The Secretary of State was asked—
Aerospace Engineering: Pendle
Government and industry are working together in the aerospace growth partnership to implement a long-term industrial strategy that benefits companies throughout the UK. This is backed by a £2 billion investment over seven years in aerospace research, and a £250 million sharing in growth supply chain improvement programme. ELE Advanced Technologies in Pendle is one company benefiting from that programme.
The aerospace sector is vital to Pendle’s local economy, and as vice-chair of the all-party group for aerospace I have been pleased with the level of support provided to the industry by the Government over the past five years. Although overall the aerospace sector across Pendle is doing well, Rolls-Royce has cut its work force at its two Barnoldswick sites. What more can my right hon. Friend do to support Rolls-Royce to maintain and expand its operations in Pendle?
Perhaps I may preface my answer by reflecting on the fact that I think I have held this job, or its equivalent, for longer than anybody in 60 years, and I thank everybody in the House for their interest in the affairs of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over those five years. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your impartial oversight of our proceedings, but I will stop short of wishing everybody well in the forthcoming election.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) is right to say that the aerospace sector is booming, and I think his constituency contains the headquarters of the North West Aerospace Alliance. He is also right to say that despite its considerable successes, his constituency has lost 100 jobs out of the 1,000 at Rolls-Royce. We are supporting Rolls-Royce in many aspects of the industrial strategy, and in surrounding constituencies such as Burnley there is unalloyed success with Aircelle’s recent big investment supported by the regional growth fund.
As in Pendle so in Derby great concern followed the Government’s plans for aerospace engineering, following the announcement by Rolls-Royce last year that 800 skilled engineering jobs would be lost in the UK. When many of us, including the Minister, met the company to discuss forward plans in November, did the Government know that Rolls-Royce would be recruiting up to 500 skilled engineers in Bangalore, and does he share my concern for what that implies for the long-term future for skilled jobs in the UK?
I have discussed Rolls-Royce’s long-term strategy with its chief executive on several occasions. We are well aware that it is a global company, and that to maintain its strength it invests internationally, including in India. It is also investing a great deal in the UK, and we work closely with it, not just in the aerospace sector. The talent retention scheme is ensuring that the vast majority of the unfortunate individuals who lost their jobs in the restructuring will be redeployed in high value jobs in the aerospace and related industries.
The aerospace industry is important not only to Pendle but to many constituencies in the United Kingdom. With that in mind I welcome the proposal to extend an enterprise zone to cover Manston airport, for aviation-related purposes only. I hope that the Secretary of State will feel able to give every possible encouragement to reopen the airport so that we can take advantage of that.
I am pleasantly surprised that somebody from the south-east is arguing for an expansion of airports—some of us have expressed doubts about the wisdom of that, but I am well aware of the interest in Kent in that airport, and I am sure it can add to the diversity of the sector.
Rolls-Royce has received hundreds of millions of pounds from the British taxpayer for research and development, yet the company has not paid corporation tax for a considerable time. It is now offshoring jobs to low-wage economies—we have heard about India this morning. I have heard Ministers say that they want to rebalance the economy, so what steps has the Secretary of State taken to try to deter companies from offshoring high-skilled engineering jobs?
There is indeed some offshoring taking place, but there is also a great deal of onshoring, by Rolls-Royce and other engineering companies elsewhere. Indeed, engineering that used to be carried out in India is now carried out in the UK. In particular, Rolls-Royce is investing: I have been to several events and seen the new advanced blades for its engines. The research and development and the production is being done in the UK and Rolls-Royce will continue to make a major contribution to the UK economy.
Aerospace is important in Pendle and it is also important in north Wales, with the Broughton site, which has 7,000 workers, and the Filton site near Bristol. Some 70,000 jobs depend on it. Airbus is a joint European venture. What does the Secretary of State think would happen if the Tories took us out of the European Union?
I would hope that all parties continue to support the industrial strategy, which has been a considerable success, particularly in the aerospace industry, and Airbus has been one of its beneficiaries. To be frank, when I came into office I was warned by the industry that it was gradually drifting away overseas and that we would no longer be able to claim that we were the second aerospace power in the world, but with the big, long-term commitment we have made its future is secure, including that of Airbus.
We have established the British Business Bank, which is supporting more than £1.8 billion of finance to 43,000 smaller businesses. More than 26,000 start-up loans have been drawn, totalling more than £136 million. The greatbusiness.gov.uk website brings together expert advice for businesses in one place, and the new Business Growth Service provides joined-up support to firms with growth potential. Some 48,000 businesses have been helped by our UKTI support—90% were small businesses.
