Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:35 pm on 6th July 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 6:35 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, I speak for the Liberal Democrats on energy and climate change and it is to that portfolio I wish to speak this evening.

We had been doing so well during the coalition years, but, from a position where Britain was already a world leader in offshore wind and could have become a world leader in other areas, we are now already falling away from the global race. In the six months since I came to this House, this Government have undermined Britain’s growing green industries by destroying investor confidence in the long-term policy framework needed to support the sector, including the precipitate withdrawal of support for many forms of renewable energy, the planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank, the abandonment of previous commitments to investors in the carbon capture and storage programme and much more, the effects of all of which will be magnified by the result of the referendum on EU membership.

The message that has been sent out is deeply concerning, not just to Liberal Democrats but to environmentalists, the renewables sector and members of the public across the United Kingdom. The decision to leave the EU raises a huge number of questions which the Government need to answer urgently, to mitigate the uncertainty and to make it clarion-clear to the world that we are open for green business and completely committed to decarbonisation to tackle climate change.

Will we continue to be part of the EU’s internal energy market? Will EU targets be maintained, including the UK’s contribution towards 40% reduction by 2030 and the renewables directive? Will the Government commit to continuing to work with other nations in Europe and the rest of the world to achieve the best possible global response to climate change and the fulfilment of the Paris agreement, even from a position of independence? Will EU climate policies be protected? Will the Government commit to continuing the phasing out of coal? How will they increase investor confidence in renewables following the huge uncertainty of Brexit, especially as none of the Conservative candidates for leader are particular advocates of renewables?

Britain’s future prosperity depends on developing an economy that is innovative, entrepreneurial, internationally open and environmentally sustainable, and where the benefits of growth are shared fairly across our country and with future generations. Our membership of the EU guaranteed our commitments to the climate change agenda and was a safeguard against any Government that appeared to be undermining our ability to deliver on our legally binding targets. Outside the EU, what or who is the guarantor of delivery?

Let us take the Brexiteers at their word and show that we are world leaders on climate change. Let us commit to do equal; no, let us commit to do better than if we were still in the European Union. I have to say that we do not need to negotiate on this; we can just forge ahead ourselves; we can lead the world. However, I do have to inject a bit of realism into this because, the way things are currently, we will not even be able to deliver on our existing targets. We have to improve the efficiency of resource use and decarbonise the economy. That will help to create high-skill, high value-added industries able to compete in the new global markets for low-carbon and resource-efficient products, technologies and services and create hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the country.

So I am asking the Government to come forward with a new, green industrial strategy targeted at technologies that underpin emerging green industries. Let us establish a clear and consistent commitment to policies that create long-term demand for low-carbon transport and energy efficiency, thus giving investors the confidence they need.

Even at this late stage I implore the Government to end the planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. If that has already passed the point of no return, use the Government’s special share to ensure that the bank supports ambitious green investments. Either way, the Government should increase its capitalisation, allow it to raise funds from capital markets independently, enable it to issue green bonds and expand its remit to a wider range of technologies.

The Government need to strengthen their support for green innovation, encourage the creation of new financial products and bring consumer capital into green industries. The green agenda will be worth trillions over the next couple of decades. Everything I have said must happen whatever our relationship with the EU in future.

Lastly, moving beyond matters green, yes, of course, 52 to 48 means Brexit won—no doubt about that—but we 48 need to be reflected in the tone and approach of how we leave the EU. As a Liberal Democrat, I am committed to working with Europe, to internationalism, to working across borders for the greater good of us all on peace, on security and prosperity and—because united we stand, divided we fall—against the rise of the right across Europe and here in our country. We need an open, tolerant, outward-looking society. How on earth did we get to the point where we cannot disagree, hold different viewpoints or come from different backgrounds without resorting to bullying and violence?

An element of Brexit has unleashed the unacceptable face of old hatreds, and we all have a responsibility to work to eliminate that lurking underbelly now exposed in all its ugliness. And that starts with us, the politicians. Perhaps the positive will be for us to learn a lesson from the EU referendum campaign. Shameful things were said and done by some, but if we cannot argue our case without lies and downright racist insinuations, we have no right to be in the positions of responsibility that we hold. Let us learn the lesson and seek to provide an example of behaviour that sets a tone of respect and tolerance, for the well-being of future generations relies on us so doing.