David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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May I be the final Back-Bench Member to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) for getting his Bill to this stage? I also pay tribute to Bliss for all the brilliant work it has done not just in this area but on a whole range of campaigns relating to it. I am biased because I used to run charities, but they play such an important role in pushing us to understand and, in turn, legislate on issues that perhaps we would not think about in the daily rush of this place. It takes a lot of work, and it does not happen just like that. Those charities have to push for months and years—sometimes even longer. Bliss has done a brilliant job in this case.

I do not have children, but, as it happens, my little sister was seven weeks premature, so I have some sense of what a worrying, stressful time that is. I was old enough to feel that as a child, and it was much worse for my mum and dad. As my sister came out that early—it had to be done in an emergency—she was in an incubator. She weighed 4 lb 4 oz. Everybody kept saying, “She weighs two bags of sugar.” I checked yesterday and that is correct—it is exactly two bags of sugar. During that time in the incubator, she ripped her breathing tube out at least twice. She did not have any sense of what she was doing, but she ripped out this vital thing that was trying to keep her alive and get her to a healthier position. She will not thank me for saying that that may have been an indication of the personality she was going to have as an adult—[Laughter.] No, we are very close. Although I do not have children, one does not need them to understand how completely obvious it is that this Bill is so important and why the hon. Gentleman has done such a good job.

In preparing for this debate, I read the statistic that in the Government’s consultation 99% of people supported the statutory leave and pay we are bringing in here. That is the sort of figure we hear from a dictator when they are giving themselves more power or installing themselves for life. They say, “Look, 99% of my people voted for me to be the leader forever.” I am happy to give way to anyone who has heard of anything like this before, but I have never heard of a Government consultation where 99% of people were in favour of something. That is why this move is such a no-brainer.

I was sad to read the study by Bliss about the parents who had got into financial difficulty as a result of this period in their lives. They had had money worries; often, they had taken on debt. It goes without saying that this situation has had an impact on mental health; I suspect the real figure is 100%, but 80% at least admitted that it had had an impact on their mental health. Although this measure is the morally right thing to do, we also have to see this from the point of view of employers. They are not going to get the best from someone who has a baby in neonatal care, because that is, of course, going to be their No.1 priority.

A bigger point is involved here: without this important Bill, debt and mental health issues would carry on for people as a result of these situations, and those two things have a big impact on people’s relationships and, in turn, the raising of their child. We know that when certain big things are going on in someone’s home they can create big conflicts and can lead to relationship breakdown. Just having debt and mental health issues in their house can affect a child’s development, as of course do things such as low birth weight. This Bill is therefore part of a broader approach that we have to take to the raising of children and the importance of parenting and of early years. Too often, this is one of these things we just leave people to get on with; the view is, “It will come naturally to you. We will just leave you.” We should be doing a range of things better to help parents in the early years with their children, right from birth.

So I am very pleased to support the Bill, which complements some of the other things the Government done on shared parental leave and so on. We know that we have further to go and that there are some big disparities in the care that certain families—ethnic minority families and those on low incomes—are receiving compared with others. Unfortunately, a couple of my constituents have been affected by the issues at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which Donna Ockenden is currently looking at; sadly, they lost their daughter, Wynter. So we know we have huge disparities here, but in the Government’s women’s health strategy we have exactly the right ambition—we are not there yet—to try to make this country the best place to give birth in. This Bill is an important component in helping us try to get there.

Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill

David Johnston Excerpts
Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.

I am glad that we have time to debate this important Bill. It has a simple message: to promote fairness and transparency to ensure that workers receive the tips that they earn. It will create a level playing field for businesses that are already passing on tips to workers fairly and transparently. It will create confidence for consumers, who will know that the full value of the tips that they give will go to the workers. I thank the Minister and the Government for supporting the Bill and I am delighted that it has Government and cross-party support on Third Reading.

I also thank the hon. Member for Watford (Dean Russell) for his work on the Bill; he has been instrumental in bringing this important legislation to the fore. The Bill would not be where it is today without his determination and hard work. When he asked whether I would take the Bill over from him, I was honoured. I have experienced first hand the importance of tips and, like many young people, I financed my sixth form and university studies by working in cafés and pubs.

My constituency is dependent on the hospitality and tourism sector, which is also one of the largest sectors in Wales. At a particularly difficult time, this is an opportunity to help and support those who work in the tourism and hospitality sector, which has one of the lowest hourly rates of pay. It is estimated that the Bill will benefit about 1 million workers in the sector with a financial benefit of about £200 a year. With the cost of living at the front of many people’s minds, the Bill will help those workers who are wrongly not receiving the money that they are due from the tips that they have earned. In sectors such as hospitality and beauty services, customers recognise and reward good service and hard work through tips, gratuities and service charges, which I will refer to collectively as tips.

The customer expects 100% of the tips that they leave to go to the workers. We already know that that is happening in most businesses, where tips are passed on to staff in full, but some unscrupulous employers exploit staff by retaining some or even all of the tips that workers earn. That goes against the assumption of the large majority of customers that 100% of the tips that they give will end up in the pockets of the workers.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: customers expect 100% of tips to go to staff. Does she agree that people who work in hospitality will also make the assumption that any tips they get will be theirs, and that their wage, which may not be very high, will at least be supplemented by what they earn for their service?

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. People—particularly young people—who are looking for employment in the hospitality sector will look at it as a whole package when considering what it means for them and whether they will be able to earn enough. Tips are a vital part of their calculation when they are looking at taking such roles.

