Mr Lidington: The hon. Gentleman has always been, quite openly, an opponent of British membership of the European Union. If the United Kingdom were to have a unilateral veto on everything, that would have to be the case for every other member state as well. We would certainly find some of the trading and single market

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measures that bring huge benefit to the people of Northern Ireland at risk from a veto by a more protectionist-minded Government elsewhere in Europe.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I will, exceptionally, take a point of order now, as I understand it to relate to the matters of which we have just treated. Ordinarily, of course, it would come after the second urgent question.

Dr Fox: I am most grateful, Mr Speaker, and I seek your guidance. As far as I can understand it from the proposals that have been set out this morning, the red card system would give a vote to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as parliamentary Chambers. That would open up the possibility of the unelected upper house voting with other European Parliaments to impose European legislation on the elected House of Commons. When you have had a chance to examine this, Mr Speaker, along with your officials, would it be possible to get some guidance on the constitutional implications for this House of such a proposal?

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for advance notice of it. My initial reaction is as follows: it is not a matter for the Chair to seek to interpret the proposals, especially prior to their agreement being put forward by President Tusk, whatever temptation I might feel to seek to do so. However, I would hint to the right hon. Gentleman that if he wants to have a sense of how the process might work, he should probably consult article 7(1) of protocol 2. I feel sure he will find that reading and study experience instructive and possibly stimulating. We may return to these matters. I rather suspect that we shall.

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Zika Virus

1.43 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on what measures her Department will put in place to support countries worst affected by the very serious Zika virus, which has now been declared by the World Health Organisation as a public health emergency, and if she will outline any plans to work with other Departments to mitigate the risks to British travellers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Nick Hurd): Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State is travelling and it therefore falls to me to do my best to answer the hon. Lady’s question. She raises an issue that is of great concern to many of our constituents.

The World Health Organisation is working with the Governments of the countries worst affected to lead the response to the Zika virus. We welcome the recommendations of the WHO emergency committee on Zika, and the UK Government are assessing our response. The hon. Lady will be aware that the UK has been at the forefront of global efforts to ensure that the WHO has the funding, expertise and systems to respond to emerging disease threats such as Zika. As the second-largest national funder of the WHO, the Department of Health met the UK’s £15 million commitment to WHO core funding in 2015, alongside political and technical support to strengthen the organisation and its preparedness. In addition, the Department for International Development made a discretionary contribution of £14.5 million in 2015. As part of the UK effort to strengthen global health security, DFID contributed an additional £6.2 million to the WHO’s contingency fund for emergencies, which can be used for the management of Zika.

In response to the hon. Lady’s question about the risk to the British public, the first thing to say is that the risk to the UK population from Zika remains extremely low. We have already taken a number of steps to ensure that the UK public are protected, but of course we are not complacent. In light of the WHO’s decision, we will review our approach both to action to mitigate the risk to the UK and to considering what additional support the UK could offer to the countries and regions affected. DFID is working with the Department of Health and colleagues across Government on our response at the highest level.

Ms Abbott: The Minister will be aware that money alone is not the issue. In the past four months alone, Brazil has recorded more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly—babies born with deformed small heads. The Minister will also be aware that the Olympic games will be in less than 200 days. More than 1 million tourists are expected to descend on Rio.

Does the Minister agree that research is a high priority? We urgently need proof of a causative link between the Zika infection and microcephaly, and then to know how the virus damages the brain of the growing foetus. Developing countries will need support for the mothers of the thousands of deformed babies to be able to take

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their family life forward. Does the Minister also agree that diagnostics, antiviral drugs and, above all, a Zika vaccine are essential?

Mr Hurd: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that research is very important. We do not know enough about this disease, particularly the links to microcephaly and the other consequences to which she alludes. The UK stands ready to play a full part in upgrading our knowledge. Specifically, we recently announced a £400,000 Newton Fund Zika research project between Glasgow University and Fiocruz in Pernambuco, the hotspot of the outbreak. Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine arrived in Recife last week. We are currently looking at what additional interventions are required to reduce the spread of the disease and its impact on developing countries, particularly countries where DFID is extremely active and where there may be a risk of crossover.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My constituents would like to know whether the risk to human health from the Zika virus is as prevalent as that from Ebola. If it is, should our response not be on the same scale? If it is not, why is it not?

Mr Hurd: I think I can reassure my hon. Friend’s constituents—and mine—that we are talking about a very different disease. That is not in any way to understate our concern, and the concern of the international community, about the spread of the virus, and in particular the links to congenital abnormalities, which we have discussed. I hope he can also take some reassurance from the relative speed that the WHO has shown in declaring an emergency, with the international response that triggers, which to my mind looks very vigorous and on it.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): I particularly welcome the announcement of funding for the University of Glasgow, which is my constituency. Over a month ago, its specialists were highlighting the risk of a rapid expansion of the spread of the Zika virus. The International Development Committee report on the Ebola response recommended early engagement with local communities and recognised the role that local and faith leaders can play in spreading public health information and good practice. What role does the Department see for local and community-based organisations in responding to the Zika outbreak, and what support will the Department provide?

Given that much of the outbreak is in Latin America, where many countries are now classified as middle-income, does the Minister recognise the role for his Department and others in supporting such countries in continuing to develop and strengthen their infrastructure, not least because such shocks to the system could put development gains at risk?

Mr Hurd: I note the hon. Gentleman’s constituency interest. He is entirely right that community-level support is fundamental to the strengthening of health systems, which he and I have debated in the past, and to DFID’s development work. The response of Brazil—a country I know relatively well, having lived there for five years—has

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been impressive. It appears to be well supported, not least by the Americans, and we have made it clear to it that we are here to help on the ground. DFID does not have a footprint in Brazil, but we are greatly concerned about the risk of this disease spreading to countries where we, on behalf of the UK taxpayer, have a big exposure. Our primary concern is assisting those countries to alert their health systems, which we actively support, and to anticipate, manage and mitigate future risk.

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): In the light of the Ebola crisis, how are the Government scrutinising and supporting the WHO leadership, which was severely criticised during that crisis, while the UK response was greatly praised?

Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Concerns were expressed on the Floor of the House about the capacity of the WHO and the pace of its response to the Ebola situation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that the UK, as the second-largest donor, is far from complacent about the need for reform, including monitoring reform. The chief scientific adviser and colleagues at the Department of Health are working together closely to ensure that the WHO is up to the mark, and colleagues will note that the latter has moved more quickly this time. We are in regular dialogue with it to ensure that its systems are as agile and responsive as they can be.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): It is predicted that 16,000 children will be affected by microcephaly this year in Latin America, so the world’s community is in a race against time with this horrible virus. Last week, the Chancellor announced funding of £500 million a year to the Ross Fund at Liverpool University to fight malaria. Compared with that, the announcement of £400,000 for Glasgow, which the Minister has just mentioned, pales into insignificance. Through him, may I urge the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to consider all resources to tackle the outbreak of this virus, for which there is no test, cure or vaccine? Any vaccine would require the application of careful moral and ethical standards to its testing on pregnant women, but it is necessary to save a generation of women and their children from disability and poverty.

Mr Hurd: The hon. Lady is entirely right. I thank her for reminding the House of the Chancellor’s major commitment to fighting malaria. The Government’s commitments to the Ross Fund and the UK vaccines network make it clear that we stand ready to play a leading role in the development of a vaccination, though it would take time to come through. In the short term, however, I would not lose sight of the sensible steps we can take to educate people about how to mitigate the risk to themselves—by reviewing their travel plans and seeking medical advice before a journey—and to make the medical system in this country better informed about the risks.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): If we are now talking about an international response, what assessment have the Government made of the threat in other parts of the world? What precautions should British travellers make if they are going to parts of the world where mosquitoes are present, such as Africa and Asia?

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Mr Hurd: I know that will be a concern for many of my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine. I suggest that she entreat her constituents to access the Foreign Office travel advice for countries and territories where there is an ongoing outbreak and direct travellers to the advice issued by the National Travel Health Network and Centre. That advice is constantly updated and can be relied on.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Are there any plans to screen passengers coming to the UK from the areas affected?

Mr Hurd: As the hon. Lady might expect, we are not remotely complacent, given the concerns, although the public health risk in the UK is extremely low, as I have emphasised. Colleagues across Government—this is being led at the highest level—are having an active and live conversation about all the measures we can take, particularly in response to the WHO’s recommendations.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): I welcome the commitment to ensure that there is research into the virus, but that is for the long term; we also need short-term measures. If the virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes, might there be a role for DFID to divert funds into practical measures, such as the provision of mosquito nets, which have been effective against malaria in the past?

Mr Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for placing on the record her respect for DFID’s work in leading an extraordinarily successful global effort to reduce malaria. In the current context, we are talking about a different type of mosquito and risk, but, as she hints, the countries most directly affected, such as Brazil, can still do a great deal to control and manage the risk on the ground, through the control of stagnant water, spraying and other common-sense measures. Such things require a big logistical effort, but so far Brazil seems to have risen impressively to that challenge. As I have stressed, we have made it clear that this country stands ready to help in any way we can.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Minister is right that the risk of an outbreak in the UK is low, but what steps have the Government taken to ensure that NHS staff can spot the signs and symptoms of the Zika virus? Working with his colleague, the public health Minister, will he keep under review the option of a public health education programme?

Mr Hurd: It is not for nothing that the public health Minister is sitting alongside me. I am satisfied that colleagues are working with professional groups to develop information and guidance on Zika for clinicians—it is not a condition we have grown up with—and this advice can be accessed through the Public Health England website and has been cascaded by organisations such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This advice includes background and travel-related guidance on Zika, and from tomorrow it will include guidance, developed jointly with the royal college, on the management of pregnant women. PHE plans to provide guidance and information specifically targeted at primary care, which we anticipate will be available shortly.

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Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): To defeat such horrible illnesses, we need to tackle them at their source, as we saw with the Ebola crisis and outbreak. Given the success of Operation Gritrock in Sierra Leone in fighting Ebola, has DFID had any discussion with the Ministry of Defence about potentially supporting any operations, if the virus moves into countries less able than Brazil to mount a major attack against it?

Mr Hurd: I would be the first to acknowledge the enormously important role the MOD and our armed forces played in Sierra Leone and the success story that was the battle against Ebola. The current situation is different. I am not aware of such conversations, but I know that colleagues at the top of the relevant Departments are working closely together to keep on top of the options for helping the international community fight this alarming condition.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): I welcome the statement and echo the fact that there is no direct threat to people here in Britain. I would have thought that the biggest threat is from spectators and competitors returning from the Rio Olympics to other hot countries, such as sub-Saharan or north African countries. Do we not therefore need to support having a massive campaign before the Olympics to reduce the impact of these mosquitoes? If this travels and these people are not identifiable and not testable, and do not even know they are unwell, we could end up with this virus getting established in north Africa, and many pregnant women go on holiday to southern Europe.

