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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2021

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Online Scams

What guidance his Department issues to (a) retailers and (b) consumers to help raise awareness of the threat of online scams. (902250)

Having worked in the retail sector for a number of years, I sympathise with consumers who have been targeted by these dreadful scams. Guidance for businesses on how to spot and avoid getting caught out by scams is available on Business Companion and the Businesses Against Scams website; consumer advice is available on the Citizens Advice website. All of these are funded by Government.

The reported rise in remote banking fraud poses considerable concern to small and medium-sized enterprises, which are increasingly accessing online business banking services owing to the closure of high street banks in many of our communities. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that SMEs are well equipped to navigate online banking and, by extension, recognise fraudulent activity?

Businesses and consumers all fall victim to these scams, so it is important that they have an awareness of all online scams. They can report matters to Action Fraud; consumers can also go to the Citizens Advice scams action helpline.

GKN Automotive: Birmingham Plant

What recent discussions he has had with representatives of GKN Automotive on the viability of its factory in Birmingham being used as part of the national infrastructure for electric vehicles. (902251)

My noble Friend the Minister for Investment met representatives of GKN Automotive on 21 May. GKN committed to considering all the viable alternatives to closure, including repurposing the Birmingham plant to produce parts for electrical vehicles, but it concluded that that was not commercially viable. The Government stand ready to assist the workers at this difficult time. I add that Nissan’s recent announcement shows that we are actively supporting UK electric vehicle production and supply chain growth.

In April, in a Westminster Hall debate, the Minister said:

“The Government are committed to doing what we can to save those…jobs”

of the 519 GKN workers, including through

“investments in capital equipment or in the skills needed to secure future vehicle technology.”—[Official Report, 28 April 2021; Vol. 693, c. 128-129WH.]

Those commitments were warmly welcomed. Does she understand that if the site on Chester Road closes with 519 job losses, it will be a hammer blow to the families of those workers, but also to the UK automotive sector at a time when we need to be powering ahead with electric vehicle technology?

The hon. Member makes a really important point. He will know that I have every sympathy with GKN; he will also know that we have been having ongoing conversations recently. However, it is really a difficult situation. The Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus work coaches will provide bespoke advice and guidance. In addition, the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull local enterprise partnership have several programmes that can support GKN employees to reskill for a new job or help them to start their own business.

Marine Renewables Sector

Since 2003, various bodies across Government have provided innovation funding of £175 million to the wave and tidal sectors. Projects remain eligible to compete in contract for difference auctions. We have also set a target of 1 GW by 2030 for floating offshore wind to stimulate investment. We are currently assessing the contribution of tidal stream, wave power and tidal range generation, following the call for evidence last September.

As my right hon. Friend knows, and as I hope she will see if she visits Pembrokeshire, my constituency is emerging as an important hub for marine energy, but technologies such as tidal stream need the same revenue support that we gave to solar and wind to unlock private investment and reduce costs over time. To that end, will she assure us that the parameters of the CfD auction round later this year will be set to ensure that new tidal stream and other marine renewable projects can be developed?

I agree that there is significant potential for these new marine technologies. Recent market engagement carried out by the Crown Estate showed a high level of market appetite to develop more projects in the area, which is very encouraging. We will set out the details of the new technology as part of CfD round 4 in the autumn, so I hope that my right hon. Friend can wait that long. In the meantime, I look forward to being able to visit Pembrokeshire to meet him with businesses and those in the community who are keen to progress these projects.

Energy Production and Efficiency

If he will take steps to increase (a) renewable energy production and (b) energy efficiency in the UK. (902253)

In December, the Government aim to deliver our biggest auction yet for new renewables, through the contracts for difference scheme. We aim to launch the green heat network fund in April next year. The Government are also committed to investing £9 billion in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings while creating thousands of green skilled jobs.

With some 30 major wind turbines and several solar farms, the Kettering constituency is doing its bit for renewable energy. Last year, how much renewable electricity was produced in Kettering? How many homes would it power?

As at the end of December 2019, the east midlands region produced more than 5,500 GW of electricity from renewable resources, including nearly 1,600 GW from offshore wind. To break that down, 1,534 of the 88,000 renewable electricity installations were in the Kettering constituency, including photovoltaic, onshore wind, anaerobic digestion, landfill gas and plant biomass. This is generating 173 GW, or enough power to power 45,000 homes.

Minimum Wage Non-compliance

The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that anyone entitled to be paid the minimum wage receives it. Since 2015, we have more than doubled the enforcement budget to almost £30 million and ordered employers to repay £100 million to 1 million workers.

The Low Pay Commission has called on the Government to recruit a new director of labour market enforcement as an urgent priority, but the Government have dragged their feet for almost a half the year while claims are falling and waiting times are rising. Can the Minister inform the House when that vital post will be filled? And “in due course” simply does not cut it.

Cracking down on non-compliance in the labour market is a priority for the Government, and the new director of labour market enforcement will be appointed as soon as possible, but the temporary vacancy has no impact on workers’ rights. The three enforcement bodies themselves are responsible for overall work and enforcement responsibilities, and they will continue to work hard to protect workers and bring enforcement actions against employers who break the rules.

