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Commons Chamber

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2021

House of Commons

Tuesday 23 March 2021

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June and 30 December 2020).

[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Speaker’s Statement

Before we start oral questions, I want to inform the House that, at 12 noon, I will be inviting Members and colleagues to join in a one-minute silence to mark the national day of reflection on the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown.

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

TV Advertising Restrictions to Reduce Obesity

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the effect on businesses of proposed TV advertising restrictions to help reduce rates of obesity. (913785)

I assure my hon. Friend that I meet regularly with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on a range of issues. My Department has engaged with businesses and colleagues across the country and within Government to ensure that our policy is proportionate and achieves the Government’s desired public health outcomes.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He may be aware that the scope of products captured in this proposal will be very wide indeed, including kitchen cupboard products such as All-Bran, HP sauce and cough sweets such as Fisherman’s Friend—products that are unlikely to appeal to children. Given the significant hit to business and UK broadcasters specifically, will he commit to working with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to narrow the scope of products covered by this proposal?

Of course I would be very happy to work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. As I noted in my initial answer, my Department has worked closely with the Department of Health and Social Care up to this point, but I would be happy to hear more from my hon. Friend about this particularly important issue.

Queen’s Speech: Employment Legislation

What the timeframe is for bringing forward the legislative proposals on employment announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. (913786)

What the timeframe is for bringing forward the legislative proposals on employment announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. (913790)

I am grateful for the opportunity to say here in the House that the Government do intend to bring forward the employment Bill when parliamentary time allows.

The TUC estimates that 3.6 million people—one worker in nine—were in insecure work ahead of the coronavirus outbreak, leaving them exposed to massive drops in income or unsafe working conditions. It was bad then, and it is worse now. The Government have driven the author of their own Taylor review to say in quite extraordinary terms that the Government have lost their “enthusiasm” for enforcing workers’ rights. With no employment Bill yet on the horizon, is that not the plain truth for all to see? Whose side are the Government on?

I will take no lessons from the hon. Lady about workers’ rights and what this Government have done over many years to protect workers’ rights. The national living wage is higher than it has ever been in this country’s history. We have taken thousands of people out of tax, and I am not going to take any lectures from her.

If the Secretary of State will not take lessons from my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), will he take lessons from the TUC, which estimates that fire and rehire is most likely to take place among young people and black and Asian workers, or will he take lessons from Go North West, which sacked its workforce in Greater Manchester, and offered them increased hours of work, loss of sick pay and a reduction in annual pay of £2,500? Is that what the Secretary of State wants, to make Britain the best place in the world for work?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s question. He will know that I take my relations and my conversations with the TUC extremely seriously. I have met a number of TUC leaders since taking up the post two months ago, and I am very conscious that fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable.

The Secretary of State says that he does not take lessons from Labour—this is from the man who described the British as

“the worst idlers in the world.”

The Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers are workers, rejecting the company’s claim that its drivers are self-employed, sets a precedent for all gig economy workers, who will also be entitled to the minimum wage, holiday pay and sick pay, but it took Uber drivers six long years of legal action to have their rights recognised. The Government must not abandon the 3 million adults in the UK working in the gig economy to spend years fighting in the courts. So will the Secretary of State commit to introducing legislation in this Session of Parliament to ensure that all gig economy workers receive basic employment rights?

As I said in response to an earlier question, we are going to introduce an employment Bill not in this Session but when parliamentary time allows. We are also of course considering the effects of this extremely important Supreme Court ruling and we are considering options to improve clarity around employment status.

Support for Businesses: Discussions with the Chancellor

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (913787)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has extended our support measures in the most recent Budget to provide an additional £65 billion. With the new restart grant scheme, the Government will have allocated a total of £25 billion in business grants. Our restart grants will provide up to £6,000 for non-essential retail businesses and up to £18,000 for hospitality, personal care and gyms. This year and next year, we are spending £407 billion to support people and businesses throughout the pandemic.

We know that when big business is set to fail former Prime Minister David Cameron uses his hotline to the Chancellor. With 3 million still excluded and the £20 universal credit uplift, furlough and self-employed support ending in September, can the Minister tell us whether any former Tory leaders have contacted the Department on their behalf, or is it sink or swim for the ordinary folk?

As I have indicated before, this Government have done unprecedented work and one of the things we do all the time is speak to stakeholders and all the people we need to. Think about the money we have invested: £407 billion to support people and businesses throughout the pandemic.

Many bricks-and-mortar retailers are still desperately concerned about the build-up of commercial rents during the lockdown, including many pubs that are prevented from negotiating a rent review due to restrictions in regulation 7 of the pubs code. The recent extension of the ban on commercial evictions is welcome, but when will Ministers come forward with a long-term solution to commercial rents?

I thank the hon. Member for the question. One of the things we are doing is working with the stakeholders. We have done a review of the pub code and we will be reporting on that situation soon, but we have extended the moratorium and we will be looking into this as well.

I am afraid the previous answer simply was not good enough, because we cannot have a situation where some businesses do not have the support that they need while another set of businesses have had absolute certainty since the start of the pandemic—those, of course, being the ones with links to the Tory party; as we now know, they have had Ministers on speed-dial since day one and even a former Prime Minister tried to get in on the act. So does the Minister believe her Government have a culture of covid cronyism at their very heart, and will she now back an independent investigation into apparent lobbying by David Cameron?

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, the Government have supported people and businesses across the United Kingdom. The Budget extends the UK coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme and extends the VAT cut to support tourism, leisure and all the sectors. People and businesses all over the United Kingdom will benefit and have benefited from the Government’s actions.

Women in Business

The Government have taken significant steps to support women in businesses. We have launched the Government-backed Women’s Business Council and published the women in finance charter. The recent Rose review and report also shows that good progress is being made to overcome barriers for women entrepreneurs.

The majority of people employed in the wedding industry are women. The road map out of lockdown offers very little hope for the wedding industry or the supply chain as couples would rather wait than have only six, 15 or 30 guests. What assurances can my hon. Friend provide that women in the wedding industry will receive the support their businesses need to survive until June 2021, or even beyond?

I thank my hon. Friend for her great support; I know how much she supports women entrepreneurs, especially with Derbys Finest. Since March 2020, the Government have provided an unprecedented package of financial support to businesses, including those in the wedding sector. That package of support is kept under regular review. My colleague the Minister for Small Business regularly meets the industry-led weddings taskforce to understand the impact of covid-19 on businesses in this sector.

Research clearly shows that gender-diverse boards perform better on every single measure, so it stands to reason that diversity across the workforce can only be a benefit. Will the Minister confirm what steps the Government are taking to encourage more women into business, particularly in areas such as engineering and science, in which they are traditionally under-represented?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point, and I thank him for his tireless work to champion women, especially in his role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise. I sincerely thank him for that. FTSE companies have indeed made great progress, and we have seen a more than 60% increase in the number of women on boards in the past six years. The Government recognise that the science, technology, engineering and maths workforce is vital to increasing the UK’s productivity and economic growth, and I am really pleased that Government-funded programmes such as the STEM ambassador programme and the CREST awards are successfully encouraging young women into STEM roles.

Vaccine Taskforce

The vaccine taskforce has successfully brought together the collective effort of Government, academia and industry behind a single purpose and mission. Its hard work and focus, in partnership with the NHS and other organisations, helped the UK to become the first country to procure, authorise and deploy the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. As I speak, over 30 million individuals across the UK have now received their first dose.

As the Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged, under his Department’s authorisation the vaccine taskforce has performed brilliantly, but it has needed a scientific and industrial base that was already there to work with. As he knows, there are some concerns about dependency on an overseas supply chain that may be interrupted. As the new Secretary of State, will he make a name for himself by challenging the dead hand of Treasury dogma and ensuring that Government contracts and projects across the board put British industry first at last?

I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman is so enthusiastic about our British ingenuity and hard work. I and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer are always working extremely hard and are very focused on trying to promote innovation in this country in our research and development base.

Covid-19: Wedding Industry

My officials and I regularly meet the industry-led weddings taskforce, established to represent all parts of the UK wedding sector, to understand the impact of the pandemic on jobs and businesses.

The Minister knows that businesses in the wedding industry have faced an incredibly difficult year, and they have not had much financial help. He also knows that this is a very seasonal industry, and confidence is at an all-time low. Does he think it is acceptable that, even now, people are still confused about the guidance regarding the wedding industry—whether to have weddings; what sort of numbers there should be—and that the guidelines that have been issued are very vague and confused? Does he accept that it is unacceptable that people are still asking for clarity at this stage, bearing in mind that the wedding season is about to start?

Having dealt with the UK weddings taskforce, I understand the need to plan. We have published the guidance for ceremonies, and receptions will follow. Receptions from 12 April will be outdoor receptions. I am pleased that the UK weddings taskforce pushed us so that we were able to include dedicated wedding venues in that guidance.

The Chancellor announced in his Budget a raft of new measures to help to support businesses, including those in the wedding sector. These include an extension to the furlough and self-employment income support schemes and further grants for business.

The wedding industry has suffered disproportionately during the last year and I am concerned that the anomalies will continue. For instance, if we look at phase 3—from 17 May—we see that a venue in my constituency, such as Kensington Palace Pavilion, will be able to open to a music event at 50% capacity, which is 200 people, with alcohol, but a wedding the next day in exactly the same venue will be able to host only 30 people. Can my hon. Friend explain that anomaly?

My hon. Friend has been a formidable champion for businesses in her area, including weddings, personal care and hospitality, especially. The pace and sequencing of reopening in the road map have been informed by the latest scientific evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies in its working groups. Weddings, which bring family and friends together, with their interaction, are particularly vulnerable to the spread of covid-19.

Rural Electricity Grid Investment: Electric Vehicles

What recent discussions he has had with electricity network distribution operators on the adequacy of investment in rural electricity grids to meet potential demand as a result of a transition to electric vehicles. (913795)

Distribution network operators are incentivised to ensure adequate investment in electricity networks under the framework set by the independent regulator, Ofgem. My officials regularly meet distribution network operators to discuss impacts of the electric vehicle transition, including in rural areas.

Diolch, Mr Speaker. Achieving Wales’s ambitious climate targets would require a rapid transition to electric vehicles, yet currently just 0.17% of vehicles used in Wales are electric. One of the biggest barriers to the transition is grid capacity, particularly in rural areas. Will the Minister outline how she will future-proof the grid in Wales, especially after the concerns expressed by the former deputy national security adviser, Paddy McGuinness, that the integrated review published last week failed to focus on the dangers that a future cyber-attack on the grid would pose as the EV transition accelerates?

The majority of the UK Government’s infrastructure grant schemes are available in Wales, and we are working with the Welsh Government to ensure that there are strong and co-ordinated plans in place to support the roll-out of charging infrastructure. We recognise the particular challenges that some rural areas may face across the UK, such as longer distances between substations, and Ofgem has set up a funding framework to ensure that our electricity network supports our net zero ambitions.

