Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with
(1) further resources, not exceeding £68,942,475,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 396 of Session 2022-23,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £12,398,837,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £31,481,483,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Lee Rowley.)
I add my thanks to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns—it is good to see him in his place—and the members of his Committee for agreeing to the proposal from me, the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones, together with my right hon. Friend Chris Skidmore and my hon. Friend Bim Afolami, who respectively chair the all-party parliamentary groups on the environment and on renewable and sustainable energy. I thank them for supporting the opportunity to have this debate to discuss the Government’s spending plans for action on climate change and decarbonisation.
This is a timely day for the debate, not least given the publication last week of the Climate Change Committee’s annual progress report to Parliament for 2022. The Environmental Audit Committee—it is good to see members of my Committee in the Chamber, and I hope they will have an opportunity to catch your eye during this short debate, Mr Deputy Speaker—will be discussing the report in more detail with the chair of the CCC next week, but its headline message is unarguable. There are major gaps—some might say failures—in the programmes designed to deliver the UK’s climate goals, and I am sorry to have to say that.
I sympathise with my hon Friend the Minister who will be responding to this debate. Russian’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted energy supplies and enormously exacerbated the demand pressures as economies recover from the pandemic. However, the scale of the current geopolitical crisis and the shock it has delivered to global energy markets clearly requires rapid recalibration of his Department’s strategy. That is not the topic of this debate, so I shall not refer to it in detail, but the cost of living crisis, to which the current price shock has contributed, is affecting us all, and the House will have an opportunity to discuss the Government’s legislative proposals on that issue later. This provides an important backdrop to the House’s consideration of the priorities for Government expenditure. There is a cost of living crisis that is making daily life extremely difficult for all of our constituents, including the most vulnerable.
The right hon. Member is talking about the recalibration that is needed in the Department. Does he agree with me that one area where that is extremely true is the need for a proper home insulation programme? We have never seen this Government get that right, in spite of the £11.7 billion allocated to the energy bills support scheme, which is of course welcome. What we need is a proper home insulation programme—street by street, local authority-led—and we still do not have it.
The hon. Lady makes a very important point, and she made a strong contribution to our Committee’s report on the inquiry into the energy efficiency of existing homes. I will comment on that in my remarks, but I broadly agree with her.
It is right that the Government do what they can to align their spending priorities to support all those who are being squeezed, but as the CCC reminded us last week, we are also in a future of living crisis. Large-scale changes in climactic conditions are undeniable, and they have the potential to make parts of the globe uninhabitable, provoking a crisis of barely imaginable severity. So it is entirely appropriate, in Net Zero Week, that the House consider in a little more detail the spending that the lead Department on net zero is proposing in the current financial year to tackle climate change and to address decarbonisation of the economy.
In October 2021, just before the COP26 conference in Glasgow, the Government produced their net zero strategy. This is an ambitious document, ranging widely across all areas of Government. It presents the first wide-ranging plan across Government to build on the initial 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution, which the Prime Minister presented in November 2020. It demonstrates that the Government are in the business of climate mitigation and climate adaptation for the long term. I would argue that there is broad consensus across the parties in the House that this has to be the direction of travel. It also reflects the broad scientific consensus that the planet is under threat from climate change as never before in recorded history, and that our behaviour must change in certain ways if we are to be able to avoid the worst effects. However, my concern is that the Government’s strategy seems, in too many areas, to defer substantive action and to leave real expenditure to a future date—and, dare I say it, possibly to a future electoral cycle. The warning from the Committee on Climate Change last week surely demands that more immediate action is taken to achieve the Government’s priorities and net-zero ambition.
My Committee had an interesting exchange last week with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He disagreed with the thrust of the CCC’s conclusions, which he thought did not make sufficient allowance for the potential contribution of technology to mitigation of the climate crisis. That is a perfectly reasonable debating point. Indeed, our Committee has looked at a number of technologies that can play their part in achieving our net-zero ambition. However, I say gently to those on the Treasury Bench, that waiting for the right technology to turn up is not a strategy.
The Committee has been looking at potential solutions to help decarbonise the economy, from tidal power to offshore wind—there is significant emphasis on that in the Government’s strategy—and heat pumps, where there is ambition, but currently a significant gap in delivery. As the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change will know—we wrote to them about this—the current state of development of negative emissions technologies does not promise a “silver bullet” from carbon capture and storage plants, which by 2050 will snatch carbon from the air and allow us all to go on as before. It is simply not there yet.
The Chancellor’s spending review last autumn gave a breakdown of the Government’s expected expenditure on net-zero measures in each year to 2024-25. In total, the Government plan to spend £25.6 billion on net-zero measures over that period, with £5.5 billion to be spent in the current financial year—subject, of course, to the House’s approval of these spending plans tomorrow. There are concerns about how effective that spending will be, and the Public Accounts Committee has recently been critical about the overall funding of the net-zero transition. The House is right to be concerned about the value for money of such approaches, and I commend the National Audit Office for its detailed and expert analysis of the Government’s plans.
The excellent briefing on the Department’s estimate, produced by the House of Commons Library for this debate, indicates that £21.8 billion—20% of the Department’s budget for this year—is dedicated to reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. I do not include in that figure the £11.6 billion for the reduction in energy bills announced as part of the Government’s measures to address the cost of living crisis. Although the Government list that as a measure contributing to the net-zero target, I do not think that short-term energy bill reductions should be treated as a net-zero measure, unless somehow they are linked to fossil fuel reduction measures more directly.
I will focus the remainder of my brief remarks on the points that my Committee made last session in its report on the energy efficiency of existing homes, to which Caroline Lucas referred. It seems that this is the area where greatest progress can be made towards the net-zero target, and in the shortest time. It was also the area that many witnesses before the Committee identified as a missing component from the recent energy security strategy.
I was pleased that late last month Ministers laid before Parliament the draft legislation needed to implement the fourth energy company obligation scheme. That hugely successful scheme has driven energy efficiency improvements in a great many domestic properties. Such improvements will reduce consumer bills. They will also reduce energy consumption, and thereby emissions from power generation. In the nine years of the scheme’s operation to date, it has supported cavity wall insulation in over 1 million properties. That is impressive, but there are still some 19 million homes that need upgrading to energy performance certificate band C. The cost estimate on which our Committee received evidence averaged £18,000 per property. Our Committee, I am afraid, found that the Government estimate for decarbonising Britain’s housing stock by 2050, at some £65 billion overall, was highly likely to be a significant underestimate. Welcome though the ECO is—last month, the chair of E.ON told the Committee about industry support for the scheme—it represents only a small fraction of what is genuinely necessary to achieve domestic energy efficiency. Will the Minister be in a position to elaborate further on the Department’s plans to drive energy efficiency in existing homes? It is not immediately apparent in the spending plans that the House is examining.
It is unlikely that the average householder will be able to afford a one-off payment of about £20,000 to upgrade their property without some incentive from the centre. I do not want to hark back to the green homes grant voucher scheme, but I hope that the Government have learned the lessons from its introduction. It was a well-meaning scheme that could have kick-started energy efficiency improvement, but it was strangled by red tape and ultimately abandoned in less than a year, having reached only a fraction of the homes that it was expected to improve.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend might address community-led schemes, which were the other thing that Caroline Lucas mentioned. Is not one reason why costs are so high because the Government’s strategy is focused on individuals making a decision about their house, rather than being a more comprehensive approach that could achieve better economies of scale, certainly in service delivery?