Levelling-up Agenda

We have made a commitment to level up all areas of the country. The plan for growth is a critical part of this and we will go further with the publication of a levelling-up White Paper later this year.

I wrote to the Minister outlining Bolton’s bid to be the home of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, featuring the full support of the vice- chancellors of the University of Bolton and the University of Manchester, along with Innovation GM and a wider coalition. I am sure that even my neighbour but one, the Speaker, would find it difficult to resist Bolton’s attraction. We have kindly received a response from the Minister, and now that the advert for the ARIA chair has gone live, will she tell us when she would like to visit Bolton to support us in our ambition to reinvent Britain’s biggest town in line with the Government’s levelling-up agenda?

My hon. Friend paints a fantastic picture of Bolton North East. He really is a wonderful advocate for his constituency, and he has a keen interest in ARIA, which I am delighted by. No decision has yet been taken on ARIA’s location, and I do not expect one to be reached until the chief executive officer and the chair are in post, but my hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that the open recruitment process for a visionary chair began yesterday, and I would encourage him and other hon. Members to share this exciting opportunity widely to reach as diverse a pool of candidates as we possibly can.

Whether it involves investing £105 million in Bank Top station, investing £23.3 million through the towns fund or establishing a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy presence in Darlington, this Conservative Government are delivering on their manifesto commitment to level up. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is therefore short-sighted of LNER to propose to cut services to Darlington?

I am glad that my hon. Friend recognises the work that the Government have done to support investment in the town, and I know that the Department for Transport and LNER appreciate his desire to ensure that his community continues to be well served by rail services across the north. His comments and those of his colleagues are exactly the level of detail that the consultation is looking to elicit, and it is important that the industry understands the strength of the business case, so I would urge him to continue to engage with the consultation process.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) and I have put forward a £48 million joint levelling-up fund bid to support improvements to the Penistone line, which runs through our constituencies. Will the Minister agree to work with the Department for Transport and the Treasury in supporting this bid, which, if successful, would help to boost local businesses and bring much-needed jobs to my constituency, especially in Kirkburton and Denby Dale?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for his constituency, most notably in his advocacy of the Dewsbury town deal. As he will know, the support of MPs is important for bids to the levelling-up fund, but he will understand that I cannot go further than that while the bids are being evaluated.

Today marks 33 years since the Piper Alpha disaster, when 167 lives were lost and many more oil workers were injured. The trauma reverberates right across Aberdeen to this day, and I would like to pass on my thoughts to the friends and families of all those involved in that awful, awful tragedy.

We have heard three questions from Conservative Members and had three answers from the Minister, but we have not had a single mention of the fact that rather than being a Government who are levelling up, they are cutting back. Just last week we have seen furlough support sliced away from businesses, many of which have been unable to open or operate since the start of this pandemic. Many of them will also now be paying back covid loans, despite of course never being able to bounce back. So may I ask the Minister: how does pulling funding away from businesses help communities to level up?

I would like to add my thoughts to those expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the Piper Alpha disaster. Across government, we are investing in Scotland through a number of routes, including the United Kingdom community renewal fund, the levelling-up fund and the future UK shared prosperity fund, to name but a few. For example, at the Budget we confirmed £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which is helping to support north-east Scotland to play a leading role in meeting our net zero ambitions.

I do not think the Minister actually answered my question, but let us look at another aspect of the levelling-up prospectus: freeports. The Scottish Government have been clear that they want freeports to have a green agenda and to have fair work and net zero at their core, but just last week the UK Government told us that they will ignore that green port prospectus and will instead seek to enforce their will on the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people. So may I ask the Minister: when did levelling up become less about empowerment and more about dragging powers from Scotland back to London?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. This Government are committed to the levelling-up process, and we have made it incredibly clear that that is what we are going to do. We will have a levelling-up White Paper, which is to be issued in the autumn. We are ensuring that we are levelling up throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

The UK Government talk about levelling up former coalfield communities such as those in my constituency, yet at the same time they have profited by billions of pounds from the mineworkers’ pension scheme since its privatisation in 1994. That money could be going to miners and their families, many of whom are experiencing hardship and are struggling to make ends meet. The Government’s announcement yesterday not to implement the recommendations of the cross-party Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to redress this injustice was met with dismay and was described as a “slap in the face”. Will the Minister agree to review that decision and implement the BEIS Committee recommendations in full?

The hon. Lady will know that I have sent my reply in to the BEIS Committee, but I also had a very constructive meeting with a number of the trustees just a few weeks ago and we have agreed to continue. I have left them with some questions that they must go to talk to the rest of the trustees about, and my door continues to be open for them to bring back propositions if they want to continue to discuss this.

Net Zero Strategy: Publication

We will publish our comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of COP26. It will set out the Government’s vision and how we will meet our ambitious goals as we transition to net zero emissions by 2050.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her response. She will know that many infrastructure institutions, including the Institution of Civil Engineers, have called on the Government to deliver a system-wide plan for transitioning the UK infrastructure. Will she confirm that when she publishes the strategy in the autumn—I take that from her response—it will provide the policy certainty for infrastructure and the supply chain so that there is investment and we can ensure that the necessary initiatives are put in place to enable the Government’s aim of net zero to be achieved?