My constituency is next door to Pendle, funnily enough. It is very similar, but we do not have and do not want an airport. What we do have are many small businesses, from the butcher to restaurants, bars, hotels and independently owned stores that tend to employ local people and source locally whenever they can. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have to bend over backwards to ensure the vibrancy of those businesses so that they continue to be the lifeblood of our communities?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and one of the success stories of this Government has been the massive expansion of small business, with hundreds of thousands of start-ups, many of them now employing people. However, I would caution against attempts to make some distinction between big and small businesses. They are interdependent through supply chains, and the excellent announcement today from Jaguar Land Rover, with its big investment in the west midlands in the new Jaguar, is an example of its confidence in the country, but it will also provide a substantial amount of business for its suppliers, small and large.
Many small engineering companies would have liked the opportunity to apply to the £10 million fund to support women engineers, but the design of the fund meant that they could not afford to do so. Unfortunately, less than £200,000 was spent of the £10 million. In his last few days in office, will the Secretary of State look again and ensure that the rest of the money is specifically designated to support women engineers, especially women returning to work, and that small businesses can afford to apply for it without the barriers that were previously put in place?
I will certainly undertake to look at that with the Minister for Skills and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). We are aware of the issue that has arisen. The issue the hon. Lady surfaces—the shortage of women engineers—is severe, and we underperform much of Europe in that respect, with only one in 10 of our engineers being women. We are doing a lot to try to change the trend, but a substantial deficit remains.
Small businesses in rural areas are increasingly reliant on access to the internet. In the light of the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget on using satellites to improve broadband internet access in rural areas, can the Secretary of State set out what steps he is taking to safeguard the radio spectrum that is essential for delivering that and other satellite services?
Sadly, I am not responsible for telecommunications and related activities, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has heard what my hon. Friend has said. The positive point in his question that I would emphasise is that our satellite industry is one of our most successful. We have a Catapult that invests in its activities, it is expanding rapidly and there is no reason why it should not fit alongside land connections in improving broadband speed.
The Secretary of State and I have worked on manufacturing matters and other matters quite well over these five years. I have enjoyed it and we have co-operated well. Small businesses, like big businesses, depend on finance and a good banking system. Is he as worried as I am about the takeover of TSB? The bank employs a lot of people in the area I represent, and it is a very important taxpayer investment. Are we getting value for money in this takeover, from a country and a company that has a big question mark over its economy?
I had an opportunity to discuss the TSB takeover on the day it was initially announced. One of the first questions I asked was: what would be the implications for business lending? The Spanish bank conducting the takeover has expertise in this field. This is its major area of activity in Spain. I understand that TSB will be pushed in that direction, which is surely positive. There are many other outlets now opening up through challenger banks, and the Business Bank has made a major contribution to increasing diversity, as well as the supply of finance to small businesses.
There has been a record number of start-ups across the country, but Brighton is a particular growth centre. The creative industries are very much at the heart of that, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like me to congratulate him on his own contribution to that.
If women set up businesses at the same rate as men there would be 1 million extra entrepreneurs in this country, adding about £60 billion a year to our economy. What is stopping the Secretary of State putting into practice the Liberal Democrat Burt report recommendations on monitoring whether the Government are buying from women in their own supply chain to help to bridge that gap?
I can cite a couple of examples of where we have consciously and successfully sought to promote women in business. The start-up loans scheme has a very high proportion of women entrepreneurs—off the cuff, I think it is 40% or more. Yesterday we launched, with the Cranfield business school, the report on the successful efforts to get women on the boards of our top companies. The target was set and it is very, very close to being achieved. I am sure the hon. Lady is happy to work with us in continuing a very important campaign.
Apprenticeship starts in engineering and manufacturing technologies have increased by 52% since 2010. In 2014, there was a 10% increase in new students studying engineering at university, following an 11% increase in 2013.
I welcome that very positive response from the Minister. However, given that continuing shortages of engineering apprentices and graduates will cost the economy as much as £27 billion a year in lost output, undermine our competitiveness and threaten our security, can he think of better words to inspire a new generation of young men and women to become engineers than those of the railway engineer who wrote:
“I am an engineer. I serve mankind by making dreams come true.”
It is entirely fitting that my hon. Friend should conclude his parliamentary career on such a poetic note, championing a cause he has consistently championed. It relates directly to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), who is also bringing her parliamentary career to a close by championing the same cause. We have a huge amount to do, but inspiration is the key. We need to inspire young people that engineers are the people who go out and build things and make things happen in our society. We need many more of them.
13. It’s all right—it’s not a difficult one. Further to my hon. Friend’s excellent and encouraging answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff), whose departure from this House we will all regret, may I point out that a company in my constituency, a very successful business called Technetix that I went to visit some time ago, drew to my attention the fact that it was having to recruit engineers from abroad because it simply could not find enough here. The figures I asked for in a question show that in 2004 5,630 electronic and electrical engineer graduates appeared, but that in 2013-14 only 5,500 appeared. The Government are doing a great deal and the call for inspiration is worthy, but we need to deliver many more people to engineering. (908345)
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have made good progress, but from an unbelievably low base, having taken over from a Government who told people they only needed to do media studies or some such waffle to have a good career. We are picking up from a disastrous inheritance and making good progress, and with his support I know we will make further progress in the next parliamentary term.
