House of Commons
Tuesday 16 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Tourism Sector Deal
This summer we should recognise the vital role that visitors play in the UK economy—particularly, I might say, overseas sporting visitors. Overseas visitors spent nearly £150 million in Devon last year, supporting jobs and growth throughout the county. Our new sector deal with the tourism industry was published last month, and includes commitments to an additional 10,000 apprenticeships annually and an extra 130,000 hotel rooms.
As the Secretary of State will know, the best place to visit as a tourist is, of course, North Devon. I welcome the publication of the tourism sector deal, but will he look favourably on the granting of tourism zone status to my constituency? Will he also join me in thanking all those who work so hard at this time of year in the tourism and hospitality industries, especially the North Devon Marketing Bureau, which does such good work in ensuring that people know that North Devon is the place to come to?
That is a great endorsement, Mr Speaker.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in recognising that what is a time for holidays for many people is a time of intense work for people in the hospitality and tourism industries throughout the country. I also recognise North Devon’s bid to become one of the tourism zones. As my hon. Friend knows, the sector deal includes an investment of more than £26 million in the English coastal path, one of the most beautiful and popular attractions in his very beautiful constituency.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the sector deal, he will see a great commitment to the development of careers in the hospitality industry, including 30,000 apprenticeships a year. The new T-levels have been developed in conjunction with the sector. I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that is a great step forward, and that they will be available as a result of the commitment that has been made.
I am tempted to say that the best thing about Devon is that it is the place that one drives through on the way to Cornwall, which has again been recognised as the UK’s best and favourite holiday destination. I welcome the announcement of the tourism sector deal, but more than 50% of international tourists visit only London. What extra help can the Government give to get more of them out of London, and into places like Cornwall?
I am fearful that I shall find myself in an invidious position, given the competing claims of west country Members. All I will say is that, on this day of the 50th anniversary of the moon mission, my hon. Friend will know that Newquay’s unique claim to be in pole position for a UK spaceport adds to the already considerable attractions of his constituency.
During last week’s Westminster Hall debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), was enthusiastic when she told us that Amazon was leading the retail task group. I dread to think who the Secretary of State might have in mind for tourism—Airbnb, perhaps?
It is Labour that is standing up for the crucial sectors in our economy, not the likes of Amazon, with its exploitation of workers and undercutting of other businesses, not to mention its sweetheart tax agreements. When will the Government stop the gimmicks, and deliver not only hospitality deals but the retail deals that are so badly needed by those vital sectors of the economy?
That is a strange point for the hon. Gentleman to make, given that our tourism sector deal—the subject of this question—has been hailed by the industry as a pivotal moment for it. Of course it is right to engage with all retailers of all sizes, but colleagues who represent rural communities will know that the outlets, national and international, that web-based platforms such as Amazon give to small rural businesses are very important to retailing. It is vital for that perspective to be part of the deal.
We have made world-leading progress, cutting our emissions by 42% while growing the economy at the fastest rate of any G20 country since 2000—a point recognised by the International Energy Agency in its recent report. The Committee on Climate Change is clear: our clean growth strategy and industrial strategy provide the right frameworks for delivering net zero. I hope Members will welcome the recent launch of the green finance strategy as a clear demonstration of how seriously the Government take net zero.
The Government are failing to act quickly and robustly enough to tackle the climate emergency, particularly in solar and onshore wind. Will the Secretary of State welcome the actions of the peaceful Extinction Rebellion protesters across five cities in this country, including my own of Cardiff, to disrupt business as usual and send that important message?
What I welcome is that our legislating on net zero—we are the first country in the G7 to legislate for net zero by 2050—marks a catalytic moment for everyone to recognise that we need a whole-of-society approach to this. I welcome all action, whether from the Climate Coalition, whom I met recently, or businesses and industries: organisations such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, for example, have committed to net zero. We all have a part to play.
In light of the Government’s abysmal progress on carbon reduction, last year the Committee on Climate Change issued 25 policy recommendations; the Government delivered just one. What clear steps will the Government take in the next six months to ensure that we get back on track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets?
On the work the Committee has taken forward in its recent report, we welcome that the Committee acts as a critical friend. Now that we have net zero in place, we must go much further much faster. We have over-achieved on carbon budgets 1 and 2, we are on course to meet budget 3, and we are 90% there on carbon budgets 4 and 5, but I admit that we must do much more. I look forward to going to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee later to discuss this in greater detail, but the net-zero commitment now gives the opportunity to move on this.
Hydrogen is a really interesting source of energy and we need to explore it further. There are lots of opportunities that other countries, in particular France, are taking forward, such as by looking at hydrogen supply and how we can combine that with the gas grid. That makes the point that innovation here is crucial. We make up 1% of the world’s emissions; if we are going to be able to make a real difference worldwide, it will be by innovating in this country—innovating in areas such as hydrogen, where we can make a far greater impact across the world.
I think we have the opportunity to look at alternative sources of all energy and power. The latest round for contracts for difference opened in May and will close on 18 June. We have looked at alternative sources of power and we want to be able to explore that. But this is also about creating a market mechanism by which we can look at establishing new technologies, moving away from subsidies and ensuring that we have a proud record for the future on renewable energy supplies.
The most recent report from the Committee on Climate Change shows that we are moving in the wrong direction in terms of meeting our fourth and fifth carbon budgets. We have now rightly strengthened those objectives to achieve net zero, but without a single policy to help us get there. The long-awaited energy White Paper has still not been published, so can the Minister confirm today that that White Paper will be published before the summer recess and that it will include policies to get us there with onshore wind, solar technology, battery storage and electric vehicles?
The hon. Lady mentions electric vehicles and battery storage. The Prime Minister made a significant announcement yesterday at her business council, attended by the Secretary of State: £500 million-worth of export finance will be provided for electric vehicles. There are also the guarantees on looking at charging points. The White Paper is due this summer; I cannot give any more guarantees beyond that, but it is absolutely critical as the next milestone going forward that we have the legislation in place for net zero, and we now need to set out a plan. The clean growth strategy was set out earlier—late last year. We are on track to meet 90% of carbon budgets 4 and 5, and we will do more to ensure that we meet them.
Publicly owned buildings such as schools and hospitals can access interest-free loans in order to retrofit their buildings and put on solar panels and so forth. What consideration will be given to allow that kind of scheme to be available to small businesses?
I entirely agree that taking a local, bottom-up approach is the way in which the Government want to go. For instance, the rural communities energy fund has recently been established—an extra £10 million has been made available there—and we have the smart export guarantee when it comes to looking at renewable sources of power for small businesses or other small community buildings—
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) that when it comes to looking at how we should be creating new schemes, this is the direction in which we need to go. We will do more and I am happy to discuss with him the opportunity to involve small businesses. This will be part of the energy White Paper, and we recognise that we need to make significant strides to ensure that small businesses are able to retrofit their properties.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has shown that, as if being hostile to onshore wind and destructive to solar were not enough, the Department will not achieve its climate ambitions due to its ambivalence over carbon capture and its failure to emulate Scotland on energy efficiency measures. The net zero 2050 target was imposed by the Prime Minister above Ministers’ heads. As they prepare to leave their posts, will the Minister admit that his Department lacks the policies to achieve that target, and that his legacy will be one of abject failure?
No. If anything, I think that my legacy will be as the Minister who signed the legislation ensuring that we were the first country to achieve net zero by 2050.