The net zero strategy will include a focus on how better to embed net zero as a key consideration across all Government activity. Furthermore, infrastructure will play a crucial role in the transition to net zero, and our policies and approach will reflect that. The net zero strategy will continue to build on policies that we have already announced, such as the £1 billion carbon capture and storage infrastructure fund and the £240 million net zero hydrogen fund. We are also supporting underlying investment decisions to mobilise private finance. The national infrastructure bank announced in the Budget will have £12 billion of capital and be able to deploy £10 billion of Government guarantees.

The 2021 progress report published by the Climate Change Committee last month stated:

“A pattern has emerged of Government strategies that are later than planned and, when they do emerge, short of the required policy ambition.”

Despite the committee’s characteristic politeness, that is a damning critique from the Government’s own climate advisers. I take it from the Minister’s previous answer that the House has this morning been given a cast-iron guarantee that a net zero strategy will be published well in advance of COP26; will she confirm that that is the case? Does she recognise that the credibility of such a strategy is predicated on a substantive Treasury net zero review that sets out precisely how the benefits and burdens of the transition will be shared fairly?

Of the 92 recommendations made by the Climate Change Committee in its 2020 progress report, 40 have been achieved or partly achieved and another 32 are under way, meaning that progress has been made against more than 75% of the recommendations. Our forthcoming strategies—including on hydrogen and transport and our comprehensive net zero strategy—will set out more of the policies that the committee calls for in its recommendations. I clearly cannot speak for the Treasury, which will publish its own review, but I know that that is also very well advanced.

Nuclear Sector: Skills

What plans he has to help ensure that skills in the nuclear sector are maintained between the building of new power plants. (902258)

The Government confirmed our commitment in the energy White Paper to more nuclear power after Hinkley Point C, and we are currently negotiating for Sizewell C. That is a great example of the bright future ahead for our skilled nuclear workforce.

Gathering the skills and expertise for building new nuclear power stations in the UK has been a mammoth task and a considerable expense to many companies because no nuclear has been built in the UK for many decades. Can my right hon. Friend give some assurance to the tens of thousands of employees who are worried about their jobs as contracts on Hinkley Point come to an end and there is potentially a lengthy gap before the funding model for Sizewell C is agreed?

My hon. Friend is right that there was a long gap in respect of investment in UK, but I am pleased that the Prime Minister’s leadership has reset that. We are working closely with industry and the skills bodies to make sure that as we grow our nuclear industry again, we better understand the skills requirements and challenges faced by the industry. EDF’s latest estimate suggests that the number of people working on the Hinkley project will peak at around 8,500. That is a fantastic local employment story and, given EDF’s plans to replicate HPC at its next project, Sizewell C in Suffolk, we expect to see employment benefits transfer to that project, creating thousands of jobs in that local area.

AQUIND Energy Interconnector

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has until 8 September 2021 to take his decision on whether or not to grant development consent for the proposal.

I have long represented Portsmouth’s opposition to AQUIND, which would cause untold disruption to our communities and no clear benefits to my city. There are serious concerns about the company, its murky financing and the influence that its leaders have over Ministers who are responsible for giving the project the go-ahead. Last weekend, I launched a petition to give a real voice to local people who are opposed to the development. With no Secretary of State present today, will the Minister listen to the weight of concerns from my constituents and reject the damaging and suspicious proposals?

Local communities have had the opportunity to raise concerns during the examination undertaken by the Planning Inspectorate. The Secretary of State will consider all relevant matters—I will ensure that I pass on the hon. Gentleman’s message—when he takes a decision, but as it is a live planning application I cannot comment further.

Is the Minister aware that we are talking about a company that, as its sole activity, is proposing to build an interconnector with France, that has attempted to get itself exempted from all the rules governing interconnectors, and that is now extraordinarily seeking Government backing to trash parts of Portsmouth to land its cable? Throughout all of this, it has never traded and is completely reliant for its existence on loans from unnamed overseas companies. But it has been active as a company in one other area: giving huge donations to the Conservative party and a number of its MPs to the tune of £1.1 million, either from the company itself or through the good offices of its part-owner. Now, perhaps in return, it wants the Government to support its rackety scheme through the Secretary of State’s personally approving its planning application. This whole thing stinks. I ask Ministers to call a halt to this seedy enterprise and certainly not endorse its wild and inappropriate planning proposals.

As previously stated, the Secretary of State for BEIS will have until 8 September 2021 to take his decision on whether to grant development consent on this proposal.

Steel Industry

I thank the hon. Member for raising this important topic again after engaging in a recent Westminster Hall debate, and I know how passionately he cares about this subject. I know, too, that he will have welcomed the Government’s action on trade safeguards to protect our steel sector and jobs. We are also working closely with the Steel Council, reformed by the Secretary of State, on important matters such as decarbonisation, a sustainable future and procurement.

