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Commons Chamber

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2016

House of Commons

Tuesday 13 December 2016

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU: Tariffs

1. What steps the Government are taking to protect industries based in (a) East Lancashire and (b) the UK from the potential effect of tariffs after the UK leaves the EU. (907816)

My Department is working closely with the Department for Exiting the EU to understand the impacts that leaving the EU will have on businesses, consumers and other economic actors across the UK, including in east Lancashire. As the Prime Minister has said, we will work hard to get the best deal for Britain.

Although not quite as eye-catching as the motor industry, the construction products, furniture-making and chemical industries, represented by Crown Paints, J & J Ormerod and others in my constituency, employ more people. Will my hon. Friend ensure that these strategic industries to east Lancashire can trade on no less favourable terms than any other industry following Brexit?

As my hon. Friend will know, I am closely involved with the construction products sector, and the construction industry in general, through the Construction Leadership Council. It would be premature to comment on any deal to be struck, but he can take it from me that it has my closest attention, as does the future of the construction industry itself.

As a fellow MP for Rossendale, I echo the comments and concerns about leaving the EU and what the tariff framework would be if there was a hard Brexit. When I visited Simon Jersey, which did the formal wear for our Olympic team, I was told that the cliff-edge tariffs on textiles are between 9% and 12%. This is a real concern. What assurances can the Government give to companies that they will not be taxed out of business through leaving the EU?

As I have said, it is premature to give any kind of assurance. What is striking, though, is the amount of new investment that has been taking place in this country, irrespective, one might think, of any concerns about Brexit. That includes investments in BAE Systems, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Honda, Associated British Ports and many other large industrial players.

Will my hon. Friend explore how World Trade Organisation-compliant tariff drawback mechanisms and inward processing measures can ensure that the objectives of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) are met?

That is a formidably technically sophisticated question, for which I thank my hon. Friend. I think that it probably lies to be answered between ourselves and the Department for International Trade. We will certainly consider it carefully.

Food production and food processing is an important part of the north-west economy that is not necessarily susceptible to export beyond the European Union because of different consumer tastes and preferences in the rest of the world. What negotiations are the Government considering or already undertaking to protect this important industry? Can the Minister confirm that specialist negotiators who understand the industry are in place to carry out those negotiations?

That question is really as much for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as it is for us. Nevertheless, it is true that tastes are expanding around the world, and therefore one sees every opportunity for British food producers to expand their world markets in the days to come.

Given that we have a massive trade deficit with the European Union, surely it would be economic suicide for the EU not to agree a free trade deal with us. However, Civitas has calculated that if it did go down that line, British business would have to pay about £5 billion a year in tariffs under WTO rules to access the EU market, and EU businesses would have to pay about £13 billion in tariffs to access the UK market. Given that, could we not agree to cover all tariffs for British businesses exporting to the EU, so that they do not have to pay anything, and still be quids in?

Alas, long experience has taught me to distrust some of these speculative estimates of cost and benefit, so I will not comment on that.

We are all aware that the cross-border trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland is absolutely vital, and if tariffs are put in place, it could be a complete disaster. Can we please make sure that the Northern Ireland voice is heard and embedded in any negotiations?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that that question is being taken extremely seriously in my Department. Northern Ireland is an area for which I have a ministerial responsibility. I have met, on several occasions, Northern Ireland Economy Ministers and senior figures in industry there. We will continue to look at this question very closely.

Science and Innovation

This Government are strongly committed to science and innovation. We protected the science budget at the spending review in 2015. In the last autumn statement, a few days ago, we committed to spending a further £2 billion a year by the end of this Parliament. The creation of UK Research and Innovation, through the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, will increase the value and impact of our investments in science and innovation in the years ahead. [Official Report, 16 December 2016, Vol. 618, c. 7-8MC.]

I thank the Minister for that answer. It has certainly been a good time for science and innovation in Britain. It has also been a good year for the UK space sector, with Major Tim Peake’s historic visit to the international space station and a new spaceport here in the UK. It certainly strikes me that the next big challenge will be the successful delivery of the ExoMars programme, particularly given some of the rumours that have been going around. Will the Minister update the House on any progress made at the European Space Agency summit recently?

Yes, I am happy to provide a brief update. My hon. Friend is an aficionado of space policy and former chair of the parliamentary space committee, so he will be delighted to know that we had an excellent outcome at the European Space Agency’s Council of Ministers. We committed a further €1.44 billion, which has secured the future of the ExoMars programme, among many other things.

I do not want to ruin the Minister’s Christmas celebrations, which are imminent, but if he looks at the deplorable investment in research and development—the figures that came out only this week—does he not see that he needs to wake up and smell the coffee? The fact of the matter is that research and innovation will be deeply damaged by leaving the European Union. He should ask the universities what they think.

I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the Government’s commitment to research and development, which was underscored in the autumn statement with a further £2 billion by the end of this Parliament—perhaps the biggest single increase in R and D expenditure by any Government in the memory of anyone in this Parliament.

Innovate UK plays a key role in promoting science and technology by giving grants to entrepreneurs. Will the Minister continue to support it as new fourth industrial revolution businesses come forward to seek new funding to develop the next generation of science and technology businesses?

Yes, I am happy to provide that assurance. Innovate UK, our innovation agency, will be at the heart of our industrial strategy, and the autumn statement will provide it with the resources it needs to continue to do its job of supporting small businesses in innovation.

Tidal Lagoon Power’s report, “Ours to own”, anticipates that tidal lagoons could bring more than £70 billion to the UK industry. Swansea Bay tidal lagoon is key to unlocking that innovative potential, which has great opportunities for Cardiff and the north Wales coast, as well. I appreciate that the Minister will have concerns about costs to customers, but will he commit to weighing up all aspects of the energy trilemma in his response to the Hendry report?

We are looking very carefully at the report and will be coming forward with our response in due course.

Chemical and pharmaceutical businesses are an important feature of the northern powerhouse and emerging enterprises in the sector are often rooted in university research labs. What support and funding can the UK Government commit to encourage continued research collaboration across Europe—and indeed the rest of the world—to increase our innovative business base post-Brexit?

We support international collaboration in science and research in Europe, and indeed around the world, and will continue to do so.

20. The Government talk about promoting science and innovation, but this Government pulled the plug on funding for carbon capture and storage. How much of the additional £4.7 billion R and D money announced in the autumn statement will be allocated for carbon capture and storage? (907838)

We will consult the sector and the science community very carefully as part of our development of the industrial strategy, in a discussion paper that we will launch in the weeks to come.

The Catalyst science discovery centre in my constituency does an excellent job of promoting careers in science and engineering for young people. Will the Minister come and visit it? It struggles to keep going financially, but it does an absolutely unbelievably good job.

I commend the good work going on in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and look forward to an opportunity to visit that centre as and when it arises.

Industrial Strategy

Our industrial strategy will help to build an economy that works for everyone. To do that, we will look to drive productivity and growth in all parts of the country. We have already set out steps to deliver this, including, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation just said, significant funding announcements for science, research and development and infrastructure in the autumn statement.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I note that he said that the industrial strategy should work for everybody. The Office for Budget Responsibility projects that there will be an additional 500,000 new jobs by 2020, but even if all those jobs were taken up by disabled people, the disability employment gap would still not be halved. Can the Secretary of State explain how the industrial strategy will support achieving the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap by 2020?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is important that we close that gap, and the Government have made a firm commitment to doing so. He will see when we make our proposals—I hope that he will contribute to them—that part of our purpose is to ensure that people who may have been excluded from the labour market have the skills to enable them to prosper in the future.

