My contribution to the Statement on Education Recovery, 7 June

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating those schools that adapted rapidly to the virtual and hybrid world and taught extensive timetables sticking to exam syllabuses? What more can be done to spread best practice, while offering targeted support for those schools that faced special difficulties?

The Secretary of State for Education (Mr Gavin Williamson):
My right hon. Friend absolutely hit the nail on the head; the children who benefited most were those in schools that kept a clear focus on supporting children with a strong and rich knowledge-based curriculum.

That has very much been based on the reforms that have been rolled out by this Government over the last 11 years. There are sometimes siren calls to reduce the standards and quality of our curriculum and what is taught, but that most disadvantages children from the most disadvantaged areas. I reassure my right hon.

Friend that every action we take will be about reinforcing the evidence as to what actually works and how we can benefit children, including through tutoring, driving up teacher quality and ensuring that teachers have the right materials, support and training to deliver the very best for their children.

My speech during the Third Reading of the Environment Bill, 26 May 2021

I welcome cleaner air and cleaner water, and I wish the Bill well as it completes its passage. I hope that we will be nicer to nature and better to the other species we share our islands with.

I would like briefly to make a few points to the Secretary of State and the ministerial team, who have worked hard to get this far. The first point is on water. I urge them to work with the water industry and the regulators to put in more reservoir capacity. We have had many homes and new families coming into my area of Wokingham and West Berkshire, but there has been no increase in potential water supply. Nationwide, we still have a rising population, and they will need good provision of clean water.

There are two great natural advantages of having more reservoir capacity. First, when we have long periods of excessive rainfall—we seem to be having one at the moment—and there is the danger of the rivers overtopping and causing flood damage, we need more good places to park the water, and we could then recharge the extra reservoir capacity. Secondly, were we once again to have one of those long, hot summers with long dry spells, as we have had from time to time in the past, we would be able to draw down in more comfort, knowing that we had adequate reservoir capacity, without having to run the streams and rivers too low or draw excessively on the natural aquifers.

On Report, I talked about the excellent news that there will be many more trees and urged Ministers to ensure that they help to build a much bigger forestry and timber industry. We import far too much and need to replace it with home production and fewer wood miles. I also urge the Secretary of State to bring forward those great schemes to promote more food production here at home. We lost too much market share, particularly in areas such as vegetables and fruit, in our CAP days. I do not think it is morally right to be drawing so much of that food from a country such as Spain, which is parched and in great difficulties eking out its inadequate water supplies, when we have plenty of water at home and could do so much more to promote a good domestic industry, cutting the food miles and giving confidence in the environmental benefits of having the home product.

I would also like to draw Ministers’ attention to the unresolved business that they have promised to work on as we complete this piece of legislation: the possible conflict between the Office for Environmental Protection and the Climate Change Committee. I urge Ministers to recognise that they need to supervise both bodies and give them clear public guidance on their remits. The Government will need to bring forward that piece of work to explain what the relative roles of the two are and how the different sets of targets—the natural UK targets on the one hand and the climate change targets on the other—will knit together and be compatible, rather than cause tensions.

For example, we need to know what the thinking is about the pace of carbon dioxide reduction and transition and how that impacts on our natural landscape, because if we are going to accelerate the move to electric vehicles or from gas boilers or both, there will need to be massive investment. That investment includes the production of a lot of steel, glass and batteries. Mining activity somewhere is required to produce those raw materials and fashion them into something that can then be part of an electric product. We need to know whether we will be doing any of that in the UK, or whether the idea is that we should import much of it because we do not wish to husband our own natural resources for this purpose.

If we are going to import, we should properly account for it, because it is not helping the planet if we say, “Well, we’re not putting the mine here or burning the coal to smart the steel here,” but it is happening somewhere else. Indeed, it may be happening somewhere else where environmental concerns are taken much less seriously and the environmental damage of producing that product is far greater than if we had done it at home.

I hope that more work will be published on the pace and cost of transition. Again, the Bill seems to point us more in the direction of repair, maintenance, recycling and reuse, and not wanting a throwaway society but reckoning that, if we make good things, they could last for rather longer. How is that reconciled with the idea that we want a rapid transition to get rid of our existing fleet of petrol and diesel vehicles and to rip out all our gas boilers and solid fuel heating systems? Has there been proper carbon accounting on all that, and how is that reconciled with the very good aim in this Bill that we must consider the impact on our earth and the amount that we take out of our earth in order to fashion the things we may need?