For as long as anyone can remember, steel MPs, trade unions and employers have been urging the Government to do something about industrial energy costs, and yet our steelworkers still face prices that are 86% higher than their French competitors, and that is after the Government’s compensation scheme has been factored in. With Ofgem planning to hike network charges even higher, what action is the Minister taking to block this potential hammer blow and to enable our steelworkers to compete on a level playing field?

Since 2013, we have provided more than £500 million in relief to the steel sector. On 14 June, we published a consultation on the future of the compensation schemes, which will close on 9 August. Network charging, however, is a matter for Ofgem as the independent regulator, and decisions on its targeted charging review are for it to make. Government continue to engage with Ofgem to inform our understanding of the reform’s policy implications.

Gig Economy Workers

What recent steps he has taken to help improve employment rights and protections for gig economy workers. (902264)

The recent Uber Supreme Court judgment upheld the law that those who qualify as workers in the gig economy are entitled to the same employment rights and protections as workers in other parts of the economy. The Government have one of the best records on employment rights in the world, and we have just increased wages again for the UK’s lowest paid workers.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 5 million people in the UK work in the gig economy, which is around 15.6% of the UK’s total full and part-time workforce. That is 5 million people without legal rights to statutory sick pay, holiday pay, redundancy pay, maternity leave or minimum wage. February’s Supreme Court ruling in favour of Uber drivers was a momentous step forward for gig economy workers. In the same month, however, the Minister for Small Business, Labour Markets and Consumers refused to back Labour’s call to enshrine this in law, so I ask the Minister again for the sake of the millions of gig economy workers, will the Government finally step up and enshrine the rights of gig economy workers in law ?

Employment law is clear that an individual’s employment rights are determined by their employment status, which in turn is determined by the detail of their working arrangement. Government actively encourage businesses to ensure that they are adhering to their legal obligations and that individuals are treated fairly and in accordance with the law.

High Street Businesses

Our comprehensive economic response to business is worth more than £352 billion, including grants, the furlough scheme, tax deferrals, and business rates relief. We have extended the protection of commercial tenants from eviction and debt enforcement due to non-payment of rent until 25 March 2022.

Businesses in Luton South, whether they are in the town centre, Bury Park or High Town, have told me that additional support is required to safeguard their future and local jobs. Small businesses need Government to bring forward a plan to support them as we recover, particularly those that have had to take out loans to pay their rent. Does the Minister recognise that a proper debt restructuring plan will be vital in alleviating the burden of debt and in helping small businesses get back on their feet?

It is important, yes, that first we reopen. I am glad that the Prime Minister is making encouraging signs regarding 19 July, so that small businesses in particular can welcome back customers and start to recover; that helps get into the recovery. We will continue to flex and extend our support for those businesses. Much of that support extends to September and beyond.

Businesses in Ilford represented by Ilford business improvement district have been damaged so severely by the pandemic, often closing or finding their revenues down to about 30% of what they were pre pandemic. Many of those businesses now have significant debts and rent arrears. I would like to know, as would businesses in Ilford, what plans the Minister has to support the thousands of businesses struggling to pay their rent.

I have talked about reopening and recovery. We need to build back better and build resilience into our high streets and the ecosystems that make our communities. We have extended the moratorium on rents until next year so that we can legislate to encourage proper conversations between landlords and tenants. We are also reviewing the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.

Many businesses on our high streets face financing their reopening in July while dealing with quarterly rents, emergency loan repayments, business rates and VAT deferrals, all while furlough support is being withdrawn. UKHospitality has now warned that the sector faces coming out of lockdown with more than £6 billion of Government debt. Not all sectors are going to bounce back overnight; they need a Government who are on their side at this crucial time. Does the Minister think it is fair for hospitality businesses to pay a £100 million business rates bill from 1 July? Why do the Government not extend the relief period, as the Labour-led Welsh Government have done, and what discussions is he now having on the root-and-branch reform of business rates to allow the reintegration of the high street that was promised in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto but has still not been delivered?

Different businesses and sectors have different views on furlough. UKHospitality is explaining that furlough is starting to become a problem, while other sectors want it extended further. On business rates and other support, the Chancellor deliberately went long in his Budget; he erred on the side of generosity. It was always about data, not dates, so that was always going to be flexible. The fundamental business rates review that we are conducting will report back this autumn.

UK Research and Development

The Prime Minister has reasserted our commitment to restoring the UK as a science superpower and to increasing Government investment in R&D to £22 billion. We continue to make progress on the R&D road map and are planning to publish the R&D people and culture strategy alongside the innovation strategy in the coming weeks.

The life sciences ecosystem is incredibly interdependent and clinical trials are a key part of it. Will my hon. Friend join me in meeting key stakeholders to discuss how we can maintain our position as a world leader?

Our ambition for clinical research is for a world-leading clinical research environment that capitalises on innovation, is resilient in the face of future healthcare challenges and improves the life of patients UK-wide. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that ambition.

