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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
19 March 2019
Volume 656

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Insecure Work

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1. What steps he is taking to support people in insecure work. [909864]

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The best way to support people is to make sure that they have a job. Today it was announced that more people are employed in our country than ever before. Unemployment has fallen to 3.9%, its lowest since 1975. Our pay rose in real terms over the past year by 1.3%, and over the past year 96% of those new jobs have been full time.

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Too often, workers have eight or 10-hour contracts, but are then expected to work up to 60 hours when their employer demands it, with no flexibility in return. One concrete step that the Government could take to protect these insecure workers is to ensure that contracts reflect the hours that people normally work. Will the Minister commit to legislating for this?

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I am slightly surprised to hear that from the hon. Lady because she knows that we have taken measures to give workers the right to request that stable contract. She will know that in her own area Bradford Council is a very good exponent of that. It was advertising last night for casual commis chefs, saying that hours are offered on a “casual basis” and may be withdrawn by either party, giving a minimum of two hours’ notice. If she wants those rights to be extended, I suggest that she talk to Bradford Council first.

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Can the Business Secretary confirm that there are more people in our nation in secure employment than ever before in our history and that the number of people on zero- hours contracts has fallen by 100,000 in the past year alone?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously, it is a great source of confidence to people that they can obtain a job. It is the case that employers across the country value the flexibility that having a flexible workforce gives. In fact, again, the Labour leader of Gateshead Council said that

“many zero-hours contracts employees”

on the council

“don’t want to be full time employees and prefer to consider themselves as self-employed”,

so this is a practice that is pursued right across the country.

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Some 1.6 million workers are paid exactly the national living wage of £7.83 an hour, and a further 3 million people are paid within 50 pence of it. In the spring statement last week, the Chancellor said that the ultimate objective of this Government was

“ending low pay in the UK”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 349.]

The usual definition of a national living wage is 66% of median earnings, but the remit of the Low Pay Commission is only to get to 60%. Are the Government now committing to end low pay? If so, when?

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The hon. Lady should recognise the commitment to 60% and the progress that has been made towards that, which meant a very big pay increase for many of the lowest paid workers in the country. She will remember that the Chancellor announced a review in his statement last week to look into where we go beyond that, using international best practice to inform such a decision. I hope that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which the hon. Lady chairs, will want to contribute to that review.

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Matthew Taylor’s recent review of modern working practices indicated that a blanket ban on zero-hours contracts would create more cliff edges for employers and workers. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that analysis?

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I do agree with that analysis and with what my hon. Friend has said. The conclusion of the panel in that completely independent report was:

“To ban zero hours contracts…would negatively impact many more people than it helped.”

It is right to ensure that there is an ability to request a stable contract and that people are not banned from working for different employers, but to remove these contracts all together would be against the practice of many employers, including councils.

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16. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers continues to receive evidence of seafarer pay as low as £3.60 an hour, including on UK-registered vessels. Employers in the ferry sector are continuing to reflag their ships. When will the Government take action to ensure that the national minimum wage provides a basic safety net for seafarers’ pay, including on international routes? [909880]

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I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. In the last few weeks, I have been discussing with the trade unions how any loopholes that might be being exploited should be closed. It is the intention of everyone across the House that the law should be obeyed and that workers should be paid a fair rate for their work.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that it is often the UK, not the EU, that has led the way on workers’ rights, and does he expect this to continue?

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I do indeed expect this to continue. Many of the rights that we have introduced—including, for example, the right to request a stable contract—were pioneered in this country, and are only now being taken up by other European countries.

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A couple of weeks ago, Labour colleagues and I crossed the road to Parliament Square to talk to outsourced Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy workers from the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who were demanding equal terms and conditions with directly employed staff. They were disappointed that no Minister from the Department came to talk to them. If anyone had, they would have heard how people’s status as contracted-out workers is a fundamental cause of their insecurity.

We have heard fine words from the Secretary of State about workers’ rights recently, yet here is an example of workers being forced into precarious contracts under his very nose. Will he outline what he is doing to put his own house in order to help resolve this dispute? And, in the process, will he learn the lesson that outsourcing is the cause of insecurity and poverty pay?

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I value very highly the work of all the staff in my Department. I met some of the staff she has mentioned, who were affected. I asked my officials to review the comparable levels of pay that such staff receive, and those pay rates have been increased as a result. It was a good and constructive discussion with my much valued colleagues.

Leaving the EU: Businesses in Scotland

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2. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on fiscal support for businesses based in Scotland making preparations for the UK leaving the EU. [909865]

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8. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on fiscal support for businesses based in Scotland making preparations for the UK leaving the EU. [909872]

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I have regular discussions with the Chancellor about support for businesses in Scotland, as well as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) will know, last Wednesday we announced up to £260 million for the borderlands growth deal, which is a cross-party—and clearly a cross-border—partnership that has been hailed as a game changer by all the bodies involved, including the Scottish Government. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the best way to support business in Scotland is to end the uncertainty that comes from Brexit and to join the Government in agreeing a deal.

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Actually, the best support for businesses in Scotland would presumably be for Scotland to stay in the European Union, because IDA Ireland reckons that its country has gained more than 5,000 jobs as a result of Brexit-related investment, so it is a little bit perverse that it seems to be that the countries staying in the European Union are enjoying the benefits that were supposed to come from leaving.

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The best chance for Scotland to enjoy prosperity in the future is to stay in the United Kingdom, and I hope the hon. Gentleman would support that. I am very surprised that he would mention jobs in the Scotland when, under the SNP, jobs growth in Scotland has been far behind the good statistics that I was able to give for the whole country. Indeed, if Scotland had matched the rate of job creation in England, there would now be nearly 200,000 more Scots with a job.

