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House of Commons

Thursday 11 September 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Innovation and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): What changes there were in the number of apprenticeship starts for under-19s in the academic year 2012-13 compared with the previous academic year. [905308]

The Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles): Over the past two years, we have removed 54,000 apprenticeships for under-19-year-olds that had a planned duration of less than 12 months, so the overall number of apprenticeship starts for that age group has fallen by 15,000. The number of apprenticeships for under-19-year-olds including a real job and lasting for more than 12 months increased by 25,000.

Heidi Alexander: On a recent visit to Bromley college, I was told by a construction skills tutor that in the eight years he had worked there not once had he taught a bricklaying apprentice. When I asked him why, I was told that the qualification associated with such an apprenticeship is very rigid, making it neither attractive nor appropriate for employers. If we want to reduce the reliance of the UK’s construction sector on migrant labour, should we not be doing more to make skills and experience available to our young men and women, so that they can go on to get jobs in the construction industry?

Nick Boles: I actually agree with the hon. Lady about many of the old standards for apprenticeships, which is why we have introduced the trailblazer programme so that groups of employers are putting together relevant and demanding but accessible standards for young people. I visited a fantastic new further education college the other week—Prospects college of advanced technology in Basildon—where I met a few apprentices who are doing a bricklaying apprenticeship and find it very worth while. The hon. Lady is right, however, that many of the old apprenticeship standards were inadequate and unattractive to young people and employers.

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Sir Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend think that the public sector itself is setting a good enough example when it comes to offering apprenticeships?

Nick Boles: Some parts of the public sector set a fantastic example—the Ministry of Defence is a very good example and the NHS is another—but not all Government Departments and, I suspect, not all of us as Members of Parliament, are doing everything we could. I urge every part of the public sector to do everything it can to create apprenticeships so that more young people can get on the ladder to a successful career.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): It is very bad news that the number of apprentices under the age of 19 is falling and that the number of apprentices who go on to study degree-level skills is just 2% and rising at a very slow pace. The Opposition are clear that our priority for expanding university level education is for technical degrees so that more apprentices can earn while they learn up to degree-level skills.

May I ask the Minister about the expansion plans? In the autumn statement, the Chancellor said that he would sell the student loan book to expand the number of degree-level places. On 20 July, the Secretary of State said that he and the Deputy Prime Minister had put that plan in the bin. Will the Minister tell the House what the story actually is? Are we going to expand degree-level places, and how on earth are we going to pay for them?

Nick Boles: Frankly, what is regrettable is that the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a major part created entirely phoney, Mickey Mouse apprenticeships, called programme-led apprenticeships, which involved no employment at all, no job and lasted less than a year. We make no apologies for culling those qualifications, which were a fraud on employers and young people. We are increasing the funding for higher apprenticeships and the plans have been set out.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Since May 2010, more than 3,000 young people in Chester have started an apprenticeship scheme, and those fabulous opportunities have become available only because more than 600 local employers are offering apprenticeships. Does my hon. Friend have any intention of changing the incentives that companies receive for taking on apprentices in order to encourage more companies to get involved and for more young people to have this fabulous opportunity?

Nick Boles: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Chester is just one example. The truth, contrary to what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) has said, is that in 2012-13 more people were in an apprenticeship—that is, at the start, middle or end of one—than ever before. The more than 830,000 young people that year is a number that the previous Government never even came close to, despite their Mickey Mouse apprenticeships.

My hon. Friend is right about incentives, particularly for young people to take apprenticeships and, more importantly, for employers to take them on, because often they are the ones who require the most supervision, and that is exactly what our funding reforms will deliver.

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Regulation on Business

2. Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce regulation on businesses. [905309]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am delighted to say that we are the first Government in modern history to reduce the overall burden of domestic regulation on business. Our one-in, two-out approach has cut the annual cost of regulation for businesses by £1.5 billion so far, and the red tape challenge has identified more than 3,000 regulations that we are planning to scrap or improve.

Richard Graham: One of the Government’s most encouraging steps has been to speed up payments by Government to suppliers that are small and medium-sized enterprises, but the Federation of Small Businesses and others estimate that the problem of late payment by businesses to businesses has increased significantly. Will my hon. Friend therefore work with business groups, such as the CBI, to encourage all their members to settle within 30 days, and will he consider establishing a kitemark for businesses that live up to that?

Mr Vaizey: I agree with my hon. Friend. We really need much greater openness about the payment practices of businesses. Knowing who are good payers and bad payers is essential in deciding with whom to trade. We will therefore bring forward legislation to require large and listed companies to publish their payment practices and performance. We will also work with business groups to strengthen the prompt payment code.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): There have been a number of attempts to amend the Deregulation Bill to reform retransmission fees for public sector broadcasters in the UK. Will the Minister look at the report published on Monday, which argues that reform could provide millions of pounds for the creative industries in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that the reform of retransmission fees should be included in the Deregulation Bill?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman is referring to ITV’s report, which calls for ITV to be allowed to charge fees to other platforms. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have read the brilliant speech given by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport at the Royal Television Society earlier this week, when he said—I can almost quote it from memory, it was that good—that he will take a “long, hard look” at retransmission fees.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Given that many of the regulations that affect business emanate from the European Union, will the Minister meet the new EU commissioner for the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elzbieta Bienkowska, in the near future to urge her to introduce and adopt the UK Government’s one-in, two-out rule?

Mr Vaizey: We have a new set of Commissioners, so may I put on the record my gratitude to Neelie Kroes, who was the Commissioner I worked with most closely under the previous Commission, but who has now retired? I always enjoy meeting European Commissioners,

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and I also enjoy the fact that so much of the innovation that this Government come up with is now being copied by our European partners.

UK Competitiveness

3. Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the competitiveness of the UK as a place to do business. [905312]

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): Last week, the World Economic Forum released its annual assessment of international competitiveness. The UK rose in the rankings to ninth place, and in relation to the responsibilities of my Department, to fourth place for labour markets and to second in the world for technological readiness and innovation. This is further evidence that our economic policies are delivering a more competitive economy. We are delivering on our commitment to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

Mr Walker: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. I congratulate him and the Department on that progress. This Government have put making the UK the best place in the world to start a business right at the heart of that strategy, and businesses in Worcester are embracing that challenge. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a huge achievement that, since 2010, about 2,800 new businesses have been started in Worcester?

Vince Cable: And not only in Worcester. Indeed, one of the most rapidly growing programmes, operating through the British business bank, is the start-up loans scheme. My hon. Friend may be aware that approximately 19,000 start-up loans have now been made, with a value of over £100 million.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): One business that is not growing—the Business Secretary knows that as well as me, because we met him a few weeks ago to talk about its demise—is the deep-mine coal industry. There are only three pits left now. Does he really want to preside over the demise of the last deep-mine coal pits in Britain? Two of them are in Yorkshire, and one is in Nottinghamshire. They are reaching the end of their lives, but they have reserves that should be exhausted. I have got a plan, and he knows about it. The Government should apply for state aid and get £70 million, which is only a tiny proportion of the £700 million that this Government took from the National Union of Mineworkers pension fund in February. That is all we need in order for those three pits—Hatfield, Thoresby and Kellingley—to be able to exhaust their reserves. Those are the conditions in Europe. Why does he not apply for the money, instead of being led by the Tories surrounding him, who are determined to see the end of the pits in Britain?

Vince Cable: The hon. Gentleman is right that we had a very good and constructive meeting with him and his colleagues on the future of the remaining deep-mine pits. He will be aware, because I think we explained this, that the state aid issue is much more difficult than he—

Mr Skinner: No, it isn’t.

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Vince Cable: I fear it is. I think that the hon. Gentleman will also recall that most of the deep-mine pits closed under the previous Government. However, we indicated that we were willing to advance a loan to make the closure of the pits a lot less brutal than it otherwise would be.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): RBS has today recognised the competitiveness of the UK, or at least the southern part of the UK—the bits that are run by the coalition Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if RBS wants to domicile itself in the southern part of the United Kingdom, it should bring its jobs with it and not expect us to underwrite any mistakes that it may make in future?

Vince Cable: As it happens, I met the chief executive of RBS a couple of days ago. It is making good progress on sorting out the problems with its balance sheet and returning to normal business lending. I have been pointing out for quite a long time that the position of RBS in an independent Scotland would be very difficult, since its balance sheet is 10 times the size of the Scottish economy. It could hardly operate within Scotland as an independent country.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Under the seventh framework programme, our universities were incredibly successful at accessing money, but our SMEs were not. Under Horizon 2020—the next programme —what steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to improve the lot of SMEs? Secondly, will the Secretary of State confirm that universities such as Edinburgh, which were hugely successful under framework 7, will not be successful if the vote goes the wrong way next week?

Vince Cable: On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, he is right that Scottish institutions benefit disproportionately from UK research because of the excellence of their work and that they would no longer be guaranteed access to UK funding streams in an independent Scotland, although I hope they would maintain their excellence. We will certainly try to ensure that SMEs are taken properly into account in the competition for European funding. His point is a good one.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): A recent report showed that reshoring is increasing across the economy. That happens when UK companies source more of their products from the UK. It is estimated that over the next 10 years that could create 200,000 jobs and boost output by up to £12 billion. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is an effective demonstration of the increasing competitiveness of the UK economy?

Vince Cable: It is. Indeed, reshoring is happening in somewhat surprising areas. I had a meeting only yesterday with representatives of the British textile industry, which almost disappeared years ago. A significant amount of reshoring is taking place because companies want to be close to the market and regard the business environment as attractive. The same is happening in the aerospace supply chain and elsewhere. We are doing what we can to support that through the regional growth fund and other Government schemes.

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Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that companies such as Airbus, which is close to my constituency and which employs thousands of people, are successful and competitive because they work with German, French and Spanish colleagues to produce world-class planes? Does he agree that it is therefore essential that we remain part of a Europe-wide Union to ensure that we remain competitive?

Vince Cable: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Airbus factory in north Wales is an extraordinarily impressive part of British manufacturing. Most of us who have been there have been overwhelmed by the quality of its work. He is right that it is a European company and that it could not operate on any other basis than as a European network. Another key factor in its success has been the industrial strategy and the support that it receives through the aerospace growth partnership.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Northern Ireland is becoming a vital part of the United Kingdom’s business, trade and investment sector. It is showing clearly what it can do within the United Kingdom. Last week, Magellan Aerospace announced a £6-million investment and 47 new jobs in my constituency. Alongside that, there has been a £6.8 million investment in an advanced engineering and competitiveness centre for Northern Ireland, based in Belfast. Will the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, develop innovative solutions in the advanced engineering sector, which are crucial to competitiveness and the growth of the British aerospace industry?

