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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 681: debated on Tuesday 29 September 2020

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

R&D Road Map

Whether he plans to prioritise the development and uptake of human-relevant new approach methodologies in the forthcoming UK research and development road map. (906764)

In July, the Government published their ambitious R&D road map, reaffirming our commitment to cement the UKs position as a science superpower. We will revitalise our whole system of science, research and innovation to release its potential, and our investment in multiple disciplines and methodologies will be guided by expert researchers.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. A successful transition to new approach methodologies requires the support of Government- backed infrastructure, a strategic allocation of funding, improved education, multidisciplinary collaboration between universities and industry, and close collaboration with the regulators. Will he undertake to prioritise the opportunities offered by human-relevant methods, so that the UK does not risk losing its position as a global leader in biomedical research and innovation?

I know that the hon. Gentleman cares deeply about this issue and launched a white paper on it earlier this year; I welcome the contribution of that report. The use of animals in research is carefully regulated and remains important in ensuring that new medicines and treatments are safe. However, the Government are committed to reducing and replacing the use of animal research, and we have invested £67 million to support the development of new techniques that will help to achieve that.

Support for Businesses: Covid-19

My Department has delivered a wide range of measures as part of the Government’s unprecedented support package. That includes £11 billion in grants supporting almost 900,000 business premises and over £57 billion in loan guarantees to over 1 million businesses across the UK. We have also extended the deadline for the loan schemes to the end of November, ensuring that there is further support for those who need it.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and for the support to date. When we emerge from the current crisis, we must build back in an environmentally sustainable way and ensure that we are on track to meet our net zero target. What is he doing to deliver carbon capture and storage across the UK, to ensure that manufacturing and agricultural businesses have certainty, with net zero in mind?

I agree with my hon. Friend: we need to build back better and build back greener. CCS will be an essential part of the transformation to a low-carbon economy, and it presents an opportunity for the creation of high-value jobs, which we want to see in our country. We have already announced a CCS infrastructure fund of £800 million to deploy carbon capture and storage in at least two industrial clusters over the next decade.

Many businesses in the Vale of Clwyd welcome the measures that the Chancellor announced last week, but some local and regional employers of all sizes still face significant challenges—none more so than Airbus. Will my right hon. Friend recommit to doing all he can to support Airbus and its highly skilled staff at this particularly uncertain time?

My hon. Friend and other Members are champions for the businesses in their constituencies. Airbus has been discussed with me and other ministerial colleagues. Of course, Airbus is a vital part of UK aerospace. We are currently providing the aerospace and aviation sector with over £8.5 billion of support through the covid corporate financing facility, R&D grants, loan guarantees and export support. We are in regular dialogue with Airbus, to see how we can assist it and its employees.

Over 1 million people are employed in sectors that are currently shut down, including weddings, events and nightclubs. The Chancellor last week refused to support them because he said they are not “viable”, but those businesses are shut because they are rightly following the Government’s public health guidance to help tackle the virus. As the person responsible for standing up for the businesses of this country, does the Business Secretary not think it is wrong, insulting and terrible for our long-term economic future as a country to write off as unviable these businesses and jobs that provide livelihoods for so many people in our country?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I talk to businesses every day, as he does, and I know it is very difficult for many of them right now. The job support scheme announced by the Chancellor provides targeted support for jobs and business facing lower demand over the coming months. He will also know that the measures have been welcomed by business groups and, indeed, trade unions. The TUC said:

“the Chancellor has listened and done the right thing.”

In addition to the JSS, there are other measures available to support all businesses across the country.

The Secretary of State did not answer my question about these businesses that are currently shut down and that are doing the right thing. Many of them have no income coming in, they are excluded from the JSS and they are already loaded up with debt, yet they have rent to pay and overheads to cover, and the Government are just leaving them out in the cold. I believe these were good, viable businesses before the pandemic. They were good enough for the Government to support them back in March, and we need them for our economy after the crisis is over. Will he stand up for these businesses that need help and give them the support they need to help at least survive the crisis?

Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Department does stand up for businesses. We have a very regular dialogue with sectors on an ongoing basis. As I said, I acknowledge that some of them are facing particular difficulties. As he himself knows from his time in government, we are not going to be able to protect every single job—very, very sadly—but that is why we are providing extra support in the welfare system but also, really importantly, in support with skills and, indeed, apprenticeships and the kickstart scheme for young people, so that we can help people into better jobs.

It has been confirmed that the Secretary of State is due to rewrite the industrial strategy this autumn. Given the concern from businesses that the Department is the voice of Government to business, as opposed to the voice of business to Government, could the Secretary of State confirm how businesses will be engaged in the drafting of the new industrial strategy?

The Chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee of course raises an important point, and he will know that I have come to the House on previous occasions and outlined the detailed discussions we have. I set up a range of taskforces, where we had discussions on issues around the industrial strategy back in June, and we converse on a daily basis with sectors across the country.

I was really disappointed by the answers the Business Secretary gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I have global exhibition companies in my constituency that are on the verge of going bust. They do not need to be told about the kickstart scheme or apprenticeships, or to be told that universal credit is available for them. These companies are calling for an extension of business rate relief and a new grant scheme, bearing in mind that many of them were not eligible for the retail, hospitality and leisure grant. Will the Secretary of State consider this, and commit to publishing a provisional date when conferences and exhibition events can reopen, as has been happening in parts of Europe? Will he also agree to meet the sector? I have tried lobbying the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on this, and I am getting nowhere. Will he pay attention to this sector?

As the hon. Lady outlines, this particular sector is the responsibility of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. However, I have been talking to representatives of the sector, as have my ministerial team and, as I have said, we will continue to have such conversations. As I have also said, the Chancellor set out a significant package of support since the start of this pandemic, and people are still able to make use of that support.

Scotch Whisky Tariffs

What steps his Department is taking to support the Department for International Trade in removing tariffs on Scotch malt whisky. (906766)

My Department is working closely with the Department for International Trade to secure a swift settlement of the ongoing aerospace dispute to the benefit of all UK industries, including Scotch whisky, and demonstrating our commitment to free and fair trade.

Does the Minister recognise that it is very important to resolve this issue within the current presidential term? Will his Department therefore take forward urgent measures to resolve, bilaterally, the Airbus-Boeing dispute so that we can get these damaging tariffs removed from Scotch whisky, as I say, during the current presidential term?

I reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government are urgently seeking a negotiated settlement of this dispute and are exploring all options. The imminent award of retaliatory rights should incentivise the US to engage in discussions to reach a fair and balanced settlement.

Reducing Business Emissions

As my hon. Friend knows, helping businesses reduce emissions is crucial to delivering our net zero commitment. To tackle some of our highest carbon-intensive businesses, we have just launched the £289 million industrial energy transformation fund, and we are also extending the £300 million climate change agreements scheme to incentivise businesses to invest in energy efficiency.

I thank the Minister very much for his answer. The business sector has successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 30% since 1990. However, emissions from business transport are counted separately, and transport emissions have gone down only by 3% since 1990. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we have a great opportunity in the UK to be a world leader in green transport—from electric vehicles to hydrogen lorries—and will he work closely with the Treasury to incentivise businesses to use more low emission vehicles in the future?

We do have extensive plans. We have further plans for decarbonising freight that will form part of the transport decarbonisation plan, which we expect to publish later this year. We work constantly with other Departments to ensure that we can reach our net zero targets. My hon. Friend is quite right to emphasise, in particular, the role that transport plays in carbon emissions.

If we want business to play its full part in reducing emissions and to finance the innovation and infrastructure critical to the transition to a low-carbon economy, the Government need to address the very real barriers to private investment. One obvious way to do so is through a national investment bank with a clear mandate to channel both public and private capital towards projects that aid a green recovery and help the country to achieve its net zero target. Does the Minister’s Department as a whole support the establishment of such a bank, and if so, will he update the House on what progress has been made in convincing his colleagues in the Treasury to get behind the proposal?

It is no secret that there is plenty of discussion about a national infrastructure bank. The Green Investment Bank, which was set up in 2015, was successful, and this is something that we are constantly in conversations about.

Support for Manufacturing

BEIS continues to engage with industry and suppliers to ensure that we can support our manufacturing sectors during and after the covid-19 crisis. This includes an unprecedented package of Government support to help with business continuity and drive recovery after the pandemic.

Steel manufacture is the heart and soul of towns like Stocksbridge in my constituency. It provides high-skilled, well-paid, productive jobs. Once we have left the EU, we will be free to use our procurement processes to favour British manufacturers. Will my hon. Friend commit to grasping this opportunity to make sure that our infrastructure revolution helps to secure the future of British steel?

The Government have helped our steel industry to compete globally by providing more than £480 million in relief to the sector for electricity costs since 2013. We want to ensure that UK steel producers can compete for and win contracts associated with domestic infrastructure investments, including HS2. We are working closely with the sector and other relevant parties to realise these opportunities.

Furniture manufacturing is an enormously important part of the economy in my constituency, with firms such as Ercol and Hypnos Beds located in Princes Risborough. As a result of covid, the industry estimates a 25% to 30% reduction in UK furniture sales this year, with 10,000 jobs at risk. Will my hon. Friend join me in backing the industry’s “Buy the Best, Buy British, Save Jobs” campaign, which is also supported by the all-party parliamentary group on furniture makers, and outline what more she can do to support our furniture makers?

