Wednesday 23 June 2021
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Beauty and Wellbeing Sector Workforce
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
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Members attending physically—[Interruption.] Good morning, Mr Shannon. We will allow you the minute’s grace. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall. There are no Members attending and waiting to speak, so the next bit does not really apply. Members who are not on the call list but wish to intervene can do so only from the horseshoe, and those on the call list have priority for spaces on the horseshoe. Members wishing to intervene should not prevent a Member on the call list from speaking.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the beauty and wellbeing sector workforce.
May I say what an honour it is to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Sir Roger? As co-chair, alongside my good and hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), of the all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, I am well aware of the struggles that the people working in the industry have faced during the past 15 months. Uncertainty around closures and the absence of financial support, coupled with lack of respect for the industry and those working in it, have hit the sector hard. We have seen businesses failing and those that have survived facing an uphill struggle as the country slowly begins to open back up.
This industry has always contributed greatly to the UK economy and supported a substantial workforce. A British Beauty Council report, “The Value of Beauty”, published in 2019—before the pandemic—determined that the industry was worth up to £30 billion a year and supported 50,000 businesses. Figures from the UK Government’s “COVID-19 Response”, published in February 2021, show that in 2019 the industry provided more than 560,000 jobs, 85% of which were done by women, many of whom were working flexibly.
The pandemic has decimated this multimillion-pound industry and has had a devastating impact on the workforce and businesses. On average, businesses in the sector were closed for 250 days during lockdown—far longer than in any of the other, often male-dominated sectors, and too long for them to survive with no income and inadequate support. The knock-on effect of the extended closures has been severe. A recent report from the National Hair and Beauty Federation on the fate of the industry estimated that by the end of this year, businesses will on average have lost £40,000 of revenue. That has led to job losses, with employment in the industry down by 21% from pre-pandemic levels. In addition, 62% of businesses say that they have had to cut staff hours, and 14% say that they are being forced to make redundancies.
Even now that businesses are able to reopen, continued restrictions mean that many are still struggling. Large events, weddings and holidays being scaled back or cancelled has caused a huge deficit in demand, and salons are still operating at only 70% capacity to observe social distancing requirements. While demand for hair appointments and beauty treatments has declined, demand for wellbeing services such as massages and holistic therapy has grown significantly, which is hardly surprising given the increased stress levels that we have all experienced over the past year. Figures from wellbeing platform Urban show that demand for services are now 30% higher than pre-covid. Sadly, however, there are not enough therapists to meet the demand. Some 35% of mobile therapists have not returned to work since the first national lockdown lifted—those skilled therapists have taken on work in other industries due to a lack of income during extended closures. So we have a situation where customers are ready and able to book, but no appointments are available because the industry and those who work in it were unable to survive the long closures without financial support.
As someone who has used massage over the years as a therapy to maintain my mental health, I completely understand why people are seeking those services. I find it sad that because of the pandemic and, in all honesty, the failure of the Government to take the industry seriously and support its workforce, the services are just not there. The gap seems set to continue, as the closure of training schools during the pandemic and limited opportunities to gain workforce experience means that the number of newly qualified professionals entering the sector is significantly lower than normal. Recent data from the National Hair and Beauty Federation paints an equally bleak picture going forward, with only 11% of salons planning to recruit new apprentices in the next three to six months. This once thriving industry is suffering and needs support urgently. In a survey undertaken by the National Hair and Beauty Federation on the state of the industry, half of businesses say that they cannot rule out redundancy when furlough comes to an end, and more than a third are unsure whether they will survive the next few months while social distancing remains in place.
The all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing has already launched an inquiry into post-covid recovery for the sector, looking at how businesses recoup can their losses and how the highly skilled workforce can be retained. There are so many risk factors for the industry that Government support is key to combating them. Financial support for the sector during the pandemic was woefully lacking compared with that given to other customer-facing industries. The Government must now ensure that support is available to businesses for as long as social distancing measures are in place, given their effect on how many staff and customers can be in salons, and therefore on profits.
Promotion of the industry is also needed to encourage young people to follow this career path so that there is a full and flourishing skill base. Beauty and wellbeing practitioners play a vital role in supporting our physical and mental health, and many people use the treatments instead of visiting a doctor or to complement their medication. Figures from the Federation of Holistic Therapists 2021 members survey show that 75% of practitioners have clients who are using their treatments to support long-term health conditions, and 63% of clients use them to prevent poor health. I will give a plug here to the menopause and say that that is a condition where holistic therapy is invaluable.
If the industry is given the support that it so deserves, businesses will begin to thrive again and we will have a growing workforce who will be able to offer treatments to ease the burden on our already overwhelmed NHS. We entered the pandemic last year with a beauty and wellbeing industry that was thriving, that boosted the UK economy and that supported families up and down the country by enabling the huge, mostly female, workforce to work flexibly, yet throughout the pandemic, that loyal workforce has been undervalued and under- appreciated, overlooked for financial support and even ridiculed in the House of Commons Chamber. As we begin to emerge from restrictions, the future of the industry hangs in the balance, and key to its survival is the workforce. The industry needs help now more than ever to ensure that it can support jobs, provide a much-needed wellbeing boost to its customers and once again be a key contributor to the UK economy.
May I say what a pleasure it is to see you back in the Chair, Sir Roger? You have been much missed.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her phenomenal work, both as chair of the APPG and in repeatedly highlighting the hair and beauty sector in the main Chamber, emphasising, as she has done again this morning, the particular challenges that it has faced during the pandemic. She has also given us a really healthy reminder of what a strong sector it has been, which is important to reflect on.
We went into the pandemic with somewhere in the region of 300,000 employees in the sector, the vast majority of whom were women. Hon. Members would expect me, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, to emphasise that we are talking about a sector that employs women, but it does not simply employ them; it trains them and gives them opportunity. Many of them will do years of training in college or an apprenticeship, then move into working in a salon or studio. They might then consider taking the plunge and going self-employed; that is always a risk, but many of those brilliant and brave women do exactly that. After a few years of being self-employed, perhaps on a mobile basis, they rent their own salon—an enormous financial commitment, involving business rates and rent. For all of them, it is about risk and a cost-benefit analysis. They are brave and ballsy—as I have previously said and established, that is not unparliamentary language—women, who go out, take the risk and benefit from it, and in turn they become employers of other women. That is a model that we should absolutely be encouraging, celebrating and promoting.
I will tell a little anecdotal story. As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I get all sorts of interesting panels with fascinating people, including one gentleman who is one of the leading educationalists to whom the Government turn when they are looking for advice and interesting reports on everything to do with education. He talked to me about the veterinary profession and said that the veterinary profession was full of clever white girls. Then, he said, “But when educationalists find not-so-clever bright girls, they shove them off just into the beauty industry,” at which moment I had one of my moments of rage. Through the medium of Zoom, he undoubtedly got the famous death stare, because the reality is that the beauty and wellbeing industry is not “just” anything. It is a fantastic, thriving industry that provides training, employment and the opportunity to go off and become an entrepreneur.
Over the course of the last 12 months, I have been blown away by the stories I have heard from young and not-so-young women who have told me how their boyfriends, fathers or brothers have regarded them as “just” beauty therapists. I have always gone back to them and said, “You are not ‘just’ anything. You are an entrepreneur, and you know what? This country thrives on the entrepreneurial spirit of people like you, who have the guts to go off and become self-employed, to set up your own business, to rent your own studio, and to contribute to the economy in myriad ways.” I have got that off my chest, and I feel lot better about it.
The hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned that the industry sometimes gets ridiculed and people laugh at it, which makes me really angry, because they are laughing at the hard work of women who have skill, ability and the determination to give back to others the confidence that some of them may have lost. I know there is nothing more boring than somebody who stands up in this place and says, “When I was a Minister,” but I am will say it. When I was a Minister, I spent a very happy year at the Department for Work and Pensions. We talked about the challenges of getting women back into employment, perhaps after a long career break, and the thing that was missing from so many women was confidence. I would speak to women in jobcentres up and down the country, and I learned that they did not have the confidence to go back into the workplace; they felt their skills were lacking and they were old and past their sell-by date. These were women of 40. For the record, let me say that no woman in her 40s— I declare an interest—is past her sell-by date. It is crucial that we look at this sector, which can give the female workforce confidence.
The hon. Lady mentioned some of the services that can be provided, but I always highlight services such as ayurvedic facials that help with migraines, or the ability of specialist—indeed, brilliant—cosmetic tattooists, who put eyebrows back on people with alopecia or tattoo nipples back on women who have had breast reconstruction surgery. All these things give people the confidence to go back into the workplace, go back to work and take up a productive and useful role in society, in the community, and of course—I would say this to a Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—in the economy. That is crucial, because ultimately these are people who will pay tax and help the rest of us to recover from the hideous fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic. I recognise and want to reinforce the comments made by the hon. Lady about the promotion of the sector. This is not just “hair and beauty”; it is a really important sector, worth £28 billion, which can give women back their confidence.
I have a specific plea, which I hope the Minister will listen to and act on. The thing that struck me after talking to the National Hair and Beauty Federation and the British Beauty Council, among other organisations, and perhaps specifically after talking to individual providers of beauty services both large and indeed very small, including one-woman-band enterprises, is that they talk about the VAT break that was given to hospitality. Treasury Ministers always say that it was very easy and straightforward to do that because hospitality was on a separate VAT code and could be easily and distinctly hived off from other sectors, but the same does not apply to the beauty sector. Well, it should, and it would not be difficult to give it a separate VAT code. Will my hon. Friend the Minister undertake to have a conversation about that with the Treasury? We do not know whether covid will be back, or what the next pandemic is coming over the hill will be, or indeed what future financial challenges will arise. I think that it would be of benefit to the sector to have a separate VAT code, so that we will not be in the same situation in the future.
This is a very competitive, enterprising and determined sector, and one that is phenomenally good at self-promotion. What is lacking is regulation. We need a way of making sure that people are accredited, that training is understood and recognised, and that we can understand who is providing what to whom. I remember having a fantastic conversation with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on this subject. He rang me on a Sunday to talk about it and I explained to him there and then that he and I could set ourselves up as a pair of beauticians with absolutely no training, no accreditation and no regulation—although we would not survive in business very long, because we would be very bad at it. The reality is that there is not the sort of oversight that one might expect for an industry that uses, in some instances, interesting and even challenging chemicals and machinery, and all sorts of products that need to be used by expert hands, particularly in services such as cosmetic tattooing. I say that because we can all open the Daily Mail’s Sidebar of Shame and see some of the horrors that have been carried out on people’s faces.
Fundamentally, it is vital that the Government recognise that, as we come out of the pandemic, there is a challenge in female employment. My Select Committee, the TUC and the Women’s Budget Group—a range of experts, up and down the country—have reflected upon the fact it is predominantly women who have been employed in the sectors that have been locked down longest and hardest. The hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned the fact that the beauty and wellbeing sector has rightly had to put in all sorts of provisions to prevent covid spread, but increased gaps between chairs reduce capacity, and businesses must have 15-minute breaks between customers so that facilities can be wiped down and disinfected, taking hours out of a day that could instead have been productive, income-generating hours.
We have seen the same in retail. We know that 58% of non-essential retail workers are women, and my horrific prediction is that when furlough comes to an end, we may well see a massive increase in the number of women being made redundant. That will have a consequential impact on the work of the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that interesting, challenging and sustainable opportunities are found for those women in the future. It is crucial that we look at our recovery and how we build back better in a feminine way.
I will leave the Minister with that thought. When we look at how we build back, we have to make sure that we do not forget the female workforce, who are so vital in the hair and beauty sector, and indeed in other sectors.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing the debate.
In many places, including my constituency, beauty and wellbeing businesses are the lifeblood of the high street. Of course, it is an industry predominantly run by women, for women and employing women, and prior to the pandemic it contributed up to £30 billion to our economy. However, it was harder hit than most sectors by coronavirus restrictions, and it was hit particularly hard in places such as Bradford South, which faced even tougher measures for much longer than anywhere else. Business owners and the workforce can be said to have been well and truly rocked in the past 15 months. Businesses have closed, skilled therapists have been forced to find work elsewhere, and fewer newly qualified professionals are joining the industry.
Despite those challenges, there can be a bright future for the sector, as the services that it delivers are increasingly valued by people after they have got through such a tough time. I thank all the practitioners up and down the country for their work, because much of the industry delivers excellent services in a safe and highly professional way. One business owner in my constituency told me how she donated her stocks of personal protective equipment to frontline workers when her business was forced to close in lockdown. That is typical of an industry that contributes so much. Then there is the work of Beauty Banks, a charity that supports those living in poverty by providing essential hygiene products.
However, the lack of regulation around the ever-growing list of treatments available means that consumers cannot have confidence that their treatment has been administered by someone who is appropriately trained. A certificate hanging on the wall is just not good enough. Getting standards across the board to match best practice requires regulation that ensures that a consistent level of training is delivered to medical and non-medical practitioners.
The APPG on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, which I co-chair with my good and hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, held an inquiry into non-surgical cosmetic procedures, which found a growing prevalence of short qualifications—often as short as a day—for non-surgical procedures such as injectables. That is alarming for consumers, as that type of advanced aesthetic procedure cannot be taught well in a single day. To ensure that standards are lifted for the entire industry, the Government need to strengthen regulation and training for non-surgical cosmetic treatments for medics and non-medics alike. It is what the public expect, and it is what the Government need to deliver.
Well done to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this important debate, and for all her dogged campaigning with my equally hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on behalf of the beauty sector over a year of enormous challenges.
I put on record my support and admiration for all the hair, beauty and therapeutic businesses in Newport East, which, like many businesses out there, have been hard hit at this extraordinary time and have had to adapt and innovate very creatively in lots of instances in the pandemic. I pay tribute to business owners such as Lynne Palmer of Friends salon in Maindee. She has run her business for decades in the heart of the community—I will come back to that point—and has helped me to understand just how challenging it has been to adapt. She has marvellously adapted to adhere to the rules and to keep giving her customers the wonderful service she provides, but she has also helped me to understand how challenging that has been. I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East about entrepreneurial women in small businesses and about the guts it takes to set up and run a business and employ others.
As has been said, the hair, beauty and products industry is a serious economic powerhouse, contributing more than £30 billion to the economy and employing more than 500,000 people in thousands of salons, nail bars and beauty salons up and down our high streets, forming a real linchpin in local economies. In 2018, the industry generated £7 billion in taxes, and accounted for around 1.3% of GDP. As has been said, the National Hair and Beauty Federation report released last month makes for stark reading on how the industry has suffered through the pandemic. In 2020, salons were shut for 140 days. Turnover fell by 45% compared with 2019, and the average cash loss to a business was £17,000, with those over the VAT threshold taking a bigger hit.
In Wales, there has been welcome help from the Welsh Government, including the freezing of business rates, the small business rate relief package and the £650 million the Welsh Government offered to help businesses with operation costs up to the end of March. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) highlighted at Prime Minister’s questions last week, unlike in England, where business rate relief is being withdrawn at the end of the month, the Welsh Labour Government are extending that rate relief for a year and providing new support for those affected.
Furlough has been welcome, but salons in my constituency and across the UK have called on the Chancellor to take action on the reduced 5% VAT rate to put businesses in the beauty sector on a level playing field with other sectors, such as hospitality. Many businesses in my constituency have signed that petition, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response. Without comprehensive support, many businesses may close.
National Hair and Beauty Federation research shows that there are more hair and beauty businesses in the less advantaged parts of the UK. Throughout the pandemic, communities in less well-off areas, as well as women and young people, have been disproportionately impacted. That is highlighted in Wales by Chwarae Teg in its report “Covid-19: Women, Work and Wales”, which was published last October. The effect of the sector’s shutdowns, business closures and unemployment is falling disproportionately on women, who are more likely than men to have lost their jobs due to covid-19. There are clearly challenges around female employment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East said, a recent survey of 5,000 salons found that 62% were not sure if their business would survive beyond the end of the financial year, with 18% sure they would close. Six out of 10 salons started the year with no cash reserves, and many businesses are now described as acutely vulnerable to failure. Those are businesses that generate much for the Treasury. They pay tax and they are vital employers in our community. As my hon. Friend said, it is also important to remember the impact of the cancellation of events, weddings in particular, on the hair and beauty industry.
Finally, the value of the beauty sector cannot be measured in economic terms alone. I hope parliamentary legal counsel, Daniel Greenberg, who is a regular contributor to “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4, will forgive me, but I would like to quote from one of his thoughts last year. He talked about how the restrictions imposed during national lockdowns taught us to distinguish between two types of essential:
“There are things that I need to remain physically healthy: food, medicines and healthcare services. But there are also things that I need to remain mentally healthy, and those go far beyond what might be regarded as the formal mental healthcare sector…Lockdown may have taught us to reclassify as luxuries some things we thought of as essential, but perhaps it has also shown that some things that are luxuries in one sense may be essential to people’s wellbeing…Nail salons and other beauty sector services aim to help people to feel better about themselves, and to make customers generally more cheerful and well-disposed…Perhaps we can see more clearly post-lockdown that these services are in what might be called the frontline of the well-being sector, and that they deserve society’s recognition, gratitude and appreciation.”
I and a great number of my constituents would totally endorse that sentiment. Thanks again to all those beauty and hair businesses in Newport East. On a few occasions over the past year, flippant comments from those on the Government Benches have been unfortunate. The beauty sector needs to be put on a level playing field and supported as a key player in the UK Government’s economic and health-centred recovery from the pandemic. Hon. Friends are here to speak up for the industry, and I hope the debate has underlined the importance of doing so.
Sir Roger, I am pleased to see you back in person in Westminster Hall and the House. It is good to have personal contact with you again face to face. I wish you well. It is also nice to be here to support the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and her contribution.
In my contribution, I will support her and all the other speakers, but it is fairly obvious from the top of my head that I very rarely have to visit the barber or indeed anywhere else. In the morning, I do not need a comb; I just need a shammy. That takes care of my hair texture and so on. I am here because I want to speak up on behalf of my sector back home, and I want to give some examples. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) gave some examples of businesses in her constituency and how covid has affected them, and I want to do the same.
I am delighted to serve in the most beautiful constituency in the Province—I say that unapologetically, although others may disagree. It is made up of large urban towns and small villages. Something that every village across my constituency has in common is its own beauty salon. We have quite a few spas as well, so a lot of time is spent in those places. Those who start the businesses have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, and there is certainly demand and need for them. In this busy world, people need an hour to themselves—an hour to not think of anything else, other than to completely relax, have some space and time to themselves and soak their weary muscles. It is something to cheer and rejuvenate them.
I can only really speak for my wife and the girls who work in my office, but whenever they go to the hairdresser or the beauty salon, it lifts their spirits and wellbeing. That is why the title of this debate refers to the beauty and wellbeing sector. I cannot encapsulate the wellbeing that people get from going to the hairdresser, but I can say that for my wife, and indeed for the ladies in my office, the appointment with the hairdresser or at the beauty salon lifts their whole day. Many get wee treats at a place just across the road from us in Newtownards. They can have all the treatment they need from head to toe. I know how much my staff and other friends look forward to that.
However, this industry has been hit hard by the restrictions. It has been unable to work, and even with the doors open it has had fewer clients in due to the restrictions. It is one of the industries that needs continued support, and I echo the calls of the hon. Member for Swansea East and others who said that. We are very fortunate to have a Minister who believes that to be the case, understands the arguments and points of view that we are putting forward, and is keen to help and assist in response.
I had a young girl in my office who had just started her own business. I echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North: the people who start these businesses are highly intelligent, and they have massive skills and the brains and economic and business acumen to take their businesses forward. This was that young lady’s first business. She needed a wee bit of extra cash to get it going, so the bank of mum and dad probably helped out. That is where she was.
I had come in at a time when covid was just starting to take grip—about March, April and May last year. She was in tears in the office. I remember this very well. She said, “You know, Jim, I can really make this work. I just need this chance. I need this opportunity to get it over the line and continue it for the months ahead.” She definitely had the ability and the talent, and we were very keen to help her. She had not been open long, which of course meant that, when it came to the grant process, furlough and everything else that was necessary, she was under some pressure. She had contracts signed with the rental agencies and the suppliers, and she had many other overheads. We were fortunate in the scheme that the Government were able to offer, not just here in the UK mainland but replicated in the regions, and I thank the Ministers for all their help for those businesses. I have absolutely no doubt that this Government’s support enabled those businesses to survive.
We were able to source funding to see my constituent through, but only after a prolonged look at the criteria and how they could apply. I thought of so many other businesses that have not felt comfortable, or even considered, going to their elected representatives, and whether those businesses have survived. I hope and pray that whenever we come to the end of furlough, those businesses will be in a position to continue. Covid-19 restrictions have reduced customers, with new regulations requiring 15-minute intervals, but these businesses can work. I have seen them working in my constituency, with the beauty salons just in the street close to my office, never mind across the whole of the constituency.
The hair and beauty sector contributes £9.2 billion annually to Britain’s economy. Some 288,160 people work as hair and beauty practitioners in salons or in a self-employed capacity in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There are some 44,800 salons in the UK registered for VAT and pay-as-you-earn, generating £5.4 billion annually and employing some 190,000 staff. Of this, £3.35 billion in turnover is generated by 12,300 VAT-registered salons, which in turn employ some 95,000 staff. The reason I give stats is that they remind us all of the importance of this sector: the jobs it creates, the money it generates, and the way it benefits the economy, as well as the tax system and the PAYE system. It generates approximately one third of the tax take for HMRC as a proportion of sales.
