Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2017

As outlined in the Queen’s Speech, our industrial strategy will drive prosperity across the country, and in the past month we reached an important stage in that process. While we analyse the nearly 2,000 responses, we continue to make decisions that help UK-wide industries. We have announced £1 billion over the next four years for our most innovative industries, such as artificial intelligence, medicine, and autonomous vehicles. We have boosted investment in UK bioscience, such as by providing the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute with some £20 million, which will not only support its research on infectious diseases but create more highly skilled jobs and cement the UK as a world leader in science and innovation.

Energy security is essential for national security and for family finances. The essential Moorside energy project in Cumbria is key to such security, but with Toshiba now predicted to lose £7 billion and the French firm backing the project pulling out will the Secretary of State tell us if and when the project will go ahead and provide the assurances that industry, workers and consumers desperately need?

We have inaugurated a new era of nuclear power through the approval of Hinkley Point C. The NuGen consortium, the membership of which has changed from time to time, is confident that that investment will be able to proceed.

T5. I welcome the Government’s commitment in the Queen’s Speech to the new industrial strategy. Will the Secretary of State update the House on his plans to support new, cutting-edge technologies that will help Britain to lead the fourth industrial revolution? (900045)

My hon. Friend was a great champion of the strategy in the previous Parliament, and I hope that he will be here. One of its early fruits is the industrial strategy challenge fund, which is already making resources available for research in healthcare and medicine, artificial intelligence, clean energy, driverless cars, advanced materials, and satellites and space technology. That is exactly in line with what he and his group have been urging.

T2. The Conservative manifesto pledged to deliver a country“where wealth and opportunity are spread across every community in the United Kingdom”,and I see that Northern Ireland has just had its share. Will the Secretary of State tell me how the Government’s industrial strategy will bring wealth and opportunity to places such as Blackburn, where the national average wage is far less than it is in Maidenhead, for example? Blackburn has seen too many cuts from this Government and it is time that we had some investment, so how quickly can the strategy be delivered? (900042)

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. She will discover over time, I hope, that a key part of the industrial strategy is to drive growth in all parts of the country. My Department and I have looked to get funds out of Whitehall and into local places in every part of the country, including £320 million in Lancashire for the funding of the growth deal. She will also be aware that it is necessary to have an economy that is prospering, and one thing that would stand in the way of that is the record peacetime taxation with which the manifesto on which she stood was threatening the country.

T8. Our emerging technology and universities sectors welcomed our manifesto commitment to increase R and D spending from 1.7% to 2.4% of GDP, but it was not in the Queen’s Speech, so what has happened to that commitment? (900048)

Fear not, Mr Speaker, legislation is not required to deliver on that commitment. It remains a priority for the Government and for the delivery of our industrial strategy. We want to get to 2.4% of GDP for our R and D spend, and we have a longer-term ambition of 3% after that.

T3. Research by Citizens Advice found that half the people on zero-hours contracts, and two thirds of people on temporary contracts, worryingly believe that they are not entitled to paid holiday. Kirklees citizens advice bureau has found employers deliberately misleading workers about their rights. What steps is the Minister taking to make sure that workers are aware of their rights to a fair holiday? What repercussions will there be for companies that mislead staff? Can the Minister confirm when the Taylor review will be published? (900043)

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to workers who are misled and workers who believe erroneously that they have fewer rights than they do. We are absolutely committed that any individual, whatever contract they are on, is entitled to their rights. We have increased the powers open to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to enforce those rights.

T9. Market towns are vital to the rural economy, and they are the heart of rural communities, drawing people together across the 531 square miles of my constituency. Modern shopping habits, however, can mean that it is difficult for businesses in market towns to survive. What are the Government doing to support our much-needed and much-loved market towns? (900050)

Market towns, such as the ones in my hon. Friend’s constituency, will have all the support we are giving to the retail sector and high streets so that they can flourish.

