Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

Since our last departmental questions, we have been continuing to implement the industrial strategy. We are doing more, for example, to protect businesses and consumers from online threats, with the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund backing research to make hardware more secure. As we leave the EU, we are determined to continue to be a pioneer in setting the highest standards, including proposals—currently being consulted on—to expand protections for pregnant women and new parents returning to work after having children.

Could the Secretary of State tell us what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the creative industries sector deal?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. It was one of the first sector deals. We were very determined to act on the report of Sir Peter Bazalgette, which celebrated the potential for new jobs to be created. It is going extremely well. Investments are being made in virtual reality, creating new opportunities for small businesses to benefit from the technology that larger ones have.

Since the start of the year, the Financial Times, The Observer, The Times, POLITICO and The Spectator, as well as many specialist publications, have described the looming energy crisis facing the UK following the collapse of plans to develop three nuclear power stations at Wylfa, Moorside and Oldbury, but back in November 2018, the Secretary of State announced that the energy trilemma—the challenge of providing energy that is green, cheap and secure—was coming to an end. Is he still of this view?

That was straight and very to the point. The Secretary of State may have pointed to the falling cost of renewable energy, but he cannot disown his Government’s policies, unfortunately, which are plunging that industry from crisis to crisis. New deployment of solar has fallen 90% since 2016. New onshore wind deployment has fallen 80%, so that certainly does not sound like the end of the energy trilemma. With people getting nervous about how we are going to keep the lights on, will he describe in detail where exactly he expects the UK to source low-carbon electricity from by the end of the 2020s?

We have a proud record of being one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy. The proportion of renewable energy on the grid at the moment has hit 33% for the first time in our history. We are the world’s leader in offshore wind. The challenges that the hon. Lady identifies come from the fact that energy sources are falling in price. They are more abundant than ever before and we have established ourselves as the place in the world with the technology to be able to deploy them on the grid. She should welcome that.

T2. Jaguar Land Rover in Southend struggles to recruit trained mechanics. As we move towards electric vehicles and more technical vehicles, what more can the Government do to make sure that we fill this skills gap? (909167)

That is an excellent point from my hon. Friend, as we would expect. Luckily, we are on the case and have the Automotive Council skills working group, with which we are doing our best to deal with the problem that he mentions as a partnership between Government and industry.

T3. My constituents in Midlothian tell me how concerned they are about the catastrophic impacts that climate change will have, and indeed, is already having. What is the Secretary of State’s response to the long-term forecast by the Met Office showing that global warming could reach 1.5°, the limit aimed for in the Paris agreement, in just five years? Does he honestly believe that the Government are doing enough within their power to stop this? (909168)

I am very pleased to assure the hon. Lady that we are not only doing enough, but leading the developed world. Our renewables generation has increased fourfold since 2010. We have decarbonised our economy—as our four nations—more than any other country in the G20, and we were the first industrialised county to seriously look at that shocking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and ask our own independent Committee on Climate Change for its advice on how we can get to a net zero-carbon economy going forward.

T5.   It is concerning that the Department’s research has estimated that 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity, and that one in nine women has said that they were fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child. What steps can my hon. Friend take to address this issue? (909171)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Let me be clear: pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unacceptable and illegal. That is why, last month, the Government announced a consultation on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The consultation seeks to extend redundancy protection for pregnant women and it seeks views on what the Department is doing to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination. I point out that this will go beyond what the EU currently allows.

T4. Some 77% of UK organisations operate with limited cyber-security and resilience. The current strategy is failing to protect business from critical cyber-threats. How will the Department swiftly increase business cyber-resilience? (909169)

The hon. Lady is correct to say that cyber-resilience must be a key part of our industrial strategy. I was in Northern Ireland last Friday to discuss with organisations how they could be involved in our AI programme and with setting up masters programmes in cyber-security.

T7. I was glad to hear of the Minister’s offer to visit the south-west and meet our hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). Will she continue all the way down to Penzance and meet post offices in my area that are threatened with closure or have already closed? (909173)

I would love to come to Penzance if time permits—it is an area of the country I would love to visit—and I will continue to work with my hon. Friend to deliver post office services in his region. He is a passionate supporter of the Post Office and I welcome his support for me in my role as the Minister in that area.

T6. It was concerning to hear the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), join the International Trade Secretary just now in failing to rule out zero tariffs in the event of a no deal. Does the Secretary of State not agree that such a move would leave us open to a flood of cheap imports, drive down wages and cost jobs? (909172)

Of course we need to consult—and we are consulting—with businesses and sector organisations to ensure that the right decision is made, but no decision has yet been taken.

T9. In North Devon, we are passionate about doing our bit to tackle climate change. Will the Minister update me on where we are with reducing carbon emissions? (909175)

With much pleasure. We published figures last week showing that we continue to reduce our emissions, which are down 3% year on year. I say again that we are decarbonising faster than any other country in the G20. We are doing our bit domestically as well as internationally with our £6 billion of climate spending, and we have formally put our name forward to host the crucial climate change talks in 2020, although we must remember that other countries are still interested.

T8.   Healthcare Environmental, based in Shotts, collapsed before Christmas, leaving 150 of my constituents and 450 across the UK redundant. We have managed to sort out redundancy payments for some of those eligible, but they have all lost out on their December pay. Can the Government do anything in a timeous fashion to help the workers get the wages they are due? (909174)

I recognise the distress felt by constituents in cases of insolvency and where companies cease to trade. The redundancy payment service, operated by the Insolvency Service, has already made statutory redundancy payments to 157 eligible employees. Payments in respect of unpaid wages cannot be made while the company is still not in formal insolvency procedures, but we remain ready to act.

My office has been meeting representatives of the Coal Authority to talk about geothermal opportunities in Clackmannanshire in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss these opportunities?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for what could be a very valuable source of heat from flooded mine workings. It seems apposite to recognise the effort that went into digging them out, and it would be good to use them in our low-carbon future. As he knows, I continue to look at his ideas with great interest.

Central to economic development in Yorkshire will be the design of the new UK shared prosperity fund. What work is the Secretary of State doing across Government to ensure that the fund works to the maximum benefit of the Yorkshire economy?

We are having conversations across the UK, including with local leaders, of whom the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished example, and I look forward to continuing those discussions so that we can set out the prospectus.

My right hon. Friend was right to tell the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that business was crying out for clarity on Brexit, but we cannot have that clarity until we have a meaningful vote. Will my right hon. Friend therefore confirm that the Government will bring that meaningful vote back to the House as a matter of urgency? It would be wholly irresponsible for it to be held within a matter of days before we are due to leave the European Union.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to bring certainty and enable businesses to plan for the future, but she is also fortunate, in that the Prime Minister is about to make a statement on the matter.

The mineworkers’ pension scheme has boosted Government coffers by billions while ex-miners and their widows receive an average pension of £80 a week. Will the Secretary of State meet miners’ representatives and the trustees of the scheme to hammer out a fairer pension deal?

As the very proud daughter-in-law of a miner’s widow who benefits from the scheme, I take its stewardship very seriously. I believe that it will be debated in the House in a couple of days, and I should be delighted to discuss it further. I should point out that the extraordinary arrangements that were developed between the Government and the trustees have delivered much higher returns to the beneficiaries than similar schemes, but I continue to be happy to meet Members to discuss the issue.

It may do, but the Prime Minister is waiting to address the House, and I think that people want to hear her. We will hear the hon. Lady in due course.