The Government have been focusing on social housing, which is typically owned in relatively large unit blocks together in a street or an estate. In many cases, such schemes are community energy schemes. For example, I have seen geothermal being introduced across an entire estate in my constituency. The Committee is looking at the prospects for geothermal to provide community-based schemes. There is a big role for that to play, but it is a part of the whole that will not be suitable for every area or every housing type.
The Government are taking steps, but I see them as overly cautious. However, I strongly welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in the spring statement that removed VAT on energy efficiency measures for domestic homes. I expect that Ministers will be measuring its impact in the expectation that it will be a pathfinder to extensively rolling out similar support—for example, on batteries for domestic energy storage, which, as I understand it, are currently excluded from the scheme.
It is clear that the current energy cost crisis is leading to soaring public interest in energy efficiency measures to cut bills. For a Government willing to invest wisely, that represents a real opportunity for substantial returns not just to the Exchequer, but to the householder through cut bills and to the planet in reducing emissions. I do not expect the public sector to pick up the bill for energy efficiency improvements, but, with the right support, the private sector can be properly incentivised to take the lead.
In closing, I will raise one further issue concerning the Government’s approach to energy efficiency and the funding of measures to improve it. I would like Ministers to undertake a thorough review of the impediments to introducing innovative schemes that encourage home improvements. Just last week, I was alerted to how an innovative domestic solar panel installer’s business model is being constrained by provisions in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 designed to protect both consumers and suppliers from theft or loan default on portable consumer goods, such as cars. It seems problematic that those provisions should also apply to home insulation schemes, which are not portable—or, if they are, they are very expensive to move—and therefore are not a good asset on which to lend subject to those provisions. I strongly ask Ministers to examine such issues with some urgency. It may well be appropriate to do so when the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill comes to this House, to ensure that the bank is not similarly hobbled in making investments in energy efficiency projects. Thanks to the Department, those are one of its core remits.
Order. I anticipate that the wind-ups will come at about half-past 6, with eight minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes each for the other two Front Benchers and two minutes for Mr Dunne to sum up. If people keep their speeches to roughly 10 minutes, we should get everybody in equally.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I intend to speak for less than 10 minutes, if that is helpful. I start by thanking the Environmental Audit Committee for securing the debate and for sharing with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which I chair, the load of scrutinising net zero delivery across Government. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this time on the Order Paper, and I thank the Clerks who support the work of our Select Committees day to day; without them, we would not be able to scrutinise the Government as effectively as we do. I welcome back to the shadow Front Bench my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, in her new role as the shadow Minister for climate change. I look forward to her summing up later.
My focus today is primarily on delivery, because effective delivery ensures value for taxpayers’ money. The Conservative party generally believes that sending policy signals through targets or departmental strategies will be enough to ensure that the market does the heavy lifting as we transition to net zero by 2050. On this subject, it is wrong. Ministers will no doubt point to a long list of targets, strategy documents, incentives—for example, contracts for difference—and research funding allocations, all of which are admirable and welcome. But as the Climate Change Committee concluded last week in its annual report to Parliament, Ministers must think much more about the role of the state in ensuring the delivery of their net zero ambitions, be that from Whitehall or through partnerships of local authorities—and always, in my view, in partnership with the private sector and local communities.
Unfortunately, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is not very good at that. According to the National Audit Office’s review of the delivery of major projects in the Department, 11 of the 15 major projects were deemed to have significant issues that required management attention, or major risks that put the successful delivery of the project in doubt or, at worst, caused it to be deemed unachievable. They include amber warnings for the smart metering implementation programme, costing £20 billion; the social housing decarbonisation fund, costing £4.6 billion; the public sector decarbonisation scheme, costing £1.1 billion; the local authority delivery of the green homes grant, costing £500 million; the heat networks investment project, costing £376 million; and the home upgrade grant for energy efficiency and low-carbon heating work in low-income, off-gas grid homes. There were significant worries about each and every one of those major projects, and, of course, there was a big red warning against the now defunct green homes grant. In fact, the only major programme to receive a green rating from the National Audit Office was the geological disposal facility programme, costing some £12.7 billion, for the long-term management of radioactive waste. For that, I suppose we should be grateful.
In short, there is a delivery problem in Government at a time when the state needs to get more involved in delivery. That is why the Climate Change Committee has called for stronger coordination and delivery, not just in BEIS but through Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, and for contingency planning to be urgently put in place if the current strategies are not delivered as intended. From BEIS, we must see more detailed delivery plans and technology road maps for the delivery of net zero electricity by 2035—something my Committee has started to look at in a new major inquiry—as well for hydrogen production, carbon capture and storage, and industrial decarbonisation.
The No. 1 priority for the Department in relation to our net zero target requirement is, of course, the energy efficiency of our buildings. Buildings account for 20% of emissions in the UK, and the targets the Government have set themselves are very significant in terms of carbon emissions reductions by the mid-2020s. The Government will not hit their net zero target without insulating our buildings and reducing our need for energy, and they will not insulate our buildings without being more directly involved in delivery. This should be a national programme, street by street in every community, co-ordinated nationally in partnership with local councils. That will, of course, cost a lot of money, and public funds should be targeted at households that need it, whether they are on low incomes or require more expensive works to be done because of the nature of their homes.
The current plan from the Government is, unfortunately, to move the same amount of money around again, instead of properly funding a national insulation programme. The money allocated to the failed green homes grant was partly reallocated to the public sector decarbonisation scheme and to the gas boiler replacement voucher scheme. According to the Secretary of State’s evidence to my Committee last week, that is being re-reallocated back to a general energy efficiency programme to be announced in due course.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will indulge me if I take him back to the street-by-street proposal, which three hon. Members have mentioned. What if an individual does not want that change to their house? What will the public policy be? Will we force people to make the change or will we allow free riders? I wonder what his answers are to those intriguing questions.
There are two points to make. On consumer awareness generally, although there is very significant support for action on climate change, polling shows that most consumers do not realise that that means replacing their gas boiler and insulating their homes. Part of the net zero strategy for Government should be to try to engage with homeowners, tenants and the public about the work that needs to be done, but they have failed to introduce any effective engagement programme with the public. The concern is that when people do not want to do the work, that will cause a lot of anger among the public, and that will undermine our ability to reach net zero.
The use of public funds is also very important, because the disposable income of an average household, once we take away rent or housing costs, is around £9,000 a year. As we have heard, however, we are asking people to spend £10,000 to £20,000 on their home. How on earth can we ask a family with an annual disposable income of £9,000 to spend £20,000, when there is no support from the state or councils and when the banks are not even offering low-cost energy-efficiency financial products to help people who want to make these investments? That is why the Government need to be more involved in thinking about delivery. I suggest having incentives and behaviours that nudge people in the right direction, so that the vast majority of people feel able to do what they want to do and support the national effort to tackle climate change.
I certainly agree that incentives and greater financial support will be crucial. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that another way of tackling the issue that Richard Fuller raised would be to make very sure that there was a requirement to up the energy performance certificate rating before the house next changed hands or was put on the rental market? In other words, if people wanted to sell their house, they would have to make sure that it was properly insulated. In a sense, we would have both the carrot and the stick.
We may end up having to do that, but I think that we need to lead with the incentive and support for positive behaviour before getting to the stick. I also note that the obligation is on people who own a home that they rent out to make sure that their home has an EPC rating of C or above. That comes in much earlier than for homeowners. That is a good thing, but the Government have still not set out how they will help homeowners to do the work affordably.
