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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
03 March 2020
Volume 672

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Secretary of State was asked—

Low-Carbon Industries

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1. What steps he is taking to support UK-based low-carbon industries. [901041]

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Supporting low-carbon industries is central to my Department’s mission to deliver our net zero target. We are backing our ambition with action. Since 2012, coal use on the grid has fallen from 40% to less than 3% in 2019, and renewable electricity generation has quadrupled since 2010, with low-carbon electricity providing more than 50% of our total energy needs.

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In 2018, investment in acquisitions in the UK’s solar dropped to just £0.3 billion, from £1.6 billion in 2015. Should the Government not be doing more to support renewable power, in the light of the net zero target—which the Secretary of State mentioned—and the closure of the feed-in tariff, especially given that German, Italian and Spanish companies are now investing over six times more than UK companies in low-carbon technologies?

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I am delighted that the hon. Lady has raised the issue of solar power, because, as she will know, solar photovoltaics is a UK success story. There has been rapid deployment over the past eight years, and more than 99% of the UK’s solar PV capacity has been deployed since May 2010. The latest figures indicate that we now have more than 1 million solar installations, or 13.4 GW, of capacity installed.

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In Cornwall we have some exciting new emerging industries such as geothermal energy and lithium extraction. How is my right hon. Friend encouraging those industries to produce green energy in the future?

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We are putting significant funds behind the renewables sector, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we are committed to increasing our research and development spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. I want the UK to be a science and R&D superpower, and that is what we are engaged in.

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Why are the Government so opposed to onshore wind energy generation?

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The hon. Gentleman may have missed yesterday’s announcement about the fourth contracts for difference allocation round, but if he reads that announcement, he will see the points that we have made. The proposals that we have presented are there to help the UK achieve its 2015 net zero ambition.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support for the onshore wind sector. What support are the Government providing to advance the hydrogen economy, and to decarbonise the hard to abate sectors?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Hydrogen can, of course, play a key role in net zero efforts, alongside electricity. My Department is investing in innovation, with up to £121 million supporting a range of projects to explore and develop the potential of low-carbon hydrogen.

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One of the UK’s great industrial success stories in recent decades has been the automotive industry. What discussions does the Secretary of State plan to have with the industry to help ensure that the UK is best placed to make the transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles?

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Within days of taking office I spoke to our major automotive manufacturers, and I have had meetings with a number of them. However, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We want to encourage electric vehicles, and we are also committed to securing investment for a UK gigafactory. Last year we announced up to £1 billion of new money to support R&D and supply chains for electric vehicles.

Research and Development Investment

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2. What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development. [901042]

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11. What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development. [901051]

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13. What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development. [901053]

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The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

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Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city of York and other regional hubs across Yorkshire, such as Leeds and Hull, will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

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I know that my hon. Friend is hugely supportive of R&D, and that last month he opened the Institute of Technology at York College. I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country. In December last year UK Research and Innovation awarded £24 million to the University of York for a quantum communications hub, and we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

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Rothamsted Research in my constituency is a world-leading agricultural research centre, and we have made huge strides in commercialising that scientific knowledge, working with agritech start-ups. I am working with Rothamsted to build a new venture capital fund for agritech, working with those start-ups to incubate and develop them so that we can improve this facility, not just for Rothamsted and the region but for the whole country. Will the Secretary of State provide Government support for this work and come to see the work that we are doing at Rothamsted?

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I am delighted that my hon. Friend is showing his characteristic commitment to innovation by supporting an agritech venture capital fund. As he notes, Rothamsted has a world-renowned reputation for agricultural research, and that is why UKRI has awarded £3.4 million to determine protein abundance in plants at that research institute. Either I or the Science Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway)—would be happy to meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

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I also welcome the emphasis that the Government are placing on research and development. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. As I have said, I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

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I welcome the Secretary of State and the Science Minister to their places. Science is critical to our national prosperity, and it is important that it should be led by them, rather than by the misfit master of Downing Street, so can the Secretary of State clarify the confusing statement from No. 10 on the European research programme? International collaboration is the heartbeat of research and development. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

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Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

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The Royal College of Physicians has found that something like 64,000 people a year die prematurely as a result of unclean air at a cost of some £20 billion. In addition to continuing the research and development into electric cars, will the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor and the Environment Secretary to continue the grant of £3,500 for clean cars, so that we can have an enforceable regime for air quality and a platform for research and development and for exports in the green industries, particularly in relation to sustainable transport?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

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Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. What help will the Secretary of State give to Queen’s University and Ulster University in Belfast, as well as to the Greenmount Agricultural College, so that they can apply for funding to help research and development across the whole of the United Kingdom?

