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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 7 June 2022

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Renewable Energy

In April, the Government published plans for accelerating renewable energy deployment in our British energy security strategy. Of course, that is very much at the centre of our strategy to ensure sustainability, affordability and security in the long term in our energy.

I wish Alex a happy retirement; where would we be without Hansard?

Ofgem’s remit is a real barrier to increasing grid capacity, as it is currently impossible to make anticipatory grid infrastructure investment. That is slowing the growth of renewables and pushing up household energy bills. If we had the new wind and solar farms that the Government are seeking to procure in this summer’s contacts for difference auction already on the grid, every UK household would save £100 on their energy bill this winter. So why have the Government still not reformed Ofgem’s remit?

I am sure that the hon. Lady paid attention to the Queen’s Speech and will have noted that it contained an energy Bill, which will precisely redefine Ofgem in order to attract the anticipatory investment to which she referred.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course when we are talking about renewables, it is important in this Chamber to reflect upon the fact that Scotland boasts 25% of Europe’s offshore wind capacity and of its tidal capacity. Now that the UK Treasury is going to be coining in some £13 billion from Scotland’s North sea oil and gas sector this year alone, will it give a little bit back and match fund the Scottish Government’s £500 million just transition fund?

I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman so enthusiastic about energy in Scotland. I wish he would extend his support to nuclear power and other forms of decarbonised baseload. On his question, the Treasury has announced a strong investment incentive in relation to the energy profits levy.

The Government have £13 billion in their back hipper, yet they will not even give £500 million back. But we should not be surprised, because this UK Government are failing to fast-track the Acorn carbon capture and underground storage project; continue to preside over Scottish renewables projects paying the highest level of grid charging in the entirety of Europe; and confirmed just yesterday that big oil incentives will not be carried over to big renewables either. So may I ask the Secretary of State: is it not the case that, as ever, Scotland has the energy but we do not have the power?

Scotland has the energy, and in the form of the UK Government it has a strong supporter of renewables and energy in Scotland. The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) and I negotiated the North sea transition deal, and we are also pleased to have announced the energy transition zone in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, powered and funded by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Energy Price Cap

2. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of raising the energy price cap on standards of living. (900383)

21. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of raising the energy price cap on standards of living. (900404)

The Government are well aware of the difficulties households are facing, which is exactly why we have provided a further £15 billion of support, on top of the £22 billion announced earlier this year, to support people with the cost of living.

The energy price cap affects consumers and has major implications for business. The price of energy is recognised as one of the key drivers of inflation, because of rising prices at all levels. That is confounded by the Chancellor’s post-covid rises to VAT on hospitality and tourism. So does the right hon. Gentleman regret not doing more to get the Chancellor to provide more support to small businesses and small business owners, to help them and to help keep prices and inflation down?

The hon. Lady will remember that throughout the covid period my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer supported businesses to the tune of something like £400 billion. A lot of that support, in the form of loans and the future fund, is ongoing. I do not think we can take any lectures from the hon. Lady on supporting business through what has been a very difficult period.

This week, the citizens advice bureaux in Scotland revealed that 62% of the inquiries they receive relate to energy issues. As Ofgem has warned that people can expect a staggering 42% rise in energy prices, does the Secretary of State regret the time he has spent defending the Prime Minister against confidence votes instead of providing much-needed support for businesses and energy consumers to tackle the cost of living crisis?

As I have said once and am sure I will repeat, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has dedicated £37 billion precisely to help people through what is a very difficult time in relation to the cost of living.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the excellent package of support for consumers and businesses, but I am sure he will agree with me—unlike the Opposition parties—that it is not just about what the Chancellor can do to step in: there are lots of steps that consumers and businesses can take for themselves to reduce their own energy costs before the energy price cap is changed again this autumn. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what more can be done to help consumers and businesses to cut their own energy costs?

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has raised that issue. As a keen follower of these matters, she will know what we have done in relation to the heat and buildings strategy, which sets out clearly the kinds of steps that we want people to see in respect of insulation and the possibility of selling energy back to the grid. We are doing lots of exciting things in this policy area. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I am always interested in her ideas and I am delighted that she is heading our Back-Bench policy committee in this area.

One of the fastest and most effective ways to protect people from the impact of rising energy costs would be an ambitious retrofit and insulation programme, which should have been at the heart of the Government’s approach but has been conspicuous by its absence. The Government support pledged so far for energy efficiency falls £1.4 billion short of their manifesto commitment, so will the Secretary of State tell us what more he plans to do on the issue? In particular, will he tell us with absolute certainty that legislation for ECO4—the energy company obligation—which was due in April, will not face any further delays and will definitely be laid before Parliament before the summer recess?

It is not my job to say when legislation will be coming into this House—[Interruption.] What I will say—[Interruption.] What I will say specifically in relation to decarbonisation is that we have a clear heat and buildings strategy. The manifesto commitment covered 10 years, so it was not over the term of the Parliament. There was a clear manifesto commitment over 10 years and more money clearly needs to be spent to honour that commitment over a 10-year spending period.