Mr Hurd: I thank the hon. Lady for making that extremely important point. I have a huge amount of empathy with it, not least because I have ministerial responsibility for sub-Saharan Africa. To reassure her, Public Health England has been in contact with the International Olympic Committee regarding travel advice for the Rio Olympics. That organising committee is working with the Ministry of Health in Brazil to develop travel advice for Olympic visitors and is currently looking at all the potential risks before circulating guidance. On the specific point about African countries and other countries in which DFID has a large stake, we will obviously review intensively what we can do to work with our partners in countries that face risks, not least in respect of improving and strengthening the resilience of their health systems so that they can educate and communicate with their citizens effectively.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The Minister mentioned two excellent facilities in London and Glasgow, but forgot to mention the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which receives Gates money because of the expertise based in the facility. Will he ensure that there is greater collaboration between the different institutions within the UK, which have such great expertise, to ensure that we find a vaccine as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so?

Mr Hurd: The hon. Gentleman raises a poignant point, and I congratulate him on putting Liverpool back on the map. Of course, that was where the Chancellor announced the Government’s major new commitment on dealing with malaria. When it comes to the science and research—the importance of that has been stressed—

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the UK has an incredibly important role to play. It is crucial that this work is co-ordinated effectively. I have been reassured that the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser are playing their role in co-ordinating British expertise in this area.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The ability of countries to cope with global infectious disease outbreaks, whether it be Zika, Ebola or HIV/AIDS, is often contingent on the strength, resilience and capacity of their national health systems—the core health systems in those countries. Will the Minister say a little about what DFID is doing to support health system strengthening in countries that are either directly affected by Zika or at risk of being affected by it in the near future?

Mr Hurd: The hon. Gentleman’s general point is incredibly important. DFID places a huge amount of emphasis on the work that we do to stop people dying and to prevent diseases. Core to that is the work that we do with others to strengthen countries’ health systems, as well as the international system, as we discussed. It is about reform and investment in new tools and technologies—drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and tackling microbial resistance. Looking to the future, a key part of that is the investment in research of which this country should be proud.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Given that the eggs of this mosquito are reported to be able to survive in dry conditions for many days, what is the geographical extent of the spread of this virus within south and central America? What steps are being taken to manage the trade routes on which the eggs of those mosquitoes may be carried?

Mr Hurd: The mapping of south and central America is relatively well advanced, and I believe we have reasonably good information on that. The American authorities are alive to the risk and absolutely on it. To be honest with the hon. Gentleman, I am more concerned from a DFID perspective about the need to map and model the risks for other parts of the world, not least sub-Saharan Africa.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Australians have already allowed two virologists to go to Brazil. What work has the Minister done on analysing what expertise the UK has, and would he be prepared to release it to Brazil if the country requested it?

Mr Hurd: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that when it comes to research, science and medicine, this country has an extremely strong relationship with Brazil, which has developed over many years. As part of our response to the situation, connections have been made in that context, and I referred to the announcement of a £400,000 Newton Fund Zika research project between Glasgow University and Fiocruz in Pernambuco. British scientists and experts have already made it quite clear that we are prepared to help, and those connections are alive and well.

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Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): What advice will the UK Government give to the blood transfusion service about travel histories for prospective blood donors? Will there be any retrospective screening of donations already made?

Mr Hurd: I am informed by the public health Minister that a 28-day deferral notice has already been communicated, and that she will correspond directly to the hon. Lady on the point she has raised.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I, too, thank the Minister for the statement. Given the arrangements whereby British nationals can enter Brazil without a visa and the ever-expanding tourism industry in the country, does the Minister agree that we need a highly publicised advice campaign on travelling to Brazil so that precautions can be taken in regard to the Zika virus before travel to that country actually takes place?

Mr Hurd: We keep the situation under review, as it is an important part of the British Government’s responsibility to our citizens. As I said, Foreign Office advice on travel is regularly reviewed in the light of evidence. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to point his constituents to it.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I understand that there was an outbreak of the Zika virus in the Indian sub-continent in the past. What further representations have the UK Government made to the WHO about a further potential outbreak in south-east Asia?

Mr Hurd: Clearly, there is a risk of the virus spreading. It is present in a large number of countries already, so part of our contribution to the global international response is to work with the WHO and others to model the risks as they relate to areas about which we do not have enough evidence on prevalence. Such modelling is part of the British contribution.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is incredibly difficult to control mosquito-borne diseases, but we do need a long-term public health plan. I pay tribute to the valuable work that DFID has done in tackling the malarial mosquito in sub-Saharan Africa. What role is the UK playing in helping to develop and research a vaccine for the Zika virus?

Mr Hurd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to DFID’s work on malaria, which is incredibly important given that it is estimated that a child dies of malaria every minute. I refer him to my previous answer on research through the Ross Fund and to other pots of funding created, which means that this country is in a position to show genuine leadership on the issue.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I simply seek the Minister’s assurance that he is working hand in glove with Ministers in the devolved Administrations, not least the Welsh Government, so that there is a fully co-ordinated response.

Mr Hurd: Yes, that is incredibly important, and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the advice has been shared. In fact, calls are in place to follow it up this very afternoon.

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Mobile Telecommunications Network Coverage (Contractual Obligations)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.9 pm

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the disclosure of the quality of mobile telecommunications network coverage by providers and establish penalties for non-compliance; to provide recourse for consumers who enter contracts for such services that do not perform as advertised; and for connected purposes.

Many years ago, during the 1987 general election campaign, my now wife and I hosted a house meeting in our flat in the west end of Glasgow in support of the late Roy Jenkins, then MP for Glasgow Hillhead and resisting—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—the challenge of one George Galloway. It was an exciting occasion for all who attended. For me, as something of a political geek, it was exciting because it allowed me to do my bit to support the efforts of a man who, then as now, was a political inspiration to me. For most of my friends who attended, who were then in their early twenties, it is more likely to have been exciting because Roy’s bag carrier brought with him an item of genuine curiosity: a mobile phone.

To call what we saw then a “mobile phone” is to use the term very loosely. It was only mobile if you were fit enough to lug the somewhat chunky phone and its rather weighty battery up the three flights of stairs to our top-floor flat, and it was only a phone if you happened to be in one of the few places in the country where you could get a signal in order to use it. Despite that, however, we were all excited to have had a small glimpse of what we thought the future held.

In fact, we did not know the half of it. From that time until now, the pace of change in mobile telephony has been phenomenal. Mobile phones are no longer the designer accessory of the moneyed few; they are now an essential part of everyday life for us all. Making calls is the very least of what they can do. They offer opportunities for social interaction and family connection, and they have been, and continue to be, a driver for improved productivity in many businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises.

Many of the communities that I represent are those which, because of the size of their populations and their distance from larger centres of population, could derive the most benefit from good connectivity. Unfortunately, they are always the last to see any improvement. Whether one speaks to the doctors, health visitors, vets and other professionals serving those communities, to the farmers, fish farmers and people running their businesses from home, or to the families struggling to raise a young child with complex medical needs or care for elderly relatives, they will all say the same: social and economic development in some of our most fragile communities is being hampered by the lack of mobile connectivity.

I can offer a positive example of a mobile company doing good. I remember attending the switch-on by Vodafone of a femtocell in Walls, on the west side of Shetland. I was told by a constituent, Michael Tait,

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about the difference that having mobile reception would make to his ability to run his business as a mussel farmer. For him, it meant having the same access as that enjoyed by his competitors to real-time information about market prices, laboratory test results, and much more. In short, it meant that a business grown in one of our most economically fragile communities could continue to grow there.

Mobile connectivity has produced a new divide in our communities. We now have a new class of haves and have nots: those who have a signal and those who do not. Like the other great digital divide, in the roll-out of superfast broadband, this divide is often between rural and urban communities, but that is not always so. The service is often just as poor in our towns and cities as it is in the areas that surround them.

Ideally, we would look to the market to provide its solutions, and in the early days competition did drive growth and improvement, but it has been clear for some time that a market dominated by a small number of big players is prepared to settle for what, in their view, is adequate, rather than striving for what is best. As a result, while some communities drive ahead with 3G and 4G coverage and now look to what 5G may mean, many of my constituents are left balancing their mobile phones on window ledges in order to get a 2G signal, because that is the only place in the house where even the weakest of signals can be found. The present situation cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

The coalition Government recognised the problem. The solution that we pursued was the mobile infrastructure project. We sought to use public money for the building of masts to eliminate the so-called not-spots, but, for a variety of reasons, that did not achieve the progress that we needed. In 2014, agreement was sought with the mobile phone operators to improve coverage, with the threat of compulsory roaming in the background. Promises were made, and the Shangri-La of connectivity was just over the horizon—or so we thought. It would appear, unfortunately, to have been another false dawn. Now, in 2016, the problem is just as bad, and is showing little sign of improvement.

The root cause of the problem is the imbalance of power between the big corporate providers and the consumers. For the consumer, information is power. It is, to my mind, quite remarkable that, in a regulated market such as this, mobile phone companies have no obligation to spell out to would-be customers just what coverage they can provide and where they can provide it. In fact, my experience as a constituency MP suggests that the companies themselves often have no reliable information. My next-door neighbour in Orkney and I were reduced to helpless laughter recently when he was told quite solemnly by Vodafone that the mast serving our homes from Burgar Hill, just over a mile up the road, provided a signal for 99.8% of the time. He and I know that the situation is very different.

My Bill would place on mobile phone companies an obligation to give detailed information on coverage to their customers, and would allow customers to break their contracts if that service was not provided. It would allow us all, as consumers, to make an informed choice when selecting a service provider. It could reinject into the market a little of the competition that might drive some of the necessary improvements. At the very least,

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it would ensure that the information that the companies provide reflects the service that they actually provide, and not the service that they think they provide.

I am often wary when Members speak about using legislation to send a signal. As we all know, that approach often has unintended consequences. My Bill, however, is a signal to the mobile phone operators that customers throughout the country—especially those in our rural communities, remote from the large centres of population—need, expect and deserve a better service than the one that they are receiving. That is the signal I want the House to send to the mobile operators today, and, unlike the signal with which they provide us, it could not be clearer.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr Alistair Carmichael, Tim Farron, Norman Lamb, Mr Mark Williams, Albert Owen, Graham Stuart, Nick Smith, Mr Charles Walker, Ms Margaret Ritchie and Glyn Davies present the Bill.

Mr Alistair Carmichael accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March and to be printed (Bill 126).

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Enterprise Bill [Lords]

[Relevant document: Second Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, on The Future of the Green Investment Bank, HC 536.]

Second Reading

2.19 pm

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade (Sajid Javid): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On my Christmas reading list was a book by Labour's policy adviser, Andrew Fisher. I am not going to throw a copy at the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), because I am sure that she already has a copy of her own.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): It is very good.