These valued practitioners and business owners have none the less received very little, or no, specific financial support from the UK Government, despite being closed for longer periods and having to make more significant adjustments to service delivery than many other retailers, small businesses and the hospitality sector. The costs of additional safety, hygiene and PPE products have been piling up, on top of all the other overheads that these businesses have. I recently read that, in a survey of salon owners, up to 56% were considering closing. That comes back to what others have said about the future, when furlough ends. In summing up, maybe the Minister can give some indication of what would be available whenever furlough comes to an end. It is really important that, when it does, the Government are on stand-by to ensure that we do not lose a lot of businesses, whether in the beauty sector or in other sectors.
The Save Our Salons campaign group found that nearly four out of five salons will recruit no apprentices this year. It has been highlighted that any closures would harm the finances of women the most, as this profession enables flexible working patterns that support family life. This flexible working is very important, as is increasing economic opportunities and entrepreneurship for women: 88.6% of the sector’s workforce are female. A while ago, the Government had a project through which businesses that took on apprentices received financial assistance, so could the Minister tell us what we can do for the salon and beauty sector? If we can keep apprenticeships going, we will prepare for the next generation. Our duty today is to make sure these businesses are retained, but we also have a duty for tomorrow—to ensure that there is a flow of new recruits to that sector to take us forward.
For those reasons, I support the call of many in the hair and beauty industries for a VAT reduction, because of the hard times they are having. These services do not have huge profit margins, and a VAT reduction could encourage those considering throwing in the towel to instead pick it up and continue their jobs, playing a part in the lives of other people and helping them to feel more confident. How important it is to feel confident—to feel strong in the morning and strong for the rest of the day! That can only be a good thing, so I very much look forward to the Minister’s response—as I often do—and I am sure that he will be able to answer some of the questions I have asked, and give that sector the security it needs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for having secured today’s debate, and for the work that she and the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) have done and are doing in the beauty and wellbeing sector. I declare a 50-year interest in that sector.
During the pandemic, all of us MPs recognised the hardship that the beauty sector and wellbeing industry workforce have had to deal with. In particular, the timings of financial support information from the UK Government in initial covid-19 lockdowns, the details of furlough, and the support to business owners—including on how to support their staff mentally—were woefully inadequate. I have to say that financial stress owing to the delayed announcements about self-employment grants in many cases caused salons to close or cease trading—basically, to shut up shop.
Employers felt pressured to immediately try to foster a pastoral care role for their staff outside the salon, and to many employees, that contact with their employer was of paramount importance for their wellbeing. The support required for that role well exceeded normal employer duties and experiences. For example, in normal times, there might be one employee at a time with an issue to deal with, but this was absolutely different—it was all the staff at one time. Thankfully, for many, support was found on Facebook, social media forums and industry-led webinars where thousands of beauty salon owners sought information and one-to-one support. I attended many, hearing at first hand the stress, confusion and anxiety that all parts of the sector were going through.
Along with other MPs we have heard from, I supported calls for a temporary VAT cut for personal care businesses, in recognition of the unique challenges that these salons faced with covid. Although not all salons are VAT-registered, this temporary cut would have made a huge difference to all those salons that are, and would have been a crutch for a recovery period after opening. It is simply easier to keep people in employment and to support the businesses that already employ, thereby ensuring continuity, rather than starting new pilots, projects and incentives for already damaged, struggling businesses that probably cannot afford to take on any incentive schemes.
For certain, controlling the virus is key to keeping the economy open, and proper advice is needed for all workforces when moving forward into the recovery from the impact of the virus. The UK Government’s last-minute turnarounds on furlough did not and do not help; certainty was and is required wherever possible. Imagine the stress levels for employers and employees as deadlines approached for furlough payments to stop—they went through the roof. Yet again, there was little reassurance and no information on what would happen next. The constantly changing furlough regulations were difficult enough for accountants doing payroll to deal with, never mind for salon owners completing their own applications. This was yet another cost and burden for salons to bear in ensuring that furlough was completed correctly.
Close-contact businesses such as those in the beauty and wellbeing industry are known to carry increased risk of transmission due to proximity to the client, particularly to their face. As the Minister will know, the talent pool for massage therapists has been absolutely decimated, meaning fewer qualified professionals will enter the profession at a time when demand will surely exceed supply. The beauty industry has now returned in Scotland, but new, more transmissible variants mean continued adherence to effective mitigations remains highly important to protect clients and the practitioners themselves. It is pleasing to note that the vast majority in this sector know and take seriously and professionally their responsibilities.
We recognise just how difficult the restrictions have been for the beauty and wellbeing workforce; the Scottish Government have worked to provide all the support they can, but in recognition of the greater risk of exposure to covid, restrictions were necessary to protect clients and the workforce. Research shows that more than 10% of Scottish businesses in the industry had ceased to trade by December last year, and that number has obviously grown. As has been said, in April, across the UK, 46% of respondents to that consultation were unsure whether their business would survive until the end of social distancing. Salons were simply not earning enough to cover outgoings such as rent, stock, overheads and staff costs. The research also found that only 38% were just about breaking even. On the whole, two in five businesses across the entire hair and beauty sector were making any kind of profit. I will read from an email from a salon owner in Falkirk:
“No VAT reduction. Delayed and last-minute changes to financial support. No PPE cost support. No UK Government awareness of the huge impact on business i.e. you losing 200 clients from your business may set you back two years in growth and achievement. To sustain your current business cost, you must find a way to replace these lost clients within six months or you will be running at a loss. I am not sure the support is there for these scenarios and not in six months’ time when businesses will not have the buffer of the re-start grants and potentially most salons will close or staff will be let go. There is an urgency to support the reopening and sustaining of businesses trying to keep going. Appreciation of the business owners’ efforts in these times of extreme business difficulties is absolutely paramount.”
In Scotland, we recognise this serious problem. Therefore, in addition to furlough, retail beauty businesses with premises were supported by the strategic framework fund. The mobile and home-based close contact services fund supported those not eligible for the UK Government’s self-employment income support scheme, and alleviated business rates. Additional restart grants were available for those that got the strategic framework fund. Fellow MPs and I have worked with the Save our Salons campaign, calling for a VAT reduction in the March Budget. As others have said, that the UK Government did not take that easy step or listen to the sector’s suggestions was a body blow to their self-worth and value.
Controlling the virus is key. Scottish Government officials are working with local authorities and other regulators to renew focus on ensuring that workplaces are operating and reopening in a safe and compliant way. We recognise that each workplace is different and individual organisations work with trade unions or workforce representatives to determine how best to apply safe workplace guidance to meet all relevant requirements. Guidance is reviewed on a regular basis with the priority of containing the spread of the virus, saving lives and safeguarding the NHS. This partnership working is key to establishing a shared confidence in the safety of returning to workplaces, protecting public health and supporting Scotland’s recovery.
For all workforces, proper advice is needed. The UK Government’s last-minute turnarounds on furlough have added to the uncertainty. The furlough scheme is due to end on 30 September, but from 1 July the Government are due to pay 70% of the wages, with employers obliged to make up the remaining 10%. From August, the Government are due to pay 60%. Around 3.4 million people are still on furlough—a tenth of the workforce—and 553,000 fewer people are in payrolled employment. Now is not the time for the Conservative Government to withdraw support. Business trade federations and trade unions alike have urged the Chancellor to extend furlough. All last summer we urged the Chancellor to extend furlough and give firms the chance to plan. Unfortunately, the UK Government did not heed us, which led to another last-minute reversal. There is no reason to suggest that they will act faster this time.
The Chancellor should now invest in recovery and employment by providing the £350 billion to firms, and allow those who have already borrowed to convert the debt into grants or equity to avoid the debt time bomb and investment recession. The self-employment income support scheme still excludes 3 million people from any support at all.
This industry is undervalued, under-consulted and often overlooked by the UK Government. Financial uncertainty for this unique sector’s future cannot continue. The UK Government should value the sector, as Scotland does, and bring some peace of mind to all parts of the beauty and wellbeing workforce.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetic and wellbeing, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins). I congratulate her on securing this debate and on her excellent opening speech on the lack of sufficient support for the beauty and wellbeing industry through the pandemic. She talked of the challenges it faced, many of which were echoed by other hon. Members who have spoken. I thank those who have made contributions, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and others who contributed in discussions with us who were unable to speak today.
Many important points have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East spoke about the support provided by the Welsh Labour Government. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North highlighted that this is a women-led sector—as well as, in many ways, a BAME-led sector—that employs women and serves men and women, young and old, across the country. It is one industry that serves almost everybody in the country at some point. She outlined the arguments, as others have done, for a reduction in VAT. That point was also made by former hairdresser Maria Evangelou in an article on PoliticsHome before the Budget this year.
The hon. Member for Strangford made a powerful point about the sector being highly skilled, but it is often not seen as such. That is the same stereotype we seem to apply in our minds to women-led sectors—to see them as low skilled—which is often connected to them being low paid. We have to check and challenge ourselves.
There is nothing greater than the contribution of lockdown to understanding that point. We saw the rise of lockdown haircuts—I, too, had to learn how to use a barber set—and we really appreciated how much skill goes into making us all look and feel as good as we can and should. The point was made that it is very important to appreciate the industry for its wider contribution to health and wellbeing. I hope that the House will take that on board and we will see that in future debates.
The contribution of the beauty and wellbeing sector must not be overlooked, as I think we have all come to feel that it has been during the last year by the Government. The sector contributes so much to our wellbeing, but it also contributes economically to our high streets, to our communities and to our economy. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South used the phrase the lifeblood of the high street, which is powerful and no understatement.
A report by Oxford Economics found that the beauty industry, which employs around 600,000 and has done so for some time, contributes about £28 billion to UK GDP annually and supports £7 billion in UK tax revenues. That is equivalent to the combined salaries of 250,000 nurses and midwives. The numbers speak for themselves. This is a vital industry for our country,
As we have heard, the sector—hairdressers, salons, barbers—makes a huge contribution to our personal wellbeing and mental health, as well as to our community spirit. If someone wants to know what is going on, or wants to share their stories, we should look at how much people do that at the hairdresser. We all have that experience of a moment away from frenetic, everyday life and I think we underestimate that social contribution.
During the pandemic, the industry has certainly been one of the most acutely hit by the restrictions, because it is a close-contact industry. The product is often a one-to-one service. One stylist does not serve 10 clients an hour, which might happen in a restaurant. That has been very much affected by social distancing. There are also the extra costs involved in maintaining safety for staff and customers.
There has been a sharp increase in permanent closures of hair and beauty businesses—around 20% have had to shut their doors so far. The numbers employed as hairdressers or in related services have also fallen by 20%. Of those, more than 60% were self-employed. We have heard in the debate about how people who are employed go on to be self-employed and then become owners of businesses and employers of others. They take the risks themselves, every step of the way. Many have experienced issues accessing the self-employment income support scheme. Being self-employed is often a journey to becoming an employer. We need to understand the issues that are faced in that context, too.
Looking ahead, the future remains far from certain for the industry, which is one reason why it is an important time to have this debate. I believe it was my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East who said that six out of 10 salons started this year with no cash reserves, and many businesses are now described as acutely vulnerable to failure. Sixty-two per cent. of salon owners surveyed by the National Hair & Beauty Federation were not confident that they will remain solvent by the end of this year. There are also projections of further redundancies of over 15%.
Luke Hersheson, a globally renowned hairstylist backing the Save Our Salons campaign, said earlier this year:
“In March this year my salons will have been closed for 260 days out of 365… running a business for more than two thirds of a year with no income at all is incredibly challenging. When the tap is turned off salon businesses are still paying landlords, they’re still paying utility bills, insurance costs and subsidising furlough pay. It’s a huge strain on the entire industry.”
Although barbers, hairdressers and beauty salons have been allowed to open since 12 April, huge concerns remain about the gap between the revenues they can generate and their overheads. Our principle since the start of the pandemic has been that public health measures must be matched by fair economic measures. The Chancellor of the Exchequer once promised that he would do “whatever it takes”, and Labour’s position continues to be that these businesses must be supported so that they can recover and thrive after the pandemic.
The furlough scheme has helped so many, but we know that employers still have to pay national insurance contributions, and beauty companies have been paying full rent during lockdown, despite making little or no income. They still have fixed insurance costs and utility bills to pay while revenues are depressed.
I therefore ask the Minister why the Government will not delay the increased employer contribution to furlough, given that most of the 1.8 million people remaining on furlough are employed in sectors affected by the ongoing restrictions. On business rates relief, why will the Government not learn lessons from the Labour-led Welsh Government, who have given the vast majority of businesses 100% business rates relief for this financial year? Can the Minister tell us what assessment has been made of business rates costs for those in the hair and beauty industry? Finally, on debt repayment, where is the Government’s flexible plan to help businesses pay back their loans in a sensible way when they are generating profit and back on their feet?
There currently appears to be no credible strategy to ease the burden of debt that affects many businesses across the country, including in the beauty and wellbeing sector, which have racked up debts due to the long periods of closure. Forcing businesses to start making debt repayments—whether they are profitable or not—will squeeze the amount that they have to invest, to grow, or to take on new staff. For some, it could mean complete closure.
Campaigners say that their salons typically operate on a wafer-thin 2% to 5% profit margin in normal trading conditions. With social distancing requirements still in place, the average salon can often operate at only around 50% of their previous capacity. That is why Labour would give businesses flexibility to repay debt they have taken on during the crisis and link it to what they are making. Such measures would be invaluable to helping beauty businesses to survive.
There have been clear warning signs that the sector is in difficulties. Further closures would have a far greater impact on women’s income, as almost 90% of those employed in the industry are female. We also know that women have experienced a worse economic hit throughout the last year across all sectors. It is important to know from the Minister what further steps are being taken to ensure that those in the beauty sector do not continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic impact of this pandemic.
I pay tribute to the hair and beauty salons across our country. They play an enormous role, as has been mentioned, at the heart of our communities; I have seen this in my constituency of Feltham and Heston. I have also seen a large proportion of black and ethnic minority communities in my constituency affected—for example, BAME-led hairdressers such as His & Hers Beauty Salon run by Israr Rao and family that is at the heart of Hounslow West. When we go along the parade and talk to the shop owners, they come out and say how much they are still struggling. As we think about the economic recovery we face, that voice is still not heard sufficiently. I thank them for what they continue to do and for continuing to share their stories with us all.
It is right that there are new grants available as part of the restart grant scheme, but we have no idea how well these are supporting the beauty sector. In answer to a parliamentary question, the Department released a breakdown of the restart grant funding allocations and payments, but it does not hold sector-level data. As the Government point to the restart grants as a key support measure for the beauty industry, will the Minister now publish how much of the spending is reaching beauty and wellbeing businesses?
On skills, we know that there have been almost 30% fewer apprenticeship starts in hair and beauty in the first six months of this academic year, compared with the last. The Save Our Salons campaign group estimates that nearly four in five salons will not recruit any apprentices this year. If the salons struggle to take on new trainees and to hold on to staff who are leaving for other sectors, how will the Government ensure that they retain the skill sets needed to thrive in the future?
These businesses make a vital contribution to our economy. We know the Government’s approach to the crisis has failed to appreciate the importance of the sector and provide support to the extent needed. Businesses have done right by our country during the crisis and the Government must now do right by them. The health, wellbeing and beauty sector is a skilled and creative sector at the heart of our communities that absolutely deserves our support.
It is a pleasure to see you back in the chair, Sir Roger, and to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing today’s important debate, and I congratulate her and others, including the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and other members of the APPG, on the work that they are doing in support of this important sector.
Today’s debate is important because the beauty and wellbeing sector is so important. It is important because of its contribution to the economy, its pivotal role in high streets and communities in every corner of the UK, its showcasing of female entrepreneurship, as we have heard, and its role in improving our health and wellbeing. We have heard a little about high streets. We have to remember that high streets are an ecosystem. It is not just about retail, hospitality or the beauty and wellbeing sector; they all work together to make our high streets vibrant. It is important that we protect all of that as we reimagine the future of the high street.
I was keen, as we looked to the end of this lockdown and at the Prime Minister’s road map, that we should secure the reopening of the beauty and wellbeing sector at an earlier stage than last time. The sector was last to open after previous lockdowns, but among the first to open this time. That is testament to the appreciation that we were able to get across to the Government and the understanding that people’s wellbeing is so important, as well as the economic situation and the recovery. Today’s debate has highlighted the key role that the sector plays in our economic society and I hope it will go some way to strengthen the perception of the sector as highly skilled, entrepreneurial and accessible.
As we have heard, the personal care sector consists of over 280,000 businesses employing about 561,000 people and adding £21 billion to the economy. Over 95% of the businesses are small or medium sized. As for levelling up, 30% of all hair and beauty enterprises are based in local authorities that fall into the ninth and tenth deciles of multiple deprivation. Although its economic contribution is significant, what is arguably even more valuable is its impact on society and its role in communities. It plays a key role in supporting jobs, as was eloquently shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), especially jobs for women and young people. Some 82% of hair and beauty businesses are female owned, 60% of workers are self-employed and around 20% of hair and beauty workers are under the age of 25.
The pandemic has had a major impact on our mental health and we need to recognise how the sector can help the nation’s recovery by improving people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Whether it is feeling fresh after a new haircut, catching up with the local beauty therapist or getting a massage to relax, as the hon. Member for Swansea East said, the beauty and wellbeing sector provides the services needed to make people feel better.
The sector tells us that 68% of British adults who get their hair done professionally agree that having their hair done supports their mental health and wellbeing, and it is interesting to hear the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) tell us about how she had to bring out her hairdressing skills. There was no way that I was going to try that. I know that some people thought that I was taking my loyalty to our Prime Minister to the nth degree with the hair that I sometimes brandished in the Chamber, and I am glad that I have been able to get it cut since.
As we have heard, the sector also plays a key role for some people with serious medical needs, such as those with cancer. We therefore allowed treatments to continue during lockdown for those with health issues when they could not be deferred—for example, some people undergoing cancer treatment were able to visit spas and salons to receive specific treatment tailored to their comfort. Throughout the pandemic, I have worked really closely with the sector to understand the issues, so that I can best represent its interests within Government. Although it has always been represented in Government, we had a dedicated personal care sector support team back in January, and we look forward to working with organisations within the sector, the APPG and other interested parties in the coming months and years.
However, this has been a really tough year for personal care businesses, which have been closed at various points of the year and faced restrictions for the remainder. That is why, in recognition of the impact that the pandemic and the restrictions have had on the sector, we put in place an unprecedented package of support worth £382 million. That is the largest peacetime support package in history, and it included the job retention measures that we have talked about, support for the self-employed, access to the highest grants, the restart grants of up to £18,000 and loans. Indeed, the restart grants are a testament to the sector. Although it was able to restart at an early stage of this part of the road map, the restart grants are a testament to the extra costs that the sector had to bear by getting the PPE and other mitigation measures in place. As we have heard, we have also provided business rates relief and a moratorium on commercial rent evictions.
The business support programmes have helped many businesses and protected many jobs, but they cannot substitute for operating in an open market. The road map that I have talked about has always been cautious and gradual, but it has to be irreversible. To help the sector reopen, we developed guidance that could get it to reopen safely. Through compliance with that, it has been able to operate since 12 April. The road map laid out the timing for easing restrictions, and it is an approach that is being led by data, not dates. We have obviously had the announcement by the Prime Minister that we are taking a four-week pause at step 3, meaning that restrictions, including social distancing measures, are still in place. That will still have an impact on the beauty and wellbeing industry, because operating at reduced capacity is extremely challenging—not only for revenue, as we have heard, but by making certain roles in the workforce redundant—but by pausing step 3, we will further improve protection in the population and reduce the need for stringent restrictions to control the virus.
The Minister has just mentioned the extension of the restrictions in line with the required public health measures, based on the data. Can he explain—the Government have not explained this—why furlough support has not been extended in line with public health measures? There seems to be a mismatch, and there is no explanation that does not leave the most vulnerable businesses continuing to pay and having a greater gap between their revenues and costs.
I will cover support in a bit more detail in a few minutes. In his Budget, the Chancellor essentially went long by extending furlough to September, which allowed a cushion within the road map. It was about data, not dates, so it was never on the June date specifically—it was not before the June date. That is the essential thing, but I will cover support in a second, including the VAT request that has been made by number of hon. Members.
Over the next few weeks, we obviously want to ensure that the pause allows us to get more people vaccinated, but I hope that our unprecedented package of financial support will continue to go some way towards reducing the impact of the pause. As I say, we erred on the side of generosity, as well as going long, in the Budget in March, specifically to accommodate short delays to the road map. Most of the schemes do not end until September or after in order to provide continuity and certainty to businesses. It is fantastic that the sector is looking at ways to boost consumer confidence to maintain the high demand—for example, the Oh Hello Beauty campaign, which I have supported.
