‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must conduct an assessment of the impact of this Act on the environment, and lay this before the House of Commons within six months of Royal Assent.
(2) This assessment must consider the impact on—
(a) the United Kingdom’s ability to achieve the 2050 target for net zero carbon emissions,
(b) the United Kingdom’s ability to comply with its third, fourth and fifth carbon budgets,
(c) air quality standards, and
(d) biodiversity.”—(Wes Streeting.)
This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on the environment.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
The Chancellor of the Exchequer must conduct an assessment of the impact of this Act on the UK meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and lay this before the House of Commons within six months of Royal Assent.”
This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on the UK meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
New clause 14—Review of impact of Act on UK meeting Paris climate change commitments—
The Chancellor of the Exchequer must conduct an assessment of the impact of this Act on the UK meeting its Paris climate change commitments, and lay this before the House of Commons within six months of Royal Assent.”
This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on the UK meeting its Paris climate change commitments.
New clause 34—Impact of Act on human and ecological wellbeing—
The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of this Act on human and ecological wellbeing, including the wellbeing of future generations, and lay a report of that review before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”
This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on human and ecological wellbeing, including the wellbeing of future generations.
We are living through an emergency, and we have seen a response to that emergency that reflects the scale of the challenge—big changes in public policy agreed at rapid speed and with cross-party co-operation; every Government Department tasked with playing its part in the crisis response; the state, the private sector and civil society pulling together in an attempt to avert needless loss of life. The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency, and although mistakes have been made that could have been avoided, we now know what an emergency response looks like. More than a year has passed since this House declared a climate emergency, and I do not believe that, hand on heart, we can tell our country that we have seen a response to that emergency that matches the scale of the challenge of preventing catastrophic climate breakdown.
The planet is burning. The last 22 years have produced 20 of the warmest years on record. Prolonged summer heatwaves are crippling infrastructure and causing public health crises. Last year, the Met Office declared the UK’s hottest day on record, with a temperature of 38.7º Celsius. Across Europe, people are needlessly dying of heat-related illnesses. The World Meteorological Organisation is seeking to verify reports of a new record temperature in the Arctic circle. The melting rate of Greenland’s ice has risen to three Olympic-sized swimming pools every second. Sea levels are predicted to rise, with serious consequences for our own country. Across the UK, the Met Office forecasts that flash flooding caused by intense rainfall, which has already devastated homes and businesses across our country in recent years, could become five times as frequent by the end of the century if urgent steps are not taken now.
Across the world, some of the poorest communities are already experiencing the devastation caused by man-made climate change, and the people of the global south and east will be disproportionately affected by the unfolding climate emergency, with 95% of the cities at extreme climate risk situated in Asia and Africa. It is causing death and despair and displacement for climate refugees.
The impact of climate change is already clear. The consequences of our failure to act for future generations are already known, and yet here we are this afternoon presented with a Finance Bill that stands as a symbol of the complacency of our Government, fiddling while the planet burns.
The issue of electric car targets illustrates my hon. Friend’s point about complacency. The Government’s target was to convert by 2040. They have brought it forward by five years to 2035, but Scotland’s target is 2032. The ambition of this Government does not even match that of one of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. How on earth can it be called world leading?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. We will not have to wait for the Minister to respond to hear the Government’s case, because I can tell the House what he is likely to say. He will tell us that tackling climate change is a top priority for the Government, and that this is demonstrated by the UK becoming the first major economy to pass legislation committing us to reach net zero emissions by 2050. He will tell us that the UK reduced its greenhouse gas emissions faster than any other G20 nation between 2008 and 2018. He will cite measures taken in this Bill as further evidence of the Government’s commitment, including tax support for zero-emissions vehicles; reforms to vehicle excise duty and company car tax; preparations for the introduction of the plastic packaging tax; and the establishment of a UK emissions trading system outside of the European Union. I suspect he will also point to previous announcements made by the Government, such as the £800 million fund for carbon capture and storage.
Taken individually, these steps are welcome, but collectively they do not provide the momentum we need to accelerate progress towards net zero. The Opposition do not believe that the 2050 target is ambitious enough, and neither does the science, so it is all the more worrying that, on current projections, we will not even achieve that deadline.
In its 2020 report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change underlines the charge that I am laying at the door of the Government this afternoon. It acknowledges, as do we, that in the time that has passed since the UK legislated for net zero by 2050, initial steps towards a net zero policy package have been taken. However, as the Committee says,
“this was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019.”
The hon. Gentleman is making a really strong case. Does he agree that the problem with the Government’s actions to date is not just what they have not done but what they are promising to do, including a £27 billion road-building scheme and boasting of 4,000 miles of new strategic roads in Britain? That would be an absolute disaster as far as the climate is concerned.
I am grateful to the parliamentary leader of the Green party for that intervention. There is a really important issue here around infrastructure. Our current infrastructure contributes enormously to the carbon output of our country. If we make the right infrastructure decisions now and get our priorities right, which is the point the hon. Lady is making, the Government can accelerate our progress towards net zero.
The Committee on Climate Change recognises the policies announced by the Government on transport, buildings, industry, energy supply, agriculture and land use. However, taking all of that into account, the Committee states that
“these steps do not yet measure up to meet the size of the Net Zero challenge and we are not making adequate progress in preparing for climate change.”
The charge sheet is serious. The Committee tells us:
“Announcements for manufacturing and other industry have been piecemeal and slow…There is still no strategic approach to drive change at the required scale and pace.”
It also says:
“Buildings and heating policy continues to lag behind what is needed”, and that nearly 2 million homes built since the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed
“are likely to require expensive zero-carbon retrofits and have missed out on lower energy bills.”
At the general election, the Conservative party promised in its manifesto to invest £9 billion in energy efficiency over the next decade. The Committee says that that
“is welcome but not enough to match the size of the challenge and has been delayed while awaiting the National Infrastructure Strategy.”
The Committee also welcomed plans for reform of the renewable heat incentive and plans to introduce a green gas levy, but warned that
“the current plans are far too limited to drive the transformation required to decarbonise the UK’s existing buildings”.
On agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry, it noted that
“the current voluntary approach has failed to cut agricultural emissions, there has been no coherent policy to improve the resilience of the agriculture sector, and tree planting policy has failed outside of Scotland.”
“conduct an assessment of the impact of this Act on the environment…within six months of Royal Assent”, including the impact on
“the United Kingdom’s ability to achieve the 2050 target for net zero carbon emissions…the United Kingdom’s ability to comply with its third, fourth and fifth carbon budgets…air quality standards, and…biodiversity.”
At present, the UK is set to miss its legally binding fourth and fifth carbon budgets, having only achieved its second carbon budget thanks to accounting revisions to the UK’s share of the EU emissions trading scheme and the impact of the global financial crisis. I am sure many Members of the House will agree that we should not rely on fiddling the figures or economic crisis to help us to achieve our carbon budgets, though I have to say, looking at the current state of the aviation industry and the Government’s unwillingness to act to save jobs, perhaps it is their intention simply to allow jobs to go and businesses to pull out or even go bust, rather than take the action needed to ensure a just transition.
Too many of our citizens are breathing in toxic air, with the serious health consequences that follow. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted developed countries in the world. Despite our being a signatory to the convention on biological diversity, 41% of species in the UK have decreased in abundance over the past 50 years, and 15% of species are threatened with extinction. As Sir Robert Watson wrote in relation to climate change and biodiversity loss,
“We either solve both or we solve neither.”
The risk is that as it stands we are going to solve neither.
We had hoped that the Prime Minister’s speech this week would provide more than warm words to tackle global warming. It had been billed as a new deal in the spirit of President Roosevelt’s response to the great depression, but moving some infrastructure spending forward is not a new deal and planting a few new trees certainly is not the green new deal our country needs. State action alone will be insufficient to meet the challenge, but national and international leadership from the Government is essential if we are to succeed. The public recognise that. They are looking to the Government to provide that leadership, but according to a YouGov poll published by the Institution of Civil Engineers today, less than a third of the public thought the Government had a plan to achieve net zero. They are not wrong, and there is no shortage of ideas available to the Government.
The Committee on Climate Change has provided a series of recommendations for every Government Department, including Her Majesty’s Treasury. Today, the Institution of Civil Engineers has dedicated its annual “State of the Nation” report to infrastructure and net zero, with a range of practical proposals that I hope Ministers will look seriously at adopting. This week, the Climate Coalition organised a fantastic lobby of Parliament around its green recovery plan, with citizens from all over the country Zooming in to meet their MPs virtually and underline the importance they attach to getting it right.
