[Relevant Documents: Oral evidence taken before the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with
(1) further resources, not exceeding £28,238,529,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 293 of Session 2019-21,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £8,707,662,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £23,687,553,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Kwasi Kwarteng.)
The debate will be led by the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones. I inform Back Benchers that I will impose an immediate four-minute time limit—I am sure you will appreciate that there is a great deal of demand for this debate.
It is a pleasure to open this debate, and I will try to keep my remarks short as possible to give time for colleagues in the House to contribute. Before I begin my substantive remarks, I pay particular tribute to Greg Clark , who chairs the Science and Technology Committee, and Philip Dunne, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, for their support. I note that the right hon. Member for Ludlow is unable to take part today because of the lack of virtual proceedings, but he had intended to do so.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is at the heart of Britain’s recovery. If we are to recover from the economic costs of the pandemic and tackle the climate crisis, it is imperative that we build back better for Britain, with a more inclusive, productive and sustainable economy that provides opportunity, security and resilience for families in every part of the United Kingdom.
That means good jobs for every generation in every part of the country; it means investing in key sectors in order to increase British manufacturing and British exports; it means Government partnering with business to bring forward investments in digitisation and technology transformation to improve productivity, with a specific focus on small and medium-sized enterprises; and it means recognising the importance of a fiscal stimulus in people as well as infrastructure, in the knowledge that an investment in every worker’s skills is an investment in the interests of the British economy. In each of those priorities, embedded in every single spending commitment, the Government must set out how they will accelerate our transition to net zero. Tackling climate change should no longer be a standalone policy; it should be at the heart of every Government decision.
I am confident that across Britain, in every part of our great country, from students and workers to business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators, we have the capacity to rise to the patriotic challenge before us—that together, we can get Britain back on its feet. That is why, at this turning point for Britain, as we leave the European Union and reset our role in a world quickly changing around us, the Government have an opportunity to rise to the challenge and create a modern, dynamic and aspirational Britain that is fit and ready for the future.
The breadth of interest in this debate is a function of the gamut of responsibilities and policy areas contained in the BEIS brief—an important brief for us to hold to account. The pandemic has given the Government, and BEIS most of all, an overriding and immediate task: to save as many jobs, businesses and livelihoods as possible. Covid has seen day-to-day departmental spending increase eightfold in the space of a year, from £2.1 billion in 2019-20 to £15.9 billion in 2020-21, with a significant majority of it concentrated on delivering emergency loans to the hundreds of thousands of businesses that have required help.
Obviously, the aerospace industry is not going to come back any time soon, so we must look at how we will invest to keep those jobs and skills in the medium and longer term. In particular, we have seen the sort of support that has come from the German and French Governments; we really must look at least to mirror that in this country.
It has been entirely right that the Government have acted quickly, but the scale of the expansion underlines the need for Parliament to scrutinise the effectiveness of its delivery, the extent of the future liabilities to which it exposes Government, and the plan for how support will be provided to the many businesses that are not yet out of the woods and will emerge from this crisis newly indebted—in short, what comes next.
The first key test for the Department must be to ensure that businesses large and small get the help they need in respect of both liquidity and debt management. In the course of our inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers, my Committee has seen evidence of employers doing the right things, but also of businesses and employers doing the wrong things. Conditionality on future support, in respect of both corporate behaviour and embedding the net zero transition and worker training, should become the new normal.
The Department should also take the opportunity to learn lessons from the initial phases of support. For example, my Committee heard consistent evidence of frustration at grindingly slow approval processes for Government-backed coronavirus business interruption loans and a reluctance to lend on the basis of the Government’s 80% loan guarantee, in addition to a widespread perception that eligibility requirements were not being applied consistently.
I wrote to the Secretary of State following the publication of the main estimates to seek an update on whether approval and take-up rates under the interruption loan schemes ever actually increased, particularly following the roll-out of bounce-back loans. It will be vital for my Committee and the House to understand the complete picture in that respect. Equally, although I recognise the trade-offs that exist when providing support at pace, I am conscious that Ministers have since notified the House of a contingent liability of £27 billion. That figure was not included in the estimates and, needless to say, it could dramatically increase.
Today is not the right occasion for a full analysis, but it is more than conceivable that if the Government had been willing to reform the initial loans frameworks and supplement them with targeted help for the worst-hit sectors, they could have provided materially more support earlier in the day at a lower eventual cost to the Exchequer. As Britain emerges from lockdown into a state-sponsored recovery, it is vital that the Department learns the lessons of the past few months in making the strategic interventions necessary to get businesses back on their feet, while balancing the fiscal risks of significant borrowing against value for money and potential future increases in interest rates. We must spend the money we are borrowing wisely. I therefore ask the Minister, in his summing up, to set out for the House what lessons have been learnt about the effectiveness and value for money of the initial support packages, and which lessons will be taken forward in the design and delivery of future support.
Evidence taken by my Committee from sectors in the most immediate need has also underscored the urgency of strategic sector-specific support packages and the high cost of failing to act. As the Member of Parliament for Bristol North West, I see that especially in the hospitality and aerospace sectors, and, while the hospitality sector can start to slowly reopen, the aerospace sector cannot. The aerospace sector should command a bespoke package of support, bringing forward decarbonisation targets for new aircraft and developing the technologies of tomorrow, not just to protect vital jobs and skills, but to maintain our international competitiveness in this important sector. However, the Government seem unwilling to take a coherent sectoral approach. I appreciate that the Minister cannot make any announcements in advance of the statement tomorrow, but I wonder whether he might tell us if he thinks his Department will move from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more sophisticated sectoral approach in the months ahead.
Those decisions should be underpinned by the industrial strategy, a key long-term metric for the Department’s success. In its annual report earlier this year, the Industrial Strategy Council identified key areas for improvement. One was in relation to the Department’s multi-agency research and development spending, principally through UK Research and Innovation. In their letter to me last week, the Secretary of State and the innovation Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Amanda Solloway, undertook to engage and consult on the Department’s research and development roadmap ahead of the autumn spending review. I hope it will include a clear commitment to seeking third-country membership of Horizon Europe, which would contribute about £2 billion of value to British research, regardless of the outcome of trade talks. That would send a much more valuable signal about the Government’s seriousness in ensuring that science and innovation in Britain are supported for the long haul and that the ambitious spending targets identified in the industrial strategy are met.