Dismiss and Re-engage Tactics in Negotiations

What recent discussions he has had with (a) employers and (b) trade unions on the use of dismiss and re-engage tactics in negotiations with employees. (913796)

What recent discussions he has had with (a) employers and (b) trade unions on the use of dismiss and re-engage tactics in negotiations with employees. (913807)

We have been very clear that employers threatening to fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable. As we have been concerned by such reports, we engaged ACAS to conduct a fact-finding exercise as to how fire and rehire has been used. It spoke to a wide range of stakeholders, including businesses and employee representatives. We are now considering these findings.

The Government have been sitting on the ACAS fire and rehire report now for over a month, raising fears that they are trying to bury it because they do not agree with the recommendations. Will the Minister tell me when we will get a chance to see what ACAS has to say, and, in the meantime, will she tell us whether ACAS agrees that the shameful practice of fire and rehire is quite simply unacceptable?

As I previously stated, we find that fire and rehire is just not acceptable. In fact, the Department engaged ACAS to hold discussions in order to generate the evidence that we need. We therefore need to make sure that we consider all this. There is, of course, a degree of confidentiality that we need to bear in mind as well. ACAS officials shared their findings with BEIS officials in February, as the hon. Lady rightly said. We are giving this full consideration and will communicate our next steps in due course.

Fire and rehire is utterly immoral. Members across the House have received many emails from desperate constituents who are being subjected to the disgraceful tactic. From British Airways and British Gas to Go North West, workers across the country have been treated with contempt. One of my constituents who was served with a section 188 notice said to me, “We want changes to be made with us, not to us.” Seeing as this Government promised to protect and enhance workers’ rights when we left the EU, will the Minister confirm how many employers in receipt of coronavirus job retention scheme payments have adopted fire and rehire tactics, and will she now commit to outlawing this practice once and for all?

Just to reiterate, we have been holding clear consultations with a group of stakeholders and ACAS has been conducting this for us. We will be republishing the report in due course.

Energy Efficiency in Homes

The Government are committed to getting as many homes as possible to EPC band C by 2035, where cost-effective, practical and affordable. We are doing this through setting long-term minimum standards, providing financial support where it is needed most, and getting the market conditions right to support action.

The green homes grant is a scheme that can improve home insulation, cut carbon, save on energy bills and create jobs across the country. It needs backing, not scrapping, so what plans does the Minister have to extend and improve the green homes grant, and how does she see the scheme helping to improve the efficiency of older, often rural, homes, especially those with solid walls, which use more energy and cost more to heat?

We absolutely recognise that older rural properties may be more challenging to improve. That is why we provide an incentive for off-gas homes under the current energy company obligation, and we will focus the future home upgrade grant on poorer-performing homes. We also have a range of exemptions under our minimum standard regulations for homes that are too expensive or difficult to improve. This is a really important aspect of our net zero challenges, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend in the months ahead.

The situation regarding covid-19 has had a big impact on the household incomes of residents in Wolverhampton. What long-term plans does my right hon. Friend have to help elderly and working-age residents to save money on utility bills and give them access to affordable energy efficiency schemes?

The Government have invested £500 million in the local authority delivery scheme to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households, helping to reduce fuel poverty for around 50,000 households by the end of this year. My hon. Friend is a champion for his constituents in Wolverhampton, and I look forward to working with him as we work with those communities and households to meet our net zero challenge through home efficiency improvements.

I am now going to interrupt the proceedings. We are going to pause questions, and I would like to invite the House to join me in a moment of reflection. Today marks one year since the Prime Minister addressed the nation and asked us all to stay at home to combat the spread of coronavirus. Since then, many thousands of lives have been lost and the lives of those left behind have been changed forever. Every single one of us has been affected. It is right that we pause now, together with the whole country, and remember those who have died and those who are bereaved. Our thoughts and prayers will always be with those colleagues who worked with us in serving this House who also died. They will not be forgotten.

It is so important that we do this and that the nation comes together as we now see the green shoots that will hopefully take us out of this pandemic. Hopefully we will have a world that comes back to all of us. We will remember the role that Members have played in this House and the way that we have worked together, not only to enable the Government to legislate but to ensure that the Opposition can scrutinise as well. It has been so important for us all to get to this stage, and hopefully when we get beyond this, we will see a House return. As I say, we will not forget those who have died in this country, but we will also remember those who have died serving this House. It is important to us to ensure that they will be remembered, and we will be doing something to remember them at an appropriate stage in the future. The country is united and at this moment, we will take one minute’s silence. I say thanks to those who have turned up in the Chamber now, and I know that across the estate people will be recognising this important one minute’s silence. Nobody could ever have envisaged the numbers across the world that would be lost and the sacrifice that this country has made. A big thank you also goes to the NHS workers and all those who have been involved in making this country tick over, whether in transport or in shops. It is important to us all. I invite Members to stand for one minute’s silence.

The House observed a minute’s silence.

May I say that Opposition Members wish to be strongly associated with your words this morning, Mr Speaker, and that I am sure that goes for everybody else in the Chamber today?

The Government’s flagship programme to improve energy efficiency in homes, the green homes grant scheme, has produced figures for the latest month: vouchers applied for—18,526: vouchers issued—1,186; measures installed—99; and, I am not making this up, measures paid for—20. Does the Minister take responsibility for this catastrophic failure of a scheme? Will she say now whether she intends to extend the programme and roll the funding over so that it has a chance to succeed in the end? If she does, will she be sacking the US-based private consultancy firm she hired to run this awful mess?

May I, too, associate myself with your words earlier, Mr Speaker? I think we have all, sadly, been touched by the loss of someone, or more than one person, whom we have known to this dreadful disease in the past year. Thank you for your words, because it is so important that we are able to hold this moment together.

The green homes grant voucher scheme has made significant strides since its launch in September 2020. We have received more than 90,000 applications and issued 33,000 vouchers, worth £142 million, and an additional £500 million has been given to local authorities to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households, helping to reduce fuel poverty for about 50,000 households by the end of this year. This is such an important part of the just transition that we want to ensure that we achieve with net zero. We recognise that the scheme has faced a number of delivery challenges, as many new mechanisms do, which has meant it has not delivered at the rate or the scale that we had originally hoped it would. However, we are working with the scheme administrator to process the backlog of voucher applications, streamlining the voucher issuance and redemption process as a top priority. Some delays in voucher processing are due to our robust fraud and gaming checks, which we have implemented by learning from previous schemes.

May I associate myself, and all those participating in proceedings remotely, with the moment of national reflection that you have just led, Mr Speaker? Thank you. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend will have seen the report published by the Environmental Audit Committee on the energy efficiency of existing homes, in which we highlighted the scale of the challenge in decarbonising the 19 million homes in this country that account for most of the 20% of UK emissions from domestic buildings. Will the Government commit in the heat and building strategy to a clear timetable to encourage owners of all tenures of homes to install affordable energy upgrades, in order to meet our net zero Britain targets?

My right hon. Friend is right that the challenge of making all our homes energy-efficient and moving to net zero is enormous. I thank him for his leadership, as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, in looking in depth at some of the vital issues, to help us not only to solve the technical and financial challenges but to encourage our constituents to make changes to reduce their power and heat usage through efficiency.

We have a strong track record in improving the energy performance of our homes over the past decade, with 40% above energy performance certificate band C —up from only 9% in 2008. We are also funding the first hydrogen-powered homes in Gateshead and allocating more than £500 million this year alone to improve the energy efficiency of 50,000 households in social and local authority housing throughout the UK.

Covid-19: Supply Chain Businesses

At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced an extra £425 million in additional restrictions grant funding to local authorities, which means that more than £2 billion has been made available to local authorities since November 2020. This discretionary funding enables local authorities to support businesses, including businesses in supply chains that are impacted by restrictions but ineligible for other measures.

Given that the UK has suffered the worst recession of any major economy, businesses in Slough and throughout our country find themselves in a precarious position. To help them, the Government should have brought forward a plan that includes debt restructuring and a job guarantee for the young. Despite repeated requests, an estimated 3 million people—including taxi drivers, plumbers, other self-employed people and sole traders—find themselves with absolutely no support at all from the Government. What does the Minister say to people who have worked hard their entire lives, paid their taxes and now find themselves and their businesses up against the wall and collapsing, through no fault of their own?

Indeed, we do find ourselves in unprecedented times, but the Government have been so committed in all the things we have done. We have committed to providing additional support for small and medium-sized enterprises as restrictions are lifted, and businesses will continue to benefit from Government-guaranteed finance throughout 2021. On young people, the apprenticeship scheme we are offering is second to none.

Paid Neonatal Leave

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on bringing forward legislative proposals to introduce paid neonatal leave. (913800)

I understand how difficult it is for parents whose newborn baby needs to spend time in neonatal care, which is why last year we set out our intention to introduce a new, generous entitlement to paid leave for those parents. We remain fully committed to doing so and will legislate as part of an employment Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

It has now been more than a year since the Government committed to implementing paid neonatal leave to support the parents of babies born sick or prematurely, but we are still yet to see any progress. Will the Minister confirm exactly when the Government plan to bring forward the necessary legislation to ensure that the new entitlement is available in 2023, as promised in the March 2020 Budget?

The Government remain committed to bringing forward the employment Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. The delivery of the new entitlement to neonatal leave and pay will require changes to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ IT payment systems to allow employers to administer statutory neonatal pay on behalf of the Government, but we are working towards that goal.

British Steel Production

I thank the hon. Lady for meeting me on 10 March to discuss this vital issue. It is of course a commercially sensitive matter that the Government are monitoring extremely closely.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but more than 5,000 workers at Liberty Steel, including 900 in Rotherham, are facing an uncertain future following the collapse of Greensill Capital. Will the Secretary of State now commit, as other Governments in Europe have done, to step in, if necessary, to safeguard this vital strategic industry?

The hon. Lady will know that in my meetings with management and relevant union leaders, I have always stressed that the management plans need to be worked through. We are monitoring the situation extremely closely. The hon. Lady will know that I have a direct interest in the future of Liberty Steel.

Does the Secretary of State accept that, as well as supporting tens of thousands of decent jobs, UK steelmaking capacity is of key strategic importance to our future competitiveness and resilience? If he does, is he as concerned as we are about the future of Liberty Steel, and will he ensure that the Government are working now on a plan B with all options on the table, including public ownership, should the firm fail to secure finance? Or is he ideologically opposed to this, preferring the UK Government either to step aside or to spend huge sums to prop up businesses at risk only to sell them off cheap overseas?

The hon. Lady will know that we have a repeated and often stated commitment to decarbonisation in our industry. It was only last week that we published, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, the industrial decarbonisation strategy. She will also appreciate that the steel industry is a vital part of that decarbonisation strategy.

Horizon Europe

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the funding of the UK associating to Horizon Europe. (913802)

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy regularly speaks to Her Majesty’s Treasury on a range of issues. I am pleased that we are taking part in the Horizon Europe programme; it will bring a huge benefit to the United Kingdom. We will set out our plans for 2021-22, including Horizon Europe funding, in due course.

Last week, the Government’s integrated review confirmed that there would be a multi-year settlement for UK Research and Innovation. Can the Minister confirm that funding for associating to Horizon Europe will be covered separately from this settlement? If not, can she explain how funding for Horizon Europe and this multi-year uplifted settlement will be supported?

