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Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Covid-19: Support for Business

What support his Department is providing to businesses to help them recover from the covid-19 outbreak. (905053)

Since the start of the covid-19 outbreak, the Government have provided £160 billion of support through a range of schemes to protect jobs and help businesses keep going. We have also provided support to businesses through measures in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 and the Business and Planning Bill. Working with business and trade unions, my Department has published detailed guidance to help businesses reopen safely.

The Government’s support for people and businesses during the covid crisis has been fantastic and has helped countless constituents in Penrith and The Border and across the UK. Unfortunately, many have still not been able to access support, such as the newly self-employed, limited company directors, freelancers, new starters and those who fall on the wrong side of the eligibility criteria. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Treasury to see whether those hard-working people can be helped with some emergency financial support?

My hon. Friend will know that we have supported over 9 million jobs through the job retention scheme, 2.7 million people have benefited from the self- employment support scheme and around 870,000 small businesses have benefited from grants. The Chancellor set out his plan for jobs a few days ago. The key now is to get the economy up and running, so that businesses can trade.[Official Report, 1 September 2020, Vol. 679, c. 2MC.]

That is absolutely right, but it is not just about bouncing back; it is also about levelling up. Will the Secretary of State join my hon. Friend the Universities Minister in giving his backing in the spending review to the shovel-ready MK:U—a much needed technical university in Milton Keynes which will deliver cutting-edge science, technology and engineering jobs and skills for local employers?

As my hon. Friend would expect, the MK:U proposal will be judged objectively on its merits. More generally, I can confirm that the Government recognise the significant potential of the Oxford-Cambridge arc and the important role of Milton Keynes in achieving that potential.

Airline pilots working for easyJet took an unprecedented decision on Friday to declare no confidence in their senior management. I have heard from many constituents who work at the airline in Liverpool and Manchester who are worried about the company’s approach of “fire and rehire on different terms”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that safety in the airline industry must always be paramount and that negotiations about future job losses should be respectful and in good faith?

My hon. Friend highlights an important point. Throughout the covid-19 period, the Government have provided unprecedented support for employment and worked in close partnership with the business community. I understand that it continues to be a difficult time for many businesses, but as he highlights, in that spirit of partnership, we expect all employers to treat their employees fairly and follow the rules.

I want to return the Secretary of State to the question asked by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) about the many businesses that are part of the 3 million ExcludedUK group. They include over 2 million people who are essentially self-employed but have been disqualified from help under the self-employment scheme for various—often arbitrary—reasons. In many cases, this is not simply rough justice but deep unfairness. Many of these individuals are not high earners. Will the Secretary of State give an indication that he recognises that this is an injustice, and can he tell us how he plans to address it?

The right hon. Gentleman will also acknowledge that the Government have provided unprecedented support to businesses across the whole economy. As I said, the key right now is to support businesses to open, to get the economy up and running. That is the best way that we can support businesses across the United Kingdom.

This issue of 3 million people being excluded is not going away. Let me ask him about the winding down of the furlough scheme. Yesterday, Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said that a furlough extension was vital to prevent a “jobs bloodbath” in aerospace and automotive. We see the looming threat too in sectors that have not yet reopened, such as events and exhibitions, and those operating well below capacity, such as hospitality. Yet from next week, the Government are insisting that every single employer, whatever their industry, will have to start contributing to the furlough. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that this decision to phase out the furlough, irrespective of circumstances, risks handing a P45 to hundreds of thousands of workers?

The furlough scheme will have been up and running for a full eight months, providing a huge amount of support for more than 9 million jobs. It is becoming more flexible and allowing people to return to work part time. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Chancellor has also set out the job retention bonus which, if it is taken up by all employers, will represent a £9 billion boost for the economy. I say to him again that the key is to get the economy up and running and to get businesses trading.

As we have heard, many businesses, sole traders, freelancers and others have been left without support throughout this health emergency. They are on their knees and they are still getting no support. How can they rebuild their trade when the Secretary of State’s Government will not help them? If his Government will not help them, why have they refused to allow simple adjustments to Scotland’s borrowing rules so that the Scottish Government can step in?

The hon. Gentleman talks about support in Scotland; like many colleagues in the House, I believe in the Union, and we must work together to support workers across the United Kingdom. More than 730,000 jobs have been protected in Scotland through the furlough scheme. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the additional moneys that the Chancellor announced at the summer statement, the total additional Barnett funding to Scotland since March is £4.6 billion.