Ayrshire is a beautiful coastal county with areas of both rural and urban deprivation, but with huge potential in the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries. The Scottish Government are supportive of a growth deal to invest in infrastructure and key sectors. Will the Minister meet me to hear the proposal to unlock Ayrshire’s industrial potential?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. I am proud of the city deals and the growth deals that we have negotiated, including in Glasgow, which is not far away from Ayrshire in the west of Scotland. Ayrshire has a huge amount to offer, and Prestwick is an important asset. I welcome the initiative of the councils in Ayrshire.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to consider creating free ports across the nation? Such free trade zones around our great port cities can simultaneously boost manufacturing, promote regional growth and grow exports—surely, all key ingredients in a successful industrial strategy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his industry. He has published an excellent report for the Centre for Policy Studies, which makes for very good reading. He knows that I am considering it with my colleagues, and I commend him for writing it and putting it forward.

As my right hon. Friend develops his industrial strategy, may I give him some friendly advice? Drop the word “industrial” and drop the word “strategy”, and replace them with the words, “competition, innovation and skills policy”.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He will see that one of the differences between our approach to industrial strategy and policy—it is important to note that industry, for this purpose, means the services sector as well as manufacturing—and previous approaches is that our approach will not be about simply addressing the needs of incumbents; we want to make Britain the best, the most competitive and the most contestable place for business to locate. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend contributed to it. I think that he will find that it is music to his ears.

Surely, one of the Secretary of State’s priorities should be the steel industry. Is he aware that Noel Village foundry in Doncaster is being badly affected by reductions in the steel industry supply chain? Will he ask his Department to give urgent advice to the company to see whether anything can be done to prevent it from going into administration, even at this late stage?

I am happy to meet the right hon. Lady about this, but I can give her some news on steel that I think she will welcome. I can announce today that the Government are going to publish their demand for steel, through public sector bodies, to 2020; that will be 3 million tonnes. We are updating the procurement guidelines for steel to include the health service and local authorities and to drop the previous threshold of £10 million for which those guidelines apply. That will be good for the steel industry generally and for all firms within it.

Small-scale manufacturing in firms that often have fewer than half a dozen people is key to the local economy in Kettering and is responsible for a lot of the employment opportunities. Will the Secretary of State make sure that small-scale manufacturers are a key priority in his industrial strategy?

I will indeed. I would commend two things to my hon. Friend. First, we want to make sure that small manufacturers can access the extra funding for research and innovation that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has described. Secondly, we want to address the ability of small and growing firms to obtain the finance to allow them to grow to the next stage, which is very important in having a vigorous competitive market, as my hon. Friend suggests.

From education to research and development, Scotland’s universities play a key role in boosting our economy across all regions and sectors. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State outline what the role of universities will be in his forthcoming industrial strategy? Will the recently announced new money for R and D be available to Scottish universities?

Yes; universities are very important. We have had a number of very constructive sessions with university leaders and researchers. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that science does not recognise boundaries. Universities and researchers in Scotland have a fantastic record of success. In fact, with 8.5% of the UK population, Scotland attracts 10% of UK research funding, which shows that it can prosper and thrive with the new changes we are making on funding.

Science does not recognise boundaries. Universities Scotland estimates that 10% of research funding comes from the EU and that up to 16% to 20% of staff come from EU nations. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State ensure that, as we exit the EU, Scotland’s universities are not hit punitively by immigration sanctions and the withdrawal of EU funding?

It follows from what I have just said—science does not respect boundaries—that the science community is very global and international. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, we will in the negotiations reflect the importance of that not just for Scotland, but for the whole United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State talks about an industrial strategy and those words are in his title, but so far he has shared only bland generalities. Despite the high-profile examples cited, the Institute of Chartered Accountants predicts that business investment will fall by 2.4% in 2017. There are great opportunities for British businesses post-Brexit, but they need leadership, and this climate of uncertainty is toxic to investment. Will the Secretary of State stop playing Scrooge with his assurances, and give British business the Christmas present it wants—an industrial strategy?

A bit of optimism on the part of the hon. Lady would not go amiss, especially in this Christmas season. In fact, there is huge enthusiasm in businesses right across the country and huge engagement with us in developing our long-term policies. Perhaps she has been distracted by some of the events in her party in recent months, so let me summarise the things we have done since July. We have given the go-ahead—she may have missed this—for some very important strategic infrastructure projects: Hinkley Point C, the third runway at Heathrow and the next phase of HS2. We have secured investment in Nissan, close to her constituency, as we announced a month ago. We have ratified the Paris agreement, and we have secured the extra investment that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation talked about. We have done more to put our industrial future on the right footing in five months than the previous Government did in 13 years.

Business Numbers

To turn from Marley’s ghost stalking the Labour Front Bench, the number of businesses in the UK continues to grow: at the start of 2016, there were a record 5.5 million private sector businesses, which is an increase of 97,000 since 2015 and 1 million more than in 2010.

This weekend, small businesses in my constituency held a Christmas market in Belmont Circle to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Eye 2 Eye opticians, which is doing a brilliant job locally. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses prosper and grow in this country?

My hon. Friend is right to recognise the central importance of small and medium-sized businesses to our economy. The Government have been supporting that vital sector of our economy through: the extension of small business rate relief; our support for the British Business Bank, which has dealt with more than 51,000 small businesses; the new productivity council, which was announced in the autumn statement; and the new patient capital review.

Given the number of businesses, will the Minister ensure that there is a level playing field so that the level of subsidy for tariffs applied to the motor industry is applied equally across all exporters? Will he publish the total amount of subsidy before 31 March?

There has been no special deal for Nissan or any other part of the motor industry. Whatever arrangements are made to support different sectors of the UK economy are fully transparent. The general picture is that we are proceeding vigorously and with some care towards a rather attractive destination.

16. Superfast broadband is essential to many small businesses. Does the Minister agree that it is very disappointing that many villages in my constituency of South East Cambridgeshire do not have connectivity and face delay in getting it? Will he join me in encouraging and supporting further connectivity across the region? (907833)

My hon. and learned Friend is right. She will know that I have been a pretty tireless campaigner for superfast broadband, especially in relation to BT and Openreach. I agree with her about the importance of broadband. The autumn statement announced a £1 billion package for fibre and 5G connectivity, prioritising business connections across the UK. That follows the superfast broadband programme, which is due to deliver 91% coverage in South East Cambridgeshire by mid-2017 and a new universal service obligation.

Fifty thousand businesses die unnecessarily every year because of late payment. Some £31 billion is owed and small firms alone spend £10 billion chasing outstanding invoices. While the duty to report and the small business commissioner have been much delayed, just 378 of the largest 55,000 businesses have signed up to the prompt payment code. When will the Conservative Government start doing something about the scourge of late payment? Put some teeth into it, so that small businesses can act.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point the finger squarely at the issue of late payment. It is a serious matter that we will continue to press forward on, but one must see it in the context of the thriving small business economy that I have outlined.

Women on Boards

The proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to 27%. Since 2011, the number of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled to 23.5%. We support the business-led target of 33% of those on FTSE 350 boards being women by 2020.

I welcome the Minister’s response, but to get more women on boards we have to get more women into business in the first place. I championed and spoke at the Wayfinder Woman conference in Uckfield. The mission of the Sussex-based organisation is to get more women into business. What work do the Government do with such organisations to get women into enterprise so that they get the skills that they need to rise to the top?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work she does to mentor women. More than 16,500 start-up loans have been issued to female entrepreneurs and almost half the users of the business support helpline are women. The Hampton-Alexander review is looking beyond boards at building female pipelines among senior management. We also support the Women’s Business Council.

Is there a regional pattern in low numbers of women on boards? Will the Minister outline what discussions have taken place with ministerial colleagues in the devolved Administrations about increasing the number of women on boards?

I welcome the hon. Lady’s commitment to increasing the number of women on boards in Scotland. I will have discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ensure that the national target applies equally to Scotland as to elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Self-employed: Support

I apologise to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie)—I meant Northern Ireland, of course, in my earlier response.

