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House of Commons Hansard
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12 June 2018
Volume 642
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [905802]

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Since our last departmental questions, we have taken further steps to implement our industrial strategy. In early May, we launched UK Research and Innovation, with a budget of £6 billion a year, to drive forward our growing investment in research and development. The Prime Minister announced four missions that our grand challenges will achieve, including to save 20,000 lives a year through artificial intelligence-assisted cancer diagnosis. We have launched sector deals in AI, convened the first ever retail sector council and launched a major programme to drive productivity in smaller companies. On the 150th anniversary of the creation of the TUC, from the party that established the royal commission that decriminalised trade unions, that brought in widows pensions and holiday entitlements, that created the national living wage—in other words, Mr Speaker, the true workers’ party—we wish the TUC a very happy birthday.

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Of course, I say to the Secretary of State that the Labour party was founded by the trade unions.

My question is about retail. In Hull, retail employs 12,000 people. Hull’s House of Fraser store is going to close, with the loss of 207 jobs. Hull has three Poundworld stores that are under threat and there are also concerns about Hull’s Marks and Spencer store, which may be one of the 60 unidentified branches closing by 2022. After the Comet collapse, which cost taxpayers some £45 million, what is the Minister going to do to assist shop workers and protect taxpayers?

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The hon. Lady will concede that the efforts and engagement through the city of culture year between the Government and Hull were very substantial and very effective. I am familiar with the House of Fraser store in Hull. I know what an important part it plays in the life of the town centre. I understand that the council is confident that such a prime site, which I know well, will be taken up. I will work closely with the council to make sure, through the sector council, it has all the help it needs.

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T4. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what he is doing to support vulnerable people in Mid Dorset and North Poole with their energy bills? [905805]

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Of course, the whole House will shortly be able to pass the price cap Bill, which will assist all consumers with the cost of energy, and this comes on top of the prepayment meter and vulnerable consumers price caps that are in place. We are determined to continue supporting vulnerable consumers through such things as the warm home discount, winter fuel payments and through repurposing the very large energy company obligation scheme to tackle fuel poverty.

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T2. Will the Secretary of State please think of the 150,000 homes that it would power, the thousands of jobs that it would create, the supply chain business that it would support in Wales and the west, and the climate change that it would tackle, and get off the fence and announce Government support for Swansea bay tidal lagoon today? [905803]

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I have always admired the hon. Lady’s passion. Again, as I have said multiple times, we absolutely are very keen to scrutinise this deal. It has to deliver the low carbon energy we all want and the jobs we all want at a price that is affordable for the consumers we all represent.

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T5. Following my Adjournment debate on 4 June, what steps has my right hon. Friend been able to take to progress geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire? [905806]

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Those who missed the Clackmannanshire energy project Adjournment debate missed a massive treat: it was a very enjoyable, informative debate. We are very supportive of the project. My officials are working closely to explore funding opportunities, and I commend my hon. Friend for his continued leadership in this important area.

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T3. Last night I had the pleasure of travelling on the sleeper from Inverness to Euston, and with me on the sleeper was a consignment of delicious highland shellfish products. What are the Government doing to assist the transportation of fresh highland food products to markets in the south and indeed, overseas? [905804]

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As you may well be aware, Mr Speaker, highland products are absolutely excellent and should well be distributed to all parts of the UK. The Government’s policy, with the industrial strategy to develop business by helping with research and development and through keeping fuel prices low, without the troughs and peaks that the Secretary of State mentioned, will help significantly.

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T8. Each year, I organise the Wiltshire Festival of Engineering, and this October’s event is set to reach thousands of young children. What will the Department be organising for this year’s Year of Engineering? [905809]

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The Festival of Engineering is particularly important for students because we want to encourage and inspire people to take engineering subjects and follow engineering careers. A lot of activity is planned and I will be delighted to share this with my hon. Friend.

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T6. With Government support for the third runway at Heathrow coming on top of Crossrail 2, is this not yet another example of infrastructure spending going to the south-east of England? Will the Secretary of State now up the ante and make sure that we get the infrastructure spend to realise the northern powerhouse? [905807]

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We are getting on with major infrastructure investments that would be good for the whole United Kingdom and which the previous Government did not take.

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T9. Like all good films, I hope that a Government response to the Hendry review is “Coming Soon”, but meanwhile, will the Minister share with us whether she agrees that the opportunities for marine energy, whether tidal stream, tidal lagoon or waves, are enormous? Does she agree that they deserve more support and encouragement to develop this fantastically innovative source of additional low carbon, domestically produced energy? [905810]

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I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s brilliant chairmanship of the all-party group on this technology area. He is absolutely right: we do think that water power has incredible potential. That is why the Government have invested over £100 million since 2010 in investigating various forms of the technology and why we are keen to continue to pursue opportunities, but they have to be at the right price for consumers.

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T7. What assurances has the Minister received that the British steel industry can supply Heathrow expansion sufficiently? [905808]

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As I hope the hon. Gentleman is aware, I meet the steel industry regularly, and I am very interested to meet him to hear his views on the subject. I can assure him that everything that can possibly be done to deal with tariffs is being done. I had a meeting with all the chief executives of the steel business. I went to Brussels last week and met the director general of trade, as well as other CEOs and European colleagues.