It would be really nice if the Secretary of State told us when the ECO4 legislation is coming, because ECO4 is not going to work unless that legislation comes forward.

The Secretary of State knows that the new price cap and the increase in customer bills will have a devastating impact on customers’ struggle with the cost of living, so why is his Department directly contributing to the sky-high price cap levels by putting into place new customer levies—such as the socialisation of the costs of failed energy companies, the green gas levy and the nuclear regulated asset base levy—that will add perhaps £100 to the upcoming and future price cap levels, and hence to customer bills? The Secretary of State talks of Government assistance to help customers to cope with their bills, but is it not very much about giving with one hand and taking back with the other? Should customers not be angry at this cynical policy?

There is no reason to be angry about the support, because the £37 billion of support is very real. On the supplier of last resort, the hon. Gentleman will know that 26 firms had to leave the market as a consequence of sky-high wholesale prices, and all the SOLR levy does is socialise those costs within the industry. It was a necessary device to make sure that customers can ease on to other providers without interruption.

New Low-Carbon Technologies

Clean energy technologies are fundamental in both securing our energy supply and meeting net zero. This Conservative Government have set out their ambition to invest up to £22 billion in research and development by 2024. Meanwhile, we are moving to annual options for renewable energy and investing big in our nuclear future.

In recent months, I have had a number of emails from constituents who have taken the Government’s encouragement to look at getting a heat pump, but have found the cost just too high for them. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to help bring down the cost of heat pumps so that they are more affordable for more people?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want to go with the grain of human nature, which means that, when it is time to replace a gas boiler, the heat pump is a competitive option in terms of price. That is why we think the cost of heat pumps can reduce by 25% to 50% by 2025. We have our £450 million boiler upgrade scheme to provide capital grants of up to £6,000, and that is in addition to the zero per cent rate of VAT on installation.

As we transition away from gas, hydrogen—in particular green hydrogen generated by renewable sources such as that at Scout Moor wind farm in my Heywood and Middleton constituency—gives the UK the unique opportunity to become an exporter of energy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is good not just for our economy and energy security, but for communities such as Heywood and Middleton where it will create new and exciting jobs?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency and for the hydrogen sector. I was at the global hydrogen summit about three weeks ago where exactly the possibility of hydrogen exports was very much the topic of the day. That is why we have doubled the ambition in our British energy security strategy to go to 10 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030, which will provide fantastic opportunities right the way across the country, notably in his constituency as well.

I am very keen to help the Government find viable paths to net zero, which is why I took a meeting with a firm that has developed a route to continuous power from tidal basins. Can I bring those people to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss how that solution, remarkable as it is, produces continuous, not intermittent, net zero power, so that he can learn more about what could be done?

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued interest in all matters relating to net zero. My door is always open to him, particularly in bringing innovative proposals on how we will get to net zero. He will know that the Government have invested more than £175 million in tidal energy projects in the past two decades and we have £20 million allocated in the current allocation round for the contracts for difference for tidal stream power.

Yesterday, a Treasury Minister was unable to confirm whether the climate compatibility checkpoint would be applied to the recent tax cut for the oil and gas industry investing in further drilling. Can the Minister today confirm whether that climate checkpoint will apply to existing investment decisions and not just future investment decisions after the checkpoint has been introduced?

As the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said yesterday, that consultation on the climate compatibility checkpoint has closed and the Government will be responding to that consultation in due course.

A recent Public Accounts Committee report on net zero highlighted the real challenge of getting consumers onboard. Going net zero and embracing low- carbon technologies cannot be a preserve of the wealthiest and there needs to be much more work by Government. What are the Government doing to ensure that consumers are supported to make green choices?

The hon. Lady raises some very good points. I am looking forward to appearing before the House of Lords Committee on this very topic on Thursday. I am sure that her Committee has done important work on this. We want to make this process as affordable as possible for people. That is why we have introduced the boiler upgrade scheme. That is why we are spending £6.6 billion of public money in this Parliament on energy efficiency, making sure that those options are there and are affordable. That is one of our key aims, particularly if we are to get to 600,000 heat pumps per annum by 2028.

The Minister may know that our gas pipes are capable of taking 40% hydrogen, as they did with coal gas. Will he meet me and also Professor Andrew Barron who works at Swansea University, which is pushing forward technology to take the hydrogen produced by renewable wind farms off peak, converting it and putting it into the gas grid and therefore reducing the carbon footprint of boiling an egg by 40%. Surely that is the best way forward in the short term to reduce our carbon footprint.

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. Late last year when I visited the Whitelee wind farm just south of Glasgow, the UK’s largest onshore wind farm and the second largest in Europe, I saw for myself the potential there for renewable energy to convert to hydrogen. The UK Government announced a facility to assist with that. Blending is also an important aspect that we will actively be looking at. Of course we will have a number of other important uses of hydrogen, notably in maritime, transportation and the decarbonisation of industry, and those are all in the frame for consideration for what will undoubtedly be our big need for hydrogen in the future.

