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Commons Chamber

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024

House of Commons

Tuesday 16 April 2024

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

I have a short announcement to make regarding the implementation of recommendations made by the Procedure Committee in its report, “Correcting the record”, which the House agreed to on 24 October.

Hansard has now made the necessary changes to enable all Members to submit written corrections to the Official Report when they have made errors of fact in their contributions. When such corrections are published, a footnote will appear in the print version of Hansard, with hyperlinks in the online version that will direct the reader to the original content. The same will apply to corrections made via points of order and in written ministerial statements. In accordance with the Committee’s recommendation, a central corrections page, listing all corrections in chronological order and updated weekly, will be published on Parliament’s website.

Further information can be found on ParliNet, or by consulting the Hansard managing editors.

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Floating Offshore Wind

1. What steps her Department is taking to support floating offshore wind projects in the Celtic sea. (902273)

Britain is a pioneer of floating offshore wind. We are working with the Crown Estate to lease 4.5 GW of seabed capacity for floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and we are supporting emerging technologies with a separate funding pot in allocation round 6.

The White Cross project in the Celtic sea has a cable due to come ashore in my constituency, and it advises me that it is unable to agree compensation to businesses disrupted by these works due to a lack of Government guidance. Will my right hon. Friend meet me—and, ideally, come to see where the project is due to make landfall—to find an alternative cable route, and if not, will she ensure that White Cross is in a position to fully compensate the businesses that will be hugely impacted if the planned cable route proceeds?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a doughty campaigner for floating offshore wind. I am unable to comment on any specific concerns about a particular planning decision, but I am sure the relevant Minister will be happy to meet her to discuss how the Government can provide better guidance on compensation. People whose land is acquired compulsorily should not be left worse off financially, and compensation should be offered in line with the statutory compensation code.

I thank my right hon. Friend for a typically pithy question. We are doing an enormous amount to support the landscape for investments in this country that rely on equity, whether that is through full capital expensing, or, in my area of responsibility, the green industries growth accelerator.

I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that much of Britain’s energy needs could be met, and generated, offshore. Alongside floating wind power, we also have the opportunity to take advantage of tidal and marine power. Does she recognise that Britain has the second largest tidal range in the world after Canada, yet we use so little of it? To put that right, will she agree to meet me, other colleagues in this House and the northern tidal power gateway to look at how we can gain green, renewable, secure British energy from Morecambe bay?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have been following tidal power for many years, and he is right to point out that the UK has both a strong record in renewables and an interesting geological landscape for new renewable technologies. We have dedicated £105 million—our biggest ever budget—to the flow of emerging technologies through AR6, but I would be delighted to meet him to discuss his work further.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. There is always a competition. As I represent Strangford, the fishing sector is very important to me. It is important that we have floating offshore wind projects, but also to ensure that fishing can be sustainable. In these discussions, can she confirm that the interests of the fishing industry and representation from the fishing industry are given appropriate weight, taking into consideration the need for sustainable fishing to continue? Without fishing my people will lose jobs.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. We are passionate supporters of the fishing industry. We continue to have conversations with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we share our marine bed in an equitable way, not only getting the most out of it for our clean energy needs but protecting the fishing industry.

I am sure the Secretary of State does not want a repeat on her watch of the failure of allocation round 5, when her Department managed to crash the offshore wind market. However, the industry is already warning that the parameters set for floating wind in the next round, AR6, could mean that only one sub-gigawatt project succeeds in getting contract for difference support: way off the Government’s recently trumpeted target of 5 GW of floating offshore by 2030. What steps is she taking to ensure that we do not see another failure and lose the global race for this emerging technology?

If people want to ensure that we win the global race for renewable technology, they should, frankly, vote Conservative. Under the Conservatives, world-leading mechanisms have been introduced. The only country that has built more offshore wind capacity than the UK is China. We have an enormous and very successful track record, and continue to work with industry to ensure that AR6 will be a success.

I am not sure that answer gives much reassurance to industry or this House. The truth is that uprating our port infrastructure is critical for deploying floating offshore wind and for reaching a zero carbon power system, but Government support is so inadequate that they are funding only two ports, dropping viable projects on the way, when, according to the floating offshore wind taskforce, to reach floating offshore wind ambitions we need infrastructure upgraded in at least 11 ports. Is this not another example of the Government failing to invest for the future and failing to back British industry?

The only failure on renewable energy is the record Labour left when they were in power, when 7% of our electricity was generated from renewables whereas now that figure is 50%. On ports, not only have we got our world-leading freeport agenda but we have put forward projects such as FLOWMIS—the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme—which is also helping to build our port infrastructure.

With 17 GW of floating offshore wind planned to be anchored within 100 nautical miles of Aberdeen, what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that technological and engineering knowledge and wherewithal and supply chain investment are also anchored within 100 miles of the north-east of Scotland?

We are doing an enormous amount of work on supply chains. We have put forward our £1 billion green industries growth accelerator fund to support British supply chains, and we are also taking steps to attract investment into this country to build British business. All of that will be positive for the Scottish offshore wind sector.

Fuel Poverty: Winter 2023-24

2. What estimate she has made of the number of households that were in fuel poverty in winter 2023-24. (902274)

24. What estimate she has made of the number of households that were in fuel poverty in winter 2023-24. (902297)

As previously stated, fuel poverty is devolved. Statistics for England estimate that there were 3.17 million households in fuel poverty in 2023, over 1.5 million fewer than in 2010.

April’s new price cap will see 6 million households across the UK in fuel poverty and National Energy Action estimates this figure will include 8,800 households in North Tyneside alone. The Government promised their household upgrading scheme would help 100,000 households but in nine months it has helped fewer than 5,000 and only 15 in my constituency. Can the Minister account for the abysmal failure of the flagship policy?

I stand by the Government’s record of support on fuel poverty: we have helped with affordability and with insulation and energy efficiency. We have given unprecedented support to 350,000 households, who were kept out of fuel poverty at the energy peak in 2022.

Electricity standing charges for people in the north-east are 71.2p per day while those in the south pay 40.79p per day. Can the Minister explain why the people in the north-east, the area experiencing the highest levels of fuel poverty in the country, are paying 75% more than those in other regions simply for the privilege of being connected to the grid?

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point on standing charges, which is one reason why we have urged Ofgem to gather information on them. We have had over 30,000 responses and will be looking at this in due course.

In the Office for National Statistics and House of Commons data, fuel poverty in England was 13.5% back in 1996. It rose to 22% by 2010 and, as has already been mentioned, it fell back to 13% in 2023. Does the Minister agree that that shows that Conservatives deliver energy policy with environmental and economic good sense and have done a lot better than the last Labour Government?

As I said, we are incredibly proud of our record on heading towards net zero and ensuring energy security so that never to have to go through the cost of living crisis that we have recently gone through.

Large Solar Farms: National Grid

3. If she will make an assessment of the ability of the National Grid to connect to large solar farms in (a) 2024 and (b) 2029. (902275)

Network companies are expected to deliver connections by the date stipulated in customer connection agreements. Reforms to accelerate the connection process and build times for transmission infrastructure will help to ensure that expectation is met.

May I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities and urge him to focus on this particular issue? According to a recent report by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, 44% of investors in solar power say there are problems getting interconnections with the grid. We know there are issues in the distribution network, which means that the transmission network is probably the only place that large-scale utility solar farms can connect, and people are worried that only particular parts of that network accept contracts. Will the Minister look at that in detail, because there are major concerns in my constituency that there will be connections at Eaton Socon power station, which is one of the few places where contracts are being offered?

That is absolutely understood. As set out in the spring Budget, the Government are working with Ofgem and network companies to release more network capacity and to prevent speculative projects from obtaining and retaining network capacity. That, alongside faster network infrastructure delivery, should result in more capacity across the country and help to reduce any clustering of generation projects.

National grid infrastructure is critical to the delivery and connection of these solar farms, as it is for onshore and offshore wind. The importance and urgency of that was stressed by the Winser review of August last year. The Government have got until 2030 to deliver this policy. Will the Minister update us on the transmission acceleration action plan?

The hon. Member is spot on. We are proud to have gone from 7% renewable energy to 47%. To go further, we must hit those ambitious targets by unlocking additional investment. For example, through the accelerating strategic transmission investment process, we anticipate unlocking a further £198 billion of investment by 2030. Alongside the changes I have already set out, that will be key to getting that extra power generated through solar.

Surely it is not an adequate justification for building solar farms on 10,000 acres within a six-mile radius that Gainsborough is close to the national grid serving the old power stations. Is that not gross overdevelopment on good arable land, and should the inspector not take account of this overdevelopment?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s raising this point. That is why it is clear in planning policy and guidance that solar projects should be directed to previously developed or non-greenfield land. That was the message we reinforced in the January national planning statement to ensure that we reduce unnecessary clustering.

May I also welcome the Minister to his new role? According to National Grid, £58 billion of investment is needed to meet our 2035 decarbonising target. British electricity demand is expected to rise by 64% in the next 10 years, and the current system is still designed around electricity sources of the past, such as coal. New cables need to be built to bring electricity from renewable energy sources, as we have already heard. What assessment has the Department made of the impact this problem is having on green investment?