Until then, it is critical that we all continue to follow advice on safe behaviours, including social distancing, wearing a face covering when required, washing hands, and letting fresh air into indoor spaces. It is so important that hands, face, space and fresh air are really there, because we will not get to that July date to find that suddenly the baddie has been killed and it is the end of the film—roll credits. We will still be living with covid for some time, but we want to ensure that the social distancing measures can melt away, in order to allow capacity to increase in the personal care sector and others.
May I probe the Minister a bit further? He will know that quarterly rents, for example, are due today and that other support measures, such as furlough, are being reduced from next week. From 1 July the level of grant will be reduced and businesses will have to pay a contribution to those wages. Those decisions were made assuming that lockdown measures would be lifted on 21 June. That has not happened, yet there has not been a corresponding change to the economic measures. Nothing that he has said so far has answered that question, which is a matter of real concern to employers across my constituency. I am sure that employers across the country have raised the same concern with their MP.
I talked about the fact that the Chancellor went long and was overly generous—well, not overly generous. He erred on the side of generosity in the Budget to cope with the possibility of an extension. On the grant scheme, I have written, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), to local authorities to ensure that the additional restrictions grant can be widened. We have offered £425 million more to top up the additional restrictions grant, but that will be given to councils only if they have spent their original allocation. There are two ways that they can do that: they can either give businesses to which they are already paying grants more money or widen the number of businesses to include some of those that have fallen between the cracks, of which we know there are many.
Interestingly, different sectors are saying different things about furlough. It is a drag on bringing people back into work for some sectors, such as in some parts of the hospitality sector, but others, such as the personal care sector, are saying that they want to extend it. That is why it is really important that the Chancellor looks at it in a holistic way, right across the economy. Although these debates are so important to highlight the pleas and plight of a particular sector, the Chancellor has to take a macro view, while understanding that there is a human cost within all of this. When I say a macro view, it is not all about spreadsheets; it is about personal loss in terms of people’s jobs and businesses. That is why we have had to wrap our arms around the economy so much.
A number of contributors to the debate talked about VAT. It is interesting to note that the majority of businesses within the personal care sector are not registered for VAT in the first place, so it was considered by the Chancellor as probably not the best way of getting support directly out to a number of the small businesses affected. VAT is one of the larger and more costly measures for the Treasury, so the Chancellor again has to take a holistic view. From memory, the cost of the VAT cut to the hospitality sector was something like £27 billion, contrasted with about £12 billion for the business rates sector. That was a figure from around January, so it may be slightly out of date, but not by much.
Turning to jobs and skills, it is really good that the sector is accessible and flexible, and that it benefits young people and women, including those who have to balance work with looking after their children. In 2018, 65,000 qualifications were achieved in hair and beauty, and the hair profession specifically saw approximately 10,000 new apprenticeships—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised this issue—being taken up in England, but I recognise how the deeply challenging restrictions caused by the pandemic have affected employers’ ability to hire new staff, especially apprentices, due to capacity restrictions and financial hardship.
The hon. Gentleman, as ever, predicts the next few paragraphs of my speech. Yes, we want to encourage and work with the sector, and incentivise it to take on more apprentices. I am aware of how highly skilled and valued practitioners are, but they are tempted to start careers in different industries because they have lost confidence in the sector’s future viability. That is why it is important that we talk about it, support the sector and demonstrate how viable and flexible it is, and how it very much has a key role in the high street ecosystem that I talked about earlier.
My hon. Friend was quick to respond that he wishes to support apprenticeships and demonstrate how important they are in the sector. Can he outline what specific work he is doing with the Department for Education to make sure that it, too, promotes them?
I can indeed, and I will come to that in a second. We also have to examine why apprenticeships were in decline before the pandemic began. We can look at it holistically across Government with the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and BEIS.
We have provided a range of support for the beauty and wellbeing sector. For example, the sector is eligible for the kickstart scheme, which provides a fully funded six-month job for 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. I am pleased to say that 600 high quality industry-designed apprenticeship standards are now available. I want to work with the sector to increase the number of small and medium-sized beauty businesses offering apprenticeships.
The Government have recently increased the cash incentive to £3,000 for every apprentice that a business hires, and that helps to maintain and attract the sector’s future workforce. It is good to see sector initiatives aimed at upskilling the workforce. For example, I commend L’Oréal on its education platform, Access, which I am told 54,000 hair professionals have used. We will continue to work with the sector to advance the reputation of beauty and wellbeing as an invaluable, skilled and highly rewarding career path.
I have talked about some of the issues that the hon. Member for Swansea East raised in her speech. I was pleased that she was forthright in mentioning the benefit of holistic treatment to the menopause. It is important that we do not shy from talking in this place about a treatment that can be of so much benefit to so many women across the country. It is great to see that issue highlighted.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about the entrepreneurial spirit, as did the hon. Member for Strangford. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should not talk about just beauty therapists and just the beauty sector. As we have heard, the hospitality sector, for example, has a low bar to entry, but that does not make it a low-skilled sector. The hair and beauty sector does not have a particularly high bar to entry, but someone cannot just pick up a pair of scissors and expect to walk into a hairdresser’s and say, “Can I start work, please?” It is really important to demonstrate the skills required in the sector.
The hon. Member for Bradford South talked about regulation, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to look at regulation and what needs to be done for particular treatments. We will continue to make sure that we can work with the Department, the APPG and the sector to ensure the safety of customers. They need to see not just a certificate on the wall, as she said, but that there are skills behind it. We have to be really careful in those areas.
The hon. Member for Strangford talked about people—specifically, women—setting up businesses. We have talked about the fact that this is largely a female-led-business sector. He is absolutely right when he talks about female entrepreneurs. This fits into a wider piece of work that we are doing in my Department. What are the barriers to female entrepreneurs? They include access to finance, peer-to-peer networking and mentoring. The issue there is not just having the big beasts—the Deborah Meadens, the Richard Bransons and all those people. It is how you get mentors for people who have perhaps just opened their first salon, having been a mobile worker for a number of years; perhaps they have just taken on their first employee—it is about all those kinds of things. That is the kind of example that women want to see—someone in their mould, speaking to them about their issues. It is a question of getting consistency across the country, but also, as I have said, access to finance.
Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, led the Rose review a few years ago. I chair the Rose Review Board with her—we have a meeting next week—and we talk about access to finance. We have 100 signatories to the “Investing in Women Code”, which involves a number of venture capitalists as well as lenders. We are trying to get them to change their teams so that they can get diversity of thought in their investment decisions. That will lead to having diversity in their investments and ensure that they are investing in more women, and that has to be brilliant for the UK economy.
We also have the start-up loans, available for anybody to set up a new business, of up to £25,000, alongside free mentoring. That is run by the British Business Bank and has been since 2012, and 40% of those loans are going to women. That is clearly far lower than the percentage of women in the population, but compared with some other lenders, it is going in the right direction. We still need to do more, so I am pleased to be able to encourage that. The Budget in March from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was focused on helping those most affected by the pandemic, including small businesses and vulnerable groups such as young people, women and those from disadvantaged groups in our communities. It is really important that we continue to do that.
In conclusion, we will continue to listen to the sector to understand its views and concerns. As we move to step 4 on the road map, we will work together to address the key problems facing the beauty and wellbeing workforce, discussed in the debate today. We will keep on reviewing the data; we will keep on making an assessment against the four tests at least a week in advance and will announce whether we proceed to step 4 on the new date of no later than 12 July. I want the sector to fully open as soon as that is safe, so that it can bounce back and recover from the restrictions and the financial pressures caused by the pandemic. That will help to address the issues relating to jobs and the skills gap. There is clearly more to do, after we reopen, to address the longer term challenges for the sector, but we need to keep making the point that the beauty and wellbeing sector is a fantastic industry to work in because of the people and the skills that they bring.
It is a pleasure to see colleagues from across the House acknowledge and champion an industry that is a serious contributor to both the economy and the societal life of our country. If we as parliamentarians have achieved anything, it has been to throw a spotlight on the need for greater respect for this industry, but we need to do more than be champions. We need to support the industry and provide solutions to repair the damage. I was disappointed to hear the Minister comment that the Chancellor had been “overly generous” in his provision. I am sure that that is not something that many people across the country would recognise, but I am going to acknowledge that it was, hopefully, a Freudian slip. I am sure that he would not want people to believe that he honestly thought that. I hope that he will take away from today’s debate everybody’s contribution and will think seriously about what more can be done to ensure the security, viability and progression of this very important industry.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the beauty and wellbeing sector workforce.
Tyne Bridge: Celebrating 100 Years
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice to support the new hybrid arrangements. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and also before they leave the room after the debate, and I also remind Members that the Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered celebrating 100 years of the Tyne Bridge.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to share with you and the Minister the details of the celebration of our fantastic Tyne bridge.
We often say of people that they need no introduction, and that is certainly true of the Tyne bridge. It is a great icon of the north-east, of our pride, our people, our culture and our engineering. It is one of the greatest bridges of the world and, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful bridge ever built—or it is when it is looking its best, which is not now. The Tyne bridge is a nonagenarian. It will be 100 years old in 2028. We want to celebrate it and the purpose of this debate is to find out from the Minister what he plans to bring to the party.
First, I will give a little bit of history. The roots of our Tyne bridge go back millennia. The first recorded bridge across the Tyne, near to the location of the current bridge, was the Roman pons aelius, which was built in about 122 AD. The Romans believed that all rivers had a god who blessed the community living by the water, and representations of the Tyne’s river god can be found across Tyneside to this day. In 1270, a medieval stone bridge was built, which stood for 500 years until it was badly damaged by the great flood of 1771 and replaced by a new stone bridge in 1781. That replacement was itself removed in 1866 to allow the taller ships that existed by then to pass up the Tyne, with the swing bridge being built in 1876 by the “Magician of the North”, William Armstrong.
In August 1925, construction of the current Tyne bridge began. High enough for ships to pass underneath, it was built for the new age of the motorised vehicle and to cope with the increased volume of traffic across the Tyne. Made of steel and granite, the bridge was a major feat of engineering. It was constructed using shipbuilding techniques by local shipyard workers—hence the steel rivets, which can still be seen today. When it was opened in August 1928, it was the world’s longest span bridge. I recommend that everyone sees the fantastic photographs of its construction, which can be found online.
The Tyne bridge is sometimes cited as a prototype for the Sydney Harbour bridge. In fact, although the Sydney Harbour bridge was not completed until four years after the Tyne bridge opened, work began on Sydney’s bridge first. Although the two bridges had the same design team, the differences between them are really quite striking, as was explained to me by Vin Riley, a local engineer and historian. The Sydney Harbour bridge is 1,149 metres in length and 48 metres wide, which makes it almost exactly three times the size of the Tyne bridge, which is 389 metres long and 17 metres wide. But what the Tyne bridge may lack in size, it more than makes up for in beauty, being more perfectly proportioned than Sydney Harbour bridge.
The Sydney Harbour bridge is simply flatter, as its nickname of “the Coathanger” implies. That makes for a gentler, less hair-raising experience for those who have walked the bridge arch—I have not done so, but I understand that it is very popular—but it also makes the bridge less inspiring. The arch of the Sydney Harbour bridge is thicker at its base than at its height. The Tyne bridge, on the other hand, is thinner at its earth-bound side and much broader at the height of the arch, which gives the impression that it is bounding up, soaring away, almost as if it were trying to shake itself free of its earthly constraints. What more apt symbol could there be of the people of the north-east, who have so often shown through generosity and social activism, through passion and protest, through hope and hard work, a desire to put an end to earthly pain and a determination to build a better, brighter and more just world?
That is not the only way in which the Tyne bridge represents our whole region. It connects the north and south of the Tyne and spans the region in its construction. It was built by Dorman Long, which went on to become British Steel and was based in Middlesbrough on the Tees. Building the Tyne bridge was a mammoth task, and workmen risked their lives working up to 200 feet above the river without the benefit of safety harnesses, helmets and ropes. One worker died—Nathaniel Collins, a 33-year-old scaffolder from South Shields.
The bridge was officially opened on 10 October 1928 by King George V. The King and Queen were the first to cross it in their State Landau horse-drawn carriage, as thousands of people lined the streets for the opening ceremony and 20,000 local schoolchildren were given the day off to mark the occasion.
It is particularly fitting that we are celebrating the bridge today, as it is International Women in Engineering Day. The Dorman Long design team included the first woman to gain entry to the Institution of Civil Engineers, Dorothy Buchanan. As a chartered engineer myself—though an electrical engineer, not a civil engineer—I want to pay particular tribute to her on this day. She said:
“I felt that I represented all the women in the world. It was my hope that I would be followed by many others.”
It is our hope, too. In 2018, more than 90 female engineers from across the country gathered in Newcastle to celebrate the bridge’s 90th birthday and Dorothy Buchanan.
Today, the Tyne bridge is an important part of our north-east transport infrastructure and is used by more than 70,000 vehicles every day. It was upgraded to grade II* listed status in August 2018 as part of the Great Exhibition of the North, meaning that it is a particularly important structure of more than special interest. It is also home to the furthest inland breeding kittiwake colony in the world. Any work on the bridge must be planned around their breeding season on the towers.
The beautiful granite towers, which stand at each edge of the bridge, used to be open to the public, but in recent years have been used only for the odd illegal rave. It is a huge pity that there is no longer a legal way for north-east communities to use that space. It has magnificent views across the Tyne, from the north and the south, and would be a superb exhibition space, restaurant or other community space.
But the bridge as a whole is not looking its best—far from it. I am regularly contacted by constituents and visitors to our city upset at the state into which it has been allowed to fall. A bridge of that stature and importance requires regular safety checks, repairs, preservation and upkeep. The Tyne bridge was last fully painted in 2000, and the paint system is designed to last approximately 18 to 20 years, so a new paint job is overdue. Repairs are needed to the road deck, the towers, the stonework and the steelwork, and a new drainage system needs to be installed. A major refurbishment takes time—some years—in addition to the tendering process, which may also take over a year. If the bridge is to be ready for its birthday, we need to start planning it now.
We want to celebrate the Tyne bridge in 2028, and celebrate our region. Just last week, Members of Parliament from across the north-east—many Members wished to contribute to this debate but were unable to be here—together with local authority leaders, the North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll and the police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness, wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Transport Secretary to request the £18.5 million needed to repaint the bridge from the levelling up fund. We want to ensure that it looks at its best, as a symbol of our region’s proud engineering past and, we hope, prosperous future. We want to make it fit for a queen—the Queen, in fact. We very much hope that the Queen will consider commemorating the bridge her grandfather opened.
We cannot allow the bridge to continue in its current state of disrepair. It represents our region nationally and globally. It is the familiar backdrop to the annual great north run, as 54,000 runners pass over the bridge, accompanied by a display from the Red Arrows. The bridge is also used for other large events, including hosting the rings for the 2012 Olympics, the 2015 rugby world cup, and, more recently, the 2019 European rugby champions cup final. It was the location for the amazing closing ceremony of Freedom City 2017, when we celebrated 50 years since Martin Luther King’s visit to our city, and also the closing ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.
However, the sad fact is that the bridge’s last proper birthday celebrations were for its 75th birthday, hosted by local mayors from Gateshead and Newcastle. The Sydney Harbour bridge, on the other hand, is celebrated annually as the backdrop for the first fireworks display of each new year and had a large, organised 80th birthday celebration, with a special performance by musicians on the top of its 134 metre-high arch. The Tyne bridge, I am afraid to say, had nothing.
The Government make much of their levelling-up agenda, yet the north seems to be forgotten when it comes to celebrating our communities. I have raised with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade that they only seem to use London images—red buses and Big Ben—to promote the United Kingdom abroad. Why not the Tyne bridge and the Angel of the North? Global Britain must mean global Britain including the north-east. If this refurbishment does not happen and the bridge is allowed to continue in its current state of disrepair and neglect, I am afraid to say that it will become a different kind of symbol of the north-east. It will become a symbol of the neglect of the north-east, which has been forgotten by this Government—its great heritage and great future have been forgotten.
What support does the Minister propose to offer my region for this momentous celebration? I do not suppose that the Minister can tell us the Communities Secretary’s response to our levelling-up fund application—although I would be very much pleased if he gave a certain yes—but does he agree that celebrations of such a national icon cannot be left simply to the local authority funds? Does he recognise that 10 years of austerity have slashed local government spending? For example, Newcastle City Council has lost more than a third of its spending power since 2010, with city spending entirely taken up by statutory duties such as social care. Does the Minister agree that local authorities cannot be expected to fund such a major project? Would he expect Westminster City Council to pay for the refurbishment of the Big Ben, for example?
How will the Minister ensure that all the north-east’s communities benefit from the celebrations? How will he work with other Departments to ensure that great engineering stories, such as those of Dorman Long and—this is particularly relevant on International Women in Engineering Day—of Dorothy Buchanan, are celebrated as part of the festivities? We want to inspire another generation of engineers, particularly women engineers, with our celebrations. Will the Minister talk to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure support for protecting our kittiwakes?
In the north-east, we know how to give a party. The north-east will bring our bridge, our passion and our people to the party. What will the Minister bring?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for securing this important debate and for highlighting the importance of the Tyne bridge to her constituents. The Tyne bridge is rightly a source of immense pride for communities in the north-east. Alongside the Angel of the North, Durham cathedral and Hadrian’s wall, it is recognised the world over as a potent symbol of the region, its character and heritage.
The affection for this iconic landmark and much-loved feature of the Newcastle and Gateshead skyline is clear from the comments we have heard today. The majestic arch of the Tyne bridge is a symbol of Tyneside’s international reputation for industrial excellence. As the hon. Lady noted, the bridge was officially opened on 10 October 1928 by King George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth. Constructed from Tyneside steel, the Tyne bridge is a magnificent feat of British engineering.
As a civil engineer, I note with genuine enthusiasm the proposals to celebrate the anniversary in seven years’ time. The bridge plays a vital role in the everyday lives of people in Tyneside, allowing easy access across the river for work and education. It is an exciting symbol of the rich cultural life of Newcastle, Gateshead and the north-east. From hosting the country’s largest Olympic rings in 2012, to celebrating 50 years since Martin Luther King visited Newcastle in 1967, the Tyne bridge has been closely connected to major sporting and cultural moments over the years.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s commitment to the restoration of such an important local and national landmark. I am aware that Newcastle has entered a bid to repair the bridge, through the Government’s £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. I understand that Newcastle is in the high-priority category 1 for the fund. I am sure the hon. Lady will understand that I am unable to comment on individual bids at this stage of the process, as applications for round 1 of the fund closed only last Friday. Levelling-up fund proposals are currently in assessment and I look forward to my Department announcing successful bids in the autumn.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is aware of proposals for the Tyne bridge, including £36.7 million of major road network funding developed by Transport for the North. Department for Transport officials are continuing to work with Newcastle City Council officials on a business case, as that is the best way to make progress on securing the funding.
I am also pleased to note that there has already been significant Government investment in Newcastle and the north-east. To support the north-east’s economic recovery, the Government have allocated £47 million from the getting building fund to the North East local enterprise partnership, for local shovel-ready infrastructure projects. That includes £7 million for a landmark regeneration scheme on the banks of Newcastle and Gateshead quayside, set to open in 2023, with a new hotel, arena and conference centre; £5.1 million for public realm and digital infrastructure works in Newcastle city centre; and £780,000 towards NU Futures, a new leisure, careers and skills venue for young people.
I thank the Minister for his comments on the importance of the Tyne bridge as a regional iconic symbol, and for referring to investment in projects on the banks of the river. Does he agree that that makes it all the more important that our bridge, which has not had such investment for decades, should be fit for its surroundings, as well as for its birthday in 2028?
As a civil engineer who appreciates the fine beauty of bridges and has visited Sydney harbour and seen its poor comparative version, I hope that the hon. Lady is successful in securing the funding she needs. There are a number of options open. The bridge deserves to be restored to its former glory.
The Department for Transport has provided significant funding to the north-east, including £198 million to the North East combined authority and the North of Tyne combined authority for local transport improvements through the transforming cities fund. The Government have also provided £82.9 million for 2021-22 to authorities in the north-east for highway maintenance, pothole repairs and local transport measures. Some £700 million has been provided for strategic road schemes between 2020 and 2025, including the A1 and A19 junctions north of Newcastle. The north-east has also received more than £9 million in investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport culture recovery fund.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to restate my enthusiasm for engaging more women in engineering and construction. As a proud member of the Chartered Institute of Building, I have previously done work not just on attracting women to the industry, which is sometimes successful, but on the less successful aspect of retaining them in the industry, because sometimes working practices do not fit with the way they would like to live. The construction and engineering sector has moved considerably on being welcoming to women and I hope that that continues in the future. When I was at university, only two of the 50 people on my degree course were women. I hope there is a significant improvement and that we will continue to build on it.
I recognise the pride held by the people of Newcastle and Gateshead in the Tyne bridge and I welcome the hon. Lady’s efforts to represent their strength of feeling. Although I am unable to comment on Newcastle’s bid for the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund while those bids are assessed, I look forward to the autumn when we will be in a position to announce those results.
The Government have provided significant funding for Newcastle City Council both during the pandemic and to support recovery from it. We are working hard to ensure that there is a strong settlement for all of local government at the forthcoming spending review, which will provide certainty for the coming period. I wish the hon. Lady all the best in her preparations as we approach the centenary of this iconic feat of engineering and I look forward to celebrating with her in 2028.