Oh how the broad shoulders of the Union slump when asked a difficult question. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has exposed how the promised £800 million of consequentials for Scotland from the Chancellor’s job package is in fact only £21 million. Will the Secretary of State now do the right thing by Scotland’s businesses and urge the Chancellor to replace the missing £779 million—or has he also bought into the Prime Minister’s stated view that a pound spent in Croydon is of more value than a pound spent in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman talks about supporting businesses in Scotland; perhaps he will come forward and give his support to the UK internal market White Paper that we have published.

Horizon Post Office Scheme

What steps he is taking to support sub-postmasters affected by the Horizon post office scandal. (905050)

The independent review of Horizon will provide a public summary of the failings that occurred at Post Office Ltd, which I hope will give postmasters the answers that they have been seeking all these years. It will also ensure that lessons are learned for the future.

Last month, the Government announced an independent review of the Post Office’s Horizon IT system scandal that led to hundreds of postmasters being fired, many going bankrupt and others even being imprisoned. The Post Office Horizon scandal will go down as one of the biggest civil injustices ever. To restore public confidence and bring justice to the many lives ruined, it is vital that each individual case is assessed and that rightful compensation is paid to all those affected. A judge-led public inquiry is the only answer; will the Minister commit to that now?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question and her continued highlighting of the sub-postmasters’ situation. I hope to announce the chair of the review very soon so that we can start on it at pace in September.

The Post Office Horizon scandal is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice of our times: 20 years of reputations ruined, families torn apart and lives lost. Sub-postmasters were betrayed by a Post Office that so persecuted them that what compensation they have won has largely gone on legal fees, and they have now turned to the parliamentary ombudsman to investigate the full costs of a Government that failed

“to undertake its statutory duty of oversight”.

As we break for our summer holidays, will the Minister finally do the right thing and commit to a full, judge-led inquiry that will get to the bottom of the wrongs suffered and deliver both justice and compensation?

The chairman or woman of the review will be announced in due course so that we can start the review of this injustice in September at pace. It is important that we speak to the Post Office, the Government, the sub-postmasters and other people, including at Fujitsu, to get to the bottom of this matter so that we can learn the lessons and move forward for the sub-postmasters of the future.

Aerospace Sector

This is the last Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions before recess and I want to place on record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, and your staff for the incredible way that they have managed proceedings in the House.

It is Farnborough week and the Government are providing the aerospace industry and its aviation customers with more than £8.5 billion of support, including through UK Export Finance, the covid corporate financing facility, research grants and the job retention scheme. We are discussing further help with the sector.

May I start by thanking the Minister for his personal engagement given some of the difficulties that we have had with the aerospace sector in Northern Ireland, and particularly with Bombardier in my constituency? Given that it is Farnborough week, let me say that I read with interest the Minister’s comments yesterday on FlightGlobal in the question and answer session, and one of the missing components is the retention of key skills within this high-end engineering sector. Does the Minister accept that, without a clear, bespoke solution to support and sustain jobs beyond the cliff edge of October with the job retention scheme, the aerospace industry is facing a clear and present danger?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his question and for his comments about our engagement with the sector. We are supporting the aviation and aerospace sector with £8.5 billion and rising. If he looks at support from other countries, which we do, he will see that we will also consider further support as we progress, as the Chancellor has said, through the recovery.

Wolverhampton North East is home to aerospace companies that have seen an unprecedented and sudden collapse of demand. Collins Aerospace is now sadly considering mass redundancies. What further support can the Government offer to limit job losses in Wolverhampton?

We work with the whole aerospace industry. I am the co-chair of the Aerospace Growth Partnership. As well as access to the furlough scheme and the corporate finance scheme, the Secretary of State announced yesterday £400 million in further funding for research and development support for the sector to get to that Jet Zero flight. The Future Flight Challenge is already investing £300 million. We continue to work with the sector to make sure that those skill sets, that ecosystem that has been so brilliant at delivering an incredible industry in the UK, are maintained for the next three to five years, which is the timeline by which the sector looks to recover.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for facilitating these virtual questions for the past few weeks, and long may they continue.

Although yesterday’s announcement was welcome, the Minister and I both know that nearly all the projects have been a long time in coming—from well before the current coronavirus crisis—so, in that sense, the funds announced yesterday were already priced in by the sector. In order to protect the aerospace jobs of today, as others have asked, which are highly skilled and in areas of the country that can ill afford to lose them, we really do need further urgent action today. Will the Minister say more than he has so far, which has been warm words but not much real action, to reassure those working in aerospace that their jobs will be protected in the coming months and years?