Apprenticeship Levy

4. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of businesses on the rules in respect of the Apprenticeship Levy. (900386)

The Secretary of State and the ministerial team regularly meet business representative organisations to discuss how Government can continue to support businesses and help them to grow. We regularly discuss the apprenticeship levy and are working closely with colleagues in the Department for Education to feed back the views of the business community.

I was lucky enough to visit Forterra in my constituency near Desford, where it is building a £95 million brick factory. Forterra raised the apprenticeship levy because it is finding difficulties trying to get more people to come and work in the likes of the heavy goods vehicle sector. Part of the difficulty is the constraints around how the levy can be used. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can get rid of some of the red tape and be creative for those industries that are particularly struggling with the legislation and the restraints around the apprenticeship levy?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking up for businesses in his area and on Forterra, which I understand from reading will be one of the largest brick factories in Europe. I would be very happy to meet him and I am grateful for any comments that he or other colleagues have about the apprenticeship levy.

We are trying to find out this morning what the Secretary of State’s job is. It says “Industrial Strategy”, but how can we have an industrial strategy without skills? The Minister knows that something is seriously wrong with the apprenticeship levy—and what about kickstart? That has quietly died the death. It was the flagship training policy of this country. What the hell is going on on the Government Benches if they do not know what their job is?

We always welcome all contributions, particularly constructive ones such as that one. The apprenticeship levy has been in place since 2015: among the most recent statistics, more than 100,000 people have begun apprenticeships and under-25s make up a substantial proportion of the number of people taking up apprenticeships. While we will always look at how we can improve things, a substantial amount of progress has been made in recent years.

Fusion Energy

The widely reported breakthroughs in fusion energy by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority team at Harwell this year signal UK leadership in a new era of industrial-scale fusion energy. I am sure the whole House takes pride in that achievement and will want to pass our best wishes on to the team at Harwell. That is why we are investing £700 million in the next phase of fusion facilities and research. We are announcing the location of the spherical tokamak, our first industrial power plant, and this month we will launch our paper on the regulation of fusion energy for industrial roll-out.

I have written to the Secretary of State recently about our Severn Edge fusion bid in Berkeley and Oldbury, because we provide the ideal location for the spherical tokamak for energy production fusion programme. We can deliver the project and we have cross-party support spanning the south-west and Wales. I believe this is a good opportunity for Government to prove that we are not just levelling up the north. Does my hon. Friend agree that the decision on where to locate the STEP prototype is crucial to the UK’s fusion ambitions, and will he say a little bit more about the timetable he is working to?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being such an advocate for her patch. I completely agree that the location of the spherical tokamak plant is critical to our future fusion industry ambitions. Some 15 sites across the UK have applied to host STEP, and the UKAEA has shortlisted five: Ardeer in Ayrshire, Goole in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Moorside in Cumbria, Severn Edge in Gloucestershire and West Burton in Nottinghamshire. The UKAEA has now completed a detailed analysis of those sites and has submitted its recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will make a final decision and announcement by the end of the year.

Dounreay in Caithness in my constituency was in the 1950s the site of the UK’s first nuclear reactor. The nuclear industry did a very great deal to provide local employment and to halt the curse of the highlands, namely depopulation. Today, we have a licensed site, we have a willing and skilled workforce and we have a local population who support the nuclear industry. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister talk to the Scottish Government, who have not ruled out nuclear fusion, about the potential for developing nuclear fusion at a site such as Dounreay?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I congratulate him on his enlightened stance: he is supportive of the UK and the Scottish nuclear industry—a position we all rather wish the Scottish nationalists would take more widely. I have regular meetings with the Scottish Ministers for science, technology and innovation. This Government are very supportive of that cluster; if only the Scottish nationalists were.

Leaving the EU: Benefit for Businesses

Leaving the European Union gives us a fantastic opportunity, over the long term, to chart a new course to bring further prosperity to the UK. The Government are committed to growing the UK’s economy by making the most of our Brexit freedoms, signing new trade deals, and, over time, lightening the regulatory burden.

I have previously compared the role of Government to that of a cricket groundsman preparing the best possible wicket on which our players—our businesses, including mine in Hertford and Stortford—can play to their strengths. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps that we are taking to drop unnecessary regulation following our departure from the EU, so that our brilliant businesses can compete and win?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her important point. Unlike her, I am not able to make any comparisons with cricket, but we know that unnecessary regulation, where it exists, is a real burden for businesses, and we are committed to reducing it. There is also work under way on data laws, alcohol duty and imperial markings. There is the forthcoming Brexit freedoms Bill, and cross-Government work to look at reducing burdens. All of that should mean positive movement in this important area of policy.

