Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I join other colleagues who have congratulated you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I declare at the outset that I have never been one of your researchers.
It is a great pleasure to follow Grahame Morris, who ably demonstrated the geographic importance of the green industrial revolution. There are policies in the Queen’s Speech that present tremendous opportunities for rejuvenation in parts of the country that one does not naturally think of as being at the heart of the green revolution; the north of England is one of them and my constituency, which I will touch on later, is another.
It was a particular pleasure to be here for the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Simon Fell, with whose predecessor I worked closely when I was in the Ministry of Defence. My hon. Friend and I share an interest that I am sure we will continue to share in this Parliament. It was also a pleasure to listen to the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Gary Sambrook, whose constituency is one of the few in the west midlands that I did not visit during the recent campaign. He made a very impressive speech.
I welcome the cross-party consensus on the environment evident from both Front-Bench speeches today. We may have differences between us over the speed and scale of the action required, but there is no doubt that everybody in this Chamber and community groups outside recognise that the environment is a key national and international challenge and that we as a Government have to lead the way and do what we can. The science is clear. If we continue to pump out greenhouse gases at the rate we are, the climate will get worse and temperatures will rise, with devastating consequences that we are starting to see increasingly regularly around the world. We need to bring that consensus to bear to put pressure on the UK Government to lead the way in trying to mitigate climate change and on other Governments to do more collectively.
There are disagreements over targets, however, as we have heard already today. I was interested to note that the Opposition spokesperson, Rebecca Long Bailey, called for more ambitious targets. I urge her to reflect on the target in the Labour manifesto of seeking net zero by 2030 and to compare that with the target set by the Mayor for Greater Manchester, the former Labour Front Bencher, who on advice from the Tyndall Centre has set a framework to achieve net zero for Greater Manchester, where her constituency is situated, by 2038. It is quite possible to have a sincere endeavour to reach net zero carbon without necessarily agreeing on exactly what targets to set.
Ministers have recognised that fact in setting separate targets for their own sectors, Departments and activities. I applaud my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, whom I am delighted to see back in his place, for announcing at the party conference that he is actively considering bringing forward the date for the removal of diesel and petrol vehicles from the streets of the United Kingdom from 2040 to 2035. That is an excellent example of how different sectors in our economy may have to move at different paces to achieve net zero, mainly because of the state of the technological alternatives that exist thus far. We do not want to go down the route that a 2030 target, or even more ambitious targets, would require, namely the inflicting of unprecedented austerity on all our constituents. We must look with a degree of realism at how we will achieve these targets.
Many local authorities, in addition to Manchester, are setting targets. Last month my own authority in Shropshire set a climate change strategy framework which has been copied up and down the country. I hope that, over the next period, the Government will try to find ways of helping authorities to fulfil their plans. Many people feel that the current frameworks are fine words, but lack action. I think that we should use the COP26 conference, which we will host at the end of this year, as an opportunity to develop action plans across our economy and across local authorities, so that, with the leadership of our Government, a clear plan is set out during the year for how to achieve the next zero targets that are being set throughout the country.
The House has a big opportunity to lead the debate. We do so on occasions such as this, but also through structures that are available to us here. I pay tribute to Mary Creagh, the former Member of Parliament for Wakefield, who so ably chaired the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sat for the last two years. It is good to see other members of the Committee in the Chamber, and I hope that they will seek to serve again in the current Parliament.
One of Mary’s passions was highlighting inconsistencies and injustice. One of the inquiries that she led, very ably, focused on “fast fashion”, drawing the attention of the world to the extraordinary consumerism that currently exists worldwide. Consumers are being encouraged to buy clothing that is essentially disposable—single-use—and can be produced only in sweatshops. The fact that that happens not just in far-flung places around the world but, I regret to say, in this country was exposed by the work undertaken by the Committee and led so ably by Mary.
Parliament does a great deal of work in scrutinising the measures in the Queen’s Speech, and we did significant work on the draft clauses relating to the principles underlying the Environment Bill. I am pleased that the Government’s ambition is to create a world-class regulator, which they are able to do only as a result of Brexit. They will, I hope, publish the Bill very swiftly after we leave on
Another Bill that we have been scrutinising is the Agriculture Bill, which will also be introduced as a result of Brexit. I agree with the points made by Kerry McCarthy about the need to encourage better productivity in agriculture so that we can use less land to produce more food, as well as seeking alternative uses for land in order to improve carbon capture and all the other elements that are so important to meeting our climate change commitments. Land use is a critical issue. Members have mentioned peat bogs, and the Government have ambitious plans for the planting of trees. It is yet to be seen how achievable those plans are, and we look forward to holding the Government to account in respect of their targets.
I think that this country has every opportunity to lead the world in the green industrial revolution, just as we did in previous industrial revolutions. We need to take advantage of the exceptional skills that we have in our universities, and in sectors such as the automobile industry that can lead the world. We have touched on electric vehicles, but not on alternative technologies such as hydrogen vehicles. A company called Riversimple, which started in my constituency, has produced the first hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. We need to find ways, in the Budget and in the comprehensive spending review, to support alternative technologies and the ingenuity of people in our universities and in the City of London, where we are leading on green finance, so that the UK can lead the world in developing the right solutions to climate change, and we can achieve “net zero Britain” as soon as possible.