I take issue with “warm words and no action” as £8.5 billion has been put to work to protect jobs and to protect the sector. It is great to see that, this week, Airbus has shown confidence in the UK with confirmation that the wings for its latest aircraft, the A321XLR, will be built in the UK at Broughton. That demonstrates our engagement not just with Airbus, but with Bombardier and with other major players in the market and, of course, the supply chain as well. We continue to put the support in place and to look at further support as we progress through the economic recovery.

Social Distancing: Beauty Sector

What support his Department is providing to (a) the beauty sector and (b) other sectors that remain fully or partially locked down as a result of social distancing measures. (905054)

Further to the Prime Minister’s announcement on 17 July, I am delighted that all close contact services will be able to resume from 1 August. We have taken a phased, cautious approach to reopening our economy, guided by the scientific and medical advice.

The close contact sector of the theatre is the one that I want to ask about, Minister. What action can the Government take to support local theatres such as Jacksons Lane, Upstairs at the Gatehouse and the Park Theatre? My constituents work in those theatres and, sadly, redundancy notices are going out. What can be done to save these jobs and protect another highly skilled sector?

I totally understand, as Minister for London, that many theatres in the middle of London also require that support, but for provincial theatres around the country, we really do need to make sure that we can attract audiences back. That is why we are looking forward to working with theatre groups to have pilots for events so that when they are able to open, people can come safely and enjoy the performances that they have to offer.

Covid-19: Retail and Hospitality Sectors

What support his Department is providing to the retail and hospitality sectors as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (905055)

Through the Business and Planning Bill, we are simplifying reliefs and the costs to cafés, pubs and restaurants of obtaining a licence to allow for outdoor dining. The Chancellor has also announced a six-month temporary VAT rate reduction from 20% to 5% for the hospitality, accommodation and attraction sectors. Both these measures should help to provide a welcome boost for business.

My constituency is known for its culinary delights such as the fantastic Butterfingers Deli, and Balti Bazaar in Lye, not forgetting its equally fantastic independent local pubs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that we encourage customers to get back to our pubs and restaurants to support our local economies and get our economic engines firing again?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to get out there supporting our pubs and restaurants. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme operating during August is another great incentive to support participating restaurants, cafés, pubs and other food establishments. Al fresco dining midweek in balmy August weather should be a must for all of us.

Hospitality workers who, in normal times, rely on tips as a significant part of their income have been especially hit, not just because their workplaces have been shut but because furlough payments have not recognised tip-based income. The Government have committed to bringing forward legislation to ensure that hospitality staff can keep their tips; indeed, it was a Conservative party manifesto commitment. When will that legislation be brought to the House?

The Chairman of the Select Committee raises a very important point. As he knows, we have had to bring forward a number of emergency Bills. However, I recognise the point he is making, and we will look to see the earliest point at which we might be able to bring that forward.

Covid-19: Green Economic Recovery

What steps his Department is taking to ensure a (a) green and (b) resilient economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (905056)

The Prime Minister has made clear our intention to build back greener. We are taking action to deliver on that commitment, including through a commitment of over £3 billion to reduce emissions from our buildings across the UK, £800 million to promote carbon capture from power stations and industry, and a further £100 million being invested in R&D in direct air capture technologies.

I am delighted that the Chancellor focused on creating green jobs in his summer economic update. Does my right hon. Friend agree that launching a multi-billion pound drive to improve the energy efficiency of homes will not only be good for creating jobs and driving us towards our net zero target but will save people money on their energy bills?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Our £3 billion investment in energy efficiency could support up to 140,000 green jobs. The £2 billion green homes grant will upgrade over 600,000 homes, saving households up to £600 a year on their energy bills.

I agree that it is great to have jobs created. Insulating homes creates jobs across all regions of the UK, yet right now it is having the opposite effect. Labour has been contacted by insulation businesses who are experiencing cancelled work as clients now want to wait until September, when green homes grant money is available. Will the Minister fix this problem, and fix it now, by stating that jobs done in July and August can claim green homes grant funding in September?

The hon. Lady asks a very pertinent question. The Chancellor set out a £3 billion programme, and of course it will take time before that money is fully deployed. As well as the green homes upgrade, we have committed £320 million to the heat networks investment project, which is very relevant to the kind of work that she has described.

