Called-in Planning Decision: West Cumbria

– in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 8th December 2022.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee 12:31 pm, 8th December 2022

In a moment, we will resume proceedings on the statement started earlier by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Before we do so, I put on record my dismay that the Government have failed to follow not just the clear, long-established conventions of the House but their own rules. The “Ministerial Code” says:

“A copy of the text of an oral statement should usually be shown to the Opposition shortly before it is made. For this purpose, 15 copies of the statement and associated documents should be sent to the Chief Whip’s Office at least 45 minutes before the statement is to be made. At the same time, a copy of the final text of an oral statement should in all cases be sent in advance to the Speaker.”

The key point here is “final text”. It is not acceptable to provide a brief precis of a statement that is then significantly expanded by the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box, as this means the Opposition have no meaningful advance notice and—this is my main concern—that Members do not have the detail they need in written form so they can properly ask questions of the Minister.

This situation is simply not acceptable and has caused the House very serious inconvenience, and it must not happen again. I have decided to allow the proceedings on the statement to continue, for Members to question the Secretary of State. Given the exceptional nature of this morning’s events, I will call Members who were not present when the Secretary of State delivered his initial statement but who are present now.

I am very grateful to Hansard for quickly producing a transcript of the Secretary of State’s statement, but I emphasise that it should not have to be expected to do so.

I now call the shadow Secretary of State.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities & Local Government 12:33 pm, 8th December 2022

I have one question for the Secretary of State: what on earth is he thinking? The decision to greenlight the reopening of the Woodhouse colliery is bad policy and bad politics. It is the latest in a string of absurd decisions from a Government in chaos, causing chaos in this Chamber and out there in the country. They are in office but not in power.

This mine will produce coking coal used for steel, not for electricity generation. So, as the Secretary of State has had to admit today, the claim it helps to safeguard our energy security is nonsense, but it gets worse. The two big steel producers, Tata and British Steel, are phasing out this coal in favour of lower-carbon production methods. By the mid-2030s, at best, the UK will use less than 10% of the mine’s output. Across the world, demand for coking coal is projected to fall off a cliff, by 88%, by 2050.

People in Cumbria deserve a long-term future, with lasting, well-paid jobs that power us through the next century. Instead, they are saddled with a weak, short-sighted and unambitious Government who, only two months ago, rejected a plan to bring new nuclear to Cumbria, which would have created not 500 short-term jobs but 10,000 jobs for the long term.

Michael Gove is supposed to be the Secretary of State for Levelling Up. The Tories were once the party of conservation, and now they are the party of environmental vandalism. He can fiddle the figures all he likes, but the reality is that this mine is projected to increase emissions by 0.4 million tonnes a year, according to his own advisers. That is equivalent to putting 200,000 more cars on the road every single year.

This decision flies in the face of Britain’s net zero objectives, contradicts the aims of the UK’s COP26 presidency and undermines the 2019 Conservative manifesto. This is chaos. Successive Secretaries of State are contradicting each other and the Government’s independent adviser on climate change condemned the decision as “indefensible” even as the Secretary of State stands here trying to defend it.

The Secretary of State told us that coal has no part to play in future power generation. He cannot even agree with himself. No leadership abroad. No leadership at home. Unable to lead even in his own party. I hope he will at least reassure the House today that this bizarre decision, which he cannot even defend, was not part of a deal to buy off Back Benchers after his U-turn earlier this week on onshore wind.

People in Britain deserve better. Right across the country, communities such as mine in Wigan and across Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria are proud of our mining heritage and of the contribution we made to this country, but we want a Government who look forward and match our ambition so that, through clean energy, our young people can power us through the next century like their parents and grandparents powered us through the last. Where is the ambition? Where is the leadership? Where is the government?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

Mr Speaker, thank you for your ruling earlier. I apologise to you and to the House. No discourtesy was intended. I appreciate the importance of maintaining the courtesies of the House, particularly with regard to statements.

As I mentioned earlier, the context of this statement is a quasi-judicial process on a planning application. I always admire the rhetoric of Lisa Nandy, and she asks, “Where is the ambition? Where is the leadership?” I think we all know where the ambition and the leadership is: it is sitting right across from me.

The hon. Lady will have her own views on future demand for coking coal, but I fear she elides the difference between coking coal used for metallurgical purposes and coal used for energy generation purposes. The inspector’s report makes it clear that coking coal is used not for energy purposes but purely for metallurgical purposes, for the manufacture of steel. Of course, we will need steel for decades to come, including in the renewables sector. How else will we ensure that we supply all the materials necessary for onshore wind and other renewable energy without using steel? If she or anybody else in the House has an answer, I and millions of scientists would love to hear it.

