30 Mick Whitley debates involving the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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I begin by declaring an interest as a proud and long-standing member of Unite the union.

I rise to speak in support of amendments 91 and 92, which stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) and others. These amendments reaffirm the principle that a trade union is a democratic organisation beholden to the will of its members, and not the other way around. That might be an alien concept to a Government who have spent the last year forcing through legislation that undermines the most basic rights of their citizens, but it is an article of faith for those of us in the labour movement.

These amendments are just two of the many brought forward by Members on the Opposition Benches, who have among them many lifetimes’ worth of experience in the trade union movement. It is a shame that that experience is so obviously lacking on the Government Benches, or else the Government might not have brought a Bill to the House that the general secretary of the TUC has rightly denounced for being

“undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.”

We must confront the uncomfortable truth that no amount of tinkering in Committee could ever hope to salvage this Bill. It is, frankly, rotten to the core and a grotesque affront to our most basic democratic principles. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) has written today, anybody who

“is concerned about individual liberty and freedom should be opposed to this attack on the fundamental right to withdraw your labour.”

Since the Business Secretary first confirmed on 10 January that he would be bringing forward this Bill, we have been subjected to a torrent of tedious lectures from those on the Government Benches about the responsibilities that key workers have towards the public. What right have a Government who have led this country into the worst recession of any G20 economy bar Russia, and who preside over the highest level of child poverty in a generation, to lecture the nurses, ambulance drivers and teachers who saw this country through its darkest days since the end of the war?

The Business Secretary has even had the temerity to tell the House:

“The British people need to know that when they have a heart attack, a stroke or a serious injury, an ambulance will turn up, and that if they need hospital care, they have access to it.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2023; Vol. 725, c. 432.]

After 12 years of Tory failures, that is not even a guarantee he can make to my constituents when there is no strike action. If he wants to know who is failing the public, he does not need to turn to the picket lines; he need only look in the mirror.

This Wednesday, teachers, civil servants and train drivers will take to the picket lines in what is expected to be the single largest day of industrial action in more than a decade. Whatever Government Members might believe, these are not radicals intent on the overthrow of the state; these are ordinary, conscientious public servants who, after a decade of real-terms pay cuts, simply cannot take it anymore.

Instead of electing to sit down and engage in good faith about the real issues that are driving public workers across the country to such desperation, this Government have instead opted to bulldoze through this House in only a week a Bill that will do lasting and irreparable harm to our democracy, without adequate scrutiny or reference to the devolved Governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh. I will be voting against the Bill in its entirety this evening. On Wednesday, I will proudly stand with striking workers exercising their democratic right to demand better in the midst of this Tory cost of living crisis.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
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I rise to speak to amendments 115, 116 and 117, which stand in my name. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is about to commence our legislative scrutiny of the Bill but, given the Government’s timetable, any amendments that the Committee recommends at the end of that scrutiny will require to be laid in the Lords. I have therefore tabled these three amendments as a way of probing the Government’s intentions in relation to the three issues I raised on Second Reading: the fact that the Bill is not really about safety levels at all; the inaccuracy of claims that the Bill reflects current practice elsewhere in Europe; and the very real risk that these proposals are in breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the European convention on human rights and international labour law.

The Government’s ECHR memorandum acknowledges that the Bill engages article 11 of the ECHR, and that is where our legal analysis should start, not with the ILO. As I said in my speech on Second Reading, it is interesting to compare the ECHR memorandum for this Bill with the ECHR memorandum for the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which I think probably has a slightly more accurate description of the law. I would love to know why the Government changed their position between the two memorandums. No doubt we will not be favoured with that information.

Article 11 protects the right to strike as an aspect of free association. It is, as Members have said, a qualified right, meaning that its protections are not absolute, but any interference with its protections must comply with the requirements set out in article 11(2). Any restrictions on the rights protected under article 11 must be in accordance with the law and must pursue one of the legitimate aims set out in article 11(2). The most recent ECHR memorandum states that minimum service regulations have the legitimate aim of

“protecting the rights and freedoms of others”

because of

“the disproportionately disruptive and harmful impact that strike action has on the public, on their lives and on the national economy”.