I also hope that our legacy will be a successful partnership bid with the Italians for COP26. The Italian ambassador came to meet Members of Parliament here yesterday. I did not see the hon. Gentleman there, but never mind about that—[Interruption.] He might not recognise that we had the Italian ambassador here to cover our COP26 bid, but he would have been welcome. An email was sent to him, inviting him to attend, but unfortunately he did not turn up. Our commitment must be UK-wide and we are making UK-wide schemes available, including recently ensuring that we can subsidise energy supplies for the north of Scotland, which demonstrates the benefits of the Union in delivering net zero.
With bizarre and rubbish answers like that, it is no wonder that the polls in Scotland are showing greater support for the Scottish National party and for independence than ever before. Will the Minister do just one thing? Will he rule out serving under the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and vote against a no-deal Brexit to prevent further harm?
This is what it always comes down to. Here we are in BEIS questions talking about clean growth and, yes, about how the Government need to make more progress on net zero, but what is the hon. Gentleman’s No. 1 priority? Independence for Scotland. He wants to divide and rule as usual—[Interruption.]
In fact, it is being within the United Kingdom that has allowed Scotland to benefit from 16 contracts for difference projects recently, allowing for 2.6 GW of green energy. Also, £4 million was recently announced for Project Acorn in Scotland for carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects. The hon. Gentleman never mentions the policy benefits of the Union or the investment that it delivers in Scotland. No—all he wants to talk about is independence. But let us look at what the Scottish people had to say about—
Does the Minister agree with the TUC that, while decarbonisation presents exciting economic opportunities, the lack of a comprehensive and just transition policy and a coherent industrial strategy means that many well-paid, highly skilled unionised jobs are under threat?
I will half-agree with the TUC on this point. It is concerned about reaching net zero through a just transition. We are living through a revolution, and we are going to need to take the population with us when it comes to jobs and job security. We have 400,000 green jobs now, and there is a potential for 2 million by 2030. We need to work with the unions and to ensure that when we look at the future of the world of work, we take the entire population with us.
I do not believe that the Minister provided any specifics in that answer. What is his plan for the workers in the closing coal plants? Why are yards in Fife losing out to international rivals for wind farms that are only a few miles away? Why has Dyson, a British company, chosen Singapore over the UK for the production of its electric vehicles? Germany is investing €1.5 billion in battery production; this Government’s measly £246 million comes nowhere near that.
The truth is that the party that devastated the UK’s industrial heartlands in the 1980s does not have a just transition plan. Will the Minister put ideology and laissez-faire economics aside and work with us on this side to make a real green industrial revolution a reality?
The hon. Lady seems obsessed with talking about the 20th century. I want to talk about the 21st century—about what will be going on when we get to 2030. Why did she not talk about Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement yesterday that it will be investing in building electric vehicles here, in the midlands? Why did she not speak about the fact that electric Minis will now be rolling from plants in Oxford? These are positive investments for the United Kingdom, which demonstrate that we can make the change towards net zero and clean technology by having clean growth—by investing in the economy and in jobs and ensuring that we have record levels of new green jobs going forwards.
In June, the Government announced steps to ensure that consumers will not be punished for their loyalty. We are giving increased powers to the Competition and Markets Authority to fine companies that breach the law and to enable consumers to take control of the data that businesses hold on them.
Mr Speaker, when you stay at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, you may be paying 20% too much, because online agencies such as Booking.com use brandjacking clauses to colonise search results, and rate parity clauses, which mean that even if you go direct, you still pay 20% more than you need to. Other EU nations have banned this. Will we?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. The Competition and Markets Authority is taking enforcement action against the major hotel booking sites precisely because of those concerns. It has already secured binding commitments from those companies, which will protect consumers in exactly the way that he recommends.
Consumers can sign up to long-term financial commitments for broadband, television and mobile phone services by clicking a few buttons online, but to cancel those services they have to fill out arduous forms, make numerous phone calls or even write to the companies involved. Will the Secretary of State look at that anomaly, to ensure fairness, and to provide the same mechanism for getting and stopping?
For precisely those reasons, the issue is already being looked at by the Competition and Markets Authority. It is important that people are not penalised and do not find it difficult to extract themselves from commitments that are easily entered into. There needs to be fairness and transparency, and that is precisely what the CMA is engaged in.
Two-factor Payment Authentication
The implementation of strong customer authentication, which mandates two-factor authentication for some online payments, will introduce more secure payments for individuals and businesses. That was introduced by the second payment services directive. The Treasury published an impact assessment on the implementation of that EU directive in 2017.
I am staggered that the Government are not doing more about this ticking timebomb for online retail, which is on track to cause major disruption. The British Retail Consortium estimates that 75% of retailers are unaware that it is coming into effect in September. It is the same for consumers. The implementation is forecast to lead to the failure of nearly a third of e-commerce transactions from September, due to poor access to a proper phone signal or wi-fi. Will the Minister ensure that no enforcement action will be taken for at least 18 months, to give our retail sector breathing space to adapt to the new rules?
I point out that there was £309 million-worth of fraud in e-commerce in 2016 versus £13.6 million in 1998. The hon. Gentleman will know that the European Banking Authority published an opinion on readiness for implementation and the Financial Conduct Authority published a statement in June. They are working on mitigations past the September implementation date. They are working with industry and providers to make sure that the essence of the changes prevail, which is to make it safer for merchants and consumers.
Sustainable Energy: Somerset
I thank my hon. Friend for his local interest in taking action on climate change. I am pleased to say, as I mentioned earlier, that we have recently reopened the £10 million rural community energy fund. It has already supported over 150 rural communities, including through the installation of a solar capacity project in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Frome. We have also established five local energy hubs across the country, including in the south-west, providing support to local authorities that are planning green energy projects.
I met a large group of people from Somerset the other day at the Time Is Now rally in Westminster. It is clear that people from every walk of life are keen for the Government to lead the way in environmental sustainability, yet reductions in feed-in tariffs, a lack of incentives to use brownfield resources and a lack of obligations on new build houses make the going tough. How will the Department change this?
The feed-in tariff scheme achieved its objectives in support of over 3,000 installations in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Its successor, the smart export guarantee, will be a smarter, more market-driven mechanism that will help to deploy without subsidy as costs continue to fall. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government have set a clear ambition for new homes to be energy efficient and to embrace low-carbon technologies through the buildings mission and the 2025 future homes standard commitment announced by the Chancellor in the spring Budget.
The Minister is a constituency neighbour of mine. If he has time during the summer break, may I urge him to visit Wyke farm in Somerset for an example of a business that prides itself on being 100% green? It has used pulp from the cider mills to supply its anaerobic digesters and is doing really interesting things on waste water. It really shows how a farm can be at the heart of the local community, using its waste and farming in a sustainable way.
I thank the hon. Lady for that suggestion. I would be happy to come and visit during the recess. I pay tribute to her leadership on this issue locally and nationally. She has made significant commitments to this agenda for a long time and I have learned a lot from her.
Onshore Wind: Scotland
BEIS Ministers regularly discuss a range of issues with their counterparts in the Scotland Office, and just last week I met with the Scottish Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands at the British-Irish Council in Manchester to discuss energy and the environment. It was an incredibly productive meeting, in contrast to what I often find with Opposition Members in this place. The Government will continue to work with Scotland on a range of issues, including strengthening the city region deals in six areas, including Glasgow, Stirling and Aberdeen.
