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Business, Innovation and Skills

Volume 599: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

EU Membership: Business

The UK was the fastest-growing major advanced economy in 2014. The OECD forecasts that that is to continue in 2015. This Government’s ambition is for Britain to be the most prosperous major nation in the world by the 2030s, and free trade with the rest of Europe has a very important role to play in that.

I welcome those words. The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, was in Japan only last week, building on our strong cultural, economic and social ties with that country, which have developed over a long time, and promoting our exports, which increased by 27% in Wales last year, building on the work of established companies such as Toyota, Sony and Sharp. Those companies view Wales and the UK’s membership of the European Union as key to the trading relationship and the thousands of jobs it underpins. Does the Minister agree with them?

I respect the hon. Gentleman, but given the utter shambles of his party’s EU policy I am surprised that he wants to ask that question. It is clear that free trade is hugely important to the prosperity of our nation, and that means working with our EU partners on more free trade agreements. That is at the heart of our renegotiation, because we want more free trade with an EU that is outward looking, not just inward looking.

First, may I congratulate the new Leader of the Opposition on his shift in policy in making Labour more Eurosceptic?

Is it not the truth that the European Union holds us back on free trade? Does our current account deficit of some £50 billion not prove that we would be better off out of the EU, with more free trade, more jobs and more business?

My hon. Friend highlights an important issue. [Hon. Members: “Shambles!”] Labour Members are talking about their EU policy, but my hon. Friend wants to hear my answer. We want more free trade, which means that, at this point, we have to work with the EU. For example, if the free trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and the US—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—goes through as planned, it will add £10 billion a year to GDP, which is worth £400 for every hard-working family in Britain.

I utterly reject the idea that TTIP will be beneficial, but that is another question. The head of Vauxhall has said today that he is fairly relaxed about whether Britain remains a member of the European Union. We still import twice as many cars as we export, so there is plenty of scope for Britain to expand its manufacturing sector.

Under this Government, the manufacturing sector in Britain has been growing strongly, thanks to our policies to reduce the deficit and bring back economic confidence. As I have said, working with our EU partners is hugely important to increasing trade, particularly exports, and for sectors such as the automotive industry. They are doing very well, but they could do better if we keep working with our partners.

Given that so many of our firms are in supply chains that benefit from the single market, does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely necessary for the Prime Minister to make sure that we reform that single market so that we can stay in the European Union and continue to thrive as a nation?

We are focused on delivering a successful renegotiation, and once that is done we will let the British people make the decision in the referendum. Having a better single market is at the heart of that renegotiation: it is about having more competition, less red tape and more free trade.

Firms such as Nestlé and automotive companies such as Hyundai and Ford have indicated that a Brit exit could result in their scaling back. The UK automotive industry employs more than 700,000 people and accounts for 3% of GDP, according to KPMG. Does the Secretary of State really believe that it is worth risking foreign investment in the UK to solve an ideological battle within the Tory party?

The hon. Lady will know that the debate about the EU has been going on for many years and the right thing to do is to renegotiate. In order for that renegotiation to be successful, it is right to have a referendum. That is exactly what this Government are doing, and then the British people will decide. It is also clear that this Government have many policies that help industries such as the automotive industry to succeed, such as our investment in skills.

Apprenticeships

The coalition Government have delivered over 2.3 million apprenticeship starts since May 2010, and this Government will support 3 million new apprenticeship starts over this Parliament. We are developing a comprehensive plan for growth, including more work with large employers, more help for small businesses and a new funding system supported by an employer levy.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Support for further education colleges, including South Devon college in Torbay, will be vital to delivering more higher level apprenticeships and, in particular, degree-level apprenticeships, which provide the highest level of training. What plans does he have to support FE colleges, including South Devon college, in delivering that type of training for employers?

I know that my hon. Friend is very passionate about this issue. I am happy to congratulate South Devon college on its plans. Degree apprenticeships are a fantastic route to higher level training. I assure my hon. Friend that my Department is working hard with colleges, universities and employers to support what is an increasingly popular route.

I am afraid that there is an issue not just with quantity, but with quality. With further education in a state that is getting close to desperate, too few apprenticeships are of a high enough quality. I visited Mech-Tool in my constituency, where apprenticeships are four years long and people get good jobs afterwards. What will the Secretary of State do to make sure that we improve quality for the rest of our apprentices?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. No one wants an increase just in quantity; we at the same time want to see quality improve. I hope that the hon. Lady will, for example, support the Enterprise Bill, when it is introduced in the other place on Thursday, which will for the first time protect the term “apprenticeship”.