At North East Technology Park in Sedgefield, we have a hub of innovation-led businesses from space to defence, including companies such as Filtronic and Kromek, which are already established; many smaller ones such as Evince and PragmatIC, which are redefining the semiconductor space; and the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, which is operated by Business Durham. Does the Minister agree that places such as NETPark, with embryonic ecosystems already in place, can be the foundation stones of building back better and levelling up, and will she come and see for herself this amazing asset of the north-east?

NETPark is an excellent example of how science parks bring together talented communities to turn ideas into global successes. As home to the two of the UK’s Catapult centres, NETPark is playing a vital role in helping us to build back better across the United Kingdom. I would be delighted to visit not just NETPark but the wider north-east, to see how the region is capitalising on its innovation and technology strengths in order to support its local economy and communities. I know that my hon. Friend enjoyed his visit there so much that he went back week after week.

On Friday I visited Newcastle University’s dementia research centre and spoke to the wonderful scientists striving to cure this terrible affliction. But I also heard of the desperate conditions that early career researchers face, with Government funding commitments abandoned; grants ending as covid devastates medical research charities excluded from Government support; institutes closed as the Government’s international development funding is slashed; and post-docs eking out funding from project to project with no job security, working two jobs at once or working for free, and unable to apply for funding in their own name—and the most disadvantaged are hardest hit. How can the Minister say that she is supporting science when she is throwing the next generation of scientists to the wolves?

I always appreciate the hon. Member’s candid questions. She will know that we have been working on the people and culture strategy, which very much takes into account early career research, career progression and all the important things that we need to consider to ensure that our R&D system is really allowed to thrive and flourish. In May we announced funding of £15 million from BEIS, together with a £5 million fund from the Department of Health and Social Care, to support early career researchers, supported by charities, helping to protect the pipeline of research superstars who will have a fantastic impact in improving patients’ lives in future.

Oil and Gas: Net Zero by 2050

What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies on oil and gas of the International Energy Agency’s energy scenario aligned with the 1.5° C goal of the Paris agreement, outlined in the report “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector”. (902268)

The independent Climate Change Committee agrees that the UK will need oil and gas as we deliver net zero by 2050. No other significant oil and gas producing nation matches the UK’s action on hydrocarbons in the economy, while our withdrawal of support for international fossil fuels, our North sea transition deal and our new checkpoint for licensing provide a global exemplar. Our climate compatibility checkpoint will also operate from 2022. Any reduction in domestic production would be replaced by increased imports.

The International Energy Agency’s report is clear that there can be no new investment in fossil fuel projects if the world is to meet its climate targets, yet the Government are set to approve the Cambo oilfield, which, thanks to a loophole, will not even be subject to its derisory climate checkpoint because the original licence was granted over a decade ago. Is it really the Minister’s understanding that this new North sea oil project will not add to global heating because of the date on the original licence? Will the Government think again about approving this oil project when they are meant to be showing local leadership ahead of COP26, or, as with the Cumbria coalmine, are they waiting for the US climate envoy to intervene instead?

The checkpoint will apply to all future licence rounds. Those projects already licensed are already accounted for in our projections for future oil and gas production. Projects such as Cambo are already licensed and are going through normal regulatory processes. Estimated emissions from all the existing licences are already accounted for in our forward projections.

Solar Energy

Solar is key to the Government’s strategy for low-cost decarbonisation of the energy sector, and we will need sustained growth in capacity over the next decade as we move to net zero. It already accounts for 28% of installed renewable capacity in the UK. Large-scale solar photovoltaic projects are eligible to compete in the next contracts for difference allocation round in December this year. The Government also support rooftop solar through the smart export guarantee and energy efficiency schemes.

Community energy is vitally important in delivering renewable energy and engaging communities in contributing to net zero, but the sector has suffered since the Government cancelled the urban community energy fund in 2016 and excluded it from the social investment tax relief in 2017. This evening I am meeting Sustainable Energy 24 in my constituency, which is working hard to deliver new solar installations and engage our local communities, despite the Government’s lack of support. Will the Minister commit to meaningful support for community energy?

We are absolutely supportive of community energy. The £10 million rural community energy fund provides grant funding to help communities with the up-front costs of project development. We have also funded dedicated officers at five local energy hubs to provide one-to-one support. We intend to set out our future plans for community energy in the forthcoming net zero strategy.

Automotive Sector

Ministers in this Department have regular and productive discussions with the automotive sector on opportunities in the UK. Through our efforts, just last week—five years after the EU referendum—a new electric vehicle hub in Sunderland was announced, which will benefit the whole sector. Nissan still remains in the UK. Nissan is investing in the UK.

The automotive sector has been through a hugely difficult time, impacting on the industry and the supply chain right across the UK, including in my constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. I very much support the recent announcements of new opportunities, supporting jobs and job opportunities in England. What recent discussions has the Minister had with the Welsh Government on this issue to ensure that support and opportunities for the automotive sector reach all parts of the United Kingdom?

My colleagues across the Department speak with the Welsh Government regularly, and I have quad meetings with my counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We absolutely recognise the importance of the automotive sector to the UK’s economy, and indeed to the Welsh economy, and are continuing to invest in it. By supporting innovation in the sector’s transition to zero-emission technologies, we are securing existing jobs and creating jobs for the future.

