Edward Miliband debates with Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

There have been 14 exchanges between Edward Miliband and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Tue 21st July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (230 words)
Thu 16th July 2020 UK Internal Market: White Paper 3 interactions (926 words)
Mon 29th June 2020 Business and Planning Bill 13 interactions (2,572 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (279 words)
Wed 3rd June 2020 Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill 21 interactions (3,571 words)
Tue 12th May 2020 Covid-19: Business 3 interactions (786 words)
Mon 4th May 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (297 words)
Thu 26th September 2019 International Climate Action 3 interactions (143 words)
Mon 24th June 2019 Climate Change 3 interactions (644 words)
Wed 12th June 2019 Net Zero Emissions Target 3 interactions (211 words)
Mon 10th June 2019 Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme 13 interactions (1,083 words)
Tue 28th November 2017 Budget Resolutions 3 interactions (1,096 words)
Thu 12th October 2017 Retail Energy 3 interactions (118 words)
Thu 29th June 2017 Economy and Jobs 3 interactions (944 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

My hon. Friend highlights an important point. Throughout the covid-19 period, the Government have provided unprecedented support for employment and worked in close partnership with the business community. I understand that it continues to be a difficult time for many businesses, but as he highlights, in that spirit of partnership, we expect all employers to treat their employees fairly and follow the rules.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard

I want to return the Secretary of State to the question asked by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) about the many businesses that are part of the 3 million ExcludedUK group. They include over 2 million people who are essentially self-employed but have been disqualified from help under the self-employment scheme for various—often arbitrary—reasons. In many cases, this is not simply rough justice but deep unfairness. Many of these individuals are not high earners. Will the Secretary of State give an indication that he recognises that this is an injustice, and can he tell us how he plans to address it?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

The right hon. Gentleman will also acknowledge that the Government have provided unprecedented support to businesses across the whole economy. As I said, the key right now is to support businesses to open, to get the economy up and running. That is the best way that we can support businesses across the United Kingdom.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

This issue of 3 million people being excluded is not going away. Let me ask him about the winding down of the furlough scheme. Yesterday, Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said that a furlough extension was vital to prevent a “jobs bloodbath” in aerospace and automotive. We see the looming threat too in sectors that have not yet reopened, such as events and exhibitions, and those operating well below capacity, such as hospitality. Yet from next week, the Government are insisting that every single employer, whatever their industry, will have to start contributing to the furlough. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that this decision to phase out the furlough, irrespective of circumstances, risks handing a P45 to hundreds of thousands of workers?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

The furlough scheme will have been up and running for a full eight months, providing a huge amount of support for more than 9 million jobs. It is becoming more flexible and allowing people to return to work part time. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Chancellor has also set out the job retention bonus which, if it is taken up by all employers, will represent a £9 billion boost for the economy. I say to him again that the key is to get the economy up and running and to get businesses trading.

UK Internal Market: White Paper

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Thursday 16th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma) - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

For centuries, the United Kingdom’s internal market has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity, with people, products, ideas and investment moving seamlessly between our nations, safeguarding livelihoods and businesses and demonstrating that, as a union, our country is greater than the sum of its parts.

Today, I am publishing a White Paper on the Government’s plans to preserve the UK internal market after the transition period. Since the Acts of Union, the UK internal market has been the source of unhindered and open trade across the country, one which pulls us together as a united country. I know that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) cares as much about our precious union as I do.

Since 1973, EU law has acted as the cohering force for the UK internal market. In 2016, the British people voted to repeal this legislation, allowing us now to articulate the continued functioning of the internal market. The Union’s economic strength is unrivalled. Since the Acts of Union, the size of our economy has multiplied over 170-fold. Successive UK Governments have legislated to share this prosperity and protect workers’ rights—for example, through the introduction of the national minimum wage and now the national living wage, and by providing for more generous holiday and maternity leave than required by the EU. Today we are announcing plans to continue this hugely successful economic Union. We will legislate for an internal market in UK law, as we leave the transition period and the EU’s single market. Our approach will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible.

But let me be clear: preserving the coherence of the UK internal market will be done in a manner that respects and upholds the devolution settlements. On 1 January 2021, hundreds of powers previously held by the EU will rightly flow directly back to devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. For the first time, because of our approach, the devolved Administrations will be able to legislate on a whole range of policy areas. Each nation that makes up our United Kingdom will hold an unprecedented level of powers after the transition period.

To respect devolution and uphold our internal market, we propose to legislate this year. Businesses across the UK will be given a market access commitment. That will be underpinned by the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, which will guarantee that goods and services from one part of the United Kingdom can always be sold into another. The simple principle at the heart of this approach is a continuation of our centuries-old position that there should be no economic barriers to trading within the United Kingdom.

The economies of our four nations, within one United Kingdom, are strongly integrated. At the time of the last census, 170,000 workers commuted daily from one part of the UK to another. Scotland makes over £50 billion of sales per year to the rest of the UK, accounting for over 60% of all exports. Indeed, Scotland sells three times as much to the rest of the UK than to the whole EU put together. About 50% of Northern Ireland’s sales are to Great Britain, and 75% of exports of Welsh final goods and services are consumed in other parts of the UK. In some parts of Wales, over a quarter of workers commute across the border. It is in the clear economic interest of the whole United Kingdom that its internal market continues to function successfully and seamlessly, as it has done for centuries.

As part of our proposals, we will also clarify in law the position that subsidy control is a reserved matter for the whole United Kingdom. This has never been a devolved matter. The Government have been clear that, after the end of the transition period, the UK will have its own domestic subsidy control regime. We will develop our policy proposals on this in due course, consulting widely.

We will only recover from covid by working together. Just over two weeks ago, the Prime Minister set out how we would strengthen the incredible partnership between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through our economic recovery. That will be underpinned by a strong UK internal market and avoid the damaging uncertainty for businesses of a fractured economy. It will provide the unquestionable advantages of continued open trade. It will benefit businesses, workers and consumers across the country through lowering trading costs and allowing different regions to specialise in sectors where they enjoy a comparative advantage.

Our proposals are designed for co-operation between all four nations. We invite all devolved Administrations to work together and to agree common approaches to cross-cutting issues such as regulatory standards.

The UK economy has some of the highest standards in the world. We go beyond EU rules in many areas, including health and safety in the workplace, workers’ rights, food, health and animal welfare, consumer protections, household goods, net zero and the environment. We will maintain our commitment to high standards, as we negotiate trade agreements that will provide jobs and growth to the United Kingdom. Through our common frameworks approach, we will support regulatory consistency across our internal market, so if the devolved Administrations seek to agree standards across the UK economy, I say simply this: come and work with us.

The UK internal market is a historic achievement for the United Kingdom, which for 300 years has supported unrivalled economic growth and innovation within our great Union. That has underpinned the best of our United Kingdom’s innovation and prosperity: the Scottish enlightenment, the steam engine, the world’s first vaccine, the telephone, the electric tramway, penicillin, radar, pneumatic tyres, the breaking of the Enigma code, the sequencing of DNA, and the world wide web. As we rebuild and recover from covid, we will work together as one United Kingdom to support jobs and livelihoods across our whole country. We will maintain high standards for consumers, and deliver our commitment to devolution by giving more power to the devolved legislatures. I commend this statement to the House.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 Jul 2020, 12:19 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. We support the principle of maintaining the UK’s internal market, which is vital for trade, jobs, and prosperity across the whole United Kingdom. The way the Government go about that has profound implications for whether we drive up standards across the UK, or drive them down, and for whether that issue becomes a source of tension across the four nations of the UK. We believe in our United Kingdom, and there is a big responsibility on the Government to seek to build consensus, and ensure that we do not drive a wedge between our nations or give an excuse to those who wish to do so.

By those standards, there are significant problems in the announcement. On the process, for example, the Welsh Government were promised a draft of this White Paper last March, yet when I talked to the Welsh First Minister yesterday afternoon, the Government had still not shared it with him. That approach does the Secretary of State and the Government no good. On the substance, we should be honest that there is a real challenge regarding how we maintain an internal market without barriers in the UK as we leave the European Union, while at the same time respecting devolution when issues such as food standards and labelling, animal welfare, and other important environmental issues are devolved.

For the past 40 years, including 20 years of devolution, that has been achieved by the EU setting minimum standards, which all four nations had to abide by. The crucial question is not whether we have an internal market, which we need, but how we now set minimum standards to ensure that each nation has a proper voice in doing so, and a means of resolving any disputes that arise. By answering those questions, we can do what we need to do, which is both keep the internal market and respect devolution. Unfortunately, despite the warm words from the Secretary of State, the approach of the White Paper as presented for England, Scotland and Wales appears to be simply to legislate that the lowest standard chosen by one Parliament must become the minimum standard for all.