I will be delighted to support that campaign. It is great to see the furniture industry supporting high-quality British manufacturing with its “Buy British” initiative. Now, more than ever, we all need to do our bit by backing British industry to drive jobs, innovation and growth.

Manufacturing industries in my constituency such as Cadbury’s in Chirk—part of the Mondelēz group—Barnett Engineering in Rhos and Ifor Williams Trailers in Cynwyd are the bedrock of the country’s manufacturing sector. Will the Minister comment on how the Chancellor’s announcement of economic measures last week will help these manufacturing companies through the coronavirus crisis?

I welcome the measures announced by the Chancellor last week and agree that manufacturing is a key component of the UK’s thriving industrial sector. The job support scheme will provide eligible manufacturing businesses in Clwyd South with a grant covering one third of all employees’ wages for hours not worked, up to a cap of £697.92 a month. Furthermore, the deadline for applications for coronavirus business interruption loans and the future fund has now been extended to 30 November.

More than 90% of the UK’s manufacturing companies have kept working, even at the height of the pandemic, keeping food on supermarket shelves and medicines and ventilators in our hospitals. However, many of them will face a major crisis when the furlough scheme ends in a few weeks’ time. Demand is still incredibly low in some parts of industry, but Government support is being withdrawn. It is patently obvious that the well-paid and highly skilled jobs that we have in sectors such as aerospace and aviation should be the foundations of our future economic growth and the public will not forget it if the Government allow them to wither on the vine. As the voice of business within the Government—

Order. We cannot read out a speech. It has to be a question, very short and very brief. It is a supplementary.

May I ask the Minister, as the voice of business within the Government, what she is doing to ensure that these vital jobs and skills are being protected?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government are absolutely committed to making sure that businesses are the future of the economy and that we need to get the economy back on track. We have invested billions of pounds making sure that we have all the schemes in place that will enable this economy to thrive.

Marine Energy Sector

My hon. Friend will know that the Government have a long history of supporting the development of marine technologies. Since 2010, we have provided £80 million in research and development funding, and last month we published a call for evidence on the potential of marine energy, and we are looking forward to those responses.

Will my hon. Friend please update the House on progress that has been made on the development of wind and wave technology around the coastline, as I know that the Crown Estate is looking at the development of wind farms off the south-east coast, near my constituency of Hastings and Rye?

My hon. Friend is quite right. In addition to the proposed extension to the Rampion offshore wind farm off Brighton, I understand that there is significant market interest in the Crown Estate’s current seabed leasing round, and that, we expect, will include areas off the coast of the south-east of England, near my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Automotive Sector: Environmentally Sustainable Recovery

What steps his Department is taking to support an environmentally sustainable economic recovery in the automotive sector. (906770)

What steps his Department is taking to support an environmentally sustainable economic recovery in the automotive sector. (906789)

What steps his Department is taking to support an environmentally sustainable economic recovery in the automotive sector. (906793)

My hon. Friend will know that we continue to support the transformation of the sector towards zero-emission vehicles. Last autumn, we announced up to £1 billion of new funding for the next generation of innovative, low-carbon automotive technologies. A competition, as we speak, is under way.

As we recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus, it is vital that we build back greener. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that he is backing the innovators who are working on decarbonising our automobile industry—companies such as Gridserve Sustainable Energy—and who can get their cutting edge ideas on to the market, supporting green jobs along the way?

Green recovery is an absolute priority for my Department. We have brought forward funding to restart innovation, support business and deliver our decarbonisation ambitions. This includes £10 million through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and £12 million from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles.

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answer. Vehicle regulations regarding electric vehicles, I am told, now come under the auspices of the electricity at work regulations. Not many garages realise that and as electric cars have the equivalent to domestic three-phase electricity amounts of stored energy that can kill very easily, what is he doing to ensure that we do not lead the world in deaths in this sector?

There are 182,000 vehicle technicians in the UK, of which 21,000 are EV qualified. Last year, we endorsed the Institute of the Motor Industry’s TechSafe professional standards, which will help to ensure that staff are properly trained and qualified to work on electric vehicles.

My hon. Friend may be aware that Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, recently landed at Doncaster Sheffield Airport and has seen the land ready for development. Will the Minister work with me to put a case forward to encourage this automotive giant to build its next gigafactory in Don Valley?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am very keen to secure battery manufacturing capability in the United Kingdom, and I am very supportive of discussions with potential investors about their requirements. As he knows, we are currently calling on industry to put forward investment proposals for gigafactories.