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Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

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It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

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I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector, and I had an opportunity to work with him on these issues when I was the Housing and Planning Minister. He raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.

Aerospace Sector: Innovation

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3. What plans he has to support innovation in the aerospace sector. [901043]

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The hon. Gentleman, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on aerospace, will know that aerospace is a high-value growth sector driven by innovation, which is why the Government and the industry are co-investing £3.9 billion up to 2026 in aerospace research and development, and a further £300 million in the future flight challenge.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. The UK leads the world in aerospace technology, but it faces the same pressures as other sectors with regard to environmental sustainability, so may I urge him to increase long-term funding for the industry so that we can retain our global lead while meeting the challenge of net zero?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. The Prince of Wales and I co-chaired a deep dive at the Whittle laboratory, with the whole industry around the table, to consider how we can deliver on net zero for the industry. We were targeting a fully electric aircraft that, at 500 miles, could cover most of Europe and take 180 passengers, and of course we are looking at other technologies for longer haul flights. We are also creating the innovators of the future with 500 additional master’s level postgraduate places for aerospace.

Clean Growth Industries: New Jobs

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4. What steps he is taking to increase the number of new jobs in clean growth industries. [901044]

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7. What steps he is taking to increase the number of new jobs in clean growth industries. [901047]

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I call the Minister—and welcome.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Government are committed to making the UK a world leader in clean growth, building on existing strengths in sectors such as nuclear and offshore wind. We are taking action to deliver that, including by investing £3 billion in low-carbon innovation to 2021 and £170 million from the industrial strategy challenge fund to support our industrial decarbonisation mission to create at least one low-carbon industrial cluster by 2030.

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Tidal energy could be a game changer for my constituency of Barrow and Furness, for Morecambe bay and for the wider United Kingdom, through clean energy production and the ability to lead the world in this technology. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when considering the viability of these schemes, we have to rewrite the Treasury’s Green Book to take into account not only the unit cost of energy produced, but the value to the UK of leading in this technology and the social impact of bringing the schemes to constituencies such as mine?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question; I know how passionately he cares about the issue. I agree that the seas around the UK offer huge opportunities for cutting emissions and growing our economy. The offshore wind projects near his constituency offer an excellent example of UK leadership in renewable power. We are determined to drive growth in all parts of the UK and ensure that our assessment of projects takes full account not just of carbon savings, but of the growth and opportunities that they can provide for people across the country.

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The Net Zero Teesside project aims to decarbonise the Teesside industrial cluster by as early as 2030, capturing up to 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. The project could support up to 5,500 direct jobs, and it could help to safeguard as many as 16,000 existing jobs in the Tees valley. The UK has a unique chance to lead global development of a new carbon capture, utilisation and storage industry. Will the Government prioritise this technology?

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My hon. Friend, who I know cares passionately about this issue, makes a really good point; CCUS will be vital to meeting our net zero target and revitalising the UK’s industrial areas. The Government have invested over £50 million in CCUS innovation, and recently we consulted on potential business models to help progress deployment. The CCUS action plan aims to enable the commissioning of the first facility in the UK in the mid-2020s. We committed in our manifesto to investing £800 million towards that, and £500 million to help energy-intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques.

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If the Government want to help clean growth, they can invest in the Mersey tidal power project. It is clean, entirely predictable, and could power 1 million homes. It offers high-quality jobs and has massive domestic and export potential. Steve Rotheram and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have just committed a further £3.5 million to the project, so will the Government back the people of the north-west by supporting investment in this exciting new project? It is a chance to demonstrate that they are interested in and serious about tackling the climate crisis.

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Yes, absolutely. We need to do that for research and development in all technologies, and I will welcome the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman in the future.

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The Minister says the UK is a world leader in offshore wind, but the reality is that too many manufacturing and supply chain jobs go abroad following the award of contracts for difference. Will she look seriously at including a quality assessment mechanism in the bid process to incentivise companies to use UK firms such as CSWind and BiFab?

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We are making sure that we get to 60% UK employment in manufacturing by investing in R&D. We are committed to doing that.

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Nuclear fusion and cleantech are key drivers of the fourth industrial revolution that will help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the whole country this decade. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the COP26 summit is used to showcase our country’s green entrepreneurs?

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Very simply, yes.