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An Ernst & Young survey found that only 8% of Scottish firms feel fully ready for Brexit. Does the Secretary of State regret his failure to accept the SNP’s and the Institute of Directors’ demands for a £750 million support service to help small and medium-sized businesses to navigate Brexit?

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No. Advice and support are available to every business across the United Kingdom, including, of course, businesses in Scotland. I work very closely with the Scottish Government. They are represented on the groups that are developing the contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit, and businesses are included in that.

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In Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, there are grants of up to £1,050 per employee for training employees, and up to £200,000 for new IT systems for dealing with new customs arrangements. Given the importance of this, why is it not more widely advertised both in Scotland and in the United Kingdom?

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My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As he knows from the industrial strategy—he was closely involved in its construction—grants and assistance for training, especially for employees whose jobs change as a result of technological change, is a very important contribution that we can make, and I am glad that he has brought it to the attention of the House.

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What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about making sure that the UK shared prosperity fund is UK-wide and allows the UK Government to work with public and private partners across the whole of the Union?

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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is absolutely the intention. The fund will be UK-wide and continue the progress that has been made, not least through the city deals programme. All the major cities of Scotland have benefited from a city deal that embraces the UK Government, the Scottish Government, and local authorities. That is a good model that is working and is successful.

Clean Growth

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3. What steps his Department is taking to promote clean growth. [909866]

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As my hon. Friend knows, I am very pleased to discuss our leadership position in this area. We have led the G7 in cutting emissions while growing our national income. Since 2000, we have topped the global leader board of the G20 in reducing our annual carbon intensity. I set out, a couple of years ago now, how the clean growth strategy will take that progress forward and, indeed, accelerate it. The recent offshore wind sector deal was a fantastic example of how we can work with industry to advance our decarbonisation but also to create jobs right across the UK.

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The growth of offshore wind is providing great opportunities for coastal communities around the United Kingdom, including the port of Fraserburgh in my constituency, which is set to host an operations and maintenance base for the Moray East wind farm project. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new offshore wind sector deal will help more ports like Fraserburgh to benefit from this key aspect of our future energy sector?

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Most certainly. In an uncertain world, to go and stand on the docks of Lowestoft and visit Great Yarmouth and see the wind turbines and feel the wind is actually to see the future—this incredible opportunity. We have the best conditions for offshore wind generation in the world, and that will create jobs right across the UK—we estimate over 27,000 by 2030. We are world-leading in this: very few countries have even started to install. We reckon that exports of up to £2.6 billion will be available, and of course the benefits from that will flow to coastal communities right across the UK.

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Will the Minister join me in congratulating Bacon Engineering in Great Grimsby on its 120th anniversary? Will she commit to work with me to assist local companies like that to become part of the supply chain of the energy estuary’s burgeoning offshore wind sector?

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The offshore wind sector deal was a gift that kept on giving, because the hon. Lady and I had the great pleasure of discussing that with the Prime Minister on the Friday after the launch and seeing the incredible opportunities already flowing to the wonderful port of Grimsby, which she represents very well. I would love to congratulate that local firm and work with her on this groundbreaking sector deal.

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We have known how to build houses that cost nothing to heat for 20 years, but we just do not do it. Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to get clean growth is to support my Housing Reform Bill, which would supply serviced plots of land on which thermally efficient houses could be built?

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My hon. Friend is a wonderful campaigner on this new and exciting area of house building, which is part of the grand challenge. I was very pleased, as I am sure he was, to see the Chancellor commit last week to phase out fossil fuel heating in homes from 2025. We know we can decarbonise. We know we need to do more.

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All of us will support the Government in their attempts to deliver clean growth, but we need international action. Can the Minister be more specific about what the Government are doing to encourage international action to increase clean growth?

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I enjoyed what might be the last ever meeting of EU Energy Ministers last week, where it was clear that our leadership, which has been so important in the EU, will continue unabated. Countries look to us and want to work with us. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are in the process of bidding to host the 2020 climate change talks here in the UK. To me, that is the most seminal moment since the Paris talks, as we will have to show our national contributions and see whether we are on track. I would love to get his support for that bid.

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More than 60 of the UK’s onshore wind farms are set to reach the end of their support deals in the next five years. How will the Government ensure that we do not lose our onshore wind capacity as those plants reach the end of their lives?

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I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, welcomes the fact that we already have more than 13 GW of onshore wind installed. As she says, much of that is reaching the end of its life. Those plants can be repowered to generate more energy, and we expect them to be, but any application must be consistent with what local people want, so I expect developers to work closely with local communities to deliver that.

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In spite of what the Minister says, her Government’s nuclear dogma is holding back Scotland’s green growth. Having lost market confidence in the Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury-on-Severn nuclear projects, will she get the message about nuclear’s terminal decline and start backing Scotland’s renewables growth revolution instead?

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The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that we welcome the fact that we have a diverse energy supply. As we have discussed, there are thousands of jobs to be created from renewables but also from our world-leading nuclear installations. We need a low-carbon, reliable, low-cost energy system, and thanks to the work we are doing, we think that over 70% of the UK’s energy supply will be zero-carbon in just 11 years.

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The facts are that, compared with offshore wind, the Tory Hinkley project will saddle consumers with a 35% tax on energy bills. Given that this Government currently have no consequences for Ministers who switch policies, is this not the right time to take advantage of that, do the right thing and scrap this nuclear obsession?

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I just cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. He might make good headlines, but he knows that we should pride ourselves on having a diverse, low-cost energy system. We have to deliver energy security, and those thousands of highly skilled nuclear jobs, which are increasingly going to women, are a really good thing for the UK.