The risk is that one legislature would be able to lower its food safety standards and animal welfare standards, and force the other nations, which would have no recourse, to accept goods and services produced on that basis— in other words, a race to the bottom. The Secretary of State talks about levelling up, but there is a real risk of levelling down. That is not in the interests of consumers, workers or businesses, and it does not adequately respect devolution. For Northern Ireland, if standards in the UK diverge significantly below those of the EU, there is a real risk that checks on food and other products going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would increase in parallel.

The Secretary of State must, in the course of this consultation, provide better answers for how we avoid that race to the bottom, so let me ask him four specific questions. First, will he explain what is the mechanism, if any, by which the four nations of the UK will agree minimum standards that respect the voice of each nation? He mentions the common frameworks process and an ongoing process of dialogue, but he must realise that that is superseded by the White Paper, which simply states that the lowest standard among the nations wins. If the framework process is to prevent that danger, how will it be incorporated into legislation?

Secondly, there needs to be a means of resolving disputes that can command confidence. The White Paper states:

“The Government will consider tasking an independent, advisory body to report to the UK Parliament”.

That is far too weak. Surely the Secretary of State must recognise that any independent body, if it is to respect devolution, must be accountable to all four nations, with its functions agreed by all four nations.

Thirdly, the Secretary of State must understand that the anxiety caused by the White Paper is partly due to the gap between the Government’s warm words about raising standards—we heard them again today—and their deeds. They had a chance in the Agriculture Bill to agree that no trade deal would be signed that lowered animal welfare, environmental protection or food safety standards, through an amendment tabled by their own side, but they refused to do so. The spectre of a Trump trade deal that would drive down standards and be imposed on the whole of the UK hangs over this White Paper. For years they have denied that their real agenda is a bonfire of much-needed standards. Great, but if they do not plan to lower standards, why cannot the Secretary of State agree to legally binding commitments?

Fourthly, the state aid rules need to be in place in just five months’ time, but even after this White Paper we still do not know any details about how they will work. Will the Secretary of State tell us when we will get the Government’s plans?

I want to end by saying to the right hon. Gentleman that we absolutely need to maintain the internal market from 1 January, but it is time the Government showed—in deeds, not just in words—their commitment to levelling up, not levelling down. It is time, too, that they showed a desire to build constitutional consensus, rather than risking constitutional conflict, and the White Paper is not a good start. The Secretary of State and the Government must do better in the weeks and months ahead.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 Jul 2020, 12:22 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his support for the principle of the UK internal market. I hope that that is something we will hear echoed across the House as we open up to questions. Let me address some of the points that he has raised. The first thing worth noting is that he talked about anxiety. The real issue at the moment is giving certainty to businesses, so that they know from day one that they are able to operate as they do now within a coherent, seamless internal market. That is what this White Paper proposal absolutely gives them. I have spoken, as I am sure he will have done, to business representatives and organisations over the last 24 hours, and they have told me that this is one big issue off the risk register of companies.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about standards. I would point out to him once again that the UK has some of the highest standards in the world across a whole range of areas. I have listed issues around maternity and paternity pay, around the exclusions and around zero-hour contracts. I say to him once again—I am sure that this issue will be raised by others as well—that we are not going to be compromising our high environmental standards, our high animal welfare standards or, indeed, our high food safety standards in the deals that we do.

The right hon. Gentleman then raised the issue about working together. He will know that the common frameworks programme has been running for some time, and we have had consultations and discussions around that. If colleagues in the devolved Administrations want to have a discussion about standards, that is absolutely the right forum in which to do it. He also mentioned the state aid rules. I know that he will understand the reason that we want to continue to have this as a reserved matter. We want to ensure that there is effectively equality across the whole of the UK and that there are no distortions. I understand his desire for us to set out the details on this, and that will come.

In conclusion, the White Paper gives certainty to businesses. It is about protecting jobs and livelihoods, and about supporting businesses in making their investment decisions. That is good for consumers as well. It is about underpinning our recovery from covid as we seek to work together. I say to all colleagues that this is about businesses and people, not about politicians, and I hope that that is the spirit in which we will conduct the rest of this debate.

Business and Planning Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Edward Miliband Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

The Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), will deal with the details of that. The point of these measures is to get the economy going, which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) is keen to do. I understand his point, and we will address it in Committee.

The Bill temporarily allows the issuing of one-year lorry or bus driving licence renewals, rather than the standard five years. Shorter renewals will be allowed if an applicant is otherwise healthy but unable to obtain the medical report required for a five-year licence. That will relieve pressure on GPs and allow drivers to continue to work. The Bill also reforms powers to exempt temporarily goods vehicles, buses and coaches from roadworthiness testing. That will allow the high demand for heavy-vehicle testing, which restarts from 4 July, to be managed in a manner that prioritises road safety by targeting higher-risk vehicles or operators.

In conclusion, the Government have stood shoulder to shoulder with businesses throughout the covid-19 emergency and now, as we emerge from this pandemic, we need to support our economic recovery and help businesses with more flexible ways of working. The great British economy, helped by a willing public, is reawakening from its enforced slumber. Taken together, the measures in the Bill are designed to provide a much-needed economic boost, and I commend it to the House.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard

May I start by thanking the Business Secretary for the constructive conversations that he and I have had on the Bill? As he knows, we support the measures contained in it.

The wider context to this Bill is the economic crisis that we face, the scale of which we have not seen for a very long time. As an Opposition, we have tried to work constructively with Government. Indeed, we have welcomed a number of steps that the Government have taken. We called for the furlough scheme and indeed have welcomed it, though we believe that too many people remain excluded from support. We called for the 100% underwriting of Government-backed loans, and we have welcomed the bounce back loans, too. We have also supported the Government on the difficult decision to move from 2 metres to 1 metre-plus where 2 metres cannot be observed, although we do have concerns about the test, track and trace system.

I hope that we can agree that the past few months have shown the power of Government to step in and protect jobs and businesses at a time of crisis. My case today is that that power has not gone away, and neither has the need for it to be exercised. The Government must not shrink from that, because, let us be clear, we are not at the end of this economic crisis, but just at the beginning of it.

Let me deal first with the provisions in the Bill. It is a short Bill and there is a large degree of agreement on it. The headline provisions, as the Secretary of State has said, will enable the hospitality industry to reopen quickly and serve a greater number of customers in a safe environment. We welcome the temporary loosening of planning regulations to enable bars, restaurants and cafés to serve customers outside their premises. I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) has made about the need for some caution here. It is important that local authorities continue to have discretion in these matters because they are best placed to make the judgments about the local impacts. It is also right to put on record the concerns of the shop workers’ union, USDAW, which has worried about the safety of staff. The guidance is very clear about the mitigation and reduction of risk that is needed if 1 metre-plus is in place, and I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that that is really important, and that it is also very important that the Health & Safety Executive takes a tough line in enforcing safety as well.

We also welcome the measures in enabling construction sites to get back to work more easily through extended working hours. Again, and I am sure that Members across the House will agree with me, it is in the interests of local residents that local authorities have discretion in these matters.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier - Hansard

I think we agree about the need for local authorities to have discretion, but they also need resources. In my borough, we have more than 1,300 licensed premises in a very small area of London, and a lot of licensing officers are needed just to deal with the flow of applications. Does my right hon. Friend not think that the Government need to address that?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

My hon. Friend in her customary eloquent way anticipates my next point. We have seen—and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), the shadow Secretary of State for local government, for giving me the exact figures—£10 billion of costs loaded on to local authorities during this crisis, and only £3.2 billion provided by Government, despite the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government saying that the Government would stand behind councils and give them the funding they need. We have another Bill that puts yet more pressure on local authorities, but with no clear plan about how they will be reimbursed, and our new clause 5 speaks to that issue.

We also welcome the changes to transport licensing and the removal of the unfair relationship provision in the Consumer Credit Act to ensure that bounce-back loans are more easily accessed.  I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the detailed discussions that we had about that particular provision.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill and, as I said, there is cross-party agreement on them. Obviously, there will be detailed discussions in Committee. However, I have to say to the Secretary of State and the House that we are under an illusion if we think that the measures in this Bill will go much of the way towards addressing the crisis that we face: 4 July represents a reopening of pubs and restaurants, but it does not represent recovery.

It is important to note that many sections of our economy employing hundreds of thousands of people, including gyms, leisure centres, live entertainment venues, beauty salons, conference facilities, night clubs and swimming pools, will still not be able to open for public health reasons. We support those public health decisions. Other parts of our economy will open only with severe restrictions, including large parts of our hospitality industry, which employs 3 million people or one in 10 of the whole workforce. The British Beer and Pub Association says that 25% of pubs will not be able to reopen even at 1 metre. The Government themselves acknowledge, in the scientific assessment of the change to 1 metre, that the hospitality industry will lose 25% to 40% of its revenue even at 1 metre distancing. That revenue translates into a risk to hundreds of thousands of jobs. Live performance remains prohibited, which affects the theatre sector, employing 290,000 people. Manufacturers, too, are reeling from the fall in domestic and worldwide demand.