In contrast, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s press release for the Bill said that the new law would reduce risk to life, and Government Ministers and spokespersons have made much of that as a justification for the Bill—the Minister was at it again today. The ECHR memorandum, however, does not list public safety or the protection of health as one of the legitimate aims of the Bill.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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Less than 48 hours after we stood in this House to defend the right to strike, my hon. Friends and I find ourselves once more having to stand up to protect our constituents’ most basic rights. The right to holiday pay, working time regulations, data protection rights, and countless vital environmental and consumer protections have all been carried over from European law. These were not given to us as an act of benevolence by Brussels; they were hard fought for by trade unionists and activists working across Europe, and now they are all at risk as a result of the proposals that the Government have put to the House today.

In 2016, my constituents voted narrowly to leave the EU. They had many reasons for voting as they did, and I have always argued that their will should be respected, but not a single one of them voted for the kind of chaos that Ministers are preparing to let loose today. This is a colossal undertaking, far larger than the Minister seems to realise. The Government have failed to provide an exhaustive list of all the retained law that they are preparing to sweep from the statute books, but experts are warning that nearly 4,000 pieces of legislation could be affected. In order to make this act of legislative vandalism possible, the Secretary of State is proposing to give himself unprecedented powers to repeal and rewrite laws and regulations governing almost every aspect of our lives, with almost no scrutiny and with no guarantees as to what will replace them.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
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Industry bodies are currently concerned about the divergence of regulation, which is a divergence over time, because the UK is not keeping up. Will the Bill not make the exporting situation and the economic situation in the UK a lot worse?

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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The hon. Member has made a good point. There is no doubt that this will cause an absolute divergence.

It is ironic that a party that has so often argued that power should reside in this House and not in Brussels, or even in the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland and the Welsh Senedd, is now attempting to cut MPs out of the legislative process entirely. The Bill represents a power grab on the part of the Executive of a kind almost unheard of in a parliamentary democracy. That is why I am so grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for tabling amendment 36. It guarantees Members of this House their right to oversee what will undoubtedly be an extraordinarily complex and lengthy process, and it reaffirms a principle that is so fundamental to this country’s constitution: that laws should be made in this House in the full view of the public, and not cooked up by Ministers using obscure parliamentary procedure.

I have listened closely to the arguments advanced by Conservative Members, and I have yet to hear a single convincing case for why the Government should proceed with this Bill. For many of my constituents, every day is a struggle. They desperately need to see action to boost wages, tackle the scourge of fuel poverty, and support the NHS through the worst crisis in its long history. Instead, the Government are deciding to waste precious time and resources on this needless, reckless, and utterly ill-considered shake-up of the law. On this, as on so much else, this Government have their priorities all wrong.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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I join many of my hon. Friends in declaring an interest in the register. I am proud to be a member of Unite the union and to have spent more than 54 years of my life in the labour movement, fighting for workers on the shop floor as a steward and convenor, and across the north-west of England as a Unite regional secretary.

The Business Secretary sought to assure hon. Members that the Government will “always defend” workers’

“ability to withdraw their labour”.—[Official Report, 10 January 2023; Vol. 725, c. 432.]

I can only conclude that, in his rush to steamroll the Bill through the Commons, he has neglected to read it, because it sets out to do the direct opposite—to deny working people their democratic right to engage in lawful and legitimate strike action.

Last week, I warned that the Government are attempting to achieve through legislation what they have been unable to secure in negotiations with the trade unions, but the Business Secretary is gravely mistaken if he believes that the Bill will put an end to the wave of industrial action that we are now witnessing. It is not a recipe for harmonious workplace relations, but the exact opposite. Indeed, this draconian response to the same key workers who Ministers applauded through the pandemic will only strengthen the strikers’ resolve while forcing unions to find more creative and disruptive ways to make their voices heard.

The Business Secretary must also understand that the labour movement is prepared to fight these proposals all the way through this House and in the other place, through the courts, and through workplaces all over the country. He believes that he can bully working people into submission; we will prove him wrong. Soon enough, the Government will find themselves in court having to explain how the Bill can be reconciled with the UK’s obligations under the European convention on human rights, not to mention convention 87 of the International Labour Organisation.

