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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 16 November 2021

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Life Sciences

The “Life Sciences Vision” outlined our bold ambition to bring scientific excellence and the dynamism of industry together to solve the most pressing health challenges. I am delighted to say that since the strategy was published we have already launched a £200 million life sciences investment programme and established the life sciences scale-up taskforce.

I welcome the record research and development settlement for my right hon. Friend’s Department that was delivered during the spending review, a good chunk of which will, I hope, support investment in health and life sciences. Does he agree that our world-class life sciences base has been and will be our defence against future pandemics? Will he comment on his Department’s plans to locate more life sciences manufacturing facilities in the UK, so that we are less reliant on a global supply chain?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend that world-class life sciences are vital, and I am pleased to confirm that we have already allocated £354 million in the spending review to strengthen the UK’s life sciences manufacturing base, with particular emphasis on preparing for future pandemics.

It has been reported that the Prime Minister is minded to split up the Secretary of State’s Department so that he can better deliver on the Department’s priorities. Does the Secretary of State agree on that?

I think it is absolutely vital that the net zero agenda—the climate change action agenda—is situated firmly in a Business Department, and I am delighted to head that Department.

I have two questions for the Secretary of State. What role can life sciences play in the Advanced Research and Invention Agency? What role can Bolton play in ARIA?

My hon. Friend smuggled a leading question into his first question. He knows that ARIA is a key part of our strategy to become a science superpower, and he and I can discuss the role that Bolton will play in that exciting future.

The “Life Sciences Vision” has dementia as its first mission. The Conservative manifesto committed to doubling research funding in a dementia moonshot, but the Budget ignored it. The UK Dementia Research Institute called this

“a major blow to UK neuroscientists racing to find cures for these devastating diseases”.

Alzheimer’s Research UK said that this

“lets down the nearly one million people in the UK affected by this devastating condition.”

So will the Secretary of State now set out a clear timetable for doubling dementia research funding, as Labour has? Or is the “Life Sciences Vision”, like the R&D road map, the industrial strategy, the innovation strategy, the grand challenges and Northern Powerhouse Rail, all talk and no action?

I completely refute the hon. Lady’s allegation that those things are all words. The innovation strategy is the first of its kind. It has been broadly welcomed across the sector, and she will know that dementia is one of the seven technologies in engineering and biology that we are pursuing in the innovation strategy.

Offshore Wind Energy

The Government recently announced £380 million for our world-leading offshore wind sector, which is boosting jobs and investment across the UK. My hon. Friend will know that the allocation round 4 opens in December, and we are very much looking forward to the bids in that round.

The House has often heard me talk about Blyth Valley being at the heart of the green industrial revolution. Catapult, in the Port of Blyth, has tested the largest windmill blades in the world for years. We need to continue to be at the forefront of blade testing, to hold our No. 1 position on the global stage. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and the management team from Catapult to make sure that we continue to lead in the race to a greener future?

I would be delighted to see my hon. Friend and the great people who are working on the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth. It is a fantastic development and the people working there will surely allow us to hit the 40 GW target for offshore wind in 2030.

As the Secretary of State knows, Great Grimsby is the UK’s largest centre for offshore wind operations and maintenance. The £160 million announcement for floating offshore wind was very welcome. Does he believe that the time is right to increase our ambitions for that power supply to above 1 GW, which would increase investors’ confidence?

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend, who I accompanied in her constituency shortly after her stunning victory in 2019. She will know that I and the Department are fully committed to ensuring that we have increased ambitions. We are always looking to increase our ambitions.

I welcome what the Secretary of State says about wind power—we are proud in Cumbria to be at the heart of offshore wind—but does that not contrast negatively with the Government still sitting on the fence about commissioning a new coalmine in west Cumbria? Given the incredibly disappointing outcome on coal from COP26, is this not a moment for the UK Government to take a lead and say that the coalmine will not open?

First, the hon. Gentleman will understand that the coalmine is a matter of an independent planning decision. Secondly, I completely deny his assertion that somehow COP26 was a failure. It was not. It was a great success, thanks to the COP26 President, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). Huge commitments were made, which everyone is supporting.

Tapadh leibh. Scotland’s offshore islands could produce as much energy each day as some EU countries are sending to the United Kingdom. When will we see contract for difference levels match interconnector requirements? The Secretary of State knows about this subject. Will that come soon, especially for the Hebrides? I say gently to him that, as he knows, probably no other country in Europe would be squandering this opportunity.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am fully committed to remote island wind. In fact, when I was Energy Minister, I spearheaded the move to have a separate pot for renewable island wind. He lobbied successfully, and I am happy to speak to him about that at any time of his choosing.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent comprehensive spending review and Budget announcement shows that the Government are delivering an historic increase in R&D investment to build back better with a high skill and wage economy for all of the UK? That is very much reflected in NETPark in Sedgefield, which he had the pleasure of visiting recently.

