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A Green Industrial Revolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 15th January 2020.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 5:52 pm, 15th January 2020

Congratulations on your election and on your return to your rightful place, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a shame that you have not been here for the whole day, because we have been treated to a range of first-class maiden speeches. They have been of the highest order, and everybody who has spoken should be congratulated.

We heard from Simon Fell about the A595, among other things, and he spoke with great aplomb. He also highlighted the failure of Northern Rail, and I know the Secretary of State for Transport will have taken full cognisance of what he had to say.

We also heard from Gary Sambrook. He paid a warm tribute to Richard Burden, for which Labour Members are very grateful. Claire Coutinho made a stirring speech. Mark Fletcher suggested a statue of Dennis Skinner, and my colleagues and I were speculating on the response that might have been forthcoming from his old corner at such a suggestion.

We have also been treated to a history lesson from the young hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill). He may have done it before, but it was very entertaining. We also had terrific speeches from my new hon. Friend Zarah Sultana—her speech was powerful and inspirational—and from my new hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones, who said that she is no shrinking violet, which is very clear. We heard a passionate speech from my hon. Friend Charlotte Nichols, and we concluded with a stirring maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake)—I rather think it is in the blood. So we have been well served.

On the green industrial revolution, the issue at hand, the absence of commitments in the Queen’s Speech means it would appear that the Government think that because they won a general election with a campaign that ignored the climate change crisis, they can continue to ignore that crisis. I know that Government Members will protest at that characterisation, but it is accurate. The Prime Minister refused to attend a debate on the climate crisis during the general election campaign precisely because he knows it is true that the Conservatives have not addressed and do not plan to seriously address the climate crisis. [Hon. Members: “Rubbish!”] Conservative Members shout “Rubbish”, but this was a Prime Minister who during that campaign took a plane from Teesside to Doncaster. Let us just think about that. He was getting on a jet that could hardly have become airborne before it had to land again—it is ridiculous. Of course the Government’s own advisory body on climate change, the Committee on Climate Change, stated that

“the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s”.

The Committee’s chair, Lord Deben, compared Ministers to the hapless characters in “Dad’s Army”.

This inaction not only condemns us to a more dangerous and insecure world, but exacerbates existing social and economic problems in the UK by failing to take advantage of the opportunities presented by decarbonising the economy to create well-paid, secure jobs and reduce social and regional inequalities. Transport is the problem sector for the UK. It is the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the worst-performing sector on reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, transport emissions have risen since 2010. This is both a crisis and an opportunity. There is an opportunity to invest in our transport networks. We could upgrade our railways, have a long-term vision of their electrification and invest in them going forward. We could invest in bus services throughout the entire country, and in e-bikes and electric vehicles. This would not only achieve the sort of carbon emission reductions needed to meet our climate targets, but close the huge regional inequalities in transport spending and create thousands upon thousands of skilled, well-paid, unionised jobs as part of a green industrial revolution.

Unfortunately, the Government do not plan to take that opportunity. Indeed, within the past 24 hours they have responded to the troubles at Flybe by reportedly allowing the company to avoid paying more than £100 million in aviation tax—air passenger duty. Plotting to slash aviation tax in a climate crisis makes a mockery of the Government’s supposed commitment to cutting carbon emissions, and also demonstrates that they have little plan to support industry and create jobs beyond handing out tax breaks. Instead of handing out taxpayer-funded tax breaks for a small number of wealthy passengers, the Government should be electrifying the core rail network, boosting investment in the railway and slashing fares to encourage people to take the train. [Interruption.] I see the Transport Secretary chuntering about fares, but he has presided over a further 2.7% increase in rail fares, taking the rise to more than 40% since 2010. We can compare and contrast that with the Labour offer of a 33% reduction in rail fares.

The Secretary of State can snigger all he likes, but in the past several weeks Germany followed our lead and introduced a 10% reduction. Germany is going in the right direction: it wants people out of their cars and on trains. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State is so keen to get on with this, perhaps he could get the Oakervee report out from under lock and key in the cupboard and publish it. We have a ludicrous situation in which a minority report has been published and the report’s authors know what is in it and are champing at the bit to speak to it, yet it remains under lock and key. What is the Secretary of State hiding? Let us have a look at it and have a discussion about it.

While we are at it, the Secretary of State can ignore the siren voices from Andrew Gilligan about cutting HS2. It would be absolutely ludicrous to cut off HS2’s legs and abandon phase 1. I have heard nothing more ludicrous in a long time. If we want to get the capacity gains, that would be a foolish thing to do, so I hope the Secretary of State talks to the Prime Minister and totally scuppers that notion.

The Government’s response to the problems faced by the automotive sector has been similarly lacklustre. Thousands of jobs have been lost, and more might be lost in the coming months and years unless the Government set out a clear strategy for the transition to electric vehicles, including a more ambitious phase-out date; a scrappage scheme for the oldest vehicles; investment in public charging infrastructure; and additional support for the purchase of expensive electric vehicles—all accompanied by a plan to give the industry the support it requires.

Other speakers, most lately Alan Brown, have mentioned the imperative in respect of air quality. He is exactly right that we are enduring premature deaths directly connected to air quality, running to some 40,000 a year in this country. That is an absolute and utter abomination and we have to take major strides in that direction.

The difficulties of the bus manufacturer Wrightbus are another example of the Government’s laissez-faire attitude to the economy and the climate. The UK has a number of excellent bus manufacturers and has the potential to be a world leader in electric bus technology, but the UK is not ambitious enough on electric buses, meaning we are not taking advantage of the industrial opportunities that a bold commitment to electrify the nation’s bus fleet would present.