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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
08 January 2019
Volume 652

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Jobs (Devon and Cornwall)

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1. What steps his Department has taken to support businesses to create highly skilled jobs in Devon and Cornwall. [908428]

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Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone else. The two local enterprise partnerships covering the area—Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, and Heart of the South West LEP, which includes Devon—are receiving £317 million through the local growth fund to drive regional development. That includes a £3 million investment in the Electronics and Photonics Innovation Centre at the White Rock business park in Paignton, which helps to support skilled jobs in a key local growth sector.

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As my hon. Friend mentions, Torbay’s £8 million EPIC centre will open later this year, helping to boost our vital photonics industry. What further support can his Department offer to help boost Torbay’s high-tech sector?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything he does for employment in this area and in his constituency. He knows that my Department is working with Heart of the South West LEP, which is leading the development of our local industrial strategy. Torbay is actively engaged in that work. I believe the strategy will identify the particular strengths of the region and future opportunities for increased productivity, including in sectors such as photonics.

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The development of marine industries in Plymouth and across Devon and Cornwall is a really important part of our local economy. Will the Minister agree to meet a delegation from Plymouth to look at how the creation of the UK’s first national marine park could trigger more investment in our marine technologies and industries in the west country?

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It would be a pleasure. The hon. Gentleman and I have met before to discuss such subjects, and I am happy to do so again.

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In my constituency, 85% of employees are employed in small businesses, which tell me they struggle to find the skilled workers they need. What can my hon. Friend’s Department do with the Treasury and the Department for Education to ensure that small colleges in particular have the funding they need to provide those skills?

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As my hon. Friend knows, my Department is part of the picture; he correctly says the DFE is responsible for skills, but that is an important part of our industrial strategy, both nationally and locally. We are really pushing to put the skills agenda at the top of LEP programmes and everything else to do with that, because we realise, as he says, that small business will power the economy of the future.

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The south-west is one of the fastest growing economic areas in the country, predominantly in tourism and tech. With the devaluation of the pound, many people have decided to have holidays in Cornwall, and we have tech-based businesses such as Microtest, a health-based solutions company in my constituency. People are making lifestyle choices about where in the country they want to live. What more can we do to facilitate moves away from the city to the coast?

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As someone with previous experience of business in the south-west, in the tourism industry, I understand exactly what my hon. Friend says. The Government’s strategy is very much based on regional devolution—LEPs in particular—and areas such as his will see the benefits of that in the future.

Supply Chains

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2. What steps he is taking to maintain cross-border supply chains after 29 March 2019. [908429]

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Supply chains between the UK and the EU are vital—they support at least 200,000 UK traders and around 55,000 manufacturing jobs in Scotland alone. The deal the Government have negotiated with the EU, by avoiding customs checks, will protect supply chains and jobs right across the UK.

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I ask this question against the background of yesterday’s unthinkable dry run for a no-deal Brexit— 80 lorries is hardly the same as 6,000. I represent the furthest-away part of the UK mainland. I have mentioned before in the Chamber Mr William Calder, who runs a fish food company in Scrabster. Half a day’s extra delay in getting his fish products to the European market will ruin the gentleman. Does the Minister see just how dangerous the future could be for my constituents?

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why there has been consistent support, especially in Scotland, from organisations such as the National Farmers Union of Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Association. Those who depend on the export trade, including the logistics he describes, have urged the House to back the deal, and I hope he joins us in doing that.

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The importance of Dover-Calais is unquestionable. What estimates has the Department made of the implications for the supply network of any reduction in capacity between Dover and Calais?

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My right hon. Friend knows that much of the just-in-time production goes through the strait of Dover, and estimates suggest an impact of a reduction of about 80% of capacity between the narrow strait. In my view, it is essential that we avoid that disruption, which would have implications right across the United Kingdom, including in Derbyshire and indeed Scotland, as we have heard.

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This week, I received correspondence from a small business owner and constituent of mine who shared his fears about the issues Brexit could cause his chemicals business. The EU is where the majority of his sales are made and where he sources his raw materials. Can the Secretary of State tell us why his Government will not rule out a no-deal Brexit now, which is putting so many businesses in my area and across the country at risk?

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The hon. Lady is right that the chemicals industry is a good example of a very integrated industry across Europe. I met the leaders of the chemicals industry in the week before Christmas, and they were very clear that what has been negotiated in the withdrawal agreement and political agreement achieves what they need, which is, first, to avoid no deal and, secondly, to be able to continue what has been a very successful industry, including in the area she represents.

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With the worrying news that German output has fallen by 4.7%, what can Britain do, post Brexit, to help the German economy with a thriving British economy?

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It has always been my view, and I know it is my hon. Friend’s view, that the more we can trade on what has been a very successful model the better. He represents a west midlands constituency and knows how important it is in the west midlands that we have flourishing trade, to the benefit of our economy and those of our neighbours and friends on the continent.

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From Airbus in Bristol to Nissan in Sunderland, millions of British jobs depend upon supply chains that crisscross the channel. Ministers fantasise about replacing them with American or Australian ones, and then, as they did yesterday, hire 80 trucks to drive around Kent in a ghost of Brexit future pantomime of the chaos to come. The Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has acted honourably in saying he will not be part of a Government who allow a no-deal Brexit, so will the Secretary of State reassure Aston Martin, Brompton the bicycle manufacturer, and the other businesses stockpiling parts—spending money that could be spent creating jobs—by saying he understands the requirements of business and geography and rule out a no deal now?

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I completely understand the requirements of business, including the manufacturers the hon. Lady mentions. It is essential that we be able to continue to trade, which is why I have always been clear—representing very strongly the views of small business and large business—that no deal should not be contemplated, but the way to avoid no deal is to do what the motor manufacturers, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and all the business organisations say we should do, which is vote for the agreement that will come before the House next week.