I was delighted to see my hon. Friend in his constituency and to see the wonderful businesses that he is promoting. He will know that the CSR is fully committed to driving our science superpower status through unprecedented investment.

Onshoring Manufacturing and Production

The Government are committed to a strong, vibrant and diverse manufacturing sector in the United Kingdom. The west midlands—and the UK as a whole—is already a great place to do business. The Government will continue to focus on encouraging businesses, improving the long-term competitiveness and productivity of manufacturing via initiatives such as Help to Grow, the Made Smarter programme, the Catapult programme and others.

For this country’s manufacturing base to prosper and succeed, it requires a firm commitment from Government to support the making and buying of goods manufactured in Britain. The Minister will be familiar with the shameful decision by Melrose to shut a factory in Chester Road, Erdington with 70 years of history; those manufacturing jobs were instead exported to Poland. What steps will he take to recoup the £67 million of taxpayers’ money given to Melrose to export jobs to Poland? Will he send an unmistakeable message to Melrose that it will get not one penny more of taxpayers’ support unless it works with the workforce and all the key stakeholders to find an alternative manufacturing use for its site in one of the most deprived communities in Britain?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. We were disappointed, as he was, by GKN Melrose’s decision. Ultimately, such decisions are for individual companies, but we realise the significant impact on his community and are working with the local community to try to find alternative ways to support employees in the area.

The Minister knows that one of the best ways to promote the onshoring of manufacturing jobs and production to the UK is to shape regulation to support enterprise. What steps has his Department made to take forward the recommendations of the Prime Minister’s taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform?

We know regulation has a critical part to play in ensuring that we get the frameworks right for long-term investment and support. My hon. Friend will know that one of my colleagues who was appointed alongside me was an author of that report, and the Secretary of State and I, and all Ministers, will continue to review what we can do to improve regulation over the long term.

When it comes to manufacturing, the first thought on the mind of all Scotland fans this morning is quite how Steve Clarke and his team continue to manufacture so many brilliant wins.

Notwithstanding my necessary gloating, I have a serious question for the Minister. Does he agree and accept that to harness, safeguard and expand manufacturing jobs in Scotland’s tidal energy sector, his Government must deliver the £71 million that the industry has asked for?

We know there is a substantial amount of work to do to decarbonise the UK economy, including the energy sector. We are doing that in a range of ways, and I will continue to co-ordinate with the Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), to support that activity.

I am afraid that answer simply does not cut it. This is a world-leading industry based in Scotland, and it has the capacity to provide 11% of the entire UK’s electricity. The Minister will be aware that the likes of Canada, France and Japan have put in place financial mechanisms to capitalise on tidal energy. Is he seriously saying that his Government would rather see jobs offshored to those countries than see them in Scotland?

I apologise if the hon. Gentleman did not hear my first answer. I said that the Department will continue to look at all opportunities to decarbonise the electricity grid and to ensure that, over the long term, energy can support that decarbonisation. We will continue to look at tidal, and we will bring forward the opportunities that we are able to bring forward.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Chancellor’s capital investment tax relief of 130% is leading to a sharp increase in manufacturing investment, demonstrated by Alpro at its superb manufacturing site in Burton Latimer in the Kettering constituency?

My hon. Friend gives a brilliant example of where the support that is being provided by the Treasury and the Chancellor can, over the long term, ensure investment in plant and machinery and improvement in productivity across the country.

Clean Steel Fund

4. What steps his Department is taking to allocate funding from the Clean Steel Fund before 2023 following the development of hydrogen-based steelmaking projects in Sweden and Germany. (904239)

The Government continue to work with the UK steel sector, through the UK Steel Council, regular meetings and constant dialogue, to understand its decarbonisation plans, whether through electric arc, industrial carbon capture equipment or other emerging technologies such as hydrogen.

In contrast to Germany’s €3 billion hydrogen plan, there was no new funding announced in the recent Budget for clean steel projects. As 2023 is far too late, with primary steel plants accounting for 15% of UK CO2 emissions, will the Government now commit funding to clean steel projects similar to the ones we see in Germany and Sweden, or will steel communities be left standing by once again while European competitors get on with levelling up their industries?

I caution against the hon. Gentleman’s comparison. We have a similar ambition to countries such as Germany on things like hydrogen, and we have already published our hydrogen strategy. I have had extensive engagement with the steel sector in my two months as Minister for steel, including another visit yesterday, and we continue to want to support the industry on its decarbonisation journey. We know it is challenging, but there are already examples and we will continue to work with the industry to ensure it happens.

Years of Tory neglect and inaction mean the UK is falling further behind in the race to win the future of green steel production. Governments around the world are committing to their steel industries with long-term investment, but the Minister, the Budget and, indeed, the hydrogen strategy have failed to deliver any timetable for how the Clean Steel Fund will be implemented. There appears to be no urgency and no plan.