Vince Cable: Indeed, we will. I have had good discussions with Northern Ireland colleagues about the very successful advanced manufacturing sector. Bombardier has an expanding presence in Belfast, as the hon. Gentleman will know, and there are other parts of the aerospace supply chain that we are keen to develop in Northern Ireland.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Before I ask my question, I am sure that on the anniversary of 9/11 the whole House will want to remember those who lost their lives, including British citizens, on that terrible day 13 years ago. Our thoughts, best wishes and prayers go out to their families and friends.

Scotland’s vibrant financial services sector is important to the UK’s competitiveness, and more particularly to Scotland’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. RBS has been mentioned, and no doubt the Secretary of State will also have heard Lloyds bank and Clydesdale bank say that they will relocate their headquarters to London in the event of separation. The vote next week is, of course, for the Scottish people, but does that not illustrate the lorry load of uncertainty for jobs, competitiveness and growth in Scotland that will come with the break-up of one of the most successful unions the world has ever seen?

Vince Cable: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman and he makes the point well. In addition to the lists of institutions he has just given, Standard Life in the insurance sector has made it clear that it could not

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remain in Scotland were it to be an independent country. That relates to the need for large financial institutions to have a regulator, and in some cases a lender of last resort. A country the size of an independent Scotland would not be able to support those institutions. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in his approach.

Highly Skilled Workers

4. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of highly skilled workers. [905313]

The Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles): The hon. Gentleman is far-sighted and consistent in his support for the need for advanced skills in our economy, and he knows better than anyone that there are two ways to acquire those skills—through a university degree or through an apprenticeship, ideally a higher apprenticeship. That is why the Government are expanding and improving both routes.

Mr Sheerman: I hear what the Minister says, but I would hate for him to go into the next election with the mantra, “Complacency, complacency, complacency” on skills. There is an OECD report on the lack of skills of our graduates in this country, and Sir Michael Bichard has said that 16 to 19-year-olds are not equipped in a country where we are desperate for skills and do not have enough technicians, and where there is a real problem. What will the Minister do about that?

Nick Boles: There is no complacency because we are aware of quite how terrible the situation was that we inherited from the previous Government. Technical qualifications had been created that had literally no value, and we have swept them away. As I said earlier, there were apprenticeships that did not involve any work or any employer, and we have swept them away. There is a huge amount more work to be done to ensure that young people who have not secured good GCSEs in English and Maths go on studying and get those qualifications later in their careers. There are a huge number of further priorities for us and for any future Government, but progress has been made and it is good.


5. Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): What support he is providing to pubs. [905316]

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): The Government have introduced a number of measures to support pubs, including ending the beer duty escalator and cutting beer duty. We are supporting pub tenants through the introduction of a statutory code of practice to govern the relationship between pub-owning companies and their tied tenants, with an independent adjudicator to enforce the code. The measures will be introduced through the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.

Andrew Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Pubs are often the hubs of their communities, but in Harrogate and Knaresborough we have had a spate of local pubs being converted into supermarkets. Will

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my right hon. Friend work across Government, particularly with the Department for Communities and Local Government, to see what more can be done further to support pubs, and keep them open and at the heart of local communities?

Vince Cable: My hon. Friend is right, and I believe that his constituency houses the Pub is The Hub voluntary organisation that plays an extremely important role in that respect. I think it receives significant funding from my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Plunkett Foundation, and I encourage my hon. Friend to support that organisation in its work.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I endorse the question that has just been put, so will the Minister look across the Government—if we can have joined-up Government—at possibly reducing the rateable value on traditional community local public houses, which face a lot of competition from binge-drinking premises and supermarkets?

Vince Cable: The issue of rateable valuation will arise in the revaluation, when it occurs, but my hon. Friend will be aware that pubs have benefited significantly in the autumn statement from the package on business rates, which is worth £1 billion. A third of all pubs have now benefited from the £1,000 discount given to low-value property.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Opposition very much welcome the news that the Government are bringing forward a new pubs code in the small business Bill—we would, because we have asked for it on three occasions, and the Secretary of State has voted against it. He will know that there is concern that the appeals mechanism gives tenants the opportunity to have a “Here’s what you could’ve won” review of their appeal without any right to question it. There is also a sense that the small, family-owned brewers are being brought into a problem that they did not make. What representations has he had on the Bill, and can he give us any assurances that it will satisfy people who are worried about our pubs, so that we do not have to keep returning to the issue, and so that the industry has certainty on what the future in the next Parliament will look like?

Vince Cable: We have no wish to create problems for the small, family-owned pubs, which are an extremely important part of the industry. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one cornerstone of the proposals is the free-of-tie rent assessment, which does not apply to pubs with smallholdings. Small, family-owned pubs are already subject to the voluntary code. In a sense, it would be right for tied pubs of all kinds to be given some protection.

Investment in Science

6. Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to encourage investment in science. [905317]

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): I am looking forward to travelling after Question Time to Birmingham, to the British science festival,

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where we will reflect on the important contribution that science, research and innovation make to our long-term competitiveness and growth. The Government have ring-fenced the science and research programme at £4.6 billion a year from 2011 to 2016, and we are committed to providing £1.1 billion a year in science capital, increasing with inflation to 2021—the largest ever capital grant to UK science.

Mr Wilson: May I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new position. Reading university is an outstanding higher education institution and will shortly welcome thousands of new students, who will receive a high-quality education. The university contributes to jobs and growth in the area and is planning a new science park. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the autumn statement will reflect further support for science and the plans and priorities of universities such as Reading?

Greg Clark: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind words. He has been a great champion of higher education in Reading and across the country. One of my tasks over the next few weeks is to work on the science and innovation strategy, including the science capital consultation, which will be published alongside the autumn statement. That will make clear and reinforce for a 10-year horizon the continuing importance that we attach to science.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Manchester is the home of the revolutionary material graphene. This week, we heard the tremendous announcement of a £60 million second hub for graphene in the city. Will the Minister join me and everyone involved in securing that funding, particularly Manchester university and Masdar, the Abu Dhabi clean energy and renewables technology group?

Greg Clark: I will indeed. Along with my hon. Friend the Life Sciences Minister I was with the chancellor of the university of Manchester yesterday. I congratulate the vice-chancellor, Nancy Rothwell, and all responsible on securing a huge coup for this country. Having a Nobel prize-winning piece of research located for the future in the UK and in the north-west is a cause for great celebration.

Minimum Wage

7. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to ensure the value of the minimum wage keeps pace with inflation and encourage firms to pay a living wage. [905319]

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): Since 2010, the national minimum wage has increased faster than average earnings. From 1 October, the adult rate will rise above inflation to £6.50, giving more than 1 million workers the biggest cash increase in their take-home pay since 2008. Last year, I asked the Low Pay Commission to look at the conditions needed for faster increases. It concluded that we are in a new phase of year on year, faster real increases in the national minimum wage.

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Diana Johnson: Since 2010 there have been only three prosecutions for breaches of the national minimum wage law. If the Secretary of State agrees, as I think he will, that more needs to be done to enforce the minimum wage, why in January did Liberal Democrat Members vote down Labour’s proposals for tougher enforcement, including additional powers for local authorities to take enforcement action?

Vince Cable: Both sides of the coalition will be introducing and supporting tougher enforcement measures in the small business Bill. The hon. Lady will already know that, adding to the enforcement regime we inherited, we have introduced not just the naming and shaming procedure but the prospect of significantly tougher penalties and much larger fines.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know of the previous Government’s poor record on enforcing the minimum wage. Is he confident that with his new proposals we will dramatically improve on that poor record?

Vince Cable: We will, and an administrative measure that will help that process is an increase in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ enforcement budget. As my hon. Friend will know, the first stage in the process is to insist that the enforcement authorities address deficiencies in the minimum wage. She is right also to emphasise that the enforcement regime we inherited was a rather weak one.

Access to Higher Education

9. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase access to higher education. [905322]

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): Last year, the Chancellor announced that we would remove the cap on the number of university places in 2015-16 so that no bright person who wants to study at a higher level should be turned away. The Government have also put in place a new framework placing more responsibility on higher education institutions to widen access, and that approach is paying off, with more young people admitted to university this year than ever before and a big increase in the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Oliver Colvile: Earlier this year, the Government announced plans to create a further education college for nuclear engineering. As my right hon. Friend will know, not only is Devonport home to an engineering university technical college, but its dockyard deals with the refitting and refuelling of nuclear submarines. As he might also know, it faces a real challenge with Hinkley C. What progress is he making in introducing either higher or further education for engineers?

Greg Clark: From the work we did on the Plymouth city deal, I know that my hon. Friend is fully apprised of the need to invest in skills in Plymouth. The Government are working with the Nuclear Industry Council to determine the remit and location of a national nuclear college, and we hope to announce some progress later in the year.

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Mr David Willetts (Havant) (Con): May I welcome the Minister to his post and congratulate him on those excellent figures for participation in university? Will he confirm, however, that many of the best access initiatives, such as bursaries and summer schools, are financed from the income from fees above £6,000 and that if fees were reduced to £6,000, those excellent initiatives, which have improved participation, would have to be closed?

Greg Clark: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to him for the work he has done in this field, which is respected on both sides of the House and across all the institutions of higher education. One of the great pleasures of taking this office was to check my desk drawer and discover that there was no note from my predecessor with some unwelcome news. It is a very happy inheritance.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the system we have in place for student finance, which he took through the House, is proving remarkably successful. We have seen record student numbers, and only this week the OECD said that the

“UK is…one of the few”


“that has figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance”

and that

“that investment…pays off for individuals and tax payers.”

He grasped the nettle and made the reforms, and those reforms are now working.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to his post, and as he rightly acknowledged, he has some big shoes to fill—I, too, pay tribute to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), and the extraordinary work he undertook. I am surprised, however, that he did not leave the new Minister a briefing on the disaster of the student loans system and the £50 billion to £100 billion extra that will now be written off as public sector net debt as a result of the spiralling resource accounting and budgeting charge.

My question today, however, is different. This week, the Minister has to decide whether to abolish the disabled students allowance. All over the country over the next month, disabled students will be applying to Oxbridge and medical schools, and they deserve to know whether they will have good support in place—not just PCs, but people. This week, will he heed the call from vice-chancellors, the National Union of Students and Members on both sides of the House and ensure that disabled students do not have their chance to study—wherever they get into—destroyed by the abolition of that vital allowance?

