We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:52 pm on 21st October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat 5:52 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I will speak primarily on the climate emergency. I would have spoken in the debate on Thursday, but I had, in parallel with it, a meeting of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the work of which is needed at present, as the noble Lord, Lord True, reminded the House. I therefore missed the introduction to that debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, but I was careful to read it and was able to listen to much of the remainder of the debate in the afternoon. Many noble Lords spoke about the need to revolutionise our transport system, the technology of power generation and the lifestyle choices that we make. I will focus on another vital ingredient of tackling the climate emergency which is relevant to today’s subject: the need to tackle carbon reduction in our built environment. That crosses so many ministerial and departmental policy silos that I could have spoken in any debate. I hope that, when she winds up, the Minister will be able to give reassurance on some of my points.

The heating, lighting and powering of buildings is responsible for about one-third of the United Kingdom’s CO2 emissions. That includes our homes, schools, hospitals, care homes, offices, factories and shops. It also includes colleges, universities and civic buildings. I point out to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, that it also includes courts and prisons—we are clearly going to be needing some more prisons. It includes national and local civic buildings and places of entertainment and worship. The typical house emits more carbon dioxide in a year than a typical car. Yet public policy is focused towards cutting emissions from road vehicles, for which significant subsidies are available, with public policy on saving energy for buildings actually going backwards since 2015. I speak as the Minister who was responsible for getting the zero-carbon homes policy ready to go live in 2016, only to share the frustration and anger of the industry when that policy was abandoned by the new Conservative Government in 2015, together with the scrapping of the Green Deal, which aimed at upgrading the performance of existing homes. However, I acknowledge the work of the previous Chancellor, Philip Hammond. His Spring Statement this year gave notice of the future homes standard, aimed at resuming forward progress. I am sure it is completely coincidental that he has since had the Tory Whip removed.

The Government are now consulting on new, higher standards of energy performance for new homes. If they go forward, these would come into force in two stages in 2025. The Government dress up this nine-year delay in reaching the standard that was going to come into play in 2016 as evidence of their being “the greenest Government ever”—I think that comes under the heading of “classic Dom”. We have had a Queen’s Speech with almost nothing to say about the urgent steps needed, in every policy area, to combat the climate emergency. We have got an Environment Bill, and it offers some useful and interesting ideas but, as drafted at the moment, it will make no measurable impact on cutting CO2 emissions. We have a belated consultation on introducing higher standards for newer homes, but that will not be until 2025. There is absolutely nothing planned to raise the energy performance of the 20 million homes that are already built and whose planned life extends beyond 2050. There is nothing about raising new building standards for all the other kinds of buildings, new or existing. There is nothing even about enforcing energy performance certificates for homes, nor displaying them on all the other buildings to which the public have access. That would be the safest of nudge policies, yet the current Government have deliberately allowed them to fall into misuse and no use. I asked a Question about how many of the Government’s buildings actually had a display energy certificate—which, incidentally, is a legal necessity—but they have not got the slightest idea.

The Liberal Democrats have plans to tackle all these things and more and an intention to reach the target of carbon neutrality for our country in 2045, not 2050. The climate emergency requires urgent action on all fronts now. The built environment has to be rapidly moved up the Government’s agenda for action. Sadly, the Queen’s Speech is a feeble and disappointing signal of their intentions.