Will the Secretary of State tell us today whether he will back Labour’s plan for a £3 billion steel renewal fund to achieve near-zero-emissions steel production by 2035 to secure UK steel’s future? If not, why is he so content to see British industries lose out, more British businesses go under and more British jobs lost?

That is neither an accurate reflection of the situation nor an accurate reflection of the historical support that has been given to the steel industry. Since 2013, there has been £600 million-worth of support for electricity price relief. The industrial energy transformation fund was opened last year and steel companies had the opportunity to apply for it, and we have published the steel procurement pipeline and the steel safeguards. We will continue to work with this important sector to ensure that it can decarbonise and has long-term support for its future.

Global Gas Prices

8. What steps he is taking to help protect (a) business and (b) consumers from rising wholesale gas prices. (904244)

The Government’s energy price cap will ensure that millions of households are protected from an instant wave of bill increases this winter. We also have well-established schemes in place for those businesses that are most exposed to energy prices.

Apologies, Mr Speaker—some of us are very slow learners.

With global energy markets in a state of flux, Tiverton and Honiton constituents, particularly elderly and vulnerable residents, are concerned about the sharp increases in household bills. With Christmas just around the corner, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will do all they can to stabilise the UK energy sector and ensure that those who experience fuel insecurity have the support they need this winter? Many rural households are off grid, so oil and electricity prices are also of great concern.

I assure my hon. Friend that protecting consumers is our No. 1 priority. The Secretary of State and I engage with Ofgem very often and with energy suppliers constantly, to monitor the health of the energy market. The Government’s warm homes discount, winter fuel payment and cold weather payment schemes will support low-income and vulnerable households throughout the winter.

Nothing that the Minister has said today will provide immediate relief to enough of the people who are struggling throughout the country. I have had constituents tell me that they are sitting in the cold to try to save money, yet the Government rejected Labour’s call to cut VAT on energy bills. Such a cut would have provided immediate relief to people in my constituency. What on earth does the Minister expect my constituents to do as they face a long, difficult and cold winter, with rising prices and rising energy prices in particular?

Of course, I share the hon. Lady’s concern for vulnerable people who face potential rises in energy prices. She will know that VAT is a matter for the Treasury but, of course, a VAT cut would be very untargeted towards vulnerable people. That is why we have schemes in place, such as the warm home discount, winter fuel payments and cold weather payments, to help vulnerable and elderly people. The Government have got the policy right.

On energy security, UK natural gas production has come down from around two thirds of UK demand in 2015 to less than half in the first quarter of this year—with, by the way, around 25% coming ashore at St Fergus in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although we see a welcome increase in UK renewable capacity, it is far preferable, while a reducing demand for gas still exists, to source that gas domestically rather than to depend on foreign imports?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we will always prefer British gas production to foreign imports. Some 50% of the gas we currently consume comes from the UK continental shelf, with an additional 30% from Norway. My hon. Friend is right to mention the transition; I know how much he fights for his constituency’s huge extent and variety of energy producers. Earlier this year, we were delighted to agree the North sea sector transition deal, which will offer a fantastic future for my hon. Friend’s constituents and those right across north-east Scotland.

I think the technically correct answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) is (a) none and (b) none.

The Secretary of State claimed that he was in talks with the Treasury about assistance for energy-intensive industries a month ago; it turns out that he was not, and nothing has happened since. Meanwhile, wholesale gas prices remain at around 200p per therm, compared with 39p per therm a year ago. Industry is suffering grievously and 40% of energy companies have now gone bust, leaving more than 2 million customers without a supplier and forced to take on new suppliers, often at great cost to their bills. Even with the price cap, bills are likely to rise by a further £200 in the spring. This is a train wreck, so what is the Minister doing now to rescue passengers from the carriages and put the rolling stock back on the lines? Or will he just continue to act the part of a disinterested bystander?

That allegation is rather unfair. We are engaging continuously with the Treasury on these matters. We have already put in place £2 billion of funds to help with the cost of electricity and to protect jobs. We have the £350 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), meets regularly—and has done so very recently—with the Energy Intensive Users Group.

Tidal and Nuclear Power

7. What plans his Department has to support the growth of (a) tidal and (b) nuclear power generation. (904243)

Our most recent contract for difference allocation round is the biggest ever. Tidal stream will be eligible to compete in pot 2 of the round. With regards to nuclear power, this Government see a vital role for new nuclear. We have just started considering the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill in Committee and, of course, we understand that net zero needs nuclear.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on putting in place a long-term energy strategy, because we have seen from Germany’s example how disastrous it is not to have that long-term strategy. Very quickly, on tidal, is the financing generous enough, because I understand that some tidal producers are saying that it is not? Secondly, on nuclear, will the £210 million for small-scale reactors—a brilliant thing to do—get us to a position where we are actually producing those reactors, or is this just an initial round of research?

