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Topical Questions

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2021

After a very long and difficult year, things are looking up. Our economy is in better health than many had predicted, and the vaccine roll- out continues apace. While some are keen to talk down Britain, across the economy optimism is returning. Last week, Nissan and Envision announced a £1 billion investment to create the UK’s largest gigafactory, creating 1,600 new jobs in Sunderland and 4,500 more in the supply chain. Today, Stellantis has announced over £100 million of investment at its Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, which is to become the first mass-volume, fully battery-electric vehicle plant in Europe. This will safeguard the future of the site and its supply chain for the next decade. These are both huge votes of confidence in the UK post Brexit, and show our green industrial revolution in action. With COP26 fast approaching, the Secretary of State and I will continue to drive forward the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan—growing our economy, levelling up the country and, of course, tackling emissions.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement last week that he is bringing forward the date to remove unabated coal from the UK’s energy mix by a whole year to 2024. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows how the UK is leading the world in consigning coal power to the history books, and showing that we are serious about decarbonising our power system so that we can meet our ambitious, world-leading climate targets?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Closing Britain’s remaining coal units by 2024 will mean that we have reduced coal’s share of our electricity supply from a third to zero in only 10 years. This is a huge achievement that reinforces our record on climate action.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) said earlier, the Climate Change Committee’s report card on the Government two weeks ago was devastating:

“This defining year for the UK’s climate credentials has been marred by uncertainty and delay”.

The Climate Change Committee says that

“the policy is just not there”,


“We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.”

The chair, Lord Deben, when asked to give the Government marks out of 10 for policy, said “somewhere below four”. On any measure, these are failing grades. Who does the Minister hold responsible?

As we are world-leading—and, like a number of world leaders, I think Mark Carney stated at a Select Committee yesterday that we are doing as well as anybody else across the planet—I must respectfully disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, because I think we really are making huge progress. The policy that is rolling out is rolling out at incredible pace. Businesses—and I am hugely impressed—are leaning in so hard to help as their contribution to the decarbonisation challenges we face. As we move towards the net zero strategy, he will be able to see the holistic approach we are taking, which will ensure that all of us who are going to help to solve that will meet the challenge.

I think that is what we call the “dog ate my homework” excuse, and this is where the problem lies. When it comes to investment in a green recovery, the UK Government’s plans per head of population are less than a third of Germany, a quarter of France and just 6% of the US. That is why the Climate Change Committee says that we are just one fifth of the way to meeting our targets in terms of policy. Is it not the truth that, because the Government are not matching their grand rhetoric with public investment at scale, they are failing to tackle the biggest long-term threat our country faces?

We are one fifth of the way. If this is a journey to net zero in 2050, we have put into law—in fact, I did so just two weeks ago—carbon budget 6, which has brought forward the challenge we face to decarbonise our power industry by 15 years. We are literally world-leading in doing this, and other countries are talking to me day by day in an effort to help them follow the path we are taking and to make sure that we all do our part to meet net zero. This is not only about the UK; this is of course a global challenge, and the work my right hon. Friend the COP President-Designate is doing to help drive that across the world is critically important to its success.

Independent businesses are the beating heart of our high streets, and my constituency is fortunate because it is brimming with independent shops that are ready to sell everything from artisan food to emerging fashion brands. Last weekend we marked Independents’ Day, and I visited Marylebone, where I was delighted to visit Paul Rothe & Son Deli, Penton’s hardware shop, and Sandfords flower stall. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must do everything in our power to support independent businesses this summer, and encourage people back to city centres, including central London and every other city centre in the United Kingdom, to take advantage of those brilliant unique shops? (902311)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of small and independent businesses in her constituency, as well as of those big businesses that everybody knows around the world, not just the country. She is right to say that if people come to the centre of London, which has been remarkably quiet and slow to recover, they will see the benefits of those independent shops, as well as being able to enjoy everything that the most fantastic global city, represented by my hon. Friend, has to offer.

CF Fertilisers in Billingham in my constituency is one of the two remaining primary ammonia plants in the UK. The Department for Transport anticipates that 80% of UK domestic shipping will rely on ammonia for fuel by 2050, and CF Fertilisers will have a critical role to play. It has been hugely proactive in reducing emissions, but it is reliant on carbon capture and storage to decarbonise further. What plans does the Minister have to select and progress ammonia decarbonisation within phase 1 of the CCS programme, plus the sequencing process? (902312)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the process is in full swing and we will make an announcement before too long about those first clusters, and who will be able to lead in the carbon capture, utilisation and storage programme. The sixth carbon budget means that we have brought in the challenge of getting to grips with aviation and shipping fuels, and the Department for Transport is focusing on how that will be part of the net zero strategy.

Following the regrettable decision by the Chancellor to exclude new nuclear power from our clean energy programme, will the Minister update the House on what action she will take to ensure that we commission and develop urgently needed new nuclear power stations, so that we keep the lights on and provide base-level energy across the grid? (902318)

The Government are committed to new nuclear power, as we set out in the Energy White Paper last year. We have entered into negotiations with the developers of Sizewell C to consider the financing, and to set to building that as the next one after Hinkley Point C. We have committed £385 million for developing advanced nuclear jobs, including small modular reactors, for deployment in the 2030s.

In November 2019, the Prime Minister promised that he would end the Government raid on miners’ pensions. Yesterday, the Government flagrantly rejected the unanimous cross-party report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which said it was right to tackle that injustice. Why have the Government betrayed the Prime Minister’s promised to coalfield communities? (902313)

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, I met a number of trustees a few weeks ago and we discussed a number of issues in detail. I left them with a number of issues to go away and consider. The proposition as it currently stands is one that the Government do not wish to take forward, but I have asked the trustees to come back to me once they have considered the questions we discussed.

