The speech made by Chris Grayling, the Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, in the House of Commons on 7 November 2023.
I rise for the first and last time to speak in a King’s Speech debate in this House. It is a moment of big change for us all. The fact that it is all too tempting to start talking about the Queen’s Speech is just a sign of how used we were to having the late Queen after her 70 years of incredible service to this country. It is a big year for her son in taking over as King, and in delivering his first King’s Speech. Although he has an incredibly hard act to follow, I pay tribute to him for the way in which he has taken up his responsibilities, for his first year in his position, and for what he has done today in starting the new parliamentary Session. He has clearly already shown himself to be a monarch we can be proud of.
There are a number of points in the King’s Speech that I will pick up on. First, I echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) about the importance of signing up to the CPTPP and the provisions in the King’s Speech for doing that. He is absolutely right to highlight the benefits of free trade for people around the world. It is a matter of deep distress to those of us who believe in free trade that so many countries seem to be taking a step away from it. In the end, that will not lead to a more prosperous world; it will not lead to fewer people being in poverty. If we revert to a world of tariffs, protectionism and subsidies, we will end up in a position where the world is a poorer place, not a richer place. I see our joining the CPTPP as a step in this country’s commitment towards the free trade environment that is needed around the world. It is, as my right hon. Friend says, a crucial part of the world for future economic growth. We are right to seek partnerships there, to do business there and to work closely with countries that are, after all, our friends.
On energy, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset mentioned the Drax power station and, in doing so, drew attention to a really important issue for this country. The Government are absolutely right to seek to continue to exploit oil and gas from the North sea. The Climate Change Committee itself expects us to still need significant amounts by 2050, so why on earth is it better for this country to ship oil and gas from the middle east in large tankers with higher emissions than simply producing it off the coast of Scotland, creating and protecting jobs in Scotland? It baffles me as to why the SNP seems keen to destroy jobs in Scotland, but it is.
At the same time, we see the continued shipping and burning of vast amounts of timber from North America as being somehow a renewable source of energy. In some respects, biomaterials can be and are a renewal source of energy, but I have increasing misgivings about the sheer volume of deforestation in the forests of the northern part of the world to generate the amount of energy that comes from the Drax power station. Over the next two or three years, as we move to the point where its contract for difference is to be reviewed, we have to ask, is this really the right thing to do? Are we absolutely certain that it is coming from sustainable sources and that the forests being cut down are being replanted and harvested properly? I have my questions. Before we continue to develop biomass in this country, we have to ask some hard questions about whether it is the right thing to do.
I welcome the provision on leasehold and freehold in the King’s Speech. I have seen examples in my constituency of development companies and construction companies behaving in ways that are, frankly, among the worst practices in capitalism, exploiting those who have saved to buy their own homes and have ended up just about able to afford them. These people take pride in what they have, and then a few months or years later, the developer looks to put up the cost of not having the freehold—they put up the cost of the leasehold. My view is straightforward: if someone buys a house, it should be freehold. The application of leasehold tenure to what would in the past have been freehold homes is an unacceptable practice. It should stop, and I am very pleased that it is going to stop as a result of this King’s Speech and the legislation that lies ahead, which I hope will have support on both sides of the House.
I would like to talk about a couple of things on which I want to see action in the Session ahead through secondary legislation and changes to the Government’s approach. The first is in relation to the measures that were put in place in the Environment Act 2021, 18 months ago, dealing with the issue of deforestation around the world. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on global deforestation. Deforestation is one of the great environmental challenges for our planet. We are losing forest at a rate of knots. It has a huge impact on biodiversity and on carbon emissions. It has to stop and to be reversed.
We were pioneers, through the Environment Act, in saying that we will take practical action to require companies that deal in forest risk products to do proper due diligence, to ensure that those products are not coming from areas that have been illegally deforested. That was the right thing to do. It was a pathfinding piece of legislation and a sign of this Government’s commitment on the issue of biodiversity and the environment. However, the secondary legislation that underpins the Environment Act has yet to materialise. It is complicated to do, and I know that officials are working hard to identify the right way to do it, but this has to happen before the general election. We need to have adequate measures in place on products such as palm oil and soy to ensure that we are not importing those products from areas of illegal deforestation. I ask those on the Front Bench to use all their efforts to ensure that that secondary legislation comes forward soon.
There is a flipside to the issue, which is what we do about financial services and institutions that invest in companies that are involved in illegal deforestation. We had some good debates last summer, when considering the Financial Services and Markets Bill, about the need to extend the due diligence provisions to the financial services sector. The Government made some positive noises and agreed to start a consultation process to look at how that could be done. I hope we will see tangible progress during this Session, and potentially even legislation coming forward when there is a Finance Bill off the back of the autumn statement.
These changes are needed, because the issue of illegal deforestation is not simply about the products themselves; it is about the finance that supports the companies that exploit those parts of the world. I want to see proper measures in place. The financial services sector already does due diligence on the investments it makes and the loans it provides, but I want to see it inserting into that due diligence process the knowledge that the companies it is lending to are not simply using that money to support the cutting down of rainforests.
Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
I thank my right hon. Friend—or, rather, the right hon. Member—for giving way. He is making some very important points on due diligence and the need to ensure that consumers and companies know where they are investing and the impact of that on people who live in illegally deforested areas. Does he agree that City investors and companies are crying out for this secondary legislation to be in place as well?
Absolutely, and I hope the hon. Member does see me as her friend, because she and I co-chaired the APPG on global deforestation until she, sadly, had to give up the role; I congratulate her on her recent elevation on the Opposition Front Bench. I agree with her: there is demand from investors around the world and from consumers.
This is the right thing to do. I speak as a Conservative who believes passionately in free trade and free markets, but we are also conservative with a small c, and we have always been conservatives who believe in looking after the natural environment and ensuring that we have the right balance and do not destroy the natural world. It is really important that we have in place the checks and balances to ensure that the rogue operations that sadly exist around the world cannot simply tap into financial sources that enable them to do their business.
There is one other change that I want to see happen, or at least see significant progress on, during this Session, and that is around sustainable aviation fuel. We are going to see the aviation industry change to move towards a lower-emission environment. We are already seeing it, in fact, with the arrival of new engine technology that reduces fuel use and so forth. The development of aviation fuel is crucial if we are to see the step change that the Government in this country and Governments around the world are asking for from the aviation sector. Sustainable aviation fuel is now required by law in this country to play an increasing part in the future of our aviation sector. I very much believe—and I have listened to comments made on both sides of the House—that we need to produce sustainable aviation fuel in the United Kingdom, and we need to create a regulatory environment which enables that to happen.
We had some good discussions in the latter stages of the last Session. The Government have started a process that I hope will lead to the incentives, support and structures that those emerging markets in sustainable aviation fuel will need, but we need to see further progress in this Session, so that by the time of the election we have a clear path forward to deliver in this country a product that will be essential to what is still one of our biggest and most important business sectors.
There is a lot to do. We have a year until an election, and I listened to what the Prime Minister said about what we can achieve in a year—assuming it is a year. I heard a lot in the King’s Speech that will make a difference to this country, but there is a lot that we need to change and a lot we need to get on with, and the work starts now.