying up rivers across the world. Heatwaves will be intolerable and deserts will have stretched into much of Europe. The world’s population will be close to 11 billion and entire nations will be uninhabitable, triggering a migrant crisis on a scale we can barely apprehend.
The environment must be at the heart of economic and industrial policies. A Labour Government would drastically reduce greenhouse gases by investing in new green industries and technologies. Not only would that create thousands of new green jobs, but it would reduce our country’s carbon footprint.
I want to end by pointing out something that I have noticed about the letters that I get from the children, which usually have one thing in common: they are hopeful. They suggest ways that we can make a difference and they tell me about the changes they are making themselves—eating less meat; recycling; planting trees. The actions of individuals must be matched with bold actions from Government. We cannot let this generation down—the time to act is now
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). I welcome the Queen’s Speech in its entirety.
I have raised environmental concerns on around 25 occasions in the past two years. From that you can deduce, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is a subject that I feel very strongly about. Of course, this Government are already doing a great deal in relation to climate change, and I applaud them for that. As we have all been reminded today, the UK was the first country to raise climate change as an issue on the international stage. As a nation we have cut emissions faster than all other major economies, and we have quadrupled our use of renewable electricity sources in recent years. We can be proud of those efforts.
Nevertheless, the measures proposed in this Queen’s Speech lead me for the first time to feel truly optimistic about our future. I know that some of us would prefer even faster action, but these measures propose a sensible and sensitive approach to change. We cannot change an entire nation, replacing our power stations, gas boilers, every car, every bus, every train and every plane overnight, but we are on our way.
The Environment Bill contains useful measures for green governance, including the establishment of an office for environmental protection, more powers to tackle air pollution, and charges for certain single-use plastic items. We can look forward to legally binding targets for improvements in air and water quality, wildlife habitats, and waste and resource efficiency as part of the 25-year environment plan drawn up by the Government, supported by a “polluter pays” principle, which will allow us to restore the habitats in which plants and wildlife have an opportunity not simply to survive but to thrive. These are bold and welcome measures, and they cannot come soon enough. Mother Nature needs our help, and the Government will ensure that she receives it.
In tandem, the agriculture Bill will replace the common agricultural policy with a post-Brexit system of support that will reward farmers for encouraging biodiversity and access to the countryside rather than simply focusing on yield. I have spoken to young farmers in the last few weeks, at an agri innovation day event at Laigh Tarbeg Farm, Ochiltree—as ever, I thank the Watson family for their hospitality—and it is clear to me that they are ready to support that proposal. They are already embracing new technology to secure environmental protections.
The fisheries Bill will deal with an issue that is close to the heart of many of my constituents. The fishermen of our south-west coast fleet have been pressing me about it for some time, and I am glad that their persistence, and that of their colleagues around the UK, has paid off, particularly today. There will no longer be open access for foreign boats in British waters, which will not only support our fishing fleet but will help to restore species to more sustainable levels.
Let us view clean growth not as a burden on the economy, but as a boost to the economy. We can become a world leader in clean growth. As my colleagues and I have seen from our work on the Science and Technology Committee, that goal is entirely feasible and achievable. Let us, through the measures proposed in the Queen’s Speech, build on the progress that we have already made in recent years, and provide the certainty of a cleaner, greener future that the planet and the generations who will follow us so richly deserve. We must and we will put right the wrongs of the past.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant).
Climate change is without doubt the most important issue that all of us face. We simply need to care about and look after our common home, our Mother Earth, better than we are at present. The damage, the harm, that we have inflicted on the Earth through our irresponsible behaviour and our abuse of the planet’s natural resources has resulted in the climate emergency that we all now face. There is a global conversion to the realisation that the plundering of the natural resources of this Earth must cease. Individually and collectively, we are to blame for the mess that we are leaving behind. It is simply not good enough for us to leave it to future generations.
The Queen’s Speech promises much, but for many it falls short on ambition. The behavioural change that we need to make, whether as individuals or as Governments, is the right thing to do, whether it is done by small business or a large multinational company. The destruction of the environment and the resulting climate change crisis are registering with people and businesses alike. The establishment of a social impact stock exchange bourse in Edinburgh is a great example of “moral money” being at the forefront of a new investor thinking by a new type of investor. It is no longer acceptable for companies and businesses to carry on as they have been. Our behaviour—the bad practices—is being righted bit by bit, and so it should be. The pollution, the waste and the throwaway culture are, we all hope, finally coming to an end. An impartial observer in the not too distant future may look back on our behaviour and ask, “Why did these people create such immense pile of filth on this beautiful planet?”
So what can we do? What actions can the Government take? The UK consumes 3.3 million tonnes of soy per annum, most of which is used as feed for the livestock that we consume, and 77% of which comes from areas in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay that are at a high risk of deforestation. The UK Government could halt that practice, and start to save the lungs of the world immediately. In contrast, the Scottish Government are now a world leader on climate change. Our ambitious targets have been set, and our climate change legislation is the most stringent in the world.
No, I will not.
Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, and other Cabinet Secretaries, have what it takes for long-term planning, and are changing minds to address climate change concerns. There was a charge on plastic bags and a ban on the sale of plastic cotton buds, we have created the first deposit return scheme in the UK, and we have just announced that the Scottish Government will support the establishment of a Scottish office on climate change, taking the lead on behavioural change. We have introduced a new public transport initiative as well, to encourage better use of bus services, with £500 million being spent on a new bus infrastructure, making local journeys faster and greener—acting locally, leading globally.
The Scottish Government have listened to young people and are active in visiting towns and cities, listening to concerns about the planet’s future, and they have established climate action towns. But I want to finish with my constituency of Falkirk. We are getting on with the day job; we are setting up a climate change school ambassadors network, and I am certain that these climate ambassadors will be in attendance to welcome the conference of the parties summit in Glasgow next year.
That is why so many colleagues in this place from all parties are all in agreement: we realise the responsibility to act now where we can have an impact. With that in mind I have arranged for the inaugural meeting of the all-party group on youth action and climate change to take place on 5 November at 11.30 am in Room P, Portcullis House. Its aim is to educate young people, to make voices on climate issues heard in this Parliament, and to provide a forum for young people to engage with parliamentarians and climate change experts.
It was encouraging that at the very outset of the Queen’s Speech the Government committed to seize the opportunities for agriculture that will arise from leaving the European Union. Cheshire farmers support the Government’s endeavours to obtain a good deal, but are deeply concerned about the possibility of no deal. They are concerned in particular about three areas: tariffs, welfare standards and farm labour. They want a deal to end the current uncertainty. An egg manufacturer in Congleton has bought in extra packaging three times now due to uncertainty. So they and I very much support the Prime Minister in his endeavours to achieve a deal.
With regard to tariffs, the UK dairy industry produces 14 billion litres of milk a year, of which 3.25 billion litres are exported to the EU. A dairy farmer said that if a deal cannot be achieved and milk exported to the EU attracts a tariff of around 40% while imported milk could attract no tariff at all, this would be unsustainable, saturating our milk markets and risking a collapse in milk prices. This could result in a milk price reduction of 1p or more per litre, which could cost a dairy farmer £20,000 a year—the difference between survival and closure.
The tariff on eggs being exported from the UK into Europe could be 19% in the event of no deal, whereas there would be no tariff on imports. An egg producer in my constituency fears a major flood on to the market of eggs, particularly dried eggs and eggs in products, which constitute almost 50% of egg sales and may not have been produced to the high welfare standards we have in this country. Farmers locally are saying the proposed tariffs could be damaging not only to farmers’ livelihoods but to consumers’ health if imports are not up to UK standards.
On the issue of farm labour, there is already a shortage of workers, for example in horticultural businesses. Farmers are concerned that the situation will be exacerbated unless it is addressed. Already, some horticultural crops cannot be harvested.