The legal minefield awaiting Ministers in the court of law is nothing compared with the reckoning that awaits them in the court of public opinion. The British public do not support this Bill. When they see the architects of austerity condemning frontline workers for striking for fair pay, they know whose side they are on. They recognise that the issues now driving ambulance drivers, nurses and firefighters to the picket line—from low pay to unsustainable workloads—are the same issues that they face in their own working lives, and they understand that strikes are not to blame for our broken rail network and overwhelmed hospitals. These strikes are not the cause but rather the symptom of a crumbling public sector that has been hollowed to its core by 12 long years of Tory cuts.

Industrial Action

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Tuesday 10th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Well, I never expected that contribution from the SNP Benches. I should just point out to the hon. Member that I would never knowingly remove the former Prime Minister, whom I served enthusiastically, from anything I put out. He makes a point about Scottish independence, somehow shoehorned into a statement about minimum safety levels, but his constituents will be among the first to benefit when there are national strikes and we are able to run a minimum safe level of service, for example, between ambulances and the hospitals.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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The measures outlined today represent a profound attack on the right of key workers with whom the Government are still in active negotiation. The Government’s strategy is clear: when they cannot get what they want through negotiation and compromise, they simply legislate to get their own way. However, does the Secretary of State accept that these proposals risk breaching human rights legislation and potentially even modern day slavery law? Will he concede that the public interest would be better served by addressing the legitimate grievances of the nurses, firefighters, teachers and rail workers who are now in dispute, rather than by curbing their democratic right to take industrial action?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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How many times—I am going to check the Hansard record afterwards—do I need to explain that the ILO says itself that it is perfectly proper to have minimum safety levels in place? Many of our European neighbours already have that in place. Many other countries—Australia, Canada, parts of America, South Africa and elsewhere—actually ban strikes in blue-light services. We ban them ourselves for the police, but I am not even proposing going that far. All I am saying is, “Please tell us if you’re going to withdraw your labour, and let’s agree a minimum safety level.” I do not think there is anything unreasonable about that whatsoever, and I have to say that I am shocked that the Labour party does.

Post Office: GLO Compensation Scheme

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Wednesday 7th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I pay tribute to and thank my hon. Friend for what he did as Minister responsible in this area to help to bring forward the statement I was able to make today. On his point about communication, that is absolutely our intention, both through myself and through the small business Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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I too welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. However, the postmaster scandal has exposed the serious dangers inherent in using intrusive surveillance technology to monitor the activities of employees. A growing number of workplaces are adopting surveillance and artificial intelligence-assisted technology, and some employers are even reported to be delegating decisions on recruitment, promotions and even sackings to algorithms. The TUC has warned that worker surveillance is at risk of “spiralling out of control” without greater transparency and stronger regulation to protect workers. Will the Secretary of State now act to make it a statutory duty for employers to consult trade unions before introducing AI and automated decision-making systems in the workplace? Will he also ensure that every worker has the right to a human review of high-risk decisions made by technology?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We have a lot of new technologies coming along, including things such as AI and generative AI. If the Horizon Post Office scandal demonstrates anything, it is that we have to be very careful about how we implement technology. I love technology. It gives us a great opportunity for productivity, but if we get to a point where it is about, “Computer says no” or, “Computer says yes” and that is what we believe without testing the input to those machines and the way they have been programmed—this will become much more challenging with things such as AI in the future—we will have problems and we will end up with more of these sorts of scandals. He raises an interesting specific point about how that might be addressed. I would be very interested to hear more from him about it, and perhaps we will organise a meeting, either with myself or with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton.

Britain’s Industrial Future

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Tuesday 15th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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As a former automotive worker representing a constituency with a rich industrial heritage, I have taken great interest in the wide range of contributions that have been made today. In the same week that the COP27 talks conclude in Egypt, it is absolutely right that so much emphasis has been placed on the importance of investing in a just transition towards a greener, fairer society.