Of equal importance to the Department’s role in shaping the post-pandemic recovery is the Industrial Strategy Council’s call last month for a clearer overreaching vision for UK skills, with a strategic overhaul and expansion of training policies and institutions. It identifies a median scenario whereby 7 million current UK workers will have seen their jobs automated by 2030 in the absence of sustained investment in reskilling in our workforce. As OECD analysis has shown, the employees most at risk from automation are often the least likely to participate in training. The pandemic only compounds the latent injustices, with the rise of remote working and learning making investment in digital access and digital skills even more important.
I am an advocate of the acceleration of automation and technology adoption, but it must be coupled with economic stabilisers from the state for training and jobs transition for workers and it must tackle inequalities and have a clear view of modern competition. It must also be coupled with consumer and workplace health and safety regulations that protect workers and it must prevent monopolisation and overbearing corporate power from the owners of data technology and digital services. Yet we seem to be in a twilight zone where the Government have an industrial strategy but often seem to lack reference to it, or indeed ignore it, making spending decisions—for example into the OneWeb satellite company—that seem to bear no resemblance to the published strategy while intervening in the market in an often incoherent and opaque manner. That cannot continue and the Government must set out the framework in which they will operate in the years to come, so that the market can understand what rules will be followed and on what basis.
Those of us content with the idea that the state plays a role in the economy would recognise such interventions from the Government in the past few months as an industrial strategy, so it would be useful in summing up today if the Minister could set out what the Government’s industrial strategy actually is and how it will be used in the decisions for post-pandemic growth. This, to be clear, should not be about picking winners. It should be about working with business to deliver on economy-wide objectives. If the Government are going to truly level up the economy, they need to trust, empower and properly finance local decision-making in a real partnership between the functions of the state and business and trade union leaders.
Turning lastly to climate change, as I said at the beginning of my speech, I do not see climate change as standalone policy, but one that is embedded in every decision. I hope the Government will set out how every decision, through the billions of pounds that they spend, helps us to reach our net zero target.
At a time of shifting global power, we should take these opportunities to not only re-emphasise the importance of multilateralism and the rules-based international order in terms of climate and trade, but also evidence why it is in all our interests to work together. The Government have a rare opportunity right before them to create a more inclusive, productive and sustainable economy that delivers good jobs, good pay and security for families at home here in the United Kingdom, while using our soft powers to show the world what we can all achieve together. That goal will be the defining test for this Government.
It is a pleasure to follow the new Chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, who is making good progress. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It seems to me that businesses face two separate and distinct challenges right now: meeting the social distancing requirements and complying with the Government regulations on the one hand, while establishing whether there is enough demand for the product or service they provide. Those are very different. Some businesses are unable to trade because of the social distancing requirements or are not permitted to trade, but for many others, there is not enough custom. Either way, that can lead to a decision to cease trading or, far worse, business failure.
In terms of those businesses not permitted to trade, I have had regular contact with Helen Taylor of Helen Taylor Aesthetics in Rugby, which is a clinic offering anti-ageing face and body services and skin treatments. It is an environment with high levels of cleanliness and sanitation, and she believes there is a strong case for her business to be open at a time when pubs, non-essential retail and hairdressers are open. I hope the Minister will be able to give some good news to that sector.
Another sector hit hard in respect of both regulation and demand is hospitality. I welcome the move to 1 metre- plus, but that still represents a challenge in many locations where it is only possible to operate at 70% capacity. For many, that is sub-economic in the short term, so they have not opened. Those businesses, like others, welcome the Government’s support. The furlough scheme and the grants and loans have enabled many to keep going, but the question is, for how long? The hospitality sector employs many young people, and it needs a stimulus. I hope that we will hear the Chancellor announce tomorrow not a tweak to the standard rate of VAT—a small amount off the rate will not make much difference to the decision on whether or not to spend—but zero rating of restaurant meals, which would have a big impact on the sector, taking 20% off the price.
Having set up a business, built it up and then sold it, I want to focus on the Department’s role in encouraging entrepreneurship. I get feedback from regular meetings with the Federation of Small Businesses, my chamber of commerce and other business breakfast groups, and one of the best and most interesting inquiries the Select Committee did in the last Parliament was on small business productivity. We found that the support for people running small businesses and the guidance and advice is incredibly patchy. Those running businesses are often unsure where to go and unsure of their obligations in running a business, and that continues through their life.
It is important to recognise that businesses are often set up because somebody is good at a particular trade. They may be an electrician or a builder, and they may have done an apprenticeship. They have learnt the skills needed in that trade, but few have had any training in running and managing a business. It is a different skillset, and it is one that Government need to recognise. Some support is provided by local enterprise partnerships and growth hubs. We have a fantastic one in Coventry and Warwickshire, but we heard that this was incredibly patchy.
We also heard that businesses should make time to work on their business as well as within their business. Often businessmen are too busy, but they need to make some time available and have some support for personal development. One of the skills that we need more businesses to have is salesmanship. Nothing happens until a sale is made. Salesmanship is a professional career recognised by the Association of Professional Sales, and right now, we need the country’s best salesmen pushing for sales of UK-produced products.
I am taking from my own time by intervening, but my hon. Friend has said “businessmen”, “salesmen”, “salesmanship” and “salesmen” again—will he please acknowledge that there are women in this world?
I certainly acknowledge that point. With four minutes to speak, I am rushing through the content of my speech, but I take the point. We need people to be trained in these skills.
With the little bit of extra time I now have, I want to put in a plug for manufacturing. My constituency is adjacent to Coventry, the home of motor manufacturing. My constituency is also home to the Manufacturing Technology Centre, which has contributed to a new paper, “West Midlands: the Speed to Scale Region”. There is a strategy to deliver new products at pace, and we need to make certain that we include manufacturing as part of our overall business mix.
It is a pleasure to follow other members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. On youth unemployment, the Select Committee heard that workers aged under 25 were about two and a half times more likely than other workers to be in a sector that was shut down during the pandemic. The Government must act now to save jobs and create a plan to get young people back into work. I strongly support the TUC’s suggestion of a jobs guarantee for young workers. In essence, it would provide a guaranteed job, including training and pay on at least the living wage, for young workers who have been out of work for more than three months.
