Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 701: debated on Tuesday 21 September 2021

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Motor Neurone Disease Research Funding

The pandemic has shown us just how important and world-leading the UK’s life sciences sector is, and our Government are committed to making it go from strength to strength.

As a fellow rugby league fan, Mr Speaker, you will know the brilliance of Rob Burrow on the pitch and now his inspiration off the pitch. Rob is in Parliament today with his friend Doddie Weir to raise awareness of motor neurone disease and of the campaign calling on the Government to invest £50 million in MND research over the next five years for a virtual MND research institute. Will the Secretary of State please commit to meeting the MND Association to discuss this funding proposal further?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work he is doing in this area. He will know that in the last fiscal year, UK Research and Innovation spent £15.9 million on MND research. In the previous Parliament, 2017 to 2019, we announced £20 million to support the work of medical research charities which have now been impacted by covid.

It has been said already, but rugby league fanatics like you and I, Mr Speaker, have long been inspired by the brilliance of Rob Burrow on the field, but I think we have been blown away by his tireless determination off the pitch to campaign to raise awareness of motor neurone disease. Does the Secretary of State agree with Rob and Scotland’s rugby union star Doddie Weir, who are both watching us, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said? We need to act now, Secretary of State—now—to increase research funding into this devastating, debilitating and life- limiting disease.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member, who raises an extremely important point. I do not know Rob, but I am very pleased that his tireless work has been raised today. As I said, in the last fiscal year UKRI spent £15.9 million on MND research. We have had a wider offer for medical research charities—we announced £204 million for Research England in the fiscal year 2020-21—but I am very happy to meet him and see what more we can do to pursue this important topic.

Lucy Lintott from Moray was Scotland’s youngest person to be diagnosed with MND, aged 19. Eight years on, she is living with fiancé Tommy Smith. They have an 18-month-old, LJ, and, on Hogmanay, they are expecting their second child, a little girl. It is believed that Lucy is the first person in the world to have had two pregnancies after diagnosis. Will the Secretary of State meet Lucy and other campaigners to see what we can do to support her family and so many others in Scotland and across the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising in this House such an inspiring story. I would, of course, be delighted to meet Lucy and him to discuss how we can pursue further progress in this area.

As I am sure the Secretary of State will appreciate, there are very many of us in this House for whom this is a hugely important issue. He has already mentioned the research, but the key to the £50 million over five years is that it is not spread over other research—it is completely targeted on motor neurone disease. Will he take that to the Government and bear that in mind please?

Absolutely right. UKRI is responsible for the budget and I am in frequent conversations with UKRI. We have to work to see what we can do to focus, with laser-like attention, on this debilitating illness.

Thank you, Secretary of State. May I just say that everybody in rugby league is aware that Rob Burrow is an inspirational person? He really is that great man and great character.

Innovation: Private Sector Investment

It is very good to be back as the newly appointed Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for his tireless work on levelling up and the importance of innovation in supporting left-behind communities. Science and innovation are not the same thing. We are committed to being both a science superpower and an innovation nation, and that is why I am looking hard at what we can do, through the business innovation forum, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, Innovate UK and UKRI, to drive levelling up.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome him back to his new position—congratulations. There is an oven-ready package available in the east midlands, with key projects set to boost private investment in the region. The Government’s backing for those projects this autumn is vital. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are supportive of our plans for an east midlands freeport, our development corporation and the importance of Toton in the integrated rail plan? Does he agree that this is a huge opportunity to attract private investment into a region that traditionally is at the bottom of the table for attracting that kind of money?

In a word, yes. My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Freeports and regeneration corporations are vital to our innovation strategy. Not only are we determined that there will be funding for the golden triangle, but we want to harness science and regeneration to drive growth around the country.

Fire and Rehire

3. What steps he is taking to help ensure that businesses do not use fire and rehire practices. (903530)

We have been clear that threats to fire and rehire as a tactic to pressure workers during negotiations are totally unacceptable. That is why we have asked the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to produce guidance to help employers to reach negotiated outcomes with their workforce. We continue to keep the issue under review.

While Members across the House were munching away this morning at the country’s favourite breakfast cereal, Weetabix, they will have been blissfully unaware that Post Holdings, which owns Weetabix, has turned its guns on its workforce with fire and rehire. Employees at Weetabix are set to lose £5,000 per annum, and of course if they refuse they will lose their jobs. That is quite simply not good enough. Minister after Minister, including the Prime Minister, has stood at the Dispatch Box saying how abhorrent fire and rehire is. Will the Minister please tell the House what he intends to do about fire and rehire? Can he confirm that the Government will support the Second Reading of the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill—the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—on 22 October?

The Government take fire and rehire very seriously. Obviously there are occasions when businesses need the flexibility to change workers’ terms and conditions to avoid mass redundancies and insolvency, but there have been examples of its being used as a bully boy tactic. I know that the Labour party understands that, because as recently as July, it made a load of its own employees redundant and hired workers on temporary contracts with worse terms and conditions to keep the party afloat—unless that was a case of one law for the Labour party and another for UK businesses.