The pressure of those concerns and the current uncertainty is impacting on farmers’ mental health. Farmers are our strongest environmentalists; without them we simply would not have the environment we enjoy, and it is interesting that the National Farmers Union target year for net zero carbon is 2040, not 2050. Government working together with farmers will be key to achieving such environmental targets, and farmers want to do so. Will Ministers meet me and Cheshire farmers to discuss that?
Finally, I regret to say that while I support my farmers, as a result my constituency office is to be targeted with a demonstration. It is a wholly inappropriate and relatively confined location for a demonstration, with a children’s mental health charity opposite and a doctor’s surgery next door, not to mention the potential impact on constituents visiting my surgeries and on my staff. The local Labour party activists who have organised this demonstration appear to have joined forces with those opposing the Government tuberculosis eradication strategy in Cheshire. Farmers in my constituency are experiencing the worst difficulties with TB in their cattle of anywhere in the county; it is a big problem to local farmers and is taking its toll financially and emotionally. In 2018, some 2,231 cows had to be put down in Cheshire because they were infected with TB. Culling has been effective in the Republic of Ireland, and a peer-reviewed scientific report published just this week and endorsed by DEFRA shows a 66% reduction in new TB rates in cattle after badger culling. Cheshire farmers support this, and I agree.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I have now been informed that a withdrawal agreement has been agreed. I have been to the Library to ask for a copy to indicate the difference between the document in my hand, which is from March 2019, and the new agreement. I put it on record that this is a matter of extreme importance to the United Kingdom and to our Parliament. We need a copy of the new withdrawal agreement at the earliest opportunity.
The climate emergency is real, and we must act now to get to net zero as soon as possible. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is warning of huge dangers to the planet, while our own Committee on Climate Change is reminding the Government that they are not even reaching their old target, while our young people are worrying about their future, and while climate protesters have been on our streets for the past two weeks, what is the Government’s response to the crisis? Nothing. There was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of how to get to net zero—not a line.
Unless we have a clear, decisive plan to decarbonise our energy, our heating, our travel, our food production and all our industries—including decarbonising capitalism—the planet will warm up to unsustainable levels. We will create huge global inequalities, displacement and possibly wars. We cannot just do business as usual. We need to act locally, nationally and internationally, and we need to act now.
But the Government have no plan. The energy White Paper was promised for more than a year, but it has now been dropped altogether—there was no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech. There was only a warm-up of the Environment Bill, which lacks ambition, urgency and, most of all, measures to create a proper regulator to ensure that our environment is properly protected. What an utter failure from this Tory Government, and what a wake-up call to all climate change campaigners not to rely on this Tory Government for climate action.
In contrast, the Liberal Democrats have a proper, ambitious and realistic plan to cut most of our carbon emissions by 2030 and get to net zero by 2045. The power of the future is electricity from renewable energy, from which we can make hydrogen and other net-zero fuels. There will be no place for fossil fuels in our energy future. The Liberal Democrats would ban fracking now. Our target is to make 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2030. By 2030, we cannot be heating our homes with natural gas. Providing warm homes for all at a price that everybody can afford will be a big challenge. The priority for our Liberal Democrat Government will be to make all homes highly energy-efficient and to put an end to fuel poverty.
We will create a just transition commission to advise on how to deliver a net-zero economy that works for everyone, and just transition funds to support development in the regions and communities most affected by the transition. Surface transport is still the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, and volume has hardly fallen since 1990. Electricity is likely to be the power for cars, with hydrogen for heavier vehicles. There will be no sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. We must ensure that the electric grid can deliver the additional power needed.
There are other sectors in which we do not yet have the solutions to get to net zero, such as by taking fossil fuels out of some industrial processes, aviation and agriculture. Where we cannot avoid carbon emissions completely, negative emissions technologies need to be in place. Nature has its own way to absorb emissions. We must re-wild our environment, and most of all we must plant millions of new trees. Our plan is to plant 60 million every year, which would be the biggest replanting project ever.
The Liberal Democrats are ready to face the climate emergency. We understand that getting to net zero is a challenge, but with the right political will and with a plan, we can tackle the climate crisis. We need climate action now. I ask the Government to publish their plan for getting to net zero as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), but I have to say that while it is a great thing that we have generally seen more consensus on this issue in the House recently, she and the hon. Members for Workington (Sue Hayman) and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) have constantly made the point that the Government are doing nothing about climate change. That is a quite extraordinary accusation. We have just had the first ever quarter in history in which the energy produced from renewables exceeded that produced from fossil fuels. That is real; it is what happened in July, August and September this year for the first time ever.
I want to refer also to the speech made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), whose passion on these matters I admire. She said that it was all well and good to have historical reductions in emissions, but I must point out that the 40% reduction since 1990 did not happen by magic. The biggest part of that—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith is speaking from a sedentary position. She would not take my intervention on Margaret Thatcher earlier, but the point is that the biggest part of that reduction, by far, was due to the move from coal to gas. The closure of the coal mines in this country was the single most divisive and bitter industrial dispute that this country has ever had. We know what happened in the miners’ strike and what happened in the 1990s with the miners’ march through central London. We did not want that to happen, and I say this with no relish, but it was a necessary policy to put through in the national interest. There is an idea that people can jump on top of a Jubilee line train or spray fake blood on Government buildings to cut CO2 emissions, but it takes real action.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to wind Members up, but he knows that when Margaret Thatcher shut down our indigenous coalmines and imported coal from abroad, that was an ideological attack. It had nothing to do with a gas strategy, and he should tell the truth.
I was being generous in giving way but, with hindsight, perhaps I should not have been. The point is that coal use has definitively slumped massively and our CO2 emissions have fallen massively.
The good news is that I do not think we will ever need to take such difficult, divisive decisions again, because of what is happening around our coasts, and particularly —I am proud to say this as a Suffolk MP—off the coast of East Anglia. Now, 52% of our 4 GW of offshore wind-produced electricity is coming from the East Anglian shore. This debate falls at a timely moment. Had it not been for the Supreme Court decision, I would have been able to speak, during the original planned Prorogation, at the launch of Norfolk & Suffolk Unlimited. That is a new enterprise from the New Anglia local enterprise partnership based in Norfolk and Suffolk to promote inward investment into our region and to promote exports. At the heart of that will be clean growth and a drive for even more wattage to come from offshore wind.
I have a question for Ministers. We are incredibly ambitious about seeing more growth, more jobs and more electricity being produced from offshore wind, but will he assure me that investment in the grid and support from the National Grid for the greater electricity output will be sustained? There needs to be a co-ordinated strategy if we are to make the most of our potential off the coast of East Anglia and around the whole of the United Kingdom.
Having started back in the dark days of the miners’ strike, I now have another positive thought for the House. Whenever I visit primary schools in my constituency, of which there are 40, I find it incredibly uplifting to see that the next generation is so besotted with this issue. My last four primary school visits were about the issues of waste, cutting down on plastic use and using renewable energy. I think that we can be positive and optimistic about the next generation. Seeing as I took an intervention, I am now going to wind up and give others a chance to speak. The picture that needs to be painted is very positive, and this Government have played a huge historic role in that, of which I am very proud. Now we need consensus so that we can continue with these positive measures.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge). I start by echoing my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) in relation to the sentencing Bill. The Prime Minister boasted over the summer that the Government would create 10,000 more prison places, but we do not need them. We already lock up more prisoners than other European countries, and I hope that not a single one of those places will be for women and that the Government will stick with the female offender strategy that they published last year.