With the Government having committed to invest in the bioscience sector in York, making it the heart of the green new deal, they are now trying to make that conditional on a local government reorganisation that is not only deeply unpopular but is also, frankly, unworkable. In the light of comments that York’s economy will be the second-worst hit in the country, with unemployment rising to as high as 28%, will the Minister instead now bring forward that investment, to prevent mass unemployment in my city, to prevent unnecessary economic pain and to kick-start investment in green-collar jobs?

As the hon. Lady knows, we are absolutely committed to creating green-collar jobs. Today, we have 460,000 of those jobs across the UK; by 2030, we have stated our commitment to have 2 million such jobs. No one can deny our commitment to creating green jobs. I would further add that we are also committed to making the UK a science superpower, and we will make innovation central to our green recovery. That is absolutely front and centre of what the Government are trying to do.

Commenting on his own report back in 2017, Charles Hendry said,

“the evidence is clear that tidal lagoons can play a cost effective role in the UK’s energy mix”.

This Government still have not managed to back the oven-ready pathfinder tidal energy project in Swansea bay. When will they recognise the opportunities, the new green jobs and the inward investment support that tidal power can bring to Swansea, Wales and the rest of the UK?

We are absolutely committed, as the hon. Lady knows, to tidal power and all forms of marine power. There was a specific issue with the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project, which was that it was felt not to be economical. That was a specific, project-based, single incidence where we did not feel that it was value for taxpayers’ money.

All we have right now, as far as energy efficiency for homes is concerned, is an announcement of a one-year scheme to provide vouchers for energy efficiency improvements in mostly lower priority properties, with no detail yet as to how that will work. The Minister simply did not answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) about businesses in the field who are telling us that jobs are being lost now, because people are cancelling work in anticipation of those details, if and when they come out.

What we need for green recovery is a long-term programme that develops jobs and skills and really contributes towards low carbon energy efficiency improvements across all homes in England and Wales. When does the Minister intend to provide details of how the short-term plan will work and what is he doing to establish a proper long-term home energy efficiency programme on the back of that plan?

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman and I will have slightly different views of what the Government are doing. I was surprised to hear him dismiss the £3 billion commitment. I remind him that green homes grants will deliver improvements to more than 650,000 homes, supporting 140,000 jobs in 2020-21. These are significant strides and a huge amount of money has been committed to that programme.

Covid-19: Indoor Air Quality

What steps he has taken to ensure that the indoor air quality of offices, shops, restaurants and bars is adequate to help prevent the spread of covid-19 among workers and customers. (905057)

The Government have provided clear advice on ventilation in our safer workplaces guide. We are led by the science in that work and, as the scientific and medical advice changes, the guidance will be updated to reflect that.

The Minister should know that the science now shows that indoor air pollution dramatically increases coronavirus infection and death rates, and that masks inhibit the transmission of the virus. Will he today press to follow France’s lead to make compulsory mask-wearing the law in all indoor environments accessible by the public, and include indoor air pollution in the terms of the Environment Bill in September, in order to save lives and protect our NHS?

As I said in my earlier answer, we are guided all the time by science and evidence and, as the science and evidence changes, we will calibrate our policy responses to that effect.

Home Working

Around 90% of employees already have a statutory right to request homeworking as well as other forms of flexible working. We are now encouraging employers and employees to discuss how work can be done safely at home or in a covid-secure workplace.

Well, a recent survey has shown that two thirds of people would prefer to work from home either full time or part time, rather than work all the time at the places they worked from pre-covid. With this change in attitudes, which means we will end up with less pollution and probably a better standard of living, what can the Government do, and what can the Minister do, to encourage this type of working for those who want it?

We are aware of the wider benefits of flexible working. Nearly half of employees have worked from home during covid-19. Most employees already have the right to request flexible working, which employers can reject only for really sound business reasons. In our manifesto, we committed to take it further, and we will be looking at it in the light of covid.

Support for Businesses: Scotland

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support for businesses in Scotland. (905060)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support for businesses in Scotland. (905070)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support for businesses in Scotland. (905073)

The Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the issue of business support, including on the schemes available to support Scottish businesses affected by the covid-19 pandemic.