Question put and agreed to.
Deforestation in the Amazon
[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered deforestation in the Amazon.
I called this debate because of what I see as a mounting crisis in the battle to protect the Amazon rainforest, which is one of the world’s most important biomes, if not the most important. The Amazon is thought to be home to 10% of known species on earth, including 16,000 species of tree, 3,000 species of fish and more species of primate than anywhere else on earth. It is one of the last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles and pink river dolphins and is home to sloths, black spider monkeys and poison dart frogs. It is a really important part of our global ecosystem.
For decades, large swathes of the Amazon were cleared to make way for agriculture, but the Amazon was not only place affected in that part of the world: areas such as the Atlantic forest in Brazil have also largely disappeared, all too often to leave space for agriculture, and all too often agriculture that uses up the fertility of the land in a few years and leaves behind sparsely used and degraded land. In recent years, the impact of deforestation has become clearer and clearer, and international efforts to halt it have grown. I could speak for much longer than I have available today on the need to increase those efforts, to protect essential habitats and biomes, and to produce a global strategy to begin restoring some of the areas that have been lost, but that is not what the debate is about. It is about what is happening right now in Brazil, which in my view is tragic and cannot be accepted by the rest of the global community.
For many years, it seemed as if progress was being made in slowing the loss of the rainforest. Brazil committed to sharply reduce deforestation, introduced new legislation to strengthen environmental protections, and worked with soy traders to end the purchase of soy from illegally cleared areas. At the Paris climate change conference, it agreed to end illegal deforestation by 2030. However, the Brazilian Government have reversed that progress. I say that with great sorrow and dismay, because Brazil is a friend of this country, but we have to speak truth to friends, and the reality is that the Government in Brazil have reversed the process. Despite warm words to the international community, the situation is now going from bad to worse. The loss of rainforest in the Amazon is now acute, with 2019 and 2020 being disastrous years for the Amazon. In a 12-month period, an area the size of Israel was cleared. In 2020, the loss amounted to 4,281 square miles—and that is a Brazilian statistic. Despite the pandemic, the situation continues to look bleak. Current estimates are that deforestation has actually accelerated this year, with the loss of an area the size of the Isle of Man in just one month. Despite warm words internationally, this clearly has official sanction.
Instead of taking steps to halt deforestation, the Brazilian Government are now pushing legislation through the Congress that will have the opposite effect by regularising the rights of people who have cleared and occupied forest areas illegally. At the same time, a presidential decree has reduced the likelihood of environmental criminals being punished for past actions. I cannot think of any step more likely to encourage those who have been breaking the existing protections and clearing areas illegally than letting them off the punishments that they might have been expecting, or deciding to allow them to stay on those sites legally. What clearer message could there be that they will be allowed to get away with it if they try it again? It is no surprise that environmental groups are up in arms. They rightly see this as a clear route to further illegal forest clearances.
There are also plans to open up to commercial mining interests lands that enjoy existing protections—lands that are those of the indigenous peoples. I suspect that we will hear a bit more about that later from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who has been champion of indigenous peoples and the protections they need.
New environmental assessment rules for road building do not take deforestation into account, opening the way for large-scale road building through the Amazon, and the inevitable consequence of more clearances for mining and other uses, as remoter areas become more accessible. Those are not policies that come from a Government who are taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. The Brazilian Government claim that they are victims of misinformation, but I am afraid that simply is not true. The reason we know it is not true is because they told us themselves: at a recent meeting, the Brazilian Environment Minister was caught on video threatening to use the pandemic as a smokescreen to run the cattle herd through the Amazon, change all the rules and simplify standards. Heaven help the Amazon if that is the real policy of the Brazilian Environment Minister.
My message today, and the reason for calling the debate, is to say to our Government and the Minister that the international community really act on this issue, and the UK has to take a lead, along with other nations, in making that action happen. The reality is that other countries in that part of the world are working on this—for example, Colombia is starting to get to grips with the issue—but, sadly, the Brazilians are not. The first battleground has to be over trade, but it will not be easy. China has become a huge market for Brazilian exports and Brazil’s reliance on European and north American markets has been reduced, but that is not a reason for us to avoid action. It now looks unlikely that the provisional trade agreement reached between the European Union and the Mercosur trade bloc in South America will be able to go ahead in the agreed form because of what is happening in the Amazon. In the European Parliament, steps are already being taken to block the deal, and several EU Parliaments have voted to oppose it. It certainly gives the impression of being dead in the water.
As colleagues know, I do not always believe in following the example of the EU, but I definitely make an exception in this regard. The UK should not countenance even starting discussions with Brazil about a free trade agreement while the current situation continues. There must be no trade deals with Brazil while it continues to allow wholesale clearances in the Amazon, and we need a very clear message from our Ministers to their counterparts in Brasilia that this is the case. We cannot simply treat this as if it is not happening. Unless the situation changes quickly, I think we actually have to go further than that and deal with the issue in a very direct and robust way. Given the mood in Brussels and the changes in the United States, we can work internationally to tackle the issue directly.
It is very hard to work constantly to identify which products come from sustainable sources and which do not. For example, retailers in the UK tell me that it is hard to tell which soy used in their products has sustainable origins, given that the major dealers mix their supplies together in big batches. We now have to look very seriously at international action to impose tough tariffs on relevant Brazilian food exports unless and until there is clear evidence that the Government there are taking serious steps to protect the Amazon. That might seem strange coming from a strongly profree trade Conservative, but it is essential if we are to put the kind of pressure on Brazil that will stop this deforestation while we still have time. We cannot simply let the exports and imports flow if they are increasingly coming from more and more areas of the Amazon that have been cleared.
There is also a debate in the United States at the moment about whether President Biden and his climate change envoy, John Kerry, should even engage with the Brazilian Government, and in particular meet President Bolsonaro. I think they should, and I think our Government should be engaging as well: we should be having discussions and trying to strengthen relationships, but we have to be absolutely clear all along that future partnerships and future trade agreements are conditional on deforestation stopping. Of course, there is the issue that other countries are close trading partners with the Brazilians—the Chinese, for example. We should be clear with the Chinese Government that, as major importers of its produce, we need them to be part of putting the pressure on Brazil. Although the Chinese are making clear commitments themselves—they are chairing the COP on habitat and biodiversity later this year—they need to be putting that into practice and putting pressure on the Brazilian Government as well.
Protecting our natural ecosystems must become a central responsibility of all countries on Earth. Of course we need development, of course we need homes and jobs for a growing global population, and of course we understand the economic challenges that the Brazilian Government face, but none of the things that need to be done to remove poverty risks and improve the lives of citizens can be allowed to happen at the expense of key biomes and the habitats of endangered plant and animal life. A smart approach to land management and smart technology can help us to reverse the damage that has been done and start to rebuild the natural environment around us, but that work has to start quickly, and the loss of key habitats must stop now.
We, the United Kingdom, will be chairing the COP summit on climate change this autumn. We will, I hope, be the drivers of a new agreement on climate change and environmental improvements. This year, Ministers have already taken a lead role in the pre-discussions happening ahead of that meeting. As a Government, we have taken some really quite significant steps to address environmental challenges, both domestically and internationally, so I think we are as well placed as anyone to say, “We are willing to take a lead, but we need the help of others to follow.” In my view, there is no greater environmental need than this, both because the Amazon rainforest is key to dealing with the challenge of climate change and because it is such an important habitat—such an important home—for so many species and for indigenous people. It is a global asset, it is globally vital and it must be protected, but we are now facing a situation where a Government of a friendly nation is allowing policies and actions to go ahead that are accelerating the destruction of that global asset.
My message to the Minister today is very simple: the UK has to act on all of this. We have to be saying to Brazilian Ministers and others in Brazil, “We are your friends. We are going to carry on being your friends, but we cannot just stand idly by while this happens. We will take action. We will take action with the international community to put pressure on you if you do not listen and if you do not act.” It is in the interests of every Brazilian citizen, as it is in the interests of every citizen around the world, to deal with these environmental issues. Brazil has perhaps a bigger responsibility and a bigger burden than most, because it is home to such an important asset, but that responsibility has to be shouldered none the less, and this problem has to be addressed. As such, I say to the Minister and, through her, to colleagues in Government that this is something on which the UK Government have a duty to act. This year, we have a duty to lead, and if that means tough action and very tough words, we have to do it, because it is a historic responsibility that we cannot and must not shirk.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate, and I note with great pleasure, Mr McCabe, that you are presiding in the Chair.
This debate is timely, with the debate on the Environment Bill continuing today in the Lords. In my speech, I will refer to the vital provisions in that Bill that seek to place due diligence obligations on companies to eliminate illegal deforestation from their supply chains. That is an important start, but we need to go further. First, however, I will focus on the drivers of deforestation.
One key driver is the conversion of forest for ranching to produce beef. It is no wonder that we hear lots of analysis of the importance of transitioning to plant-based diets and the role of consumer choice in mitigating emissions and restoring biodiversity. The number of vegans and vegetarians in the UK has increased by 40%, and it is estimated that by 2025 vegans and vegetarians will form a quarter of our population. That sounds great until one understands that the other key driver of Amazonian deforestation is the demand for soy. The World Wide Fund for Nature reports that the land required to meet the UK’s annual demand for soy between 2016 and 2018 averaged 17,000 sq km, which is an area of land the size of Wales. This situation is all the more alarming when we consider that 27% of soy consumed in the UK was certified as being deforestation-free. If my maths is right, that means that 73% was not. It is no wonder that the Dasgupta review highlighted the fact that our demand for the Earth’s resources is far outstripping the planet’s capacity to supply us. This is what he called the “impact inequality”. We are living as if we have 1.6 planets.
I support the right hon. Gentleman’s push for sustainability labelling on foods to drive better consumer choices. It is clear to me that information, education and choice are essential to bring about change. However, it is also clear that, on their own, they will not be sufficient. We cannot afford to wait and hope that consumers will drive this change. There must be regulation and the legislative framework in place to drive change from the top. In 2020, deforestation in the Amazon increased by 13% in just 12 months and the number of wildfires there hit a 13-year high. It is easy to become complacent when all these figures are brandished about, so to put it simply: if we do not legislate for an end to deforestation in company supply chains, the Amazon—the world’s most vital biodiversity and carbon sink—will reach a tipping point and be gone.
I welcome the proposals in the Environment Bill for a due diligence system for companies to ensure that their supply chains are free from any involvement with illegal deforestation. This follows the recommendation by the Global Resource Initiative, an independent taskforce convened by the UK Government. Yet the GRI also recommended two vital measures that the UK Government have thus far failed to adopt: extending that due diligence to all deforestation, irrespective of legality; and extending it to the finance sector. I will address finance first.
UK financial institutions have provided finance worth £500 million to the three largest beef companies in the world—JBS, Marfrig and Minerva—all of which are linked with illegal deforestation in the Amazon. That is despite earlier commitments from these companies, stretching back to 2008, to end their links with illegal deforestation. UK-based banks and investment firms are providing huge finance for beef companies that are driving deforestation through their supply chains. It is imperative, therefore, that legislation extends to the finance sector. Voluntary commitments have failed. A Global Witness investigation found that these beef-producing companies bought cattle from 379 ranches containing 20,000 football fields-worth of illegal deforestation. That was not the number in the whole of the Amazon; it was the number in one state in the Amazon alone.
That extraordinary depletion of rainforest is being financed by UK financial institutions and investment companies, and despite the evidence, they are failing to act—indeed, they are failing to follow even their own voluntary “zero deforestation” commitments. Mandatory due diligence on financial institutions is vital, because even excellent initiatives, such as the Financial Stability Board’s task force on climate-related financial disclosures, will not pick up emissions from deforestation associated with these institutions’ financing. Mandatory due diligence and a statutory target to reduce our global footprint by 2030 would send the signal to the finance sector of the seriousness of this issue.
We must also address the problem of defining “legality” by producer-country standards. The Government’s own consultation document on due diligence for forest-risk commodities acknowledges that globally only 49% of deforestation is defined as “illegal” under local country laws. When companies in the global north first began to question their supply chains a few years ago, they asked specifically about the legality of the deforested land on which their supply chain products had been grown. The result was that, in order to help Brazilian business meet the demands of its customers, the Government relaxed the rules on legality. They simply changed the law. WWF found that, with Bolsonaro’s weakening of the legislative framework on deforestation, between only 22% and 29% of soy-related deforestation would now come under illegal deforestation regulation. We simply have to go further.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources—IBAMA—issued in 2019 the lowest number of fines due to deforestation in the past 30 years. Most concerningly, Bolsonaro is taking away the rights of the indigenous communities to block deforestation and mining on their land. That is important because their land protects 34% of carbon stocks in the Amazon.
A Bill introduced in Congress last February would legalise the commercial mining and agricultural expansion on indigenous land without the free, prior and informed consent of those communities. Notwithstanding the devastating environmental impacts of that, it is also a violation of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people, to which Brazil is a signatory.
So, yes, let us label properly, accounting properly for the actual deforestation, but let us also insist on mandatory reporting for companies and, in particular, for those banks and funds that are financing the destruction. As President of COP26, let us ensure that indigenous land rights are a key priority in Glasgow.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Mr McCabe. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for bringing the debate to Westminster Hall. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) who is a very able member of the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which I chair.
Talking about the deforestation of the Amazon and, in particular, about what is happening in Brazil is a good reason for us to be here this afternoon. The Environment Bill is now in Committee in the Lords and offers a welcome opportunity for the UK to show global leadership in protecting the Amazon. The due diligence obligations will see companies that play a role in producing key commodities such as soya and palm oil held accountable for the illegal deforestation in their supply chains.
Although those due diligence obligations are welcome, they do not go far enough to protect the Amazon and other crucial, natural ecosystems, or to meet the UK’s global goals on climate and nature. The deforestation amendments I tabled unsuccessfully in the House of Commons were targeted towards ensuring that big businesses are not bankrolled. Those big businesses in Brazil that carry out cattle ranching, driving the cattle towards the Amazon, and ploughing up the savannah to grow soya, removing the rights of indigenous people, are being bankrolled by major UK institutions, such as HSBC, Santander and Barclays, which have investments in those big agribusinesses.
The Global Witness “Money to Burn” report shows that UK banks invested £5 billion between 2013 and 2019 in companies that are illegally deforesting land, such as those in the Amazon. We may not be conscious of it but our own pension funds in the House of Commons may well contribute to that by having investments in those institutions.
In a capitalist system, if those businesses are starved of capital they are brought to some recognition of the huge damage that they are doing. They are causing huge environmental damage; if we did them financial damage they would listen more carefully.
That is why I am so keen for this to happen, and I shall be interested to hear what our Minister has to say.
In December 2020, Global Witness, in “Beef, Banks and the Brazilian Amazon”, found that Brazil’s three largest beef companies are linked to tens of thousands of hectares of illegal deforestation, despite auditors saying otherwise. In just one state, over three years, beef giants JBS, Marfrig and Minerva brought cattle from a combined 379 ranches, containing 20,000 football fields-worth of illegal deforestation. In this year alone, an area twice the size of Devon has been deforested. While we stand here and speak, deforestation is going on at an alarming rate.
We have to remember that, although trees are valuable in every country in which they are grown, we would need to grow three trees here to hold the amount of carbon that a tree in the rainforest holds. We need to wake up to that. I understand that Brazil is a sovereign country and that it needs to make its decisions, but it cannot make decisions that are seriously damaging—literally—the health and sometimes the lives of indigenous people in Brazil and are causing so much degradation to our global climate. As we move forward as a country towards ensuring we have a much greener environment, we have to look to the rest of the world to deliver on that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell made a point about the Chinese, who are very hungry for minerals and all sorts of commodities, including soya for feeding their cattle and their people, but they too must be very conscious of where this is coming from. We can all work together to deliver on this. Overall, the people of Brazil would benefit from a regime that did not deforest.
Finally, to put my farming hat on, one of the problems that I have with what they do in Brazil is that they basically burn down the rainforest and plough it up, using all the fertility in the soil, and then move on to some more rainforest, abandoning the land after taking the fertility that has probably taken hundreds of thousands of years to deliver. Even from a farming perspective, it is ruinous. That is why I say bluntly that we need to listen to this debate very clearly. I look forward to the Minister taking the points that we are making very seriously. This is very much a cross-party issue, and is very much for the good of this country. In this case, we have to give clear guidance to the Brazilians about the impact of the policies of the present President of Brazil and where they are leading the country.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate. I hope he is not too offended if I say that I find myself agreeing with him an awful lot more these days, now that he is on the Back Benches, than I did when he was in Government.
Yesterday was World Rainforest Day, and it would be wonderful if we were here to celebrate all the wonders of the rainforest—the huge range of biodiversity and the fact that it is a habitat that is home to many rare and exotic species, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Instead, this is a very depressing day because, as has been said, the rainforests are under threat and are disappearing at a very worrying rate. Deforestation continues to devastate many havens of biodiversity around the world. It is driven by a variety of economic drivers, including infrastructure construction, logging, extractive industries and land conversion for livestock and feed crops such as soy.
The Amazon is a huge global resource in terms of its environmental contribution and is home to around 10% of known species. It stores around 76 billion tonnes of carbon. Clearly, we have a responsibility to do all that we can to protect it, but there was a devastating 13% increase in Amazonian deforestation in 2020, with over 11,000 sq kms of deforestation. Unfortunately, as has been said, the UK is driving this deforestation with our domestic consumption.
As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), in 2017 only 27% of soy consumed in the UK was certified as deforestation free, meaning that the rest was not. Supermarkets, such as Tesco, have well-documented links to meat firms tied to deforestation. I know some supermarkets have spoken about trying to stamp out those connections in their supply chains, and I welcome that move.
It is very rare that I take issue with anything my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North says, but I have to correct him about what he said earlier. The main driver by far in the expansion of soy production, which has almost doubled in recent years, is increased meat consumption. The main use of soy is livestock feed. Soybean oil is also used in cooking, cosmetics and soap and soy is used in industrial processes.
According to WWF, 80% of the world soybean crop is fed to livestock and according to Oilseed & Grain News, which I am sure we all read avidly every night, it is 85%, but that is where the bulk of it goes. I have had these run-ins with a former agriculture Minister in previous Parliaments. He is not in Parliament any more, but on quite a few occasions he stood up and said, “It’s all the vegans and their veggie burgers that’s causing this problem.” It really is not, although with the move to plant-based diets, the best thing people can eat is plants and not processed food anyway.
Many of us have been raising this subject for some time. A year ago I asked a question of the International Trade Secretary:
“Between 2013 and 2019, British financial institutions provided over $2 billion in financial backing to Brazilian beef companies linked to Amazon deforestation. How can we ensure that there is greater transparency in our supply chains so that we are not unwittingly, through exports from Brazil, contributing to such environmental degradation?”—[Official Report, 18 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 939.]
I got a vague answer that they were working on “supply chain” issues.
In January this year, I asked about this issue again at International Trade questions. I mentioned my recent correspondence with the Brazilian ambassador that started after I had mentioned the problems with biofuel when I was leading for Labour on a statutory instrument about the renewable transport fuels obligation, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell knows about. The Brazilians took issue with something I said, and we entered into a chain of correspondence, which was basically the Brazilians saying that deforestation was not a problem.
I mentioned this correspondence at International Trade questions and raised with the Trade Minister recent, very worrying reports in the press about Brazilian beef farms, where working conditions were said to be akin to modern slavery. I asked if the Government would make any future bilateral trade deal conditional on Brazil taking action to protect workers and prevent deforestation. I note that the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said that there should be no trade deal agreed with Brazil until these issues are resolved.
In reply to my question, the Minister said that
“the United Kingdom has already committed £259 million to Brazil through its international climate finance programme to tackle deforestation.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 471.]
He mentioned the early movers programme, which rewards pioneers in forest conservation, and a programme led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that has prevented the clearance of around 430,000 acres in Brazil. DEFRA stopping the clearance of 430,000 acres sounds really good, but under the Bolsonaro Administration deforestation is at a 12-year high.
As The Guardian has reported, at least 11,000 sq kms were razed between August 2019 and July 2020. That is roughly 2,740,000 acres in the space of less than a year. For all our efforts, we are just giving with one hand while Bolsonaro is destroying all that work with the other.
The Government had an opportunity to address this issue in the Environment Bill. I lose track with the Environment Bill because it took so long to go through Parliament. At one point, I tabled some amendments but they are lost in the mists of time. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) tabled his amendments at the final stage. I was pleased that the Government went halfway by including measures in the Bill to impose a due diligence obligation on the supply chains of UK firms, forcing them to tackle illegal deforestation. As has been said, and as I have tried to raise in Parliament with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the issue should not just be about illegal deforestation, because we know that so many of the activities that contribute to deforestation are legal, and Bolsonaro has been relaxing legal protections. We also know that there is very little enforcement and that companies can act with impunity. The Environment Secretary replied by saying that many countries have laws on deforestation in place, and that there was evidence that the failure to enforce was the problem, but I do not accept that.
We have heard what is happening in Brazil. As has been said, it is not just that some states are pushing ahead with measures to weaken legal protections. There are also serious concerns that they lack the mechanisms. Even if the political will was there, which I do not think there is, they do not have the mechanisms to identify what is legally and illegally produced. Clearly, a distinction between legal and illegal deforestation is not good enough.
