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Topical Questions

Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2023

Since my last appearance at departmental questions in September, we have shown that Britain remains open for business. Through our announcement on AR6, we have taken the next steps towards 50 GW of offshore wind energy. We have announced £960 million of investment in advanced manufacturing for key net zero sectors, including offshore wind networks, carbon capture, usage and storage, hydrogen and nuclear. We have set out the most radical plans to update the grid since the 1950s. I have signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to ensure closer co-operation on nuclear and offshore wind, bringing in £10 billion as well.

Given the success of exempting the ceramics sector from the climate change levy, and the risks of carbon leakage from offshoring the industry, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider exempting the ceramics sector from the emissions trading scheme?

I know that my hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of the ceramics sector. The sector receives free allocations under the ETS, reducing carbon price exposure and mitigating its risk of carbon leakage. The Government are reviewing the free allocations policy and will consult this year to ensure that we effectively support at-risk industries.

The world sorely needs leadership at COP28, but the verdict of our most globally respected climate expert, Lord Stern, earlier this month was damning. He said that the Government’s backsliding on climate action is a “deeply damaging mistake”—damaging for the UK, the world and the future of us all. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to place on record her response to Lord Stern?

The right hon. Gentleman should understand that we have the most ambitious climate target of any of our international peers. If he looks at the delivery today, he will see that we overshot on carbon budgets 1 and 2, and we are on track to overshoot on carbon budget 3. In fact, the UN gap report showed just last week that between 2015 and 2030 the UK is expected to reduce emissions at the fastest rate of any of the G20 countries.

The Secretary of State has no response to Lord Stern. The problem is that he sees a Government preaching one thing and doing another. Her negotiators at COP will argue to phase out fossil fuels, but she wants to drill every last drop at home and open new coalmines. She will tell developing countries that climate action is good for the economy, but the Government use climate delay to divide people here at home. Does she not realise that climate hypocrisy just trashes our reputation and undermines our leadership?

I completely reject that characterisation. At COP28, we will be talking about the UK’s leadership when it comes to cutting emissions. We had cut emissions more than any of our international peers by 1990. Even if we look forward to our targets for 2030, we see that we will still be cutting emissions by more than any of our international peers. That is something that the right hon. Gentleman would do well to welcome.

T2. Paragraph 3.10.14 of the National Policy Framework Statement EN-3 states that new solar farms should avoid the use of “‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land where possible”,using the designations of the agricultural land classifications. But there are concerns that field surveys can artificially downgrade land. Will my right hon. Friend say that both she and the planning inspectorate will be vigilant in protecting best and most versatile land and in ensuring the integrity of land classification? (900358)

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work championing both this area and the concerns of his constituents. As he rightly says, planning policy and guidance encourage large solar projects to locate on previously developed or lower value land and we will indeed undertake to be vigilant in ensuring that those principles are respected.

T4. Given the UK’s decline under this Government to seventh place behind the US and Germany in attracting green investment as per Ernst and Young’s analysis, what urgent steps is the Secretary of State taking to boost our competitiveness in green industries? (900360)

The hypocrisy and the ignorance coming from the Labour party is extraordinary. We have decarbonised more than any major economy on this earth and we will decarbonise more to 2030, and we are doing it by unlocking a level of investment into renewable energy double that we have seen in the United States. So, Labour can take its selective facts and put them where the sun don’t shine.

I think that we have had a few problems with language already. I am sure the Minister will think carefully before he answers again.

T5. What plans do the UK Government have to buy the Wylfa site and associated intellectual property from Horizon to expedite gigawatt development at Wylfa in my constituency of Ynys Môn? Will the nuclear roadmap lay out a clear role for large gigawatt-scale nuclear projects like Wylfa after Sizewell C? (900361)

It would not be Energy questions without a question on Wylfa from my hon. Friend, who is such a champion for that technology and for her constituency. We all agree that Wylfa is a great candidate for new nuclear and one of several potential sites that could host new projects—[Interruption.] Ignore the luddites on the SNP Benches. As a first step towards a new national policy statement, the Government will consult later this year on a way forward to determine how new nuclear developments might be located.