The gov.uk website and the business support helpline provide information on starting and running a business. Growth hubs also provide access to local and national support, and 4.8 million people are now self-employed.

In South East Cornwall we have some fantastic self-employed people who make a host of excellent food products. Does my hon. Friend agree that there will be opportunities for them to grow their businesses and be released from excessive red tape once we leave the European Union? What advice does she have for them?

The Government committed in their manifesto to reducing the burden of regulation on business by £10 billion during this Parliament. We will also carefully consider the implications of leaving the European Union for the business impact target, and the opportunities to reduce further the burdens on businesses such as the excellent self-employed food producers in South East Cornwall.

False self-employment is a particular issue in sectors such as retail, care and construction. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority is now expected to regulate those industries, which contain more than half a million businesses, yet has only 79 members of staff across the entire UK. Its director of labour market enforcement has not yet been appointed, despite the new powers being in place. Will the Government ensure that they act speedily on that?

I assure the hon. Lady that we are acting swiftly to appoint the director of labour market enforcement. I agree with her that it is a crucial role.

EU-derived Employment Rights

8. What steps he is taking to ensure that all EU-derived employment rights will be protected after the UK leaves the EU. (907824)

The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will not, as a consequence of our withdrawal, allow any erosion of rights in the workplace, whether those rights derive from EU or UK law. She has further made it clear that the Government are determined to deliver an economy that works for everyone, and fundamental to that is the preservation of existing workers’ rights.

Is it not the fact that our EU-derived employment rights are upheld not by legislation but because they are enforced by the relevant European courts? Given that progress on a British Bill of Rights has been patchy at best, what will guarantee those rights after we leave?

Such rights will be upheld by British courts after we leave the European Union. The UK enjoys record employment at the same time as employment rights that exceed what is required by EU law in the important areas of maternity leave, parental leave and statutory annual leave.

Given the sorry history of Brexit broken promises, does the Minister understand the widespread cynicism expressed about the idea that rights will be protected post-Brexit, including on a continuing basis? Does she agree with the Brexit promise-breaker par excellence, the Foreign Secretary, that these crucial rights are back-breaking?

The hon. Gentleman prejudges the situation by saying that we have had a chance to break Brexit promises before we have even started the negotiations. The Prime Minister could not have been clearer—she has been supported in this at the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—that workers’ rights will be protected and possibly even enhanced.

The hon. Gentleman bears a striking resemblance to an exploding volcano. Let us hear the feller.

As always, I am very reasoned, Mr Speaker, but really, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) was talking absolute rubbish just then, which is not unusual. Does the Minister agree with the democratic principle that the Government of the day will decide on employment rights? Is that not what we want—employment rights decided in this House, not in Europe?

This House will decide on employment rights, but it is important to remind my hon. Friend that during the lifetime of this Government, the Prime Minister could not have been clearer that workers’ rights will be protected after Britain leaves the European Union.

Leaving the EU

9. What discussions his Department has had with business representatives on the Government’s plans for the UK to leave the EU. (907825)

We have held a wide range of discussions with businesses, their representatives, investors, workers and local leaders in all four home nations. We expect that to continue in the coming months to secure UK interests in any exit negotiations.

There is concern among business about a potential cliff edge in March 2019 if we leave the EU and fall back on World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs. Does the Minister agree with the Chancellor, who yesterday told the Treasury Committee that there is

“an emerging view among businesses…that having a longer period to manage the adjustment between where we are now as full members of the European Union and where we get to in the future as a result of the negotiations…would be generally helpful, would”

help smooth the transition and would help to reduce disruption for business?

It is a tempting invitation to offer a running commentary on our exit arrangements, but since we are not going to do that as a Government, I will not do so now.

Last week’s news from Port Talbot was hugely welcomed in steel towns such as Corby. It came about because of constructive work not only in the House, but involving Ministers, the unions, the workforce and the industry. As we move towards reaching final agreement, what role does my hon. Friend see the industry playing in the industrial strategy, and what discussions has he had on that in the EU context?

I stand corrected. We will leave the Foreign Secretary out of this.

The Minister for Climate Change and Industry, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other ministerial colleagues have had a series of meetings with steel companies across the production and supply chains, and have been able to give them the support and structure needed in that context.

Energy Bills

The retail energy market works well for those who are able and have the time to switch, with customers able to make savings of up to £300 by moving on to the cheapest tariffs. However, we want a market that works for all consumers, not just those who switch supplier. That is why we have been clear that we want energy companies to come forward with proposals on how they are going to treat their loyal customers fairly.

The Competition and Markets Authority has found that two thirds of households are on expensive standard variable tariffs. Does the Minister agree that suppliers should do more to ensure that their loyal customers are on better-value tariffs?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not right that customers are penalised for their loyalty. We want energy companies to treat all their customers fairly, and not just customers who switch between suppliers. That is why we have challenged them to come forward with proposals to ensure that all their customers get a fair deal.

I have been saying for about five years now that companies have been overcharging their customers who are on the standard variable tariff. That has been confirmed by the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofgem and the Government. The only way we will shift how those companies operate is by extending to those people on the standard variable tariff the protection we offer those on prepayment meters. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what more we can do to ensure that we give the big six energy companies a kick up the backside?

I am happy to meet the right hon. Lady, who has extensive experience in this area. We are certainly considering the CMA remedies.

A large number of rural properties are heated by oil-fired central heating. Will the Minister confirm that home efficiency measures are a vital way of cutting bills for those rural properties?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Efficiency measures are fundamental to reducing the energy bills not just for people in rural areas, but for the population as a whole.

This week, a senior Ofgem executive warned that, as a result of our higher reliance on renewable energy, consumers may face the possibility of having to pay a premium to ensure that they have a reliable source of electricity to their homes and without having their lights turned off. What discussions has the Minister had with Ofgem on that, and are the Government considering the policy of relying on costly renewable energy rather than on cheaper fossil fuels?

We have an ongoing dialogue with Ofgem on a number of issues, but apropos the cost of supporting investment in low-carbon technologies, this is expected to increase, but so too are the savings from energy efficiency policies. This means that by 2020 household energy bills are still estimated to be lower on average than they would have been in the absence of those green policies.

Advanced Manufacturing

We are working to make the UK even more competitive in advanced manufacturing by cutting corporation tax and red tape and by increasing our support for the research and innovation that is crucial to success. We are doing that not least through our £300 million investment in the high-value manufacturing catapult centre.

Given the potential increase in tariffs due to Brexit, how does the Minister plan to ensure that high-value manufacturing does not deteriorate?

High-value manufacturing is extremely important to our future—it presents many opportunities but also presents risks that we have to manage—and so will be an important part of our industrial strategy. On the broader concerns about tariffs, the hon. Gentleman has heard it often enough, so he should start believing it: the Government are listening carefully, as I witnessed yesterday, to manufacturing and other sectors about their priorities and concerns as we shape and finalise our negotiating position.

Will the Minister, or one of his ministerial colleagues, meet me and representatives from M+W Group and DBD from my constituency, which are part of a consortium bidding for a vitrification project in China’s nuclear sector? It would give them a lot of confidence if he and his team could meet them and help them to win the contract, which would create hundreds of jobs in this country.

The Government are committed to supporting successful British business to win contracts and generate jobs, so the answer is yes.

The low-carbon energy sector could drive the energy manufacturing industry in this country and be very helpful in developing the industrial strategy, which I fully support. One practical example is small nuclear reactors. Can the Minister tell the House when we can get an announcement on the funding and help for this important sector?

We are reviewing our priorities in relation to the energy innovation portfolio, which sits inside our Department, and the hon. Gentleman will have noticed the comments by the Chancellor at the autumn statement. We are reviewing our priorities and will announce them shortly.