In the time I have, I will focus on the economic powerhouse that is the beauty industry—an industry that employs over 300,000 people across the UK in every town, village and city. In many places, including my own constituency, beauty salons are the lifeblood of the high street. The sector’s success is critical in our economic recovery.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the beauty industry, which contributes billions of pounds to the economy and provides over 370,000 jobs, is no laughing matter, despite the Prime Minister’s frivolous and flippant dismissal of the question when he was asked about it in Prime Minister’s questions last Wednesday?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, this industry is predominantly run by women, employing women, and yet the beauty sector has seemingly been forgotten. Hairdressers and barbers have been open since the weekend, but the wider beauty sector is left in a deeply uncertain position. The hair, beauty, spa and wellness industries are a highly integrated sector, with many businesses and premises containing both hair and wider beauty services. Allowing only the hair part to open makes many such businesses economically unviable. The Government have already produced the guidelines for the safe reopening of these businesses, so there is no reason for any delay.
Another industry that has been extremely hard hit in recent months is the wedding and connected hospitality industry, including Pakistan Catering in my constituency. The industry needs guidance as soon as possible on when receptions can resume. Many thousands of jobs in the beauty and hospitality sectors are at risk, and with the Government beginning to wind down the furlough scheme wholesale rather than sector by sector, both sectors need clarity quickly on when they can reopen. I hope the Minister can provide that when he winds up.
Last week, over 200 beauty-related businesses from across the country wrote to the Prime Minister to urge him to provide immediate clarity on when they will be allowed to restart work, and my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris and I wrote to him about the disregard and disrespect with which the industry has been treated in this place. It is not a pink and fluffy industry; it is a sector of highly trained professionals, and, quite frankly, they deserve better. My message is simple: this is no laughing matter. The Government must act now to save jobs in this important industry.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is at the heart of our post-covid recovery. In my speech, I wish to focus on the repatriation of jobs to Britain, boosting our home-grown manufacturing, capitalising on our region’s rich industrial heritage and levelling up across our great country. Those are urgent priorities, which are integral to BEIS’s efforts to relaunch UK plc post covid and, in doing so, ensure the public are guaranteed the best return for the money that is entrusted to us.
Too many jobs have left Britain in the past decade or so, lured away by cheap labour and loose employment protection laws. Companies have left in their droves, while still benefiting from our consumer market. Germany, a country with a similar sized population and economy, has protected its industries and largely succeeded in encouraging German companies to retain their operations at home. It is our job to make the case for the UK as a hub of innovation with a highly educated, highly skilled and highly creative workforce. Companies that have moved jobs abroad have found that the grass is not always greener. In an increasingly complex global climate characterised by the slowdown of China and its tension with the west, and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, there is inherent value to business in the stability of our governance and the quality of our British labour market.
We must focus not on repatriating jobs to Britain, but on nourishing and supporting the enterprises that are here. This House knows only too well that many businesses are struggling to survive during the crisis and face many tough months ahead. Accordingly, I welcome the proposal to increase BEIS funding by £12 billion.
For us to emerge from the crisis, we must draw on the industry and ingenuity for which this country is famous. BEIS must support a renaissance in home-grown manufacturing, while promoting the UK as a world leader in certain fields. We have already achieved that in medical research and pharmaceuticals, and there is no reason why we cannot apply that success to sectors such as green energy and renewables, and in doing so steal a march on our rivals. We are already ahead of the game in technologies such as wind power, but we must act with speed and commitment to implement a hydrogen strategy to harness the full potential of this exciting zero-emission fuel of the future. Much of my work on the BEIS Committee revolves around such issues, and I welcome ideas from other Members to make them a reality.
I envision this industrial renaissance being spread out across a chain of innovative manufacturing hubs all across the UK. The Government’s levelling-up agenda is key to a strong economic recovery that works for every Briton and for every part of this nation. I speak from experience: my constituency of Rother Valley in South Yorkshire has a rich industrial heritage from many generations of coal mining and steel production, which is mirrored in constituencies across the north of England, the midlands and other parts of the United Kingdom. Such areas have been neglected and unemployment has soared. Now is the time for BEIS to utilise the manufacturing knowledge and skills possessed by locals in these areas and repurpose it for the industries of the future. This transformative action would provide high-quality jobs to those left-behind areas while firmly positioning the UK as a world leader in new sectors. We would reduce our reliance on overseas actors and be able to use British goods for British infrastructure projects.
As I draw my speech to a close, I underline the incredible opportunity that BEIS has to bring back jobs to Britain, restore struggling business to full health and open a new frontier for British manufacturing and industry. By reinventing areas with an industrial legacy and including them in our plans, we will not only recover from this dreadful virus, but usher in a new industrial revolution and a whole new era for a global Britain.
Diolch yn fawr Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd. It is undeniable that the covid-19 pandemic has slammed the brakes on economic activity across the board, but few sectors have taken so severe a shock as tourism. Why? At least half of the income-generating season is now irretrievably lost. In Wales, around 144,000 people are employed in the tourism sector. Coming out of lockdown is essential for many, many communities. While the level of Government support has been so far unprecedented, the impact on the Welsh tourism industry looks set to be long lasting.
The Welsh Government tourism barometer carried out a survey of firms between
The first signs of the crisis can already be seen in universal credit and jobseeker’s allowance numbers. Office for National Statistics figures from this spring show an increase of 24% in people claiming unemployment benefits in my constituency of Dwyfor Meirionnydd. For the tourism sector to flourish long term, we need sustained Government intervention and a new approach to ensure that tourism can contribute to reinvigorating our rural and coastal communities.
I urged the Government this week to commit to paying tourism and hospitality employers’ national insurance contributions, as well as increasing the threshold at which national insurance contributions are paid. We also need a temporary VAT cut for both hospitality and tourism, allowing for targeted stimulus for the sectors that most need support. Many in this House have used EU rules on VAT to argue the case for Brexit, but this is one area where flexibility already exists. There is a dispensation for a lower rate—say between 5% and 15%—and frankly it is shocking that the UK has not already reduced VAT for tourism activities when every other country in the EU except Denmark has done so.
My constituency is the proud home of a total of six heritage railways. Across the UK, heritage railways employ 4,000 paid staff alongside 22,000 volunteers, and they attract 13 million visitors. Social distancing requirements make it difficult to run cost-effective timetables, and heritage railways are calling primarily for an extension of the furlough scheme for key staff until spring 2021 in order to cope with the three-winter scenario. Anybody who is talking to anyone in the tourism sector will have talked about the three-winter scenario, and about how we can get businesses through when they are facing the prospect of no income whatsoever. That is particularly true for the heritage railway industry, and I am sure that the Government will be looking to ensure that those jewels in many areas of tourism are maintained into the future.