Workers expect the tips that have been given in recognition of their hard work and good customer service to be given to them in full. The Bill promotes fairness for workers by creating a legal obligation to pass on tips to workers, in full, with no deductions other than in very limited circumstances such as those required under law. It will provide protection across all sectors, but focuses on changing employment law to bring increased protection for workers in industries in which tipping is common. An additional benefit of this legislation is the increased confidence that consumers will have that the tips they choose to leave in recognition of good service will actually go to the workers for whom they are intended, and are not unfairly pocketed by bosses.

In determining how to allocate tips fairly, the employer must have regard to the relevant provisions of the upcoming statutory code of practice, which will set out principles of fairness and transparency relating to tips. That code of practice is necessary to describe—in more detail than a Bill can—the different circumstances that are likely to be “fair” and “unfair”. A number of examples will be provided to illustrate what fair tipping practices look like. Those examples are not included in the Bill, as that could limit flexibility for employers. To issue a code of practice, the Secretary of State must consult the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, and publish a draft to allow stakeholders to make representations, before laying the draft before both Houses of Parliament for approval. The code of practice will be statutory and have legal effect, meaning that it can be introduced as evidence to employment tribunals considering whether an employer is in breach of the legislation.

There is one main theme running through the core of the Bill: the creation of a legal obligation on employers to pass on tips in full to workers. Giving workers 100% of tips means that there can be no deductions from tips by an employer other than in the limited circumstances required or permitted by other law, including tax law. Prohibited deductions include, but are not limited to, card transaction fees and administration costs. Some employers may use a tronc system to help with distributing tips. Under that system, which is mostly used in the hospitality sector, an employer delegates the collection, allocation and distribution of tips to a person or persons known as “troncmaster” or “tronc operator”. It is important that we retain flexibility for employers to choose how to distribute tips, as long as that distribution is fair.

Transparency is a crucial part of the Bill, and information plays a significant role. However the tips are allocated, the Bill provides workers with a new right to make a written request to access the relevant parts of their employer’s tipping records. That allows workers to seek redress if they are not being treated fairly by gathering evidence and bringing a claim to an employment tribunal where necessary. The Bill will be enforced by workers through the employment tribunal system, and provides employment tribunals with remedies for situations in which an employer has made deductions from tips or has not allocated tips in a fair and transparent way. Workers will be able to present to an employment tribunal complaints about an employer failing to comply with its obligations to allocate tips fairly or failing to do so in time. The Bill also allows agency workers to present complaints. The limitation period for such complaints is 12 months.

Workers’ rights to bring forward such claims are at the core of the Bill because employment rights need to be underpinned by effective enforcement. The tribunal can make a range of orders, including orders requiring the employers to revise any allocation of tips that they have made or to make a payment to a worker of up to £5,000 in compensation for consequential financial loss. That will help those workers who have not been fairly treated when tips have been distributed.

The Bill will have a limited impact on employers who already handle tips fairly and transparently. It is not expected that there will be significant change or cost to business in complying with the new rules. Employers will still have flexibility on how to design their tipping policies, how to maintain records, and how they communicate their policies to workers. In addition, when workers request information, employers will have a period of four weeks to fulfil that request.

I will conclude by giving a final overview of the Bill. It sets out the right that tips should go to the workers who earn them, and that those tips should be distributed both fairly and with transparency.

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David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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Like many people, I was surprised to discover that tips are not being passed on. I think our understanding has always been that we pay the money on a restaurant menu for the food, and any additional money we leave is for the service. We have all given particularly generous tips for very good service, and I dare say we may have given a not so good tip, or maybe no tip, for particularly bad service, although never in our constituencies, obviously—there would never be bad service in my constituency, I hasten to add.

It sticks in the craw to think that a person may have worked so hard and received no benefit for that hard work, and that the tip would just be taken by the business owner. There are particular peak periods, such as Christmas, when the amount earned in tips can be a vital boost to a person’s income for that month, and maybe even for that year.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is surprised that this is an issue. Has he or anyone he knows come across the difficult question of whether to tip by credit card or in cash? If the tip goes on the credit card, it is perhaps less likely to go to the employee. Has he given a great deal of thought to that issue?

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David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was concerned that he was going to ask how much I leave in tips. Obviously, I am a very generous tipper.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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I am intrigued by my hon. Friend’s use of the word “generous.” In percentage terms, what does he consider to be a generous tip?

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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I am even more grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. I am probably not quite as generous as they are in the US, where a 25% or 30% tip is now sometimes recommended on the bill. I would always err on the side of giving a good tip, even for average service, and an even better tip for exceptional service.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I have been asked, as I am sure my hon. Friend has, whether the Bill will move us towards the US model of tipping. As I said earlier, it is important to note that this is not about making tips part of the salary. We want workers to have good salaries, and the minimum wage has been increased again. Tips are a top-up. They are an additional gratuity to say “thank you,” rather than being part of the salary. That has come up a few times.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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My hon. Friend makes a couple of important points. On his first point about the US, it was a particularly bad practice when employers were using tips to try to meet the minimum wage. We have made great strides in increasing the national living wage in recent years. I think it has now hit £10.40; the Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it is at least £10. That is particularly important. If we went into a restaurant and bought a pizza for £10, and the member of staff said when we paid, “I’m going to take £2 of that £10 for the pizza and keep it for myself,” there would be outrage. There would be outrage about the reverse situation, and it is right that we should feel offended on behalf of staff who are working hard for these tips and not getting them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) is right: this is not just about hospitality. She made an important point about nail bars, hairdressers and lots of other places that I have many of in my constituency, but I realise that this is, in large part, about hospitality. My constituency has a lot of hospitality venues—pubs, for example. There are only seven MPs who have more pubs in their constituency than I do. I have been trying to get around them all, and I am doing pretty well.