I call Richard Holden—not here. This is not very good. I call Bob Seely—not here. This is the worst school register anybody could have.

Net Zero Emissions Target

I will pass on your displeasure, Mr Speaker. I had some very interesting answers to share with my hon. Friends, so I am as disappointed as you. Our 10-point plan lays the foundation for the transition to net zero, with key commitments and action including in offshore wind, zero-emission vehicles and building our green economy. Ahead of COP26, we will also publish a comprehensive net zero strategy. It will set out the Government’s vision for transitioning to a net zero economy, making the most of new growth and employment opportunities across the UK.

May I press the Minister on the Aquind scheme, in which I believe she may have an interest that she needs to declare? It was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). How many green jobs will be provided by the proposed scheme and what national security assessment has been carried out, given that the project is sponsored by an oligarch who has donated £1 million to the Conservative party?

I am unable to answer any of the hon. Lady’s questions, because I have recused myself from all matters to do with the Aquind interconnector, because Northumberland Conservatives received some funds from one of the owners of the company.

The retrofitting of existing housing stock has to be a key component of our net zero drive. We have had the green deal and we have had the green homes grant. I think the most diplomatic way of putting it is that neither has realised their potential. Can I ask the Minister what comes next and when we might have sight of that?

The Government are continuing to fund a number of schemes as part of our commitment to retrofit homes in order to cut energy bills for the poorest households and make them greener on that path to net zero. The green homes grant local authority delivery scheme, which is supporting projects to install energy efficiency measures for low-income households, has already provided £500 million to local authorities and low-income households across England. That is being delivered up to the end of this year. In June this year, we launched the sustainable warmth competition, enabling local authorities to apply for further funding under the £200 million local authority delivery phase 3 scheme.

Open Banking

What discussions he has had with the Competition and Markets Authority on the independence of open banking. (902279)

I and my officials have regular conversations with the Competition and Markets Authority on a wide range of issues, although open banking is normally handled by the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch). We support independence as a key criterion for the future open banking governance model.[Official Report, 20 July 2021, Vol. 699, c. 6MC.]

I am delighted to hear that the independence of open banking is a core principle. Would my hon. Friend agree that open banking potentially creates a much wider idea or direction of travel for open everything? All sorts of other sectors could benefit from this approach to allow switching to be done much more easily and much more quickly. We could open up to competition many more sectors of our economy.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, because we want to continue the UK’s lead in open banking, but there is so much more to do with smart data. We will learn the lessons that allow us to lead in open banking and apply them to all those other areas that he mentions.

Investment Security Unit: Parliamentary Scrutiny

What steps he is taking to enable the effective parliamentary scrutiny of the classified aspects of the Investment Security Unit. (902280)

The National Security and Investment Act 2021 delivers important reforms of UK investment-screening powers, helping to keep this country safe. The Government look forward to working with the BEIS Committee to enable it to provide the same effective scrutiny of the Investment Security Unit as it does of the rest of the Department’s work. We are in the process of developing a memorandum of understanding to allow it to do just that.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister kindly explain the practical arrangements that will be made to ensure that the BEIS Committee can scrutinise the top secret documents involved in the work of the Investment Security Unit? Specifically, will the Committee’s members and staff be cleared to see and handle such documents, and will they be given access to secure premises in which to read and discuss such highly classified papers? And I think the answer is “fat chance”.

No, we will make sure that the BEIS Committee has the information it needs to fulfil its remit and scrutinise the work of the Investment Security Unit. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Osmotherly rules set out how secret and top secret material should be handled with respect to Committees other than the Intelligence and Security Committee. I can assure the House that we will have regard to those principles as we develop the memorandum of understanding with the BEIS Committee.

Topical Questions

After a very long and difficult year, things are looking up. Our economy is in better health than many had predicted, and the vaccine roll- out continues apace. While some are keen to talk down Britain, across the economy optimism is returning. Last week, Nissan and Envision announced a £1 billion investment to create the UK’s largest gigafactory, creating 1,600 new jobs in Sunderland and 4,500 more in the supply chain. Today, Stellantis has announced over £100 million of investment at its Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, which is to become the first mass-volume, fully battery-electric vehicle plant in Europe. This will safeguard the future of the site and its supply chain for the next decade. These are both huge votes of confidence in the UK post Brexit, and show our green industrial revolution in action. With COP26 fast approaching, the Secretary of State and I will continue to drive forward the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan—growing our economy, levelling up the country and, of course, tackling emissions.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement last week that he is bringing forward the date to remove unabated coal from the UK’s energy mix by a whole year to 2024. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows how the UK is leading the world in consigning coal power to the history books, and showing that we are serious about decarbonising our power system so that we can meet our ambitious, world-leading climate targets?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Closing Britain’s remaining coal units by 2024 will mean that we have reduced coal’s share of our electricity supply from a third to zero in only 10 years. This is a huge achievement that reinforces our record on climate action.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) said earlier, the Climate Change Committee’s report card on the Government two weeks ago was devastating:

“This defining year for the UK’s climate credentials has been marred by uncertainty and delay”.