With our vast mountains and hills and our 870 miles of coastline path, Wales is ideally placed for socially distant tourism, but attracting tourists at any cost should not be our priority. Post covid, sustainable tourism can be a vehicle for supporting our cultural heritage as well as combating the multiple crises of our age: the climate emergency, loss of biodiversity, pollution, and social and economic inequalities. Out of this crisis, we have an opportunity to assess our tourism industry and its role within our economy, and I urge the Government to grasp this opportunity to create a future-proof model of tourism with sustainability at its heart.
As Chair of the Petitions Committee, I want to speak today on the report that we published this week on the impact of covid on new parents. Over 227,000 petitioners have called for maternity leave to be extended for a period of three months in light of the difficulties faced during the pandemic. Despite many people benefiting from the Government’s many support schemes, many parents feel forgotten. As a mum of three, I know how challenging it can be to have a new baby at the best of times. The pandemic is posing huge challenges to new parents across the country and it has been hugely disruptive to the crucial early weeks and months of parenthood.
We have heard from parents who feel like anomalies whose circumstances have been missed by the Government. We have heard from parents who feel that their jobs are at risk as they are unable to find childcare. We have also heard from parents whose mental health has suffered and who are in desperate need of help and support. One mum told us:
“The stress of the Coronavirus pandemic, lockdown, having to give birth alone, no visitors after having a c-section etc has ruined the beginning of what is meant to be a memorable happy time and has led to severe anxiety.”
Another new mum said:
“Covid 19 has affected me massively…I have been unable to get the support I need”.
The petitioners are requesting longer maternity leave so that they can have time to do the things that many of us take for granted. They need time for all the things that have been impossible while they have been isolated at home. They need time to adjust back to the realities of everyday working life with a whole new addition in tow. They need time to access childcare, to introduce new babies to families and friends and to attend baby classes. And they need time to get the support they have missed out on, from health visitors, mental health services, dentists and doctors. The Government’s response to the petition to date has been to turn down these requests.
We have heard compelling evidence on the importance of supporting new parents. They have missed out on crucial support, and the science shows us that this has the potential to have a damaging effect on their mental health and that of their children. Dr Alain Gregoire, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, told our Committee:
“You are the first generation of legislators who have this scientific knowledge…So, there is a huge potential for acting and acting now, to prevent effects in 20- or 30-years’ time, as well as effects tomorrow.”
Our Committee has therefore called on the Government to take action now to prevent damage in the years to come, and we recommend that they should
“extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by the pandemic.”
This should include extending adoption leave and considering similar entitlements for special guardians who have welcomed new children into their families during the pandemic. We also recommend that the Government undertake an urgent review of health visitor services and consider the additional support needed for vulnerable families. They should also consider an extension of maternity dentist provision for six months for those who have not been able to access vital care during lockdown. They should also urgently review funding for the childcare sector to ensure that there are enough childcare places for parents who need to return to work.
We also recommend that the Government prioritise extending redundancy protection to new parents and give them longer to challenge unfair dismissal when it happens. We also recommend that they bring forward plans for neonatal leave and ensure priority covid testing for families and babies in neonatal care. When it comes to supporting families in the early years, the cost of doing nothing can be far greater than the cost of intervening early.
If the Government do not urgently review how new parents are supported during this crisis, the negative effects of this pandemic could be felt for years to come by families and the economy. I urge the Government to heed the warnings on maternal mental health, as well as the evidence and recommendations in our report, and to do the right thing now for thousands of families.
We in this House are very good at talking about what is going wrong, and talking this country down, but for many of our workers the last few months of dealing with covid have been business as usual. I thank all those workers who have carried on going to work and serving us in our shops. In particular, I thank my constituents who work in the ports and logistics sector, and who carry on unloading those ships and ensuring that our supermarkets are stocked.
As we move out of this crisis, it is important that we do so in a spirit of ambition and positivity, because that is what will get us through it. It will not be the Government; it will be the energy and commitment of all our entrepreneurs and workers, who will seize those opportunities if we give them leadership and encouragement. As an example, just in the past couple of months we have opened a brand new port facility at Tilbury in my constituency. We have seen the opportunities that will be created by Brexit, and invested in them. We got planning permission one year ago, and one year later a £250 million investment has been made, creating new jobs and taking advantage of those opportunities. Take an example from south Essex’s competitive and entrepreneurial spirit, and we will get out of this. It is the job of Government to ensure that they do not get in the way of that.
I would like to raise two points with the Minister. First, we need to find lots of money to pay for what we have invested to get us out of this crisis, but we must ensure that we continue with a competitive taxation system. BEIS needs to act as that entrepreneurial champion and not be a regulator, and it was with some dismay that I heard that 42 pages of regulation were given to hairdressers to help them reopen. We must do much better than that.
I also wish to associate my voice with those who have already called for the reopening of the beauty industry. It has been disappointing to hear the reaction of fellow Members of Parliament when that issue has been raised in the past. Is that because those business are run by women who employ women? I sincerely hope not, but it certainly looks like that to the public. Beauty is a major industry, and if people want our hotels to reopen and be profitable and sustainable, they must also open their spas. This is not just about nail bars; the beauty industry offers a whole range of treatments. More to the point, with office workers still staying at home, people need a reason to go to the high street and continue that footfall in shops. I encourage the Minister to look favourably on that sector.
Just as the UK was not prepared for the covid-19 pandemic, so the Government are failing adequately to prepare and protect people from the effects of climate change. What are the latest Treasury estimates for the cost of the likely damage to communities, food, food production, and industry as a result of climate change and environmental degradation over the next five to 10 years? Although I welcome several of the measures touted to make the Chancellor’s Budget tomorrow, particularly the green homes grant scheme, a responsible approach to the climate and environmental emergency will require far more than just one or two eye-catching measures and a few slogans. To say that anything less than systemic, transformative fundamental change to society, the economy and lifestyles is needed would be a dangerous and reckless myth.
In the light of what we have seen, or not seen, from the Government on climate change and the environment, I am somewhat sceptical about their new-found love for interventionist approaches. Analysis shows that policies opposed by the Government to date on onshore wind, offshore wind power, home installation, tidal power and transport would have led to nearly 70 million tonnes of CO2 emissions savings per year by 2030. The UK is off track to hit our latest carbon budget emissions targets. We are missing most of our international biodiversity targets, and Natural England and the Environment Agency have been cut so severely that they are barely able even to fulfil their basic statutory functions. In the context of all this, the Cabinet Committee launched to co-ordinate climate policy has, remarkably, met just once.