Our insurance and financial services sector is a great British success story, and it helps to fund our local public services. The majority of employment in the sector is outside London and spread across many of our constituencies. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we continue to support the growth of this industry, and that there must be a strong competitiveness duty on the regulator, so that we can make the most of opportunities now that we have left the EU?

I know that my hon. Friend does a huge amount of work in this area as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on insurance and financial services, and he has a background in the sector. Although he is tempting me to make policy that is dealt with by another Department, I know that his point will have been heard by my colleagues in the Treasury.

Under the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland businesses pay mainland suppliers a fee to ship to them. Will the Minister consider refunding businesses this fee, which they must accept because the list of suppliers who will take on the hassle of the web of red-tape confusion is ever-dwindling, leaving very little choice when it comes to supplying goods to Northern Ireland?

The hon. Member is hugely committed to finding ways through the challenges around Northern Ireland, and I congratulate him on the work that he does. I will certainly pass back his comments, and I am happy to discuss them with him separately, if that is helpful.

Following on from the cricket analogy, one of the golden rules in that great game is that when your time is up, you walk; you do not wait until you are told.

The Minister is talking about the benefits to businesses of leaving the EU. When will businesses in my constituency start to feel those benefits? All they are seeing now is businesses closing because they cannot get the staff, because of interruption to their supply chain, or because their exports are getting held up on their way across the channel. When will things turn around after the disaster of Brexit, so that we are at least back to where we were before 2016?

That was a nice try from the SNP at linking those things. As the SNP and the hon. Gentleman know, there are substantial global issues at the moment that all Governments are grappling with, and the Government here in the United Kingdom have been very clear about their desire to support businesses and to help people through these difficult times.

British business depends on British science for long-term national growth, and the No. 1 issue facing British scientists right now is our participation in the world’s largest science funding programme—the European Union’s £95 billion Horizon programme. Since 2007, British scientists have won over £14 billion from Horizon—more than we put in—but this is about more than money; it concerns international prestige. Horizon is a collaborative network of over 30 countries. Let us face it: this Government will never be able to replicate that. The Prime Minister said that he had an oven-ready Brexit deal; why is British science being left on the shelf?

I am not going to refight Brexit and revisit the positions we all went through in the last Parliament. Horizon is important. The UK Government have been very clear about our desire to continue with Horizon. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who is the Minister for science, continues extensive work to ensure that that happens. The EU has a choice to make, and my hon. Friend will be in Brussels tomorrow to continue that conversation.

Business Investment

In recent months, the UK has had a strong track record of attracting inward investment, including in cars—in Nissan, Stellantis and Ford —and in batteries, through Envision AESC; and Airbus announced a further ramping up of its A320 line in Broughton a few weeks ago. In April, the Department launched the new global Britain investment fund, which will build on our track record and encourage internationally mobile companies to invest in the UK.

I thank the Minister for his response. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests, my chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on Finland, and my vice-chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on Sweden. Our relationship with Finland and Sweden has never been stronger; there is the mutual defence treaty, our support for their application for NATO, and the recent Sweden-UK life science agreement. Does my hon. Friend agree that Runnymede and Weybridge, with its connectivity, academic institutions and strong tech and life science sector, is a fantastic place to build on that investment and that relationship, and to bring in further investment from northern Europe?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that his constituency has a very important role to play in the future of life sciences, and I commend his work on that strategically important sector. He mentioned the life sciences memorandum of understanding that we signed with Sweden last week. Our relationship with Sweden goes back more than three centuries and is worth £20 billion, and there are 100 Swedish life science companies in the UK. That is another example of close working across the globe on progress for everyone’s benefit.

The Centre for Policy Studies is not alone in having just published damning research from business leaders. It states that Britain is becoming a less attractive place to invest; the UK is slipping behind other countries because of red tape, rising taxes and ministerial complacency. Could it be because we have a chaotic, rudderless, high-tax Conservative Government, with no industrial strategy and no plan for growth? Is it not time that the Secretary of State listened to businesses, tackled rising business costs and backed calls to spike the national insurance hike? He should know that it is the wrong tax at the wrong time.

That is a curious line of questioning from the Opposition Front-Bench team, given that Nissan has made £1 billion of investment in recent months in Sunderland, Stellantis has made an investment of more than £100 million in Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port, and there is additional investment in green technology and life sciences—the list goes on and on. Of course there is more to do, and of course as a listening Government we will always look at what more we can do to make us the most attractive place to invest in the G7 and across the world. We have a good track record that we will continue to build on.

Affordable Energy: Winter 2022-23

8. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure affordable energy provision during winter 2022-23. (900390)

The Government have announced a package of support measures totalling over £37 billion this year. It includes a £400 grant to households to help them with their energy bills when that is needed most.

Two weeks ago, we found out that we have a huge surplus of national gas but nowhere to store it. That was swiftly followed by the announcement that as many as 6 million households face power cuts this winter because of gas shortages. Will the Minister give a guarantee today that this Government can keep the lights on for both households and industry this winter? A business in my constituency told me that its energy bills have soared from £7 million to £35 million. What support are the Government giving to those energy-intensive industries?