There is a lot of work ahead for Ministers, who have already been very busy. As others have said, the Bill is only the first step, and it will then need to be fashioned into popular products and feasible programmes: things that business will want to collaborate with and things that people will want to do. There is an educational process involved. We also need to ensure that we know what the costs are and that they are realistic, that they are phased and that they fall fairly. I would still like to hear more from the Government on the total cost of all this work, because we need to ensure that it is realistic, that it does not get in the way of levelling up and greater prosperity, and that it reinforces our prime agenda, which is the health and welfare of the British people.

My speech during the Report Stage of the Environment Bill, 26 May 2021

There is much to welcome in the Government’s aims. Like most MPs, I look forward to cleaner water and cleaner air. It is right that we take more care of the other species that we share our islands with, and I look forward to those greener and pleasanter lands having more protection and more support. I also welcome the idea that we should plant many more trees. However, at this point in our deliberations, we should ask the Minister to give us a bit more background and information about the costs of this transformation so that we can know that it is realistic and that it will be properly shared.

When we look at the legislation itself and at the impact assessments, we see that there is very little by way of hard information about how much cost may be entailed and who should primarily bear that. There are wide-ranging powers to introduce more waste charges, for example, but the statements in the impact materials say that an impact cannot be assessed and that it will depend, in due course, on what actual charges are brought in. When we look at the very expensive rules on producer responsibility—taking more responsibility for packaging, batteries, waste, electrical equipment and end-of-life vehicles—we are told that a partial cost of the first item is about £1 billion a year, but there is no information on the full cost and there is no information on the others. There is a bit of information on the cost on housebuilders for the habitat provisions, and there is not a lot of worked-through financial information on the deposit return scheme.

I think that there are ways forward where we can make sure both that we have a better environment and that we are earning more revenue from suitable and sustainable exploitation of nature’s abundance. I hope that the Government will work hard on finding ways that enable livelihoods to be increased and improved, just as we are also doing the right things by the environment.

Let us take the case of trees, for example. I do hope that, as we plant many more trees, there will be more sustainable forestry. I always thought it quite wrong that we import so much wood from across the Atlantic to burn in the Drax power station, when surely we should be looking for sustainable sources at home. It is also quite wrong that we import so much of the timber that we need for our big house building projects, when, again, this is a good climate for growing softwood. Surely we can go about our task of finding sustainable ways. We need to cut the wood miles and to have that sustainable forestry here, as well as having the beautiful and diverse trees in our landscape in suitable places where the Government will offer their own taxpayer-based financial support.

Let us hear a little more about the livelihoods and the opportunities. Let us show how we can have both a beautiful countryside and a working countryside, so that we can cut the wood miles and the food miles. We should ensure more buy-in from business and individuals to these great aims of having a better natural environment because of the opportunities to do more at home, and have that happy conjunction of success in business, harnessing nature’s abundance and the beauty of nature’s abundance, while respecting all the other species that share our islands with us.

My Question during the debate on the BBC: Dyson Report, 25 May 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): How can someone who supports Brexit, believes in the Union and loves England be persuaded that the BBC’s view of public service broadcasting will in future be fair to their views? In future, will the BBC allow the majority on these issues more voice and less denigration?

The Minister for Media & Data (Mr John Whittingdale):
I can answer my right hon. Friend by saying that I am one of the people he has described precisely, in all three of those measures, and I, too, have occasionally been concerned at what appeared to be a lack of impartiality in the BBC on some of those issues.

That is something that has been, I think, felt by a large number of people. It is the job of the BBC—as I say, it is the first public purpose of the BBC—to deliver impartiality. I know that that is something that the leadership of the BBC which is now in place is absolutely committed to, but it will be examining ways in which that can be strengthened where necessary.

My Question during the Statement on Britain’s Railways, 20 May 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham (Con): I welcome the use of private sector capital, ideas and management skill in the new railway, and I welcome the forthcoming attack on late trains, hard seats and dirty carriages.

Will Great British Railways ensure that it is genuinely open to bids and offers for new routes, improved timetables, property developments on railway land and improved service quality? Local partnerships and private sector competitors can bring these about as long as they are not thwarted from the centre, as they often were by Network Rail.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Grant Shapps): Yes.

My Question during the Statement on Post Office Court of Appeal Judgment, 27 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Minister understand that there has to be compensation, and urgently, and this compensation has to cover not just the Horizon losses but the legal costs and the loss of business and income that people suffered from the damage to their reputation?

Many MPs, including myself, told past Ministers that this was an accounting scandal—it was not a sudden outbreak of mass criminal activity by good public servants. They deserve better, and this Government must now apologise by making sure they get proper compensation.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Mr Paul Scully): Indeed, it is important that the Post Office engages with all the appellants who have had their convictions quashed. As we are getting those answers, we will work to ensure that we can get fair compensation.

My Question during the Urgent Question on the Overseas Development Aid Budget, 26 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is the UK now stopping making overseas aid payments through the EU, given the way it has been spending money on a country such as China, which has $3.2 trillion in reserves?