Sajid Javid: I wonder, then, whether the hon. Lady agreed with one of the comments that Andrew Fisher made in his book:

“The sole focus of economic debate today seems to be about what leads to economic growth.”

“Why”, he asks,

“are we so obsessed with economic growth?”

In the blurb, the shadow Chancellor called it the best thing he has read in years. On the Government Benches we know why sensible people are obsessed with economic growth: it means more jobs, it means prosperity, it lifts people out of poverty, it pays for our health service and our schools, and it allows us to invest in the future of our nation.

We know that growth is not created by politicians or by civil servants. It is not delivered by Whitehall diktat, or by printing money, or by creating an ever-expanding public sector. Economic growth comes from one thing, and one thing alone: successful private businesses.

The role of Government is to create an environment in which businesses can thrive. So, while Labour’s policy chief dreams of handing taxpayers’ money to trade unions so they can buy out companies, this Government are taking action to back British business.

Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab): In November of last year the green investment bank announced it had raised £10 billion in green infrastructure investment in the last three years. At the time the Secretary of State said:

“As this milestone shows, the Green Investment Bank is going from strength to strength and is having a major impact supporting renewable energy projects across the whole of the UK.”

This, at the moment, is not a private company—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Lots of Members wish to speak. If the hon. Lady would like me to put her name at the end of my list of those wishing to speak, I will do that, but otherwise interventions must be short, as must the responses.

Margaret Greenwood rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We have heard what we need.

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Sajid Javid: I have got the hon. Lady’s point, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will come on to the green investment bank, and she will see that, because I agree with her main point—I want to see it raise more money—we are setting it free.

We have cut corporation tax and red tape. We are devolving the power to cut business rates and have doubled small business rate relief. We have lifted nearly half a million employers out of national insurance contributions. We have supported more than 30,000 companies with start-up loans. And we have launched a five-year programme to help British businesses make the most of export opportunities around the world.

All this work is paying off. In 2016, Britain is home to more private businesses than at any point in its history—almost 5.5 million of them. Over the past eight years more than 600,000 people have made the courageous decision to become self-employed, many in highly skilled professions, but I want to do more.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): The Secretary of State is making a powerful speech about this Government’s support for the creation of businesses, particularly small businesses, which of course requires not only the energy of the individual entrepreneur, but the support of their family. Will the Secretary of State outline how the family impact test has been applied in developing this Bill?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the support offered to successful businessmen and women by their families. Whenever we develop any of these policies, we will carefully consider the impact on families, and I hope my hon. Friend will see that that is indeed the case as I progress through my speech and we release more detail on the Bill.

As I was saying, 600,000 people have become self-employed over the past eight years, but we want to do more, because, for my sins, I am obsessed with economic growth. That is why I am proud to have introduced the Bill before the House today.

The Enterprise Bill will strengthen the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business. It will cut the red tape that too often strangles growth. It will support investment in the skills that British businesses need to be competitive now and in the future. And it will help deliver the economic growth and security that benefits every single one of us in this country.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): For someone who is obsessed about supporting small business growth, the Secretary of State’s Bill shows very little ambition. Can he say a little more about business rates, because the level of business rates is one of the major barriers to small businesses? It also impacts on manufacturing firms and retailers. Can he tell us more about what he will do to reduce the business rate bill of small businesses?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman will know that we have already done a lot to cap business rates and slow their growth. We have an ongoing review of business rates at the moment, and there will be more information at the next Budget.

It sounds to me as if the hon. Gentleman does not agree with his own leader, who has proposed

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“adding 2% to corporation tax—“[Interruption.]

Yes, it is a quote, and the quote continues: he wants to do that to fund a “lifelong learning service”. On top of this, he proposes

“increasing corporation tax…to fund maintenance grants.”

So perhaps the hon. Gentleman agrees with his leader, who wants to see business taxes increase.

Let me turn to deregulation. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, regulations introduced by the last Labour Government cost British businesses almost £90 billion. No doubt this contributed to Labour’s great recession, destroying thousands and thousands of jobs across the country. That is a staggering burden for any employer, but it is a particular problem for Britain’s millions of small businesses, because when people are running their own company they do not just have one job: they have to be a manager; they have to be an accountant; they are in charge of human resources and procurement; they have to issue and chase invoices, source new suppliers and arrange marketing and advertising. All that on top of the day job. There are not enough hours in the day as it is, and the last thing they need is the Government on their back, weighing them down with petty rules and regulations.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): The Secretary of State talked about how this Bill will contribute to greater growth. Can he be a bit more specific? Will he itemise under the different clauses just how much growth he expects to see as a result of these proposals?

Sajid Javid: I respect the right hon. Lady, but I hope she understands how growth is generated by the private sector. The Government deregulate, cut taxes, get out of the way of businesses and set entrepreneurs free. She has to understand that we cannot just pass a law that will grow businesses. Perhaps she agrees with the leader of her party when he says he wants to restore clause 4 to Labour’s constitution; perhaps she thinks that is the way to help growth and help businesses?

One way in which we certainly do help businesses is through further deregulation. That is why in the last Parliament we scrapped £10 billion of Labour’s red tape. We have already committed to scrapping another £10 billion between now and 2020. But business owners have told us that the actions of regulators are just as important as the content of regulations. So this Bill will extend the deregulation target to include statutory regulators, and it will increase transparency with a new annual reporting requirement for regulators subject to the growth duty and regulators’ code. It will also extend the hugely successful primary authority scheme to give more businesses access to reliable, consistent regulatory advice. This will save them money, and give them the confidence they need to invest and grow.

The Enterprise Bill will also end the “Whitehall knows best” approach to the regulation of Sunday trading. We are a one nation Government and we want to see the benefits of economic growth being felt in every corner of our country. But no two parts of our great nation are identical. The needs and wants of a small rural community in the south-west may be very different from those of a bustling city in, say, the north-east. The people living and working in those communities understand them far better than any Minister or civil servant sitting in a comfy London office. So we will introduce amendments

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in this Bill to allow local authorities to decide whether to extend shopping hours in their areas. Central Government will not be dictating how to use this power. The decision will be entirely local, reflecting local preferences, shopping habits and economic conditions. If the people of Bromsgrove or Barking say they want to see longer Sunday opening hours, who are we here in Westminster to stand in their way?

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): It is fantastic to hear that the Government’s policy is that Whitehall does not just know best, which is indeed what I thought the Government’s policy was before. Why then is the Secretary of State closing the BIS office in Sheffield and moving it to central London where, by default, decisions on investment will be much narrower and much more focused to central London, away from the so-called northern powerhouse?

Sajid Javid: First, the hon. Lady will know that no one makes this kind of decision lightly. The Government have a duty to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, and that is what we do with every single penny. She is quite wrong in her accusation that this will centralise decision making in London. Once the Department has completed its restructuring by 2020, there will be fewer people in London and the vast majority of officials who work for BIS will be outside London.

Ms Angela Eagle: The Secretary of State has just effectively announced that there will be changes to the Sunday trading rules. Why on earth did he not put them in the Bill? Why is he introducing them at this late stage?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Lady will know that we talked last year about our plans to change the Sunday trading rules, and we had a consultation, to which I am sure she has contributed. The Government’s intentions have been clear. It is a question of finding the right vehicle to make those changes, and they will be in this Bill by way of an amendment.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to a letter that I received from the owners of the Octagon Centre in Burton? The businesses in that centre are urging me to support this important initiative from the Government because they say that it will help their businesses and that they would employ more people as a result.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is right to point out the economic impact of this measure. As I have said, it might not be right for every area but it is surely correct for each local authority to decide what is best for its area, and if that leads to more jobs and growth locally, that is exactly the reason why we should follow through on this policy.

If any of our friends in the Press Gallery have spent time freelancing, they will be all too aware of the problem of late payments—[Interruption.] There are friends up there. If they are not up there, they are listening somewhere else. I have heard of one writer, who may well be listening now, who says that he still has not been paid for copy that was filed two years ago. The most shocking aspect of this problem is just how common

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it is. In my six years as the Member of Parliament for Bromsgrove, I have been contacted by many dozens of local business owners who have been pushed to the brink by one thing: the failure of large corporations to pay up on time.

Toby Perkins: May I just take the Secretary of State back to the point about Sunday trading? I cannot remember a similar situation in which a Secretary of State has stood up and made a speech about a provision that is not even in his Bill but that he wished was in it. People are going to be voting tonight on the Bill’s Second Reading, and he is announcing measures that they are going to be asked to approve but which they might well be against, and which are not even in the Bill. Is not this entirely the wrong way to legislate?

Sajid Javid: We get this every day from those on the other side of the House. They are obsessed by process. They do not want to focus on the substance at all. They have no respect for the substance.

Ms Angela Eagle: The right hon. Gentleman is asking us to vote on Second Reading tonight on the substance of a Bill which, at the moment, does not contain anything about Sunday trading. We have not seen the response to the consultation; it has not been published. We do not know whether the Government are going to table an amendment or a new clause. He is expecting us to comment on something that we have not even seen, and that shows contempt for this House.

Sajid Javid: The hon. Lady has had plenty of time to consider the issue of Sunday trading and whether she supports the principle or not. There will be plenty of time to discuss that in the House. It will also be discussed and voted on in Committee, so there will be plenty of time for input. It would be far better if she and her party focused on the substance of the issues rather than on process after process.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Secretary of State to come to the House in the full knowledge that he intends to amend the Bill and to ask Members of this House to vote on Second Reading on clauses that have not even been published? Is not that a gross abuse of power?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is perfectly in order to do so—[Interruption.] Order. This is the Second Reading of a Bill, and if we listen to the Minister, this information might come at later stages. It is in order. The Second Reading of a Bill can be wide ranging. The Secretary of State can mention these things but he does not have to do so, and what happens in the later stages of the Bill is a matter for those later stages.

Kevin Brennan: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for your ruling—[Interruption.] I am sorry, do hon. Members have something to say? Further to that point of order, would it be in order for the Secretary of State to ask his officials now to go away and publish the new clauses that he intends to insert into the Bill, so that Members

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taking part in the Second Reading debate today can go to the Library to get that information and incorporate it into their remarks?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I think I have got the gist of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order—[Interruption.] Order. Of course it is in order for the Secretary of State to ask his officials to do that, but that is up to him. I think that we really ought to move on. This is a Second Reading debate and 28 Members are seeking to catch my eye—[Interruption.] Order. Let us move on.

Sajid Javid: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

When it comes to late payments, my Department leads by example. We pay more than 95% of invoices within five days, and more than 99% within 30 days. But many organisations are less scrupulous, including some in the public sector. The average British small business is owed almost £32,000 in overdue invoices. That is a huge sum, and for many it can mean the difference between success and failure and between keeping going for another year and throwing in the towel. However, it is not easy for a small business or sole trader to challenge a larger firm. They might not be happy, but they need that contract. They cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds them. That is not right, and it is not fair, and this Bill will do something about it.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): On that point, is the Minister confident that none of those late payments is being made by the Government or any of their subcontractors to small businesses, some of which might be waiting for payment for 60 days or longer?