Greg Clark: I second the praise that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant, but it is curious that he should reflect in the way he did on the finances of the system. I would have thought that he of all people might have cause to reflect on the state of the finances. Reading his recent pamphlet, I noticed that he said that to win arguments

“we must show that we will spend taxpayers’ money sensibly, effectively and efficiently.”

I wonder whether, on reflection, he would regard that as consistent with his record in government.

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On the disabled students allowance, I think everyone here shares the ambition, as I stated in my first answer, that everyone who is capable of benefiting from a university education should be able to do so. That of course applies forcefully to people with disabilities. The decisions we take on support for people with disabilities will be entirely about making sure that they have the support to be able to pursue their studies to the best of their abilities.

Registered Businesses

11. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): How many registered businesses there were in May 2010; and how many such businesses there are now. [905324]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am delighted to say that Office for National Statistics figures show that there were 2.1 million registered businesses in March 2010, and that now there are 2.17 million.

Mr Hollobone: New businesses are established as a result of brave decisions taken by individuals who are trying to make the most of their own enterprise and initiative. Since the Department has declared Northamptonshire the most enterprising county in the country, is it not now time to praise entrepreneurs such as those who attend the monthly business breakfast club in Kettering run by the Federation of Small Businesses, who have refused to be cowed by the longest and deepest recession since the war and who through their own hard work and initiative are getting Britain back to work?

Mr Vaizey: It does not surprise me at all to hear that Northamptonshire is the most enterprising county in England, because it has one of the most enterprising Members of Parliament, and my hon. Friend continues to innovate in his role. I am delighted that Kettering and Northamptonshire reflect the huge boom in businesses—part of the 400,000 extra businesses overall that we have seen created since the coalition came to power.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): As far as the south-west is concerned, the growth of small businesses will be dependent on four critical infrastructure issues, all of which fall to the Government to decide within the next few months. The first is the road system, the A303; the second is the rail system and communications to the far south-west; the third is flood defences; and the fourth—the Minister will not be surprised to hear me say this—is access to high-speed broadband for all businesses right across the rural areas of the south-west. Will the hon. Gentleman give a commitment to talk to his colleagues in other Departments to make sure that the south-west gets the infrastructure it needs?

Mr Vaizey: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his enterprising approach in getting so many different Departments into one question. I will want to make the case, but it is ultimately the decision of my colleagues in the Department for Transport when it comes to the road structures and of those in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when it comes to flood defences. Let me say, however, that broadband

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roll-out is going incredibly well in the south-west. Cornwall is one of the most well connected counties in England, while Devon and Somerset are not far behind.

Scientific Advice to Government

12. Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to ensure that scientific advice carries appropriate weight across government. [905329]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (George Freeman): UK leadership in science advice to Government is well recognised internationally. Most Departments have a chief scientific adviser, and many have science advisory councils and specific scientific advisory committees on selected subjects. My Department supports the work of the independent Government Office for Science, which works with Departments across Whitehall to ensure that their advisory systems are fit for purpose. The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport has close contact with both the supply and demand for science advice across government, and the Government Office for Science publishes guidance on the use of scientific and engineering advice in policy making and a code of practice for scientific advisory committees. Science advice is one of the things Britain does best.

Valerie Vaz: I thank the Minister for his response and welcome him to his post, but the fact is that the science budget has been eroded in real terms. The Minister with two brains was removed, and he had the support of the scientific community. Can the Minister explain how the Government Office for Science can be effective when the chief scientific adviser posts in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Transport—two crucial Departments—remain unfilled?

George Freeman: I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. She talks of cuts in the science budget. Let me put on record again the fact that the Government have protected and ring-fenced the science budget. Let me also take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), who achieved that success in conjunction with the Chancellor. As for the two Departments that currently do not have scientific advisers, Sir Mark Walport and the Government Office are actively in the process of recruiting and putting in place arrangements to ensure that adequate scientific advice is available.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Scientists at Teesside university have come up with a unique method of detecting and ageing blood traces at crime scenes. Will the Minister ensure that that technology is fully used throughout the criminal justice system, and will he join me in congratulating Teesside university on once again being a finalist in the entrepreneurial university of the year awards?

George Freeman: I certainly join the hon. Gentleman is congratulating his constituents on the work that they are doing. Let me also emphasise the importance of Government procurement in supporting innovation, which is one of the Government’s key priorities.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Minister rightly spoke of the importance of having scientific advice available, but it must of course be based on scientific evidence. As he will know, last year the Government

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consulted on proposals to stop local authorities gathering evidence on the scientific effects of air pollution in their areas. He will also know that, just this year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that it will not collect any future scientific data on the badger culls that are taking place. Will the Minister ensure that data that are important as bases for scientific advice are collected across Government?

George Freeman: It is a bit rich for Opposition Members to talk about cuts when we have protected the science budget. We inherited one of the worst crises in the public finances, and we have a duty to correct it.

This country is internationally respected for the level of scientific advice that we put into policy making. Across the board—on badgers, on genetic modification, and on all the other difficult issues that we face—we are basing policy on the best scientific advice. [Interruption.] It ill behoves Opposition Members to criticise our approach. They set the standard in taking advice from spin doctors; we take advice from scientists.

Mr Speaker: I have a sense that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) feels an Adjournment debate application coming on.

Topical Questions

T1. [905335] Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): Let me begin by paying tribute to three former ministerial colleagues who have left the Department. Appropriate cross-party tributes have already been paid to the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), but as I worked with him very closely for four and a half years, I can say that he was a superb colleague who has left a major and constructive legacy. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), who is now the Defence Secretary, and to my noble Friend Viscount Younger of Leckie.

I welcome a series of new colleagues. The new Minister for Universities, Science and Cities is the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). The new Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), will be responsible for digital industries and related activities. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), will be responsible for life sciences, and Baroness Neville-Rolfe is the new Minister responsible for intellectual property.

My Department plays a key role in supporting the rebalancing of the economy through business to deliver growth while increasing skills and learning.

Mr Wilson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful information. What assessment has he made of the effect of a yes vote in the Scottish referendum on science and research in Scotland?

Vince Cable: My Department published some detailed analysis, which I think enjoyed wide consensus. It was objective in relation to the potentially damaging effects

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not just on business and the British single market, but on research in the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, Scottish university institutions have attracted a disproportionate share of finance for the very good reason that they do excellent research, but that arrangement clearly could not be guaranteed in an independent Scotland.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Sir David Barnes, former chief executive officer of AstraZeneca, told us that while companies should manage their tax affairs efficiently, it should not have been the driving force for Pfizer’s proposed takeover of AstraZeneca because it was

“a narrow basis on which to build an enduring and constructive business partnership.”

Does the Business Secretary agree with that general principle in respect of the takeover of important British companies?

Vince Cable: Yes, I do agree with that, and I made that very clear at the time. I think that the response of the Government, as well as of the shareholders of AstraZeneca, was a factor in persuading Pfizer not to pursue that bid.

Mr Umunna: The tax avoidance mechanism—tax inversion—that Pfizer sought to use through that takeover has been one of the main driving forces behind this year’s surge in cross-border deals. However, this week US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the Obama Administration would crack down on inversions pending further action by Congress. Does the Business Secretary share my concern that if we see takeovers of British firms being primarily driven by the desire to avoid US tax, there is a real risk of a large flight of capital back to the US when the threatened crackdown comes, leaving important UK companies high and dry?

Vince Cable: Again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s basic proposition. As it happens, much of the alarm that was raised some months ago about large American companies taking over British companies or British-based companies on the back of those tax provisions have proved wholly unfounded. He is quite right that takeovers, although they are generally beneficial to the UK economy, should not be driven by artificial short-term tax considerations.

T3. [905337] Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Businesses in Rugby tell me that the changes this Government have made to the employment tribunal system have encouraged them to expand and take on more staff, and the growth in employment demonstrates that. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that Labour’s proposals to scrap our reforms would mean a return to the bad old days when companies were discouraged from taking on that extra person through fear of getting tied up in a weak or vexatious tribunal claim?

Vince Cable: Indeed, and the world competitiveness report acknowledged that Britain ranked number four in the world in overall attractiveness in labour markets. My hon. Friend is right that the reforms we have introduced are certainly one factor in that we have had a growth of 2 million in private sector jobs since May 2010. One factor that has not been noted, and certainly

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has not been noted by Opposition Members, is the very large number of cases now being dealt with by ACAS that would otherwise have gone through an expensive and frustrating legal procedure.

T2. [905336] Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In asking my question, I want to make it clear that I want the Scots to remain our countrymen and women and not to become our competitors. The Government set up the UK Green Investment Bank in 2012 to boost investment in green technology and enterprise across the United Kingdom. With Hull and the Humber area emerging as a major UK centre for green energy and renewables, we would have extended a very warm welcome to having the bank in Hull. However, as we all know, its main headquarters is in Edinburgh, so can the Secretary of State just confirm that the UK Green Investment Bank can only be located within the United Kingdom?

Vince Cable: I think we all share the views that have been expressed across the House: that the United Kingdom is better together for a whole variety of reasons. The green investment bank is functioning very successfully with its current headquarters and operations. I think it has disbursed approaching £1 billion in a wide variety of projects from offshore wind to street lighting systems in Glasgow. It is a very successful initiative of this Government and I trust it will remain so.

T4. [905338] Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): Given the importance of superfast broadband to businesses in both rural and urban communities, what is the Department doing about BT’s near-monopoly in contracts, which is leading to BT now missing out whole villages and even sections of Lancaster city in my constituency of Lancaster and Fleetwood?

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about the specific circumstances in his constituency. I would say to him that our broadband roll-out programme has now covered more than 1 million homes, and we are covering about 40,000 homes a week. We are going flat-out on this, and we are achieving great success.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I say that I lament the moving of the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts)? One of the weaknesses of the parliamentary system is this stupid churn of Ministers, especially the good ones who should have been in the Cabinet and doing their job right through to the election.

May I push the Secretary of State on the subject of entrepreneurs? We need more of them in our country, along with more business start-ups. There are some very good tax incentives at the moment, so will he speak to the Chancellor about spreading the tax relief incentives out beyond the private sector? Let us give equal status to social investment and social enterprises. He will know that, at the moment, the cap is much lower.