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Lang may yer lum reek, Mr Speaker.

One way the Government are looking to maintain cross-border supply chains is by Government tender to shipping companies, but is the Secretary of State happy about the precedent set for UK businesses? His colleague the Secretary of State for Transport has awarded a £14 million contract to a company with negative assets of nearly £400,000, no ships and terms and conditions copied from a takeaway, while the contract itself seems to have been awarded on questionable legal grounds. Is this the standard he expects for all UK businesses tendering for UK Government contracts?

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It is evident that avoiding no deal is an essential task for all of us in the House, and I hope that in the days ahead the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will take the opportunity to obviate the need for those contingencies. The Secretary of State for Transport has an opportunity to come to the House later today, but it seems to me prudent and responsible for every Department to prepare, on a contingency basis, for no deal, while also being firmly resolved to avoid it.

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The Secretary of State has not answered the question. Will all UK businesses see such largesse from the Government in respect of procurement contracts? One of Seaborne’s directors ran a business that went into liquidation owing HMRC nearly £600,000, using employee benefit trust tax avoidance schemes. According to the director, the Government did not even consider the money owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be relevant. Is that a sign of a Government who are out of control over Brexit?

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I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that, as I have said, every Department should make preparations against the avoidable contingency of no deal. The Secretary of State will describe the procurement processes for which the Department for Transport opted, but it is fair to observe that not a penny of Government money has been paid to the company, and I understand that it will be paid only on receipt of services provided.

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Given that nearly all the roll-on/roll-off lorry traffic between the Irish Republic and the EU travels across the UK motorway network to Dover, what co-operation has been offered by the Republic to mitigate a no-deal Brexit?

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My hon. Friend is right to point out that the impact of the Dover strait extends to our trade across the Irish sea. He knows that the negotiation has been with the European Commission and the European Council rather than through bilateral negotiations with individual member states, but I agree with him that the disruption that would occur would affect our trade across the Irish sea as well.

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Order. May I gently say to colleagues that we have a lot to get through? We need to speed up.

Pubs Code

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3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the pubs code and the Pubs Code Adjudicator. [908430]

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We will be undertaking a statutory review of the effectiveness of the pubs code and the Pubs Code Adjudicator. I welcome the recent publication by the adjudicator of arbitration decisions, which will increase transparency in relation to how the code is working in practice.

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At a recent meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs, we heard from many tenants who had attempted to avail themselves of the “market rent only” option under the pubs code, but whose attempts had been frustrated. Will the review to which the Minister has referred involve a full and open consultation to which members of the public will be able to contribute, and which we will all be able to read afterwards?

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I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to this issue. We are currently working out how we will carry out the review, and, under statutory regulation, we need to do that until the end of March. Of course we understand some of the concerns that have been raised by people who have been affected; we will take account of their views, and I will ensure that those views are heard.

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As the Minister will know, in the case of tenanted pubs the rent is partly set according to the volume of beer sold. However, there is a long-standing grievance about a discrepancy between the amount of drinkable beer in a cask and the volume of the cask itself. Will the Minister meet me—and some of my constituents, who are deeply concerned about the issue—to discuss the “72 pints” campaign?

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We recognise that a number of issues affect the pubs community. The Government have taken some important measures relating to beer duty and business rates to help pubs, but I should be happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents to discuss the position.

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Between April and September 2018, 33 pubs a week closed and were either demolished or converted to homes or offices. The pub industry is in free fall, and communities are suffering as they see their vital community hubs diminished. What strategy, if any, have the Government to secure a long-term sustainable future for the industry?

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The Government have taken action to secure the future of pubs. We have frozen beer duty, with the result that a regular pint of beer is 2p cheaper than it would have been if we had increased the duty in line with inflation. We have offered the business rate discount to retail properties, and we estimate that 75% of pubs will be eligible for it. That has cut pubs’ bills by a third for two years. We recognise the importance of pubs to our local communities, and we are taking action. For instance, as I have said, we will be reviewing the pubs code and the success of the Pubs Code Adjudicator.

Renewable Energy

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4. What steps he is taking to support new renewable energy technologies. [908431]

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10. What steps he is taking to support new renewable energy technologies. [908437]

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All of us in this House should celebrate the UK’s global leadership in decarbonising our economy: we have had the fastest rate of decarbonisation in the G20 since 1990, and part of that leadership has been through very substantial investment in renewable technology, including subsidies totalling £52 billion since 2010 and auction design and research and development investment. It is paying off: in the third quarter of last year we generated over a third of our energy from renewables, and our support is continuing with over half a billion pounds committed to the contracts for difference process and almost £200 million for cost-reducing innovations.

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Scottish businesses such as the innovative Artemis in my constituency have developed world-leading tidal and wave energy technologies, but requiring these early-stage businesses to compete with the more mature offshore wind industry for CfD subsidies means there is often no viable route to market for emergent technologies. Will the Minister consider having a three-pot auction for new technologies, including wave and tidal, so there is no direct competition with more established technologies?

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The hon. Lady raises an important point. We want to continue to invest in technologies that have the potential both to decarbonise and drive global exports, and that is certainly an area that could contribute, although not at any price: we will not rerun the debate over Swansea, which would have been the most expensive power station the country had ever built and created just 30 jobs. There are potentially better, more valuable projects and I am always happy to look at innovative proposals coming forward to see how we might support this technology.

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As well as the obvious, 31 March sees the end of the export tariff on electricity exported into the grid by solar photovoltaic systems. After that, big firms will end up receiving free electricity from all new solar PV installations, which are mainly small businesses and individual households, so they will effectively be subsidising the giants. Will the Government consider a net metering scheme, whereby the difference between electricity consumed and exported into the grid only is paid for, to rectify this burning injustice?