Sajid Javid: I am confident that, over the past five years, the Government have done a huge amount of work to ensure that central Government and parts of the public sector pay more promptly, but I also think that more work is required.

That is one of the reasons that we are establishing a small business commissioner with a remit to handle complaints by small businesses about payment-related issues with larger businesses. The commissioner will also have the resources to give general advice and information to assist small businesses with supply relationships and direct them to mediation services.

It is not just the late payment of invoices that is a problem. As we have seen all too graphically with the recent flooding, it is vital that insurance companies also pay out quickly. Doing so helps small businesses to help themselves and gets them back on their feet, but it does not always happen. Unnecessary delays by insurers can spell the end for vulnerable small companies, which hits employees, suppliers, the wider community and the economy. The Bill will create a legal obligation on insurers to pay up within a reasonable timeframe.

Insurance can protect many of a business’s assets from floods, theft, or fire, but at any company, the most precious asset is not the bricks and mortar or the stock in the warehouse. It is not even money in the bank. It is the skilled, dedicated workforce without which no business can succeed. Developing and growing our skills base is the key to unlocking increased productivity. It is the key to raising living standards and driving that all-important economic growth. That is why the Government have committed to 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.

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We have also introduced a new apprenticeship levy on the very largest employers to help to pay for them. The Enterprise Bill will build on that success. It will introduce apprenticeship targets for public sector bodies in England. It will protect the apprenticeship brand. Unscrupulous providers will not be allowed to offer shoddy training, undermining businesses and letting down apprentices.

I am proud to say that the Bill will also create an institute for apprenticeships. An independent employer-led body, the institute will regulate the quality of apprenticeships and see that standards are driven by the needs of employers. As well as quality assurance and approval functions, the institute will have an advisory role on some funding allocations for apprenticeship standards. We will also be introducing amendments to give employers genuine control of apprenticeship funding through digital accounts as part of the digital apprenticeship service. Together, those measures will make it easier than ever for young people to access vocational training and, just as importantly, for businesses of all sizes to develop the skilled workforce they need to innovate, compete and grow in the years ahead.

Of course, it is much easier to achieve that growth if the taxman is not hovering over people’s every turn. I have already talked about how we have slashed corporation tax, ending years of punishing entrepreneurs for their success, but that is not the only tax issue facing Britain’s high streets. It is often said that small business owners are working for themselves, but because of flaws in the business rates system entrepreneurs can sometimes feel as though they are working for their local authority. We have started to tackle that by capping business rate rises. We know the appeals system also needs reform, so we are working with ratepayers to develop a modern, business-focused approach to local taxation. The Bill will further reduce the burden on businesses by applying the Government’s “tell us once” policy to business rates, and it will put in place provisions to pave the way for better information sharing between local government and the valuation office.

I am sure we all agree that local businesses are the heart of the communities they serve, and nowhere is that truer than in the great British pub. I assume that is one type of business all right hon. and hon. Members are familiar with—if they are not, they can always visit The Little Ale House in Bromsgrove, which I highly recommend. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 required the creation of a pubs code. When enacted, the pubs code regulations will make life a little fairer for more than 12,000 tied pub tenants across England and Wales. We have just completed a consultation on those regulations and will publish the final version in time for the code to be in place from the end of May.

Many responses to the consultation raised an issue concerning the market rent-only option—the MRO. Specifically, they said that the eligibility of a tenant to choose the MRO at the point of rent assessment should not be contingent on the rent being increased. Good government is all about listening and responding positively. Clearly, that proposal would have had an effect we did not intend, so I am happy to announce that we will be accepting the argument regarding the MRO. Members in the other place tabled amendments to the Bill on that issue. Obviously, we now accept their intent, and we will be tidying them up in Committee.

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Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): I am sure that, if my right hon. Friend is getting the rounds in, we will be very happy to join him at his local pub. As he knows, I have been a strong advocate for a pubs code and pub company regulation, which are very long overdue. I therefore welcome the MRO extension and urge him to continue working with our pubs, which are the enterprise heart of our country, to see how that affects them and to make sure they keep their place as that heart.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend rightly says we should always look to see what more we can do to help the pubs in our community. Perhaps we can welcome this measure in The Mouse in her constituency, which is a very fine pub.

Andrew Griffiths: As somebody who opposed the initial proposal for the MRO legislation, I welcome the constructive way in which the Minister and the Government have worked with all sides to find a solution. The key to pubs’ futures is investment in their estates, so I welcome the Government’s recognition that that is most important.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is correct about that. We want to see more and more investment in our local pubs, and I hope that these measures, taken together, will help to achieve just that. Let me also take this opportunity to commend him for the work he has done for pubs ever since he joined this House, not just on this code, but the huge amount of work he did to get the first cut in beer duty in almost 50 years.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): The Secretary of State began with the words, which I endorse, about being a one nation Government. The Wetherspoon chain, whose interiors I am not familiar with, has 10 pubs in Northern Ireland and also believes that the United Kingdom is one nation. Does he believe that the pubs code should extend to Northern Ireland, where that chain operates pubs?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Lady raises an important point about the pubs code, specifically wanting to know whether we can apply it to Northern Ireland. I will discuss that with my Northern Ireland counterparts to see what can be done and to review what is currently being done to see whether there is any way we can assist.

The Opposition have a renewed enthusiasm for seizing control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I think it is fair to say that Conservative Members do not share that enthusiasm, but we are committed to delivering the best possible value for money from those assets where the taxpayer retains an interest.

Last May, the Chancellor announced plans for a new company, UK Government Investments Limited, to better manage taxpayer stakes in businesses across the economy. This Bill contains a provision on UKGI, ensuring that the necessary funding powers are in place so it can carry out its vital work. That will include overseeing the sale of government assets in a way that will benefit the taxpayer—that will include the sale of the UK Green Investment Bank.

Established in the previous Parliament to address a failure in the market, the GIB has demonstrated to the wider world that investment in green projects makes good business sense. In fact, that bank has proved so

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successful that it has outgrown the need to be financed by the taxpayer. Moving the bank into private ownership will give it access to a much greater volume of capital, mobilising more investment and getting more green projects financed. The Bill contains provisions that will ensure that that move to the private sector can take place effectively and transparently. That will mean the GIB can continue to go from strength to strength, delivering its ambitious green business plan. It is that expertise and that green business plan that private investors will be buying into. As the name suggests, green investment is what the Green Investment Bank does—it is what has made the bank such a success. No sensible investor would look to change that.

Melanie Onn: Investor confidence in the UK renewables industry is at a record low. Does the Minister really think that selling off the GIB sends any signal other than that the Government are stepping away even further from the renewables industry?

Sajid Javid: I will come on to one of the measures we will put in place to make sure that the GIB keeps its mission—something the bank itself has come forward with—but I do really think this move will mean more green investment, because the bank is restricted by being on the Government’s balance sheet. If we can take it off that, it will have its own freedoms and ability to raise capital, whether equity or debt, and that will lead to more investment.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I wish to ask the Minister a legal and technical point. Did he and other Ministers challenge the advice they received about retaining even a minority share? Would that approach in any way compromise the bank’s ability not only to retain its green credentials, but to borrow openly and thrive and prosper, as we all want? Have they just accepted the one piece of advice they have been given, or have they challenged it, asking whether they could retain a minority stake?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and what I am about to come on to perhaps addresses some of the concerns. Similar concerns were raised in the other place, as I am sure he was aware. The GIB will create a special share, which will ensure that its green mission is guarded by an independent party once the bank is sold, and that share will be put in place without legislation. Mandating that in legislation is entirely unnecessary and it is unlikely to work, but the GIB has assured us that that will happen.

Ms Angela Eagle: The Minister will know that a new clause in the other place tried to mandate the green target and focus of the bank. Is he saying in what he has announced today that the Government will be taking that clause out of the Bill and replacing it with something else?

Sajid Javid: I am well aware of that clause, but what I am saying is that it is no longer necessary as the same objective can be achieved if the GIB puts in place a special share that will guard its mission, and that share will be held by an independent party.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way again, and this is an inevitably technical bit of the Bill. Has the Office for National Statistics approved this

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change and will it accept it for the purposes that the Government intend? In other words, will the GIB’s assets be on or off the Government balance sheet?

Sajid Javid: The ONS does not need to approve anything that the Government do, but I am comfortable that the structure I have just mentioned allows the Government to meet their objectives for the GIB.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Secretary of State for his generosity in giving way and regret that I will not be able to speak at length today. It will be interesting when the Bill goes to Committee. The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, which, until recently, I chaired, made several recommendations, the detail of which I cannot go into because of the time constraints. One was:

“The Government should provide an evaluation of whether a ‘phased approach’ involving alternative recapitalisation options would be possible. This could allow for greater consultation, transparency and market testing on the form of any eventual privatisation.”

Is the Secretary of State open to alternative options being proposed in Committee or not?

Sajid Javid: I am aware of the Committee’s recommendation. Some of the work that I have just announced that will be done by GIB will help to meet some of those concerns. I will not pretend that all the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations will be met, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that we have considered them carefully and that as we proceed with the Bill we will take many of those issues into account.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) rose—

Michelle Thomson (Edinburgh West) (Ind) rose

Sajid Javid: I need to plough on, because a number of hon. Members wish to speak.

Finally, the Bill will bring the public sector into line with private sector best practice on exit payments. Too many public sector fat cats are handed six figure pay-offs when they leave a job, which are often little more than a reward for failure. That is an insult to the hard-working taxpayers and business owners who finance them. The Enterprise Bill will end that practice.

Jim Shannon: I apologise that I was not in the Chamber when the Secretary of State referred to Sunday trading and the hours that workers would have to work. I understand that, according to a Populus poll, 66% of the British public said that they were against any changes to Sunday trading and 91% of people who work in shops do not want any change either. Will the Government assure us today that there will not be any changes in the Bill to Sunday opening times ?

Sajid Javid: I can clarify that the Government will not mandate any part of the UK to extend Sunday trading hours. We will devolve the power to local authorities so that they can make that decision on behalf of their local community.

When Napoleon called Britain a nation of shopkeepers, he—[Interruption.]

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Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Members are starting to make points of order again on this one issue—

Toby Perkins: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Is this a point of order on Sunday trading?

Toby Perkins: Yes, it is, but—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We have had points of order on Sunday trading and if the hon. Gentleman wants to make a point of order at the end of the debate, I am perfectly happy for him to do so, but for now we must move on with the debate. We are getting bogged down in this one issue. The hon. Gentleman has his name down to speak, and I will happily call him, and he can also make an intervention, if the Secretary of State wants to take it, but these are not points of order.