Vince Cable: That has been an active subject of discussion with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Indeed, we have had a social enterprise day supporting

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worker-owned enterprises, and a consultation is taking place at the moment on how such activity can be facilitated through the tax system. I note the hon. Gentleman’s comment about the churn of Ministers. I should point out that I have been in my present job longer than anyone since someone called Peter Thorneycroft in the early 1950s.

T5. [905340] Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As my hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is the host of the Peninsula medical school. In the light of the Ashya King case, in which Ashya’s parents had to flee to another country to get treatment for him that was not available in the UK, what plans does he have to accelerate research into new drug and medical technology?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (George Freeman): My hon. Friend makes an important point. That case highlights the importance of Britain remaining at the forefront of medical innovation. To that end, we have set out our groundbreaking 10-year life science strategy, and I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), for that. My central mission in this new role is to ensure that Britain leads the world and is the best place in the world to develop 21st century medicines and health care technologies.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): From his talks with north Staffordshire MPs the Secretary of State knows the importance of the proposed European directive on origin marking. People need to be able to find out exactly where a plate has come from by turning it over, and the directive will be of great importance to the competitiveness of the ceramics sector and to public health standards. The next meeting of the working party on consumer protection and information will take place on either 16 September or 1 October. Will the Minister review his position before that meeting and abandon his opposition to this proposal? Will he also ensure that his officials are working on a full appraisal in order to enable the proposal to go forward?

Vince Cable: The hon. Lady and her colleagues from the ceramics industry constituencies have been very effective in pursuing this issue with me. When she last raised the matter with me, I reopened the question and we have been looking at it carefully. I will report back to her on where we will be positioned in relation to the latest discussions in the European Union.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): The Department announced the local growth fund recipient projects in July, and, for some bizarre reason, the A64 was left off the list. This has put a real question mark over the chances for rural economic growth across Ryedale and North Yorkshire. Will the Secretary of State review that decision at the earliest opportunity?

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): North Yorkshire did pretty well out of the local growth fund. It has the BioVale campus, which I know my hon. Friend is strongly in favour of. Such was the calibre of the projects that we were able to allocate

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£6 billion of investment. I am now keen to move on to the next set of allocations, and she has just made a strong pitch for investment in her area.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): I wonder if the Secretary of State would care to amend the reply he gave to me about when the pits closed. Just for his information, between the end of the pit strike in 1985 and the onset of the Labour Government in 1997, 170 pits were closed, out of less than 200. Those are the figures. They cannot be denied, and if he checks the record he will see that I am speaking the truth. On a second issue, is it not stupid to be getting rid of 3,000 mining jobs in the three pits that I have referred to while at the same time importing more coal from Russia when there are supposed to be sanctions? Is there not a stench of hypocrisy here?

Vince Cable: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right on the figures. When we came into office there were only three pits left and none of the 170 he mentioned had been reopened, although there was a long period of Labour government during which that could have happened if the economics had been as he describes them. We have been actively involved in the case of these three pits; we have no wish to see a sudden closure and mass redundancies, and we continue to talk to potential commercial parties about it.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): Businesses in my region really welcome proposals in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill on prompt payment. However, £46 billion is currently owed to businesses in the UK—that is an increase of £10 billion on last year’s figure—so as the Bill goes forward will Ministers consider making the code even tougher and broadening it to more companies?

Vince Cable: The hon. Lady is right to say that, particularly given the overall problems with access to finance for small and medium-sized companies, the issue of late payment is crucial and that this is happening on a massive scale. We will, in the course of this Bill, be making it much more transparent how larger companies, in particular, make their payments—we will be helping small companies in that way. I am happy to look at how we can strengthen the code, and indeed we are talking to the Institute of Credit Management about how we can do that.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Two years ago, figures were released showing that the green economy, although representing only 6% of the wider economy, was responsible for 30% of the growth in the economy. Will the Secretary of State tell us the current figures and, in his new line-up, which Minister has been specifically appointed to be responsible for green economic growth?

Vince Cable: There is a green economy group operating through government. I serve on it, together with the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Energy and Climate Change—I believe it has Treasury representation on it, too. We put enormous importance on having a green thread in policy and we have taken major initiatives in that respect, notably through renewable energy innovation, supply chain development and the establishment of the green investment bank.

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Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): What is the Department doing to make the UK a better place to do business for our already strong pharmaceutical sector? I am particularly thinking about encouraging clinical trials and bringing forward new medicines, which of course will benefit not only our economy, but patients receiving treatment in our NHS?

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As a Minister in the Department of Health and in BIS, it is my job to make sure that we are building a landscape in which the UK is the best place to get quick access to patients, tissues, data and trials. Unless we can get innovations to patients more quickly, not only will we let them down, but, more importantly, we will not attract the investment into 21st century health technologies that we and our patients need.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly highlighted the importance of re-shoring to revitalising our manufacturing and rebalancing our economy. Innovative companies such as Gloucestershire’s Future Advanced Manufacture Ltd discussed with aerospace customers how to manufacture locally parts previously made in the far east, and has done this with success. Does he think that there are more opportunities, with his Department leading, to discuss with the aerospace industry how the big contractors can look at their supply chains and consider re-shoring opportunities through small and medium-sized enterprises?

Vince Cable: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the aerospace industry is one in which the British supply chain had been badly depleted over the years, and it is now being rebuilt. When I was last in India on a departmental trip I did visit an Indian aerospace company that was relocating to the UK, so this does happen. Through the aerospace growth partnership, which is a key element of the industrial strategy, re-shoring and building up the supply chain is a key element in the long-term planning of the sector.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I ask the Secretary of State about the remuneration of university vice-chancellors, because the entry level appears to be about £160,000 a year? There are 127 vice-chancellors receiving more than £200,000 annually, 33 receiving more than £300,000 and four receiving more than £400,000. What is it about running a university that makes it so much more difficult and so much more remunerative than running the country?

Greg Clark: The robust tradition among universities is that they are independent institutions; Ministers do not have the ability to direct them. Universities are now in a competitive environment: they compete for students and with each other for research funds. I am sure that vice-chancellors across the country who are meeting

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today in Leeds at their annual conference will have the hon. Gentleman’s message relayed to them.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Ah, universities and the running thereof, Mr David Willetts.

Mr David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I was hoping to ask the Minister about Glasgow and to confirm that in a nationwide competition, Glasgow city won the funding to get £25 million of investment in smart city technologies. Do we not think that the best way for Glasgow to remain a smart city is for it to remain part of the United Kingdom?

Greg Clark: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only did Glasgow win that investment, but I was delighted to sign a city deal with it during the summer that involved the establishment of a new centre for stratified medical imaging in that great city. It is one of the advantages of being part of the United Kingdom that the excellence of Scottish institutions allows them to punch above their weight in terms of population and GDP. The question that is being asked in the Scottish research community is why spoil such a huge success story.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, Mr David Nuttall.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. When university tuition fees were increased, some feared that it would result in a fall in the numbers applying to enter higher education, particularly those from poorer backgrounds. Will the Minister tell the House whether those fears have proved justified?

Greg Clark: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to point out that those fears have been completely unjustified. Since 2010, there has been a 17% increase in students from the poorest backgrounds, including an 8% increase in the past year. More students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university than ever before, and the gap between the richest and the poorest has never been smaller.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Points of order come after business questions rather than during questions.

Sir Bob Russell: The Secretary of State will not be here very long and I would like him to hear my point of order.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) may be able to persuade the Secretary of State to return for his important point of order. I am afraid that procedure must take precedence over convenience.

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Business of the House

10.32 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the week when we return from the conference recess?

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): The business for the week commencing 13 October is as follows:

Monday 13 October—Debate on a motion relating to Palestine and Israel. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 14 October—Second Reading of the Recall of MPs Bill.

Wednesday 15 October—Opposition day [6th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 16 October—Debate on a motion relating to progress on the all-party parliamentary cycling group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”, followed by general debate on the national pollinator strategy. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 17 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 October will include:

Monday 20 October—Consideration in Committee of the Recall of MPs Bill (Day 1).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 16 and 23 October will be:

Thursday 16 October—Debate on the 13th report of the Public Administration Committee on “Caught red-handed: why we can’t count on police recorded crime statistics.”

Thursday 23 October—Debate on the eighth report of the Science and Technology Committee on “Communicating climate science.”

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for after the conference recess. May I associate myself with the tributes paid by the deputy leader of the Labour party, the Leader of the House and other Members during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday to Jim Dobbin? We will all miss him.

Following President Obama’s address to the American people overnight and on the anniversary of 9/11, will the Leader of the House promise to keep the House updated on the rapidly developing situation in Iraq and Syria?

The Opposition Benches might seem just a little more sparsely populated than usual, but I assure you, Mr Speaker, that our Members’ absence is in a good cause. They are all in Scotland campaigning to save the Union. I will be joining them later today and I know that the Leader of the House is also bound for Scotland. Does he therefore agree that we can only build a better, fairer and more just future for the generations yet to come by realising that our two great nations are far better staying together than being torn asunder? May I welcome his Government’s support for the legislative programme outlined by the

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former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), to give the Scottish Parliament greater powers in the event of a no vote? Does he agree that this demonstrates that the choice facing Scotland is not, as the nationalists would have us believe, between the status quo or separation?

Last Friday, the Government were defeated three times on the bedroom tax when the Affordable Homes Bill promoted by the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) was given a Second Reading by 304 votes to 267. The bedroom tax is callous and cruel and has caused misery to hundreds of thousands of people across the country who have no realistic chance of moving to a smaller property. Many of them have been forced to turn to food banks to feed their families at the end of the month and many more have fallen unavoidably into debt. Will the Leader of the House confirm when the money resolution will come forward to enable the Bill to go into Committee? Clearly, there is no longer a majority of MPs who favour this cruel measure, and even Ministers are voting against it, so may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions outlining how he plans to move forward?

This week, the Minister for Employment flew to the other side of the world to talk about the welcome fall in youth unemployment. What she did not mention in her choreographed boast was that long-term youth unemployment on the Wirral, where she and I both have our constituencies, has increased sevenfold since 2010, that the number of zero-hours contracts has trebled and that families are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government. By 2019, the number of working people claiming housing benefit will have doubled, increasing the cost by a massive £13 billion. Just when we thought that the Minister for Employment could not be any more out of touch, she suggested that the unemployed should undergo psychological tests to check out their attitude. The tests will apparently decide whether those looking for jobs are determined, bewildered or despondent. It sounds like these tests could sensibly be used on Tory Back Benchers.