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I admire the hon. Lady’s passion. I feel I am rather front-running my answer to Question 9, which I know the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) is teed up to ask, but I will publish today the consultation on the Government’s proposals for a smart export guarantee so we can bring forward this valuable source of energy at a price so that people are not providing it to the grid for free, but also support its development in what we want to call our smart systems plan going forward.

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While supporting new energy technologies is of course important, so too is supporting technologies that make our energy production more efficient, and many of these technologies are low carbon so they help us meet our climate change targets and cut consumers’ household bills. Can the Minister update us on progress made in this area and on the call for evidence I have asked for on this subject?

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My hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner on this issue and will know that we have contributed almost £20 million to the industrial strategy heat recovery fund, and the low-carbon heating technology innovation fund is also receiving funds of up to £10 million. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s principle. I am not convinced that a further consultation is required, but I am always happy to discuss it with her.

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Is it fair to continue to subsidise solar panels by charging higher prices to other customers who could not possibly afford that investment?

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No, and that is why the intention to close the feed-in tariff scheme was signalled many years ago: it has cost to date over £5 billion and we have a legacy cost of over £1.5 billion to fund that scheme going forward at a time when the price of solar is tumbling, and we know that many companies are bringing forward large-scale solar installations without needing subsidy.

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22. The Minister will be aware that the whole point of supporting new renewable energy technologies is to allow them to enter the marketplace and, hopefully, get to the point where they will become subsidy-free. Onshore wind is almost at that point, and it is also the cheapest form of electricity generation at the moment. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Scotland about developing onshore wind in Scotland? [908449]

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I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary regarding all the support we are providing for the BEIS Scottish energy sector. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in celebrating the fact that we have opened up the CfD mechanism to the offshore wind provision that is coming for remote island projects—[Interruption.] He used to think that that was a very good thing. We should also never forget that it is UK bill payers collectively who have invested in the success of UK renewable energy. We will continue to review the potential for onshore wind, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the Scottish Secretary and I were both elected on a manifesto that said that further subsidy for large-scale onshore wind was not required or necessary.

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I very much support renewable energy, but many of my constituents in the Scottish borders feel that we now have our fair share of onshore wind, so can the Minister assure me that nothing in Government policy will promote onshore wind farm developments over other forms of renewable energy sources?

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That is exactly the point about technology neutrality. I refer my hon. Friend to the Scottish Government’s own onshore wind policy statement, which suggests that the number of onshore wind applications is expected to increase by more than 70% on the basis of current planning applications, so the current system is clearly working to bring forward onshore wind in the windiest parts of the United Kingdom.

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Given how vital offshore wind is to Britain’s future electricity supply, and how it is increasingly providing good value for money, how can the Minister justify allocating just £60 million to next spring’s CfD auction?

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for recognising the incredible contribution that offshore wind can make, and I hope he will join me in wishing great success to our negotiating teams in bringing forward the vital sector deal. The point is, given that the price has tumbled since he was one of the people who designed the excellent auction structure, that we should be able to bring forward the amount of capacity we have said we need—1 GW to 2 GW—with that amount of subsidy. The system is working to get us to subsidy-free provision of this extremely important offshore wind energy.

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The Minister will be aware that the recent EU Court judgment, which effectively freezes the capacity market in the UK, turned substantially on the lack of level playing field access to capacity market support for new low-carbon energy technologies such as demand-side response. Does she intend to respond positively to the judgment by recasting the capacity market to reflect remedies for this lack of equal access, or is she perhaps hoping that, after a decent interval—and a lot of damage to existing participants in the capacity market—normal service will be resumed?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. We have been working on this issue closely with the industry for several months since the judgment came forward, and it is absolutely right that we reassure the industry and investors of our commitment to holding auctions in the near future to ensure electricity supply for next winter, and that we do all that we can to ensure that this market is put back on a legal and orderly basis. It does work—it is the envy of many countries around the world—and we are working closely with Ofgem and the industry to ensure that we can take that market capacity structure forward.

Supply Chains

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5. What recent steps he has taken to support businesses and their supply chains. [908432]

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The Government support businesses throughout the UK by encouraging innovation, investing in infrastructure and skills and, more importantly, building long-term partnerships with businesses as part of our modern industrial strategy. We have demonstrated our support for the importance of our supply chain through the automotive, aerospace and nuclear sector deals.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Fabrication yards in UK ports have supply chains that extend throughout the UK, but there is real concern for their future. Can the Minister confirm that the oil and gas and the offshore wind sector deals will make provision for realising the full potential of those yards and their supply chains?

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I certainly can, and I welcome the deal proposals that have been put forward by both the offshore wind and the offshore oil and gas sectors.

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24. It is almost a year since Carillion collapsed, leaving losses to small business supply chains of more than £2 billion. My constituent, Neil Skinner, was among those affected. Will the Minister and the Government support my ten-minute rule Bill, which is coming to the House next week and would introduce project bank accounts for all public sector contracts in order to prevent such losses to small businesses? [908451]

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I am sure that the hon. Lady will be delighted to know that we are working closely with the sector. I have some experience of project bank accounts in the construction sector and I have seen them work. We will look very carefully at this.

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Precisely what support is being given to the steel industry and its supply chain?

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The hon. Gentleman and I frequently speak about the steel industry, and I meet regularly with the trade body, UK Steel, and all the different companies to monitor the future carefully. The industry is important to us, and I am still hopeful that we can work on a sector deal, so I am interested to hear proposals from the various companies.

UK Space Industry

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6. What steps he is taking to support the UK space industry. [908433]

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The UK plays a leading role in space science and exploration, and our commercial sector is globally competitive, underpinned by Government support of up to £370 million a year. We have further committed £92 million to develop options for a possible UK global navigation satellite system to maintain the UK’s security capabilities, and £31.5 million to kick-start small satellite launch from the UK as part of our modern industrial strategy.