The agricultural sector in this country is small, but important. One of the things that is holding it back is a lack of skills on the technical side of agriculture. Wiltshire college in Lacock is particularly concerned about that. What can my right hon. Friend do to assist in building up technical skills in agriculture in this country, and in particular to increase the number of apprenticeships in agriculture?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That issue has come up a number of times in the agriculture sector, and there is more work to be done. My hon. Friend the Minister for Skills is working on seasonal apprenticeships, which will help to make a change.

Britain has a serious and growing skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths, with businesses facing what they have called a “skills emergency”. Alarming new figures show that of more than 250,000 apprenticeship starts last year, only 140 were in science and maths, and fewer than a fifth of apprenticeships this year are in engineering. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how he hopes to close the skills gap when there are so few apprenticeship opportunities in those subjects?

May I again welcome the hon. Lady to her place and to her new position? I agree with her that there is a skills shortage. When we talk to employers across the country, that is one of the first issues they bring up. That is why the Government have brought significant investment and focus to bear on the issue. For example, we launched our higher apprenticeships earlier this year and I would like to see those increase; as I have said, we are currently seeing record growth. We are also setting up a network of national colleges: there will be seven national colleges, and I hope that they will all be operational by September 2017.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his second welcome in as many days. I hope that there are some things we can agree on, even though we started off on very disagreeable terms with the Trade Union Bill yesterday.

There are serious concerns that in the rush to meet the Government’s artificial, politically driven target, many apprenticeships are really little more than a rebranding of entry level jobs. The latest Government figures show that only 3% of new apprenticeships starts were at the higher level. How can that be compatible with the Government’s aim of creating a highly skilled workforce?

As the hon. Lady perhaps knows, we are starting to see a significant increase in the number of people taking STEM-related apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships. She will also be aware that, in the recent Budget, we announced the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, which will help to make sure that there is long-term sustainable funding not just for the quantity of apprenticeships, but for their quality. I hope that she welcomes that.

I welcome the Government’s move to ensure that all big Government contractors deliver apprenticeships as a key part of their commitment. Does the Secretary of State agree that, with over £50 billion a year spent on procurement contracts, that represents a huge opportunity to boost apprenticeship numbers across the country?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We looked at that issue in the coalition Government, but I believe that we can take it further and we will announce plans shortly.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State has learned the value of apprenticeships from Scotland. Our Parliament has created 25,000 places each year during its lifetime. It has now exceeded its target and brought the number up to 35,000 annually. Moreover, every apprentice in Scotland is guaranteed a job once their training is completed. As part of the plans to impose an employer levy, has he assessed the cost to Scottish businesses and apprenticeship opportunities that such a levy would impose?

I am pleased to hear that apprenticeships are doing well in Scotland—I have been following that closely. I would like to see more apprenticeships throughout the United Kingdom. That would be a good thing. I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the development of the employer levy. We are in the process of deciding exactly how it will work. We are talking to all devolved authorities and look forward to working with them on it.

Northern Ireland has a good story to tell with regards to the development of apprenticeships. However, with the resignation of the Minister responsible and the impending collapse of the institutions, will the Secretary of State indicate that he and his Department will step up to the mark if required, fill the gap and continue that good work?

Of course I hope that Northern Ireland is able to deal with these troubling issues and that there is no collapse of the institutions. If there is anything that we can do to help, we will of course look carefully at that.

Technical Skills

To increase productivity we need to deliver the higher level, technical and intermediate-level skills that employers demand, as we have just heard. Our approach is to create a responsive, employer-led system of higher vocational education through expanding higher and degree apprenticeships and creating national colleges and institutes of technology.

We have a shortage of technical skills, not least in engineering and construction. According to employers, the Government’s focus on the number of apprenticeships amounts to little more than a re-badging of existing in-work training courses. When will the Government take the necessary action to deliver the high skills that are needed to boost productivity, growth and living standards in this country?

That gives me an opportunity to highlight the legacy of 13 years of Labour Government, when hardly anything was done to boost the skills of our people, particularly young people, in every sector. This Government have changed that. We saw progress under the coalition Government. As I said earlier, we will focus on higher apprenticeships, we will have national colleges and we will set up a prestigious network of institutes of technology.

18. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Senior Aircraftman Shayne Hadland on winning a silver medal for aircraft maintenance at the WorldSkills competition in São Paulo and on being named best of nation for the United Kingdom? Does that not illustrate the importance of good technical skills and how the RAF is providing them? (901343)

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Shayne Hadland. It was a huge achievement to win such a prize at the WorldSkills competition—I know just how competitive it was. Luckily for Britain, we had many other winners and I congratulate them too. It is an inspiration to many people.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to improve the level of technical skills in the west midlands would be to get behind the proposals from the region’s local authorities and local enterprise partnerships for a combined authority and elected mayor with devolved skills budgets to improve skills, bring former industrial sites back into use, provide more housing and better transport links, and get the economy of the west midlands really moving?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the proposal for a west midlands combined authority looks exciting and should be taken seriously. Obviously, the Government are considering all the proposals and need to look at their merits. I have met a number of people behind that proposal and it would be great to see whether we can work together and bring it forward.