As I have previously mentioned, the discussions around this are ongoing and the funding will be announced in due course. I would like to point out to the hon. Lady that we have an ambition to be a science superpower and, in fact, we have committed £22 billion by 2024-25.

Everyone who has had a coronavirus vaccine knows of the deep sense of gratitude to scientists. In facing the challenge of climate change, future pandemics and technological change, we look to science. At the general election, the Prime Minister promised to double science spend. Instead, we appear to have a £1 billion cut to the science budget plus a £120 million cut to our overseas development science as part of a “new settlement” that protects

“the most effective research programmes.”

Can the Minister say which programmes will be cut, which scientists will lose their grants, and which institutions will close? The Government who clap the NHS but impose a real-terms pay cut now plan to praise science and cut scientists.

BEIS regularly has talks with Her Majesty’s Treasury on these issues. Let me reiterate that we plan to be a science superpower by 2024-25, with a £22 billion investment. We also have a Second Reading debate today on a high-risk, high-reward agency. Furthermore, in terms of the spending review, more than £40 billion across Government was spent on science.

Energy Transition Projects in Scotland

The Chancellor’s Budget recently announced significant investment for energy transition projects in Scotland. We hope to shortly announce the North sea transition deal, which will play a vital role in transitioning the oil and gas industry to low carbon alternatives.

COP26 will allow Scotland to showcase existing and emerging net-zero technologies, but, policy-wise, we need to see a minimum floor mechanism for pumped storage hydro. We need innovation power purchase agreements available for wave and tidal, a contract for difference for hydrogen and the go-ahead for the Acorn carbon capture and storage project. Will the Minister meet me to discuss these matters and take the necessary actions ahead of COP26?

It is always a pleasure to meet the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) to discuss these matters. COP26 is such an important moment, not only with our carrying the responsibility of the presidency to help encourage other countries to do more to reach their net-zero targets, but in order to showcase the genuinely world-leading decisions that we have taken to drive our own net zero.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) just mentioned a number of areas where the UK Government can and should invest in Scotland. But we do not just need cash; we need a level playing field. That is particularly true in relation to the electricity grid. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a new renewables project in Scotland will have to pay in excess of £4 per unit to access the grid, whereas the renewables project in the south-east of England gets paid £1 per unit to access the very same grid. That is no Union of equals. Scotland has the ability to lead Europe in the renewables field. Why are the Tories trying to hold us back?

Scotland has indeed played an important part, particularly in the wind development sector. The Chancellor’s Budget included £5 million for the global underwater hub in Aberdeen, £2 million for the North sea transition deal and £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone. This is just one part of the whole net zero challenge that we are looking to take on. We look forward to continuing to work with our Scottish colleagues.

Covid-19: Support for Businesses

We have spent over £352 billion, and have committed £407 billion to an unprecedented package of support for businesses, including the job retention scheme, support grants and Government-backed loans. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently presented to Parliament his Budget, which sets out the additional £65 billion to support people and businesses.

I very much welcome the restart grants and the sector-specific guidance for weddings as we cautiously reopen the economy. Will the ministerial team please keep updating the guidance on reopening for the hospitality and retail sectors, so that businesses can successfully reopen in a covid-safe way?

I thank my hon. Friend for his ongoing support and for championing businesses, including in the hospitality and wedding sector. We will continue to ensure as best we can that the guidance is available in time for businesses to plan and to give them the certainty they need.

Many councils, including my own in Bury, retain millions of pounds of additional restrictions grant moneys in their bank accounts, rather than distributing this crucial financial support to businesses in need. What steps can my hon. Friend take to ensure that these moneys are used to support businesses now?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he does for his local businesses. At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £425 million of additional restrictions grant funding to local authorities, which means that more than £2 billion has been made available to local authorities since November 2020. The Government will continue to work closely with local authorities to ensure that these grants are distributed to businesses when they need them and that the additional money can be used. I urge authorities to relook at their local policies to include businesses that have not had that support in the past.

The UK furniture industry is a success story, with nearly £17 billion of annual consumer expenditure, over 330,000 jobs and exports that had grown to more than £1 billion a year before the pandemic. My constituency of Dewsbury is the UK’s third largest furniture manufacturing base and it faces a number of challenges, including a potential global shortage of steel and foam, and issues relating to rules of origin. Will the Minister agree to meet the British Furniture Confederation to address these concerns and help to ensure that the industry continues to thrive?

My hon. Friend, having worked in the sector, is an excellent champion for it. I understand that these remain extremely challenging times for the furniture industry, which particularly relies on retail premises to sell its products. I speak to the British Furniture Confederation on a regular basis as part of my roundtables, but I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend and the confederation itself.

Topical Questions

In my two months as the BEIS Secretary of State, I have now held meetings with more than 200 businesses across the United Kingdom listening to their concerns and their hopes for the future. Last week, it was my real pleasure to see BEIS helping to make that future brighter when we launched our industrial decarbonisation strategy, which allocates more than £1 billion to driving down emissions from industry and public buildings. We have also published proposals for reforming audit and corporate governance, which will cement Britain’s status as the premier investment destination by raising standards, deterring fraud and empowering, potentially, a new regulator.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the National Engineering Laboratory based in my constituency in East Kilbride has put together a vital proposal to build a clean fuels metrology centre. Given that this project enjoys cross-party support and is vital to the UK’s transition to a decarbonised economy, will he meet me, cross-party members of the all-party hydrogen group and industry representatives to discuss how to progress these important matters?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member and her associates in this enterprise. She will know that as Minister of State for Energy I was particularly keen on this new technology and I commissioned a hydrogen strategy that will be published in the next couple of months. I am very interested in this and of course I would be delighted to meet her and her colleagues.

The future of plans for the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Anglesey has been uncertain since Hitachi withdrew its interest. Other companies have, however, expressed an interest in the development, which could secure thousands of highly skilled jobs in north Wales. Will my right hon. Friend therefore meet me, the all-party Mersey Dee North Wales group and industry representatives to discuss the future of nuclear in the region? (913845)

I would be absolutely delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the bodies that he has mentioned. We are absolutely committed to nuclear power and to the people of north Wales, in particular. Wylfa is still a prime candidate for new nuclear power and I look forward to pursuing our discussions to see what may be done in this regard.

Let me associate myself, Mr Speaker, with the important remarks you made on this national day of remembrance.

I want to follow up the question about Liberty Steel because the Business Secretary’s answer simply was not good enough. No ideology or dogma must stand in the way of protecting the jobs of 5,000 people and many more in the supply chain. This is a critical part of our national infrastructure and it is critical to those communities. Will he now do what he has failed to do so far and say that he will do whatever it takes, including public ownership if it is the best value for money choice, to save those jobs if it is necessary?

The right hon. Gentleman will be absolutely aware that this is an ongoing commercial matter. He will know that I have seen local management, representatives of the unions and a number of people who are very, very keenly involved in the steel sector, and it would not be appropriate for me to enter into what is a commercially sensitive situation. My heart goes out to the workers. They are an excellent workforce, and Liberty Steel has a fine tradition in this space, but it would be inappropriate for me to enter into what are live, commercially sensitive issues.

It is not about the Business Secretary’s meetings or about his heart; it is about his action and his willingness to say that he will do plan B if it is necessary to save those jobs, as we expect him to do. The problem is that the reason people are suspicious of the Secretary of State is that there used to be a cross-party consensus in this country about industrial strategy, but in his two months in office he has torn up the industrial strategy, abolished the Industrial Strategy Council, and thrown in the bin all the work local areas have done over a number of years. Maybe he can tell the business community: why does he hate industrial strategy so much?

I think it is very easy for the right hon. Gentleman to get obsessed with the words “industrial strategy”. What this Government are committed to is action. That is why we launched the decarbonisation industrial strategy. That is why we are pursuing the fourth auction round in offshore wind. That is why John Kerry, who I was very happy to meet two weeks ago, said that this country is a world leader in decarbonisation.

Can the Secretary of State assure me that if the Government take the very draconian decision to ban summer holidays abroad this year, they will provide targeted support to compensate the travel sector, which will be decimated by this decision? (913848)

My hon. Friend will know—if he does not, I will let him know—that when I took office two months ago, the things that the travel and hospitality sectors assured me that they needed more than ever were a road map and support. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came up with his road map on 22 February and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor extended unprecedented support to the economy on 3 March. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss whether he wants to see further actions, but we have committed £407 billion—an unprecedented amount—to supporting the economy at this terrible time.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that ITM Power based in my constituency is a leader in hydrogen research and production. It has just massively expanded its factory in my constituency. It is obviously disappointed that in the recent funding announcements the Government backed blue hydrogen projects but not any green hydrogen projects. As soon as restrictions allow, will the Secretary of State commit to visit ITM Power to look at the great work that it is doing and then review Government policy so we can make sure that the UK is where it should be—a world leader in the research and production of green hydrogen? (913846)

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have met ITM Power a number of times; I was honoured to meet them in Grimsby. It does a great job. He will also know that, in my time as Minister of State for Energy, I commissioned the hydrogen strategy, which will be published shortly. At the core of the strategy is a twin-track approach. We are promoting blue hydrogen—which is made through methane natural gas reformation—and, more particularly in answer to his question, we are also committed to green hydrogen, or electrolyser-produced hydrogen, in which ITM Power is the leader.

Country Cousins is an English language school in Ilfracombe in my constituency that every year brings students to North Devon as part of the 550,000 international students who visit the UK to study English, bringing in £1.4 billion and 35,000 jobs to our economy. English language schools were viable, profitable businesses before the pandemic, greatly contributing to their local economies and culture. I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister agrees that, given the right support they will be again. However, many of them have been excluded from the Government’s business rates relief for the next financial year and are struggling. Will my hon. Friend consider committing BEIS to work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to look at expanding the eligibility for this— (913850)

My hon. Friend has been a champion for all the businesses in her area. We have spent £407 billion on support for businesses, including those that are not eligible for the business rates holiday. The interim report from the fundamental business rates review will be published next month and the full report will be published in the autumn. I urge local authorities to expand their local policies to include some of these businesses in the additional restrictions grant.

The answer earlier that the Government would respond to the appalling fire and rehire in due course is Whitehall-speak for kicking it into the long grass, and it is not good enough. Will the Government learn from the methodology of their vaccine taskforce to move at speed, clarify the problem, identify a solution and make and rapidly implement decisions? Secretary of State, will you cut through the red tape and sort out this scandal? You may even make yourself popular. (913849)

The right hon. Gentleman has obviously been speaking to my officials because the issue has popped up on my desk this morning. We will not kick this into the long grass. We will tackle it. We will not allow bully boy tactics. We want a flexible workforce, but not at any cost.

Across Sevenoaks and Swanley, high streets are preparing to reopen, supported by our brilliant Sevenoaks District Council. However, we are finding that some of our local businesses are being rejected for support from the high street recovery fund. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meet me and my local council to discuss how we can address some of the issues?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and others to discuss these important issues. As my hon. Friend mentioned, the high street is clearly a hugely important part of our economy, and that is why the business rates review will be particularly interesting.