The Minister of State has mentioned the production of electric vehicles as a key element of sustainable economic recovery in the automotive sector, and we want that production to be supported by the phasing out of new internal combustion hybrid vehicles by 2030. He, I think, wants 2040 to be the date, but we will agree, I am sure, that that must be accompanied by an appropriate national charging infrastructure. Its development, however, is seriously lagging. A recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that as few as 5% of the chargers that will be needed by 2030 are currently installed. What is he doing to ensure that charging infrastructure can meet future demands placed on it?

We have, as the hon. Member rightly mentioned, consulted on bringing forward the end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a fast transition appears feasible, as well as including hybrids for the first time. We will announce the outcome in due course. I remind him that we are investing £2.5 billion in grants for plug-in passenger commercial vehicles and more than 18,000 publicly available charging devices, including 3,200 rapid devices: one of the largest networks in Europe. I want to see him supporting that endeavour rather than talking it down.

Businesses and Covid-19

What recent discussions he has had with representatives from those business sectors most affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (906771)

What recent discussions he has had with representatives from those business sectors most affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (906782)

What recent discussions he has had with representatives from those business sectors most affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (906788)

Ministerial colleagues and I have engaged closely with affected sectors throughout the covid-19 pandemic. Recently, I have had meetings with representatives of the retail, hospitality, consumer goods, weddings, nightclubs and events sectors, and small and medium-sized enterprises across the UK.

I thank the Minister for his response, but it is simply not good enough. My local pubs, bars, restaurants, theatres and taxi drivers were already fighting for their survival. The introduction of an arbitrary and unevidenced 10 pm curfew has led one of my constituents, Stephen Sullivan, who runs Ziggy’s in South Shields, to say, “I simply can’t see a way forward. There is no way out for my business.” When on earth will the Government abolish this curfew?

I am sorry that the hon. Member does not feel that speaking to 3,000 or 4,000 businesses over the past few months to understand their issues is good enough. None the less, I understand the concern of the hospitality sector and other sectors in South Shields in particular, where there are local restrictions. It is so important that we get the economy up and running as soon as we can. The Government’s first priority is to save lives, but to save businesses and livelihoods is just as important.

I am proud of my many constituents who work in the creative industries, such as musicians, actors, producers and designers, to name but a few. Making ends meet in this sector can be difficult at the best of times, but it is now even more precarious as many businesses will not yet be able to reopen. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that workers in creative industry, including permanent, freelance, self-employed and those previously excluded, can receive financial support in the tough months ahead?

That is something that I continue to engage with the Treasury and with businesses on, to understand it and to see what more we can do. I am someone who has in the past been a company director and paid myself through dividends, so I understand the position of those in the creative sector, who are doing much the same thing. We will work together to see what more we can do.

I used to work in the nightclub industry, like 70,000 people in the UK. Clubs are currently shut down on Government advice and are getting no support on rent, rates or other overheads. Loans are no good because they are just building up the debt. These are businesses that will be not just viable, but thriving businesses and good employers if they can get through the covid shutdown. What are the Government going to do to help them to get through this crisis?

I have met nightclub representatives and people who run nightclubs. I have met with Sacha Lord and other people who work with the elected mayors. We have set up a nightclub taskforce to work with the Night Time Industries Association and other owners to try to work our way to a covid-19-secure nightclub, when we can start to open up the economy. Many nightclubs have actually repurposed to be able to open as bars and other areas of industry.

The Minister says he understands, but it beggars belief that his Government still refuse to support businesses that were vibrant and viable. Workers, freelancers, creatives and the newly self-employed have been hung out to dry. Government sources now predict that all pubs, restaurants and bars will be ordered to close for two weeks initially. Without furlough and restricted by curfew, why is he creating another class of the excluded?

I am not sure where the Government sources are coming from. As I say, lives are absolutely first in our priorities; we are trying to make sure that we can stop the transmission of this virus. We want to keep the economy open, which is why we have put measures in place so that, although they are hampered because they cannot trade fully, pubs, restaurants and other sectors can stay open at this time.

The Government will not provide grants to struggling firms, they are giving a pittance to the self-employed and they are replacing furlough with a scheme that excludes businesses closing on health grounds. They are incentivising the rest to cut staff, with 3 million already thrown to the wolves and more to come. Did the Minister demand that the Chancellor introduce an emergency Budget to save the excluded? If not, is it not the case that his role is simply not viable?

The Government have put in £160 billion-worth of support, wrapping our arms around as much of the economy as we can. We have put off business rates for these businesses. We have extended the VAT cut for another few months for the hospitality sector in particular. We will continue to see what more we can do to keep our economy open.