I was at a school in my constituency on Monday where the students told me of the difficulties they had studying engineering and other STEM subjects. The school said the problem was it could not recruit the teachers. There has been a shortfall in the number of teachers recruited to STEM subjects in the last few years as well. Does the Minister agree that this is a fundamental problem and that the action taken by the Government on teacher training has not addressed it at all?
It will not surprise you, Mr Speaker, to hear that I do not agree at all. Through the outstanding Education and Training Foundation, we have invested a great deal specifically to put further education teachers into a position to teach the vital skills of English and maths. Take-up has been substantial, and as a result further education colleges can continue to teach people maths through to 18 if they have not achieved successful results. We have also set up more university technical colleges—a great deal more than the last Government. These are long-term plans to turn around the situation that the hon. Gentleman’s Government did nothing to deal with in 13 years.
4. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to ban the practice of firms being asked by large companies to make agreements to pay to become or remain approved suppliers. (908335)
The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill contains radical steps to tackle late payment. We have prohibited the practice of paying to join or remain on supplier lists in certain circumstances. We recently consulted on going further and will now require large companies to report on these practices.
I have been campaigning for four years to end the blight of late payments to small businesses, including by ending controversial “pay to stay” contracts. The small business Bill is too little too late. Labour tabled amendments in Committee to end and outlaw the controversial “pay to stay” arrangements. Why did the Government oppose them, and in the light of recent revelations, will they now drop their opposition?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s long-standing and effective campaign on late payment. The amendments did not work technically, but I am prepared to consider anything to tackle the culture of late payment. We will make 30 days the normal payment term and 60 days the maximum. That is the culture change we need, and I look forward to working with her to make it happen.
The Minister seems to be entering the realms of fantasy when he claims that the limited steps the Government have taken will put an
“end to the UK’s late payment culture once and for all.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 1357.]
According to the latest BACS figures, there were more than £46 billion of late payments last year—the highest figure on record—and that figure has continued to grow over the course of this Government. How much and by when would late payments need to fall for him to consider his steps successful in eradicating this culture once and for all?
We do need to eradicate that culture, and I have already set out the steps we are taking. However, may I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Business Secretary on this issue and many others over the past five years? We have had an incredibly business-like relationship working hard in the Business Department, and I pay tribute especially to his work on getting an industrial strategy that all parties in the House are now signed up to; to his work on women on boards; and on late payment. It has been a great pleasure, and I look forward to working with him in the future, too.
The Government have delivered the largest investment programme in the railways since Victorian times and the biggest investment in our road network since the 1970s. The national infrastructure plan sets out £460 billion of investment to 2020 and beyond. Not surprisingly, this has been strongly welcomed by business leaders as part of our long-term economic plan to put the economy back on its feet after the appalling mess we inherited.
Business leaders in Hull would like to have the rail line to Hull electrified, but that was missed out of the Government’s plans. Why is the Minister blocking Labour’s plans for an independent infrastructure commission, as recommended by Sir John Armitt, to take the politics out of the major infrastructure decisions that this country needs?
What we need is not more bureaucracy and commissions, but continued progress on infrastructure investment. Specifically, the Chancellor announced in the Budget that we are proceeding with the electrification of the Selby to Hull line. The Liverpool to Manchester line has already been electrified and the Manchester to Selby line is being done. We are investing major sums in northern infrastructure to drive the northern powerhouse—£1 billion on the region’s railways and on updating trains. This is strongly supported. John Cridland of the CBI, for example, said:
“Businesses in the north will be encouraged by ongoing support for infrastructure and innovation.”
The Construction Products Association said:
“We are pleased to see that the government recognises the value of infrastructure, and…has prioritised”
Does the Minister agree that the investment in infrastructure in my constituency will enable people to get to the new university technical college that is providing training for engineering and cyber-skills, which will lead in turn to substantial economic growth in Stroud and the surrounding area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to his doughty campaigning on this issue throughout this Parliament. It is part of £460 billion package, with £12 billion in city deals and local growth funds and £1 billion in broadband. As he says, this is alongside our investment in vocational training and apprenticeships in engineering to put our economy back on its feet.
The Minister mentioned the CBI, and Katja Hall of the CBI has said:
“The vast majority of businesses back the creation of an independent body to assess the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs”
as a means of finding
“a new way to agree upon and then consistently deliver the improvements we’ll need over the next fifty years—not just the next five.”
EEF has said that
“good infrastructure is an essential building block for the UK’s long-term competitiveness and growth”,
and has called for a permanent infrastructure body to act as a “game changer”. This is not, as the Minister said in an earlier reply, “bureaucracy”, so will he respond to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson)? In the light of overwhelming business support and to stop decisions on our country’s long-term future prosperity being kicked into the long grass, will the Minister back British companies and support Labour’s plan to set up an independent national infrastructure commission?