Delivery is important for the Business Department, because, of course, we cannot do this without business. Remarkably, however, given that we are talking about the Business Department, the constant chopping and changing between policies, financing and the requirements for businesses to be able to get access to financing—through the green homes grant or other programmes—make it extremely difficult for businesses to have any certainty about what will happen. That also makes it very difficult for businesses to invest in their kit or workforce, in training and upskilling their staff, or in the expansion of their services in larger geographies across the country so that they can do this work. We have feedback time and again from business that they are ready and willing and want to do the work, but that the constant chopping and changing from Government makes it very difficult for them to scale up and provide the amount of work that needs to be done across the country.
It is crucial that we get this right urgently. The CCC’s report to Parliament this week showed why, of all the issues, we must move more quickly on building decarbonisation, not just for consumers, homeowners and businesses, but for our ability fundamentally to hit net zero and protect the planet from the worst effects of climate change. I urge Ministers, when they are thinking about delivery and, as a consequence, about value for taxpayers’ money, to radically change their approach. I urge them to set out a policy direction and a well thought-through product design that businesses and homeowners understand they can take part in. It should be properly financed and go street by street across the country to ensure that we get on with this now, given the complete lack of progress over the past few years. I wonder whether the Minister, in summing up, will have any reflections on how the Department might improve its delivery of this important work.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the debate. Hon. Members across the parties have signed up to it, including a large number of Select Committee Chairs and chairs of all-party parliamentary groups. I speak as chair of the all-party group on the environment.
Our debate comes at an opportune moment: this is Net Zero Week, and last week was the third anniversary of my signing net zero by 2050 into law as Energy Minister. The UK was the first G7 country to do so. If I had been told at the time that by COP26 in Glasgow, 90% of the world’s surface would have signed up to a net zero target, I simply would not have believed it—but I probably would not have believed that we would have a global pandemic, that Afghanistan would cede to the Taliban or that Russia would invade Ukraine.
Given all the strong headwinds, the day-to-day political events and the crises of the past three years, it is worth reflecting on the longevity of the net zero target and on what needs to be done. We need to be resilient and sustainable to achieve our greatest challenge: a green industrial revolution, with a move from petrochemicals towards a new materials economy. The challenge is massive, but the UK has shown international leadership in signing up to net zero. We were able to pass it in this Chamber because of the Climate Change Act 2008, which was enacted by the then Labour Government with the Conservative party in opposition demonstrating cross-party support for upping the target.
We need to be in a place where our financial commitments are shadowing the commitments to net zero that all political parties have made. We do not have a financial mechanism in place as we do for our carbon budgets, so I think we need to be more innovative in how we look at our budgets. Today we are discussing estimates and the budgetary cycles for our net zero commitments; I will come on to the details in a moment. Until we move to a longer-term cross-party funding solution, however, I think we will struggle, because we will be endlessly discussing the detail rather than the broader strategic approach needed to deliver energy efficiency.
Before I go into the costs in pounds and pence—the billions of pounds that are being spent—I want to make sure that we do not fall into the trap of thinking of net zero as a sunk cost. Actually, every pound spent is an investment. Net zero is a net benefit to our economy, so when we talk about the money invested by the Government, let us not fall into the trap of thinking that somehow it is going down the drain.
I hate to pick my right hon. Friend up on this point, because he is much more knowledgeable than I am, but how can net zero be a net benefit to the economy unless achieving net zero comes with economic benefits? What would those benefits be?
The economic benefit of net zero is a wholesale transformation in our industries, our manufacturing processes and the way we think about our world. The same debates would have been had over the introduction of the car, the introduction of electricity or the introduction of gas boilers to replace log burners in every house. Going through those wholesale transformations has led not only to new jobs, but to growth.
If there was one mistake in signing up to net zero, it was using the term “net zero”. We should have called it net zero growth, because it is not about eco-warriors or extremists committing themselves to decarbonisation; it is a pathway that shows us doubling our energy use by 2050. Committing to net zero is a manageable path that will ensure that our economy continues to grow.
I do not want to deflect my right hon. Friend too far from the debate, but let me just pin this down. The automobile added to growth because it got people from A to B quicker than a horse and cart. The move to net zero essentially means taking certain off-balance sheet, off-profit and loss statement costs and putting them on the balance sheet or on the P&L. It will therefore act as a brake on growth unless the United Kingdom can expand our revenue opportunities, do things at a lower overall cost or shift behaviour patterns so that we can do things more efficiently. That is the piece that is missing from what has so far been said by my right hon. Friend and by the Committee on Climate Change. Those things are there, but should we not be honest with the public that without them, net zero harms growth rather than enhancing it?
My hon. Friend is entirely right about one aspect of this. He mentioned efficiency and productivity. Obviously the UK faces a huge productivity challenge. We are speaking in Parliament and discussing the importance of politicians to making this energy transition, but it is already happening even without us. Private companies across the UK, and indeed the world, are saying that they would want to go to net zero even if there were not a climate crisis, because they recognise the opportunities for productivity, for disruption, for achieving better efficiencies, and for thinking differently. That is what makes net zero so important: the wholesale transformation, into the 21st century, which recognises that we cannot be dependent on unsustainable fossil fuels that will ultimately run out.
The Russian war against Ukraine has demonstrated that we cannot be held hostage by petrostates for the future. We must do something about that, and I think current messaging means that far more people support net zero. This is the year when climate change and net zero went mainstream. I think that all politicians, particularly certain politicians on my side of the Chamber, are at risk of not being on the public side of the argument. They need to understand that this has to happen, not just for the sake of the climate, but for the benefit of our economy.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I live in an agricultural community. I live on a farm, and all my neighbours are farmers. Let me give an example of the current pressures. Last week I spoke to the farmer next door, who is not just a very big dairy farmer but also a contractor. He has, I think, eight or 10 tractors and trailers on the road, and he employs 12 people. He told me that the cost of diesel was up by at least 100%, and the price of fertiliser by 300%. When it comes to the financial equations, he is staring at stark reality. With respect, speaking as someone who agrees with the objectives put forward by the right hon. Gentleman and others in the Chamber, maybe we need a wee bit more time, because at the moment some farmers are under so much pressure to make ends meet. They are faced with costs that they have never seen before in all their life. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree?
With respect, I do not. We do not have any more time. We have 28 years until 2050. It has been 30 years since we began these discussions and since the formation of the United Nations framework convention on climate change. We have seen the emission, since 1990, of 50% of all carbon dioxide emitted by the world in the entirety of human history. The argument that we need to go more slowly belies the fact that net zero is the slowest possible path on which we can travel while hopefully retaining a chance of hitting 1.5°. The consequences of not hitting 1.5°, or 2°, or even 4°, God forbid, will be more catastrophic for local businesses, and for farmers such as the hon. Gentleman’s friend.
The Po valley, normally one of the wettest areas of Italy, is now dry because seawater is flooding into the river. That is the reality of what is happening. Farmers throughout the world are, because of climate change, becoming less productive, and are becoming unable to produce the food that they once could. We need to be able to look them in the face. We, the industrialised nations that have this leadership, need to take action to ensure that all countries take this opportunity while we still have time—and that time is, sadly, ticking away.