Is this not an opportunity for the UK to express its own moral priorities, and secure better value for money by making more of its own direct choices and payments? Can that include being very generous in response to the current Indian crisis?

The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (Mr James Cleverly):
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that, having left the European Union, the United Kingdom can now make its own decisions. In many instances—not in all cases—the positions that we take now are similar to those that we took as members of the European Union.

He will note that we have significantly—almost completely—reduced our aid support to China; the only expenditure now is in support of human rights and open societies. As I said in response to an earlier question, we will be focused very much on how we can support our friends around the world in their times of need.

My contribution to the Finance (No. 2) Bill debate, 19 April 2021

Of course, I am not going to vote against this Budget and I wish the Government well with it, but I would like them to pause a little, think through where we are and recognise that they may need to revisit some of these decisions in the months ahead.

My worry is that they are being too tough in their tax measures and too tough on people’s incomes at a time when we need to build confidence and recovery, and they are doing so at a time when it is really impossible for their expert advisers and other economic forecasters to give them a clear steer of what the public finances will look like in two years’ time, let alone in three or four years’ time.

The Government seem to think that their experts can define a given amount of money that will be a shortfall in order to hit their longer-term Government targets, and therefore say that we need to make these tax changes for the next few years in order to fill the alleged black hole. It may be that they are trying to fill a hole that does not exist. It may be that we will have a much better recovery than the forecasters are thinking.

It may be that the economy responds much better over the next two or three years or, indeed, over the next two or three months, as the relaxations kick in.

We can see the difficulty that the official forecasters have if we look at the numbers they gave us as recently as November 2020. Then, the OBR, forecasting the budget deficit—the amount of extra borrowing—for the year 2020-21, said that it would be £394 billion, an enormous amount.

Bear in mind that it was having to forecast for only four months, as two thirds of the year had already gone. When we got the 11-month figures, up to February, recently, we discovered that they had come in at just ÂŁ278 billion and so, subject to what happened in March, it may be that the OBR was the best part of ÂŁ100 billion out on the deficit for the year in question when it tried to forecast, already knowing quite a lot of what had happened. It was, of course, massively too pessimistic. It is great news that we will have borrowed so much less than we feared, although clearly we are still borrowing far too much on an unsustainable basis, which is why we need to promote a strong recovery to get the deficit down.

I therefore say to the Government: let us show a little humility. The experts and advisers are not able to give us anything like accurate figures—I can sympathise with them, because extreme things have happened in response to the pandemic—so are we sure that we need to make these moves over the next three or four years?

There is also a case for showing a bit of humility and thinking ahead about whether we might need to show a bit more flexibility because the Government themselves have rightly said, now that we are out of the European Union and the economic world has been stood on its head, that they want to set out a new framework for guiding the economy.

I encourage them to do that, and I hope it is a framework that promotes growth and considers real issues such as the increase in the number of jobs, the rise in real incomes and the productivity growth that can be achieved.

We need to get away from the Maastricht criteria, which have governed our policy for many years and still seem to be behind the architecture of this Bill. We seem to be driven by the need to get state debt falling as a percentage of our national output by the end of the period that we are talking about today for the tax changes. State debt is now a pretty useless figure to try to target in the way that the Maastricht criteria did.

We now live in this age of monetary experimentation, where great banks such as the Bank of England, as well as the European Central Bank, have bought in very large quantities of state debt—indeed, they still are doing so. Surely, where that happens in a single sovereign country with its own central bank, owned on behalf of the taxpayers by the state, we should treat the debt that we have bought back in rather differently from the debt on which we owe money by way of interest to people outside—some our own citizens, some foreigners—who have been financing the Government.

That makes state debt a very difficult number to use to guide the economy. Of course, the future system must have some control over the build-up of actual interest charges that we have to pay to third parties, but it should concentrate much more on promoting growth.

May we therefore have just a few words from the Government, accepting that these numbers are very difficult and that the current forecasts are likely to be very wrong? No one can say exactly how wrong they are going to be, because so many things will happen over the next two or three years and nobody has been through a bounce back of the kind of pace that is possible from such a big hole in our economy, created by necessary health measures to cure the pandemic.

We need a policy that is very supportive of more jobs, of higher incomes and of encouraging investment, enterprise, saving and, above all, self-employment and more small business activity.

My worry is that the Government are being a bit mean with people and with small businesses in the name of controlling state debt at a time when we have no idea what the state debt will be in two or three years’ time, and when the state debt number is now very different because of the purchase of state debt by the state itself.

I would hope that the Government recognise that we may need to revisit all this, and I would want them to be on the side of people keeping more of the money they earn and, above all, of a much better deal for small business and the self-employed, where I think they are too tough.