The hospitality industry is vital for the UK economy, and particularly for younger workers, ethnic minority workers and part-time workers. It is a very accessible industry for people to get their foot on the ladder and get some important skills. It is hard work, often involving someone being on their feet all day, in difficult conditions, and dealing with difficult customers. It might involve long hours. It is vital, and it is hard. People get good skills, and they should get all their tips.

It is a small minority of employers who are doing this. Most employers will feel, as we do, that staff should be given the tips for the work they have done. That small minority of employers are shooting themselves in the foot in many ways, because where an employee has a choice between different employers—of course, they do not always—the chances are that they will pick the one that will let them keep their tips. That is a perfectly logical decision to make, and it is probably the decision I would make. As we discussed earlier, just as the customer expects a tip to go to the staff, the staff think, “That wage may not be very high, but I’ll be able to earn more in tips.”

This debate reminds me of two other things that are relevant to the passage of this legislation. The first is unpaid internships. The hope with this Bill was that employers would not wait for it to take effect but would start to change their practices before the statutory code came into effect, because the attention on this issue would make those practices socially unacceptable. I hope that that has happened. This reminds me of unpaid internships, which have unfortunately been rife in the UK. They have also been rife in this place, by the way. One reason why we were slow at first to make progress on getting rid of unpaid internships was that the two groups we often need for campaigns use them a lot: politicians and the media. Both are usually very important for campaigns on issues, and both were using a lot of unpaid internships.

When we look across our professions—media, fashion and many others—we find people working for no money. Their employers would say that they were providing a great opportunity, because people in those positions were getting skills that they would need later in the workplace, but the fact is that someone needs a number of things to let them do an unpaid internship. As internships are concentrated in London, interns usually need to move there and will need accommodation. While they are doing work for their employer, they will need money from somewhere, so they will either be working two jobs—one paid for and one not—or, as has often happened, be from the wealthiest families, who can support their children by supplementing those internships. Those internships then lead to jobs, and those jobs look unrepresentative of the country of a whole because of who gets into them.

Again, it is a small proportion of employers doing those things, but as we have shone a light on the issue with the Bill, making it clear that it is not acceptable for employers to be taking their staff’s tips, we would hope that employers have already started to change their practices. None the less, the Bill is important, and I am glad that it is being brought in.

The second issue that I am reminded of is access to cash, which, as Members have touched on, is currently a big challenge. We have banks closing branches all over the country, we have cashpoints disappearing, and we have an assumption that everybody wants to do everything by card or online. I get quite a number of constituents writing to me—I am sure that we all do—who are really concerned about that. They really like to be able to use cash, they worry that it will disappear and they do not know what they will do about it.

That is relevant to the Bill because we have heard the odd voice in the hospitality industry saying that the Bill is not a good thing because there are cost pressures on the hospitality industry at the moment and that, when people pay on card, the business incurs fees for those transactions, so it is not right to let all of the money go to the staff. Their basic argument is, “They might tip on card. I am paying money for that charge, and you’re saying that I have to give the entire thing to the staff.” I am hugely sympathetic to the hospitality industry in lots of ways, but I am afraid that I am not sympathetic to that particular point. However, it does relate to access to cash.

By the way, we could all do a better job of carrying cash. There is a national issue of how we ensure that people who need cash always have access to it. However, on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) about whether I need to have cash to ensure that somebody will get their tip, the answer, as a result of the Bill, is no, but, none the less, they might appreciate it.

I am afraid that I really do not agree with places that have become card-only. I accept that it may be simpler for some people to pay by card—particularly younger generations, although I do not want to make an age-related comment because I know of plenty of people in their 70s and 80s who like using contactless—but we could all do a better job of carrying cash so that tips could be paid and received in it.

One way or the other, this is a hugely important Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Watford on the work that he did before on the Bill. Although we are talking about a small minority, we are doing an important thing to ensure that people are rewarded for the effort that they put in.

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James Grundy Portrait James Grundy (Leigh) (Con)
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I commend my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) and for Watford (Dean Russell) for their work on this important Bill.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), who made an excellent speech. On a previous sitting Friday, I mentioned my grandmother, who was from Chirk in his constituency, and ironically, it was in that part of the world that I learned, approximately 40 years ago, what a tip was. We regularly went on holiday to Llandudno, a lovely seaside town. We were once in the tearooms close to the seafront, and my grandmother had left a 50 pence piece on the side of her teacup. I asked, “What are you doing, Grandma?” She said, “Well, this is what is known as a tip.” I was about five years old at the time, and I asked, “What’s a tip?” And she said to me, “It’s a token of thanks to the member of staff who served you. It is not a payment for the services or the food you’ve been provided with. You are thanking them for going above and beyond in the service they’ve given you.” It is tremendously important to recognise that.

As many colleagues have said—of course, this is bound up with respect for the minimum wage—tips are not there to make up wages or for other purposes. As I have said before, tips are a token of thanks, not a means of making up income. It is important to recognise that that is an entirely separate matter. I have always felt that about industries in which people receive tips.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) said it well about America. I still remember, as will many Members, the “Reservoir Dogs” scene in which one of the main characters—one of the Misters—is asked to give a tip in a café. He quite famously says, “I don’t tip”, and there is a huge argument around the table about the culture of tipping in America. They say, “If you don’t tip then how are these waitresses going to manage? How is this fair?” I always thought that an unusual scene because, at the time that film came out, people basically felt that tips should go to the staff, but they would have considered the idea that tips were needed to make up wages pretty unpleasant.