Under the seasonal workers scheme, young people arrive from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to pick fruit and vegetables to feed our public, but they are employed on zero-hours contracts, sometimes deprived of work, and cannot make money. This is a form of modern-day slavery. Will the Minister look into it and make sure we put an end to it? (913851)

Zero-hours contracts provide flexibility for the vast majority of people who use them and appreciate the benefits. We have got rid of exclusivity contracts. Clearly, given the impact of covid on employment, when we introduce the employment Bill in due course we will reflect on the lessons learned over this period.

Bucking- hamshire Council has done a remarkable job in distributing more than 95% of the additional restrictions grant funding that it has received from the Department, getting that money to local small firms. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that the further funding that has been promised will be transferred to the council very soon so that there is no delay in getting that cash to where it is needed most—to Aylesbury’s brilliant businesses? (913856)

I can assure my hon. Friend that the guidance will come out shortly, and that the funding will be with local councils in April—on 1 April. I urge him again to make sure that that money gets out of the door to businesses when they need it: now.

The 555 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who took the Post Office to court in 2019 are not included in the historical shortfall scheme, creating two tiers of justice. Their award, after costs, did not even scratch the surface of their losses, so does the Minister agree that, if justice is to be served, every victim must have their claim validated under the same terms of the historical shortfall scheme? (913853)

Members of the group litigation scheme entered into a full, final settlement through mediation with Post Office Ltd last year, but we are working with sub-postmasters who have come forward on the historical shortfall scheme. I urge them still to come forward to the Post Office Horizon inquiry led by former judge Sir Wyn Williams, who is calling for evidence at the moment.

May I welcome the exciting industrial decarbon-isation strategy, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched last week, backed by £1 billion, £78 million of which will be spent in Greater Manchester? Does the Minister agree that that provides a road map to decarbonising our economy, and is an exciting opportunity for my Heywood and Middleton constituents to seek green new jobs? (913857)

I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to Greater Manchester and his constituency. We are committed to building back better and creating those green jobs, which will help to accelerate our world-leading path to net zero. The package of measures set out in the industrial decarbonisation strategy is part of this complex and critical path to success.

Ellesmere Port is home to the HyNet North West project, and we were absolutely delighted to secure funding in the first round of Government support. However, there is concern that different levels of priority will be applied to the various hydrogen projects around the country when future funding is determined, so there is a risk of losing momentum. Will the Department look again at that proposal and ensure that in future funding rounds no project is held back? (913854)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have considerable plans for hydrogen production. We have a hydrogen strategy coming forward, and we have consulted on business models. I am sure that people in Ellesmere Port, and the HyNet cluster generally, will have a big part to play in the development of hydrogen production in this country.

The Beddington incinerator is one of the biggest carbon polluters in Carshalton and Wallington. I have previously raised concerns about recyclable materials being sent for incineration. What estimates has the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made of the quantity of recyclable materials sent to so-called energy-from-waste operations, and what steps has the Department taken to ensure that those activities record carbon output accurately? (913858)

The proportion of residual waste sent to landfill, incineration and transfer stations that could otherwise have been recycled in England in 2020 is not available, I am afraid, but data on waste arisings are not structured around the material composition of waste streams. For both fossil and biogenic CO2 for energy-from-waste plants, national emissions estimates are based on an emission factor derived using the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change default factor for biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste.

Given that women are disproportionately more likely to lose their job during the pandemic, what conversations has the Minister had recently with the Department for Work and Pensions about how to support women back into work? (913860)

I speak to DWP Ministers all the time about how to create jobs for women and for all people in the UK. We had record jobs creation after the last recession. Equally, we are planning to grow and bounce back.

May I urge my friends in BEIS to think again about weddings? It is simply not logical and not fair that where venue organisers can arrange safe social distancing we continue to deny young couples who are seeking to marry that vital opportunity to have friends and family around them. (913859)

I can guarantee I think of little else at the moment, because of the way my right hon. Friend and her colleagues in the weddings taskforce have pressed that very just cause. In stage 2, wedding ceremonies in churches, register offices, dedicated wedding venues and other premises that can open will be able to take place with up to 15 people indoors and receptions outdoors. We are looking forward to expanding that in stage 3, and the events programme will conduct research to ensure that we can have non-socially distanced events and larger weddings post June.

I will now suspend the House to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

Defence and Security Industrial Strategy

With permission, I should like to make a statement on the future defence and security industrial strategy. Last November, the Prime Minister announced he was increasing spending on defence by £24 billion over the next four years. Last week, the Government published their conclusions from the integrated review, the most comprehensive survey since the end of the cold war.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence set out what amounts to the biggest shift in defence policy for a generation—a policy that will see us reinvesting, re-equipping and reorganising to face the threats of tomorrow. In doing so, he reconfirmed this Government’s commitment to spend more than £85 billion over the next four years on equipment and support for our armed forces. That reflects the fact that our armed forces will need to be present and persistent, and agile and adaptable in an ever-evolving threat landscape. That is why it almost goes without saying that the most important thing in defence procurement is ensuring our people have the right capability, at the right time, to preserve our national security.

Our success hinges on a productive relationship with industry. The UK’s defence and security industry is world-renowned. Ministry of Defence spending in the sector secures more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs across the UK, while the industry’s success as the world’s second largest global exporter of defence goods and services supports many thousands more. The sector provides our deterrent and underpins our critical national infrastructure. Through the MOD’s £300 per capita spend across the UK, it generates valuable skills and technology. The security industry alongside it, of more than 6,000 companies, is a font of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Last year, cyber-security firms raised more than twice as much investment as they had in 2019.

Overall, defence and security is one of the binding elements of our successful Union. Our world-class workforce builds everything from submarines to Typhoons right across the country. We have frigates made in Scotland, satellites in Belfast, next generation Ajax armoured vehicle technology in Wales and aircraft production in the north of England. We must never take for granted these industries, the skills they develop or the contribution they make to UK resilience, operational capability and prosperity. We must do more to recognise explicitly the social value that Government procurement can generate throughout the Union.

To ensure that we continue to have onshore capabilities that meet our needs and continue to generate prosperity long into the future, I am today publishing our defence and security industrial strategy. I am pleased to say the strategy is a detailed policy document, and rightly so, but its significance can be summed up in a few sentences. It signals a shift away from global competition by default towards a more flexible, nuanced approach. It provides, and we will continue to provide, greater clarity about the technology we seek and the market implications long before we launch into the market, allowing companies to research, invest and upskill. It identifies where global competition may not be compatible with our national security requirements and, at last, it regards industry as a strategic capability in its own right—an industry we must devote our attention to if we are to maintain our operational independence.

Today, I want to highlight three themes in particular that are at the heart of DSIS. The first is our ability to work together to generate growth and prosperity across the Union. DSIS sets the framework for greater integration between Government, industry and academia. It will see us working more closely, too, with top-flight research and those companies, great and small, that make this country so celebrated in the field of innovation. Through a better understanding of requirements, companies will be able to seize opportunities, pool resources and upskill to deliver cutting-edge capability onshore in the UK.

That is a framework that works. Our future combat air system shows that the principles of DSIS are already delivering. A fundamental strategic decision for this country, it will ensure UK air power continues at the cutting edge as it evolves through this decade and beyond. We are investing more than £2 billion over the next four years in this British-led international collaboration, safe in the knowledge that it will leverage hundreds of millions of pounds of investment from the corporate sector. These future systems will not just build technology but develop skills and create opportunity for 2,500 apprentices over the next five years. “Generation Tempest”, as we have dubbed this cohort of future talent, will, in turn, create extraordinary export opportunities with our friends and allies overseas.

Of course, competition remains critical in many areas. Even where we have already developed close partnerships at the prime level, we will expect to see productivity incentivised and innovation encouraged. Across all our national security procurement, DSIS will mean more transparency, more clarity of our requirements and a more co-operative approach to business. We are replicating this joint approach in other sectors: ensuring that we deliver our strategic imperatives, from nuclear to crypt-key; complex and novel weapons; and new opportunities that are opening up in areas such as armoured vehicles as we develop a new land industrial strategy.

Critically, our spending on FCAS reflects an increased willingness to invest in research and development. Overall, we are investing more than £6.6 billion in R&D over the next four years. That will support next-generation capabilities, from space satellites and automation to artificial intelligence and novel weapons. The message that our R&D spend sends, coupled with the clear direction of travel we are providing about our future priorities, will give businesses the confidence to invest.

That brings me to another key element: we must forge stronger international partnerships. By doing more R&D, we will keep ourselves current and encourage the very best from outside these shores to collaborate with UK companies. I have already mentioned FCAS as one example of how a UK-led collaboration with allies and partners can work, but we see it elsewhere in other air programmes, such as the UK’s significant contribution to the US F-35 stealth fighter or our ongoing investment in Typhoon with our European partners. Time and again, we see how international collaboration can deliver the very best kit for our people.

As part of this international emphasis, DSIS also puts a renewed focus on exports. As we demand more of industry to meet our requirements, so we need to offer it more support to win abroad and deliver economies of scale. It is because of our recent investments in maritime that I am the first Minister for Defence Procurement in a generation to talk about selling our state-of- the-art ship designs to our close friends in Australia and Canada, in respect of the Type 26, and, we hope, to others around the world. Notably, our Type 31 is a frigate that will be multi-purpose and has been specifically designed with the needs of international partners in mind.

Our integrated review seeks to capitalise on this new export-led approach, not only setting out our plans to deliver the eight Type 26s and five Type 31s but highlighting our investments in next-generation naval vessels, including Type 32 frigates and fleet solid support ships. We believe it is time to spark a renaissance in British shipbuilding. That is why we are today changing our naval procurement policy to make clear our ability to choose to procure warships of any description here in the UK.

The third and final theme of DSIS that I want to highlight is achieving real reform in how we procure. Some of this is about driving pace and better working inside the MOD to deliver capabilities at the speed of relevance, but it is also about changing how we interact with our suppliers, reforming the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 to focus more on innovation and increasing the agility of acquisition. We are adopting the social value procurement policy to ensure that wider qualities such as skills creation or supply chain resilience are explicitly taken into account in tender evaluation. That will be mandatory under DSPCR from 1 June.

We will be doing more to incentivise continuous improvement in single-source procurement. We want to ensure that the supply chains of our primes are constantly open to innovators, and we want to ensure that our fantastic small and medium-sized enterprises—the lifeblood of defence—get a fair chance when it comes to winning work, not least from inward investors whose interest and investment in the UK we will continue to welcome.

DSIS signals a step change in our approach to the defence and security industrial sectors. Ultimately, DSIS will make a huge difference to our nation’s defence. It will help retain onshore critical industries for our national security and our future. It will help us develop advanced skills and capabilities. It will help us realise the Prime Minister’s vision of the UK as a science superpower. With defence procurement benefiting every part of our Union, it will help galvanise our levelling-up agenda, creating a virtuous circle whereby the support we provide to those who defend and protect us becomes a catalyst that propels jobs, skills and prosperity in every corner of our United Kingdom. I commend this statement to the House.