Research published today by Vivid Economics estimates that proposals by the Committee on Climate Change for increasing onshore wind capacity to 35 GW by 2035 would reduce the cost of electricity by 7%. Ahead of the energy White Paper, can the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has made the case for onshore wind to receive contracts for difference support, just as that new report suggests it should?
It is a little known fact that we have 13.8 GW of onshore wind capacity installed in the UK already—enough to power over 7.6 million UK homes—which includes 8.1 GW in Scotland. I understand that there are new projects close to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in north Lanarkshire, with 46 MW of onshore wind projects planned. I am not necessarily interested in what the Secretary of State for Scotland has to say on this issue; I am interested in what the Scottish people have to say and in securing local community support for ensuring, whatever our range of energy supply, that we commit to renewables of all forms in meeting our net zero commitments by 2050.
It is interesting that the Minister seems not to care what the Secretary of State for Scotland says, but wants to listen to the people of Scotland. That is good going forward. The Vivid Economics report shows that supporting onshore wind will create 2,300 jobs in Scotland. Will the Minister confirm that the blocker to those jobs and investment in Scotland is the Scottish Secretary of State and that he put his ideological objections in writing to the BEIS Secretary?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a particular issue with the Scottish Secretary of State; and I am sure that he will be happy to take up some of those issues with him at Scottish questions. All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman has made a freedom of information request to the Department. The Government have replied and that is the Government’s official response.
When it comes to renewables, let us take the positives. Let us get away from the SNP’s negativity and endless griping. There are Scottish MPs on the Government side of the House who are committed to delivering positive action to the benefit of the Scottish people—putting politics and discussions of independence aside, getting down and doing the job, delivering for the people of Scotland, and ensuring that we have offshore wind, onshore wind or whatever supply is most appropriate for Scotland.
Boosting local and national content is a key issue, and, taking up the point raised by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), the Government are determined to ensure the delivery of local green jobs. The offshore wind sector deal has obviously committed to 60% content by 2025 or 2030. I cannot remember the exact date, but I am happy to come back to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) on that.
It is important that, as we go forward with the contract for difference proposals, we make sure that we bring local suppliers with us. That is a key part of the Government’s industrial strategy.
If the Minister had an opportunity to look at today’s report from RenewableUK on onshore wind, he would see that there has been a complete collapse in planning applications for onshore wind, in Scotland and in the UK as a whole, yet the report indicates that customers could have substantially saved on their future energy bills if that collapse had not happened.
Does the Minister agree that the policy of banning onshore wind in England, through planning restrictions, and in the UK as a whole, through discrimination in support, is now completely indefensible? If he does agree, what is he doing to reverse this policy?
When it comes to renewables, we now have a record high of 52% of our electricity being generated from low-carbon sources, with 33% from renewables. We have seen with offshore wind that, actually, the reduction in our prices demonstrates that we can move towards effective renewables for the future. As I mentioned, we have 13.8 GW of onshore wind delivering for 7.6 million households. We have the local planning processes in place for the future, which was a commitment in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, but we want to make sure that we take local communities with us. That is also the case with net zero. It has to be a transition on which we have the confidence of the entire population. There is no point trying to impose green technology on local communities if they do not support that technology for the future.
We are providing £12 million a year of new funding through the Office for Product Safety and Standards to strengthen national capacity for product safety enforcement. The OPSS provides specialist expertise, scientific advice, support and training for trading standards, and it leads on national product safety challenges to protect consumers.
I recently attended an Electrical Safety First event on the dangers of buying second-hand electrical goods. The reality is that many people buy second-hand electrical goods, sometimes not by choice, so will the Minister commit, in the light of the Whirlpool recall, to a public awareness campaign on how to buy and use electrical products safely?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. Last week we took part in a Westminster Hall debate secured by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). The OPSS is currently working with Electrical Safety First on various campaigns, to which we have an ongoing commitment. Consumer protection and consumer education are important.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In last week’s Westminster Hall debate I committed to developing and testing the ability for mandatory registration of electrical products, which is something we are looking at. It was initiated in a discussion at the Consumer Protection Partnership last Thursday, and we are hoping to get outcomes in the near future.
The Government have known for four years that there were 5.5 million Whirlpool tumble dryers in homes across the UK that were liable to catch fire. Last month, the Minister gave notice that she intended to order the recall of those dryers still in use, but now she has agreed a voluntary recall with the company. Will she reconsider that and use the powers she has? If she does not, how will we know that Whirlpool is taking this seriously?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern in this regard. He is absolutely correct to say that we issued a notice of intent to recall on Whirlpool. It submitted its proposal, which we assessed. We also took advice from an expert panel, comprising an independent QC and chief scientific officers from the Health and Safety Executive, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We decided not only to accept the proposal, which has been published, but to issue a regulation 28 notice with regard to further information that needs to be shared with the OPSS, so that we can review the recall process.
Used Electrical Goods: Online Sales
I have recently written to online platforms to make clear the priority I place on consumer safety. The hon. Lady will know, after her Westminster Hall debate last week, that the Office for Product Safety and Standards is undertaking specific projects to tackle the risks of second-hand and online sales, including targeting those goods entering the UK via fulfilment houses.
I appreciated the Minister’s letter this weekend on the online sales of second-hand recalled tumble dryers. Currently, it is possible to upload details of such products on to online platforms without recall notices, or model or display numbers. Her letter states that she has written to these online platforms, but it fails to say which ones. Will she commit to publishing these letters and any advice she has given, in the interests of clarity?
I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that I have written to not just one online platform, but all the online platforms in relation to this. I would just like to clarify that some platforms have been advertising certain models and Whirlpool has used the same model number for a number of machines, so it is not correct to assume that all models will be subject to recall. As I have outlined, if any platform is selling products that are part of that recall, the organisations are being alerted and the products are being taken down as soon as possible.
Strategic Transport Infrastructure Projects: Essex
Our national productivity investment fund of £37 billion will increase investment in areas important for economic growth, such as transport. The Government are also committed to deliver the Lower Thames crossing with an estimated cost of £5.3 billion. I will happily discuss infrastructure projects in Essex with the Secretary of State for Transport, when I next see him.
Last week, I chaired key investment meetings with businesses in Essex for the Great Eastern Mainline Taskforce and on the dualling of the A120. Those two projects alone would contribute £5 billion to the regional and national economy. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State encourage the entire Department to work with us to get behind this and get to the Treasury in particular to get the investment that is needed to get those schemes moving?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s tireless championing of the case for improved road and rail in Essex, and I am happy to lend my support to her campaign. The county has a vibrant, enterprising economy, but greater investment in connectivity would deliver more jobs, housing and opportunities right across the region.
UK Automotive Sector: No-deal Brexit
The industrial strategy chose to invest to make Britain a leading location for the next generation of vehicles, irrespective of Brexit. This month, we have worked with Jaguar Land Rover to secure the electric XJ at Castle Bromwich. Last week, I launched the new electric Mini, to be built in Oxford. Immediately after these questions, I am unveiling Lotus’s Evija, the UK’s first all-electric hypercar, made in Norfolk. I am determined that Britain’s automotive strength will flourish through the next generation of vehicles.
As the Secretary of State knows, Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port has a future if we can avoid a no-deal Brexit. In recent weeks, members of the Government have been falling over themselves to endorse a no-deal Brexit, despite the damage that will do to the automotive sector. Will he not put his own job ahead of those of my constituents—will he rule out a no-deal Brexit today?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomes the commitment given by Vauxhall’s owners to invest in Ellesmere Port, but he is absolutely right that they have said that that depends on a successful resolution of Brexit that means Vauxhall can continue to trade without tariffs and friction with the rest of the European Union. That reinforces how vital it is to secure such a deal.
