Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

– in the House of Commons at 12:55 pm on 10th September 2020.

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Select Committee statement

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means 12:58 pm, 10th September 2020

We now come to the Select Committee statement. Darren Jones will speak for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement, and call Darren Jones to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once, of course. Interventions should be questions and should be brief.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee 12:59 pm, 10th September 2020

This morning, I had the privilege of launching the report of Climate Assembly UK, “The path to net zero”, along with the Chairs of the five other Select Committees that commissioned the citizens assembly back in 2019. This afternoon, as Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I am launching a high-level inquiry into the findings of this groundbreaking report. I am keen, as I know other members and Committee Chairs are, that we take forward the work of the climate assembly by examining the policies that can deliver on net zero and provide solutions that are fair and equitable.

This major inquiry on the BEIS Committee will take a two-pronged approach. First, we will launch an overarching inquiry into the findings of the assembly in order to review, on a regular basis, the Government’s engagement and interaction with the findings of the assembly and progress in implementing its proposals. We will do this by monitoring progress in relation to this important piece of work and working in close collaboration with the other Committees that commissioned the climate assembly.

Secondly, and in addition, the Committee will mainstream the work of the climate assembly. We will undertake detailed scrutiny of its proposals within the context of other existing and future inquiries. For example, the BEIS Committee is currently undertaking work on net zero and COP26 and we will shortly announce details of a series of new energy and climate change inquiries that we have selected following our recent My BEIS inquiry, which will focus directly on some of the energy recommendations put forward in the assembly’s report. We will also examine issues around net zero and the green recovery during the course of our post-pandemic economic growth inquiry.

The findings of the climate assembly will therefore shape and inform the Committee’s programme of inquiries for the duration of this Parliament. I know that other Select Committees are considering how to use and take forward the findings of the assembly’s report and will no doubt have further announcements in due course.

Just to put the assembly report into context, it may be helpful to remind the House of its origins. More than 10 years ago, the House passed the Climate Change Act 2008. It has since declared a climate emergency and set a statutory target to reach net zero by 2050. We have already provided international leadership on decarbonisation, but the pace of reform has slowed and we must get back to business. But meeting a challenge of this nature and this scale is clearly going to affect the lives of every citizen, organisation and community across our country. So everybody needs to understand why they are being asked to take action and what changes will need to be made, from how we eat to what we buy, how we heat our homes, how we do business and how we travel. This is exactly why the six Select Committees came together to establish this first ever UK-wide citizens assembly on climate change—an example of this House leading the public debate, but on the basis of informed public perceptions.

This report is a unique body of evidence for us in Parliament and for Ministers in Government to understand the public’s preferences in how we reach net zero, and it is a timely and important reminder of the public’s expectation that we do so. To avoid any misconceptions, I should stress that the citizens assembly is not a simple opinion poll or a lengthy focus group. It is entirely different. This assembly involved 108 citizens, precisely reflective of the composition of the UK population, including on attitudes to climate change, sitting down together, learning about the issues in depth, considering a whole range of viewpoints and taking into account their own values and lived experiences to come to a consensus on how we should act on climate change. Rather than being spoon-fed questions which they had to respond to, assembly members were asked to come up with their own principles to underpin their approach, to define for themselves what they thought was fair, and to make compromises and trade-offs in a way that could be acceptable and supported by most people.

The report, therefore, has a wealth of detail across a range of policy areas, and I encourage hon. Members from across the House to read the executive summary to get a sense of the expectations that the British people have of us. The full report, which runs to 500 pages, provides granular detail and insight about the rationale behind the policy recommendations and the conditions attached to them. It provides a strong emphasis on some core principles that run throughout the policy recommendations, informing and educating everyone being a priority. Public, industry and individuals in Government have a shared responsibility to act. Then there is fairness across the whole of the United Kingdom, including for the most vulnerable, on issues of affordability, jobs, balancing the regions and nations, incentives and rewards—in actions, not just in words. Those adversely affected by the transition should not lose out—it should be a just transition and benefits should be shared by all of us. There is a call for strong leadership from Government and a strong demand for a cross-party approach to meeting the targets. Last was the principle to remind us all that protecting and restoring the natural world is as important as decisions on infrastructure, or consumer or business behaviour.

As a package, the assembly report provides us with guidance, but it is our job as politicians and as Ministers in Government to craft the policies and to implement them. It is therefore now upon us, with this report delivered and the assembly concluded, in our Committees and in our Parliament, with officials and Ministers in Government, to turn the conclusions into clear legislation, policies and funding decisions.