Dorset Young Enterprise is a voluntary organisation that goes into schools to help improve skills with local employers. I declare an interest as someone who has worked within Dorset Young Enterprise. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such organisations are vital in closing the skills gap and ensuring that young people leave school ready to start work?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that Dorset Young Enterprise and many groups like it throughout the country are doing a hugely important and vital job in closing the skills gap. The Government could look at how we can support that not just in Dorset but throughout the country. He is absolutely right to raise this matter.

Apprenticeships: Travel Costs

5. What steps his Department is taking to help apprentices with the cost of travelling to work in rural areas. (901325)

Apprenticeships are paid jobs with quality training, and availability is determined by employers. There is no central publicly funded support towards travel costs, but some local authorities run schemes that help apprentices with such costs. Apprentices who were previously unemployed may be able to benefit from a travel discount card operated by Jobcentre Plus.

It has been brought to my attention that many young apprentices struggle with their first car insurance premium. Will the Secretary of State consider bringing in special insurance premiums for apprentices?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that important point as the cost of car insurance is an issue for many young people across the country. Many insurance companies already offer ways to reduce the cost of insurance for young drivers, for example by installing driver monitoring devices, and I would welcome other approaches by insurance companies to reduce that cost. My hon. Friend may have some ideas in that regard, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss them.

Does the Minister realise that many young people in the rural part of my constituency have difficulty getting to the fine Kirklees further education college in Huddersfield? I beg him to take notice of Professor Alison Wolf’s clarion call that if we put all our money into apprenticeships and neglect our FE colleges, we will be on the road to ruin and will never sort out the productivity challenges of our country.

I listen carefully to what Professor Alison Wolf says. The hon. Gentleman points out the pressures faced by the FE system, and he will know that as the quantity and quality of apprenticeships increase—for example, with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy—that will help to support our college system.

Construction Sector: Cash Retention

We are working with the industry through the Construction Leadership Council and its supply chain payment charter, which includes a commitment to zero retentions by 2025.

I am sure the Minister will agree that cash retention is having a major difficulty on the cash flow of SMEs across the United Kingdom. Surely some form of sanctions needs to be in place to alleviate cash-flow problems when companies are going out of business.

I certainly agree that there are some problems with the system, but it is also a fairly deeply embedded feature of the construction industry. We must act on the basis of evidence, which is why the Government will commission an analysis of the cost and benefit of retention payments to inform future action. We endorse entirely the Construction Leadership Council’s commitment to remove such payments from the industry by 2025.

With last week’s construction output figures going backwards, and with so many small construction firms facing cash-flow difficulties, is it any wonder that the house building programme in this country has been so lamentable? Do we need to do more to help SME construction firms, for example with a help-to-build underwrite of some sort behind that loan finance for small building companies? We should not just avoid adding to borrowing; we should make a real difference for those construction firms, particularly small ones.

We certainly want to support a range of construction firms, both small and large, but it would have been nice if the hon. Gentleman had taken advantage of his Back-Bench position to reflect a little more openly and honestly on the legacy of the last Labour Government, which saw the construction industry crushed. Housing starts are up by 50% from the low that was achieved at the end of the last Labour Government. There is a lot further to go, and we will work closely with construction firms to make that progress, but let us be honest about where the industry started.

Will the Minister and his colleagues hold a range of discussions with their colleagues in the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to discuss the need to reinstate the aggregate levy scheme, and particularly the exemptions, as that would assist the construction sector and the cash-flow situation for industries in Northern Ireland?

Government Strategic Support

7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s strategic support for industries and sectors. (901329)

Through sector councils and meetings with companies across all sectors we will continue to work closely with industry to understand its needs and what more Government can do to retain the UK’s competitive position within the global economy.

I thank the Minister for her response. Given the crucial role of the steel industry to the British manufacturing sector and our very sense of pride and prestige as an industrialised nation, will you today agree to accelerate the full implementation of the energy-intensive industries package? Crippling energy bills are crippling the steel industry, and it is time for the Government to act.

The question was obviously to me, Mr Speaker, but that does not matter. Importantly, we know that the steel industry faces very difficult times. It would be fair to say that these are the most difficult times it has ever faced in this country. We are looking at all the things that the Government can do to continue to assist the steel industry, and we have already started that work, which is one of the reasons why I am going to China next week, specifically to talk to the Chinese about their over-production and the allegations of dumping. I could expand on other points and will no doubt do so in answer to supplementary questions.

Rolls-Royce’s two factories in Barnoldswick are a key part of Pendle’s aerospace supply chain. When I visited Rolls-Royce in Derby in August, bosses told me of the huge benefit of the Government’s aerospace growth partnership. Does my hon. Friend agree that the continuation of that successful partnership is vital for that sector?