As has been said by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, UK financial support for firms linked to deforestation goes far deeper than many of us would expect. Analysis from Feedback shows that even the parliamentary pension fund has investments in big meat firms such as JBS, which have been repeatedly linked to deforestation. I hope that that is something we can take up after this debate, because we should set an example in this place by severing all our financial links to forest risk commodities.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell that what is happening in Brazil is tragic and cannot be accepted. I agree with his argument that it has been officially sanctioned by Bolsonaro and that our Government need to act. I thank organisations such as WWF, CAFOD and Global Witness for their tireless efforts to raise awareness of the issue and to try to ensure that the Environment Bill includes measures to address it. I very much hope that now the Bill is in the other place we can take stronger action.
I hope the Minister can shed some light on how the Government plan to rectify the glaring holes in their proposals on deforestation. I accept that she is a Foreign Office Minister, but there is a link with DEFRA and the Department for International Trade, and I hope that ahead of COP and the convention on biological diversity she talks to all her colleagues and tries to secure firm action on this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate, because the issue is not talked about as much as it should be. It is right that we talk frequently about developing electric vehicles and renewable energy, but we do not discuss deforestation enough, so I am glad to have this opportunity to make a brief contribution.
During the recess I had the pleasure of visiting the Eden Project, which, as Members know, is expertly run by David Harland and his team in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). The project clearly demonstrates the importance of rainforests, particularly the Amazon rainforest, in terms of biodiversity, insects, birds, animals, plants and perhaps other forms of life that have not been fully discovered. Very simple research demonstrates that although rainforests cover 6% of the world’s surface, they host half of the world’s plant and animal species.
It is also important that rainforests generate so much of the earth’s oxygen. Given all those facts, it really is important that we talk much more about rainforests, particularly the Amazon rainforest, because its deforestation is one of the great crises facing the world. We talk about the climate change emergency, quite rightly, but contributing to that is the rainforest emergency, and we need to address the issue urgently. The process of deforestation adds to the carbon dioxide emissions that the world suffers from.
We source a number of products from the rainforests, but the production of palm oil is perhaps the main issue in encouraging people to deforest. Palm oil is important to many people, including small-scale farmers in developing countries. The countries that are causing deforestation are themselves developing. The problem is not easy to solve, especially as the research shows that growing palm oil substitutes could require even more land. This is not an easy problem.
The UK has played its part in addressing the problem and moving towards the use of sustainably produced palm oil. It has to be a Government initiative, because, although I am certainly in favour of consumer responsibility and putting as many warnings on packaging as we possibly can, there are more and more requirements for packaging and it is getting rather crowded, which could lead to people ignoring the messages. It is up to the Government to ensure that what we import is produced sustainably.
Of course, like climate change itself, we in the UK cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we certainly need to give a lead. I am pleased that we are doing that, but we have to take the rest of the world with us if these problems are to be solved and we are to protect the planet in the way that we want and need to.
Helping countries that might otherwise cut down forests and helping those countries that benefit from the importation of cheaply produced palm oil might be a very important role for us to play, and it might be a very good use of part of our aid budget. As Bill Gates said:
“People cut down trees not because people are evil; they do it when the incentives to cut down trees are stronger than the incentives to leave them alone.”
I might add that they do it when the incentives are also more immediate, because if people are starving, they are understandably more concerned about that than what they see as some distant concept of climate change.
For other products that we source from around the world, the fact that we can now negotiate our own trade deals provides us with the opportunity to try to stress to other countries how seriously we take these issues, just as negotiators from all developed countries should do.
The solutions are not simple. An emphasis on sustainability is one way forward. The possible development of synthetic palm oil might be another way forward, but I really believe that it has to be accompanied by help for others if it is to work.
We in the UK have enjoyed relative prosperity since the industrial revolution, and we have polluted the planet as we have gone along. We need to help others to reach the same level of prosperity without their polluting the planet in the way that we have. Perhaps I might suggest that that is another reason for us to maintain our aid levels at 0.7%. Perhaps this is yet another example of how doing so ultimately benefits the UK. As I say, we cannot do it all on our own. COP26 provides an ideal opportunity for us to set out a structure within which we can lead the world on this issue.
Before I call the next speaker, Mr Law, are you experiencing some technical difficulties there? As I said at the start, Mr Speaker was very clear: people appearing virtually should have their cameras on throughout and should be present throughout.
It is excellent to see you in the chair, Mr McCabe. I once again find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), as I was in the tourism and travel debate. I thank him for securing this vital debate, which could not have come at a more appropriate time, as we marked World Rainforest Day yesterday.
Last February, Chief Raoni, a chief of the Kayapo people in north central Brazil, visited the UK and addressed a number of us, including the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who spoke earlier. He told us about the destruction of their lands by strip-mining, farming and industrialisation. It was not just a threat to the rainforest—his people were being killed if caught, in their own lands. Since then, I have kept in touch with the non-governmental organisations and Chief Raoni, who say that the destruction and human rights abuses have sped up since covid, with little ability to curb the rapacious nature of the forest destroyers and the Brazilian President acting more as a co-conspirator than as a protector of our greatest natural resource.
Chief Raoni’s biggest ask is to make indigenous lands protected reserves, with not just legal protection but security and human rights defenders on the ground, supported by us in the international community. However, the demarcation process is threatened under President Bolsonaro, who is a right-wing populist climate change sceptic who continues to open the door of protected lands to mining and agribusiness.
Last month, Chief Raoni and another top indigenous leader, Chief Almir Surui, asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity, accusing him of unprecedented environmental damage, killings and persecution in the Amazon. Will the UK Government be supporting Chief Raoni and Chief Surui, who are on the front line and have lost members of their tribes to those who destroy the rainforest?
Immediate action is so important as the climate crisis picks up speed and temperatures steadily rise. The lungs of our planet are burning. The Amazon rainforest is at a tipping point. Droughts and wildfires are now the norm, with 2021 set to be a particularly bad year. Just yesterday, an international study led by the University of Leeds warned that huge areas in the eastern part of the Amazon face severe drying by the end of the century if action is not taken to curb carbon emissions.
Under Bolsonaro, we have seen record levels of deforestation, with an area seven times greater than London destroyed last year alone. Crucially, the Amazon may begin to contribute more greenhouse gases to the air than it absorbs by 2050, or possibly even sooner if the expansion of this work under Bolsonaro continues. His predecessor President Lula brought in protections that we saw work, and the rainforest loss was curbed. However, that work has all been undone in quite a short space of time. Now the Brazilian Government are pushing laws to make deforestation easier.
Bill 2633 in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies encourages and legalises land grabbing of public lands, and is one of the key parts of the President’s legislative agenda. Bill 510 is a Brazilian Senate ill that also encourages land grabbing. These bills, encouraging land grabbing of public lands and authorising mining construction in indigenous lands, are set to be pushed through before the summer recess next month.
We need to consider this in our own law making. The Environment Bill will require firms to carry out due diligence on whether or not commodities come from areas that have been illegally deforested. Yet that only addresses illegal deforestation. If Bolsonaro’s Government are successful, what is currently illegal will become legal, and the Environment Bill will be unable to stop it or curb it in any way. We urgently need the Bill to be amended in the other place, where it now rests, so that we are not creating demand for the destruction of the Amazon.
The Conservative party promised to fight against Amazon deforestation, yet one of their biggest donors is an investor who profits from the destruction of Brazilian rainforests. If the Prime Minister is happy to take Crispin Odey’s money, questions have to be asked about his commitment to protecting the Amazon.
The Amazon is thought to be the home of 10% of known species on Earth, including 16,000 species of trees, 3,000 species of fish, and more species of primates than anywhere else. I work closely with the WWF, and hosted its Brazil director in March last year, right here in Portcullis House. The WWF told us that new species are being discovered all the time. Between 1999 and 2015, 2,200 new animal and plant species were discovered in the Amazon, including a river dolphin, a vegetarian piranha and eight species of monkey, including one that purrs like a cat. Are these not just wonderous, joyful things?
The outstanding biodiversity of the Amazon is not only important for the natural ecosystem, it also provides many befits to us as humans. The plants and animals are used for food, research, medicine and textiles. Any reduction in biodiversity can also contribute to increased disease risks, and after this past year we all know what zoonotic diseases and global pandemics are. In its initial report on the origins of covid-19, the WHO pointed out the threat of natural ecosystem destruction breaking down the buffer zone that protects us from wildlife- borne viruses.
Just as a virus born in one country can sweep across the globe, deforestation of the Amazon has the capacity to devastate not just Brazil, but the entire world. While Brazil acts as the primary custodian, maintaining the rainforest should not solely fall on their shoulders. Internationally, we must reflect critically as to how we consume the planet’s resources. COP26 will be a pivotal moment to focus on efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest and tackle unnecessary deforestation, with Brazilian representatives right here on our own shores.
The natural world does not reflect man-made borders, which is why we need multilateral co-operation on this issue. Now more than ever, the UK Government—even though they are retreating from their international development commitments—need to provide funds to protect the rainforest and its people. I will finish with the words of Chief Raoni:
“I'm overwhelmed with sadness when I see how our lands are being destroyed more each day”.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I join other hon. Members in congratulating the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing the debate and on laying out clearly and convincingly the reality of the situation in Brazil today. Although he painted a bleak and depressing picture, what he said needed saying, and I thank him for saying it.
We all recognise the importance of the rainforest and the disaster that would follow from its destruction, but it seems that, rather than doing everything possible to save it, the Government of Brazil have effectively given a green light to criminal networks to pursue illegal logging, mining and cattle ranching, thereby accelerating the destruction of the forest. It is right that President Bolsonaro is called out, as he has been in this debate, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we are blameless in all this. We are not, because, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) says, on our doorstep—in this city—financial institutions are complicit in the destruction of the rainforest. The Guardian revealed in 2020 that British banks and finance houses had given more than $2 billion to Brazilian beef corporations implicated in deforestation.
Of course, although the implications of the Amazon’s destruction affect the entire planet, they are most keenly felt by the indigenous peoples whose territories are being stolen and destroyed and whose human rights are being routinely violated. The Brazilian Amazon is home to approximately 25 million people, but it is also the poorest region in Brazil, with the worst socioeconomic indicators. Since coming to power, President Bolsonaro has scaled back enforcement of environmental laws, weakened the power of the federal environmental agencies and removed many of the protections and rights of the indigenous people.
As Sônia Guajajara, the leader of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, said recently:
“He is committing one crime after another against the peoples of the forest and against the environment.”
She says that he is not only a risk to indigenous peoples but that
“it has turned into a global problem, because what he’s doing here has an impact on the planet”.
As the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) said, so fearful are the indigenous people of Bolsonaro and his policies that they have petitioned the International Criminal Court, asking that an investigation be opened into allegations of human rights abuses.
Sadly, across the world, indigenous people are among the most marginalised groups in society. They have historically faced systematic discrimination in everything from healthcare to education and from work to legal rights. They often have little or no political representation. Routinely, their lands have been seized and they have been forced to relocate when others have decided that they have to. All too often, they face persecution and violence and the destruction of their culture, language and traditional way of life. And the people of the Amazon rainforest are no different.
As Myrna Cunningham, a Nicaraguan woman and president of the Centre for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People, says:
“Indigenous peoples have a different concept of forests. They are not seen as a place where you take out resources to increase your money—they are seen as a space where we live and that is given to us to protect for the next generations.”
Unfortunately, Myrna Cunningham’s concept and vision of what the forest is and how it should be used is not shared by everyone. As we have heard, President Bolsonaro, since coming to power, has actively pursued policies that erode protections for indigenous land and the indigenous people of the forest, and make it easier for non-indigenous Brazilians to carry out economic activity in the Amazon. He has attempted to shift more authority away from agencies whose job it is to protect indigenous rights, and handed it over instead to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, which has a vested interest in expanding development in the rainforest. During Bolsonaro’s first year in power, there was a staggering 135% increase in illegal invasions, illegal logging, land grabbing and other infringements in indigenous areas. According to the Brazilian Government’s own figures, the level of deforestation of indigenous land is now higher than it has been in a decade.
Of course, there is a terrible human cost for those communities seen to be standing in the way of so-called progress, as forest clearings frequently result in violence, forced eviction, harassment, intimidation, death threats, arbitrary arrests of community leaders and even murder. Human Rights Watch reported that illegal deforestation and violence in the Amazon were largely being driven by criminal gangs. Twenty-eight people have been murdered, four have faced murder attempts, and there were more than 40 cases of death threats in 2019 alone.
One indigenous reserve that has suffered more than most is the area of the Yanomami, which in one year saw deforestation soar by almost 1,700%, and where there are no fewer than 536 current requests for mining rights. I will conclude with the words of Davi Kopenawa, a spokesman for the Yanomami people, who said,
“The Whites cannot destroy our house for, if they do, things will not end well for the whole world. We are looking after the forest for everyone, not just for the Yanomami and the isolated peoples. We work with our shamans who understand these things well, who possess wisdom that comes from contact with the land.”
I just wish more shared that wisdom.
I certainly will; it may not even take me that length of time, but I will do my best to lengthen my speech to six minutes.
First of all, I thank the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for having set the scene so well on a really important issue. Every one of today’s speakers has outlined why the issue is important. We may not live in Brazil, but what happens in Brazil affects us here, which is why the debate is so important, and we look forward to the Minister being able to give us some assurances on the matters that have been raised. It is also always a pleasure to follow my friend and colleague, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). There are very few debates in which he and I are on the same side: more often than not, it used to be debates about human rights issues, and today is an example of that. This debate is about human rights, but it is also about what is good for us in the world.
When I was very young—which was not yesterday—I remember one saying that my mother always said to me, which was, “The trees are the lungs of the world.” The Amazon rainforest, with all the massive trees it has, is clearly the lungs of the world as well, so when they are being destroyed to the extent they are, that should affect us all. We should become very concerned about it, bearing in mind that the latest data released by Global Forest Watch found that primary forest loss was 12% higher in 2020 than the year before, including the loss of some 4.2 million hectares—an area the size of the Netherlands—of primary humid tropical forest: in other words, those particular trees were unique to the world. The Minister has already been asked many questions, but will he consider taking appropriate action to reduce demand in our country for the goods resulting from that deforestation? If that happens, and if we are able to join with other countries—the EU, the USA, and much of the western world—we may be able to reduce the level of deforestation, which is really important.
However, this is not just about deforestation: a combination of other things is happening. Vast areas of the Amazon rainforest will be at risk from extreme drought—that is one of the things that is happening at this moment in time—and there is a need for the world to take rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Whether we are climate change sceptics or believe in it, the reality is that it is happening. Scientists have predicted that the dry season will make things even worse than they already are: the eastern region of the Amazon will become increasingly arid, and it will become increasingly warm as well, putting already vulnerable trees that cannot respond to the drought stress they are already under at risk from forest fires. Many Members have referred to those forest fires: that will be worse for Brazil and the world as well, because carbon dioxide then adds to the greenhouse gas effect. What happens in Brazil affects us here and everywhere else. An international study has found that drought could affect a third of the Amazon by the end of the century, although there could perhaps be more rain in the western Amazon area.
As part of the Amazon dries out, it could turn into a savannah—I think the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) referred to that. There are deep concerns that this drought could be even worse than previously thought, so the Amazon is at risk from deforestation, climate change and drought. That should be ringing alarm bells for not just our Government but Governments across the world. Vital global resources must not be taken for granted. We must protect and expand forests rather than reduce them. They can absorb and store carbon; there has been much research and model trials on that. The relationship between the water, soil and trees, and the interaction between the atmosphere and the land surface, show strongly that this is truly an emergency.
We need to encourage Brazil to reduce the deforestation and to act to prevent any more loss. We can do that by gentle persuasion, as the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said, but it may take something more. If it does, and if we are acting for all the world, I have to say that that is something that has to be done.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I last spoke on the topic of deforestation in the Amazon less than two years ago, in a Westminster Hall debate prompted by a petition signed by more than 120,000 people. I welcome the fact that we have another opportunity to raise the issue, and I thank the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for presenting this important debate.
Back in 2019, Extinction Rebellion had just begun its two-week protest in and around Westminster. The shared message that day from MPs in the Chamber, protesters on the streets and the thousands of our constituents who put their names to the petition was that deforestation in the Amazon is one of the great man-made tragedies of our time and that urgent action was required to stop it spiralling out of control.
Sadly, as we have heard in the debate, the urgent action required has not materialised; rather, the situation has become more perilous, with deforestation rates in Brazil hitting a 12-year high in 2020. Many of the fears expressed two years ago that the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro would, for economic gain, cause environmental destruction have now become reality. It is being reported that deforestation during his Administration is today more than double than in the same period under his predecessor, and just last month deforestation soared by two thirds from the same month last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Furthermore, professors at the National Institute of Amazonian Research have expressed concern that legislative changes currently before the Brazilian Parliament could result in increases in unsustainable deforestation that would have previously been illegal. The World Wildlife Fund has warned that the proposed changes
“will destroy the legal framework that has enabled Brazil to control deforestation in the past, making it impossible to control deforestation in the Amazon for the next decade”.
That matters to us all. The Amazon rainforest is invaluable to our environment and fragile ecosystem, producing as much as 20% of the world’s oxygen and acting as a natural carbon capture for vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation threatens the 30 million people who live there, including up to 400 indigenous groups, and many thousands of plants and animal species. It also threatens to fundamentally hinder attempts to tackle climate change, reversing any progress made so far and contributing to rising global temperatures, with all the devastation that that will bring.
The Scottish Government declared a climate emergency in April 2019, followed a month later by the UK Parliament. It is therefore imperative that we collectively do all that we can to combat environmental destruction of natural habitats such as the Amazon rainforest. If we are serious about the climate emergency, we must use every tool available to us to ensure that we lead the international pressure to end this destructive deforestation in the Amazon.
At the leaders’ climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in April, Jair Bolsonaro vowed that Brazil would become carbon neutral by 2050 and recommitted to net zero deforestation by 2030. However, as we know, that empty rhetoric does not reflect reality. In the first six months of Bolsonaro’s term, enforcement measures to protect the Amazon, such as levying fines and destroying logging equipment in protected areas, fell by 20%, and inspection requirements for timber exports have been significantly relaxed. Enforcement agencies have been underfunded and sabotaged, and the 2021 federal budget for the Ministry of Environment and agencies was cut by nearly a third compared with last year. One campaign group put it bluntly, stating:
“The Amazon has become an open bar for land grabbers, illegal loggers and miners.”
The Brazilian Environment Minister said the country would need $1 billion in foreign aid to support efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon, while President Biden has previously stated that foreign Governments should provide Brazil with $20 billion. Will the UK Government therefore reduce their aid cuts and ensure that no projects to prevent deforestation in the Amazon are cancelled and in fact ensure that support is increased? Sadly, we probably know the answer.
We learned just last week that the UK Government cannot be trusted to maintain their commitment to projects vital to our planet’s health. Just weeks after the UK’s COP26 President visited Indonesia and called on it to move forward with plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office cancelled a green growth programme designed to prevent deforestation in the Indonesian Papuan provinces three years into a five-year programme. We urgently need to know the Government’s rationale for cancelling that project, what impact assessments have been undertaken and how serious Ministers are about tackling deforestation across the globe. This is a completely scandalous decision that once again highlights the real-life impact that UK aid cuts are having and demonstrates the UK’s failing as a leader on the world stage. As with Bolsonaro, this UK Government’s rhetoric does not reflect reality.
We need to hear how the UK Government plan to tackle deforestation in the Amazon and how they are co-operating with other Governments around the world to do so. What recent discussions have UK Government Ministers had with their counterparts in Brazil? Will they publicly condemn increasing deforestation, the deliberate underfunding of agencies tasked with protecting the environment and the continued attacks on indigenous people and their land? In any trade talks and agreements with Brazil, will protection of the Amazon be put front and centre to ensure that the UK does not share in the profits of the rainforest’s deliberate destruction? Furthermore, do the UK Government agree with several US Senators that any funding provided to the Brazilian Government should be contingent on their having a clear plan to curb deforestation, including significant and sustained progress in reducing deforestation and, importantly, ending environmental crimes and acts of intimidation and violence against forest defenders? Given the importance of the Amazon rainforest to us all and its role in lowering the global carbon emission footprint, was this even discussed at the recent G7 summit? Will the UK Government commit to this as a priority at COP26 in November?
As Scotland will host COP26 this year in Glasgow, I will now turn my attention to domestic policy and reforestation on these islands. Due to a better, more efficient grant system and strong political will to meet targets, the SNP Government lead the way in the UK on tree planting, with Scotland planting 22 million trees last year alone, making up nearly 85% of the UK’s mainland tree planting in 2020. Around 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere each year by Scotland’s forests. The first quantitative study of its kind in the UK evidenced the natural capital benefits of planting new woodlands in our green recovery, which will help to meet Scotland’s goal of net zero by 2045. Given that Scotland is unrivalled in the UK nations for tree planting and environmental protections, the other UK nations ought to follow Scotland’s lead and demonstrate to the world through their own practices just how important the protection of forests is to all of us.