I was struck in the report by the assembly’s degree of consensus on so many very difficult issues, with clear steers on a direction of travel and a willingness to make that journey together. It showed the pragmatic attitude of the British people to get on with taking the actions that are absolutely required of us. I take from this report that people are willing to be led towards a net zero Britain, but it is now for the Government to take action. The call is for the Government to lead, to explain why we need to act and to map out a route that meets the scale of the challenge—a route that is achievable and, in line with the report, seeks the popular consent of the British people. That should be built upon open, collaborative, cross-party consensus.

Let us take this unique body of work as a template for action, a signal of what is achievable and an opportunity for the UK to not only build back better domestically in our own country, but to show the world how it can be done. I look forward to reporting back on the work of my Committee. I congratulate and commend all the assembly members and the staff involved in putting together this groundbreaking piece of work. I commend Climate Assembly UK’s report, “The path to net zero”, to the House.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s statement. I agree with him that the report is a very fine report. I think there are two reasons this project has been so powerful: one is the nature of the attendees at this assembly and how they were selected, being representative of the whole country; and, second is the proportionate nature of the recommendations made within the report. Does he agree that the considered, measured and tolerant approach that has been adopted is a good example for all those individuals and groups who wish to contribute to the climate change debate?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I think the point he makes is really important because, for some in this debate, calls for action on climate change are demeaned as being from activists or not being supported by the British people. The citizens assembly report shows that these are pragmatic, considered and evidence-based decisions with support from the whole cross-section of the United Kingdom. That should give Ministers the confidence to take action in line with the recommendations in the report, and I know that it gives the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee, as well as the rest of us, the confidence to hold the Government to account very strongly in bringing forward those policies.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

This has been a fantastic initiative. It is obviously important that politicians take the report and its recommendations seriously. One important theme in the report is consumer fairness. It is crystal clear that we need to be fair to consumers, which means more direct investment in heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency from the Government, but it also means greater consumer protections. Does the Chair of the Select Committee agree that that means learning from mistakes, such as the green deal mis-selling from companies such as Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems, or HELMS? We need to look at those mistakes, learn from them, make recommendations to improve consumer protections and get that fairness for consumers as we go forward to net zero.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his continued work on consumer protection, which I know he advocates for on the Committee that I chair, of which I am grateful he is a member. He will know, and Ministers will know, that we have written to the Secretary of State on the energy efficiency programme brought forward by the Government. The consensus in the citizens assembly report is that we need to take these actions, but that that should be done with clear, strong leadership from the top that puts fairness and equity at the heart while providing the choice that consumers need from providers and different technologies in the home. We also need to ensure that there is protection and enforcement on the end of that, should things go wrong. I know that Ministers are considering those issues. They have brought forward the TrustMark for the energy efficiency programme, and I know that we will continue to ensure that consumer protection and fairness to consumers is at the heart of the Government’s response.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I congratulate the hon. Member on presenting the report today and I look forward to working with him on this on the Select Committee. One of the themes that has come out is that of course the environment is key but so is ensuring that the economy is well managed. Does the right hon. Member—I mean, the hon. Member—agree that covid has had a financial impact on the business sector and that we will need to do more to help businesses to help us to achieve net zero?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I thank the hon. Lady for my elevation to the Privy Council, for which one can only hope. I agree absolutely that the consensus in the report and in our conversations on the Committee is that our economic recovery from the pandemic and our transition to net zero are no longer distinct issues but one and the same. They have to be embedded, and that requires Government to work in partnership with business. Some sectors will be affected more than others, and it will be difficult for some important parts of the British economy to make these changes, but I am confident that we can make them together. I know we will do that work on the Committee and bring forward proposals for the Government to do so.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Labour, Warrington North

If we are to meet net zero, including targets on the electrification of transport and the decarbonisation of heating, either by electricity or by hydrogen produced by electricity, as the citizens assembly highlighted, we will need a lot of power, but not all of this can come from intermittent renewables. Does my hon. Friend agree it is time for the Government to get serious and set out plans for all the low-carbon generation we will need, including nuclear, which provides high-skilled jobs for his constituents and mine?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I know that she represents many workers in the nuclear sector in her constituency and why that is an important issue to raise. The citizens assembly report made it clear that the energy mix is something that the public have clear views on, and I am sure they have the same anticipation as we do in the House for the arrival of the energy White Paper, which I am promised is due in advance of the Budget in the coming weeks, at which point we will get into these issues. It was clear from the citizens assembly report that there is a preference for onshore and offshore wind and solar, but a recognition that that has to come with investment in our network, our storage and our flexibility capacity and that, until we do that, there is absolutely a preference for low-carbon sources of energy.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry. Does he agree that the fairness aspect of the report is particularly important? People are sometimes put off by the idea that the affluent are telling those on low incomes that everything about their lifestyle is wrong—where they work, what they drive, where they go on holiday. There needs to be a greater understanding that some people might like to make certain changes but do not have the means to do so at the moment.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