This is a bit rich from a party that neglected our infrastructure for 13 years and left us with gridlock Britain. Let me repeat: £460 billion-worth of investment amounts to the biggest infrastructure programme since Victorian times—and it has been welcomed. As I said, the CBI’s John Cridland said that businesses in the north would be “encouraged”. We have set up the National Infrastructure Advisory Board and we do not need another commission. What we need is to continue with the progress of investments. Let me quote Simon Walker from the Institute of Directors:
“The Chancellor was right to resist the temptation of politicised giveaways, and focus instead on long-term investment in infrastructure, science and efforts”.
We are making progress.
A graduate with a student loan of £41,000 will expect to earn during their career, net of tax and student loan repayments, £200,000 more than a similar individual with two or more A-levels. That is why more young people than ever are choosing to go to university, with the biggest jump coming from people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
No. In fact, the success of the Government’s policy reforms are reflected in the hon. Lady’s own constituency. In October 2009, 20.8% of young people in her constituency went to university, whereas this October it was 30.2%—nearly a 50% increase. What is extraordinary is that a day before the general election campaign begins, the Labour party has not worked out how to pay for its university policies. Labour’s chaos would plunge the successful policy that we have introduced into chaos—a very good reason not to have a Labour Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our higher education reforms have delivered more students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, more funding for teaching in universities than ever before and have lowered the monthly repayments by graduates, which is the key sum that mortgage lenders take into account when people are trying to get started on the housing ladder?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute, as the whole House should, to his work in achieving this transformation. This is a proud moment for him to leave the House, in a year in which more young people have been to university in this country than ever before as a result of the far-sighted policies that he championed in the House.
16. Have the Government examined the case for lifting the cap on student fee contributions, perhaps just selectively? If so, what conclusions have they reached? (908349)
We are very happy with the policy. The questions to be answered should be answered by the Labour party, because there is a £600 million gap in its ability to pay for its university policy. No wonder the vice-chancellors are concerned about the chaos into which that policy would plunge our universities.
As Chair of the Select Committee, I thank the Secretary of State and his team of Ministers, both current and past, for their unfailing willingness to appear before the Committee and be questioned on their policies. I also thank them for adopting so many of our recommendations, and hope that they will look again at those that they did not adopt.
According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, £12 million of the projected deficit from the non-repayment of student loans will be funded by the sale of the student loan book. Given the low rate of repayment of those loans and the low interest rate that they attract, what assessment has the Minister made of the incentive that may be needed to induce people to buy them?
Preparations are continuing for the sale of the loan book during the next Parliament, and it is right that they should. I acknowledge the work of the hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Select Committee, in scrutinising this and other aspects of business during the current Parliament, but he should, perhaps, reflect on the words of a prominent Labour business person—indeed, the only prominent Labour business person. John Mills, who is Labour’s biggest donor, said that the party’s university policy would destabilise British universities and disadvantage “working class children”. He also said that it would hurt Labour’s economic credibility.
Basic Maths and English Skills
A good grasp of English and maths is the vital passport into the world of work. Of course, people should ideally acquire that good grasp of English and maths not as adults, but at an earlier stage of their education. That is why we have made English and maths essential components of college study programmes, apprenticeships and traineeships.
Two weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and I met the principals of the Tees Valley further education colleges, who pressed for an end to the funding disparity between FE colleges and other parts of the education system. They were particularly concerned about English and maths, but they were also worried about further cuts in funds for school leaver and adult funding, and asked whether the FE loans programme could be extended to people over 19 who were on level 3 programmes. I do not know whether the Secretary of State plans to be in government after 7 May, but if he has any influence, what does he or the Minister think can be done to address the issues raised by our principals?
When it comes to further education funding, we are emphasising the stuff that works. Apprenticeships deliver the most value to the people who do them, much more than any other further education. English and maths are vital—[Interruption.] We are funding them. We are funding them to the tune of more than £300 million a year. That is what we are spending on the provision of English and maths as part of study programmes.
We are making an unparalleled investment in apprenticeships, which—notwithstanding the criticism from the Opposition—companies sometimes use to help existing employees to gain new skills and realise their potential. We are also making advanced learning loans available to people who want to invest in their own skills so that they can command higher salaries in the workplace.
14. Funding for non-apprenticeship adult education courses is dropping by 24% this year, and the adult further education budget has been cut by a third in the last five years. Can the Minister confirm that, by definition, apprenticeship courses serve those who are working—albeit for only part of the week—and that many of the courses that will be cut provide vital basic skills for the unemployed, and vital support and education for those who want to improve their skills when employers are not supporting them? (908346)
Unlike the previous Government—and no doubt the Government that Labour would form were they to get into office again—we follow the evidence, and the evidence is clear. We published a report in December that looked at the destination data of young people taking different kinds of further education course and apprenticeships. A level 2 apprenticeship provides an 11% increase in income three to five years later. A level 3 apprenticeship provides a 16% increase in income three to five years later. No other FE course provides more than a 1% or 2% increase in people’s income. We are investing in what works: apprenticeships and traineeships for people who are not yet ready to take on an apprenticeship or a job. That is the right investment for any Government to make.
