Below is the text of the statement made by Andrea Leadsom, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 15 January 2020.
May I start by congratulating you on the superb way you have taken over the speakership, Mr Speaker? The atmosphere in the Chamber demonstrates the dignity and respect that we all want to see, and I commend you and your Deputies for the leadership you are showing.
Speaking of leadership, I wish the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) all the best in her party’s leadership contest. It takes courage to put oneself forward, and I commend her for her service.
Also on leadership, there is one woman—the first ever female Conservative leader—who definitely deserves 10 out of 10: Margaret Thatcher. Just over 30 years ago, she became the very first global leader to warn of the dangers of climate change at the United Nations, saying:
“It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways.”
She predicted that
“change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.”
How right she was.
Mr Speaker, you recently called the Australian wildfires
“a wake-up call for the world.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 235.]
I agree. From wildfires in Australia to flooding in Indonesia and record temperatures across the world, the impacts of climate change are in the here and now. People throughout the UK and around the world are calling for us to act, and we are doing just that. Just as the UK has led the past 30 years of climate action, we will lead the next 30 years, seizing the opportunities of the green industrial revolution.
Since Margaret Thatcher made that speech in November 1989, the UK can be proud of its record of action. Since 1990, we have cut our emissions by 42% while growing our economy by 73%.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?
In a moment.
Since 2000, we have decarbonised more quickly than any other G20 country. Since 2010, we have quadrupled our electricity generation from renewables, including through the installation of 99% of the UK’s solar capacity.
Caroline Lucas rose—
Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP) rose—
In 2017, low-carbon fuels produced more electricity than fossil fuels for the first time, and in that year we also saw the first coal-free day for a century, followed in 2019 by the first coal-free week and coal-free fortnight. Building on the world’s first climate change Act, last year we became the world’s first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change altogether by 2050.
We obviously welcome some of the things that the Secretary of State has outlined, but on the net zero target that she just outlined, Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said in his covering letter to an update report that
“policy ambition and implementation now fall well short of what is required”
to achieve the target of net zero by 2050. Is the Secretary of State going to address that in her speech?
I will indeed address it, and I can also tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government have taken the advice of the Committee on Climate Change in setting our legally binding commitments to net zero by 2050. Throughout the year, we will set out precisely how we think we can achieve that.
The Secretary of State will know that the Government are off track when it comes to the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but I wish to take her up on the constant repetition from the Government. She says that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 42% since 1990, but she knows that if we calculated consumption-based emissions and factored that in, our emissions have actually fallen by only 10%. Does she agree that we need a common understanding of what is facing us? If she keeps using numbers in a slightly misleading way, we are not going to get to where we need to be by getting our emissions down.
On the one hand, the hon. Lady is absolutely right: the carbon emissions figures for the United Kingdom do not take into account our consumption emissions or, indeed, our contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions around the world—both are important points. On the other hand, I would take issue with her from a philosophical point of view, because in order to measure progress, we need to have measurements, so it is incredibly important to talk about our UK territorial emissions at the same time. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady constructively, as she and I have done previously on a number of occasions, to make the UK’s ambition to lead the world in tackling climate change a reality in the run-up to COP26.
Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will make some progress and give way again in a moment.
As the cooling towers have come down, wind turbines are going up in their thousands, with offshore wind capacity increasing by more than 500% under Conservative Prime Ministers. We can all be proud that no other country in the world has more offshore wind than the UK, with a third of global capacity off our coastline. This is creating thousands of future-proof, planet-saving, profit-making jobs, as well as skills investment all around the United Kingdom.
Many of my new, true blue hon. Friends have green-collar jobs in their constituencies. The constituency of Sedgefield makes underwater-cable protection systems that are exported all over the world. Great Grimsby leads the world in offshore wind operations and maintenance, while in Blyth Valley, where I was proud to pay a visit to support our excellent new colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) during the general election campaign, our offshore renewable energy catapult recently tested the world’s longest offshore wind turbine blade. At over 100 metres, it would, if we stood it next to Parliament, be taller than Big Ben.
Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
The Secretary of State talks about offshore wind, but does she agree that this Government have effectively banned onshore wind, which is the most tried and tested of all forms of renewable energy technology? Will she commit to bringing that technology back across all parts of the UK?
What I can say to the hon. Lady is that onshore wind produces electricity for 10 million homes in the United Kingdom. We are promoting offshore wind as the most effective way to increase our power generation from renewable technology. It is a huge success story for the United Kingdom and something of which we can be proud. She will be aware that the Conservatives are committed to producing 40 GW from offshore wind by 2030.
The Government’s policies are not sufficiently ambitious to meet their own climate change targets. Does she agree that according to the Government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, the UK is even off its own climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050?
As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), we work very closely with the Committee on Climate Change. Our target of net zero by 2050 has been set on the basis of its recommendations so that we can grow our economy, sustain our future and contribute to tackling global climate change in a way that is sustainable for the UK, with the creation of green growth, so I am confident in that regard. We will bring forward more measures throughout the year to help us to meet that target of net zero.
Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. She mentioned the cooling towers coming down. Was she aware that the four cooling towers of Ironbridge power station came down during the course of the general election, and that one of the companies interested in that industrial brownfield land is one of the leading companies involved in driverless vehicles? If the company is successful, I hope that she will come and open the factory.
My right hon. Friend might be setting up a bit of contest, because I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is sitting next to me on the Front Bench, will be fighting me for that honour. None the less, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) makes a really good point about how, particularly in some of our areas of heavy industry, the fossil fuels of yesterday are giving way to the green future that we all want. He gives us a fantastic example of the work that is going on.
We have made great progress, but there is still much more to do. Our challenge now is to ramp up and scale up successes such as offshore wind, providing new sources of pride and prosperity across our United Kingdom.
In the first industrial revolution, our pioneers from Scotland to Cornwall forged their own path, and in so doing they became the envy of the world. James Watt’s Prussian rivals travelled hundreds of miles to sneak a glimpse of his steam engines in Birmingham. Richard Trevithick travelled as far as Peru to personally oversee his engines. Today, like them, we must be the first movers, not the last to act. From creating supply chains for electric vehicles to decarbonising our industrial clusters and designing low-carbon buildings, the opportunities of net zero are immense. In 2020, the first year of a new decade of decarbonisation, we must seize those opportunities.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
The Secretary of State has outlined a number of important stats. Local councils such as mine—Ards and North Down—are specifically involved in achieving climate change standards and environmental targets. Will she consider implementing a reward system for councils that are specifically involved in education and setting targets for them to achieve? If we do that, we may encourage councils to do even more.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good suggestion. It is clear that central Government will not be the only actor in spending taxpayers’ money and driving every bit of innovation; they will be hand in glove with local civic leaders and, really importantly, the private sector. Government must set the direction and provide incentives, and then let others take the mission forward.
Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
My right hon. Friend rightly highlights Cornwall’s history in new technologies. Is she aware that large deposits of lithium have been identified in Cornwall? That has the potential to put Cornwall at the forefront of technology once again and to revive our precious mineral extraction industry. Will she ensure that her Department gives that fledgling industry all the support it needs to thrive?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency and for Cornwall more widely. In many ways, Cornwall is playing a major role in our moves toward net zero, and we in my Department will always be happy to talk to him about that.
Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will make more progress before giving way again.
Crucial to this debate is the UK’s global leadership. The UK contributes only about 1% of global emissions, and that figure is falling. We cannot solve the challenge of global climate change just by doing the right thing at home, so we are using our strength to help to transform the world, from doubling our international climate finance contribution to nearly £12 billion to using our £1 billion Ayrton fund to support the world’s most vulnerable—for example, by designing clean stoves for the billions who rely on firewood. In 10 months’ time, COP26 in the fantastic UK city of Glasgow will be a seminal moment for climate action, as well as a massive opportunity for British business—a giant global shop window for the UK’s clean tech prowess, with countries across the world heading home with their pockets crammed full of British ideas, technology and expertise.