In the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has brought about, there can be no return to business as usual. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand. If we take the right decisions now on industrial strategy, infrastructure, housing, energy, transport, agriculture, research and development and our natural environment, we will not only accelerate progress towards net zero, but will create new jobs—good jobs—new industry and better opportunities in communities blighted by deindustrialisation. In doing so, we will build a better, fairer Britain. We will improve the nation’s health and happiness, and we will safeguard our natural environment and our planet for future generations.
That is why we ask the Chancellor to come before the House next week not just with an economic update, but with a back-to-work Budget that has a laser-like focus on protecting people’s jobs and livelihoods and safeguarding their lives through the pandemic. Our approach, our ambition and our determination to achieve net zero should absolutely be at the heart of that Budget.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. One of the most important things that could propel us out of this crisis and the economic challenges that we will face is to reduce our energy costs significantly. The best way of doing that would be to allow and encourage more onshore wind. One of the factors against manufacturing industry in the UK is very high energy costs compared with those of Europe. Would he welcome more fiscal stimulus behind that sector?
I am grateful for that intervention because we have seen what the right policy framework can do in terms of offshore wind and the success that that has brought. There is an imbalance in the priorities of the Government and the policy framework that they have created that actively prevents the kind of progress we could be making on onshore wind. It may not always be popular, but as people worry about what might happen to some of the vistas that they currently enjoy as a result of onshore wind farms, they should consider what the landscape will look like if we allow catastrophic climate breakdown to occur.
As I look across the Dispatch Box to the Treasury Bench this afternoon, it is not only with envy that the Conservative party has been given the opportunity to govern, but with exasperation that they are squandering it. If they are serious about preventing irreversible and catastrophic climate breakdown, leadership from the Treasury will be crucial. Every Finance Bill, every fiscal event, every major policy announcement has to shift the dial seriously and substantially towards achieving net zero. What is measured is what counts, so let us measure the worth of our Government’s words by their deeds. Let us seize the opportunity that the present crisis affords us by resolving to build back better and build back greener, and let us make sure that, when future generations look back on this moment, they do so with a sense of pride that, when it mattered, we got it right.
I honestly believe that global climate change is the existential threat of our time, but, unlike the shadow Minister, who just criticises the Government, I believe that with a great threat comes a great opportunity. I am absolutely certain that a focus on green growth offers us the way out of the inevitable coronavirus recession.
It is a fact that, since 1990, the UK has outperformed the G7 in cutting our greenhouse gas emissions by 43%, while growing our economy by more than two thirds. Today, there are around 450,000 green collar jobs and I truly believe that, if we play our cards right, the UK’s clean growth sector could be even bigger than our world-leading financial services in years to come. Even on our current trajectory, the UK is forecast to have 2 million green collar jobs by 2030, but we can do so much better—from electrification of our transport sector to industrial decarbonisation, from nuclear fusion to battery technology, and from low-carbon home heating to our world-leading environmental standards. We are not just leading the world in science and innovation, but creating an ideal platform for millions of new jobs.
The right hon. Lady mentioned low-carbon heating. Heating homes and businesses accounts for about 43% of our CO2 emissions as a country, yet Government do not have a single target for it. How can we tackle these things if Government will not even set a target for reducing the single biggest emissions area for our country?
As a matter of fact, it is not the single biggest emissions sector in our country, but the Government have a number of plans and projects to look at how we can decarbonise home heating, which are very important and I will come on to specifically talk about target setting.
We are not just leading the world in science and innovation, but creating an ideal platform for millions of new jobs. In particular, it is well known that young people—more than 70% of them—would prefer a career in the green sector. Perhaps the greatest UK success story to date is our pioneering efforts in renewable energy. The UK accounts for more than a third of the world’s deployed offshore wind, and renewables have accounted for 37% of electricity to the network this year, with nuclear accounting for a further 18%. Furthermore, the speed of UK achievement has accelerated under successive Conservative Governments. When I was Energy Minister in 2015, we announced we would be taking coal off the grid entirely by 2025, and it is a real credit to our energy sector that we have achieved close to zero coal now, and it is only 2020.
This is a key point. When Government set clear guidelines for business, along with sensible investments in infrastructure, businesses will always just get on with the job and they can often achieve much more than we expected of them. It is entrepreneurs and risk takers who deliver the jobs and growth, so I urge the Chancellor, when he puts on his thinking cap to finalise his next stimulus package, to have two key priorities: first, green jobs and, secondly, clear deadlines that create investable opportunities.
The right hon. Lady talks about the renewables sector being led by business and entrepreneurs, yet when she was leading the Business Department, she blocked the groundbreaking tidal energy scheme in south Wales, which would have transformed the sector and offered thousands of jobs, including supply chain jobs.
The hon. Lady has got her point on the record. In fact I did not block the scheme. The issue with that particular tidal power project was its cost. It in no way represented value for taxpayers’ money. The Government support all forms of renewable energy, but it has to come at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
Decarbonising in the UK is only a tiny part of the picture. Climate change is a global threat and the UK will be hosting COP26 next year, which offers a massive opportunity to demonstrate global leadership. COP26 must be a turning point for the world, as well as the moment to demonstrate the UK’s commitment. There are four objectives I would like the UK to achieve at COP26. The first is to announce a significant collaboration with a small number of other major nations. For example, we could have a collaboration with India on battery storage, with China on offshore wind, and with Brazil on reforestation.
Secondly, measurement is so key to performance, so I would like to propose the launch of a new year book at COP26 in which all 157 nations have their own page setting out not just their Government but their state-level and business-level achievements and goals. For far too long, arguing about how to audit decarbonisation has been a convenient excuse for inaction.
Thirdly, the UK is a world leader in financial services, and in recognising the excellent decision by the Prime Minister to appoint Mark Carney as finance adviser for COP26, I urge the Government to consider championing the development of an international infrastructure organisation to help to fund global decarbonisation. Fourthly, while the world continues to rely heavily on carbon, we urgently need an internationally recognised carbon offset licensing body to ensure that global living standards can continue to improve while we protect our planet.
To finish, I am desperately worried about the inevitable job losses that the covid-19 pandemic is going to cause, but I see a way forward, with the Government maximising the tools at our disposal to build a cleaner, greener world and to facilitate the jobs we will urgently need. That means apprenticeships for young people, retraining for those who have lost their jobs, setting clear decarbonising targets by sector, investing in green infrastructure and building international collaborations. All of that requires businesses to power up, so I want to say to businesses: you need to get your teams off furlough and get your businesses going again. Start trying to build and create and use your innovative energy to build a cleaner, greener future. We have all been in it together during lockdown, and we definitely all need to play our part if we are going to bounce back successfully.
With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will speak to new clause 13 before moving on to new clause 14. New clause 13, which I and my colleagues in the Scottish National party tabled, would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on the UK meeting the UN sustainable development goals. That is an incredibly important issue.
I will start by referencing someone who has been in the news quite a lot in recent days, in relation to a new deal—former President Roosevelt, who stated:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much;
it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
What sage words indeed, which chime directly with the purpose of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals about creating a just society for all, where we all have the same opportunities and access to vital services.
If we look at some of those sustainable development goals in a bit more detail, we might see why the Government are perhaps not so keen on new clause 13. For instance, the first UN sustainable development goal is on there being no poverty. Of course, we are all well aware of the Government’s record in relation to poverty. It was discussed at great length in Committee. At the time, the Minister made some fairly strong remarks, as did Wes Streeting, on the situation in Scotland. They were absolutely correct to highlight that Scotland is not immune to the problems of poverty, but at that Committee sitting, I challenged the Minister on whether the UK Government would follow the pathway trodden by the Scottish Government and introduce £10 a week for every child living in poverty. That commitment was not given, so I say to the Government today: will you meet that challenge? Will you follow the route laid out by the Scottish Government?
The second UN sustainable development goal relates to there being no hunger. Of course, we have seen the UK Government’s record on that, too, in an all too apparent focus in recent weeks through the ridiculous situation where we had to have a footballer—a very good footballer, but a footballer none the less—force the Government to U-turn on feeding the poorest children in England. Incidentally, that is of course being done in Scotland.