Thank you, Mr McCabe. As the UK Government encourage others to follow suit, they have to do enough domestically to protect the environment and to make sure that we reforest, as well as talking about deforesting. Deforesting will inevitably lead to a need to reforest, because there is a balance, to which we may not be able to return.
Finally, I do not want to have to make these points again in yet another Westminster Hall debate in two years’ time, and nor do I want to hear further reports of increasing rates of deforestation, logging, resource mining, tree burning for farming and cattle-raising, or—last but not least—land seizures from indigenous people. I want to speak positively about successful global efforts to protect the Amazon and the people, flora and fauna who call it home. I want to hear about the protection of forests throughout the world and to celebrate reforestation projects across these islands. However, that will happen only if each and every nation takes its responsibilities on reaching net zero and protecting the environment seriously, and if we are vocal and forceful in tackling deforestation head on, not just in the Amazon but everywhere else too. We all know that the Amazon rainforest serves as the lungs of all nations across the world. Therefore, it is imperative that we urgently address this climate emergency together. No nation should be allowed to participate in, or be a bystander to, this self-inflicted damage to the planet.
It is a pleasure to contribute under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, to this very timely debate secured by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). There is a great deal of cross-party consensus. I obviously agree with the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) about the aid cuts. I hope the Minister will give an assessment of the impact that the reductions being made by the Department will have on the subject of today’s debate.
Without a doubt, the Amazon rainforest is a vital bulwark in the international fight against climate change. It is apt that we are having this debate as the Government prepare to host the critically important conference of the parties climate summit in Glasgow later this year. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Amazon. It has long been considered a vital carbon sink, and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) related that to his own experience of farming. Scientists estimate that the vegetation and trees making up the forest contain a staggering 76 billion tonnes of carbon. It is also home to a rich tapestry of wildlife and rivers. It was lovely that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) quoted the indigenous leaders, who have spoken with such heartfelt poignancy about their current position.
Despite that, the situation today remains precarious. Some scientists estimate that if we lose just 5% more of the Amazon, it will trigger a tipping point. The forest will no longer be able to sustain itself and we will lose the Amazon as we know it. The warning signs have been there: from 2012 to 2016, there was a 200% increase in carbon loss. Before that, between 1992 and 2014, half a million square kilometres of Brazilian Amazon was either degraded or deforested. Other Members have cited very useful statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) linked what we eat off our plates with the impact it has day in, day out in the Amazon.
Of course, there are no signs that there will be a reversal in fortunes while we have the current Government position in Brazil. Under President Bolsonaro, the Brazilian Parliament is about to improve, with the endorsement of a presidential decree, a legislative package that will alter key environmental legislation. That includes an amnesty for land grabbers and the approval of major infrastructure projects that will see swathes of the forest paved over.
What assessment has the Minister made of the excellent work of the international panel of jurists, chaired by our own Philippe Sands QC, which has come up with a definition of ecocide as the fifth pillar of the International Criminal Court? Obviously, headings 1 to 4 are the human rights ones that we know well. What assessment has the Minister’s Department made of the fifth—the new definition of ecocide? Does she believe that that legal instrument, if it is approved, will be useful in our deliberations on how to manage this crucial question?
As well as the very clear risks of climate change, we must be alive to the human dangers of ongoing and increasing deforestation. That has been so eloquently laid out by Members that I need not repeat it. In the past 18 months, we have become particularly attuned to the danger of pandemics, and there is a very real and clear risk, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West said, that further deforestation may cause another deadly pandemic. Biologists and epidemiologists have been ringing the alarm about that for some time. Does the Minister believe that that is an effective use of some of the global health spend in her Department, which I know she is trying hard to protect? Does she think this might be a worthy subject to fund, in terms of global health priorities? This is a moment when we are all focused on the way that coming into close contact with the animal kingdom can lead to deadly viruses such as covid-19. It is a question that desperately needs further research. We have the intellectual firepower here in the UK; I hope that the Minister, as a great champion for universities and the link between global health, universities and foreign policy, will opine on that. The Amazon is thought to be home to 10% of known species on earth, so risk of another zoological pandemic originating from the region could not be starker.
The UK is uniquely positioned to act. Many of us mentioned the global COP summit in Glasgow. What dialogue has the Minister had directly with the ambassador regarding the deforestation question? Did he suggest, as some Brazilian MPs suggested to me, that the Amazon grows back? Could she enlighten us about how that bilateral conversation is going, saying whatever she can say in public?
Turning to the role of the financial sector, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) made a very eloquent speech about our financial centre and the impact of our banks, our insurance and all the other instruments, which we might be able to challenge. I hope that the Treasury will become more activist about that. What protections are the Government putting in place so that trade between the UK and Brazil enshrines environmental and human rights protections during the negotiations? In a trade negotiation, it is amazing how far-reaching the discussions can be. Will the Minister also tell us where she thinks the Department for International Trade is up to in its discussions? I assume that they are at a preliminary stage, but now is a great time to be talking about the issues that we in Parliament are raising. There is no time like the present, especially when we are talking about the environment.
Other hon. Members have spoken so well in the debate, such as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who raised the question of drought. That is another specialism within the new FCDO that I know the Minister has many thoughts on. Has she given any consideration to that?
I want to finish there to give the Minister plenty of time and so that she can perhaps allow a couple of interventions. I thank hon. Members for taking part, and I want to put on record how deeply we care about the environment and our relationship with Brazil. I hope we can all send a message from our Parliament to theirs and when we can travel again I hope we can welcome Brazilian MPs here to discuss this issue in person.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate. We have had a very broad debate with a lot of contributions from right across the House. This issue means a lot to my right hon. Friend and quite clearly to Members across the House. It means a lot to me as well. Given the breadth of the debate, I will endeavour to answer as many questions as I can. On whether I will have time for interventions, let us see how I canter along, but I will try my best.
Protecting the Amazon is a priority for the UK. The pandemic has been a powerful reminder of the great global challenges that pose an existential threat to our security and prosperity here in the UK. We recognise that in our integrated review of UK foreign policy, in which we said that tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is our No. 1 international priority. Climate change and biodiversity loss are inseparable. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment, and we cannot protect the natural environment without tackling climate change. Conserving the Amazon is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
As we heard, the Amazon is one of the world’s most precious places. It is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Its role in the global ecosystem, producing oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide and regulating rainfall and temperatures, is huge. It is home to numerous indigenous people. Around a quarter of all drugs used today are derived from rainforest plants. It is estimated that the Amazon stores almost five years’ worth of global emissions of carbon dioxide. If deforestation is allowed to carry on, it will reach a tipping point—potentially in the next 10 years. Unchecked, the Amazon will be turned from carbon sink into source of emissions. That is one of the gravest risks that the world faces. It is a critical time for action on climate change, as we prepare to host COP26 in November. We know there is no path to net zero without a massive escalation of efforts to protect and restore nature, and crucially to protect the Amazon.
As president of COP26 and recently president of the G7, we have put nature at the heart of our response to tackling climate change. The leaders’ 2030 Nature Compact set out G7 ambition to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, highlighting nature’s role in tackling climate change; tackling deforestation through supporting sustainable supply chains; and participating in the COP26 forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue.
The problems with deforestation do not stop with climate or biodiversity. There is a strong link with security. Across the Amazon, illegal deforestation is inseparably bound up with criminal organisations. They operate transnationally, trafficking wood, minerals, drugs and people. Tackling illegal deforestation is vital, whether through alternative livelihoods or law enforcement co-operation. More than anything, it requires strong and principled political leadership.
It is not a challenge for any one country or even one region alone. The world’s tropical forests benefit all of us, and all countries have a shared responsibility as consumers and producers alike. The furniture we buy and the food that we eat can make a difference. We know that to protect the Amazon we need to support the efforts of countries in the region. There are three that contain more than three quarters of the forest between them: Brazil, Colombia and Peru. We cannot achieve our aims without Brazil, and I welcome Brazil’s recommitment to zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, which it announced at the Earth Day summit this year.
We are eager to see the robust implementation plans that Brazil will need to deliver on that commitment. We are using our diplomatic capabilities and ODA programming to encourage the Brazilian Government to recommit to implementing and enforcing the Brazilian forest code, which is an important legal mechanism for protecting the Amazon rainforest. For Brazil, setting out those plans will bring advantages. It will shore up investor and consumer confidence and unlock private sector financial flows.
We are working at a national level with Brazil and with individual regions, for example, supporting the state of Mato Grosso to reduce deforestation, through our climate finance programmes. Brazil needs to tackle its problems of deforestation urgently, and we are closely watching the rates of deforestation and Brazil’s actions, as the dry season approaches.
A number of hon. Members referred to vulnerable communities and indigenous peoples. We are engaging with state Governments and local authorities. We have a results-based agreement with the states of Mato Grosso and Acre, which helps indigenous communities to develop sustainable income sources, and strengthen food security. Around 20,000 families have benefited so far.
Through the ICF partnerships for forests programme, the UK also supports almost 2,000 indigenous people, to strengthen their livelihoods through sustainable forest management. Our embassy international programme works to better understand the needs of indigenous peoples, supporting vulnerable communities during the pandemic.
As we ask other countries to act on climate change, it is only right that we make our own commitments. We have committed to double our international climate finance to £11.6 billion over the next five years, and to invest at least £3 billion of that in solutions that protect and restore nature. We are engaging the multilateral development banks and asking them to put nature first across all their work, and to support countries to fulfil their environmental commitments
As we announced at President Biden’s climate summit, we are helping to build the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance coalition, which aims to mobilise $1 billion in financing. It will kick off what is expected to become one of the largest ever public-private efforts to protect tropical forests and support sustainable development.
Reducing our footprint overseas is critical to that development. This year, through the forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue, we are bringing together the biggest producers and consumers of the commodities that drive deforestation—cocoa, cattle, soy and palm oil. Together with those countries and co-chair Indonesia, we are agreeing actions to protect forests and other carbon- rich ecosystems, such as the Amazon, while promoting trade and development.
While the Minister is speaking about the private-public partnerships, could she comment on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) on the banking—financial—sector, which we are famous for, so that it is a virtual circle?
I am about to come onto that point. In May, our joint statement, drafted with the 24 signatory countries on collaboration, was endorsed by critical Amazon countries, such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru. I have talked about a responsibility to reduce our impact at home. We are bringing forward a law that will make it illegal for larger businesses in the UK to use forest risk commodities produced on land used illegally. That will make sure there is no place for illegally produced commodities on our supermarket shelves, and support other countries to enforce their own forest protection measures. At the same time, we are working with UK businesses to improve the sustainability of their soy and palm oil supply chains through roundtables on these.
On the point raised by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) about the importance of engaging with the financial sector on deforestation, the UK Government are funding a phase 2 global resource initiative taskforce, tasked specifically to make recommendations on addressing deforestation and linked finance. It will report with recommendations to the Government in the autumn.
Those initiatives are helping UK supermarkets and restaurants reach 100% sustainable soy and palm oil to reduce the UK’s environmental footprint overseas. Alongside that engagement with businesses, we urgently need financial decision making and investments to take account of nature. The launch of the taskforce on nature-related financial disclosure this month marks an important milestone in that process and builds on our leadership in green finance.
All the Minister has described is part of a great step forward in the policies of the UK Government, and I commend them. However, the reality is the urgency of what is happening in the Amazon is serious. I encourage the Minister, and her colleagues in the Foreign Office and diplomatic service, to step up the pressure. Does she agree that we cannot afford to wait to stop the deforestation in Brazil? Will she commit to telling the diplomatic service to step up what it does with the Brazilians, and look at other ways of putting pressure on them to bring this to a halt as quickly as possible?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and reminds us of the importance of climate change. We do engage with the Brazilians. The Foreign Secretary recently discussed with the Brazilian Foreign Minister how we can work more constructively together to deliver COP26 objectives. UK Ministers and diplomats in Brasilia routinely engage with the highest levels of the Brazilian Government, on this and many other important items. Protecting the Amazon is critical if we are to tackle climate change and restore nature, and for long-term prosperity in the region. The UK is working closely with our partners there to support their efforts to reduce deforestation and protect the Amazon.
With a few seconds left, I thank the Minister for her remarks and colleagues on all sides for joining in this debate. We need to keep the pressure up. The simple message for the Minister to take back to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is that this is urgent, it is accelerating, we cannot afford it to carry on, and we have to use every tool at our disposal, whether small or large, to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered deforestation in the Amazon.
Levelling-up Bids: North Somerset
I beg to move,
That this House has considered levelling up bids in North Somerset.
It is good to have you in charge of our process, Mr McCabe. It is also good to see my fellow Somerset MP and constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), who is here to support the debate and is expecting to speak later, as well as the Minister, who I hope will respond fully and positively to some of my questions and provide reassurances during the course of the debate.
The debate is about North Somerset Council’s bids last week for both the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund. The bid documentation is somewhere in the bowels of the Minister’s Department and is being gone through in huge detail, so I do not propose to take up an enormous amount of time by dwelling on what it says, other than to summarise briefly and say that my right hon. Friend and I strongly support both bids. It is quite noticeable that, at the moment, North Somerset Council is being run by a rainbow coalition, which is political speak for anybody except the Tories, yet here we are—my right hon. Friend and I, as the two local Conservative Members of Parliament—supporting the bids too. This is a cross-party, non-party political and pretty much unanimous set of proposals, which we urge the Minister to take very seriously indeed.
It is true that Weston has come an extraordinarily long way in recent years. Since I was elected 16 years ago, the place has become unrecognisably better, but even its most ardent supporters—I put myself right at the front of the queue—would say that we still have a great deal more that has to be done. The two bids for the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund are a key part of taking the next steps in North Somerset’s journey overall, but particularly Weston-super-Mare’s journey.
Without going into too much detail about what is in the detail of the bids, I will highlight three main areas. One is the renewal of our local heritage assets. Weston-super-Mare was primarily built during the Victorian seaside town heyday, and it has some beautiful architecture. It has many beautiful bits of local heritage to it, with some of it going back much further than the Victorian era—for example, there is an iron-age hill fort. However, renewing those assets and making current use of them, so that they can continue to be used and looked after—they should be part of the town’s future, not just its past—is essential. That is a key part of the bid. They give the place its character and its sense of place, and are an absolutely essential part of the bid.
Equally, the bid involves a whole series of proposals for more festivals, activities and attractions—everything from street theatre to buskers—in order to create a sense of theatre, a sense of dynamism and a buzzing atmosphere, which will make the place great not just for local residents to visit and live. As we are a seaside town and a visitor destination, that will also make it a great place for visitors. Of course, visitors have traditionally been one of the town’s lifeblood industries, because we are a tourist destination, so that is an essential piece of the bids.
Last but not least, the bid dovetails with the Weston place-making strategy, which means that we have input from local businesses and residents, and from the council, to try to ensure that Weston as a location has a sustainable mix but also a balanced mix of reasons to live there, to visit there and to do business there and create wealth. The place-making strategy is essential, and it is also a key part of what the council has put together for the two bids.
So, if the bid is so flipping brilliant, why am I worried, why have I asked for this debate and why do we have the pleasure of the Minister’s company this afternoon? The answer is very simple. It is that in spite of the quality of the bid and of the cross-party backing that I mentioned earlier, there is one fly in the ointment. It is that, as the Minister will know, North Somerset Council as a whole—the entire district—is currently designated as a priority 2 area for both the funds that we are bidding into. It is not a priority 1 area, but a priority 2 area. Potentially, that is a problem because it might demote us in terms of the importance—even the urgency—and eligibility of our bids for those funds.
I am here to argue today that that designation is actually a mistake—or it would be a mistake if it were to happen—simply because North Somerset as a district overall is a place of stark contrasts. The constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset is one of the wealthiest constituencies in the country, whereas, to put it simply, my constituency of Weston-super-Mare is not.
For example, we can compare my constituency with two neighbouring district council areas, both of which are designated as priority 1 areas. I am sure that the Minister will be familiar with them; they are Sedgemoor District Council and Mendip District Council. They are right next door to the town of Weston-super-Mare. They are almost identical in terms of their populations to the population of my constituency as a whole. So, if my constituency was a district council, it would be pretty much the same size as they both are. Yet my constituency has a higher proportion of people claiming benefits than either of those two priority 1 areas, even though my area is technically designated as a priority 2 area.
My constituency has a lower healthy life expectancy than either of those two neighbouring districts, even though they are designated as priority 1 areas and my area is designated as priority 2. My constituency has a worse average travel time to employment than either of those two districts, even though they are designated as priority 1 and my area is designated as priority 2.
So I hope the Minister will understand why I am concerned. If my constituency was a stand-alone piece of geography, and not part of the broader North Somerset Council area, we would easily qualify as a priority 1 area. However, because of the accident of postcodes, if I can put it that way, and because of the averaging effect, we do not qualify as a priority 1 area. Of course, that is not to say that the need in my constituency of Weston-super-Mare is not extremely serious or, indeed, every bit as serious as that in the other district councils I have mentioned, both of which are priority 1 areas.
I will go further and say that I have just given the Minister the figures for my constituency as a whole. Within my constituency, the situation is even starker. If we look at two wards in the centre of the constituency, Weston-super-Mare South and Weston-super-Mare Central, they have indices of multiple deprivation that would rank them in the top—or worst, depending on how we look at it—3% or 4% of wards in the entire country; in fact, parts of one of them are in the worst 2%. They are equivalent to anywhere else that is right at the top of the priority 1 areas. It is not just that we would scrape into priority 1 area designation: we would be right at the top of the Minister’s list of concerns, and rightly so, because of those indices of multiple deprivation scores.
So, what do both I and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset hope to hear from the Minister when he gets to his feet in a minute? The answer is very simple. We hope to hear from him that he is able to give strong weighting to those overall scores—scores that are at a more detailed and more granular level than the scores for the district as a whole—when assessing the bid. As I mentioned right at the start, I hope that it will qualify under its own steam in any case.
We do not want a strong and capable bid to be disallowed because of an accident of postcode and because of the averaging effect. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to reassure me and the residents of the constituency of Weston-super-Mare that that will not be the case, and that the bureaucratic process can be bent and manipulated sufficiently within the rules to allow the genuine need—as shown by the genuine levels of multiple deprivation—to be properly taken account of when these bids are finally totalled up.
If the Minister can do that, I may not be able to guarantee that we will erect a small statue in his name somewhere in the middle of Weston-super-Mare, but I can at least promise him that we will easily be able to carry him shoulder high along the Weston seafront, given the importance of the bids to the people of Weston-super-Mare. I will now sit down to make sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset has an opportunity to add to what I have already said and to explain the perspective from the other part of the North Somerset district council area.
I am here to support the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). I am all too aware that my constituency does not qualify for money from the levelling-up fund and we have only a small chance of getting any money from the community renewal fund, but I am here to give my support for two reasons: first, the generic, and secondly, the specific.
On the generic case, too often in our country, as many of us will attest from our time in Parliament, areas of deprivation that happen to be in the same district or constituency as areas of relative affluence can disappear in the data. The sensitivity and specificity of the data can mean that they do not show up at all. That is certainly the case with the town of Weston-super-Mare, where, as my hon. Friend has said, the data is very clear. However, if we add the data of the rest of the parliamentary constituency, we see that it is not at all clear, and if we then add the data from the rest of the North Somerset district—which, as he has said, includes my constituency, one of the most affluent in the country—it can all but disappear.
When we consider the differences in Weston-super-Mare itself, we find that the unemployment rate is twice that of my constituency next door. The health profile of my constituency is much better than that of Weston-super-Mare. Income is higher and the quality of jobs is better.
Lest anyone thinks that this is a case of pure altruism, let me turn to the specifics. Given that Weston-super-Mare is the biggest town in our district, its status matters. It gets many more tourists than places such as Clevedon, which is a very well-kept, upmarket Victorian tourist town in my constituency. Most visitors, however, go to Weston-super-Mare, and the quality of the services they receive is important to the status of the district as a whole.
It is also very important that, just because someone lives in a relatively poor part of a wealthy area, they must not be disregarded. I have often felt that the two things that nobody in this country wants to be is poor in a rich area or sick in a healthy area, because when it comes to services, they tend to be not ignored but not seen by those who plan public provision. Therefore, this debate is important for all the reasons that my hon. Friend has set out today and for the purposes to which the money could be put. Although my constituents recognise that they would not benefit directly from the money, they would benefit indirectly by the improved status that Weston-super-Mare could enjoy.
In conclusion, given that this is being done on a constituency basis, one of my councillors asked, “Why won’t our constituency get levelling-up money?” I had to point out to him that it is the status of our constituency, as demonstrated by many of the indicators, that people are levelling up to. It is not something to level up from. I can therefore say, with the greatest sincerity, that we are completely as one—including our council, whose leadership does not share our political views—in believing that this would benefit all of the people in North Somerset, whether they be direct recipients of the money or indirect recipients of the benefits it would achieve. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the bids to both the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund are entirely cross-district bids, for all the reasons set out so eloquently by my constituency neighbour. I hope that the Minister will take fully into account the point that deficiencies in the sensitivity and specificity of data should not mean that, just because someone happens to be poor in a wealthy area, they are not seen by this Government.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) on securing this debate. He spoke with eloquence and passion about the importance of supporting his constituency and the need to level up in Weston-super-Mare. His desire to support his community is shared by all parts and corners of this Government and certainly by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Levelling up is a crucial part of our Government’s agenda. We are committed to unlocking economic prosperity across all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we will publish the levelling-up White Paper later this year. We will set out bold policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunities in all parts and all corners of the country. It will set out the next steps in our plan to enable more people to get on in life without feeling that they have to leave their hometown or home community just to get the job or types of services they want.