Greater Manchester is making good progress towards dealing with the climate emergency thanks to the initiatives of the Mayor and the combined authority. Our clean air, transport and industrial strategies will help to improve the climate in which we live, but we need the support of Government. We need help to plant more trees, and I particularly support the northern forest initiative promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). Manchester Friends of the Earth tells me that we need 11 million more trees in Greater Manchester, and I hope the Government will be able to assist. We also need help to remove polluting vehicles from our roads and to green our bus fleet, and we need help with scrappage schemes for older commercial vehicles, so I am pleased to see the Secretary of State for Transport in his place.
As others have said, climate change will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest, particularly in Greater Manchester due to our older and disproportionately poor-quality housing stock, which leaks heat into the outdoor environment. Fuel poverty is a real issue for us, yet fewer than half of houses that are currently energy inefficient will be brought up to efficiency standards by 2020, which is a particular problem in the private rented sector. I hope that the Government will come forward with a strategy that will not just improve the environment, but create green jobs, and improve health and wellbeing and children’s development.
As others have said, the climate emergency will set up huge population displacement across the world, and the immigration Bill needs to set the foundations for how our response includes a system that affords people rights and dignity, and that meets the needs of business and employers. The Government say that they want to introduce an Australian-style points system. That is a handy slogan, but what will it mean? After all, we have already tried a points-based system for tier 1 and tier 2 visas, but it was abandoned, so what will be different this time?
The Australian points-based system supports a young mobile labour force. Someone gets zero points if they are over 55 unless they have a partner under 45—I am afraid that that rules me out—but is that what we need here for our NHS, our social care sector or our university labs? While it is right to recognise the different labour needs of the UK’s regions, what is most important for employers is ensuring that they have access to a pool of workers with the appropriate skills, which may not necessarily be demonstrated by formal qualifications. For individuals, the protection of workers’ rights is paramount, so what assurances can the Government give us on that?
We cannot stop migration. Indeed, we should not want to. Migration has brought huge benefits to this country and will continue to do so. However, it must be accompanied by investment in the individuals who come to this country. We need to support the reunion of families and give them the opportunity to integrate, and we need them to be able to avoid destitution, including by affording asylum seekers the right to work. I conclude by asking Ministers to report to the House urgently on what is happening to the asylum and migration integration fund. It is crucial both for individuals who come to this country and for the communities in which they live, and the time to give us that information is rapidly running out.
I begin by picking up where my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) left off by paying tribute to my younger constituents and their engagement on climate change. They want more ambition and more action, and they are engaging in the political process like no previous rising generation in my lifetime because they care passionately about the planet and the poorest people on it. They inspired me, so I decided to conduct a wider survey among my constituents on climate change, and I can report to the House that in Stirling we want our homes insulated, we want to use electric cars, we want public transport options, we want more trees planted, and we want our energy to come from clean sources. The people of Stirling want the UK to take a lead on decarbonisation and extend a helping hand to the rest of the world.
The Gracious Speech confirmed once again that this Government and this House are committed not only to the rhetoric of taking action on climate change, but to taking positive action to stem and mitigate the effects of the developing global crisis, but we need to do more. When the Prime Minister and the Chancellor talk about the need for an infrastructure revolution, they are right. We have shown that it is possible to decarbonise the economy and to have clean growth—it is not an either/or. However, we must invest in the reconfiguration of our national infrastructure. There has never been a greater need to get on with it, and there has never been a better time to make that investment. Investment in infrastructure is critical, which is why I hope the Chancellor will come forward with a proposal for a national infrastructure bank in the Budget early next month.
We need a national crusade to level up our housing stock to the highest energy efficiency standards. By every measurement, that is the right thing to do—for the environment, for our economy and, most importantly of all, for people and their wellbeing, especially the most vulnerable people in our society. Let us make housing an infrastructure priority. We need a national endeavour to insulate our homes and upgrade our electricity distribution network to meet future demand, and to put in place green measures to incentivise property owners to do the right things.
We need to see innovation in farm support payments, with a focus on both caring for the environment and the production of good food. Again, that is not an either/or. We need much more ambition, especially in England, to do much more tree planting. Let me be the first to say it: there are lessons for England in the ambition and delivery of what is happening in Scotland. I am proud of what we are doing in Scotland on a cross-party basis.
However, there is one thing I want to major on: we need more action across the UK on buses. I am delighted that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are big on buses. I have long concluded that the deregulation of rural bus services was a mistake. Bus services in rural areas should be classified as an essential public good. We need to regulate bus services, especially in rural areas such as Stirling, to give rural communities proper public transport options. I could go on at length about the complete lack of anything approaching a bus service in the communities I serve. A bus service is a part of the connectivity matrix, as people need to be able to move around more freely. We cannot talk about being serious about net zero unless we invest more in low emission buses and making the bus a viable mode of public transport, as part of a joined-up public transport network.
I do not have anything like enough time to talk about the failures of Scotrail, under the stewardship of the Scottish National party, so I will conclude by saying how proud I am that we have managed to secure COP 26. It is going to happen in Glasgow, and what a magnificent opportunity for Scotland that is.
The climate emergency will not be resolved with combustible cladding and insulation, and there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to offer alternatives or address the performance of insulation products. The decision to cover Grenfell Tower with cladding and insulation was less to do with energy saving than with an attempt to improve the tower’s appearance—this is all on record. We are where we are, but will the Government ever bring forward plans to tackle energy use? The plans for a building safety regulator are fine as far as they go, but they do not go very far at all; after 28 months, this is a paltry response to a local, nationwide and worldwide problem. The announcement merited half a sentence in the Queen’s Speech. Despite the hours spent by my community on campaigning, the sleepless nights and the crippling anxiety of many of them, the Government played snakes and ladders with them, and the end was pre-ordained. This announcement could have been made two years ago and we could have made some progress by now. Is this the best the Government can do?
The plan for a building safety regulator appears to be set up to fail. It has come about due to failings in the insulation and cladding industry, but there is nothing here about energy saving performance. Some will see the announcement of the regulator as progress, but it could take years to implement. As we speak, the legal teams of worldwide corporations will be finding ways to circumvent whatever regulations we put in place. Whereas Arconic, Rydon and the like, in their international headquarters, have multi-million-pound legal protection, it is my neighbours who burned to death for the sake of appearance.
So let us ask some questions about this regulator. How will it function? Will it be proactive? What kind of funds will it have? Who will monitor its activities? Where some materials are banned, what will be the alternatives and where will they come from, particularly given that we have a world where we already have a shortage of building materials, particularly bricks. Many of the materials are sourced abroad, so how will we check that their quality comes up to our standards? Again, there is no mention of performance in any of this. The UK construction industry is already teetering on the brink of recession and there seems to be no awareness of that, let alone of the skills shortage to do the work that needs to be done.
Many professional organisations have responded to the announcement, including the Federation of Master Builders, the National Housing Federation, the Local Government Association, the London Fire Brigade and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which has set up a worldwide organisation of 80 professional bodies that is setting standards that we can only dream the Government will catch up with eventually. The Royal Institute of British Architects has also been way ahead of the game, demanding sprinklers, alternative means of escape, fire alarms and a ban on combustible cladding.
Most of all, we come back to the issue of cheap materials. We need insulation with good energy performance, but where will the money come from? We cannot sacrifice safety to cost ever again. With a generation of poorly insulated social homes, we desperately need solutions. I will meet Fuel Poverty Action shortly, and I really do not know what to say to the group.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, on the 14th of every month, we join in our silent walk, in rain or snow. We did so on Monday, in the pouring rain, and people were saying, “Where are the voices of the dead? Where are the voices of their families and neighbours?” There is nothing for them. There is no way forward. How will we keep low-income families warm and safe in their homes? As it is, the plan is not only a huge disappointment in terms of safety and improving energy use and performance; it is a betrayal of everything we have fought for over the past 28 months.