The short answer is yes. I am more than happy to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency to meet those companies and see the great work that they do. The aerospace sector is incredibly important and I pay tribute to all who work in it and all the success it has had.

20. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) is right: there is a crisis in UK steel making and 2,000 jobs in my constituency are at risk. I have secured a Backbench Business debate on Thursday, and I would be grateful if Ministers could come to pledge their support for UK steel making. We have to see action on energy prices and business rates. If we do not, UK steel will have no future. It is up to Ministers now to take action. (901345)

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has secured that debate on Thursday and I will be there. It follows on from the debate that we had in Westminster Hall. As we know, there is an over-production of steel across the world. The consumption of steel has fallen dramatically and that has meant, for example, that the price of slab has almost halved. People say we could do something about the price of energy—if only it were that simple. It is hugely complicated. We already have a compensation scheme and we are looking at how we can expand it, but we have to make it clear that if we begin to take the pressure off electricity-intensive industries, we have to shift it somewhere else. It is not as simple as it perhaps seems, but the hon. Lady can be assured that we are well aware of what is happening in SSI UK, which is why I met it last week.

High energy costs are affecting not only the steel industry—something I know from my own constituency—but the plastics industry. Over the summer recess, I visited both Amaray and RPC in the town. What steps are Ministers taking to help the plastics industry?

As I said, we are aware of the particular pressures that high electricity prices put on industries, especially those that use the most, and a compensation package is available. We all want a greener, cleaner environment, so we have set targets that we have to meet, and a cost is associated with that. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that, especially as it affects the industries in his constituency of Corby.

The Minister and I have discussed the clear and present dangers to the UK steel industry in a constructive fashion several times since she took her post. Given a summer of deeply worrying developments in the steel industry, not least with the news today from Redcar, can she assure us—notwithstanding what she has said today—that she has the full backing of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to take whatever action is necessary urgently to stand up for the steel industry in the UK?

Unfortunately, I was not present at Prime Minister’s questions last week, but I know that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) put a question to the Prime Minister, who made it very clear that he wants to give his full support to our steel industry. We recognise its importance to the economy and I am delighted that I have had so many very positive meetings with Members, notably Opposition Members, in which we have explored all the difficulties in an atmosphere that has been frank about what more we can do. We also have to understand that we are limited in what we can do. The state aid rules just do not help.

Self-employed People

The new enterprise allowance and start-up loans schemes are making it easier for people to move into self-employment. We have appointed Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company, to carry out an independent review and recommend what more we can do to support those who are self-employed.

The growth in self-employment is an important and positive trend, and I welcome the announcement of Julie Deane’s independent review. Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that it will include a full review of how the Government and their agencies communicate with the self-employed, so that they are fully aware of all the available support? Does she agree that that would help them to achieve their aspirations and to play an even greater role in taking forward the Government’s long-term economic plan?

As somebody who was self-employed for more years than I care to remember—about 20 years —I am fully aware of not only the benefits but the disadvantages. My hon. Friend makes a really good point about the importance of communication, so that people who are self-employed know what assistance is available. Julie will be looking at that particular aspect, and we welcome and look forward to her report and her recommendations.

By how many hundreds if not thousands of pounds will self-employed people lose out from the removal of working tax credits, which we will be discussing today, from working people, including the self-employed?

The straight answer is that I do not have a figure, but I will find out and I will write—[Interruption.] No, don’t be silly. I will write to the right hon. Lady with that figure. Let me make it absolutely clear: the rebalancing of our economy, paying off our debts, reducing the deficit and making sure that work pays are at the heart of what the Government stand for. That is what we were elected on, with a very clear manifesto and the support of the British people. We are doing the right thing by hard-working families.

Regional Growth

The Government remain totally committed to the rebalancing of our economy through unleashing the economic potential of our cities and regions. We have invested in infrastructure, connectivity, and science and innovation across the country, not least in the northern powerhouse and most recently with the £235 million that the Sir Henry Royce Institute focused on research into advanced materials. We have agreed 28 city deals, 39 growth deals and a total investment of £7.7 billion, including the transformation of the Greater Manchester devolution agreement. It is working: the north-east and the north-west are now cited as the fastest-growing regions in the country. We are going further and are now discussing a further 38 radical devolution proposals to empower local regions.

On regional growth, the Government have committed £7 billion of the £12 billion regional growth fund, including £488 million to my own South East local enterprise partnership, which is creating more jobs, homes and growth. However, when does the Minister expect the remaining £5 billion to be allocated? Does he expect the overall pot to grow?