I thank the hon. Member for her kind words. I enjoyed working with her on many occasions in my former roles. The Government have continued to work with the public and business to unlock additional investment. For example, through the connections action plan, we expect an additional 40 GW of accelerated collection dates to be released, which will particularly help in the area of solar. We are also looking at the £85 billion of investment we have unlocked since the autumn statement through the transmission acceleration action plan. Those are all vital components to hit our ambitious targets.

Net Zero Targets: Business and Investors

4. What recent discussions she has had with businesses and investors on the Government’s net zero targets. (902276)

12. What recent discussions she has had with businesses and investors on the Government’s net zero targets. (902285)

As a Department, our ministerial team meet regularly with industry: for example, through the hydrogen investor forum, the Offshore Wind Industry Council, the solar taskforce, the Green Jobs Delivery Group and the cross-cutting Net Zero Council, which is shortly celebrating its first anniversary.

Car makers warned what would happen before the Government delayed the end date for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. Sure enough, sales of new electric cars are down by 19% in the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Switching to electric driving is cheaper over the lifetime of the vehicle. Why did the Government not listen to the warnings from business? Do they not want people to benefit from cheaper travel?

I proudly drive an electric vehicle myself, and I celebrated the fact that 48,388 electric vehicles were registered in March 2024 alone.

Eight in 10 of the large energy companies recently surveyed by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association agreed that the UK is falling behind in the race to become the most investable market for low-carbon technologies. What steps will the Minister take to reassure the clean energy industry that the UK is serious about the transition to net zero, which must include moving away from a commitment to max out oil and gas production?

I very much welcome the hon. Member’s highlighting the importance of this area. I am sure that he will join me in celebrating the fact that we secured £60 billion of investment in low-carbon technology in 2023, up a staggering 71% on the previous year. We are heading in the right direction to meet our ambitious target.

Does the Minister agree that it is economic madness to pursue our current ruthless net zero agenda, outsourcing carbon production to the likes of China and forcing us to pay more to heat our homes and power our economy? We must put the British taxpayer first.

It is crucial that we work with the public and businesses, not against them. In “Powering up Britain” we set out our plan to secure our energy system by ensuring a resilient and reliable supply, increasing our energy efficiency and, crucially—my hon. Friend will welcome this—bringing down bills.

The Zero Carbon Humber projects are a vital part of the country’s achieving its net zero target. However, there is concern among potential investors—particularly in connection with the carbon cluster projects—that the Government are moving a little too slowly. Will the Minister reassure those businesses that the timetable will be honoured?

My hon. Friend regularly champions investment in his constituency, working closely alongside the businesses he supports. We understand the importance of that. Just before Christmas, we set out a road map to speed up the process, which we very much hope will unlock that vital investment for his community.

I welcome the Minister to his post. I think he is struggling a little bit to get with the programme, but hopefully he will soon be on message. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] That was in terms of his answer to the question about being anti-net zero.

The Department confirmed last month that curtailment payments cost a whopping £1.4 billion last year. That is bill payers’ money being used to pay providers to switch off wind power and switch on gas. Why should people be paying even more on their energy bills to switch off cleaner and cheaper energy because the Government have failed to deliver the net zero capacity that we need?

That is why we have been focusing on expanding the interconnectors network so that, where we produce energy that we cannot use domestically, it can be sold. I also welcome last year’s large-scale expansion of battery farms—they have been springing up at an amazing speed—which allow us to store the energy supplied that exceeds demand.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s predictions of what the curtailment payments will be in the coming year, because they were up for the previous year. In a survey of energy industry leaders, nearly 90% said that we need new policies to make the UK more attractive to investors. Nearly two thirds are moving investment out of the UK, and three quarters blame a lack of clarity from this Government on net zero. Is it not time for Ministers and Back Benchers to drop the culture war and put British industry and jobs first?

On a lack of clarity, I think the shadow Minister has mixed things up with the green prosperity plan. Even I cannot keep up with the latest position of senior figures in the Labour party, but I think the shadow team lost that battle. The reality is that in 2023 we secured £60 billion of private investment in low carbon technology, which was up a staggering 71% on the previous year. That is a credit to our team who delivered that.

Rooftop Solar Panel

The Government recently consulted on the future homes and buildings standards, which explore how we can drive on-site renewable electricity generation, such as solar panels, in new homes and buildings. In December we simplified planning processes for larger rooftop installations by removing the 1 MW cap for non-domestic arrays in permitted development rights.

The CPRE’s rooftop solar campaign calls for far greater emphasis on the installation of solar panels on our nation’s rooftops, rather than the promotion of ground-mounted solar on greenfield and agricultural land, which harms our natural environment and imperils UK food security. Would the Minister be kind enough to read the CPRE’s “Lighting the way” report, which highlights international best practice on this issue?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his recommended reading. I was aware of the CPRE’s rooftop campaign, and I am keen to understand the findings of its latest report. As set out in the British energy security strategy and the energy security plan, we are aiming for 70 GW of solar capacity by 2035. That would be more than quadruple our current installed capacity. We need to maximise the deployment of both types of solar to achieve that ambition.

This is my first chance to offer my condolences to you, Mr Speaker, on the death of your dad. He was a great man and helped induct me into this place when I first came here in 1979.

If we are to have a proper domestic solar roll-out across, we desperately need more trained people in the green sector. What will the Minister do about that? Is it not about time that every university and further education college offered apprenticeships and ways in to these wonderful jobs? Will he talk to industry leaders, such as Octopus, about their shortage of skilled men and women?

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets companies such as Octopus. Through our green jobs delivery plan we are enticing more people into the jobs of the future, to help deliver our ambitious targets. It is interesting to note that Labour’s plans would halve the number of apprenticeships for those jobs in the UK, should it ever get into power.

Onshore Wind Planning Applications

6. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on trends in the number of onshore wind planning applications. (902279)

In 2023, 80 onshore wind planning applications were submitted in Great Britain—a 27% increase from 2022. We have recently changed planning policy in England to pave the way for more onshore wind projects where there is local support.

It is now seven months since the Government claimed to have lifted the onshore wind ban. The Secretary of State at the time claimed that her decision would speed up the delivery of projects. Since then, no new applications for onshore wind farms for domestic use have been submitted. Does the Minister think that that has been a success?

Unlike the Opposition, we like to work with and listen to communities around the country. We believe in local consent for projects. It should be up to local communities to decide whether and how much onshore wind they want in their area. The Opposition do not like to talk about this, but we must remember that in 2010, a pitiful 7% of electricity came from renewables—that is up to 50% under this Government.

Solar Farms: Impact on Local Communities

As with any new development, solar projects may impact communities. The planning system considers all perspectives when balancing local impacts with national need. It is important that local areas benefit from hosting net zero infrastructure. Many developers already offer community benefit packages.

If the Minister had wanted to see the impact that a massive solar farm, such as the so-called Lime Down carbuncle in my constituency, will have on local people, he should have come to Malmesbury town hall last week, where 750 people were protesting against this appalling plan in North Wiltshire. It is going to be 2,000 acres of panels, 3 million panels, 5,000 acres blighted, and 30 miles to the nearest connection down at Melksham. It is an absolutely disgraceful proposal. It comes at a time when Wiltshire has eight out of 10 of the largest solar farms. We already have enough, vastly exceeding our county target for solar production. Will the Minister consider the cumulative effect of all these solar farms? Will he ask the National Infrastructure Commission to take into account the cumulative effect of solar farms when considering such applications?

I very much thank my hon. Friend for that question. He raises a very interesting topic, and one that we are listening to. The project he speaks to is at the pre-application stage. An application is expected to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate between January and March 2025. Due to my quasi-judicial role in determining applications for development consent, it is not appropriate to comment on any specific matters. I am aware that some of his constituents are coming to Parliament this Thursday and I will be happy to meet them to discuss their concerns.

Decarbonisation: Off-grid Properties

The Government offer grants of £7,500 to those wanting to install a heat pump, or £5,000 to install a biomass boiler, under the boiler upgrade scheme. Support for energy efficiency upgrades and low-carbon heat is also available through our help to heat schemes.

Cornwall has a very large number of off-grid properties. One way they can decarbonise their heating is through the use of renewable liquid heating fuel. Last year, the Government said there would be a consultation on promoting and supporting the use of that fuel in the coming months. However, in response to a recent written question it was suggested that it would not be launched until at least September this year. Will the Government bring forward the consultation as soon as possible, so we can help people to decarbonise through the use of renewable fuels?

The Government recognise the potential for renewable liquid fuels to play a role in decarbonising heat where heat pumps are unsuitable, and we are working at pace to develop a consultation that will explore that role in more detail. We will be issuing a consultation in September, in line with commitments made by Ministers during parliamentary debates on the Energy Act 2023.

I support the cause of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). The transition to hydrotreated vegetable oil is far cheaper than heat pumps; we are talking about a conversion that be done in an hour for about £500. I urge the Government to proceed on that with haste.

It is important to note that we are taking this matter incredibly seriously. We are also providing funding to tackle fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions through the energy company obligation, the home upgrade grant and the social housing decarbonisation fund.

Nuclear Energy Capacity

The historic nuclear road map that I announced in January reconfirmed the Government’s ambition to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. The road map sets out plans to make investment decisions concerning 3 GW to 7 GW every five years between 2030 and 2040.