My hon. Friend has dextrously managed to get in two supplementary questions there. On tidal, of course we set the allocation round in September. That round will open on 13 December. Project developers can declare an intention to bid. May I commend his Perpetuus Tidal Energy Centre on the Isle of Wight for its brilliant work on tidal energy?

With regard to small modular reactors, the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his visit last week made it absolutely clear that there is strong support for British technology and British SMR design, and we want to see that move forward and make the UK a world leader in small modular reactors.

In the Budget, £1.7 billion was allocated just to develop Sizewell C to a final investment decision. The Government are putting through the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill to enter into a 60-year contract for that project, and yet, in terms of tidal stream, there was no Government support whatsoever. Without a ringfenced pot of money, tidal stream will not be able to compete in pot 2, so will the Government urgently reconsider the request for a £71 million pot of ringfenced money?

Since 2003 successive Governments have provided innovation funding of £175 million to wave and tidal sectors, and there has been £80 million since 2010. We are strong supporters of tidal stream. The Prime Minister was explicit from the Dispatch Box yesterday, reiterating his support. What we now need to do is work with the sector to demonstrate cost reductions and the potential for this technology.

Like nuclear, tidal range has the capacity to deliver predictable large-scale generation with none of the problems of intermittence associated with other renewable technologies. The proposed Colwyn Bay tidal lagoon would have a generating capacity of more than 2 GW. There is considerable local support for the project, and the proposed developers are anxious to proceed. Is my right hon. Friend willing to meet with me and my hon. Friends the Members for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) and for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), who also have an interest in the project, to discuss a way of taking it forward?

I would be delighted to have the opportunity to meet my right hon. Friend and his colleagues. I am always delighted to see so much energy in north Wales when it comes to questions of energy. I remind him that, when I say that we need to demonstrate cost reductions, the most recent reckoning on prices is that tidal stream is around £220 per MWh, wave is about £280 per MWh, and offshore wind is only about £40 per MWh. With scaling up and investment in the technology, we would expect those costs to come down, but I stress the current disparity between those sectors.

In order to get those costs to come down, though, we first have to have the ringfenced pot for tidal stream energy. At the Dispatch Box on 3 November—in column 926 of Hansard—the Prime Minister undertook in response to me that he would look again at this question. There is a hard deadline approaching at the end of the month with the contract for difference. When will we hear the outcome of the Prime Minister’s further look again at this question?

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the Prime Minister’s words on this matter yesterday from the Dispatch Box, when he was asked about it in relation to his COP statement. I have nothing new to say on the allocation round. We announced the parameters for allocation round 4, which will open in just a few weeks’ time, on 13 December. Project developers will be able to declare their intention to bid, and the round very much includes technologies such as tidal and wave, and other pot 2 emerging technologies.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

The Government have committed to changing the law to ensure that individuals signing non-disclosure agreements are able to make disclosures to the police and regulated health and legal professionals. We will also ensure that the limitations of each non-disclosure agreement are clear.

I thank the Minister for all the work that he is doing on this issue. Will he be bringing forward legislation to ensure that it is clear to all employers that non-disclosure agreements should never be used to buy the silence of victims, because that has no place in British society?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the campaign that she is running alongside Zelda Perkins and others. She rightly highlights the Government’s commitment to the issue, as well as the previous Women and Equalities Committee’s excellent work in this area. The Government are committed to implementing legislation when parliamentary time allows, but I reassure her that we will crack down on the use of non-disclosure agreements.

Will the Minister assure us that he will have discussions with his colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that organisations and businesses that rely on public money, such as the BBC, do not use non-disclosure agreements to silence people who complain about bullying in the workplace?

We have regular conversations with colleagues in DCMS. Some non-disclosure agreements have a commercial benefit, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that inappropriate non-disclosure agreements must be stamped out.

Aviation: Decarbonisation

10. What steps he is taking with the Secretary of State for Transport to help support the aviation sector to decarbonise. (904246)

The Jet Zero Council, which is jointly chaired by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Business and for Transport, brings together industry leaders and the Government to discuss how best to reduce the impact of aviation on our environment. The recently published net zero strategy provides the framework, and the commitment made in the Budget to extend funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute to 2031 demonstrates the importance that the Government attach to making progress on this issue.

The issue with sustainable aviation fuel is not how to produce it—we can do that—but how to bring the price down so that there is a return on capital and an investment case for it, as there is for renewables. What more can the Government do to support sustainable aviation fuels, and does the Minister agree that we need a global approach to the solution?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the challenges of bringing the cost down, as is the case in so many areas of the net zero strategy, but progress is being made. We are keen to support the development of new technology solutions. He will know that we have set out an ambition for 10% of the UK’s aviation fuel to be SAF by 2030. We recognise the challenge of the cost, but I know that my hon. Friend, in his capacity as Chair of the Transport Committee, has announced an inquiry into the matter; I look forward to working with him and understanding the conclusions and proposals that he puts forward.