I have spoken many times in the Chamber about the importance of investing in a green industrial revolution, as proposed in my party’s last election manifesto. As time is short, I want to speak principally about the important role that a robust industrial strategy has to play in securing the future of British shipbuilding—an industry that is not only essential in promoting our economic prosperity, but in guaranteeing our national security.

On a recent visit to Liverpool, the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), described Britain as possessing an

“extraordinary genius when it comes to manufacturing.”

He is absolutely right. Indeed, from his podium, he needed only to cast his gaze across the Mersey to see that genius on full display. The historic Cammell Laird shipyard in my Birkenhead constituency commands an industry-wide reputation for being at the forefront of technological innovation in the sector. From its slipways have sailed some of the most technically sophisticated vessels afloat, including the state-of-the-art RRS Sir David Attenborough.

The yard continues to make an enormous contribution to the local economy. In the past five years alone, it has spent £400 million in the wider supply chain, including £140 million in the local community, benefiting more than 300 local businesses. There is a reason why Cammell Laird was chosen as the site from which to launch the refreshed national shipbuilding strategy earlier this year.

In that strategy, the Defence Secretary promised to lead a “renaissance in British shipbuilding”. Eight months later, however, he finds his resolve being tested by the competition for the construction of the Royal Navy’s fleet solid support ships. When I last raised concerns that work on those vessels might be offshored, the Secretary of State had the temerity to accuse me of spouting “claptrap” and “playing to the crowd”, but in the past few weeks, it has been widely reported that he intends to do just that. Indeed, figures from across the shipbuilding industry are convinced that Ministers are poised to award the £1.6 billion contract to the Team Resolute consortium in just a few weeks’ time, despite the warning that a Team Resolute victory could lead to between 60% to 80% of the work on the FSS ships taking place abroad.

Things do not have to be that way. Since my election to the House, I have consistently argued that the contract must be awarded to Team UK—the only consortium in the bidding process promising to build and design the ship in its entirety in the UK. I have secured Westminster Hall and Adjournment debates on the issue and have written countless letters to the Ministry of Defence, most recently with the support of Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and colleagues from across Merseyside. That is not only because of the obvious benefits that that would have for my constituency through the involvement of Cammell Laird in the Team UK bid, but because of the contract’s potential to herald a major leap forward for the shipbuilding industry nationwide. If it is successful, Team UK has pledged to invest £90 million in British shipyards and a further £54 million in apprenticeships and training, including at Cammell Laird’s marine engineering college. A victory for Team UK would directly or indirectly support 6,000 jobs across the country, as well as returning £650 million of the total spend to the public purse through direct and indirect taxation.

The choice facing this Government is simple. My party has committed to strengthening our nation’s security, economy and sovereignty by building in Britain by default. Will the Government now do the same?

Shale Gas Extraction

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Thursday 22nd September 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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This is an alternative replacement source for gas that we are going to use anyway. It is not increasing our demand for gas, and the hon. Gentleman misses the ABC of economics.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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Yesterday, the Business Secretary confirmed that his Department will review the level of seismic activity that is permitted to take place at new fracking installations. Meanwhile, the Government’s energy security strategy rules out lifting the draconian planning restrictions that were imposed on onshore wind by the Cameron Government. Onshore wind is one of the cheapest, most popular and fastest to roll out forms of energy production available. Meanwhile, fracking, as the Chancellor himself has said, is hugely costly, will do little to reduce domestic energy costs, and risks inflicting immense damage on local communities and our precious natural environment. Will the Secretary of State concede that the Government have got their priorities wrong?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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The thing we are lacking at the moment, most acutely, is affordable gas. Gas is the fuel that provides electricity at the margins, so when the wind is not blowing and demand is high, it is gas that provides the marginal unit of electricity. Gas is therefore fundamentally important to our energy security.