I am delighted that Dewsbury has been awarded £24.8 million after its towns fund bid. Will the Minister outline the benefits that that investment will have for retailers and other businesses in my home town? (902321)

What a fantastic story. In just 18 months, my hon. Friend has shown the impact of his work across his home town. He is absolutely right. Dewsbury’s transformative £24.8 million investment will make it a more attractive place to live, work and invest by supporting projects that deliver that enhanced business environment, such as the arcade to be reopened to small independent businesses and Dewsbury market to be transformed into a modern-day market, with fibre network improvements and repurposing underused sites. This is really going to boost Dewsbury’s reputation as a place for starting and growing a business.

In November last year, the Government report on the first statutory review of the pubs code was published. It proposed certain changes that could improve the operation of the code. Will my hon. Friend update the House on whether those changes have been implemented? Does he believe that further statutory provisions are required to adequately protect the interests of tied tenants and ensure a future for thousands of pubs throughout the country? (902325)

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in a really important area of supporting pubs. We will shortly publish a consultation to seek views on detailed options to improve the practical operation of the pubs code. It is important that all interested parties are able to comment, given the code’s complexity and potential impact on property rights. It covers just under 8,700 tied pub tenants in England and Wales, so it is only a small proportion of businesses in the hospitality sector, but a very important proportion. Next year, we will launch a second statutory review to seek stakeholders’ views on the effectiveness of the pubs code.

Could one of the Ministers tell me whether they agree that it is wrong for companies that have received millions of pounds of support from taxpayers to now seek to fire and rehire their staff? (902315)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her continued interest in this important area. I have said time and time again that it is not acceptable for employers to use such bully-boy negotiating tactics. ACAS has done the quantitative work on fire and rehire. We are asking it to write guidance, but also to do some more detailed work. If we need to act, we certainly will act.

I heard from pilots at the travel day of action about the disaster facing their industries if coronavirus restrictions are not relaxed soon. As the Minister will know, our aviation, travel and tourism sectors were the first to be impacted as a consequence of covid-19, with passenger numbers collapsing from March 2020. With recovery likely to take a number of years, these will also be the last sectors to revive. Can my hon. Friend tell me what help he will be giving to the aviation industry after 19 July if the Transport Secretary does not open up the airways? (902326)

Travel has an impact beyond the sector itself and the impact of reopening our cities. We will continue to work with the sector to offer it support and to flex our support. My hon. Friend mentioned weddings. On 21 June, the restrictions on weddings were eased, which I was pleased to see. The number is now determined by how many a venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place. I am looking forward to the day when those final social distancing measures can melt away.

This morning the Government tweeted to tell us that about 1.7 million businesses had been allowed to borrow money under the various coronavirus loan schemes. Do they also intend to send out a tweet to tell us how many jobs have been lost and how many businesses have been destroyed by the decision to exclude 3 million business owners from any coronavirus support whatever? (902316)

I have continued to converse, whether in person or on social media, with some of the people leading the campaign in this area. As I have said before, a lot of the schemes we put in place have been reverse engineered so we can deliver them quickly, at pace and at scale. We have not been able to save every business and every job, but clearly, we will look to not only reopen and recover, so that we can bounce back better and protect as many jobs as we can, but create new jobs as well.

Is there anything that Ministers can do to ensure that small builders get access to building materials that are increasingly in short supply? (902327)

There is a shortage of building materials due to global demand outstripping supply. We are working with the Construction Leadership Council’s product availability group to identify and resolve these challenges.

The Government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s report is nothing short of a complete and total betrayal of retired mineworkers and their widows. Notwithstanding the Minister’s reply about ongoing discussions on the sharing arrangements, why are the Government blocking the transfer of £1.2 billion of the miners’ own money from the reserve fund to immediately uplift the pensions of miners and their widows struggling to make ends meet? (902319)

That fund—one might describe it as a backstop—is there for support if there is a need to increase pensions. I am pleased to continue discussions with the trustees to look at potential solutions for the years ahead as the number of miners reduces and the investment pot needs to be looked at differently.

Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the billion pound investment package recently unveiled by Nissan UK is a further post-Brexit mark of confidence in UK science, technology and manufacturing? Will he do more to ensure that such investment is forthcoming in the next few years? (902328)

I agree with my hon. Friend about Nissan’s investment and the confidence it has shown in this country, which is a ringing endorsement. Indeed, the Secretary of State is up in Ellesmere Port talking to Stellantis about its investment in this country as well.

Community energy has manifold advantages, but its full potential cannot be unleashed, mainly because of regulatory barriers. Will the Minister meet me and Power for People to discuss how we can work with Government to find a way forward? (902320)

As I said earlier, we already have a number of funds working in community energy. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady at any point to discuss her perspective.

Yet again, we have heard about the need for a nuclear baseload. The reality is that Dungeness nuclear power station shut down seven years early and 75% of the existing nuclear fleet will be offline before Hinkley Point C can be up and running. Will the Minister tell me whether the nuclear baseload is a myth or when the lights will be getting turned out?

We continue to invest in new nuclear, as I set out earlier, and we are working to grow our renewable energies at an extraordinary pace. We are world leading, with our offshore wind capacity already at 29% of the total, and we will continue to grow that from 10 GW to 40 GW by 2030.

It is. In Question 31, I asked about green jobs and a scheme called Aquind, sponsored by Mr Temerko, who is a funder of the Tory party to the tune of £1 million. The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth quite rightly recused herself from answering the question because she has an interest, but can anyone else on the Front Bench answer my question about green jobs? Has a national security assessment been done of the Aquind project for an interconnector between France and the UK and its data implications?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth was right to recuse herself from the decision to ensure probity. We will find an answer for the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) from the Secretary of State.

Right, thank you.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes for the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.