There is a lot in that question, but the scenario the hon. Lady paints is very extreme. She will know that we are looking actively at what we can do on the storage side. On producing energy, I find it a bit rich of the Labour party to criticise us. This is the party that said, in 1997, that there was no economic case for new nuclear power stations; the party that increased, rather than cut, our dependence on gas, which went from accounting for 32% of our electricity generation to 46% of it; and the party that failed to invest in renewables, which, over 10 years, have gone from accounting for 7% of our electricity generation to 43% of it. We will take no lessons from the Opposition on helping people with energy generation and with their bills.

Incubator and Accelerator Hubs

Incubators and accelerators across the country play a vital role in helping our high-growth start-ups and scale- ups. That is why we continue to fund the strength in places fund, and are investing £100 million to pilot new innovation accelerators. That is also why, on my various tours around clusters, I recently went to the Leicester space and satellite hub, the Leeds digital health and medtech hub in the hon. Lady’s county, the Northumbria University and Ashington further education hub, and the BioYorkshire hub in her area.

York’s economic future depends on releasing the talent of our entrepreneurs and social enterprises. To do that, we need to ensure that they have space to innovate and grow. In each of the last four quarters, however, we have seen the loss of 100,000 entrepreneurs, so what investment will be made to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place for the acceleration and incubation of the future business industry?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about social enterprises being mainstreamed in the business community. She may have seen the recent report by the all-party parliamentary group for social enterprise, of which I have long been a supporter, that argued that we should mainstream social enterprise in the BEIS policy framework, which is an interesting proposal. We have just announced the biggest increase in research and development and innovation funding—an increase of £25 billion over the next three years. I have asked UK Research and Innovation to focus on that incubation hub infrastructure around the country, so that we can continue to support the university and small business networks that create the opportunities for tomorrow.

Support for Manufacturers

Manufacturing —from the heaviest of our industries to our most modern fourth industrial revolution factory—is the bedrock of our country’s resilience, and we are committed to supporting it. This year, we will launch a new manufacturing investment prospectus to promote the UK as the destination of choice for investment, and to signpost the support available to businesses.

Decarbonisation and the production of green steel represent a huge opportunity for steelmakers such as British Steel in Scunthorpe. Steelmakers are raring to go, but they need further policy guidance before they invest. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that he will continue to work closely, in the excellent way that he has done, with steelmakers to ensure that they have the guidance they need to reach those goals?

I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend that we want to continue to work with British Steel, and with her—she is a champion for Scunthorpe and the surrounding communities—to ensure that it has a strong future, and to plot a pathway to treading more lightly on the earth.

The recent report by Midlands Connect outlined that upgrading the A50/A500 corridor that runs through my constituency of Burton and Uttoxeter will unlock £12 billion for the economy and create more than 12,000 jobs. Will my hon. Friend meet me and other colleagues who represent the north midlands manufacturing corridor to see how his Department can support these upgrades and unlock enterprise opportunities across the region?

As a fellow midlands MP, I very much welcome the report from Midlands Connect about the opportunities that our region can take together for the long term. I know how hard my hon. Friend and her colleagues in Staffordshire work on this, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the matter further.

Neonatal Leave and Pay

14. What plans his Department has to bring forward legislative proposals on neonatal leave and pay. (900396)

We recognise that parents of babies receiving neonatal care need extra support during some of the most difficult days of their lives. We are committed to introducing neonatal leave and pay to meet this need as soon as parliamentary time allows.

We are all disappointed that there is no employment Bill, but there is cross-party agreement in the House on neonatal leave and pay. Leaving to one side the more controversial aspects of the employment Bill, what would stop the Government supporting a stand-alone Bill to enact policies on neonatal leave and pay?

We absolutely welcome and recognise the interest in this issue, especially from the hon. Gentleman, who has personal experience of the subject and has raised it a number of times in the House. I remain committed to the legislation. We can work on it in different ways. I believe that we have a meeting scheduled, and I am looking forward to discussing how we can deliver these policies in good time.

I was pleased to meet Ministers and the Prime Minister recently to talk about the importance of delivering the vital Government commitment to bring in neonatal leave and pay by the 2023 target that they set in their Budget two years ago. Work continues on finding a timeslot in which to take the measures through Parliament. Meanwhile, it is vital that Ministers in the Department continue to work on the required background measures, such as the guidance for businesses and for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, so that they are ready for introduction as soon as possible when we get parliamentary time. Can the Minister update me on the work that he has been doing to ensure that we are ready?

I thank my hon. Friend for the impassioned work that he does on this issue—again, following his personal experience. He is right: we are not just standing still while waiting for parliamentary time. We are taking action to prepare for implementation once the legislation is there, including by having conversations with third sector stakeholders and business representatives. Officials have also spoken to HMRC about developing a system to implement the measures when we have the legislation.