Let me turn to the details of the estimates. My right hon. Friend Philip Dunne referred to the estimate from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is on page 9 of the Library pack. It claims that
“£11.6 billion for the £400 energy bills reduction announced as part of the Cost-of-Living measures package” contributes to the net zero target. That is simply not true. The £400 that is going out of the door to subsidise gas and other fossil fuel usage is exactly the same amount that a household would save every single year in a property that was in band C of the energy performance certificate rating. This is the economic reality of net zero. Once a capital cost investment is made, we are looking at savings, year in, year out, whether that is through the production of renewable wind or solar energy, or through energy efficiency. That is what we need to be talking about when we are discussing net zero measures, not the false creative accounting that we see in the estimates.
We should also look at the Treasury’s spending plans for net zero. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow mentioned the period 2023-24, when the plan is for spending to rise to £8 billion a year, before it falls back to £7.7 billion in 2024-25, so actually we are going backwards. Of course we want to ensure that private sector uptake and investment continues; it cannot just be the state making these investments. We have to look at how we can draw in greater private sector investment, and I will come on to that in a moment. The reality is that if we have such balance sheets without having a longer-term sustainable programme for delivering net zero, we will always have these measures.
We need a coalescing target, just as net zero-ers have been able to coalesce around a single target. When I was Science and Research Minister, we had a target spend of 2.4% of both public and private gross domestic product on research and development by 2027, although we may fall short of that. Other countries such as China are going to hit 3.5%, and countries such as Israel are already about to hit 5% of GDP, both public and private, on R&D. Yesterday, the Prime Minister talked about spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2050. Where is the GDP target figure for net zero? We should set ourselves a far-reaching goal, and commit ourselves to that spending, both private and public, to demonstrate the investment that is needed for net zero.
There are far too many small pots of funding—we have talked about the green homes grant—and that creates a concertina effect, whereby people apply for a funding scheme, but we do not have the skills to deliver the product that is needed. As a result, these programmes ultimately do not achieve the targets they set out to achieve. I believe that moving away from small pots of funding to longer-term plans through which we can finance net zero should be the way forward. To deliver that, we should think about setting a net zero finance target for the UK every year, and on estimates day, we should talk about that, rather than using false figures in our accounting to claim that we have delivered an additional budgetary impact on net zero.
I thank Philip Dunne for his thoughtful contribution. Coming from the highlands in the far north of Scotland, I have seen with my own eyes what climate change is doing in my lifetime. As a child, I took a huge interest in butterflies and recorded every butterfly I ever saw. I did not kill them; I recorded what they were. Today, we have species of butterfly in the highlands that we never saw there in the 1950s and 1960s, including the speckled wood and the orange tip, which are now quite common, but we are also seeing some species disappearing, particularly moths. That is because of global warming. It is there; it is real.
As is my wont, I shall make three points that are connected with the needs and requirements of my constituency. In recent days and weeks, there has been quite a lot of press coverage of a suggestion that, as and when a new wind farm is built, perhaps in England somewhere, the nearby households that might be affected would be given a grant of £350 per household. In my constituency in the highlands, we already have a large number of onshore wind farms, so my first plea, which is a pretty obvious one, is that if the Government ever did consider some sort of grant like that, it should also be afforded retrospectively to homes in the highlands and other parts of the UK where there are already wind farms. My part of the highlands is one of the coldest parts of the UK—the village of Altnaharra in Sutherland always has record low temperatures—and average incomes are not large. Transport and getting about are expensive, and given the inflationary situation and the cost of living, a wind farm payment like that would help families who are struggling to make ends meet.
I conclude my first point by saying that I am a great believer in the United Kingdom, and I believe that a family in the highlands, in Wales or in south-west England has the same rights as a family anywhere else. Therefore, if such payments were made, I think that in the interest of fairness, all parts of the UK should be considered, as should my suggestion about making retrospective payments.
I warmly encourage all Members to come and have their holidays in the highlands, but as they drive up the A9, as James Bond did in “Skyfall”, now and again they will come across a vast articulated lorry carrying part of a turbine up to where a wind farm is being constructed. Having those lorries going through the narrow villages of Sutherland, such as Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale, and negotiating the twisting roads is a problem, both for getting parts of the turbine where they are intended to go and because it discourages the local people.
My second point is an old favourite of mine. Recently, a man called Mr Frank Roach, who is a tremendous fellow for developing the use of railways, got a very large consignment of timber moved from Sutherland to markets further south on a very large train. For global warming and net zero, moving by rail makes the most enormous sense; Godspeed the day it is all electrified. My second plea, therefore, is that, where planning consent has been granted for a new wind farm, we should look quite hard at moving parts of wind turbines by rail and not by articulated lorry, consuming vast amounts of diesel as it burns its way up and down our roads. I earnestly recommend that officials in the Government contact Mr Frank Roach and talk to him, because it is really quite extraordinary the way he is getting us all in the north of Scotland thinking about the use of the railway.
My third point is that offshore wind has been proved by the construction of the Beatrice wind farm off the coast of Sutherland and Caithness. It works—it really does. It generates a huge amount of electricity. But there has been sensible talk by the Government and others—it has already been referred to in the debate—about establishing floating offshore wind farms.
Let me make an unashamed plug for the Cromarty Firth in my constituency, which was the great anchorage for the fleet in the first and second world wars because it is such a large and deep anchorage, safe from the weather. It is no accident that some of the mightiest oil production platforms ever built were built there. I strongly advocate to the Government that offshore floating wind systems could be constructed in the area. They could be constructed in Wales and elsewhere, too, but the main thing is that it would be nice to see them built in the United Kingdom. I hope—I realise that I am really chancing my arm—that the Government will look favourably on the bid by the Cromarty Firth to become a green freeport.
In concluding, I want to make two small points. First, this debate is very much in keeping with what we all hear from young people in schools. To use a German word, it is the Zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. Young people are only too well aware of the urgent need to get to net zero. They know all about climate change, and I find that hugely encouraging.
Secondly, I want to pick up on what I think Chris Skidmore was saying, if I understood him correctly. A good number of years ago, I was a member of Ross and Cromarty District Council. We went for a courageous money spending scheme called care and repair, which was deliberately targeted at some of the coastal villages of Wester Ross—Gairloch, Applecross and places like that. We threw what was known as block B capital allocation at doing up houses. That meant that people had their homes insulated.
This was quite a long time ago, but the point was that the money we spent, which was a lot, went into the local businesses—the joiners, the people who installed the solar panels, and so on. They then invested in more equipment and, in turn, bought locally. That money was pumped into the local economy of a remote rural area. That was a financial benefit that we saw in Wester Ross all those years ago. So the money that is spent is spent locally. It boosts the local economy. One could say that the Chancellor’s measures during the pandemic had the same effect; they boosted the local economy. All I am saying is that it is a mistake to think of it as being money down the drain. It is money spent in the UK, to the good of the UK, and that money is recycled, eventually supports the shops and helps to establish the businesses, which can go on to win bigger and better contracts.
I will conclude my remarks with that, other than to say that it is really good to hear a debate of this quality in this place. I know it will strike a chord with my younger constituents. I intend to send a copy of the Hansard record of this debate to my secondary schools as I think they will be interested.
I hope so.
This debate comes at a time when there will be significant problems for millions of ordinary people up and down this country, and indeed all over the world, in heating their homes and getting around. It is an opportune time for us to have this debate about decarbonisation. I should start by saying that I strongly support not only the Minister on the Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Lee Rowley, who I know is a highly capable and effective Minister, but the Secretary of State, who is also that. The Minister is smiling. I am being nice to you, Minister. Indeed, it is a very effective Department that has had a huge amount to do and, broadly speaking, it is doing a very good job.