I am in no doubt that all colleagues from all parties agree on the importance of taking action to halt and reverse the damaging effects of climate change. I am sure we are all delighted that that is one of the central messages of the Queen’s Speech and that it will remain at the centre of our politics. The announcement of a new watchdog for environmental protection, with real teeth, is crucial, as it will ensure that policy decisions at every level of government genuinely improve and protect our vital natural resources—air, land and water.
I am very proud of those in the Chichester community back home, as they are highly engaged with addressing climate change at every level. Chichester District Council has declared a climate emergency and is already developing plans to make our area greener. Just recently, the council received a grant to install new electric charging points throughout my constituency, and I thank the Secretary of State for that. I know that the council will appreciate the measures in the Environment Bill to improve air quality, which is critical to my constituents in Chichester and around Midhurst. Similarly, at every school I visit, the children I meet are passionate about the planet, and tackling climate change is their No. 1 priority.
We recently held an open meeting in Chichester, and a number of environmental groups came along. During that meeting, I was invited to visit a local Passivhaus. The house is a role model for low-energy living, with thick insulation and triple glazing. It is air-tight, draft-free and the best in class for efficiency. The houses look fantastic, and what will really sell them is the energy bill, which is less than £200 a year. More than 65,000 houses worldwide have now been built to this new standard, and we need many more in the UK. I fully support such an energy-efficient approach when it comes to addressing our future housing needs.
Education is also key. I recently visited Tuppenny Barn, a local charity that educates children about sustainable living, with a focus on growing, cooking and eating organic, ethical local produce. That is a theme I come across often among the farming community. One farm that I visited over the summer, the Woodhorn Group, has ambitious plans to be 100% carbon neutral by 2025, which would meet the calls of Extinction Rebellion and require moving even faster than the NFU target to be net zero by 2040. What was exciting was the farm’s drive to instil sustainable practice and innovation in every element of the business, including the development of new cattle feed that reduces the amount of methane produced. There is much innovation in every sector, and I hope that, as we head towards spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, a significant element of the Government’s investment in R&D is used for sustainably focused projects.
I am proud of the UK’s record as a leader in climate change. Times have changed. I come from a coalmining family: my grandfather was a coalminer. I can well remember going down the mine with him as a young girl and being absolutely appalled at the dirty and challenging environment in which he and his colleagues worked on a daily basis. I am encouraged by the fact that by 2025 we will have no coal-powered electricity in this country whatsoever. We will have transformed our energy economy in that short time.
I fear that some of those present are trying to make this a bit of a left/right issue. It is important that we do not do that. We, as politicians, have a duty to be honest and to set realistic goals we can deliver. Net carbon neutrality by 2025 is not achievable and there is no point setting a goal we cannot achieve. We would lose the public’s support and score a spectacular own goal. We must, however, remain climate champions at every level, from the primary school children reusing their wrapping paper this Christmas to the Prime Minister and the UK at COP 26 next year. The world rests on all our shoulders, and I am proud the UK will continue to lead the way.
On 1 May, the Labour Party, led ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), forced the Government to declare a climate emergency. The motion gave the Government six months to bring forward urgent proposals to restore our natural environment and deliver a circular zero-waste economy. Six months on, the clock is ticking, and what did we see in the Queen’s Speech: piecemeal measures—some welcome—to tinker around the edges while the rate of climate change accelerates in the UK at an alarming rate.
This Queen’s Speech was used for propaganda by the Conservative party. The Prime Minister promises the earth, but he will deliver nothing and continue to ignore the enormity of the threat. Obviously, recycling and plastic waste are important, but they are not the critical issues facing people in my constituency. We need urgent support and investment in energy-saving measures—in solar, heat and water heating—and in our housing stock. This is a massive infrastructure issue. It is also a massive opportunity to bring decent jobs to the people I represent, but it is being missed by the Government.
In Bristol South, my focus has always been on post-16 educational opportunities, health and housing. Those are the key things that matter to my constituents, some of whom face the greatest deprivation in this country. Transport—to get jobs to them and them to jobs—is the other key issue. They can all be improved with better policy proposals and investment, which could also help us to meet the climate change challenge, but the Government are not bringing forward any measures for them.
There are some measures that we can welcome in the Environment Bill. In particular, I and my Bristol colleagues welcome the location of the new office for environmental protection, but that body needs teeth. At the moment, it is not truly independent or set up to really hold the Government to account, so we have some concerns about that. I hope that it will bring decent jobs to my constituency and that it focuses on the issues I have identified, as this would help people, particularly those in fuel poverty and in poor-quality housing, to achieve the standards we desperately need to meet.
When I first entered this place in 2015, my surgery was full of young entrepreneurs in Bristol South who had had the legs cut out from under their businesses by the Government’s changes to the infrastructure support, particularly for solar heating and so on. The Government have never supported businesses in Bristol South. I would really like to see them start to reverse that type of policy. Brexit dominates most of our debates at the moment. The idea that the Environment Secretary and the Prime Minister want stronger protections and greater investment in communities facing poverty, particularly fuel poverty, and the devastating effects of climate change is for the birds.
I have two things to declare. First, I am the vice-chair of the all-party group on fair fuel for UK motorists and UK hauliers. Secondly, on a more personal note, I was recently diagnosed with cough variant asthma, which was quite a shock. Eighteen months previously, I was climbing up the Mont Blanc stage of the Tour de France, and then I was in a Mongolian clinic—of all places—struggling for breath. There is nothing like being unable to breathe to bring home to you the truth, or at least the danger, that emissions pose to our environments, our society and the way we live our lives. It made me look into the subject more deeply.
As an MP representing one of the country’s major car-making centres, I want to urge people when they talk about emissions to have an honest and rounded debate. We have to look at things scientifically and practically. We have to think about things in the round and find the right solutions. Unfortunately, companies that are genuinely trying to be at the forefront of reducing emissions, such as Jaguar Land Rover, sometimes face moves that could damage their business and be counterproductive to the green agenda and local taxes.
We would undoubtedly be in a much better place if previous Governments had not spent years encouraging drivers to switch to diesel, but we cannot escape the fact that millions did so in good faith, believing that they were making the responsible choice. Reducing the trade-in or resale value of their cars actually makes it harder for diesel drivers to transition to cleaner alternatives, and that risks keeping older and more polluting models on the road for longer.
We have to carry people with us. What we want to achieve is not strict denial or a luddite attitude towards the economy. Spain has seen an increase in emissions over the past 10 years, whereas since 1985 the UK has seen a reduction. That is the result of economic growth and technology. We have been a successful country during that time, and that is reflected in our environmental policy.
I share the Government’s enthusiasm for the age of electric vehicles, which is surely coming, but Britain does not have anything like the infrastructure required for a rapid transition to widespread electric car use. Over the next decade, we will need to see a huge expansion in charge points and manufacturing capacity, not to mention ensuring that the national grid is ready for what could be a fundamental shift in demand. I speak regularly with car manufacturers, and I know that they are more than ready to play their part and invest, often exceptionally heavily, in the research and development programmes needed to make that a reality. But to do that they need stable revenues in the here and now, and that means a healthy market for cars, which we can build with today’s technology and infrastructure. If Governments, of whichever hue, stamp too hard on the accelerator, they risk stalling progress towards electric cars altogether.
This is by no means a counsel of despair. As I mentioned, diesel engines have made huge strides. We have the Euro 6 engines, for example, and last year What Car? magazine named a diesel car as “car of the year”. There are real opportunities in the near term to harness technology and dial down emissions.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of action that the Government can take in other areas to bring down harmful emissions in the here and now. Two areas that warrant special mention are construction and mass transit. Retrofitting older buses and lorries with cleaner engines would make a significant contribution to reducing emissions, but without penalising ordinary motorists or auto manufacturers.
The Members sitting on the Government Benches look comfortable, unruffled and complacent, while the Extinction Rebellion protests are being fiercely suppressed on the streets just outside this House. Amnesty International has called this move “chilling and unlawful”. The Government seem unbothered by September’s UN report that waters are rising, ice is melting, and species, including pathogens, are moving.