I say all that not to cast doubt on the public health measures being taken or to speak against the Bill, but to point to the wider context, which is that the Government are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to the furlough, for example, demanding an employer contribution from August and a cliff edge at the end of October. The shadow business Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), received this letter from a venue in Manchester in the past week: 

“As the Government furlough scheme draws to a close, I will be making very difficult decisions this week so that I can give notice during the period of 80% furlough contribution to commence a redundancy consultation with the majority of my venue staff. With zero income and no appropriate financial Government support, I have no choice but to make these decisions.”

We are not asking the impossible of Government; we are saying, “Look at what other countries are doing”, whether that is Spain, Italy, New Zealand, France or Germany. They are taking a sectoral approach to the furlough. They are saying that specific sectors are more affected by the public health measures and that, therefore, the economic measures have to match that.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller - Hansard

The shadow Secretary of State will be aware that the Government measures taken across the economy, which he has welcomed, already raise issues of fairness between those who fall one side of the line and those who fall on the other side. What is his proposal for those sectors? Some businesses will fall just to one side, but who will be the expert to understand who fits where? I am all up for it if he can reconcile that, but there are risks, are there not?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

Of course there are, but just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should not do anything. The grants programme that the Government introduced was done by sector—retail, hospitality and leisure. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about boundaries, and some business organisations would raise that issue, but I worry that technical concerns about boundaries, which have been overcome for the grants scheme, stop us doing something that makes real sense.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake - Hansard

What the right hon. Gentleman says about the sector-based nature of the grants scheme highlights the problem in his argument. All MPs in this place, I am sure, have been contacted by people—in the hospitality supply chain, for example—who were not getting support. It is so difficult to take a sector-based approach. Will he concede that that is not as easy as he thinks?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

Of course it is not easy, but the hon. Gentleman’s implication is that nothing can be done for those sectors that are obviously more affected by the public health measures.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake - Hansard

indicated dissent.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. If things can be done, they should be done, but my point is that the strength of the Government response is that it has been comprehensive. It has used the power of Government and it has not necessarily taken a one-size-fits-all approach. I am worried—we see this in the evidence that has been brought forward—about the one-size-fits-all approach.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake - Hansard

I speak as a business person as well as a Member of Parliament. In my view, the Chancellor made the job retention scheme very generous, continuing it a lot longer than many thought it would; and rather than have a sector-based scheme to help some people and not others, he has tried to help all employers and make it flexible for all the different categories of employer.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we have had the furlough, but I disagree that it should be cut off at the end of October, because I really worry about the economic impact. We have 2.8 million people already claiming unemployment-related benefits, and I worry about the implications for these other industries.

The tragedy is that the Government have spent £22 billion on the furlough, but I fear that we will throw away some of that investment  by not recognising that specific sectors face specific challenges. I urge the Business Secretary —he knows this, as he talks to the same people that I do—to use all the powers of his office to make representations to the Chancellor to find a way of fixing that, so that we have a sector-specific approach to the furlough, including an extension beyond October.

Just as I do not believe that the furlough should be abruptly ended, I believe that there are issues of access to loan finance. As I have said, the bounce back loans scheme has been successful at getting money out of the door, but the same cannot be said of the other small business loan scheme, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. In the case of CBILS, only half of all applications have been approved, and the supposed freeing up of the scheme as a result of bounce back loans being made available is yet to materialise. We still do not know why 48,000 out of 98,000 CBILS loans are stuck in a holding pattern, and we do not know how many have been rejected and how many are still in the queue. One of the things we are asking for in the Bill is for the Government to publish data on the true number of rejections and the total number of inquiries.

The problem is not just with the small loan scheme. We have seen a wave of job losses in manufacturing, from Rolls-Royce to McLaren to Jaguar Land Rover. Make UK is predicting that as many as 170,000 jobs could be lost this year in the manufacturing sector alone. Any talk of levelling up will come to nought if we lose those jobs—I am sure that sentiment is shared across the House—and I urge the Secretary of State to look at the international comparisons of France and Germany, which have protected and supported strategic sectors of the economy, such as steel, aerospace and automotive, in a number of different ways. That is why our amendment to the Bill calls on the Government also to publish the true number of rejections in respect of the larger loan scheme, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and explain why 400 larger businesses have not been able to access support through the scheme. Again, we do not know whether they are stuck in a holding pattern and still waiting in the queue or have just been rejected. These sectors are calling for tailored Government support to help them through the crisis, but it has not been forthcoming. The big point is that, from hospitality to leisure to manufacturing, this is a general recession, but it was also much more acute in specific sectors, and the Government need to recognise this far more in their response.

If one part of the Government’s strategy is about shielding sectors of our economy from the sectoral recession, the other part must be about job creation and employment. We are to have a speech tomorrow from the Prime Minister. It is a shame that we do not have a Budget; I do not really understand why we do not have a Budget in what is potentially the worst recession in 300 years. If now is not the time for a Budget, I do not know when is the time for a Budget, but there is a speech tomorrow and big promises are being made about it.

The Bill rightly talks about what can be done in the construction sector. The way to help the construction sector is not just to tweak the operational hours, although that is important, but also to deliver on some of the promises the Government have made. Again, I think this view can be shared across the House; I do not often quote the Conservative manifesto approvingly—[Interruption.] —or at least not enough, but it promised £9.2 billion for energy efficiency in public and private buildings. Conservative Members all stood on that manifesto and I am sure that they support it.

We know how behind the Government are on building retrofits. The Committee on Climate Change recently said that there has been “negligible progress since 2015” and that the challenge of retrofit and renovation has gone “largely unaddressed.” We know that investing in retrofit is the ultimate win-win. This is the ideal opportunity —it would help the construction sector, not just in relation to operational hours, and could create tens of thousands of jobs—but today there are reports that it is being blocked by none other than Dominic Cummings. Apparently, he is uninterested and thinks it is “boring old housing insulation”. The Secretary of State and I have a good relationship, and I am happy to give way to him so that he can say that the £9 billion is going to happen. We need the £9 billion, so I am happy to give way. He has overruled Dominic Cummings on Sunday trading; now is the time to overrule him on this.

Let us also bring forward the £12 billion of social housing spending that has been promised. All these things are important, and they are also part of job creation. I think the idea that we need a green recovery is shared throughout the House, as least at the level of principle. Some people—assiduous readers—will have read over the weekend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s rather long speech, which mentioned Franklin Roosevelt 17 times. [Interruption.] I see Members nodding. Let me tell the House about Roosevelt: he put 3 million people back to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. We need that kind of ambition on retrofit; on manufacturing low-carbon engines; on adapting our towns and cities to walking and cycling; on creating green spaces; and on reforesting and rewilding. We need what I call a zero-carbon army as part of a youth jobs fund.

We should see all these things as part of the green new deal because—this is the point—we face an unemployment emergency in this country. We should be under no illusions: a million young people are forecast to be out of work this year. We need a scale of action that matches that. That is my point. The Government measures we have supported over the past few months have recognised the power of active government in a crisis like this. My appeal to the Government is not to shrink from that now, because we are just at the beginning.

To conclude, we welcome the Bill as a step to help the hospitality and construction industry to reopen, but it is not nearly enough. The Government have shown that they are willing to take action, but we face the deepest and sharpest recession, possibly for hundreds of years, and Government power has to be continued to be used. The decisions taken by the Government in the coming weeks will determine how many jobs are lost and how many businesses survive. The commitment to do whatever it takes cannot be a hollow promise. We are calling for an extension to the furlough for specific sectors; an urgent job-creation programme with a green recovery at its heart; and real action on infrastructure, not just words. I urge the Government not to step back when our economy, our businesses and our workers desperately need support.

Mr Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans) - Hansard

To make her maiden speech, I call my constituency neighbour, Katherine Fletcher.

Oral Answers to Questions

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

My right hon. Friend, I know, has been engaging with businesses through virtual networks across Warwickshire, and I thank him for the work that he is doing locally. What I would say to him is that, of course, we have ensured that loan schemes are available across the economy. Smaller businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail have been able to access a £25,000 grant. The key issue is to have a safe and phased reopening of the economy to get it going again, which is what we are currently undertaking.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

I join you today, Mr Speaker, in both mourning and remembering Jo Cox.