If we look further at the UN sustainable development goals, No. 10 relates to reducing inequalities. Has that ever been more timely, given the situation around us on a daily basis in relation to Black Lives Matter? I find it disturbing and deeply unfortunate that the Government do not believe that the impacts of the Bill need to be looked at in relation to such sustainable development goals, because they should be at the heart of all policy making and legislation. Again, that is very much the case in Scotland, where the United Nations sustainable development goals have been embedded in our national performance framework. What kind of nation we want to be goes hand in hand with the goals and aspirations laid out by the UN.
The hon. Member is making a very strong speech about the sustainable development goals. Is he aware of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which puts into law the sustainable development goals and links them with what public bodies have to abide by in law in Wales? Does he believe that that should happen across the UK?
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. Surprisingly enough, I was not aware of that, but it certainly seems to reflect the situation in Scotland through the national performance framework. I encourage the UK Government to look at the example that has been set in that regard, and the one set north of the border. I will finish there in relation to the UN sustainable development goals and move on to new clause 14.
New clause 14 would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on the UK meeting its Paris climate change commitments. As the hon. Member for Ilford North said, the immediate focus of all legislators has been on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, and rightly so. Protecting public health has had to be at the forefront of everything that we do. But the climate emergency has not gone away. We need to be cognisant of that fact and make sure that policies that are put in place recognise it. The need for urgent action has not stopped. In fact, we could perhaps argue that covid-19 has shown just how fragile our society is, particularly for those who need support the most and who live in the areas of higher deprivation. Those who have been impacted the most by covid-19 are projected to be impacted the most by the climate crisis.
It might sound a little bit bizarre that an MP for Aberdeen, which is of course a city well known for its oil and gas industry, would stand here and talk about climate change, but it is for a good reason: the reality is that we do not get to net zero without taking the oil and gas industry with us. We need to invest in the support that it requires in order to meet net zero.
As another Member of Parliament who is very proud to represent a part of the great city of Aberdeen, I very much appreciate the speech my hon. Friend is making. There is no route to net zero without investing in the oil and gas industry for things like carbon capture and storage. Does he share my concern that there is as yet no apparent sign of any sector deal, which might harness the skills and capital invested in that industry to help us to effect the transition?
I thank my hon. Friend, who shares representation of the wonderful city of Aberdeen through his Gordon constituency, for his timely intervention: it is almost as though he has read my mind as to what was due to come next in my speech.
As things stand, to date the UK Government have failed to deliver on their promise of an oil and gas sector deal. An oil and gas sector deal may on the face of it, to those who look at it from the outside, appear to be a way to support the oil and gas industry to continue to take oil out of the ground. There is a certain element of that—we need to ensure that sustainability in the industry is there—but more importantly, it is about ensuring a sustainable transition that allows us to meet net zero but provides sustainable energy moving into the future. The UK Government have to date been found absolutely wanting. I have raised this on numerous occasions since the start of March. In recent weeks, Oil and Gas UK produced a report that outlined that 30,000 jobs are due to go in the oil and gas sector as a result of the current downturn in oil prices. That is on top of the huge impact of covid-19 across the tourism sector and all the other sectors that are impacted in every single constituency across Scotland and the United Kingdom. Yet this Government continue to sit silent and continue to fail to deliver.
The Scottish Government have stood up to the challenge. Only last week, they put £62 million into sustainable energy going forward, with £25 million going into a transition, and money going towards a hydrogen hub and a number of other projects put forward by the oil and gas technology sector. Yet this UK Government have failed, to date, to provide a single penny. So where is the strategy? Where is the desire to support the industry in getting to net zero? As I have said, we do not make the sustainable energy transition without that investment, be it in the aforementioned energy transition zone, in further investment in hydrogen, or, as my hon. Friend Richard Thomson mentioned, in carbon capture and underground storage—a pledge that was made prior to 2014 and, shamefully, taken off the table by the Conservatives following the independence referendum result. It is now on the table but has no delivery timescale whatsoever. When is the Acorn project going to be brought online so that we will see that investment in climate priorities? We have heard from the Government numerous times that they will do whatever it takes, but “whatever it takes” is not enough—we need action,
This is a Finance Bill debate, so I shall mention this important point. The Treasury has coined £350 billion from the oil and gas sector, notwithstanding the taxes being paid by those individuals whose employment has been linked to the industry. It is time to give back, and it is time to give back in spades. We cannot afford to wait. What we have had up to now from the UK Government is simply not good enough. I shall conclude where I started, with the remarks of a former President of the United States, who stated:
“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order.”
Let us invest in those industries and the tech that can protect jobs, protect our environment and lead us into a future that protects our planet.
A lot of people wish to speak on this group of amendments, and time taken will squeeze future debates so I will be brief.
I support the positive words from my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom, but I also want to highlight clause 102. It takes up two and a half lines in a large Bill of 7,500 lines, so it is easy to miss. It makes provision for HMRC to start work now on a new tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled plastic. I welcome this measure. Indeed, I hope that in time it might be possible to go further, but it is clearly right to start now. During the coronavirus crisis, we have heard little about the environment, although I think people have been pleasantly surprised by the real and noticeable difference to our environment—our clean air—resulting from the lack of vehicle use. That 2050 deadline for net zero carbon countries has got ever nearer, and reducing what we use and reusing what we have are ingredients for progress. Changing our plastic use in our lives is one way that all of us can make a difference.
This was a hot topic before the crisis and it will be one in the future, but it has not always been so. I launched plastic bag-free Harrogate with some colleagues in 2008, and although it was generally well received, some people did ask me if I had gone a little bit cranky. We nevertheless made a bit of a difference, and I see a difference being made now in the actions taken by national Government, regional government, local government and community groups. My local council, Harrogate Borough Council, has done good work in waste collection, recycling and education, and I see strong community groups and vibrant environmental groups such as Zero Carbon Harrogate and Knaresborough SPARKs moving the debate forward. We can and will go further and faster. So, although this measure has not attracted attention, it is very positive and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on taking it forward and using a financial lever to change behaviour among companies using plastic packaging, and, through that, encouraging people to recycle more. That has to be a good thing.
There is one other measure in the Bill that I would like to highlight, and that is the measure on increasing the uptake of electric vehicles. Basically, it is a measure to ensure that employees and employers pay no tax on zero-emission company cars. It supports the measure on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. I have had responsibility for this, as both a Transport Minister and a Treasury Minister, so my views are known. I have shared them in this place on previous occasions, and I will therefore not detain the House with repetition. I simply say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that he will be even more popular if he goes on to further incentivise change in this area.
I come to the debate more with sadness than with pleasure, having read the progress report from the Committee on Climate Change on how the Government and the country are doing. The report is absolutely damning of the Government’s performance. It says that they are not even meeting the 2° warming target, they are failing the commitments that we made in Paris five years ago, and, as my hon. Friend Wes Streeting said, they are not expected to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. The report goes on to say that many national plans and policies are not acknowledging the long-term risks of climate change, and that many Government Departments are not acknowledging those risks.
I am going to talk about a few different areas and measures, hopefully not for too long, to let other colleagues fully take part in the debate. We have with us a Minister who has spent time at the Department for Transport, along with my neighbour Andrew Jones, who was a long-serving Minister in that Department, so I will start there.
I am pleased that there are measures such as clause 83, which exempts electric vehicles from vehicle excise duty, and clause 82, which deals with the calculation of cars’ CO2 emissions, but is that enough? We are talking about a country still addicted to petrol and diesel vehicles. Just look across the North sea to Norway. We have to thank the Norwegians, because their No. 1 selling vehicle is the Nissan Leaf. They are therefore supporting Nissan jobs in Sunderland with their Government measures, yet we are not sufficiently supporting them with ours. Those two measures in the Bill will not be enough to make Nissan Leaf the top selling car in the UK, which is what the Government should be aiming for. Not that I am particularly promoting Nissan—this goes for any electric vehicle. I have no interest to declare in relation to Nissan; this is about British jobs. We should look to Norway and its measures on sales tax, charging points and other things, which have meant that the majority of vehicles sold in Norway are electric.
Looking forward to COP next year, the reason why Paris was so successful was that the French showed global leadership, through domestic policy and diplomacy. The problem we will have is that we are not showing the same global leadership in domestic policy. We are a global leader, rightly, in reducing the use of coal-fired power stations, which will effectively have ceased in this country by the time we get to COP. However, we are not a global leader in any other area, so how can we secure a world-leading agreement in Glasgow next year? It is incumbent on the Treasury to introduce incentives to ensure that we reach those points, so that we can show that our measures work. It is not enough to talk a good game; we have to deliver.