Of course, that is why British people who go to America are regarded as absolutely terrible tippers. We do not see it as a means of making up wages, but as a token. In America, I believe that the bare minimum one should consider tipping is 10%, although I could be wrong.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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It is 15%.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy
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I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that. I am afraid that I have never been to America, but I hope to have the opportunity to go.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Watford said, there is a difference between a tip and a service charge. It is important to consider them slightly differently. The main reason is that a tip is often voluntary, and if we feel that we have received bad service, we will simply not leave one. A tip is given to the individual who served us for their particular service—a token of thanks to them individually—whereas a service charge is, or should be, as my hon. Friend said, disbursed to the staff as a whole. Sometimes a service charge is not voluntary but appears on the bill, so it is not a personal choice. A distinction should be made on that.

Let me talk briefly about something that we have not mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford has said that further work will be done, so I hope that this will be given some consideration: any potential taxation of tips should be different from taxation of service charges. Tips are effectively gifts, which are taxed differently, so they should be considered in a slightly different manner from service charges. I realise that that is a slightly esoteric point—perhaps so esoteric that it may not have been considered in this debate or during the drafting of the provisions.

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Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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As is often the case on days such as this, one prepares an extensive speech only to then be given guidance that one should be brief. I shall therefore seek to rattle through a number of points relatively quickly and try to be as helpful as I can to the Minister.

I am interested in the explanatory notes. As you probably know, Mr Deputy Speaker, we had a public consultation in 2013, another consultation in 2016 and another response to the consultation in 2021, and now we are in 2023. Good Lord, eight years! Why has it taken so long? A number of colleagues have noted that there is no law on this issue, but paragraph 15 of the explanatory notes state:

“In terms of legal ownership: tips and gratuities which are paid directly to the employer…are presently the legal property of the employer.”

It goes on to say:

“Tips and gratuities which are paid in cash directly to a worker are the legal property of the worker”.

A number of MPs have mentioned the transition from cash to card. I am interested in the Minister’s view of the implications in terms of legal ownership and whether this Bill is of particular assistance.

I am interested that the impact assessment refers to the possibility for complaints to be made to the employment tribunal as a result of this legislation. Have the Minister or his team made an assessment of the likely impact? I would guess it is limited and perfunctory, but we know that employment tribunals are under a lot of pressure to get through pieces of work, so it would be helpful to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

I am also interested in table 12, on page 26 of the impact assessment, which looks at the summary of costs by business size and provides central estimates. There is no greater champion in this House for small businesses than the Minister, so he will have noted the distribution of costs among micro, small, medium and large businesses as a result of complying with this measure. Rather than showing a nice, graduated increase in costs whereby the largest businesses take on the largest costs, the table shows that quite a lot of the cost falls on the very smallest businesses. I am interested in hearing the Minister’s thoughts on that.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Watford (Dean Russell) and for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) for proposing and supporting this Bill. I will end with some questions to the Minister directly about his approach to tips, on which he may wish to advise the House while speaking with his hand on the Dispatch Box. First, does the Minister tip or not? Secondly, how much does the Minister routinely tip? If someone else offers to pay for the meal, does the Minister offer to pay the tip?

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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Is my hon. Friend speaking from personal experience of the Minister?

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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Sadly, the Minister has never bought me a free lunch, but that is no disparagement of his character.

Does the Minister pay a tip if it is automatically applied to the bill? The other points are a little frivolous, but this is a serious point: if the automatic charge is a service charge, does the Minister pay a tip in addition? That is important because there is a lot of confusion about whether a service charge is a tip. I do not think it is, and I still do not know whether it is covered by this Bill. Has the Minister ever crossed out a service charge on a bill and not paid it? Does the Minister ever dare not to pay a tip? He might choose to give the Government’s response on all those matters rather than a personal one, but I wanted to get those questions on the record. In the interests of time, I will end my comments there.

Royal Mail and the Universal Service Obligation

David Johnston Excerpts
Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under you today, Ms Ali. I have spoken about Royal Mail quite a bit in this place—I have secured my own Westminster Hall debate about it, I have had meetings with HQ and arranged meetings for constituents with HQ, and I have visited a delivery office—so I am not planning to make a long speech. However, each time I have spoken about Royal Mail, I have been clear that our individual postmen and women work very hard. There is a problem in the management of the service. I totally accept the changing nature of the service, with us sending far fewer letters now and sending many more parcels, and I also accept that there have been staffing issues.

Nevertheless, I started getting complaints about Royal Mail in August 2020, and I am afraid that I have had more complaints about it than about any other organisation. They are sometimes about things such as cards and magazine subscriptions not arriving for several weeks, but the much more serious ones are about bank cards, insurance renewals and hospital appointments that are missed. My constituents feel very much that they are being fobbed off by Royal Mail. One of them said, “I feel like they’re saying, ‘We’re trying, but it’s not our fault.’” That is the reason why I have spoken so much about Royal Mail in the House, held my own debate about it and so on. I have experienced the issues myself, living in Didcot. Recently, constituents such as Keith McEwen and Sarah Trinder have written to me about things that have taken three or three and a half weeks to arrive.