Energy Supply

12. What assessment he has made of the security of the UK’s energy supply between 2017 and 2020. (907828)

National Grid’s electricity capacity report for this year was published in July and includes a forward look on electricity security. Through competitive capacity auctions, we have already secured capacity from 2018-19 to 2020-21, and in January we will hold a further auction to secure capacity for 2017-18. Our most recent gas security analysis was published in October and shows that our diverse and flexible gas supply can meet demand even under severe weather conditions.

The importance of substantial gas storage to electricity generation and avoiding damaging price hikes was highlighted by the partial closure of the Rough storage facility. What are the Government doing to tackle the question of increasing gas storage for the future?

That is a proper and important question. Our gas supply arrangements are quite diverse, and we have more than 30% spare gas capacity even on a cold winter’s day. The system has been tested, and has responded well in the past to shocks, including higher than expected demand for heating or power and restrictions to supply infrastructure, but it is certainly something we keep under constant review.

19. The success of carbon capture and storage is important to our energy security, which is why it was so disappointing that the Chancellor slashed £1 billion from the ring-fenced capital budget in the autumn statement. What are the Government doing to promote CCS? (907837)

All I can do is refer the hon. Gentleman to the earlier remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) on this topic.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Avalon community energy on completion of its solar PV installation at Brookside school in Street? Does he agree that such schemes create a greener and cheaper energy system and afford us greater security of supply?

I certainly do, and I am very glad that my hon. Friend has brought that to the attention of the House.

After the latest capacity auction, the overall scores for the procurement of new combined cycle gas generation plant stand at one small buildable plant over three auctions, at a total cost so far of £3 billion and £12 a year on customer bills. Does the Secretary of State have any other good ideas up his sleeve to secure the procurement and building of new capacity up to 2020?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the gas capacity market auction was an enormous success. It secured a widespread diversity of supply at low cost and in higher amounts than ever before, and it included some innovative new technologies. The Department should be celebrated for managing this.

Steel Council

The Steel Council will next meet in the new year. I will also meet senior steel industry chief executives and the trade union steel committee next month.

I am sure the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating all those involved in the Save our Steel campaign—especially the Community, GMB and Unite trade unions—on their vital contribution to the recent announcement on Port Talbot and other steel sectors across the UK. I am sure that he agrees that it is trade unionism at its best. Thousands of steelworkers and their families can look forward to a more certain 2017, but one of their real concerns remains their pensions. What will he do to bring forward better plans to ensure that steelworkers’ pensions, as well as their jobs, are protected?

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming and congratulating the workforce, trade unions and the employers on their very constructive set of discussions. It is important that the membership is consulted, but this is a positive step forward and he is right that this will provide greater comfort to employees this winter. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is right and proper for the independent Pensions Regulator, rather than the Government, to approve and be content with pensions arrangements. It would be wrong for the Government to intervene in that.

22. One of the best ways to support the British steel industry is for the Government to invest in infrastructure. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of Severfield Steel, based in Lostock in my constituency, which is building the world’s first “squashed tennis racket style” railway bridge as part of the Ordsall Chord in Manchester? (907840)

I will indeed congratulate Severfield Steel, which is a very successful company, not only on the Ordsall Chord but on winning a global award in recent weeks. It was also responsible for construction of the Olympic stadium, the Shard, and Birmingham New Street station. Many of the buildings that we admire and have in our minds are constructed with British steel by British companies.

While we have recently had some really good news for the steel industry, giving steel workers and their families the stability they need for now, the fact that steel was not mentioned in the autumn statement gives cause for concern. Furthermore, the UK Government’s leading of a group of countries that are blocking the EU reform of anti-dumping trade defence instruments is another serious issue for the industry. Will the Secretary of State commit to including the steel industry in the future industrial strategy, and detail the steps that the Government will take to support this vital foundation industry?

Of course steel is incredibly important, and it is important that it should have a bright future—we all want to see that. One thing I have been doing with the Minister for Climate Change and Industry, working closely with the steel industry on both the employer and trade union side, is to fund and bring together a strategic review, and the whole industry is coming together to work on it. That is expressly designed to inform our industrial strategy, so that we can look forward with confidence to a very successful steel industry.

Local Enterprise Partnerships

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 14 and 21 together.

Local enterprise partnerships do extremely important work as voluntary partnerships, bringing together business insight, local authorities and universities to shape and support local growth, not least through growth deals that are funding more than 800 projects across England.

We are, in fact, grouping this question with Question 18. Ministers have to keep their eye on the Order Paper. The numbers change over a period, for reasons that I think will be fairly obvious to the Minister.

There are 30,000 more businesses with high-speed broadband in the black country as a result of the leadership of the Black Country local enterprise partnership. Does the Minister agree that the Black Country LEP has been an excellent example of bringing together the private and public sector to drive growth, improve skills and build the infrastructure that the black country economy needs?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that to the attention of the House; it sounds like a fantastic deal that will unlock many opportunities for people and businesses in the black country. I hear great things about the LEP and the chairmanship of Stewart Towe, and through my hon. Friend, who I know has been a tireless champion of the LEP, I pass on the congratulations of the Government.

At a time when LEPs have been having a hard time in the media, is the Minister aware that my constituency is well served by two excellent LEPs: the New Anglia LEP and the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough LEP? What wider role does he envisage for LEPs, and will he consider expanding the growing business fund?

I thank my hon. Friend for standing up for his LEPs at a difficult time for them as a result of the allegations made. I assure him that LEPs are at the heart of the process of feeding into the industrial strategy; we are absolutely clear that that industrial strategy needs to reflect deep understanding of the different challenges and opportunities each area faces, which is why the Secretary of State has allocated ministerial champions to each LEP.

I will be very brief, Mr Speaker.

Some newspapers have exposed shocking examples of what I can only describe as crony capitalism in some of our LEPs. For example, the former elected mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, received more than £50,000 for his own brewing firms while on the LEP board, which kept no minutes; perhaps the Minister is impressed to find right-wing politicians who can organise a booze-up in a brewery. Given that the Government are putting nearly £2 billion into LEPs through the autumn statement, can he tell us what they are doing to enforce basic standards of accountability?

As was said the other day, never trust Labour Members when they say they are going to be brief.

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point about LEPs. This is taxpayers’ money and, as he would expect, we take extremely seriously any allegations about it being spent inappropriately, particularly when there are allegations of conflicts of interest. We are reassured by the prompt and robust response of LEPs to the individual allegations, including the one in Bristol, but we continue to press and make the point very strongly that we expect full compliance with the requirements of the strengthened national assurance framework.

Topical Questions

Over the last month we have made substantial progress across the Department’s responsibilities. Our recently published review of corporate governance will make sure Britain is not only an excellent place to do business, but also is where business is done best. We continue to tackle climate change, ratifying the Paris agreement. My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and Industry played an important part in the climate discussions in Marrakech, and he and I had the great pleasure of opening the Siemens wind turbine factory in Hull, creating 1,000 new jobs in that great city. By providing an additional £2 billion a year for research and innovation by 2020 and giving British homes and businesses certainty that their electricity demands will be met for the next five years, we are investing in our country’s economic future.

That was a fabulous introduction to my question about the Hendry review. I know the Government have received the review, and I am confident that it makes some clear and useful recommendations, so I would like to know whether the Government intend to make it public soon, and what are their thoughts about some of Charles Hendry’s comments and recommendations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and would like to put on record my gratitude to Charles Hendry for writing his report. It is important that it is published soon. Charles Hendry is travelling at the moment, but as soon as he is back I will agree with him a date to publish it and he can answer questions on it. It is a substantial document and my hon. Friend will understand that we will want to consider it and make our response in due course.

T5. New research from Edinburgh university finds that electricity generation from wind farms cuts even more greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought: almost 36 million tonnes over six years, the same as taking 2.3 million cars off the road. Meanwhile the Government’s own figures predict their renewables cuts will see 63 million tonnes more CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Will the Minister clarify how the Government plan to continue cutting emissions, as the Leader of the House confirmed to me last week regarding ongoing commitments to climate change targets, while bringing in policies that will bump them up? (907810)

Order. Members need to understand that topical questions were always intended to be briefer. We cannot have these three, four and five sentence questions. What one wants is a quick question.