Covid-19 has shown that we all have the ability to make drastic changes to our way of life, when necessary. We must learn from these changes, not merely return to the old habits and old ways of thinking, and that goes for Government too. As a minimum, any company support package from the Government must ensure there is a clear commitment to tackling climate change. Will the Minister commit to the principle of public money for public goods today, and will the Minister commit to a comprehensive training, jobs and investment programme built around net zero and the circular economy—a green industrial revolution?
The Prime Minister has presented a compelling new deal to rebuild Britain following the unprecedented events of the past three months. This Department is at the heart of delivering that, and it has already done so much: the unprecedented support for businesses, large and small, to help protect existing jobs and create new jobs for the future; the unprecedented support for families by helping businesses meet the cost of keeping their employees paid throughout the coronavirus lockdown; and, for those unable to continue their work as usual, an unparalleled furloughing scheme that has supported more than 9 million people.
The events of the last three months have created some of the biggest changes in working practices this country has ever seen. Overnight, businesses and organisations have switched from almost entirely office-based operations to home working. Remarkably, it is estimated that 60% of UK adults were working from home during the coronavirus lockdown. This is a testament to the businesses and the workforce we have.
As the Government plan for the future, we need to think carefully about what getting back to normal looks like. Some of my constituents joined me in a virtual lobby last week to talk about climate change, and one thing was clear: they wanted to see a green recovery for the economy. With CO2 emissions dropping by a quarter during the lockdown, the number of good quality air days increasing by 22% and nitrogen dioxide levels falling by 40%, these things have changed considerably.
Inevitably, as the economy returns to normal, some of those improvements will diminish, but there is an opportunity to embed some of the behavioural change we have seen for the future, particularly when it comes to commuting into work. Experts in the US estimate that more than one in three jobs could be done entirely from home, and it would be interesting to look at the figures for the UK. If some of those who could work remotely continue to do so, this could make a significant contribution to the Government’s plan to be net zero by 2050 and help alleviate some of the overcrowding on public transport.
Of course, many other issues need to be looked at if those working patterns are to be sustained, but this Government have already delivered so much when it comes to the environment—greenhouse gas has been reduced and, indeed, thousands of new carbon-free buses and a comprehensive network of cycleways have been introduced—so embedding this new trend for home working could well be a positive legacy from lockdown that truly helps produce a truly green recovery following the coronavirus lockdown.
Expectations are very high for the Chancellor’s economic statement tomorrow. According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy has shrunk since March by a staggering 20.4% and unemployment is climbing rapidly. Cutting the furlough scheme from
We need more support for our fragile island economies, the unique circumstances of which make them extremely vulnerable for the 300,000 people across the UK who live on our islands. If we want to prevent the depopulation of these islands and to secure their long-term economic sustainability, special measures must be taken to support them. We need more for our aviation, aerospace and tourism sectors—their fates are intertwined—which collectively support 1.6 million jobs and contribute £92 billion to gross domestic product.
We must emerge from this pandemic with a green economic recovery that has inclusion and wellbeing at its heart, which is why the SNP Government commissioned an ambitious and wide-ranging report that emphasised the importance of employment, environment, education and equality in the recovery phase. I commend that report to the Minister for his perusal.
The Prime Minister announced his “new deal” to great fanfare last week, but it amounted to little more than shuffling around money that was already pledged; interestingly, it is not expected that his announcement will deliver any new money for Scotland. The current powers and financial flexibility that the Scottish Parliament has are woefully inadequate to respond effectively to the host of challenges we face. Scotland needs more powers to do more for ourselves, to protect our own jobs and to protect our own economy. People make the best decisions for themselves.
The climate emergency is real and, as the word “emergency” suggests, it needs urgent action now. I want to thank the Minister for his time yesterday, and I will continue to engage with him; some of what I am going to say now he heard yesterday. I continue to worry that although the Government do something to address the need to lower our carbon emissions, they fall short of addressing the urgent need to get to net zero in the next few decades. The Government need to publish a comprehensive and coherent plan of how to get to net zero, not just to low carbon emissions, across all sectors of our economy—transport, heating, energy, agriculture, construction and so on. All this has to be done simultaneously. It is well understood that this is a very complex task, but any Government who take a climate emergency seriously would have such a plan, not just announce piecemeal measures.
One of the biggest set of carbon emissions comes from heating our homes and buildings. The Government need to set out what they believe the future of heating our public and private buildings will look like, and how the transition to net zero is going to be achieved. If the Government are serious about hydrogen, significant pilot schemes need to be rolled out soon, not only to guarantee their safety but to indicate to investors and businesses what the future direction looks like. I urge the Government to fast-track green hydrogen production, so that we do not end up with hydrogen coming predominantly from natural gas and we do not still pump fossil fuels out of the ground in 30 years’ time. The production of green hydrogen requires a large scaling-up of renewable energy production, so thinking about one sector branches out into another. District heating could play an important part in heating our homes, but rather than going forward with its roll-out, since 2018 we have gone backwards. The energy company obligation scheme is going to be continued into 2022, but I urge the Minister to look into widening it to include the most vulnerable people.
If private vehicles will be largely powered by electricity, we need a large increase in grid capacity. People will find it a lot easier to switch to electric vehicles if they can be confident that they can quickly and easily charge their cars. However, I hear from car makers across the board that the Government have not committed yet to the large infrastructure changes needed to allow them to be confident about the quick and large-scale take-up of electric vehicles. Taking steps in the right direction is not good enough; we need a coherent plan and big leaps to get to net zero.
This time last year, the House was in gridlock because of Brexit. We then changed Prime Minister, had a general election and left the European Union, and I was very excited about the new business opportunities we would get, but then, of course, we had to face this invisible enemy. As far as the Department is concerned, I say to the Minister that only time will tell whether or not we have addressed the current situation well, but from what I can see at the moment I think we have reacted pretty well. Many colleagues have mentioned that beauty salons, tattoo and piercing parlour owners and gym owners feel very much left out in all this. They tell me that they already have personal protective equipment when they help the people who want to take advantage of the service they are offering, so we need to address that.
Since 2012, easyJet has been flying from Southend Airport. Unfortunately, I got a phone call last week to say that it is pulling out of the airport. It is absolutely devastating. I am speaking on behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) and my right hon. Friend Mr Francois. There are 185 people who are crying out for help because of the downturn in the numbers of people booking flights. Everyone loves Southend Airport. That is why we are going to become a city, but we desperately need Government support at the moment.