Let me turn to some points drawn up by the all-party net zero group, which I chair, which should be instructive for the Minister. They are points that he should take on board and that hopefully the Government will look into. One thing we have seen in the renewable energy sector is a lack of confidence, because in many areas the Government have withdrawn support or not introduced it. One area where I would say the Government have done well and are world leaders is offshore wind. Contracts for difference have made a huge difference. However, we do not have the same confidence in other areas of the renewables market.
What has happened with solar feed-in tariffs has removed confidence from the solar market. Support for green hydrogen and the renewables to create it has not come forward in the way that it should have. My hon. Friend Anna McMorrin mentioned the tidal barrage. Again, we are not talking about value for money; we are talking about a world-leading project that could create new technology that we could export. We are not thinking broadly enough about these measures, and the Treasury needs to rethink them.
Obviously we are in the post-covid period, and we need to think about retooling our workforce, because of the many people unfortunately losing their jobs and the Government’s own agenda of levelling up areas. I want to give one example of where that might really work. Not far from my constituency, in East Yorkshire, we have a plethora of factories that build caravans. I will come to the construction industry later, but the way in which we build houses is the 19th-century way of doing it. In fact, we have been building houses in more or less the same way since the Romans. Why are the Government not incentivising the repurposing of those factories to build modular, Passivhaus standard, zero-carbon homes, creating jobs in areas neighbouring coastal resorts, a lot of which are going to lose jobs, and making available houses at different specs for a wide range of people, from social housing right through to the most expensive types of houses in this country, all of which could be implemented quickly? The Prime Minister said, “Build, build, build”, but it is not enough just to build; we have to build in a way that creates a green recovery.
There is a real dilemma around how we incentivise the construction sector. If someone has a property—a terrace, a house or even a heritage property—and wants to refurbish it and put in green measures, they have to pay VAT. If they want to demolish that property and build a brand new one, they pay no VAT. Is that not perverse? Should the Minister not be looking to fix that? We have systems and financial incentives in place that are going to create more carbon, not less.
I will finish soon as I want to give colleagues a chance to speak. Every Department’s plans should include a green fiscal rule or measure that every single policy has to meet. Every time the Treasury or another Department are putting forward a new policy, they should be asking whether it will reduce carbon, and help to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets—and the carbon budgets after that, if we get to that stage. If it does not, that policy should not be coming forward, because we only have one chance to do this. There is no planet B. There is no second United Kingdom. We need to be doing this now and in the best possible way.
Yesterday, like a number of Members across the House, I was lobbied—by 15 residents, in my case. The time is now.
Today I spoke to 180 delegates of CPRE, the countryside charity. Caroline Lucas was there as well. Those people told me what they wanted fed back to Ministers about the progress they would like to see in the green economy. They are frustrated with the lack of progress, and determined and ambitious to ensure that we get to net zero a damn sight quicker than the Government’s current targets suggest. They are keen to protect our green spaces and environments, and, in turn, to create great green jobs. Where there is development, they are determined that we have a brownfield-first policy, and that the houses built are genuinely affordable and carbon neutral. Picking up on the point made by my hon. Friend Alex Sobel; there are some great examples of modular houses that we can build at scale and create the jobs, jobs, jobs that the shadow Minister spoke about.
We need real and bold investment in our cycleways and pathways, and affordable transport, until the point that it is in our DNA to ensure that our buses are electric, that we get more people working on buses and that our railways get people from A to B, which they clearly do not do currently. At Northwich station in my constituency, people who are disabled or have mobility problems cannot get to the other side of the tracks. That affects their mobility across the conurbation and productivity in terms of sustainable growth.
People have spoken about renewable energy, including the decision on the tidal lagoon. That was a retrograde step; the lagoon should have been invested in. There is a similar situation in Merseyside, where Mayor Steve Rotheram is taking forward a project. I sincerely hope that the Government can escalate that problem—not only for Merseyside, but for the whole nation.
Finally, on renewable energy, people have mentioned hydrogen, which is a real growth industry in my community in Weaver Vale. I would like to see the Government actually escalate such support and put some speed behind it. I would also like to see a recovery plan, which again is about jobs, jobs, jobs, but also about building back better and certainly building back greener with more ambition.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that we will “build back greener”. He said that that was part of his
“mission to reach Net Zero”.
He also said he would build “Jet Zero”. This was on the same day that Airbus announced 15,000 jobs were to be cut. This just shows how out of touch this Prime Minister and his Government are with what is going on in the real world.
The climate emergency barely got a look-in throughout the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday. When we look at how money is to be spent, frankly, this Government’s strategy is to hide inadequate commitments with bluster and rhetoric. With the climate emergency upon us, where is the action that must follow words? Take where I am from, south Wales, for example—cancellation of electrification of trains, no support for the groundbreaking tidal lagoon and now no new money for Wales at all in the announcement yesterday, despite the ridiculous rhetoric we are hearing.
Compare this with Macron in France or Merkel in Germany, who are making commitments of €15 billion and €40 billion to invest in rebuilding a green economy and green jobs. They know, like many in this House, that that is the future. We know that only by transitioning to a green economy, with apprenticeships and jobs in the sustainable and green sectors, are we going to be able to meet this climate emergency head-on, replace jobs lost in that transition and fix the unemployment crisis we now face.
This £5 billion that has been announced is not new money at all. As I have said, we know there is not even new money for Wales. It bears little resemblance to what is actually needed, and even less resemblance to the person whom this Prime Minister seeks to emulate—Roosevelt. This spending represents just 0.2% of GDP compared with Roosevelt’s new deal, which represented 40%. As my friend the former Member of Parliament for Bury North, James Frith, said yesterday, this stunt is “Less Franklin and the Hoover dam and more, ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn’.”
I know the Prime Minister has a liking for big shiny announcements to occupy the days when he is not doing press-ups, but I would have thought he would not have looked twice at this bargain basement new deal. The global health crisis has led to such disruption in our lives—the uncertainties that lie ahead for so many people are numerous—but this should be a reason to give people hope and to use the post-covid rebuild to invest in that green infrastructure and green jobs.
The challenges we face present us with a unique opportunity to do just that—to right past wrongs and to stop future ones occurring. It has shone a spotlight on what truly matters to us: values, who we value and what we value. As we begin to reimagine what the world —our communities, our high streets, our town centres—and our future look like, we have a chance to face up to the starkest challenge of all, which is our rapidly changing climate.
In the future when we talk about the bottom line, that bottom line must be to stop undercutting the environment. We must recognise what is good for our planet is good for jobs, good for livelihoods, and good for health and prosperity. We must build sustainability into absolutely everything that we do. Now is the time to be bold, but ensure that a sustainable future is ahead for us, and for our children too. We have only a few years left to act and, unfortunately, we have a Prime Minister who favours big words over actually delivering anything, so I really do urge this Government to listen and act.
Last week, the Committee on Climate Change released its annual report. The UK is still on course to miss the legally binding fourth and fifth carbon budgets. The Government are falling well short of what is needed to meet the previous target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, let alone their own net zero carbon commitment.
Halting runaway climate change means embedding resilience at the very heart of infrastructure plans; retrofitting homes, offices and public buildings; greening our energy network, and expanding public transport. Yet the Committee on Climate Change reported that the Government have failed to build climate resilience into their work, with no UK sector demonstrating even the ability to meet the 2° C rise in global temperature, which we absolutely must meet.
The Government have yet to radically scale up the construction of renewable energy generation or create any coherent plans to integrate onshore and offshore networks. We are lagging behind other countries in developing a proper plan to train and skill a net zero workforce, and we need to shift public investment away from high-carbon infrastructure. This Government have failed again and again, and the Prime Minister’s new plans are stuck in the fossil fuel age, with more money being spent on roads than on greening our rail networks or investing in energy efficiency, which would boost our communities and local economies. We must stop financing failure and start financing the future.
A better way forward is possible. People have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic that we have lived through. Many have lost loved ones. But this health crisis, just like the climate crisis, has not been a great leveller; it has been a great reminder of the entrenched inequalities in this country and around the world. How we invest now must take account of that.
We must look at what a green energy revolution can do for both the generation of young people who fear for their job prospects and the many millions more who have fallen foul of our fragile economy and now look nervously towards the autumn. We must invest in green energy, mass retrofitting schemes, green building and a sustainable transport network. By financing the future of education, we can equip the next workforce with the skills we need to achieve net zero well before 2050.
