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A Green Industrial Revolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 15th January 2020.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 4:49 pm, 15th January 2020

It is a great honour speak in this debate and to follow the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher, but I do have to take issue with what he said about where to visit. There is no dispute in this place about the fact that Cornwall, including the west of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is the most attractive and the most beautiful place to visit, but I am very happy to spend the next four or five years in this Parliament in that contest. None the less, his speech was fantastic. It is great to have colleagues in the House who share so many of the same values.

I have risen to speak in support of the green industrial revolution. I looked up the word “revolution”, and it might not be what the Government intend, as the definition in the dictionary is “to overthrow the Government”, which would not help us to achieve the green industrial revolution. We certainly need a definite and fundamental change, and I believe there is an appetite for that in Government. I have been an MP for four and a half years, and a number of times I have discussed with colleagues and members of the Cabinet how we achieve a more decarbonised and greener economy. I have no doubt that there is the will, appetite and determination, as well as the talent and expertise, to deliver that.

I welcome the intention behind the green industrial revolution and the £22 billion that will be spent each year on green technologies for efficient homes, renewable energy, clean heating and electric vehicles. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard me speak on this subject before that I will discuss two areas: transport and housing.

First, I will talk about Flybe. I am a Cornish MP, and Flybe serves the Newquay to London route. Many people appreciate and value that, and it is good for our local economy, but I stress that for every pound we use to support this business and the connectivity that we absolutely should support and sustain between the regions and across the UK, I want an equivalent sum—maybe more—to be spent on our rail infrastructure, on the electrification of the rail line, and on reducing ticket prices. It is ludicrous that, as we look to support and save an operator such as Flybe, it is so much cheaper to fly than to get the train. I really hope that this Government, over this Parliament, will do something to give real choice to consumers, commuters and passengers, so that they can afford to choose a cleaner way to travel. People want choice, and I believe that is one way for us to show a real commitment to the subject. I am delighted that the Transport Secretary, who is a friend of mine, is here; I am sure he is keen to speak and to shed some light on the intention.

The green industrial revolution needs to be about accelerating and embracing the use of new technology and working practices. The two areas where we can achieve quite dramatic reductions in our carbon footprint are the built environment and transport. Both contribute a significant amount of carbon emissions to our environment, and if we get this right, we can reduce carbon footprints quite quickly. House building, however, has not really changed much since I did my apprenticeship, which I started in 1987. We still dig huge holes in the ground, pour in tonnes of concrete, and build on top of it with materials that have a massive carbon footprint. Cement is said to account for 7% of the world’s carbon emissions—an enormous figure. Unless we change the way we build, we will not be able to reduce it quickly.

The Government have a really good ambition to build homes, which is absolutely the right thing to do: we must build the homes that families need. New building practices are available, enabling us to cut the amount of carbon generated by building, as well as by the homes themselves once they are lived in. In a surgery on Friday, I met a gentleman who is building part of his house on ground screws. A ground screw is not a particularly modern invention, but it really should be used much more. There is no need for deep foundations or to dig up the ground and disperse the carbon once again; the ground screws go into the ground and the whole structure is built on the ground screws. There is no reason why, where it can be done, that should not be the default method of house building.

In Cornwall and many parts of the country, the ground is exceptionally hard. This builder is also insulating his floor with recycled glass, and the floor itself is made of limecrete, which does not have cement in it, so it addresses the carbon footprint issue. It is possible to cut the carbon footprint of building the homes that we must build—and we must build many more. It is really important that the Government find ways of ensuring that the industry embraces every possible tool available to avoid that carbon footprint.

A lot has been said in this debate that I could mention, but I just want to touch on electric vehicles. There is an appetite in my constituency and around the country to get hold of an electric vehicle. Despite what has been said by Opposition Members, we are seeing a real growth in the number of charging points, and in the ways in which cars can be charged conveniently. But I suggest that the Government look carefully at the idea of a scrappage scheme for diesel-guzzling cars for low-income families. Such a scheme would immediately provide a real boost to UK car manufacturing and the development of electric vehicles, and would obviously improve air quality. It would also mean quieter roads, and people all around the country would love to live near quieter roads. It would reduce running costs for low-income families, and it is the right thing to do. I worked on the idea with Cornwall Council last year, and would love to see a real appetite in Government for a scrappage scheme that allowed electric vehicles to be within the reach of low-income families in my constituency and around the country. Cutting emissions is good business sense. This is not about making life much more difficult for people or even putting up their bills. If we get housing right and really ensure that electric vehicles are available, we can cut the cost of living for so many hard-working families.

In summary, the most effective way to achieve a greener, cleaner environment is to encourage innovation, create a can-do culture when it comes to reducing carbon, use taxpayers’ money only to support solutions and technologies that reduce our carbon emissions, and much more quickly embrace proven methods that we know can make our environment happier, healthier and greener for everybody.