I was delighted with the package that was arranged for the performing arts. Southend West was the alternative city of culture. We are awash with actors, actresses, painters, dancers and all of that, which is absolutely magnificent, but now I am getting emails from constituents saying, “David when precisely are we going to get the money, and how is it going to be dished out?”
I am delighted that the coronavirus local authority discretionary grants fund is open, but we need more clarification around who qualifies. I have three local examples: one is the director of Currency Farm Ltd; another is the owner of the Spread Eagle pub; and the final one is the owner of the magnificent Boatyard Restaurant. May I ask the Minister to have a word with the Secretary of State to see whether we could give greater guidance as to precisely how these grants are to be administered? This is a lot of money that we have given to local authorities to administer, and we need to know how much leeway they have in terms of discretion.
I want to talk about the entrepreneurs—the people who learned to trade, finessed it working for other people, then took a risk and set up on their own, rented premises and went on to employ others in their turn. I will not repeat the comments of Judith Cummins, but I am, of course, talking about the beauty industry. If I were talking about construction, we would revere the contribution that it makes to the economy, but, because it is beauty, it is okay to trivialise the massive contribution that it makes to the UK’s GDP. Although it is not okay, and I have a very clear message. This is a formidable sector full of brave, ballsy women—I am not sure I am allowed to say that. They are people who need to be taken seriously. I am prepared to declare an interest, but this is not for me, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is for the industry the length and breadth of the country.
Today I have an opportunity to be a voice for the businesses of Naomi, Bethany, Rina, Karen, Jemma—you get the gist, but I could carry on—and for the hundreds of other entrepreneurs and business owners in the beauty industry, including, indeed, those in tattooing where there are a few more men. They found their businesses described as “parlours”. Have we actually returned to the 1970s? The word “parlour” has all sorts of unfortunate connotations. It is not for the 21st century immaculate clinics and studios that those of us who use the services would recognise.
I am here to emphasise to BEIS Ministers that this is an industry full of professionals who have worked hard to ensure that their businesses are covid-secure. They are angry that they cannot reopen. They are disappointed that it is possible to go to a chiropodist, while Liz at Romsey Holistic Beauty cannot so much as trim the toenails of an elderly customer. They are confused that we can have acupuncture, but not have a new nipple tattooed on after reconstruction surgery. They are angry that, apparently, it is okay to have physiotherapy, but not reflexology. And they are offended that the phrase “not covid-secure” is used in this Chamber in reference to their industry, but not to Wetherspoon on a Saturday night.
All businesses need to plan. They need to know when they can open, so that they can schedule clients, forecast the income that they will bring in, even if that means working long hours, seven days a week, just to re-establish a previously successful business. If the message does not come soon, they will be at the doors of the jobcentres, reliant on the state rather than on themselves, and these are fiercely independent women who do not want that. They are proud of standing on their own two feet, proud they are reliant on themselves for financial wellbeing, and proud of the emotional and mental wellbeing they deliver to their clients. They need a date. They need to be taken seriously and they need that now.
It is vitally important that we recognise that not every business, not every sector and not every area will recover at the same rate. It is vitally important that support is not removed prematurely or arbitrarily. That is as true for individuals who furlough under the self-employment income support scheme as it is for businesses themselves.
As something approaching normality returns as lockdown eases, we must allow the returning demand in the economy to do whatever it can, but some things are too important to be left entirely to market forces. That means that we will need Governments across these islands to target investment and support. That means, as Liz Saville Roberts said, a VAT cut to boost the tourism sector. It means converting loans into grants and perhaps the Government taking equity stakes in key strategic sectors.
In the remaining time I have, let me say there is no more strategically important sector to this country than the North sea in terms of the billions it generates for the Treasury, whether that is through the petroleum revenue taxes or through the economic activity that it generates elsewhere. It is on the brink of thousands of job losses. The Scottish Government have already invested £62 million in an energy transition deal. We need the UK Government to match that ambition and invest that money. There is no route to net zero without harnessing the expertise of that sector. Time, just as it is for me in this debate, is running out for something to happen. The UK Government must act, in congress with the industry and very swiftly.
A few minutes cannot cover a Department that has responsibility for business recovery, energy, industrial strategy, climate change, net zero, getting the carbon budgets back on track and leading on COP26. It is not credible that one Secretary of State has all those responsibilities under his belt, as well as leading in the Cabinet on climate change.
If we look at covid business support, we are supposed to believe that only by being in the UK was Scotland able to access support for businesses. It is an absurd proposition that if Scotland were an independent country, somehow it would be the only independent country that could not access borrowing and fund support schemes to support its businesses.
It is no wonder that the Higgins report concluded that additional borrowing is required, rather than the financial straitjacket that Scotland is currently held in. Scotland can only borrow a maximum of £450 million of capital a year, limited to £3 billion overall, yet not that long ago we were hearing the Prime Minister promise us a £20 billion bridge to Ireland—a bridge that we do not want or need. We would far rather have control and have an £8 billion stimulus package for a green industrial recovery.
The business loans that have been administered by BEIS were welcomed initially. They were a good move at the start of the covid outbreak, but more needs to be done. Some of the loans need to be converted to grants, because businesses will not be able to afford to repay the loans, especially when the interest-free period ends. The Chancellor said that up to £330 billion would be available, but only £43 billion of loans have been accessed. That tells us that the scheme has not worked as it was designed to and some major rethinks are needed. The Government could use the outstanding moneys to further the green recovery.
A green recovery will need investment and commitments on a greater scale than anything we have seen to date, and it is shocking to think that BEIS only spends £1 billion a year on tackling climate change, yet spends £2 billion a year on nuclear waste at Sellafield. The nuclear waste liability is estimated to be £131 billion. What a legacy that is, yet the Government and BEIS are still infatuated with nuclear, despite the failing business models. Hinkley has a strike price of £92.50 per MWh for a 35-year concession, yet offshore wind is now at less than £40 per MWh for a mere 15-year concession. It is crazy, and it is time to abandon the nuclear sector deal, which is sucking another £190 million out of the Department’s budget. The nuclear fallout needs to be ended and there needs to be greater investment in renewables. If the Government are still arguing that we need a baseload, I would argue that they should be finding a route to market for pumped hydro storage, which would give the required baseload, rather than nuclear energy.
The contracts for difference scheme operated by BEIS has been welcome and has helped drive down the cost of onshore and offshore wind and solar. To make up for the period when the Government reneged on allowing those technologies to bid in the CfD process, I suggest they look at annual auctions. They also must remove the capacity cap on auctions going forward.