The Government can point to successes started under Labour, such as cheaper offshore wind and the phasing out of coal, but they are failing in imagination, they are failing in ambition, and they are failing because they think they are acting fast enough, but they are not. I implore them to be braver in their policy making if they are going to bring forward solutions commensurate with the climate challenge.
The Committee on Climate Change—the Government’s own advisers—wrote recently that the Government had completed only one of their 25 headline policy actions, and on 10 of them they had not even made partial progress. The report goes on to say that the policy gap has widened and the Government are going backwards. The Government have no right to be complacent, given that they are going to miss their own climate change targets. We are scientifically sure that this will cost millions of lives globally.
In the short time available, I will talk about what we need to achieve. I will start with energy. Why are we seeing an effective ban on onshore wind in England? Why is the new solar smart export not guaranteeing surety of income or contracts? Why are we seeing solar projects being cancelled right across the country? Why are we not seeing a fracking ban?
The flipside of that is demand. Why are we not seeing a big roll-out of super insulation across the country? Why are so many homes still leaky? That is just in one sector, but in other sectors the same problems abound.
Transport emissions increased by 1% last year. Where is the cycling infrastructure? Why is bus patronage dropping? Why is the train still so expensive that people choose to use their cars? One of the largest sources of transport emissions is aviation. The Prime Minister himself said that he was going to lie in front of the bulldozers at Heathrow, but we have seen no evidence of the Government acting against aviation. Seventy per cent. of all flights are taken by 15% of the people; the Government need to introduce a frequent flyer tax to start rolling that back.
If the Government are worried about public support, they should stop suppressing Extinction Rebellion and the youth climate strikers, and start listening to them. They should make citizens’ assemblies, test the ideas, learn from the people and engage with them in a positive way. My final message is: stop the complacency; act ambitiously.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), I went outside to meet Extinction Rebellion. It was not very difficult to find somebody who was intelligent and with whom I could have a meaningful conversation, which has to contrast with some of the others we have seen in the press, who have defaced buildings and chained themselves to tube carriages. As a result of that meeting I was given a tree, which I took back to my constituency. I have worked with the local climate action group in one village, who are helping me to find somewhere to plant the tree, and I think that is an important thing to be able to say. I also bring a request to the House from somebody who was at the climate action group meeting that I attended—that this House has a meat-free day. Now that I have passed on the request, I hope the idea will be picked up.
One of the things that we often forget about climate change is that it needs to be tackled at an international level. We have heard about the amount of money that the Government have made available to help countries overseas to tackle the issue, but I am also a delegate at the Council of Europe, which has shown me the value of cross-party co-operation. I have been involved in debates there on climate change with Members of the Opposition, including Lord Prescott. Let us not forget that Lord Prescott was involved in producing the Kyoto climate agreement—right at the beginning of the process. He and I have spent many a long time talking about and supporting the Paris agreement and the agreements made in Marrakesh, all of which are important for tackling climate change at a global level.
Allow me to mention technology in the context of the national infrastructure strategy. If we are going to judge the impact of things such as roads, it is important that we do so with reference to tomorrow’s technology or the technology that will exist at the time such infrastructure is built, rather than today’s technology. Driverless electric cars are not part of tomorrow’s technology; they are part of today’s. Driverless cars are being made at the Culham Science Centre in my constituency and are running around Oxford now, as we speak. In fact, some are about to make a journey from Oxford to London and back again as part of the demonstration of that project.
The last point I will mention is that at the Council of Europe we heard about New Zealand admitting climate refugees, and that is something that we should bear in mind.
I welcome this opportunity to speak on the inclusion of the Environment Bill in the Queen’s Speech. The commitments to improving air quality, restoring nature and transforming waste management are certainly long overdue. I particularly welcome the proposals for improving water quality and securing the resilience of water supply. I am hugely disappointed, however, by the powers available for the proposed new office of environmental protection. At present, the Government can be taken to the European Court of Justice if they fail to meet their legal obligations to the environment. Under the proposals in the Bill, these rights are significantly reduced. Judicial review is not a satisfactory replacement for the rights we currently enjoy.
My principal concern remains the lack of Government commitment to tackling the climate emergency in the round. This demands action on a range of measures if we are to meet the 2050 target, but the detail on achieving that remains vague. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Government’s approach to water resilience. Yes, the Environment Bill promises to improve water quality and to secure resilient water services in the long term, but I just do not think the Government are taking the challenge seriously enough. Parts of the country are already suffering water stress. In March, the chief executive of the Environment Agency warned that if we do not act now, within the next 25 years the UK will be facing “the jaws of death”. In the context of climate change and projected population increases, we face not just a climate emergency but a water emergency, and we must act to tackle both. The need for action amounts to much more than building new hard infrastructure, and it is also about much more than tackling leakage; it is about looking at water in a holistic way.
I am not convinced that the Government will act comprehensively to tackle the water emergency. Their current consultation on reform of building regulations, for example, does nothing to promise higher water efficiency standards. When will it be understood that tackling climate change is not just about energy efficiency? We also need a road map for retro-fitting the domestic housing stock in the context of both energy and water efficiency.
The Government’s Bill is vague on other key water issues. Improving water resilience demands better management of surface water, and yet we still have no statutory compulsion to use sustainable drainage for new developments, and no commitment to developing rainwater or greywater harvesting, or to a per capita consumption target for water. It is this absence of a comprehensive approach to securing water resilience that makes me so sceptical of the measures in the Environment Bill. Targets are great, but they need to be backed by concrete commitments and plans to deliver the changes necessary.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith).
I welcome many things within the Queen’s Speech, but particularly the theme of preparing the country for life outside the EU. My constituents in Rugby and Bulkington will be delighted by the progress made today, which means that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel in the negotiations with the EU. That enables the referendum to be respected and provides some certainty, but also, very importantly for my constituency, retains close trading links with our European partners that would be lost if we left with no deal.
In respect of the provisions on climate and the environment, I am very supportive of the Government’s policy commitment to get to net zero emissions by 2050, but that needs to be proportionate. I hear calls from Opposition Members to bring these targets forward—there is almost a bidding war—but they need to be reasonable, proportionate and achievable. We really do need to think long and hard about the effects of decarbonisation, particularly on our transport, and the move to electric heating of our buildings.
Transport infrastructure is a very important issue. I note that the Transport Secretary is in his place. He is a great advocate of electric vehicles, but he will know all about range anxiety. I must share with him that I was absolutely horrified to discover that a brand new motorway service area being built in Rugby at junction 1 of the M6 was originally proposed to have only two electric charging stations as a consequence of lack of capacity within the grid. Intervention and shouting and talking to people mean that it will open in the middle of the summer with 22 charging points, but even that is lacking in ambition. Given that this is the halfway point between London and Manchester where people will want to stop and charge their cars, we need to provide that facility.
We need to consider reinforcing the grid in respect of heating our buildings. There is a weakness in the way that we redevelop the infrastructure. We need to make certain that there is sufficient power to do all the things we want to do. We will be able to do something on vehicles by using smart metering technology to encourage people to charge overnight if they want to be able to heat their homes when they return from work. On power generation, I hope that the Government will look once again at tidal power. We have fabulous knowledge and expertise in Rugby at GE Energy, and I am hopeful that tidal lagoons will be reconsidered.
I have a whole range of issues to raise in respect of the Environment Bill. I will clearly now have to save my defence of plastic packaging for the Second Reading debate next week.
It does not say much about the self-proclaimed world leader in climate change that there are no definitive proposals in the Queen’s Speech on this subject. We still await a long overdue White Paper on energy policy. We need to recognise that it was a Tory Government who pulled the plug on carbon capture at Peterhead, but meanwhile, all 2050 zero emissions projections rely on carbon capture.