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I can tell from that answer that my hon. Friend recognises the increasing importance of the space sector in our everyday lives, particularly for communications and broadband. Does he therefore agree that elements of the space sector should be designated and treated as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, thus receiving the extra support and potential financing that such designation would provide?

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My hon. Friend is right that space capabilities are fundamental to UK prosperity and security. Every day, we rely on telecommunications, earth observation, position navigation and timing services from space. Many of the parts of the UK’s critical infrastructure—from telecommunications to transport—also depend on services from space to operate effectively, and that is why the space sector is designated as a critical national infrastructure sector, with efforts focused on improving the security of our critical assets.

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Does the Minister not understand that the aerospace industry is crucial to the future of our country? A company that operates in my constituency made components for the Mars probe, and such firms, which are at the leading edge of technology, are terrified by the chaos of the possible no-deal Brexit that the Government are leading. The supply chains are so complex that the company in my constituency faces ruin, as does the country’s whole aerospace industry under this Government’s watch.

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I congratulate the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on its success with the Mars landing. I recently went to Imperial College to congratulate the team that created the sensors that detected the first sounds on Mars. It is crucial to say that our commitment to the European Space Agency is independent of our relationship with the EU. We put in support of £370 million a year that allows us access to a market worth £6 billion. When it comes to ensuring that we have stability and security for the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I look forward to seeing him in the Lobby next week supporting the Government’s deal.

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Last week, while the Chinese were exploring the dark side of the moon, NASA was 6.5 billion km away on the far side of Neptune taking photos of Ultima Thule, and the sensors that took those images were made in Chelmsford. Will the Minister therefore join me in giving a massive shout-out to everyone at Teledyne e2v and congratulating them on this world-first achievement?

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Absolutely. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Teledyne e2v on its involvement in NASA’s New Horizons mission. The stunning image of that distant world showcases UK technology at the leading edge of space exploration. As I said, we have already detected the first sounds from Mars through a project led by Imperial College and the University of Oxford, and Surrey Satellite Technology will unveil tomorrow its completed build platform for the Eutelsat Quantum—the first geostationary telecommunications satellite that will be fully reconfigurable in orbit—which highlights the UK Space Agency’s continual successes.

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Thank you. We are now considerably better informed.

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Will the Minister outline how many new jobs have been created to meet the need for 30,000 new employees that was highlighted in last May’s “Prosperity from Space” report?

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The sector currently employs around 38,500 people and has grown significantly since 1999-2000, when 14,651 were working in the sector—that represents an annual growth rate of 6.7%. The UK has committed to ensuring that we grow our share of the global space market to 10% by 2030. That offers huge potential for increasing not just our share of the market, but the UK’s prosperity and productivity. I hope that the “Prosperity from Space” report, which was published by the space sector and my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), whom I thank, will lead to a deal for the space sector and, potentially, to investigation of a national space programme—

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Order. I do apologise, but progress is not just too slow, but far too slow.

People in Insecure Work

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7. What steps he is taking to support people in insecure work. [908434]

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14. What steps he is taking to support people in insecure work. [908441]

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The Government’s good work plan represents the largest reform to employment rules in over 20 years. It includes measures to boost transparency and tackle one-sided flexibility for those in insecure work, and I have already tabled legislation in Parliament to take forward the programme.

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A recent Resolution Foundation report shows that barely half of agency workers remain in one job beyond six months, making the Government’s arbitrary timeframe of 12 months before the right to request a direct contract kicks in totally meaningless. Labour has committed to giving all workers equal rights from day one; why have the Government not committed to doing the same?

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The hon. Gentleman will welcome the reforms that have been made to deal with insecure work and, in particular, to do something that has been campaigned for by the trade union movement and supported by many employers, which is to remove the Swedish derogation that has provided a loophole for employers to avoid those rights. That legislation is now before the House, and I hope he will support it.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that the recently introduced right to request guaranteed working hours is not sufficient to protect workers on zero-hours contracts?

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No. This is a very important extension of the rights of people on zero-hours contracts. It is important to recognise, first, that the number of employees on zero-hours contracts remains very small and, secondly, that most of those on zero-hours contracts want to have that flexibility. Those who do not want that flexibility and prefer a longer and more stable contract will now have the right to request one.

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25. Only days after the Secretary of State published his response to the Taylor review, Uber was once again found by the courts to be denying basic rights to its workers. When will the Government bring forward legislation to clarify workers’ status so that they do not have to go through the courts and tribunals system to get the rights to which they are entitled? [908452]

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The hon. Lady will recognise that our package immediately introduced legislation for those rights that can be legislated for with secondary legislation. Primary legislation will shortly be brought forward for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which she chairs, and the Work and Pensions Committee to scrutinise.

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rose—

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Order. I was not looking for the right hon. Gentleman, although it is always a pleasure to be reminded of the fact of his presence.

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I wish you and the Secretary of State a happy new year, Mr Speaker, but the sad fact is that the good work plan does little to change the lives of precarious limb (b) workers, who will still not be entitled to statutory sick pay, maternity pay or the right to claim unfair dismissal. For those on a zero-hours contract, all the requests in the world will not legally oblige their employer to provide more stable employment. I have asked this question time and again to no avail: can the Secretary of State confirm what happens when an employer refuses a request for more stable working hours?

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It is very clear that we are not making it mandatory for people not to have a zero-hours contract. Such contracts are available to employers, but employees will have the right to request. Reasonable employers have offered more stable contracts to employees, but the Taylor report is very clear that the flexibility that zero-hours contracts offer is valued by many of the people who use them.