Energy Update

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Monday 5th September 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I have already said that I think we will be hearing very soon from the new Prime Minister and her team, but the hon. Gentleman could say to Phil the landlord that this Government has had an excellent track record, when it comes to the pandemic, of providing support for businesses. I think that has been universally acknowledged as being an extremely strong element of support—£40 billion overall for businesses over the pandemic—and, if I were the hon. Gentleman, I would say to Phil, “Judge the Government on their actions.” There will be more to come, but I ask him to report to Phil the confidence that he should have in the Government’s excellent record of supporting businesses through the pandemic.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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The incoming Prime Minister has promised to deliver a plan to address the energy price crisis and is now thought to be considering freezing energy bills. In my Birkenhead constituency, however, people are already struggling to pay their bills, with many fearing that they will be plunged into destitution this winter. Does the Minister agree that urgent action is needed to cut energy costs now and that no option should be off the table in tackling this crisis, including renationalisation, which has allowed the French Government to cap rises at 4% while bills in the UK have risen by 54% already this year?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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The French analogy is a bit of a misnomer, and the hon. Gentleman and I probably disagree on it. I think he is celebrating the nationalisation of the French energy industry, but I am not sure that is a good answer either for this country or for others. He says that further action is needed, and that is what I have pledged at this Dispatch Box. I ask him to look at the amount of money—£37 billion—that this Government have already put in to assist consumers with energy bills; I think it compares favourably with other European countries, up until the previous rise in prices.

Employment Agencies and Trade Unions

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Monday 11th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
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I would like to put on record that I am proud member of Unite the union and the GMB. I start by paying tribute to all those in Liverpool, West Derby and indeed across the country who are facing real-terms cuts to their pay, attacks on their conditions and security of work, attacks on their pensions, redundancy and attacks on health and safety in the workplace, and are having to take industrial action as their absolute last resort. I stand in absolute solidarity with them.

While the workers worry about their families and their families worry about their futures, as they are forced to leave the industry they have dedicated their whole lives to and are forced into poverty and using food banks, we have the disgraceful spectacle of a morally bankrupt Government using this Parliament to attack fundamental workers’ rights—and this is in the middle of a cost of living crisis, when workers are fighting against real-terms cuts to a wage so that they can actually put a meal on the table.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. Does he not think that to be a working person in Britain today, to have lived through a decade of stagnating wages, to have seen their pay collapse in real terms while prices soar and to know their own Government refuse to lift a finger forces people on low pay to take strike action to try to force—

Energy Security Strategy

Mick Whitley Excerpts
Tuesday 5th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

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Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (in the Chair)
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I have great pleasure in inviting Mick Whitley to move the motion.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the British energy security strategy.

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I am grateful to Members for participating in this important debate. The issue of energy security has never been so important. Putin’s onslaught on the Ukrainian people, the obscene profiteering of the oil and energy giants and the petrol retailers’ opportunist price hikes have led to soaring energy bills, with Ofgem warning that up to 12 million households could be plunged into fuel poverty this year. Too many of my constituents are grappling with the terrible dilemma of whether to heat their homes or put a warm meal on the table. Meanwhile, Putin’s efforts to weaponise Russian gas and oil have forced Europe to reckon with the challenge of charting a course towards energy independence. All the while, the window for avoiding climate catastrophe is rapidly closing, with the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating clearly that we must decarbonise at a speed previously thought to be unimaginable.

The forthcoming energy security Bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever to be brought before Parliament, but the strategy outlined by the Government fails to come near the task of tackling the scale of the crisis we face. The energy security strategy offered the Government the opportunity to harness the potential of our wind, tide and sun and deliver a greener and more independent energy system. However, while the Government have gone beyond their manifesto commitment and even the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee with the target of delivering 50 GW of offshore wind power by 2030, that scale of ambition is not matched for other renewables. The Government’s refusal to support new onshore wind developments is particularly disappointing, given the massive public support for new wind farms.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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What back-up would we need if we became even more dependent on wind? There are days when the wind does not blow and then we get no wind power.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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I will try to cover that later in my speech.

Onshore wind can meet the growing demand for electricity as our economy decarbonises, but also, importantly, it could help us to transform the economic fortune of left-behind communities, with the potential to boost the UK economy by more than £45 billion and create 57,000 new jobs. By accelerating the development of the 649 individual solar and wind farms that have already been granted planning permission, we can eradicate the need for Russian gas imports entirely. Putin’s ransom demands can be safely ignored.