SMEs in Scotland

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4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on support for small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland. [909867]

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We have regular discussions with our ministerial colleagues on this matter, and most recently on the £260 million borderlands growth deal announced by the Chancellor in the spring statement. Our industrial strategy sets out our ambition to make the UK the best place to start and grow a business, and central to that is our ongoing commitment to the British Business Bank, which supported £467 million of finance to more than 3,600 Scottish businesses in 2017-18.

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I thank the Minister for his response. He will be aware of the importance of banking services to small businesses, particularly in rural and more fragile areas, and the closure of banks has hit many of these small businesses hard, not least in East Neuk in my own constituency. What action is he taking to look at, for example, increasing transaction remuneration to post offices, which are increasingly important to those businesses?

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I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), that she is currently negotiating the banking framework. I also want to set out the support that the British Business Bank gives to start-up businesses: 3,200 businesses have received £22 million in funding in recent years. We have 48,000 more businesses in Scotland compared with 2010. That is good news, and we need to make sure that we continue to support businesses, particularly the rural ones the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Small Business Support

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5. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses. [909868]

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12. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses. [909876]

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23. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses. [909887]

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We are backing young entrepreneurs by launching an independent review, led by the Prince’s Trust, to understand how we can better support them to turn their business dreams into reality. We are backing small and medium-sized enterprises with our spending power, with our ambitious strategy to ensure that at least £1 in every £3 we spend as a Department is spent with smaller businesses by 2022.

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I thank the Minister for bringing forward the future high streets fund, which will be really important for small businesses on Mansfield High Street, and for the meetings I have been able to have with the Government about how to make sure that Mansfield can benefit. The council is now consulting with stakeholders on its proposals. Will Ministers agree to meet me so that I can make the case for Mansfield’s bid to the future high streets fund?

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My hon. Friend is right. High streets are changing, and the Government are committed to helping communities adapt. In the Budget, we set out our plan for high streets, with a £1.6 billion package to support the sustainable transformation of our high streets, which includes the future high streets fund. My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner for his town, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to hear his proposals for the regeneration of Mansfield town centre, coupled with the investment and plans already being put in place through the growth deal.

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Will the Minister join me in acknowledging the welcome focus the Government have put on tackling late payment to small businesses? Will she confirm that improvement in payment times could release billions of pounds back into the economy to ensure that our SME sector remains vibrant and thrives?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is quite right. Tackling late payments will indeed do just as he says. It is true that late payments can be extremely damaging for small businesses, and that is why we are committed to tackling it. In his first year, the Small Business Commissioner has managed to collect over £2 million owed to small businesses. In the spring statement last week, we announced a requirement on audit committees to review their payment practices. I look forward, in the very short term, to bringing forward a full package of policy measures to tackle just that.

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Last weekend, I was pleased to support High Street Saturday in Crawley town centre. Will my hon. Friend welcome the £900 million in business rate reductions, which is really starting to help small businesses on our high streets?

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I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to welcome this cut in business rates. He will also be pleased to hear that, because of the updated forecasts from local authorities, the discount is now worth nearly £1 billion to retailers over two years, further bolstering this Government’s plan for the high street, which is now worth £1.6 billion, and directly benefiting some of our smallest retail businesses. My hon. Friend is a great campaigner for Crawley, and I am sure he will continue to ask questions on this subject.

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With just 10 days to go to a possible no-deal Brexit, only a third of the small businesses that trade exclusively with Europe have applied for and received their so-called EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers that will enable them to continue to do so. Those numbers could be allocated automatically by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Will the Minister lobby HMRC to tell it to do that, and back British business?

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The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is true that we are making sure, as this Department is charged to do, that small businesses are absolutely aware of their obligations in regard to a no-deal Brexit. I would point out to him that HMRC is reissuing those numbers within 24 hours of small businesses applying.

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Staff working insecure hours for the Hull-based small business Grotto Hire UK, which operates Santa’s grottos, have still not been paid, and many are owed thousands of pounds. The company owner offered to put the company into liquidation so that the staff could claim through the insolvency fund, but his appointed liquidators have now pulled out, leaving the company still running. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss this appalling situation and look at how the company can be wound up in the public interest?

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The point that the hon. Lady raises is really important, especially for her constituents. I will be more than happy to meet with her to discuss those issues.

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Small businesses and our high streets are hugely damaged by the closure of bank branches right across the country, which nets the banks, which we bailed out with taxpayers’ money, a vast amount of money in savings. Will the Minister consider a windfall tax on the banks to ensure that we redistribute some of that money back into our high streets to support small businesses?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Tax is a responsibility of the Treasury, but as he will know, including after our conversations yesterday—this was also alluded to earlier in questions—post offices are still an important part of our high streets, and the Post Office is currently negotiating a new banking framework. It is absolutely right that, when banks are pulling out of our high streets, the post offices that are delivering the services are remunerated correctly for that.

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The duty for large companies to report how quickly they pay their suppliers is of course welcome—80% of businesses that fail do so as a result of late payments—but to be effective, the new duty to report will need some teeth, such as binding arbitration and fines for persistent offenders. This Government’s use of sanctions against the poorest has been disgraceful, so how about using sanctions against some of the most powerful and making sure that large corporations treat their small business suppliers fairly?

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Late payments and the way that some large businesses have behaved in the past have been an issue for decades, and it is this Government who are prepared to make changes and bring forward policies to reduce them. We know that late payments can be incredibly damaging for businesses. That is the reason for the Chancellor’s announcement last week about the responsibility of committees to look at payment practices, and I look forward to making further proposals.

UK Space Industry

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6. What steps he is taking to support the UK space industry. [909870]

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24. What steps he is taking to support the UK space industry. [909888]

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In the past month we have invested £18 million in the OneWeb satellite constellation to deliver global 5G communications, which I announced at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands. Last week we announced £7 million for the SMILE—Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer—mission. In addition, we announced £25 million for the PLATO—planetary transits and oscillations of stars—observatory mission, and last week we signed the Square Kilometre Array treaty, which will see £180 million invested in the world’s largest telescope.