It has just been revealed that the Transport Secretary is spending departmental money to lobby against the development of private airfields. This includes lobbying against plans to build a battery gigafactory at Coventry airport. What hope do we have of decarbonising transport when the very Cabinet member responsible for that brief is more interested in having somewhere to land his private jet? What conversations is BEIS having with the Department for Transport to ensure that it takes this matter seriously?

I am not sure that this is Transport questions, but it is a question in that spirit. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State absolutely disputes the description that has just been given by the hon. Lady. On her question, there is a huge amount of work under way to try to decarbonise aviation, as demonstrated in the announcements last week at COP and the work that the Government have been doing for a number of years. We will continue to do that to ensure that we hit the net zero target by 2050.

Renewable Energy

We are holding the largest ever contracts for difference round next month, as my hon. Friend is aware, and only last month we confirmed up to £160 million to support investment in the floating offshore wind industry.

The Government have quite rightly taken action to accelerate uptake of electric vehicles by both subsidising those purchasing a new electric car and banning the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030. However, in my capacity as co-chair of the all-party midlands engine group, I recognise that vast areas of the midlands are insufficiently served with charging infrastructure. The Midlands Engine’s 10-point plan for green growth looks to tackle this issue. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can support the Midlands Engine Partnership, deliver greener transport, create jobs, and cut emissions?

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and the Midlands Engine Partnership to discuss how we can decarbonise our economy. I know he does a fabulous jobs as co-chair of the APPG. I have always enjoyed my engagement not only with him but with the Midlands Engine Partnership.

Does the Secretary of State at least accept that immediate environmental damage is being caused by the pursuit of renewable energy, with 13 million trees cut down in Scotland for wind farms, forests devastated across the world to produce ethanol for petrol, and Drax power station importing millions of tonnes of wood from America each year? Does he not accept that in an attempt to control the world’s climate, we are actually damaging the environment right now?

The right hon. Gentleman and I have exchanged differing views on this subject over many years now. What I do accept is that our drive—our push—for renewables is leading the world in pursuing a decarbonised economy.

The Secretary of State is well aware that Teesside is the centre of the green industrial revolution. In building new renewable energy capacity, can he confirm that he is happy to visit Teesside to see our plans for linking that renewable energy with green hydrogen production to power our homes in Teesside?

Perhaps to the surprise of the House, I can confirm that I am always delighted to visit my hon. Friend. I have done so on many occasions and I look forward to doing so whenever he wants and whenever my diary permits.

In a speech last month to the Energy UK conference, the Secretary of State made the case for a decisive shift towards clean energy and away from what he termed “volatile fossil fuels”, on which he said

“we are still very dependent, perhaps too dependent”.

Will he therefore explain how a decision by the Government to permit Cambo, an oilfield whose anticipated lifespan would see it still producing oil four years before we are legally bound to reach net zero, would be anything other than fundamentally at odds with that vision?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the licences under which Cambo was permitted were actually granted when his own party was in government. He will also appreciate that I have always said that there will be a transition. He and his Labour associates want to shut down the industry and cause mass unemployment among the 250,000 people in this country who work in the sector.

New Nuclear Power

This Government are doubling down on our plan to deploy more home-grown, affordable clean energy in this country, and we are putting new nuclear at the heart of that plan. In the past four weeks alone, we have announced £1.7 billion allocated for a new large-scale nuclear power station, a new nuclear Bill to boost private capital and cut build costs, £210 million to back Rolls-Royce’s small modular reactor plan, and £120 million for future nuclear projects—new nuclear made and manufactured here in Britain.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to increasing the generation of renewable energy in the UK and attracting investment in our renewable energy sector, especially the nuclear energy industry. The green industrial revolution is well under way in Peterborough. Will he join me in congratulating Peter Brotherhood, a manufacturer of 150 years standing, whose modular steam turbine offering, manufactured in the heart of my city of Peterborough, can promote further innovation in the nuclear energy sector?

A previous question referred to Teesside as the centre of the green industrial revolution, but Peterborough is also one of the great centres in this country of the green industrial revolution, and there is no better champion of that than my hon. Friend, who is right at the centre of it. He is right that the £120 million nuclear innovation fund will create options for future nuclear capability, including the recent Rolls-Royce small modular reactors, which have £210 million of funding. There are plenty of opportunities there for his constituents to get into, and I thank him for his championing of the green industrial revolution.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to a new generation of nuclear power plants, representing a big step in our move towards net zero. Fylde, as the home of Springfields, the UK’s only civil nuclear manufacturing plant, will be playing its part in this transition, but following the recent announcements of the £210 million in new Government funding for Roll-Royce SMRs, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the fuel for the next generation of nuclear power will be manufactured in the UK, and in Lancashire?

There is plenty of interest in Lancashire, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend knows that I am well aware of how important Springfields is. In fact, we had meetings in the Department about it, as it is the only civil nuclear fuel manufacturing plant, as he rightly points out. It will play an important role as we further develop our new nuclear capability. I am looking forward to working very closely with my hon. Friend, who is a consistent champion of nuclear in this country.