Fuel Cell Manufacturing
We provide support through Innovate UK for early-stage fuel cell technologies, and through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the energy entrepreneurs fund as those technologies mature towards the market. Our £23 million hydrogen for transport programme is expanding refuelling infrastructure, and fuel cell vehicles are eligible for consumer incentives, which helps to increase demand. Two weeks ago, I was at No. 10 with Intelligent Energy, a company in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, considering further opportunities for fuel cell deployment.
I thank the Minister very much indeed for that answer; it sounds almost as if he knew I was going to raise Intelligent Energy, which is based in my constituency and, as he obviously knows, manufactures hydrogen fuel cells, having developed the technology. Will he confirm that the Government are technology neutral when it comes to identifying future technologies? To follow on from the previous question, do the Minister and the Department appreciate the opportunities for factories where diesel engines are no longer going to be manufactured to get into the manufacture of the next generation of engines, which should be fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells?
I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend: there is huge potential for the auto sector. The Government are committed to policies that are technology neutral as we achieve the ambitions that we set out in the Road to Zero strategy around a year ago. The Government support the development of hydrogen as a transport fuel and we are in step with international progress. However, we acknowledge that we need to go further and faster in all different types of technologies.
We have certainly had some impressive improvements since the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill in 2017, but will the Minister outline what recent steps have been taken to secure this manufacturing facility, which was so central to the Bill and its goal?
I missed the manufacturing facility that the hon. Gentleman referred to, but I am more than happy to work with him and others. I have been working closely with colleagues in Northern Ireland on a range of issues, and I am keen to meet the hon. Gentleman who is a tireless champion on behalf of industry in his part of the United Kingdom.
Recycling Nuclear Submarines
Officials in my Department have had several discussions with their counterparts in the Ministry of Defence on how the expertise and resources of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority can best assist the submarine dismantling programme. However, we do not believe that extending the provisions of the Energy Act 2004 would provide an appropriate addition to that support.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is disappointing that that is the first time a Minister has said no to the cross-party request to extend the civil clean-up of nuclear sites to include old nuclear submarines, of which there are 13 in Devonport and six in Rosyth. Will the Minister lend the same support as his predecessor did and agree to meet the cross-party campaign? We have to find a way to safely recycle the submarines.
The disposal of nuclear submarines is a complex and challenging undertaking that I last discussed with the Minister for defence procurement, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), yesterday. As the hon. Gentleman will know from the meeting he had earlier this year, the Government have an established programme of work in place and are committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of all decommissioned nuclear submarines as soon as practically possible. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter further.
We have regular discussions with Treasury Ministers on a range of subjects, including the importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK economy—it is the fourth largest in the EU and supports 2.7 million jobs. We are taking several measures to support manufacturing growth, including £141 million for the Made Smarter industrial digitalisation programme and £600 million for the high-value manufacturing catapult.
Notwithstanding the welcome news from Jaguar Land Rover, overall manufacturing production is contracting, export and domestic orders are down, investment is paralysed and employment is dropping. This has huge implications for the public finances. What discussions is the Minister having with the Treasury on the implications of all that for the delivery of the Tory leadership contenders’ tax and spending plans?
The latest Office for National Statistics index of production figures show that, despite strong fluctuations in recent months, the level of manufacturing output in May 2019 was the same as it was in May the previous year, and the level of the three months to May 2019 was actually higher than it was in the same period in 2018. That stands in stark contrast to the situation under the Labour Government, when we saw more than 35,000 manufacturing businesses cease to exist and 1.7 million manufacturing jobs lost.
MetalMin is a manufacturing business in my constituency and part of the British Steel supply chain. Will the Secretary of State meet the directors of the company to discuss what specific support the Department is providing to British Steel suppliers to ensure that they can stay in business?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will know that the Secretary of State and I are actively involved in the British Steel support group, which meets weekly. We will raise the concerns of her local business at that support group and I will come back to her.
The Minister will know that last month’s statistics on foreign direct investment show that new projects are down by 14%, new jobs are down by 24% and existing jobs safeguarded by new investment are down by 54%. That is an 80% drop in FDI over the past five years. What discussions has he had with the Chancellor about the effect of that on manufacturing output?
I am proud that we remain one of the most attractive destinations in the world for foreign direct investment. UK unemployment has now fallen below 3.8% for the first time since 1974, average wages are growing twice as fast as inflation and by the fastest rate in over a decade, and all while we borrow half as much as Labour did in the five years before the crash.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As he will know, that is in the hands of the official receiver. I am seeking to keep him and other local Members of Parliament updated regularly with what is going on, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has left no stone unturned and is meeting with various bidders and other people to secure the long-term future of steelmaking in his region.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister chaired a roundtable with automotive companies to discuss how the Government can best continue to support the industry through this period of unprecedented change. The Prime Minister announced a £500 million loan guarantee to support Jaguar Land Rover’s design, manufacture and export of the next generation of electric vehicles, with similar support also available to others in the sector. Through our industrial strategy and landmark automotive sector deal, we remain committed to keeping the UK at the forefront of new technological development.
I thank the Minister for that answer and declare that I am vice-chair of the all-party group for fair fuel.
The automotive industry is moving apace to ensure that it can help reach the Government’s ambitious targets for electric vehicles, but of course we need to have the infrastructure in place to supplement that as well. Will the Minister outline what his Department has done to help rural communities such as Angus with that?
Our UK-wide grant scheme and the £400 million public-private charging infrastructure investment fund will see thousands more public charge points installed across the UK, including in rural areas. Yesterday, the Prime Minister committed that all new rapid and higher-powered charge points will provide pay-as-you-go debit or credit card payment options by spring 2020 to enable access for all in the community. We will continue to monitor whether any significant gaps in infrastructure provision emerge in the medium term and will consider whether further support is required.
I very much welcome the announcements by JLR and BMW. The Minister will know that in the event of a no-deal, which I very much hope will not happen, we will face not only tariffs, but the implication of rules of origin. This was seen by BMW moving the manufacture of engines for South Africa out of Hams Hall in the west midlands to Germany. What discussions has he had with his colleagues in Government over the implications of rules of origin for future trade arrangements?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right to say that the decisions by JLR and BMW about the electric Mini are votes of confidence in the workforce in the west midlands. However, we must prepare for all scenarios, and we are fully preparing for no deal and working with the industry to understand the potential impacts, including, as he says, the impact of rules of origin. We are determined to ensure that the UK continues to be a competitive location for automotive under any scenario. Alongside industry, we are investing almost £1.5 billion to ensure that we are at the forefront of new automotive technologies.
Support for Growth in the Midlands
We are supporting the midlands engine through the £250 million midlands engine investment fund and £1.6 billion of local growth funding. I congratulate the west midlands, which recently published its local industrial strategy. I feel certain that this will ensure jobs and growth for many decades to come.
Having had the privilege of visiting the ceramic valley enterprise zone during a recent visit to Stoke-on-Trent, I am delighted to confirm that, once completed, it will have created over 7,000 jobs and redeveloped 140 hectares of former brownfield land. I hope to continue to work with my hon. Friend, who is a redoubtable campaigner for his constituency, to see what more can be done to expand this hugely successful site.