We want to address these long-standing geographical inequalities. We want to deliver economic opportunity and improve livelihoods in all parts of the country so that, wherever someone is born, they have the chance to achieve what they want to in life. That means creating new, good-quality jobs. It means boosting training, productivity and skills in places that have seen economic decline and the loss of industry, and not through a broad, one-size-fits-all approach, but by nurturing different types of economic growth and building on the strengths that different types of places and communities have.
Nowhere is more important in these types of conversations and debates than places such as Weston-super-Mare. We have heard about how skills and wages lag behind the average in the south-west and many other different parts of the country. That is why the levelling-up fund as a concept is such an important vehicle for investing in communities just like Weston-super-Mare. We want to work with councils such as North Somerset Council to invest in the type of everyday infrastructure that my hon. Friend outlined, regenerating town centres and high streets, investing in transport and supporting cultural and heritage assets right around the country. That is a key part of the levelling-up agenda. It is about local communities and councils such as North Somerset determining and identifying their own priorities and using the funds as vehicles to develop and submit proposals and to level up in their area. It is about empowering communities.
The deadline for bids was last Friday. We have received significant interest from right around the country. The assessment process is just starting, but of course we were delighted that North Somerset submitted its bid last week.
We have heard some information about the proposal this afternoon and it is important for us to assess its impact. It is interesting to hear about the transformation of the pier building and the Tropicana Weston, two of the historic buildings that bookend the north and south end of the pier, which is so important to the town and to the regional tourism economy. It is also about bringing back into use vacant spaces in the main shopping area in Weston, helping to create new employment spaces and enhanced wayfinding and connections through the town centre.
I completely understand the passion and importance associated with these bids. I understand my hon. Friend’s belief in them, his desire for them to succeed and the importance he places on the potential to transform Weston’s future, enabling economic growth, improving the town’s economic resilience and tackling deprivation.
The bids focus on regeneration, town centre improvements, cultural assets and transport improvements. They accurately reflect the themes of what we are trying to achieve with the fund, so I thank North Somerset for its bids. I also thank my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) for their support for them and for making clear how important they are to the community. I hope they understand that I cannot comment too much further on the bid itself today. However, we will certainly work to the timescales set out in the prospectus, ensuring that the decisions are delivered in a timely way.
On the levelling-up fund’s methodology, the bids will be assessed against the criteria set out in the prospectus and the strongest bids will be shortlisted. My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend note that Weston-super-Mare, which is part of North Somerset, falls into category 2, despite it having similar characteristics to a number of category 1 places. When we designed the fund we tried to purposely make sure that councils are able to target the pockets of deprivation within their local authorities, as my hon. Friend has identified.
In the case of North Somerset’s bid, two supportive MPs have helped to shape a bid within a council area, as will be noted as part of the process. The bid aims to tackle the most deprived part of the local authority area. That is noted as part of the assessment process. We will look at how the bid addresses challenges in the town and whether they relate to issues to do with health, unemployment or the availability of well-paid jobs for people living in Weston-super-Mare. The focus on tackling deprivation in Weston is in line with the objectives of the fund.
The methodology that sits behind the index of places is set out in the prospectus that we published on gov.uk. It is based on the metrics covering places’ need for economic recovery, regeneration and improved transport connectivity, as clearly identified by my hon. Friend in his speech. Those metrics do not determine either the outcome of the bid or the place’s eligibility to bid. Again, we certainly take account of the fact that two Members of Parliament have supported the bid, targeted at a pocket of deprivation. I do not know if that warrants a statue in Weston-super-Mare—a sandcastle, perhaps.
My hon. Friend also raised a point about the indices of multiple deprivation and asked about them not being included in the methodology of the fund. That is an important point. We considered looking at the IMD as part of the index, but it is important to consider that IMD does not represent in all circumstances a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring economic need. It does not completely accurately reflect, in this circumstance, the policy outcomes of the fund that we have established, which is about transport, high street and cultural regeneration. There are some things that IMD does not consider—for example, productivity. Raising productivity is a key part of what the fund is trying to address. Therefore, IMD was considered but we think that the way in which the indexation was set up is ultimately right.
My hon. Friend also referenced the UK community renewal fund, which is another important funding stream that this Government are delivering. We think it will improve the overall funding landscape available to places like Weston-super-Mare. We have tried to establish a one-year transition programme that is free of some of the shackles and bureaucracy of the EU structural funds, to allow places to design bids to tackle the problems that they identify. The £220 million fund will be available to communities next year.
We have received North Somerset’s £2.8 million bid. It includes a number of employment-based bids, including tailored support for jobseekers in the most deprived communities. That will be noted. Among the proposals is a financial inclusion project, a network of community hubs in rural areas and targeted business support, so we were interested to receive that. It sets out how, taken together, these will all work to create new education and training opportunities that will lead to the establishment of new local businesses and help to steer people towards the right employment and education opportunities.
I want to highlight the importance of the role of Members of Parliament in this process. This debate is a prime example of the way in which we have designed the fund to put such importance on Members of Parliament coming together, bringing communities together, including local authorities and local stakeholders, and acting as facilitators in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset have highlighted that they have managed to do that in Weston-super-Mare, working together to tackle the challenges in the way they have outlined. We have given MPs the opportunity to write formally in support of bids, and we have received that letter from my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend.
The Minister is being very helpful and is showing that his Department is already getting to grips with the details behind the bids, so I thank him for his remarks so far. Could he just make sure that in the five minutes or so that are left, he focuses on the point about priority areas? He has been helpful on that topic, but I am still not quite clear whether starting from a priority area 2 designation automatically relegates us to being a long way down the list of projects being considered, or whether the other factors that I have talked about and which he has also mentioned—very carefully and fulsomely—will allow us to vault up the list of eligible projects and get a better showing in the eventual decisions on allocations.
It is really important to say that that indexation is just one part of the wider assessment process. Yes, the categorisation—category 2 in this case—is taken into account, but the assessment also takes into account a number of other factors, such as the support of Members of Parliament. I think it is really noteworthy that two Members of Parliament are backing a bid that is targeted at the areas of deprivation. I urge my hon. Friend to look at the information on gov.uk, which clearly sets out that the categorisation is just one part of the assessment process. Yes, the weighting has an impact, but so do the bid’s strategic fit, deliverability and value for money. Those are all important parts of the process. It is not solely determined by the categorisation level 2.
I would also like to remark on the importance of other investment in North Somerset, outside of just those two streams of funding. Across the south-west, the Government are investing over £400 million in the region through the getting building fund, the future high streets fund, and the towns fund, which is delivering so much for the south-west. If we look at the business support that we have put into North Somerset, for example, we see £73 million of support for businesses and business grants. We have also ensured that Weston has benefited from the getting building fund. I think it is receiving a £1.7 million investment in the town centre, as part of the wider £13.5 million package across the area, for shovel-ready projects in Weston.
The need for regeneration and investment in the high street is also evident in so many of our communities. The funding that has been allocated is already going to be supporting the vacant Weston General Stores site, creating new work spaces for entrepreneurs, micro-manufacturing, events and community spaces. That will help to breathe huge new life into the town centre as well, so that is not to be underestimated. Residents can also look forward to the reopening of the Portishead rail line for the first time in 50 years. That is going to be a vital transport link between North Somerset and the surrounding employment areas.
Of course, these interventions—the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund, the getting building fund and the other policies I have outlined—build on the £200 million we have invested across the wider area in recent years to support housing, skills and transport. That includes the two state-of-the-art training centres providing work-focused education at Weston College, the almost £12 million with which we have supported the Food Works innovation centre near Weston—a regional centre of excellence in that growing sector—and the major town centre transport improvements, including new cycle and pedestrian links across the town centre. There is huge investment in the region, and in Weston-super-Mare as well.
I hope that some of my remarks have helped reassure my hon. Friend that a number of factors go into the assessment of this bid, and it is not just the category place that determines the outcome. I very much look forward to seeing all the detail of the bid. We have had a number of them and we now have to look through them in detail. I know that he is as passionate as I am about levelling up in communities in the south-west and, of course, in Weston. As we have set out, we want every community to have the opportunity to shape its own future through locally designed solutions. I very much look forward to working with him on doing that as we look forward to the road to recovery for Weston-super-Mare.
Question put and agreed to.
Green Energy in the North-west
I remind hon. Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of a debate and remain for the entire debate. Members participating virtually must leave their camera on for the duration of a debate, so that they are visible at all times both to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, please email the Westminster Hall Clerks; the email address is westminsterhallclerks @parliament.uk.
Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall. Members attending physically who are in the latter stages of the call list should sit in the Public Gallery if they cannot find a seat in the horseshoe. Members may speak only from the horseshoe where there are microphones. Members not on the call list may intervene from the horseshoe but should not take the place of someone on the call list, as they have priority. After Mick Whitley has made his speech, I will impose a four-and-a-half minute time limit on speeches.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered green energy in the North West.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am immensely grateful to hon. Members for participating in this important debate. I thank the Minister for joining us and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). I am aware of his decades-long interest in this issue, and warmly welcome the depth of knowledge and experience that he brings to the debate.
I secured this debate because I believe that by pioneering a just transition away from fossil fuels, we have the potential not only to curb the very worst excesses of climate meltdown but to breathe new life into left-behind towns such as my constituency. Massive investment in renewable energies, low-carbon hydrogen and the retrofitting of homes has the power to create hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide. That will bring badly needed investment to communities that have been ignored by Westminster for far too long. That could restore hope to young people with the offer of all-energy apprenticeships, a range of vocational training opportunities and, above all, dignified and well-paid jobs.
The north-west is perfectly placed to lead the transition to a renewable and low-carbon energy source. After all, our region was the cradle of the first industrial revolution. Our factories, foundries and shipyards gave birth to the industrialised world and, with it, today’s climate crisis. To paraphrase the Mayor of Greater Manchester, it is fitting that the north-west should once again be in the vanguard of a new industrial revolution—this time, a clean one. We already have all the key building blocks needed for this historic transition, from a highly developed renewables sector to world-leading carbon capture and storage capacities, our fantastic knowledge and economy and, most importantly, communities and leaders committed to tackling the climate emergency head-on.
My worry is that the Government’s decarbonisation strategy lacks the ambition and vision to deliver climate or economic justice for the people of the north-west. Analysis from Carbon Brief suggests that that 10-point plan unveiled last year would deliver just 80% of the cuts to carbon emissions required to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. The Industrial Strategy Council has described the plan as
“not yet a…roadmap for delivering Net Zero.”
I am concerned that the Government’s sequential approach to creating low-carbon clusters risks leaving the north-west behind. We desperately need a coherent national strategy for green investment that could benefit all the UK’s regions and nations. We must be far more ambitious, not just in the speed and scale of decarbonisation but by recognising the huge potential for creating jobs. The needs of communities such as Birkenhead must sit at the heart of our decarbonisation plans. That is not to say that I disagree with the Government’s proposals in their entirety. The plan is right to recognise the vital role that blue and green hydrogen can play in helping to meet net zero goals, especially in the hard-to-reach sectors of the economy such as steel, international shipping and aviation.
Low-carbon hydrogen does not just have a role to play in delivering a greener, cleaner economy for future generations. It also has the potential to create up to 75,000 jobs within the next 15 years, as well as contributing £18 billion to the British economy. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre estimates that the UK could earn up to £48 billion a year from hydrogen exports to Europe by 2050. That means that the green industrial revolution and the post-pandemic economic recovery are partners, not enemies.
The Government’s stated ambition of achieving 5 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 is welcome, but as a nation we must go further and faster. Last year, Germany pledged €9 billion to the development of low-carbon hydrogen, while France committed €7.2 billion. The UK risks falling far behind our neighbours in Europe.
Already, Merseyside is beginning to benefit from the development of a low-carbon hydrogen economy. Thanks to the hard work of the metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, and the head of low carbon, Mark Knowles, Liverpool has become the first city in the north of England to trial hydrogen buses, with the St Helens BOC plant acting as a new refuelling facility. Meanwhile, INEOS Runcorn is helping to make the north-west a centre of green hydrogen production. It is a member of both the North West Hydrogen Alliance and Net Zero North West.
Low-carbon hydrogen can help to decarbonise our homes and offices. That is why I am a strong supporter of HyNet North West, which is attempting to develop a low-carbon hydrogen network stretching from north Wales across the Dee to Liverpool, Greater Manchester and Lancashire. HyNet estimates that it will be able to deliver 35% of the UK’s gigawatt hydrogen target by 2025 and will deliver enough carbon capture and storage capacity for 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. It is estimated that that project could create 6,000 permanent jobs and contribute about £17 billion of gross value added to the regional economy by 2050.
The Government should be doing more to encourage hydrogen as a domestic heating source. That begins by encouraging demand by phasing out the sale of natural gas boilers in much the same way as they are ending the sale of ICE—internal combustion engine—vehicles, and it means giving low and middle-income homeowners the financial support that they need to buy low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps or hydrogen-ready boilers. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the proposals that HyNet submitted to the green recovery challenge fund, to accelerate mains replacement in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. With an additional £250 million of funding, HyNet could deliver a hydrogen-ready network about five years ahead of the current programme.
The advent of green hydrogen and electric vehicles will double UK electricity consumption by 2050. The question of how we meet that increased demand is pivotal. In recent years, offshore wind has undoubtedly been renewable energy’s greatest success story, producing more and more clean electricity every year. In the north-west, a gigawatt of capacity has already been installed. That is enough to meet the needs of more than 1 million households. The Burbo Bank wind farm in Liverpool bay alone produces enough electricity to power 80,000 homes, and its continued expansion is likely to bring increased work and investment to towns such as mine.
We should celebrate the amazing advances in offshore wind capabilities, but we should be careful that the industry’s successes are not allowed to blow away other forms of renewable energy, which may be essential to meeting the soaring demand for clean electricity in the coming decades. I am concerned that the lion’s share of contract for difference funding is going to offshore wind, with other industries missing out.
The Government are doing too little to cultivate the development of wave and tidal power. It is estimated that half of Europe’s wave and tidal power resources are in the UK. With the potential to meet a fifth of UK electricity demand and create 16,000 British jobs, and with 80% of the specialist supply chain located in the UK, investments in tidal power have the potential to create jobs across the engineering and manufacturing sectors. In Merseyside, the proposed Mersey tidal project could generate four times more electricity than the entire offshore wind capacity in Liverpool bay. That is enough to power 1 million homes, as well as creating work on both sides of the river.
Despite that enormous potential, there is not a single mention of tidal power in the 10-point plan. The 2020 energy White Paper stated merely that the Government would consider the role of tidal power in helping us meet the net zero objectives. That is simply not good enough.
I appreciate that the up-front costs of such a project are immense, but they are well worth it. I also recognise that we must give serious consideration to the ecological impact of such developments. We need to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises in tandem—clean energy cannot come at the expense of vulnerable natural habitats—but I agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that many benefits of tidal power, including its predictable and reliable energy output, more than justify the initial expense.
As someone who spent 27 on the shop floor of a Vauxhall car plant, it would be remiss of me not to mention the car industry. The electric vehicle revolution has the potential to revitalise an industry that has been devastated by the pandemic, but only with the unequivocal backing of Westminster. The Government must be far more ambitious in their vision for British car making, beginning with a commitment to the construction of three more gigafactories, to be in operation by 2025. I am sure my hon. Friends from Merseyside and Cheshire will join me in saying that the first of those should be in Ellesmere Port.
I look forward to the contributions of all hon. Members. I am aware that time is short, so I will conclude my remarks. The scale of the crisis we face demands a total transformation of our energy system. That will have profound implications for every part of our lives, from how we heat our homes to how we travel and power our economy. I am sure that that will be reflected in a diversity of contributions. Although I believe we should be honest about the scale of the challenge we face, we should equally embrace the enormous opportunities that a just transition to green energy affords us and our communities.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on bringing forward this very important debate.
I believe that the growing green-energy sector in the north-west and north Wales is integral to the success of our region. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Mersey Dee North Wales, I am committed to supporting it in any way that I can. I am also pleased to be holding a local COP26 summit in my constituency this coming Friday.
Green energy infrastructure will increasingly provide direct and indirect employment, help establish the region as a centre for technological development and contribute to the UK-wide goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. My comments today will be almost entirely positive, but I want to put on the record my concern that significant work has yet to take place to begin to decarbonise the region’s transport. Travel in the area predominantly takes place by car, but there is currently a distinct lack of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. Although many of the elements in the Government’s 10-point plan provide our region with an outstanding set of opportunities, it is important that we are not left behind on that issue.
There is also particular work to be done to achieve a modal shift from road to rail, and achieving that will require investment in rail infrastructure, as per the Growth Track 360 plan, and the decarbonisation of the existing network. The Irish sea is home to a number of offshore windfarms, including North Hoyle, Rhyl Flats, Burbo Bank and Gwynt y Môr, for which an extension, Awel y Môr, is currently being sought. Round 4 of the Crown Estate’s leasing programme proposes the development of three new areas of seabed between north Wales and the Isle of Man, possibly with new floating turbine technology. The region is also home to a significant nuclear sector cluster, known as the north west nuclear arc. It remains extremely important that attempts are made to deliver a Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Anglesey.
I am extremely pleased that the north-west is one of the Government’s industrial super-places. Critical to that is the work of HyNet, which aims to be the world’s first low-carbon industrial cluster, serving north-west England and north-east Wales. HyNet will convert natural gas to hydrogen at Stanlow, with carbon dioxide being successfully captured and stored in the former hydrocarbon fields in Liverpool bay, just off my constituency. I have engaged positively with HyNet representatives about their work, and I very much hope that when my right hon. Friend the Minister is discussing the Government’s cluster sequencing decision before 25 October, she looks favourably on HyNet North West.
Our region is also blessed with a lengthy coastline. The Morlais project in Anglesey is a tidal-flow demonstration zone, while tidal-range projects are increasingly of interest. One tidal lagoon has been proposed between Colwyn bay and Prestatyn, while another would be located in the Dee estuary at Mostyn. I know that there is huge interest also in the Mersey.
Tidal range has the potential to offer plentiful and reliable energy over the course of an exceptional operating life, while providing a valuable coastal flood-defence function in many cases. The UK’s world-leading tidal resource and expertise across finance, engineering and construction offer a significant opportunity for this alternative renewable energy source to help to reach our requirements while creating jobs and growth in priority regions such as ours.
The Tidal Range Alliance on behalf of the whole industry recently submitted a request for £20 million of grant funding to undertake pre-feasibility assessments of the most promising tidal-range projects and key staging technologies and constraints. In addition to my ask on HyNet, I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister would look favourably on the proposed tidal-range assessment fund, as I believe it could pay dividends. Our region will be critical in leading the way on green energy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this really important debate for us in the north-west of England.
My remarks are about how a UK invention made in the north-west has exciting potential to reduce carbon emissions across the world, create green energy and generate thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships here at home. I am referring to a cutting-edge piece of geothermal technology called the geo-engine, based in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The creators of the geo-engine have been meeting with north-west MPs to try to secure support for their technology. By supporting them in bringing this world-leading technology to market the Government could show the world that the UK’s words are matched by its actions when it comes to helping the world to meet its emissions targets. It would be a clear example on which the COP26 President, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), could draw as the UK hosts the conference in November.
I am pleased that the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), is in her place and I look forward to her response. She might recall that in a written answer to me on 7 June, she said:
“The geo-engine could help achieve the ambitious decarbonisation targets set in the North Sea Transition Deal for offshore gas published by BEIS in March.”
I was expecting her to see the wider benefits of the technology. I hope that she will be able to acknowledge the benefits that the geo-engine has to offer when she winds up the debate, and perhaps meet my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, the inventors of the geo-engine and me so that we can look at how it can be rolled out globally from the home of the north-west of England.
Let me explain the technology and its wider applications. The environment is harmed by the process of carbon dioxide flaring, which is used to burn off natural gas in CO2-contaminated natural gas fields around the world. It accounts for around 300 million tonnes of CO2 annually. That figure continues to rise as uncontaminated gas reserves dwindle. The geo-engine, however, is able to eliminate CO2 flaring by powering carbon capture and storage and creating surplus power that can be fed into the grid as net zero energy or used to create blue or green hydrogen.
With gas fields located around the world, there is a huge opportunity for the export and adoption of this UK technology. The UK could also benefit, so the investors believe, from the use of geo-engines in abandoned oil fields by recirculating the geothermal power sourced from hydrogen for hydrogen production. That could assist the UK significantly in its net zero energy future. The University of Liverpool and the geo-engine inventors are currently investigating that possibility further.