However, the context of oil and gas prices rising is a very complicated one. If the House would indulge me, I think it requires not just the Government, or this House, but international markets and other countries to think about decarbonisation differently. Oil and gas prices may rise structurally over the coming years due to an increase in demand from emerging market countries in particular. Many in the City of London, and many investment banks and energy analysts, think that will occur. If it does happen, in the short term, there will be a significant problem for millions of people across the world, including in this country.
The way to deal with that is to increase the pace of decarbonisation, and the pace of getting renewable energy used and in the ground. Indeed, that helps our energy security as well. However, at the same time, we must not demonise the major oil and gas companies, which have the skills, wherewithal and capital to help us to achieve that. Therefore, subtle and effective Government policy is required, working internationally with our partners, to ensure that we can give these major energy companies the confidence to invest in decarbonisation. They have the engineers, the capital and the know-how all over the globe to help us achieve that aim. I speak as someone who does a lot of work on these issues, as the House knows. There is no point in our demonising anybody who holds shares in an energy company, gluing ourselves to famous paintings or doing that sort of thing. All that happens is the price of oil and gas continues to go up, which makes people’s lives harder. There may well be a backlash to the decarbonisation agenda if people perceive that it is not something that will ultimately help their lives and the economy, and help them to heat their home.
Obviously we will discuss the Ways and Means motion on the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill, or so-called windfall tax, later, but does my hon. Friend agree that companies such as BP and Shell that have agreed to become net zero companies should put their money where their mouth is and maybe establish a net zero fund? Such a fund could be tapped into over a long period to help to pay for some of the energy efficiency measures, demonstrating that it is not just green levies that will pay for additional net zero support mechanisms, and that we can leverage in private finance. Let us look to create a fund that could be financeable over a long period, given that we are holding these companies to account for their net zero commitments.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that typically well-made and excellent point. If the major energy companies established a long-term fund on that basis to make the investment that they say they are making—and which they are making, but which they say they want to make more of and which the Government want them to make more of—that would be helpful, not just as a signal to the market of where they were using their capital, but as a signal to the country that they were serious about putting their money where their mouth is.
I am all in favour of fossil fuel companies creating funds, but would not another way of achieving that be for the Government not to give oil and gas companies such an extraordinary subsidy, as part of the windfall tax—the so-called 80% investment allowance, which incentivises precisely the opposite kind of behaviour that the hon. Gentleman is speaking so eloquently about?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point. The intention behind subsidies—or, to use another word, support—for energy companies is to try to achieve what we want them to achieve. The investment allowances—there are various other things—should be tweaked or changed to incentivise more directly the sort of behaviours that we are talking about. On that, I support her.
I would like to continue, as I am being nodded at by various people because of the time, so I will make a little progress if I may.
We have heard a lot today about buildings and the need for a big insulation plan, for want of a better description. I strongly support that, but micro-measures to help individuals are also important. As Ronald Reagan said, the scariest words in the English language are: “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” We need big, macro ideas. We need the big plans, but at the same time we need to incentivise individuals and families who want to help with the transition, do the right thing and make their own decisions to decarbonise. We can use things such as smart household systems to allow users to manage when to charge their electric cars, optimise when their heating comes on, or when to turn their fridge up.
We could also use market reforms to allow small energy suppliers to supply local areas. When there is a proposal for something in my constituency and I say to the energy company or small supplier, “Can you do something for the local village or local community so that they can benefit from this?”—whatever the form of energy is nearby—they say, “Look, the market isn’t really structured to allow that to happen.” That is a big problem, because it means that we are not getting the support of the local community or tapping into the latent desire to decarbonise—yes, working with Government at a macro level, but also at a micro level.
The hon. Member need have no fears: I shall put a large red star beside his contribution when I send off the copies of Hansard. If I pick him up right, surely the point is that anyone who thinks that the Beatrice wind farm, which I mentioned in my contribution, came into being without the expertise of oil firms, which have installed mighty things in the North sea, would be very much mistaken. These same oil firms that he is referring to will be crucial if we are to establish large-scale floating offshore wind energy generation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point; I could not agree more. It is a really difficult point to make, because it seems counter-intuitive, but we will need the major energy companies to do their bit and use what they have to achieve what we all agree we need to achieve, which is faster decarbonisation. We need macro measures from Government and we need to work much harder on buildings and insulation, but we also need micro measures to help individuals and small communities invest in decarbonisation and make those decisions themselves.
I commend these estimates. I am sure the money will be spent wisely, particularly if the Government have listened to the quality of this debate.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. friend and neighbour, Bim Afolami.
When Parliament agreed in June 2019 to achieve net zero by 2050, it was probably the most expensive, uncosted piece of legislation that has ever been passed by this country. It was a “Star Trek” piece of legislation, asking the country to boldly go where no one had gone before. These estimates start to frame how much the costs will be—costs for taxpayers, costs for individuals, and costs for business. As we look at those things, we need to be pragmatic and not dogmatic about achieving net zero. Too often we talk about the great opportunities of achieving net zero without really being honest about whether they are opportunities or just a shifting of resources, which, when it comes down to economics, has no net benefit at all.
As I was saying earlier, the contribution of net zero to this country’s growth is highly questionable. Essentially, we are taking a cost, which we ignored in the past, and saying that we now need to take it into account and eliminate it as a cost in our production. Growth does not arise from that. Growth arises when we can do the same thing for a lower cost—through productivity improvements. Growth can arise when we increase the revenues, particularly for our own country. That could be achieved through import substitution, or it could be achieved through the creation of new green technologies that we can export to other countries. However, it is not guaranteed just because we have passed a piece of legislation that says, “Let’s all achieve net zero by 2015.” It can be achieved by changing the ways that we do things into ways that are more productive. Finally, it can be achieved by reducing the costs of uncertainty, the most obvious of which when it comes to energy is hedging.
None of those things is guaranteed. As has been said, children and schools are enthusiastic about this, but that is because they are taught about net zero and because, quite naturally, young people have an interest in all things natural, such as the environment, diversity and the planet. Ultimately, though, the costs are what will matter in terms of whether and how we can achieve that ideological and scientifically justifiable goal.
From my point of view, the most important thing for us as a country is that we need to work with the pace of innovation and be cautious about trying to exceed the costs of innovation. That is because when we try to move more quickly for a policy goal, ahead of the way that innovation is enabling us to get there, it means additional cost burdens on households and on taxpayers.
In the estimates, it will be interesting to hear from the Minister about the extent to which he appreciates those goals and the extent to which the Government are trying to increase the pace of innovation. I am talking not just about providing subsidies and support for people to change the way they do things, but about the way the Government are providing incentives for innovation to move at a faster pace.
The Government also need to set a number of targets for the production of hydrogen and for the capture of carbon dioxide as part of their 2030 plans and the net zero strategy Build Back Better. Talking to HyNet North West, it is clear that it believes that it can go further, and it wants to call on the Government to double its opportunities to capture carbon dioxide. It wants to increase the current allocation of hydrogen from 1 GW to 2 GW. It would also like to see a doubling of the megatonnes of carbon dioxide captured per annum.
Does my hon. Friend believe that the Government should give HyNet, which says that it has the companies ready to go, the opportunity to double the amount of hydrogen and double the amount of carbon dioxide that it can capture now, because it believes that it can do it? I agree with my hon. Friend that we should follow the innovation.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s example of innovation, which could assist.