We are still waiting on the promised aviation sectoral support. Indeed, far from support, in my Adjournment debate the Minister essentially said that workers should be grateful that Rolls-Royce offered voluntary redundancy. Moreover, the Government have not acted to stop companies such as Menzies Aviation and Centrica following the deplorable fire-and-rehire tactics employed by British Airways, which are now being enforced. Will he tell the House whether he thinks it fair that an employer can force an employer on to reduced terms and conditions or face redundancy? Why is that illegal in so many European countries?

We are in constant conversation with Rolls-Royce and other employers, quite rightly. The sector will be impacted for between three and five years. It is right that companies should be able to right-size their businesses and, as the Secretary of State referred to, have a constructive dialogue with their employees about how they arrive at that right size. The Government’s position is to support the industry with more than £8.5 billion of support through the covid pandemic.

Businesses in Scotland have thrived under devolution with the support of the Scottish Government, who are better able to provide tailored policies specifically for Scotland. An independent economics research organisation based at the University of Warwick published figures just yesterday that show that Brexit had already cost Scotland an estimated £736 a head last year alone. With uncertainty over future funding streams such as the so-called prosperity fund, which we were promised details of two years ago, how does he think that the greatest threat to devolution in its history—the current power-grab by Westminster—presents continued membership of the United Kingdom for business and the people of Scotland as a good option?

I have weekly calls with my counterparts in the devolved Administrations, including the Minister for economy and fair work in Scotland. The most successful market is the UK internal market—that is without doubt. That is what the Scottish Government should support. It is a shame that my officials, working with officials from Northern Ireland and, of course, Wales, can move forward, yet the Scottish Government chose to withdraw their officials back in March. I urge my colleague from the SNP to ask the Scottish Government to reintroduce those officials to the system. We would thrive as a United Kingdom.

To protect and rebuild the local economy of Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland, we need huge investment from the UK Government in the hydrogen economy, carbon capture and underground storage, and an energy transition zone all through an oil and gas sector deal. Will the Minister confirm that his Government intend to sign off an oil and gas sector deal this calendar year—yes or no?

It is a manifesto commitment of this Government to deliver an oil and gas sector deal, and we are working with the sector. My brilliant colleague, the Minister with responsibility for energy, has been engaging constantly with the sector to ensure it can take the opportunities that are before it in offshore wind generation and all sorts of other areas. Of course, hydrogen will be incredibly important to the energy White Paper, which we will publish in the autumn, as the Secretary of State set out.

Research and Development

What steps he is taking to increase the level of investment in research and development throughout the UK. (905061)

The Government are committed to making the UK a world-leading science superpower, and are increasing Government spending on R&D to £22 billion by 2024-25. We have announced seven successful projects from all four nations of the UK, which will receive £400 million of funding through our strength in places fund. Our ambitious R&D roadmap commits us to publishing a place strategy in the autumn that goes even further.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for all the work you have done to keep people like me engaged in the parliamentary process.

The Minister has a business background, so does she not realise that if she could persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to follow Mrs Thatcher’s example and introduce a windfall profit tax on people who have made a lot of money—the gambling industry and companies such as Amazon—that could be ploughed into research and development? Universities will go through a tough time in the coming months and years, so let us put real resources into research and development as never before.

I add my thanks to your team, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have a taskforce that has been looking into how to support universities. It has enabled us to set up a stability fund, which will enable R&D to continue in our institutions. In addition, in the roadmap, which contains the place strategy, we are talking about lots of levelling up. We are making sure we have the opportunity to take this forward and become the science superpower that we all want to be.

Covid-19: Events Sector

As the Prime Minister announced last week, from 1 October the Government intend to allow audiences to return to stadiums around the country. Conferences and other business events can also recommence in a covid-19 secure way, subject to the outcome of pilots.

The Government are really missing the point on this. The thing about events, meetings, conferences, exhibitions and wedding receptions is that they are organised and regulated, and yet they are more constrained at the moment than pubs and restaurants. Rather than talk about pilots and permitted venues that are not defined in the guidance, will the Government look at a faster and fuller opening of the sector before October?

We took evidence from a number of areas, including the wedding industry, and we have the “Safer Events: A Framework for Action” White Paper. All those people will feed into that discussion. Weddings are essentially parties, and we need to ensure that they can be regulated in a covid-19-secure way. I will meet the wedding industry associations again tomorrow to continue discussions in this area.

Research and Development

The Government are now implementing their ambitious R&D roadmap, published earlier this month, reaffirming our commitment to increasing public R&D spending to £22 billion by 2024-25 and ensuring the UK is the best place for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live and work.