My hon. Friend is right and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his leadership locally in helping to secure that £7 billion and the £488 million that has gone into the Thames Gateway in north Kent. Decisions on the remainder of the RGF will be made in the spending review, but I will point out that we restated in the spending review guidance our commitment to the full £12 billion and to a radical package of devolution across the country.

Regional growth in Thirsk and Malton depends largely on access to superfast broadband. We are delighted that 95% of premises will receive superfast broadband by 2017, but the final 5% percent is without doubt the biggest challenge. Many businesses cannot wait until 2020 to get access to superfast broadband. Will the Minister confirm that he will look at ways to open up the market to create more competition for the final 5%, thereby increasing the pace of roll-out?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is great news that, as a result of our £800 million programme, 95% of the country will have superfast broadband by 2017. However, the final 5% or 10% in the most rural areas require special attention, which is why my hon. Friend the Minister for the Digital Economy is actively looking at a package of measures to help the most marginal rural constituencies. We have launched an £8 million pilot programme looking at vouchers, mobile broadband and a range of innovative schemes, including social investment finance models.

The Minister might recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned to him the incredible economic growth in Cambridgeshire which risked being hampered because of infrastructure constraints. We are ready to present an innovative private funding model to him, so can I secure some time in his diary to share the proposals with him?

I would be delighted to give my hon. Friend a date. She makes an important point, and I welcome the ambition set out in the “Case for Cambridge” manifesto. Having sat myself on the board of the Greater Cambridge partnership, I well know that Cambridge is now a global technology cluster. Only last week, I went to visit AstraZeneca’s £500 million global research and development hub site. It is a city that needs global infrastructure, and we welcome the ambition set out in the manifesto.

Regional growth in Yorkshire and the north-east is dependent on good transport links, so the cancellation of electrification between Leeds and Manchester and Leeds and Newcastle was a bitter blow to our economy. May I urge the Minister to urge the Chancellor to review the decision in the autumn statement and to look at the skills capacity in the transport sector, which is pushing up costs and prices in the electrification area?

First, the programme has not been cancelled; it is paused. It is a massive programme. [Laughter.] Opposition Members do not know much about running major projects. It is absolutely necessary that we get it right. The howls of derision opposite reveal their embarrassment at our success. You would think we would get more thanks for what we have done: a £7 billion regional growth fund; city deals across the country; 11,000 small and medium-sized businesses helped; and 130,000 jobs created, not least in the north.

The Minister will know that the suspension of the business rates revaluation in 2013 has had different effects in different parts of the country. Will he commit to investigating how businesses in my constituency, like so many in the north, were disadvantaged by the decision and find a way to redress this north-south divide?

I would be delighted to feed the hon. Lady’s comments into the Government’s review of business rates, which is already in hand. We recognise that particularly in many small towns business rates have a crippling effect on the high street. That is why we have launched a major review, which is ongoing and live at the moment.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the Minister did not talk about the midland main line, but gave a list of other things he was doing. The cancellation of the midland main line electrification is a significant blow to south Yorkshire, north Derbyshire and the east midlands. What representations has the Department made on the impact on businesses and regional growth of not electrifying the midland main line? Will he respond to the question and tell us what is actually happening?

I dealt with that point. The midland main line is an important strategic rail route, and we are pausing to make sure we get it right. We will take no lectures from the Labour party on economic competence, when its own shadow Chancellor, according to his biography, is committed to the overthrow of capitalism.

I am aware that the Life Sciences Minister is creating a specialist life sciences enterprise zone to support sites across the UK hit by the global pharmaceutical corporate restructuring. Will he commit to providing every possible support to Covance, a pharmaceutical company in Alnwick, in my constituency, where more than 140 scientists’ jobs are at risk?

My hon. Friend has raised this matter with me already, and the Office for Life Sciences stands ready and is taking a close interest. We have already made contact with the local authority and will offer every support we can to its bid to make sure the site remains viable and that we protect local jobs.

EU Membership: Business

The Prime Minister is focused on reforming Britain’s place in the EU, and rightly so. A wind of change is blowing through the EU, and it is a wind that wants reform. We are in a process of renegotiating, and when we have completed that renegotiation, the question will be put to the British public.

Earlier this morning, the Secretary of State referred to the difference of opinion on the Labour Benches with regard to our membership of the European Union. Will the Minister take this opportunity to demonstrate the undeniable, 100% unity that exists on the Conservative Benches by confirming that she and all her ministerial colleagues will enthusiastically promote the positive case for remaining in Europe when the time comes?

I know that the hon. Gentleman is new to this place, but I do not think the Conservative party has ever shied away from the fact that we are not all as one when it comes to the future of our European Union membership and whether we should stay in or leave. What is absolutely the case is that, unlike other Governments who had the opportunity, we are trusting the British people. We are in a process of negotiation. We will go to the people, and let the people decide whether or not to stay within the EU.

