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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:32 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 9:32 pm, 26th June 2017

My Lords, despite its brevity, the Queen’s Speech emphasises that our Government and Parliament have a great responsibility for many critical issues affecting the future of the UK and the countries of the world. I agree with other noble Peers that dealing with global climate change for present and future generations has been accepted by most Governments as the most serious of these global issues. Most countries signed the Paris accord in 2015, although regrettably the US Government have withdrawn from it. I ask the Minister to assure the House that the UK will join with other major countries at the forthcoming G20 conference in Berlin in asserting again its commitment, as, of course, Mrs Merkel has already.

The UK can be proud not only of its diplomacy, which led to consensus in Parliament for the then Climate Change Bill, but of its participation in leading research that contributed to international consensus about the past processes of climate change and the future trends of rising temperatures in the atmosphere, ocean and land areas caused by rising emissions of carbon dioxide. There is now a practical consensus that over this century these emissions will be greatly reduced—the UK target for reduction is by 80%—but this is possible only if new sources of clean energy become available throughout the world.

There are great opportunities for the UK to develop renewable wind and solar energy. Even Saudi Arabia is moving away from petroleum and developing solar energy. The UK is also investing in advanced nuclear fission and fusion systems. I declare an interest. The environmental impact of these systems will also have to be managed in collaboration with other countries and international organisations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and Euratom. It is essential that the UK should positively expand its involvement in these national and international environmental and energy organisations. There will be a Bill, as the Minister said, on dealing with the consequences of leaving Euratom, and that will be a very important piece of legislation.

As I have said in the past, the House of Lords should receive more regular reports about these international bodies, which are so important to trade, the environment and communications. We have had almost no debates on this. I have organised two in the 17 years that I have been here and this goes by default. Select Committees could also be more involved in this aspect of UK governance.

Although local conservation of fisheries, which was brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is an important issue, it is also important to realise that we have to think about fisheries on an oceanic scale. Again, I have been involved in ACOPS, which sits on some of these bodies. Following urgent environmental and infrastructure safety problems in the UK, which we have been seeing in the last few years and most urgently in the last couple of weeks, HMG need to consider the governance and openness of the responsible governmental and private organisations, and how the latest science and technology can be used.

I speak as a former chief executive of the Met or Meteorological Office—although some people think that it is another kind of Met—which I am pleased to see remains a world-class governmental agency despite several attempts by Governments of all parties to privatise it. Other well-known governmental laboratories have been privatised and universally spin off companies to provide valuable services. I declare an interest there. The question for the UK is how these privatised ex-governmental organisations should be involved in these critical governmental questions. That has been a hidden question during the last week. An alternative is to involve professional bodies such as the Hazards Forum, which brings together all the engineering institutions and quasi-governmental bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive. Again, I declare an interest.

Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, emphasised this afternoon, as the Government, Parliament and industry review the technical solutions to these challenges and the production and design of UK products, the need is to consider how UK schools, universities and training colleges can compete with leading institutions around the world, for example by making sure that our children do homework, which is rather rare in some schools. It is important that these institutions should educate more qualified engineers and scientists. If not, as industry is urging, the UK will need to expand the number of immigrants with advanced qualifications, assuming they have the confidence in how they are treated when they arrive. I was pleased to hear that identity cards are being considered again. That may be essential in future.