T6. In energy-rich Scotland, roughly one in three households in my constituency is living in fuel poverty. A properly designed social tariff would at least alleviate some of that poverty. Why have the Government broken their promise of a year ago to consult on a social tariff? (900362)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated earlier, a social tariff can mean different things to different people. We are consulting suppliers and many stakeholders to ensure that what we are doing is the right thing. We are also looking at flexibility around the warm home discount.

T7. In February, the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero assured me from the Dispatch Box that a decision on hydrogen blending was coming soon. Seven months later, in September, the Department’s consultation again promised that a decision would come soon. How can our constituents trust that this Government know what they are doing when they keep dithering over proven technology that would cut our carbon emissions, our constituents’ energy bills and our dependence on foreign gas imports? (900363)

The Government aim to reach a strategic policy decision before the end of the year on whether to support blending of up to 20% hydrogen by volume into the GB gas distribution networks. We are building the evidence to determine whether blending offers strategic and economic value and meets the required safety standards.

T8. On the subject of facts, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) just said that there are currently zero planning applications in the pipeline for onshore wind in England. Can the Minister please confirm whether that is true? (900364)

As I have said in earlier answers, we are seeking to encourage more applications. As far as I know, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) may be right, which is exactly why we are consulting on improving community benefits and have consulted on changing the planning system.

I welcome the fact that the UK is doing more offshore wind than any other country in Europe, but fishermen in Leigh-on-Sea are deeply concerned about the effect of expanding offshore on fish stocks. Can the Minister assure me that renewable power production on the south Essex coast will also focus on tidal, and will he join my vision to make Southend pier a shining beacon of renewables, completely powered by tidal energy?

I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for tidal. We have had a specific pot in previous rounds of the CfD precisely to develop that. We are the world leader in deployment and will continue to be, and I hope that her vision for her local area will be fulfilled.

T9. Over the past year, the north-east has seen a dramatic collapse in the number of homes being upgraded through the Government’s sustainable warmth and eco schemes. That poor record is costing households in my constituency dearly. What is the Minister going to do to put it right? (900365)

I have previously answered questions on that and indicated that we have committed to making sure that we eradicate fuel poverty and support all people with their energy bills.

With organisations such as the Dalton Nuclear Institute and the University of Bolton Institute for Materials Research and Innovation, combined with the Greater Manchester vision for “Atom Valley”, will my hon. Friend update the House on the part that it will play in Britain’s nuclear future?

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued support for this growing and important sector. Alongside the work of the nuclear skills taskforce, we are currently in phase B of our advanced modular reactor research, development and demonstration programme. We aim to demonstrate that technology by the 2030s to decarbonise industry and we welcome his support in that work.

As part of the recent floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme, ambitious and comprehensive bids for funding to support developments by three major industry players on the Tyne were unsuccessful. Will the Minister meet me and those key Tyne businesses to discuss what further opportunities the Department can bring to mobilise the high-quality assets of our great river?

The Government are collaborating with industry to identify solutions to unblock barriers to offshore wind deployment. I know that the UK Infrastructure Bank is providing support to the Port of Tyne. The FLOWMIS project is currently live, so I cannot comment on it, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss these issues.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a lot of progress in trying to bring together a holistic network, but it is too late for communities in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. In that regard, will she request that the electricity system operator publishes its survey of the Bradwell site, and that it undertakes a fresh one, with a full cost-benefit analysis, as a pilot for future connections?

As my right hon. Friend knows, the ESO has conducted an investigation into Bradwell and its suitability, but I am happy to meet her again to discuss Bradwell, the location of future projects, and how we might work together to ensure that her constituents see the benefits of any future energy infrastructure built in that part of the country.