There are many of us who had hoped that the Prime Minister might undo the draconian planning restrictions for onshore wind, introduced by the Cameron Government, that have made it virtually impossible to build new wind farms in all but a handful of local authorities. In 2020, the Prime Minister reversed his predecessor’s decision to exclude onshore wind from the contracts for difference scheme. Our hopes for a repeat performance were bolstered in the weeks running up to the publication of the energy security strategy, which appeared to commit the Government to tripling onshore wind capacity by 2035. That would have been a bold, progressive policy and a sign of a Government who understand both the needs of our country and the public mood. However, the plans were strangled at birth by Tory Back Benchers and their allies in the Cabinet, some of whom have happily taken small fortunes from fossil fuel giants and so-called climate sceptics. Now, the strategy explicitly rules out the planning reforms that are essential to unlocking the promise of onshore wind.

It is not just onshore wind that is being ignored by the Government; the UK has half of all Europe’s tidal energy capacity and many experts agree that no country anywhere in the world is better placed to exploit the remarkable power of the tide.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Given that we have the amazing River Mersey separating our two constituencies, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to operate at speed to support the Mersey tidal power project?

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Mersey tidal project alone has the potential to power more than 1 million homes and produce almost as much electricity as Hinkley Point C at a fraction of the cost, yet around 14 GW of tidal capacity has been cancelled, lies dormant or is languishing in the early stages of development. The strategy makes no commitment to supporting tidal power—an omission that has rightly been described by the British Hydropower Association as “incomprehensible”.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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Is it not absurd that a lot of tidal power projects are rejected on the basis of cost, yet nuclear is the most expensive way of producing energy?

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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I thank the hon. Lady for that point. The Minister will point towards the considerable up-front costs of tidal power as a barrier to progress, but such a view ignores the fact that all renewable technologies are expensive in their infancy, as well as the fact that some of these installations could have lifespans of more than a century.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
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The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on getting this debate organised. My constituency of Weston-super-Mare fronts on to the Bristol channel, which is the largest source of potential tidal power. He is right, of course, about the up-front costs being significant and the lifetime costs being lower. However, even factoring that in, the total lifetime levelised costs of tidal power are, from all the figures I have seen, dramatically higher than anything else out there. Has the hon. Gentleman seen figures that I have not?

--- Later in debate ---
Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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I have only the information that we have received, and it has all been fact-checked. Quibbles about the costs of tidal power look frankly laughable when we consider the strategy’s proposals for new nuclear capacity. The Prime Minister’s refusal to unleash the full force of the renewable revolution has left him with no choice other than to bet big on nuclear power, with a target of more than tripling our current capacity by 2050. That is perhaps the most radical segment of the strategy, requiring as many as eight new facilities to be given approval in as many years and calling for the roll-out of new nuclear—including small modular reactors that are as yet commercially untested—at an unprecedented rate.

I want to be clear: I have never been opposed to nuclear power. It has a vital role to play in meeting new electricity demand in the coming decades, and it is right that we begin to undo decades of under-investment and invest again in jobs and skills in the nuclear industry. However, we must question the viability of the plans. The Government are calling for the roll-out of new nuclear at a speed and scale never before seen in this country, and the risk of falling short, without having adequately invested in alternative forms of energy, is enormous.

Even more dangerous to our future are the strategy’s proposals for the future of North sea gas and oil. For the UK, the question of how we end our reliance on Russian gas and oil is critical; however, for the millions of Ukrainians whose homeland is being devastated by a Russian war machine fed largely by energy exports to the west, it is truly a matter of life and death. That is why I fully support the Government’s commitment to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

However, we must be careful that in standing up to Putin’s aggression we do not end up dealing a devastating blow to our efforts to tackle the threat of climate change. It is quite frankly absurd that instead of using the crisis to begin to end our fossil fuel addiction once and for all, the energy security strategy instead looks to authorise the North Sea Transition Authority to begin a new round of licensing this autumn. It will take an average of 28 years for these installations to begin production, meaning that they will do nothing to improve our energy security or reduce prices in the short term, while locking us into new fuel consumption that the UN Secretary-General has correctly described as “moral and economic madness”.