Northern Ireland does not have any nuclear power generation possibilities, but can the Minister outline how Northern Ireland can benefit from nuclear power, because we want to have the opportunity, the same as the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

We are a Government for the whole United Kingdom. The hon. Member will know that Northern Ireland is importantly different from Great Britain in its electricity generation, grid and network. Overall, the UK’s nuclear capability will offer fantastic job opportunities—high-skill, high-tech jobs—for people from right the way across the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

Greener Homes

We are decarbonising heat through the renewable heat incentive, with an estimated £1 billion this year, and we have announced the boiler upgrade scheme, the green heat network fund and the launch of the green gas support scheme later this month.

Zero carbon homes was a Liberal Democrat policy that the Tories scrapped after the coalition. That means we now need to retrofit a million new homes. Will the Secretary of State commit to a zero carbon homes standard once again for all new homes built in this country?

I am pleased to inform the hon. Lady that we have a heat and building strategy that sets out clear plans and clear ambitions for decarbonising heat, particularly sources of heat in buildings and in homes.

Energy-intensive Businesses

We have continued to engage extensively with energy-intensive companies, including by visits from me as recently as yesterday. We want to understand their concerns and help secure a competitive and viable future for industries, which support so many high-skilled, high-wage jobs across the UK.

High Peak is home to the UK’s largest quarries and much of our lime production industry. Those lime producers are essential for construction, engineering and infrastructure, but they are being hit by a double whammy of soaring global energy prices and an outdated UK emissions trading system, which is still benchmarked at the old EU level, geared towards European plants operating to a significantly lower standard and also in receipt of generous state subsidy. The UK’s lime producers are committed to doing their bit to tackle climate change, but the current benchmark is unachievable given their production chemistry. I urge the Minister to urgently review the UK’s emissions trading system benchmark for lime producers.

As a fellow Derbyshire MP, I know how much of a loud, independent and big voice my hon. Friend gives to High Peak since his election in 2019. I am proud to work with him. On this specific subject, we know there are long-term challenges for industries and individual sectors, and we are grateful for his comments. I am happy to meet him to talk more about this, if that would be helpful.

Net Zero Emissions by 2050

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of driving down the cost of transition to tread more lightly on the Earth over the long term. Significant progress has already been made in the cost of technologies such as solar panels, and the recently published net zero strategy commits to working with business to realise further economic opportunities.

While I welcome that answer, does the Minister agree that achieving net zero emissions will depend on individual householders? Many people in my constituency are finding it difficult to afford their fuel bills, even without the cost involved in installing new heating systems such as heat pumps. What can the Government do to help those people?

My hon. Friend is right that we must work with householders and businesses on a longer-term basis so that we can deliver the net zero ambitions we set ourselves by 2050. As the Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility has highlighted a number of times, we are trying to drive down the cost of technology over the long term. A number of firms have come forward on some of the technologies we hope to use, such as heat pumps, and have indicated it should be possible to do that.

Topical Questions

First, I congratulate the COP26 President, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), on his adept handling of the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow. My Department’s priority now is to turn all that ambition into concrete action. We will continue to attract private investment into green projects, and I am happy to announce that in recent weeks we have seen nearly £10 billion of new commitments at the Global Investment Summit, with £1 billion from SABIC on Teesside, and £230 million announced by Ford on Merseyside. We are getting on with the job of delivering a stronger economy for the UK.

I have recently been contacted by Prisma Colour, another fantastic local business in High Peak that does really important work. Unfortunately, it has been hit by a more than doubling of its energy bills in recent months, which is simply not sustainable. I welcome what the Government are trying to do in the long run to ease supply pressures and help energy-intensive industries to bring down bills, but what can be done in the short term to help fantastic employers such as Prisma Colour?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the excellent work he has done in a short time, representing his constituency. He knows that across Government we have regular conversations about how to help energy-intensive industries, and I would be happy to meet him and his constituents to discuss what we are doing.

I join the Secretary of State in commending the COP26 President on the progress made at COP26, but we know much greater action is required, and it is the Secretary of State’s job to ensure that every part of our Government acts. There is an immediate test with the UK-Australia trade deal: yesterday, the Australian Government reaffirmed their 2030 target, which is consistent only with 4° of warming, and there are reports that our Government have allowed the watering down of temperature targets in that deal. Surely, if we are serious after Glasgow about not letting big emitters off the hook, the deal must be rewritten to enshrine in it a proper plan for Australia as well as the UK, including for 2030, to keep 1.5° alive.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we have a duty to ensure that we put net zero at the centre in treaties and in our international obligations. Where I dispute with him is that the Australian deal does mention Paris climate ambitions and does commit to decarbonisation. Lastly, for the first time ever, the Australian Government have committed to net zero. That is a huge achievement, which I wish he would support and endorse.