It now seems clear that the funds that the Government plan to commit to loss and damage at COP28 will come from the UK’s existing climate finance commitments. We cannot tackle the climate crisis by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Given that a properly resourced and operational loss and damage finance fund has to be a litmus test of success, will the Minister commit to looking at new and additional forms of funding, including a permanent windfall tax on fossil fuel companies and a tax on high-emission travel, to deliver new finance and make polluters pay?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight loss and damage as we approach COP28. We were pleased to play our part on the transitional committee in getting a recommendation to COP, and we look forward to its being operationalised in the near future. I agree with her that, if we are to get the scale of finance that is required, particularly for the most vulnerable countries at the front end, we need to look at innovative ways of adding to that finance.

Wind energy projects have a standard compensation scheme for all local communities, but solar projects do not. Industry will not act, so I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to bring in a standard measure for all solar projects to bring fairness to clean energy in our communities.

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for pursuing this matter assiduously; we have met and discussed it, among other issues. I think both industry and communities would appreciate greater clarity about community benefits, and I look forward to discussing that with her further.

One in four households in my constituency is now living in fuel poverty, compared with the national average of one in 10. Why do the Government continue to give millions to gas and oil giants, which enjoy billions in bumper profits, while our constituents continue to be dragged into poverty?

Regrettably, the content of so many Opposition Members’ questions this morning is absolutely not in line with reality. Oil and gas production in the UK not only typically has lower emissions than the alternative of imports, but supports 200,000 jobs, all of which would be at risk if the Labour party came to power. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, it is expected to raise £50 billion of tax over the next five years, all of which—including the safety of his constituents—would be at risk if Labour ever came to power.

Do my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for Nuclear and Networks, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), agree that the very best location for two 470 MW Rolls-Royce small modular reactors is next to Sellafield, which will use some of the power and is a centre of nuclear excellence?

My hon. Friend is another great champion for nuclear. It gave me great pleasure to visit her constituency just a few weeks ago to see the great work being done at Sellafield. As we have set out, we aim to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear energy by 2050, and we remain open to all available technologies that will deliver it. We are developing a new national policy statement that will provide the planning framework for new nuclear power beyond 2025. We are consulting on a proposed way forward for determining how new nuclear developments might be located.

This year, receipts from the emissions trading scheme will reach a new peak of £6.2 billion. The effects of attacks on energy-intensive industries are felt by workers in the aluminium and steel industries, and this week by workers at Grangemouth, where one of our few remaining oil refineries is going to close. Despite what the Minister said earlier, is it not a fact that, rather than helping energy-intensive industries, net zero policies are destroying them and sending them overseas?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the EU has already legislated for a carbon border adjustment mechanism. Following our hosting of COP26, 90% of global wealth was covered by net zero pledges. At the beginning of that conference, the figure was just 30%. The right hon. Gentleman may not see it, but this is the direction the world is going in, and if he wants to future-proof British jobs he will get with the decarbonisation programme. Opposing it is to oppose the interests of his constituents and the sustainability of their of their jobs.

Melton CLP has of the biggest sites in Hyndburn and Haslingden. The renewables obligation certificate is due to end in 2027, and certainty is needed on whether the scheme will be extended or another scheme will take its place. Will the Minister give us some assurances as to what comes next?

Mindful of how loquacious I am, I simply say to my hon. Friend that I will meet her to discuss the matter.

Over the space of a year, living in a cold home cost 21 of my constituents their lives. One reason behind that tragic figure is that homes in rural communities are more difficult to insulate. On that basis, will the Minister urgently review the ECO4 and ECO+ guidelines to prioritise the hardest properties to insulate so that we cut bills and save lives?

Of course it is always a tragedy to hear such figures. I have regular meetings with the hon. Gentleman and I will have a meeting to discuss this issue further, because this Government are committed to supporting all vulnerable people, including all those who have disabilities and additional needs.