May I take this opportunity to say to the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) that although she and I strongly disagree on various issues, including on the future of modern capitalism, we should be proud to have a shared commitment to reaching net zero emissions? Since our last oral questions session, the UK has become the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050, and companies from around the world are choosing to develop green technologies here in the UK. Last week I launched the new electric Mini, built in Oxford; the week before, Jaguar Land Rover announced that it is making a range of electric vehicles; and in an hour’s time I will be launching Lotus’s new electric hypercar. So, in keeping with what appears to be a new tradition of sharing pre-holiday gifts across the Dispatch Box, I would like to provide the hon. Lady with a small symbol—this model Mini—of what I hope will be our efforts to support our automotive industry, of which we are very proud, in its shift to a greener future.
I will not take it personally, Mr Speaker.
While the Secretary of State is in the mood for holiday gifts, the latest Government statistics show that 61% of those working in music, performing and visual arts are self-employed, so will the Secretary of State update shared parental leave rules to include self-employed people to prevent talented women from having to leave their careers in the creative industries and other industries when they have children?
Given my hon. Friend’s background, I know that he has a keen interest in the retail sector. In April, the increase in the national living wage meant that nearly 1.8 million workers received an above-inflation pay rise. The Government have stated our ambition to end low pay in the UK. The national living wage is on track to meet its target of 60% of median earnings by 2020, and we will announce its future target later this year. In setting a new target, we will work with the expert Low Pay Commission to carefully consider the impact on businesses and workers across all sectors.
Given the reported use of food banks by staff in the Secretary of State’s Department, and given that the first ever indefinite strike action of outsourced workers in Whitehall is happening now, does the Secretary of State not see it as his duty at least to ensure that BEIS contractors are not breaking legislation? That includes potential breaches of regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, whereby an employment business may not supply a temporary worker to a hirer to replace an individual taking part in official strike action. Can the Secretary of State please explain to the House what action he has taken on the issue following the Public and Commercial Services Union’s referral of the matter to the Met police, and letters sent to him and his permanent secretary on 10 July?
I value very highly everyone who works in my Department, whether they are directly employed or employed through contractors. Of course, we will always require our contractors to obey the law. What we have done, and what I have acted to do, is make sure that our contractor staff are paid at least the average level across London for their employment. I know that that has been welcomed. I take the issue very seriously and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.
Yes, we agree that that is an important corridor for the south-west, increasing resilience and providing alternative routes. That is why the Government have already committed £2 billion to starting the project in the first road investment strategy. Work is already under way on developing the first major improvements. The Government’s intention is that subsequent road investment strategies will fund the remaining improvements. As my hon. Friend says, this is important to driving prosperity and growth in the whole south-west.
It is not the Treasury’s rise; it is the European Union’s rise. In considering the reasons why he supports staying in the European Union, the right hon. Gentleman has to address the fact that these are EU regulations that we are putting in force while we remain a member. We will have the freedom in future—and, I hope, his support—to deal with such VAT issues once we are out of the European Union.
Of course. I will happily meet my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the work he is doing in driving forward the hopes and dreams of those involved in the Mansfield bid for the future high streets fund. Many areas across the country will not have succeeded in going through to the business case of the first round of the fund. I remind them that the fund will open again to applications very shortly—[Interruption.] That includes the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who is complaining from a sedentary position on the Labour Front Bench. We will see what we can do.
I am happy to take away that specific issue. I want to make sure that the curry industry in Glasgow continues and that local businesses continue to thrive. I am happy to take away the issue and look at it in further detail. We work closely with the regulator, Ofgem, to make sure that suppliers and individuals continue to benefit from a flexible energy economy.
We recently announced £26 million for, I think, 11 carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects across the UK, including Project Acorn in Scotland. I visited Tata Chemicals in Cheshire, which is the largest project in the UK; it is 100 times larger than other projects. The Committee on Climate Change report is absolutely clear that 50% of our carbon emission reductions will come from CCUS. We must continue to invest in that more and then take those innovations across the globe.
I agree with my hon. Friend that nuclear power has a key role to play in delivering the net zero target and acknowledge the unrivalled nuclear expertise in Copeland, which I was delighted to see on my recent visit to her constituency. We intend to publish our assessment of the feasibility of the RAB model for funding new nuclear shortly.
All forms of company are registered and incorporated with Companies House. While it is a great resource if used properly, it is open to misuse, abuse and fraudulent information. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure validation before companies are registered, so that the public can have faith in the register?
Someone chunters from a sedentary position, “Can she do that?”—can the right hon. Lady demand that the Secretary of State, rather than some other Minister, answers the question? There is no prohibition. It is a matter of the force of personality, which the right hon. Lady has just eloquently exhibited, and it may well encourage copycat behaviour.
What better week than this to discuss the potential for a tourism sector deal for Northern Ireland? After all, this week the sun has got its hat on, Rory’s out to play, the Open has come to Ulster—hopefully, it’s coming home to stay.
I did not have the hon. Gentleman down as a poet, as well as his other accomplishments.
The sector deal that has been signed very much relates to the whole United Kingdom, and I hope the manifold attractions of Northern Ireland will be given a boost by the very good news that this sector deal constitutes for the industry.
I recently visited Coca-Cola in my constituency. It will be investing £50 million in its Wakefield plant this year, providing jobs and apprenticeships to my constituents. Companies are investing in Britain, demonstrating that the future will be bright after Brexit. What is the Department doing to attract further foreign investment?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We work closely with the Department for International Trade to secure more inward investment into the UK, and we ensure through our industrial strategy that we have one of the most competitive environments for investment globally.
What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his relevant counterparts in other departmental teams about the ability of people in the creative industries to travel around the European Union if there is a Brexit of any sort? Secretary of State, please.
You were right, Mr Speaker; this is becoming a habit. I am happy to respond to the hon. Lady. The ability—especially in the creative industries, but also in professional and business services—for people to ply their trade by visiting and working in other countries is essential. It is a big part of the negotiations, which I hope will result in a deal that allows a strong part of the UK economy to continue to flourish.
Some 900 jobs were put at risk when Kerry Foods announced the closure of its plant in Burton. I know the Secretary of State has been in touch with the managing director of Kerry to press it on finding a new buyer. Will he commit to doing all he can to make sure that a new buyer is found and that those jobs are protected?
I will indeed. I have been in touch with the owners of the site. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the most important thing is that a new owner should be found for that historic site in Burton, so that it can continue its good track record of employment.
The chief executives of Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo are indirectly responsible for much of the 8 million tonnes of plastic waste that ends up in our seas. Will the Secretary of State meet those chief executives to encourage them to adopt more sustainable packaging?
I am certainly happy to meet those chief executives. We are working on projects to deliver sustainable packaging when it comes to looking at future research and innovation on alternatives to plastics, which I think will be critical. I would like to thank this UK sector for looking at making adaptations for the future. Everyone agrees that we have to rid the UK of plastic packaging, and do so in a way that will not harm the economy. Going forward, we need to have the support of companies such as those the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I will happily meet them.
In approximately 1 hour and 56 minutes, it will be exactly 50 years since the launch of the Apollo 11 mission to land a man on the moon. Will my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation —if I may be specific—tell the House how the Government are planning to commemorate the landing of the first man on the moon this weekend?