I am afraid that talking and engagement is all well and good, but what we need is some action. Does the Minister think that Deer Park in Devon, which was fully booked for weddings next year, or the conference business in Manchester, which was 90% booked for next year, are unviable businesses? The Government have thrown those and thousands of other thriving businesses on the scrapheap this week—businesses that were very much viable and will be so again when the restrictions are lifted. They have taken the loans. They will not qualify for the job support scheme. They were promised that track and trace would allow them to reopen, yet the Government have now turned their back on them. The Conservatives are no longer the party of business. As a very small measure, will the Minister reallocate the cash grant underspend to ensure that we do not see thousands of businesses go bust on his watch?

We have handed out £11 billion-worth of cash grants to businesses across the country. In terms of the underspend, the under-allocation varied by local authorities and how much money they could get to those businesses, which is why we need to have it in to reconcile. I work with the wedding sector. At the moment it is impossible to work through a system that makes it viable for those businesses to open beyond a certain number. However, they will be viable businesses in the future.

UK Internal Market Bill

What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the economic effect on businesses of the UK Internal Market Bill. (906772)

Ministers have clearly set out the benefits to all UK businesses of ensuring that goods and services can flow freely across the UK. That is in Scotland’s interests, given that it exports more to the rest of the UK than to the EU. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I have spent about 12 hours on these Benches with the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), having discussions and debating this issue.

Businesses in my Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency and across Scotland benefit from not only the most competitive business rates regime in the UK but vital schemes such as the transition training fund, the inward investment scheme and a half-billion pound infrastructure plan. With the internal market Bill allowing UK Ministers to spend in devolved areas, what guarantees can the Minister give that such expenditure will not result in a consequential reduction in essential Scottish Government funding, putting such schemes at risk?

Spending from the UK Government will be complementary to that coming from the Scottish Government. We want to add to that and to make sure that the UK economy can flourish. Scottish business will be at risk without the regulatory certainty of this Bill, so we want to prevent additional layers of complexity.

Merseyside: Sustainable Energy Production

What steps he is taking to support (a) the Mersey tidal project and (b) other new jobs and environmentally sustainable energy production on Merseyside. (906773)

I reassure the hon. Lady that we are looking with great interest at the Mersey tidal project and that the Government have already funded the north-west energy hub so that we can drive huge opportunities for the region in renewable energy. I know that BEIS officials recently met representatives from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to discuss the very Mersey tidal project that she mentions.

Highly skilled, green manufacturing jobs should power our economic recovery beyond the pandemic and it is calculated that the Mersey tidal scheme could have the potential to generate up to four times the energy of all the wind turbines in Liverpool bay—enough energy to power 1 million homes. Liverpool city region’s Mayor has already secured £2.5 million of funding for the next phase of work. Given the Minister’s positive response, will he meet with the metro Mayor, local MPs and industry experts such as Martin Land, who now heads up the project, to help to accelerate it to feed stage development at the appropriate juncture?

I would be very happy to meet with MPs and representatives in the Mersey region. I know the Mayor, Steven Rotherham; I met him in my previous life as a DExEU Under-Secretary. I am happy to meet him and others again.

Employment Practices

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that employers do not use unfair and discriminatory practices when selecting people for redundancy. (906774)

Any discrimination when selecting people for redundancy would be not only wrong, but unlawful. Employees with the necessary qualifying service can bring a claim to an employment tribunal where they believe that they have been unfairly selected for redundancy.

Citizens Advice research shows that one worker in six is facing redundancy and that parents and carers of those who have shielded are twice as likely to be made redundant. Will the Minister now provide additional emergency resources to enforcement bodies to ensure that people are treated fairly, equally and safely during this extremely worrying time?

We work closely with the enforcement body to make sure that it can do its job and we resource it accordingly. We are also looking to the long term to see what more we can do for better enforcement in these matters.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on employment levels of closing the coronavirus job retention scheme. (906775)

Some 9.6 million jobs have been supported through the coronavirus job retention scheme and millions of people have now moved off furlough and back into work. The job support scheme and other measures, such as the extension of our temporary VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism sectors, demonstrate our commitment to supporting businesses and workers.

May I return to a theme that has been raised by other Members without success in terms of answers? Sheffield City Region Music Board wrote to the Culture Secretary with local Members over six weeks ago about the problems facing the music industry. We have had no reply. The new job support scheme offers nothing to businesses that are unable to open, such as many of Sheffield’s iconic music venues, with impacts on jobs right across the sector. One constituent said to me yesterday that by declaring most music businesses not viable, the Government have basically hung everyone out to dry. Ministers did not address this issue in their earlier answers, so will the Secretary of State recognise the problem and spell out what action the Government will take to protect jobs in the music, events and creative industries?