Nuclear is essential not just for our economy but for our national security. A truly sovereign supply does not just mean commissioning new reactors but increasing our skills base, so I welcome the £750 million invested in that. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that people in communities such as Heywood and Middleton can access that skills funding, so they can take advantage of high-skilled, well-paid jobs in the sector?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a doughty champion in this area—indeed, he should be with Atom Valley in his constituency. As he references, last month the Prime Minister announced significant investment in developing the nuclear skills pipeline, helping the sector to fill 40,000 new jobs by the end of the decade, including supporting plans to double the number of nuclear apprentices and quadruple the number of specialist sites and nuclear fission PhDs.

Green Technologies: Investment

The UK has already made tremendous progress in securing investment in green technologies. Recent figures indicate that the UK saw £60 billion of investment in 2023, meaning that since 2010 the UK has seen £300 billion of public and private investment in low-carbon sectors. As a Department, the ministerial team and I meet regularly with investors, such as through our second hydrogen investor forum event and regular roundtables to understand how we can better encourage investment.

It is true that the UK has a remarkable track record of winning investment in green technology, but given that other countries are now proceeding apace with their own green investment plans, does my hon. Friend agree that if we can show that we have effective policies for speeding up planning consents for energy projects and expanding grid capacity at a far faster rate, and if we can fix our contracts for difference regime, we shall be able to demonstrate to investors once again that this is the very best place in which to invest in such technology?

My right hon. Friend is right: we have a proud record of investment in green and clean technologies, and in many respects we are leading the world in that regard. Last year we launched our Giga project and this year we are launching CfD allocation round 6, which is the stand-out leader when it comes to enticing investors—but of course we can go faster and further, and where we can we will. That is why I am so pleased to see the work that is being done within my Department and, indeed, with industry with the aim of doing just that.

Given that there is no more important technology in the UK’s green industries than hydrogen, I was pleased to note that, after much dilly-dallying, the Department had listened to my continued advocacy of hydrogen blending in pipes. I look forward to seeing its plans imminently, but what support is it giving to home appliance providers who want to take advantage of the benefits of hydrogen to create hydrogen-ready technology that can be used for both blended and fully hydrogen-powered appliances?

My hon. Friend is another doughty champion for one of the expanding sectors in which we are investing: his championing of the hydrogen industry in this country is unmatched. I should be happy to meet him to discuss how we can progress further and speed up investment in hydrogen, which will be key to securing the progress of so many of our ambitious projects.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), I co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on green deal mis-selling. After nearly 10 years, we are still waiting for justice for our constituents who were told to invest in green technologies for their homes. A legal process is under way, but it is very lengthy. Most of our affected constituents were over 70 when all this happened, and some were over 80.

There must be a political solution. Numerous Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State have agreed that what happened to our constituents was dreadful, so why do they not find a solution that will encourage other people to feel confident that they too can invest in green technologies in the knowledge that the Government have their backs should it go wrong?

I agree with the hon. Lady that what happened was dreadful. As she has said, an ongoing legal process is under way so I am restricted in what I can say at the Dispatch Box, but I should be happy to meet her in the coming days to discuss the specifics involving her constituents who were affected.

The south-west is proud to be punching above its weight in green technology, and will soon welcome a £4 billion gigafactory at the Gravity site near Bridgwater which will create 4,000 new jobs and boost the green economy. Investment in infrastructure around the country is needed if we are to see more developments of that kind, so what steps is the Department planning to facilitate such ventures?

It is fantastic to hear Liberal Democrats champion Conservative policies that are bringing investment and new jobs into the country—for that is what happens under a Conservative Government—and it is great that a gigafactory is planned for the south-west. As a result of Giga and so many of the other projects and funds launched by the Department, we expect to see many more such developments, but of course there is work to be done: we can go further and faster, and, as I have said, where we can we will. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady in further championing the UK as the destination of choice for all who want to invest in these new technologies.

Grid Decarbonisation: Cost

23. What recent estimate she has made of the cost of decarbonising the grid by (a) 2030 and (b) 2035. (902296)

Our plans to decarbonise the grid by 2035 are ambitious but achievable, and have been assessed as realistic by the Climate Change Committee. They will build on the UK’s achievement in becoming the first major economy to have halved emissions. According to independent analysis, securing a net zero grid by 2030 would cost taxpayers £116 billion, and it would mean a “made in China” transition.

The Conservatives have a strong track record of promoting renewables, and this Government are supporting British companies and supply chains through programmes such as Giga with funding which now stands at more than £1 billion. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour’s unaffordable and unrealistic plans to achieve a net zero grid by 2030 will not give British supply chains time to grow, as well as meaning the “made in China” transition to which she has referred?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Only recently, we have seen European countries having to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas. We cannot do that, only to become dependent on other parts of the world for our energy needs. Our plan will give British supply chains time to develop, ensuring that British workers can reap the benefits of the energy transition. According to expert analysis, the Labour plans will cost taxpayers £100 billion—all to undermine British manufacturing and risk blackouts.

As the Secretary of State is aware, the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into decarbonising the economy has heard evidence that no newly commissioned nuclear capacity—even from small modular reactors—is able to come on stream until 2035. New energy projects given planning consent today are unlikely to connect to the grid before 2030, and the scale of the necessary grid network roll-out to reach our 2035 target is already huge. What does my right hon. Friend make of the feasibility, let alone the cost that she has highlighted today, of the fantasy pipe dream of official Labour party policy to decarbonise by 2030?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The plans that we have set out represent the largest expansion of nuclear in 70 years, with radical reforms to the grid. However, it does take time to build things. Labour’s 2030 policy is mad, bad and downright dangerous. I have yet to meet a serious expert or a single person in the industry who believes it is possible. We have a record to be proud of, becoming the first major economy to halve our emissions, but Labour’s plans would heap costs on to taxpayers, in stark contrast to our pragmatic and proportionate approach.

If grid decarbon-isation by 2030 really did cost the billions of pounds that the Secretary of State claims, she might care to explain why her own policy is to achieve 95% of full decarbonisation by the very same date. She knows that independent analysis actually says that Labour’s plan would reduce families’ energy bills by £300 a year, so will she ’fess up? Will she admit that the true price of her failure will be paid for by hard-pressed families in their energy bills?

I would completely reject that, based on the many conversations that I have had with industry and experts. The plans that we have set out have been assessed by the Climate Change Committee as being realistic. The plans that the Labour party has set out have been criticised by pretty much every single part of the energy system. Rather than playing politics with this issue, the hon. Gentleman should consider the reality of the taxes, the raised bills and the problems with the economy that Labour’s plans would force on Britain.

Last year, the Government promised that they would publish their decarbonisation plan by the end of 2023, but they have failed to do so. Is that because the Secretary of State is too embarrassed to admit the truth? She is way off track, even for delivering clean power by 2035, because she has bungled the offshore wind auction, is failing on energy efficiency and refuses to end the onshore wind ban. Is it not the case that she wants to attack Labour’s plan because she cannot defend her own?

I thank the hon. Lady, but that is an extraordinary question. There would be much more credibility from the Labour party if it would recognise that the UK is the first country in the G20—the 20 largest economies—to halve emissions. While Labour Members might play politics with this issue, I am absolutely happy to defend our position on dealing with our climate change obligations in a pragmatic way that protects household finances.

Public Ownership of the Energy System

13. Whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of public ownership of the energy system. (902286)

Properly regulated markets, which incentivise private capital to invest in the energy system, provide the best outcome for consumers and promote market competition as the best driver of efficiency, innovation and value.

Despite the Minister’s disagreement, public ownership exists in our energy system. For example, 45% of our offshore wind assets are publicly owned, just not by the UK—they belong to the state-owned companies of countries such as Denmark and Norway. Publicly owned energy companies can accelerate the transition to clean energy while creating jobs, reducing bills and ensuring that the public benefit directly from our common resources. Countries that are leading the transition to renewables have realised this; when will the Minister?

I thank the hon. Member. It is flattering: I am 48 hours into my role, and she would like to upgrade it so that I can personally be in charge of delivering energy companies. I gently remind her that in her own local authority of Nottingham City Council, Robin Hood Energy, which was chaired by a politician—the public probably want fewer, not more, of us—managed to cost taxpayers a staggering £38 million.

LNG Emissions: Impact of Oil and Gas Licences

15. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the number of oil and gas licences issued by her Department on the level of carbon emissions from imported liquefied natural gas. (902288)

North Sea Transition Authority analysis shows that producing natural gas domestically is almost four times cleaner than importing liquefied natural gas from abroad. Without continued licensing, our dependence on imported oil and gas, including LNG, will only increase more quickly in the future.

I have always been a fan of us fully exploiting our natural resources. We have got to take a pragmatic route to cutting our carbon emissions, but at the forefront of our thinking must also be driving down energy costs, boosting energy security and not doing anything that enfeebles our country on the global stage. Does the Minister agree that this is the right approach in terms of energy costs and that not importing as much liquefied natural gas will also make our carbon footprint smaller?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis. Utilising our own domestic resources is just common sense when the alternative is to import more fuels from abroad. It would be an act of self-sabotage to put restrictions on our own domestic sector, damaging jobs and investment only to liquefy and ship gas from halfway around the world and create more emissions in the process.