It is nice to be top of the menu for once. Yes, at 2.32 pm, we will have the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 moon mission. On the Government’s commitment to space, I will be giving a speech at the Policy Exchange, setting out what we think is a clear priority for the UK economy—not just in space exploration, but in earth observation. To come back again to the net zero target—it is not like we have talked about it enough already—space technology is a key enabling technology that will enable us to better detect changes in the earth. The future of space is actually critical for our survival on earth.
It was a privilege to stand with 1,000 Jaguar workers and hear that the factory that built the Spitfire during the war and two generations of Jaguar after the war—it nearly closed 10 years ago—will now build the electric cars of the future. Will the Secretary of State, in welcoming yesterday’s announcement, join me in saying that we must now build the batteries in Britain so that we have a vibrant British industry?
Will the Secretary of State also join me in paying tribute to the remarkable man that was Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya for his championing of manufacturing in Britain and his drive, intellect and ambition for Britain and British workers? It is thanks to Kumar that the Jaguar plant remains open.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It was a proud moment for all of us to have the commitment that Jaguar Land Rover has made. I know everyone is immensely proud not just of the history but of the future of that great company.
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Lord Bhattacharyya, the regius professor of manufacturing at Warwick and the founder of the Warwick Manufacturing Group. I can announce to the House that, in recognition of his immense contribution, we are establishing two awards. The first is the Bhattacharyya award for collaboration between academia and industry, which will be a prize of £25,000 each year to the team who best show how industry and universities can work together. Because Lord Bhattacharyya was such a champion of inclusion and helped so many young people enjoy flourishing careers in engineering, we are establishing the Bhattacharyya engineering inclusion programme, working with school and further education college students in the west midlands. It will make available 80 bursaries a year for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study engineering, and it will also support extracurricular activities to inspire the next generation of young people to study engineering.
Relationship Education in Schools
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on what steps he is taking to counter misinformation about the content of relationship education in schools.
This spring, Parliament passed the relationships, sex and health education regulations with overwhelming support. We know that many parents agree that these subjects should be taught by schools. We also know that for some parents, this raises concerns. Parents have a right to understand what we are requiring schools to teach and how their child’s school is intending to go about it. That is why we will be requiring schools to consult parents on their relationship education or RSE policy. Open and constructive dialogue can only work, however, if the facts of the situation are known to all.
We are aware that misinformation is circulating about what schools currently teach about relationships and what they will teach when the new subjects are introduced. The Department for Education has undertaken a number of activities in response. In April this year, we published frequently asked questions designed to bust myths on the subjects. They have been translated into three languages. In June, we published the final version of the relationships, sex and health education guidance, as well as guides for parents on the subjects. Alongside that, we produced infographics that can be easily shared on social media—including WhatsApp, where we know much of the misinformation is shared—setting out the facts. We also sent an email to almost 40,000 teachers, providing them with factual information and links to various documents.
The Department has also been working on the ground with Birmingham City Council, Parkfield School, parents and other interested parties to convey the facts of the policy and dispel myths, to support a resolution to the protests in that school and nearby Anderton Park School. Nationally, we have worked with the National Association of Head Teachers to understand where there might be parent concerns in other parts of the country and to offer support. We will continue those efforts to support the introduction of the new subjects, which we strongly believe are hugely important for children growing up in modern Britain.
I am sure that Members from across the whole House will join me in affirming the importance of accepting that people have different family relationships and that it is not the shape or set-up of your family that matters, but only that you are loved and cared for.
Passing the Equality Act 2010 was rightly a proud moment for our country, but these rights remain only for as long as we fight to keep them. Respect and equality are the true British values. There is no reason to treat sexuality any differently from the way that we discuss any other part of the Equality Act, or families that may have a difference in age or even a disability. The misinformation is vast and in danger of spreading. With respect to the Minister, whatever efforts the Department has been making to counter that misinformation have clearly not worked.
It is clear from last night’s “Panorama” programme that protests against relationship education are growing across the country. Over 70 schools are now experiencing pressure and intimidation because school leaders are fulfilling their legal duty under the Equality Act. It would also appear, from last night’s “Panorama” programme, that pressure was applied from the Department to Parkfield School to suspend its equality programme to get the school out of the national news. This has led to copycat protests elsewhere, as protesters believe that if they make enough noise, and turn up with loudhailers and hurl abuse at headteachers, other schools will back down, too. There is a desperate need for clear, firm leadership from the Department.
Will the Minister assure the House that Department officials did not pressure the Parkfield leadership team into suspending its equality programme? Will he confirm that he will launch an investigation into such claims? Does the Minister agree with the Government’s lead commissioner for countering extremism, Sara Khan, that the Department has been slow to respond to the growing protests? What lessons have the Department learnt from that? Will the Minister update guidance to schools from “if” to “when”, to ensure that schools have a clear message about the need to teach LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education? Will the Minister send a clear message to school protesters that LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education is mandated by the Government, that compliance will be checked by Ofsted and that attempts to intimidate individual headteachers will not change that?
I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the equality of relationships and families, and that is spelt out in the guidance. This is a historic document. Relationships, sex and health education will cover everything from healthy eating to the importance of self-respect and to consent, the pitfalls of social media, recognising the signs of an unhealthy friendship, online safety and first aid. What is learnt in relationships and health education in primary school will provide the building blocks for a child to develop positive relationships as they grow up and into their adult life, and it will teach children to respect those who might be different.
This is a well-crafted document that has received widespread support. We consulted widely on it and it was drafted by experts. We wanted to make sure that the relationships and sex education guidance applied to all schools in this country, including private schools and faith schools, and that is why it has been crafted as it has.
The DFE has been involved from the first minute that we understood that there were problems at Parkfield School. We have had senior officials on a daily basis liaising with the schools, Birmingham City Council and groups of parents. We wanted to resolve this issue on the ground and to try to dispel the myths, so that parents were reassured about what is actually being taught in the No Outsiders programme at Parkfield School.
The hon. Lady says that the Department was slow to respond, but I do not believe that we were. As I said, we responded as soon as we heard that there were issues at the school. We—including senior officials—have been working very closely with the school. As far as the No Outsiders programme is concerned, my understanding is that it had reached its natural end and that, in the following term, the school would move on to religious education—that was part of the cycle. This is my understanding of the situation in the school.
The hon. Lady should understand that we want to achieve maximum consensus with this relationship education. That is why there is the requirement, in regulations, to publish the policy on the school’s website and, in the statutory guidance, to consult parents, but ultimately, it is matter for the school itself to decide on the curriculum—[Interruption.] Hang on. When the school has decided on what it wants to teach and when, it will have the full support and backing of the Department for Education and Ministers.
In terms of “when” versus “if”, paragraph 37 of the guidance says:
“Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate… At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes.”
What is important and required is that children will be taught about LGBT at some point during their education. Both the Secretary of State and I have frequently been on the record saying that we strongly encourage primary schools to teach LGBT relationships. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, “You must tell them.” If we had done that, the guidance would not have achieved the consensus that it has right across the country and right across different types of schools. A large number of schools would not have adopted the guidance. It has been very successfully landed, because of the careful way that we have done this.
Will the Minister confirm that much of the debate about this issue, including the protests in Birmingham, are about the current curriculum and not the new curriculum, which becomes statutory in September 2020? That new and updated guidance gives people an opportunity to be respectful of faith-based views—for example, on marriage, family and relationships—when the teaching occurs. It fundamentally states that the education should be “appropriate”, having regard to “the age” and “religious background” of pupils. Does the Minister agree that the updated guidance probably has the most comprehensive section ever on respect for religious belief?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The current controversy is about a curriculum that is in place now. Of course, we still support the school in wanting to teach LGBT issues. She is right that the guidance states, in paragraph 20:
“In all schools, when teaching these subjects, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that the topics that are included in the core content in this guidance are appropriately handled.”