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As the Government rejected the opportunity to create new clean jobs when they scrapped the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which had huge potential for communities along the Severn to kick-start further lagoons, may I, along with other hon. Members, urge them to look again at the huge potential of tidal power?

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I can confirm that we have a commitment to net zero, and we are doing everything we can to look at carbon neutral.

Energy-Intensive Industries: Decarbonisation

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5. What support his Department is providing to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise. [901045]

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19. What support his Department is providing to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise. [901060]

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We have schemes worth nearly £2 billion operating, or in development, to support our vital energy-intensive industries to decarbonise. We will also invest in building the UK’s first fully deployed carbon capture, usage and storage cluster, and we are progressing carbon capture and hydrogen business models, both of which are crucial technologies in decarbonising our industry.

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Achieving net zero is a considerable challenge for energy-intensive industries like ceramics, given the twin requirements of decarbonising without reducing international competitiveness. However, it is a challenge the sector can and will rise to, provided the UK puts supportive policies in place. Are the Government prepared to work actively with the ceramics industry, like Churchill China and Steelite, to help incentivise decarbonisation without, critically, undermining its international competitiveness?

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We must work together with industry to help our vital manufacturing regions benefit from clean growth opportunities. Stoke-on-Trent North is lucky to have such a Member championing its cause. We have a number of schemes in place, such as the transforming foundation industries challenge fund, the industrial heat recovery scheme and climate change agreements, to support industries like ceramics to cut bills and save carbon. In addition, we will be opening the industrial energy transformation fund to applications for phase 1 this spring.

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Manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent rely on energy-intensive processes to create their world-class products. What assistance can the Government give to help innovation in reducing the amount of carbon emissions generated in those processes?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and, of course, the south is as lucky as the north to have such a fantastic champion in this House.

We have a number of schemes, as I have already mentioned, particularly the transforming foundation industries challenge fund, which will support energy-intensive industries to work with each other to innovate in reducing carbon emissions. This is a joint Government and industry fund. The first competition for projects closed at the beginning of February, and applicants are due to find out later this month whether they have been successful.

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Teesside is a major centre for high-carbon, energy-intensive industries, which are nervous about high energy costs, the future of the REACH regulations and carbon costs. It is good to have my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), also supporting the CCUS campaign, but how can the Minister reassure the industry that the Government will address the high cost issues and, in particular, the REACH regulations that he is about to ditch?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We engaged with industry constantly throughout this process: when I took this job on last year, we engaged with industry over REACH, and we are looking at a UK REACH. Most importantly, we are looking at the energy-intensive industries and how we can innovate, for example, in steel and in the steel cluster. We have had good news today for British Steel, and we can use the investment that the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth is making in carbon capture, usage and storage to turn the industry into the greenest steel industry in Europe.

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Will the Government help to decarbonise the Rhondda? I ask because following the flooding we have seen significant landslides on former coal sites. I do not want to overstate this, but there is some anxiety about what that might mean for the future and stability of some of these tips. Will the Minister make sure that the Secretary of State meets me and other MPs in affected areas to make sure that the Coal Authority is doing everything in its power to make sure everybody is safe?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Secretary of State will certainly meet him and other concerned MPs, and make sure that the Coal Authority is doing everything it can. I would also like to visit to see for myself what is happening, so that we can work together on this. Getting to net zero by 2050 is a joint effort by the whole of this House, not just this Government.

Support for Small Businesses

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6. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses. [901046]

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12. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses. [901052]

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22. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses. [901063]

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Last month we launched businesssupport.gov.uk, our new website bringing together all Government information available to help businesses start, grow and scale. In my first week, I was delighted to chair the Rose review board, which works with industry leaders to break down the barriers that female entrepreneurs face.

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I thank the Minister for his response. Last week my constituents Martin and Deanne Brook proudly opened a brand new post office on Halifax Road in Cross Roads, which they operate in conjunction with their already successful small family business, SMS Workshop Supplies Ltd. What steps are the Government taking to help incentivise small business owners like them to explore the possibility of providing Post Office services as a means of safeguarding the post office network?

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This is about working with Members such as my hon. Friend and coming up with imaginative ways of opening up post offices, including Martin and Deanne’s in their hardware store. It is also important that we take the Post Office’s relationship with postmasters seriously and closely monitor the situation during the legal proceedings that many people are going through and have been through recently. The Post Office, under its new chief executive officer, has since accepted that it got things wrong. He has apologised and said that it aims to re-establish a positive relationship with postmasters. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working actively with the Post Office on this matter and will hold it to account on its progress. We are also looking into what more needs to be done.[Official Report, 13 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 4MC.]