What discussions does my hon. Friend have with his counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure sufficient numbers of young people are going through schools with a maths background so that they can eventually teach maths in further education?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the great tragedies is young people, at a very young age, making choices whose impact they do not realise and closing off routes into engineering and maths teaching. That is why we have introduced the EBacc to prioritise those subjects—sciences, English and maths—that open doors and open possibilities for all young people.
22. Does the Minister accept that if we are to improve basic maths and English, a key step is to bring forward, with some urgency given that the Government are about to go to the electorate, a number of proposals already in the Department, such as the disadvantaged learners fund and proposals to ensure our FE provision is completed—in my case at Basford Hall FE? (908355)
The hon. Gentleman has been a champion for his constituency, and not just a champion but an initiator and a creator of very good ideas and programmes. We are very keen to work with him to support disadvantaged learners in the outer Nottingham estates in the way he has outlined. We are currently looking at how we will fund that, but he has my commitment that we will be working with him to achieve his goals.
We are strong supporters of marine energy and I can confirm to the House we have today granted funding to support Wave Hub, the world’s largest wave technology incubator in Cornwall.
I understand that Tidal Lagoon Power, which is headquartered in Gloucester, will be sourcing at least half its £1 billion project in Swansea bay from UK suppliers. Will my right hon. Friend encourage UK Trade & Investment to work with me and the Gloucestershire local enterprise partnership to host a tidal energy supply chain seminar at our new growth hub at the university of Gloucester—and by the way this afternoon all Members will want to join me in congratulating it on announcing a new business school?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the university on announcing a new business school. His question also demonstrates that tidal power reaches all parts of the country, and the fact that Gloucestershire can benefit from the £1 billion investment we are working on in the Swansea bay tidal lagoon announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Budget demonstrates the value of supply chains and energy investments throughout the country.
I thank the Minister for the Government’s support for the offshore Wave Hub, which is just to the north of my constituency. That is a welcome development. May I also draw his attention to the fact that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon proposes to source its stone from my constituency, which creates some challenges as it will have an impact on one of the Government’s important marine conservation zones?
I am sure that that point will be taken into account. It is right that Wave Hub gets the support from Government that it needs. It is near Redruth, just north of my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who has worked tirelessly to ensure its future.
Ceramic Products: Origin Marking
We have no plans to introduce a requirement for origin marking for ceramic products. However, ceramics companies continue to be free to use origin marking on a voluntary basis. Industry sectors with well-deserved reputations for design and quality, such as the UK ceramics industry, may find this a helpful promotional tool.
The Government’s failure to endorse mandatory origin marking and promote product safety is a matter of unfinished business for me, but there is still time for them to change their position. Will the Minister give assurances that when her officials meet manufacturers from Stoke-on-Trent, including Steelite International, in April, the Government will take as much account of what they and people such as Steven Moore from “Antiques Roadshow” have to say as they do of retailers and importers? I know I should not do this, Mr Speaker, but I have a mug here with me. When you turn it over and find that it says “Staffordshire, England”, you should have confidence that it comes from Staffordshire and not from China.
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and the efforts she has made on this and many other issues; she has been a stalwart campaigner on this issue, standing up for the ceramics industry. I will happily give her the assurance that when officials meet representatives of the industry, they will be listening very carefully to what they say. We have commissioned a study on this recently, and of course we will welcome the outcome of the European Commission study.
I share the Minister’s preference that this should be done on a voluntary basis, but does she not agree that in industries such as ceramics and bricks China enjoys unfair competition over companies such as York Handmade Brick Company, given the cheaper energy China produces?
As in many areas, we are competing in a global marketplace and that can be challenging, given the different circumstances in different countries. Of course that is why many of the measures we have set out in the Budget and elsewhere try to support companies in this country, particularly those with high energy usage. We will continue to do that because it is important for building the stronger economy we all want to see.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and praise her championing of the ceramics industry over so many years. Does the Minister agree that this issue is incredibly important because the ceramics industry is a considerable net exporter and therefore helps our balance of payments?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the success of this industry, and I mentioned in my earlier answer the quality of the products produced; this is a good success story for the export industry, which is why it is important that the ceramics industry continues to get support and we promote the quality of the products around the world.
All employees on a zero-hours contract can already, after 26 weeks, request a move to a fixed-hours contract. That flexible working legislation measure was implemented on 30 June 2014. In the Small Business, Employment and Enterprise Bill, we will ban the unfair use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, and the employment status review is looking further at the employment rights that zero-hours workers have.
