Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 614: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was formed on 14 July, and it is my great honour to serve as its first Secretary of State. Over the summer, rapid progress has been made in joining up responsibilities for business, energy, climate change, science, innovation and consumer affairs and in creating a new focus on industrial strategy. This is a powerful Department, which is up to the task of promoting a competitive, low-carbon economy that works for everyone. As part of an excellent team of Ministers and officials, I will continue to work both locally and globally on the challenges ahead.

The Swansea bay tidal lagoon, along with Cardiff bay, Newport bay and Bridgwater bay, has the potential to create huge energy, as those bays have the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world. How is the feasibility study going, and when will we get a result? We need long-term funding for a project that will provide 8% of our energy.

My understanding is that the feasibility study is being undertaken. I have not received its final conclusions yet. At that point, I will look at it with the same interest as my hon. Friend.

The European Commission says that Apple should cough up £13 billion in taxes for earnings generated across the EU, including in the UK. Most UK businesses pay their fair share of taxes and expect all other businesses, large or small, to do the same. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is doing everything he can to ensure that the very biggest companies pay up and that we receive our share of the £13 billion Apple tax pie?

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. Responsibilities come with being in business in this country, and paying taxes to contribute to the public services that we enjoy is one of them. He has my assurance that we will ensure that we pursue the correct tax from all companies that locate here.

T3. On Thursday, I will be chairing a panel at the enterprise, innovation and northern powerhouse conference at Huddersfield university. Does the Secretary of State agree that in developing an industrial strategy, we need to do more to win hearts and minds for big projects in the north, with more examples of regional procurement, such as the High Speed 2 college in Doncaster, and more jobs in the north, perhaps with HS2 starting from the north? (906266)

The passion with which my hon. Friend makes his point attests to the opportunities within our approach to industrial strategy to ensure that there is growth across the United Kingdom, including in Yorkshire. He will know that I have taken a great interest in that in my previous roles, and he can be absolutely assured that that interest will not diminish in the months ahead.

T2. The current review of network charging for small embedded generators such as Slough Heat and Power will mean huge increases in costs for them. Is the Department determined to make energy generation the preserve of big businesses only? (906265)

No, I categorically rebut that. We must strike a balance between driving down the costs of all sources of low-carbon generation and ensuring that we deliver best value for consumers and taxpayers, and that occasionally requires reviews of tariffs.

T4. As we approach European negotiations, can the Secretary of State assure me that the Government will seek to enhance and promote British strengths in financial services, science and the digital, creative, cultural and tourism sectors, which are particularly important to my constituency? (906267)

Yes, I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we plan to put science and innovation at the heart of our industrial strategy. Financial services, as part of the services sector, will also play an important part of our strategy as it is developed in the coming weeks.

T5. Last week, the Government committed to ratifying the Paris climate agreement. Will they commit to doing so before the next United Nations framework convention on climate change conference of parties in Morocco, so that they can play a full and leading role at that summit? (906268)

We helped to shape the Paris agreement, we signed it, and the Prime Minister has confirmed that we will ratify it as soon as possible, which remains our position.

T7. Britain is undoubtedly a world leader in scientific research. With that in mind, will my hon. Friend detail what role bioscience will play in the Government’s industrial strategy? (906270)

The Government’s industrial strategy will position the UK as a global leader for the 21st century. The UK bio-economy is worth £220 billion in gross value added—13.6% of total GVA in 2014—with potential to grow by 13% by 2030. We shall continue to invest strongly in it.

T6. The Secretary of State is a thoughtful man who I believe is serious about regional growth. Will he assure me that I am right in that understanding by cancelling his predecessor’s decision to centralise his Department’s policy functions in London? Among other things, that would maintain and build on its important presence in Sheffield. (906269)

I am certainly attached to the work that is done in Sheffield and the highly valued colleagues we have there. The decision was made some time ago, and many changes have been made. As we sort out the responsibilities of different parts of the Department, I will look carefully at what Sheffield can provide.

As we have said in response to earlier questions, the Government are committed to the deployment of renewable energy and have had considerable success, and of course the feed-in tariff has been central to that.

T8. The expansion of Heathrow would create a demand for 370,000 tonnes of steel and secure 700 steel jobs, so it is not only in the interests of the UK economy more generally that we expand Heathrow but specifically in the interests of the manufacturing sector. Why do we not just get on with it, have the vote here in the Chamber and get on with the building of the third runway? (906271)

We do need an upgrade across many different forms of infrastructure, and that will have very important benefits to the steel industry, including in Sheffield.

It is hugely encouraging that the Government are developing their comprehensive industrial strategy, which I believe will give a great boost to confidence in our steel industry. Will the Minister update the House on what early discussions he has had with the industry about its role in that?

I have had extensive discussions with the steel industry over the summer, as my hon. Friend will understand. It is very important that we should have a sustainable future for what has been, and is, a very important sector in our economy.

T9. The huge Hanjin Shipping line has gone into receivership, leaving between £12 billion and £16 billion-worth of goods at sea. The inability to dock is projected to have an impact on UK retail, particularly during Christmas trading. More importantly, UK seafarers— (906273)

Seafarers such as Scots cadets are stuck at sea. What action is the Minister taking to assist retailers, and will he speak to his Foreign and Commonwealth Office counterpart to get help for our seafarers?

I will take that point away. On the immediate impact, I know that the local enterprise partnership is engaged in ensuring that the delays will be overcome.