I think that every Member of this House shares concerns about the practice of fire and rehire, but does the Minister agree that taking a sledgehammer to the delicate ecosystem of redundancy laws contained in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 is fraught with danger and that there are levers that we can deploy instead that would strongly disincentivise such conduct? Will he meet me again to discuss the issue?

I always thank my hon. Friend for her interventions in the matter, because with her experience as an employment barrister she has seen it from both angles. The Government do not currently plan to legislate, but because of its obvious importance we are keeping the matter under review. I recognise the wealth of expertise on employment law and related matters in this House; I have met MPs on both sides of the issue and am glad to continue these conversations with my hon. Friend.

We hear lots of talk of levelling up from Ministers at the Dispatch Box, do we not? Well, here is a genuine opportunity to improve terms and conditions for employees up and down the land, including at Weetabix, and legislate through the private Member’s Bill. Stop the reviews, get on with it and legislate!

We introduced the national living wage. We have enabled workers to carry over more annual leave because of the pandemic. We have increased the reference period that employers use to calculate holiday pay, to improve seasonal workers’ wages. We are continuing to improve workers’ rights over this Parliament. We are indeed the workers’ party, so we will continue to make sure that we tackle fire and rehire when it is used as a bully boy tactic.

World Leadership in Science, Research and Innovation

4. What steps his Department is taking to establish the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation. (903531)

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a distinguished Minister in the Treasury and the Department for Transport and a champion of innovation. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government are completely committed to unlocking this country’s global reach as a science superpower and an innovation nation. That is why we are committed to spending £14.9 billion this year on research and development, and to increasing the total R&D budget to £22 billion and 2.5% of GDP.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and congratulate him. It is good to see him back at the Dispatch Box.

One of the largest employers in my constituency is Labcorp, a business that is at the heart of new medicine development both in the UK and across Europe and has played a role in the life science industry response to covid. It is considering UK expansion over the next five years at a number of sites across the UK. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss that opportunity, and also some of the obstacles that may get in the way of it, with a view to securing expansion in the UK as a whole but in Harrogate in particular?

I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend soon to discuss that. Labcorp is a major global corporation whose investment in the new clinical pharmacology site is vital. It is in such companies that we need to be investing to drive private investment in research and development.

Time and again I have raised with the Government the opportunity to invest in BioYorkshire, which will create 4,000 jobs for my constituents, upskill 25,000 people, and deliver £5 billion in gross value added to the Government. Will the Minister meet me to discuss it? COP26 is just six weeks away, and not pursuing projects like this is holding back the improvements that we can make to our environment.

As I have said, I am wholly committed to ensuring that science innovation drives levelling up and regeneration, and I should be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. I shall be on my way to County Durham on Thursday, so perhaps I can meet her next week or the week after.

Automotive Battery Manufacturers

6. What recent progress he has made on the Government’s proposals to support automotive battery manufacturers. (903534)

The Government remain firmly committed to securing gigafactories in the UK, and have demonstrated that commitment through the automotive transformation fund. As many Members will know, the first site in Sunderland was announced in July, and will see an unprecedented 100,000 battery-electric cars produced annually by Nissan and Envision AESC from 2024.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, and pay tribute to the Secretary of State and his team for facilitating investment in gigafactories in the UK. Britishvolt is making excellent progress in Blyth, but was originally intended to come to my constituency. These large-scale projects have both devolved and reserved functions. When similar projects arise, might a Minister be dedicated to lead them, looking after both the devolved and the reserved functions and working with the Welsh Government in securing that investment?

I am extremely grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question. I know that he is a huge champion of Wales, and that he has huge experience in this regard. I should be happy to meet him to discuss his suggestion. As he will know, the automotive transformation fund is a UK-wide programme, and we will welcome applications for support throughout the UK. I look forward to talking to my right hon. Friend about that.

I welcome the Minister to his position.

The Prime Minister’s climate change spokeswoman recently announced that she would not be buying an electric car because of the lack of charging infrastructure and battery capacity. In 2018 the UK produced a quarter of Europe’s electric vehicles, but that is set to fall to just 4% by 2030. Motor manufacturers predict that tens of thousands of good jobs will be lost.

Will the Minister confirm that even if he meets his own targets, by 2025 the UK will have only 7% of the battery production capacity of Germany? Germans receive grants of up to €9,000 to buy an electric car, three times what he is offering. What will he do to deliver the battery capacity that is needed to secure British jobs, and make electric cars affordable? Does he understand what affordable means?

We absolutely understand what affordable means, and we are absolutely committed to building an industry that supports batteries in the United Kingdom, ensuring that the transition to electric vehicles will take place within a short period. I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady more about that if she wishes.