I wish to focus now on the particular issue of decarbonising home heating. We heard from my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne in his opening speech that that is essentially a £20,000 cost for a household when it is combined with insulation. He quite rightly made the point that that is beyond almost every household. I think Darren Jones, the Chair of the Select Committee, also noted that it is beyond the expectation of the ability of households to pay for it.
We also know that the economies of scale when it comes to technologies for decarbonising home heat are challenging, because the technology is already established and therefore the production economies of scale are likely to be less than in other areas, and because a large part of the costs are in the service delivery, which is people. People efficiencies are harder to capture than production efficiencies.
Not only is the up-front cost high for everyone, but it means that, without Government action and direction, we would end up with certain households doing it that might not necessarily be those that make most sense for achieving our goal. I say this as a Conservative who believes in free choice, but if we want to achieve that goal, we have to own up to the fact that relying on individual choices by individual households to achieve the decarbonisation of home heating will mean that the overall cost to society of achieving that goal will be substantially greater than going through a process that has at least a very significant part of a community-based initiative.
Again, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow was right to point to the issue of social housing. I am eager to see us move forward; we have a Bill coming and I think there is an opportunity to look at neighbourhood plans, which are about planning for our local communities. Maybe there is an opportunity there to put forward some of the suggestions for community decarbonisation of home heating. I hope that hon. Members who are interested in that will let me know, because I am thinking of tabling an amendment that would make that part of the way that we ask local communities, through the planning process, to start thinking about how they achieve the decarbonising of home heat on a community basis.
I must also urge the Government to come forward and say how they will harness patient capital to solve the economic equation of decarbonising home heat. The equation is that there is a big up-front cost and then the benefits accrue slowly each year, ideally through lower heating bills and certainly through less exposure to the volatility of carbon-based fuels. What are the Government going to do to structure a programme that can attract patient capital to do that? That is the sort of financial profile that pension funds invest in all the time.
Neighbourhood plans, a community-led approach and attracting patient capital into those community programmes seem to me to be one way in the estimates to try to get an approach to net zero, if I may coin a rather cheap phrase, at net profit to the British economy. Achieving net zero at net profit is a way to get a pragmatic answer to the idealistic but uncosted goals that this Parliament put in train in 2019.
I congratulate Philip Dunne on securing this valuable debate.
Let me start by saying that I have here a reminder of why we are in this place debating our children’s future. It is a “Climate Comic”, produced by children in Windsor Park primary school in my constituency. I think Jamie Stone might be quite interested in having a look at it later on—I guarantee it will not go into Hansard. The children who helped to produce it all have sensory impairment problems; most of them are deaf, and they signed the presentation they made to us.
If we want to change the world, we must get busy in our own little corner, and that is exactly what those children have done. It is top-class work by the primary school. The children produced their climate-conscious comic as part of the Forth Valley Sensory Centre’s “Making Sense of Climate Change” project. I thank all who helped to produce the comic and raise awareness of the fact that time is not on our side. The narrative on climate change of, “We need to do this.”, will soon become, “We should have done that.”
Here is why: the energy and security strategy presented a prime opportunity for the UK Government to tackle the dual climate and cost of living crisis, and they failed on both fronts. Their lack of ambition in setting meaningful policy to tackle that crisis was exemplified by their energy and security strategy in April, a strategy that was widely criticised and deemed inadequate by stakeholders. In the aftermath of the strategy being announced, the former chief of Ofgem noted:
“One failure, that could’ve helped in the short to medium run, is a lack of focus on energy efficiency, on insulation, on improving the quality of people's homes—I think that is an opportunity missed.”
Simon Virley, KPMG’s vice-chair and head of energy and natural resources, no less, stated that
“this strategy won’t get us to Net Zero at least cost to consumers.”
Given the importance of tackling the cost of living crisis, that is a missed opportunity. Other European countries such as Holland, France and Germany are doing this as a matter of urgency. The strategy fails to set out measures focused on improving energy efficiency in buildings, which has been described as a silver bullet by industry experts.
I am a member of the Environmental Audit Committee. I pay tribute to our excellent Chair—the right hon. Member for Ludlow—my colleagues on the Committee and the excellent standard of work by its Clerks. On the sustainability of the built environment, our report stated:
“If the UK continues to drag its feet on embodied carbon, it will not meet net zero or its carbon budgets.”
“our plea to the government has always been to push hard on energy efficiency because that is the proven way, if you like the only silver bullet for this crisis”.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Does he share my surprise that in a debate on energy costs there has been no reference yet to nuclear power, which is eye-wateringly expensive? We are just hearing that Hinkley Point is going to be a year late and cost yet another £3 billion. Does he agree that the money that is being sunk into nuclear could be much better spent in exactly the kinds of ways he is describing, such roll-out of energy efficiency in homes and renewable energy?
I absolutely agree. The money could be spent more quickly and efficiently, saving endless money that is wasted, is probably never going to be used properly, and is making someone somewhere very rich but certainly not putting energy efficiency into people’s homes or into businesses.
The UK Government’s failure to tackle the most basic measures that are crucial in helping to tackle the climate and energy crisis is emblematic of their broader failure to prioritise these issues. If Scotland is to stand any chance of meeting our ambitious climate targets, we simply cannot afford to be held back by inadequate Westminster policies for much longer. Scotland has the potential to become a global net zero energy hub. The UK Government’s lack of ambition cannot continue to jeopardise this. We have the perfect mix of skilled workers and natural resources to become a world leader in renewable energy. Our oil and gas workers have long been at the forefront of energy innovation. The Scottish Government are committed to a just transition that harnesses the expertise of these oil and gas workers and supports those currently employed in oil and gas to capitalise on the employment opportunities of net zero.
The Scottish Government’s national strategy for economic transformation sets out their ambition that by 2032 Scotland will be an international benchmark for how an economy can transform itself, decarbonise and rebuild natural capital. The Scottish Government’s climate emergency skills action plan sets out their ambitious approach to developing the current and future workforce to support the transition to net zero. The Economic Development Association Scotland has described the action plan as
“a leading example of planning for sustainable skills against climate change targets.”
The Scottish Government’s just transition fund, alongside their strong commitment to achieving net zero, shows that unlike the UK Government they are matching their climate promises with action. That is in stark contrast to the UK Government, who have refused to match the Scottish Government’s £500 million just transition fund despite the Treasury benefiting from £350 billion in revenue from North sea oil.
The Government in Scotland recognise that climate change is the priority. That priority, desired by the people, is being met as best as it can be by the Scottish Government, and with reasons matching desires in nearly equal measures. Give Scotland the competencies and we will surely match that desire.
I am mightily relieved to see that the Minister is still in his place. I hope he manages to hang on until 7 o’clock; he might find he is the last man standing on the Government Front Bench. If he does want to tell the House about his resignation when his time comes, rather than tweeting it, I am sure we would be delighted to be the first ones to know. There are times when we speak in this Chamber and we feel that the eyes of the world are upon us. I think it is fair to say that this is not one of those occasions, but it is an important debate, and I thank Philip Dunne, the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, for securing it.
I wish there was a bit more to discuss. As we have heard, last week the independent Climate Change Committee delivered its annual verdict on the Government’s climate strategy, or what there is of it. I think the Chair of the Select Committee let the Government off a little lightly in his quote from that report, which was an absolutely damning read. It talked about major failures in delivery programs and stated that
“we are not seeing the necessary progress”, and
“the Government is failing in…its implementation”.