We will publish early our emissions reductions plan in the new year. It is a legal requirement on the Government to set out exactly how we expect to meet our long-term carbon commitments.

T2. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), for the recent meeting in relation to my private Member’s Bill on the regulation of certain laser pens. Will she clarify when the consultation’s call for public evidence will start and when the Government will come forward with their conclusions? (907807)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work to bring the misuse of laser pointers to the Government’s attention. The Government are concerned about the misuse of high-powered laser pointers and will seek evidence early next year on the potential options for tackling such misuse.

T7. A review by academics at the Leeds University Business School and the University of Exeter found that every pound invested in the Union Learning Fund results in a return of £12.70, leading to an estimated net contribution to the economy of £1.45 million and an estimated return to the Exchequer of £3.57 for each pound spent. With that in mind, what steps are being taken to ensure much better engagement with the unions? (907812)

T3. A construction business my constituency has alerted me to corporate mandate fraud, by which a fraudster pretends to be a company and asks its customers to change the bank account details for future payments. What steps can the Minister take to alert all businesses to such criminal behaviour? What discussions has she had with the Home Secretary about bringing the perpetrators to justice? (907808)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this type of fraud, which affects businesses in all sectors. It is essential that business owners and staff know what to do when they are notified of changes to bank account details. The best pointer in the first instance is the advice available on the Action Fraud website.

T10. Research published this week by Scottish Renewables shows that Scottish expertise in renewable energy is in demand around the world, with Scottish companies involved in projects worth £125 million over five years across 43 countries. What support will the UK Government give to the sector in the industrial strategy? (907815)

The transition to a clean energy system is fundamental to our energy strategy, and significant supply chain opportunities will flow from that. As for the Government’s commitment to renewable energy, this country has seen one of the fastest deployments of renewable energy across Europe since 2010, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have renewed that commitment through the contract for difference auctions.

T4. With engineering and textiles doing particularly well in Huddersfield and Colne Valley, will the Department continue to commit to an industrial strategy that builds on our regional economic strengths? (907809)

We certainly will. It is important that the industrial strategy and business policy recognise the strengths of particular places. Yorkshire is a particularly fine example.

Two weeks ago, GB Energy ceased trading, affecting 160,000 customers. Credit must go to Ofgem for ensuring that those customers were promptly transferred to another supplier, but does the Secretary of State believe that the regulator’s approach to risk management needs to change? Instead of carrying out little or no assessment of the viability of new entrants and then picking up the pieces if they fall, more rigorous financial health checks need to be undertaken to minimise the risk of failure, disruption to customers and a loss of confidence in switching to new energy providers.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Like him, I commend Ofgem for the arrangements that it put in place. He raises a reasonable point, and as Chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee he will want to work with me to ensure that the right arrangements are in place.

T6. Will my hon. Friend ensure that those who benefit from self-employment are aware of the different kinds of national insurance contributions? Will she also ensure that they pay the correct NI class, so that they are able to access the full range of support available to other types of jobseeker in the event that they re-enter the jobs market? (907811)

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister commissioned Matthew Taylor to carry out an independent review of modern employment practices, such as in my hon. Friend’s example, as part of ensuring that our economy works for everyone. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will also consider my hon. Friend’s suggestion.

The energy-intensive industries compensation scheme is due to end in April 2017. The Government have promised to bring forward legislation to exempt energy-intensive industries from renewable obligations and feed-in tariffs, but we are still waiting for that to happen. As things stand, the steel industry is therefore looking down the barrel of having to go back to the crippling energy costs it faced until the compensation package was introduced. Will the Secretary of State assure us that measures will be put in place before April 2017 to ensure that we do not go back to that situation?

The discussions we have had with the steel sector emphasise the importance of energy costs, and our commitment is to work with the sector to bring them down.

T8. Skills have been removed from the Department’s portfolio, yet for many businesses in the Bradford district access to talent remains a key challenge. So how will the Secretary of State ensure that education policy dovetails with his Department’s priorities to ensure that businesses have access to the skills they need? (907813)

With higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and skills in a single Department, the Government can now take a comprehensive, end-to-end view of skills and education. This Government will, of course, support people from their early years through to postgraduate study and work.

Is it not time for the Secretary of State to order an investigation into the Royal Bank of Scotland’s practices on lending to small businesses?

T9. Now that the future of Hinkley Point is secure, what further plans does my right hon. Friend have for nuclear energy to form a key part of our energy supply industry? (907814)

It is important that nuclear energy should form a key part of that. One of the pieces of neglect of the previous Labour Government is that they presided over the forecast closure of our nuclear fleet without making any plans to replace it. When I made the statement about Hinkley Point C, I also said that this would be the beginning of a new era of civil nuclear power in this country, and that is absolutely right.

In the week when we saw a great deal between Tata Steel and the Community trade union, largely down to Roy Rickhuss and the return of Ratan Tata, we also saw the merger of Baosteel and Wuhan Iron and Steel. What risk assessment has the Department made of market economy status for China and its effects on the British steel industry?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to both Ratan Tata and Roy Rickhuss, as both the company and the unions have worked constructively together, and the progress is welcome. I have, with the Minister for Climate Change and Industry, a very regular dialogue with both employers and trade unions. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been active in making sure that we have the right trade defences against practices where countries dump steel unfairly in the UK market.

Although business rates are set by the Valuation Office Agency, rather than by the Government, it is right the Government then try to soften the blow for those most affected. Will the Minister expand on what is being done to protect the businesses using solar panels that have been adversely impacted by high business rates?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that these rates are set independently. She will also know that the overall net effect of the reforms is to reduce business rates and that some transitional relief is in place. She is also right to highlight the challenges in respect of businesses that have installed solar for their own use, and we are working through that issue.

When will the Government publish their response to the Law Commission’s report on “Consumer Prepayments on Retailer Insolvency”? We need to do more to protect consumers when businesses go into administration.

I will note the hon. Lady’s comments and I will write to her. I am sorry, but I did not hear all of the question.

INEOS, Tata Chemicals and Banner Chemicals in my constituency provide high-quality, high-wage, high-skilled jobs. What consideration has been given to energy price competiveness in respect of our European neighbours, as a more competitive energy price would disproportionately benefit the northern powerhouse?

As I said to a number of hon. Members, the energy prices that are paid by businesses generally, and by energy-intensive industries in particular, are a crucial part of competitiveness, and we want to work with these industries to reduce the costs.

Nissan has benefited from a pre-Brexit deal. What reassurance can the Secretary of State offer Brighton-based businesses such as American Express and EDF that, after Brexit, they will still be able to have an open and free relationship with the EU?

American Express is a very important employer in Brighton, and it is very welcome here. It has located itself in this country because Britain is a fantastic place from which to do business. That is the message that I receive wherever I travel to in the world. There is great appetite to invest in Britain, and the hon. Gentleman will know of our recent success stories. I hope that American Express will continue to invest more and employ more in his constituency.

Following the collapse of the Greater Lincolnshire devolution deal, the LEPs in Humber and Greater Lincolnshire take on a greater significance, but there is concern that some central Government funding may be lost as a result of the collapse of the deal. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the LEPs will be used to channel the funds from his Department when suitable projects are identified?

As my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have said, we regard local growth as a very important component of our industrial strategy, and my hon. Friend knows that I have been a big champion of local growth, so I want to see more of that. Obviously, certain offers were part of the proposed deal, but these deals are never compulsory, and if the councils and the businesses do not want to proceed then it is a matter for them.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, as part of the industrial strategy, the future development of enterprise zones will be of great economic benefit, especially to the manufacturing sector?