Neonatal Care: Statutory Leave and Pay

7. What plans his Department has to bring forward legislative proposals on an entitlement to statutory leave and pay for parents of babies requiring neonatal care. (903535)

The Government are committed to introducing statutory leave and pay for parents of babies requiring neonatal care, and we will do that as soon as parliamentary time allows.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but I am afraid it is not good enough. Every year 100,000 babies are born premature or sick, and parents like me then have to take time off work to be with their child in hospital where, perhaps, it is fighting for its life. When will the Government get a grip on the issue? This is something that they have committed themselves to doing, and parents of premature and sick babies across these islands are desperate for action. Do we have to wait for an employment Bill? Why are the Government taking so long?

I appreciate the work that the hon. Gentleman and his all-party parliamentary group on premature and sick babies are doing in this area. The Government are committed to ensuring that all workers can participate and progress in the labour market and that we build back better as we recover from covid-19. We will bring forward the employment Bill when the time is right. In the meantime, we will continue to take the necessary action to support businesses and protect jobs.

Millions of workers are denied maternity pay and parental leave, as well as other basic rights and protections, because the Government allow only some workers to have full rights, and only after two years in the job. Is it not the case that working people are paying the price for the Government’s broken promise to bring in an employment Bill? Does the Minister not agree that all workers should have full rights from day one on the job?

As I say, we are expanding workers’ rights and delivering based on qualitative and quantitative evidence. That will be seen when the employment Bill comes through, when parliamentary time allows. What we cannot do, though, is work on a whim. Last week, the Labour party announced that it wanted a £10 minimum wage, yet this week it is reportedly recruiting stewards for its conference at £9.75 an hour. We say what we mean and we will deliver.

Net Zero Emissions by 2050

Ahead of COP26, we will publish a net zero strategy. This will set out our vision for transitioning to a net zero economy and outline our path to meet net zero by 2050. Ahead of this, we have already published important sector strategies and made major green investments in key technologies, including a £240 million net zero hydrogen fund and a £1 billion fund for carbon capture.

I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role, although he will be much missed from his previous role in the Department for International Trade where he played a crucial role in building the Department from scratch since 2016. Reducing emissions in the heat sector is vital to decarbonising our economy, and the Government have set an ambitious target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government’s anticipated heat and building strategy will include a pathway for reaching that target, including measures to make heat pumps more affordable for working households?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. As he has pointed out, the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution sets an ambition to grow the market to 600,000 heat pump installations per annum by 2028. The heat and building strategy, due soon, will set out the policies that will deliver this target in a fair and affordable way, including for his High Peak constituency.

Experts have concluded that to reach net zero by 2050, there should be no new oil and gas fields approved for development and no new coalmines or mine extensions from the end of this year. Does the Minister agree with that assessment by the experts, and if so, does he agree that the Cumbrian coalmine and the Cambo oilfield surely cannot go ahead?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Of course, we look carefully at what the Climate Change Committee has recommended at all times, and we are in the process of meeting last year’s recommendations very well. I can tell her that the climate checkpoint will apply to all future licensing rounds. Cambo is of course already licensed, and projects that are already licensed are already accounted for in our projection of emissions from future oil and gas production. So those emissions are already accounted for in our plans.

I would like to welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position, and I wish him well. May I also welcome the Government’s new target to cut our carbon emissions by 78% by 2035? Does he agree that this ambitious world-leading target puts us on track to get to net zero by 2050 and shows how we are leading the world in building back greener?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Referring back to the Climate Change Committee progress report, I read an interesting comment in it at the weekend while I was learning into my new brief. It states:

“The rate of reductions since 2012…is comparable to that needed in the future.”

That is not a reason for complacency, but I would point out, as my right hon. Friend has done, that the UK has an enviable record in this space. We have grown the economy by 78% since 1990 and reduced our emissions by 44%, showing that the right way forward is to grow our economy while simultaneously reducing emissions.

Household energy bills are set to increase by £400 a year as green costs escalate and energy-intensive industries are leaving the UK, with the loss of thousands of jobs. We are becoming increasingly reliant on hostile and unstable states, as we refuse to give licences to exploit our own oil, coal and gas in the United Kingdom. This week we found out that emergency electricity supplies have had to be bought in because the wind did not blow. All that is a result of the policy of aiming for zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Does the Minister not have even the tiniest doubt that these policies are economic madness?

I always enjoy my engagements with the right hon. Gentleman on a number of topics, whether in relation to Northern Ireland or to these kinds of issues more broadly. First, on jobs leaving the UK, overall we have fantastic economic growth at the moment, 4.8% in the last quarter.

We have also done an incredible job of making sure that we have diverse sources of supply that do not leave us vulnerable to the actions of hostile states. Actually, 48% of our gas is taken from the UK continental shelf and an additional 30% comes from Norway. Norway is one of our greatest friends and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced yesterday, it is increasing its production.