My hon. Friend is talking about carbon capture. Does he agree that, instead of wasting billions of pounds of the public’s money on new nuclear, the Government should be investing in projects like St Fergus, which in a very few years could be storing at least 5.7 gigatonnes of carbon, or 150 times Scotland’s 2016 emissions?
I agree wholeheartedly. The Government should be moving heaven and earth to get these carbon capture schemes up and running, making use of redundant North sea oil assets and taking advantage of the skills base in the oil and gas industry, which can be transferred over. It is ridiculous that we have a nuclear sector deal but no sector deal for marine or tidal energy. There should be a focus on those too.
This is a Government who continue to block onshore wind. At the last auction, offshore wind was £40 per megawatt-hour, so it is madness not to allow onshore wind to bid in the contracts for difference auction process. A RenewableUK report by Vivid Economics estimates that new onshore wind projects in Scotland will create more than 2,000 jobs by 2035, so why did the previous Scottish Secretary fail Scotland by blocking those jobs and that investment in environmentally friendly projects?
Meanwhile, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said, this Government still have a nuclear obsession. Hinkley has a strike rate of £92.50 per megawatt-hour for a 35-year concession. It is sucking money away from other projects that will count towards tackling climate change. Given that the UK Government pledged to respond to the National Infrastructure Commission this autumn, I hope a Minister will confirm that they will take on board the recommendation of abandoning new nuclear in favour of renewables.
With onshore and offshore prices at an all-time low, it is time that the UK Government considered the UK supply chain when it comes to the licensing process of the CfD auctions. Rather than concentrating on price only, bids should also be considered in terms of quality and added value if using local suppliers. Not only could that allow greater continuity of work for yards such as BiFab and suppliers such as CS Wind in Campbeltown, but it avoids the absurdness of bringing kit in from around the world when we are trying to clamp down on climate change and emissions.
Another National Infrastructure Commission recommendation is that there should be an energy efficiency infrastructure programme, which it is estimated could reduce home energy demand by up to 25%. Scotland already has an energy efficiency programme, with the programme and energy advice set-ups complemented by not only the industry but the third sector. Wales is also doing its bit. When will the UK Government invest directly in home energy efficiency measures?
Heat accounts for approximately one third of greenhouse gas emissions, which shows not only the value of energy efficiency measures but the need for a long-overdue strategy to decarbonise heat. I co-chaired a cross-party inquiry that produced a report on heat decarbonisation. I have the report here, printed by Policy Connect and Carbon Connect. I really recommend it to the House, because it contains recommendations that the Government will have to adopt.
Another simple measure related to transport is the introduction of E10 fuels. Cars are designed to run on E10, and the Department for Transport estimates that it reduces vehicle CO2 emissions by 2%, so why prevaricate? The Government should get on with it and make it mandatory.
Our environment can be improved with tree planting. The Scottish Government lead the way on that, and it is another measure that the UK Government need to step up to the plate on. Scotland has the most ambitious targets in the world with regard to climate change. We cannot afford to be dragged down by the UK Government’s inaction.
We have heard lots about what we have not achieved, but it is worth pointing out that in the last two weeks the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has sold at auction the ability to deliver a quarter of our energy from wind power by 2025, so that is good news.
In Cornwall, and on Scilly in particular, we have the smart islands initiative. It is not new; it was in the industrial strategy. It is a commitment to understand how we can generate energy and use the electricity generated by renewable means in all our homes and everywhere else. We have had a geothermal project announced at the Eden Project this week, and we have £23.5 million to get our buses working in a greener and much more effective way in Cornwall.
I am delighted that the Environment Bill was in the Queen’s Speech. I had a debate in April calling on the Government to bring it forward, and I am glad it was there. The ambition for nature recovery is fantastic. It has the potential of improving lives and neighbourhoods in every corner of our nation. I am the species champion for the Manx shearwater. It is an example of how, when we bring people together to work together—in this case, to get rid of rats and litter, because these are ground-nesting birds—we enhance nature. Nature recovery is a really good opportunity to bring communities together in a united cause.
Adequately addressing the climate change crisis requires some joined-up thinking, so I am glad that the Prime Minister is to chair the new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change.
The Government—again, this has not been said this afternoon—have set out ambitious infrastructure investment commitments for public services and ambitious plans to decarbonise the existing the Government estate. Will the Government work in harmony between Departments to make sure that infrastructure investment and decarbonisation are done together? Across this Parliament, we work in offices that are far too hot, so we open all the windows. There is an enormous amount of work to be done in Parliament, as there is in the NHS, the Government estate, local government, fire services, schools and the police. With all infrastructure, we must make sure that as we invest in it, we decarbonise it. That will improve the Government estate, reduce carbon emissions, reduce the running costs of buildings and contribute to the skills agenda.
On the subject of skills, one way to skill up people across the country is to get on top of the situation with homes and make sure that new legislation is brought forward quickly to ensure that new homes are carbon neutral. We cannot continue to build homes that are leaky and inefficient. We must also properly retrofit our homes so that we can reduce their carbon footprint, improve people’s lives and reduce pressure on health and social care.
In my last 20 seconds, let me say that smart meters are a critical part of making sure that we use energy more efficiently. If everyone—every business and every home—had a smart meter, it is estimated that we would reduce the demand for energy by 11%. Alongside that, a piece of equipment has been designed to combust our rubbish in our own home. It is called the HERU, and it enables us never to have to take waste away from home.
Madam Deputy Speaker,
“There is no planet B.”
These are not my words; they are the words of eight-year-old Poppy from Portsmouth. We owe it to Poppy and others across our country to ensure the planet we pass on is fit for the future. We see our children take to the streets, giving up their school attendance for politicians’ attention. However, the perception that this is a problem for future generations could not be further from the truth. It is affecting people now, and none more so than the people of Portsmouth. As the British Heart Foundation has warned, harmful pollutants in my city are breaching World Health Organisation limits, meaning that due to the poor air quality the 11,000 people with a heart condition living in Portsmouth South are at far greater risk. It is no wonder that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has described this illegal air pollution crisis as a “public health emergency”.
It is not just air pollution that must be addressed. As a coastal community, people in my city disproportionately bear the brunt of climate change. The report by the IPCC said that if we do not act to stop a temperature increase of more than 2° C, we will see severe coastal flooding. In my city, the local authority is engaged in a programme of building the largest sea defence scheme this nation has ever seen. Without it, nearly 9,000 residential properties, 800 commercial buildings and millions of pounds-worth of essential infrastructure run the risk of ruin.
But it is not all doom and gloom. On 1 May, Labour forced the Government to agree to the UK Parliament becoming the first in the world to declare a climate emergency. With that trailblazing motion, pressure was rightly applied to force the Government to bring forward urgent proposals. Last year, Labour published plans for a green transformation, in which we set out how we would decarbonise our economy. That has been followed by exciting policy announcements, such as the promise to build 37 new wind farms and a fleet of 30,000 electric vehicles for hire.
The mildly technical nature and distant-sounding threat of climate change may not be enough to provoke people to come out fighting from their beds, but pretty much all of us would do so to protect our loved ones, homes and livelihoods, and to build a better planet. The Government owe it to young people such as Poppy from Portsmouth to tackle this priority once and for all.
The next time a young person asks me how seriously Parliament takes climate change I will struggle to answer, given that this morning we ate into our time with a discussion on pornography, followed by a debate about whether we should have a debate on Saturday. When Parliament starts providing a proportion of its time that is commensurate with the importance of the issues out there in the country at large, those people will have more respect and regard for us and what we do.