I agree that enterprise zones have been successful. They have provided some tax advantages and, in many cases, a simplified regulatory environment, which is very attractive to businesses. Their experience commends them.

CQC: NHS Deaths Review

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement. On 12 April, I asked the Care Quality Commission to conduct an investigation into lessons that needed to be learned following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk in 2013 at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. I pay tribute to his family, and particularly to his mother, Sara Ryan, for persistently and determinedly campaigning for a proper investigation into what happened. The lesson of Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay and indeed other injustices such as Hillsborough is that when families speak out, we must listen. In this case, thanks to Dr Ryan’s efforts, many improvements will be made to the care of people with learning disabilities and many lives will be saved.

I asked the CQC to look at what happened at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and to assess more broadly what lessons there are for the NHS as a whole. Its findings make sobering reading. Among other findings, the report says that families and carers often have a poor experience of mortality investigations; that they are sometimes not treated with kindness, respect and sensitivity; that they can feel that their involvement is tokenistic; and that they often question the independence of the reports.

The report also says that the NHS does not prioritise learning from deaths and misses countless opportunities to learn and improve as a result, and that there is no single framework that sets out how local NHS organisations should identify, analyse and learn from deaths of patients in their care or those who have recently been in their care. As a result, there is inconsistency. Some NHS trusts get elements of mortality reporting right, but not one gets all the elements right. In particular, the leaders of NHS organisations and their doctors, nurses and other staff simply do not have access to the full picture of how many patients die in their care, which deaths were preventable, and what needs to be learned.

I thank Professor Sir Mike Richards and his CQC colleagues for an extremely thoughtful and thorough report. I am accepting all their recommendations. From 31 March next year, the boards of all NHS trusts and foundation trusts will be required to collect a range of specified information on potentially avoidable deaths and serious incidents, and to consider what lessons need to be learned, on a regular basis. This will include estimates of how many deaths could have been prevented in their own organisation and an assessment of why this might vary positively or negatively from the national average, based on methodology adapted by the Royal College of Physicians from work done by Professor Nick Black and Dr Helen Hogan.

We will require trusts to publish that information quarterly, in accordance with regulations that I will lay before the House, so that patients and the public can see whether and where progress is being made. Alongside those data, trusts will publish evidence of learning and action that is happening as a consequence of that information. They will feed the information back to NHS Improvement at a national level so that the whole NHS can learn more rapidly from individual incidents.

All trusts will be asked to identify a board-level leader as patient safety director to take responsibility for this agenda and ensure that it is prioritised and resourced within their organisation. This person is likely to be the medical director. They will be asked to appoint a non-executive director to take oversight of progress.

We will ensure that investigations of any deaths that may be the result of problems in care are more thorough and that they genuinely involve families and carers. More broadly, instead of the patchwork approach that we currently have, all trusts will be asked to follow a standardised national framework for identifying potentially avoidable deaths, reviewing the care provided and learning from mistakes.

I have asked the NHS National Quality Board, which includes senior clinicians from all national NHS organisations, to draw up guidance on reviewing and learning from the care provided to people who die, in consultation with Keith Conradi, the new chief investigator of healthcare safety. These guidelines will be published before the end of March next year, for implementation by all trusts in the year starting next April. We will also be working with the National Quality Board to ensure that much more support is offered to bereaved families. As the report highlights issues around support to families, Health Education England will be asked to review the training for all doctors and nurses with respect to engaging with patients and families after a tragedy and, equally importantly, maintaining their own mental health and resilience in extremely challenging situations.

As the report identified particular concerns about the treatment of people with learning disabilities, we will take two further actions. In acute trusts we will ask for particular priority to be given to identifying patients with a mental health problem or a learning disability to make sure that their care responds to their particular needs, and that particular trouble is taken over any mortality investigations to ensure that wrong assumptions are not made about the inevitability of death. We will also ensure that the NHS reviews and learns from all deaths of people with learning disabilities, in all settings. The learning disabilities mortality review—LeDeR—programme will provide support to families and local NHS areas to enable reporting and an independent, standardised review of all learning disability deaths of people between the ages of four and 74.

We will ensure that there is coverage in all regions by the end of next year and full national roll-out by 2019. As the programme develops, all learnings will be transferred to the national avoidable mortality programme. I have today asked the LeDeR programme to provide annual reports to the Department of Health on its findings and how best to take forward the learnings across the NHS. From next year we will become the first country in the world to publish data on avoidable deaths at a hospital-by-hospital level.

I want to address the issue of how we ensure that data published about avoidable deaths are accurate, fair and meaningful, and that the process of publication rewards openness and honesty. Of course we will be working closely with the CQC, NHS Improvement and senior NHS doctors and nurses to get this right, but I want to make it clear to the House that I will not be setting any target for reducing reported avoidable deaths, and nor do I believe it will be valid to compare numbers between hospitals because the data depend on clinical views that may change or vary. I expect—this might surprise some in the House—to see an increase in the number of reported avoidable deaths. This is more likely to be because hospitals get better at spotting and reporting them than because care is deteriorating.

We should also remember that when there is a tragedy in the NHS, there is always a second victim—namely, the doctor or nurse involved, who invariably suffers huge anguish. So let us today also give credit to all NHS front-line staff for the changes that are already taking place to improve patient safety. For example, the number of people experiencing the four main hospital harms is down by a third since November 2012; MRSA and clostridium difficile rates have halved since 2010; and we have 10,000 more hospital nurses in our wards since the Francis report, and they are now at record numbers.

There is a new healthcare safety investigations branch to perform speedy, no-blame inquiries into avoidable harm and death, modelled on the successful system that has operated in the airline industry for many years. There is also a consultation concluding this week on legislation to create a safe space for NHS staff to talk openly about how to improve the safety of care for patients, without having to worry about litigation or professional consequences.

The culture of the NHS is changing following a number of tragedies, but this report shows that there is much progress to be made in the collection of information about unexpected deaths, analysis of what was preventable and learning from the results. Only by implementing the report’s recommendations in full will we honour the memory of Connor Sparrowhawk, and I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and I thank the CQC for its report.

Any death is a tragedy for families, but when that death could have been prevented, or was the fault of a system that is meant to care for our loved ones, the trauma is all the more difficult to cope with. The circumstances of Connor Sparrowhawk’s death were shocking, and I, like the Secretary of State, pay tribute to his family, who have fought so hard for justice and to ensure other families do not have to go through what they went through. Connor Sparrowhawk’s step-father, Richard, told Radio 5 live:

“When a loved one dies in care, knowing how and why they died is the very least a family should be able to expect”.

We agree.

The findings of the CQC are a wake-up call: relatives shut out of investigations; reasonable questions going unanswered; and grieving families made to feel like a “pain in the neck” or feeling they would be better dealt with at a “supermarket checkout”. This is totally unacceptable—it is shameful and it has to change. We therefore strongly welcome the recommendation of a national framework and the specific measures the Secretary of State has outlined today. I assure him we will work with him and the Care Quality Commission to support the establishment of such a framework in a timely fashion.

Families and patients should not be forgotten in this process. Will the Secretary of State pledge that families and carers will be equal partners in developing the Government’s plans for implementing the CQC’s recommendations? Does he agree that those who work in the NHS show extraordinary compassion, good will and professionalism? Does he accept that when something, sadly and tragically, goes wrong, it can often be the result of a number of interplaying systemic failures and that therefore a national framework will provide welcome standards and guidance across the service?

Does the Secretary of State recall that the National Patient Safety Agency was responsible for monitoring patient safety incidents in the NHS, including medication and prescribing errors, before it was scrapped under the Health and Social Care Act 2012? Will he perhaps acknowledge in retrospect that scrapping that agency was a mistake?