T4. The National Audit Office recently published a report on Hinkley Point C that is nothing short of damning, describing it as “risky and expensive”. When will the Government listen to the experts and scrap this costly expenditure, and when will they invest instead in carbon capture and storage? (900044)

If ever you decided not to be Mr Speaker, a career as chairman of the BBC Radio 4 programme “Just a Minute” would be appropriate. In answering the hon. Lady’s question, I will try to keep to your one sentence rule.

The Hinkley Point contract is entirely designed so as not to get the Government involved in expensive capital expenditure, and the nuclear power produced by Hinkley Point will be an excellent part of a mix of power for decades to come.

Having access to the next generation of skilled workers is vital for business confidence and growth. Will the Minister consider promoting the opportunities of our ambitious apprenticeship programme through the annual business rate mailer to increase awareness?

Significant attention was given in the Queen’s Speech to commitments to roll out new institutes of technology, to the extra £0.5 billion of spending that will be given to further education and to our target to deliver 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020. High-quality further and technical education is an absolute priority for this country and this Government.

T6. The British ceramics industry owes its current success and future survival to the innovation and development of breakthrough technologies. With funds such as Horizon 2020 potentially disappearing along with our EU membership, will the Government assure me that domestic projects such as the advanced manufacturing research centre will receive support to keep us at the cutting edge? (900046)

We remain committed to ensuring that the UK remains the go-to place for science, innovation and tech investment in the years ahead. We want to remain open to collaboration and research partnerships with institutions across the European Union and around the world as we negotiate our departure from the EU.

It has been warmly received in Scotland, and we have had a positive response from businesses there. I had an enjoyable roundtable in Aberdeen, which was described by one local business as a “breath of fresh air.” I look forward to continuing that engagement with everyone in Scotland, and I am sure my hon. Friend will play a big part.

T7. While other countries, including our EU partners, have over the years used public purchasing to support their own industries, Britain often has not. As Brexit approaches, what are the Government doing to ensure that Government Departments, local services, emergency services, councils and other public bodies back British industry and British jobs by buying British first? (900047)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have already changed the procurement guidance so that local value can be taken into account. We have anticipated the issue he mentions and this is being done.

The Secretary of State is aware that I have long campaigned for parental bereavement leave, and I was delighted to see this policy in not only the Conservative manifesto, but the Labour manifesto. On that basis, will he kindly set out what steps the Government will take to introduce this important benefit?

I agree that bereaved parents should have the opportunity to grieve away from the workplace, and we will seek to provide for that. I am willing to meet my hon. Friend to discuss further how we might make such provision.

The Secretary of State has talked repeatedly today about the discussions he has had on Brexit. Which trade unions has he met, and when?

I regularly meet trade unions: I met Frances O’Grady of the TUC last week; I spoke to Roy Rickhuss of the steel union yesterday; and I spoke to Len McCluskey a few weeks ago. My contacts cover both sides of the employer and trade union mix.

Earlier this year, 116 MPs signed a letter I wrote to the Secretary of State urging him to implement the recommendations of the Hendry review for the world’s first ever tidal lagoon. When will a decision be taken?

The Hendry review also said that there are significant questions as to whether tidal lagoons can be cost-effective, and very complex issues are involved. We are fully aware that a Government decision is needed in order for anything to proceed, but it is absolutely right that we take the necessary time to consider this carefully.

Now that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) has reached the midpoint of his parliamentary career, I had intended to call him if he was standing, but he is not and so I will not—but if he does, I will.

I have listened to the questions and answers for the past hour, and I hear about the city deals and all the rest of it, but why does the Secretary of State not answer the specific questions about the trade unions? If he wants to give the impression that he is on the side of working-class people, why do not the Government drop the trade union Bill and all the rest of it?

I could not have been clearer about the regular discussions I have with trade unionists. My concern, which I hope would be the hon. Gentleman’s concern, is to make sure that in all parts of the United Kingdom we generate the jobs and growth to ensure that all working people have a prosperous future to look forward to. That is the purpose of this Government, in contrast to the manifesto on which he stood.

Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that on the strength of his 47 years’ experience of this place he knows that not receiving an answer is not an altogether novel phenomenon in the House of Commons, irrespective of who is in power at the time.