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I am glad the Secretary of State has clarified that the right to request a more stable contract is, in fact, a meaningless proposal on paper. What is worse is that the Government also rejected recommendations from their own director of labour market enforcement to increase fines for companies that breach the minimum wage and for that money to be used to increase enforcement resource. The Government also rejected his recommendation that public procurement contracts should compel compliance with labour market regulations. With reports that the average employer can expect an investigation once in every 500 years, does the Secretary of State really think he is being serious about enforcing workers’ rights?

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I am working closely with Sir David Metcalf, the director of labour market enforcement. On his particular recommendation about increasing penalties, we just have increased the penalties and it is reasonable to look at their effectiveness. I have made the commitment to the House that, of course, we will increase them if that proves necessary, but one of the other reforms that we are making is to boost the enforcement of workers’ rights by bringing together the different enforcement bodies so that such employers—the minority that do play fast and loose with the rights to which employees are entitled—should expect justice to be brought about. This will be part of the package that we have tabled.

Paris Agreement Goals

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8. What assessment he has made of the potential effectiveness of the Paris rulebook agreed at COP24 in meeting the Paris agreement goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to less than 2° C. [908435]

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I want to pay tribute to our UK negotiating team, which did such a fantastic job at the recent conference of the parties in developing a robust set of rules that will take us forward to achieve what we need, which is further hardcore nationally determined contributions in 2020. We want to use our leadership in this space to continue progress, which was why I was pleased to announce our expression of interest in hosting the 2020 COP right here in the UK. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support that.

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I thank the Minister for that response. What sanctions are the Government willing to use to ensure that other countries meet their 2020 emission reduction targets?

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We do not have the power to sanction under international law—or, indeed, under the current United Nations proposals—but we can work positively through initiatives such as the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which I was pleased to set up with my Canadian equivalent last year, to encourage all countries that, like us, are committed to phasing coal out of their energy system in a short period. We now have more than 80 members a year after launch, so we can continue to lead by example.

Renewable Energy

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9. When his Department plans to publish its proposals on rewards for small-scale renewable energy exports to the grid. [908436]

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I want to give the hon. Gentleman the good news that I will be publishing today the next stages of our proposals for a smart export guarantee to reflect two principles: that nobody should be providing energy to the grid for free, or indeed at negative pricing, as has happened in some countries; and that the value of community energy projects, which is real and significant, can be recognised. That consultation will be published later today and I look forward to his response, because I know he is a long-standing campaigner in this area.

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It would have been useful to have had that publication before Question Time to enable informed questions to be asked. I put it to the Minister that some 60 MW of solar energy in Wales alone rely on the export tariffs. Will she be looking at differential tariffs for existing versus new providers, so that there is no breach of contract with existing providers, and ensure that tariffs are set so as to encourage solar rather than fracking and so that we are in accordance with our Paris commitments, which have just been referred to?

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The hon. Gentleman should know that we have signalled for many years how the closure of the feed-in tariff will work. We have spent almost £6 billion on existing contracts, and those contracts will of course be honoured. We have also announced with the closure of the scheme that there is a limited application period for projects for the next couple of months. There will be some that are brought forward, but it is only right that, as the price of this power provision has tumbled, we stop using other people’s money to subsidise something that we do not need to do in order to bring forward solar.

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While we have been in the Chamber, the Minister’s consultation has gone online, and Members and the public have until 5 March to respond to it. What reassurance can she give that those responses will be listened to? There is concern in the solar industry and among others that 91% of responses to a previous consultation by her Department were against the end of export tariffs, yet that went ahead. Will she meet me and an excellent local business, AES Solar, which has concerns but would like to discuss them with her and community representatives?

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I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and I am also very interested in the consultation results. I want to make the point quickly that the era of crude subsidy is over, partly because the price of renewables has dropped so significantly. We are trying to ensure that bringing forward the decentralised energy that we believe is so important to our system is also the objective of this tariff, and I would be interested to hear his views as well as those of his constituents.

Manufacturing and Automotive Sector

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11. What steps he is taking to support the manufacturing and automotive sector. [908438]

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The automotive sector is one of the great success stories of our country, and our sector deal is a good example of how we will continue to support it going forward. We have committed around £1 billion over 10 years up to 2023 through the Advanced Propulsion Centre to research, develop and commercialise the next generation of low-carbon technologies, to keep us at the cutting edge of the automotive industry’s development.

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The UK car industry is under huge pressure, yet far from providing the certainty that the sector needs, we will be debating our trading relationship with the European Union for years to come. Is it not the case that the deal that the Government are putting forward fails to protect tens of thousands of highly-skilled automotive jobs in my region? Not only that, but it is far worse than the deal we have now.

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I am sure the hon. Lady knows that the deal has been backed by everybody in the automotive sector. I meet regularly with them and they have been outspoken about the perils of defeating the Prime Minister’s deal. I hope that the hon. Lady will think about that when she goes through the voting Lobby.

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What is the Minister’s response to the report published last month by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee—the membership of which, by the way, includes the Scottish National party Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry)—which concluded:

“The consistent and overwhelming message expressed by”

business

“is that to make…decisions they need certainty and it is for that reason they support the Withdrawal Agreement”?

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As ever, my hon. Friend has absolutely nailed this. The automotive sector, like the BEIS Committee, is totally in favour of the Prime Minister’s deal. I am sure that the SNP spokesman has listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said, and I am sure that he will be supporting the deal next week.

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18. The Scottish Government’s £18 million advanced manufacturing challenge fund is at serious risk of being undermined by Brexit, with the Bank of England’s analysis showing that the UK relies on the EU for more than 30% of manufacturing sales. When will the UK Government start listening to the majority of Scots and protect Scotland’s economy and jobs by keeping us in the single market and the customs union? [908445]

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I must remind the hon. Lady of my answer to the previous question: the best thing for the Scottish economy is the Prime Minister’s deal. I hope the hon. Lady will consider that when she votes next week.