During the Newark by-election, Tory MPs were expected by their Whips to visit the constituency at least three times, yet I hear that the Chief Whip, who is strangely absent yet again, has now made trips to Clacton-on-Sea optional. Following this week’s defection of two Tory councillors in Clacton to UKIP, are Tory MPs too bewildered or despondent to go there?

This week, months of research and planning finally culminated in a long-expected and spectacular launch. The press was lined up, waiting with bated breath, and fans lined the streets. Some had camped out overnight. There was going to be a product even slimmer than the iPhone 5s—the Liberal Democrat pre-manifesto, otherwise known as the iLie 3. The Deputy Prime Minister clearly takes seriously his pledge not to make promises he cannot keep, as he has promised to plant a tree for every child born and to legalise all drugs. The problem is that the only trip he is going on is to the Back Benches. There is, however, some good news—I hear that the manifesto is on a shortlist for a prestigious prize: the Booker prize for best new fiction.

Mr Hague: I am grateful as always to the hon. Lady. What she has said about Jim Dobbin was one of many heartfelt tributes in the House this week.

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We will always keep the House updated—although we are entering a four-week recess for the conferences and the referendum—on developments in foreign affairs. Yesterday we had a foreign affairs debate in which many hon. Members took part. The Government will keep the House updated whenever possible.

I am pleased—it is unusual for me to say this—that the Labour party is out campaigning. The shadow Leader and I will be doing so—not together, although we will both be in Scotland—[Interruption.] Well, perhaps we will meet up later today. We will be on the same side, and for an important reason: as we discussed in the House yesterday, the decision to be made next week by the people of Scotland is not an opinion poll or an election; it is a permanent decision that will affect their children and grandchildren. Therefore, it is right that this will have such intense attention over the coming days.

The hon. Lady referred to the process put forward by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). All the main parties have endorsed the proposed timetable, including for a Command Paper to be published at the end of October.

The hon. Lady asked about last week’s private Member’s Bill debates. As discussed at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, this is, in our eyes, a basic matter of fairness. The Bill that has been introduced would cost the country up to £1 billion, but I have not heard any proposals on how to replace that money. Many of the people whom the Bill intends to help are already supported within the existing policy—elderly people are exempt and disabled people who need overnight care from a visiting carer are allowed an extra bedroom. Of course, the House takes its own view on private Members’ Bills, but Government policy on the matter has not changed.

I am pleased that the hon. Lady, unusually, turned to employment matters, but she ought to have referred to the prediction of the Leader of the Opposition that 1 million jobs would be destroyed by Government policy. Since then 1,750,000 jobs have been created in this country; long-term unemployment is down, both on the last quarter and since the election; the Work programme is helping 1.4 million people, and has already got more than 500,000 people into work; and we have more than 1.8 million apprenticeship starts since the election. That is a strong record on employment and it will be a major factor at the coming general election.

Talking of elections, I thank the hon. Lady for referring to the Newark by-election, which was a great Conservative election victory—in fact, the first by the Conservative party in government since I was elected 25 years ago, which just shows how well we are doing in the run-up to the general election. She linked that with asking, as always, about the whereabouts of the Chief Whip, who is on his way to Clacton to campaign in the by-election. She will find plenty of Conservative MPs campaigning in Clacton, including me next week. That will be another of my visits around the country and I look forward to it.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Where?

Mr Hague: I will be going to Clacton next week, and I trust that Opposition Members will be going there, because in Newark their vote fell, which, for an Opposition,

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is quite remarkable in a by-election. If they are not careful, the same will happen in Clacton. We all enjoy taking part in by-elections, and that is particularly so for the one in Clacton.

I note that the hon. Lady has written an article for the LabourList website, which talks about the Labour party now showing

“real fiscal responsibility and an understanding that in the next Parliament we will have less money to spend, not more.”

Will she convey that to the shadow Chancellor, or, still better, become shadow Chancellor? I would happily nominate her for that post, because he does not seem to show any recognition of having put the country £160 billion a year in debt. He recently racked up £21 billion of spending commitments without having the slightest idea of how to pay for them.

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): With the publication of the recall Bill, will the Leader of the House tell the House what progress has been made with the Bills that were announced in the Queen’s Speech and say whether the recall Bill is a constitutional Bill, with all stages to be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr Hague: We are making good progress. The introduction today of the Recall of MPs Bill means that we have introduced 10 of the 11 Government Bills promised in the Queen’s Speech, and they are proceeding well through Parliament, despite the fact that we have had some additional emergency legislation, as my right hon. Friend knows. I announced in the business statement that the Committee stage will begin on Monday 20 October on the Floor of the House, so, yes, we will be taking all stages of the legislation here.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): At last week’s business questions, I asked the Leader of the House about local government grant cuts, particularly as they affect Knowsley. He very helpfully suggested that I take the matter up at Communities and Local Government questions on the Monday just gone, which I did: I asked a very detailed question. While it is well known that the Secretary of State does not do detail, I got a reply from an Under-Secretary that bore no resemblance to the question I asked. Having taken up the Leader of the House’s helpful suggestions so far, does he have any others that might help to resolve this problem?

Mr Hague: I am full of helpful suggestions—“Ask at the next DCLG questions” would be the first one. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced Member of the House, knows, there are many other ways in which to raise issues in this House—through Adjournment debates and promoting Back-Bench business debates—and he is very well able to do so.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): In the light of South West Trains’ announcement that £210 million will be invested in rolling stock and not a single penny will be used on rail routes between Portsmouth and London, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the much-needed improvements to this important route, which has been painfully neglected for decades?

Mr Hague: The investment that my hon. Friend mentions is coming in to provide additional capacity to meet the expected increase in the number of peak-time

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passengers arriving at London Waterloo, and it is targeting the suburban network by creating extra platform capacity. A small number of evening peak services to Portsmouth will be lengthened, with more cars in the train, and I hope she welcomes that. I know that she will continue to make the case for investment that benefits her constituents. Again, there are many opportunities open to her, and to other hon. Members, to raise such issues in the House.

Chris Bryant: Having spent Monday and Tuesday in Clacton-on-Sea and Wednesday in Glasgow, back here it feels a bit like a Greek tragedy is going on, because all the action is happening everywhere other than in Parliament. Everything the Leader of the House announced for the future business feels, yet again, like a whole load of largely irrelevant matters compared with the imminent danger to the state of the Union, the collapse of the effing Tories, the imminent dangers that people are facing in terms of rail fare increases, and, most importantly, the bedroom tax—the one issue on which we did actually have a debate, when last Friday we came to a resolution in this House by a significant majority—which affects thousands of people. Yet still the Leader of the House will not announce when he is going to table the money resolution so that the Bill can go into Committee. When will that be?

Mr Hague: I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s visit to Glasgow had a more positive effect than his visit to Clacton has evidently had on the Labour campaign there so far.

Chris Bryant: At least we’ve got a candidate.

Mr Hague: Well, the Conservative party will be having an open vote on who is the candidate, because we believe in as much democracy as possible in by-elections. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not deride too much what has been going on in this House. He is right that there is a great deal going on elsewhere, including the referendum campaign, which is crucial, as we have all agreed. However, yesterday we had a full day’s debate on foreign affairs—on Ukraine, the middle east and all matters of international and national security. When we come back, we are going to consider the Recall of MPs Bill—something that was mentioned in all our party manifestos at the last election and is in the coalition programme. I hope that he will not run down too much what is happening in the House of Commons. As he knows, last week’s vote was on a private Member’s Bill, as distinct from a change in Government policy, and of course we will treat it as such in the normal fashion.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): My constituent Graham Gallier is awaiting trial in Kenya on charges he denies. I have deep concerns about the legal process to which Mr Gallier is being subjected: his case has been repeatedly adjourned, his passport has been held for more than three years, his health is declining and he is being denied access to justice. I am grateful for the help that the Foreign Office has given me so far, but could we have a debate on access to justice for British citizens in other jurisdictions, so that cases such as Mr Gallier’s can be raised?

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Mr Hague: I know that my hon. Friend has taken up this case with my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I will draw their attention to the fact that he has raised it this morning. The UK has a very strong consular network around the world. Indeed, it is something else for voters in Scotland to remember next week that one of the world’s strongest consular and embassy networks is that of the United Kingdom. Of course, that network will continue to assist my hon. Friend’s constituent and I will ask FCO colleagues to keep him informed.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): May we have an urgent statement on a code of practice in the NHS that makes the interests of children paramount and that balances the views of parents and clinicians so that public money is not wasted in court and police costs?

Mr Hague: Clearly, the House is going into recess and we have no statement planned today, so there will not be an urgent statement on that, but the hon. Lady raises an important issue and I will draw it to the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Health.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on waste and bureaucracy in local authorities? When I worked for Asda, there were eight or nine levels between the most junior role and the chief executive. I have just found out from a freedom of information request to Bradford council that it has 42 different job levels in the local authority. Does the Leader of the House agree that an awful lot of money could be saved by cutting out some of those job levels and that that would also create a much-needed career path for people, who could start at the bottom and follow a path to reach the top? That often happens in supermarkets, but it very seldom happens in local authorities.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. There have been many efficiency savings in many local authorities over the past four years. Indeed, in the best-run local authorities, layers of management have been taken out and there have been huge administrative savings, but that has not been uniform across the country. The pressure on local authorities to conduct efficient administration without excessive layers of management must continue.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for International Development on the Ebola outbreak in west Africa? It is affecting three countries and there have been nearly 2,300 deaths so far. It is important that we provide public health and any other expertise necessary to try to help Médecins sans Frontières and Governments there to stop the outbreak as soon as possible.