Sajid Javid: When Napoleon called Britain a nation of shopkeepers, he meant it as an insult, but I see it as a badge of honour. I grew up above the family shop and I saw for myself how hard my parents worked day and night, seven days a week, to make their business a success. It takes a special kind of dedication to build something like that from scratch and to keep it going for 30 years or more. Before becoming an MP, I spent two decades at the other end of the business spectrum, working for some of the world’s largest multinational companies. For as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by people who have created, managed and grown successful private businesses. When they create businesses, they create jobs. They create prosperity. They create opportunity.

Businessmen and women are the heroes of Britain’s economic recovery and whether they are running an international corporation from Canary Wharf or a one-woman start-up from a kitchen table, they deserve our respect and our support. The Enterprise Bill gives them all that and more and I commend it to the House.

2.55 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I compliment the Business Secretary on one thing at least, and that is the title of this Bill. Just listen to how it sounds when you say it aloud, Madam Deputy Speaker: the Enterprise Bill. It sounds important, dynamic, even exciting. To me, that is the title of a Bill that should be heralding a huge change in how we do business in this country. In time, it ought to be one of those Acts of Parliament that historians will look back on and describe as the most important of the age. After all, it is clear that the world is now on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, and if we are not ready for the wave coming toward us, we will miss it. I want us to take advantage of what will be an age of rapidly advancing digitalisation, and an age of robotics and big data that is expected to transform our lives out of all recognition—and to do so much more quickly than we might expect. It will be an age

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that confronts us with profound questions about how to generate and share prosperity and fight for a fairer outcome for everyone in our society.

As the first industrial nation, we need to react to that challenge if we are to mould it to our advantage. To guarantee our future prosperity and to earn our way in this rapidly changing and competitive world, we must be ready to seize the opportunities. So, do we have a Government who realise the importance of change and transformation at this particular time and who are willing to legislate accordingly for a more active, enabling and agile state? Do we have a Government who will rise to the challenge? On the basis of the contents of the Bill, we do not. We cannot fault their high-flying rhetoric, however. According to the Government, the Bill is meant to be about creating an open, enterprising economy, transforming Britain’s business culture. It is supposed to

“reward entrepreneurship, generate jobs and higher wages for all, and offer people opportunity at every stage of their lives”.

In the other place, Baroness Brady even claimed it was “an exciting attempt” to improve the business ecosystem. All I can say is that she gets excited pretty easily. We have before us a Bill that has been variously described in the other place as a curate’s egg, a hotch-potch of minor measures, a legislative herbaceous border, a dog’s breakfast and even

“a big legal pudding made up of all sorts of ingredients”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 October 2015; Vol. 765, c. 43.]

The last was from someone who supported the Bill.

We have a hugely ambitious title hiding a collection of worthy but minor and underwhelming measures that it is hard for anyone to oppose in principle—that is, in the Bill as written, although we have heard about new things that might change our minds. What we do not have is a piece of legislation that remotely meets the challenges that we know are ahead. We do not even have a Bill that matches the ambition of the Government’s own rhetoric.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Despite all the hon. Lady’s flowery words, I must tell her that small businesses being paid on time will make a huge difference, that 3 million apprenticeships that give people a real opportunity in life and that are good for business will make a real difference, and that curtailing the big payments to fat cats which were the norm under Labour will make a huge difference. She should be embarrassed by her speech and I advise her to rethink her opening remarks.

Ms Eagle: I am now rather embarrassed that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman.

Hon. Members should make no mistake: our economy faces huge challenges. We have a current account deficit made up primarily of the country’s deficit of imports in relation to exports. That now stands at 5.1% of GDP, which is higher than at any point in peacetime since 1830. We also have an export target that the Government are set to miss by a third. Rather than taking action in the Bill, the Government are moving to get their excuses in early, with the Trade Minister recently describing that target as a “big stretch”.

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We see no sign of the rebalancing the Chancellor promised six years ago, let alone of the march of the makers that he promised would be carrying us all aloft by now. British manufacturing has been in recession since last year, and output is still falling short of where it was in 2008. A complacent attitude to the UK steel industry is just one symptom of the Government’s neglect of manufacturing and our industrial base.

Just six weeks after presenting an optimistic comprehensive spending review, the Chancellor abruptly changed his mind. He turned up in Cardiff, warning ominously that our economy was suddenly facing a “cocktail” of threats in January that he had apparently failed to perceive in November. Instead of presenting radical action to deal with those threats, the Bill bears all the hallmarks of a frantic search by officials around the far-flung recesses of Whitehall for things to put in it. As a result, it has nine parts—mostly unrelated—dealing with issues ranging from the creation of a small business commissioner with little statutory power to the requirement that insurance pay-outs are made in a timely fashion and that regulators should be mindful of their effect on small business.

There is a welcome extension of the primary authority scheme, which was introduced by the last Labour Government, and which has been a great success. The Bill allows Ministers to set targets for apprenticeship numbers in the public sector, but without explaining where the money to pay for that will come from. It also puts a cap on exit payments, which may have unintended consequences for public sector reform.

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): The apprenticeship levy.

Ms Eagle: The hon. Gentleman mentions the apprenticeship levy, but it will have to be paid by the public sector, which is being squeezed very hard by Government cuts, so there is no explanation of where the money will come from—if the hon. Gentleman has one, he can stand up and give it to the House now. [Interruption.] Well, the Bill amends the Industrial Development Act 1982 in an entirely sensible but minor way, and it tinkers at the edges of non-domestic rates, when what we probably need is major reform of the workings of the valuation office and, indeed, of the entire business rates system.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I am intrigued by what the hon. Lady has said about the IDA change, which will allow the Government to increase the amount they can spend without parliamentary oversight from £10 million to £30 million. Does she think this is a good time, with public spending under control, to give that authority to the Government without parliamentary scrutiny?

Ms Eagle: This is a minor change, which Opposition Members will support, simply because it updates the Act. It does not actually allow the Government to spend any more in real terms than the Act did—it just updates the Act to reflect inflation since the Act was passed. If it went a lot further, Parliament would, of course, want to keep a closer eye on this, but this is such a minor change, although it is welcome, that Opposition Members do not feel we need to oppose it.

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Richard Fuller: I am interested in the hon. Lady’s comment about the inflation increase. She indicated that the Opposition would favour a more substantial increase in the Government’s opportunities to use money under the IDA. Will she explain a bit further what the Labour party’s position on that would be? If she describes what the Government are doing as minor, what does she have in mind?

Ms Eagle: The changes to the Act are minor, simply because they restore in real terms the original import of the Act—that minor change merely brings the Act up to date. There is no reason why any Opposition Member should worry about that change. It is aimed at a part of the rural broadband roll-out that is very important for a lot of people in rural areas, so it is wholly acceptable, certainly to the Opposition, although I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is opposing his own Front Benchers on this issue.

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): We are trying to find out what you would do.

Ms Eagle: I am saying what we will do. We support this part of the Bill, because it makes a minor extension that just restores the intention of the original Act.

There are many modest measures in the Bill with which we agree; indeed, the Government resisted many of them during the passage of the Deregulation Act 2015, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 in the previous Parliament, and we welcome the fact that the Government appear to have come round and accepted them now.

However, there are a number of measures in the Bill with which we are not in agreement.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) rose

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) rose

Ms Eagle: Let me just get on with this section, and then I will be happy to give way.

The Opposition will be working hard to secure assurances on amendments on some of the issues I have mentioned as the Bill goes through the Commons. I commend the hard work of Labour colleagues in the Lords, who successfully won some welcome concessions and clarifications as the Bill went through the other place.

Richard Graham: There are two ways of looking at the apprenticeship levy. One is that it is a threat to the public sector, but the other is that it is an opportunity for the public sector to hire more apprentices. Does the hon. Lady not see that as a real opportunity in the Bill?

Ms Eagle: The Opposition are in favour of the apprenticeship levy in principle, but we are taking a very close look at how it will be introduced in practice, and we have an idea that the devil will be in the detail. We will therefore be keeping a close eye on how the levy is introduced and particularly on how it impacts on companies that are charged far more in the apprenticeship levy on their payroll tax than they can actually have in terms of apprentices. What then happens to that money? Can it be driven into the sector’s supply chain, for

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example? There are issues about how this will impact on public sector spending, and we need to keep an eye on those. As the Opposition, even though we agree in principle with an apprenticeship levy, it is our role to hold this Government—the hon. Gentleman’s Government —to account on the detail as it becomes clear.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is raising some very valid concerns about the Bill and particularly about the apprenticeship levy. A lot of confusion is being expressed out there to Members of the House about how the levy will work. Ultimately, 90% of apprenticeships are provided in small and medium-sized enterprises that will not be paying the levy, and it is not clear how they will receive any support for apprenticeships. Much greater clarity from the Government is required.

Ms Eagle: I agree with my hon. Friend about the worries she has raised.

Nick Boles: Why didn’t you raise them with me? I don’t know.

Ms Eagle: Well, we are waiting for the Government to come forward with more detail about how the apprenticeship levy will work. The hon. Gentleman loves being in meetings. He told us that earlier in the day. He was waxing lyrical about how excited he was being in vast numbers of meetings every day. He made even the most banal meetings sound fantastically interesting. I am glad that he enjoys his job. The Opposition would certainly be more than happy to embroil him in even more meetings.

Catherine McKinnell: My hon. Friend is doing a marvellous job. The Minister for Skills, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, had the opportunity to provide much greater clarity on this issue in a debate with MPs from the north-east, but he absolutely and categorically failed to do so.

Ms Eagle: I think another meeting is in order—

Nick Boles rose—

Ms Eagle: And I think we are going to hear something from the Minister now.

Nick Boles: I just want to clarify that the debate that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) mentioned, which lasted for an hour and a half and in which she spoke very well, was on further education colleges in the north-east. “Apprenticeships” was nowhere in its title, and so I am not even sure whether it would have been in order for me to discuss these issues. However, I am happy for her to come and see me with any questions she likes, as often as she likes.

Ms Eagle: Once it gets around that the hon. Gentleman is so free with his diary, I am sure he will be very, very busy.

I would like to speak about a number of areas in what Lord Patten has called this “pudding” of a Bill.

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Lucy Frazer: The hon. Lady suggested that these provisions are minor. I am surprised that she does so in circumstances where R3, the body that represents insolvency practitioners, says that some of its members feel that late payments contribute to 25% to 50% of small company insolvencies. Does she think that the difference between solvency and insolvency is a minor issue for many of our small companies?

Ms Eagle: No, I do not, but I think the hon. and learned Lady should read the Government’s own impact assessment. The provision on the small business commissioner that the Bill proposes is so minor that the Government’s own impact assessment says that they will be able to deal with only 500 cases a year, and yet we know that late payment is a huge issue. I am not saying that the issue of late payments is trivial; I am saying that in dealing with it, the Government’s response is far too limited and very disappointing.