It is a great shame that we have not had more time to discuss climate change, because so much progress was made by all three mainstream political parties when they were in government. Emissions have reduced by 44% since the 1990s, for which we credit the Labour Government. Since 2010, the proportion of renewables in our energy supply has gone from 4% to almost 40%, and we can credit the Liberal Democrats and the coalition Government for that, as well as this Conservative Government. We are making great strides, and we have the best record on emissions of all G20 countries. When we speak to young people it is important to reassure them that we are on a good road, but that we need to do more and must not be complacent. It is also important to debate this issue with the transport sector, because 33% of our carbon dioxide emissions come from that.
There are reasons to be positive. Through the Transport Committee I had the pleasure of visiting Porterbrook, and its amazing engineer, Helen Simpson, who has a real passion for the environment and for getting more women into engineering. Together with the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham, she has come up with the first retrofitted hydrogen train. That is a green train; that is the future for this country. Indeed, it is not just about this country, because we can sell our industry to other countries, making them greener in our one planet, and making our economy better in this country. I fully support that.
I am also excited about the airline industry. I am a supporter of Heathrow expansion, but the future of air travel should involve solar or battery power, and we should look to a time when at least short-haul flights can be green. I do not believe that we have to slow our economy down; I believe that if we grow the economy and unleash our great innovators, entrepreneurs and engineers, we will not only fix climate issues in this country but be a groundbreaker for the rest of the world.
It has been galling this afternoon to listen to Government Members welcome the environmental commitments in the Gracious Speech as a step change in our commitment to the environment. In reality, those commitments are partial and incomplete, and they sit in the context of a decade of failure and a climate emergency. We already have legally binding carbon reduction targets, and the Government are failing to meet them—indeed, we are currently predicted to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.
The Government are still investing billions of pounds in fossil fuel extraction overseas, when an emergency demands that fossil fuels are kept in the ground. They have announced a paltry package of measures in response to intense public pressure and anxiety about their failure to act. The Gracious Speech ignores the Government’s utter complacency, and nowhere is that more evident than in relation to the built environment. Some 14% of UK carbon emissions come from residential buildings, yet over the past 10 years, the Government have scrapped the zero-carbon homes programme, which means that every new home currently being built is a lost opportunity to deliver carbon reductions.
The removal of subsidies for domestic solar power has all but halted the installation of solar panels by private individual homeowners. The introduction and then closure, just two years later, of the disastrous green deal for retrofitting, means that next to no progress has been made on reducing carbon emissions from existing homes. There is no programme to reduce our reliance on gas to heat our homes, and one in 10 UK households is still living in fuel poverty. Deregulation of the planning system has reduced the quality of many new homes, as well as the quantum of new urban green space being built alongside new homes.
Finally, the Government talk in the Gracious Speech about a world-leading approach, but the UK is already world-leading because of our role in the EU. Within the EU, we have helped to weight the balance of power towards greater ambition on climate change, and we will have helped to push EU states that are reluctant to do more. If we leave the EU, that ability to lead will be lost and the UK will be stuck between a European Union where we have no seat at the table and the America of Donald Trump, one of the greatest climate vandals of our time. Dressing up some minimalist commitments after 10 years of failure and negligence, in a policy context in which whatever we do will be diminished by Brexit, is simply not an adequate response to an emergency.
Air quality is an issue of huge importance to my constituents in Lewisham East, to London and to the country. It is a key part of efforts to tackle the climate emergency. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air in many areas of my community exceeds World Health Organisation standards, which are designed to protect us. People living in London’s most deprived areas and disadvantaged communities are, on average, exposed to a quarter more nitrogen dioxide than others. According to the British Health Foundation, air pollution is now linked to 36,000 deaths a year nationwide. That is tragic.
Lewisham Council is due to trial school streets, which is a pilot scheme in Lee Green in my constituency to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion around several schools in the area. Last month, I visited Brindishe Lee primary school to meet the local community, teachers and children who closed the road near their school for a car-free day. It was an absolute joy to see them playing and enjoying their local street outside their school. The Mayor of London’s ultra low emission zone will improve air quality, meaning that by 2025 there will be no primary or secondary schools in areas exceeding legal high quality limits. That means the gap in quality between high and low-income areas of London will be reduced by a significant 71%. The Government need to support that, however, with new air quality laws.
Earlier this week, the Government published their Environment Bill. Some of its content was welcome, but there were few details on the Government’s apparently ambitious air quality target. If, as the Government constantly claim, leaving the European Union will be an opportunity to legislate better, why have they not proudly announced that measures in one of their flagship Bills will exceed existing EU standards? Why do they fail to take advantage of the opportunity to reach the higher standards set by the WHO? Why does the proposed new watchdog move backwards on measures designed to enforce these targets, such as fines? The Government must not shift the responsibility to local authorities while continuing to cut funding to avoid the difficult decisions.
The Government are not moving far or fast enough to improve our air quality and protect our children. I have marched, I have visited, and I have spoken at a number of climate change and air quality events across my constituency. We are passionate about this issue. In many cases it is children, the next generation, who are leading the way for cleaner air. Let us make it easier for them.
There is little dispute that we are living in a climate crisis. If serious action is not agreed on and embedded soon, we will reach a tipping point where it will be impossible to reverse global temperature rises. We know that those who will suffer most from a lack of action on the environment will be those who are least well off. Whether they are farmers in low-lying Bangladesh hit by flash floods or children in cities growing up breathing polluted air, the poorest are hit hardest by our lack of action.
I recently met the children at Belmont primary school in Chiswick during their amazing climate awareness week. They are already urging their parents to switch energy providers to renewable sources and to use their cars less, but however much individual households change their habits, change needs to start from the top. To have any hope of achieving net zero by 2050 we need clear Government targets now.
No issue is more totemic than transport. It is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions, yet the sector is the slowest in addressing emissions. Replacing all petrol and diesel vehicles with electric will not scratch the surface of the challenge. Also, how can we make a difference when it is far cheaper to fly 400 km than to travel that distance by train? I am disappointed that the Queen’s Speech mentioned no legislation to cut transport emissions.
If the Government want to take one simple step towards the carbon target for the UK, they can scrap the third runway proposal for Heathrow. That scheme means an additional 6 million tonnes of CO2. Yet Government figures show that the net economic benefit of the scheme is zero. Seventy per cent. of UK flights are made by just 15% of the population. Runway 3 is not even being built to fulfil business needs, as international business travel is flatlining. Almost all the additional passengers at Heathrow after expansion will be UK- based people taking leisure flights abroad—and those are Department for Transport figures. Yesterday, the Government rejected the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change, which had said that they should assess their airport capacity strategy in the context of net zero. The Government’s response stated that the matter should instead be addressed by the UN.
Zero-emission planes will not come on stream until 2050 at the earliest—far too late to address aviation’s disproportionate impact on UK emissions. In other words, in the UK’s response, the Government are not accepting responsibility for getting UK aviation emissions down to net zero. They say they may do so “at a later date”. That is deeply disappointing.
Cycling and walking can also make a significant contribution to cuts in air pollution and carbon emissions. People young and old regularly tell me that they want to cycle more but feel unsafe doing so. That needs ring-fenced capital funding for segregated cycle paths, and safe crossings for those on foot or riding bicycles.
We have had a thoughtful, well-informed debate, with some excellent contributions, but sadly the Government are in denial about the most important issue of our time. Warm words from Ministers do not change the fact that this Queen’s Speech included only six words about climate change, thrown in as an afterthought. Earlier this year Parliament declared a climate emergency, but the Conservative party again went missing, failing to back Labour’s motion committing the Government to act in the face of an impending catastrophe. The policies of this Government to delay action on climate change are condemning our children and grandchildren to a more dangerous and insecure world.
Transport is the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the worst-performing sector when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. What is more, there has been a rising trend in emissions in recent years. A Labour Government will, from day one, align the priorities of the Department for Transport with our commitment to tackle climate change.