This is really very important. A member of the Committee asked the assembly in a private briefing this week how they defined fairness. The answer is really important because it was defined by the assembly members—they were not given a definition—and because the assembly represented a plethora of different types of people across the country—rich, poor, different locations, different levels of education, maybe activists and campaigners on climate change, maybe people sceptical of climate change. They came to that consensus on what fairness means and see no reason why we cannot deliver that through all our policies.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I congratulate my hon. Friend. He was launching the report at the same time as DEFRA questions this morning, so will not have seen the Government Front-Bench response, which I thought was slightly disappointing in treating it as just another report. One of the top issues in terms of pure policy in the report is protecting and restoring the natural world, which is very timely given the Living Planet report. Does he agree that we are only going to tackle that with international co-operation, which is why it is so very important that we abide by international law and rules?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I did not see the DEFRA Secretary’s answer, but I would be disappointed if that was the case. I wonder whether he has not read the cross-departmental memo, given the comments of the BEIS Secretary this morning at the launch, who welcomed the report as an important and substantive contribution to Government thinking. We should remember, of course, that BEIS has the responsibility to co-ordinate net zero decarbonisation across every Department, including DEFRA, so perhaps the BEIS and DEFRA Secretaries could talk about the importance of this report.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As chair of the all-party group on net zero, I thank my hon. Friend and the other Select Committee Chairs for commissioning the citizens assembly and for the holistic and well-rounded nature of the report. Citizens assemblies could form an important part of our pre-legislative scrutiny and policy making in Parliament. Does he agree that we should utilise citizens assemblies much more widely in the House?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I note my hon. Friend’s long-held action in this area, both before and during his time in Parliament. I congratulate him on his all-party parliamentary group, which is making an important contribution to the debate here in Westminster. This is the first time that we have had a UK-wide citizens assembly and it was on the really complicated topic of climate change, but that has shown that it works. A citizens assembly brings people together in a consensus-building fashion to understand the trade-offs and to come forward with proposals that people are happy with. I endorse my hon. Friend’s suggestion that we look at these models—perhaps not just in Westminster, but in local government. In my city of Bristol, we are hoping to reinstate such activity after the pandemic as a way to bring people with us and to ensure that we really understand the ambitions of the British people. This report is an example of where the British ambition is for very strong action, and that should give the Government confidence in acting.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I note the importance placed in the report on cross-party working to ensure that these actions are supported in the long term, so let me take this opportunity, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, to pledge our support in delivering the recommendations of the report, all of which we completely endorse. Does the hon. Member agree that the biggest impact on achieving net zero will be made by the actions that are taken soonest, and would he tell me what he thinks is the most important action that the Government need to take now to help us to achieve this goal?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and her pledge of support on behalf of the Liberal Democrats for the call for cross-party consensus on tackling climate change, which the Labour party also supports. On her question about the most immediate action, this autumn and winter is the most important period of time in dealing with this issue; not only do we have to borrow and spend significant amounts of money due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, but we are also waiting for key policies from the Government—from the energy White Paper to the net zero review, through to the Treasury review on green finance, the heating in buildings regulations and so many other things that are all due to come together in the next few months. Now is the opportunity for the Government to bring all that together and to set out a progressive set of policies to meet the scale of the challenge, which I am sure will be in line with the principles of the climate assembly report.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business and Industry)

The report expresses some concerns over the potential robustness of carbon capture and undersea storage, although not perhaps as a way of achieving the transition to net zero. In 2019, the then Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said that it did not believe that the UK would be able to meet its Paris obligations without applying CCUS. Does the hon. Member think that this remains the case or does he agree that the UK should continue to pursue this technology over three or four sites, and would he agree that one of those should be at St Fergus in the north-east of Scotland?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the suggestion that I have any influence over the location of these sites. Unfortunately, I have to break it to him that I do not. Carbon capture and storage was an interesting debate in the climate assembly report because CCS is a little further ahead compared to other negative emissions technologies in proving its capabilities in research and scaling up into industrial settings. Assembly members felt that it was a way to slow down the action we need to take on other renewable sources of energy, and were concerned about issues such as the leakage and storage of carbon in the use of these technologies. That is why they down-prioritised it compared to wind or solar. It is important to note that the assembly was unable to consider issues such as tidal power because the research is not in the right place to be able to do so comprehensively. We quickly need to understand the capacity of carbon capture and storage for scaling up and meeting needs, but we should also recognise that we must prioritise an urgent speed-up in the use of clean renewable technologies, and in my view carbon capture and storage is only a temporary solution.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I will now suspend the House for three minutes to allow the safe exit of Members who are here for this business and entrance of those who await the next business.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 2 September.)