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I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he confirm that the Government remain positive about the potential of a horizontal-launch spaceport at Cornwall airport Newquay? Will he continue to work to provide the support needed to move that development forward, which would be of such benefit to the Cornish economy? Will he also come to Cornwall and see for himself the potential of the site?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question; we had a positive meeting with the spaceport team last week. I am keen to do what I can to progress the hard work that has been done to put together an exciting project. The Government are investing £50 million to kick-start operations for a UK spaceport, including a £2 million fund for spaceports planning to host air-launched rockets and sub-orbital space planes. I will come down to Cornwall next month.

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Can the Minister confirm that it remains his intention to help the UK space industry by developing an alternative to the European Union’s Galileo system?

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The Government have committed £92 million to developing options for a domestic alternative to Galileo. The UK Space Agency is leading work with the full support of the Ministry of Defence. Contracts are being let with UK companies. Around 50 have made expressions of interest in the process, which will help to keep important skills and expertise in satellite navigation.

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The Minister might know that some of the finest engineering companies in Huddersfield are busy providing components for space probes, including the one that went to Mars. Our great town is really on the cutting edge, so will he visit Huddersfield and see what an enterprising, get-up-and-go town can do for small businesses and large businesses? Components come from all over Europe, so will he also come and reassure people who are terrified of what could happen with Europe?

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I can confirm that I will visit Huddersfield on 10 May. I am going to the university there, and I will ensure that I speak to the hon. Gentleman and arrange to meet the companies as part of my visit.

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I say to the Minister, who is a serious academic, that I have had the great joy of giving a lecture at the university. It is an admirable institution and they are very hospitable, so I think they will very much look forward to seeing and hearing the Minister.

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Not every region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be part of the UK space industry, but every region deserves the opportunity for employment. Will the Minister indicate what has been done to ensure that all regions have those employment opportunities?

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When we look at our space industry, we see that it is truly part of the United Kingdom, right across every place. I went to Northern Ireland to see Thales and the work that it is doing on some of the satellite applications. Up in Sutherland in Scotland, we have a £31.5 million investment in vertical space launch. We want to ensure that our space industry—one of the fastest-growing industries in all of business—covers the whole of the UK.

Marine Renewable Electricity Generation

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7. What steps the Government are taking to support the development of marine renewable electricity generation. [909871]

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It was a pleasure to meet the right hon. Gentleman and a cross-party group of colleagues only last month to discuss this matter. I commend the Marine Energy Council for the work that it has done, and indeed I see that it has published some interesting analysis today. We have provided £175 million of innovation funding to the sector. We all want it to succeed. We have the first pre-commercial array deployed off Caithness and, of course, we have the European Marine Energy Centre in his constituency.

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I thank the Minister for the meeting last month. We are now engaging with the Treasury in respect of revenue support for the sector, and any support that she can give it will be very welcome. In the meantime, however, we have the prospect of the energy White Paper. Will she use her offices to ensure that the potential for marine renewable energy generation is fully recognised when that White Paper comes to publication?

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I do not want to pre-empt the White Paper, but I think that one thing we will show in it is how the ongoing attempts to be technology-neutral can work across the piece to generate low-cost, low-carbon energy, and highly competitive technologies will be part of that. We remain interested in marine and tidal, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Of course, we need to discuss with the Treasury any revenue support mechanisms, but I want to continue to engage with the sector on a long-term basis.

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The Minister will be aware that the proposed Swansea Bay city deal would include a strong marine energy component centred on Pembroke Dock. She will also be aware that the growth deal is beset with concerns and questions about its progress, so will the Minister, along with Welsh Ministers, please look into the marine renewables part of the project to ensure that progress is made and opportunities are not lost?

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Of course, it is striking that we had the very interesting Swansea tidal bid, which would have been the most expensive power station in the UK had we built it, and that that project has now come forward in a different form not requiring Government subsidy. There is huge potential to continue to work with the communities of Swansea and across Wales, and I will be delighted to keep working with them.

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Fifty per cent. of Europe’s tidal and 35% of its wave energy resource are in UK waters, but the Government have still not provided the marine renewables industry with a secure route from experimental phase through to demonstrator phase through to full commercial development. Recent research from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult shows that revenue support could enable marine renewables to create up to 50,000 new jobs and dominate more than 30% of a global market estimated at £76 billion by 2050. Does the Minister accept that the contract for difference auctions are not an adequate mechanism to support emerging technologies such as marine renewables at this stage in their development, and will she take action to provide a competitive funding pool in the energy White Paper to support the UK’s innovative marine technologies and enable the UK to gain its rightful share of this exciting global market?

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I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s thesis will be peer-reviewed.

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I will attempt to do that, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman will know, of course, that all these technologies basically started off in the same place. Arguably, marine and tidal have received more innovation funding. They have not been able to demonstrate a cost reduction pathway commensurate with, for example, offshore wind, but he is right to say that we need to look at ways to try to bring these technologies forward and we will continue to do so.

Industrial Strategy: High-quality Jobs

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9. What recent steps he has taken through the industrial strategy to increase the number of high-quality and well-paid jobs. [909873]

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The industrial strategy is based on increasing the number of high-quality and well-paid jobs because it invests in skills, infrastructure and innovation, as well as building long-term strategic partnerships with businesses through sector deals between the Government and industry.

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As my hon. Friend will be aware, we often talk about our being the fifth largest economy, but by GDP per head we are ranked about 23rd or 24th, according to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Does he agree that greater export penetration into growing markets overseas will help to raise that GDP per head and that an independent trade policy could boost that endeavour?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. In his own constituency, six companies have received the Queen’s award for international trade. He understands the importance of exports. I agree that the UK needs to deploy all the tools at its disposal to support UK exporters, and a key part of that is tailoring our trade policy to the strengths and requirements of our economy and supporting the delivery of the industrial strategy.