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I am very saddened that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) is departing our midst. I know he has many pressing commitments and a very full diary, but if he stayed, he might get called. It would be very sad to lose the right hon. Gentleman’s pearls of wisdom.

Aerospace Businesses

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12. What steps the Government has taken to support aerospace businesses. [908439]

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You are racing ahead, Mr Speaker; we had got so far behind.

My hon. Friend should know that we are strongly supporting the aerospace industry through our aerospace growth partnership, which includes supporting business with nearly £2 billion of public research and development funding from 2013 to 2026. The sector deal for aerospace includes £125 million of funding to support the electrification of flight, developing new aircraft technologies and transport concepts. I am sure that will be excellent for your future holidays, Mr Speaker.

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What plans do Ministers have to extend the Sharing in Growth scheme in the aerospace industry? It has helped Congleton business Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows to improve productivity and secure new orders. The company is very much looking forward to receiving the Minister on his planned visit to Congleton in March.

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I am very much looking forward to seeing my hon. Friend on that visit. We are in dialogue with senior management at Sharing in Growth about the scope to extend the programme further, and that will continue ahead of the comprehensive spending review.

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The Space Studio School in Feltham, started by the Rivers Academy, continues to innovate, bringing about high-quality science education and industry-related work, and engaging with the National Space Centre, the European Space Agency, NASA and the aerospace industry around Heathrow. Does the Minister agree that even stronger relationships between schools and industry are vital to ensure that we stay competitive? Will he agree to visit the Space Studio in west London to see what is being done there and what more can be done to improve opportunities for young people?

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Yes and yes.

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The Minister will be aware of the problems as well as the possibilities for Bombardier in east Belfast, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) has raised them consistently. Given the job loss announcements several weeks ago, will he undertake to do whatever he can on the possibilities for expansion next year?

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The hon. Gentleman knows, I hope, that Bombardier is a company close to my heart. I speak regularly to him and his colleagues and to the company, and I will do anything I can to ensure that company’s prosperity.

Support for Businesses (Scotland)

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13. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on fiscal support for businesses based in Scotland to prepare for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. [908440]

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I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The best outcome for Scotland is to deliver the deal that we have negotiated with the EU. That will provide the certainty that Scottish businesses need and protect jobs and prosperity.

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A recent report by the Fraser of Allander Institute found that three quarters of Scottish businesses felt that they did not have adequate information to prepare for Brexit. Given that, do the Government now regret rejecting the Scottish National party’s proposal for a £750 million small business support scheme to help them prepare for the eventuality of Brexit?

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Advice and support is available to businesses right across the UK, but it remains the case that the best certainty that business can have is to know that the agreement that has been reached with the European Union, which rules out no deal and involves a substantial transition period, will be approved next week in the House of Commons. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that.

Youth Entrepreneurship

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15. What steps his Department has taken to promote youth entrepreneurship. [908442]

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17. What steps his Department has taken to promote youth entrepreneurship. [908444]

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A total of 390,000 18 to 24-year olds are involved in starting businesses in the UK, and the British Business Bank has provided £52 million in start-up loans to young people since 2012. In December we launched a youth engagement programme, including a celebration of UK science, technology, engineering and maths projects and an industrial strategy competition to inspire 13 to 19-year-olds.

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I welcome that and I welcome the start-up loans scheme, which has helped a lot of young entrepreneurs, but will the Minister talk with his counterparts in the Department for Education to see how we can embed entrepreneurship and life skills in business into the school curriculum?

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Absolutely. Indeed, as a Minister also in the Department for Education, I work with that Department and understand the importance of ensuring that young people develop entrepreneurial skills. Our careers strategy launched in 2017 places a strong emphasis on our interaction with entrepreneurs. We have connected more than 2,000 schools and colleges with enterprise advisers, launched a £2.5 million investment fund to support employer encounters, and created 20 new career hubs.

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Sam’s Kitchen was set up by a young entrepreneur in Crawley several years ago. On meeting him recently, he reported a large number of frequent and, it seems, unnecessary inspections. How can we make sure that we get the balance right between necessary regulation and not imposing too much of a burden on young, growing businesses?

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I understand that Sam French is a young entrepreneur selling homemade gingerbread men and women. I congratulate him on his success. Perhaps he may like to send some to you to sample, Mr Speaker. I am pleased that he shares his experience with other young entrepreneurs. It is important, however, that inspections in the food industry are based on a national code of practice and are intended to give the necessary reassurances to business and consumers so that they can buy products with absolute confidence.

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I might want it, but I probably should not have it.

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Is not part of the problem of encouraging youth entrepreneurship that vocational education is seen as second rate? How will we change that?

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The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, which is why the Government have commissioned the Augur review to look at post-18 education. In addition, we are developing a full range of T-levels that will soon be operational. It is absolutely important that we level the playing field and ensure that the 50% of people who are not going to university have that opportunity to develop their skills going forward, particularly around technical education.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908453]

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Since we last met, I have been delighted to be in Bristol, a hub of brilliant technological innovation, to launch the aerospace sector deal with a commitment from business and Government to invest a quarter of a billion pounds in the aircraft of the future. I announced a life sciences sector deal, featuring £1 billion of industry investment from the global biopharmaceutical company UCB. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth has been in Katowice representing the UK at COP 24. At home, we published our Good Work Plan, and, just last week, the energy price cap came into effect, ensuring that all customers get a fair deal.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer.

A meeting of stakeholders was recently held in Pollokshields in my constituency to discuss the problems of fireworks in the community, as they really cause local residents a huge amount of distress. The Minister wrote to me last year saying that a meeting would be set up with me and other MPs to discuss the matter further. Will he give me more information as to what progress has been made to set up the meeting, as my constituents do not want to be forgotten about?