I welcome much of the help that the Government have provided, but, according to Make UK, we could see the loss of 170,000 manufacturing jobs this year. In France, steel got loans within 10 days of applying for them, and aerospace is benefiting from billions of pounds of support, including for low-carbon engines. Here, three months after the crisis began, 60% of companies that have applied for large loans are still waiting and there has been no targeted help for our manufacturers. Will the Secretary of State tell us when specific help will actually materialise for sectors such as steel and aerospace?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

I do welcome the constructive tone in which we have approached our exchanges over the past few weeks, but what I would just say to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he looks at the sum total of what this Government are providing, he will find that it is significant and incredibly favourable when compared with international comparators. On loans, as he knows, we have increased the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme to allow up to £200 million to be made available, and we will continue to support businesses. He will also know that in certain cases we do have individual discussions going on with businesses.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to get a move on when it comes to those sectors, because they really need the help. I want to ask him additionally about sectors such as hospitality, tourism and the creative industries, which have just been raised. They will take longer to reopen and recover because of public health measures, and I want to ask him about the impact on them of the one-size-fits-all winding down of the furlough. Can he explain to thousands of pubs across the country how they are supposed to find an employer contribution for furloughed employees from August when they are struggling even to survive? Is not the risk of that approach, and we have seen the jobless figures this morning, that hundreds of thousands more workers will lose their jobs, and all of us will end up paying the costs in higher benefit bills and a weaker economy? Would it not be better to have a different approach for those at-risk sectors?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

We have taken a whole-economy approach, as he knows, and I have set out the measures that we have put in place. With regard to the retail and hospitality sectors, we have provided specific support for them in the one-year rates holiday, as well as the additional support that is available, but the key issue here is the safe reopening of the economy, and that is what we want to continue with over the coming weeks.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Edward Miliband Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd June 2020

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. This is not about mandating; this is about giving choice. I expect that many companies will take up the temporary support that is being made available through these measures.

Expanding on the announcement I made on 25 March that companies would have an extended period for filing accounts, the Bill will also give businesses more time to meet a range of filing requirements. The extensions to the various filing requirements will be set out in regulations to be laid once the Bill receives Royal Assent. We will be giving businesses the maximum period allowable under the powers in the Bill for filing their accounts, confirmation statements and event-driven updates. We will also extend the period within which charges should be registered with Companies House to 31 days, which I believe strikes the right balance between providing businesses with breathing space and ensuring that lenders are protected.

In conclusion, the package of measures that the Bill introduces will give businesses the best opportunity to survive the effects of the covid-19 crisis and lay the foundations for a bounce-back in the UK economy. This Government are committed to supporting businesses. We are listening, and we are putting in place meaningful and common-sense measures to provide that support. Let me end by again paying tribute to the millions of business owners up and down our country who are doing their bit to keep Britain moving. In bringing these measures forward, we demonstrate again that we stand with them. I commend the Bill to the House.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard

I begin by thanking the Business Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), for the constructive conversations that we have had about the Bill, including with the shadow Business Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). We are very much approaching this in a constructive way, and we welcome the discussions.

I want to focus on the provisions in the Bill and the wider policy context around insolvencies, which will determine what happens to millions of businesses in our country. As the Secretary of State implied, we face potentially the most dramatic recession in 300 years. What is more, we know that it is a recession necessitated by the essential public health measures that have been taken to contain coronavirus. Just as we are mutually dependent on each other when it comes to controlling the pandemic, I believe there is agreement across the House that that sense of mutual dependence should extend to the businesses of our country, because it is the right thing to do and because it is in all our interests. Every viable business we save will make the recession less deep and the recovery easier. Every business lost is disastrous not only for that business and its workers, but for our economy and all of us.

We know the great distress that many businesses are facing, and I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to businesses up and down this country that are keeping going in these circumstances, with one fifth temporarily pausing or ceasing trading during lockdown and another quarter saying that their turnover was down by at least 50%. That is the context in which we should test our approach as a country. I acknowledge that this challenge is bound to test the imagination, speed and responsiveness of any Government, and that is why we want to work constructively with them.

In that context, we welcome the measures in the Bill to help reduce insolvencies and will support their passage. As I will explain, we do not think the Bill does enough to address the dangers for what we might call the less powerful interests—particularly employees—when it comes to insolvency and the new restructuring provision, and I will explain what I mean by that.

Let me say something about the headline provisions, many of which we agree with. As regards the permanent measures, we support the moratorium to give breathing space to firms. We welcome the measures to prevent suppliers from sending businesses into liquidation, suspending so-called ipso facto provisions, and I will say something in a minute about our views on the new restructuring plan provision.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley - Hansard

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for welcoming this Bill, which I do as well. Does he accept that what is so important about the Bill is that it includes and incorporates Northern Ireland absolutely? Northern Ireland is not cut adrift and the Bill does not have some special arrangement that the Assembly will manage; Northern Ireland is part and parcel of it. The measures have given collective support to businesses across all the United Kingdom and especially in Northern Ireland. Without British money, we would have been ruined. That is the bottom line.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is very important that the approach is UK-wide, and I welcome that.

Let me say something about the temporary measures in the Bill. We think it makes sense to remove the threat around winding-up orders, for example, to deal with the issue around landlords. We welcome the measures that the Secretary of State put in place, but there is another way around, as it were, which is a landlord issuing a statutory demand followed by a winding-up order. We think that the suspension of personal liability for wrongful trading while insolvent makes sense as a measure, but for a strictly time-limited period. It is important, as I think is clear, that other duties continue to apply to directors.

In addition, easing the requirements on company filing deadlines and AGMs makes sense. Indeed, given proceedings yesterday in this House, the facility in the Bill for virtual proceedings at AGMs carries a certain irony. If only the Business Secretary had told the Leader of the House, perhaps we would have been spared a lot of trouble and a lot of queuing yesterday.

As the hon. Members for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) have both said, there is clearly a case for a longer period than to 30 June. This is no disrespect to the people writing the Bill, but I think we can agree across the House that the temporary measures will need to be in place for longer. We would be happy to see an amendment that puts the end of September in the Bill, and one of our amendments would do that. I accept the Secretary of State’s point that the change can be made by statutory instrument.

Having given the Bill a broad welcome, I want to raise some issues.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty - Hansard

I agree with all that my right hon. Friend has said. Does he agree that some extension will be needed for some of the sectors that may be hit for longer, such as the creative industries? Many in my own patch will be affected for longer because they will be closed down for longer, and they need special assistance.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion of those industries and other industries in his constituency, and I agree with him. I will come on to the particular sectoral challenges that the Secretary of State and the Government are facing.

Let me mention the areas where we would like to see improvements made to the Bill. First and most importantly, the Government’s case on the restructuring plan provision is that it could have benefits in enabling companies to restructure and not go into liquidation and in stopping large creditors from forcing companies to do so. I accept the case. I think I am right in saying that the cross-class cram-down provisions—it is not a very beautiful phrase—apply across the EU under EU law and apply in the United States as well. What is important about the provisions is that they mean that even if a class or classes of creditors object to a rescue plan, it can still go ahead providing they are better off than in the other most likely scenario, which is often going to be liquidation. That is why protecting those without power—creditors and others—is so important.

What cannot be allowed to happen—I know the Secretary of State agrees with this—is for the RP provision, which has wide scope and is not just for companies that are insolvent, but for those who fear they might become so, to be used to ride roughshod over the rights of employees, including their pensions. Given the nature of the crisis we are in, it is essential that there are proper safeguards.

To give an example, the Secretary of State will have heard earlier the deep concerns across the House about the actions of British Airways, including sacking its employees and apparently offering worse terms and conditions. The RP provision cannot become a charter for more of that sort of action, and it is our mutual responsibility to make sure it does not become so. I know the Secretary of State shares that view.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller - Hansard

I am extraordinarily grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this point, because he will be aware that when a company is in a crisis situation and has so many wolves at the door, it has to make rapid decisions to salvage the assets and the business and continue, hopefully, to trade profitably. He is putting his finger precisely on the issue of what the rights of employees in that circumstance are and what protection there is for their pension benefits in the long term—that is a fundamental part of this issue. I am interested in his new clause on employee representation, which refers specifically to trade union representation; would he be prepared to broaden that out to include some broader sense of employee representation?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says, and the answer is yes, because lots of businesses do not have trade unions, and the question is what rights employees will have in those circumstances. The US experience is quite informative: I mentioned the US hazard provision, and at American Airlines and General Motors we saw employees lose out very significantly. The hon. Gentleman’s point about pension provision is absolutely part of this. I very much hope—this is the spirit in which we are approaching the Bill—that the Government will seek to improve the protections that are in place. Our new clause 5, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, seeks to ensure mandatory discussions with the trade unions once a company enters a restructuring process. That will ensure that employees are provided with all the information made available to the court and fully consulted on any restructuring plan, and the court could then take that into account. There may be better and more comprehensive ways to build in such protection, but it is essential that we do so. Perhaps the Minister can come back on that in his winding-up speech and, indeed, in Committee.