I welcome the Minister to his post, but he will know that most of our gas imports are not LNG and that they actually come via a pipeline from Norway, where gas production is half as polluting as it is in the UK. New oil and gas would not only be disastrous for our climate; it would also fail to boost energy security. Following the welcome announcement that the UK will finally withdraw from the energy charter treaty, will the Government also reverse their decision to license the Rosebank oil field, which will cost the climate and the public purse extremely dear?

I thank the hon. Member for her kind comments. While we scale up our clean energy success, including in renewables, which have gone from 7% to 40%, there is still a need for oil and gas. A failure to issue a new licence would make no difference to the consumption of oil and gas, but it would increase imports, which typically have higher emissions, and also damage our economy.

Offshore Energy Grids

The Minister will be aware of the Norwich to Tilbury pylon proposals, which will put 50-metre pylons through swathes of the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex countryside. He will also be aware that the recent electricity system operator review indicated that it will soon be cost-neutral to have an offshore option for that same energy transition, and that multiple points for connecting offshore wind turbines to the grid are facing planning problems. Will he do what he can to engage with National Grid and get it to do the right thing and look at a cost-neutral option of offshore transmission, rather than the current onshore proposal?

My hon. Friend has a long-standing record of making powerful suggestions on behalf of his constituents and neighbouring constituencies on this important issue. The ESO’s recent study considered a total of a nine alternative options for transmission routes in East Anglia, including three predominantly offshore options and two hybrid onshore and offshore options. It is important that we try to work with communities.

Topical Questions

I would first like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who served this Government for eight years, including as Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero since 2022. He will be missed in the role for his expertise. He attended his first COP in 2005 and was instrumental in our achievements at COP28 last year. He helped the UK to halve its emissions, which is an extraordinary achievement. We are the first major economy to do so. He also worked with the Net Zero Council, protecting families through the global energy crisis and backing 200,000 British oil and gas workers. He leaves a legacy of which he can be very proud. I would also like to welcome the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), a tireless campaigner who I know will continue this Government’s world-leading work.

Since I last updated the House, families are benefiting from a drop in the energy price cap worth almost £250 a year to the average household. I have set out plans to reform tariffs, saving bill payers up to £900 a year, and invested £750 million in nuclear skills as part of my plans for the largest expansion of nuclear in 70 years.

The consultation on renewable liquid fuels from September is welcome, but the recent survey by the Future Ready Fuel campaign showed that 88% of respondents from off-grid households actively want the option of switching to a renewable liquid fuel. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to ensure that we can get consumers the choices that they actually want, and not the heat pumps that many do not?

I thank my hon. Friend. I know that he is a fantastic champion for people living off the gas grid. We are supporting off-grid homes to transition to heat pumps or biomass boilers through the boiler upgrade scheme, with grants of up to £7,500. Renewable fuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil have the potential to play an important role in heating off-grid buildings, and we will be issuing a consultation on that role by September, in line with commitments made by Ministers during the passage of the Energy Act 2023.

Mr Speaker, can I start by paying tribute to your father, Doug? He was a remarkable fighter for social justice, and we share your sense of loss.

A year ago, after presiding over the absolute scandal of the forced installation of prepayment meters, the right hon. Lady’s predecessor promised full compensation for anyone affected. Unbelievably, she has left it to the energy companies to decide who gets compensation and how much. They have assessed 150,000 people and just 1,500 got anything—99% got nothing. Why has she so catastrophically failed to deliver justice for those affected by the PPM scandal?

The right hon. Gentleman does actually raise an important issue. We have gripped the question of prepayment meters since the scandal first emerged. Not only have we made it clear that the horrors that we saw last winter, of people forcing prepayment meters on vulnerable households, should not take place, but I have been in contact with Ofgem in recent days about making sure that people can get the compensation they deserve at the speed with which they need it.

That is simply not good enough. It is a year on. The right hon. Lady is the Energy Secretary; she should be delivering that compensation to people, and she is failing across the board. The onshore wind ban remains; the offshore wind market crashes; the insulation schemes are a disaster, while she spends her time appeasing the flat-earth, anti-net zero brigade in her own party. No wonder the former Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) resigned. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State is failing in her job and the British people are paying the price?

The right hon. Gentleman did not listen to my previous answer. It was this Government who worked with Ofgem to make sure that forced prepayment meter installation stopped taking place for vulnerable households. We have said very clearly that it is abhorrent, and we do not want to see it again. On compensation, we are working with Ofgem.

However, if the right hon. Gentleman talks about the wider energy plans—and we should do that—I think that he should consider the recent comments from industry that Labour’s plans would leave the country uninvestable, that they would hike the bills that people would pay, and that they would cost so much in needed taxes—over £100 billion of costs for Labour’s mad plans to decarbonise the grid by 2030, which, let me be clear, are not backed by industry, the unions or consumers.

T4. We have seen the price of fuel go up at the pumps because of what has happened in Ukraine, but, in this country, we have also seen that there is great variety at different petrol stations. I am really pleased that the Competition and Markets Authority has looked into it and that the Government are coming forward with Pumpwatch. We have seen something similar in Australia that saves up to £50 for the individual. Can we make sure that, when this comes into play, the Government have an advertising campaign so that the public know that they will be able to see local prices, up to date every 30 minutes, for the best place to get their fuel? (902309)

We will publish the Government’s response to the recent Pumpwatch consultation as soon as possible, and we continue to work closely with the Competition and Markets Authority, and the sector technology companies, to launch Pumpwatch this year. Of course, my hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point that, when we launch this, we will of course make sure that everybody knows about this valuable resource.

We learned last year that no fewer than 200 Department for Energy Security and Net Zero jobs were going to transfer from London to Aberdeen. That was championed by no less than the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) and the Minister responsible for nuclear and renewables, the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). It now transpires that only 35 jobs will transfer to Aberdeen. For context, that is 0.37% of the DESNZ workforce. Is the Secretary of State content for that derisory transfer of jobs from her Department to Aberdeen? Presumably she will not be, so what is she going to do about it to give the north-east of Scotland a better deal?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. We are very proud—I am particularly proud—that we have announced Aberdeen as our second headquarters. Hosting our second headquarters underlines the importance of the north-east of Scotland in our net zero transition. Unlike the Scottish National party, we champion the north-east of Scotland. They are anti-exploration, anti-new licences and anti-oil and gas. The headquarters already has more than 100 staff, and our ambition is for more than 135 by March 2027. I have been doing some research, though: it turns out that the Scottish Government—his party’s Government—have a grand total of zero jobs in his own constituency of Angus.

T9. Residents in Cranbrook and Tithebarn have faced frequent energy outages and woeful customer service from E.ON’s district heating networks. The Government’s Energy Act 2023 means that district heating networks will finally be properly regulated. Will my right hon. Friend outline when this regulation will be brought in? (902314)

The initial phase of heat network regulation, including transparency rules, will come into force in 2025. Some requirements, such as pricing regulation and guaranteed performance standards, require more market data and will be introduced in the second-phase regulation in 2026.

T2.   Does the Minister acknowledge that the alarming delays in track 1 carbon capture and storage expansion and track 2 timelines endanger the Humber’s status as a global leader in hydrogen and CCS, endanger £15 billion of private investment and jeopardise industrial decarbonisation and economic growth? (902307)

We recognise the role that CCS can play for the economy not just in the Humber but across the wider British economy, which is why we have set out £20 billion of investment committed to this sector. We set out an ambitious road map just before Christmas, and we continue to meet investors to see how we can speed up the process.

I have been speaking to my constituents about the whole net zero agenda. Although the people of Romford are very determined to see cleaner and greener energy sources, I have to say that their priority is energy security, energy self-sufficiency and energy sovereignty. I am worried that we are not taking the people with us on net zero, because many people simply cannot afford this extreme agenda that could end up giving China a competitive advantage and bankrupting our own country.

Order. I remind Members that these are topical questions. I have to get through them. Just because the hon. Gentleman missed out on Question 18, it does not mean that he can have an extended topical question. Let us help each other.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) highlights the importance of working with the public and business. Whereas the shadow Secretary of State sneers at those who are sceptical, we have to win hearts and minds. That is why my hon. Friend will welcome our “Powering Up Britain” plan to secure our energy system by ensuring a resilient and reliable supply, increasing our energy efficiency and, crucially, bringing down bills.

T3. Did the former Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), leave because he is worried about losing his seat to Labour at the next election, or because he could no longer bear to support the woeful energy policy of this Government? Which one was it? (902308)

I direct the hon. Gentleman to the letter of my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart). I reiterate our pride in his work and the amazing contribution he has made to this Government and this country.

Clayton-le-Moors in my constituency is home to the Lancashire centre for alternative technologies, initiated by the Government’s getting building fund. Will the Minister agree to visit to see how the centre is providing financial and research and development support to accelerate the commercialisation of low-carbon technologies?

I agree that it is incredibly encouraging and exciting to see those developments. I would, of course, be delighted to visit my hon. Friend in her constituency at any time.

T5.   Energy Security and Net Zero questions has once again proved to me how out of touch this place is with the rest of the country. The poorest 40% of UK households will be made much worse off by net zero policies, according to a report from York University. The poor in Ashfield will get poorer, and rich eco-fanatics like Dale Vince will get richer and pass on some of his millions to that lot in the Labour party and Just Stop Oil. Can the Minister confirm how much net zero will cost, to the nearest trillion pounds? (90310)

I am very proud of what this Government have done to protect the poorest in society from rising bills, which are the result of international factors and a volatile gas market. I make it absolutely clear that the only way that Dale Vince, the climate extremist, and his enablers will come anywhere close to having influence on energy policy is if a Labour Government are elected. Frankly, that is the only thing that voting Reform will achieve.