The Secretary of State should not be defending the Australian Government’s 2030 target. It is he who said about the negotiations:

“There may have been an issue about specifically putting the 1.5° on the face of the negotiating mandate.”

It is time for the Government not only to talk tough, but to act tough, because we must put pressure on countries such as Australia. There is a clear pattern of behaviour here on climate. Too often, this Government face both ways: the Cumbria coal mine, the Cambo oil field, cutting overseas aid for the most vulnerable countries, cutting air passenger duty for domestic flights and failing to invest in green recovery at home. He is the man supposed to be in charge of ensuring the Government speak with one voice. Why does he think he is failing to do so? Is that the reason why people are calling for the COP26 President to take back control of energy and climate change?

The COP26 President did a marvellous job, and the person speaking with two voices is the right hon. Gentleman. On the one hand, he says COP was a great success, and then on the other hand, he is saying the Government have failed. It is inconsistent and it is implausible.

T4. Cleaner and greener aviation is undoubtedly the future, and Exeter airport is at the forefront of innovation in aerospace. This summer, we saw the first hybrid electric test flight on a commercial route, between Exeter and Newquay, thanks to support from this Government and this Department. What further steps will my hon. Friend take to support innovative green aviation to help it really take off? (904220)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have made huge progress so far or we have made a good start in trying to achieve decarbonised flight, and we will continue to do that. It is examples such as the fantastic work demonstrated over the summer, which I know he was present for, at Exeter airport, supported by the Department for Business, that will allow us to meet our long-term ambitions in this sector.

T2. A loophole in company law means that Bain Capital does not have to reveal how much it is paying the army of advisers helping it demutualise Liverpool Victoria. FTI Consulting, Clifford Chance, Fenchurch Advisory Partners and others have all benefited, perhaps by as much as £50 million or more. Does the Secretary of State not think that the members of Liverpool Victoria, whose money this is, have a right to know exactly how their money is being spent? (904218)

The hon. Gentleman will know, from his long experience in this House, that many of these issues relate to financial disclosure, which is obviously in the remit of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I am particularly interested in this deal. I think he is absolutely right that people who are shareholders and people who are customers have every right to transparent data, and I would very much support that.

T6. Carl Berridge’s company in Ashfield produces energy-saving boilers and heating solutions for industry, and he tells me that many businesses are unaware that new technologies can substantially reduce their energy consumption in a cost-effective way. What are the Government doing to ensure that industry gets the right information and businesses such as Powergas have the incentives they need to reduce the carbon footprint of industry? (904222)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does in Ashfield and for his incredible voice in this regard. He is right to highlight how technology will take much of the weight of the transition over the next 30 years, and the importance therefore of companies supporting such technology development. We are engaging with businesses, and we will continue to do so, through programmes such as boosting access for SMEs on energy efficiency. I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend about that if it helps.

T3. Last month, I met Ed Burns, the managing director of H. Grossman Ltd, a toy company based in Glasgow East. Alongside the British Toy & Hobby Association, it is concerned about the growing number of unsafe toys being sold to UK customers by third-party sellers via online marketplaces. Will the Minister meet us to discuss the campaign to tighten up safety on children’s toys? (904219)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. The Office for Product Safety and Standards, over the period since the campaign was launched in April, has taken 10,000 unsafe products off the market, and it continues to work to identify products available online that pose a serious risk. We are reviewing the UK’s product safety framework in this area, but I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman.

T7. I welcome the steps the Government have taken in the last month to reinvigorate the UK’s nuclear industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, thanks to this investment, we will have a cleaner, greener and more secure energy system that is less dependent on volatile fossil fuels? (904223)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his long-standing interest in this question. He will certainly know that, although nuclear is 16% of our current electricity generation, 12 of the 13 current nuclear power plants will be decommissioned or will no longer be producing by 2030. It is absolutely vital that we renew our nuclear capability, and I look forward to my right hon. Friend helping and supporting us in that effort.

T5. A month ago, the Secretary of State claimed that he had not commented on the Aquind project, yet two years before he had actually written to Alexander Temerko, just three days after seeing him at the Conservative conference, to confirm the Government’s support for the project. Will the Secretary of State now correct the record, confirm that he has indeed commented on the Aquind project and recuse himself from the decision-making process? (904221)

Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] I will answer that question, because the Secretary of State is due to make a decision on the application by 21 January 2022, and the Secretary of State of course has a quasi-judicial role in determining this live planning application so it would not be appropriate to comment on specific matters regarding the proposals as that might be seen as prejudicing the decision-making process.