I warn the Minister: future generations will not forgive this Government for failing to lay the foundations for a fossil-free future. They will not look kindly on Conservative Governments’ abysmal record on improving energy efficiency, from the Cameron Government’s decision to cut the “green crap”, which sent the number of loft and cavity wall insulations plummeting by 92% and 74%, to the collapse of the green homes grant scheme, which ended up costing precious jobs in my region of the north-west.

Our country has one of the oldest and least energy-efficient housing stocks in Europe, and that is costing millions of people dearly every month when they get their energy bills. The energy strategy is totally devoid of any credible solutions to make mass insulation a reality. I urge the Minister, in the national interest, to reach out to the shadow Secretary of State for climate change and net zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), and get to work to implement his proposals to insulate 19 million homes over the next decade.

Another issue that the energy security strategy ignores is the enormous potential for community energy to contribute to a more secure and resilient energy supply in the UK. Had the Government backed community energy schemes back in 2014, we could now be producing up to 3 GW in community energy. Instead, there has been almost no growth over the past eight years. That is the consequence of the Government’s fundamental failure to reform energy markets and licensing rules, which forced community energy schemes to assume around £1 million in up-front costs if they wanted to build renewable generation infrastructure.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
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I agree with some of what the hon. Gentleman says and disagree with other points. I represent a largely rural constituency in Suffolk where many homes are reliant on heating oil. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that more needs to be done to support those homes to transition to a different type of energy, with more incentives in the system to do that?

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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I agree. We need to look into hydrogen as well as oil for people living in rural areas of the country. It is a problem, but one that we can overcome.

There can be no more secure a form of energy than that owned and produced by local communities and sold directly to local residents. With the energy security strategy soon to come before Parliament, I urge the Minister to take on the proposals of last year’s Local Electricity Bill and to empower community energy schemes to sell their power to local consumers.

I want to mention something that I know is anathema to the Minister and his colleagues, but which is essential to deliver the fundamental changes to our energy system that are so desperately needed. We need to recognise that the sector should be a service working for the public good. It should be taken back into public ownership. The handover of gas and electricity in the 1980s to Sid the shareholder and his mates down the street was always a cruel deception. The energy companies were bought and run by corporate giants. They were privatised to provide profits for the big stock market players, and poor Sid was bought out before he could turn a penny. It resulted not in a shareholders’ democracy but a corporate plutocracy.

At the very beginning of the current crisis, the chaotic system of private ownership was a serious blow to our energy security. Not only has it meant that ordinary people are victims of soaring energy prices in a way unseen anywhere else in Europe, but it left the whole energy market in the hands of private monopolies with little concern for the interests of our country or its people. It has tied the hands of successive Governments when developing the responses to the climate crisis that we desperately and urgently need.

By taking energy back into public hands, we can plough profits into driving the decarbonisation of our energy grid and funding a state-owned renewables company to pioneer technological innovation in the sector. We can ensure that the British people get to decide what happens to resources that should belong to us all. We can ensure that the pace of the green transition is dictated by the demands of the crisis we face and not by the whims of private shareholders.

I am looking forward to what I hope will be a lively and wide-ranging debate. Let me reiterate that the decisions that Ministers make in the coming months will not only have implications for whether we can keep our country running during the approaching winter and whether we can defeat Putin’s use of gas as a ransom demand in his war against the Ukrainian people; they will determine the existential question of whether we leave future generations a planet ravaged by climate and ecological breakdown, or one that is greener and more secure than ever before.

--- Later in debate ---
Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
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I am grateful to all Members for their powerful contributions, including the Minister, even though he likes to have a little pop now and again—we take that with a pinch of salt.

I will take the Minister up on what he said about major tidal projects, and I will write to him about them. I thank him for taking the time to participate in the debate, but I warn him once again that he must not let the Government falter in their ambition to deliver a greener and more secure energy system that serves the interest of many, not just the privileged few.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the British energy security strategy.