The Minister says “when parliamentary time allows”, but the Government could have provided time by putting an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech. On neonatal pay, flexible working and an enforcement body to protect workers’ rights, this Government promise a lot but deliver very little. Ministers have promised an employment Bill over 20 times, yet it still appears nowhere in the legislative programme. Is not the only job that this Government are interested in protecting the Prime Minister’s?

Absolutely not. What we are interested in is jobs right across the UK—quality, highly productive, high-skilled, high-wage jobs. We will introduce all the employment measures to which we are committed in good time, when parliamentary time allows.

Energy Efficiency: Domestic Buildings

The Government have announced a package of measures designed to support the most vulnerable in these unprecedented times. It includes support for the local authority delivery scheme, the home upgrade grant, the social housing decarbonisation fund and the boiler upgrade scheme, and takes our total funding across this Parliament to £6.6 billion.

The Minister knows that reducing consumption is vital to households and to the country, but back in 2013 the Conservative-led Government cut energy efficiency programmes, which led to a 92% fall in home insulation; and the flagship green homes grant scheme was scrapped as a failure just six months after its launch. When will the Government commit to the ambitious programme of retro-insulation that we need if we are to cut emissions, slash family bills, reduce gas imports and create thousands of jobs?

We are committed to that programme, and that is exactly why I have outlined the £6.6 billion of support in this Parliament. We have achievements as well: since 2010, the percentage of UK homes rated A to C for energy efficiency has gone from 13% to 46%. That is almost a fourfold increase under this Government in homes that are rated good for energy efficiency. We have put a lot of money into heat pumps and the heat and buildings strategy. I suggest that the hon. Member look at that strategy, which we launched only last October. He should study it and then come back with further questions.

Workers’ Rights

Through unprecedented increases to the national living wage and a range of legislative measures introduced since 2019, we are building a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but a great deal of his really good work could be for naught if we still allow employers to use confidentiality clauses to cover up mismanagement and discrimination in the workplace. Ministers have acknowledged this as a problem, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s warning notice, issued four years ago, is not universally understood. When will the Minister act, and put into law measures to outlaw the use of these dreadful clauses?

I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on being honoured as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire—it is well deserved. The Government consulted on the misuse of confidentiality clauses between workers and their employees back in 2019. In response, we committed to legislating to ensure that employers are not able to intimidate victims into silence. We remain committed to doing so, and I will continue to work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on ensuring that we introduce this necessary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Fire and Rehire

The Government will bring forward a new statutory code on the practice of fire and rehire. We will publish a draft for consultation in due course, and bring the code into force when parliamentary time allows.

Last year, when British Gas threatened thousands of its staff with fire and rehire, one of my constituents wrote and told me that the “human cost” had been the saddest part, and that

“the mental health strain on me and my colleagues has been so very difficult to watch.”

Since 2020, almost 3 million workers have been told to reapply for their jobs, with worse conditions. I heard the Minister’s response to my initial question, but the question that is rebounding round the Chamber, to almost every answer I have heard so far, is not about the intention, but about when. Will the Minister commit today to bringing forward a no ifs, no buts ban on the abhorrent practice of fire and rehire?

What we are not going to do is ban a situation that allows flexibility for employers that are in trouble. We are, however—[Interruption.] Well, it is all seen as black and white by the Opposition, but they are very anti-business in that. The hon. Lady cites an example, and there are human costs involved in the most egregious cases of fire and rehire. That is what we will be tackling through the statutory code that we will announce in due course.

New and Advanced Nuclear Power

As my hon. Friend knows, for the first time in 20 years we are committed to much more nuclear capacity than we have ever seen, and the target of 24 GW by 2050 is ambitious but perfectly achievable.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early decision to announce the commissioning of the first small modular reactors, built by Rolls-Royce, will provide additional investment in our national infrastructure, more jobs and, crucially, help to secure our sovereign energy independence of supply?

Earlier this year I was delighted to announce investment—£210 million as I remember—in Rolls-Royce, and the SMRs, as well as advanced nuclear reactors, represent an exciting development in new nuclear. Looking at Labour Members, I must say that it is gratifying to see nuclear power being defended, as under their watch nuclear power was denuded and derided.

Hinkley Point C is 50% over budget and running years late. The Government cannot get investment for Sizewell C, and their impact assessment states that a new nuclear power station could cost £63 billion. Is the former Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), correct to say that it is utter fantasy to pretend that this Government can deliver a new nuclear reactor each year?

The strategy is committed to 24 GW, and it is about large-scale nuclear and SMRs, which my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) referred to. It will be a balance, and we feel that we can reach that. It is rich of Scottish National party Members to deride our nuclear programme when they do not even agree with it. They think the whole thing is a complete waste of time. Where else would we find decarbonised baseload? They do not have the answer to that.