I have explained how, by supporting the geo-engine, the Government can help to meet carbon targets not only in the UK but in countries across the world. In the little time I have left, I will make clear the benefits for the UK beyond meeting its emission targets. If the Government are serious about building back better, there is no better way to do so than by supporting a home-grown invention with global importance and the potential to boost UK exports. The creators of geo-engine want to create thousands of skilled jobs in the north of England in the direct manufacture of the geo-engine and its specialist supply chain. It is a no-brainer, so let us make the north-west the real hub for green technology. I urge the Minister to please look seriously at backing the geo-engine.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this really important debate.
The Government have taken a global leadership role in setting an ambitious trajectory to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. My constituency has seen the closure of the Fiddlers Ferry coal-fired power station, which has been a physical landmark in the north-west of England over the past 12 months as the UK has shifted its focus from coal-fired power stations to more sustainable forms. However, that has had an impact on experienced, secure jobs in my part of the north-west.
We in the north-west are in a prime position to support the green industrial revolution, with local and regional industry acting as a springboard for low-carbon growth. With a diverse range of low-carbon projects already happening on the ground, I am optimistic that the north-west is destined to make a significant contribution to the UK’s net zero carbon emissions target. This is a legacy that we need to build on over the next few decades as we head towards our 2050 net zero target, from offshore wind and hydrogen to carbon capture and electric vehicles. Warrington in particular is a regional centre of excellence in the nuclear sector. These specialisms are conceived in northern minds and built by northern hands, and while it is right that our clean energy plans should be ambitious, much like the first industrial revolution, they must come with a positive return for local people.
I mentioned the jobs we have lost. We need skills change. We need more employment, and most importantly for the economic growth of our region, we need this to come quickly. I am really excited, therefore, by the prospect of HyNet, to which the Government have already committed £33 million and which is currently being developed by Cadent. As the Minister knows, HyNet will involve the development of new hydrogen pipelines across Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire and the creation of the UK’s first carbon capture and storage infrastructure.
HyNet has the potential to create £17 billion of added economic value for the north-west region and could create up to 5,000 jobs in the region by 2025. It will also deliver more than a million tonnes of CO2 savings per annum—the equivalent of taking more than 600,000 cars off the road every year—and will have a decarbonising effect against other sectors such as transport, industry and home heating. In short, it really is a game changer for the north-west. I am keen to ask the Minister, given the likely readiness of HyNet, whether she will look carefully at this project being given priority—track 1 —as one of the first projects to be moved forward in 2025.
In the time I have left, I will also mention some of the smaller projects, which can fuel and heat our homes deep within local communities. I was really pleased to learn that Lymm Community Energy, in my constituency, has secured funding from the rural community energy fund to assess the feasibility of constructing a 5 MW solar farm. The project has the potential to supply local residents, businesses and community facilities with electricity, and is investigating whether it could accommodate battery storage too. The proposed solar farm would support 1,500 homes and would save around 1,130 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. As well as that, any financial surplus generated will be put back into a community benefit fund that would support local projects and organisations. The combination of the large-scale HyNet project and the smaller Lymm energy project will fuel our homes, businesses and transport in the future. I look forward to seeing these projects achieve net zero and level up the country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for calling today’s important debate. We both share a passion for new job creation and investment in infrastructure across Merseyside and our north-west region.
As my hon. Friend said, the north-west of England was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The history of our region, the ingenuity of our people, our culture and our belief in the dignity of work as the tide that lifts all boats, mean we are well placed to lead on the coming industrial revolution—to innovate, to build and ultimately tackle the climate crisis head on.
Although we look back at our history, we do not dwell on it. Rather, it acts as a catalyst to ensure that we meet the demands of the 21st century, to create good jobs, to use the climate emergency as an economic opportunity for a just transition that takes manufacturing workers and communities on a journey that leaves no sector behind, especially the jewel in our crown—the automotive sector.
A new generation of leaders is taking up the fight to realise those demands. The Government talk a big game on levelling up. All I hope is that the substance behind the slogans matches the scale of the ambition that our metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has for Merseyside. The Liverpool city region was the first region to declare a climate emergency in June 2019, and the metro Mayor has committed to reaching net zero carbon by 2040, a decade ahead of the UK target.
The tidal range of the Mersey estuary provides us with a unique opportunity to create a low-carbon electricity generation project that has the potential to create up to 5,000 jobs. Highly skilled, green manufacturing jobs should power our economic recovery beyond the pandemic. It is calculated that the Mersey tidal power project has the potential to generate up to four times the energy of all the wind turbines in Liverpool bay: enough energy to power 1 million homes.
Sadly, we do not have much time this afternoon, but I want to use the time I have to champion the Mersey tidal power project. The Government have the levers at their disposal to make that happen, so give us the tools to get on with the job, not least through the north-west energy hub. In the year of COP26, we need bold affirmations in our devolved Administrations to assist in the UK-wide strategy to address the climate emergency.
As Mayor Rotheram’s manifesto states,
“The River Mersey has been the lifeblood of our fortunes for centuries.”
He is right. Let us make it so for the next century.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this very important debate. We are facing a climate emergency and I pay tribute to the innovative work being done by scientists, engineers and architects across the north-west to address the challenge. Work like that of architect—[Interruption.]
Order. Margaret Greenwood, I am sorry to interrupt. A Division bell is ringing in Westminster Hall at the moment, which means we are not hearing you at all. I understand that everyone here is proxied, so no one needs to leave. If you want to wait a moment until this stops, and start a little bit back, we can pick up your speech—because you are not getting a fair deal here.
Right, Ms Greenwood; I am terribly sorry about that. I sometimes forget how much I love this place. If you would like to go a few sentences back and pick up, I think that would be the fairest way to proceed.
Thank you very much, McCabe. The architect Colin Usher, who has built himself an award-winning home in West Kirby, said that it uses heat pumps, solar panels and exceptional insulation. As a result, it cost him and his wife just £15 a year for heating, lighting, cooking and hot water when the house was completed around six years ago.
The Energy Saving Trust has said that, for the UK to reach its net zero targets, we need to roll out heat pumps at pace and scale, yet the Government scrapped the green homes grant just over six months after its launch. More than 20 organisations, representing builders and construction businesses, energy companies and civil society groups, have called for households on low incomes to be supplied with free heat pumps in order to kickstart the market for low-carbon heating equipment and meet the UK’s climate targets, in a proposal that addresses both the climate emergency and the issue of fuel poverty. Can the Minister set out her response to that proposal?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has recently called for an electric vehicle revolution in every part of the country, in order to boost the car manufacturing industry and create jobs. Here in the north-west, that strategy is urgently needed. The electrification of the automotive industry is of great importance, as the north-west is home to many key automotive factories—including the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, where a number of my constituents work. For them, it has been an uncertain time, with the chief executive of Stellantis saying earlier this year that it was
“considering the closure of its Ellesmere Port factory unless the UK government offers financial support after extended negotiations.”
Last month, however, it was reported that recent discussions between Stellantis and the Government have been extremely positive and productive. Can the Minister give us an update on those discussions? Will she back Labour’s call to kickstart in this Parliament the development of three additional giga-factories to produce the batteries for electric vehicles? Will she accelerate the creation of charging points, particularly in north-west England, and will she pledge to make electric vehicle ownership affordable for people on lower incomes?
I pay tribute to the metro Mayor of the Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, for the work he is doing to address the challenges of climate change. The Mersey Tidal Commission has been established to look into ways of harnessing the power of the River Mersey as a source of clean, renewable and predictable energy for generations to come. It is estimated that a tidal barrage on the Mersey could generate enough electricity to power up to 1 million homes across the region, creating thousands of local jobs.
In March this year, the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to say that there is “substantial potential” for the tidal sector to make a “significant and distinct contribution” to the UK’s future mix of energy generated from renewable sources. It is therefore disappointing that the Government’s support for tidal energy has been only lukewarm up to now. Will the Minister personally take up this issue and give Liverpool city region the support that it needs?
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this really important debate on an issue that matters not only to all of us here, but to our constituents. I want to draw to the Minister’s attention a few points that are especially relevant to Cumbria, and I hope she can answer some of my questions.
In rural communities such as mine, the growth in the provision of ground source heat pumps in buildings around Cumbria, but particularly in the more rural areas, is hugely encouraging. I would be really grateful if the Minister spent some time looking at the problem whereby small businesses—very often farms—end up being charged ludicrous sums of money to get connected to the grid for the ground source heat pump to work. I have spoken to Electricity North West, which acknowledges that that is not great, but the company is allowed to do it, so it does so. The cost is sometimes about £7,000 or £8,000 per connection, which is massively debilitating for dairy farms and other small businesses in rural communities. That is the first thing I would love the Minister to look at.
Secondly, would the Minister look again at building regulations and insist that the provision of renewable energy is integral to all new builds, particularly solar panels? I understand why there is resistance to this: it adds cost to the bill, and green bills can sometimes be more expensive. However, that could be offset—more than offset—if the Government revised the Land Compensation Act 1961 to reduce the price of land at the same time. That would massively reduce the cost of building, meaning that it would be entirely affordable to insist on solar panels in every new building. Let us remember that retrofitting properties is far more expensive than doing the right thing in the first place when they are built.
Thirdly, could the Minister acknowledge that the Government’s ending of the feed-in tariff schemes for hydro energy and electricity has been massively damaging to that sector? A wonderful hydro-energy company in my constituency, Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon, has had to let go of almost 20% of its workforce indirectly as a consequence. Will the Minister announce now, or soon, ways in which the Government can provide incentives for hydroelectricity and ensure that the likes of Gilkes can expand in the future? It seems most peculiar in a county such as Cumbria, which I admit is occasionally damp and contains England’s fastest flowing waterways, that we are making such limited use of that water. Companies of great heritage, such as Gilkes, could be making sure not only that we employ more people in great jobs locally, but that we make use of the natural energy that is so abundant in the lakes and the dales.
Finally, I draw the Minister’s attention to something that MP colleagues in Cumbria and I have written to the Government about: the exciting prospect of tidal energy across Morecombe bay. This is an opportunity to connect the Furness Peninsula—or, as we say, “Lancashire over the sands”—with mainland Lancashire and, more importantly, to generate energy from that source. This Government need to take the blame, as do previous ones, for the fact that despite the United Kingdom having the largest tidal range on planet Earth after Canada, we tap nearly none of it. Morecombe bay is an opportunity to do just that.
I set these things in front of you, Mr McCabe, and the Minister, and I eagerly await her response. I suggest that all these proposals, and the many others put forward by hon. Members sat around the table and on the internet, could make Cumbria a—if not the—leading green energy provider in the UK, creating thousands of good, long-term jobs, contrasting beautifully with the somewhat less progressive proposal for a coalmine in west Cumbria, which I hope the Minister will agree to scrap.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this debate and for the excellent points in his introductory comments. As he said, he has a long, proud association with Ellesmere Port through his time at Vauxhall Motors; that company, with many others, is synonymous with my town. It is vital for their future prosperity that we get this right. They all impact the local economy and they also use huge amounts of energy, contributing about 5% of total energy usage in the UK. Faced with that fact, companies are not oblivious to the need to change and have been working together on a whole series of projects that will contribute to reaching net zero and enhance our local economy at the same time. [Interruption.]
Several Members have talked already about the HyNet North West project, which is vital for the future of industry, not just in my constituency but in the whole sub-region, if it is to meet the challenges of decarbonisation and increased energy costs.
In our area, we are fortunate enough to have an unbeatable combination of industry and geology, which means we can transition to a hydrogen-based economy faster than anyone else. Our current infrastructure can be easily converted to operate with hydrogen. HyNet believes that, as a result, it can capture up to 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. As we have heard from various Members already, there is cross-party and indeed cross-border support for HyNet; I refer not just to the border between England and Scotland, but to the equally important border between Cheshire and Merseyside.
It is vital that we get this transition right. Let me give one example of what that can mean. In my constituency, CF Fertilisers employs hundreds of people and supplies about 40% of the UK fertiliser market. It is also the front end of key supply chains for the production of products such as building insulation, Perspex products for car manufacturing, and key bathroom products such as sinks and baths, as well as respiratory medications, so moving to hydrogen will play a huge role in greening large parts of other sectors, too. There is a brighter future down the road, but to get to that point gas prices and emission costs need to remain affordable for companies such as CF Fertilisers over the next five years. They need as much certainty as can be offered by Government. We do not want winners and losers in different parts of the country to be played off against one another. We need to recognise the particular challenges that ammonia producers have. If the Minister needs further details, I am happy to provide them after the debate.
To reiterate a point made by several Members, it is critical to our part of the world that we get the green light to go ahead in phase 1. CF Fertilisers is just one of many businesses where lots of jobs are at risk if we do not get a sustained and consistent approach from Government. There is no doubt that the ambition in my area is there. The question is: will it be matched by Government? Germany is investing 10 times the amount that we are in its quest to deliver the same amount of hydrogen by 2030 that we hope to produce, so we really cannot afford to effect this transition by half-measures. For people’s livelihoods, for the thousands of jobs that it would create and for the future of the planet, we need this transition to be full steam ahead, if colleagues will pardon the pun.
The concept of a just transition is not only realistic but essential if we are to achieve the aims that I think we all want to achieve. When I walk around my constituency in 10 years’ time, I want to see people going about their daily business in electric vehicles that have been manufactured in Ellesmere Port, powered by batteries that have been made locally, driving into secure, well-paid jobs that they can raise a family on in a manufacturing industry that is enjoying a renaissance thanks to the advances we have made in carbon capture and hydrogen. I want us to be living in a time when emissions have gone down but wealth has gone up. That is the future I want. I hope that the Government share our vision and will work with us to make it a reality.
We are indeed in strange times: those of us who have been in the House for quite a long time have a Pavlovian reaction every time the bell goes off—we jump up and run down the corridor. To resist doing that, and to resist saying anything in the meantime, is a new skill that we need to get used to.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on having secured this afternoon’s debate. It is a really important debate that sheds light on two things in particular, and he is to be commended for the excellent way he presented the case for renewable energy in the north-west.
First, we must recognise what an important part of the country the north-west is, in terms of both its renewable resources and their utilisation for the benefit of the country as a whole. Some of those resources have been mentioned in the time permitted to us this afternoon. A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), spoke about the tremendous tidal resource in the north-west. Not many people know that the tidal range in the Mersey estuary is the second highest in the UK, closely followed by the Morecambe Bay tidal range. Parts of the north-west should be in the driving seat when it comes to utilising tidal energy for the future benefit of the UK. Of course, we already have substantial penetration of offshore wind in the Irish sea and a number of installations close to the north-west coastline, but anyone who has seen the offshore wind projects timeline charts put out by RenewableUK will know that, despite the tremendous offshore wind resource in the north-west, development of offshore wind has essentially stalled in that area. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) mentioned that some new leases are under way, particularly for floating wind, but performance at the moment is, frankly, very poor when it comes to developing this tremendous asset that the north-west has.
We have also heard from hon. Members not just about the north-west’s physical assets, but its human assets, including the assets of ingenuity and thought that have gone into the HyNet project. I unequivocally commend that scheme to this House for its proactive imagination, its importance, and its ability to bring jobs and skill chains to the north-west, which will benefit the north-west and the country as a whole. It combines carbon capture and storage and hydrogen and brings forward industrial processes, and the developers of that project are to be applauded—[Interruption.]
I will shout my way through it, Mr McCabe. I am trying to draw our attention this afternoon to the north-west’s rich renewable resources that the north-west has, and how imperative it is that those resources be exploited for the benefit of the whole country as soon as possible. Hon. Members have underlined why that is so important.
The second important point to discuss is what the Government are doing about exploiting the resources and supporting the people, local councils and industries of the north-west in getting those schemes under way. The marks are pretty low here. I mentioned the lack of development of offshore wind, and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wirral West said Government support for tidal power was lukewarm. That was extremely kind of her, because as far as I am concerned, Government support has been stone cold. That needs to be urgently reversed, in order to bring the resources for secure, stable, low carbon energy forward in the way we know is possible, in Morecambe, the Mersey and other sites in the north-west, to the benefit of the whole country.
It is important to put the two parts of the debate together—what the potential is, and what the Government are doing about it. Those two things need to be in close harness. If the result of this debate is better Government support for renewables in the north-west, that would be a very good achievement indeed.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this important debate. I assure the House that this Government are ensuring that we have an energy system that delivers a cleaner and greener future. We are determined that every place, every community and every industry in the UK, including of course the north-west, has the support it needs to successfully transitioned to green energy.
We only need to look at what happened with coal and wind in the last few decades and the political consensus that has formed around reducing our emissions to see that the nation is embracing a move to green energy. Members have shared their passion and commitment to a just transition to net zero in this debate. The energy White Paper, which we published in December last year, set out plans for the historic transformation of the UK’s energy system for a cleaner future, including fully decarbonising our electricity generation by 2050. We have shown that rapid progress on decarbonisation is possible, alongside a thriving economy.
We recognise, of course, the need to ensure that industries move to clean energy in a sustainable way, which is why we have announced in recent years the industry strategy challenge fund, the industrial energy transformation fund and the clean steel fund. Those funds support the meeting of green energy goals in key industrial regional clusters and sectors. In addition to those funds, the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution set out how we will work with industry to help deliver our net zero targets in a way that creates employment opportunities in green energies as they emerge. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) raised some important north-west leadership points in relation to nuclear, which were very interesting to hear, as it is a key low carbon part of our future energy mix.
In the 10-point plan, there is a commitment to deploy carbon capture usage and storage in at least two industrial clusters by the mid-2020s and a further two clusters by 2030, with an ambition to capture 10 megatonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. In May this year, we launched the first phase of the CCUS cluster sequencing process. On the concerns about other technologies of the hon. Member for Birkenhead and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker), they will be pleased to know that allocation round 4 of the contracts for difference later this year will include less established technologies, including floating offshore wind, advanced conversion technologies and tidal stream. The delivery of at least two CCUS clusters is not the extent of the ambition, with a commitment to support four by 2030 at the latest. The Government are also clear that, in order to reach net zero, all industrial clusters will need to decarbonise and CCUS is going to play a key role in enabling that.
The industrial decarbonisation strategy and the forthcoming heat in buildings and net zero strategies will set out how targeted investment, underpinned by support for technology innovation, will help enable a more sustainable long-term path, while protecting jobs and supporting levelling up across the UK. I hope that will give my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) reassurance on many of the transportation issues that were raised.
This debate gives us an opportunity to recognise the significant contribution the north-west has already made and plans to make to investing in green energy. I will take a moment to recognise a couple of those excellent contributions. Winnington in Cheshire will be home to the UK’s first industrial carbon capture and utilisation plant. The £15.7 million project will be funded by Tata Chemicals Europe, with the support of a £4.2 million grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy through our carbon capture and utilisation demonstration programme. The plant is near completion and due to commence carbon dioxide capture operations this year.
The hydrogen energy and carbon capture and utilisation storage project, HyNet North West, which many colleagues mentioned, is an innovative low carbon and hydrogen energy project that will unlock a low carbon economy for the whole of the north-west and north Wales, and put the region at the forefront of the UK’s drive to net zero. The project will receive almost £33 million of funding from the industrial decarbonisation challenge, and will be important for our efforts to decarbonise industry in support of the Government’s wider net zero ambition. I am really looking forward to my visit to HyNet North West later in the summer. I would be happy to meet the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) to learn more about the geo-engine technology, when my diary allows.
Finally, since 2015, Electricity North West has spent £33 million on innovation projects which have already delivered £46 million of benefit to consumers across the north-west. I am sure hon. Members agree that these kinds of bold and innovative investments, such as those happening in the north-west, will be vital to positioning the UK as global leader in the future energy industry. This Government are absolutely committed to working closely with communities and industry to enable that transition to green energy.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) will be pleased to read the heat and buildings strategy when it is published soon, as it will answer some of his questions. I am sorry, Mr McCabe, but I am still quite excited that I brought carbon budget 6 into law yesterday and signed the legislation this afternoon, which means that we are genuinely world-leading in the challenge that we have set ourselves. When we publish the first net zero strategy of any country in the world in the autumn, we will be genuinely demonstrating our world-leading effort to get to net zero by 2050. That will be achieved through creating green jobs, targeting investment and supporting the innovative technologies that we are seeing across the north-west and across the UK, which will help us to achieve a cleaner and greener future for us all.
I thank you for serving as chair today, Mr McCabe, and all hon. Members for contributing to the debate, which has benefitted greatly from their enthusiasm and expertise, and I am not forgetting the Division bells either.
I welcome the comments made by the hon. Members for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter) on the HyNet North West project, and I am glad to see these proposals attracting support from across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) put me to shame by highlighting the important work that a company based in my constituency is doing to combat the effects of climate change, while also driving economic growth across our region. He is right to highlight the enormous potential of the geo-engine, and I echo the important comments he made about the necessity of the Government’s report.
My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) rightly expanded on the many ways that Merseyside can play its role in combating climate breakdown, from harnessing the immense power of the Mersey tidal range to greening our transport. I have no doubt that these are issues upon which we will campaign together in the future. I also thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for his insightful contribution on the issues facing rural communities as we decarbonise our energy system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) rightly described the profound impact the transition to a low-carbon economy could have on his constituents in particular, and the region more widely. I agree with every word he said. As I said in my opening remarks, the shadow Minister’s interest in this issue is long-standing and his passion was clear for all to see.
Finally, I thank the Minister for her thoughtful response to the points I and others raised.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered green energy in the North West.