It is important to look at the inspector’s report, as I have in detail. The inspector makes it clear on page 239, in paragraph 21.37, that in all the scenarios and forecasts presented to him there was

“continued demand for coking coal for a number of decades.”

He also made it clear that, at the moment, imports of coking coal come from Australia, the USA and Russia. As I pointed out in the statement, and as the inspector makes clear, no evidence has been provided to suggest that any other metallurgical coal mine in the world aspires to be net zero in the way the Whitehaven development does. Again, the inspector makes it clear that the

“development would to some extent support the transition to a low carbon future as a consequence of the provision of a currently needed resource from a mine that aspires to be net zero.”

The European Commission is clear that coking coal is a critical part of steel and that steel is necessary to the future of Europe. We recognise that the demand for this coking coal, both in the UK and in Europe, is better supplied from a net zero mine than from other alternatives. As the inspector makes clear, this decision will also be responsible for high-skilled, high-value jobs in Cumbria, alongside other jobs in the supply chain elsewhere, and that is without prejudice to the other investment that the Government are making in clean green energy sources alongside it.

The inspector’s report is clear and, in responding to the questions from the hon. Member for Wigan, I urge every Member of the House to read the inspector’s report in full, alongside my decision letter. Those 350 pages lay out the evidence. They present the arguments for and against the decision. The inspector, an independent planning expert, has concluded that this development should go ahead and I agree with him.

Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington

I thank my right hon. Friend for the leadership he has shown on this matter, cutting through the noise from the Opposition and implementing the planning inspector’s decision, which acknowledges the ongoing need for coking coal and the lack of alternatives to it in steelmaking. My constituents and I cannot understand why today’s Labour party feels the need to campaign against the UK supply chain and local jobs, and for further emissions through the importation of this necessary coking coal. Can he?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He draws attention to the importance of paying close attention to the inspector’s report. The inspector makes it clear that the industrial decarbonisation strategy, which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy produced and which has been endorsed across the House, explicitly

“does not rule out the use of coking coal in an integrated steel making process together with CCUS as a net zero compliant option going forward”.

On the basis of existing policy and the inspector’s recommendation, I have made my decision. As my hon. Friend points out, others—indeed, others from other parties—may make the decision on a party political ground. The decision we have made is purely on the basis of the evidence in front of us.

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

The decision has been condemned by the Chair of the Climate Change Committee. Chris Stark, chief executive of the committee, retweeted that this is

“climate vandalism and economic incompetence on a scale difficult to believe”.

The International Energy Agency previously stated that no further fossil fuel projects can be built if net zero is to be achievable by 2050 and OECD countries need to end use of coal by 2030, so why license this mine to 2049? Ron Deelan, a former chief executive of British Steel, called it

“a completely unnecessary step for the British Steel Industry”.

Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute research centre, previously advised that British Steel could not use this coal because it is

“not of the right quality”.

The reality is that 85% of this coal is going to be exported, so talking about cancelling imports is a complete red herring. What we are doing is increasing our carbon footprint to support industry in the EU. It is illogical and we know demand for coking coal will fall, as the EU is further ahead on the development of green steel. Where is the UK progress on green steel? Coking coal is not even identified on the UK’s critical mineral strategy or in the National Security and Investment Act 2021, although it is a critical mineral for the EU. But, clearly, this mine is not needed for the UK. Given this decision, what steps are being taken to rapidly accelerate the net zero pathway, for example, by changing the Scottish carbon capture and storage cluster to track 1 status?

The Secretary of State hides behind the recommendations of the Planning Inspectorate. Why did his Government override the Planning Inspectorate on Sizewell C? This coking coal is not critical for the UK. It is going to be exported, so why has he made this decision just to appease Tory Back-Bench climate change cynics?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. He quotes a number of individuals and draws explicitly—he was good enough to acknowledge this—party political conclusions. I relied on the inspector’s report and on the evidence in front of me. As I explained in my decision letter, no evidence was provided to suggest that any other metallurgical coal mine in the world aspires to be net zero, so the proposed mine is likely to be much better placed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions than comparative mining operations around the world. On that basis, it is entirely in keeping with our net zero commitments, and indeed with the commitment to not only jobs, but the environment, to approve the inspector’s case.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield

I speak as an ex-miner and a net zero champion in this place. I remember a time when the Labour party stood shoulder to shoulder, side by side with the coalmining communities in our great country, but Labour’s treachery has taken a new twist. It has turned its back on the red wall and the coalmining communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree with Edward Miliband, who is not in his place, when he said in 2015, when his local Hatfield colliery was due to be closed, that we should not be importing coal for the Drax power station from places such as Russia and Colombia, and instead should be mining it on our own doorstep?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The right hon. Gentleman’s comments are on the record in Hansard and are a valuable contribution to this debate.

Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Labour, Hemsworth

The Secretary of State is probably aware of the statement made yesterday by the Secretary-General of the United Nations that multinational corporations are making ecosystems into “playthings of profit”. The Secretary of State has prayed in aid the inspector’s report, and I accept what the inspector has said. However, the Secretary of State provides the framework for the Planning Inspectorate, so will he not now at least say that he will review the whole of our planning framework to try to protect wildlife, ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as the green belt?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

Let me set aside specifically the decision here, where the inspector’s report speaks for itself—I urge the hon. Gentleman and others to read it in full. On the broader point he makes about planning policy, we are bringing forward changes to the national planning policy framework explicitly to defend the green belt, safeguard biodiversity and introduce biodiversity net gain. Those changes that we brought forward were shared in a “Dear colleague” letter that I sent to every Member of the House of Commons. They attracted widespread support from Conservative MPs, but were denounced from the Dispatch Box yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition. I have enormous affection and respect for Jon Trickett and I am grateful for his commitment to the environment. Perhaps he could have a word with Keir Starmer and encourage him to take a greener approach towards planning and development overall.

Photo of Holly Mumby-Croft Holly Mumby-Croft Conservative, Scunthorpe

I really welcome this news and the fact that the Secretary of State has found that he does agree with the views of the independent Planning Inspectorate. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson and others who have campaigned so effectively on this issue. I, for one, will sleep easier in my bed knowing that we have recovered a UK-based capability to supply an incredibly important specialist kind of coal. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government must always keep in the forefront of their mind the importance of certain industries and materials for our national resilience and our strategic capabilities? He knows that, as always, I am talking about steel.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

On this side of the House, we have had iron ladies, but there is no better champion of steel than my hon. Friend. Whether in Scunthorpe or Port Talbot, jobs depend on the future of our steel industry. Steel is a critical strategic component of our future economy; it will be necessary as we make the transition to net zero. In that context, following the inspector’s report and following the need for coking coal, as he points out, according to experts, for decades to come, I have agreed with the inspector and am convinced that his recommendation for this mine is right.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

In recent weeks, we have had the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change almost literally gaslighting the public by claiming that fracking and the new oil and gas licences for extraction in the North sea are green measures. Now the Secretary of State is trying to make the same claim about opening a new coalmine. He tries to claim that this is a net zero coalmine, but will he confirm that that does not take into account the actual burning of the coal?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

There are two separate points and the hon. Lady is absolutely right. There is both the operation of the mine itself and the future usage of the coal. The inspector analyses both, and the recommendations that he laid out weighed with me as I made the decision.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

My right hon. Friend has been clear about the distinction between metallurgical coal and coal for power production. Colleagues have spoken about the wisdom of using domestically produced products rather than imported products, as just highlighted by my hon. Friend Lee Anderson. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reconfirm the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050 and the rapid phasing out of coal for power production?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. We have succeeded, in the past decade or so, in dramatically reducing our reliance on coal for energy generation. It constitutes, I think, only around 2% of the current mix in energy generation, of which renewables constitute an increasing part. As he quite rightly points out, and as I know Members across the House appreciate, the coal that is being produced is metallurgical coal, which is specifically to be used in the steel-making process.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

I welcome this common-sense and economically sound decision. It is one that will create jobs, will ensure that we do not have to import necessary coal, and, as the inspector has said, will have significant national and regional economic advantages for our economy. Does the Minister agree that, where we have indigenous resources, which this economy needs, it is economically better and more honest to use those rather than import from countries with lower environmental standards and also that might not be relied on? Does he not find it ironic that some of those who are complaining today are the first to complain about not doing enough for poor regions of this country and would be the first in line to complain if steel jobs were lost?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

As ever, my right hon. Friend makes his case very eloquently. He is quite right to point out that the inspector gives appropriate weight to the high-skill, high-quality jobs that will be created as a result of this development going ahead.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

Madam Deputy Speaker, you know me to be a biologist and an environmentalist—I should confess to the House that I also get called a tree hugger by certain hon. Members of this House—but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the “net” in net zero that is the crucial thing here? We have heard today from the Opposition that this development is not green, but they are wrong. It is better to do this mining on our shores and in a responsible way. Does he agree that the north-west of England has the pride, the heritage, the skills and the future to deliver not only this coking coalmine, but the future industries of 4.0?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

I am tempted to say that any tree that is hugged by my hon. Friend is a very lucky tree.