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In Milton Keynes, we can get our groceries delivered by robot, and I was fortunate last week to meet some of the humans from Starship Technologies who wrangle these robots. What support is my hon. Friend giving to small businesses and start-ups such as Starship Technologies, which are at the forefront of innovative new technology?

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Fortunately, questions are not answered by robot yet, so I am still here. [Interruption.] Well, there is a bit of character and it is less robotic. I believe that 50,000 deliveries have been done by Starship Technologies in Milton Keynes, so that is an excellent example. We need to make sure that small businesses can innovate, scale and grow, and we are supporting them to do so through such schemes as Innovate UK smart grants, tax credits and the annual investment allowances, and through programmes supported by the British Business Bank. Research and development tax credits are the single biggest Government support for business investment in R&D. So far, just over £4.3 billion has been claimed through those tax credits in 2017-18, £2.3 billion of which was claimed through the small and medium-sized enterprise scheme.

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Small businesses in my constituency, including in the village of Stokenchurch, frequently tell me that they find it particularly hard to make a profit on the traditional high street. What can the Minister do to help traditional town centres to thrive, and become commercial and community hubs?

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We want our town centres and high streets, including in Stokenchurch in Aylesbury, to be vibrant community hubs where people can live, shop and use services. To support that, we are delivering a £1 billion future high streets fund, as part of a £3.6 billion towns fund to level up our regions. We are committed to a fundamental review of business rates, which the Treasury will announce in due course.

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I welcome the Minister and the Secretary of State and his new team to their places. I look forward to our future exchanges.

Last week I visited a café in Calder Valley that, despite having just started trading, has been ruined by relentless flooding. The owners, like the owners of so many small businesses, have received no support from the Government and have been left to repair the damage on their own, at their own cost, with the help of local people. Will the Minister outline to the House what meaningful financial support has been made available to businesses affected by flooding? Will the Government protect such businesses in future by outlining in the Budget an increase in the UK’s capital spend on flood defences to approximately £1 billion a year, as advised by the Environment Agency and the National Infrastructure Commission?

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We have spent £2.6 billion on flooding so far and announced £4 billion in our manifesto. The business recovery grant provides local authorities with funding of £2,500 for severely affected businesses like the café the hon. Lady described. It is important that we support small and medium-sized businesses to recover and help to support local economies.

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The Minister must acknowledge that that is a paltry amount of support. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, flooding will cost small businesses hundreds of millions of pounds, and thousands cannot find affordable flood insurance. Furthermore, on flood defence the Government have pledged less than half the capital advised—only £450 million a year for the next six years. The Prime Minister refused to hold a Cobra meeting following the floods and he could not even be bothered to visit the flood-affected areas. Is it not the case that the Government’s response to this disaster is yet another example of a part-time Prime Minister failing to provide the leadership that our country needs in a time of crisis?

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The Prime Minister is leading on this situation from the front. He is getting money out the door. As a former small-business owner, I would welcome any visit from the Prime Minister, but what I would welcome more is the money that we are getting out the door on day one to help these businesses.

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I too welcome the Secretary of State and his new ministerial team to their places.

The UK’s proposals on EU trade negotiations could reduce Scottish GDP by 6.1%, or £1,600 per person. Small businesses, including many in the food sector, simply cannot afford to cope with the prospect of such Mad Max economics. They need help now, so will the Minister join me in calling for a cut to employers’ national insurance, to help them and to help to protect jobs?

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We will see what happens in the Budget. Employment allowance has benefited businesses—including my former business—up and down the country. Businesses want meaningful things in the Budget, rather than platitudes from the Opposition.

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That response comes as absolutely no surprise, given the email from a key adviser to the Chancellor leaked at the weekend that said that the food sector “isn’t critically important”. We all remember the Prime Minister’s shocking attitude and use of the F-word in relation to business concerns when he said “F*** business”. It now seems that the Government are doubling down on that and it is “F*** farming” and “F*** fishing.” With the Minister refusing to support businesses in their hour of need, it is clear to all that this Government deserve an F for their economic incompetence.

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To date, the UK Government have committed up to £3.08 billion for city region and growth deals throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since 2012, the British Business Bank has issued more than 4,200 start-up loans in Scotland, worth more than £32 million in total. That is actual action for businesses.