Specifically on the universal service obligation, I may be the only one in the room who is agnostic about whether there is a five-day or a six-day delivery. The reason is that my constituents are complaining of not getting things for two or three weeks. I asked my constituents on Facebook what they would think if Royal Mail moved from six-day to five-day delivery. I did not get a huge number of responses to that poll, but 72% said they would be quite happy with a five-day service if—this is what they kept saying in their comments—that service was reliable. If they actually got the five-day service, they would be relaxed about not having the Saturday service.

I totally hear what the Minister says about the six days, but I am personally agnostic about that. My constituents are most concerned about ensuring that delivery is reliable, however many days it happens on, that they get things in a timely fashion and that they do not miss serious things they should have taken part in or done, because that can sometimes have a financial or a health cost. However many days the Government agree should be delivered on, I would be grateful if the Minister could outline how we will drive up the reliability of the service, because we cannot keep seeing stamp price increases for a service that is not being delivered.

Energy Security Strategy

David Johnston Excerpts
Tuesday 5th July 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this debate.

I think we have all understood, intellectually, that our energy supply is a national security issue, but that reality has smacked us in the face this year with the way that Putin has weaponised energy supply. We have seen that a global spike in demand causes British families real pain in their pockets. The Government are trying to do what they can, but those forces are ultimately beyond their control. They can mitigate the impact, but they cannot totally prevent the problems. I welcome a lot of what is in the energy security strategy, not least the fact that it puts us on track to have 480,000 clean jobs by 2030 and £100 billion of private investment. The Government should invest in these technologies, but we will only get to where we want to be if we access private investment to support them.

We have been world-leading in eliminating coal. I very much welcome the Government’s ambition to have 25% of our electricity capacity come from offshore wind and to trial onshore wind as long as there is local support for it. I look forward to seeing how much local support there is, given how many complaints I get about other planning issues. If the support is there, it is absolutely the right thing for us to do. I have had lots of correspondence from constituents about solar panels. Some people have already got them up and would like to see many more of them up. I welcome what the Government are doing to make it easier for people to put them on top of their houses and buildings.

I have a number of great colleagues who are champions of hydrogen. It will be very important to their local economies. It will not be so important to mine, but I very much welcome the fact that we will be developing new systems for transporting and storing hydrogen. Many people think it has a huge part to play in our energy security.

We know that a lot of our problems come from energy efficiency, in respect of both homes and buildings. I have been campaigning to try to get new homes to be built to the latest environmental standard that Government set, rather than the one that existed at the time planning permission was granted, which is often five or six years earlier. It means that house builders are able to get away with putting in things that they know have got to be retrofitted in just a few years’ time. I think that once a certain time has elapsed after planning permission, houses should have to be built to whatever the latest standard is that the Government have set.

I welcome the temporary relief on VAT for energy efficiency projects for houses, but we are going to need a very large retrofitting programme. It is important to get the new homes right, but we need to learn from the green homes grant scheme and put in place the right retrofitting programme; then we will not need as much energy as we are using at the moment. Similarly, the Government are providing welcome financial support for people to get heat pumps, but it is still too expensive for most people. The manufacturing competition that we will have this year can, I hope, do something to bring down the cost of that technology. I have a significant number of constituents who would like to put one in if they could, but they just cannot afford it.

The Local Electricity Bill has already been touched on and I am sure it will be mentioned by other Members. More than 300 MPs now support it. It would be remiss of me, the lead sponsor, not to touch on it briefly before I close. We have not done enough in this country to support community energy projects. They are hugely popular where I am and I am sure in a lot of other places, but most small-scale generators of community energy are still faced with licence agreements that are more than 500 pages long, and set-up costs are between £250,000 and £1 million. Successive Governments have tried to do things to help more community energy into the market, but if we look at the Licence Lite scheme, we see that only three such licences have been granted since 2009. None of them have got to operation yet and none of them have involved community energy.

I have been working with Steve Shaw and other powerful people to try to get to a position where we can generate more community energy. I know that the Minister believes in its potential. We have been working with his officials. Essentially, the system is too complex and time-consuming at the moment. We need to find a way to get people a clearer route to market, to give them greater certainty over the price, revenue and contract length. We probably need a system that enables them to team up with an existing supplier so that they can take advantage of its metering and compliance capabilities, which the smaller-scale generators will be unable to do.

People disagree about whether we should have nuclear, fracking and new oil drilling. They argue about which is the best form of renewable energy to put the most money into, but they do not tend to disagree about community energy, because they think it is a good thing. If we can do more to help that, it could be an important part of our energy security strategy.

Oral Answers to Questions

David Johnston Excerpts
Tuesday 7th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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There is no reason to be angry about the support, because the £37 billion of support is very real. On the supplier of last resort, the hon. Gentleman will know that 26 firms had to leave the market as a consequence of sky-high wholesale prices, and all the SOLR levy does is socialise those costs within the industry. It was a necessary device to make sure that customers can ease on to other providers without interruption.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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3. What steps he is taking to support new low-carbon technologies.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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9. What steps he is taking to support new low-carbon technologies.

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Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change (Greg Hands)
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Clean energy technologies are fundamental in both securing our energy supply and meeting net zero. This Conservative Government have set out their ambition to invest up to £22 billion in research and development by 2024. Meanwhile, we are moving to annual options for renewable energy and investing big in our nuclear future.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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In recent months, I have had a number of emails from constituents who have taken the Government’s encouragement to look at getting a heat pump, but have found the cost just too high for them. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to help bring down the cost of heat pumps so that they are more affordable for more people?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want to go with the grain of human nature, which means that, when it is time to replace a gas boiler, the heat pump is a competitive option in terms of price. That is why we think the cost of heat pumps can reduce by 25% to 50% by 2025. We have our £450 million boiler upgrade scheme to provide capital grants of up to £6,000, and that is in addition to the zero per cent rate of VAT on installation.