Many will commend the Secretary of State for putting science, and in particular life sciences, front and centre in his industrial strategy. I wonder whether, as he plans the future of that industry, he could work closely with the Secretary of State for Health, given that the attitude to innovation of the industry’s largest customer, the national health service, will be critical to the industry’s growth in the decades to come?

I certainly will. I was interested to read my hon. Friend’s article in the newspaper earlier this week, which made that point. It is important that the Government take a collective approach, and I have already had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary about how we can make the most of the NHS in life science.

Will the Government look again at the unjust 50% Government clawback from the mineworkers’ pension scheme surplus?

I will certainly take that point away, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady if she would like to inform me about that outside the Chamber.

Does the Department intend to develop a single industrial strategy for the whole country or different industrial strategies for different parts of the country?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It seems essential to me that we should have a strategy for the whole country, but place is incredibly important, and the challenges of places such as Greater Manchester are different from those of Cornwall. We should reflect more clearly the different strengths and opportunities of different places in how we do business as a Government.

Does the Minister accept that the changes to subsidy for the biomass combined heat and power plants have been brought in too quickly, and that a longer grace period should have been granted before implementation? BSW Timber in my constituency, which is doing what the Government want by investing in renewable technology, stands to lose up to £3 million in support. Will the Minister meet me to discuss these changes and talk about what—

Order. Let me say in all kindness and charity to the hon. Gentleman that he was at his best at the end of the first sentence. A blue pencil should thereafter have been applied.

I think the hon. Gentleman is a former treasurer of the Scottish National party, so he knows a bit about the challenge of cost control. He knows that in the context of these changes, our overriding priority is to provide better value for the taxpayer.

The changes will apply to new participants according to when they fully qualify for the scheme, and those that fully qualified on or after 1 August will be subject to the change.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a specific constituency case with me, I am happy to meet him.

Brexit provides the UK with an opportunity to be the global leader in such energy technologies as offshore wind, energy storage, and carbon capture and storage. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will reset energy policy so that the country can take full advantage of this great opportunity?

My hon. Friend is right that one of the historic strengths of the United Kingdom is in areas such as marine engineering and power engineering, which are at the heart of the opportunities that exist around the world as many countries look to develop their capacity in renewable energy. That provides a big opportunity, especially for his constituents.

Can the Secretary of State guarantee that all employment protections currently enjoyed by British workers will be maintained after Brexit, and will he back my Bill to do just that?

The financial viability of many low-carbon on-site heat and power technologies is under threat owing to the reduction in the biogas tariff. Will the Department consider a separate tariff for the new gasification technologies, rather than treating them the same as other technologies such as anaerobic digestion?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are reviewing how the renewable heat incentive works and have been forced to make some changes to tariffs in order to provide better value for the taxpayer’s money, but I am more than happy to sit down with him and talk about his suggestion.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place, as I do my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig), who I know will be a doughty champion for his new brief.

A new report from Professor Alex Kemp of Aberdeen University suggests that the re-engineering of the UK continental shelf fiscal regime may be necessary before we can reach the North sea’s full potential. What further support will the Government offer the oil and gas sector in the autumn statement?

I had a productive set of discussions with representatives of the oil and gas sector in Aberdeen in the summer. The industry, which is centred in Aberdeen but involves other places in the country, is very important. We have made big changes to the fiscal regime, as the hon. Lady knows, which have been beneficial, but we will continue to have discussions about that.

The Secretary of State described himself earlier as being engaged in an historic task of writing industrial strategy, but surely if he studies history, he will know that industrial strategy is written predominantly by civil servants, and that Ministers tend to fail. What steps will he take to engage businesses in Lancashire to make sure that we have a successful strategy?

I certainly will take such steps, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s point. Obviously an industrial strategy for the country should not consist of instructions from Ministers or civil servants to businesses and the rest of the country. We are engaging with businesses across the country and in every sector to ensure that they have the support they need.

Does the Secretary of State believe that it is conceivable that this country could negotiate full membership of the single market without accepting freedom of movement?

The hon. Gentleman entices me into making early decisions on what our negotiating mandate should be. I think the sensible step is to be careful and to put together our negotiating brief, in consultation with businesses in every part of the country.

I welcome the Government’s continuing commitment to the northern powerhouse. Will the Secretary of State meet me and council leaders to discuss how we can maximise the contribution that northern Lincolnshire can make to the project and reap the maximum benefit?

I am always keen to meet my hon. Friend. Despite the fact that I have moved from one Department to another, I hope the invitation to fish and chips in Cleethorpes still stands.

I understand that the Secretary of State has met many businesses over the past few months. Will he list which of those businesses support leaving the single market?

We are putting together the priorities for our negotiation in consultation with businesses in all parts of the country. The hon. Lady will have the chance to contribute to that through the Scottish Government, and we will publish it when we have finished.

We have 50 Airbnb properties in Newark, and Uber has cut the cost of a night out in Nottingham by almost 50%. Will the Secretary of State follow the lead of his predecessor by supporting innovative, disruptive technologies rather than letting us bury our heads in the sand?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the importance of innovation in driving industrial growth, and it will undoubtedly be at the centre of the industrial strategy as it is rolled out.

Following the recommendation of the Select Committee to remove Paul Newby as pubs adjudicator, new evidence has emerged that shows that he failed to properly declare his interests and also misled the Select Committee. So far, he has refused to resign. Will the Secretary of State now restore confidence in that post by sacking him?

My understanding is that the appointment followed a proper process. That is what I understand to have taken place, but I will look at the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman has just raised.

Order. I am genuinely sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. I have extended the envelope rather substantially, but we must now move on.