On this day, when we mark a full year since the country first went into lockdown, may I use this statement to pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces, who have done so much to help the country through this pandemic? I also pay tribute to the men and women who work in our UK defence sector. They, too, responded rapidly, making personal protective equipment and ventilators, and they play a vital part in designing, producing and maintaining the equipment our forces need.

Labour welcomes the publication of this strategy; indeed, the very use of the term “strategy” is something of a victory in itself. We welcome the confirmation that global competition by default, begun by the White Paper in 2012, has gone; it is high time we put an end to a British Government being just as happy buying abroad as building in Britain. We also welcome the change to naval procurement policy, and we welcome the commitment to invest £6.6 billion in defence research and development over the next four years.

However, there is a question at the heart of this strategy: is this the start of a new era, with the aim not just to make in Britain and maintain in Britain, but to develop now the technologies and companies that we will need in 10 years’ time to procure in Britain? Labour’s determination to see British investment directed first to British industry is fundamental. When done well, that strengthens our UK economy and, as covid has exposed the risks of relying on foreign supply chains, it also has the potential to strengthen our UK sovereignty and our security. We therefore want a higher bar set for any decision to procure Britain’s defence equipment from other countries. Will the Minister state today, in the clearest possible terms, the Government’s commitment to build in Britain? How will this strategy strengthen the UK’s defence resilience by growing our sovereign capacity to replace equipment if it is lost in conflict? What is the strategy to boost Britain’s foundation industries linked to defence, such as steel?

This strategy demands a massive change in mindset in the MOD and the military, which only Ministers can lead, so will the Minister commit to publishing an update on progress, with another oral statement to the House one year from now, not least so that we can judge the Prime Minister’s boast in launching the integrated view that we will open up

“new vistas of economic progress, creating 10,000 jobs every year”—[Official Report, 19 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 488.]

Let me turn to the money. We welcomed the Prime Minister’s extra £16.5 billion in capital funding after the last decade of decline, and we welcome the detail set out by the Minister today, but 30,000 jobs in the defence industry have gone since 2010, and nearly £420 million in real terms has been cut in defence R&D, so in many UK regions the money promised today will still be well short of what has been taken away over the last decade. With the National Audit Office reporting a black hole in the defence budget of up to £17 billion, and with the permanent secretary telling the Public Accounts Committee that not all is

“going to go on new and revolutionary kit”,

exactly how much of this extra money will be swallowed by the black hole in current programmes?

The MOD’s bad habits run deep. Only three of the MOD’s 30 major projects have a clear Government green light on time and on budget. The Prime Minister told the House:

“We are setting up a unit to ensure that we get value out of this massive package.”—[Official Report, 19 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 499.]

I have tabled the same set of questions to the Minister twice now about the progress, powers and personnel of this unit, and he has given the same evasive non-answers both times, so now is a good time for him to level with the whole House. Will he admit that there is no unit and no plan for a unit? The Prime Minister was making it up, was he not? The important point is this: without a revolution in the way that the MOD controls procurement costs, we are doomed to see it repeat the mistakes of the past.

Yesterday, the Defence Secretary asked our forces to do more with less. Today, the Minister is asking industry to do more with more. This is a big, one-off opportunity. Ministers have got to get this right. It is no good in two years’ time if the NAO still says that the military equipment plan is unaffordable and still says there is a black hole in the defence budget. Does the Minister accept that the single challenge for the MOD now is delivery, delivery, delivery? On behalf of the British people and British forces, we will hold them hard to account for exactly that.

I am delighted to confirm that the next years will be all about delivery, delivery, delivery, based on the sound financial footing that this defence settlement has given us. I am very proud of what we have achieved with the plans that we have set out, and I am convinced that we will be able to meet the challenge that has been set for us in order to ensure that we are investing properly for the future.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about the armed forces’ contribution during covid. They are sincerely meant, and I know they will be welcomed across the armed forces. I also thank him for his comments about the defence sector. It rose to the challenge as team UK, with unions and management continuing to deliver for the public good.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment to support us on moving away from global competition by default, as well as his comments on naval procurement and his welcoming of the £6.6 billion for R&D. I have good news for him: this policy absolutely gives us the ability to set out right from the outset what we are trying to achieve from a tender. It is not only about making certain we have the best equipment for our armed forces, but about what else we can get for that in the national interest, ensuring that we maximise our social value. That will come through in the awarding of the marks in the tender, which, as I have said, will be compulsory as of 1 June. I believe that we will get a lot out of the strategy. We will see more equipment built in Britain, both by UK companies and by those collaborating with us.

The right hon. Gentleman then strayed into some of the economics of the task. I was in the Treasury under the last Labour Administration, and we could have a discussion about the state of the national finances in 2010 if he chose to have one, and the £36 billion black hole left in the Ministry of Defence. [Interruption.] I hear chuntering. I have an excellent article from The Guardian that will confirm it, but I will share it at a later date. There was a significant black hole left, and I regret that there were jobs lost over that period. I hope we will not be so lackadaisical about exports that can maintain jobs, but there is a long lag time on that. I am proud to see the investment we are now putting into our defence. We make no mistake in what we say about our equipment plan over the past four years—it has clearly been unaffordable, and the permanent secretary has made clear that that is the case. We now have a strong basis on which to deliver.

To reassure the right hon. Gentleman, he mentioned that there are only three green lights, and I think he is referring to the Government major projects portfolio, where the senior responsible owners themselves highlight at-risk projects. There is only one thing more scary than projects that are delayed or do not hit their costings, and that is when SROs are unaware of it. I am pleased we have people who are all over the detail and are focusing on making certain that these projects work. I would rather problems were highlighted so they can be addressed.

To help address that issue, we are doubling the number of projects that are going to be looked at through the defence major projects portfolio. That will go up to 65. That will ensure that at the centre in the Ministry of Defence, we are keeping a close eye on what the top-level budgets are delivering and making certain that we are continuing to deliver those programmes to time and cost. We continue to upgrade Defence Equipment and Support. The number of those trained at senior commercial standard will have risen from 125 to 200 by the end of this year, and we are determined to continue to deliver on the DE&S transformation plan.

I am very optimistic for the future. I am optimistic that, working together with industry, we can continue to deliver a fine UK defence industry of which we can all be proud and that will continue to deliver the protection, equipment and lethality that our troops continue to need to be effective in meeting the challenges in the year ahead.

It has been a busy week for defence, with the publication of the integrated review confirming Britain’s ambitions on the international stage and advancing our defence posture, and now we have today’s publication of the defence and security industrial strategy, which advances our procurement capabilities and supports UK industry. I cannot offer too much comment, however, because the Minister, unlike his boss, has chosen to introduce this to Parliament first rather than giving us teasers in the media over the last couple of weeks, but on the face of it he is to be congratulated because we are seeing an advancement of the UK industrial base and support for British exports. Indeed, he has done such a good job and is doing such fantastic work as Minister for Defence Procurement that I am now worried that he might be rotated and moved on. I hope he will have time to appear before the Defence Committee, however, to talk in detail about this important work.

I have one question on international collaboration. The Minister talked about Tempest. That is a joint effort, but in NATO there is another project of equal complexity run by the French, FCAS. Is it not time that we recognised that these two efforts should be merged, because experience with the F-35 indicates that once we pay for these things there is not the total amount of funds available to buy the full complement? We have gone down from 138 to 48 today.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has not yet had a chance to go through this in detail, and I apologise if he did not got a copy in advance, but I would be delighted to appear before the Select Committee; I look forward to being grilled in due course and to explaining the policy in more detail.

My right hon. Friend raised the specific matter of FCAS. We are very proud of this programme. It will be very good news for the north-west of England—for Lancashire, of course—and throughout the country. There is form in Europe for having multiple aircraft productions going on at the same time. In fact, we have moved from three, with Rafale and I am trying to remember the name of the Swedish plane, which I should not forget. [Interruption.] Yes, but at least three have been going on in the past, with Typhoon, and I believe that there is room in Europe to have more than one project. We have different timescales and requirements from our French friends, but we are making a very positive commitment to FCAS: £2 billion of investment, and that will be leveraged with hundreds of millions of pounds from our industrial partners. So we will carry on advancing this; I believe we have a great prospect ahead of us, and if other international partners wish to join us, the phone is on my desk.

May I join others in paying tribute to the armed forces and their contribution to addressing the covid pandemic?

We on the Scottish National party Benches welcome the Government’s £188 billion increase in defence spending over the coming four years. However, it is clear that the Government are breaking their commitments on personal welfare, numbers and capacity.

The SNP has consistently called on the UK Government to guarantee that any future contracts for warships benefit Scotland’s shipyards, so I welcome the investment in shipbuilding and the new procurement strategy. The Minister must, however, commit to ensuring that the UK, and specifically the Clyde, will benefit from this investment, and any clarity the Minister can offer on these contracts will be welcome.

It remains unclear how a post-Brexit UK will co-operate with EU countries on security. Continued co-operation with the EU on defence procurement is in the best interests of the UK industry and would continue to allow the UK to be at the forefront. However, the lack in the review of a formal security treaty with the EU is a massive oversight. Can the Minister give us any assurance that the UK will be pursuing the administrative agreement with the European Defence Agency and the European defence fund? Investment in research and development and in apprenticeships to maintain our crucial skills base and strategic capabilities is essential, and new capacity in cyber-intelligence and space is welcome, but these increases must not come at the cost of conventional forces.

I must also address the elephant in the room: Trident. At a time when the equipment plan remains unaffordable, we are increasing the UK stockpile of nuclear warheads and the UK Government might well find themselves on the wrong side of international law given their commitment to non-proliferation. The UK Government have repeatedly set out their commitments to conventional forces, the armed forces covenant and long-term nuclear non-proliferation, all of which the SNP support. This integrated review stands in clear contradiction to those commitments. The UK must start matching its capabilities to its threats, and stop neglecting the real priorities.

I thank the hon. Lady, but first I want to reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) that I have remembered the name I forgot earlier; it is Gripen, of course—that is what I should have been referring to. I thank the various people who have tried to help me out on that—[Interruption]—which is mainly my staff; the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is correct.

Turning to the question, first I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for her support for our naval warships policy. This is very good news for the Clyde and for Rosyth. We have existing frigate orders going through now and we will be setting out the new national shipbuilding strategy, which will outline in more detail further orders that will be coming in in the years ahead, many of which will—I have absolutely no doubt—benefit UK yards in many different ways, including the yards in Scotland. It is a real step change in shipbuilding. People should take a huge amount of comfort from the investment that we are placing in shipbuilding and it should be a real signal for shipbuilders around the UK to invest in their yards, skills and capabilities for the future.

I also point out that Scotland is not only about shipbuilding. It was a great pleasure to award contracts to Thales in relation to sonar this time last year and Boxer, based in Glasgow, and to Leonardo, with its fantastic work on radar in Edinburgh. There is a huge amount of capability in Scotland, which is one of the reasons why it has £380 per capita of defence equipment and support investment going on there, as opposed to £300 per head of population in the UK as a whole. Scotland can be really proud of the contribution that it makes to UK defence.