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High street businesses lose out when banks close, pensioners lose banking services, and post offices are also facing challenging times. What can be done to make sure that the main high street banks provide their services at least in a host post office that acts as a hub?

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My hon. Friend, who makes some important points, will know that the Government have invested £2 billion in the post office network to ensure that across the country, in communities where retail banks are closing, the Post Office can step up and allow his constituents and businesses, among others, to access both personal and business banking in their local post office. That is good for the post offices and for our communities.

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T10. Dewsbury town centre is a shadow of its former self and has the second highest rate of vacant units in the country. Will the Minister tell me exactly what the Government are doing to deal with the decline of high streets in northern towns such as mine? [905811]

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The hon. Lady will know that the retail sector is particularly impacted on by changes in consumer behaviour. More people are shopping online, and that is a challenge for the sector. There is no silver bullet, but through the retail sector we are sitting alongside industry and trying to understand the challenges it faces, such as on business rates and how we adapt to ensure that we not only help the sector to make that transition, but protect the jobs of the 3 million people employed in the sector.

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When will the Government respond to the joint report on Carillion by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank the Select Committees for their work on Carillion. They did a truly remarkable job in holding the directors of Carillion to account and uncovering exactly what went on with the Carillion collapse. I think the report was issued on 16 May, and the Government have 60 days in which to respond, but I can assure him that we are doing all we can to meet the challenge.

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Order. We have run out of time so we must have very brief questions. I think a sentence will suffice.

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Factory output has decreased, according to the papers today. Will the Minister outline what he can do to assist factory manufacturing and initiate a clear industrial strategy?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, through the industrial strategy, which has been developed in close collaboration with the Engineering Employers Federation, and through investment in research and development and skills, we are doing everything we can to take the opportunities arising.

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Given the success of auto-enrolment, will the Minister outline what steps the Department is taking to ensure that as the country saves more, we invest more in British industry?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that through the industrial strategy we are doing all we can to support British business and make sure it gets the investment it needs, particularly through the British Business Bank, which is looking to release £20 billion of patient capital to give our businesses the rocket fuel they need to grow.

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The decision by JLR to invest in electric vehicles is very welcome, but equally the decision to produce the Discovery model in Slovakia is profoundly worrying. Does the Secretary of State agree that it underlines the need for tariff-free access for both cars and components in the EU?

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I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said at the end—of course we need tariff-free access with a minimum of frictions to these important markets—but I disagree that this is not a sign of significant confidence. JLR is investing in the next generation of vehicles. I hope he will welcome that.

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What is the Secretary of State’s No. 1 initiative to ensure that the Greater Grimsby town deal moves from theory to reality?

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As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I will come and sit down with Grimsby and Cleethorpes leaders to negotiate it myself.

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There is clearly a crisis on our high street, so will the Minister ensure that business rates are fully addressed in this year’s Budget?

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I can assure the hon. Lady that, together with the retail industry, we are looking at business rates, their impact on businesses and our ability to ensure we have a fair taxation system.

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The industrial strategy challenge fund round closed in April, but the Government are not expected to make a decision until the tail end of this year. Can they speed up the process please?

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We are determined to speed up the process, and obviously we are investing more than ever before, but it is important that we take our time to make the right investments to benefit UK industry.

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Employees in my constituency have time limits imposed on their toilet breaks, which are insufficient. What assessment has the Department made of businesses adopting such practices?

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The Department keeps a close eye on developments of this kind, and I assure the hon. Lady that the matter is firmly on our agenda. We want to ensure, through the Matthew Taylor review and the work we are doing ourselves, that workers are treated fairly, receive the support that they need in business, and are fairly paid.

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One of the biggest missing links in the tackling of money laundering is the Government’s own agency, Companies House. When will the Minister ensure that it is funded adequately and has enough staff to carry out proper checks on businesses?

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I assure the hon. Lady that we are seeking to ensure that Companies House is fit for purpose. As she will know, in 2016-17 it brought some 3,182 prosecutions. Companies House is very attuned to the challenges that it faces, particularly in relation to money laundering. That is why we are introducing, for instance, measures relating to Scottish limited partnerships, which I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome.

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I know that the Secretary of State is an honourable man. He is the Business Secretary. If we have a hard Brexit, British business will be devastated. Will he join us today in voting to keep us in the single market?

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I work night and day to make sure that British and international businesses continue to invest in this country, and they have shown a willingness to do so. We want to be the best location not only for trade with Europe but for trade around the world, and that will form part of our negotiations.

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What support can my constituents, who are among the 5,000 set to lose their jobs at Poundworld, expect from the Government?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, I spoke to the chief executive of Poundworld yesterday to try to understand the challenges that it faces. Through the official receiver, the special manager is seeking to do everything possible to rescue the business, and they are hopeful that there are buyers out there for at least part of it. We in the Government have pledged to do all that we can to ensure that the business is rescued.