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I thank the Minister for his commitment to small business. Small businesses in Cornwall, and especially on the Isles of Scilly, face an unprecedented challenge on 1 January as a result of the proposed immigration Bill. Will the Minister work with the Home Office to make sure that small businesses that do not have a workforce in the local area sitting around looking to and able to fill posts are able to carry on doing business next year?

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I happily confirm to my hon. Friend that our new immigration system is flexible, so, yes, we will work with businesses all around the country to ensure that we have the skills that we need to allow businesses to thrive.

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For the past two weekends, properties and businesses in the Rhondda Cynon Taff area—I am one of the MPs for that authority area—have seen devastating flooding. Just this week, I was out helping businesses in my constituency find sandbags and pumps from my local authority. The Welsh Government, the Rhondda Cynon Taff council and council leader Andrew Morgan are offering support to small businesses, so if the Minister is to announce additional funding for those businesses that have been impacted, I plead with him not to forget about Welsh small businesses.

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I have already talked about the £2,500 that we have been getting out through that business recovery grant, but we will always look to continue to work with businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as in England. It is important, as the hon. Gentleman said, that communities come together, which is why there is support for community economies, ensuring that they can continue to survive and thrive.

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My hon. Friend will be a great supporter of small businesses, so will he get off to a fast start by urging the Treasury to scrap its misguided changes to IR35? Those changes are punishing small businesses, with large companies already implementing blanket bans that the Treasury had said in a statement would not yet be implemented, and with the HMRC’s own assessment tool creating confusion, not clarity, for entrepreneurs.

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I am sure the Chancellor will hear that question. As my hon. Friend well knows, that is a matter for the Budget, which is still under review.

COP26

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8. What steps he has taken to prepare for COP26. [901048]

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I am delighted to have been appointed COP President. I have already held discussions with former COP Presidents, including Paris COP President Laurent Fabius. I met, among others, the UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed and Patricia Espinosa at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Last week, together with the Prime Minister’s COP26 climate finance adviser, Mark Carney, I launched the COP26 finance strategy. My officials and I are working at pace to deliver a successful summit.

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COP26 will be the most critical talks since Paris, yet preparations so far have been beset by chaos. What response can the Minister provide to the former COP President who says that this Government are presiding over “a huge lack of leadership” on the issue. The Prime Minister has admitted to her that he does not even understand climate change. Does the Minister acknowledge the embarrassing lack of credibility and competence that the Prime Minister has shown on COP26 preparations?

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I thank the former COP President for her work. The hon. Lady talks about the Prime Minister’s leadership. I can assure Members that when we were at the UN General Assembly in September, there was a huge amount of positivity around his leadership in doubling our International Climate Finance commitment. She will also know that last month the Prime Minister launched the Year of Climate Action. He is absolutely leading on this issue from the front, and the rest of us are supporting him. Let me tell her that we are absolutely determined to make sure that COP26 is a success, not just for the UK but because it matters to the whole world.

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Every country has to submit its contribution to climate action before COP26 meets. Why is the Secretary of State preparing the UK’s contribution statement on the basis of the fifth carbon budget, which works towards a target of only 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, when this House has determined that the target to be met should be net zero by 2050?

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We met the first two carbon budgets, and we are on track to meet the third. Of course, I recognise the need for further action: 2020 will be a year of climate action, as I have said, and we have new plans to decarbonise key sectors in industry.

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I congratulate the Department on its far-sighted announcement yesterday that sets the tone for COP26 by allowing onshore wind and solar projects, which have local support, to bid for funding. The announcement also floated a further pot for less developed technologies, such as tidal stream and wave, some of which the Energy Minister and I met last week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should pursue this opportunity to develop diverse sources of green energy and look closely at the innovative tax credit proposal, innovation power purchase agreement, to help some of these technologies get off the ground?

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I make the general point that innovation is vital in all sectors of industry, but particularly in the renewables sector. As my hon. Friend will know, the proposal that we set out will help the UK to achieve its 2050 net zero ambition. Ultimately, this is about achieving value for money by driving further cost reductions in renewable electricity.

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I welcome the Secretary of State and his new ministerial team to their places. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee looks forward to taking evidence from them, and I am sure that they look forward to that as well.

May I follow up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about our fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Those carbon budgets are premised on achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions, yet this House has unanimously passed legislation to achieve net zero. It is neither coherent, nor showing leadership, for our fourth and fifth carbon budgets to be based on an outdated objective that this House has rejected. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we will be updating our fourth and fifth carbon budgets—and, crucially, that we will meet them?