We have, and continue to have, great relationships with our European partners. We work closely with the Germans, the French and all those across the EU and we will continue to do so. We have close relationships regarding FCAS, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said. We will continue to work to ensure that we have good relationships with them going forward, as well as others.

Lastly, on nuclear weapons, I know the position of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and that of the SNP. Parliament voted to upgrade our nuclear weaponry to ensure that we maintained a credible, minimal, independent nuclear deterrent. That is what we are doing and I can reassure her that this equipment plan is indeed affordable.

I was not on the call list for yesterday’s statement by the Defence Secretary, but I am appalled and shocked that the Army’s critical mass is being further cut to 72,500. Regarding procurement and the historical failure of the MOD to achieve value for money for the taxpayer, on behalf of the many defence companies across the UK that desperately need certainty, not least to achieve economy of scale, I seek my hon. Friend’s guarantee that the number of ships, planes and armoured fighting vehicles and equipment promised yesterday will actually be built and manufactured, and not delayed or stopped, as has happened all too frequently in the past.

My hon. Friend has my assurance. This is the incredible value—it has been difficult to get there, and I recognise, as he does, that tough choices have had to be made, but we have got the books to balance. That is what is so critical. I will be speaking to companies this afternoon and during the course of tomorrow. They need to know that we have our ambitions and our funding into the same place, so that when I look them in the eye and talk about the orders that we will be placing in future, they can look with confidence and know that they can put investment into that, into their workforce and into their capital to ensure that they can meet our needs.

May I also pay tribute to our armed forces personnel for their role during the pandemic? Their work has been fantastic and it has been all over the UK, including in the very far north of Scotland in my constituency. It seems to me that this is one of the benefits of being a United Kingdom, so that the United Kingdom armed forces can do these things, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) is not with us today.

A great deal of our precious gold has been spent on our splendid two new aircraft carriers. In future, will there be enough surface ships to mount protective screens for these two precious aircraft carriers? And if both these aircraft carriers are at sea with sufficient protective screens, where will that leave the rest of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet if it has to mount a non-aircraft carrier-led operation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm gratitude to the armed forces. He is absolutely right; they have been spread right across the United Kingdom. I think I am right in saying that the last time I looked at the numbers, we had 1,800 troops still deployed, of which 500 were deployed in Scotland, helping on covid-related tasks. What he says will be much appreciated by all those who are involved at present.

On our protective screens to the aircraft carriers, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is essential that we are able to provide them with carrier strike groups. We are very proud of that carrier strike group going out later this year. We will have sufficient frigates and destroyers to meet those requirements. There will be a dip, which has been publicised, with the retirement of two Type 23s, but we will be looking to 20 or more destroyers and frigates in short order; orders are being placed and we will ensure that we have them. I should also mention that we believe we have increased availability from the destroyers and frigates currently in our fleet, and the OPVs—offshore patrol vehicles—also help lessen the load on some of those frigates and destroyers, so I am confident we will be able to meet the requirements he sets out.

I, too, congratulate our armed forces on, and thank them for, all of their work over the past year in combating covid, particularly through the vaccine roll-out. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his statement. He will have seen some of the best of innovation in new technology in defence when he visited the Sierra Nevada Corporation in St Athan in my constituency a few months ago. Does he recognise that established brands, often with long-standing relationships with the MOD, are often seen to be less of a risk in comparison with new, young, innovative companies that could offer new opportunities for the MOD? So will he agree to offering guidance throughout the procurement process when there is a better opportunity for partnerships with young innovative companies, which might be seen to be an opportunity with less risk at that time?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and I well remember visiting the Sierra Nevada Corporation with him last year—it was an eye opener. I hope that it is seeing opportunities from various changes to the Army, including the ranges. I am sure those there will be putting their minds to it. We will be publishing later this year a refresh of our small and medium-sized enterprises action plan. I am proud that we have driven up the amount of funds going to SMEs to more than 19%, from about 13% in 2013-14. There is more work to be done, and in order to help that process not only are we ensuring that we are maintaining DASA—the Defence and Security Accelerator—a fantastic process of providing seedcorn funding to develop smaller companies and give opportunities to help the MOD—but we will be expanding from Northern Ireland to across the whole UK the defence technology accelerator, which has been working very well in Northern Ireland. It helps to exploit and pull through technology that is being developed by smaller companies. So there will be a package of support and an SME action plan will be produced later this year.

I welcome today’s publication of the defence strategy. Sadly, it is 11 years late; for the past few years it has been called for. The UK has rightly got an open defence market, which has led to innovation, investment and world-beating kit for our armed forces, but it has also been used as an opportunity by the Treasury, in particular, and the MOD to buy off the shelf from overseas nations, without any commitment at all to investment in jobs and technology in this country. What steps is the Minister going to take to implement the very good recommendations in the report from the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) on prosperity? How will that have an effect and ensure that jobs and investment go into the UK, rather than have the simple, knee-jerk reaction from the Treasury always to buy from abroad?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He has beaten me to it, because I was going to say suitably warm words about my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow when he addresses the House later in this session. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that that report in 2018 was incredibly influential and very helpful in setting out not only the prosperity agenda that was announced in March 2019, but this paper. Two changes should warm the heart of the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] I will do my best. The first is that as we look at new procurements right from the outset we will be looking to think, “What are we going to get out of this, not just for the kit we need for our forces—what is the broader impact? What else can we do to secure prosperity, which, after all is a defence task, through the orders we place and how we go about it?” We will be taking that nuanced approach, looking at each one in turn, on a case-by-case basis, to see what can be achieved. Of course there will be occasions when off the shelf is the best option, but for every one that needs to be tested, considered and thought through. Secondly, I am very proud that we are going to be ensuring that social value is always applied to our tender process. So this will be a minimum of 10%. It will be compulsory from 1 June, in respect of DSPCR—Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011. This is about making certain that through that mechanism we catch the whole benefit that a procurement can make.

I strongly welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and the strategy, including what he outlined on the deepened working with industry and academia. Can he say how the strategy can help build the UK’s skills base in key STEM subjects, which is obviously very important for defence industries, but also for important parts of the wider civil economy?

This is a great opportunity to build our skills base and our number of apprentices. My right hon. Friend will have heard what I said about FCAS and Team Tempest and that new generation coming through—people are very excited about the prospect of working on this new system—but it is broader than that. I particularly pay tribute to the work of the RAF across Wales in bringing on STEM skills. The whole of the armed forces are acutely aware that our future is going to be digital, cyber and highly technological, and we as a country need to have that STEM support. I know that this strategy, with its £6.6 billion minimum spend on R&D over the next four years, will help to deliver just that.

I welcome that we are getting more clarity on some of the issues around defence spending, and particularly the Minister’s bold statement that he wants to see us

“achieving real reform in how we procure.”

It would be great if we saw some of that go down to our SMEs. However, as he knows, the National Audit Office concluded in its recent report on the defence equipment plan that the Department

“continues to make over-optimistic and inconsistent judgements when forecasting costs.”

That information comes from the Department’s own cost assurance and analysis service. Can the Minister tell the House and the country what precisely he is going to do differently to ensure that procurement and cost management in the equipment plan is managed better? What precise actions is he going to take?

I thank the hon. Lady’s Committee for its report in the summer, which was no holds barred; we have lessons to learn. We are endeavouring to ensure that we answer each of the points made in that report in turn and that we learn from the report and its findings. It is also important that we lay before the Committee an enhanced equipment plan. We are working on that right now. I think it is best that we do that properly, alongside the NAO, so that we work with it and make certain that we have a detailed plan that can be put out for scrutiny. We have that plan, but we need to make certain that the NAO is equally comfortable with it.

The hon. Lady will recognise that, in any organisation with 6,500 contracts, there are going to be ones where we run into problems—that is the experience of the commercial world as well as Government—but we need to do better. So we have enhanced the number of people who are trained to a very senior level in terms of commercial expertise in DE&S; as I say, that is going up to 200 by the end of this year. We are putting more emphasis on where we look at the centre at projects, rather than leaving it entirely with the TLBs. We will bring out up to 65 major projects—not necessarily on a financial basis; there can be some that are low in value but high risk in terms of delivery—starting from the centre, through the defence major projects initiative.

With the help of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, for which I am grateful, I am reviewing our senior responsible officer structure, to make certain that our SROs, who do a good job but quite a lot of whom are quite stretched, have more individual responsibility and that people are all over the detail of their projects. I hope that in combination, alongside a reform of DSPCR in the single source contract regulations, we may be in a better place to not necessarily please the hon. Lady’s Committee but at least do our best to meet the requirements that it has set.

Can my hon. Friend confirm exactly how many new ships will be ordered, that they will be built in Britain, and that they will be given the opportunity to be at sea advancing Britain’s interests rather than just remaining in port gathering dust?

On my hon. Friend’s last point, we are very focused on increasing availability to make certain that our ships are where they should be—at sea, often present. The example we have set with HMS Montrose of having the crew going out to the ship rather than the ship endlessly coming to and from is a great example of how our ships can be more present and more persistent and have more influence around the world.

Yes, there will be more ships; we will set out more detail in the shipbuilding strategy, which will look not only at the Royal Navy but across the totality of Government expenditure on shipbuilding. There will be good news—more good news—on shipbuilding in the UK; of that I have absolutely no doubt. We have set out our numbers—eight Type 26s and five Type 31s—but in addition there will be more news on Type 32s and other vessels that we will be procuring, including the fleet solid support ships.

On the fleet solid support ships, the announcement is of course enormously welcome, but why has it taken us—particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I—so long to persuade Ministers to designate them as naval vessels, as they have done today? Similarly, it is good that we are moving away from global by default, but why not behave like every other industrial country by looking after our own industry and making it clear to officials right the way down the line that the policy is now British by default?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) have been assiduous. I once accused him of being a cracked record, but at least it was a very patriotic tune. I appreciate his campaign and that of the right hon. Member for North Durham. They were pushing on an open door. We wanted to make certain that FSS has a lot of value to the UK in broad terms, as well as to the Royal Navy. More information will be given on that in due course.

I can guarantee that we will have a good close working relationship with our naval shipbuilders. I look forward to more orders coming their way in the future as we see the full benefit of our national shipbuilding programme play out in the years and decades ahead. I have no doubt that this strategy will signal a renaissance in our relationship with onshore building in the UK, but it is a nuanced approach; we are making certain that we get the kit we need in the best way we possibly can.

Over the last decade, armed forces pay has only risen by about half the rate of inflation and yet again this Government, who so value their forces, have shamefully deigned to freeze their pay. While the Government are cutting conventional forces again, it has been estimated that Trident may cost as much as £205 billion. Will the Minister confirm the additional costs of these new pointless and immoral warheads, and can he tell forces personnel why his Government have prioritised these unusable and obscene weapons over their jobs and standard of living?

The hon. Gentleman could persuade his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to ease the burden of tax that has fallen on our regular services, who are there in Scotland doing their bit for every part of the UK and who are being taxed more than they are elsewhere in the UK. A first step would be to give that money back to the armed forces personnel concerned.