For such a national framework and the Secretary of State’s proposed measures to succeed, investment will be necessary. Will hospitals and trusts receive extra funding to carry out the additional requirements that the CQC has recommended? More generally, hospitals across England are suffering chronic staff shortages, which is leaving doctors and nurses overstretched and struggling to do basic tasks. We all recall that Sir Robert Francis called for safe nurse staffing levels to be published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, but this guidance has been blocked. Will the Secretary of State now consider committing to NICE publishing safe nurse staffing levels, as recommended by the Francis report?

The Secretary of State is aware of the wider pressures on the service. Will he acknowledge that cuts to social care and the failure to provide it with extra investment in the autumn statement two weeks ago are leaving hospitals dangerously overstretched, with patients at risk of harm?

The Secretary of State will also be aware of the pressures on mental health provision. Over the weekend, we saw reports that bed shortages in England are now such that seriously ill patients with eating disorders are having to travel hundreds of miles for treatment. What does he make of this practice, and does he consider it safe and sustainable?

May I ask the Secretary of State about the heart-breaking case of the death of baby Elizabeth Dixon? I know that he has spoken of this in the past. He rightly ordered an investigation, but I understand from the family that 16 months down the line the investigation has not started. Will he provide the House with an update?

The CQC has called for the issues addressed in its report to be a national priority, and for all those involved in delivering safe care to review the findings and publish a full report. We absolutely agree. Action is needed. We welcome the recommendations and stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that these issues are no longer ignored.

I thank the shadow Health Secretary for the constructive nature of his comments. He is absolutely right in that, because this issue can unite people in all parts of the House. In fairness, these tragedies happen when those on either side of the House are responsible for the NHS, and we all have a responsibility to work to do better than we are doing at the moment.

I particularly agree with the hon. Gentleman that front-line doctors and nurses work incredibly hard, and we need to get away from a blame culture when these tragedies happen. That blame culture is the root cause of why we are not learning as we should from the problems that arise, because people are worried about what will happen to them personally if they speak out. We have seen this with a number of tragedies. Through the national framework, we are trying to move away from a blame culture. Of course people have to be held accountable. If there is gross negligence and people do totally irresponsible things, then there must be no hiding place and proper accountability: that is what families rightly insist on. For the vast majority of the time, however, people are just trying to do their jobs as best they can. As he rightly says, it is often a systemic problem that can be solved with systemic changes. We are now trying to implement the culture of investigation that has worked so successfully in the airline industry and other industries.

I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that families and carers will be equal partners as we develop the new national guidance. This area was one of the most shocking things about the CQC report. I am sure that it was a great surprise to many people in the NHS how excluded many families felt. We clearly have to do better in that respect.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the National Patient Safety Agency, and I pay credit to Sir Liam Donaldson, who was chief medical officer under the previous Labour Government and a great champion of patient safety, but we now have different structures in place. The new CQC inspection regime and the healthcare safety investigation branch are giving equal, if not greater, priority to patient safety.

We discuss on many occasions the funding issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, as I think he is acknowledging with his facial expressions. The point I would make, because we have had a good exchange and I do not want to get into the specific politics of NHS funding, is that this is a win-win, because avoidable harm and death is incredibly expensive for the NHS. The time it takes to carry out investigations when things go wrong is utterly exhausting for the doctors, nurses and managers involved, who would much rather be doing front-line care. Preventing these things from happening in future is the best possible way of freeing up time for people on the frontline.

I will take away what the hon. Gentleman said about the Elizabeth Dixon case and find out what is happening with that review.

The real lesson of today is that every family, every doctor and every nurse has a simple aim when a tragedy happens. It is not about money; it is about making sure that lessons are learned openly and transparently so that history does not repeat itself. That is really what this is about, and that is why we will continue our mission to make NHS care the safest and highest quality in the world.

The Secretary of State has answered my point, but I would like to say, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on patient safety, that the publication of avoidable death figures is really welcome news. I support what he said about creating a just culture where clinicians and other staff feel safe. That is important so that they can speak up about failure, and vital in delivering the high-quality but, most importantly, safer and better-value services the NHS aspires to.

I thank my hon. Friend, who does a huge amount of work on patient safety, not least because of sadness in her own family’s experiences that gives her particular passion in this respect. This is absolutely about creating a just culture. Inspiring people like James Titcombe, who lost his own son at Morecambe Bay, talk far more eloquently than I can about the need to get this right. Part of that just culture is about justice for people who use the NHS in future, to whom we have a responsibility to learn the lessons and make sure that mistakes are not repeated. One of the really important things we need to get right is to make sure that when something goes wrong in one place, there is a national way in which the lessons can be conveyed right across the NHS as quickly as possible.

I welcome this statement and remember the discussion of this tragic case. Obviously the majority of people who go into hospital and die in hospital will be people who are simply too ill for us to save, but we must not be nihilistic in imagining that that applies to everybody. The particular failure here was that people with learning difficulties or mental health needs were somehow just set aside and not looked at.

I welcome the idea of a safety board; there will be lots of things that can be learned and shared in that. I slightly pick up the Secretary of State on what he said about the Scottish patient safety programme, which is a national programme that has been running since the beginning of 2008. Part of that was about breaking down all the barriers, very much like in the airline business—being on first-name terms and making it everybody’s business so that even the cleaner in the theatre feels they can point out that they think a mistake is going to be made, but then when something happens having these adverse case reviews. In my hospital, we also reviewed near misses, and I commend that. It means that there is a review when what might have happened would have been serious. Certainly in the cases that I have been involved in, the family have been involved repeatedly. That is really important.

I also welcome the idea of a safe place for whistleblowers. People who have raised issues in the past and have been appallingly treated by the NHS still stand there as a terrible example to those who currently work in the NHS, so there needs to be some ability to go back to these old cases and provide justice for people who have ended up losing their careers by trying to raise patient safety issues.

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. I recognise the progress made in the Scottish patient programme, and particularly the inspirational leadership of Jason Leitch, who has done a fantastic job in Scotland and some very pioneering work.

The hon. Lady made some good points that I will take in reverse order. On whistleblowers, I asked Sir Robert Francis to look at this in his second report. He concluded that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to go back over historical cases, because the courts have pronounced and it is very difficult to create a fair process where legal judgments have already been made. However, I take on board what she says, and I do not think that that means that we cannot learn from what has happened in previous cases; they are very powerful voices.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about near misses, and we will include that issue in the “learning from mistakes” ambition.

The hon. Lady is most right of all about people with learning disabilities. The heart of the problem is deciding when a death was expected and when it was unexpected. About half of us die in hospitals. As she rightly says, the vast majority of those deaths are expected, but when a person has a learning difficulty it is very easy for a wrong assumption to be made that they would have died anyway. That is a prejudice that we have to tackle, and one that Connor Sparrowhawk’s mother talks about extremely powerfully. We have to make sure that this is not just about lessons for the whole NHS, but particularly about ensuring that we do better for people who have learning disabilities.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on learning disability, for me the most chilling phrase in the foreword of the report was when Mike Richards and his team said:

“We found that the level of acceptance and sense of inevitability when people with a learning disability or mental illness die early is too common.”

Will the Secretary of State put on the record what Mike Richards says in the report, namely that there can be no tolerance of treating the deaths of people with learning disabilities with any less importance than the deaths of any other patient in the national health service?

I am happy to put on the record the fact that those words have the Government’s wholehearted support. I credit my right hon. Friend for his work leading the APPG. I commissioned the CQC report because a year ago we had a report by Mazars on what happened at Southern Health, which said that only 19% of unexpected deaths were investigated and that that fell to 1% for people with learning disabilities. That cannot be acceptable, and it is why it is so important that we act on today’s report.

I seek the indulgence of the House while I raise a personal issue. This Thursday I should have been attending the inquest into my father’s death, which I anticipate will conclude that his death was avoidable. An hour ago I was notified that one of the key witnesses will not be attending because the hospital had incorrect contact details for him—he was a locum, and was unaware that the inquest was taking place. For the second time, therefore, it is being cancelled. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the report looked into the issue of locum doctors—the pressure, and the failure to learn lessons because so many people in the health service, and in A&E in particular, come to the specific hospital on a one-off occasion, which is partly the cause of the defensiveness in the system?