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Today’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report singles out the steel industry as having been particularly failed by the Government’s industrial strategy. On behalf of the steel sector in my constituency, can I ask the Minister when the Government will get back around the table to take action on issues such as energy prices?

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I discussed this issue yesterday through the good offices of the all-party group on steel and metal related industries—several hon. Members were there—and agreed to hold a roundtable with all parties, including, I hope, the hon. Lady, to discuss how we can progress the sector deal.

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General Electric in Stafford—and indeed in Rugby—provides excellent, high-quality and well-paid jobs through its investment in energy, particularly good energy. Can I invite the Minister or his colleague the Energy Minister to come and see what world-leading technology is being developed in Stafford?

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I cannot answer for my right hon. Friend, who is capable of visiting wherever she likes—in fact, she is omnipresent all over the country with her visits—but I would be delighted to visit GE and anywhere else in Stafford my hon. Friend thinks suitable.

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Will the Minister spell out yet again the extent of his support in the industrial strategy for the likes of Bombardier and related industries in Northern Ireland?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, I meet regularly with Bombardier, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is a regular visitor to my office and is always welcome. I am interested to hear its views on anything.

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It is more than a year since the Government committed to putting as much emphasis on the quality of jobs as on the quantity. In their response to the Taylor review last February, they said:

“We will…report annually on the quality of work in the UK economy…and…hold ourselves to account”.

How much longer do we have to wait for the first assessment of job quality in the UK?

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We gave our answer in our response to the Taylor review, but the Government have also published a good work plan, in which we commit to ways of delivering better jobs for everyone in the British economy.

Carbon Emissions

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10. What assessment he has made of the reasons for recent trends in the rate at which the UK’s carbon emissions are falling. [909874]

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The right measure is to look at carbon dioxide reduction as a unit of national income—the carbon intensity measure—and BEIS will publish its own numbers at the end of May and then make the assessment. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that we have been decarbonising faster than any other G7 or G20 economy and that in the last year for which we have data our decarbonisation rate—on the intensity measure—was minus 4.7%. We know we have to do more, but I hope he welcomes the measures on hard-to-reach sectors, such as decarbonising the heating grid. We should be proud of what we have achieved.

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The UN says that we have less than 12 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and on Friday thousands of schoolchildren marched for their futures. Given that emissions fell last year by only 1.5%—less than half the 3.2% fall recorded the year before—does the Minister agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that the Government are “coasting” on climate change?

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Far from it. I do not recognise those numbers. I have got into trouble before for saying I probably would have been out there with those kids several years ago—I recognise the admirable passion and urgency with which they have raised this matter, although we need their skills to solve this problem. The best way to solve the climate problem is to create a generation of geo-engineers, climate scientists and technologists, and they have to learn those skills in the classroom.

We are absolutely not coasting, but we need strong cross-party support to deliver this change. It is striking that when we debate our relationship with the earth’s climate for the next 40 years, this place is half empty, but when we debate our relationship with the EU for the next three years, it is jam-crammed. We need to get beyond Brexit and start focusing on the future.

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The Minister is rightly encouraging the use of electric vehicles, but, as she will appreciate, in the commercial sector there is, on occasion, inadequate supply in the grid. Will she recognise the valuable role played by Off Grid Energy in my constituency, which has storage technology, and whose latest project for the Oxford Bus Company involves capturing energy from solar panels and storing it so that the buses can be charged up overnight?

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My hon. Friend—whose constituency is known for its engineering excellence—is absolutely right. As is clear from the smart systems plan for the future and the smart export guarantee, decentralised energy generation storage is one of the ways in which we can maximise the value of electric vehicle roll-out and its contribution to solving the generation and storage problem.

Skilled Green Jobs

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11. What steps he is taking to promote the creation of skilled green jobs. [909875]

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As the hon. Lady will know, nearly 400,000 people—more than the number employed in aerospace—are working in the low-carbon economy. As last week’s offshore wind sector deal made clear, the focus on job creation is paramount, but we must also focus more on diversity in the sector, and I am very proud of the commitment by the industry and the Government to ensuring that at least a third of the 27,000 jobs that will be created are going to women by 2030.

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Lewisham Council recently declared a climate emergency, and called for urgent action on the environment. Tackling climate change will require a radical transformation of the economy and society, including investment in green industries. Will the Minister match Labour’s commitment to a green industrial revolution creating 400,000 jobs across the country?

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I always admire the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm, but committing themselves to a target that we have already achieved is perhaps not the most stretching thing that the Opposition could do. However, I welcome Lewisham Council’s declaration of a climate emergency. My local authority, Wiltshire County Council, has done the same.

I am struck by the sense of urgency in schools and local authorities, and among people throughout the United Kingdom, but we must ensure that the plans we come up with are deliverable and not pie in the sky. Many people have criticised the Opposition’s rather fanciful projections, which they say will never be delivered. I am in the business of delivering policies that add up, can be delivered, and stand the test of time.

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Jaguar Land Rover is moving to the production of electric cars, but one of the issues that holds back purchasing is range and the time that it takes to recharge their batteries. What can the Government do to improve battery technology?

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Range anxiety is diminishing as battery technology improves. My hon. Friend will know of the Faraday challenge, a cross-Government and industry commitment to not only improving battery manufacturing and technology, but creating some of that value here in the UK.