Has the Minister seen the report from Business for Britain, entitled “Change, or go”? Does she agree with one of its conclusions, that leaving the European Union would

“not entail a loss of influence on the world stage.”?

I will be fascinated and delighted to read this document, and I am sure my hon. Friend will send me a copy, but given my long-term support for our continuing membership of the European Union, I might need a bit more persuading than his document could provide.

It looks as though it is going to be a very lengthy read, I must say, and probably rather heavy as well.

As part of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation, and as he visits various European capitals, he presumably has a list of reforms that he wants enacted. How many directly relate to business?

The Prime Minister has set out his broad categories. He continues to meet leaders throughout the European Union, and he continues to put the interests of our country first and foremost. In due course, and most importantly, the people of this country will decide whether or not to stay within the EU. As to my answer to the previous question, I take it all back—I am not reading a document of that length, but I will have a five-minute conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall).

In the 1980s, the European Union accounted for about 30% of world trade. By the beginning of the next decade, that figure will be about 15%. Over that time, our trade deficit is growing to £50 billion a year. Is it not clear that Britain would be better off outside the EU?

Given the views of the new Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, it might be a good idea for my hon. Friend to meet him and persuade him further of the case that he advances. It seems that there is another major shift in the policy of the Labour party.

EU Membership: Business and Universities

11. What recent estimate he has made of the value of UK membership of the EU to businesses and universities. (901334)

Our world-class universities, with their close links to business, are at the heart of the global knowledge economy. They will benefit from the reforms we want to see in place across the European Union. As the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise just said, the EU is our biggest market. Reform and growth on the European continent is good for British business, and it is good for our globally networked universities.

Universities UK recently highlighted the risk to potential funding and collaboration if Britain withdraws from the UK. That applies to my own constituency as well. Does the Minister agree with that, and does he support Universities UK and its campaign?

I discuss these issues regularly with Universities UK, which recognises that reform across the European Union will support growth and competitiveness. In turn, that will help the links that our great universities have with business.

Will the Minister confirm that last year our trade deficit with the European Union was £62 billion, and that it is therefore nonsensical for anybody to argue that we will see the end of free trade with the EU if we were ever to leave it? When he has confirmed that, perhaps he can set out what on earth we get for our £18 billion membership fee every year.

We want to see the completion of the single market so that British businesses can compete more effectively across promising sectors of the European single market. We have a strong export sector and we want to break down further barriers that prevent our businesses from fulfilling their potential in that market.

May I stiffen the Minister’s answers? The truth is that British universities win more research grants from the European Research Council than any other country in Europe. Well over £1 billion flowed in last year from Europe into the British science base, which is more than any other country received. The European Union and our membership of it is mission critical to our success and the future of our high-tech, high-productivity industries. Over the months to come, will the Minister join me in helping to ensure that British universities are at the forefront of leading the campaign for this country to stay in the European Union?

British universities and British science punch well above their weight around the world, and they secured 16% of the last batch of grant money from the European Union. That is because we have a competitive, world-class research base, and we are the Government who are supporting it and providing a stable climate for business and universities to invest in research and science. The Labour party would jeopardise that with its new economic policies, which would destabilise our business climate.

Small Businesses: West Yorkshire

A total of 892 StartUp Loans have been issued to entrepreneurs across West Yorkshire, amounting to nearly £5 million, and 890 West Yorkshire businesses have secured guarantees under the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, amounting to £87 million. Through the growth deal funding in 2015-16, we have supported the establishment of a growth hub in the Leeds city region, which helps businesses across West Yorkshire to gain access to joined-up, expert advice, grants and loans.

I welcome that positive news. As the Minister knows, one of the big challenges for my local businesses, which are expanding at a fantastic rate, is finding new premises. There are many derelict mill sites, but they need a big capital injection to prepare them for the expanding businesses. Will the Minister continue to consider investing through the regional growth fund and the business growth deal to support those wonderful businesses, creating jobs and apprenticeships?

Of course we will continue to consider investing, but during this period we are looking at our future plans for public spending, and it is all part of that.

Foreign Students

15. What representations he has received from the further and higher education sectors on the number of students from abroad studying in the UK. (901338)

We have built a world-class university system in the United Kingdom. According to data published today following a survey, we have 10 of the world’s top 50 universities and four of the world’s top 10, and we warmly welcome the growing number of international students who choose to study at them. As I made clear in my first speech in my current role at the Going Global conference, there is no cap on the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the UK. However, it is right that we continue to seek to drive out abuse, and to tackle it wherever it exists in our system.

What economic assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the Scottish economy and the Scottish further education sector of the tier 4 regulations?

International students who come to this country bring significant benefits to our higher education system, which is why there is no cap on international student numbers and the Government have no intention of introducing one. Our further education system also benefits significantly from the 19,000 or so international FE students in this country.