Toby Perkins: As a former small business owner, I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. The problem with the Government’s proposal is not that they are attempting to tackle late payments but that it is an utterly inadequate attempt to tackle one of the great scourges of all business, but particularly small businesses—late payments.

Ms Eagle: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend’s words.

Part 1—clauses 1 to 13—deals with the small business commissioner, so let me come on to the Opposition’s view on this. In the previous Parliament, Labour argued for the establishment of a small business administration that would be specifically tailored to focus on the very specific needs of small businesses.

Lucy Frazer: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Eagle: No, because I have given way to the hon. and learned Lady.

This Bill contains a much more modest aim in seeking to establish a small business commissioner to assist in late payment disputes and signpost advice services for small businesses. The Opposition will support this, but we are disappointed by its small scale and its very limited remit. Indeed, the small business commissioner’s budget is to be a modest £1.3 million a year, and only because of an Opposition amendment accepted in the Lords will the commissioner be independent and able to appoint their own staff. Moreover, the Government intended to allow the role to be abolished by ministerial order without parliamentary scrutiny—a situation that was changed by another Lords amendment. We support the idea of a small business commissioner, but it remains to be seen whether such a modest proposal can really counter the huge imbalances of market power that exist, especially between huge companies and their much smaller suppliers. I certainly wish the new commissioner, whoever they are to be, well in the work ahead, not least because figures showing that the amount owed to small and medium-sized enterprises in outstanding invoices has increased by more than 70% in two years and that almost a third of small businesses are expecting things to get worse this year.

Lucy Frazer: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Ms Eagle: No. I have given way to the hon. and learned Lady and I do not intend to do so again, because I am getting on to other aspects of the Bill.

Part 4—clauses 20 and 21—deals with apprenticeships. This Government are presiding over what employers have described as a “skills emergency”, and productivity in the economy continues to be revised down year by year. The Bill contains welcome measures that aim to strengthen the quality of apprenticeships and to give statutory protection to the term itself. Labour Members have consistently supported the drive to deliver more high quality apprenticeships, but we worry about imposing an arbitrary numerical target, not least because it could militate against high-value, high-quality provision. We note that the Bill gives Ministers the power to set targets for apprenticeships in the public sector but is silent on how these targets will be met when the round of savage public sector cost-cutting continues unabated and FE provision is being decimated.

Clauses 30 to 32, in part 7, deal with the UK Green Investment Bank. The bank has only just been established and the Government are now seeking to flog it off—or, as I think the Secretary of State said, “set it free”. In the light of the Paris climate conference, where Governments, investors and businesses across the world agreed to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, it is absolutely extraordinary that he has allowed the Chancellor to sell off the bank, setting back efforts to build a greener low-carbon economy.

Michelle Thomson: The hon. Lady may have noticed that the Chancellor said:

“With the turbulent conditions we see in financial markets, I hope you agree with me that now is not the right time for that share offer.”

Does she agree that if it is not the right time for Lloyds, why is it the right time for GIB?

Ms Eagle: My view is that the Chancellor should have allowed the Green Investment Bank time to establish itself and certainly not have considered virtually privatising it as soon as it was established. The hon. Lady will know that we are now in a tussle to see whether we can preserve the focus of the bank on sustainable development and a low-carbon economy. That is where the battle has been raging in the other place as the Bill went through its stages there.

Even more extraordinarily, under the Bill as introduced in the Lords, there was a real risk that the bank’s focus on green investment would be completely destroyed. Fortunately my Labour colleagues in the Lords were able to come up with a formula that safeguards its green focus even if it is sold, but we have heard today from the Secretary of State that their amendment is going to be removed. I promise him that in Committee we will look very closely at what he intends to replace it with and whether it actually does the job of safeguarding the bank’s green focus. We will also focus, in a non-green way, on ensuring that the proposals that the Government come up with are fit for purpose.

Clauses 33 and 34, also in part 7, deal with pubs reform. In January, when it was clear that there was a majority in the Lords for ensuring a fairer deal for the landlords of tied pubs, Ministers forestalled a vote that they would have certainly lost by promising to legislate for a fair market rent only option. Their promise was

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taken in good faith, but they then abandoned their previous commitment, causing uproar in the other place. If it is possible to believe that the other place is capable of uproar, this particular event caused it. Yet another U-turn was inevitable, and it was duly announced, much to the relief of us all. The Government must stick to the promises they made to pub tenants and stop dragging their feet. They should legislate on the promises they have made. It is clear that a rent assessment and a market rent only option at rent renewal are the bare minimum that would be required to make good on those promises. This would create a fairer system for pub tenants and pub companies, and it has widespread support from businesses and beer drinkers alike. Again, we will take a close look at what the Government come forward with in Committee.

Clause 35, in part 8, deals with public sector exit payments. Labour Members are concerned that this measure will have unintended consequences.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I think we would all agree that nuclear decommissioning is both essential and highly specialist, yet this Bill will undermine workforce confidence and human resource planning at Magnox sites. Does the hon. Lady agree that the unique skill sets of this workforce should be safeguarded from the effects of the Bill?

Ms Eagle: That is another example of where something being sold as an attack on what the Secretary of State somewhat insultingly called “public sector fat cats” has a direct effect on private sector workers doing some of the most difficult and dangerous work, which we need to ensure can be carried out properly.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I may take a different view from the hon. Lady on the point that she is making, but unfortunately this provision will not apply to Northern Ireland because, despite the financial problems there, Ministers and the Assembly have decided that Northern Ireland should not be covered by the Bill. Does she share my concern that the serial payers of huge pay-offs are exempted from the provisions? For example, the BBC, which seems to hand out public money hand over fist to directors, heads of religion and so on, will not be covered by it.

Ms Eagle: The Bill has a particular phrase attached to it—public sector fat cats—and when we look more closely at it, we see that it applies to non-public sector workers and non-fat cats. We will be taking a close look at that.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): The term “public sector fat cats” surely does not apply to a civil servant who earns less than £25,000 a year, whose length of service may be 30 years or more. The unintended consequence of the policy is that it will impact on the longest-serving employees.

Ms Eagle: There are what I have rather politely and generously, in my view, referred to as unintended consequences of the cap, and I noted with some distaste the Secretary of State’s use of a pejorative term such as “public sector fat cats” to justify the existence of the proposed cap. It is clear that the cap could impact, as the hon. Gentleman says, on those on moderate and

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even lower pay with long service, and it could impact on pension “strain” payments for workers, rather than on those on the highest salaries with much shorter service.

The Cabinet Office has confirmed that some civil servants earning less than £25,000 a year could be affected by the cap because they have long service. Surely this was not the intention. Again, the Opposition will explore some of the consequences. We have even heard that essential restructuring in some public services is being held up by the unintended consequences of this crude measure.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am conscious of the fact that I was not present for the Minister’s opening speech so I may have missed something, but I am aware of concerns raised not only by the Prospect union but by one of my constituents about the fact that as someone who has always earned less than £28,000 a year, he may, as a result of early retirement, be unintentionally caught by this provision. I hope we will get some assurance from the Government Front Bench either that that will not happen, or that an amendment will be accepted to make sure it does not happen.

Ms Eagle: The right hon. Gentleman raises precisely the kind of case that has no doubt been raised with other hon. Members in all parts of the House. The only thing he missed was his own Secretary of State calling everyone who worked in the public sector, presumably including his constituent who would be affected by this cap, a fat cat. We will wish to give the provision particular scrutiny in Committee.

I turn to a subject which is not currently on the face of the Bill, but on which the Secretary of State has chosen to make announcements today. It is important that the Government publish their Sunday trading consultation response, along with all submissions. I was rather hoping that it might turn up while we were speaking today so that we could look at it before we vote on Second Reading. The Government must publish it in full and immediately, and tell us what form amendments to the Bill or new clauses relating to the deregulation of Sunday trading will take.

We all await all the details, but it is deplorable that at this late stage in the Bill’s passage through Parliament— after the Bill has gone through the House of Lords—the Government have seen fit to introduce these changes.

Toby Perkins: My hon. Friend will be aware that a huge number of Members are not present in the Chamber. They may well have read the Bill and may be coming at 7 o’clock to vote on it. We know that a number of Government Members feel very strongly that, for Christian reasons, they do not wish to support further extensions to Sunday trading. They may well unwittingly vote for the Bill, not knowing what has been announced from the Government Dispatch Box.

Ms Eagle: That is right, but God does move in mysterious ways Her wonders to perform, so perhaps between now and 7 o’clock those with an interest in the matter will realise what is going to be in the Bill, or the Secretary of State might even do the decent thing and publish the paper and the changes that he is proposing so that we can have a look at it before all of us go through the Lobby tonight.

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Let me remind the House that this is a policy that was not in the Conservative manifesto, which the Government tried suddenly to crow-bar into the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, but which they wisely abandoned at the last minute in the face of widespread opposition, not least from their own Back Benchers. The current arrangements were legislated for separately in a stand-alone Bill which received Royal Assent on 5 July 1994. I should know, because I served on the Bill Committee. The current arrangements work well and mean that retailers can trade, customers can shop, and shop workers can spend time with their families on Sundays.

Catherine McKinnell: I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend’s flow. Does she share my concern that the Government’s approach appears to be either underhand or incompetent? Will she seek reassurance from the Government that it is neither of those?

Ms Eagle: The Government have spoken. They keep acting as though we know what the changes are, when we do not. They have chosen not to give us any warning that they were going to be in the Bill, not even a private tip-off, so we have to react completely in the dark. Other than what was said from the Dispatch Box, we have no idea what will be in the Bill. [Interruption.] The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise chunters away from the Front Bench, saying that these changes are minor, but we do not know whether they are minor until she publishes them and we read them. If she would like to publish them now, we can have a five-minute break, go out and read them and check whether she is telling us the truth.

Anna Soubry: The hon. Lady was obviously present during BIS orals, so she heard me say, for example, that this is about devolving power down to a local level. [Interruption.] Hang on! Chill out! Calm down! It therefore gives local authorities the power to decide whether they will extend Sunday opening hours to a very small number of shops. That is what it is about. It is not some huge, major measure. I would be the first to say that this is about the devolution of power. I think the hon. Lady has a problem with letting people at a local level make the decisions in the interests of local people.

Ms Eagle: I have no problem whatsoever with letting people decide locally, but it is not for a Government Minister to tell the Opposition what their attitude to something should be before we have actually seen what the proposed clauses say. The Government are asserting, even as we speak, that the public sector exit payments are all about fat cat public sector pay-offs, but we have discovered—because this has actually been printed in the Bill—that those fat cat payments apply to people on £25,000 a year. The right hon. Lady’s view of reality may not be the same as that of the Opposition. As a Minister, she should realise that, if she wants the Opposition to take a view on something, she should publish it.