On renewables, our ability to diversify shows the strength of the UK’s ability to generate energy and electricity that is both sustainable and diverse.

In addressing the energy trilemma of cost, security and decarbonisation, what account is my right hon. Friend taking of the 10,000 MW, 4,500 km power link between Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations? Does he feel that there is any read across for what the UK might do to address the problems we will likely face, if not this winter, in the very near future?

I take a keen interest in both Australia and ASEAN, having recently come from the Department for International Trade. There is a new Australia trade agreement and we have dialogue partner status at ASEAN. My right hon. Friend refers to an interesting project and, of course, the UK is always looking to make our energy supply more secure and to make our sources of energy more diverse. These are the sorts of things on which we are keeping a close eye as a potential model for the UK.

If the closure of the GKN plant in Erdington goes ahead, it will be a blow to the automotive industry’s transition to an electric future and a betrayal of the British national interest, with 519 workers sacked in an area of high deprivation and with production exported to Poland and France. I welcome the statement made by Ministers as early as April 2021 on their preparedness to contemplate investment in both skills and plant as part of keeping the factory open. As talks reach a critical stage, will the Minister confirm that the Government stand ready to continue to play an active role in seeking a resolution?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s engagement as the constituency’s Member of Parliament. I do not buy into his idea that we are neglecting the national interest. This Government and this Department have the national interest very much at our core, as he will have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the rest of the ministerial team. We are engaging with GKN—my right hon. Friend has met GKN—and we will continue to engage with it at this difficult time.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the issuance this morning of the UK’s first sovereign green gilt, which saw a record £90 billion of orders in the first hour? Does he agree that we should now seek to get more corporations to issue corporate green debt?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. Having worked in futures markets, I think the first sovereign green gilt is a great step forward for this country. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Treasury will be working very closely with the market and will be advising issuers to make sure this important sector grows in the years ahead.

Soaring gas prices have plummeted the UK into an energy crisis, with fears for vulnerable households and for the wave of energy firms folding. We have relied far too heavily on gas most recently, and it did not have to be this way; the Government could have foreseen it. We see that countries that have prioritised low-carbon energy are far more insulated from shocks such as this, and protect those vulnerable families as we head into winter, and meet climate objectives, which we know the Government are failing on. So will the Secretary of State commit to demanding that the Chancellor this autumn delivers a Budget that can ensure that we in the UK deliver an efficient, diverse, secure green energy sector, at speed?

As a former Treasury Minister, I have to advise the hon. Lady to wait and see on the Budget. We have set out clear actions in relation to the wholesale gas price problems, outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yesterday, reassuring the public that the consumer always comes first. We have been absolutely clear that the energy price cap will remain—it protects 15 million households. On her accusation that we have done nothing for renewables, I can tell her that under this Government they are up sixfold and that since the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was the Energy Secretary in 2010 they have quadrupled as a share of our energy generation.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that ceramics is an energy-intensive industry, and companies such as Churchill China and Steelite are desperate to find a green solution that will enable them to fire the plates that we are lucky enough to dine on here in the House of Commons. So will he meet me and representatives of the ceramics industry to hear how we can help them to achieve net zero?

We, of course, deliver relief schemes to reduce the cumulative impact of some energy and climate change policies on industrial electricity prices for eligible energy-intensive industries and sectors, such as steel, chemicals, cement, ceramics, paper and glass. I know the sector well from my previous role at the Department for International Trade, and of course I would be ready to meet my hon. Friend, the brilliant Stoke Conservative team of other MPs and the British Ceramic Confederation.

We recognise that this project has good potential, but obviously we need to work through these kinds of projects in a proper and methodical way, to make sure that all of the questions people would expect the Government to look at—value for money, viability and so on—are properly met.

We cannot understate the importance of the delivery of carbon capture and underground storage to the UK’s and Scotland’s journey to net zero. Let me be clear: the Acorn project should be in the vanguard of that process. I hear the warm words from the Minister, but warm words only go so far, particularly when we frame them within this Government’s record on sustainable projects in Scotland. If we look at the likes of offshore wind, we see that SSEN—Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks—has produced another report highlighting the fact that Scottish renewables projects continue to pay the highest grid charges in not only the UK, but the entirety of Europe. What is he going to do, as the new energy Minister, to end that renewables robbery?

The hon. Gentleman’s talk of Scotland being short-changed on renewables is entirely wrong. Scotland is a massive part of our renewables offer, today and going forward. Secondly, this is a competitive process. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage is a key plank of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. So of course we look at CCUS and the potential it offers, but this is a competitive process and it would not be right at this point to pass specific comment on the project.

Northern Lincolnshire and the wider Humber region are playing a major part in our reaching zero emissions targets in the next few years. The Minister will have been made aware of a number of projects that the Department has supported. Will he assure us that that support will continue? May I urge him to build into his schedule a visit to the region as quickly as possible?