Mr Hague: The Government are closely engaged with this issue. The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, has met on this subject, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The Department for International Development has already been assisting the countries concerned. We have made our own precautions and successfully treated some people in this country, so the Government are very conscious of the issue and discussed it in Cabinet this week. As we approach a recess, I cannot

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offer an immediate statement by DFID, but I know that Ministers will want to keep the House updated whenever possible.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): May we have a debate after the party conference recess on mental health provision and services in the United Kingdom? I recently did a tour of my constituency and, after housing, it was the No. 1 issue. It relates not just to health-care provision in hospitals and social services, but to those who have finished full-time education and cannot get employment. What is to happen to them? It is a huge worry for them and, indeed, their families. This is a Cinderella service that now needs to be addressed in the mainstream in this Chamber.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I am proud that this Government have legislated to ensure that improving mental health and treating mental illness are given the same priority as treatment for physical health. We are committed to introducing access and waiting times standards for mental health from next April. We are investing more than £400 million for access to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence-approved psychological therapies, more than £50 million for improved access to mental health care for young people and more than £7 million, additionally, for mental health services for veterans. A great deal is therefore being done to improve the situation, but I know that my hon. Friend will continue to press this issue.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Last week, the Home Secretary announced the lord mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, as the new chair of the child abuse inquiry. Although I am anxious for the inquiry to be got up and running, I am disturbed by the apparent links between the new chair and Lord Brittan, who is alleged to be at the heart of the paedophile scandal and cover-up surrounding Westminster. Does the Leader of the House share my concerns, and does he agree that there should be a debate on this issue in the House?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue many times, and he is very rigorous in pursuing such matters. We are all anxious for the inquiry to get under way, as he says. Fiona Woolf has had a long and distinguished career. She has held high-profile and challenging positions, including as president of the Law Society and chairman of the Association of Women Solicitors, and she is only the second woman since the year 1189 to hold the position of lord mayor of London. She is a very distinguished person, who is well able to conduct the inquiry to the very highest standards of integrity. The Government are therefore confident that she has the skills and experience needed to set the direction of the inquiry, lead the work of the panel, challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour, really get into this issue and stop these terrible things happening again. I think that we should support her in doing this work.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Scots and Yorkshire folk have a great deal in common. They say, “You can tell a Yorkshireman, but you can’t tell him much.” We hope fervently that the Scots will vote to stay with us.

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Rural businesses in North Yorkshire look with some envy at rural businesses in Scotland that have pretty much total 100% rural broadband coverage. Will my right hon. Friend agree to an early debate on why his constituency and mine will have less than 80% fast-speed broadband coverage by 2015-16, whereas the Scots will have a much better deal?

Mr Hague: Yorkshire and Scotland do have much in common, including a lot of sound common sense, and we hope that it will be displayed next week.

Superfast rural broadband is very important to my hon. Friend’s constituents and to mine. Public expenditure is higher in Scotland than in North Yorkshire in particular, and indeed than in much of the rest of the UK. In fact, Scots benefit from spending that is about £1,200 per head higher than we have in England, which affects such things. However, we are investing £790 million in superfast broadband access—North Yorkshire is at the forefront of the rural counties that will benefit from that—and 1 million UK premises are already connected, so this work is well under way, including in England.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Further to our exchange last week about having a debate on the Welsh language, the Leader of the House will know that the “Gododdin”, the early mediaeval Welsh epic poem, features a battle at Catterick in his constituency—soldiers from the Welsh settlement of Edinburgh fought in his constituency—while the very name of Glasgow comes from the Welsh for a “green place”. Does that not show that, from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth, the historical ties that bind the people of this island are deep and enduring, and that they should not be idly cast aside?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong point. I have a copy of the “Gododdin” at home, and I am well aware that a battle was fought in about the year 600 in Catraeth, as Catterick, where I live, was then called. I sometimes visit the mound by the church where the warriors killed in that battle are supposed to have been buried. The fact that there was a Welsh-speaking tribe and that a battle in England included people who had come down from Scotland is, as he says, a reminder of our intrinsic ties and of the dark times when this kingdom was not so united. I hope that people will also bear that sort of history in mind when they vote next week.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): May we have a debate on a dysfunctional aspect of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? When the list for today’s oral questions was first published, I was in fourth position with the following question to the Secretary of State:

“What guidance he issues to companies delivering publicly-funded projects on taking the national interest into account when awarding contracts and sub-contracts.”

The Department refused to answer the question, saying that guidance should come from the Cabinet Office. There is a clue in the title of the Department, in that it contains the word “Business”. May we have a debate on the business aspects of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and their relation to the national interest, particularly given that it is an issue that concerns two companies in my constituency?

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Mr Hague: I hope that my hon. Friend can get an answer to his question from one Department or another. He is able to pursue the matter with the Cabinet Office. There are many ways of promoting and bringing about debates, including Back-Bench business debates, of which we have a great many. He might want to put forward aspects of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for such a debate.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The latest figures show that Hull, which is the 10th most deprived area in the country, will lose £628 per household during the course of this Parliament, whereas Elmbridge in Surrey will gain £41 per household. May we please have a debate before the local government settlement in December to look at the fairness or unfairness of the way in which the coalition Government allocate local authority funding?

Mr Hague: We debate local government finance on a regular basis in the House. The level of Government support for local government spending remains vastly higher in the vast majority of urban areas of this country than in many of the more rural areas. Of course there are variations over the years, but the level of support in a city such as Hull is much greater than that in constituencies elsewhere in Yorkshire, such as mine. This matter can be argued both ways, and the hon. Lady argues that the funding should be greater in her constituency. We have all made that argument over time, and she will be able to do so the next time these matters are debated.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Leader of the House to make a statement tomorrow in order to, I hope, scotch the rumour that if, unfortunately, Scotland votes to become independent, there will be a move to put back the general election until Scotland becomes independent? Will he confirm that that would require the introduction of new legislation, and that the Government have no intention of bringing forward such legislation?

Mr Hague: That has not been discussed within the Government. All of us on this side of the argument should concentrate on ensuring that there is a no vote in the referendum in Scotland next week, which means concentrating on the arguments about that. After the result, we can discuss its implications, but the time for that is afterwards. We should concentrate on ensuring that people are encouraged to vote no.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): One of the oldest centres of Christianity, Iraq, is being purged of Christians and other minority communities. This weekend, I shall host a round table with the Mancunian Iraqi-Christian diaspora and Iraqi bishops whose flocks are in exile. What message of solidarity should this House send to those displaced communities in our country?

Mr Hague: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for undertaking that work. It is another illustration of how tragic and serious the crisis and bloodshed in Iraq are, and of why we cannot ignore them. That is why we have promoted political unity in Iraq. We have stressed to

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Iraqi leaders the need to bring together all communities in Iraq and to have a Government who command the united support of the different communities and religions, so that they can decisively tackle the threat from ISIL. Progress has been made on that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a new Prime Minister of Iraq, and a new Government are being formed. International support is being given to that Government.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Many colleagues welcome Government assurances that any proposed military intervention in Iraq and Syria will be subject to a full debate and vote in the House. Given the significance of President Obama’s statement only hours ago, and the fact that the US seems to be adopting policies such as air strikes in Syria, which certainly go beyond what those on the Front Bench expressed yesterday as their comfort zone, will the Government make a statement as soon as possible to the House, particularly given that we will be in conference recess for the next month?

Mr Hague: We had a full day’s debate on foreign affairs yesterday, although I know my hon. Friend is talking about the speech of President Obama overnight. President Obama was talking about action that will be taken by the United States, which does not mean that there is any immediate change to the British Government’s approach. The approach expressed by the President of building a strong international coalition, working with Governments in the region, and working with others to defeat the threat from ISIL is the approach of the British Government. We have stated what we are doing, including the provision of lethal equipment to the Kurdish peshmerga forces and our diplomatic work to bring about political unity in Iraq. None of that has changed and it is not different today from yesterday. We will, of course, keep the House regularly updated at every opportunity.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If the Scottish people vote to separate from the United Kingdom, and/or if the RAF is ordered to prepare for air strikes against the Islamic State, will my right hon. Friend as Leader of the House recommend to the Prime Minister that the House be recalled?

Mr Hague: As usual, we must always judge a case for the recall of Parliament when it arises. Most recalls of Parliament that I remember from the last few years have been on situations that were entirely unexpected. It is common for hon. Members to ask in advance of a recess about particular situations that it could be argued might lead to a recall, but it is often something else entirely. We must judge all these situations as they arise, and it is not right to make any announcements or assumptions about that at the moment.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): Could we have a debate on upland hill farmers, which is a subject that affects my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend? Upland hill farmers are under intense pressure from organisations like the national parks, Natural England and many others that make demands about the way farming is carried out in this country. In some cases that is fair enough, but if we want the upland areas of the United Kingdom to stay

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as they are and look as they do now, we must allow farmers to farm. Most of the uplands are not natural but man-made, and people enjoy them because of what they are. Will my right hon. Friend see whether we can make time to debate what is an important industry in both our constituencies and across much of the United Kingdom?

Mr Hague: Hill farming is an important industry, as I know well from my constituency, and upland hill farmers are crucial to some of the most beautiful and outstanding areas of the country. We have had debates over many years—I remember promoting such debates more than 20 years ago as a Back-Bench MP. There are opportunities to bring about such debates through Adjournment debates and the Backbench Business Committee, and I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue those opportunities.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Notwithstanding the £38 billion black hole left by the previous Government, may we have a debate on the UK defence budget? Given increasing threats against UK citizens and UK interests around the world, is it not time to increase the defence budget rather than squeeze it?

Mr Hague: We have a £33 billion defence budget, which is the biggest in the European Union and the second largest in NATO. I think we should be proud of the fact that we are spending in excess of 2% of our GDP on defence—we are one of only four NATO countries to do so. My hon. Friend will be aware that at the NATO summit we encouraged other countries to enter the new commitment to increase their defence spending in future. We had the Prime Minister’s recent statement on the NATO summit, so I do not think we need to debate all that again immediately. There will be regular opportunities in the course of many debates to raise such issues and the vital importance of defence spending.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): The Government have understandably indicated that, if the Scottish people vote no, proposals will be introduced for further devolution to the Scottish Parliament within days. That will increase the concerns of my constituents and others in England that we are being treated less favourably than people in other parts of the UK. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that an early statement will be made on how the Government intend to meet the aspirations of the English people and devolve further powers within England?

Mr Hague: The decision next week is a matter for the people of Scotland, but its implications will be felt across the UK. We have a good record of devolving powers, as we have to Wales or, through the Localism Act 2011, to local authorities. We are a flexible and adaptable Union—that is one of the great strengths of the United Kingdom. That must take account of the people of England as well. As proposals come forward on Scotland over the coming months, there must be every opportunity to debate the implications for England.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): In view of the increased number of migrants both from the EU and from outside the EU in the past 12 months, may we

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have a debate on the subject and an explanation of why we are going in the opposite direction to the manifesto commitment?

Mr Hague: Net migration has fallen by a third since its peak and we have capped economic migration from outside the EU. My hon. Friend will welcome measures such as limiting EU jobseeker’s benefit to only six months, and removing entitlement to housing benefit. I am sure other hon. Members would welcome an opportunity to debate the matter. My hon. Friend may wish to seek such time from the Backbench Business Committee.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I very much support the increase in the cancer drugs fund announced by the Government, and was delighted previously to open a new digital mammography unit at Crawley hospital. Nevertheless, I was concerned to see recently the results of an assessment of my constituency that indicated that cancer survival rates were below the national average, largely owing to the need to get early diagnosis. Will he consider a debate on the importance not only of cancer treatment but of awareness of cancer symptoms, so that people can be diagnosed and treated much more promptly?