I also suggest that the Government should provide a ring fence for early-stage technologies within the CfD mechanism, to support Scotland’s wave, tidal and floating offshore wind sectors. That would allow Scotland and the UK to become true world leaders. We all know that the UK lost out in the manufacturing of onshore wind because of a lack of Westminster support, so lessons must be learned. Such technologies really do offer a green industrial revolution.
The same is true carbon capture and storage and hydrogen production: the funding of such projects at scale is required in order for us to become world leading. It is critical that funding is provided for the Acorn CCS and hydrogen-production project at St Fergus. The Committee on Climate Change recommends that a funding mechanism must be in place this year.
Support is also required for the oil and gas industry so that it can have a just transition to renewables and the net zero target for 2050. When are we going to see some of the £350 billion of Treasury revenues that came from oil and gas coming back to Scotland to support the sector?
To assist the green recovery, the CfD process should also be refined to incentivise the use of UK supply chains. It is ridiculous that BiFab has made redundancies when so much work could be fabricated at its yards. CS Wind in Campbeltown should also see greater benefits from the UK Government procurement system.
Another simple ask on which the Government have dithered is the installation of energy efficiency measures. It is cost-effective and can transform housing, both inside and out. It creates jobs and could reduce future energy demand up to 25%. The required funding has to be a minimum of at least the £9 billion that was pledged in the Conservative manifesto. We really need to see a programme and it needs to be greater than the rumoured £3 billion.
On facilitating green investment in infrastructure, there also need to be upgrades to national grid pinch points and a resetting of transmission charging, which right now punishes renewable projects in Scotland. We need greater investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, and to have a coherent strategy for a green recovery, we need to see the energy White Paper. We need a national infrastructure strategy to come forward. The heating building strategy, transport decarbonisation plan and net zero review all have to align and come together. The options for investment are massive; if the UK Government will not grasp them, they should give Scotland the powers so that we can continue on our green journey.
It is a real pleasure to take part in what has been a good debate. I commend the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, my hon. Friend Darren Jones, for his characteristically thoughtful and articulate opening remarks. The quality of my hon. Friend’s contribution was matched by many others that followed, and I mention in particular the forceful and powerful speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). Given the toll that the pandemic has taken on our economy, it is right that they and a number of other Members chose to focus their remarks on the measures introduced by the Department to support businesses and individuals through the lockdown, and on what still needs to be done to address the gaps and deficiencies that exist.
On that point, my hon. Friend will be aware that Airbus in Broughton announced 1,400 redundancies last week. Does he agree that when we see countries such as France and Germany offering multibillion-pound support for the aerospace industry, we too need a sector-specific strategy for the aerospace sector?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point: other countries have done it and we have been calling for sector-specific packages for those in most need. The Government have done it for steel; let us get on and do it for aerospace and the other sectors that need additional support.
A number of other Members mentioned the environment and climate emergency. Given the primacy of the climate threat over the long term and BEIS’s lead role in ensuring that our country plays its part in tackling it, I want to use the time that I have to focus on the Department’s record in driving progress towards the net zero target for which we legislated just over a year ago.
Although 2050 is too late, we can continue to take pride in the fact that we were the first major economy to adopt a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero. But setting a target is one thing; hitting it is quite another. As things stand, not only are the Government failing to do anything like enough to meet our legally binding 2050 target, but they are not even on track to meet the less ambitious target that preceded it. I am afraid Ministers give every impression of being entirely relaxed about that fact. How else do we explain that over the past 12 months, while basking in the virtuous afterglow of legislating for net zero, the Government have done precious little to set us on the road to carbon neutrality?
The Committee on Climate Change put it in characteristically diplomatic terms when it stated in a recent annual progress report that last year
“was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019.”
The charge is irrefutable.
According to the CCC, last year the Government failed on 14 of the 21 progress indicators, fell further behind in many areas, and met only two of 31 key policy milestones. It is simply not good enough.
The human, economic and social cost of the coronavirus crisis has been severe, but as we turn our attention to rebuilding the Government have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy and make up lost ground, and it is imperative that they seize it. There have been some positive signs in recent weeks that suggest that the Government may recognise the force of this argument. Take the package on energy efficiency measures that was trailed yesterday. We believe that the amount allocated to social housing is woefully inadequate, we take issue with the fact that the private rented sector has been almost entirely overlooked, and we have concerns about whether it will be possible to deliver in the seven-month window provided, but the investment is welcome. However, it has to be the first step, rather than the last word, when it comes to energy efficiency; the start of a long-term, year-on-year programme of support rather than merely a one-off annual boost. The same principle must apply in other areas.
All of which is to say that when it comes to judging the impact of tomorrow’s statement and the autumn spending review on our decarbonisation efforts, what matters is not only the scale and nature of the stimulus, but whether the measures to be announced form part of a co-ordinated long-term approach and are interwoven with the policy change required to drive emissions reductions through the remainder of this crucial decade.
If we are to get on track for net zero, the impetus ultimately has to come from the centre, but for obvious reasons BEIS has a crucial role to play in supporting the centre to set that strategic direction on decarbonisation and direct its spending appropriately to that end. Yet in several crucial areas the Department is still failing to provide the clear, stable and well-designed policy framework that businesses and investors require.
With that in mind, I will finish by putting a series of specific questions on the record, in the hope that the Minister may be able to answer at least some of them in his response. First, for the past year, as we have heard, we have been repeatedly promised that the energy White Paper, the aim of which is to provide much-needed certainty to business on the future energy system, is imminent, yet there is no indication in the estimates we are debating today that the Department is preparing for anything other than business as usual. Are we therefore to assume that the White Paper will be further delayed, or is it still the Department’s intention to publish it before the end of this year and then ask the Treasury for the necessary additional resources at a later date?
Secondly, when it comes to the decarbonisation of heat, the estimates merely appear to contain a broadly static commitment to expenditure on the renewable heat incentive. Leaving aside whether funds allocated to the RHI will be rolled over to underpin other proposed low-carbon heat schemes, does the Minister agree that the total resources currently allocated by the Department to heat are nowhere near enough to respond to the challenge presented by this most difficult of sectors?
Thirdly, taking the estimates in the round, is the Minister not uncomfortable about the apparent disparity between the lofty ambitions set out by his Department when it comes to low-carbon energy, particularly in the clean growth plan of 2017, and the focus of day-to-day spending by the Department on older, high-carbon sources?
