Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:59 pm on 10 September 2020.

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Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Committee 12:59, 10 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.