I completely understand the concerns that colleagues have about the sectors that are not open. I can only reiterate, without going into full details, that we continue to have discussions with those sectors. The hon. Gentleman talks about the particular sector that he knows, which is the responsibility of another Secretary of State, but I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about those issues in the past day or two. We will continue to have discussions.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that we are trying to make sure that the economy stays open, and the vast majority of the economy is open, but we need to do that in a safe way. If we all play our part, we will be in a position where we can reopen the rest of the economy and move to some sense of normality.

Advanced Nuclear Reactors

What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of locations in the UK for (a) small and (b) advanced nuclear reactors. [R] (906778)

The UK is fast becoming an exciting place for developing small and advanced nuclear reactor technologies. That is why we have recently invested over £130 million to support their development. We will shortly be undertaking a comprehensive assessment of siting requirements, including suitability, safety and security.

When will the Government publish their long-awaited energy White Paper and end the uncertainty over the future of our nuclear industry?

Jobs and Covid-19

What recent discussions he has had with manufacturers on the effect on jobs of the covid-19 outbreak. (906779)

We are committed to ongoing engagement with industry to understand the impact of the pandemic on manufacturers and to ensure that they have the support they need. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with manufacturers, including one yesterday with more than 100 manufacturers and major businesses, including Make UK.

Manufacturers in Rotherham have faced huge disruption as a result of covid-19. It is now becoming increasingly likely that Britain may exit the transition period without a deal in place with the EU. Will the Minister please outline what steps he is taking to ensure that manufacturers in my constituency and across the country have the certainty and support they need from the Government to sustain their businesses in the face of unprecedented challenges?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State addressed refreshing the industrial strategy, and, of course, manufacturing absolutely remains central to our industrial strategy. Some 65% of research and development is delivered by manufacturing in the UK. We remain the ninth largest manufacturer in the world, so manufacturing will be front and centre of our long-term investment in our green, sustainable recovery.

State Aid

Government Departments consider the impact of any support they provide and the Government’s recent covid-19 measures have been hugely welcomed by businesses. Our upcoming consultation on subsidy control will allow us to gather views on how to ensure those measures continue to be effective in achieving our economic objectives.

Putting the covid period to one side, it is worth remembering that in 2018 the UK spent only 0.38% of GDP on state aid. France spent twice as much and Germany four times more. With the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the Government will centralise state aid decision making in London. When will his Government lift the arbitrary borrowing cap on the Welsh Government to enable Wales to invest in Welsh infrastructure and thus boost Welsh productivity?

We have had this debate, of course, during the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill over the past few days. Subsidy control has never been a devolved matter. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. We have always been clear that the regulation of subsidy control is a reserved matter. There will be a consultation, but ultimately we want to promote a competitive and dynamic economy throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

High-tech Industry

The UK has one of the most vibrant and innovative tech sectors in the world, and it has been highly resilient through the pandemic. We are providing a wide range of support for high-tech industries, including the artificial intelligence sector deal, the industrial strategy challenge fund and the £1.25 billion coronavirus package of support for innovative firms.

The Minister will be aware of the value of the photonics industry to the UK economy. My constituency is home to the EPIC Centre in Paignton and its own site in Brixham. Given the leading value it has in the manufacturing industry and in quantum photonics, what support will it be given, along the lines of the research and development roadmap?

Indeed, I know about the excellent work in Totnes. The Government recognise the important contribution made to the UK economy by the photonics industry and its underpinning role in growing the UK’s quantum technology sector. Successive Governments have supported the growth of the sector with R&D investment. As the Government implement our ambitious “UK research and development roadmap”, published in July, investing in cross-cutting technologies and realising the potential for regional strengths will be vital to making the most of the UK’s potential and becoming a science superpower.

Nuclear Power and Decarbonisation

Nuclear power, which is a safe, reliable and low-carbon source of power, has a key role to play, alongside other technologies such as renewables, as we transition our energy system to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The recent withdrawal of Hitachi from the Wylfa Newydd nuclear project in my constituency is exceptionally disappointing. I would like to thank the Isle of Anglesey County Council, Annwen Morgan, Llinos Medi Huws and all those at the council who worked so hard on the project, the team at Horizon and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Most importantly, I would like to thank the communities of Ynys Môn for their support, patience and vision. Vision is hope with a plan—

I want to add one more person to that list for her work, and that is my hon. Friend. We recognise that Hitachi’s decision will be disappointing news for the people of north Wales. We remain willing to discuss new nuclear projects with any viable companies and investors wishing to develop the site. It is a great site that has a great amount of backing from the community.