Secondly, we are concerned about similar issues when it comes to insolvency. Unsecured creditors are left to bear most of the risk of insolvency, so they are often at the back of the queue when it comes to being protected. The protection of unsecured creditors, or the greater protection of them, could be provided through strengthening the ring-fencing of the proceeds of sale of assets when a company becomes insolvent, increasing the proportion of the proceeds reserved for them to 30%, and removing the financial limit, which is what we propose in one of our amendments. We also believe that pension schemes—this goes to the point that the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) made—should be made a priority creditor in the event of insolvency so that they get to have a role as a class, because currently I do not believe that they necessarily will.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position and wish him well. I have a bit of concern about what I refer to as predatory companies, which look for companies that are probably heading towards insolvency and see them as an opportunity to gain something. I wonder whether it is possible to ensure in the Bill that such predatory companies that would prey on those in trouble, of which there are many, are prevented from taking over an asset that is probably solvent in the long term but is not in the short term.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I once used the word predatory in relation to companies and it was rather controversial, but I think the consensus may have changed. [Interruption.] Government Members are saying it has not; it was worth a try. The hon. Gentleman makes a really important substantive point on which I think Members from all parties can agree, and it goes to the width and breadth of this provision: we have to make sure that companies cannot use it as a way to take their employees for a ride. I know from my conversations with the Secretary of State and the Minister that the intention to make sure that that does not happen is shared throughout the House, but we have to give expression to it in the Bill, and I hope the Government will indeed do so.

Let me turn to some things that are not in the Bill—

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake - Hansard

The right hon. Gentleman touched on his amendment that would ring-fence 30% of assets for unsecured creditors; is he not concerned that if we did that, people who are willing to extend finance to businesses on a secured basis may be less willing to lend?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

I believe I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman knows a lot about this, and I congratulate him for his work on the all-party group dealing with the whole range of these issues, but I am talking about the situation after secured creditors and others have been dealt with. There is currently a provision for 20%, but up to a limit of £800,000. Our amendment seeks to make that 30%, and to raise the proportion, but remove the limit. We must ensure that we do all we can for employees and small businesses—my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central will correct me if I have got those figures wrong, but I think I am broadly right.

Two sets of issues are not in the Bill, although we would have liked them to have been included, as I believe they are missed opportunities. First, in 2018 the Government consulted on a set of corporate governance safeguards in the wake of the scandal at Carillion, and indeed at Thomas Cook, which came after that. I understand that the Bill relates to the immediacy of the coronavirus crisis, but it would have been better if the Government had acted on those vital corporate governance issues in the Bill, and we would have supported them in doing so. Given that this crisis makes corporate distress more likely, it is strange that the Government have not chosen to introduce such measures. The risk is that we will get more Carillions and Thomas Cooks, with all the consequences of that for employees.

In 2018 the Government were committed to greater accountability of directors in group companies, legislation to enhance powers for insolvency practitioners, and further raising standards by ensuring an explanation about the affordability of dividend payments. Labour supports all those measures—indeed, we have tabled amendments to insert them into the Bill—and we do not think they cut across the need to protect businesses through the coronavirus crisis. Will the Government explain what plans there are for those improvements to corporate governance? I understand that the Bill must go through at speed, but it would have been better if it contained those measures.

Secondly, like the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, I wish to mention late payments to small businesses, and the important role of the Small Business Commissioner. If larger companies do not make good on their payments to small businesses, that could be the thing that pushes them over the edge. We believe that the Bill could be used to strengthen the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to help businesses that are struggling with cashflow and liquidity, and such a measure would have improved the Bill.

As I have said, we want to facilitate the passage of the Bill as it is important to protect businesses up and down the country, and we hope it can be improved in the ways I have set out. Having dealt with its specific provisions, however, let me deal with the wider context. The measures in the Bill can play a part in preventing insolvencies, but as the House knows, the number of businesses that go out of business depends on the external environment and on what the Government do in response to that. I welcome the action taken by the Government so far. There are lots of measures that we support, but we also believe there are gaps and other areas where the Government need to act.

I wish briefly to outline four sets of issues that go directly to the question of insolvency. First, I fear that the support system introduced by the Government is still not working sufficiently for our SMEs, and it risks worsening the insolvency problem. We called for the 100% underwriting of loans six weeks ago for smaller firms, and we welcomed the bounce back loan. Clearly, however—the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) made this point—those loans do not do enough for SMEs that need more than £50,000 of liquidity.

The bounce back loan was intended to improve the working of the CBIL scheme, but I am afraid that has not happened. I have the figures for what happened to the CBIL scheme in the past few weeks—I am sure the Secretary of State is as in touch with them as I am—and the number of facilities approved each week is going down, and the gap between the total numbers of applications and approvals is widening. Somebody contacted me the other day who will not be counted in those figures. He waited two months to be told by his high street bank that he was not eligible and that there was no point in him applying for a loan under the CBIL scheme. He will not be counted in those statistics, and hon. Members across the House will have heard of similar experiences.

I know that the Secretary of State is dealing with a range of issues to do with companies in distress. As I understand it, the idea was to get rid of the forward credit check for the CBIL scheme, but that does not seem to be doing the business and we need to understand why. I personally would be open to having 100% underwriting slightly higher up the scale, but we need a solution.

Secondly, beyond SMEs, I am deeply concerned about particular sectors, with manufacturing top of the list. We have seen thousands of redundancies at Rolls-Royce, real problems in the aerospace sector, issues in the car industry and massive issues facing steel. In France, steel received support within a fortnight of lockdown, whereas here our companies are still waiting. We read stories in the Financial Times about public equity stakes being considered—the so-called “Project Birch. It sounds like an interesting idea, but I say to the Secretary of State that this is taking too long, both for larger companies and for the SMEs in the supply chain.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty - Hansard

My right hon. Friend is right to mention steel and aerospace in particular, as they are crucial providers of jobs in south Wales, and we have the situations with BA and with the steel industry. Does he agree that we need to get support to them as soon as possible?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

My hon. Friend has been powerfully advocating for the steel industry, along with other hon. Members in all parts of the House, and there is real urgency in this respect.

Let me just say something about the CLBIL—Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan—scheme, which is for larger loans. We are talking about more than £45 million. I fear that this is Treasury orthodoxy, so I will not expect the Secretary of State to comment. We all know Treasury orthodoxy—I do, as I used to work there. The good news is that the Chancellor raised the limit to £200 million for the amount that companies can get, but the bad news for companies is that the CLBIL loan has to become their most senior loan—it has to be top of their list. The problem is that that means companies then have to renegotiate their other most senior loan, so they are caught in a Catch-22 situation. I suspect the Secretary of State agrees with me, but he cannot say; perhaps the Chancellor is watching. I say to the Secretary of State that companies such as McLaren have said, “We have tried to get this loan but we cannot get it because of this Catch-22 situation.” This is urgent and I urge him to get it sorted. We have had only £1 billion paid out under this scheme; 191 firms have got loans, but that is out of 579 that have applied. This is about manufacturing largely; it is about lots of large manufacturers across our country who are really in distress. There is more to be done in advancing some of the money that is already in the budget for low carbon. That is true in relation to aerospace, where I believe there is a fund—I am hoping that can be advanced— and to steel.

Let me refer to some other sectors, as one of my hon. Friends did earlier. With the public health measures that are necessary, it is obvious that sectors such as hospitality, tourism and the arts will face much greater pressures for longer; they are going to take longer to reopen and recover. To give the House a sense of the scale, I should point out that the British Beer and Pub Association has warned that up to 40% of Britain’s pubs cannot survive beyond September with the current level of financial support; that one third of jobs in tourism-related areas are estimated to be at risk; and that the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre estimate that 70% of the 290,000 jobs in that sector are at risk. Those are dire warnings we are being given.

That brings me on briefly to the furlough scheme. It has been a really good innovation, but I do not understand why the Chancellor is pursuing a one-size-fits-all policy on that scheme, because the public health measures mean that some sectors will take longer to reopen and recover. Whether through the furlough scheme or a second wave of support, these sectors are going to need extra help. I know the Secretary of State is working on this, but I underline its importance: we are talking about thousands of pubs across our country, hundreds of theatres and arts venues, and jobs in tourism. These things are the lifeblood of our constituencies.

Thirdly, I want to raise with the Secretary of State the issue of the “month 13 problem” of insolvency. This is a bit further off, but it is still an issue. Even if the Government fix their loan schemes and provide the sectoral support required, the more debt there is weighing down companies, the greater the danger of insolvency down the line—this debt overhang is also bad for our economy when it comes to recovery. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire muttering about borrowing from a sedentary position, but I am talking about private debt. The Federation of Small Businesses has been suggesting for some time that loans need to become income contingent. It has suggested a student loan-type approach. In other words, when businesses get to a certain level of financial health, they can start repaying the loans. There may be other ways forward, such as converting the loans into equity, but we are going to need solutions for these firms.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con) - Hansard

Would the right hon. Gentleman support the ideas that I have been doing some work on—as have lots of people—outside this place in relation to recapitalising the British corporate sector, not just in terms of debt to equity, but in finding ways to get much more equity into our businesses so that they are not weighed down by debt? That approach could be how we recover from this situation.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We need innovative thinking in this area. We are going to have to do things—I think that the Chancellor has said this—that we would not have done in normal times, but we cannot send businesses back out into an economy that is recovering, with this massive debt overhang. [Interruption.] I will not give way again because I need to get on with it so that other Members can speak; I can see the beady eye of Madam Deputy Speaker.