Energy Mix

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13. What assessment he has made of the potential composition of the UK's energy mix in 2030. [909877]

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22. What steps he is taking to ensure that renewable technologies form part of the energy mix. [909886]

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The UK is leading the world in decarbonising our energy supplies while driving down the cost of clean power. The proportion of our electricity coming from renewables has increased fourfold since 2010, and the cost of clean power is falling fast. The price of offshore wind has fallen by 50% in the last couple of years.

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The Secretary of State has just recognised that there is considerable support for renewable energy throughout the country. My local community in High Peak have always been committed to that. “Archie”, the Archimedes’ screw in New Mills, is the first community-owned hydroelectric project. However, the Government are preventing people from becoming involved in renewable energy projects by removing the feed-in tariff and refusing to remove planning blocks on onshore wind, while forcing councils to plan positively for fracking. Will the Secretary of State recommend the scrapping of that policy, and instead require councils to plan positively for renewables?

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I think the hon. Lady should recognise the huge progress that has been made, which is beyond what anyone would have expected 10 years ago when the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed. I commend her constituents for their contribution in respect of renewable power. However, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth has said, the right mechanism must be applied to the right technology. It is better to finance technologies in the early stages of development through innovation funding than to pretend that they can make a significant contribution to the grid.

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A renewables mix is hugely important in securing our long-term energy supply, so will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss some of the contradictory barriers in place for solar power, for example, because there are limited technologies that are able to bid for support through the contract for difference scheme?

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I will indeed meet my hon. Friend, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth will join that conversation. We have a good record in bringing on a range of new technologies and I am very happy to make sure there are no barriers to that.

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There will now be a 9 GW cut in future installed capacity by 2030 as a result of Toshiba and Hitachi ending their plans to build three new nuclear power stations. The Secretary of State has also cancelled plans to build tidal lagoons possibly providing about that amount of additional capacity, has banned onshore wind and has run down new solar installations. He has severely limited the auction for new offshore wind to only £60 million of a possible £557 million. Does the Secretary of State agree that on present policies it looks like there will be a substantial capacity gap in power production against likely 2030 demand? Does he have any plan to deal with that? Does he have any plans to revive the lost nuclear power proposals? Does he share the Opposition’s view that, among other things, we will need at least 50 GW of installed offshore wind to help close the gap and meet our climate change commitments?

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Quite the opposite is true. One of the reasons why it has proved impossible to finance privately some of these nuclear power stations is that the cost of renewables was falling and the availability was increasing so rapidly that they are being muscled out of the system. The forecast electricity margin for this year is now over 11%, the highest for five years. To put this into context for the hon. Gentleman, the contribution that the Wylfa nuclear power station—3 GW—would have made was procured in a single contract for difference auction for offshore wind. That shows the abundance that we have, rather than the shortage.

Feed-in Tariffs and Power Generation

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14. What steps he plans to take to support small and medium-sized renewable power generators after the scheduled closure of the feed-in tariffs scheme. [909878]

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Solar is a UK success story: 99% of the solar capacity in the UK has been installed since 2010 when I became an MP. The feed-in tariff, however, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is a very expensive way of delivering small-scale generation. It has cost us almost £6 billion to date, and as the price of solar panels has fallen by 80%—I can see the hon. Gentleman sighing but numbers and value for money tend to matter on the Government Benches—I decided to bring forward the smart export guarantee, which opens up the market for small-scale generations and ensures that everybody is paid for power they export to the grid.

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From listening to the Government’s rhetoric on climate change, we could be forgiven for thinking that the school strikers are coming out in support of them; they are coming out against them, and if we cut through the greenwash we see the feed-in tariff axed, the solar energy sector decimated, and now the exports payments framework about to be ended and no replacement put in place. So let me ask this: will the Government ever announce a cut to the lavish support they dole out to their friends in the fossil fuel industry?

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It is news to me that the Labour party’s policy is to be anti the oil and gas industry that employs so many hundreds of thousands of people. And when it comes to rhetoric, the hon. Gentleman should just go and practise in front of the bathroom mirror. I am happy to share the facts with him again—[Interruption.] Perhaps he is going to ask me to get on my knees next, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] What we do on the Government side of the House is focus on facts—[Interruption.] You know, Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman was very clear that he was not a misogynist bully boy; I think his activities and behaviour today suggests quite the opposite. If he would like me to answer the question——[Interruption.] The answer to the question is this: we have not slashed support for renewable energy. We are now moving to a point where renewable energy no longer requires subsidy to deploy. If the hon. Gentleman could just stop equating Government spending with success and look at the results, he will see that we do not subsidise things that we do not have to, which means we can focus on bringing other technologies to market.

Industrial Strategy: New Hospitals

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15. What assessment he has made of the potential role of new hospital projects in the industrial strategy. [909879]

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On the question of whether hospital projects should be part of the industrial strategy, I absolutely agree. They are part of an industry in an area—health campuses, science, research and development, and, not least, modular construction and everything in our construction sector deal.

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Together with the £400 million move of Public Health England to Harlow by 2024, a brand-new healthcare hospital campus would make Harlow the health science capital of the UK. Will my hon. Friend work with the Treasury to support capital funding for the desperately needed new hospital in Harlow?

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My right hon. Friend could not be a greater champion for the Harlow hospital and health campus; in fact, I would honourably suggest that it should be named after him. However, he is absolutely right: the Treasury has to consider this and other bids, including the wonderful Watford General Hospital health campus, which I support. I am sure it will reach the right conclusion that these bids are fantastic for local areas—not just for the hospital but for industrial development for the future in those areas.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [909889]

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One of the frustrations about the dominance of our Brexit debates over the last two years is that insufficient attention is given to the fact that this is one of the most exciting times for British industry and commerce since the first industrial revolution, which was forged in this country. We are in the vanguard of so many of the industries of the future. Earlier this month, my right hon. Friend the Energy Minister was in Lowestoft and, again, in Grimsby to launch the offshore wind sector deal—the 10th sector deal in our industrial strategy. It is helping Britain to procure a third of its electricity through offshore power by 2020, to provide a lead right around the world and to export good technology.