Research and Development

We are making good progress in implementing the Government’s ambitious R&D road map, including by investing £236 million around the UK through the strength in places fund, setting up the innovation expert group and the place advisory group, and taking steps to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.

I welcome the near doubling of spend on UK R&D. Will my hon. Friend outline the work that is being done to draw in the R&D centres of international companies? This will be key to the prosperity not just of East Surrey, but of the whole country.

As part of the R&D road map we are actively developing a place strategy, which will set out how we can develop and grow an R&D capability across the country. I regularly meet my noble Friend Lord Grimstone, the Minister for Investment, to discuss how we can leverage and increase foreign direct investment to benefit all regions and nations of the UK.

Topical Questions

I know that the plight of sub-postmasters involved in the Horizon IT scandal has rightly concerned many hon. and right hon. Members. There have been repeated calls for a judge-led inquiry into this matter. I can confirm that former High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams will chair the Government’s inquiry, which begins this week. The terms of reference have been expanded following feedback from former postmasters and hon. Members. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who is leading this work in my Department, will be pleased to update colleagues.

The landlord of the Burnaby Arms pub in Bedford has three staff on zero-hours contracts. One is currently on flexible furlough, working reduced hours. The other two are still on furlough and have been informed that they will lose their jobs when furlough ends unless the situation for wet-led pubs changes. How does the job support scheme—which actually costs this and many other businesses in my constituency more money to keep staff—prevent mass job losses?

The best thing we can do to continue to keep the hospitality sector open is to ensure that we get the virus and the infections under control, and that is precisely what we are doing with the proportionate measures that the Government are taking.

I was extremely pleased recently to welcome the Secretary of State for International Trade to Truro and Falmouth, where she was able to look at the globally significant lithium grades in geothermal waters in my constituency. Will the Minister ensure that the Government continue their part funding of this United Downs project to help it to continue its important steps towards the commercial production of lithium in Cornwall? (906825)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing in this area. I also congratulate the United Downs project on last month securing £4 million from the Government’s getting building fund. As the Prime Minister has said this weekend, the UK will lead by example by keeping the environment firmly on the global agenda and serving as a launchpad for a global green industrial revolution.

Two years ago, having spent £1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money developing the European Galileo programme, the Government abandoned it to build a duplicate British system at a cost of £3 billion to £5 billion; they spent tens of millions on this “me too” sat-nav system, plus half a billion pounds on OneWeb, a bankrupt American satellite company. Now we hear that the British sat-nav system is to be abandoned too—and for what? According to newspaper reports, which are better briefed than Parliament, it is so that the Prime Minister can go head to head with Elon Musk.

Order. I have had this each day. I do not mind the shadow Minister asking questions, but the idea of topical questions is that they are short and punchy, not big, long statements and questions. Please can we have a quick question?

I think the hon. Lady is making reference to the UN global navigation satellite systems programme. It is not being closed; due to the importance of the Government’s ambitions for the space sector, the programme is being reset and its remit widened.

With around 70,000 jobs reliant on manufacturing in the black country, now is an opportune time to review the black country industrial strategy. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend confirmed a refresh of that industrial strategy. Will he meet me to discuss how we can leverage industrial and manufacturing capacity in the black country to restart that industrial revolution? (906827)

We are indeed refreshing the 2017 industrial strategy to reflect the Government’s priorities, which are putting the UK at the forefront of technological opportunities, boosting growth and productivity across our country, and supporting a green recovery. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the black country industrial strategy.

Sanquhar in my constituency has the world’s oldest post office, and that title derives from the fact that the post office has been on the same site for 300 years. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, along with the Post Office, he will take every opportunity to keep a post office on that site? (906828)

I recognise the historic significance and role of the post office in Sanquhar, and I thank all the staff who have kept it running over the years, particularly most recently through the covid pandemic. I very much hope that a long-term future for that post office can be secured.

The Chancellor claims that certain businesses and jobs are no longer viable—he says “unviable”. Will the Minister explain how the Government can support people sitting on packed aeroplanes for three and a half hours, but will not support restaurants and cafes in Warwick and Leamington, and across the country, or cinemas and bars, where people may be sat at the same density? (906829)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are supporting the hospitality sector. Business rates are not required to be paid for the full year, and other support is available across the economy. If we want to get back to normality, we must get this infection under control, and we all have a part to play in that.