On the substance of the very important point that my hon. Friend makes, yes, in order to ensure that we have a transition to net zero we do need to reduce our reliance on a variety of different materials. However, as the inspector makes clear, and as my hon. Friend quite rightly points out, the economic benefits that this development brings to the north-west are also entirely consistent with our broader environmental ambitions.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Alok Sharma, the former President of COP, says that 85% of this coal will be exported. Is he wrong?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

The inspector makes it clear in his report that, by sourcing coal from this mine, there will be a beneficial effect in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Cumbria planning committee, after careful consideration, approved this planning application. The Secretary of State then called it in for an independent review. The independent planning inspector, after careful consideration of all the evidence, recommended approval. Given my confidence that my right hon. Friend is a rational man, does he not agree that it would be completely irrational to override the recommendations of the planning inspector and refuse this planning application, which has great benefit to the United Kingdom?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

My hon. Friend has a matchless knowledge of the planning process. Again, I urge all colleagues to read my decision letter and also the inspector’s report, which gives a full account of all the evidence that was placed before him. As I said in my statement, this planning application has given rise to strong feelings on both sides, but the inspector’s report lays out a particular case and, as I read the inspector’s report and saw the conclusions that he drew, so my decision letter followed. I hope that all colleagues will have the chance to read the report and make their own judgments.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

This decision makes a travesty of the word “transition”. It is a full-blown backward step to more fossil fuel in the UK. In June, the Government overturned a local planning decision not to allow drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey. Now we have mining in Cumbria. This is a trend, and as we have heard, most of the coal is for export, not for local or UK need or use. Industry needs to make a profit, hence the vast quantity that it wants to export for profit for the fossil fuel industry. If the issue is that the Government are stuck with a quasi-judicial planning decision, is it not high time for root and branch reform of the planning system to put net zero at the core of every decision, rather than bending to the fossil fuel industry?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

Again, I urge the hon. Lady, who I know takes environmental issue seriously, to look at the inspector’s report in full. She should look, for example, at paragraph 21.127, where the inspector outlines that there will be

“some, but unquantifiable, likely reductions in GHG emissions from transportation” as a result of domestic production. Looking at the report in full and in the round, she will see that all the environmental arguments, which she takes seriously, are rehearsed, considered and then an appropriate conclusion is made.

Entirely separate to the planning inspector’s report, I would welcome her and her and party’s contribution to the consultation on the national planning policy framework that we have put forward. I am sure that she will find in that a number of measures that will meet the concerns that she and others have expressed in order to safeguard our environment more effectively.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

Bassetlaw has a proud mining history. Along with many of my constituents, I praise my right hon. Friend for the leadership and the pragmatism that he has shown on this issue. There has been concern about importing our coking coal from countries with lower environmental standards than ourselves. We need metallurgical coking coal for making steel, as has already been said, but now we can mine to our high environmental standards, and, of course, also cut out the need for transportation halfway across the world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from having a negative effect on our own net zero ambitions, this decision actually reinforces them?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

My hon. Friend will know how rare it is that I quote from the European Commission approvingly. However, in the inspector’s report he quotes from the European Commission and says that it recognises

“the indispensable role of coking coal during the steel industry’s transition to climate neutrality.”

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, expertise cited by the inspector all points to the wisdom of allowing this mine to go ahead.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence)

The world is currently meeting in Montreal for COP15 to deal with the pressing climate and nature crisis that we are facing. A common message from there is that coal should be kept in the ground. It will be incredibly difficult for the Government to convince the public at home and abroad that opening a new coalmine is dealing with that urgent climate crisis in a progressive way. His colleague, the former COP26 President, described this decision as an “own goal”, so may I ask the Secretary of State whether he thinks approving a new coalmine in the middle of a climate crisis will enhance or damage Britain’s reputation as a global green leader?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

Again, I stress the importance of looking at what the inspector says. The hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out that international partners are meeting in Montreal, alongside the UK, in order to uphold the importance of biodiversity and to help protect species. I should point out that in paragraph 21.163 of the inspector’s report the inspector specifically addresses the question of biodiversity and says that he

“is satisfied that the Supplemental Undertaking”— given by the applicant—

“would ensure that the proposed development would provide for a minimum net gain”— in biodiversity—

“of 10% prior to the commencement of production and further net gain to be achieved on restoration.”