At my constituency surgery on Friday, I met representatives of the Riddings Lane solar action group who are concerned about the proposals to build a new solar farm covering 145 football fields’ worth of land between the villages of Gleaston, Dendron, Leece and Newbiggin. Does the Minister agree that solar farms are great but should not go on prime agricultural land?

As my hon. Friend is aware, we have a presumption against building on the best and most versatile agricultural land. Due to my quasi-judicial role in planning I cannot speak to the issue directly, but I am very happy to meet him and, indeed, any representatives from his constituency to discuss the project in question.

T6. I have been contacted by a popular village pub that is struggling with its energy debt and astronomical energy bill. Such pubs are at the heart of our local communities and they are closing at an alarming rate. Will the Secretary of State consider measures to enable them to manage their historical debt by allowing them to pay it off more slowly, or supporting them in another way so that we can keep these important pubs open? (902311)

I could not agree more that these pubs are at the heart of our communities, which is one reason why I have regular meetings with UKHospitality to think about how we can look at bills, including things such as blend and extend.

On Ynys Môn, companies such as Mona Lifting in Llangefni, supported by the Green Digital Academy, which has been funded by £2.7 million from the community renewal fund, are working hard to use their businesses to help to deliver net zero with the installation of solar panels and charging points. Does the Minister agree that it is thanks to the UK Government that innovative, forward-thinking companies such as Mona Lifting are leading the way so we can deliver net zero?

My hon. Friend once again champions her constituency, working with businesses so that in conjunction we can drive up our use of renewables. It is thanks to this Government that we changed the planning rules to make it easier to set up large-scale solar installations. I also welcome households playing their part, with 17,000 solar-panel installations a month last year.

T7. Thank you, and big hugs, Mr Speaker, for the loss of your father.My constituent Joe Stean did the right thing and switched the family car to electric, but now the cost and lack of charging points have put him into fuel poverty. What are the Government doing to encourage charging options for people who do not live in detached homes? Is it true that the new Minister voted against the zero-emissions vehicle mandate? (902312)

It is an important point. As a proud electric car driver, I have concerns that not all people have equal access to charging, which I have on the driveway to my house. I was therefore thrilled when the Government managed to deliver a 50% increase in EV charging points in the last year alone.

Energy security is national security, and food security is national security. Up and down the country there are plenty of rooftops, residential, industrial and agricultural, that are suitable for solar panels. Will my hon. Friend the Minister reassure the country that we will prioritise those sites for our solar footprint, rather than jeopardising prime food-producing land or, indeed, our precious greenbelt?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Food security and energy security are both vital, which is why the UK solar taskforce identified the need to address barriers relating to rooftop solar deployment, including access to finance as a priority. The rooftop subgroup was established to focus specifically on this area, and we are exploring options to facilitate low-cost finance from retail lenders to help households and businesses with the up-front cost of solar installation on rooftops.

T8. Smart meters are vital to help families to cut bills and save money on their energy outlay, yet the Government’s own figures show that 4 million smart meters are faulty. Is that not another catastrophic failure? When is the Secretary of State going to get a grip on the issue? (902313)

Clearly this is an issue that concerns us in the Government, which is why we are striving to do everything that we can to make sure that we are solving the issue.

T10. The giant pylons—they are absolutely huge—associated with the transmission route have caused grave concern in the highlands. Can I have an assurance that strong consideration will be given to undergrounding the cables near the communities that are affected and, indeed, to going under the ocean where that is possible? [Interruption.] (902315)

While the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) heckles to say that there is yet another nimby, we recognise that we want to work with communities and respect local knowledge to inform present and future works. All transmission projects are required to progress through the robust planning process, which includes statutory consultations and individual planning reviews, and I am sure that the hon. Member will feed into that directly.

Forty per cent. of properties in this country do not even have an energy performance certificate, and of those that do in the private rented sector, and in the private ownership sector, only 30% are EPC C rated. Last year, we made an improvement of only 1% on this. EPC C is the standard, so when does the Minister expect that we will ever get to 100% EPC C in our housing stock, and what are the Government doing to increase the speed of the process?

The pace of delivery of the Great British insulation scheme is accelerating quickly, with the rate of delivery doubling over the past three months. We have a proud record on energy efficiency. In 2010, we inherited a situation in which only 14% of homes were well insulated, but now we have that figure up to nearly 50%.

Rail Manufacturing: Job Losses

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on steps being taken to prevent job losses in the UK’s rail manufacturing sector.

Mr Speaker, before I start, may I thank you for having me up in your constituency of Chorley over the Easter holiday? I pass on my deepest condolences to you and your family for the loss of your father.

I thank the hon. Lady for her urgent question. I am responding on behalf of the Secretary of State, who will shortly be meeting the Alstom group chairman and chief executive to discuss a potential way forward. The Secretary of State will come to the House and make a statement at the appropriate time, noting the fact that they are sensitive commercial discussions.

As set out in the comprehensive open letter from the Secretary of State to the hon. Lady on 29 March, the Government are well aware that companies such as Alstom and Hitachi face short-term gaps in their order books. The letter set out clearly that these are complex problems to which there are not simple solutions, but the Government have been doing everything they can to support the workforce over many months, and continue to do so.

While Alstom is currently consulting its unions and employees on possible job losses, this must be a commercial decision for Alstom. The Government have been working with the company to explore options to enable it to continue manufacturing at its Derby site. We have convened a cross-Whitehall group to advise on how to support continued production at Derby and how best to support those workers who are at risk of redundancy. We have held similar discussions with Hitachi, both in correspondence and face to face. We remain keen to work with Hitachi as it looks for commercial solutions to guarantee the long-term sustainable future of its Newton Aycliffe site. Hitachi is not currently consulting on any changes to its workforce.

The fact remains that the market for passenger trains is a competitive one. The Department cannot guarantee orders for individual manufacturers. Trains are major assets with a lifetime of 35 to 40 years, so there will naturally be peaks and troughs in the procurement cycle. Nevertheless, we expect substantial continued demand for new trains. In recent months, London North Eastern Railway confirmed an order of 10 new tri-mode trains for the east coast main line. A tender for new trains for TransPennine Express was launched in December 2023.

In January this year, I wrote to train manufacturers to outline the pipeline of current and expected orders for new trains. That included details of current competitions for Northern, Southeastern, Chiltern and TransPennine Express, and an expected procurement by Great Western Railway. The contracts are worth an estimated £3.6 billion, with more than 2,000 vehicles to be procured over the coming years. In the meantime, we will continue to work with UK manufacturers, including Alstom and Hitachi, to ensure that there is a strong and sustainable future for the rail industry.

May I add my personal condolences to you, Mr Speaker, for the loss of your great father? He was a fine man and a great champion for Warrington and for workers’ rights.

Britain’s rail manufacturing is in crisis. Two of our largest train manufacturers have warned that their very presence in this country is at risk. Alstom, in Derby, is staring down the barrel of 1,300 job losses, and Hitachi, in Newton Aycliffe, another 700. In their supply chains, it is more than 16,000 jobs. Alstom has been making trains in Derby for 147 years, but both Alstom and Hitachi are clear that their uncertain future is thanks to this Government’s inaction. Alstom’s managing director has said that “continued delay” in providing “certainty and clarity” from the Transport Secretary is to blame.

The fact is that the Secretary of State has known about this problem for months. I first raised Hitachi’s concerns with him in this House more than a year ago. Both manufacturers have said that the situation could be rectified by amending their order schedules for a small number of existing, privately financed trains, and we understand that the Transport Secretary has been privately promising them action on that for months. But crucial deadlines have been missed, avoidable job losses have already been made and local businesses have already been forced to close.

The Minister dismisses people’s livelihoods as “peaks and troughs”. In his letter to me of 29 March, the Transport Secretary, as usual, ducked all responsibility. He claimed that he has no influence over procurement contracts, yet his Department has varied contracts in the past. He claimed that this is nothing to do with his mismanagement of HS2, but both struggling manufacturers claim otherwise. He claimed that he is providing certainty for the industry, yet he is refusing to bring forward his long-delayed rail reforms, or set out a rolling stock strategy for the industry.

Britain was the country that created the railways, but that legacy is being trashed by a Conservative Government content to oversee its managed decline. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State finally take responsibility, put aside their ideological opposition to supporting British business, and finally step up for the people of Derby and Newton Aycliffe and for Britain’s railways?

The hon. Lady asks whether the Secretary of State will take responsibility and work on this matter. He is doing that right now. He is about to start a meeting with the chief executive and chairman. And that is not the first meeting: he has held eight meetings with Alstom and eight with Hitachi to find solutions. Our officials in the Department for Transport have worked incredibly hard, as has everybody in the whole Derby family—the train operator, the unions that I have met and the workforce. We are all rowing together to try to find a solution.

I have to say that it does not help to see this cause being used almost like a political football. As an example, I did not use the expression “peaks and troughs” when it came to dealing with individuals. I said that the procurement cycle leads to that. My words will be clear in Hansard, and I resent having them misinterpreted, because it impacts on people and their feelings. I find it quite irresponsible of the Opposition to do that.