Most schools will want to do that. My understanding and belief is that when parents are consulted and when they see the materials, the policy and the curriculum that the schools intend to teach, the vast majority of them will support the school in delivering that curriculum.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this important urgent question, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for asking it with such passion.
I commend the Department for Education and Ministers for their work—we have made great progress—but I urge them to go further and support the school. If they did, they would have the support of this House and the other place. This is not about consultation—I do not believe that the issues that have arisen are about consultation; they are about LGBT rights, the misinformation being put out and the bigotry being displayed by some minorities on our streets. We have to hit back.
I saw it myself only a few weeks ago after marching with the Terrence Higgins Trust at London Pride. I was trolled for supporting the LGBT+ community, but the support I have received from hon. Members across the House is evidence to all that we will not opt out of equality in this place. It is time for Ministers to provide the right guidance, resource and support to face down the protests and prejudice. Many parents will not be watching this debate. In addition to the measures the Minister has already outlined, what will his Department do to combat the misinformation and to allay parents’ fears?
In addition to the information for parents, training is meant to be available for teachers, but there is only £6 million to fund it, which averages at just £254 per school. Will the Minister confirm that his Department’s estimate of the amount needed was actually over £30 million and will he share details of how that funding is being allocated? The early adopters will be starting in September—just weeks away. Will that funding be available only for early-adopter schools? If so, what resource is available for others wishing to take up the programme?
We must provide the most comprehensive support for the teachers on the frontline, and this must continue under the new Prime Minister. Inclusive education must be a right for every single child. We will not go back to the days of section 28. Every child is a gift. I hope that the Minister will ensure that his team and the Government take every step over the summer to reinforce this.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for what is a landmark piece of legislation and statutory guidance. We should not allow this debate to overshadow the importance of what has been achieved. Thousands of schools do wish to adopt this policy early—in September—and we are producing an implementation guide for those early adopters on how to plan and develop the curriculum and to engage parents. We are also producing a guide on parental engagement planned for the early autumn about what the consultation means, what good practice is and where schools can get more support when they encounter the kind of problems we have seen in Birmingham.
The hon. Lady is right: we need to tackle misinformation. That is why we have produced these myth busters, which have been widely disseminated and are having an impact. On training, we are spending £6 million a year to develop online portals and material that we can spread to teachers who require that training. There should be a consensus in the House about the importance of updated guidance. It is 20 years since the last set of guidance on how to teach sex and relationships education in our schools, and she will know how much her party has helped achieve equality for LGBT people in this country in those 20 years and how the Conservative party, under the last Prime Minister, introduced the right of gay people to marry—a right that I am personally extremely grateful for. We have had to ensure that our guidance reflects modern society. I am convinced that when this guidance and the curriculum are rolled out nationally we will be helping people better to prepare for life in modern Britain.
We were keen to obtain as wide support as possible from all the major faith groups, including the Association of Muslim Schools, the Board of Deputies, the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England. We wanted a widespread consensus for the statutory guidance, and we wanted it to apply to private schools as well as schools in the state sector. To do that and to land it successfully, I believe we have the wording absolutely right in that important paragraph 37.
If the Minister thinks the guidance is right, he might want to come and live where I live for a while, because it clearly is not working. All that is needed in the guidance is something that says that in every school every child has to learn about every equality characteristic—simple as that—and that there is no option. We go round the houses talking about consulting and speaking to parents, but the fundamental point is completely missed. For the reasonable, consultation will help, but what we are up against here is racists and homophobes trying to impose what they think on the children where I live. There needs to be clarity. Will he promise that? The headteachers in Birmingham and across the country who are getting in touch with me want that clarity.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work locally to counter the kind of views expressed in those protests. Those protests, which intimidate children going to school and the teachers in those schools, are unacceptable, which is why we supported Birmingham City Council in taking out an interim injunction against the protests. Of course people have a right to protest, but they do not have a right to intimidate young children going to school.
The hon. Lady suggests, “If only we had changed the wording of the guidance to make it more of a requirement,” but I do not believe it would have prevented the protests at the Birmingham school. There is a segment of opinion at either end of this debate that will not be persuaded of the appropriateness of the guidance. Some people will never agree to LGBT issues being taught in schools. As such, I do not believe that requiring it in guidance to be taught at a specific age in primary schools would have prevented the protests.
We have been clear that we support primary schools and headteachers who wish to teach LGBT relationships and local authorities that take legal action against protests that have turned into intimidation of young people, but if we had taken the hon. Lady’s advice, we would not have had a consensus for the statutory guidance, there would have been opponents of the regulations as we took it through the House and another place, and we would not have achieved its acceptance by a raft of independent private schools that we wanted to be subject to the statutory guidance.
The Church of England, the largest provider of primary education, fully supports this updating of the guidance. As the Minister says, it has not been updated for the past 20 years, and childhood has changed greatly during that time. Does the Minister agree that one of the imperatives for this change must be to protect pupils and keep them safe in the complex online world that they inhabit? My heart goes out to the children caught up in all this.
My right hon. Friend is right that the guidance needed to be updated. It includes teaching children how to tackle the pitfalls of social media, how to recognise the signs of things such as an unhealthy relationship and how to stay safe online. These are important additions in the relationships guidance. It is an important document. People are focusing on one or two paragraphs, but we should not underestimate its importance to schools in helping children to navigate what she correctly says is an increasingly complicated and at times dangerous world for young people.
Flockton Church of England Voluntary Controlled First School and Overthorpe C of E Academy were alike privileged to benefit from the headteachership of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker), from whom I think it apposite that we should now hear.
Top of the class there, Mr Speaker.
A few weeks ago, along with members of the National Association of Headteachers and my former colleagues, I signed the following pledge:
“I support education in all schools which promotes equality, enabling children to leave school prepared or life in modern Britain, understanding difference and respecting diversity.”
Does the Minister agree with the wording of the pledge, and does he agree that every parent and, indeed, every member of society should support it?
I find it somewhat disappointing that most of the ire has been focused on the Government—who have updated the relationship guidance—and not solely on the people who protest outside schools, doing their best to deprive young people of their ability to make their choices, and harassing great teachers and headteachers and putting them under pressure. If the protesters do not desist, and if the Minister is not going to make the guidance prescriptive, which would render the protests fruitless, will he consider introducing exclusion zones around the schools so that those protests cannot bear any fruit?
We supported Birmingham City Council’s injunction against protests that had become very challenging for young people going to that school, and we will support similar action in future when protests become intimidatory for pupils. However, I disagree with my hon. Friend’s view, and that of Opposition Members, that if we had made the guidance more prescriptive, it would have prevented the protests from occurring. There is an element of society that simply does not agree with what the Government are seeking to do when it comes to LGBT relationships, and they will protest as much as they want. We were never going to be able to bring that particular section of opinion on board, although we have brought the vast majority of people on board for this curriculum, including many fundamentalist faith groups.
On Friday I drove past the protests, which have been moved just up the road from the school in Birmingham. Apart from the fact that allowing these people to get away with it has taken up precious police resources, if the Minister saw them, he would realise that putting the onus on the school to decide the content and the appropriateness will never be accepted by them. They will see it as a point of weakness, and they will agitate and intimidate until they get their way. Only the Government will be able to change that.