My Question during the Statement on Covid-19, 19 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the big reductions, based on the vaccinations, in case and death numbers. Will he briefly update us on better air extraction, cleaning and other measures to control infection in hospitals to reassure the many patients who now need non-covid treatment?

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Mr Matt Hancock): My right hon. Friend has asked about this many times, and he is quite right to, because it is not just about cleaning.

We have learned a lot during the pandemic about the importance of good ventilation, and that is now embedded in infection prevention and control. As cases in hospitals come down, hospitals across the country are separating, as much as is possible, those who might or do have covid from people who are coming to hospital having been tested and knowing that they do not have covid.

That is incredibly important to reassure people that if they are asked to come to hospital by a clinician, it is the best place for them.

My Speech during the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, 23 March 2021

Of course I welcome the idea that we should do everything we can to promote greater science and better technology. Our country has a fine history and tradition of scientific breakthroughs and scientific excellence in our universities and our scientific societies. We also have a fine tradition in technology, with entrepreneurs developing new industrial processes and new products and making great breakthroughs that have benefited humanity widely, and of course we should do everything we can to support that. There may well also be a gap that this body can fill between all the methods we have of backing science and technology, and I wish it every success.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister pointed to the recent great success of universities, companies, medics, scientists and Government in coming together—here and elsewhere, but particularly here—on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Why did that work? Because there was a very clear, defined task. There was great excellence and expertise already in companies and university science, and the Government helped to bring that together, to pump-prime the process and then to provide very large orders, as did other Governments and health services around the world, to make it worthwhile and to defeat the virus.

Now, we hope that do not have too many of those concentrated needs, but that model worked without ARIA, so this body has to define something a bit different from that. I notice that MPs are already discussing the adequacy or inadequacy of its resources, by which they usually mean money. I do not think it is possible to have any idea of what would be a good and realistic budget for it until talented people have been appointed to run it and have set out what it is trying to do. The first thing the Government need to do, therefore, following the success of this legislation—I am sure it will pass quite easily—is to appoint really great people to lead this organisation who just have that feel, that touch and that intelligence to judge risk, to sense opportunity, to see where the niches are and to define the unique breakthroughs and areas where this body can make a serious contribution. As some have said, a scattergun approach is probably not going to work; trying to do too much across too broad a spread would require a lot of good fortune. This body will need some targeting.

ARIA then has to work out how it commercialises whatever it produces. The UK has had a century or more of plenty of breakthroughs and technical innovations, but in quite a lot of cases we did not go on to commercialise and exploit opportunities, and we allowed others around the world to adapt patents or take the underlying principles and develop their own products, making many more jobs and much more commercial success out of these things than we did. The leaders of this body therefore need to ask how they will commercialise the ideas, how big a role that will play, and at what point they will work with commercial companies that could come in and take advantage.

That leads on to the issue of security. I do not think British taxpayers want to spend more money on blue-sky research and interesting technical ideas only to see them taken away, perhaps resulting in many more products for the Chinese to export back to the United Kingdom. What we want is that integrated approach, where the ideas that the Government have helped to pay for through this body, working with universities and perhaps with companies, can go on to be commercialised and add to the stock of wealth and jobs and make a wider contribution to the human position.

I suggest that the Government link the development of this body to the work that they have started to do, and they need to do much more widely, on national resilience. I am an admirer of what President Biden has set out to do in the United States of America on supply chains. He has a very ambitious programme—a 100-day programme for targeted sectors and a one-year programme for all the sectors of the US economy. It is looking at what America can do better, at where America needs to fill in gaps in her knowledge and understanding of patent, designs and specifications, at where America needs to put in new capacity to avoid shortages or more hostile powers interrupting her production processes by withholding import, and at where the Government machine can use intelligent procurement, appropriate grants and interventions to work with the private sector to have a much better supply chain, creating more jobs and providing national resilience.

I hope that the agency will look at what we can do to ensure that we make our weapons and defence requirements, as the new policy suggests that we will do more often. It should look at how we can grow more food and make sure that we have more of our own fish so that we have fewer food miles and more national resilience in the food chain. It should look at a series of industrial areas where we have in the past been very successful to see where we can improve the technology and add to the UK capacity to produce.

My suggestion to Ministers is that the first task is to get really excellent people; the second is to work with them on defining realistic and achievable objectives; and the third is to ensure that the agency is properly resourced—£800 million might be the right amount, but if the agency comes up with really worthwhile things that look as though they will work, we will want to back it with more money. If it was not getting very far, I think a number of MPs who say that they do not mind failure would become rather more critical. This will need quite a lot of ministerial and parliamentary supervision. I wish the agency every success, and I look forward to hearing to more detail about what it is trying to do.