Mr Hague: Yes, tackling diagnosis is vital. We have committed more than £450 million over the period of the spending review up to next year to support earlier diagnosis. We have debated related issues, most recently on Monday, when the House considered the e-petition on research funding and awareness of pancreatic cancer, but I am sure the House would benefit from further opportunities, particularly to coincide with the next early diagnosis reminder campaign, which is running in October and November.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): On Sunday, I visited one of my constituents, Mrs Margaret White, who happens to be the former chairman of my local party. She had been released from hospital and went home, but unfortunately, there seems to be no care plan for her. May we have a debate on the national health service and its interrelationship with local authorities, to ensure that such people are looked after much better?

Mr Hague: It is a priority for the Government to ensure that patients receive joined-up health and social care. That is exactly what the better care fund seeks to achieve through pooled budgets between the NHS and local authorities, which is being done in every single area for the first time. I am sure that that is the right approach, but such a debate, which my hon. Friend can seek through all the normal channels, would help the House to consider individual cases like the one he mentions.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): For 46 years, Barbara Hepworth’s bronze “Rock Form” sculpture has stood in the Mander centre in my constituency. In spring, it was removed without warning and has not been seen since. For three months, the major stakeholders in the Mander centre, RBS and Delancey, refused to deny that they intended to sell the “Rock Form”, which, in the current market, would probably fetch several million pounds. Given the cultural importance of the

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piece, will my right hon. Friend provide a debate on the need to protect and preserve cultural landmarks in our towns and cities?

Mr Hague: Many hon. Members will appreciate Barbara Hepworth’s work, as many visitors to the Mander centre will have done over the past 46 years. It is possible to protect such sculptures through statutory listing, and my hon. Friend may seek a debate on the wider issues about protecting our cultural landmarks, but I am sure that my ministerial colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport would also be pleased to meet him to discuss what can be done to help his campaign and save this particular sculpture for the future enjoyment of his constituents and many visitors to Wolverhampton.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): While not wishing to annoy the House, I am afraid that I must again raise the issue of nuisance telephone calls. My constituents tell me that despite registering for the telephone preference service they find themselves inundated with unsolicited calls at all hours of the day. May we please have a debate about what more the Government can do to lift this blight from people’s lives that causes so much misery to our constituents?

Mr Hague: There is great concern in the House about this problem—it was raised last week as well—and the DCMS is taking measures to address it. It published its nuisance calls action plan on 30 March and since January 2012 regulators have issued penalties totalling more than £1.9 million to companies for breaching the rules. Further work is under way to see what more can be done to tackle the issue, as set out in the action plan, and I know that DCMS Ministers would be willing to discuss that with my hon. Friend.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): A senior NHS executive recently asked counterparts in European countries how they could continue to offer consultant-led maternity units of the same size as the one in Stafford—2,000 to 2,500 births a year—whereas in the UK these are often said to be unsustainable. He was told that different implementation of the working time directive was a major consideration. May we have a debate on the continued provision of safe consultant-led maternity and paediatric care in district general hospitals, including the impact of varied implementation of the working time directive?

Mr Hague: This is an important issue, as I have seen in my own constituency, and the Government are committed to reducing the negative impact of the directive on the NHS. The Health Secretary commissioned an independent taskforce, chaired by Professor Norman Williams, which

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looked closely at evidence of how the directive affected different parts of the medical profession, and work is now being done on the recommendations. Furthermore, the European Commission has recently requested information on the impact of the implementation of the directive from all member states, and our response must take account of the concerns that my hon. Friend and others have expressed. He can also seek a debate in the normal ways.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Local charity Dementia Forward is working to make Harrogate a dementia-friendly town. This is a great initiative encouraging both businesses and members of the public to understand and help those living with dementia. One in three people aged over 85 suffers some form of cognitive impairment, meaning that there is real scale to this challenge, so please may we have a debate to explore what more can be done to help communities become more dementia-friendly, to celebrate the work of dementia charities and to encourage everybody across the UK to recognise the scale of this issue, which is only going to grow over time?

Mr Hague: Again, this is an important issue and the initiative in Harrogate is welcome. Seventy communities have already signed up to the dementia-friendly communities recognition process, which more than doubles the original ambition of 20 cities, towns and villages signing up by 2015. Major businesses have committed their staff to supporting the process and the Government are supporting the work of the Yorkshire and Humber dementia action alliance. This is all very good work and of course I encourage my hon. Friend to seek debates and other opportunities to promote this matter in the House in the usual ways.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): The “Big Tidy Up” will be starting in Rugby this weekend when a team of volunteers, supported by Rugby borough council and local businesses, will be targeting litter in a new project that will bring people together to benefit their local environment. The Leader of the House may be aware that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government is about to consider the issue of litter. Could we have a debate to consider how further to encourage such activity as is going on in my constituency?

Mr Hague: I wish “Keep Rugby Tidy” well; I hope it will be a successful weekend and that future activities will do well. This is setting a good example not only in the locality but around the country. I cannot offer a debate on top of all the other things before us, but there are ways for my hon. Friend to seek further parliamentary time. I wish everyone in Rugby well with this initiative.

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Point of Order

11.21 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope you will consider an innovation, although not a very modernising one. As you know, we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war and the House has 19 shields of Members who were killed during that war. Three more of them are to be added before we come back after the recess. I wonder whether we could on 6 November feature a commemoration on the front of the Order Paper of the first Member of Parliament who died 100 years ago, Captain Arthur O’Neill who died at Zillebeke Ridge, and then continue that practice throughout the period of the war to commemorate the death of those Members who died 100 years ago.

Mr Speaker: I have two points in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, if memory serves, the decision to install a further three plaques followed a request by the hon. Gentleman. I would not want his natural self-effacement, to which we are all accustomed in this House, to get the better of him. I want him to enjoy the proper plaudits for the action that is about to be taken. Secondly, I rather like that idea. It is new to me. I do not know whether there are any notable cost implications. It is an innovation, and I think it a rather attractive one. I would like to see whether the idea could be taken forward.

Bill Presented

Recall of MPs Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

The Deputy Prime Minister, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr William Hague, Greg Clark, Tom Brake and Sam Gyimah, presented a Bill to make provision about the recall of Members of the House of Commons; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 94) with explanatory notes (Bill 94-EN).

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Backbench Business

Energy-intensive Industries

11.22 am

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the measures announced in the 2014 Budget Statement which reduce cost pressures created by the imposition of carbon taxes and levies; notes that without such measures, there is a serious risk of carbon leakage; further notes, however, that UK manufacturing still pays four times as much for carbon compared with main EU competitors because of taxes such as the carbon floor price; and calls on the Government to build on the measures announced in the Budget by producing a strategy for energy-intensive industries, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee in its Sixth Report of Session 2012–13, HC 669, in order to produce a fairer and more efficient system which delivers genuine potential for investment in a low-carbon economy.

I am delighted to have the opportunity today to open this debate and to move the motion in my name and that of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales). I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting time in the Chamber for this important debate about the impact of taxation on our country’s energy-intensive industries, which employ or support up to half a million jobs.

I know that other hon. Members, many of whom have energy-intensive industries in their constituencies, would have liked to be here today to contribute to this debate, but have rightly chosen to travel to my homeland to chat to my fellow Scots who have yet to make a final decision on whether or not to vote to keep the United Kingdom together. Just as I am sure they are here with us in spirit, I am sure that most, if not all of us, recognise and support their mission, which will have a direct impact on the issues that we are discussing today.

Before I get into the main body of my speech, I formally declare my membership of the all-party parliamentary group for energy-intensive industries, which campaigns on the issues to be raised today and whose members helped to secure this debate. Much of the debate will centre on the impact that carbon taxes and levies are having on our energy-intensive industries—EIIs—and will seek to encourage progress in working towards a strategy for EIIs that will deliver genuine potential for investment in a low-carbon economy.

Whether it be through petrochemicals, nitrate fertiliser or steel production, the Tees valley, where my Stockton North constituency sits, has long been synonymous with heavy industry and the thirst for energy that it necessarily entails. The town of Billingham, which is home to a large chemical centre, has played a particularly significant role in Britain’s industrial back story. The cooling towers and chimney stacks that still adorn, if not dominate, parts of the region’s skyline—along with the famed transporter bridge—are testimony to Teesside’s proud industrial heritage, but the decline of those industries will be hastened if actions are not taken to lessen the burdens imposed by carbon taxes and levies.

As Member of Parliament for Stockton North, I shall be speaking for Teesside and highlighting the various hurdles that many of our EIIs are facing there; but as a member of the energy-intensive industries

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all-party parliamentary group, I shall be speaking not just out of local or regional interest, but to highlight issues that are having an impact on industries the length and breadth of the country. The reach and scale of the problems extend far beyond the north-east, and to products such as cement, glass and ceramics.

If I may borrow a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), the next Government will come to power at a time when the three prongs of an “energy trilemma” are driving potentially competing agendas that must be addressed by any emerging energy policy. That means that, at the same time as taking steps to guarantee that our energy supply is secure, we require measures to ensure that energy prices for consumers, both domestic and industrial, are affordable, as well as movement towards decarbonising supplies to ensure that the energy sector contributes to carbon reduction rather than undermining it.

As I have already made clear, EIIs form the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s manufacturing sector and, by virtue of that, the cornerstone of the wider economy. Figures for the sector vary, but the Environmental Audit Committee has suggested that EIIs employ 125,000 people in the UK. The UK’s foundation industries, which have a significant overlap with EIIs and account for higher numbers of supply-chain jobs, are reckoned to employ nearly half a million people—which amounts to roughly 20% of total manufacturing employment—generating gross value added worth £24.6 billion. Those industries account for between 3% and 4% of GVA across the UK economy as a whole. In the Tees valley alone, the processsector consists of more than 1,400 local firms in the supply chain, generating sales worth more than £26 billion a year and £12 billion of exports and comprising 50% of the UK’s petrochemicals GDP, while producing 60% of its chemical exports.