Fourthly, crucial to helping businesses through this crisis is an economic stimulus that matches the moment. In particular, I hope that plans for a green recovery, which the Government have been talking about, will be at the centre of what they do. This is the way to get our economy moving, help to save businesses and meet our climate goals.

The Bill is a step forward. We continue to have worries about the protection of workers in the event of restructuring and insolvency, and hope it can be addressed as the Bill passes through both Houses. I wish that the reforms to corporate governance had been included.

I will end by mentioning the wider economic context. We are only at the end of the beginning of the economic crisis that we are facing, and there is a need for urgency, boldness and action in the coming weeks and months. The Chancellor has said that he will do whatever it takes. In my view, that means support for specific sectors, reform of the loans scheme, imaginative solutions to the debt problems facing the small and medium-sized enterprise sector, a commitment to building back better and a green recovery. It is in the interests of everyone across the country for the Government to act; if they do, they will have our support.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

It is a great pleasure to follow the shadow Secretary of State. During this crisis, many of us have experienced groundhog day, and we have certainly just experienced it now; looking at the right hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box took me back to a period before 2015.

I warmly welcome the Bill. As the shadow Secretary of State said, the Secretary of State is right to set this legislation in the context of an extraordinarily impressive set of business measures—regardless of any tinkering around the edges that is needed—that the Government have put in place to tackle the covid crisis. We are right to recognise that in normal circumstances the Bill probably would have been split into two phases. Some of the changes that it contains are permanent, and have been debated and consulted on certainly since 2016, but maybe earlier. Other changes are rightly temporary, as they are urgent measures to address the challenges faced by many in the corporate sector who would not necessarily normally be experiencing such problems with insolvency. The flexibility is therefore clearly right.

As I have said, the Bill sets out a number of permanent and temporary concepts and provisions. I will spend a little bit of time reflecting on one or two of the permanent ones, before finishing with a particular temporary issue that affects my constituency. The Bill outlines the concept of moratorium, and it is quite clear what that is. It gives the challenged business a 20-day opportunity to consider a rescue plan. That can be extended for a further 20 days if the directors ask for it, and can, as I understand it, be extended for a whole year should the creditor or the court consent. The purpose of that is clearly obvious, and all that makes a huge amount of sense. During that period the directors retain control of the company and no legal action can be taken against it without a court decision.

However, the process is overseen by a monitor, a point on which I want to raise a few issues that I hope my Front-Bench colleagues will consider or at least address later. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) has already raised with the Secretary of State the potential conflict of interest to do with whether the monitor is sanctioned by an independent regulatory body or is just a normal insolvency practitioner that could be taking work from one group of companies with one hand and, with the other, working against that in looking at insolvency. I hope my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will carefully consider the point about regulation and bring something back quickly.

The second point concerns the criteria that the monitor has to use for the moratorium, the time it could take to assess whether the definition is met, and whether the criteria are too tightly drawn or could be met more quickly if they were more easily drawn. I recognise the need for the monitor to make a suitable statement about the moratorium. The current threshold is whether

“in the…monitor’s view, it is likely that a moratorium…would result in the rescue of the company”.

However, the monitor has a relatively short period in which to make that assessment. In normal circumstances there would be a huge amount of due diligence done on trading, future trading, inspection of management accounts, general financial arrangements and debt arrangements. Not only does that normally take longer than 20 days; it is potentially a costly process to undertake. Particularly given the spirit of what we are trying to do in the Bill, will Ministers consider whether it might be more effective to look at the definition of the criteria and approve a slightly lower threshold for what constitutes a company that could be rescued? That might be as simple as saying that “it is likely” that the moratorium could result in the rescue of the company, as opposed to saying that “it must”. That would be of considerable help in rescuing companies.

Break in Debate

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 4:21 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend. The House will be pleased to know that it will not need to listen to the next couple of minutes of my speech on the basis that he has just made exactly the point I wanted to make about the floating charge in particular. They are the normal financiers to those sorts of businesses. If they find themselves displaced in the ranking of credit priority, they are less likely to lend and that will have an impact. It was introduced in 2002 and has seen an extraordinary expansion of lending via those floating charge providers. It would seem odd that we are, in one place, trying to do one thing in one piece of Government legislation, and potentially undermining the impact of this very welcome Bill in another. I hope the Minister will, with his formidable powers of persuasion, speak to the Treasury about this matter.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 4:21 p.m.

I have a long list.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 4:21 p.m.

The shadow Secretary of State says that he has long list. I am sure we all have, but I have only one point today, which is this particular issue. I ask the Minister to have a conversation with the Treasury about whether that measure, which it may or may not want to do, needs to be brought in now, because I think it will impact this Bill.

Finally, I want to talk about one of the temporary changes that directly affects my constituency. I welcome the flexibility that is being allowed to charities and bodies to move their annual general meetings or to hold them digitally. That is extremely sensible, but it does not cover all bodies. It does not cover charities set up under an Act of Parliament, or charities that are not CIOs—charitable incorporated organisations.

The wonderful Wimbledon and Putney Commons is such a body. It was set up in 1871 by an Act of this place and it has, in its constitution, a requirement that it meets in person, that all levy payers are instructed of the date of the annual meeting and that it must happen by the end of June. The measures in the Bill would undoubtedly help the conservators who run the common. The trouble is that it does not apply to them. May I therefore make a particular plea to the Minister to say in his winding-up speech either that the Bill will include all charities rather than just those set up under CIOs, or that all bodies set up by an Act of Parliament are included, such as the Wimbledon and Putney conservators—Wimbledon and Putney Commons. [Interruption.] I said conservators. For those who want a history lesson, I made that slip in my maiden speech, but I am not making it now. If that is not possible, I ask that there be a definitive statement that the Charity Commission specifically allows some temporary flexibility to those bodies. With that entreaty on behalf of Wimbledon Common, I thank you Mr Deputy Speaker.

Covid-19: Business

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Tuesday 12th May 2020

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Mr Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans) - Hansard

I call Edward Miliband, with a time limit of five minutes.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard
12 May 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and add my thanks to all the workers and businesses that have kept our country going during these past few weeks? I say to him that we do not underestimate the challenges of lifting lockdown in certain parts of the economy. We agree that it is in all our interests for it to happen if it can be done safely, and that there are difficult decisions confronting Government, businesses and workers, who have to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. I also want to welcome a number of steps forward in the guidance published last night, which he has talked about in his statement. They do represent progress from previous proposals, and I also welcome the tone of his statement.

However, I also say to the Secretary of State that what really matters to workers and businesses in these highly sensitive and difficult matters is proceeding in an orderly and judicious way. The confusion and mixed messages of the past 48 hours have been ill-advised and avoidable. Let me ask him six specific questions. First, on the impact of the Government’s change of emphasis on going back to work in phase 1, Ministers say that the reproduction rate of the disease—the R number—is currently between 0.5 and 0.9. How many extra people does he expect to go back to work as a result of the Government’s change of emphasis? What is the scientific advice about the impact on the R number?

Secondly, we are being told that in our daily lives, outside our places of work, that we must not come within 2 metres of those from other households, for reasons I understand. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said, but for workplaces the overview document he has published asks for an observance of 2-metre distancing only “wherever possible”. If it is not possible, the only requirement is that employers should “look into” various mitigation measures. I understand that in some workplaces 2-metre distancing may not be possible, but can he explain why there is no requirement for mitigation if social distancing cannot be observed?

Thirdly, on enforcement, the challenge is, as the Secretary of State said, not the vast majority of employers, who want to do the right thing, but the small minority who do not. I welcome £14 million more for the HSE budget, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with the £100 million of cuts over the past decade. Given the challenges of enforcement, will he discuss with the trade unions how their tens of thousands of health and safety reps could player a bigger and, I believe, constructive role in ensuring covid-19 compliance, including in non-unionised work- places?

Fourthly, can the Business Secretary now provide an answer for parents who are being asked to go back to work tomorrow but are not deemed “essential” workers and therefore have nobody to look after their children, because they cannot send them to school or nursery? What are parents in those circumstances supposed to do?

Fifthly, can the Secretary of State clarify the position on the 2.5 million workers who are deemed clinically extremely vulnerable and are advised to shield at home until at least the end of June?

Currently, they have no automatic right to be furloughed and many have felt pressured to keep working. As workplaces reopen, the pressure will become greater. To protect their health and provide clarity, would it not make sense to place an obligation on employers to furlough these individuals if they cannot work from home?

The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said at the press conference last night that the reopening of workplaces was dependent on whether they can be made safe for work. Can the Secretary of State confirm that workplaces that are not safe should not reopen tomorrow and that, by law, workers who have a reasonable belief that they will be in danger do not have to be at work?