Under my leadership, I want the Department for Transport to set a carbon budget that is consistent with the aspirations of the Paris agreement. We will reallocate departmental spending to achieve the changes required. What that means in practice for policy development is a shift away from modes of transport that are dependent on fossil fuels and towards sustainable modes.
The failure to tackle transport emissions is the result of deliberate Conservative Government policy, which encourages traffic growth through an ever-expanding multibillion-pound programme of road building. At the same time, public transport subsidies have been slashed. To reverse that trend, Labour will oversee a radical shift of resources towards public transport, as well as cycling and walking, along with an acceleration of the transition from diesel and petrol to electric vehicles.
Even since Parliament declared a climate emergency, the Government have continued to boast that they are investing more than ever in England’s major road network. That colossal road-building programme is environmentally unsustainable, and will drive traffic growth and create congestion, failing even on its own terms. Worse still, the Government plan to spend all the vehicle excise duty revenue—almost £30 billion—on building new motorways. Labour would instead hypothecate that money into a sustainable transport fund to improve buses, rail, cycling and walking.
More journeys are made on buses than on any other form of public transport, but colossal cuts to bus budgets have caused a 10% decline in patronage in England outside London, leading to over 3,000 routes being cut and withdrawn. That attack on bus services is leaving people and communities isolated and increasing car dependency. So we will also give funds for free travel for under-25s to local authorities that bring local services under public control or ownership—[Interruption.] I am glad you like it. That will also transform services and deliver significant environmental benefits.
Labour’s policy of nationalising the railways is also central to our plans to boost public transport use. Tinkering around the edges of a broken system will not suffice. Public ownership will allow for improvements to increase patronage which are frustrated under privatisation, such as reforming fares and ticketing to create a simple, easy-to-use system that can be integrated with other modes of transport. We would commit ourselves to a long-term vision of upgrades and improvements, including major projects such as a £39 billion Crossrail for the north to connect and transform the economies of the north of England. Labour has said that it would cap fares at inflation, but I believe that we can and should go further.
The role that cycling and walking can play in modal shift is underappreciated. Indeed, under Government plans, spending on cycling in England outside London is set to fall to 37p per person per head in 2020-21. Were the UK to achieve the same cycling culture and levels of infrastructure as the Netherlands, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from car travel by as much as a third. There must be significant investment in cycling infrastructure to develop dense, continuous networks of cycle paths that are physically separated from traffic. That will include building cycling and pedestrian bridges or tunnels, because cycling should be for the many, not just the brave. Cycling and walking ought to be a priority at every level of government, which would mean an end to developments planned around car use to the exclusion of sustainable transport. The Labour party understands the strategic importance of cycling in driving down emissions.
Reducing the number of car journeys by improving public and sustainable transport is the priority, but research shows that that alone is not enough to meet emission targets. No country in the world has a less ambitious date for the phasing out of vehicles with internal combustion engines than the UK; 2040 is too late, so Labour will work towards a 2030 phase-out, and will give industry the investment and support that it needs to make that transition. Those plans and future announcements are central to Labour’s green industrial revolution.
I voted against the expansion of Heathrow because it would ignore the climate crisis. When anti-expansion campaigners challenged the plans in the High Court, they argued that the Government had acted unlawfully by not considering the Paris climate change agreement. However, the court ruled that while the Government had ratified the agreement, it did not form part of UK law. It is a disgrace that the Government signed it while forcing through policies that they knew would cause the UK to miss its targets.
The Government are condemning the country to economic stagnation and a climate crisis. The Labour party has a plan to deliver a green industrial revolution to address the climate crisis and revitalise our economy. By improving public transport, investing in active travel and decarbonising road transport, Labour will create transport networks that are sustainable, encourage economic development and create a more socially just society. I am tremendously proud of the way in which the Labour movement is rising to the challenge of the climate crisis, in contrast to the defeatism of the Conservative party, and I cannot wait to deliver our programme in government.
This has been a very good debate. While it was kicked off by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it has also dealt with many of the transport issues that concern me daily. However, we could have been forgiven for thinking that we were living in a parallel universe, having listened to the concerns expressed by some Members in what I thought should have been a much more consensual debate. After all, the House voted very strongly for net-zero emissions by 2050.
Members suggest that nothing has happened, but this is the only major country—the only major economy—that has legislated for net-zero emissions. Last year, this country generated more than half its electricity from low and zero-carbon means. Since we came to power in 2010, 99% of all the solar power available in this country has been installed. We have already ruled that there will be an end to petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, and I am sure that many Opposition Members are already driving electric vehicles. Some of my hon. Friends have also expressed concern about that date. I am, as an electric car driver, investigating bringing that date forward, but we have to be considerate of the jobs in the supply chain in which there is already investment for the next period of production. As a responsible Government, unlike Members who just want to barrack over the Dispatch Box, we realise we have to balance these things in order to make them happen. I encourage everyone across the House to get an electric car. Range anxiety has now been tackled because there are now more charging locations than petrol stations in this country.
Nitrous oxides have fallen by over a quarter since 2010. We have reduced the use of single-use plastic bags by 90% since we took action on them. This year, for the first time ever in this country, we had over two weeks in which we burnt no coal to generate our energy. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we will be phasing out those coal stations altogether by 2025. We are the country with the most offshore wind farms in the world. Opposition Members repeatedly talked about the Queen’s Speech containing only six words about the environment, but they seem to have forgotten that there is an entire Environment Bill, which will contain thousands of words and be the subject of hours of debate, quite rightly, as it is the first Environment Bill before the House for 30 years.
I want to cover some of the comments raised, many of which were very good. The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) asked about the Office for Environmental Protection. Its role will be to provide scrutiny and advice, and to offer an up-to-date system for complaints. It will be the delivery mechanism for environmental law and will also enforce delivery.
I will not take an intervention as I have only three or four minutes to get through everybody else’s contributions.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) asked what we have done to support renewable energy through incentives. Well, there is the £557 million on contracts for difference, the £900 million of public funds for innovation, the £177 million to reduce the costs of renewables, including innovation and offshore wind, and the £3 billion to support low-carbon innovation in the UK up to 2021. Madam Deputy Speaker, what have the Romans ever done for us?
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) asked about the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations. The next steps of the national infrastructure assessment will be to agree on the Government’s programme.
Members on both sides of the House expressed concern about the speed at which we can move to a decarbonised transport economy. I disagree with the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) that simply decarbonising vehicles would do nothing. That is simply not true; we have already heard that 33% of all our CO2 comes from transport and 90% of that comes from vehicles, so it is clearly the case that decarbonising will make a very big difference, and that is not technology we have to wait for. The phrase she used was “scratch the surface”, which I disagree with; it would do far more than that.
A number of hon. Members talked passionately about the need to decarbonise our housing; as a former Housing Minister, I entirely agree. This Government are taking that very seriously, including through the ending of gas to power our homes, for example. As a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends mentioned, it is now perfectly possible to power a home without the need for any power input other than ground-source heating.
I will not give way. As I said, I only have a minute to deal with many colleagues’ contributions.
I do think that the way forward is to ensure that we build homes to a quality where we do not require external heating other than things such as solar water or ground-source heating.
The overall picture that was painted by some Members, during what I thought was an otherwise excellent debate, tended to go to the negatives. There are a lot of things to do, and this country and this Government have recognised them. Only today, the Prime Minister said that he will chair a Committee to tackle the issues—our first Cabinet Sub-Committee on climate change. Only yesterday, I published a decarbonisation plan for transport. I am not sure how many Opposition Members have read it, but it was difficult to get it published, because somebody was trying to chisel the front window of the Department for Transport.
I think the best contribution was from eight-year-old Poppy, who said that there is no planet B. We absolutely agree.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(James Morris.)
Debate to be resumed on Monday 21 October.