T8.   May I first pay tribute to the BEIS ministerial team for its outstanding work during the pandemic to support businesses in central London, and particularly the Minister for London, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who I know has worked tirelessly, and I thank him? What I am hearing now as we rebuild our economy is that businesses across the Cities of London and Westminster are seeing a real rise in vacancies, which is inhibiting their ability to repair their balance sheets and recover their cash reserves and has halted their ability to grow their businesses. We have got the jobs, where are the workers? What steps is the Minister for London taking to help businesses even further, particularly in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors? (904224)

As Minister for London, every time I go and see a business or business representative organisation my hon. Friend has been there before to champion the Cities of London and Westminster and the central activity zone in London which is so important for the culture and ecosystem of our great city. We want to build a high-wage, high-skill economy, and the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors are at the heart of that. The strategy will include the reopening and we will build resilience through increased staff supply.

T9. This UK Government are simply failing to support Scotland’s potential for green investment. We have heard as much today: the UK’s most advanced carbon capture and storage proposal shelved; grid connection charges punishing Scotland’s renewable energy projects; and funding for tidal power held up as the Prime Minister dithers. Having squandered £350 billion of oil revenues from the North sea, can the Secretary of State appreciate why there are concerns that his Government will simply do the same with our vast energy resources? (904225)

I remind the hon. Lady that this Government are the first UK Government to commit to a North sea transition deal. That deal is a world first; it is leading the world and showing how we can decarbonise a historically very productive sector to drive new technology and new economic opportunity.

T10. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Infinite Renewables in my constituency, which has done great work facilitating renewable projects across the UK. It pointed out to me that the strike price for nuclear power provides generous support to nuclear projects, but those supported by private wire power purchasing agreements in the renewables sector get very little support. What are the Government doing to facilitate private wire PPA renewables in the UK? (904226)

I welcome Infinite’s work supporting renewable projects and my hon. Friend’s engagement in this. PPAs can improve the financial viability of renewables built without Government support. We anticipate that PPAs will complement Government mechanisms such as the contracts for difference scheme. Officials are investigating whether Government can play a role in encouraging further growth in the PPA market, and of course I am happy to meet my hon. Friend on this at any time.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) said, Scotland’s world-leading carbon capture and storage project at St Fergus was snubbed by the Government in favour of their pork-barrel interests in the red wall. Will the Secretary of State guarantee the Acorn team funding in the next round, or should we conclude that Scotland can only decarbonise with independence?

Again, I have to completely refute what the hon. and learned Lady says. The position is absolutely clear: Acorn was an excellent project and is on the reserve list, and I am looking forward to working with her constructively to make sure we land this very exciting project.

The sooner the offshore transmission network is constructed in the southern North sea, the better. It will save money for consumers and limit the damage to local communities and the environment. So will the Minister commit to restarting the previously planned consultation on a regulated asset base finance model for renewables and low-carbon energy-generating assets as soon as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for his continual engagement on this issue. He will know that I met his colleagues in the OffSET group of MPs—the Off Shore Electricity Grid Task Force—very recently. On the offshore transmission network review, Ofgem has consulted on options for delivery models for offshore connections, including a regulated asset base approach. There continues to be ongoing work, and I am looking forward to meeting my hon. Friend at the next meeting of OffSET, or individually.

Under this Government, the gig economy workforce has trebled in the last five years, fire and rehire is accepted, zero-hours contracts are supported, inadequate sick pay is ignored, and sanctions for non-payment of the minimum wage are absolutely pitiful. Why, then, did the Government ditch their own employment Bill and block the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)?

The UK has one of the best employment rights records in the world. We have made good progress in bringing forward measures that add flexibility for workers while ensuring the protection of employment rights, such as banning the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts and legislating to extend the right to a written statement of core terms of employment to all workers. We will continue to make sure that we consider options to improve clarity on employment status, and we will bring forward an employment Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

In Suffolk and Norfolk, investment in research and development is vital to making the most of the opportunities emerging in such sectors as low carbon and life sciences, as well as to tackling pockets of deprivation, particularly in coastal areas. It is thus concerning that, in the Budget Red Book, the east of England is coupled with London and the south-east as an area from which spending on R&D will be diverted and in which it will be discouraged. Will my right hon. Friend work with his colleagues across Government to ensure that this discrimination against Suffolk and Norfolk is removed and is not included in the levelling-up White Paper?

I pay tribute to the fantastic work that my hon. Friend has done representing his constituents over 11 and a half years. He will know that I personally, as a Minister, have always been committed to the east of England. I have visited him in Lowestoft, I have visited offshore wind projects, and I would be very happy to speak to him about how we can drive the R&D programme and how East Anglia and his constituents can benefit from the UK’s science superpower status.

Is it not the case that the most exciting industrial development in the UK at present is hydrogen production? Does the Secretary of State welcome the pioneering work by JCB, under Lord Bamford’s direction, along with the partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, to produce the first working hydrogen combustion engine, which has made the past the future? What support will the Secretary of State give to capitalise on that engineering excellence to ensure that British jobs and British tech flow from it?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that I am fully conscious and fully supportive of the great work that Mr Bamford and his colleagues are doing driving Wrightbus and driving the hydrogen economy. The hon. Gentleman may know that I am very shortly to visit to Northern Ireland to see that great work on the ground.