I look forward to a visit to Yorkshire and the Humber region as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend will know how Yorkshire has delivered incredibly for the UK as a whole, particularly in respect of offshore wind. The world’s largest operational offshore wind farm, Hornsea One, spans 400 sq km off the Yorkshire coast and generates enough power for 1 million UK homes.

The Minister has talked a lot about what is going to happen ahead of COP in respect of net zero, but will he look back at the green homes grant voucher scheme that was delivered in September last year? It was set up in 12 weeks, from announcement to delivery, and was axed six months later without having delivered the jobs or the green homes measures. What is the Minister’s Department doing to reflect on that? Is he thinking about longer-term planning to the benefit of both the industry and our net zero targets?

The hon. Lady will know the course of that scheme through her important work as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. She will also know that we are committed to publishing a heat and buildings strategy in the run-up to COP, and she will just have to wait and see what is in it. It is incredibly important that we take strong action to make sure that our public and private building stock remains sustainable for the future and makes its contribution as we move forward to net zero and our chairing of COP in November.

I welcome my right hon. Friend and the other new BEIS Ministers to their places.

Perhaps uncharacteristically, I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) in backing the Acorn project, which is in my constituency of Banff and Buchan. The hon. Gentleman and other SNP Members often like to talk about the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to £500 million of support for a so-called just transition in the north-east of Scotland, but as far as I can tell no actual plan of action is connected to that funding to deliver the energy transition that we need. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister inform the House of what this Government actually plan to do to deliver net zero and how much investment has been and will be available through, for example, the North sea transition deal?

My hon. Friend will know about the North sea transition agreement, which we announced earlier this year. I share his concern about the Scottish Government’s approach to all these things. It is still very early days for that coalition, but we are watching carefully. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that Scotland has benefited enormously from UK Government investment in renewables. On the contract for difference scheme, for example, 20 of the 58 projects that have been awarded CfDs to date are in Scotland. That represents 34% of all CfD projects and 21% of total CfD capacity. My hon. Friend is right that the UK Government are delivering for Scotland.

Climate Change Committee: 2021 Annual Progress Report

9. What steps he is taking in response to the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 annual progress report to Parliament. (903538)

The Government are carefully considering the Climate Change Committee’s progress report and will respond to it in full as part of our forthcoming net zero strategy ahead of COP26. That strategy, which will outline our path to meet net zero by 2050, will contain policies and proposals that will allow the Government to respond substantively to the report’s recommendations.

Well, it needs to, because the report was pretty damning. The Environmental Audit Committee recently made a number of recommendations to support community energy projects such as Greater Manchester Community Renewables in my constituency. Will the Minister emphasise the importance of community energy in the upcoming net zero strategy, as recommended specifically by the Committee, and put in place some practical measures to harness the potential of community energy, including support to enable groups to get investment for energy transition projects?

Yes, of course we take community renewable initiatives very seriously indeed. We also take the Environmental Audit Committee very seriously indeed and I look forward to appearing before its Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), in due course.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the CCC progress report was damning. For example, the report says:

“The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions”,


“The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance”.

Recently, John Kerry himself, the President’s special envoy on climate, praised the UK approach.

I too welcome the Minister to his new post, my opposite number in the Department, and hope that he will last a little longer in the post than his immediate predecessor.

The Climate Change Committee’s report to Parliament highlights how little progress has been made with the upgrading of insulation in buildings and points out that

“insulation rates remain well below the delivery achieved in 2012 before key policies were scrapped.”

Does the Minister accept that, had those insulation policies been pursued, energy customers would have been in a much better position to cope with the energy prices rises and the cost of living crisis that we have currently. Does the Minister now take responsibility for the abject failure of the Government’s home insulation policies, and, most importantly, what will he now do about it?

The hon. Gentleman has managed to pack a lot into that question. Let me try to answer it in three ways. First, when it comes to the heat and buildings strategy, he will just have to wait until we publish it. We are doing the right thing. Secondly, when it comes to energy price rises, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out at great length the action we are taking to protect customers, including vulnerable customers, with the rest of the support that the Government provide. Thirdly, when it comes to the Climate Change Committee, we have done very well on achieving, for example, last year’s recommendations. Actually we have achieved in full or in part 40 of the Committee’s 92 recommendations last year; 32 are already on their way. We are looking forward to responding as well to this year’s recommendations.

The Kettering constituency generates enough wind power to power all local homes, but if we are to meet our net zero target by 2050, we need to develop more offshore wind power. Can the Energy Minister confirm that we are on track to increase the capacity of offshore wind from 30 GW to 40 GW by 2030?

I always call my hon. Friend Mr Kettering, Mr Speaker, as he has been a councillor there for a long time and the Member of Parliament representing Kettering so diligently and astutely in this House. He is right: the UK currently has 10 GW of offshore wind capacity, which is around a third of the world’s total. We are looking to grow that to 40 GW by the year 2030.