Topical Questions

Over the summer, my Department has been responding to the Treasury’s request to find savings in the BIS budget. That is a vital part of the Government’s plan to eliminate Labour’s record budget deficit, support the recovery, and protect the economic security of the nation. We have also been preparing important legislation: the Trade Union Bill, which received its Second Reading here yesterday, and the Enterprise Bill, which will be introduced in the other place later this week.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate all the British people who took part and won in the summer WorldSkills competition in São Paulo.

Whatever one’s view of Sunday trading, does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely absurd that a Tesco Express can open all day on a Sunday, but a Tesco Superstore can open for only six hours? Will he commit himself to taking steps to allow people to work and shop when they want to, not when the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers tells them they can?

My hon. Friend always raises important issues like that. It is absolutely right for us to take a fresh look at Sunday trading rules, which have not been considered carefully for many years, and that is what the Government are doing. My hon. Friend will be fully aware of our proposal to devolve the relevant decision-making to local authorities.

In The Independent last week the previous Business Secretary described the deafening silence from this new Government on industrial strategy as “ominous”. Has the current Business Secretary decided if he has an industrial strategy yet?

Our policies for dealing with all industries are very clear: we have a very active dialogue with all industrial groups and with many companies, as well as with leading business groups, and that dialogue will continue. We do that, for example, through the sector councils; we listen very carefully to what they have to say and work in partnership wherever we can.

T2. I recently visited SMR Automotive in Portchester, a global leader in vehicle exterior mirrors and camera-based ADAS—advanced driver assistance systems. With 750 jobs locally, it is an outstanding example of manufacturing. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure quicker and greater access to brownfield land so that companies such as SMR can expand? (901347)

It is great to hear another example from the UK’s successful automotive industry; it is one of the brightest stars in the constellation of British business. We encourage the effective use of land by reusing brownfield land. Local planning authorities, through their local plans, need to respond to market signals and set out a clear strategy for allocating land suitable for development.

T3. Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), it is not just USDAW members who are opposed to changes in Sunday trading. Last week, for example, the British Retail Consortium said:“There is a strong consensus across the industry that the proposal to devolve these decisions to a local level, rather than them being decided nationally, is a matter for concern.”Will the Business Secretary truly take account of the consultation and, if business, workforces and the public say no, not make those changes? (901348)

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the consultation is about to close and we will carefully look through its responses, as we always do, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees with choice, so that local authorities can decide if it is the right thing for them. If, for example, there is a local area with higher unemployment than elsewhere and the local authority thinks the changes will help to create jobs for local working people, that will clearly be a good thing. There was a time when the Labour party was the party of working people; what has happened?

T5. Is my hon. Friend aware of the example mentioned last week in the Science and Technology Committee of a £2 million Innovate UK investment leveraging a further £44 million from the private sector? Does he agree this shows the importance of Government supporting science? (901350)

Yes, I do agree. Science and innovation are among the UK’s greatest strengths, and the example my hon. Friend gives—I believe he is referring to the drug discovery firm Summit plc—is a good example of the way public investment in R and D crowds in additional private investment. Every £1 the public invests in R and D crowds in an additional £1.36 of investment on average.

T4. Scottish Renewables announced yesterday that the sudden early withdrawal of the renewables obligation has already hit investment in projects, deeply concerning the sector. What assessment has the Minister made of the further impact the Government’s stance could have on the future viability of institutions such as the Green Investment Bank and the innovation they fund? (901349)

There are a few questions in there, and forgive me if I did not catch all of them, but I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to give her a full set of answers. On the renewables obligation, we are very aware of the burden it places on a lot of our industries, but, as I explained in a previous answer, if we move it from one sector, we have to find somewhere else for it to go, and it will either fall on the individual consumer or another part of business. It is not as simple as it appears at first blush.

T7. I welcome the steps being taken by the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences to accelerate the adoption of new, properly tested medical treatments in the NHS. Can he confirm that this not only has tangible benefits for patients, but also helps underpin the strength of the life science sector in north-east Cheshire and across the country? (901352)

The accelerated access review that we have launched is about unleashing the power of the NHS to support 21st-century drug development and the test beds putting technology into practice in our health system. As my hon. Friend says, this has benefits not just for patients, but for industry, and not least for the north-west. During my visit to the Alderley site with my hon. Friend in the spring, I saw at first hand the power of that cluster in advanced medicines manufacturing and technology, and I think it has a very bright future in 21st-century life sciences.