What advice does the Secretary of State offer to people in Kettering and across the country who are struggling to pay essential bills as a result of the pandemic? (906830)

My hon. Friend may know that we have funded Citizens Advice to provide local advice during this crisis, and we have negotiated a voluntary agreement with energy suppliers to support households impacted by covid-19. I also commend the Money Advice Service for developing the money advice tool, which gives people important practical support in managing their finances.

Significant economic activity is ready to be unlocked by the Horden housing masterplan being developed by Durham County Council. The scheme ticks all the boxes: it will benefit small businesses and the green economy, improve housing, and support the Government’s levelling up and build back better agenda. Will the Minister support that plan and help to bring much-needed investment to my constituency? (906831)

We are very supportive of any schemes in this country that promote the net-zero agenda, and I would be interested to hear details of that scheme in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I would be happy to meet him, and others, to discuss those matters further.

The north of England, and in particular Bury, has the potential to become a hub for start-ups, research and development, and innovation. That should also be utilised in the fight against coronavirus and the Government’s efforts to secure a vaccine that will end the pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Vaccine Taskforce relies on the strength of the whole UK, by distributing manufacturing capacity across the country? (906833)

The Vaccine Taskforce, which is part of my Department, has made incredible progress in securing access to the most promising vaccine candidates. We have invested to build our manufacturing capacity in Oxford, Essex, Scotland and north Wales, and we will continue to work with the UK bioindustry to determine how further to develop our vaccine capabilities across the whole country.

Of the Government’s planned six nuclear sites, so far we have the most expensive plan in the world at Hinkley, Toshiba has walked away from Moorside, and now Hitachi is giving up on Wylfa and Oldbury. Instead of relying on a Chinese state company to deliver the remining two nuclear sites, is it time for the Government to follow the private sector and ditch that outdated technology? (906832)

The hon. Gentleman and I have different views on that issue. It stands to reason that as we go towards net zero, we will need dispatchable power and a source of firm power. Most of the analysis we have seen suggests that nuclear has a part to play in that net-zero future.

Harrogate and Knaresborough has a large conference and events industry, mainly driven by the Harrogate convention centre, which is now a Nightingale hospital. I have raised the industry’s specific challenges with Ministers already, but I understand that my right hon. Friend has been having discussions with the sector directly. Will he update the House on those discussions, and will he meet me to discuss the specific challenges for the industry in my constituency? (906834)

The Government of course recognise the challenges facing the industry. My hon. Friend is right, and I have also heard directly from representatives of the National Exhibition Centre about these challenges. Conference and events businesses can draw on the Government’s current support package, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who has responsibility for the sector, will continue to work closely with them.

The Government must make a just transition to a lower- carbon economy and, in doing so, create green jobs. Will the Minister outline the number of green jobs created since he has been in post, and specifically which green technologies and industries can expect investment from the Government over the next year?

We currently have a close to half a million green jobs in this country. We want to create another 2 million. The hon. Lady will also know that the Chancellor announced the green homes grant package, which will support more than 100,000 green jobs.

Last week, I spoke with my constituent David Bevan, who runs Alive Network, the UK’s largest live entertainment booking agency. He and I acknowledge that he has already had an awful lot of support from the Government, through grants, furlough, bounce back loans, VAT deferral and so on. Times are tough at the moment, but he expects things to be busier than ever when we get to the other side. What more can my right hon. Friend’s Department do to help David’s business get to the other side? (906835)

I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes our jobs package. The Government continue to provide a full range of measures to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods. Of course, I want this sector—indeed, every sector—to return to normal as soon as possible, but that will require scientific evidence to show that it is safe to do so.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that the UK will bring forward what he called a “very ambitious national contribution for COP26”.Can the Secretary of State confirm that that really means that the nationally determined contribution will be published this year and, crucially, that it will at the very least be aligned with 1.5° C? (906849)

I had the honour and pleasure of being questioned by the hon. Lady at a Select Committee in recent days. I repeat what I said then—that we are asking all countries to come forward with ambitious NDCs, and that I completely understand that there will be a requirement on the UK as well.

Heywood Magic Market in my constituency has been offering stalls for just £28 a week, enabling sole traders and the self-employed to find new, innovative ways of earning a living during the coronavirus pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the staff, the traders and the board of the Magic Market for their ingenuity and community spirit, and will he reiterate the Department’s long-standing commitment to small traders and entrepreneurs, who will be essential in rebuilding our post-covid economy? (906836)

I am absolutely delighted to offer my congratulations to Heywood Magic Market, and everyone involved with this initiative, on demonstrating such innovation. As my hon. Friend knows, in May I announced the discretionary grant scheme to support market traders. We absolutely back entrepreneurs and innovators in Heywood and Middleton and across the country. The Conservative party has always been the party of business, and we will always continue to be the party of business.

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.