The Secretary of State mentioned electric vehicles and charging points, and Slough Borough Council, in my constituency, is leading the way in Berkshire. Although we gratefully receive platitudes regarding the good work of local authorities, what measures will the Government put in place to support excellent councils financially, in addition to those mere platitudes?
There are far too many initiatives for me to talk about now at the Dispatch Box, but one example is the £1 billion that was recently announced for electric charging infrastructure. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I shall send him a full submission on the subject.
Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
What the Secretary of State says about electric vehicles is absolutely right and I applaud it. My vast constituency comprises 5,752 sq km and has 18 charging points, so that is a move in the right direction. My point, however, is that electric cars are expensive—more than most people can afford. Does the right hon. Lady agree that a tax break—perhaps through the PAYE system —should be considered as a way to encourage people to buy electric cars?
My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is sitting right next to me, and he and I work closely on all sorts of incentives for people to move away from fossil fuels and toward decarbonisation. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, transport is a key target area and we will talk more about it later.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will make more progress before I give way again.
From fighting climate change across the world to backing British ideas, we need a thriving economy to pay for it all. That is why I have set out my Department’s clear mission to build a stronger, greener United Kingdom. That mission is underpinned by three priorities: to lead the world in tackling climate change; to solve the grand challenges facing our society; and, quite simply, to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. Today, as well as prioritising the pathway to net zero, we are solving the grand challenges facing our society, backing a new generation of problem solvers in science and business. From space technology to life sciences, the UK is developing satellites that measure climate change and creating ways to help people to enjoy five extra healthy years of life by 2035. From artificial intelligence to robotics, and from advanced manufacturing to green tech, the UK will seize the opportunities offered by this new industrial revolution. That will be underpinned by our commitment to increase our research and development spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
Again, we are hearing the right noises from the Government, but the action is not being followed through. The commitment to net zero trips off the tongue, but can we achieve it if we continue to fail to meet our environmental targets?
I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider what I have just said in explaining the achievements, the ambition and what we are actually doing in practice. Perhaps he just needs to listen to what I am saying.
To seize the opportunities that lie ahead, we must make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. This Government will back business to the hilt, promoting inward investment and new export markets while also stamping out the poor practices that can sometimes give businesses a bad name. Our plan is to reduce burdens on business by reviewing and reducing business rates, and by resolving the scourge of late payments. As we leave the European Union, we will protect business confidence in supply chains, securing the best possible trading arrangements with our European partners. From diversity to sustainability and beyond, we will hold businesses to the same high standards, putting in place reforms to keep the UK a world leader in audit, corporate governance and transparency.
I wanted to congratulate the Secretary of State on one thing that caught my eye in both the Queen’s Speech and last year’s Environment Bill: the biodiversity net gain mandated for planning authorities when making their decisions. That has not yet taken effect. Ealing Council has a meeting of its planning committee tonight. Will she encourage me by making a new year’s resolution of ensuring that such committees adopt the measure now so that the bulldozers do not sacrifice our nature? The future of our planet is at stake.
The hon. Lady will hear that there is a lot of support for her initiative across the Chamber. She is right that we do not want Government to be telling people what to do; we want people to draw their own conclusions and to seek to protect and preserve our incredibly valuable biodiversity, our green spaces and our precious habitats for future generations.
At the same time as making the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business, we want our employment Bill, to which we committed in the Queen’s Speech, to make sure that work is fairly rewarded. We want to protect workers’ rights and ensure fair pay, to create a world where flexible working is just called “working”, and to do more to support the crucial work that people do as carers and parents, helping people to balance work with the other things that matter in their lives.
Margaret Thatcher ended her UN speech in 1989 by saying:
“We are the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself—preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder.”
I hope that that is something on which we can all agree, whatever our party or politics. Thirty years ago, politicians could barely have imagined the technologies that would be available today. Today, we can only dream of the world of 2050. Together—as a House, as a country and as an international community—we must act. Our action can make a global difference. Instead of self-doubt, we need self-belief in our ability to build the low-carbon, high-tech United Kingdom that we all want, a stronger, greener future for people across our shores, and a sustainable future for our planet.