Finally, the Secretary of State will know that it is the highest paid workers who will generally carry on being able to work from home and lower paid workers who are being asked to go back to work. We also know from yesterday’s figures from the Office for National Statistics that, among men, construction workers have so far been more than twice as likely to die from covid-19 as the average member of the population. I know the Secretary of State will agree that working people are being asked to go back to work to help us all. Whatever the economic pressures, their health must be protected. They deserve to be safe. That is what the Government must take every action to ensure.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
12 May 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I also thank him for the very constructive discussions that we have had, particularly last Friday, on a range of issues. He wrote to me yesterday on the issue of safer working and I hope he has received my response. I also want to thank him for the acknowledgement that what we have put out represents progress. I think there is consensus across businesses and trade unions for what we have sought to provide.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, which I will try to address. His first question was about the R number and the numbers of people potentially going back to work. We have been very clear that we want to ensure that people are safe in the workplace and, at the end of the day, that we are saving lives. That is why we produced the guidance, which has been put together with the HSE and Public Health England. We are also very clear that people who can work from home should continue to work from home.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the fact that there was some confusion. The Prime Minister made reference to the manufacturing sector and the construction sector; those sectors are already open. Millions of people are already going to work and their employers are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about how employees can feel safe in the workplace. We have had this discussion previously. We know for a fact that many employers are already open, and they are working incredibly constructively with their trade unions. When I held my stakeholder calls as part of preparing the guidance, that was abundantly clear.

He talked about enforcement. I am pleased that he welcomes the extra money for the HSE; we need to make sure that we provide support if it is needed. I want to be very clear that the HSE is able to do spot checks and to be proactive. We ultimately want to make sure that if employees feel unsafe in a work environment, they are able to get in touch with the HSE or with their local authority.

He asked about parents and made a very reasonable point about schools. The Prime Minister set out the timetable for that. Again, it is a question of employers and employees working flexibly together. That is already happening in the workplace. I would say to all employers that they should look to see what they can do to support their workers to continue to work from home if that is at all possible.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman raised a point about reopening, whether it is safe to open workplaces, and what to do about workplaces that are not safe. He is absolutely right. People should not have to feel that they are going into an unsafe work environment; frankly, from my experience, that is not what employers want either. We absolutely need our workers to feel safe. If they feel unsafe, they can get in touch with the HSE and with local authorities. I would say to all employers to please do absolutely everything you can, because it is in all our interests that the economy gets going again.

Oral Answers to Questions

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Monday 4th May 2020

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

I welcome Ed Miliband back to the Front Bench.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

I can tell the Secretary of State that we are committed to working constructively with the Government on all issues, and we welcome the recent changes to the loans system. I have two specific questions about his draft guidelines on workplace safety. We share the desire for a return to work as soon as it is safe, but he will know that firms with more than five employees are obliged by law to carry out risk assessments on safety. First, does he plan to ensure the publication of these risk assessments to give confidence to workers? Secondly, on enforcement of safe working, the Health and Safety Executive is operating on substantially reduced resources. What will he do to ensure that the guidelines are enforced so that all workers can feel safe?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

I also take this opportunity to welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role. We have already had two very constructive discussions. I hope that will be the tone of our future interactions. He raises an important point. We both want workers in our country to feel safe and confident that they are returning to a safe workplace. Work on the consultation is ongoing, and obviously I do not want to pre-empt it, but he makes some very important points, and of course he is always welcome to write to me. I will look at what he says very carefully.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I hope that he will come to the House to make a fuller statement on these matters at the earliest opportunity.

I want to ask about another aspect of the lifting of the lockdown, which is financial support for businesses and workers. Does he recognise that there will need to be a second phase of financial support for those businesses that will have to stay closed for longer, including an extension of the furlough scheme, with more flexibility for part-time working? Secondly, on the hospitality sector, which he knows is facing very challenging times, can I urge him to look favourably at the proposal, which has the support of over 80 of his own Back Benchers, to extend business support grants to businesses with rateable values of up to £150,000? It would make a difference to tens of thousands of pubs, restaurants and other businesses that are the lifeblood of our communities.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have provided support for the hospitality, leisure and retail sector. There is a 100% rates holiday for all businesses in that sector, and we are also making £25,000 grants available to them. Under the grant scheme—the £25,000 and £10,000 grants—as of last Monday, £7.5 billion had been paid out. I hope he will welcome that. On the wider measures he talks about, we keep everything under review, and I will look at anything that comes forward.

International Climate Action

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Thursday 26th September 2019

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Sep 2019, 1:27 p.m.

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. I assure him that my Department is looking carefully at many different innovations, including nuclear fusion, which is important to his constituency

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Sep 2019, 1:28 p.m.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her post. She is deeply committed to this issue, and she certainly has a big task in front of her.

COP 26 is obviously an important moment not just for Britain but for the world. We will be trying to persuade Europe, India, China and others to ramp up their ambition for 2030, because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us that we have 10 years to turn round the path of emissions. Can I therefore suggest to her that, as well as having a net-zero target for 2050, we need to ramp up our ambition for 2030? Will she therefore ask the Committee on Climate Change to look not just at the pathway to 2030 but at what more we can do as a country so that we can persuade others to follow us?

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Sep 2019, 1:28 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point and, as he will no doubt expect, that is exactly the kind of area we are looking at. There obviously needs to be a pathway, as we cannot suddenly decarbonise in 2049, so we are now looking at the trajectory and at the development of different technologies, at how quickly we can deploy them and at the choices to get the best value for taxpayers’ money while setting a real example that we can demonstrate for COP 26 next year.

Climate Change

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Monday 24th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Jun 2019, 6:38 p.m.

I very much support this motion and I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this legislation so quickly after the passing of the motion on 1 May accepting that there was a climate change emergency.

I hope that the motion will be approved this evening. If it is, we must not rest on our laurels but move immediately to provide the full policy framework so we can deliver what is an ambitious target. The good news is that much of the framework is already there: the Climate Change Act 2008, the industrial strategy, the clean growth strategy and the sector deals. Some pieces of the jigsaw have been put in place, such as the offshore wind sector deal—the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), launched it in Lowestoft in March—which will help to revitalise the local economy.

Other pieces of the jigsaw are missing, however, such as a route map for decarbonising transport, a flexible policy framework for promoting local bespoke heating schemes and a comprehensive plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the clean growth strategy, as put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) in her ten-minute rule Bill last week. The UK has made significant strides in decarbonising the nation’s power supply, with offshore wind providing a means of regenerating coastal communities such as Lowestoft, but more work needs to be done, including providing a clear route to market for other clean energy technologies and getting on with delivering those big-ticket items of nuclear power and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, which are absolutely vital to delivering on the zero carbon goal. It is important for us not to be not a one-trick pony and concentrate only on power. We must immediately set about making significant strides in decarbonising transport and heat, as well as improving our performance in relation to energy efficiency.

The challenge is a big one, and the UK Government cannot deliver on their own. We need to be working with and leading other countries, and incentivising and encouraging the private sector to step up to the plate and invest. Norway is a country with which we have a great deal in common, as we share the North sea oil and gas basin. We must work with the Norwegians to ensure that oil and gas are produced in a low-carbon, efficient manner in future, and that we realise the full potential of carbon capture, utilisation and storage. Companies that were exclusively oil and gas businesses are responding to the winds of change and are making the transition to low-carbon forms of energy production. The Government must incentivise them to move as quickly as is practically possible, and to ensure that the highly skilled workforce on the United Kingdom continental shelf have every opportunity to move to jobs in the low-carbon economy.

The UK has a record of which we can be proud, but we now need to accelerate our efforts to meet the challenge, and the motion is the first step in that process. It is welcome, so let us now ensure that it is passed, and then get on with the enormous amount of work that is required for that challenge to be properly met.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Jun 2019, 6:41 p.m.

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). There is something paradoxical about the fact that this is a low-key debate on a Monday evening, but one thing that it indicates is that there is a great deal of consensus on the need for action, and that is a good thing. The fact that there is not a huge row going on shows that, on both sides of the House, we want to act.

I shall make three substantive points. The first is about the target itself. It is based on the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, and I welcome it, but I believe that it should be regarded as—I hesitate to use this word—a backstop. [Laughter.] I could not think of a better word, although I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) for one.

The reality is that the science is heading in one direction, towards more urgent action. Let me draw the House’s attention to a document that was produced for the Committee on Climate Change by its international advisory group, chaired by Peter Betts, an excellent former civil servant who was responsible for the international negotiations. In that document, the group said that we should set a net zero date no later than 2050, and that there was a case for 2045. As the Minister said, it is good that there is a review clause, and I think that we may well have to bring that point forward.

My second point is this: if you will the end, you have to will the means. I am glad to hear that the energy White Paper is coming, and the Minister has built up my expectations about what it will contain. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West talked about cars. By the mid-2020s, the lifetime costs of electric vehicles will be lower than the lifetime costs of petrol and diesel vehicles. As the Committee on Climate Change says, the economically sensible choice is to make an earlier rather than a later transition. That is not to say that no issues are involved, but that makes a profound point about the benefits of m oving forward.

