Debate on the Address - A Green Industrial Revolution

May I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your re-election to the Chair? It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana). Well done! There is something else about Coventry South—it was also the home to my great-grandmother, or Granny in Coventry, as we used to call her. I welcome another working-class voice to this Chamber, alongside myself—I grew up in Knowsley and Merseyside—and my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook), who made excellent maiden speeches. It is clear that they will be strong champions for improving the lives of people in their areas, proving that power is in the hands of the working class—just that it is on this side of the Chamber.

 

The UK started the industrial revolution that changed the face of the world, and since then, all major economies have been powered by coal, oil and gas. But today we stand on the precipice of change, and I believe that the UK is once again in a position to lead by example and ignite a global green industrial revolution. We are already on this path, having decarbonised faster than any other developed economy, with renewables up from just 6.1% when we took office to nearly 40% today. To put that into perspective, 75% of our electricity came from coal in 2010, but last year it was just 2%. That is a remarkable feat, and I want to pay tribute to colleagues across the House who have championed this change.

 

Last year, we committed to continue this journey with our landmark commitment to a net zero carbon economy by 2050—or sooner; we are allowed to beat our targets, and as we are Conservatives, we often do. ​Wind power has played a significant role in our success thus far, and we are now the world’s biggest producer of power from offshore wind. Last year it contributed a fifth of our electricity generation, overtaking nuclear for the first time in our history. This is progress. I fully support the Government’s commitment to increase our output to 40 GW by 2030, and I fully anticipate that this will become a reality, given that the cost of wind energy has fallen year on year through contracts for difference.

 

However, we need a diverse energy mix to ensure our long-term energy security. I am concerned by reports of the wake effect, a process whereby turbines block one another, and of blockage, where the physical wind farm slows the wind down as it approaches. This, combined with the irregularity of the wind, means that the UK needs diversity in its energy output.

 

Solar has a huge part to play, and I am proud that 99% of all existing solar panels have been installed since 2010. Locally, West Sussex County Council is leading the way with a range of projects such as the development of two solar farms in my constituency at Tangmere and Westhampnett. The latter has been built on a former landfill site and was the first such public farm to be built without any central subsidy. I hope that Government colleagues will look to sites such as these that are inappropriate for alternative development and consider replicating these examples. The council also runs a solar schools programme, and 80 schools across the county now collectively produce the same energy as the Westhampnett solar farm, saving an average of £2,000 per school on bills. Altogether, the council’s renewable programme brings in a revenue stream that exceeds £1 million a year.

 

Government and business have driven these changes that have transformed our energy market. I believe that we need to do more to develop and invest in emerging technologies, particularly at sea, and as an island nation we are well placed to lead the way. I was particularly interested in my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness’s suggestions about investment in tidal technologies that could transform his constituency. Creating a renewable and diverse energy grid is crucial as we move into the next decade, when most of our nuclear power stations are set to be retired. Beyond this, the Government are rightly tackling emissions from cars and looking to phase out the internal combustion engine from our lives by 2040. To that end, electric vehicles are set to replace them, which will increase demand on the grid.

 

Chichester District Council recently installed eight new charging sites across the district, thanks to a £58,000 grant from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles. Our council is not alone: we have made progress nationally, and there are now more charging locations than petrol stations in the UK. Despite this, there are still more than 100 local authorities with fewer than 10 public charging devices per 100,000 people. I therefore welcome the £400 million charging infrastructure investment fund, and the consultation on requiring charge points to be built into all new homes with a parking space. Getting this right is not only a necessary piece of our net zero puzzle; it will also improve air quality. Of course, we could go faster, and the Transport Secretary has announced that he will look to move the petrol and diesel phase-out date forward from 2040 to 2035. Where we can, we will improve our targets.​

 

Infrastructure is only part of the problem. More needs to be done to incentivise people to get an electric vehicle in the first place. As the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) mentioned, electric vehicles are expensive, so I ask the Government to help reduce the up-front costs associated with these cars by extending the plug-in car grant. Furthermore, I ask them to consider implementing a levy on new petrol and diesel cars that could be used to fund incentives for people going electric, so that we can make the shift happen faster.

 

Chichester District Council is doing its part. It already operates two electric vehicles for its daily enforcement patrols, and I will have further cause to speak about its work as it implements a climate emergency action plan that aims to make a 10% carbon reduction in the district year on year from now until 2025. Again, we can go faster if many more councils follow this example. I am sure that the council will also consider the steps that we can and need to take to make existing and new homes more energy efficient as we move towards zero carbon housing, which will be vital.

 

This Government have proved that we can grow our economy and tackle climate change. The real winners in the industrial revolution will be those who take the lead early on, as we are doing. We have already created 400,000 green jobs, and more will follow. The new climate economy project has forecast that bold action on climate change globally could deliver £20 trillion in economic benefits over this decade, so there is even a business case at this point. Later this year, we will welcome the world to Glasgow to talk about climate action at COP26, and I want our message to be simple: “We in the UK are taking a lead and so can you.”