Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 661: debated on Tuesday 11 June 2019

Since our previous questions, we have launched the west midlands local industrial strategy in Coventry, building on the region’s reputation for excellence in low-emissions vehicles, with further funding for the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre. Shortly after the recommendation by the Committee on Climate Change that we legislate to reach net zero emissions by 2050, Britain enjoyed its first ever coal-free fortnight since the industrial revolution. We will make our response to the committee’s report shortly to reaffirm our commitment to leadership in this important endeavour.

Most of us have hospitals, schools, council buildings and police stations in our constituencies. What more can the Government do to encourage the use of renewable energy in those buildings?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point on behalf of one of the sunnier parts of the country. The public sector energy efficiency loans scheme is open to public bodies so that they are able to invest in just that technology. I will ensure that he has the full details of that scheme, which might also interest the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), given his question.

T4. The International Development Secretary recently said that he wants to double the UK’s current £1.1 billion commitment to the UN green climate fund. As the UK is yet to do so, will the Minister who has temporary responsibility for our engagement with the UN climate talks assure us today that it is the Government’s intention to commit additional money to the fund? (911273)

Obviously, any decision on future funds will be made within the spending review, but I can absolutely say that it is vital that we work cross-departmentally to look at how we can harness all the resources of Government towards tackling climate change. The Secretary of State for International Development has made that commitment personally, and I can double down on that commitment to ensure that we tackle climate change in the poorest countries in the world.

T2. The Office for Product Safety and Standards undertook a thorough review of the modification of Whirlpool tumble dryers. However, there still remain great concerns about not only the straightness of Whirlpool, but whether people have unsafe products in their homes. Can the Minister update us on what is happening in relation to Whirlpool? (911270)

I recognise the key role that my hon. Friend played in instigating the review when he was in post. Consumer safety is a Government priority and I assure him that we have kept Whirlpool’s action under review. I can tell the House that we have informed Whirlpool of our intention to serve a recall notice as the next step of the regulatory process. This is unprecedented action.

T7. I have two universities in my constituency that work very closely with businesses to develop technology. Can the Minister assure me that the Augar review will not lead to funding cuts at these universities, as they get funding from different sources? (911276)

The Government have been clear in our response to the Augar review that we want to reflect on its recommendations. We will take this forward as part of the spending review while the post-18 review reaches its conclusions. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the future of research in this country is about ensuring that universities act as magnets to draw business in. Just yesterday, I attended the launch of the University of Bath’s Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems at the Bristol and Bath Science Park. It is absolutely right that we must cherish universities’ research capabilities.

I call Andrea Jenkyns. Oh dear; she has beetled out of the Chamber. I therefore call Peter Aldous.

T5. With town centres such as that of Lowestoft facing serious challenges, will the Minister confirm that she is working with the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to put in place a fairer system of business taxation? (911274)

My officials are in regular contact with the Treasury and MHCLG to represent the views of business. Last week, we welcomed the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), to BEIS so he now holds ministerial roles in this Department and in MHCLG, as Minister for the northern powerhouse and local growth. This further strengthens our relationship. We look forward to continuing to work together to support these businesses and make proper representations to the Treasury.

T8. British steel companies pay twice as much as their French competitors for energy and 50% more than German companies. What action will the Government take to enable the British steel industry to compete without having one hand tied behind its back? (911277)

I regularly speak with a range of steel companies. Since 2013 the Government have provided more than £291 million to the steel sector for the costs of renewables and climate change policies, including over £53 million compensation during 2018.

T6. York Instruments, based in my constituency, is doing ground-breaking work developing advanced medical devices, attracting £10 million of private investment from the US to sustain 41 high-skilled jobs. Can the Government assure me that they are doing everything possible to facilitate this kind of investment, which can be very difficult for some small businesses to navigate? (911275)

I can indeed, and I commend my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. The life sciences sector deal has provided a means for investment to take place right across the sector. In fact, that deal has been so successful that we are on the second version of it, and further investments will be announced shortly.

What has the Department done to monitor the growth of short-hours contracts in supermarkets, which have led 76% of USDAW members on low pay to rely on unsecured loans to pay everyday bills, with 63% believing that financial worries are affecting their mental health? Will the Secretary of State meet USDAW to discuss its recent survey in detail?

I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this, but I would like to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to upgrade workers’ rights, protecting the most vulnerable workers. Our legal framework already ensures that employers should always treat their employees fairly, and our good work plan will introduce the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights in a generation. In the retail sector specifically, the industry-led Retail Sector Council has identified that employment is a key priority for the workstream and we will be discussing that on 20 June.

At the last BEIS questions, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary gave a positive response to my suggestion of a wide-scale roll-out of solar on every public sector building—every school, hospital and prison. Is he interested in taking that proposal forward?

I am indeed. I set out to my hon. Friend a means by which that can be financed. In our response to the Climate Change Committee’s report, we will be setting out further measures that we can take to accelerate our decarbonisation.

Will the Minister outline what steps her Department has taken to ensure that free ATM services are retained in rural areas?

Absolutely. Access to free cashpoints is an important part of our high streets and I personally, as a constituency MP, have made representations on that to the banking sector. However, through the post office network, we already have a great deal for offering cashpoints in post offices with the Bank of Ireland. I hope to make sure that Post Office Ltd extends that service. We continue to campaign and talk to the Treasury to make sure that we still offer those cashpoint services.