May I take the Minister forward to the morning of 8 May, when she will be in her kitchen having a moment of kitchen candour over her muesli, liberated from control by the thought police of the Tory nomenklatura, and she will be making a judgment on her Department’s legacy on the question of the most vulnerable of workers, those on low pay and on zero-hours contracts? Would that verdict not be, “Nothing achieved, much lost”?
I wholeheartedly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I am proud that we are taking forward measures in that Bill to protect workers on zero-hours contracts. I am very proud of the work we have done to enforce the national minimum wage, which of course is one of the key protections for workers on low pay. Of course we always need to keep employment law under review, and the employment status review I mentioned is a really useful piece of work that will make sure that the next Parliament can consider these issues further. In terms of modernising workplaces, shared parental leave, flexible working, and increasing the national minimum wage and enforcing it better, we have a very strong record to be proud of.
I, too, am pleased that this Government have been proactive in investigating, consulting and taking bold action to prevent the abuse of zero-hours contracts. Does the Minister agree that that is in contrast with the zero efforts on this subject of the previous Labour Government?
My hon. Friend rightly points out that it this Government who have taken action on this issue. It is right that as the employment market changes—there will, rightly, always be evolution and flexibility in the UK labour market—we need to make sure we keep the legislation and that framework under review. The work that has been done on the employment status review will play a really important role in forming that discussion in the next Parliament.
17. The Conservative party’s parroting of the slogan, “long-term economic plan” rings very hollowly —[Interruption.] Will Members listen to the views of the constituents of Newcastle? It rings very hollowly in Newcastle where many of my constituents cannot even plan for the next week, because they do not know how many hours they will be working. The exploitative use of zero-hours contracts has rocketed under this Government. Why will the Minister not sign up to Labour’s plans to end it? (908350)
As I have said, we have taken action on zero-hours contracts, and the next Parliament will have to consider whether anything further needs to be done on that issue. We must keep the matter under review. This Government have been absolutely determined to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, and I wholeheartedly agree with that.
There are issues around such contracts that employers should address. We are working with different sectors in industry to encourage them to bring forward guidance on the responsible use of zero-hours contracts. Many people who are on zero-hours contracts are perfectly happy with them. The problem is not with the contracts themselves but with the behaviour of some employers.
Since this Government were elected, nearly 2 million more people are in employment, with jobs created in every region of the country—60% outside London and the south-east. The 28 city deals and 39 local growth deals are helping drive local growth by transferring powers and resources from Whitehall to local economies.
I am grateful to the Government for investing £10 million in a growth deal to upgrade Gatwick airport station, and a further £18 million in the same growth deal to improve the highways in Crawley. Does the Minister agree that that is only possible because of the Government’s long-term economic plan, which means that we can invest in infrastructure for further growth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is notable that, during the time when £20 billion was spent on regional development agencies by the Labour party, the divisions within our economy grew, whereas, under this Government, the growth in jobs and employment right across the country is accelerating, which is good news for every part of the country.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend for all that he has done to help take forward the vision of a northern powerhouse. That will lead not just to important infrastructure developments, but to the transfer of power to local authorities and a much-needed focus on key industrial sectors in the north-west. Will he tell the House what steps he has taken to help take the life science corridor forward in north-east Cheshire?
One principle behind our reforms in devolving powers is that every part of the country is different, and it is that difference that plays to the strengths of those reforms. Throughout this Parliament, my hon. Friend has been a formidable champion of the science sector in Cheshire and across the north-west. It is doing very well and creating jobs. I thank him for his efforts during this Parliament.
Here comes a tenuous link. The strength of the EU and the euro is critical not just for the economic success of the UK, but for regional growth. However, major concerns are rightly being raised about the effect that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations will have on our national health service and public services. Will the Minister and his business team use this very last Business, Innovations and Skills questions to rule the NHS out of the TTIP negotiations, or will it be left to a Labour Business Secretary and a Labour Government, as it always is, to save our NHS?
The hon. Gentleman said it himself: this is a tenuous connection. There is no relevance in it at all. But there is relevance in the sense that, as our economy prospers and is the strongest in the EU for job creation, other countries are looking to the success of our long-term economic plan. We advocate it to the world, and when Yorkshire is creating more jobs than France, it pays close study.
Balance of Trade
In the latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, while sterling is assumed to be stronger against the euro, the balance of trade is forecast to improve. I recognise that a strengthening pound can create pressure for some exporters, but any discernible impact on the balance of trade has been more than offset by other factors, such as demand conditions in overseas markets.
The UK has a trade deficit of about £1 billion a week with the rest of the EU, equivalent to 1 million jobs lost, and the significant depreciation of the euro rate against sterling, while bringing a short-term benefit to the trade balance because of the J-curve effect, will cause serious longer-term damage to the economy. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England about this worrying matter?