Supply Chains

10. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of (a) businesses and (b) trade unions on supply chain matters. (903540)

Successful resolution of supply chain pressures will be a joint effort between stakeholders and the Government, and we will continue to engage with industry stakeholders and other Departments to find practical solutions to these challenges, which are not unique to the UK.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating companies such as Cardon Energy and Maritime Transport in my constituency on keeping the country fed, fuelled and supplied? However, they tell me that there is a tsunami of HGV drivers reaching retirement. Unite the Union says that terms and conditions are not good enough and lengthening the working day will not improve that. NG Transport has offered to resettle six Afghanistan families with the requisite skills. Will the Minister not stand in the way of companies trying to innovate to plug the gaps while we tackle these structural problems?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Indeed, that is exactly why we are engaging with industry because the solutions will likely come predominantly from industry. We will continue to work with stakeholders on this so that we are able to innovate to tackle this incredibly intractable—at the moment—problem.

For months, the Government have ignored warnings about supply chain issues from the Food and Drink Federation, UKHospitality and other businesses. August saw Nando’s temporarily close 50 stores. McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes and now the HGV shortage has been compounded by a CO2 crisis that the Government should have foreseen. With Iceland warning of food shortages in days, jobs at risk as businesses deal with this utter chaos, and looming costs for consumers who are now paying the price, will the Minister now tell the Chancellor that universal credit must not be cut? Is Professor Haszeldine not right to say today that, with only two to three days’ of methane stored rather than months’ of supply that other countries have, we should have been far better prepared?

The hon. Lady started talking about supply chains and ended up talking about welfare, but let me tackle the supply chains issue. We are working closely with sector leaders to understand how we can encourage more people to work in these areas. Through our plan for jobs, we are also giving people the skills and qualifications that they need to quickly take up roles in key sectors. That is why we are inviting employers from a range of sectors, including farming and hospitality, into local jobcentres, as one of the most effective ways to promote vacancies is for employers to come out and market their opportunities directly to our work coaches and jobseekers

Hydrogen Production

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) asks a timely question; he may be aware that the United Kingdom recently published a hydrogen strategy outlining the Government’s comprehensive package to incentivise low-carbon hydrogen, and a broader plan to help the wider hydrogen economy to develop.

The recent increase in wholesale energy prices strengthens the case for investing in hydrogen in the north-west of England. May I urge the Minister to come to Warrington and see the businesses that rely on intensive use of energy, and rapidly progress hydrogen and the HyNet scheme to produce carbon capture and storage in the UK, so that businesses such as Novelis Recycling and Solvay Interox are able to decarbonise rapidly?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for the north-west and his constituency of Warrington. The Secretary of State has said to me that one of the ministerial team would be happy to visit. I think the Secretary of State would be happy to do that—indeed, I think he has already visited. As my hon. Friend is aware, many of the decisions around this matter are currently under way, so I am not going to comment on them at this point. At the end of the process, we will have a low-carbon hydrogen economy to be proud of.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Teesside already produces more than 50% of the UK’s commercially viable hydrogen. What assessment has he made of the benefits of the recently signed deal between BP, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Masdar for the Tees valley? Does he support the phenomenal work being done locally by Ben Houchen to revolutionise our green energy sector?

The benefits will be huge. This work is another example of the fantastic Conservative Tees valley team led by my hon. Friend, supporting Darlington, and the Mayor, and it demonstrates what we can do in an area to level up and improve it for the long term.

Topical Questions

Yesterday I updated the House on the UK gas market. As I said in my statement, protecting consumers is our primary focus and is shaping our entire approach to the issue; they must come first.

I welcome the new members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ministerial team. We had a great team before the reshuffle, but I am pleased that we have a good team with us today.

Over the summer, my Department has been abuzz with activity. We have introduced our innovation strategy and the hydrogen strategy, and outlined the new round for our contracts for difference scheme. It has been an excellent way to start and I look forward to continuing in that vein.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; for a minute, I thought you were going to miss me out!

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State launched the Government’s hydrogen strategy in my constituency at ITM Power, which is a leading green hydrogen producer. The German strategy is totally committed to green hydrogen alone, and of course the Germans have put substantially more funding in than we have into this country’s strategy. The Government have an aspiration to replace all fossil fuel boilers in this country by the 2030s. That ambition is important for reducing carbon emissions and for the security of our energy supplies. Does the Secretary of State agree that we can deliver on that ambition only with a much more significant commitment from the Government to develop and install green hydrogen boilers across the country?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I make no apology for the fact that we have a twin-track approach in the hydrogen strategy. We have endorsed the production of green hydrogen, as he has described the German Government have done. We have also endorsed the production of blue hydrogen, because in the first instance, as he will understand, blue hydrogen is much cheaper than green hydrogen. In order to kickstart a hydrogen economy, we need a cheap source of decarbonised hydrogen. As such, blue hydrogen represents a transition to an economy that can be driven more by green hydrogen. The twin-track approach that we have outlined is certainly the best one.