The inspector took account of biodiversity in coming to his judgment, and so have I.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the evidence before the inquiry pointed to the fact that blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace production is likely to continue in the UK and Europe until at least 2040 and probably 2050? If we need coking coal up to 2050, what on earth are other parties in this Chamber doing arguing we should import it from Russia rather than creating 500 high-paid, high-skilled jobs in Cumbria, transforming our economy, supporting the steel industry and delivering on our levelling-up promises?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As the inspector notes, new alternative technologies being developed will mean that reliance on coking coal can be reduced over time. However, on the evidence put in front of the inspector, there will be a need for coking coal for decades to come and it is better that it comes from a net zero metallurgical mine, of which this is the only one that the inspector is aware that exists in the world.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

This is a backwards step and hon. Friends have rightly laid out the regressive environmental impact and what that says about the Government’s seriousness on net zero. My party colleagues in the Assembly used the devolved powers they had to ensure a moratorium on fracking in Northern Ireland, but there is genuine concern about the potential for this Government to make similar unwanted and damaging decisions in our region, in the absence of the protection of devolution. Can the Secretary of State confirm that any extraction decisions are for devolved Ministers in Northern Ireland, where a majority of people want to keep fossil fuels in the ground and want instead to see investment in renewables and their huge potential for green jobs?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s position. If she will forgive me, I shall not be drawn into the question of Executive formation in Northern Ireland. I know everybody wants to make sure we can make progress there and I take into account the importance she rightly places on devolved decision making; that is an aspiration I share.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

The Opposition have no concern over European and other countries burning lignite to power their industries and rarely distinguish between thermal and metallurgical coal. Will my right hon. Friend renew his commitment to evidence-based policymaking and the ongoing revival of British mining and manufacturing?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

Again, the 350-page report looks at all the evidence and the competing arguments before coming to that conclusion. I know my hon. Friend, like many colleagues, looked closely at that report before coming to his own judgment, and I urge all colleagues across this House to do so.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

Chris Green talks about the ongoing revival of coal mines. Not only is this decision an act of climate vandalism, but steel industry experts say it is completely unnecessary and that the British steel industry needs green investment. We know that solving the energy crisis and securing good, local, well-paid jobs across the country are important, but is not investing in renewables and the national programme of housing insulation the real way to do that?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

The Government are investing in renewables, and the leadership that has been shown by the UK Government and partners across the UK in the provision of offshore wind is a demonstration of that. As I pointed out, when it comes to offshore and onshore wind, steel is a critical component in the manufacture of the turbines that we rely on. If we are to continue to produce steel in future, we will need coking coal for decades to come, and the inspector concludes it is better that it comes from a mine that is net zero.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

I commend the Secretary of State on taking this bold decision, which will help to create hundreds of high-skilled, high-value jobs in a part of the country long forgotten by the Labour party. Does he agree that it would be foolish to leave strategic industries such as steel production reliant on materials sourced from our economic competitors, when we can source the materials we need here at home?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Again, I refer back to my decision letter, in which I acknowledge that the inspector makes the point in paragraph 21.121 that the effects of downstream emissions as a result of the extraction of this coal

“may well be considered neutral or slightly beneficial when compared with other extractive sources.”

He is referring to the foreign sources of coal that my hon. Friend refers to.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

I think the Secretary of State has just admitted to my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy that when he talks about net zero, he does not factor in the use of the coal extracted. Does he not respect the expertise of Alok Sharma, the former COP26 President? He said:

“Opening a new coal mine will not only be a backward step for UK climate action but also damage the UK’s hard-won international reputation, through our @COP26 Presidency, as a leader in the global fight against climate change”.

This is an important issue. People are really concerned about climate change. I ask the Secretary of State to think again.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making her point. Again, the inspector makes clear that, whether we use coking coal from the UK or elsewhere, there will automatically be emissions. However, taking every piece of evidence in the round, given the continued reliance upon coking coal—the inspector makes clear that that is likely for decades to come—it is better that it comes from this mine rather than from other sources abroad.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Secretary of State very much for his comprehensive and detailed statement. Can he confirm, and is he satisfied, that all steps will be taken and have been taken to protect the surrounding environment, that health and safety will also be paramount, and that local people living nearby have been closely and fully consulted?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making all those points. On one level I am sorry to keep returning to the inspector’s report, but it is important to return to it, and it deals with all those issues and more. I will use the opportunity of the hon. Gentleman’s question to say to the House and to other interested parties that of course I have sought to answer every question put to me as fully as possible, with reference to the inspector’s report, but nothing I have said in this Chamber in response to questions should be taken account of without also taking account of all the arguments in the inspector’s report and my decision letter. I am grateful to so many colleagues for taking this important issue seriously, and I urge all interested parties to read the full inspector’s report in order to understand the arguments that were put to him and that he eventually judged.