I have had a lot of discussions with both of them about this issue, but since the hon. Gentleman is an expert on the subject he will know that what really matters is the real effective exchange rate. We have devalued substantially against the dollar, by more than 10%, and that must be put into the mix. One lesson we learned from the 2008 financial crisis, when we had sterling devaluation of 25%, is that that does not automatically translate into improved trade.
My Department plays and has played a key role in supporting the rebalancing of the economy through business to deliver growth while increasing skills and learning.
The Secretary of State has kindly met me several times, along with local companies from my constituency, to discuss development. In most of the cases, I have been grateful to him for a positive outcome. Jobs are good, but I would ask for his comments on the so-called drop in unemployment in Stockton where just over one third of those no longer claiming jobseeker’s allowance have found a job. Does he have any idea where his Tory colleagues have hidden the hundreds of people from Stockton who have not been that fortunate?
T3. Alstom in my constituency has announced that it will build its replacement automation research and development and manufacturing centre on the new business park in Stafford, which is a far-sighted investment both by Alstom and by the county council, which constructed the park. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that that demonstrates the importance of providing the infrastructure and incentives so that we retain manufacturing investment in the west midlands at the same time as attracting it from overseas? (908359)
I do agree with my hon. Friend and I pay tribute to him for his steadfast work in promoting manufacturing. On that subject, I can also announce to the House that we will make a £62 million investment today in ultra-low emission taxis, including support for roll-out by local authorities of charging stations. As a result, instead of being moved to China, production of the next generation London black cab is being secured for Britain in Ansty, with a £250 million investment by Geely in the London Taxi Company creating 1,000 new jobs and apprenticeships.
This is indeed the last departmental questions of this Parliament and, Mr Speaker, it has been good to see you in your place at all of them. I have enjoyed my exchanges with the Secretary of State and note that during his time no fewer than nine Conservative minders have been sent to ensure, as his former deputy, the Defence Secretary, has intimated, that he does not slip his electronic tag. In all seriousness, despite all the efforts to promote certainty for business, does he agree that the biggest uncertainty facing business in this country is his Tory Prime Minister’s decision to flirt with EU exit and that the biggest mistake for his party would be to go along with it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courteous question on the last day of this Parliament and, for once, I agree with him. It would indeed be disastrous if we were to leave the European Union. There would be a prolonged hiatus before the referendum was held and many options could follow it, all of which would be very damaging for employment in this country. I and my party will certainly not go along with that.
I know that the Secretary of State does not think that his party’s former president and current foreign affairs chief, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), has much credibility, but I think that that hon. Gentleman was right to say that an in/out referendum at the arbitrary date of 2017 would
“damage the national interest, compromise our negotiating position and be bad for the economy and jobs”.
Both the hon. Gentleman and the Business Secretary fear that their leader will once again sell out his principles, this time on the EU, and they are worried about our future membership. There are many other reasons to do so, but is not the truth that the best and only way to clear up this uncertainty for business and the country is to vote Labour in 42 days?
I have a longer memory than the hon. Gentleman; I first became involved in debates on the European Union in the mid-1970s, when I was campaigning in favour and the Labour party was against it. I am glad that it has finally seen the light, but my party has been consistent throughout.
T4. Last week Len McCluskey set out plans for illegal strikes. The Conservatives condemned it and the Leader of the Opposition said nothing—Labour is bankrolled by Unite. I just wonder whether the Secretary of State and his party condemn the threat to the rule of law or sit on the fence. (908361)
T2. Has the Secretary of State seen this week’s report by Open Europe, which indicates that unless rights at work in this country were to be completely destroyed, leaving the European Union would cause permanent damage to the British economy? Is not the real risk to businesses and workers at the next election the United Kingdom Independence party-Tory alliance that would destroy our place in the European Union? (908358)
I am beginning to recognise a theme, albeit a very welcome one. I do not wish to spoil the harmony on the Government Front Bench, having worked very well with my Conservative colleagues on restoring the economy, but we happen to disagree fundamentally on the future of Europe.
T6. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his excellent stewardship of the Department over the past five years. Greater attention must be given to Britain’s defence industry when placing orders. Price and competition are all very well, but in the defence interests of the UK, and to support the skilled jobs we have, does he agree that in a changing world we should not put at risk the skills, supply, maintenance and servicing of our defence capability? (908363)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He refers to a recent decision by the Ministry of Defence to award a contract to a British company in Germany, rather than a German company in Britain. In general our industrial strategy has been widely adopted across Government, but we probably have not gone as far in integrated defence procurement in that process.
T5. The Secretary of State will know that the north-east is the only region with a balance of trade surplus, so he will appreciate the importance of exports to the regional economy. Is not it a major cause of concern that rhetoric from Ministers pushing Britain towards an EU exit risks damaging jobs, investment and exports in the north-east? (908362)
May I take this opportunity to welcome the recent announcement that Blackpool airport has been designated a joint enterprise zone with the one at Warton? What steps is the Minister taking to encourage businesses to move to enterprise zones such as the one in my constituency in order to stimulate further regional growth?