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I share my right hon. Friend’s optimism and enthusiasm for the opportunities that lie ahead for this country. Following the Chancellor’s statement last week, when specific measures were announced, which I welcome, could he elaborate on how he expects the UK to take a lead in science and innovation to develop new technologies for renewables, which he touched on, and new materials?

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My right hon. Friend is correct that our reputation for science and innovation, and the standing of our universities, are among the best in the world. At a time when every country around the world is investing in the technologies of the future, we need to emphasise the abilities and talents we have. Through the industrial strategy, we have the biggest increase in public and private sector spending and innovation that we have ever had in this country. It is already making a difference, but we have more to do.

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Our automotive sector is facing significant challenges. To quote the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders,

“There is a perfect storm of a hostile global trading environment, the imminent threat of significant tariffs on cars exported to the US, rising costs, technological revolution and the already damaging impact of Brexit on the UK industry”.

This perfect storm has already claimed some victims: Honda in Swindon, the loss of the production of the X-Trail and Infiniti models in Sunderland, and the loss of thousands of jobs at Jaguar Land Rover and Ford. The sector needs immediate and substantial support. Does the Secretary of State think the Government are doing enough?

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I am glad the hon. Lady recognises the importance and effectiveness of our automotive sector. She is absolutely right that the acceleration of the shift to new technologies is affecting the sector in every country around the world. Through our industrial strategy, agreed with the automotive sector through the sector deal, and the Faraday challenge, we are advancing our position in battery technology. That makes sure that, when the new generation of batteries are produced, they are produced in Britain, guaranteeing our future.

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Those are warm words from the Secretary of State, but actions speak louder. On Brexit, his Government have threatened a catastrophic no deal and run down the clock. On rising costs, the Government have allowed costs such as industrial electricity prices and business rates to disadvantage UK manufacturers. On electrification, the Government have allowed us to fall behind. The planned charging infrastructure investment fund is still not in operation 16 months after it was announced, and subsidies for electric vehicles have been cut. Is not the truth that this Government are failing to provide the automotive sector with the support it needs to weather this perfect storm?

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We are the leading country in Europe when it comes to the production of electric vehicles, and as the hon. Lady is well aware, we have, through the industrial strategy, advanced our leadership position. However, if she listens to the leaders of the automotive sector, they say one thing time and again very clearly: we need to conclude a deal with the European Union. They have endorsed comprehensively the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated. If the hon. Lady is concerned for the future of this important sector, she would compromise and recognise the importance of bringing to an end this uncertainty and passing the deal.

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T4. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a business briefing in Tendring where I met some of the wonderful entrepreneurs in my area. They just want certainty. They just want us to get the job done. What is the Department doing to protect those businesses as we leave the European Union? [909892]

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Our business environment is among the best in the world. By reducing corporation tax and investing in skills, innovation and productivity-boosting schemes, we are supporting businesses to compete in an ever-changing market. Ensuring that businesses can access finance is key, and the British Business Bank has the tools to make that happen, including its enterprise finance guarantee scheme, start-up loans and our export strategy.

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T2. Just days after hundreds of children in Glasgow joined the thousands around the world campaigning for action to tackle climate change, a massive cyclone and devastating floods have hit Mozambique, Malawi and other parts of central Africa. What steps is the Department taking, working with the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to help developing countries to mitigate and tackle the causes and effects of climate change? [909890]

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The hon. Gentleman is right that CO2 molecules do not care where they are emitted or where they have an impact. I am delighted to tell him that we are one of the world’s largest donors of climate-facing aid, with £5.8 billion over this Parliament, about half of which is spent on adaptation and half on mitigation. There is clearly more to do, but we should be proud of that record.

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T5. What is BEIS doing to ensure that the oil and gas industry, which is the largest employer in my constituency, is the most innovative oil and gas sector in the world? [909893]

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My hon. Friend speaks proudly of the hundreds of high-skilled jobs in his constituency, and there are hundreds of thousands such jobs across the UK. We are increasing R&D spend across the piece, but innovation in the oil and gas sector is driven through the almost £200 million investment in the oil and gas technology centre, which I have been pleased to visit, including £90 million from the Government.

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T3. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders told us in big, bold type in its briefing note this morning that the vehicle excise duty diesel supplement must be removed immediately if we are to encourage the sale of the most advanced and cleanest diesel engines, such as those in which JLR is investing heavily. If that change is needed immediately, can manufacturers be expected to wait until the October Budget for an answer? [909891]

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The hon. Gentleman knows that I have been in discussion with the industry. The sector has participated in the development of the path to the decarbonisation of vehicles, and it is important that we are consistent with that. However, part of that process is about recognising that buying a diesel car is a perfectly reasonable choice for many people, but some people have got the wrong impression from the announcement.

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T7. The all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking and finance is dealing with several cases, including those of Keith Elliott and Julia Davey, that raise serious questions about inappropriate links between insolvency practitioners and banks, specifically KPMG, PwC and Lloyds Bank. What action is the Minister taking to remove such conflicts of interest? [909895]

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My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner in this area and for his constituents, and he knows that I would particularly like to tackle this matter. Insolvency practitioners must adhere to the insolvency code of ethics and must not allow conflicts of interest to override the fundamental principles of objectivity. Breaching the code may result in regulatory action, such as a fine, reprimand or, in the most serious of circumstances, the removal of a licence. The code is currently being updated by the recognised professional bodies that licence insolvency practitioners, but I will continue the dialogue with my hon. Friend on this matter.