It also said that the current strategy will not deliver net zero. The committee concluded that the Government have credible plans for achieving only 39% of the emissions reductions required. This comes less than a year after COP, when we still hold the COP presidency and ought to be showing international leadership.
It is not just the Climate Change Committee saying that the Government have fallen short. The Public Accounts Committee report published at the beginning of March said that the Government still have
“no clear plan for how the transition to net Zero will be funded”, or
“how it will…replace income from taxes such as fuel duty…and…has no reliable estimate of what the process of implementing the net zero policy is actually likely to cost British consumers, households, businesses and government itself.”
It went on to say that the Government have
“too often pursued stop-start strategies which undermine confidence for business, investors and consumers in committing to measures which would reduce carbon emissions, especially when some green alternatives are still significantly more expensive than current options.”
We heard that from a few speakers. I think Bim Afolami talked about how businesses need the confidence to be able to invest, how they need a sense of direction from the Government and how they need to know that they will be backed up.
We heard from the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee that the global situation requires a rapid recalibration of the Government’s strategy, and that waiting for the right technology to turn up is not a strategy in itself. Again, that is a plea for a clearer sense of direction from the Government. He said—I hope I am quoting him right—that the Government prefer to delay substantive action to a future date, post election. We might find that comes a bit sooner than we were expecting when he made those comments, but let us see. I would certainly say that the time for action is now.
We have seen that day-to-day spending in BEIS has increased by 71% since the last supplementary estimate. That has mostly been driven by this increase of £11.6 billion for the energy bill support scheme. As has been said by several people, including Chris Skidmore and the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, this is not a net zero measure unless it is linked to ending investment in fossil fuels, which we know it is not. I expect that we will shortly hear criticisms on that front. It was quite damning how the right hon. Member for Kingswood said that it was simply not true to say that this is a net zero measure. He talked about using false figures in our accounting; I thought those were strong words, but they are true. Once that figure is discounted, we see that little money is going on the most important measures that should be being put in place to deal with emissions. Several people mentioned the need to insulate and retrofit homes, which would simultaneously slash emissions and bring down energy bills. That should have been an urgent national priority as energy costs soared. As has been said, if we invested in that, it would bring down energy bills year on year.
When it comes to future measures—I am conscious that some of these schemes were announced by a Chancellor who has resigned in the past half hour and is no longer here to defend them—we need to introduce the concept of conditionality. It has been done in France and other continental countries but not in the UK, and it means that an investment is made on the condition that it is seen through in future green investment.
I pointed out that the £11.6 billion is money out of the door with no consequential effect on delivering on net zero. That money—£400 a person—could have been delivered on the condition that it was later spent on green home improvement measures using a voucher scheme. We need to think carefully about how we deliver those schemes in future so that we can benefit people in a cost of gas crisis—it is not just a cost of living crisis—and see real change on the ground.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. We should be looking at long-term solutions, not short-term fixes. When the next rise in energy bills comes in the autumn, people will quickly discount that money. They will obviously be grateful to have had some money to help towards their bills, but they will not feel as though they have benefited a lot. Insulation, however, would mean that they had something to see them through future years.
As I said, housing should have been a priority. Properly retrofitting homes would significantly reduce the 20% of UK emissions that come from buildings, as well as cutting bills. That is why Labour has pledged £6 billion a year to retrofit 90 million homes in a decade. My neighbour, my hon. Friend Darren Jones, talked about a national street-by-street programme. I would welcome that, provided that it started in Bristol East rather than Bristol North West—we will work our way round to him eventually. If Bristol is getting some money for that, I want to be first in the queue.
There are other examples where the now ex-Chancellor seemed keen to claw back green spending wherever he could. The plug-in grant for electric vehicles was scrapped just weeks ago. The planned landscape recovery fund to rewild our countryside was recently gutted from £800 million a year to £50 million over three years. In these estimates, we see a £76.8 million reduction in funding for carbon capture and storage, despite the Climate Change Committee highlighting concerns last week about the Government’s support for the sector. As the Chair of the EAC said—I seem to be quoting him a lot, which is a tribute to his excellent speech—CCS is not a magic bullet. We are simply not there yet; there is huge potential, but we cannot magic it out of thin air. There has to be a strategy to get us into a position to make use of it.
There are many things that the Government could do if they were worried about the costs of going green. They could scrap the plans to provide a huge tax break for investment in fossil fuels in the upcoming Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill, which we will debate next. The way that that is envisaged at the moment means that the Government will provide 20 times more in taxpayer incentives for investment in fossil fuels than in renewables. Although we are flattered that the Government eventually saw sense and adopted our idea of a windfall tax, the way that they are going about it is all wrong.
The Government are simply not going far or fast enough to tackle the climate emergency. There has been no investment in the gigafactories that we desperately need to boost production of electric vehicles in the UK. That is about not just producing batteries here but ensuring that we retain the car manufacturing that is essential to many of our communities. That investment would also create 30,000 good green jobs in the process.
The installation of EV charging points is still moving at a snail’s pace, like some of the cars, with only 830 public chargers installed last month and the need for at least 270,000 more by 2030 to keep pace with demand. It is good that people are choosing to make the shift, but they need support from the Government to get from A to B; anyone who has an EV knows the perils of trying to find a public charging point when they need one. Energy intensive industries such as steel are still crying out for investment to help them to make the transition to low-carbon manufacturing.
The Government seem to be running scared of investing in climate action. They can only see the cost and they are blind to the opportunities. The Minister should remember that the Climate Change Committee estimates that even without factoring in the benefits of green growth or the impact on public health, reaching net zero will cost less than 1% of GDP. Another 0.5% of GDP could be saved by moving away from costly fossil fuels rather than fracking for more, as the Department appears determined to do. Wise investment would lead to lower bills for consumers, good green jobs and sustainable economic growth. It is not just right to tackle climate change; it will get us out of this cost of living crisis.
Labour will treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves by investing £28 billion a year to tackle the climate emergency, grow the green economy and get cheap green technologies into people’s hands. People want to upgrade their homes to bring down bills, they want to buy electric cars that will be cheaper to run as well as more environmentally friendly, and they want to make greener choices about what they consume, but the Government have to step up to support them in making this transition. That means recognising the urgency of the situation, putting climate action at the heart of every spending decision—on homes, energy, transport and more—and doing a lot better than the Government are doing now.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne on opening the debate so ably and posing the questions he rightly did, given his responsibilities as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.
Obviously, today is a quiet day in the eyes of the world, as Kerry McCarthy said. It may be correct that they are elsewhere, but we will none the less continue to discuss, debate and focus on the important issues that I think this Government have been serious about trying to address. We have been serious about trying to put frameworks in place and show a clear direction of travel, and we do that in the knowledge that net zero is a challenge. It is therefore right to ask the questions and undertake scrutiny, and that is why I want to focus today on the long term.
I think the important thing when we talk about net zero is to start from first principles. We often dive straight into this debate, and there have been some very good contributions today, but I think that first principles are a good place to begin. Most people in this place and across our country accept that human beings have had an impact on the world, and that that has changed over recent centuries. We all share the desire to tread more lightly on this earth and consider it appropriate that action is taken to do that.
The Government’s choice, and the choice of the centre right all around the world, is to seek to harness the immense power of capitalism, the immense ability of individuals and the immense ingenuity of human beings to find a way, in conjunction with Government, to achieve a resolution that ensures that we tread more lightly and get to the end point that we seek. That is on the basis of clear frameworks, of creating the conditions for investment—we are in the process of doing that—and of subsidy where that is reasonable and proportionate.