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The hon. Lady is quite right that the issue is a matter of concern not just in her constituency, but in others. I will ensure that the meeting happens in the next two weeks.

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T3. The Financial Reporting Council identified six areas that warrant further inquiry in PwC’s administration of Premier Motor Auctions, but delegated that inquiry to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales—a trade body with limited powers. Will the Minister agree to meet me to ensure that this and any other insolvency practitioner issues are properly investigated? [908455]

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It is right that the FRC refers any concerns it has relating to the insolvency case to the ICAEW, which is a recognised professional body that regulates insolvency practitioners. In this case, I understand that the ICAEW has considered the issues put forward and is investigating a number of matters. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue again, as I already have. It is right that we investigate any concerns that British businesses have about the regulations.

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T2. Fracking activities in Lancashire have recently had to be suspended because earth tremors triggered the traffic lights system. As a result, the Minister has said that she is now looking at whether that system should be relaxed. Will she tell us what she is thinking, and will she give us an assurance that there will be full consultation with all stakeholders before any change is made, and that the matter will be brought back to this House for the approval of Members? [908454]

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I think I have answered a similar question before, although not from the hon. Gentleman. I have absolutely no plans to change the traffic lights system. The current fracking proposals being tested in Lancashire right now were developed with that system. The fact is that that system is working and being triggered even by micro-tremors; the hon. Gentleman will know that we have had some great evidence from the University of Liverpool as to how small the tremors actually are. If we are to take forward what could be a very valuable industry, it is only right that we do so with the toughest environmental regulations in the world, so I say again that there are no plans from the Government to change the traffic lights system.

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T4. With the high street undergoing a period of significant upheaval, will the Secretary of State confirm that he is working closely with the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that high street businesses are able to compete on a level taxation playing field with their online competitors? [908456]

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We continue to work closely with the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that the needs of high street retailers are understood. In the 2018 Budget we announced a reduction in business rates worth £900 million over two years for small businesses. The digital services tax, a 2% tax on revenues specific to digital businesses, will ensure that they pay tax reflecting the value that they derive from UK users. We have also established the Retail Sector Council, which has now decided on its future work programme, as part of which business costs and taxation are one topic being considered.

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New research from the TUC shows that household debt is at its highest ever level, with average debt per household now at over £15,000. It is blatantly obvious that the cause is years of austerity and wage stagnation. Millions of workers are now reliant on borrowing, making up for low wages by increasing their debt—not for holiday or luxuries, but through using credit cards for everyday essential such as nappies and food. That is so stressful. Will the Minister please explain what the Government are doing to address this crisis, and why Conservative Members refuse to join the Labour party in advocating a real minimum wage of at least £10 an hour and a return to serious collective bargaining for workers in the UK?

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I heard the news reports of this particular analysis, but I also heard that the analysis had been entirely discredited because it included student debt, which does not accrue to every household. If we were to strip that out, the rate of accrual—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to listen, rather than chunter? I will carry on. If we strip out student debt, which does not accrue to every household, we see that the growth of consumer credit has actually slowed. Once again, I am proud to stand here and represent the Government who finally did what the hon. Lady’s Government had 13 years and did not do—introduce a national minimum wage and ensure that it goes up well ahead of inflation. [Interruption.] A living wage.

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I call Will Quince. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is delighted to have excited such a reaction, but I would like to hear what he has to say.

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T6. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the £900 million cut in business rates announced at the most recent Budget, which will benefit thousands of small businesses up and down our country, including in Colchester? [908458]

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I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in welcoming this recent measure, which has benefited small businesses so well. We have cut corporation tax to 19%. As a result of cuts made by this Government since 2017 through the small business rate relief, over 655,000 small businesses—the occupiers of a third of all business properties—pay no rates at all.

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T5. I am sure Ministers understand that the new Euro 6 diesel engines are considerably more efficient and cleaner, and that encouraging uptake of diesel vehicles would be good for the environment, with both cleaner air and less carbon dioxide emissions. However, production of vehicles is down, partly because of the downturn in China and uncertainty over Brexit, but also because of the damaging, self-promoting anti-diesel campaign by the Secretary of State’s ministerial colleagues at the Departments for Transport and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. What is he going to do to get Government policy back on track in support of the British motor industry? [908457]

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In the “Road to Zero” strategy document, it is very clear that diesel engines, especially the new generation, are a perfectly acceptable choice environmentally as well as economically. The right hon. Gentleman will know that diesel sales are falling across the whole of Europe, but we have been very clear in this country that it can play an important role in the transition to zero-emission vehicles.

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T10. Following on from the previous question, maintaining an uninterrupted supply of components for just-in-time manufacturing and the ability to sell tariff-free into European markets, both of which are enabled by the Prime Minister’s deal, is vital to the continued success of the UK auto industry. Forty constituents of mine, all of whom work at Jaguar Land Rover, have reminded me of that through their emails. Will the Secretary of State welcome that approach? [908462]

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I do indeed welcome the representation from my hon. Friend. The automotive sector is one of our most successful, and it is globally admired. Its success depends on having the just-in-time production that makes it so competitive. In my view, it is vital that we pose no threat to that in our new relationship with the European Union.

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T7. The Minister will be aware of the rising cost of the smart meter programme for dual-fuel households. What is she going to do to curtail those costs, make transparent the true cost to households, and ensure that any benefits that eventually accrue are actually passed on to consumers? [908459]

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I had an inkling that the hon. Gentleman might ask a question about this, because he has been a long-standing campaigner in this area. I am pleased to report that the programme is accelerating; I know he will welcome that. I welcomed extensively the National Audit Office report on the cost profile, which showed, effectively, a cost overrun but still a very, very substantial net benefit to both consumers and the economy. I believe that we are minded to accept almost all of the recommendations that were made. This is a vital programme for upgrading our energy system—I hope that he has had his smart meter installed. I saw over Christmas quite how much electricity cooking the Christmas turkey cost, and it was a very valuable exercise.