No Government have ever specified that level of detail in respect of sex education, let alone relationship education. It has always been—and must remain—for headteachers and schools to decide what is appropriate for their pupils, when it is age-appropriate, and so on.
We have issued clear guidance. The Secretary of State and I have said that we strongly encourage primary schools to teach children about LGBT relationships, because there will be pupils in primary schools who have two mothers and two fathers and it is important for the other children to respect that, but ultimately such matters must be for headteachers to decide. As I have said, I do not believe that had we been prescriptive—more prescriptive than the wording of paragraph 37—we would have secured consensus among major school providers in both the state and the private sector, and I do not believe that being more prescriptive would have prevented anyone from protesting against something with which they fundamentally disagree.
As a child of the section 28 generation who saw the damaging effect that it had in telling some people that their relationships and their families were not as good as other people’s, I want to speak up for the concerned parents of LGBT families who are now asking why the Government have essentially green-lighted protests against headteachers, the people who will make decisions about whether their family relationships are considered age-appropriate or “adult content”. What does the Minister have to say to the people—not just in my constituency, but around the country—who may have five or six-year-old children, but who are in same-sex relationships? When is it appropriate for those children’s peers in the playground to be taught that their families are just as full of love, just as much to be respected, and just as much to be celebrated? That is what we are really talking about: little children being taught, by omission, to hate and not to respect each other.
It was to address those very issues that we published the statutory guidance. That is why we published the regulations that were passed in the House with almost no opposition. The hon. Lady is right to suggest that when young children at a school have parents of the same sex, that should perhaps be a pointer to the headteacher to provide for children to be taught about LGBT relationships earlier than they might have been otherwise. It is important to give them that discretion. As I have said, provided that schools have consulted, and provided that their policy is on their websites as required by the regulations, we will fully support headteachers when they make decisions about the content of the curriculum and when and how it should be taught.
We will always respect religious and cultural values and differences, but there are also fundamental values of human rights. We will never retreat back down the path to a painful past in which the love of two men for one another, or two women for one another, was demonised. Does the Minister not recognise that by using the words “It is for the school to decide”, the Government will this autumn expose dozens—potentially hundreds—of schools to the same kind of shameful treatment that we have seen in recent weeks?
No, I am afraid I do not agree with that. The guidance makes it very clear that pupils must be taught about LGBT relationships at some point in their school careers, and that that requirement will apply to private schools and faith schools, including orthodox faith schools. That is the important achievement of the guidance.
The Secretary of State and I have said on many occasions that we strongly encourage primary schools to start teaching children in primary schools about LGBT relationships, and we will support those that do so. I believe that when schools start to produce their policies and start to consult on what is being taught and the materials that will be used in teaching children about LGBT relationships, they will have widespread support from parents throughout the country.
These changes could of course have been introduced in 2010, when the Minister was the shadow Minister, Labour was in power, and we had a plan to introduce relationship and sex education which he voted against. I am very pleased that, nearly 10 years on, relationship and sex education are to be taught in our schools, but I think that now is the time for the Minister to step up and show some real political leadership, and to say what the vast majority of people in this House and the other place agree with: “This has to be mandatory, it has to be taught, and it cannot be just left to the schools.”
As I have said, we have had widespread support—from the Catholic Education Service, the Church of England, the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Association of Muslim Schools—and we believe that the guidance strikes the right balance between a wide range of views. That is why we have achieved consensus in this House and in the other place. Had we not taken this approach, I do not believe that we would be where we are today in terms of the widespread acceptance of the need to teach children about LGBT relationships in 23,000 schools up and down the country.
Of course I welcome this guidance and have done all along, but I find myself frustrated by the answers from the Minister. I have met the head of Parkfield, who came to speak to a cross-party delegation just the other day, and she was very clear: the chink in the guidance—the word “encouraged” rather than “expected”—has essentially put her and her colleagues in the firing line of these parents. To state that changing the guidance would not make a difference contradicts what that head was saying. Has the Minister been to the school and spoken to the head, and if he hasn’t, will he?
The issue in that particular school is not to do with the relationship and sex education guidance—that comes into force in September 2020—and we are making very clear in the supplementary guidance the processes that are needed in terms of consultation. Consultation with parents is hugely important, not so that parents have a veto over the curriculum—they will not have a veto over the curriculum—but because it helps to dispel myths, and it helps to deal with the very misinformation that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) has raised this urgent question to discuss. That consultation is hugely important, and I believe that as and when schools do consult up and down the country, this new policy will attract widespread support from parents.
I appreciate what the Minister has done on this issue in many respects, but does he not understand that while prescription will not necessarily stop the protests, it will make it clear to the protestors that it is no use bullying the schools and the heads into trying to change the policy because the requirement lies elsewhere? He says that the parents do not have a veto on this, but if a school sits down and consults with parents, and those parents who want to stop same-sex education being taught know that the head has the ultimate decision, then there is enormous pressure on that head, and parents will believe that they have a veto regardless of whether they do or do not?
I can make it clear from this Dispatch Box that parents do not have a veto over the content of the curriculum. That has been absolutely clear: it is clear from the guidance; it is clear from what I have said; it is clear from what the Secretary of State has said. In addition to that, we strongly encourage schools to start teaching about LGBT issues in primary school.
Will the Minister make sure that his Department takes responsibility for ensuring that every piece of information that is made available to parents, including consultation materials, is available in community languages, in easy-read format and in other accessible formats?
The implementation guide will set out very clearly how to plan the curriculum, how to engage parents and the processes that schools need to go through to plan and develop the policy. As I mentioned in my opening comments, we have published the information in three separate languages to try to dispel myths, but the key message that I hope comes from this debate is that we will fully support and back headteachers who decide to teach LGBT issues in their school. As long as they have been through the process of consultation and they publish their policy on the school website, they will have our full backing.
I am in awe of teachers like Gillian Marshall at Red Hall primary school in my constituency who has been providing an inclusive education for many years now. She has worked tirelessly and sensitively with the parents of the children in her care and were this guidance to have a stronger, firmer legal footing, that would not stop: she would still seek to work alongside and with the parents in her community. The Minister does not need to worry that schools will abandon working alongside parents if he gives more power to the school and makes that clearer to the parents.
Yes, and I pay tribute to that headteacher. There are teachers in thousands of schools up and down the country that are teaching these issues with no protests from any group outside their school gates. The hon. Lady should realise that this is the first time that we are requiring schools to teach about LGBT issues. That will not affect the school she referred to, but it will affect many thousands of schools up and down the country that will for the first time be teaching their pupils about the need to respect difference and to understand that families come in different types, including single parents or parents of the same sex. So this is a very important piece of legislation—a very important piece of statutory guidance. We should all be doing more to support and welcome it, as the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who speaks for the Opposition, did in her response to this urgent question.
In Bristol on Saturday the Pride event was a magnificent celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. I was there; it was wonderful. Many of the people in the parade and at the event afterwards were probably pupils at schools where they felt excluded or misunderstood. Most of the people marching either were parents or one day will be parents, and they, too, want to know that their children will have the security of having an educational experience that is better than theirs, where they feel included and wanted, and for them the word “encouraged” is not enough. I respect the Minister, but will he please reconsider that little word “encouraged”? Can he not see that the fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents in my constituency that their children will be left out of education about positive role models and positive relationships is real, not imaginary?