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Topical Questions

Volume 599: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2015

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?