I turn to our nuclear policy. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s position; he is not a supporter of a nuclear deterrent. But this House is. This House decided that we needed to have and to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent, and that is what we will do.

The Minister, in his statement, talked of a productive relationship with the industry. One way in which the MOD can have a far more productive relationship with the industry is through the use of MOD sites that become surplus to requirements. The Ministry has announced that RAF Scampton is to close in 2022, although there is now a rumour that it might stay open. In the past when the RAF has walked away from a base, it has pulled out the plug and left behind low-grade housing and farmland; we have enough farmland in Lincolnshire, including 600 square miles in my constituency. I want the Minister to promise me today that he will really get going on RAF Scampton when it becomes surplus to requirements and try to make it a hub for industry—an exciting place, not just inadequate housing and farmland. Will he take action this day?

Action this day, Mr Speaker. First, I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the date is the same; it will be 2022. I was under the impression that my officials were speaking with the local council. I sincerely hope that is the case. I will follow it up today. If there is any dilatory behaviour, I will get back to my right hon. Friend, but I hope that is not the case and that decisions are being progressed.

Perhaps we will have to wait for the shipbuilding strategy document, but will the Minister tell us what action his Department is taking to ensure that a very high percentage of domestically produced steel will be used in the build of the next generation of Royal Navy ships and that the work will be done in British shipyards, not least Cammell Laird in Birkenhead?

We are grateful for the work of Cammell Laird on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and the company continues to perform on our power improvement project for the Type 45s. It does a good job by us.

Decisions on steel are made by our primes, but the hon. Lady is right. The vast majority of the steel used in the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers was British, and more than half, by value, of the steel used in our Type 26s comes from the UK. Given the extra shipbuilding signalled via yesterday’s Command Paper, I am confident that there will be further opportunities for British steel in the years ahead.

As we have heard, defence procurement must be about supporting our own strategically important defence manufacturing industry and protecting skilled jobs, as many countries do around the world. There can be no greater ambassadors for global Britain than our Red Arrows. Ministers have previously said that the current Red Arrows fleet of Hawk trainers, built at Brough just outside Hull in the 1970s, have an out-of-service date of 2030. Will we get a decision on the renewal of that fleet over the next few years?

The right hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that the Red Arrows are safe, and the current out-of-service date remains 2030. I have no plans that I can currently share with her on what we will do in respect of an upgrade. That means not that one is not going to happen, but just that at the moment I do not have any plans and 2030 is a little distant. It is, though, something to which I will turn my mind.

I have been delighted to hear about planes and ships in the exchanges on the statement so far, but as the UK’s only end-to-end helicopter manufacturer is located on the border of West Dorset and South Somerset, I am keen to hear some good news about the rotary wing sector as well. The changing of some of the difficult and protracted MOD procurement processes offers a huge opportunity to make closer the relationship between the end users and our British inventors. I would be delighted to understand from the Minister whether that will be a factor in a lot of the initiatives and programmes that the Command Paper will bring forward.

My hon. Friend and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) are both fantastic advocates for Leonardo and the capabilities that it represents across a wide range of defence areas, including the rotary wing sector. I have no doubt that Leonardo will be pleased about the announcement of our desire to procure more medium-lift helicopters, to come in the mid-2020s. I am sure people from Leonardo will be looking at that assiduously—if they are not, I think I am due to speak to them later today and will make certain that they are, but I suspect they are on it. We have a strategic partnership with Leonardo and I hope that it will study DSIS closely to work out how to work with us even more closely in the years ahead.

The future surface combatant programme to replace Type 23 began in 1994. By 2005, it had evolved into the sustained surface combatant capability programme, which envisaged three classes of frigates. Since then, Governments have published the defence industry strategy for shipbuilding; agreed a 15-year terms-of-business agreement with BAE Systems in 2013; announced the Type 31 in the 2015 SDSR; and published the 2017 national shipbuilding strategy—remember that, Mr Speaker? Now, in 2021, the Government have unveiled their brand-new Type 32 and a return to the three-frigate escort fleet. What is the Department going to do to address the three lost decades of confusion in naval shipbuilding? Does the Minister think there are sites on these islands apart from the Clyde that could build the Type 32?

There are shipyards throughout the United Kingdom that will look into this process to see how they can prosper, but I am acutely aware of the great skills that are exhibited on the Clyde and at Rosyth and of the fantastic job they are doing and have continued to do throughout covid. I am grateful for their continuous support throughout the process.

I am grateful also to the hon. Gentleman for talking us through the history of some of the decisions; he is right that a lot of them are protracted. I am proud to say, however, that with the plans we have unveiled, we will have seven classes of vessel produced in the UK for the first time since 1973, so that is another historic milestone. What we are setting out is a clear vision of how we will progress frigates, destroyers and other vessels such as the multi-role surveillance ship, and FSS. There is clearly a large pipeline of work for UK shipbuilders to focus on, to upskill for and to be sharpening their pencils for to ensure that they can engage with us properly.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) wearing a Royal Engineers tie.

It is fantastic to hear this commitment to shipbuilding. In my experience in the MOD, the Navy would ask for five ships, centre would say, “Four should be enough. Here’s three, we’re going buy two and we’ll only service one.” Very quickly, we would be reduced to less than had been promised in the initial strategy. With the pivot to Asia we have been promised and the commitment to base out of Singapore, can my hon. Friend assure me that not only will we have the purchasing capability, but we will have the servicing capability that makes such a difference to the actual deployment of ships? As we know, we have had too many tied up for too long, when we need them to be out doing exactly what we pay them for.

Yes, I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend on that point. I admire his maths, as well his attention to detail in respect of the hon. Gentleman’s sapper tie.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are absolutely on it. We need to maintain the availability of our fleet. We are not about saying, “We’ve got X number of ships. Isn’t that great?” when they are all tied up in Portsmouth. There is no point in that. We need our fleet to be present, to be persistent and to be forward looking, and that is exactly what we are going to be focusing on. This might be stretching his question too far, but let me say that the same also applies to our land industrial strategy, which I am proud to have announced today as part of this process.

The MOD has a mixed record on procurement investment in south Wales. On the one hand, there is a long-standing commitment to General Dynamics, but the MOD cancelled the defence academy in St Athan and, only a couple of years ago, preposterously sold the Maindy barracks in the Rhondda, thereby denying the Sea Cadets the possibility of having a new home locally. There are small investments in companies such as MFC International in Tonypandy, but may I ask the Minister to do two things? First, will he make sure that small companies have a real chance of big contracts with the MOD? Secondly, will he please buy the Sea Cadets in the Rhondda a new home?

I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a new home for the Sea Cadets, but I take what he says very seriously. As a result of his question, I will look into the matter and find out where we are. The cadets have an important role to play around the country and they should be properly housed, but I cannot answer with any more precision than that.

More broadly, the hon. Gentleman recognises the value to south Wales of the Ajax contract. It is an incredibly impressive, fully digitalised vehicle. He is right, though, that often in defence, the real value is found with SMEs. As I said, over 19% of our equipment and support spending goes to SMEs now. We will have a refreshed SME action plan published later this year, and it will include issues already raised as part of this thesis—for example, the defence technology exploitation plan, which has worked well in Northern Ireland, will be put out right across the Union. There are measures in the strategy to support smaller companies, and I want smaller companies, which are often the most innovative and inspiring in our country, to have the opportunity to win larger contracts. I thank him for his question.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I first call attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my involvement in the all-party parliamentary group for the armed forces and the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, both of which I chair and both of which are supported by the major UK defence companies? They are among the greatest defence manufacturers in the world, and I salute them for it.

Will the Minister acknowledge two other groups whose contribution we nurture? First, he mentioned small and medium-sized enterprises several times. I welcome the fact that there will be a refresher on the action plan produced during this year. When he does produce that refresher, will he please do two things? First, will he increase the number of direct contracts between the Ministry of Defence and the SMEs? Otherwise those SMEs risk being squeezed out by the original equipment manufacturers.

Secondly, will the Minister strengthen the contractual obligations on OEMs to use British SMEs? I understand his concerns about sovereign capability and I very much welcome his commitment to use British manufacturers as much as he possibly can in the future, but will he also recognise and support the very many companies that are overseas in ownership, but that make a huge contribution to our defence? Boeing, Raytheon and Elbit all spring to mind, and Leonardo has already been mentioned. They employ large numbers of people and make a huge contribution to our defence overseas, even if they are actually owned by overseas companies.

On OEMs, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the fine international companies that choose to base themselves here. They make a real contribution to our economy and to our defence sector in the UK. We will continue to be uniquely open to the companies of friends and allies overseas choosing to locate, build and manufacture here in the UK, as well as to apply research and technology and development, and I absolutely thank them for it. He mentioned Boeing. That is one example of a company that has been assiduous in making opportunities available to UK SMEs. It sees it as a great way of tapping into more skills and increasing its resilience. I welcome what it and many others do in terms of making certain that there are opportunities for UK smaller companies as part of their supply chain.

There are two things that we can do. The first is that we will see an increase in direct company awards to smaller companies, but that is because of the nature of how defence is changing. As we become more digital, more cyber, there are many smaller companies that can produce the goods in these areas and it becomes a less capital-intensive business. The second thing is that, through the social value part of the tender process, we will be able to be more descriptive as to what we are expecting to see from companies. In that respect, I very much welcome the fact that, on Boxer, we expect to see 60% of all that supply chain flowing through from UK companies.

I am fully supportive of having smarter procurement to support British industry and home-grown jobs, but given that Serco has ripped off the Ministry of Justice, failed on test and trace, and, in the defence sector, also failed on the Atomic Weapons Establishment, what assurances can the Minister give the House that our sensitive defence infrastructure will be protected from it in the coming years?

I should just be clear that we look at every tender on a case-by-case basis, and we look at each company and each competitive situation on a straightforward tender-by-tender basis. I will not go into the details of what the hon. Gentleman stated.

I am sure that the Minister knows that friends of defence on both sides of the House wish to campaign for the 3% of GDP, as recommended by successive Defence Committees, to be spent on defence, but to do that, we need accurate figures. Does the Minister accept that the black hole in the defence budget was correctly described as £17 billion? How much of that £17 billion would be met by cuts and cancellations? How much would be topped up by money from the extra £24 billion, and, at the end of the process, how much of the extra £24 billion will be left for new projects?

It is interesting to hear that there are colleagues in the House wishing to campaign for 3% of GDP to be spent on defence.

My right hon. Friend says that to a Minister for Defence Procurement who is interested to hear it. I think we have a good settlement this time round. I am sure that he welcomes the extra £24 billion and regards it as a very good step forward for the defence of our country.

I do not recognise the £17 billion number, but there was a black hole—of that there is no doubt; we said that the equipment plan was not affordable. We recognise that there will be programmes as part of the equipment plan that we want to take forward, so within the £24 billion there will be programmes that we were hoping to finance but did not have the money for, including the Type 26s and the Type 31s. The equipment plan will be published in due course, and my right hon. Friend will be able to get all the details he wishes, and more, from that.