I appreciate the recent announcements, but can the Minister reassure us that all universities will be able to access those loans, with freedom to invest in line with local priorities? Will she take a look at the proposals from the new Whittle laboratory in Cambridge, which needs to match the already secure £23.5 million in private sector funding to develop the first long-haul zero-carbon passenger aircraft?

I give my assurance that one of the things we are addressing in the roadmap is ensuring that we become a science superpower. Within that, we are levelling up across the whole of the country. I am committed to making the workplace diverse and ensuring that we have a culture that embraces that throughout the whole of country. We will ensure that UK scientists are appreciated and rewarded.

Employment Levels

What assessment he has made of the effect of winding down the coronavirus job retention scheme on employment levels. (905064)

The Government have provided unprecedented support to businesses and individuals. We are doubling the number of jobcentre work coaches, spending £32 million to recruit National Careers Service careers advisers and creating hundreds of thousands of new subsidised jobs for young people throughout the UK.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but my question is about the job retention scheme and employment levels. Given that some employers will be paid to retain workers who are never going to be made redundant, some of the job retention bonus scheme will be a dead loss. Would it not be a more effective use of public money to use some of these funds to continue to pay the wages of workers hardest hit and to provide some support to some of the 3 million households that have been excluded throughout this crisis from any help from this Government?

We are giving a whole range of support to everybody, as the hon. Member will know, through a lot of schemes. In fact, 9.4 million jobs have been supported through the coronavirus job retention scheme. As the scheme winds down, we will be making it more flexible so that people can return to work part time. We are also offering £1,000 to employers for each furloughed employee who is kept on until the end of January 2021.

Life Sciences and Vaccines

What steps his Department is taking to support (a) vaccine manufacturing and (b) UK life sciences. (905071)

The Government are investing £93 million to set up the UK’s first dedicated Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Harwell. We are also investing £38 million in a rapid deployment facility, which will allow vaccine manufacturing at scale to commence from later this year.

The Government have stated that they are interested in creating a sovereign manufacturing capability in the north. An opportunity exists in Ulverston in my constituency to build a bioscience cluster, with deep collaboration with local universities. Using this site for therapeutic vaccine manufacturing would enable partnership with GlaxoSmithKline, which is already based in Furness, and it would preserve and create local jobs and skills, and be a great result for the north and the UK as a whole. Would my right hon. Friend meet the key partners to this project to see whether we might be able to take it forward?

I want to confirm that the Government of course continue to consider the options to ensure that we have sufficient vaccine manufacturing capacity in the UK. I will ask the vaccine taskforce to follow up on that issue with my hon. Friend.

For many of my constituents who work in Greater Manchester life sciences and in the Cheshire life sciences corridor, the Government’s drive to increase research and development into vaccines is really important. Recognising the importance of this to our local economy, what are the Government doing to increase and develop the strengths of life sciences in the Greater Manchester area?

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that, of course, the Government strongly support the growth of the life sciences sector in the north-west, which employs about 26,000 people. We have made a significant strategic investment in the Medicines Discovery Catapult at Alderley Edge to boost R&D.

Covid-19: Support for Business

In consultation with businesses, business representative groups, trade unions, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, my Department has published comprehensive workplace guidance to ensure businesses can operate in a covid-secure manner, keeping both their workers and customers as safe as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, and welcome the work that he and his Department are doing to help businesses during this challenging time. However, what support is being given to the self-employed across the country?

As my right hon. Friend will know, 2.7 million self-employed people have accessed over £7.8 billion of grants from the self-employed income support scheme. The scheme has been extended, and individuals will be able to claim a second and final grant when the scheme reopens for applications on 17 August.

I thank the Secretary of State for finding a way to reopen the beauty sector, which employs so many women across the country. When I paid a visit to the Malvern Spa to celebrate its reopening last weekend, I was told that it has capacity now for only 15 spa days, rather than 40, because of the square footage rules that his Department has set out. Will he look urgently at reviewing those, because it is a very spacious premises?

I thank my hon. Friend for her acknowledgement of the work we have been doing. The key has been to open businesses safely and securely in a cautious and phased manner, and we will continue to do that.

Topical Questions

The coronavirus vaccine taskforce set up in my Department under the excellent leadership of its chair, Kate Bingham, has been making good progress. The Government have supported the vaccines being developed at Oxford University and Imperial College and have now secured access to three different vaccine classes, as well as a treatment containing covid-19 neutralising antibodies. We are also investing, as I said earlier, in vaccine manufacturing capacity in the UK, and the taskforce is doing all it can to ensure that the United Kingdom gets access to a safe and effective vaccine as soon as possible.