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T6. Because of IR35, small contractors who provide services to the public sector are paying more tax than regular employees but without benefits such as holiday pay or sick pay. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor on revising IR35? [909894]

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The hon. Lady raises an important point, but she knows we are doing a lot in this area to strengthen employment rights for people in the workplace. We have the good work plan, we are looking at flexibility, we are increasing holiday pay and we are always looking at how we can improve the situation for workers, whether the self-employed or general workers.

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T10. Last week the Chancellor announced investments in genomics, photonics, quantum computing and nuclear fusion. Does my right hon. Friend agree that investments in world-class innovation bring economic benefits for all? [909898]

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The spring statement was indeed a statement for research, innovation and science. Looking at just one of those investments, there is £60 million to keep the Joint European Torus facility going, and there are hundreds of jobs and tens of PhDs at that facility. I am delighted that the Chancellor made that commitment as we move forward to 2.4% of GDP being spent on research and development by 2027.

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T8. Can the Secretary of State explain whether he personally thinks the Prime Minister’s exit deal will make the UK better off than remaining in the EU would? [909896]

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Substantial analysis has shown that, of all the options available, the Prime Minister’s deal is the one that provides the best economic future, and I hope the hon. Lady will support it.

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Post offices are at the heart of our communities, so does the Minister welcome the news that Newick post office in my constituency, after being closed for months following the sad death of the postmaster, Terry, is set to reopen? Does she agree that we must do all we can to keep post offices open in our rural communities?

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I thank my hon. Friend for the work she has done with her constituents, the Post Office and the community to make sure that the post office in Newick is reopened. Post offices play an important role in our communities, and we are committed to maintaining the network of 11,500 post offices with the support of MPs like her.

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T9. In my constituency, the Crown post office in Middleton is to be closed and franchised into WHSmith, the consultation on which has just finished. As if that were not enough for one constituency, a consultation has just begun on moving the Heywood post office into an empty shop with an as yet unidentified retailer. Does the Minister agree that that consultation is a sham and that our post offices are both national institutions and part of our communities? [909897]

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As the hon. Lady knows after our meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss this issue, we are committed to delivering and maintaining the post office network, which did not happen under the last Labour Government, when there was a reduction. As I have already outlined and made very clear, where there are concerns about specific branches, practices and consultations, I will personally raise them directly with the Post Office.

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Will the Secretary of State give an update on the next phase of the Greater Grimsby town deal?

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I am delighted that the Prime Minister was able to join my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and me to celebrate the success of the beginning of that deal. The next phase is about investment in skills, and I look forward to visiting Cleethorpes and Grimsby to inaugurate that important set of investments in the skills of the population.

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Order. We are running very late. One sentence questions.

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At the last general election, Labour promised to introduce a “Post Bank” to combat financial exclusion and ensure that everyone has access to banking services in their community. Does the Secretary of State agree that introducing a Post Bank to provide banking services in post offices would do wonders for the high street, as well as reducing financial exclusion?

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The hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to talk about the fact that we already offer banking services in our post offices. As I outlined earlier, we are doing the most we can to make sure that post offices and sub-postmasters are remunerated for the work they do.

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Order. I am sorry, but the questions and answers are just too long. I am trying to help the House, but what we want is a brief question and a brief answer, not a speech.

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Barclays has just announced another swathe of branch closures that affect my constituency, as the banks continue their flight from small towns and rural areas. Where does the Minister think all this will end? Does she agree that banks have a wider social obligation?

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I agree with my right hon. Friend that banks have a wider social responsibility. That is why I am committed to working with the Post Office to make sure that under the new banking framework post offices are remunerated correctly for the service they are providing for communities that the banks have moved away from.

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Fracking is bad for the environment, our health, our democracy, our landscape and even the courts. Does the Minister recognise that the Government are on shaky ground, quite literally, and will they ditch their support for this failing industry?

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We have said repeatedly that the opportunity to create a home-grown energy source that provides thousands of jobs in parts of the country that economic policies have not been able to help, with the toughest regulations for oil and gas exploration in the world, is something that we should soberly and sensibly explore. That continues to be the case.

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What progress is being made to upgrade SMETS 1 smart meters to allow them to function interoperably?

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The switchover has already started. The priority is smart meters that have gone dumb through customers switching, because we do not want there to be an impediment to switching. The commitment is unchanged: it will be rolled out completely by the end of 2020.

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A common feature of all patient safety scandals is that whistleblowers were ignored, intimidated or lost their careers, and were not protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Will the Secretary of State bring forward legislation for all sectors to ensure that that concern is investigated and that whistleblowers are protected?

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The hon. Lady addresses a very important area that I am extremely concerned about. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on how we can best strengthen the protection for whistleblowers within the NHS to support families and staff who raise concerns. This is a key area for us and I will continue to communicate with her on it.

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I am sorry to disappoint the large number of colleagues remaining, but on the principle that one should encourage an up and coming young Member at the conclusion of proceedings, I call Mr Dennis Skinner.

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Why should Jim Ratcliffe make millions creating misery for all the people affected by fracking? Coincidentally, there are not many jobs either.

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The hon. Gentleman, as a proud representative of a former coalfield community, knows that, to the contrary, many people, including the GMB, support the fracking policy because of its potential—

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They’re wrong.

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The hon. Gentleman says the unions are wrong—that is probably a first. People support fracking because of its potential to create jobs. [Interruption.] Crikey, if he would stop yelling. I must say that I feel desperately sorry for female Members on the Opposition Benches if this is how their colleagues treat them: being howled down, winked at—the other hon. Gentleman is not in his place—and having kisses blown after a question. The brocialists are in full control of the Labour party. I know that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) will accept that we need to explore the science sensibly and see whether there is a natural resource there, because when he was digging up coal, energy security used to matter.

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I am genuinely sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but demand has exceeded supply, as is so often the case at Question Time.