Debates between Lord Ravensdale and Viscount Trenchard

There have been 1 exchanges between Lord Ravensdale and Viscount Trenchard

1 Tue 7th January 2020 Queen’s Speech
Ministry of Defence
2 interactions (1,458 words)

Queen’s Speech

Debate between Lord Ravensdale and Viscount Trenchard
Tuesday 7th January 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Ministry of Defence
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her interesting and thoughtful maiden speech.

The gracious Speech confirmed that the Government’s priority is to achieve Brexit at the end of this month. Even the most ardent remainers now accept that it will happen, and that it will be a real Brexit. The strong mandate given by the voters to the Prime Minister and the manifesto on which the new House of Commons has been elected make it abundantly clear that the constant pleading by the remain lobby that the people did not know what they were voting for in 2016, and so the result of the referendum should be discounted or diminished in importance, was complete fiction.

I normally agree with the wise contributions to your Lordships’ House made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, but in his remarks on voting share in the general election, he did not include the point that 78.4% of the electorate did not vote for the Labour Party. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats, those strong proponents of proportional representation, should take note that the 100 seats they occupy in your Lordships’ House overrepresent their share of the vote by 63%.

There never was any point at all in half leaving the EU, such as would have been the case if a so-called soft Brexit had been pursued. I am delighted that we will properly leave the EU and regain our freedoms to make our own laws and regulations, which may or may not be the same as those adopted by the EU, but which will be those that we consider most appropriate for our businesses and our people, providing necessary protections to consumers and workers, while not encumbering businesses with red tape which may protect businesses in other European countries but does nothing to assist British entrepreneurs and innovators as they respond to the new opportunities open to them as Britain resumes its place as an independent country on the global stage.

The election result also permits a start to be made in rebuilding the trust and confidence formerly held by the public in our political institutions. The obstruction of the people’s decision to leave the EU by another place, aided, abetted and encouraged by your Lordships’ House, is the reason why Parliament has come to be held in such low regard by the people. I am happy that the process of recovery has already started, given the clear and decisive direction in which the Government have moved since the election, as articulated in

“the most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/19; col. 44.]

to deliver on the priorities of the British people, in the Prime Minister’s words.

I welcome the Government’s statement regarding the trade Bill. To build opportunities for businesses and maximise the future prosperity of our citizens, we need our own independent trade policy. In his uplifting introductory speech, my noble friend Lord Gardiner gave me some comfort that the Government’s sights are set a little higher than their paper on the Queen’s Speech suggests. The paper lists four principal elements of the trade Bill. They are all entirely sensible and necessary, but they are defensive and have more to do with preserving our present trading arrangements and protecting British firms against unfair practices than with setting out an exciting new trading strategy for the country after Brexit. The negotiation of our future trade relationship with the EU is of paramount importance, but it is also important to start negotiations with our other major trading partners. I was delighted to hear the Minister confirm that the Government intend to start these quickly. This will doubtless assist our negotiating position with the EU.

In addition to this, I believe it is of enormous importance for our independent trade policy and our geostrategic place in the world that we should, as soon as possible, indicate formally our intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since the withdrawal of the United States, Japan has provided much of the leadership of the CPTPP, six of whose 11 members are Commonwealth countries. The CPTPP could thus provide basic trade agreements quickly with 11 countries on the basis already negotiated in detail by the present members, while negotiations on deeper bilateral agreements proceed in tandem with Japan, Australia and others, which may take longer to finalise. The Japanese and Australian Governments have both on several occasions indicated their positive stance towards UK accession to the CPTPP. Again, I believe that an early application for accession by the UK would strengthen our position in EU trade negotiations.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as an engineer in the energy industry and as director of the cross-party group Peers for the Planet. It was most welcome to hear in the gracious Speech the Government’s specific commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. There is a vast canvas of challenges that the Government need to think about to meet that target, so I will focus on a few key issues for our future energy system.

The 2050 energy system scenario of the Committee on Climate Change has two key elements: variable renewables—for example, offshore wind—and low-carbon baseload or firm power. There is a fairly low risk with renewables in that, if we keep on with our current build rate, we will get to where we need to be by 2050. However, there are significant risks with provision of the low-carbon firm power. The Committee on Climate Change recognises that we need firm power, and lots of it, to counter the intermittent nature of renewables and ensure that we have an economically viable overall energy system. There are two options for that firm power: nuclear, or gas turbines with carbon capture and storage—we need both.

I will make three overall points. First, carbon capture and storage is absolutely central to the net-zero scenario of the Committee on Climate Change, which envisages capturing around 176 megatonnes, or million tonnes, per year of carbon dioxide by 2050. That massive number is not even the main issue; it is that our capture capacity today is precisely zero. The technology itself is well understood but there are many uncertainties on cost and systems integration—between extraction, transport and storage of CO2—and the amount of CO2 that can be captured, the capture rate of the technology on a large scale. This is why we urgently need a carbon capture and storage demonstrator project to start deployment of that technology in this decade. Failure to provide CCS could be the single biggest risk in achieving the net-zero target. Can the Minister provide more detail on the scope of the plans to provide a carbon capture and storage cluster in the UK and the timescales involved?

Secondly, on nuclear, the key issue here is pricing and affordability. Government and industry need to do much more to reduce the cost of the technology. The key routes to doing that are looking at the finance model—the regulated asset base funding model that is being investigated is one of those—repeatability, namely producing the same design of plants over and over again and getting the efficiency gains from that; and finally, technological innovation, for example modular build, which we are seeing in the proposals for small modular reactors. All those provide a route to getting to the £60 per-megawatt-hour level which we need for the technology.

I believe new nuclear is essential for zero-carbon emissions by 2050; it is the only mature option for low-carbon firm power generation, and an urgent refresh of plans is required to increase nuclear capacity in the UK. After recent pauses and cancellations, we have only a single new nuclear project under construction in the UK. Can the Minister update the House on the actions the Government will take to increase new nuclear capacity in the UK?

Thirdly, we need to think about management and governance of the energy system as a whole because having the rapid period of change, and added complexity in the system, to achieve zero by 2050 is unprecedented. There have long been calls for an independent energy system architect, whose purpose would be to look at that system as a whole and flexibly deliver the optimum system for zero by 2050. Those arguments were developed in a report of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee back in March 2015. The Government should revisit this really important idea because business as usual will not be sufficient to deliver this incredibly complex system.

Others have made the case much better than I could on why we are pursuing this, particularly in the powerful contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and my noble friend Lady Hayman. Now we need to focus on the how.