Well, that is a very welcome announcement, but I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to the tsunami of job losses now facing us. What industry needs right now is orders to get the lines running. That is not just for the big companies, but the whole supply chain. Does he accept the role of Government, not just as regulator and funder, but also as customer? Too often, the public sector, the civil service, local government and the police, fire and ambulance have, frankly, let British industry and British workers down, claiming they are bound by so-called EU rules. Now we are coming out of the EU, will he get going, shake up the civil service, put British industry first, get the orders out there and get the production lines moving?

I do not think there is much more to say. The right hon. Gentleman has made a powerful point.

I have received a letter from James Ritchie, the chief executive of Tekmar, based in my Newton Aycliffe industrial estate. He is also the chairman of Energi Coast, the UK’s leading energy cluster, whose members employ more than 3,000 people. He believes that the offshore wind hub would be perfectly placed in Teesside. The region includes a number of left-behind communities, in vital need of levelling up in jobs. That opportunity would support them and benefit my Sedgefield constituency. Can the Secretary of State assure me of his vital support in helping me and the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to bring the hub to Teesside and honour our pledge to the blue wall voters? (905116)

I am delighted to assure my hon. Friend that the Government are, as he knows, determined to ensure the rapid expansion of the offshore wind manufacturing supply chain. We have committed to 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, and I fully agree with him that the north-east region is critical to that development. I know the project to which he is referring, and officials and myself are looking closely at its viability.

The non-payment of the national minimum wage in Leicester garment factories was shocking, but unfortunately unsurprising. Exploitation in the garment industry has been extensively reported for years, including in a 2019 Environmental Audit Committee report. The cases we know about are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Given that these abusive working practices are not only criminal, but a threat to public health, will the Secretary of State tell the House what steps he has taken to escalate enforcement in light of the covid-19 pandemic?

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point, and I think we have all been appalled by what we have read and heard. He will know that the National Crime Agency is leading investigations right now into the current set of allegations. He will also know that a pilot operation was run in autumn 2018, bringing together a whole range of agencies. In the past 18 months, there have been more than 200 investigations. I confirm to him that the enforcement of the minimum wage is something that HMRC investigates, and in 2019-20 it has issued across the country 1,000 penalty notices.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for championing the life sciences sector and my hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth for championing the cause of universities and researchers, but we also have a superb charitable medical research sector in the United Kingdom. With the loss of funding due to covid-19, will my right Friend commit to working with the medical research charities to ensure that they can continue to work on creating the next generation of medical treatments for patients? (905119)

As my hon. Friend will know, in June 2020 we announced a support package to enable universities to continue their vital research. Universities will be required to use some of that funding for research normally funded by medical research charities. We are continuing to look at this situation and we hope to engage closely with charities to develop an even more robust package.

My constituents are particularly concerned about Marks and Spencer’s announcement that it will indefinitely close its East Kilbride store due to covid-19, undermining our town centre. Will the Secretary of State support a “fit to trade” licensing scheme proposed by the all-party parliamentary group for textiles and fashion—which I chair—alongside the British Retail Consortium, which will not only offer protection for garment workers across the UK, but provide an incentive for retailers to invest in UK manufacturing, creating thousands of skilled jobs and aiding the economic recovery plan? (905117)

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and I or one of my fellow Ministers would be happy to meet her to discuss it further.

Air pollution has a direct impact on children’s health. My 13-year-old constituent Tom Hunt is perhaps the first person to measure air pollution at ground level, by collaborating with his labrador dog Baggy, who has been wearing a pollution monitor on his collar. His father Matt owns an alternative energy company, Bio Global Industries, in my constituency, and supported him. The data showed that air pollution is two-thirds higher, closer to the ground. Will the Secretary of State join me in commending Tom and Baggy for that really enterprising research, and look at recommending to manufacturers a greater emphasis on producing higher buggies, strollers and pushchairs, which will keep young children further away from the concentrated air pollution that he found closer to the ground? (905121)

I am delighted to join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in commending Tom Hunt and Baggy for their pioneering work. She knows that tackling carbon emissions and improving air quality go hand in hand. We are taking action to address both, particularly with the 300,000 ultra low emission vehicles registered in the UK, and we are also providing new funding for vehicle charging infrastructure.