Topical Questions

I am pleased to announce that since I last addressed the House we have committed £37 billion, along with our friends in the Treasury, to support the most vulnerable households with the cost of living. We have managed to attract substantial new investments across the piece in new technologies, and we continue to focus on energy, to ensure that it is sustainable, affordable and, above all, secure in the coming months.

Semiconductors are an unbelievably important strategic asset to this country, and I commend the Secretary of State for calling in the acquisition of Newport Wafer Fab, which is our largest producer of semiconductors and an important innovator of compound semiconductors. That is exactly what the National Security and Investment Act 2021 was designed to do. Will he update the House on his next steps?

My hon. Friend will know that the NSI Act, which came into scope at the beginning of this year, gives me as Secretary of State powers to call in transactions that I feel are detrimental to national security. After long consideration and weighing up all the evidence, Newport Wafer Fab was, I think rightly, deemed to be such a transaction.

If a chair or chief executive of a FTSE 100 company presided over a culture of rule breaking, broke the law themselves and then said that they would do it again, would that person have the Business Secretary’s support, or would he demand better standards than that in public life?

I think that we deserve and are all well placed and right to demand the highest standards in any profession across any position and in any institution.

I agree, but if the Business Secretary believes that integrity and honesty are important in all walks of life, he should have voted against the Prime Minister last night.

I welcome the Government’s U-turn on a windfall tax, but yet again they say one thing and do another. There is uncertainty about who the tax will apply to, and there is worry that the chaotic nature of the announcement could perversely incentivise investment in fossil fuels over renewables. Uncertainty and botched announcements are a feature of the Government, which is one reason why business investment has been so poor under the Conservatives. When will the Business Secretary offer certainty to businesses on who exactly the Government intend to apply the tax to?

The hon. Member will know that issues relating to taxation are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As far as the hon. Member’s windfall tax is concerned, I have always been opposed to such taxes on principle, and I continue to be opposed. I hope that this energy profits levy does not discourage investment; actually, it has features that do attract greater investment.

T2. I am sure that Ministers will join me in congratulating a Royal Mail depot in my constituency that has moved its fleet to electric vehicles. However, that does place a lot of demand on the system, so will Ministers ensure that, when formulating policy, industrial estates, for example, have sufficient electricity to enable even more of them to change to electric vehicles? (900407)

I know of my hon. Friend’s ongoing interest in all matters in relation to energy, and he makes an important point about big energy users such as the Royal Mail planning and ensuring that they are efficient and robust for the future. I will ensure that his point on industrial estates is reflected back to our Department, to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and to other relevant Departments.

T3. I have heard from constituents in West Derby how the use of fire and rehire tactics by employers such as British Gas and British Airways put them in unbearable situations during the pandemic. Shamefully, in the middle of a cost of living crisis, we see many rogue employers across all sectors utilising those immoral practices on a daily basis to drive people into poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) made clear, we need employment legislation now and the outright outlawing of the despicable practice of fire and rehire. Can the Minister justify why workers should accept anything less from the Government? (900409)

Later this year, the hon. Gentleman will see an effective code that will penalise the most egregious cases of fire and rehire and hit those companies in the pocket. That is an effective way of banning those egregious situations without disallowing the flexibility that some employers need in times of trouble.

T6. Mr Speaker, you will know as well as I do that Milton Keynes has a rich history of science and innovation that goes well beyond me banging on about robots in this place. I was pleased to see the historic settlement for the UK Research and Innovation fund last month. Does my hon. Friend agree that places such as Milton Keynes with such a history of innovation should get a fair share of that funding? (900412)

Milton Keynes has been slowly becoming a globally recognised innovation hub on the Oxford-Cambridge arc, particularly on autonomous vehicles and with the connected places catapult. May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend and Milton Keynes on achieving city status as part of the jubilee celebrations? I assure him that our funding allocation mechanism is designed to support emerging clusters such as Milton Keynes.

T4. What is the Department doing, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, to improve the recovery of cancer trials and clinical research more broadly? Will the Minister meet me and Cancer Research UK to discuss how the rate of recovery can catch up with comparable countries post pandemic? (900410)

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. We have allocated £8 billion over the next three years for life science and medical research across the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and all relevant agencies. We will launch a cancer mission shortly and I would be delighted to talk to her about it.

T7.   I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary markets group. The “Love Your Local Market” campaign, supported by many Members across the House, has just come to an end. Does my hon. Friend agree that local markets and traders are a vital part of the local business community and make a huge economic contribution to the health of our high streets and the regeneration of our city and town centres? (900413)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work and interest. We absolutely recognise the contribution that markets make to the vibrancy and diversity of our high streets up and down the country, and indeed of our town centres. We believe that local markets should stay at the heart of community life, and we want them to flourish all over the country.