Oral Answers to Questions

David Johnston Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I will tell the hon. Lady exactly what steps I will take to do better. I will constantly and always fight against Labour’s socialism, its windfall tax, its inability to plan ahead and its total lack of remorse for the fact that it destroyed manufacturing jobs in the time it was in government.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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T2. My right hon. Friend the Minister will know that I am the promoter of the Local Electricity Bill, which is supported by just under 300 Members of this House, and I will be chairing a new all-party parliamentary group on community energy to promote it. Does he agree that community energy can play a key role in reaching our net zero goal? Will he work with us to remove the barriers to local suppliers of renewable energy?

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change (Greg Hands)
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I thank my hon. Friend for his long-standing and passionate interest in community energy. I was delighted to meet him and colleagues just before the recess. Through the introduction of UK-wide growth-funding schemes such as the towns fund, the Government are enabling local areas to tackle net zero goals. We intend to publish an updated retail energy market strategy in due course.

Storm Eunice

David Johnston Excerpts
Monday 21st February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), assures me that she and her team and colleagues in DEFRA are willing and eager to engage with the hon. Lady. My understanding is that the Foss barrier is working and has not been breached yet. I am hopeful that my DEFRA colleagues can engage with the hon. Lady on this extremely important issue.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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Jack Bristow from Sutton Courtenay in my constituency is one of the four people who lost their lives in Storm Eunice. He had been using his truck to help with the aftermath of the storm down in Hampshire when a tree fell on it. He was only 23 years old and had a one-year-old son. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Jack and in paying our condolences to his mother Teresa, to his partner Courtney and to all those who knew and loved him?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very saddened to hear about the fate of my hon. Friend’s all too young constituent. These tragic events remind us of the real human cost of climate change and extreme weather eventualities. I remember that in my own constituency eight years ago, in 2014, a little eight-year-old boy, Zane Gbangbola, died. This is really the first time I have been able to pay tribute to him. I fully understand the pain and anguish that Jack’s family are having to live with.

Supporting Small Business

David Johnston Excerpts
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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The hon. Member makes a fair point, because two out of four businesses have relocated to St James Quarter, with the interestingly shaped top that is called things that I would not repeat in this Chamber, but Jenners, a classic department store that is not relocating, is a good example of a casualty of changing trends.

It would be absolutely churlish not to recognise what this Government have done over the past 18 months. I represent a constituency in Sussex that is absolutely reliant in employment terms on small businesses in leisure, tourism and retail. The constituency I represent has businesses that were among the 750,000 that were given a business rate holiday. Furlough is not just keeping the employees going but making sure that they are returning back to the businesses. Some 15,300 workers in my constituency, about a third, were reliant on furlough to keep them going. When I went round to visit those businesses last summer—it had been very difficult for us to meet, but the changes in the summer allowed us to do that—they were absolutely of the view that had it not been for the Government’s support, their businesses would have shut down and their employees would have been made redundant. Everything that I am about to say has to be put in the context of the fact that this Government have absolutely supported business. I absolutely refute the point that the Conservative party is no longer the party of business; it absolutely is and it will always have the champions of business on these Benches.

In the six years since I have been a Member of this place, I have always championed the need to reform business rates. If we look across the G7, we see that the UK has the largest property taxes. They are a tax on jobs and a tax on business, and I would like to see them reformed. Over those years, we have had a number of reviews, and we are waiting on one at the moment. I would dearly like to see business rates replaced. The CBI is right when it says that business rates are a tax on business and jobs and lead to uncertainty. I see the shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) nodding her head.

What is also important is that I stand for fiscal responsibility. Something has to come in place of business rates that brings in the exact same yield. With respect to the shadow Chancellor, when she was pushed by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on how the £20 billion-plus that business rates bring in as revenue would be replaced, she was only able to give a figure of about £7 billion. That leads to a big deficit. That means there would either have to be public spending cuts to make up for the shortfall, or we would have to go into further debt, which is no good for business or the individual.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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My hon. Friend makes the point about the shortfall if we get rid of business rates. Those on the Opposition Benches also talk about the national insurance rise, which is raising £36 billion to go into the health service and social care. Is he as unclear as I am on how they would replace that money, as well?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I am. I do not want to go too off-piste in terms of the subject of this debate, but I certainly recall that when the Labour party rightly injected funds into the NHS back in 2001, it also agreed that national insurance was the best way to fund it. I have heard it said that wages are not growing at the same rate now as they were then. Actually, if we take a look back, we find that they are growing faster now, which seems to refute that argument.

When it comes to the business of running Government, we have to take these serious decisions and make sure that we do not continue to see this country going ever further into debt. When it comes to business rate replacement, which I would advocate, we need to look at something that brings in the same revenue, and I am left with the view I had previously: we can look at a tax on turnover or sales, but ultimately the simplest way of dealing with it is looking at the VAT system. We all know full well that business rates end up getting channelled all the way through to the individual consumer in any event, but some consumers do not have to pay, particularly with the online side of things, because business rates are not levied there as much as they perhaps are on the high street.

