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Comment: Prime Minister’s speech on policies to meet net zero

20 September 2023

Reacting to the Prime Minister’s speech this afternoon on meeting net zero, Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“The Prime Minister’s speech this afternoon, contrary to prior media speculation, reinforced his clear commitment to net zero Britain. This was very welcome, as was his reflection on how far we have come in meeting our environmental goals. It was a measured and realistic response to the current Net Zero challenge and the demands the transition will make on the British public.

“The very welcome ‘rabbit in the hat’ is the 50% increased grant for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to £7,500 for any household scrapping their fossil fuel boiler. There is also specific relaxation of the proposed timeline to replace oil-fired boilers for those households off the gas-grid by 2026, of which there are some 1.5 million, including the majority in rural areas of South Shropshire. The Government has clearly listened to concerns that, without Government support, some low carbon alternatives are simply too far out of reach for many at this point.

“As our Committee found during our work on heat pumps earlier this Parliament, successful heat pump installation often requires significant additional work to insulate homes properly and may require changes to radiators. There are simply not yet enough skilled engineers in the supply chain. The Government appears to have learned the lesson from previous home heating schemes for homeowners and landlords and I expect this straightforward grant support will enable the supply chain to develop.

“We still have the leakiest housing stock in Europe, but the cost of requiring energy efficiency measures on the 20% of hardest to insulate homes, such as those which are listed or old properties in rural areas, lacked credibility. Energy efficiency policies will now be focussed on the 80% of homes which need improving and can be achieved to meet emission reduction targets.

“Delaying the ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars is disappointing, but reflects the reality that this is where most of the major car manufacturing nations are. The take-up of electric vehicles has been led by fleet buyers, which is happening faster than predicted and likely to continue until economies of scale bring down the purchase price for individuals able to buy new cars. The industry has called for ambition and certainty. It is now absolutely imperative that this date does not slip further. The Government must now accelerate its efforts to get charging infrastructure up to speed.

“I was encouraged to learn the Chancellor and the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary will confirm their plans to make the grid ready for Net Zero Britain: the Environmental Audit Committee will be engaging actively with these policy proposals. It was also good to learn that the next Contracts for Difference auction round for Offshore Wind will be improved to reflect sustainable pricing in a global context, which shows the Government has learned from the last round and should enable projects to come forward to help meet renewables targets.

"On scrutiny, the Prime Minister is right to point to the deficiencies in how Parliament examines carbon budgets. The effective bypassing of the Commons chamber on measures which have such a significant effect on the UK economy means that we as parliamentarians do not have a stake in the crucial policy decisions we are asked to approve on the nod. So I welcome his commitment to present a full delivery plan for the Seventh Carbon Budget to Parliament for scrutiny before we are asked to approve the Government’s plans.

"My colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee and on the other Commons and Lords committees examining Government policy will have heard the Prime Minister's criticism of poorly-scrutinised policies developed in departments, with too little external engagement. Colleagues across Parliament who take scrutiny seriously will welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to opening more Government decisions on climate targets up to fair and rigorous scrutiny. We look forward to greater openness from Government on its climate plans and greater responsiveness to those Commons committees tasked with holding the Government to account."

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Image credit: UK Parliament