First, I am sure the whole House will join me in offering my condolences to the hon. Gentleman for what happened to his father. The incredible grief that he and others feel when they lose a family member is compounded if it is subsequently discovered that the death was avoidable.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The CQC was not specifically looking at the issue of locums in this report, but in many other reports, on many occasions, it has talked about the dangers of locum and agency staff for precisely the reason he mentions. It is partly because people are not necessarily around at the time of an investigation, as they have moved on and work somewhere else, but it is also partly because, as I am sure we all believe, staff can give better care if they are in a team of people who know and trust each other. That is not possible if the majority of staff are employed on a temporary basis. He makes a very important point.

It is clear that half of medical negligence claims are in the field of maternity. Does the Secretary of State agree that the fear of legal action often prevents people from speaking out? How will the safe space be created that does not allow lawyers to intervene—very often lawyers slow up the process? An early admission of fault and a willingness to express the fact that lessons have been learned would provide so much comfort for families.

My hon. Friend has spoken very eloquently about that issue many times in this House. If a baby is born with a serious brain injury there will typically be a court case that lasts 11 years, and a settlement of around £6 million. That family are having to cope with the shock of having a disabled child—some families say that that is a kind of mourning process because the baby is not the one they were expecting, although they then go on to give the most extraordinary love to that child—and we compound it by making them go through a legal process that lasts more than a decade. It is absolutely shocking and despicable if that happens. We need to find a way to get those families the financial support that they need earlier, and make sure that we learn the lessons more quickly. That is absolutely what this agenda is all about.

I also pay tribute to Sara Ryan, the mother of Connor Sparrowhawk, who has fought tirelessly for justice for those with learning disabilities. I warn the Secretary of State that I think she will take some convincing that things really will change, given all the resistance she has come up against. I hope he has managed to meet her; if not, would he be willing to meet her, with me, to discuss the plans going forward?

One key issue not covered in the report or statement is the timeliness of investigations. A report nine months or a year after the incident is often no good at all: the organisation has moved on, and people have forgotten what has happened. I commend Mersey Care, which does a very quick, thorough investigation within 48 hours, when the information is really current and people are still shocked by what has happened. That is how Mersey Care seeks to implement the lessons from every tragedy.

I want to put on the record that the right hon. Gentleman was a big champion for people with learning disabilities when he was in my ministerial team, in particular over issues such as Winterbourne View, which he brought to my attention and did a huge amount of positive work on.

I have met Sara Ryan. I spoke to her again yesterday. I repeat what I said in my statement: that without her campaigning we would not now be making the huge changes on a national level that we are. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s other comments.

The review found that acute and community trusts do not always record whether a patient has a mental health illness or learning disability. What steps will we take—such as, for example, the expansion of liaison psychiatry services—to make sure there is proper join-up and real parity of esteem?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are making sure that all A&Es have liaison psychiatry services by the end of this Parliament. The critical issue is that someone with a severe mental health problem or learning disability who turns up in an A&E has special needs, and has bigger needs than the other patients there, but unless that is recognised early in the process, they are unlikely to get the care they need. If a tragedy then happens and they go on to die—as sadly happens sometimes—but the illness or disability is not known about, people do not realise that there are other potential issues. That is why the report is very clear that all acute trusts are required to know when patients have learning disabilities or mental health problems and to pay particular attention in any mortality investigations that happen regarding those patients.

The CQC has produced a grim report, and there was an even grimmer internal report on maternity services operated by Pennine Acute NHS Trust. Mothers and babies have died. I have put in parliamentary questions to the right hon. Gentleman and talked to the chief executive to try to find out which of those deaths were avoidable. I welcome today’s statement, but is it possible to be retrospective, so that the families of those people who have died in the Pennine maternity service can find out whether those deaths were preventable?

When the new guidelines are published, we need to investigate, as far as we possibly can, deaths that have already happened. I totally recognise the hon. Gentleman’s picture of Pennine and share his real worry about the standard of care in that trust. The positive thing is that under the leadership of Sir David Dalton—the chief executive of Salford Royal, which is one of the safest trusts in the NHS and a CQC outstanding trust—things are beginning to turn around. I have spoken to him about the situation at Pennine on many occasions. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a lot of work to do there.

Many people will be shocked to hear that some trusts do not even know how many in-patients have died in their care. Will my right hon. Friend say more about what action should be taken against boards and leaders who are negligent in that way?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Boards now have a legal duty of candour, and are obliged to tell patients the truth about what has happened when something goes wrong, but how can they possibly do so if they do not properly record deaths or avoidable deaths? That is why this is a very significant moment. From next year, on a quarterly basis, all trusts will be publishing how many avoidable deaths there are in the trust. Those figures will be compared with national benchmarks. That is how we will start to make boards feel that they have a critical responsibility on this.

I welcome the learning disability mortality review that the Secretary of State has announced, but I am keen to ensure that it includes unexpected deaths in care settings other than the NHS. When I was first elected, Longcroft, which purported to be a care home for people with learning disabilities, was actually a torture chamber for people with learning disabilities. We have ended that kind of thing, but we need to ensure that unexplained deaths of people with learning disabilities in other care settings are fully investigated, and that those investigations feed into this review.

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I will take away with me the question of what the legal responsibilities will be for people in adult social care settings. One thing the report highlights, which I had not particularly anticipated, was the problem that a number of people with learning disabilities are cared for in multiple settings, so if there is a tragedy, the place where the tragedy happens may not be the place responsible for what went wrong. Often, the person’s previous care provider never even finds out that that person has died. One thing that Sir Mike Richards talks about is making sure that all care providers are informed promptly when something happens, so that there can be a multi-institution examination of what went wrong.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the measures that he has announced. I have been supporting the family of a constituent who died unexpectedly in hospital, and they have suffered at every step along the way. There has been a wall of silence, the trust has refused to co-operate and the CQC has refused to investigate. Every step along the way, the family have been frustrated. That has been made even more important by the fact that the son of the deceased is a doctor in the NHS, and he knows that processes have been badly handled. All he wants is for the NHS to learn from its mistakes. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to say what he will do about the number of unexplained deaths that have occurred in the NHS over the past few years, and whether any of those cases can be examined by an appropriate authority?

I am happy to look personally at the case that my hon. Friend talks about. I think he speaks for all patients and families who have suffered tragedies when he says that the only thing people want is for lessons to be learned. A more challenging issue is that staff sometimes do not feel empowered to speak out in such situations, and they worry about the consequences. A number of trusts have an outstanding learning culture that is really supportive of staff, but that is not the case everywhere. One of the big lessons from today is that we must work out how to spread that positive culture across the NHS.

On 10 December last year, I asked:

“Is the Secretary of State satisfied that families seeking truth and justice for their loved ones are having to rely on pro bono lawyers for advice and representation, and on crowdsourcing to get legal advice?”

He said:

“It should never come down to lawyers.”—[Official Report, 10 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1147.]

Sadly, we all know that, on occasion, it will come down to lawyers getting involved. Will any of the recommendations from the CQC cover such eventualities?

It is a difficult one, because access to lawyers is a matter for the Ministry of Justice. I am not trying to duck the issue, but my responsibility, in what we are trying to do today, is to try to make sure that families do not feel as though they need to go to lawyers, because the NHS is open and transparent enough. With the values of people in the NHS, I think that ought to be achievable. I am happy to look at the case that she raises, and to bring it up with my colleague the Lord Chancellor.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House more about the healthcare safety investigation branch? How big will it be, who will head it up, where will it be based and how will it use its forensic detective work locally to get to the nitty gritty of the things that cause problems for hospitals?