Further to the question by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), may I push the Government on clinical trials and medical research? Medical research has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in this country in recent years. I have known people this year who started on a clinical trial that was their only hope of life. It was suspended because of coronavirus and now they have died. We need to make sure that the money is getting into the medical research charities. Last week, Cancer Research UK said that it would lose 500 members of staff and cut its research to £150 million. We need the Government to act fast to get these clinical trials up and going again—and the medical research, too. (905122)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue and I share a lot of his concerns, but it is wrong to suggest that we are not doing anything. From autumn this year, we are providing a package of low-interest loans with long payback periods, supplemented by a small element of grant, to cover up to 80% of the universities’ income losses from international students. The money that is being pumped into our further education deals precisely with the point that he raised, and we are continuing to do that.

Because the exhibitions industry generates so much additional economic activity we should reopen it fully immediately, shouldn’t we? (905128)

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course we recognise the valiant contribution that the sector makes to the UK economy. We are working closely with the sector to pilot the reopening of conference centres, with a view to full socially distanced reopening from 1 October, subject of course to continuing to make progress.

Constituents are still reporting a catalogue of problems with bounce back loans, including long waits to be approved and being turned down for business bank accounts because of credit ratings. When will Ministers get to grips with that, to ensure that all eligible businesses apply and receive the loans quickly? (905127)

Bounce back loans have been a big success; more than 1 million have been approved for businesses. If the hon. Lady has specific issues that she wishes to raise about businesses in her constituency, she should write to me.

The economic impact of covid-19 is likely to be particularly acute in coastal resorts such as Blackpool, which are heavily reliant on seasonal tourism. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to diversify the local economy in such resorts and to support businesses to create well-paid, skilled jobs in emerging industries in these areas? (905130)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because it goes to the heart of what we are doing as a Government. We already have more than 460,000 UK jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains. Those are green-collar jobs and our research and development is totally committed to expanding those opportunities, whereby we want to reach 2 million green jobs by 2030. It is my conviction that coastal communities such as the one he represents will fully benefit and be in a place where they can reap the rewards of our investment in the green economy.

Money for the aerospace technology industry is welcome, but it is money for a future that may not exist if we do not save the aerospace industry today. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers agree to sit down with industry leaders, trade unions and hon. Members in this House to form a recovery plan and a sector deal specifically for the aerospace sector, which of course generates five jobs for every job in the sector itself? (905133)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the key importance of the aviation sector, and the Government are supporting aerospace and its aviation customers with more than £8.5 billion, as part of our measures to support the overall economy. I understand that Airbus has drawn down £500 million on the corporate finance facility, and of course the Secretary of State and the ministerial team are happy to engage with him and his constituents on this important matter.

I know that my right hon. Friend does not underestimate how difficult this year has been for hospitality businesses in North Devon. I warmly welcome the action the Government have taken to get people safely back into our pubs, restaurants and cafés. Will he join me in visiting The Bell Inn, in Chittlehampton, to look at the fantastic hard work that has been done there to ensure that all the appropriate measures are in place to reopen? (905135)

I already have one week of holiday plans and not in her constituency, sadly, but we all need to get out there to visit pubs and restaurants and cafés, which are the heart of our communities. From what I have seen, they are very much adhering to the covid-secure guidance, and that is how we will all enjoy summer safely.

Last year, it was announced that the Ford engine plant was to be closed in September of this year. Ineos was brought in, with both UK Government and Welsh Government funding, but it has now suspended its development at the plant. BA has announced potential job losses at three sites across south Wales, and GE has put staff under a statutory notice period at its plant in Nantgarw. What support is the Secretary of State going to start putting into the south Wales economy so that we can save, protect and create new highly skilled and well-paid jobs? (905146)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been supporting the economy across the United Kingdom, to the tune of £160 billion of additional funding announced by the Chancellor. If the hon. Gentleman would like to engage with my ministerial team on particular issues, I would be very happy about that.

Nothing is more important right now than protecting public health and supporting our recovery. Does the Minister agree that his UK Internal Market White Paper last week will ensure that all four nations in our Union can overcome covid-19 together? (905147)

Like my hon. Friend, I am a firm believer in the Union—in one United Kingdom. The proposals we set out in the UK Internal Market White Paper are all about supporting jobs, protecting businesses and livelihoods, and encouraging investment across the whole UK. I hope that all colleagues across the House will write in support of that as part of the consultation.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.