T8. With only 6% of 16 to 18-year-olds going into apprenticeships, may I ask the Secretary of State what specific steps he is taking to ensure that the 3 million apprenticeships that the Government hope to create are of good quality, are quality assured and have proper qualifications that will lead to increasing the trainee’s career prospects and are not used, as we are currently seeing in the north-east, as a ruse by less scrupulous employers to employ young people on cheap wages? (901353)

The hon. Gentleman will know that under the previous Government we had apprenticeships that did not even involve an employer and that lasted a few months. This Government have introduced a 12-month minimum. They have put employers in charge of developing apprenticeship standards so that apprentices learn skills that employers value, and they are introducing an apprenticeship levy to ensure that there is funding for the 3 million apprenticeships that will benefit his constituents.

T9. The current law allows for strikes to be called by unions on the basis of a mandate for industrial action that was secured up to two years ago. That is unfair on those whose lives are inconvenienced by strikes on which a vote was taken years ago. Does my hon. Friend agree —[Interruption.] The Corbynistas on the Opposition Benches should calm down. Does he agree that strikes should take place only on the basis of a current mandate? (901354)

I do not think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has ever previously been so described.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There was a National Union of Teachers strike in 2014 that closed 1,500 schools and colleges. It was based on a mandate from two years before, and it had secured only 27% turnout in the ballot. That is wrong. We are changing that, which is why I am delighted that the Bill passed its Second Reading so handsomely yesterday.

In his written statement of 20 July, the Minister of State for Skills announced that the aim of area-based reviews of post-16 provision would be to create “fewer, larger” providers, and that colleges would remain “independent institutions.” Will the Minister explain how those two statements demonstrate policy coherence or indeed any logic at all? Will he confirm that the only means by which he can reconcile those statements is by cutting off funds to starve colleges into submission. Is that what he will do?

I am slightly surprised at the hon. Gentleman who is a great man and a great Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. He knows full well that it has required no arm twisting or strong arming by Government to encourage lots of colleges to combine with each other to form very successful groups. Manchester college and others are great examples of it. It is that kind of sensible consolidation to increase the strength of the college system that we will be encouraging through the area reviews.

At the weekend, my wife and I visited Bill’s, which is a new restaurant in Colchester and part of a large chain. At the end of the evening the bill had an automatic 10% gratuity, which the staff member said that they did not receive. Does my hon. Friend agree that the public expect staff members to get the tips in recognition for the service rendered?

Yes, absolutely. When a diner leaves a tip, they rightly expect that to go to the staff. Recent reports have suggested that some restaurants are not doing that, which is unacceptable. I have already launched a call for evidence. I will see whether the Government need to take any action. If they do, nothing is off the dining table.

Over the summer, we have seen example after example of consumers’ data—credit card details, travel records or dating preferences—being hacked or shared without their permission. What is the Minister doing to ensure that consumers can own and control their own data?

I am very happy to talk to the hon. Lady who has a great deal of expertise in this area to take ideas from her. [Interruption.] Yes, I do believe in learning from those on the Opposition Benches on occasion about how we can do better on this important issue.

Many of my constituents are employed on the minimum wage, with an average salary of £15,000 in Boston and Skegness. Has the Minister made an assessment of what impact the national living wage will have on my constituency?

I am delighted to remind the House that from the beginning of October the national minimum wage, which will benefit all my hon. Friend’s constituents over the age of 18, will go up by 3%. That is the highest increase since 2006. Next April, the national living wage will come in, and it will give his constituents over the age of 25 a significant benefit. That is the result of this Government’s economic plan working. [Interruption.] It is benefiting working people throughout the country, and I would have thought that the Labour party, which used to stand for working people, would support it.

The Office for National Statistics has stated that in July our manufacturing output dropped, our exports—particularly to the emerging markets—dropped and that confidence levels among our manufacturers was very low. Given that the Chancellor said in 2011 that he was backing the “march of the makers”, what additional measures will the Minister take to ensure that that boast can become a reality?

I always listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says. He did a great job as Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and he makes some important points, but he will be fully aware that manufacturing crashed as a proportion of our economy under the previous Labour Government, almost halving in size. Under this Government, the proportion has gone up as we rebalance the economy. He is right, however, to identify the question of exports, and we have set up an export taskforce to come up with new initiatives that will make a huge difference.

Last week the World Economic Forum published its “Inclusive Growth and Development Report”, which states that

“efforts are required to improve access to education as well as its quality, which would be important for tackling…the low levels of social mobility in the country.”

What efforts is the Secretary of State making to achieve that?

The hon. Gentleman might not have noticed, but we are investing a huge amount of effort and money, through an apprenticeship levy that will be coming in in 2017, in the expansion and improvement of apprenticeships to create opportunities for young people and people in later life. I very much look forward to his contributing to the debate on this subject and supporting the apprenticeship levy in the Lobby.

The previous Secretary of State gave his approval for Rushden Lakes, a major retail and leisure facility in my constituency. The development is now well under way, and it will create thousands of jobs. Will the Secretary of State find time in his calendar next year to show his support for the development and for the success of Conservative economic policy?