Now is the time to make our economy and society fairer and more just, setting us on a green and sustainable path. We have a moral obligation to pass a better world on to the next generation. People want change, too; a recent poll found that six in 10 want the Government to put health and wellbeing ahead of growth after this pandemic. The suffering that people have gone through throughout this crisis deserves to be recognised with adequate and appropriate investment.
We need a Government who will not just level up our country, where the least among us meet the just about managing; we must have a major adjustment that will make life worthwhile—action, not words. We need leadership on this, not rhetoric.
Today’s debate on the environment and climate change is crucial because, in addition to the coronavirus pandemic, an even more devastating crisis is already here. Europe had its hottest year on record in 2019, and 11 of the continent’s 12 warmest years have occurred in the past two decades. Global grain yields have declined by 10% due to heatwaves and floods connected to climate change, unleashing mass hunger and displacement. More than 1 million people living near coasts have been forced from their homes due to rising seas and stronger storms. With the highest ever temperature recently recorded in the Arctic circle, we cannot delay in taking action to save our planet and future generations. Sadly, we cannot rely on the Government to take the urgent, radical action that is required.
I support clauses 82, 38, 87, 89, 90, 92, 93 and 102, all of which either introduce or raise taxes on environmentally damaging goods. However, they amount to a woefully inadequate response in the fight against planetary breakdown. Not only is the Government’s commitment to bringing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 perilously unambitious, but they are not even on track to meet it. Last year, the Committee on Climate Change said that the UK is not on course to meet the original long-term ambition of an 80% carbon reduction, let alone net zero. The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that the Government need to invest an additional £33 billion per year, just to meet their 2050 net zero target. So far, however, less than 10% of that investment has been committed.
Conservative Governments have continued to give oil companies further tax breaks, including as recently as December 2018. Yesterday, the Prime Minister boasted that his repackaged announcement of existing infrastructure plans was “Rooseveltian”, yet his announcements were incompatible with FDR’s new deal which, imperfect as it was, used the full power of the state genuinely to transform and rebuild America as it recovered from the Great Depression.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we must channel that spirit to forge a new social settlement, and a green new deal to rebuild the country with a more just and sustainable economy. We must fight for a society in which public health always—always—comes before private profit. The big polluters and corporate giants must bear the cost of that, not ordinary people. It is vital that the protection of our workers and communities is guaranteed during the transition to renewable energies. As we rebuild our economy from the ruins of a pandemic, it is possible for the Government to create 1 million green jobs with a programme of investment in renewable energy, flood defences, and a resilient health and care service.
The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the need for our communities to have access to clean air, green spaces, and interconnectivity. That is why we must introduce full-fibre broadband, free at the point of use, a mass house insulation programme, and a green integrated public transport system. We must bail out workers and the planet, not big polluters. The bail-out in Project Birch must be subject to stringent commitments to workers’ rights, tax justice, and rapid decarbonisation. Without immediate Government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. That will cause unimaginable disruption, and could cost millions of lives, most immediately and sharply in those countries of the global south, which have contributed the least to climate change. To ensure a global green new deal, our Government must strongly consider the cancellation of the global south’s debt, and enable investments in public health. The UK must also take strong action against tax evasion and international fossil fuel finance, and rapidly step up financial support for a just, global energy transition.
Moments of crisis often shape the future. From the horrors of the second world war, we created the welfare state and our treasured NHS. While we rightly focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the wellbeing of the entire planet relies on our taking this opportunity to mitigate the existential threat of climate change. If we are to achieve the necessary goal, the Government must raise their ambition and begin to act on the scale that the climate crisis demands.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Claudia Webbe. I wish her and other Members of Parliament representing the Leicester area well with the non-easing of lockdown this weekend. Coronavirus has given us an exceptional opportunity to rethink things and do things differently. New clause 28 seeks to have a green thread running through our finance legislation. I will vote for it, because it seeks to inject some green thinking and some fresh thinking into the way that our economy acts.
Like other Members, I have been approached by many constituents this week about the Climate Coalition declaration. I had a very useful discussion with constituents yesterday about the three key demands, which fit neatly into this debate. The first is unleashing a clean energy revolution. I am proud to be in a city where the ultra-low emission zone scheme, which was introduced by the Mayor of London, has reduced emissions by 40% over a short period. That was quite a brave move—it is not universally popular. Often these green measures are not particularly popular to begin with, but when people realise that they can breathe better, the measures become more popular. I am sure the Minister agrees that the ULEZ is a good scheme that could be rolled out in other cities.
The wonderful campaigner Rosamund Kissi-Debrah is the mother of Ella, who, at the age of nine, tragically lost her life due to asthma. That was back in 2013, and we know that asthma deaths have risen exponentially in the last decade. Indeed, there seems to be a link between asthma and how badly one suffers from coronavirus, so we must redouble our efforts on a clean energy revolution, to make our environment much fitter for human beings.
Housing should be fit for the future. I notice that housing was way down the list of the Prime Minister’s capital spending priorities, and that is a missed opportunity. We know that a lot of air quality issues relate to people’s homes. For example, older construction in the social rented sector often means that there is damp, which can lead to problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. We also know that a number of homes in the privately rented sector desperately need to be renovated, with new boilers and a reduced carbon footprint. This is the simple, low-hanging fruit that could be tackled through the Bill. It would be lovely to have the tidal lagoons as well, and I voted in favour of those, but tackling the low-hanging fruit and funding local authorities properly so that they can do these basic things would be easy and would create jobs, including green jobs.
The second thing that the Climate Coalition is pushing MPs to do is to protect, restore and expand our green and wild spaces. Many of us will have had a renewed interest in and respect for our local parks during the coronavirus lockdown. I make a simple plea that the Minister look at increasing finance for local authorities to look after our parks better, to create beautiful walking environments and to plant more trees. I know that tree planting is on the list of things that will happen, but maintaining and looking after our green spaces is one of the easy things we could do to boost our air quality and our health.
Thirdly, leaving no one behind is a fantastic idea. It is simple: by addressing social justice, we can have the greener environment and better economy that we all seek. For example, we can do that by increasing support to the most vulnerable, which means targeting many of our green measures not just at people who can afford, say, a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf. My hon. Friend Alex Sobel talked about Nissan Leaf vehicles and Government incentives on electric vehicles; the trouble is that electric vehicles are still too expensive for most people. That needs to be addressed and the Government need to look at it very quickly.
With Brexit coming down the line—with six months to go—I have a specific question for the Minister: what is the replacement strategy for the EU emissions trading system? I see him looking studiously at his notes and hope that he will reply to that question when he responds to the debate. I shall give him some time to prepare.
Leaving the European Union has of course left the UK much more exposed to a degradation of ambition on things such as cleaner water. Our beaches, rivers and lakes became much cleaner to swim in once we were using the benchmark of the European clean water directives. We were also pushed much more at local authority level to pick up our recycling rates—which, by the way, have completely plateaued at local authority level in the past decade of austerity.
Such things are the low-hanging fruit. We want to be ambitious on big schemes as well, but so much can be done at a local level, with more funding for local authorities and regional mayors to do the basics to bring us all up at the same time and not leave anyone behind.
Order. We have just under 30 minutes before I want to bring in the Minister and we have four more speakers. I do not want to set a time limit, but it would be helpful if speeches did not go over, for example, eight minutes.
This debate could not be more important. The Arctic is on fire; 2020 is on course to be the hottest year on record; and 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been since 2000. There is such a thing as being too late. This is a pivotal moment, because the actions that we take over the next few weeks and months will either lock us into high-carbon dependency for decades to come, in which case we can say goodbye to any chance of avoiding the worst of climate catastrophe, or they will start to lay the foundations for a greener, safer, fairer future as we emerge from the peak of this pandemic. These decisions could not be more consequential and nor could the issue be more urgent.
New clause 34 would require the Chancellor to review the impact of the Bill on human and ecological wellbeing, including the wellbeing of future generations. I am grateful to colleagues for their support. Ministers might like to note that the Scottish and Welsh Governments are already members of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership, a global collaboration of nations and regions whose leaders and Finance Ministers recognise that economic progress in the 21st century means delivering human and ecological wellbeing as the overriding priority.