We should level with the public and say, “At the moment, business rates are coming on to your bills, but they are a tax on jobs.” If we were to put the tax instead on VAT or other forms, it would be a lot more transparent, a lot fairer and, most of all, it would make it economically viable for businesses to expand their space and employ more people. If we did that, we would level with the British public and see further investment from business. I do not agree with the motion, although I agree with the Opposition for bringing it forward. It is great that we are debating the ideas, and I welcome that from those on the shadow Front Bench, but I gently prod that ultimately we have to see a payment of like for like.

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Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the thoughtful contribution by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake).

I start by congratulating HullBID on winning its recent ballot. It had an 87% turnout from businesses in the city centre, and it won the vote by 81%. I am sure that every Member of this House would be delighted to have those percentages. I congratulate Kathryn Shillito, the executive director of HullBID, on her amazing work throughout the pandemic, offering advice, grants and financial support for businesses right in the city centre.

That support and advice has been needed more than ever, because we see from the data that more than 197 businesses in Hull West and Hessle are at risk, despite the excellent work that is going on in the city. Our independent retail scene is thriving. As some of the bigger names are moving out, we are home-growing our own talent and our own businesses in our own city. Trinity market is full of exciting independent shops, as is Hepworth arcade, and we were shortlisted for the Great British High Street awards just last year—I am sure they will look on us favourably again next year.

Although there has been some disagreement during the debate, there has been so much consensus, and there seems to be a consensus that the business rates system that we have at the moment is simply not fit for purpose. In my city of Hull, the high street has moved from one location to another, but the rating system for business rates has not moved with it. One part of the city centre used to be the thriving area where everyone shopped. It is now completely different, yet businesses there still pay higher business rates, because those rates are set on an old-fashioned and outdated model. That must change.

I want to mention Ye Olde White Harte pub in Hull, which I highly recommend to everyone. It has been there since 1550, and it is famous for its “plotting room”, where the people of Hull apparently got together to decide that they would turn away Charles I when he came to try to enter the city, thus starting the English civil war. I have no reason to start a civil war right here, right now, but I do want to point out the unfairness of the business rates and taxation system that that pub is under. When I visited, its landlord told me that its rates are based on “fair maintainable trade”, which has been criticised for lacking transparency, being open to manipulation and being biased in favour of pub companies and against landlords. I wrote to the Minister about this issue, raising the case of the White Harte, and I hope that he will review my letter again.

However, if we waited for the Government to fix the problems in Hull, we would be waiting an awfully long time. As I proved with my story about Ye Olde White Harte, we have nothing in my city if not an independent and fighting spirit, so we are coming to our own solutions and solving our own problems. I have been working closely with businesses in Hull to champion the city as the capital of home working and remote working, so it was very disappointing to read on the front page of one newspaper that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor want everyone to go back to the offices where they worked before. That seems to me to be re-establishing the inequality that existed previously. Why?

Why do people have to go back to the cities and offices in which they worked before? Why not look elsewhere, at other parts of our beautiful country? Look at the city of Hull, where we have the fastest broadband and affordable standards of living. We are right by the ferry—if someone wants to pop off to Holland, they can do so for £40 return on P&O—and we can get a direct train down to London in only two and a half hours on Hull Trains’ bespoke open railway service. We have everything we need to offer remote workers. We have a much higher standard of living than they would have if they were living in a tiny little flat and commuting. No offence to my colleagues from London, but the prices in London are extraordinary. Living in a small flat in London and getting stuck on the underground, or living in the city of Hull, in a beautiful, much bigger house, with the Yorkshire countryside and the beautiful east coast on the doorstep—which would we rather?

Why are the Government insisting on sending everyone back to the office as they were before? No—send everyone instead to cities such as Hull, where they would be welcomed with open arms. They can give our high streets a boost by coming and living in our city centre, they can spend their money in our city, and they can truly achieve a bit more equality than the Government are offering. So I hope we are not going to return to business as normal. The first step in not returning to business as normal is to look at reforming the business rate system. It is outdated, it does not work and it is unfair to businesses in my constituency.

I hope that while we look at changing things for the better, we also change our attitude towards remote working, because it really can offer the skills revolution and the opportunities we need for cities like mine. For too long in cities such as Hull, if people wanted a good job, they had to leave. Remote working changes all that. People can have the job of their dreams in the city where they grew up, sitting behind a laptop.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need jobs in other parts of the country, but does she agree with me that the big risk of remote working is that younger workers will not develop the skills, knowledge and connections that they do when they are in the workplace? They, at least, need to be able to go into the office to develop them.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am so pleased the hon. Gentleman raises that point, because it brings me on to my second point. He is absolutely right and we are solving that problem here in the fine city of Hull by working with businesses to set up remote working hubs. We are looking at hotdesking situations and bringing together people who wish to have remote jobs, but who do not wish to be isolated forever in their bedrooms away from everybody else and not have those opportunities to network. We are looking at changing part of Princes Quay shopping centre into an area where we can have remote working desks based around particular industries, so that people can network, get to know each other and mix while still working remotely for different companies around the country or even around the world. This is happening right now. We have turned the old HSBC bank on Whitefriargate, owned by businessman Gerard Toplass, into the most stunning place to work. We will be setting up hotdesking opportunities right there in that old bank, utilising the assets we have in our high streets into new resources—resources for hotdesking and remote working, and bringing more residential living into the city, too.

To do all that, however—I could enthuse about this idea for hours, but I will stop now, Madam Deputy Speaker—we need to start with a fundamental reform of business rates. To give Hull a chance to help itself, we need fair taxation for everybody.

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David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak in the debate.

