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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:22 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:22 pm, 17th October 2019

I am grateful to my noble friend, and of course I concur with his analysis.

I want to talk about what we believe is the Government’s legacy on the biggest crisis of our generation: the impact of climate change. Of course we welcome the announcement of the new Environment Bill, which is very long-awaited, and we look forward to giving it robust and energetic scrutiny when it arrives in this House. We will want to see legally binding targets on air quality, water, waste and biodiversity, and we want to ensure that the Office for Environmental Protection has the necessary powers to hold the Government and public authorities properly to account.

However, the Bill deals with only one department’s contribution to improving our environment and cutting carbon emissions, when what is needed is a whole-government plan on a transformative scale to tackle the climate change emergency. According to the Committee on Climate Change, the UK is way off target to meet its fourth carbon budget of 2023 to 2027 and its fifth carbon budget of 2028 to 2032. Last year the committee set out 25 headline policy actions for the year ahead, but 12 months later only one has been delivered in full and 10 of the actions have not even shown partial progress. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, who chairs the committee, was absolutely right when he said recently, “The whole thing is run by the Government like ‘Dad’s Army’. We can’t possibly go on with this ramshackle system. It doesn’t begin to face the issues”.

The young people of this country understand the climate change emergency all too well, and even some of us crusties understand why the time for action is now. Sadly, the Government consistently fail to give the issue the priority it demands, and this Queen’s Speech represents another failed opportunity. For example, in energy, the collapse of the Government’s new nuclear programme, combined with their opposition to onshore wind and their removal of support for other forms of energy, raises huge questions about how we will source our energy by 2030 and beyond. The Government’s offshore wind sector deal is a helpful step, but there are no consequences if the targets are not met. As we know, the Government’s closure of access to the feed-in tariff for solar power sabotaged the industry before it really got going, with new installations falling by some 90%.

Meanwhile, the Government have failed to capitalise on the enormous potential of tidal power, with first the Severn barrage and now the Swansea Bay project failing to win government support. Instead, the Government seem intent on promoting fracking in the face of overwhelming local opposition to the air pollution, earthquakes and risks to local water quality that it would bring about. Where is the energy Bill in this Queen’s Speech that would deliver the transformation to renewables essential to meeting our climate change targets?

Similarly, we know that transport is the most emitting sector of the UK responsibility, responsible for 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Yet it is also the worst performing sector when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, which continue to increase as a result of traffic growth and a lack of public transport alternatives. The lack of electric charging structures for cars continues to hold back our transition to cleaner vehicles. The Government’s Road to Zero strategy to decarbonise road transport, with a plan to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, is widely considered weak and unambitious. Clearly, what we need is a major push for electric vehicles and charging points, incentivised by a scrappage scheme for the most polluting vehicles. This would help to deliver our carbon reductions, as well as tackle the scourge of air pollution that is poisoning our children’s health. Where is the transport Bill in this Queen’s Speech, which would have delivered our transformation to a world-leading clean transport economy?

We also need to ensure that agriculture plays its part in reducing greenhouse gases. Intensive agriculture currently contributes nearly 10% of our carbon emissions. Of course, this was an issue beginning to be addressed in the agriculture Bill, which this Government seem in no hurry to debate. However, we welcome the shift in the Bill from supporting land ownership to the principle of delivering public money for public benefit, to improve our natural environment, restore habitats, plant trees and tackle carbon emissions. Sustainable food production is a vital component of that, including action to rethink our diets and understand the provenance and nutritional value of the food we eat, and its impact on biodiversity.

However, this Government have already lost the confidence of farmers, with continuing uncertainty about future funding and punitive no-deal tariffs which would make our farm products uncompetitive. The agriculture Bill will fail in its objectives if we do not prevent farmers and food manufacturers being undercut after Brexit by countries with lower employment, animal welfare and environmental standards.

There is an alternative to a future of economic decline and climate change devastation. This is why, when the election is called, our party will put forward a programme that is truly transformative. It will build an economy that works for all. It will deliver a comprehensive industrial strategy with a national investment bank and regional development banks to help unlock £250 billion of investment for businesses. It will tackle the climate emergency with robust new deadlines for action and a target of 2030 for net zero emissions. It will invest in renewable energy, utilising the full potential of offshore wind, solar and tidal projects. It will harness the huge opportunities that a green economy can bring, with new jobs and investment putting us at the forefront of global innovation.

These are the kind of radical reforms needed to kickstart our economy. I look forward to hearing the contributions from other noble Lords, particularly the maiden speeches we will hear today. I am sure noble Lords will add their expertise to the list of necessary and radical reforms needed today.