If we are going to build back better, we need to put improving the health and wellbeing of people and nature first when it comes to economic policy making. That should be the primary objective of every Budget, every Finance Bill and every short-term measure that the Chancellor announces next week as part of his plans for economic recovery. I hope that today we can take a small step in that direction by requiring that the Bill be assessed against its impacts on human wellbeing and the health of our natural life-support systems.
My new clause is also a step towards putting the provisions of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill into action. That is the subject of Lord Bird’s Today for Tomorrow campaign, which is supported by dozens of colleagues across both Houses. I am pleased to have introduced a private Member’s Bill in this House to match Lord Bird’s in the other place. That would bring about a future generations Act. I pay tribute to Jane Davidson for all her work in the Welsh Assembly on that issue.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister talked of addressing inter-generational injustice, yet so far the Government’s economic response to covid has doubled down on business as usual. Young people are at the forefront of the campaigns for a transformative green new deal, yet all they are being offered is a bargain-basement imitation, with none of the necessary boldness, vision or resource.
My new clause 34 also considers the interim report of the Treasury’s own Dasgupta review on the economics of biodiversity. It recognises, as Professor Dasgupta has written, that economies
“are embedded within—not external to—Nature.”
So we urgently need a new economic rulebook. As Dasgupta explains:
“Unlike standard models of economic growth and development, placing ourselves and our economies within nature helps us to accept that our prosperity is ultimately bounded by that of our planet. This new grammar is needed everywhere, from classrooms to boardrooms, from parish councils to government departments.”
I would argue that it is needed in this Bill as well. The good news is that just 6% of the public want to return to the pre-pandemic economy. Many of them know that GDP is a poor measure of the things that really matter and that we should not let policy be guided by it. The Government must change course and put public health above private wealth.
As for what an assessment of human and ecological wellbeing would look like, the Treasury could do worse than start with the seven wellbeing goals in the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015: prosperity; resilience; health; equality; cohesive communities; vibrant culture; and global responsibility. All this comes with a “sustainable development principle” to guide delivery. Even the inventor of GDP was adamant that it should not be used as a measure of wellbeing, because GDP goes up when things that are detrimental to human wellbeing go up. For example, a motorway pile-up is a nightmare for everyone involved, but a boon for GDP, as new vehicles are bought and possessions are replaced. It is little wonder that the majority of people want the UK Government to pursue health and wellbeing ahead of economic growth.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech about the wellbeing of future generations and the Act that I am proud to have drafted and written in the Welsh Government, along with Jane Davidson, when I was a special adviser. Does the hon. Lady agree that that Act helps pave the way for what we hope will be something across the UK, including in England? Does she also agree that it demonstrates working together across all the Departments and all the different forms of government, and how we must have sustainability at the heart of things?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, not least because it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to her work in drafting that Bill. I was not quite clear about the role she had played in drafting it. I have worked closely with Jane Davidson on the private Member’s Bill, as has Lord Bird. I am delighted to pay tribute to the work of the hon. Lady and to agree with the substantive point she makes, which is that that kind of Bill is a way of mainstreaming sustainability across every Department and every nation of the UK.
If we were to ask the millions of households in the UK suffering from hunger, food insecurity or fuel poverty whether our current growth-based economic model has delivered them prosperity, we would find that they would say that it has not. It has delivered rising inequality, insecurity, and environmental breakdown. What would change if we made the wellbeing of people and nature our primary economic goal? Some examples are obvious. Of course, we would have investment in things such as energy efficiency and retrofit, creating thousands of good jobs in every constituency, ending fuel poverty and getting emissions down—a real win, win, win. Despite Dominic Cummings apparently thinking this is all a bit boring, it is fundamental to that win-win of combining social and environmental justice. It would also mean more jobs in care, and the Women’s Budget Group shows how sensible that would be. Investing in care creates seven times as many jobs as the same investment in construction, for example, with 50% more recouped by the Treasury in tax revenues. Investment in care is also greener, producing 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than construction. A care-led recovery is also a green-led recovery. That just one example of what new clause 34 is all about, and I hope the Government will agree and look upon it favourably.
I wish to finish by saying a few words about the level of climate ambition. I am delighted to hear everybody, right across this House, talking about the importance of the climate crisis, but unless we get the ambition right, fine words will not get us where we need to be. As for where we need to be, organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, ActionAid and others have worked what our fair share of a climate reduction ought to be. If we look at how that compares with the Government’s 2050 net zero target, we will see a massive gulf. Those organisations have worked out that, based on our relative wealth and historical emissions, we should be getting to net zero by 2030—a full two decades earlier than the current target—and that we should be creating the equivalent of another 100% reduction of UK emissions overseas through climate finance to the global south. That is what we need to be aiming for.
As others have said many times this afternoon, we are already off track to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which themselves are not even strong enough to get us to net zero by 2050. That is how vast the ambition gap is, and that means that our economic recovery cannot just deliver incremental emission reductions; it needs to catapult us into a pathway that meets our moral obligations to the rest of the world.
Let us take a quick look at what that actually means and compare it with what the Government are offering. The Government celebrate a new £12 million investment in zero-emission vehicles research, but compared with the £27 billion road-building budget that I mentioned earlier, it is a drop in the ocean—just 0.04% of the road-building programme’s budget—at a time when we should be demanding that all new road schemes be cancelled. Money should be invested instead in getting people out of their cars altogether and into walking, cycling and public transport.
When it comes to this so-called just transition, it is vital that we support workers in high-carbon industries, but we should be clear that there will be not be a penny more for any kind of bail-out for companies that do not have a programme in place both to support their workers and, crucially, to transition to a sustainable route forward. The idea that the Government would just hand over £600 million to easyJet, without even batting an eyelid, with no conditions at all, is absolutely unacceptable. Look at France, where strong green conditions were applied to Air France. We should be doing the same. We like to pretend that we wear the mantle of climate leadership, but unless we do something like that, we do not.
We want not a penny more for any further fossil fuel exploitation, we want to end the subsidies of fossil fuels, and we want to stop the UK Export Finance Department funding fossil fuel exploration, exploration and promotion in developing countries. Those are the tests of whether we are serious about this issue, on which we are not delivering what is needed.
The need to rebuild from this crisis, and to rebuild better and greener, could hardly be more important for my constituency. Early analysis shows that unless bold further action is taken by the Government, the economic effects of the pandemic will hit Coventry and the west midlands particularly hard.
The effects are already being felt. Each week, new job losses are announced and more businesses close their doors. Rolls-Royce plans to cut thousands of staff, including at its nearby Ansty plant. Jaguar Land Rover has announced hundreds of redundancies in nearby Solihull, with a domino effect causing hundreds of job losses in car parts manufacturers in Coventry South. That will have a devastating knock-on effect for local suppliers and shops in the city, not to mention the dire impact of the crisis on hospitality, the arts and countless other industries in the city.
Even before the job retention scheme is wound down and the potential unemployment tsunami hits us, the human cost is already starting to build up. Pressure is growing on Coventry’s voluntary sector, on its food bank and on local services. It is estimated that without further action, across the country 1 million more people will fall into poverty this year alone.
We stand on the verge of an economic and social calamity. This is no time for the Government to sit on the sidelines, or to offer the same old answers, or to try to go back to the old normal. That system was broken and already failing working people, but the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday does not rise to the challenge. What he is proposing is barely even a sticking plaster. In the face of the worst recession for generations, the new deal the Prime Minister promises equates to less spending than the cost of two aircraft carriers. It is a drop in the ocean.
The challenge before us is not simply recovering from coronavirus, but combating the climate emergency as well, because the danger of ignoring warnings and delaying actions is now all too clear. We simply cannot afford to make the same mistakes with the climate. There is no planet B to fall back on. We do need a new deal, but it must be a green new deal—one that is bold and ambitious, that hardwires lasting change in our society, and that works for working people. It should be a new deal that creates 1 million green jobs, as the TUC has proposed; one that invests in green industries, renewable energy and home insulation, and builds a resilient health and care service. It should be a new deal that harnesses the skills and industry that we have in Coventry to make the city a world leader in the automotive industry once again, but now building the electric cars of the future. It should be a new deal that builds green public transport, with railways and bus networks expanded, owned and run for public benefit, not private profit.
It should be a new deal for our key workers. They kept society running through this crisis; now it is time to run the economy for them. Let us give them a new deal with the pay rise they deserve. With this new deal, let us ask the super-rich and the big corporations to pay their fair share—no more bail-outs for companies registered in tax havens, no more tax dodging or corporate excess.