I am blessed in having a great many small businesses in Wantage and Didcot, from those that create medical devices and vaccines to those that clear debris from space. I have more pubs in my constituency than all but seven other Members. I have high-quality farms—and we must not forget that our farms are businesses too. In fact, I have a huge range of businesses, including the Great British Mead Company. I do not know how many superhero film fans there are in the House, but while there may not be many similarities between me and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor character, being able to drink mead—thanks to the Great British Mead Company —is my one claim to similarity.

I have just issued to my constituents a leaflet reporting on what I have been doing. I have visited more than 300 organisations since I was elected, many of them businesses and many of them on the high street. I have to say to Opposition Members that, time and again, when I visit business people on the high street, they say, “I think the Government have done a really good job in supporting us.” Sometimes they preface that by saying, “I am not a Conservative voter.” The gratitude is real, and I suspect that Opposition Members have heard it when they have gone around their own constituencies—although I do not expect them to acknowledge that here—because the support has been phenomenal. As has already been mentioned, it has amounted to more than £400 billion. People generally think of furlough and the grant scheme, but there is also the money that has gone into the towns fund, the increase in employment support, and the money invested in the start-up loan scheme.

It is true that businesses have had differing experiences of the pandemic, with some doing better than others. It has already been pointed out that businesses in the travel sector have had a particularly difficult time. There are pubs whose regulars have still not come back. However, there are signs of optimism and steps in the right direction for all these sectors.

It is an interesting feature of this debate that the one thing on which we all seem to agree is that the present business rates system is not what it should be and needs to be reformed. That is precisely why the Government are conducting a review of it. The interim report has already given us an indication of what people have been saying about business rates, which is sometimes that they are too high, sometimes that there is too much admin, and sometimes that the reliefs do not seem to be targeted exactly as they should be. There is also the issue of online competition. I am as keen as anybody to see the playing field levelled with companies such as Amazon, but it is not just Amazon that does online sales. There are often very small businesses that do not have the cost of buildings and that might be competing on a slightly unlevel playing field with businesses on our high streets, so we need a system that is not just about whacking Amazon.

As Labour’s motion says, we have six months left of the current review. We are not making a decision this month, and the Government will bring out their proposals. Thanks to the action they have taken in this period, unemployment is lower than expected and GDP is higher. I have every confidence that in the coming months the Government will take whatever action is needed, including on business rates, because they have shown in the past 18 months that people’s jobs and people’s businesses, as well as people’s health, are right at the centre of their decision making.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

David Johnston Excerpts
David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I am privileged to have lots of world-class science in my constituency, not least at Harwell campus, which used to be hidden from Ordnance Survey maps when it was doing what it was with atomic energy, but is now very much on the map of the world’s leading scientific research and development centres in the world. I warmly support what Government do in this area, not least the £800 million that it will put into ARIA, which fulfils another manifesto commitment and takes us further along the route to 2.4% of GDP going on research and development.

When I was reading through the various briefings on the Bill, most of what I wanted to say came under three As. The first A is ambition. I hugely welcome the Government’s ambition to invest more in R and D; their ambition to get better at commercialising the world-class research that we develop; and their ambition to have our version—not the same—of DARPA, which has been so vital to the US and the world with its contribution to things from GPS to the internet.

The second A is autonomy. It is hugely important that we are to give autonomy to programme managers, and not to have Ministers direct them as to what they should research and what they should fund. Let us hire great people and let them do what has made them great. Let them get on with the things that they are successful in, and not ask them to conform to a particular type of what we are used to dealing with.

The third A is acceptance: acceptance of the need to do things differently; acceptance of a greater risk; and acceptance of failure. There is not enough of that in Government. That naturally leads us on to the various exemptions that ARIA will have, which I fully support. It is right that it is exempt from the traditional bureaucracy that comes with Government funding. It is right that we exempt it from public procurement regulations. It is right that we exempt it from FOI. I know that FOI has probably had more attention than other things. We can make a case that FOI has all sorts of benefits, but one benefit that we cannot claim that it has is encouraging people to take risk, because, on the contrary, what it does is encourage people to be risk averse. They may worry that people will go through with a hindsight ruler and decide that they should not have done the things that they did.

I smile to myself when people, whom I hugely respect, start by saying that they support the Government in wanting to do things differently with ARIA, but then come up with a list that is about doing things in the same way that we have always done—how we fund, what rules it is subject to, and putting it under the umbrella of UKRI. The more that we do that, the further we will get away from the purpose of this. Ambition, autonomy and acceptance of greater risk are exactly what the Government should be doing more of. It will help us both retain our own talent and continue to attract more talent from around the world. While we do not yet know what ARIA will create, I am very confident that we will look back and feel very pleased that we created it.

Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Battery Manufacturing Strategy

David Johnston Excerpts
Monday 1st March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman and I may have a different view on the threat of climate change, including, in particular, the drive to net zero. I suggest to him that the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan has been well received. There has been huge support across the United Kingdom to see cleaner technology and electric vehicles and many people are very supportive of the Government’s measures in this regard.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

Last month, I met representatives from Johnson Matthey, which is opening a new flagship site at Milton Park in my constituency, where it will develop and test advance batches, working both to lengthen the driving distances and shorten the charging times. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very welcome development that supports the Government’s ambition to transition us to electric vehicles as well as to help us meet our 2050 net zero goal?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to answer that question, because it relates to an earlier answer that I gave. There are new jobs and opportunities in this push towards net zero. I would be very pleased to visit the Johnson Matthey site in Wantage and I think that it is an excellent development that we are all extremely pleased about.