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I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming my ministerial team and me. Of course I look forward to coming before her Select Committee. Let me be absolutely clear: we are one of the first countries in the world to have legislated for a net zero target, and we have demonstrated our global leadership. We have met the first two carbon budgets and are on track to meet the third, but I take her point.

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I agree that one of the best ways of preparing for COP26 is bringing forward the new contracts for difference auctions for onshore wind and solar, which will help us to achieve net zero. Could we also take this opportunity to demonstrate to the hard-working taxpayers of Rother Valley and across the country that we can reduce their bills by going green. Can we make it a key part of COP26 to show that going green is better value for those hard-working people?

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Offshore wind prices have dropped by over two thirds between 2015 and 2019 because of the CfD auctions. Going green is positive for the economy: GDP has grown by 75% since 1990, yet we have also managed to reduce emissions by 43%.

Renewable Energy: Scotland

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9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on renewable energy. [901049]

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The hon. Gentleman will know that we have many conversations across Government. I have spoken with the Secretary of State for Scotland, as well as the Energy Minister in the devolved Administration. In fact, I spoke to colleagues just yesterday.

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I for one would like to say how delighted I am that the Government have finally listened to the common-sense advice of Scottish National party Members on the issue of onshore renewable energy and contracts for difference, even if the delay has cost us five wasted years. Looking ahead, will the Minister ensure that the contracts for difference process is reformed to maximise growth and opportunities for the Scottish and UK supply chains, and how exactly will he go about doing that?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been particularly successful in the offshore wind auctions, and we came to our conclusion not because of SNP lobbying, but because we felt that having a pot 1 auction was the best way to reach the net zero carbon target in a timely way by 2050.

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It is important to put it on the record that not everyone in Scotland will welcome yesterday’s announcement, not least my constituents, who have more wind turbines—in sight or planned—than any other constituency in the United Kingdom. Given the ineffective planning system operated by the Scottish Government and their willingness to override local decision making, what reassurance can the Minister give my constituents that they are not going to be overwhelmed by continuing wind farms?

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. We are very mindful of community consent and engagement with the planning process through consultation periods. We are also ensuring that the planning regime is robust. On balance, it was felt that we needed to make a move on this pot 1 auction in order to reach the target.

UK Export Finance: Coal

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10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on ending UK export finance for (a) coal-mining and (b) coal-fired power station projects; and if he will make a statement. [901050]

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The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have announced, with the Department for International Trade, that we will no longer provide any new export finance or new export credit for thermal coalmining or coal-powered plants overseas.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that confirmation. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement at the UK-Africa investment summit, will the Minister set out whether there is going to be a transition period prior to the welcome situation that he has described? Does he agree that UK Export Finance should be promoting the transition away from all fossil fuels in developing countries as soon as possible?

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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Any form of financing should absolutely take into account our net zero commitment, and it is in the process of doing so. On the question of coal, I take the opportunity to reiterate the fact that the Prime Minister, only last month, announced the intention to consult on bringing forward the coal closure to 1 October 2024. Even last month, only about 3% of our power generation was coming from coal. So this is a very achievable target, and we are very hopeful that we can take coal entirely off the grid by October 2024.

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The move to generate electricity from sources other than coal is very welcome, but some manufacturing processes will still require a supply of coal. Does the Minister agree that it is better for that coal to be supplied from domestic sources rather than being shipped halfway around the world?

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My hon. Friend is right. Obviously, from a coal and carbon emissions reduction point of view, it makes sense to have a locally based coal source rather than shipping it in a very costly way halfway around the world. That is a fair point. On the point about coal, the 2024 target is absolutely achievable. It is something we are absolutely committed to doing. In the long run, coal will be taken completely off the power generation grid, and that is something to be celebrated across the whole House.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [901066]

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My Department is leading the green revolution, working towards a target of net zero emissions by 2050. We are unleashing innovation and making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. We are creating better corporate governance, improving employment protections and working practices, and contributing to the UK’s labour market strategy. Our preparations for COP26 are gathering pace, ramping up momentum towards a global zero carbon economy.

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The recent BEIS Committee report was clear that the UK could not credibly adopt a net zero emissions target unless it invests in carbon capture and undersea storage. Does the Secretary of State plan to extend the Tory manifesto’s proposals on CCUS plants to Scotland so that we can create and deliver a clean growth structure?

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I certainly agree that CCUS is going to be essential to successfully tackling climate change. The hon. Gentleman talks about innovation funding for Scotland. I can tell him that £4.8 million is supporting the development of Project Acorn, which is a CCUS project based in north-east Scotland.