The Climate Change Committee says that

“the policy is just not there”,


“We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.”

The chair, Lord Deben, when asked to give the Government marks out of 10 for policy, said “somewhere below four”. On any measure, these are failing grades. Who does the Minister hold responsible?

As we are world-leading—and, like a number of world leaders, I think Mark Carney stated at a Select Committee yesterday that we are doing as well as anybody else across the planet—I must respectfully disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, because I think we really are making huge progress. The policy that is rolling out is rolling out at incredible pace. Businesses—and I am hugely impressed—are leaning in so hard to help as their contribution to the decarbonisation challenges we face. As we move towards the net zero strategy, he will be able to see the holistic approach we are taking, which will ensure that all of us who are going to help to solve that will meet the challenge.

I think that is what we call the “dog ate my homework” excuse, and this is where the problem lies. When it comes to investment in a green recovery, the UK Government’s plans per head of population are less than a third of Germany, a quarter of France and just 6% of the US. That is why the Climate Change Committee says that we are just one fifth of the way to meeting our targets in terms of policy. Is it not the truth that, because the Government are not matching their grand rhetoric with public investment at scale, they are failing to tackle the biggest long-term threat our country faces?

We are one fifth of the way. If this is a journey to net zero in 2050, we have put into law—in fact, I did so just two weeks ago—carbon budget 6, which has brought forward the challenge we face to decarbonise our power industry by 15 years. We are literally world-leading in doing this, and other countries are talking to me day by day in an effort to help them follow the path we are taking and to make sure that we all do our part to meet net zero. This is not only about the UK; this is of course a global challenge, and the work my right hon. Friend the COP President-Designate is doing to help drive that across the world is critically important to its success.

Independent businesses are the beating heart of our high streets, and my constituency is fortunate because it is brimming with independent shops that are ready to sell everything from artisan food to emerging fashion brands. Last weekend we marked Independents’ Day, and I visited Marylebone, where I was delighted to visit Paul Rothe & Son Deli, Penton’s hardware shop, and Sandfords flower stall. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must do everything in our power to support independent businesses this summer, and encourage people back to city centres, including central London and every other city centre in the United Kingdom, to take advantage of those brilliant unique shops? (902311)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of small and independent businesses in her constituency, as well as of those big businesses that everybody knows around the world, not just the country. She is right to say that if people come to the centre of London, which has been remarkably quiet and slow to recover, they will see the benefits of those independent shops, as well as being able to enjoy everything that the most fantastic global city, represented by my hon. Friend, has to offer.

CF Fertilisers in Billingham in my constituency is one of the two remaining primary ammonia plants in the UK. The Department for Transport anticipates that 80% of UK domestic shipping will rely on ammonia for fuel by 2050, and CF Fertilisers will have a critical role to play. It has been hugely proactive in reducing emissions, but it is reliant on carbon capture and storage to decarbonise further. What plans does the Minister have to select and progress ammonia decarbonisation within phase 1 of the CCS programme, plus the sequencing process? (902312)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the process is in full swing and we will make an announcement before too long about those first clusters, and who will be able to lead in the carbon capture, utilisation and storage programme. The sixth carbon budget means that we have brought in the challenge of getting to grips with aviation and shipping fuels, and the Department for Transport is focusing on how that will be part of the net zero strategy.

Following the regrettable decision by the Chancellor to exclude new nuclear power from our clean energy programme, will the Minister update the House on what action she will take to ensure that we commission and develop urgently needed new nuclear power stations, so that we keep the lights on and provide base-level energy across the grid? (902318)

The Government are committed to new nuclear power, as we set out in the Energy White Paper last year. We have entered into negotiations with the developers of Sizewell C to consider the financing, and to set to building that as the next one after Hinkley Point C. We have committed £385 million for developing advanced nuclear jobs, including small modular reactors, for deployment in the 2030s.

In November 2019, the Prime Minister promised that he would end the Government raid on miners’ pensions. Yesterday, the Government flagrantly rejected the unanimous cross-party report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which said it was right to tackle that injustice. Why have the Government betrayed the Prime Minister’s promised to coalfield communities? (902313)

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, I met a number of trustees a few weeks ago and we discussed a number of issues in detail. I left them with a number of issues to go away and consider. The proposition as it currently stands is one that the Government do not wish to take forward, but I have asked the trustees to come back to me once they have considered the questions we discussed.

I am delighted that Dewsbury has been awarded £24.8 million after its towns fund bid. Will the Minister outline the benefits that that investment will have for retailers and other businesses in my home town? (902321)

What a fantastic story. In just 18 months, my hon. Friend has shown the impact of his work across his home town. He is absolutely right. Dewsbury’s transformative £24.8 million investment will make it a more attractive place to live, work and invest by supporting projects that deliver that enhanced business environment, such as the arcade to be reopened to small independent businesses and Dewsbury market to be transformed into a modern-day market, with fibre network improvements and repurposing underused sites. This is really going to boost Dewsbury’s reputation as a place for starting and growing a business.