Anna Soubry: Does the hon. Lady accept that the exit payments will apply to only some 5% of workers, because we are talking about a redundancy payment of £94,000?

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Ms Eagle: The provisions will affect people who earn £25,000, but who are being labelled as fat cats.

Anna Soubry: By you!

Ms Eagle: By the Secretary of State! They earn as little as £25,000 and have given their lives to long public service. We know that because the clauses have been printed. The right hon. Lady should publish her Sunday trading clauses. The Government should have published them a lot sooner, if they were going to put them in the Bill.

I can only assume that the Government chose to introduce the changes to Sunday trading at such short notice in the hope that they can bounce them through the House with minimum opposition and scrutiny. This is yet another example of them governing from the shadows. It treats the House of Commons with the utmost disrespect, and it treats the House of Lords with contempt. Given that the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill was subject to scrutiny by a Committee of the whole House, will the Secretary of State do the same for the Sunday trading amendments that the Government will table to the Enterprise Bill? That is the least he can do in the circumstances.

Unless something else comes to light, we do not intend to oppose the Bill’s Second Reading, but we are disappointed at this legislative pudding. We are even more disappointed at the developments on Sunday trading, and we will hold this Government to account as the Bill goes through Committee.

3.31 pm

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I declare my interests as stated in the Register of Members’ Financial Interest.

I am always happy to welcome Conservative-proposed legislation that is aimed at assisting the conduct of business, particularly small business, not least because I represent a constituency with one of the largest proportions of small business ownership in the country.

I want to address the role of the small business commissioner proposed by part 1 of the Bill. I am not concerned about the concept of the new role per se—I thoroughly welcome it—but I want to explore its scope and interaction with existing schemes.

On capacity, the new £1.1 million SBC website should handle 390,000 disputes from 70,000 businesses, yet the SBC will deal with only 500 complaints a year. That gives rise to the question of what will happen with the rest of the disputes and what the real impact of the proposal will be. Could the site cope with the workload of significant numbers qualifying for assistance? That remains unclear.

I am also concerned that the background papers are light in identifying what is currently being done to give advice and information to small firms. In other words, is this going to be a consolidation of various existing advice givers, or will it be something new, delivered in a new way?

The law already forces large companies to report payment practices on a six-monthly basis. Likewise, the prompt payment code has been strengthened to start a 60-day maximum payment period. Importantly, the Government have been leading the way by imposing

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strict payment terms on themselves. All of that is very good, but it would be helpful to further assess whether those issues are working and where the remaining gaps are. I am surprised that the remit of the SBC covers only large private organisations, not public sector ones. I am not sure why that is.

There is also a regime for statutory interest on late payments where there is no contractual provision. Should we not be asking why that has not worked? Can we assume that to be the case, given this proposed legislation? If so, should we not be getting rid of the old fixed interest legislation? Indeed, where it applies, is it simply being ignored by large firms that might be threatening small firms that try to enforce it?

It is impressive that we have a Small Business Minister—the role in itself is a statement of this Conservative Government’s support for small business—and she is doing an excellent job. However, it would be interesting to hear a little more about how the Minister and the commissioner will interact and divide their jobs.

That leads us on to examining what the SBC will actually do. The SBC will take a non-legislative approach and will not give legal advice. There are no proposals to change court rules, and nor do we propose to go down the statutory route for enforced interest or penalties. That is my position, but it would be helpful to hear further justification for discounting the alternatives.

What has been proposed is more mediation and general advice, the complaints procedure and a statutory means for the SBC to make recommendations to the Secretary of State about the publication or provision of advice and information to small businesses. The question is whether the SBC should offer mediation, and the Government are saying no. My concern is that both parties need to agree to mediation, so if the late payer sees that mediation will remain as the low-cost option after a debt summons has been issued against it, why would it bother settling early, especially if one has to pay for mediation recommended by the SBC? I think the position might need to be reviewed. If the position is maintained, it might be smarter to have some kind of penalty or cost implication if one party has refused to attempt mediation before court.

I am also slightly unsure how the SBC will be encouraged to engage in signposting help at an early stage. We will need to tread carefully so as not to allow signposting to become legal advice. On the other hand, the SBC will be able to consider complaints by small companies at an early stage, and that could provide room for conflict. When it comes to providing advice, will that be generic or relevant to the sector in which a company operates, where, for instance, invoice payment times may vary significantly?

The notes focus on late payment advice, but that is only one aspect on which small businesses need help. For instance, a small business may well not have the resources or manpower to check the environmental or child labour practices of a large foreign supplier. Will the SBC help on such an issue? A lot of such signposting activity is currently carried out by business organisations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses and chambers of commerce. Will the SBC be expected to work closely with such organisations?

On the complaints side, the SBC can demand and order little. For example, the commissioner will not be able to order the production of documents from a

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company that has been complained about. Given the lack of hard powers for the SBC, the question is how effective they will be. I think that a big part of the answer will be the SBC’s ability to name and shame. Will the Minister explain how that will be carried out and publicised? The other key issue will be to have a charismatic leader, who will not be overwhelmed by the number of businesses involved or the lack of powers that go with the job.

That leads to the broader question of what the SBC should be about. In the other place, there was a description of the broader powers of the Australian SBC, and the Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, responded that despite the success of the position in Australia, the Government had deliberately decided not to give our SBC as wide a remit. However, she did not really explain why that was the case, and an explanation would be helpful. Are there, or will there be, provisions in the Bill that will allow the role to be adapted, as is likely to be required? I know that the FSB wants there to be an advisory panel for ongoing consultation. Will that be provided?

Of course, it is not only Australia that has a champion for small businesses. The United States has had a Small Business Administration since 1953, and I once had the pleasure of visiting it in Washington DC. With more than 3,000 staff and a series of forthright commissioners who happily make a huge fuss about proposed Government regulations on business, it is pretty formidable. It has many other roles. Importantly, it leads on efforts to deliver 23% of prime federal contracts to small businesses, and it provides loan guarantees of up to 90% to small businesses. Although I am not saying that we should necessarily copy those foreign small business commissioners, will the legislation enable an ongoing review of what is required for the SBC to ease the way through the difficulties and regulation that we know hinder all small business?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I advise Members, before the Front-Bench team come in, that there will be a seven-minute limit after Hannah Bardell.

3.37 pm

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): I rise to speak for the SNP, and, unfortunately, against the Enterprise Bill, which contains the typical Tory agenda of the privatisation of public assets, and the penalisation of public sector workers. Although we support the long-overdue creation of a small business commissioner, the action to support small businesses does not go nearly far enough. The Bill is, in our view, a wasted opportunity to back small business, incentivise investment and innovation, and encourage entrepreneurship.

The ill-conceived and badly drafted nature of some aspects of the Bill are particularly disappointing. Our key concerns lie in three areas. First, we are concerned about the level of support for small business. We welcome the concept of a small business commissioner, and it is important that the office has real power and teeth to address critical issues facing small businesses. The picture on private sector late payments is getting worse, and the SNP will press for further protections for small and supply-chain businesses around late payments and

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retentions. The SNP Scottish Government have a proud record of supporting small and medium-sized businesses, and we want the UK to do all it can. Unfortunately, a commissioner with no powers of reprimand is of little value, and it comes at a significant cost to the taxpayer.

Secondly, we feel strongly that the UK Green Investment Bank has acted as a core investor in the UK’s green economy, and it should continue to do so by sticking to its green objectives. The SNP opposes plans to privatise it, which would result in the loss of a significant public stake and of the bank’s green objectives. The GIB is an established means of managing the pressing and vital transition towards a low-carbon economy.

Sadly, the UK Government are not only failing to give the right support to our oil and gas sector, but simultaneously pulling the plug on renewable technology subsidies and projects, while also privatising the very bank set up to help the UK to meet its green objectives. That is a triple whammy of destruction for the future of our energy industries. The SNP support the Government maintaining a significant public stake in the GIB. Given the impact of devolved law, any privatisation of the GIB in part or in full will require a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament.

Thirdly, one of the more poorly thought out and drafted parts of the Bill is the capping of exit payments for public sector employees. Despite the UK Government’s rhetoric, that will affect many public servants on low and moderate salaries—midwives, nurses, librarians and social workers—who have given long service to the public sector, as we have already heard. Some parts of the Bill are so poorly drafted that they make little sense. The Bill does not properly reflect the results of the consultation undertaken by the Government or the initial plans drafted following the consultation.

Chris Stephens: Does my hon. Friend share my concern, and that of the Public and Commercial Services Union, that the consultation period did not follow the Cabinet Office consultation principles, under which there should be a 12-week consultation? The consultation on the exit payments lasted four weeks and took place during a peak holiday period for the civil servants involved.

Hannah Bardell: I share my hon. Friend’s concern. If we are going to have consultations, we should let them run for the full period and take proper cognisance of their results.

The SNP opposes the Government’s plans for caps on public sector exit payments. We note the specific concerns raised in the other place regarding the complete lack of an impact assessment alongside the Bill. That is regrettable, but not unsurprising, as this Government seem to lurch from one piece of disastrous legislation to another.

A small business commissioner may be a great idea on paper, and perhaps even in practice, although I am not entirely sure that, at a cost of about £1.1 million, we will get value for the price paid. If the commissioner has no powers to reprimand, how can decisions be enforced? In 2011, research by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 73% of small businesses had experienced late payment in the previous 12 months, with half having

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outstanding invoices of £5,000 and a fifth of £20,000. The Department’s own impact assessment sets out research by the payments service BACS, undertaken in January 2015, which shows that the average small business is waiting for £31,900 of overdue payments and that late payment is costing small and medium-sized businesses nearly £27 billion every year.

In Scotland, research released by the Bank of Scotland at the end of January 2016 showed that the amount the typical Scottish SME is owed has ballooned by about 60% in the past two years alone. The research found that the average amount owed to Scottish SMEs on invoices has increased from £50,000 in 2014 to £80,000 in 2016. Late payments were identified as the biggest challenge facing firms. FSB Scotland’s Colin Borland has said:

“One in four smaller businesses will go bankrupt if the amount outstanding grows to £50,000.”

We need stronger and more stringent legislation in this area.

The picture on private sector late payments is therefore getting worse. As I have said, we welcome the Bill’s creation of a small business commissioner, who would assist small businesses. However, the SBC does not have the necessary powers to do the job. We share the FSB’s concerns that little detail has been provided about the exact powers and resources the commissioner will have at his or her disposal—for example, the powers to refer cases to the Competition and Markets Authority or to make legally binding rulings. The UK Government could do much more in the Bill to remedy problems in the private sector caused by moneys being withheld from the supply chain.