Another example of getting the facts completely wrong is the continued mention of HS2. Let me be clear: the order for HS2 was for 54 trains. That order remains at 54 trains, because they were always for phase 1, which is going ahead. The schedule remains the same and the number of trains remains the same, so let us deal with the facts rather than the fiction and scaremongering that I hear so often.

When it comes to facts, let me say that three of the four train manufacturers we are proud to have in this country have been building their plant here since 2010, under this Conservative Government. No doubt they decided to do so because we have commissioned 8,000 new rolling stock vehicles since 2012. The average age of rolling stock was 21 years back in 2016; it is now under 17 years, because we are investing in rolling stock, and there will be more orders. None the less, it is a complex legal solution that requires sensible minds, and I am very proud that the Secretary of State is leading on that endeavour.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State and the Minister are taking charge of negotiations with Alstom, Hitachi and others. I appreciate that as commercially sensitive discussions are ongoing, the Minister is constrained in what he can say, but they need to be resolved soon. The wider issue is the peaks and troughs not just in rolling stock procurement, but in railway industry investment more generally. How does the Minister believe Great British Railways and wider rail reform will help to smooth out the peaks and troughs in the longer term?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his work. The Committee as a whole has looked at this issue and really probed for solutions. On the GBR point, it is also providing the body of pre-legislative scrutiny of rail reform, and I thank my hon. Friend and his Committee for their work in that endeavour. He is absolutely right that a more holistic approach to the railway, in which track and train are integrated, will help us to make further decisions into the future and give more certainty with regard to orders. None the less, I have set out the orders that have been taken over the preceding years. The order book is healthy and we will look to get the tenders out this year and next for the train operators that I have mentioned.

My condolences to you and your family, Mr Speaker, on the loss of your father.

Clearly, the news coming out of Derby about the precarious nature of Alstom is grim, not just for the workers and the wider economy of Derby, but for everyone involved in the supply chain across the country, including 24,000 rail supply jobs in Scotland. The fact is that this was predicted; we have all known about it for months. These are skilled, well-paying jobs of the type that we are continually told the UK is in the market for.

Does the Minister accept that the stop-start procurement of new rolling stock is a direct result of the fragmented and disconnected railway system that has placed financialisaton and the Treasury’s miserly attitude to investment above rail’s key role in a decarbonised 21st-century society? Why are rolling stock leasing companies ruling the roost rather than straightforward procurement? How is it possible that the island that invented the modern railway—the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington railway is next year—could have next to zero train production capacity within a matter of months? We need a proper rail strategy and integration; when will that rail reform be put before the House?

Again, let us look at the facts. Since 2012, 8,000 new rolling stock vehicles have been manufactured—that is out of a total fleet of 15,600, so it is a relatively young fleet. Taking into account the fact that the fleet tends to last 35 to 40 years, and that it now has an average of 17 years’ service, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that there has been a substantial investment in rolling stock from the Government—the UK taxpayer—and from private train operators.

The hon. Gentleman asks when the legislation for rail reform will be brought forward. I am very keen for that to happen, and it is on its journey right now. The Transport Committee, of which he is a leading member, is providing the pre-legislative scrutiny. I very much hope that the Committee will finish its work in time for the summer recess, giving us two months to respond, and that there will be cross-party support in both Houses for what is I believe is sensible legislation that will allow us to deliver rail reform.

Although Labour is playing party politics on this issue, it is really important for Derby and Derbyshire, including for the workers at Alstom and in the supply chain that feeds into it. Will the Minister confirm that Conservative Members of Parliament have been working with the Secretary of State over the whole period, and that he has been working with Alstom for many, many months to get this right?

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) for the amount of work that they have put in to press us, privately but firmly, to ensure that we are working on this issue, given their concern as constituency MPs. I could not credit them enough for the amount of work that has gone in on their side, and for doing it sensibly—and that includes those in Derby council, to whom we are grateful. I believe that this is the way to approach the matter. The number of meetings that we have had, the cross-departmental taskforce that is in place and the sheer number of hours that the officials have put in have all led us to a point where we very much hope to be able to provide a solution. The matter is complex—there are legal challenges and these types of contracts often end up in litigation, so we have to be careful with the process—but we are keen to find that solution. I thank my hon. Friends for their work.

I was disappointed and sorry to hear what the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) just said, because, as she knows perfectly well, there has been a substantial amount of cross-party working on this issue over many months and years. Given that the factory is in my constituency, I find it a little disappointing that, although I am told that there have been many meetings between the Secretary of State and local Conservative members, at no point have he or his office chosen to involve me.

However, that does not matter at all; what really matters—and what I find most difficult about this whole issue—is that, over the years that I have been in this House, we have had so many of these conversations about failing industries. We ask what are the prospects for the future, and there is a struggle and, as always, an argument between those who want to look to the long term and those who want short-term financial savings. This is not an industry in which that is the problem. In the longer term, there will be millions of pounds’ worth of orders for rolling stock, because rolling stock renewal is needed right across the country, as everybody in the rail industry is aware. It is an industry with prospects and an ongoing, realistic vision of secure, high-value and high-reward jobs, yet one in which Government inaction is, I am afraid, putting those jobs at risk, particularly, as was said moments ago on both sides of the House, in the supply chain.

I thank the right hon. Member for the points she has raised. The discussions have been cross-party: the leader of Derby council has worked very closely with the Department to try to broker a solution. I will take away her point about meetings; I do not have that information to hand, but I will ensure she gets the meeting she has asked for.

The point I was making was that the comments from the Labour Front Bench do not help matters at all. This is a sensitive, commercially and legally challenging situation that we are trying to find a way through. We cannot find contracts just for one train manufacturer: we have four, and it has to be an open process, otherwise the matter ends up in court. Despite that, we are doing everything we can to find the right orders for those train manufacturers. As well as the letter I have written to all of the manufacturers, specifying the tender pipeline that is to come, the Secretary of State has written to all the entities that finance train operators, making the point that they should bring forward matters that they can see. That will help with refurbishment, as well as new rolling stock.

I thank the Rail Minister for the huge levels of rail investment going into my constituency. As he knows, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates), we secured £48 million of levelling-up cash for upgrades on the Penistone line, with stations at Honley and Brockholes in my constituency. I thank the Rail Minister for visiting Huddersfield railway station last year, and I am pleased to report that a major upgrade, which is part of the £11 billion trans-Pennine route upgrade, is under way at that station. Once that is complete, there will be major upgrades to Slaithwaite and Marsden stations, including disabled access. Rail investment is being delivered to my wonderful part of West Yorkshire.

I thank my hon. Friend; he is a champion of the railway, and it was an absolute delight to visit him at Huddersfield station and talk about some of those projects. Of course, his point is completely relevant to the matter before us. The trans-Pennine route upgrade, for which there will be more Government investment than there was for the entirety of Crossrail, allows us to put an order in for TransPennine Express trains, so there will be more trains manufactured as well as better stations, longer platforms and more resilience. [Interruption.] I thank that team, which is doing a brilliant job, which The Sunday Times has highlighted. Rather than chuntering, it would be nice if the Opposition thanked those who deliver railway projects to time and on budget.

My condolences on your loss, Mr Speaker. I thank you on behalf of the workforce for granting this urgent question, because the situation is becoming critical.

My union, Unite, tells me that there are over 900 people employed on temporary contracts at Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe and at Alstom in Derby whose jobs are already at risk. This is before any formal redundancies occur; Unite believes that that could happen as soon as June. I am well aware that the Minister knows that the industry needs a steady stream of orders to sustain train manufacturing here in the UK and preserve those vital jobs in areas such as County Durham, where we do not have an abundance of skilled employment, so in all honesty I earnestly ask the Minister to use his good offices to persuade the Secretary of State to intervene urgently and ensure a bright future for this vital UK train manufacturing industry.

I certainly take that point from my good friend. The hon. Member has worked tirelessly for the rail workforce, and I know that he means everything he says with passion and conviction. I have talked about the situation being a complex one from a legal perspective, and I would take him back to the contract award for HS2, which went to Alstom and Hitachi. That was challenged in court by Siemens; the Department succeeded on every single point, but that just shows how careful we have to be from a legal perspective during the tendering process, because it will end up in litigation. The worst thing would be to hand out contracts in a manner that is not legally fair and then find that they are being unpicked, which brings fresh uncertainty. Instead, we are looking at the entire order book to see where we can bring matters forward in the pipeline—matters that Alstom may be working on already. Where it is the fair and right thing to do, we are looking to see whether we can bring those contract orders forward in the pipeline.

The situation at Alstom is of great concern to a number of my constituents who work there. However, probably even more of my constituents work in the supply chain, so will my hon. Friend reassure me and my constituents that whatever the outcome of today’s discussions, that supply chain will not be forgotten?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are talking not just about the jobs at the manufacturing plant in Derby, but about all the jobs throughout the supply chain. I work really closely with the supply chain and its trade representatives—the Railway Industry Association and Railfuture—and I am keen to continue to do so. Our work and our endeavour is to try to find a solution, not just for the workforce in Derby working directly for Alstom, but for those who are temporarily employed at Alstom and for the entire supply chain. That is why the Secretary of State is meeting Alstom right now, so that we can try to find a solution for them all.