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What role does the Minister see for the push on technical skills in boosting youth entrepreneurship?

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As I have stated before, technical skills are absolutely important when it comes to boosting youth entrepreneurship. I take this opportunity to mention to my hon. Friend the launch of the new year-long youth industrial strategy competition at the industrial strategy fair that will be held in March this year, with prizes being awarded at the Big Bang fair in March 2020.

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T8. The Scottish Government’s draft 2018-19 budget means that 90% of firms will pay lower rates than those based anywhere else in the UK. So, for the second time, why will the Secretary of State and his Government not support Scottish industry and back the call from the SNP and the Institute of Directors call for a £750 million SME Brexit advice service? [908460]

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As I said to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), that advice is available to businesses right across the country. But in supporting business confidence, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) should reflect on the fact that Scotland has now become the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom, and that is, in itself, undermining the confidence that investors have in Scotland.

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Associated Waste Management is a successful business based in my constituency. It has recently been acquired by Beauparc, one of Ireland’s leading waste management companies, but it is keeping its head office in my constituency. The new arrangements have secured the long-term growth of this locally founded business. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such investments are a vote of confidence in the UK economy and send a clear message that we are open for business post-Brexit?

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My hon. Friend is right that the fundamental attractions of the UK economy are as strong as ever. We have some of the best skills in the world, some of the most innovative people and some of the best scientists and researchers, but we also have access to a substantial European market that has proved attractive to businesses from around the world. We should continue with that, and we should have both.

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T9. Given that the European Union is the biggest regional market for whisky—worth £1.4 billion last year—and that no deal would force significant label change costs on independent producers, which currently do not have to display an EU importer address, what are the Government doing to reassure and compensate producers that are already incurring significant costs due to this Government’s dither, delay and uncertainty? [908461]

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I might ask the hon. Lady what she is doing to address that. The Scotch Whisky Association has been very clear; it has said that the withdrawal agreement is a compromise but a positive step towards much needed business certainty. If she cares about the industry, she should vote for the deal.

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Sadly, my constituency has an unemployment rate of 6%, which is twice the UK average. What progress has been made or can be made on the Ayrshire growth deal, which is essential to Ayrshire’s future prosperity?

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I know that my hon. Friend has been a vociferous champion of the Ayrshire growth deal, which was referred to in the Budget. I hope that we will see some progress on it in the next few weeks. For Cumnock in particular, the prospects will be very attractive. For a town that has contributed significantly over the years, including to UK energy supplies and industrial goods, it will be a fitting tribute—

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Order. We are extremely grateful to the Secretary of State.

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The Association of Accounting Technicians’ recent survey found that 73% of MPs agreed with its recommended changes to the prompt payment code, which are making the code compulsory, ensuring that larger businesses pay in 30 days and implementing a penalty regime. Will the Minister introduce those changes in legislation, to help the many small businesses that will benefit?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she will know, we launched the call for evidence in October, and it finished in November. We are reviewing the evidence presented. In October we made announcements to underpin, secure and make better the prompt payment code. The small business commissioner has delivered £2 million of collections for small businesses over the first year in his position. We will continue to work to ensure that small businesses get the payments they need when they should.

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Prior to Royal Assent for phase 2b of High Speed 2, will my hon. Friend consider establishing a cross-departmental taskforce with the Department for Transport, to provide businesses that are being forced to relocate with the necessary advice and support, including financial support?

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My hon. Friend should know that I have listened carefully to her question. In the first instance, a meeting between myself, herself and a representative from the Department for Transport might be a way to get that moving.

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Last week I wrote a letter to the Secretary of State about the taskforce in Liverpool and Birkenhead that wishes to save Cammell Laird from any further redundancies. Will he meet us this week, as a matter of urgency?

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I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s advice and his advocacy for a solution to the difficulties that Cammell Laird faces. We are meeting the trade unions and others on Thursday, and I hope he will be able to come to that meeting.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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I will take the point of order, and I would appreciate it if the ministerial team waited to hear it because it relates to Question Time.

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Under her breath, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth mentioned the living wage, but of course in practice there is no such thing. The Minister could correct the record in that it was indeed the Labour party that in 1998 introduced the minimum wage, which her party strongly opposed.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry; I am blaming the excitement. Of course I am happy to correct the record. The hon. Lady is absolutely correct: the Labour party introduced the national minimum wage. It was quite clear that that was inadequate for many people on the lowest incomes, particularly women who were underpaid, which is why we introduced the national living wage—something I wish she would support.

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Thank you. I am extremely grateful to the Minister.

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rose—

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Is it on the same matter? No. This matter has been—

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Not on this matter, but on these BEIS questions.

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I say to the hon. Lady that it must not be a continuation of the argument. I will give her the benefit of the doubt. However, on that matter the Minister has been very clear, and we thank her for that clarity.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that climate change is the most pressing and urgent issue facing us and future generations, may I seek your advice about how I can request the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, who has responsibility for climate change, to make an oral statement on her recent attendance at COP 24 at Katowice?

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The hon. Lady has achieved her own salvation. It seems to me that she has used the device of an entirely bogus point of order to register a point that she probably would have wanted to register if she had been called to do so, but could not because she was not.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I was delighted to answer a question on this very point, because our negotiation team was, as always, excellent. I was also happy to accredit the hon. Lady; I do not know whether she managed to attend our superb stand and entire presence at Katowice. My door is always open to her, as an expert in this area, to discuss this. I do not think an oral statement will be necessary. Perhaps she and I could grab a cup of tea, as this is dry January, and have such a conversation.

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Thank you.