On exercise last year, our Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier was heavily reliant on Marine Corps F-35 planes. It is great that our allies helped out then. However, given the small number of UK F-35s that have been programmed, does the Minister accept that if both our carriers are deployed at the same time, we will be heavily reliant on US planes in the future?

To say “helped out” is a little ungenerous. I think the Marine Corps genuinely enjoy working with the Royal Navy, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, and we have a very close working relationship with them. We have committed to 48 F-35s, which will arrive by 2025. We have not announced how many, but we will be buying more F-35s. We will take that decision by 2025, when the full complement of 48 have arrived.

I welcome this strategy, along with the Defence Command Paper. The Minister will know that world-class steel made in Scunthorpe was used to build the hull of HMS Queen Elizabeth. Will he do all he can to ensure that UK-made steel continues to be used wherever possible in defence contracts?

My hon. Friend is right that the vast majority of steel on the Queen Elizabeth was from UK sources. I am delighted at the role that Scunthorpe played in that, and I hope that there will be many more opportunities in the future. The shipbuilding programme we are setting out obviously produces opportunities for UK steel manufacturers. We will make certain that our pipeline is made freely available, and I sincerely hope that there are plenty of opportunities that will be exploited.

I strongly welcome the emphasis of the statement on making more in Britain, because we cannot be properly defended if we rely on imports for crucial things. Is the UK undertaking a full audit of the designs, intellectual property and rare materials we would need to manufacture all our crucial defence equipment here, were we to face a blockade or other hostile action against our imports? President Biden is currently carrying out such a supply chain analysis for his country.

As my right hon. Friend will know, the supply chains in defence are vast, but it is an analysis that we are undertaking. We are doing it project by project, making certain that the most crucial are investigated first, but we are doing an analysis of our supply chains, and that is being elevated to the Defence Board, to make certain that we have greater oversight of what goes into our crucial defence kit and equipment.

The Government are procuring 80 additional warheads for Trident to stockpile in Scotland, each more than eight times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Minister must know that by increasing these weapons of mass destruction, his Government are pushing at a new nuclear arms race and ending 30 years of gradual nuclear disarmament. Is that what global Britain is all about?

Global Britain is about many things, and one of those is helping to defend ourselves, our values, our freedoms and our allies. Part of that, as this Parliament has agreed, should be maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent that is credible and minimal. Of all the declared nuclear states, we have only one delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons, and we maintain a minimum credible deterrent. In order to do that, we have had to raise the ceiling of the total number of warheads we are prepared to have.

I very much welcome the focus of this DSIS on recognising the role that defence can play in contributing to UK prosperity. The Minister has highlighted several issues that I felt needed to change in defence procurement in my review, which was published nearly three years ago. I am grateful for his comments about it. In this statement, he has demonstrated a deep grasp of his brief, on which I congratulate him.

Key to gaining public and cross-governmental support for increasing defence expenditure is measuring the impact of that spend on the economy, especially the regional impact in helping to level up Britain. That requires a good handle on data, which is why I recommended establishing defence economics as a valuable tool for the MOD, Defence Equipment and Support, and the defence industry, to help to assess the merits of competing investment proposals when allocating spend. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the role of the joint economic data hub in delivering that information, its security for the long term, and the role that it can play in the UK Defence Solutions Centre and the Defence Growth Partnership, of which I should remind the House I am deputy chairman?

I am grateful that my right hon. Friend has been called as the final Member to ask a question, if that is still the case, on the statement. It is appropriate that he should be. In my first week in this role, I spoke at the defence economics conference, and he presented me with a copy of his paper, which has been incredibly helpful for me, as it has been for the MOD, not only in introducing the defence prosperity programme in March 2019 but in laying some of the groundwork for the DSIS today. I am sure that as he reads it he will recognise a lot of the themes that emerge.

Part of that is, indeed, the role of the joint economic data hub, which has already reached its initial operating capacity, and it is conducting a full survey of defence employment. It will reach full operating capability by the end of the year. In doing so, it feeds into our analysis critical information about jobs, regional growth, prosperity and future development. It is really important, and it lies at the heart of what we are doing with DSIS—growing the prosperity of our United Kingdom while at the same time ensuring that we have the kit and equipment that our people need. I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he has conducted, which he continues to conduct, in defence. It was a valuable contribution, and it will help us to make certain that DSIS is the great success that it deserves to be in supporting our brilliant defence manufacturers and armed forces.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. According to the House papers today, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has issued a written statement on the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021. I wish to make a point of order about the Government’s intention to pursue the issue of the procurement of abortion services in Northern Ireland. I am led to believe and understand that there has been a 200,000% increase in abortions. Do you believe, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is the role of the House to intervene in a devolved matter such as health, as the topic of abortion was debated only last week by the Northern Ireland Assembly in the correct forum? Do you further share my concern, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the connotations of the actions by the Secretary of State reverberate throughout every devolved nation represented in the House? I believe that the House must send a clear message that devolution means devolution, even if it does not suit the agenda of some in this House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I have not seen any statement, which I do not think has been published yet, and nor have I seen the instrument in question, so I can make no comment on the detail of those matters. However, I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the desirability of open and thorough debate on important matters such as the one that he has raised. I am sure that Ministers will have heard—I am looking for nods—what he has said, and the Government will take seriously the points that he has made, particularly about the process of devolution and the way in which it relates to matters that are debated in the House. I thank him.

First-Aid (Mental Health)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make mental health first-aid part of first-aid training requirements; and for connected purposes.

I can still vividly recall, when I was a teenager, the sound of my sister as she sobbed and cried each night following the news that one of her best friends, someone I had always looked up to, had committed suicide. That was nearly 30 years ago, but I can still recall it like it was yesterday: the pain, the loss and the biggest question of all: could I have done something to change their mind? As I stand here today, I know I cannot change the past, but perhaps with this Bill I can—we can—change the future.

The Bill makes a simple request: to make mental health first aid part of normal physical workplace first aid in workplaces across the country. In doing so, we may not only save lives but change lives too. My proposal is a simple one. It is to ask not for a recommendation or a guideline but for a law to ensure that all workplaces have the right capacity to deal with people who may be going through difficulties. We now live in a society where mental health issues are on the rise, and as a society today we have a greater appreciation than ever before of the importance of mental wellbeing, so there must be a time now for a small change to make a big impact.

I want to assure colleagues that the Bill is not asking too much of business. Just as physical first aiders are not expected to be trained doctors or paramedics, mental health first aiders are not expected to be counsellors or full-time psychotherapists. The training simply provides the skills for the first aider to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. This could be done through mandating accredited mental health first aider training, or perhaps just through requiring the inclusion of the existing Public Health England psychological first aid training.

The proposal in the Bill is not new to Parliament. Over two years ago, thanks to the excellent work of Natasha Devon and the Where’s Your Head At campaign, for which I am now proud to be an official ambassador, this topic was debated in a Backbench Business Committee debate. We all know, though, that times have changed dramatically since then. Given the impact of the covid crisis on the mental health of the nation, the world is drastically different today. Back then, this was important; today, it is both urgent and essential.

The proposal to have a mental health first aider in every workplace is not unrealistic. In my own constituency of Watford, I set an ambition to train 1,000 mental health first aiders, and with the incredible support of Camelot, Watford chamber of commerce, the Wellspring Church and many other community champions, we are making this a reality. I want Watford to be a wellbeing town, but perhaps we could make the UK a wellbeing country, where loneliness has no place to hide and mental wellbeing is the norm. It may take years, but we are beginning to take the steps to do so and we are inspiring others too. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) has already signed up 100 people to train as mental health first aiders, and I am sure that many others will follow.

But the Bill aims even higher. It will mean that every workplace will have a mental health first aider. Just imagine what impact that could have and the people it could help before they required more urgent support. It would mean that the first aiders in every workplace would not just save lives through CPR but change lives by asking people how they are. Just as workplaces are diverse, from offices to barber shops and train stations to supermarkets, each member of staff is also different. They are our mothers, our brothers, our sisters and our fathers. They are the veterans and they are the volunteers. They are all of us: all the experiences and all the emotions that we each carry with us, in times of grief, loneliness, anxiety, stress, love and loss.

But this is not just an emotional argument for the Bill: there are very sound business and economic reasons to support it. According to FirstCare, 2018 marked the first year where mental health related absences became the leading cause of lost work days—imagine that. It is estimated that one in seven workers who have taken time off due to covid related issues will also take time off due to poor mental health. It is also estimated that workers who take sick leave more than twice are 63% more likely to leave their job. This is a big issue for business.

At the truly heartbreaking moment when we look at these figures, there is an even starker example. When a person takes their own life, it is estimated that the full cost to the country, from court cases to funerals to coroners’ fees, is £1.7 million for every individual suicide—never mind the devastating loss that is caused.

I know the Government are taking mental health seriously, especially with the impact of covid. Unprecedented sums of money are being spent on mental health—£14 billion in the past year. I am also pleased that the Health and Safety Executive has included mental health first aid in its official guidelines. However, the Bill would build on all that. Given the toll that the pandemic has had on our nation’s mental health, this proposal cannot be controversial. Just as having physical first aiders is the norm and has been for decades, this Bill gives parity to mental health.

As we move forward, surely it is only right that we do not put all the pressure of tackling the stigma of mental health on our incredible healthcare sector—it is upon us all. By spotting early warning signs and signposting people to the right guidance at the right time in the right place, we can ensure early support. This Bill will help to make it okay to ask somebody in the workplace if they are okay. We cannot say enough times that it is not a weakness to ask for help: it is a strength.

I have a phrase you have may heard before, Madam Deputy Speaker, which is that hope is an acronym—HOPE: help one person everyday. With this Bill, we could help millions. To be clear, the Bill is not asking for billions from the Treasury. It is not contentious. It helps individuals, business, society and the economy, and it could help the nation heal as we all emerge from this unprecedented crisis. Surely, if suicide were a virus, would we not be searching for a vaccine, and if loneliness were a disease, would we not be attempting to find a cure?

In the coming months and years, we as a nation will need to come to terms with the impact of covid. We will hug each other once more. We will sing and we will dance and we will drink with each other, together. But as we return together to the workplace, we will also need to grieve together. We will have to face our fears together. We will have to mourn our loved ones and our missing colleagues together, and share our stories together. I truly believe that this Bill will play a small, practical part in ensuring that our nation can heal together too.

I humbly request that this Bill be given due consideration and passed into law. I ask the Government, with great respect: if not now, when; and if not, why not?

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Dean Russell, Jeremy Hunt, Virginia Crosbie, James Sunderland, Dr Luke Evans, Robin Millar, Antony Higginbotham, Jerome Mayhew, Mark Logan, Duncan Baker, Tom Hunt and Jeff Smith present the Bill.

Dean Russell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 278).

On that happy note, I will now briefly suspend the House for three minutes so that preparations can be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Science and Technology Committee, A new UK research funding agency, HC 778, and oral evidence taken before the Science and Technology Committee on 17 March, on A new UK research funding agency, HC 778]

Second Reading