As we emerge from this crisis, we stand at a crossroads that will determine our future, so let us learn from the lessons of the past. In 2008, bankers crashed the economy, but working people paid the price, with a decade of cuts and stagnant wages. We became a nation of food banks and zero-hours contracts. The Government missed deficit targets, but ripped up the social safety net. There is no doubt that that was a grave mistake, but even now we hear calls for more years of austerity.
In 1945, we took a different path. With mountains of debt and an economy in ruins, we planned and invested for the people. We built the national health service, the welfare state and 1 million council homes. We ran industries for the public good and we taxed the richest. Living standards rose, the economy grew and debts were repaid. Which path we take now is up to us.
In this crisis, we have seen the best of society, from the mutual aid groups that sprang up to the outpouring of love for the NHS and its heroic workers. We have seen how deeply we care for one another. Across divides and differences, we pulled together, so let us pull together again and build back better and greener with a green new deal, tackling social injustices and the climate crisis and building a Britain fit for our key workers and for the future.
There has been much talk of Roosevelt and the new deal but, as Anna McMorrin said, the Roosevelt new deal comprised 40% of US GDP and the Prime Minister’s announcement 0.2% of UK GDP. The new deal rhetoric is right—let us congratulate the Government on that—but the reality is utterly limp.
We stand on the precipice of a recession, probably the worst of our lifetimes, and so it is good to hear Conservatives, for the first time in generations, looking to the great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes for inspiration. This is a time to boost demand and economic activity, to create jobs by direct Government intervention. We will do that by borrowing to invest, and we should do so on a colossal and ambitious scale. Yesterday’s announcement of £5 billion investment would transform Cumbria, if all of it was spent there. No serious person thinks it will even make a dent in the UK-wide economic situation.
Nor does that investment, of course, comprise a green infrastructure revolution. Yet, if we really are to build an economy that is better, that is the revolution we would choose. An active, ambitious Government would invest not £5 billion, but the £150 billion that the Liberal Democrats propose, over the next three years. That way, we would stand a chance of ending the recession before it starts, protecting and creating jobs and preventing hardship. We would also stand a chance of leaving a legacy that future generations will thank us for.
In working together, in a collective national endeavour to build the sustainable infrastructure we need, we can generate the national unity and common purpose that has been absent ever since the debate about our relationship with the rest of Europe turned into a self-destructive culture war. We can unite the country, avert the recession and save the planet all in one go, but it will take an awful lot more than 0.2% of GDP.
So what should we do? We expect to see as few as 3,500 social rented homes built across the entire country this year, the lowest number in history. In my constituency alone, we have 3,000 people languishing on the housing list. We need new homes, genuinely affordable homes and zero-carbon homes. The Government must fast-track the affordable homes programme and spend it on building new, zero-carbon social rented homes.
The Government must also launch a nationwide programme of energy insulation, starting with the homes of those with the lowest incomes, and they must also use this time of fast-tracked legislation—since they are in the mood to do it—to reform the Land Compensation Act 1961 to prevent land values from being inflated, so that we can make zero-carbon homes more affordable to build and more likely to be built.
Transport is key to rural communities such as mine, and to the environment and the recovery. In the north-west, transport spend per head of the population is still barely half of what it is in London, despite the promises made when the northern powerhouse was established. Bus services in London receive a £722 million annual subsidy; in Cumbria, we receive nothing at all. What little money exists rarely makes it north of the M60—not much of a powerhouse, and not very northern.
Our communities in South Lakeland have done a spectacular job putting together community bus services, such as the Western Dales Bus service connecting Sedbergh and Dent with Kendal and the surrounding communities, to plug some of the gaps caused by the steady loss of services, but we should not have to do that. The lack of subsidy means that fares are extortionate, which is a huge challenge, especially for low-paid workers. The 5-mile journey from Ambleside to Grasmere costs £4.90; a journey of equivalent length in London costs £1.50.
Bus services are essential to life in rural communities such as ours—essential to boosting our economy, moving to zero carbon and tackling isolation. They are also key to Cumbria’s vital tourism industry. Between 16 million and 20 million people visit us each year, and 83% of those visitors travel to us by car. With the right interventions and conditions, our visitors will travel sustainably.
We ask for a comprehensive, affordable rural bus service connecting all our villages to our main towns regularly and reliably. We ask for a network of electric hire bike stations. There should be such stations at all railway stations, in village centres, and at major bus stops, and action to make cycling easier and safer throughout Cumbria. We ask for the Lakes line, which connects the English Lake district to the main line, to be electrified. It is shameful that the Government cancelled electrification plans in 2017 for utterly bogus reasons. Now is the time to keep that promise and electrify this iconic line, which serves Britain’s second-biggest visitor destination after London. We ask that there be a passing loop on the Lakes line at Burneside to enable a huge increase in capacity, and we ask for Staveley station to be made accessible, so that it is no longer out of reach of those with mobility difficulties, who cannot make it up the 41 steps.
We ask that the Government show their commitment to industrial renewal and to tackling the climate emergency by investing in wave, hydro and tidal power in the most beautiful but—let us be honest—wettest part of Britain. Why is it that the UK, with the highest tidal range on the planet after Canada, spends so little on the reliable power that water offers? We are proud to have Gilkes in Kendal, beacon to the hydro energy industry. Let us back it, and others like it, so that we can get Britain working, sustainably.
For Cumbria and Britain, building back better and greener is possible—essential—but it means doing more than just using Roosevelt’s name; it will mean deploying Roosevelt’s courage.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this important topic. I declare an interest as a landowner. Many years ago, I used the initiative to provide saplings to landowners free of charge, and I planted 3,500 trees on my farm—my father’s farm, as it was then. Over the years I have watched them grow, and have seen wildlife flourish. I am very proud of my biodiversity foray. However, I would never have thought to use some five acres of my farm to plant trees had not the relevant Department publicised and encouraged the scheme, and made it easier for me.
I understand that the Prime Minister has this week indicated that 1.5 billion trees will be planted between now and 2050. That will raise forest cover across the United Kingdom of Great Britain from 15% to 17%. I would have liked more than that, of course, but I welcome it; we should welcome that very positive announcement. It is clear to me that Government initiatives on the environment make a difference. I am not talking about ceasing production of diesel cars or other preventive measures; I am talking about initiatives from which the constituent feels the benefit. Constituents knew that they could get money for scrapping their old carbon-emitting guzzler car, and could put that towards a more environmentally friendly car that cost them less in road tax, and they did it. They knew that they could get a grant to help install solar panels on their roof and for insulation, so that they did not have to use as much oil, and they did it. Battery storage is one of the projects in my constituency. We hope to see it going forward as one of our very positive green energy projects. I understand that my hon. Friend Ian Paisley is in discussions with the Government about hydrogen vehicles. He also asked a question of the Prime Minister today about buses.
Green policies will increase jobs for all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We should be pursuing those policies with some haste and with some zest. It is my belief that we should not rely simply on our moral duty to be good stewards of this beautiful world that God has granted to us. It is by providing incentives that we have made great strides, but there is more that can and should be done—more can be done to help our farming industry and more can be done to help our haulage firms and our aerospace industry. It is not enough to put the onus on them; we must also play our part in this place. I am looking forward to the Minister’s response, because I am quite sure that a lot of positivity will come out of what he hopes to achieve.
I was recently contacted by representatives from the RSPB who wanted to set up an appointment regarding offshore renewable energy, which I am very keen to support. They highlighted the fact that there has been a step up in ambition in offshore wind delivery over the past 12 months. The latest offshore wind sector deal includes a significantly increased commitment to offshore wind and the Conservative manifesto committed to delivering the greater target of 40 GW by 2030, which is laudable and which I agree with to a large extent. The RSPB has expressed concern that without a robust evidence base and strategically planned deployment, efforts to decarbonise may fall short and risk significant harm to our sea life at a time of ecological emergency. Furthermore, alongside aspirations for increased offshore wind, we would welcome support for onshore renewables in harmony with nature through the reinstatement of the contract for difference auctions as part of the UK’s renewable energy mix.
I very much welcome the commitment of the National Farmers Union and, obviously, of its sister organisation, the Ulster Farmers Union, which I am a member of, to deliver their targets of zero carbon emissions over the next period of time. The Government can do things only if other bodies help and assist them. The National Farmers Union and the Ulster Farmers Union, across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, are committed to doing that. I believe that that is all part of the conversation around the environment and climate change to help us meet our target of zero carbon emissions, and, while I welcome the steps that have been taken, I do believe very strongly that we must again incentivise and invest more to reach our targets and the Government’s targets across all the four regions for the safety not just of my children, but of my precious grandchildren—I now have four after one more arrived last week, and I must say that, with each one of them, I feel my years.