The Government’s inaction in signing off new orders for trains is now threatening hundreds of jobs in County Durham and wiping millions of pounds off the value of rail manufacturing companies. Inadequate supply to our rail infrastructure will have a big impact on decarbonising the UK transport system. Is the Minister aware of that, and what are the Government doing in the long term to invest in our rail infrastructure?

Thanks to the UK taxpayer, the Government have invested over £100 billion in the railways, and a lot of that investment has gone through to rolling stock. As I have mentioned, the rolling stock is now on average under 17 years old, with a life cycle that goes to 35 to 40 years. I will give the hon. Lady a good example of where the future is bright: in the area of innovation and technology. Great Western has just completed a battery trial for a train that has covered 86 miles, with stops, on just one single charge. My hope is that as well as new orders for trains, we will find new solutions for manufacturing rolling stock that is greener than it is right now.

My condolences to you, Mr Speaker.

Many of my constituents are involved in rail manufacturing, both at Hitachi and in the wider supply chain, and are genuinely concerned about the situation. Can my hon. Friend reassure me and my constituents that this situation is getting the full attention of the Secretary of State, and can he outline to the House why the issue is not as simple as the stroke of a pen, as alleged by the Labour party?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He is absolutely right; this is a complex matter, and it is important that we get it right. We are working with Alstom, with the council, and with all other parties.

I should just correct the record: I am very happy to take up this issue with the right hon. Member for Derby South (Dame Margaret Beckett), but my understanding is that she met the Secretary of State for an hour on 25 March, which she said she had not.

That is correct—good. I am glad I have got that on the record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) is absolutely right. This matter is complex and challenging, but I can tell you, Mr Speaker, and the House that the Secretary of State is working at full pelt on this matter with Alstom. I am hopeful that a solution will be found that will demonstrate all of that hard work.

Derby’s Litchurch Lane is unique—the only site in the UK that designs, develops, builds and tests trains. As has already been acknowledged, the Alstom factory is a very significant employer, but it also supports thousands of good supply-chain jobs, particularly in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Frankly, this Government will never be forgiven if that factory is allowed to close due to an entirely avoidable gap in orders. The Minister says that this matter is complex, but my question is simple: when does the Department for Transport intend to issue the invitations to tender for the promised new train fleets for Chiltern, Northern and Southeastern?

The answer is over the course of this year and next year for all of the train manufacturers that the hon. Lady has mentioned. I well remember the visit that both she and I made to the Alstom site with the Transport Committee. As she rightly says, it is a fantastic site, which is why we are working to find a solution. I am certainly encouraged by the conversations that have taken place. We know that everyone wants to find that solution—the Government certainly do—but the hon. Lady will know from all her work on the Transport Committee that legal challenges have to be dealt with in the correct manner. This matter is very sensitive, and it is market sensitive as well, so finding a way through which provides certainty and does not get unpicked is absolutely the right thing for us to do, and that is what we are doing right now.

The threat to the Alstom factory in Derby is of great concern to the employees in Amber Valley and those employed by the supply chain. Their mood is not helped by the fact that this appears to be a problem not with the quality of the trains, or even with their price, but with compliance with procurement rules that we ourselves put in place only a year or so ago. If it comes down to a choice between having all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, or having that factory saved for the long term, can I urge the Minister to take a risk on the contract, sort that out later and save the factory, rather than prioritising the contract and risk losing the factory?

As my hon. Friend has described, this is a careful balance. I reiterate that if we were to award contracts outside of the usual process, other workforces would also be impacted, such as those in Newport, in Newton Aycliffe and in the Hull area. We have to take into account the whole workforce, as well as fair process on the contract. However, as he mentions, trains are being manufactured right now and rolling off the production line up in Derby—South Western trains and East Midlands trains—and they are good-quality trains. As I have said, the challenge is that we have produced a lot of trains over the years, and I really want to help those train manufacturers to export more, because that will fill up the order books so that they are not reliant only on the domestic market. As it gets fresher and younger, in rolling stock years, we need to find a solution outside this country.

I offer my condolences to you, Mr Speaker.

The Minister says this is a complex issue, but is it not rather simple? These companies will not be around to enjoy the sort of exporting opportunities he talks about if they do not sustain. On his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), can he just apply his mind to what he said about the invitations to tender? If it is going to take that long to issue those tenders, these companies will not be around. It is not about them not competing; it is about their being able to compete and to be here. Can he not recognise that it is the constant chopping and changing in procurement that has landed the rail industry in this terrible situation?

I do not accept that. When I met the train manufacturers earlier this year, they said they wanted longer-term certainty, and the reason for setting out what is coming up next is to give them that certainly. Of course, train manufacturing is going on right now. For example, we have just seen the award to CAF for the 10 LNER tri-mode trains, so there is manufacturing and contracts are being awarded. I know I am repeating myself, but as the train rolling stock gets younger in age—it has a life of 35 to 40 years, and its average age is now under 17 years—by definition fewer orders tend to go through. However, it is important to have a future pipeline, which is why I mentioned the orders going to tender for this year and next.

Hitachi provides opportunities and high-skilled jobs, benefiting people right across the north-east, including a number in my constituency. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to look at every possible option to protect these jobs and the north-east’s incredible manufacturing capabilities?

Yes, indeed. The team at Hitachi as well as Alstom will of course be working on the HS2 tender for 54 trains that will be coming their way. I am very keen to meet them, and I met Hitachi yesterday—albeit a different arm that is more on the signalling side. I am keen to work with the private sector. We are very proud of the train manufacturers we have in this country, and we want to ensure that they sustain and continue to get contracts, and not only from this country but, as I have mentioned, for exports. I really want to see exports, which is why I tend to go abroad to help champion exports in such markets.

In 1823, Robert Stephenson and Company set up the world’s first locomotive factory in my constituency. Is the Conservative idea of an anniversary present to the north-east to end 200 years of railway manufacturing and innovation? The Minister has said this is complex and challenging, but for the sake of Hitachi workers and for our entire region, will he commit to the future of railway manufacturing in the north-east?

These are private sector companies. They of course rely on Government-funded contracts, but ultimately they are private sector companies, and this is a matter for them. Our job is to support them, and I have described the order book we have put through since 2012. Of course, any Government or Government in waiting actually have to follow the correct process with our officials and to do things properly, and it is rather telling that the Opposition do not seem to know how proper governance operates. I would just remind the hon. Member that, since 2010, three of our four train manufacturers have built their plants under a Conservative Government, because they know that this Government are good for business and invest in the railways, as the £100 billion invested since 2010 demonstrates.

My constituency incorporates the Newton Aycliffe Hitachi factory. As has been mentioned, it is the home of the railways—200 years ago, the first train went on the line just next to the site of the Hitachi factory. We are founded in railways, we want to be in railways, and we always will be in railways. However, the Opposition are treating this as a political football, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) has just done. Everybody is saying that this is so simple and can be done at the stroke of a pen. It could not be done at the stroke of a pen when Nexus had the same situation in Newcastle. [Interruption.] No, it was not, and the Opposition had the pen then.

Right here and right now, I am very concerned about what is happening with Hitachi, as I obviously am about Alstom and the supply chains. I have met the unions—I have met Unite several times—and I will continue to do so. It is important that we are all engaged in this properly, and confidentially where appropriate. I have been completely irritated by the number of times the Opposition have said that the Government are not engaged. For most of the time I have been engaging confidentially, as Hitachi has asked. Everybody, including the Prime Minister, has been to Hitachi to understand what exactly the situation is. What we need now is for the unions to be engaged and for Hitachi to use all its innovation and skills. Can I ask the Minister to ensure that he is fully engaged, and will he explain to the Opposition why, if this was so easy, we would not just do it?

I thank my hon. Friend because—as he puts it himself, but he is being too modest—he is working with us constantly to ensure that Hitachi’s concerns are addressed. We have met Hitachi a number of times. We have great faith in its leadership, and we work closely with them. It is not consulting on any changes to the workforce at the moment. As I have mentioned, it has a share in the order for the 54 HS2 trains. He is absolutely right that the way we will fix these issues is to provide certainty through the tenders coming forward, to continue to invest, to try to get more exports for these train operations, and to work together in a collegiate way, not with scare stories. That is something I am determined to do, and I thank him for the work he does to that end.

This is political, because this Government have got form in failing industry in the north-east. They abandoned primary steel making on Teesside, they failed to back local investors in the Sirius mine and they allowed the world-renowned Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co. to collapse, despite promises to save it. Now they are at it again, and this time it will affect countless people from my constituency, which is the home of the first passenger railway. In a statement made just an hour ago, Hitachi has said it wants to continue to explore solutions so that the skills and investment it has in the region are retained. There is no doubt that these are at considerable risk. Is the Minister really prepared to fail Hitachi, and provide yet another example of how the Tories have abandoned the north-east?

The hon. Member’s argument is slightly punctured by the fact that Hitachi built its plant after the Conservative Government came to power, because it understands that we support businesses, attract businesses and want them to succeed not only with domestic orders, but with export orders. To say that we are abandoning it, when I have just described how we have had 8,000 new rolling stock vehicles produced since 2012 and the average age has gone down from 21 years to 16.8 years, rather demonstrates that he does not know what he is talking about.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a complex scenario, but there really is no need for us to be in one of the troughs in the supply chain at the moment. Chiltern Railways has massive overcrowding because its stock is the oldest fleet, and it is desperate for more trains on the network. We also have East West Rail about to launch with borrowed diesel trains, rather than the new hybrids or hydrogen trains that are fit for the modern age. As my hon. Friend looks at what can be brought forward, will he prioritise Chiltern and prioritise getting the trains that people want to see on East West Rail?