In November last year, the Government report on the first statutory review of the pubs code was published. It proposed certain changes that could improve the operation of the code. Will my hon. Friend update the House on whether those changes have been implemented? Does he believe that further statutory provisions are required to adequately protect the interests of tied tenants and ensure a future for thousands of pubs throughout the country? (902325)

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in a really important area of supporting pubs. We will shortly publish a consultation to seek views on detailed options to improve the practical operation of the pubs code. It is important that all interested parties are able to comment, given the code’s complexity and potential impact on property rights. It covers just under 8,700 tied pub tenants in England and Wales, so it is only a small proportion of businesses in the hospitality sector, but a very important proportion. Next year, we will launch a second statutory review to seek stakeholders’ views on the effectiveness of the pubs code.

Could one of the Ministers tell me whether they agree that it is wrong for companies that have received millions of pounds of support from taxpayers to now seek to fire and rehire their staff? (902315)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her continued interest in this important area. I have said time and time again that it is not acceptable for employers to use such bully-boy negotiating tactics. ACAS has done the quantitative work on fire and rehire. We are asking it to write guidance, but also to do some more detailed work. If we need to act, we certainly will act.

I heard from pilots at the travel day of action about the disaster facing their industries if coronavirus restrictions are not relaxed soon. As the Minister will know, our aviation, travel and tourism sectors were the first to be impacted as a consequence of covid-19, with passenger numbers collapsing from March 2020. With recovery likely to take a number of years, these will also be the last sectors to revive. Can my hon. Friend tell me what help he will be giving to the aviation industry after 19 July if the Transport Secretary does not open up the airways? (902326)

Travel has an impact beyond the sector itself and the impact of reopening our cities. We will continue to work with the sector to offer it support and to flex our support. My hon. Friend mentioned weddings. On 21 June, the restrictions on weddings were eased, which I was pleased to see. The number is now determined by how many a venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place. I am looking forward to the day when those final social distancing measures can melt away.

This morning the Government tweeted to tell us that about 1.7 million businesses had been allowed to borrow money under the various coronavirus loan schemes. Do they also intend to send out a tweet to tell us how many jobs have been lost and how many businesses have been destroyed by the decision to exclude 3 million business owners from any coronavirus support whatever? (902316)

I have continued to converse, whether in person or on social media, with some of the people leading the campaign in this area. As I have said before, a lot of the schemes we put in place have been reverse engineered so we can deliver them quickly, at pace and at scale. We have not been able to save every business and every job, but clearly, we will look to not only reopen and recover, so that we can bounce back better and protect as many jobs as we can, but create new jobs as well.

Is there anything that Ministers can do to ensure that small builders get access to building materials that are increasingly in short supply? (902327)

There is a shortage of building materials due to global demand outstripping supply. We are working with the Construction Leadership Council’s product availability group to identify and resolve these challenges.

The Government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s report is nothing short of a complete and total betrayal of retired mineworkers and their widows. Notwithstanding the Minister’s reply about ongoing discussions on the sharing arrangements, why are the Government blocking the transfer of £1.2 billion of the miners’ own money from the reserve fund to immediately uplift the pensions of miners and their widows struggling to make ends meet? (902319)

That fund—one might describe it as a backstop—is there for support if there is a need to increase pensions. I am pleased to continue discussions with the trustees to look at potential solutions for the years ahead as the number of miners reduces and the investment pot needs to be looked at differently.

Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the billion pound investment package recently unveiled by Nissan UK is a further post-Brexit mark of confidence in UK science, technology and manufacturing? Will he do more to ensure that such investment is forthcoming in the next few years? (902328)

I agree with my hon. Friend about Nissan’s investment and the confidence it has shown in this country, which is a ringing endorsement. Indeed, the Secretary of State is up in Ellesmere Port talking to Stellantis about its investment in this country as well.

Community energy has manifold advantages, but its full potential cannot be unleashed, mainly because of regulatory barriers. Will the Minister meet me and Power for People to discuss how we can work with Government to find a way forward? (902320)

As I said earlier, we already have a number of funds working in community energy. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady at any point to discuss her perspective.

Yet again, we have heard about the need for a nuclear baseload. The reality is that Dungeness nuclear power station shut down seven years early and 75% of the existing nuclear fleet will be offline before Hinkley Point C can be up and running. Will the Minister tell me whether the nuclear baseload is a myth or when the lights will be getting turned out?

We continue to invest in new nuclear, as I set out earlier, and we are working to grow our renewable energies at an extraordinary pace. We are world leading, with our offshore wind capacity already at 29% of the total, and we will continue to grow that from 10 GW to 40 GW by 2030.

It is. In Question 31, I asked about green jobs and a scheme called Aquind, sponsored by Mr Temerko, who is a funder of the Tory party to the tune of £1 million. The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth quite rightly recused herself from answering the question because she has an interest, but can anyone else on the Front Bench answer my question about green jobs? Has a national security assessment been done of the Aquind project for an interconnector between France and the UK and its data implications?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth was right to recuse herself from the decision to ensure probity. We will find an answer for the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) from the Secretary of State.

Right, thank you.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes for the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.