Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:13 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 7:13 pm, 26th June 2017

My Lords, first, I would like to say what a pleasure it was to listen to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Colgrain, and I congratulate them.

The Government were clearly in some trouble in bringing forward anything much from their manifesto into the gracious Speech, so in their hour of need I thought I would offer some ideas that might find a majority of support in this House and, who knows, maybe in the other. There were slim pickings for my own portfolio, energy and climate change, and what pickings there were will not deliver our commitments to the Paris Agreement, despite the welcome recommitment to it, or to the sustainable development goals. There is a preamble to everything that we discuss: that is, to ensure that with everything connected with energy and climate change in the Brexit negotiations, the aim is to achieve something better than that to which we ascribe as full members.

The automated and electric vehicles Bill is very welcome, and no doubt my noble friend Lady Randerson will pursue the Government on it later this evening. I would simply say that we should be more ambitious and move quicker: ban all sales of diesel cars and small vans by 2025, introduce a scrappage scheme to get rid of the worst vehicles more quickly, and for goodness sake use the conversion of lampposts into chargers. Yes, we would need to boost the grid, but renewable electricity is storming it right now. Make it super-convenient; that is the incentive for change that we need.

As I said, I was very glad to see the Paris Agreement in there, but where was the meat to deliver it? Not only are we not going to meet our targets, particularly on transport and heat, but there is no sense of a plan and certainly no sense of urgency. The UK’s ambitious target of slashing carbon emissions by more than half within 13 years is at risk because of a Government dithering on energy policy, as industry professionals have warned today. A survey by the Energy Institute, the professional body for the energy sector, found that four-fifths of their members believe that the UK is on track to miss the 2030 goal. We should be able to deliver 60% of UK electricity from renewables by 2030, and aim to be zero carbon by 2050, and I shall introduce a Bill to that effect in due course.

Our Act would set legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050, which is way more ambitious than the Climate Change Act 2008. If we do not get to 80% by 2040, we ain’t going to make it, and we will never be able to deliver on our targets if we do not develop carbon capture and storage. It is just not possible. What are the Government doing in that regard, and what are they proposing on investment to incentivise entrepreneurs to produce what we need: cutting-edge projects in energy storage, smart grids, hydrogen technologies and offshore wind and tidal power? And for goodness sake give the green light to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, please.

What of energy and energy prices? If we really want to help to lower bills, a cap will not do it. Improving home insulation and encouraging local renewable energy schemes will, combined with an ambition for 30% of the household market to have their needs met by entrant competitors by 2022. Take that, big six. When we build all the houses that the Government are promising, energy saving should be a top priority. The Government very stupidly removed the zero-carbon homes measure, but that is what would slash bills, cut emissions and boost jobs. Government reliance on fracking is so wrong-headed that I need a whole debate on that one. The change to the fundamentals on Hinkley since it was signed off have changed beyond recognition, making its viability extremely unlikely now. It is expensive and insupportable. Low-carbon services and low-carbon product markets are the economic miracle that we need. My goodness, we are going to need it with this knee-capped Administration, who are going to be too scared to say boo to a goose. It is worth trillions over the coming decades—creating jobs, not losing them. Please could this Government try not to undermine whole industries by moving goal posts, as they have done with solar, wind, and carbon capture and storage?

First and last, there is always the EU. Of course, Liberal Democrats want to ensure that the UK remains part of the single market and customs union post-Brexit. I would rather that we did not leave, of course. But as we proceed, we want to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on their promises not to resile from our commitments. We led the EU Paris Agreement, with Amber Rudd clinging to Ed Davey’s coattails. We could lead the world on energy and climate change if we only had a Government who were brave, entrepreneurial, visionary and determined. Sadly, that is not the Government we have.