As well as being a key source of productivity, investment and employment, EIIs are central to our successful transition towards a low-carbon economy, manufacturing such “green economy” products as lightweight plastics, insulation, and components for wind turbines. For every tonneof carbon dioxide produced by the chemicals industry, more than two are saved downstream by its products. However,if we are to meet the carbon reduction targets set by the last Government—which, as Members will know, bind the UK to reducing carbon emissions by a third of 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050—significant reductions in emissions are required throughout the economy. In addition, as part of its EU obligations, the EU must obtain 15%of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, which represents a fourfold increase on 2010. Electricity generation is expected to contribute most to the meeting of that target, primarily through the use of wind and nuclear power generation, but also through carbon capture and storage.

While the decarbonisation of electricity generation will be critical, along with measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes and transport, industry—which accounts for about a quarter of UK emissions—is rightly expected to make a substantial contribution. Given that EIIs account for more than 50% of industry-related emissions, they are expected to deliver reductions of at least 70% from 2009 levels by 2050. However, those obligations, although noble and justifiably ambitious, come with a set of associated difficulties.

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EIIs operate in highly competitive global markets, and energy is typically their largest production cost. For instance, INEOS, which provides several hundred jobs at its Seal Sands site in Stockton North, tells me that electricity constitutes 70% of production costs associated with its manufacture of chlorine. As a consequence, energy price is business-critical, and it is only possible for the industries concerned to operate in countries with competitive energy prices. In other words, energy costs are influencing, if not directing, investment decisions for EIIs. At a time when the UK’s energy prices compare unfavourably with those in much of Europe and the rest of the world, that is bad news for the manufacturing sector as industries are driven towards more competitively priced markets such as the United States.

Let us take the cement industry, for example. Cement imports currently stand at 14% of UK consumption, up from just 3% in 2001. As the UK has enough cement import capacity to replace domestic manufacturing, there is a real risk that industries in the sector could take the decision to offshore production where costs would be lower. Such a decision would have damaging knock-on consequences. Not only will cement and concrete be vital for the construction of a new, low-carbon energy infrastructure, but the UK would stand to lose out on £2.84 of economic activity generated for every £1 spent on construction. Indeed, such “carbon leakage” can already be seen in the energy-intensive sector, with high-profile closures caused by these uncompetitive energy prices. BASF and Tata, for instance, last year announced closures resulting in over 600 job losses, doubtless a decision influenced by the energy costs, which are more than 50% higher than those of direct competitors elsewhere in Europe.

At the same time, other international companies are redirecting investment en masse to more competitive locations. While wholesale prices are driven by high gas prices, that is distorted by the very high policy costs imposed in the UK. Energy costs for industrial users in the UK are around 45% higher than in France and around 70% higher than in Germany—a competitiveness gap that is wider still in comparison with the US and China, where wholesale prices and policy costs are extremely low.

A stark example that hammers home the extent of this competitiveness gap is offered by GrowHow, based in my Stockton North constituency and at Ince near Chester, which has told me of the struggles it faces as a result of relatively high energy costs. Gas—GrowHow’s main feedstock—costs more than three times that of their Russian competitors, who operate on state-fixed gas cost. Similarly, German electricity prices on a delivered basis for very large users in 2013 equated to €38 per MW against £70 per MW in the UK.

The situation is set to get much worse over the next decade. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills forecasts that UK energy and climate change policies will add around £30 to every megawatt of electricity for EIIs by 2020, substantially more than for any other country in the world. Needless to say, that is a huge threat to the entire energy-intensive sector—a threat that the next Government, regardless of colour or composition, must take steps to meet.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that the huge energy security and energy affordability

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issues that we face place our manufacturing industries right at the cutting edge of how this debate is to be taken forward, but we must also not lose sight of the need in the long term to decarbonise, and in doing that we will be making our manufacturing industries more competitive? As my hon. Friend rightly says, there is a short-term issue in terms of transition to that low-carbon economy and it is for that reason that the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, recommended that there should be a particular strategy for companies that are intensive users of energy. We have not really seen any progress on that, and I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate we can really look at how we can make our manufacturing companies competitive, losing no time in making sure that we have an international agreement on climate change—because we must not lose sight of that—but keeping our manufacturing processes there in the short term to be there for the long term.

Alex Cunningham: My hon. Friend gives a comprehensive summary of where I think we should be, and I hope to develop some of the points she made later in my speech. This is not just about the short term; it is about planning for the future as well.

Of course, the situation with regard to these energy costs is set to get much worse over the next decade. As I have said, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills forecasts that UK energy and climate change policies will add around £30 to every megawatt of electricity for energy-intensive industries by 2020—substantially more than for any other country in the world.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that it is now time to scrap these ludicrous carbon taxes?

Alex Cunningham: Carbon taxes have been imposed by consecutive Governments for very good reason, but if our industries are to be competitive, the time has come to examine them carefully and to determine how we go forward. This is not just about taxation, however; we must also take into account the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) raised a moment ago.

Needless to say, the rise in energy costs is a huge threat to the energy-intensive sector, and it is one that the next Government must address. That brings me back to the trilemma that I mentioned. The present Government have designed policies that focus on reducing carbon emissions from industry, but those policies, influenced by regulatory activities in the EU, rely heavily on measures that seek to enhance energy efficiency while putting a price on industry’s carbon emissions. A cap-and-trade market for carbon was created through the EU’s emissions trading system, introduced in 2005. That market spans the EU and aims to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost while incentivising low-carbon investment by making emitters financially liable for their emissions. It is intended that, from 2013 onwards, the capping level will fall by 1.74% a year for power stations and industry, so that total emissions are 21% lower in 2020 than they were in 2005.

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The Government responded to industry concerns with a compensation package of £250 million announced in Budget 2011 for the period 2013-15, boosted by a further £150 million and extended to 2016 in Budget 2013. But, by December 2013, the emissions trading system compensation scheme had paid out only £18 million to 29 companies in the energy-intensive industries sector. Part of the problem is that although member states are permitted to compensate those at risk of carbon leakage arising from the emissions trading system, there is no obligation to do so. This results in energy-intensive industries being burdened with additional costs, be it through burning fossil fuels and buying allowances to match their emissions, or indirectly through the higher electricity prices that result from generators burning fossil fuels. As we know, the costs are passed on to consumers.

However, because the weak carbon price in the emissions trading system was deemed too low to incentivise lower-carbon investment, the Government then added a further policy cost to the price of energy by introducing a UK carbon price floor to top up the carbon price to an acceptable target rate. This undoubtedly limits the competitiveness of EIIs, many of which are unable to pass those costs through to their customers.

In my role as a member of the all-party group—not to mention as an MP representing an industrial centre—I have regular contact with those in the energy-intensive sector and frequently listen to the issues that they find themselves contending with. Through those conversations, I understand that no other country has imposed a policy similar to the carbon price floor here in the UK, nor are there plans to do so. It has been widely acknowledged that the carbon price floor does not, in fact, reduce emissions from power generation; those are capped at EU level. Instead, the carbon price floor significantly increases the proportion of decarbonisation costs that is borne by UK electricity users. Those are costs that drive investment decisions and can lead to companies relocating overseas rather than developing their businesses in the UK.

To be sure, the EIIs that I have spoken to strongly support the drive for greater energy efficiency. In many cases, energy efficiency is more cost-effective than subsidising low-carbon generation. For instance, GrowHow tells me that, since 2010, it has reduced carbon emissions associated with its main fertiliser product by 40%. By reducing nitrous oxide emissions, it has made savings equivalent to more than 4 million tonnes of CO2, which means that, relative to its competitors, it is very efficient, and as much as three times as efficient as Russian producers.

Despite the fact that industry has delivered substantial energy and carbon savings over recent decades through investment and innovation, the cumulative impact of energy and climate policies is now putting extraordinary pressure on EIIs, necessitating continuous improvements in energy efficiency to remain competitive—although that is not to suggest that they are not doing that anyway.

Indeed, as industries approach the limits of what is realistically achievable with current technologies, the capacity of businesses to invest in the UK is ultimately undercut and the sustainability of the entire sector in the UK placed under threat. That, of course, brings with it the simultaneous possibility of the loss of jobs

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and investment to other countries with less vigorous climate change policies. That is disheartening, not just because of the obvious negative impacts for local economies and for the national economy more broadly, but because it overlooks the necessity to safeguard our existing industries and the employment they provide in order to make that all-important transition towards a low-carbon economy. Only through the continued provision of support to these industries can we hope to attract new investment.

We need look no further than Air Products in my constituency for an example of the types of investment in low-carbon industries that successful industrial clusters can attract. Shortly after committing to invest in building one of the world’s largest renewable energy plants on Teesside, the company announced investment in a second similar plant, influenced no doubt by the favourable business conditions that will see the wide availability of feedstock while allowing for local knowledge, skills and infrastructure to be used constructively and competitively. It speaks volumes that Sembcorp is developing with SITA a similar 35 MW plant on Teesside also to provide electricity from waste, further highlighting the potential for investment in the low-carbon economy that can result from the development of strong industrial clusters.

There can be no doubt that the Tees valley’s successful process industry cluster is central to the region’s position at the centre of the UK’s move towards a high-value, low-carbon economy, attracting significant investment over recent years and developing a reputation for green excellence. The area continues to work with government on a low-carbon action plan, on industrial carbon capture and storage, and on industrial heat networks as part of the city deal agreement, leading the way on bio-industries and energy from waste while increasingly being seen as a destination for green investment.

Such examples confirm the UK’s potential competitiveness on the international stage, but EIIs need access to secure internationally competitive energy supplies if they are to continue locating in the UK and investing in areas such as the Tees valley. That means having a level playing field for EIIs within the single EU market, taking account of the cumulative burden of climate policies on industrial energy prices. We cannot mistake the fact that the Chancellor deserves credit for capping the carbon price floor at £18 per tonne of CO2 from 2016 to 2020 instead of allowing a linear rise to £30 per tonne by 2020, as was originally planned. Calculations indicate that such a move could save UK EIIs in the region of £4 billion over three years, but that cannot disguise the fact that industries are still exposed to an expensive unilateral tax and received no form of compensation for the first year of its operation. With the compensation being announced a few years at a time, there is no long-term certainty about business costs, which deters investment in the sector in the UK.

Estimates suggest that the carbon price floor has already added 5% to EIIs’ energy prices and budget reforms will cap the impact at 8% from 2016 to 2020. Although that is certainly an improvement on the original trajectory, which would have added 14% by 2020 and 26% by 2030, we must recognise that even after this modest reform UK industrial electricity users still face four times the carbon cost borne by EU competitors, let alone competitors outside the EU, which do not face carbon costs at all.