It is a great pleasure to be able to speak to the very interesting debate that we have just had. It ranged very wide and far indeed, but I will speak now to the specifics of the clauses.
New clause 28 would require the Chancellor to assess the impact of the Bill on the environment, and new clause 34 would require the Chancellor to review its impact on human and ecological wellbeing, including that of future generations. New clause 13 would require the Chancellor to assess the impact of the Bill on the UK meeting the UN sustainable development goals. New clause 14 would require an assessment of the Bill’s impact on the UK meeting its Paris climate change commitments.
I could do no better than Wes Streeting in rehearsing many of the achievements of the Government set out in his speech, so I am very grateful to him for doing that. He rightly highlighted the achievements that we have made in terms of offshore wind, but it was left to my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom to mention the 42% reduction in emissions since 1990 while the economy grew by two thirds, so I do not need to dilate too much on that topic.
Let me merely speak to these amendments to the legislation. These amendments are not necessary and they should not stand part of the Bill. Tackling climate change is a top priority for the Government, with the UK becoming the first major economy to pass legislation committing to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Government remain committed to meeting this milestone and have consistently demonstrated the UK’s world leadership in clean growth and development. For example, the 2019 spending round included additional funding for biodiversity measures to support the maintenance and restoration of vital habitats for wildlife and to deliver the 25-year environment plan. Following that, the spring Budget reinforced our track record in the area, announcing at least £800 million for carbon capture and storage—that should be of great interest to Mike Amesbury, who is no longer in his seat—and more than £1 billion of further support for ultra low emission vehicles. That Budget also announced that we will at least double funding for energy innovation.
The Bill highlights the progress we are making towards our commitment to tackling climate change, as well as towards sustainable low-carbon development and meeting international agreements. The Bill provides significant incentives to support the continued decarbonisation of transport. Clause 83 establishes tax support for zero-emission vehicles, exempting them from the vehicle excise duty expensive car supplement.
The Bill also ensures that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can prepare for the introduction of the plastic packaging tax. That was rightly highlighted by my hon. Friend Andrew Jones and will incentivise businesses to use 30% recycled plastic instead of new material in plastic packaging. The Government are also reopening and extending the climate change agreement scheme to support energy-intensive businesses to operate in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way.
If I may, I will speak to the clauses and then take up the points made by Members in the debate.
New clause 28 would require the Chancellor to assess the impact of the Bill on the environment, specifically considering the impact on achieving net zero emissions by 2050, on meeting carbon budgets and on air quality standards and biodiversity. The Government are committed to meeting our net zero milestone. The net zero review continues to make progress, although, let us be clear, like everything else the capacity to consult a wider group of stakeholders has been affected by covid. Many resources have been devoted to covid-related matters given the position we are in, but the review continues to make progress and we will publish a call for evidence, which will allow businesses and stakeholders the chance to engage seriously ahead of publication.
Carbon pricing has already contributed to emissions reductions in the power sector, as the share of coal-based electricity fell from 40% in 2012 to 5% in 2018, which is something everyone should be proud about. Future climate strategies will be set out in due course, including as part of the national infrastructure strategy.
The Government have also created skills advisory panels to help local areas understand their current and future skills needs, including in low carbon industries, and to tailor provision accordingly. The Government will assess the impact of potential interventions against the contribution they make to our environmental goals, including on climate change and air quality targets.
New clause 13 would require an impact assessment of how the Bill is meeting the UN sustainable development goals within six months of Royal Assent. It is important to realise that it is already a requirement for UN member states to review their progress towards meeting the global goals at least once, and we as a country have been proactive in assessing that and reporting back to the UN.
New clause 14 would require a review of the Bill’s impact on the UK meeting its UN Paris climate change agreements. Under the Paris agreement, the Government must maintain and report on their emissions reduction commitments in the form of a nationally determined contribution. The UK’s legally binding commitment to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 is among the most stringent in the world, and the system of governance that implements that commitment under the Climate Change Act 2008 is world-leading.
New clause 34 would require the Chancellor to review the impact of the Bill’s provisions on human and ecological wellbeing, including on future generations. The Environment Bill is designed to ensure that the environment is at the heart of all environmental policy making. This Government and future Governments are held to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties through a newly established Office of Environmental Protection, including legally binding, long-term targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, resource efficiency and waste management on top of the net zero target.
Turning to some of the comments that I thought were of great interest, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire was absolutely right to highlight the Government’s record in this area. Stephen Flynn raised a challenge on top-ups. My view here, as elsewhere, is that we will look with great interest to see whether the policy is effective. If it is effective, we will look even more closely at whether our policy as the UK Government needs to be changed, but it is obviously far too early to be able to say that. If he believes, as we believe, that actions matter, not just words, I am sure he will agree. If the Scottish Government want to do more in that area, they have received an additional £3.8 billion through covid funding, and they can divert some of that if they wish.
I am afraid I just do not have any time. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman at the end if I do.
I want to respond to Catherine West, who rightly highlighted the importance of local authorities for cycling, walking and tree planting. I agree with her about that. She asked about the replacement strategy for the emissions trading system. I think she is aware that we have framed two alternatives. The first is a UK ETS, and the second is a carbon emissions tax. We are open to a negotiated agreement, but we have the resources, through either of those options, to implement a scheme that addresses the issues that she is concerned about.
Finally, Anna McMorrin called for leadership not rhetoric. I wonder whether she was referring to the Welsh Government, whose tree planting plans have been disastrous. They seem to be way behind, according to their own tree planting estimates.
The hon. Lady specifically picked out the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire said, that project would not provide value for money. It would be a terrible waste of public money. That money could be spent much better.
I spent a lot of time looking at it when I was a Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the right hon. Gentleman, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, is quite wrong about that. It would provide terrible value for money.
It is also fascinating that the project is not an environmentally wise idea. The hon. Member for Cardiff North may not be aware that the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales specifically highlighted the major impact on biodiversity, the loss of intertidal habitat and the impact on local ecology, and National Resources Wales talked of a “major adverse impact”. I agree with the hon. Lady that actions matter, not words, and that leadership matters, not rhetoric, and we are seeing that by turning down this very bad project.
The Government are committed to tackling climate change and to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we inherited it. These measures go towards making that happen.
We have had an excellent debate, particularly Opposition Members’ contributions. May I congratulate, on behalf of all of us, Jim Shannon on the birth of his latest grandchild? He will be a proud grandfather. My proud father wrote to me during the debate to say two things: first, that my hon. Friend Peter Kyle needs a haircut, and secondly, that it is good to see the Government Benches full, taking social distancing to the nth degree. However, what they lacked in quantity they made up for with quality, although I must take up a point with Andrea Leadsom, who said that all I did was criticise the Government. That is not true. As the Minister acknowledged, I listed all of their achievements. It is not my fault that the Committee on Climate Change has said that those achievements do not go far enough to help the country achieve its net zero ambition. They are going to have to do better.
I must say that it was a shame for the Minister to end what has otherwise been a rather consensual debate on the importance of tackling climate change with his outburst on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. That is a great missed opportunity and another reason why so many campaigners are right to say that the Green Book ought to be reformed so that when the Treasury makes spending decisions on major projects, it properly takes into account the net zero benefits; otherwise, we end up being penny-wise but, ultimately, planet-foolish.
The challenge for the hon. Gentleman is to explain how the money saved might not be better deployed on greener projects with better carbon performance. That is the question.
The Minister would be far more persuasive if the Government made any announcements about how they are investing more. In fact, what we got from the Prime Minister this week was a damp squib. I genuinely hoped and expected that the Prime Minister would announce major programmes. For example, retrofitting homes across the country would deliver environmental benefits and job creation, including jobs that would compensate those who will imminently find themselves out of work.
I probably do not have time, I am afraid.
Those are the sorts of initiatives that we expect the Government to come forward with. I am disappointed by the lack of ambition, which only underpins why our new clause is so important, so I wish to press it to a Division.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Order. I ask all hon. Members other than Front Benchers and Tellers to leave the Chamber by the doors behind me. Members should join the queues to vote in Westminster Hall. To vote, Members should enter the Lobby and swipe their pass on one of the pass readers. The doors will be closed in 12 minutes.