I recently met those involved with the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, which represents 60,000 specialist engineering firms in the UK construction industry. They have called for the Bill to provide for a retention deposit scheme. They explained to me that withholding retentions is a common feature of construction contracts and the devastating impact that has on small and medium-sized businesses. At any one time, £3 billion is held in retentions, and £40 million was lost by UK construction firms in retentions in 2015 due to the insolvency of the main contractor.

We believe that a retention deposit scheme could take the form of the project bank accounts piloted by the Scottish Government. I urge the Minster to engage with my colleague Fergus Ewing MSP, the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, to hear how well that scheme operates in Scotland. Our Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, announced in April 2013 that we intend to trial project bank accounts. Trials are taking place in NHS Lanarkshire, Transport Scotland’s Inveramsay bridge project and the Scottish Borders Council’s Galashiels transport hub project.

The Scottish Government have also taken action on prompt payment in public procurement. We implemented our prompt payment policy in 2009 by introducing a contract term for all public bodies to ensure that supply chain firms were paid within 30 days under all public contracts. We expect all public bodies in Scotland to follow our lead by implementing and enforcing prompt public payment policies that deal fairly and transparently with businesses, and to publish their results. We hope that they will follow suit and consider those points.

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Our action on private sector late payments has been supported by the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Liz Cameron, who said:

“In the current economic climate, businesses need the confidence to invest and grow. Late payments can hold this back and the culture must be tackled from the top down.”

The SNP Government will continue to support the small business bonus scheme, which is delivering rates reductions for more than 100,000 firms across Scotland. We heard earlier at Business, Innovation and Skills questions that there is pressure on the UK Government to look again at that issue. We know that they are considering it and we look forward to hearing the results.

Since its inception, the GIB has acted as a core investor in the UK’s green economy. The SNP wholeheartedly opposes the plans for yet more privatisation, which in the case of the GIB will result in the loss of a significant public stake and the bank’s green objectives. The UK Government must provide assurances that the bank will remain headquartered in Edinburgh and that the full £3.8 billion commitment to the bank will be carried through. We also seek assurances that the UK Government will remain committed to maintaining a significant public stake to ensure that the GIB retains its original purpose as a green bank.

Industry experts have warned that the move to privatise the GIB could deter private sector investment in the UK’s low-carbon economy. Concerns have further been raised over the potential impact that it could have on the tension between the GIB’s longer-term, higher-value projects and the temptation to invest in projects that create short-term returns.

We are particularly conscious of the concerns raised by the Environmental Audit Committee in its 2015 report, which said that

“two key risks to GIB cannot be avoided merely by protecting its green purposes: first, the risk that GIB will move its focus away from novel and complex projects which struggle to find funding in favour of easier and less complex projects, and second, the risk that a privatised GIB could invest in areas which may damage its reputation and undermine its role and leadership in the green economy.”

If a Committee of this House is so concerned, why are the Government not concerned and why are they not taking action in this regard?

It is the firm view of the SNP that the Enterprise Bill’s removal of public sector controls on the GIB would require a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament, given the impact on devolved law. That view is supported by Aileen McHarg, the professor of public law at Strathclyde University, who said it was “incontrovertible” that the green purposes included in the legislation related to devolved matters and that Scottish consent would be required for any change that might

“have implications for future investment in green technologies”.

I hope that the Minister and the Government heed that point and remember that we have devolution for a purpose, not just to mitigate the dire decisions of this UK Government and to pick up the pieces of Tory policy, as is so often the case.

A number of the bank’s investments are relevant to Scotland, including a £2 million investment in a sewage heat recovery system installation programme in locations across Scotland; nearly £30 million of equity investment

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in the construction of Levenseat Renewable Energy Ltd’s energy waste recycling plant; and a £6.3 million loan to Glasgow City Council to enable the replacement of its streetlights with lower-energy lights. The list goes on. All those projects are significant to the local communities of Scotland and to Scotland as a whole. We do not want any of these opportunities to be lost to yet more privatisation.

Finally, I turn to the plans in the Bill to cap exit payments for public sector employees, which will, despite the UK Government’s rhetoric—and it has been poor rhetoric at that—affect many public servants on low to moderate salaries. The SNP shares the concerns of the union Unison, which opposes the Government’s plans for caps on public sector exit payments. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that some people who earn less than £25,000 a year could be affected because of their long service—that is, serving the public, often for salaries below those in the private sector.

The trade union Unison has pointed out that the proposed cap would affect redundancy payments for a wide range of NHS staff and would not be limited to groups that the public view as executives. Because, as we have heard, redundancy calculations are made on the basis of length of service and earnings, and because a significant number of NHS staff work unsocial hours, capping the payments could affect staff in band 6 and above. The jobs that fall into band 6 include nurses, midwives and paramedics. Are we really saying that those people are fat cats and that they do not deserve such payments at the end of very long, difficult and challenging careers?

In January 2015, the Minister for Employment promised an exemption for low-paid public sector workers. She said:

“This commitment, which will be included in our 2015 General Election manifesto, will cap payments for well-paid public sector workers…Crucially, those earning less than £27,000 will be exempted to protect the very small number of low earning, long-serving public servants”.

Unfortunately, the Bill does not reflect the promise made by the Conservative Government.

The Government’s plans have also failed to take account of inevitable inflation and earnings growth. If this cap is introduced, there must be a commitment to index-link the cap, to ensure that it meets its original intention without becoming more and more punitive over time. The Local Government Association has criticised the Government’s plans, stating:

“The consensus among the respondents to our consultation exercise felt that the policy as drafted with a cap set at £95,000, which includes strain on fund costs, unjustifiably penalises older, longer serving, junior to middle ranking employees in local authorities.”

Unison highlighted a particularly poorly drafted and concerning section of the Bill—well, perhaps it was intended. Under section 5, payments made in respect of death are outlined as exempt, but in the Government’s hurry to introduce those harsher regulations at the last possible moment before the Bill is enacted, they seem to have decided that dead people might be worried that their exit benefits might be affected if they decide to return to work in the public sector. That does not make sense, and it needs reviewing and proper thought.

The rhetoric of the Tory Government on the pay and conditions of our vital public servants stands in stark contrast to the record of the SNP Scottish Government.

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The Scottish Government introduced the living wage to the public sector pay policy in 2011, initially helping 6,000 public servants and benefiting around 3,000 workers each year. The living wage of £8.25 per hour is now paid wherever the Scottish Government control the pay bill.

In Scotland, the SNP Government highly value our NHS staff. We have not imposed the same unfair contractual changes on junior doctors that the Tories at Westminster are attempting to impose, and we have protected the nurses bursary, which the Tories have scrapped in England. We have maintained a no-compulsory-redundancy policy, while in NHS England there have been more than 17,000 compulsory redundancies since 2010. Overall, there may be some good intentions buried among some bad ideas in the Bill, but the SNP feels that it is a missed opportunity to back small business, incentivise investment and innovation, and encourage entrepreneurship. It is more “bits and bobs” than the bigger picture.

3.52 pm

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): The Bill contains a wide range of measures, but I shall focus specifically on the Government’s further action on apprenticeships. The target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 is a welcome ambition, but we must ensure that they are of sufficient quality to equip those enrolling on an apprenticeship with the necessary skills, and to increase the flow of talented individuals into the workplace. Addressing the skills gap must be an absolute priority.

I have seen many examples in my constituency of the value of apprenticeships to all parties, and I am pleased to report that since 2010 there have been 3,450 apprenticeship starts, no doubt assisted by the demand created through the strengthening of our economy. Some 99.3% of businesses are SMEs, and it is therefore essential that we incentivise and encourage them to take on apprentices. I welcome the fact that the apprenticeship grant for small businesses has been extended for another year.

The Secretary of State wrote in The Daily Telegraph about an imminent fourth industrial revolution, and stated:

“We led the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago when scientific leaps and technological innovations brought enormous economic benefits and improvements to living standards.”

Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution and the rapid advancement of technology that will change our economic landscape further. Such technology includes machinery that can improve efficiency and productivity. It is therefore vital that our workforce are sufficiently skilled to use that new innovation.

Warwickshire College, in my constituency, is doing its bit to equip young people with the skills necessary to succeed. It has recently opened an engineering block, with provision for a further 285 advanced apprenticeships and 253 higher apprenticeships. As I mentioned in a debate last year on vocational qualifications, we must work harder to achieve parity of esteem between academic and vocational courses.

Melanie Onn: I fully support apprenticeships; indeed, I am taking on an apprentice in my office, which I hope exemplifies the point. Government data published this week show that young people from low-income households

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in north-east Lincolnshire are less likely to receive post-16 qualifications than those in other areas of the country, even though they are more likely to get good GCSEs. My concern is that there is an over-emphasis on apprenticeships and insufficient support for other training opportunities, with apprenticeships being the only game in town. I am concerned that insufficient training is available for young people in post-16 education to meet the skills gap that so obviously exists.

Chris White: I appreciate the hon. Lady’s comments. We should ensure that each part of our society and all parts of our education system recognise what our young people need to succeed. The target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 is a major step towards achieving that, but we must recognise that there are other needs as well.

It is important to recognise that our young people need to see the benefits of earning and learning. The Government measure to protect the term “apprenticeship”, in the same way that the term “degree” is protected, is excellent. If the target of 3 million apprenticeships is reached, the achievement will, of course, be more significant if they are high quality.

The move will add to the strengthening of the reputation of apprenticeships as a good way to start a career. It may be worth the Government investigating the possibility of allowing those who have completed an apprenticeship to use a suffix after their name, similar to the recognition given for achieving a degree. Coventry City Council offers the freedom of the city to those who have completed an apprenticeship. I understand that it is the only local authority in the country to do so. I see such initiatives as an excellent way to build prestige around apprenticeships. I encourage other local authorities to do the same.

The all-party group on manufacturing and industry leaders, in discussing the future of the sector, made it clear that we need to make a concerted effort to invest in skills to improve our productivity and competitiveness on the international stage. Apprenticeships can be instrumental in addressing the skills gap, which is absolutely vital for the future of the UK economy.

I welcome the measures in the Bill that allow the Secretary of State to set targets for public bodies in relation to the number of apprentices employed. Progress has been made, with a number of apprentices working across Whitehall, but the new powers will ensure that the public sector is a part of that ambition. I would like to touch on the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and the positive effect it can have on apprenticeship schemes. Partnerships between the public and private sectors to deliver projects have resulted in the commissioning of tenders that include an aspect of social value, such as the creation of additional apprenticeships.

We have come a long way since the concept of apprenticeships began in this country in the 12th century, but their value cannot be overstated. With 2.3 million apprenticeship starts in the previous Parliament, we have made great strides. The further Government target for 2020 is to be welcomed. I sense a tipping point with apprenticeships and I, for one, look forward to a new generation benefiting from these schemes and to how strongly the initiative will contribute to our economy.