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For over 40 years, Jim Hall Sports has been at the heart of Bramhall village. However, the future of the shop is in doubt after Nike’s decision to terminate its supply agreements with smaller independent shops. This follows years of annual rises in the amounts that independent retailers have needed to sell to hold on to their merchandise account. It is a move that is a harbinger of the end of many independent stores in an already pressurised high street market. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with sports giants such as Nike to ensure that Jim Hall’s and other independent sports shops continue to have a future on our high streets?

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I thank my hon. Friend for sticking up for small businesses in her constituency. Large suppliers of consumer products, especially those who are leaders in their field, have a responsibility to treat retailers fairly and transparently, regardless of their size. If they think they are being unfairly treated, they could go to the Competition and Markets Authority. Contractual arrangements are between two private companies. However, we will support our high streets through the towns fund and the establishment of the high street taskforce.

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Coronavirus is impacting on every aspect of work, from the cost to employers to the cost to workers. The Health Secretary has said that employers should view isolation as sick leave, but the law does not state that. Even if that was so, those on zero-hours contracts and in insecure work are unlikely to have sickness cover, and statutory sick pay does not pay for the first three days, meaning that those with little means have to choose between health and hardship—an issue I raised with the Health Minister a month ago. So what discussions has the Business Secretary had with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that workers are financially protected to stop the risk of spreading coronavirus?

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The hon. Lady is right: this is a very serious issue, which affects individuals and challenges businesses. Those who do not qualify for statutory sick pay, including those who are self-employed, may be able to claim universal credit or new-style employment and support allowance.

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T5. Lithium is set to become one of the most sought after minerals in the world. Recent confirmation of significant deposits means that Cornwall is well placed to enable the UK to have its own secure domestic and sustainable supply of this vital mineral. Not only will that help to level up the Cornish economy, but it will put the UK at a global competitive advantage. Will the Minister ensure that the Government do everything possible to enable us to make the most of this opportunity, and would he like to come to Cornwall to see the work that is going on? [901071]

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I had the pleasure, with my hon. Friend, of meeting Cornish Lithium recently, and it was made clear that lithium extraction provides an excellent opportunity to contribute to our efforts to level up Cornwall, as well as securing our net zero objectives. I thank him for the invitation. I would be delighted to visit Cornwall.

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T2. In Scotland, 204 free cash machines closed last year. Alongside access to local banks and post office services being cut, that is having a hugely detrimental impact on high streets and small businesses in our towns, which are already struggling. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government act now and introduce legislation to protect access to cash, local banking and post office services on our high streets, so that our small businesses and high streets can survive and thrive? [901067]

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We are committed to supporting the retail sector, and we are working closely with the industry through the Retail Sector Council. As the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), noted in reply to a question earlier, we are supporting high streets with the £1 billion future high streets fund.

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T6. Both I and Andy Street are campaigning for a gigafactory to be located in the urban west midlands, close to the heart of car manufacturing. The factory would make the region a world leader in green vehicle technology. Will the Minister support that vision, and what steps can we take to ensure there is further investment in green technology in the west midlands? [901072]

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We are committed to securing investment for a UK gigafactory to support electrical vehicle manufacturing. Indeed, last week, I met Andy Street and Ralf Speth, who is the chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover, to discuss their thoughts on this matter. We recognise the strength of the west midlands, where £138 million has already been invested in the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre scheduled to open near Coventry this summer.

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T4. [R] As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have been receiving representations from entrepreneurs with disabilities who state that they face many more challenges in accessing business loans. Will the Secretary of State speak with colleagues in the Treasury and make sure that there is a strategy to address that, so that a truly inclusive economy can be achieved? [901069]

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The hon. Lady talks about support for business. We provide that through small start-up loans and the British Business Bank, but I or one of my colleagues would be happy to have a discussion with her on the specific issue she raises.

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T7. Are the current bunch of Ministers crusading Conservatives? With 73% of small businesses reporting that they are over-regulated, do Ministers wake up every day thinking about how they can reduce taxation and regulation on business—particularly small businesses? In other words, do they accept that it is only with entrepreneurs that we can create wealth in this society? [901073]

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My right hon. Friend speaks from experience, having been a business Minister in the past. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we reduce burdensome regulation and red tape, but we need to make sure that we stick with the protections that are there for employees.

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T9. Following the conviction of two ticket touts in Leeds last week for fraud, what discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about including financial harm in the online harms White Paper? [901075]

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I will make sure that my colleagues and I have the discussion. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to share with my office the details of that case.