T3. I recently held an event for leading Worcestershire businesses on the journey to COP26 and net zero, and was impressed with their plans for investment. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that now that one in six cars purchased in this country are electric, the grid will be strengthened in rural areas to ensure the widespread adoption of this new technology? (903555)

I know, as a former Treasury Minister, that my hon. Friend is very focused on making the green transition as economically successful as possible. I and others in the Government are very focused on getting a proper electric vehicle charge roll-out, and I would be happy to speak to her to discuss the plans that we have adopted.

Families looking at soaring gas prices will be deeply worried about how they will pay their bills. One of the reasons UK households are particularly vulnerable is the Government’s failure on home insulation. Emissions from buildings are in fact higher today than in 2015. I am afraid to say that the Secretary of State’s record is abysmal, with the fiasco of the green homes grant, cuts to spending, a heat and buildings strategy originally promised for spring 2020 which is still not published, and no proper plan for retrofit. Will he admit that families this winter will be paying the price of the Government’s failure on home insulation?

I will not admit that at all. The right hon. Gentleman got the date wrong—it was to be published in quarter 1 of 2021. I was the Energy Minister who said that.

Yes, it is still late, and I want to publish it as quickly as possible. I can admit that candidly.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the green homes grant. I remind him that of the £3 billion that was sequestered—ringfenced—for the green homes grant, £1.5 billion was disbursed through Salix for public buildings, and that worked very well, while £500 million was disbursed by local authorities, and that was successful. The owner-occupier bit of it was a six-month programme—a short-term fiscal stimulus—that we have closed, and we are going to have a replacement imminently.

It is a complete fiasco. The Secretary of State actually cut the money that was supposed to be allocated to homeowners.

At least half a million families are going to be thrown into fuel poverty by the rise in energy prices. On top of that, along with national insurance rises, millions of families are facing a £1,000 a year cut in universal credit in just 10 days’ time. It is a Tory triple whammy made in Downing Street. Will the Secretary of State stand up for the millions of people who are deeply worried about their bills and tell the Prime Minister that he should cancel the universal credit cut?

I have a sense of déjà vu, as we addressed this issue directly yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman knows with his experience—I was going to say in government but I mean and in opposition—that universal credit is a matter for the Chancellor, in discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

T6. The space sector presents us with huge opportunities for the future prosperity of this country. What plans is my right hon. Friend developing with regard to the implementation, ownership, governance and funding of key elements of the national space strategy? (903559)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a phenomenal champion of science and technology in space. I am delighted to say that the Government are very shortly to publish our national space strategy, into which we put a huge amount of work. In addition to the £1.4 billion that we spend on defence space activities in our innovation strategy, we are looking to make sure that we boost the wider science and technology applications of our £16.4 billion space sector.

T5. I was privileged to meet the international legend Doddie Weir before leading a debate on the petition he created on motor neurone disease in support of the targeted £50 million expenditure. I have certainly been convinced by his arguments, and we have heard cross-party support here today. Will the Secretary of State now commit to support this spending review bid? (903558)

Absolutely. In relation to this question, I pointed out that UKRI spent £15.9 million in the last fiscal year. The UKRI portion of our Department’s spend is being negotiated in the course of the spending review. I would be very happy to follow the guidance of the hon. Gentleman and make sure that we properly fund research into motor neurone disease.

T7. Cornish Lithium, alongside Geothermal Engineering Ltd, will play a vital role in levelling up across Cornwall with the economic and job opportunities that they can provide. Will the Secretary of State, or a Minister, commit to visiting Cornish Lithium and GEL with me in the near future so that we can show him why their project very much deserves to have continued support from Government? (903560)

My hon. Friend is absolutely tireless in promoting Truro and Falmouth. The project she mentions is very interesting. Last year, the new Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), made a successful visit to the site. Subject to diary commitments, I or the Secretary of State would be delighted to visit to see the latest progress, which is supported, in part, by our Getting Building fund.

Stockport has a vibrant high street with excellent retailers and independent businesses, but in recent years, and particularly since the pandemic, many have had to shut up shop and, like lots of other high streets, we have lost beloved names such as BHS and Debenhams after they went into administration and moved online. What steps is the Minister therefore taking to ensure that large online retailers do not undercut our high street stores?

The hon. Gentleman will know that his area has received £14.5 million from the future high streets fund, which will bring local projects to life to help revitalise the high street. In the meantime, we will work with the sector and across Government to ensure that we get the balance right between online retail and bricks and mortar, which bring community spirit and social value to areas such as his constituency.

T8. With gas prices soaring, as we have heard, will the Secretary of State please turbocharge plans for home insulation schemes not only to help bring down household bills but to make people’s homes greener? (903561)

That is absolutely right. I fully recognise, as my hon. Friend appreciates, that we have had huge success in decarbonising our power sector, but we need to accelerate the decarbonisation of our homes and buildings. As I pointed out to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), we have had some success in decarbonising public sector buildings—particularly through Salix—but we now need to focus on decarbonising our dwellings and other buildings.