I know that my hon. Friend, who is another excellent member of the Transport Committee, has written to the Secretary of State, and we are lining up a meeting to discuss Chiltern’s rolling stock. He knows I am very keen to find a solution with some rolling stock that is available, and I am looking to take that forward. He asked about the situation with East West Rail. The consultation will go forward this summer. I have referred to the testing of a battery-powered train that went for 86 miles, and I believe the route from Oxford to Cambridge is 84 miles, which suggests that could be an answer to the point he rightly makes.

I have been chair of the all-party group on manufacturing for some time, I worked in manufacturing at one stage, and I represent the fine manufacturing town of Huddersfield—despite other claims in this House, I am the Member of Parliament for Huddersfield. But this is about job losses and is the Minister aware that under this Government, since 2010, the manufacturing sector in our country has been shrinking and shrinking? Now, less than 10% of people in this country make anything. That is a dire situation, and we see it not only in rail but in defence. The town I represent makes the engines for tanks, guns, ships and all of that sort of stuff, but they do not get the orders in time. The fact of the matter is that all our wonderful manufacturing towns and cities are in peril under this Government. What is the Minister going to do about it?

That is the same Huddersfield that I visited with the team from the trans-Pennine route upgrade. We are investing between £9 billion and £11.5 billion in upgrading that route, which not only will make it better for rail passengers, but will provide thousands of jobs, the bulk of them from the local workforce, of which the trans-Pennine route upgrade team is very proud. That rather demonstrates that what the hon. Member has just stated is not backed up by the facts.

During the pandemic the Government rightly stepped in to support train operating companies through huge subsidy, which essentially meant subsidising the profits of those companies. The Minister will also know that since British Rail was privatised, the ROSCOs—rolling stock companies—have been highly profitable and lucrative businesses, in my view with very little value for the taxpayer whatsoever. Will the Minister therefore consider two things: first, in this situation with Hitachi and Alstom, seriously consider direct Government intervention to stop these companies going to the wall before they can get the next orders in; and secondly, urgently convene a meeting of local businesses in both those areas with all the rail unions, from Unite to the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, ASLEF, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, bringing them together to discuss how we jointly work together to make sure that our brilliant and long-held and highly skilled workforce is not just thrown on the scrapheap for decades to come?

A lot of the finance I talked about and the orders that have been brought forward, which is why we have a relatively young fleet, are the result of train operators being able to use their own balance sheets in order to invest. Rail finances are back to only about 80% of where they were pre-covid because of changes in working patterns; that has been more of a challenge, which is why the Government and the taxpayer take on more of the burden. On meetings with the unions, I should reference the meeting I had with union representatives from Alstom and the workforce, who were superb. They wanted to do their business in a sensible, calm way while also challenging, and rightly so. That provides us with the motivation to try to intervene and deliver a solution, and that is what the Secretary of State is doing right now.

The potential loss of jobs at Hitachi will hit the north-east economy as a whole, and it is vital that we maintain rail manufacturing capability there. What are the Government going to do to ensure that we do not lose that facility because of a gap in orders? What will they do to ensure that does not happen and to save those jobs?

It is important to note that Hitachi is not currently consulting on any changes in the workforce, but it is of course concerned and it speaks to hon. Members in this place to put those concerns across, and I welcome that approach. Where train operators have rolling stock that is older and needs renewing, we are putting them out to market—those operators are TransPennine, Northern, Southeastern and Chiltern. Bringing those orders through will assist, but I come back to the export part of this: if our fleet is getting younger, meaning there will not be as many orders, we really need to see our four great manufacturers being able to export more abroad to deliver for UK plc.

What further discussions are the Minister and Secretary of State going to have with the manufacturing and rail unions on this matter?

As I have already stated, I have met the Alstom unions myself—I am always very happy to meet the unions, as indeed is necessary. At the moment, however, our work is with Derby City Council and, more importantly, with Alstom, which ultimately will make the decision. It is a private operator and it will be a decision for Alstom, but we want to show what we can do to help with orders and other assistance. We have been working across Government to provide that reassurance so that we can work towards Alstom not only keeping the plant but investing further in it and bringing more of its enterprise into the UK.

I thank the Minister for his answers; I do not think anybody in the House could doubt his commitment or that of the Government to improving things, and we thank them for that. What is the Government’s strategy for supporting manufacturing companies throughout the United Kingdom to make improvements to attract business and sustain contracts? Will the Government commit to ensuring that all Government contracts are fulfilled with British-manufactured products as standard, in order to give confidence to investment in British manufacturing?

I thank the hon. Member, who always puts his points with great kindness and consideration—as a result, he makes better points than some that get chucked around here. I can assure him that I have written to the train manufacturers, met with them and listened to them, and they have said that they want certainty and to know what the pipeline is. We have been working with the Treasury to bring that pipeline forward. The Secretary of State’s letter adds another angle: what we are doing there is writing to the ROSCOs to finance train refurbishments and see if those can be brought forward. So we are doing everything we can from our side—within the difficult legal and commercial situation we find ourselves in—to do things correctly, to bring those orders through, and to give more certainty so that those companies will continue to invest in the UK.

Horticultural Peat: Prohibition of Sale

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the prohibition of the sale in England of horticultural peat by the end of 2024; to provide for certain exemptions from that prohibition; and for connected purposes.

Peatlands are the UK’s largest carbon store. They contain more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined and are home to some of our most iconic and rarest wildlife, such as the bittern, the swallowtail butterfly, the short-eared owl and the hen harrier, but less than 20% of our peatlands are in a near-natural state: 87% of England’s deep peat areas are degraded, damaged or dried out. This is caused by a range of factors including overgrazing and drainage for agriculture as well as extraction for compost and other growing media for gardening and horticulture.

Extraction degrades the state of the wider landscape, damaging wildlife habitats and reducing peat’s capacity to prevent flooding and filter water. And of course extraction means that stored carbon is released, contributing to climate change. The Bill would implement the 2022 commitment made by the Government to prohibit the use of peat products in amateur gardening in England by the end of the year.

In 2011 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced support for phasing out peat products with a commitment to legislate if a voluntary approach proved to be ineffective. The Government’s 2021 consultation received more than 5,000 responses, 95% of which supported a ban on retail peat sales. The Royal Horticultural Society has backed a ban, and Professor Alistair Griffiths, its director of science and collections, said in 2022:

“Peatlands are the world’s largest carbon store on land, with great potential to store carbon long term, helping to reach net zero…To tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, it is essential that we have a sustainable transition to peat-free alternative growing medias. The RHS stopped selling peat-based growing media bags in 2019 and will continue to work with DEFRA, industry and gardeners to accelerate the transition to peat-free.”

We take pride in being a gardening nation and the covid lockdown triggered increased enthusiasm for this great outdoor activity. There has already been a big shift to non-peat compost products thanks to the efforts of the horticulture industry, DEFRA Ministers, campaigners such as Monty Don, and responsible choices made by gardeners.

However, peat can still lurk in gardening products, such as potted house plants and trays of bedding plants. The presence of peat in these products is rarely labelled, meaning even the most ecologically committed gardener may not know it is there. Even the most effective information campaign can only go so far in changing behaviour. Gardeners should be able to buy from a garden centre without fear that their purchase will harm the environment elsewhere.

There are now reasonably priced peat-free composts using materials such as bark, coir and bracken. Thanks to a decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, solid digestate from anaerobic digestion will soon become another source of peat-free growing media. Peat alternatives for products such as potted plants are also available. Companies such as B&Q have gone peat-free, as has Kew gardens, and the Royal Horticultural Society is 98% of the way there. The consumer organisation Which? excludes peat-based compost from its product comparisons. While it acknowledges that some peat-free products cost more, it believes that there is now a good range of lower-cost options on the market.

The horticulture industry has had since 2011 to prepare for the phase-out of peat. Thirteen years on, some real progress has been made. Peat use more than halved between 2020 and the end of 2022, including a reduction of nearly 70% in the amateur sector. In 2022, professional use of peat fell below 50% of their total consumption of growing media for the first time, but UK horticulture still used 950,000 cubic metres of peat in 2022, including 471,000 cubic metres in the retail sector. I acknowledge that only a comparatively small proportion of the UK’s peat is affected by extraction for horticultural products, but by targeting the demand for peat, we can help keep it in the ground both here and overseas, preventing the damaging release of carbon.

As well as an immediate ban on peat products for retail use by the general public, the Bill would give Ministers the power to use secondary legislation to extend that ban to professional horticulture on a future date. That reflects the fact that there are still barriers to be overcome before we can be confident that reasonably priced peat-free products and production materials are available for the professional sector. However, we need progress there, too, and I urge the Government to press ahead with a clear timetable for the full transition to peat-free products across the horticulture sector. Limited exceptions to the ban will be needed, some of which may need to be permanent, such as in relation to science and research and rare plants, but the 2030 target has been on the table for more than a decade. I call on the industry and the Government to ensure that meaningful change is delivered by the time we reach that 2030 milestone so that UK horticulture moves into