The first thing in a big task, which is what we have in front of us, is to have a plan, and the second thing is to execute that plan. Over the last year, we have now set out that plan—the net zero approach. Yes, it has assumptions in; yes, it is setting targets; and, yes, there will be challenges, but the whole point of a plan is to demonstrate direction. For those hon. Members who somewhat avoided this point in the debate, the plan has been lauded in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and it was adopted early, demonstrating the commitment to trying to make progress. Now, the challenge is the execution of that plan.
I must remind hon. Members, particularly those who are extremely keen to see progress, as we all are, that we are nine months into a 29-year process. That means that there are issues, things will change and there will be progress reports; we will come back with a progress report in the usual way later in the year. It will be appropriate to look at the status, and some people will, of course, want to go further. However, we have the plan and we are executing it, and I think we are showing a consistent, calm and methodical approach to these very serious issues that recognises where we want to go and how we should get there.
I turn to some of the speeches and interventions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow introduced the debate, and I am grateful to him for his opening speech. He rightly holds us to account, and he is right that we live in challenging times—something that has to be considered in today’s discussion and in all our debates in this place. We have consensus about where we should move to. He is right to ask the question, but I hope he does not think that our attempts to move forward methodically, recognising that there are still challenges and that we still need to take time to work out how to approach things, can be described as waiting for something to turn up. I am sure he will not think that. Sector by sector, industry by industry, and element by element, we have to work out where the market or individuals will resolve the issues themselves, where it is reasonable and proportionate for the Government to subsidise the development and execution of solutions, and where other solutions may work.
Let us take aviation, which was considered by my right hon. Friend’s Committee a few weeks ago. We are still relatively early in the curve of knowing exactly what technology we will use. Working that out will allow us to quantify the cost of that technology, and to work with individual aerospace companies on how to approach the subject. Using a framework, a strong approach and collaboration, we must work through how to get to the end point that we want in aviation.
The issue is not just that the Government are not bringing forward good stuff fast enough—in other words, the delivery gap that the Committee on Climate Change referenced. The Government are also doing bad stuff. The Committee on Climate Change said that the Government’s plans for more new oil and gas projects in the North sea did not make economic sense. Will the Minister listen to that committee, which is there to give him advice, and look again at the reckless idea of extracting yet more oil and gas from the North sea? That will not get our prices down, and it will not help with the cost of living crisis.
The hon. Lady and I have spoken about this before, and I know she has discussed the issue with my colleagues. We recognise that we are in a transition, and that fossil fuels are required to get us to the end. The aim of the transition is to get us to net zero, and a requirement of net zero will mean that for certain processes, we will still have to use a much smaller amount of fossil fuels, accompanied by capture technology.
The hon. Lady shakes her head, but the alternative is closing down large swathes of industry. If she wants to make that case to the electorate, she can do so and see whether they agree. There would be a lot of people unemployed or without livelihoods, and a lot of industries that would close down. It would not benefit the world as a whole, because those industries would just move elsewhere and offshore. Those are exactly the kinds of unintended consequences that the centre left in this country need to think through, understand and work through before they suggest—as they do, incorrectly, regularly—that they have a viable solution to climate change.
Darren Jones is rightly keen on delivery, as am I. Having sat on the Public Accounts Committee for 18 months in the previous Parliament, I know that delivery is at the core of what we should all seek to do in this place. Policies are one thing, but making sure they are implemented can be very different. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that we are in the relatively early phases of some elements of the net-zero plan, and that he will give us time to develop the propositions, as we have done over the last year. We must ensure a strong delivery focus, just as my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have done, and I am sure that will continue to be the case in the months and years ahead.
I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman. We have worked closely together on other areas, and we share a similar corporate background. He will know from our time in corporate life about the importance in project management of sending signals and ensuring that clarity about where we are going. The combination of those signals, our track record, and the road maps that we have published for carbon capture, utilisation and storage, for hydrogen, for auto, and for other things will provide some comfort that we are making progress. We obviously have a disagreement about the level of state intervention in certain areas, and I am sure we will continue to debate that in forums such as this Chamber.
My right hon. Friend Chris Skidmore makes a number of important points about ensuring that we have a long-term approach. To take aviation as the example again, the challenge is in ensuring that we understand exactly what that will look like and where it will go. However, I accept and acknowledge his point. He also rightly made a point about the importance of dependency, in this instance on fossil fuel producers. He and I have had discussions about not wanting to switch from dependency on fossil fuels to dependency on critical minerals. That is why the Government will introduce a strategy on critical minerals in short order.
I am grateful to Jamie Stone for his comments, in particular on onshore wind, which I will certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change. He made an incredibly important point about the importance of having local supply chains where possible. On Thursday, I visited Siemens in Goole, and it was heartening to see that much of the supply chain for the amazing new facility coming to the East Riding is made up of local businesses and local people from across Yorkshire. They are ensuring that we have a fantastic train factory that will allow us to support net zero.
My hon. Friend Bim Afolami was right to highlight the importance of transition within net zero, which I have covered, and of not demonising but working with industry. My hon. Friend Richard Fuller made an incredibly important point about individual agency. He spoke about the importance of taking people with us, and of ensuring that we undertake this massive task of treading very lightly on the Earth by 2050 with the consent of the people we represent. We do that by calmly and methodically setting frameworks and defining approaches.
John Mc Nally, in summing up for the Scottish National party, talked about mechanisms for demand in the British energy security supply strategy. That should be looked at in concert with other strategies, documents and frameworks that have been brought forward. I encourage him to do that. The Labour spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bristol East, extensively referenced the Climate Change Committee report. As I said, we will respond on that in due course. We welcome all outside organisations’ comments, but it is important that there be recognition in the committee’s document of what the UK has achieved, that it is a world leader, and that it has set the right course. It is important that we provide all of that in the round.
I am grateful for all the contributions to what has been one of our better debates in this place. This is a hugely important issue. We recognise, as did most of the contributions, that this is a long-term issue. In some places, we have made huge progress—there has been a 40% reduction in carbon emissions in the last 30 years—but we have some way to go. That is the entire point of net zero, and of the Government working with business to harness the fantastic ingenuity of capitalism, so that we can make progress. I look forward to more of it being achieved, so that we can ensure that the objective of treading lightly on the Earth by 2050 is achieved.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I certainly shall wind up briefly. I will not take time congratulating hon. Members on their contributions to the debate, all of which exhibited consistency in recognising that while this country is a leader in responding to climate change, we have a great deal further to go. There is a broad understanding across the House, as was reflected in everyone’s contributions, that there is an opportunity before us, which is enhanced by the energy crisis and the changes to the energy markets in the last 12 months or so, and we need to grasp it. We need to add pace to the frameworks and the delivery of the strategies that the Minister ably evidenced.
I appreciate that we have been through a difficult period; the last two years of covid undoubtedly interrupted many plans that were in germination, and it has taken time to get them out, but now is the time. Last week’s report by the CCC, which several hon. Members referred to, made that crystal clear. I mention in particular Darren Jones, and the role that his Committee plays in holding the Department to account.
The time is now. We need to get on with these strategies. It may not be possible to do that in the next 24 hours or seven days, but certainly this year we must take greater strides in getting the plans out there, so that the industries that implement them—it will be mostly the private sector that does the heavy lifting—understand the environment in which they are delivering our net zero ambitions, which everybody across the House shares.
Question deferred until tomorrow at Seven o’clock (