The Minister can play accounting games over the Cambo oilfield, arguing that it was licensed 20 years ago, but essentially its emissions will still drive climate change. New research shows that 60% of existing oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground if we are to stay within 1.5° C, and the International Energy Agency has said that there must be no new oil and gas development of any kind. With COP26 in just six weeks, with the Secretary of State trying to have international diplomacy, what message does he think is given out by the Government going ahead with more oil and gas?

With regard to Cambo, the hon. Member will appreciate that the decision has been scrutinised in the normal regulatory way. As an energy Minister I helped to negotiate a North sea transition deal, and key to that was the word transition. We need to transition our existing oil and gas sector to a decarbonised platform. What she and others like her want to see is a complete eclipse and shutting down of oil and gas, with 250,000 jobs vanishing overnight. That would be completely irresponsible.

T9. Retail accounts for 5% of our economy but pays 25% of all business rates. Yesterday, the British Retail Consortium published a report showing that 83% of retailers feel it is likely they will have to close stores should the burden not be reduced. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we remain committed to a fundamental review of business rates, and when we might hear more about that? (903562)

My hon. Friend is a real champion for his area, often talking about family businesses such as Strickland and Holt, which was established in 1854, and the contribution of such places to the economy. We expect the fundamental review of business rates to conclude in the autumn. Businesses benefited from 100% business rates relief until 30 June 2021 and they continue to benefit from 66% business rates relief until 31 March 2022.

Many people applying for jobs have to jump through a series of stages in the recruitment process before they find out what the salary would be were they to be successful. Is it not time that Ministers sat down with job application platforms such as LinkedIn and told them to require minimum salary levels in adverts?

We speak to the recruitment sector on a number of occasions. I will happily sit down with the hon. Member to discuss the matter further.

The resilience of our energy sector and our journey towards net zero are key matters for the House. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that nuclear power forms an important part of our future energy mix?

My hon. Friend is right. Nuclear power is a vital part of our future energy mix. We have committed to trying to achieve at least one more gigawatt power plant during this Parliament and we have set out plans for small and advanced nuclear reactors.

May I press the Secretary of State further on blue hydrogen? The source of blue hydrogen is natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, so how can a Government committed to net zero invest millions of pounds in new technologies based on fossil fuels? The Secretary of State has said several times that it is a “transition”, but since this is not a net zero technology, a transition to what?

We have spoken about this issue many times in this House, and the hon. Member will appreciate that carbon capture is a key part of our net zero strategy. I think that is widely accepted, particularly by the Climate Change Committee. With her knowledge of chemistry, she will also know that carbon capture works hand in hand with the production of blue hydrogen and that blue hydrogen is not particularly carbon intensive. The reason why countries such as Germany have not pursued a blue hydrogen strategy is that they do not have the physical infrastructure in the North sea to do it.

Renewable energy depends on increasing our grid capacity, so what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to do that?

There are robust processes in place for bringing forward new grid upgrades to meet demand. Smart electric vehicle charging and other smart technologies of course reduce the need for new infrastructure, and the recent smart systems and flexibility plan sets out the actions the Government will take in an area in which I know my hon. Friend takes an ongoing interest.

UK steel producers face dramatically higher electricity costs than our European competitors. How can the sector attract the investment needed to decarbonise when it faces a £50 million a year barrier to investment?

I have discussed with the sector the ongoing issue of electricity prices or energy prices for the steel industry. That is why one of the first things I did as Secretary of State was to resuscitate the Steel Council. We are coming up with ideas to try to create a sustainable steel sector on a decarbonised basis.

I welcome the Minister back re-energised to his place in the Department, and as today is Gloucestershire Day, can I ask him to look very closely at the bid made by Gloucestershire to support the development of a vital new technology—nuclear fusion?

On Gloucestershire Day, it is a great pleasure to take that question from my hon. Friend, and the answer is yes.

Renewables are very important everywhere across the United Kingdom, but one of the problems for renewables is getting access to the grid. The Electric Storage Company in Northern Ireland has told me that if that was improved, energy could be stored for access to the grid. Can the Secretary of State tell us what he could do to make that happen?

I would like to hear more from the hon. Gentleman about this, and I am very happy to meet him to talk about it.

It seems that legislation is the only way that the hundreds of postmasters and postmistresses who have had their lives destroyed by the Horizon scandal will get sufficient compensation in a timely manner. Will the Department look at legislation to deliver this?

I thank my right hon. Friend not only for his question, but for his meeting last week with my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) as well as Tracy Felstead, Janet Skinner and Seema Misra, and we cannot help but be moved by the harrowing tales that the sub-postmasters tell after 20 years of suffering. Yes, we will look at everything that is required to make sure that we tackle the issue of how all sub-postmasters can seek justice and request compensation.