T5. Insect protein is likely to play a significant part in meeting the needs of the agri-food industry and it can certainly address some of the sector’s climate impacts, but it needs the right support. Brexit and supply chain issues have caused major chaos for the industry. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how to support the industry and, more importantly, how to protect the really highly skilled jobs it supports? (900411)

The insect protein industry is becoming increasingly important, given the need to nearly double global food supply in the next 20 or 30 years. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. It is one of the sectors we are looking at, as part of our £25 billion three- year allocation, that needs development and support.

T8. In a rural constituency like Newbury, fuel prices are a key driver of spiralling living costs. As such, it is a source of frustration that petrol stations are still failing to pass on the Treasury fuel duty cut. I know my right hon. Friend and his team have been working closely with the Competition and Markets Authority, but could he tell me what progress has been made to ensure that consumers are getting a fair deal at the pumps? (900414)

We are engaging constantly to make sure that consumers are getting a fair deal. You would expect us to do so, Mr Speaker, after our 5p fuel reduction following 12 years of freezes and £5 billion of relief. It is vital that we see that saving being passed on to consumers. That is why my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary and I meet regularly with the sector and will continue to work closely with the CMA to analyse the workings of the market and make sure our constituents get those reductions.

Exactly what steps is the Department taking to reduce the prohibitive bureaucracy facing scientists trying to access the very welcome £50 million funding for research into motor neurone disease, a horrifying disease that affects more than 5,000 people in this country? The research was announced in November last year, but they have faced those problems.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. We made a major announcement on MND research and will shortly be setting out our fully funded broader dementia and mental health missions. On research bureaucracy, we are looking, through the Professor Adam Tickell review, at how we can reduce administrative bureaucracy in the system so we are able to get those grants out much more quickly. I will happily talk her through that.

T9. Mr Speaker, would you believe it? Where I live in Westminster there is a lift that was made by the Bolton Gate Company 100 years ago and is still operating at the back end. Bolton Gate leads the door industry on the latest standards, but will the Minister outline what support we can provide to companies like Bolton Gate to navigate the new UK Conformity Assessed marking regulations, and to ensure that both Bolton Gate Company and its MP will be operating for another 100 years? (900415)

As well as the Minister for product safety and standards, I am also the Minister for the hair and beauty sector, so can I thank my hon. Friend for supporting the sector with his new haircut? In all seriousness, we are taking a pragmatic approach to implementing the UKCA regime. We know the challenges that businesses have and we are committed to supporting businesses to adapt. We continue to work closely with industry to understand and resolve implementation challenges. We are also engaging extensively with the industry in the UK and around the world to explain our new requirements.

It was really interesting to hear the Secretary of State palm off the detail of the tax on electricity generators to the Chancellor, because the Chancellor could not answer many questions on that at the Treasury Committee yesterday, such as defining excess profits or saying exactly when it will start or what the impact would be on renewables generators in Scotland. Will he publish a full impact assessment on this policy and investment in the renewables sector in Scotland, which is a key sector in getting to net zero?

I am very happy to speak to the hon. Lady about the details of that fiscal change. The energy profits levy was announced by the Chancellor and the details will be worked out in consultation with us, but they are ultimately a responsibility for the Treasury. However, I am very happy to talk to her about those details.

Diesel and petrol prices have hit a record average high this morning, with diesel costing more than £1.85 a litre. Along with labour shortages, that is having a devastating impact on haulage businesses in North Shropshire and across the rest of the country, as well as driving inflation in the economy. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to support this critical industry through these dual crises?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), we are engaging constantly with the sector and the CMA to make sure that the tax cut is passed on. However, I find it a bit rich for the Liberal Democrats, who, if I am not mistaken, voted against all the fuel freezes and this year’s Budget, to then claim that the reduction in fuel duty, which they opposed, is now not being passed on to their constituents. If they had voted for the reduction in the first place, I would have a lot more sympathy with their position.

We have been trying to find out today exactly what the Secretary of State’s job is, because he kept saying “That is not my job”. May I remind him that he is responsible for energy and that, in the recent energy strategy, energy from waste was hardly mentioned? It could produce 20% of our energy needs. Why is he ignoring that?

I am always very pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman’s contributions, given that he was born in my constituency—I am always pleased to see constituents doing extremely well in life. On my role, he is absolutely right that I am responsible for energy—I was Energy Minister and am now the Secretary of State—and that is why we have brought through the net zero strategy, which has plenty on energy from waste, including in relation to our energy needs.

The recently published preliminary report by the administrators of the failed Safe Hands funeral plans company suggest that this is yet another instance in which company directors have made false promises to innocent people, taken their money, played fast and loose with it and are likely to have lost it all. Will the Minister give us a timetable for the various bits of legislation in the Queen’s Speech so that dodgy company directors can be held to account immediately and not 10 or 15 years later?

On corporate governance, we will see, in the economic crime Bill, the reviews relating to Companies House, and we have also had the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Act 2021. However, the hon. Gentleman cites a particularly egregious example and I will make sure that my colleague Lord Callanan, the Minister responsible for corporate governance, responds accordingly.