The Secretary of State knows that Rothamsted Research in Harpenden does amazing work in agricultural science. Many people at Rothamsted have expressed to me their concern about the nature and the amount of science funding after we leave the European Union. Will the Secretary of State give me an update as to where we have got to on that as a Government?

I completely recognise the excellence at Rothamsted, of which my hon. Friend is a great champion. One of the advantages of concluding a deal with the rest of the European Union is that we will be able to continue to participate in science projects that are of disproportionate benefit to the UK.

Yesterday, I spoke to the chief executive of Arcadia Group about the Top Shop, Top Man and Dorothy Perkins stores in Darlington. Tomorrow, there is a CVA—company voluntary arrangement —meeting where we could see the loss of 18,000 jobs nationwide. I know that the Government cannot intervene in the process, but what are they going to do to protect communities who could be affected by this decision?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about the viability of some of the retail outlets that are operating on our high streets. She is absolutely right that it is concerning when we are looking at any closures of retail names on our high streets. We stand ready to do what we can, along with my colleagues in MHCLG, if closures occur. As I have already outlined, we are working with the Retail Sector Council. We are committed to making sure that we work with the retail sector and high streets to make sure that we can truly grow our high streets and protect retail for the future.

A small amount of funding would unlock the growth of Harwell campus in my constituency via the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Will the Secretary of State, who knows Harwell campus well, meet me and the NDA there to discuss how we can get on and build Greg Clark Park and Theresa May Way, and drive this successful science campus to help growth post Brexit?

I have no aspirations to such recognition, but I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the further opportunities for what is one of the foremost innovation campuses in the whole world.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on fireworks closed last month, having received 16,000 responses. Can the Minister update us on the UK Government’s action on fireworks, and can she guarantee that my constituents in Pollokshields will not have to suffer as they did last November?

I would be grateful to discuss the consultation outcomes with the hon. Lady. As she will know, the Office for Product Safety and Standards is undertaking a review, and I will happily update her when we have the results.

At a recent Public Accounts Committee sitting, the issue of fracking and specifically the decommissioning of fracking sites was raised, and the answers from senior civil servants were not great. Will the Minister meet me, so that we can discuss those concerns in more detail?

I know that this issue affects my hon. Friend’s constituency directly and that he is a dedicated constituency MP, so I will happily meet him to discuss it.

The loss of Novartis from the South Humber bank will lead to 400 job losses. Will the Secretary of State appoint one of his Ministers to a taskforce, to find a new buyer for the site?

As the hon. Lady knows, I am always keen to ensure that we take every step we can to preserve the continuity of skilled people, and I would be happy to do that.

The excellent new Minister has been a strong supporter of the new UK steel charter. Will he update the House on the progress he has made in getting it adopted across Government?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. After signing the UK steel charter on behalf of my Department, I have written to several other Departments, encouraging them to support this excellent initiative.

Only a fifth of York Central development is earmarked for economic development, which will seriously curtail the opportunities for business growth, inward investment and good jobs for York. Following my discussions with the Minister and stakeholders, will he consider a new proposal for York Central?

The hon. Lady is aware that this planning decision is currently with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for determination. She has had the opportunity to meet me and make representations, and I will meet my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) later today.

Many of my constituents who are customers of HELMS—Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems—have been utterly failed by ineptly regulated green energy incentive schemes. The decision to remove the feed-in tariff for solar energy microgeneration, in tandem with the proposal to apply VAT to more energy-saving materials, including solar panels, will do nothing to support the public, the industry or the environment. Will the Minister reconsider those retrograde steps, which fly in the face of our climate emergency declaration?

I simply disagree that this is a retrograde step. The smart export guarantee, which we announced yesterday and will legislate for, will create a market to ensure that small providers of renewable energy will be able to sell back their electricity to the grid and make a profit. As I have mentioned, feed-in tariffs will cost £30 billion over their lifetime, putting £14 on the bills of every household. If that is what the hon. Gentleman wants, as opposed to creating a market that will benefit those using solar panels, I do not know why he is here.

The Secretary of State is no doubt waiting for the new Prime Minister to authorise him to announce the UK ceramic sector deal. While that is being worked out, what conversations is he having with the Department for International Trade about supporting the anti-dumping measures that are currently being considered in Europe?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am a strong supporter of the proposed sector deal, and in the draft tariff schedule that was published particular attention was given to the strong representations of the ceramics industry.

I have been inundated with complaints from local residents about a second-hand car sales company in my community that variously goes by the names BD Trade Sales, Leabridge Motors, Diamond Motors and many more. Members may be aware of its work from programmes such as “Rogue Traders”, “Don’t Get Done, Get Dom”, “Watchdog” and “The Sheriffs Are Coming”. Despite the evidence about how it is ripping off consumers, the council, trading standards and the police have not been able to stop it. Will the Minister meet me to talk about what we can do to hold these phoenix companies to account, so that we get dodgy cars off the roads and get consumers a better deal?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s offer to meet me to discuss this issue, which I am keen to do. I hope that when we are in a position to make announcements in the consumer White Paper, we will be able to do exactly that—tackle some of the consumer detriment that we see across the country. I look forward to meeting her to discuss that.

The Secretary of State has quite properly described a no-deal Brexit as “a disaster” for British business. Will he commit to continuing to do everything he can to prevent a no-deal Brexit, whoever the Conservative party choose as our next Prime Minister?

I strongly believe that it is very much in our interests to have a deal that allows us to continue to trade with the rest of the European Union. The voices in countless industries could not be clearer that they depend for their prosperity on that, and I will do everything I can to represent that view in Government in the interests of the livelihoods of millions of people right across the country.