I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend, along with colleagues, on his lobbying for that important expansion of that new enterprise zone. We are seeing across the country that enterprise zones are one of a number of policies that are attracting and driving jobs. Very large numbers of jobs are being created, reversing the pattern under the previous Government.
T7. In the time that he has been in government, East Berkshire college has lost 40% of its Government funding, and the courses that have been hit, while apprenticeships have been protected, are technician-level courses, so we will not have the nursery nurses, the lab technicians or the IT technicians that business and industry desperately need. What is he going to do about it? (908364)
What we are doing is investing more in apprenticeships than any previous Government, and apprenticeships create lab technicians and nursery nurses—[Interruption.] They do. They are very successful, and they are much more valuable than full-time college courses. An apprenticeship for a nursery nurse or a lab technician is a much better way to go for a young person than any other.
We are taking unprecedented steps to tackle late payment, including in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which we hope will become an Act today. A change in culture is needed to make 30 days payment terms the norm and 60 days the maximum. We are changing the prompt payment code to reflect that and to say, “If you don’t sign up to that and practise what you preach, you’ll get kicked off the code, so we can change this culture for good.”
T8. Over 9,000 people have phoned the RBS telephone helpline on the enterprise finance guarantee scheme. Does the Secretary of State—not the Minister—agree that whoever holds his position after the election should order an urgent investigation into the use of the enterprise finance guarantee scheme by RBS? (908365)
That process is already under way. I have met representatives of RBS to discuss it. They have acknowledged that there are failings in the way in which they operated the scheme, and they have given assurances that anyone who was a recipient of the loan and who has been disadvantaged by the way RBS handled it will receive recompense.
May I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on his very substantial record during his five years in office, and invite him particularly to welcome the agreement across all three parties on the importance of Government support not just for science and research, but for innovation and the eight great technologies?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. We worked extremely well together and I thank him for his contribution to that. One of the legacies was the creation of the catapult network. We built on the initial foundations of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. It has now become internationally recognised as an excellent way to promote innovation.
T9. Newcastle United football club and City Link share an owner, and the fans of the one and the workers of the other have suffered as a result. Indeed, the Scottish Affairs Committee recently berated him for his attitude to this House. Following the publication of its report, will the Secretary of State follow the example of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and call for steps to tackle false self-employment, which damages workers and leaves them without proper protection and support? (908366)
The hon. Lady raises very important issues. We are already looking at the issue of self-employment. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is doing so from a tax perspective, and we are also doing so in the employment status review because it is important that people have the protections they need as employees and that unscrupulous employers do not try to evade their employment responsibilities.
May I say thank you to colleagues on both sides of the House for their engagement in the debate on my portfolio issues in the past two and a half years? I never expected to become a Minister when I was elected in 2005. I have enjoyed it immensely and I hope I have made a difference in protecting consumers, improving corporate responsibility and modernising workplaces.
Amen to that, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State will know that advanced manufacturing businesses have exceeded the Government’s expectations with their high value bids for the supply chain initiative for their sector. Will he ensure that the over-programming necessary to accommodate those bids does not cause any further unwelcome delay in enabling those businesses, including one in Chippenham, to make great strides in creating jobs in this valuable sector?
The Skills Minister seems reluctant to answer questions about cuts in adult learning opportunities amounting to 35%, so there are a million fewer adults receiving such training. East Durham college in my constituency has warned that if the Government continue, adult further education will, in effect, be a thing of the past. Why are the Government undermining lifelong learning and hindering opportunities for adults to retrain and obtain qualifications that they need to meet the demands of the labour market?
I am not denying anything, but the Opposition seem incapable of recognising that, first, this Government have created more jobs than any Government in the entire European Union, so many of the adults that the hon. Gentleman is talking about are now in work and happily so, and secondly, that we have invested more money in apprenticeships, and apprenticeships are the best and most productive form of training. I note that his college’s performance on apprenticeships is woeful and is declining at a time when we are offering colleges more money every year to help adults also into apprenticeships.
Recently, Georgie Hall, my 23-month-old constituent, lost her short fight against meningitis. Her parents Matt and Paula Hall are understandably devastated. Given the impasse over the meningitis B vaccine, can my hon. Friend the life sciences Minister use his best offices to resolve the issue between GlaxoSmithKline and the Government? Will he consider looking at a new framework for drug procurement to avoid this type of impasse and future tragedies like the one that the Hall family has suffered?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on this issue, which he has raised with me on more than one occasion. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in passing on our condolences to Matt and Paula Hall for the loss of their daughter Georgie from this terrible bacterial disease.
I can confirm that I have asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation for recommendations on a national immunisation programme and will use my offices in the Department of Health as well as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to drive negotiations with the company on a fair price. It is also right to point out that we have launched an accelerated access programme for the quicker adoption of innovative medicines in the NHS, which will also help.