Energy White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:16 pm on 14th December 2020.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 5:16 pm, 14th December 2020

Can I thank the Secretary of State for his statement? This White Paper has been promised year after year, so there have been high expectations for it, and I know I should say that the Secretary of State and his Minister are deeply committed to the fight against the climate crisis, but the test of this White Paper is not just good intentions, but whether it is a plan at the scale of ambition we need to create the jobs we need and deliver the fairness we need. While there are certainly elements in the White Paper we welcome, I fear that too often the sound we hear when we read its pages is of the can being kicked down the road.

First, on ambition, we would like to go further and faster than Government targets, but the very least they must be doing is meeting, with policies, the target for 2030 they have set and the recent proposal by the Committee on Climate Change for a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035. The CCC is clear that, as part of its plan, we need to deliver zero-carbon electricity by that date—2035—but my understanding from the White Paper is that it appears simply to have an ambition of 2050 for zero-emissions electricity. Can the Secretary of State explain what appears to be lesser ambition?

On onshore wind, tidal and solar, it is concerning that the White Paper has little to say. There is only one mention, for example, of tidal in the whole document. Can the Secretary of State explain why and what he is going to do to remove the remaining barriers there are to onshore wind?

On new nuclear, we too believe that it can play a part in the energy mix, but the Government appear not to have come to a view after years of consultation, frankly, about how to pay for it, so can the Secretary of State expand on what is his preferred method of financing? Beyond nuclear, there appears to be more, I am afraid, kicking into touch. On hydrogen, France has committed £8 billion, Germany £6 billion and the UK £240 million, and all we are promised is a strategy next year. Is the Secretary of State not worried that we are going to be left behind?

Secondly, let me turn to the theme of job creation. We would like further ambition from the Government on a green recovery. While other countries are investing tens of billions in a green stimulus to create jobs now, we are investing a fraction of this amount. The Secretary of State must recognise that he is way off his 60% target of domestic manufacture of offshore wind turbines. There is a widespread view that the £160 million investment in ports, while welcome, is a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of need if we are to meet his target. Can he tell us what assessment he has made on this issue?

Crucial to jobs is also a just transition for any workers in industries that will lose out. Does the Secretary of State recognise that there needs to be a proper plan for those in fossil fuel industries, including through using their skills in renewable sectors? Can he explain why there is not such a plan already, and will he work with trade unions and others to develop such a vital plan with urgency?

Thirdly, let me turn to the issue of fairness for consumers. I am glad to see the Government trying to build on the energy price cap—once said to be part of a Marxist universe, now part of the mainstream policy of a Conservative Government. But the biggest issue here, as the Secretary of State knows, is the massive job that we have to do in changing the way in which we heat our homes. I fear that the White Paper falls very short on fairness and delivery. Years ago, the Government abolished the zero-carbon homes standard due to come in in 2016, and we still have no date or plan for new homes to be built to zero-carbon. Why not? This is a false economy.

For existing homes, the Government have known for years about the challenge of insulation and conversion of the way they are heated, but, frankly, we still have one-off announcements of resources with no proper plan. They are actually cutting the green homes grant from this year to next. For homes owned by private landlords, the targets are still too weak and too far off; and they hardly scratch the surface when it comes to social housing. All this is on top of the fact that it is still being paid for through bills. These are very difficult issues, but does the Secretary of State recognise that the only answer to meet the transition and fairness is a proper long-term, street-by-street, house-by-house plan? When will that be published?

That brings me to my final point: markets have a role in this transition, but the Government must have a guiding hand. Whether it is a plan to decarbonise our homes, the future of the network infrastructure or the planned energy mix, the Government must match their intentions by playing their proper role to deliver in a way that is fair, creates jobs and shows the requisite ambition. If the Government do that, we will support them; but, on the basis of today’s effort, they still have a long way to go.