Fourthly, and finally, given the commitment to phase out coal from our energy system entirely by 2024, why has the application for a new open-cast mine at Highthorn in Northumberland not been dismissed out of hand by the Government?
It is a pleasure to respond to this excellent debate, and I commend all hon. Members who have spoken for their thoughtful contributions. In particular, I thank Darren Jones for opening the debate.
I will deal first with the series of questions posed by Matthew Pennycook. His first question was about the energy White Paper, which we fully expect to be published this year. He will understand that after the new Government took office in July last year, we had the summer recess, followed by the Prorogation debate, debates about the election, then the general election, the Budget and then covid. There were substantial reasons—they are regrettable, I accept—why the White Paper was delayed. We fully expect it to be published this autumn.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the decarbonisation of heat. I refer him to the fact that we have a heat in buildings strategy, which will outline the policies clearly and simply. There is certainly a great deal of movement in that area.
The hon. Gentleman said that there are lofty ambitions for day-to-day spending, and suggested that our spending is perhaps more carbon-emitting than it should be. We have actually had great success on the carbon emissions front, particularly in electricity generation. He will know that in 2010, when I entered in the House—he entered in 2015—offshore wind seemed like a fantasy, but in 10 years we have massively ramped up capacity. People say flippantly, “Oh, well, the cost is £39.50 per MWh”—Alan Brown said that—but that did not just happen by accident. It was a serious attempt by a serious Government to construct an auction—a CfD round—and it managed to drive down costs. It was led by policy and evidence. It has been very successful and is admired throughout the world. That is an example of BEIS delivering substantial change and innovation on carbon emissions reduction and the climate change debate.
On the open-cast coal mine that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich mentioned, that was a difficult question that involved the local community and consideration of the amounts of coal and jobs. He will accept that, as far as the coal ambition is concerned, the initial date for removing coal entirely from the electricity generating network was 2025, but we will deliver it a year in advance. How often is a Government anywhere in the world able to say in a parliamentary assembly such as this, “We are going to do better than our target”? That is another area where he is on very shaky ground.
The fact of the matter is that there are industrial processes that still require coal for generation. Is it not better that we mine coal in this country, rather than ship it from Siberia and Australia?
That may well be the case, but I think taking coal off the electricity generating system—the power generation network—is historically one of the most significant things that this country has done. If we look back in our own lifetimes, we see that coal and industrial questions relating to it were a dominant part of industrial and political debate only 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but in 2024 we hope to remove coal entirely from electricity generation. That is a huge success. We typically do not get the credit we would like in this House, but that is a significant achievement.
I want to talk briefly about some of the broader questions relating to this debate. It would be invidious of me to single out individual speeches, as there were so many good ones, but there are one or two areas where I want to reconfirm Government policy and give a good account of what we have achieved.
Many of the speeches I heard as I sat on the Treasury Bench were understandably focused on the Government’s response to the covid-19 outbreak. At the start of the crisis, the Government made it perfectly clear that we would do whatever it took to support our businesses and economy, and we have substantially delivered on that. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun mentioned the £330 billion commitment from the Treasury and said that it is an example of failure because the amount of debt—the loans that we have given—is a fraction of that, but of course the £330 billion also includes the furlough scheme, which was not in the form of a loan. It was the Government intervening and paying wages. It was a huge intervention, and it had nothing to do with loans. I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that. This has been a cross-Government effort, and we in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have played our part in delivering a range of Government-backed finance schemes.
Let me re-enumerate those schemes: the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme, the bounce back loans, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and the future fund, which is an equity-to-debt scheme. As of this week, £45 billion-worth of loans have been approved through those schemes, backed largely by Government guarantees.
The Minister is listing a lot of things that have been done in the past. My constituents want to know what is going to happen next, particularly those in the aerospace sector who are losing their jobs now. They look at France and Germany, where they see support for that sector. Can we have sector-specific support, please?
The accusation from some quarters of the House was that the Government had not done enough, and it was very much necessary to state for the record what we actually had done, and that is what I will proceed to do.
In the last few minutes of my remarks, I turn my attention to what is at the centre of the Department and at the centre of its strategy: the net zero commitment. I think it was the hon. Member for Bristol North West who said that this cannot just be a stand-alone policy. It is not; it is at the heart and centre of Government strategy. I also reject those voices that say that somehow we are the laggards and the backward students. That is a completely wrong characterisation. I mentioned coal. Germany’s date to remove coal from its electricity power generation is 2038—a whole 14 years after this Government and this country will have left coal behind. We are leaders, not followers, in many of these respects. The Prime Minister outlined in his speech on
“build back better, build back greener, build back faster”, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
The Prime Minister has already spoken of our plans to run 4,000 new zero-carbon buses and the new plan for cycleways as part of the upgrades to transport infrastructure. Since the outbreak of covid-19 in this country, we have published the first stage of our transport decarbonisation plan. That plan provides a measure of certainty and a clear pathway to the future. We have announced a £2 billion package for cycling and to encourage people to walk, which is not only more energy efficient, but also tackles issues such as obesity and exercise. We can remobilise and decarbonise at the same time, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Nadia Whittome made a passionate set of speeches, and I agree with her to some degree—we can always do better and go faster—but I disagree with the idea that somehow we have simply idled our time away and done nothing.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your patience and for the very brisk way in which the debate has been handled. We have heard some excellent speeches. BEIS is now considering how best to support businesses. The green recovery is at the heart of what we want to do post covid, and we are exceptionally focused—more than any other Department—on delivering the strategic goal of net zero. In all this work, we will continue to listen to businesses, large and small. I particularly look forward to engaging in debate with Members of this House, as I have done in the past. We are also listening to business representative organisations. We are determined to get it right for individuals and businesses who need support, for our economy and for the future.
I thank the many right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today. Whether on key sectors such as the aerospace sector and the beauty industry, about which we have heard from through hon. Members in this debate, or with loud voices such as Unite the union for aerospace, or over 400 letters from thousands of workers and women to the Minister regarding the beauty industry; whether from the Petitions Committee on parents; whether on our lack of progress on net zero; whether on entrepreneurs and those who have fallen between the cracks, the demand on the Government has been clear this evening. That is, we expect a more sophisticated, coherent and transparent set of policies from the Government. With all due respect, the Minister was unable to announce anything about the future this evening. I hope that is because we will hear the plan that we need for Britain and British workers tomorrow from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt we will all be back to hear that and to hold the Government to account tomorrow.
Question deferred until Thursday