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T8. As a former small business owner, may I ask the Minister what steps he is taking to enable more women to start and grow their own businesses, to help generate more local jobs in my constituency and across the country? [901074]

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Last week, I co-chaired the Rose review board, which is overseeing the progress made in delivering on the initiatives from that review. The Treasury has launched the investing in women code, which to date has 22 signatories from across the financial services industry. I look forward to working with my colleagues in government and business to drive forward this important agenda.

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Tidal’s Store in my constituency is paying a high amount of business rates—proportionately more than the local retail park down the road—which it says is putting it at a disadvantage. Will the Minister have a word with his Treasury colleagues about reforming business rates for small businesses such as Tidal’s?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I know that that is something that exercises high streets up and down the country. The Treasury is looking at this and reviewing business rates as a whole.

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When I was in business years ago, it came to something when Ríkisútvarpið in Iceland and Nederlandse Omroep Stichting in Holland paid quicker than the BBC. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure that large businesses pay smaller businesses quickly and on time?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We will be strengthening the Small Business Commissioner’s powers. We already have a tough approach to large companies that do not comply with the payment practices and reporting duty. We are strengthening and reforming the prompt payment code and moving administration to the Small Business Commissioner. The business basics fund competition encourages SMEs to utilise payment technology and boost productivity, and the winners will be announced in April.

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Local crofters in Melness support the proposal to establish a vertical space launch facility in Sutherland, and they have written to the Prime Minister to tell him that. Does the Secretary of State agree that that would be good for the local economy and that the UK has a huge opportunity in terms of launching satellites for other countries that do not have launch facilities?

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I thank the hon. Member for that question. We have united Departments across Government to develop a UK space strategy, which will help the UK lead the way in this fast-growing area and create thousands of jobs across the country. Our space strategy will support cutting-edge space science and technologies and foster world-leading British innovation.

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Nearly half the core research and development budget is spent in just three cities—Oxford, Cambridge and London—and yet for every pound of private investment that such spending leverages in London, we get £3 in the east midlands and £5 in the west midlands. Does the Minister agree that, if we are going to level up, we need a fairer division of spending on R&D?

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As I said in answer to an earlier question, I absolutely want to see levelling up, and I want to see money put into centres of excellence around the country.

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I welcome the Secretary of State to his role. I enjoyed working with him in his previous job, and I am sure he will do a very good job in this Department. Is he aware of the dire situation of businesses in my constituency because the workshop of the world—China—has closed for business? There is no supply chain, and manufacturing companies up and down the country are in a dire situation. This is a crisis caused by coronavirus, and we have not stepped up to the plate yet to face the measure of this terrible disaster.

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I thank the hon. Member for his question, but he is wrong. We have stood up a very important group within the Department that is working with the automotive sector, the retail sector and others that are impacted by China’s supply chain problems. We continue to monitor the situation closely, as well as the critical infrastructure that keeps the UK’s lights on and the UK economy powering ahead.

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Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to level up the great British high street with the internet would be to allow our high street shops to choose when they open?

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I know that my hon. Friend has looked at extending the hours of the Malvern tourist information centre. The Government have reviewed this issue several times. There are strongly held views on both sides. We believe that the current rules represent a fair compromise between those seeking reduced opening hours and those seeking greater liberalisation.

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At the same time as the Government have re-announced subsidies for onshore wind, Scottish Forestry has revealed that 13.9 million trees have been cut down for wind farms on its land. Does the Minister share my concern at those acts of economic vandalism? Does he believe that it is in the economic and environmental interests of this country to tear down trees, cut up peatland and erect steel structures on pristine landscapes in the vain hope that we can change the climate?

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I am always very interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s contributions on this subject. We should look at the details of actual deforestation, but he must not allow himself to get distracted from the big picture. The deployment of offshore wind has been a huge success for the UK. As the Secretary of State said, the price per megawatt hour has come down by two thirds and renewable energy is absolutely at the centre of our strategy to reach net zero carbon.

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In 2016, the United States became a net exporter of liquefied natural gas. In 2019, the United States became a net exporter of all oil products: both crude and refined. In order to diversify the UK’s energy risk, is it not time that the Government started to interact with the United States, perhaps as part of a trade deal, to import both gas and oil from the United States?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I met the newly appointed US Energy Secretary a couple of weeks ago and we work very closely with the United States. Of course, this week we published our terms for our negotiation for a free trade agreement with that great country.