Thirdly, if we will the means as well as the end, we should think not just about the 1% to 2% of GDP that this will cost—on top of what we already spend—but about the 98% of other economic activity. I raise the issue of the Heathrow third runway gingerly, but if we are so serious about this climate emergency, I do not see how we cannot look at all the things that the Government and the private sector are doing and ask whether they make sense in a net zero world. I hope that the comprehensive spending review will have a net zero carbon budgeting process attached to it.

My final point concerns the international negotiations. It is excellent that we shall be hosting the conference of the parties next year, but let me say to the Minister and to the House that this is a massive challenge. It is an incredibly important moment for the world, when every country has to update its Paris targets. In a way, this is the last chance for us to get on track for what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has described to us as a really dangerous and urgent situation. Let me say this to the Minister. Of course Brexit will be ongoing, at least for a bit, but will he please ensure that all the political and diplomatic muscle of Government will be put into this process? It is a massive thing for the world, and it will require a huge focus from the Government. This is an important moment, and I welcome it, but, in a sense, the hard work is only just beginning for all of us.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Jun 2019, 6:45 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who has been one of the world leaders in the debate on this issue.

I welcome the Government’s announcement today. Climate change is without doubt the biggest danger to our planet. The UK has a very good record in this regard, but the planet has a very poor one. All of us will have to up our game massively to meet the challenge. Moreover, the next stages of the decarbonisation of our economy will be much more difficult than the progress that we have already made.

As I have said, the UK has a good record. The climate change performance index, which is collated by the independent organisation Germanwatch, lists it as fifth in the world, behind only Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Morocco. We are ahead of every other country that Members may want to mention, so it is not a question of the Government’s marking their own homework. We are a world leader in this area. Ours is the best performance in the G20. We were the first country to announce that we would abolish coal energy production by 2025, and are now the first to announce a net zero target of 2050.

It has not been mentioned yet in the debate, but we should not forget that all this progress has come not necessarily at a cost to businesses, although they are having to change, but principally at a cost to consumers. All these levies are paid by the consumer. In 2010, we were spending just over £1 billion. Today, consumers are bearing a cost of more than £7 billion a year, and the figure will be more than £9 billion by 2020. When we make more progress—as we will—we must do so in a way that is sensitive to, particularly, those on low incomes, because otherwise the burden will be entirely disproportionate.

Yes, we have made progress. As has been pointed out, 33% of our energy comes from electricity. However, that is only 19% of the total energy that is being produced. The next challenges, particularly those involving heating and transport, will be much more difficult. We need a stable framework. It is great that the Government have made their announcement, because it means that businesses will respond and feel confident that their investments will be supported in the future.

There is plenty of innovation coming down the line that will have nothing to do with Government action. I am thinking of, for example, transport as a service. When we do not own cars any more, but simply dial a number on our iPhones so that they arrive outside our doors, energy requirements for transport will be transformed. Solar energy and batteries will transform them as well. This is more about a technology disruption than about a transition. As the right hon. Member for Doncaster North said, it is about economics. It will be cheaper to run a car that is electric and autonomous than to run one with a diesel engine.

It has been good to hear this issue debated on both sides of the Chamber today, but if we are to deliver these solutions, we need a fact-based debate. We cannot simply say that we need to decarbonise our energy and that therefore we need to stop using gas, and then stop producing gas. Fracking has been mentioned today. Given that 90% of my constituency is covered by petroleum exploration development licences, we will need gas. The Committee on Climate Change says that the widespread deployment of hydrogen is critical to the decarbonisation of our economy. That can only realistically be achieved by stripping the carbon molecule out of methane. We will need gas for many decades to come. Let us talk facts, and not just base what we say on emotions.

I welcome the Government’s actions, and I have been delighted to speak in the debate.

Net Zero Emissions Target

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Wednesday 12th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Jun 2019, 1:25 p.m.

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his leadership both as a Member of this House and a Minister in DEFRA in pursuing this at a national and international level. He is absolutely right that we need to change the way we do things, but the prospects of leaning into technology mean that we can do that in a way that does not make our lives more miserable or more constrained. No one could look back on the last 20 or 30 years and think that, having achieved what we have in terms of emissions reductions, we have done so at the expense of our quality of life. That is the guiding philosophy we should take: we should harness technology to make sure our lives can be better and greener and cleaner in the future.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Jun 2019, 1:25 p.m.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement and join those who have paid tribute to the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, because this idea had been lying around for a couple of years in the long grass of Government and it was she who took it out of that long grass and helped make it happen. I also welcome the five-year review mechanism because we might well need to bring forward the net zero date from 2050; that might not be the original intention of the review mechanism but it may be necessary. May I however ask the Secretary of State to recognise that in its advice the Climate Change Committee said very specifically that as well as setting the target itself, the Government must put in place the policies to meet the target? That means, as it said, a 2030, not 2040, cut-off date for new petrol and diesel vehicles; a proper decarbonisation plan for our 27 million homes, which we do not have; and an end to the moratorium on onshore wind—a moratorium I believe is now economically illiterate as it is now our cheapest fuel available? Can the Secretary of State assure us that henceforth there will be leadership not just on targets but on action?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Jun 2019, 1:29 p.m.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his own leadership in this. I think he will recognise that we are not credited simply with leadership in terms of legislation and targets but with achievement. Of the major industrialised countries we are the world leader in decarbonising our economy at the same time as growing that economy. We should be proud of that.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right: the inclusion of the review mechanism in the Climate Change Act was a prescient one because it has allowed me to write to the Committee, which has resulted in the report to which we are responding today. I think five years is a good period of time in which to see how we and others are doing against that target and whether the pace of implementation is what is required.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that policies to support that will be required. The essence of good policy is that it should not have unintended consequences. In terms of the automotive sector for example, I and Members opposite know that car companies need to be able to generate the returns in order to make the capital investment to install the new capital equipment that is needed to make electric powertrains, for instance, so getting that pace right so that they can have the returns to be able to reinvest is crucial; otherwise, there could be unintended consequences. The right hon. Gentleman talked about homes and wind, and of course all these things make contributions to meeting that target. The action from now on, including in the energy White Paper, is to set out the policy framework that supports our ambitions.

Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Monday 10th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 8:20 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, but I think it was a fairly pointless question. I am not in a position to go back and change the past. I am here in this Chamber talking about now.

The Government have had far more income from the scheme than they ever imagined. Many of the beneficiaries who are still with us are increasingly suffering with industry-related health conditions and are in need of support. It would be relatively simple for the Government to shift the balance, perhaps by offering a 70:30 split or going even further. The risk to the Government and the taxpayer is not what it was in 1994. We can split hairs about when the right time to do this might have been, and it was probably several years ago, but we are here now and we are talking about it.

Colleagues have gone into great detail about the costs and benefits of changing the balance. I have sought to do so previously with Ministers, but I feel that the best advocates for the change are the mineworkers themselves. That is why I have sought to get them together with campaigners, trustees and the Government to discuss this. I believe it is now time for the Government to undertake a formal review of the arrangements and consider the case for reform in proper detail.

Former coalfield communities are among the poorest in the country, and older people in particular struggle to make ends meet without savings and without much support beyond their pension arrangements. These coalfield communities are among the hardest working and longest suffering in our country, as the hon. Member for Easington said. The miners worked in darkness so that we could have light and, although much of that happened before I was born, I have every respect for those constituents in my community who worked incredibly hard to look after the rest of us and to ensure that we could have the quality of life that we expected.

Ensuring that miners can keep more of the surplus from these investments will have a life-changing effect. Many of them are on low incomes and it would help to boost their lives individually while they are still around to spend that money. It would also help to boost whole communities, such as mine in Mansfield and Warsop. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said, more money in miners’ pockets in communities such as Mansfield is money that will be reinvested back into those deprived communities and help to boost them.

Some have suggested an increased guarantee as a compromise to cover the scheme’s bonuses, but although that sounds nice—and sounds like Government doing something—it will not put any extra money into the pockets of those miners. It would merely guarantee what they already get. We have already seen that the risk of needing that guarantee is very small, so I do not think that that is good enough. This is a chance for the Government to show that we are on the side of people who have worked hard and paid into the system, and that we will help them. To me, that is what the Conservative party should be about, so I hope that the new Minister and his Department will work alongside the Treasury and the trustees to review the scheme and to ensure that the hard-working miners who gave so much to their communities, including in Mansfield, will receive their fair share. I look forward to discussing this with him further.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 8:23 p.m.

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley); it is good that there is all-party support for this debate. I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on his brilliant speech and on setting out his case so eloquently. I am speaking in this debate because I want to see justice for the retired miners in my constituency of Doncaster, North and, indeed, across Doncaster and the whole country. Miners worked their backs off for this country at great cost to themselves, often causing themselves ill health and a shortened life expectancy. Their families watched their loved ones risk their lives for this country, and the least we owe them is fairness and justice, which is what this debate is about.

As my hon. Friend said, the average payment under the scheme is just £83.98 per week—around £4,000 a year—so we are talking about people for whom every pound will make a difference. It cannot be right that £4 billion—and counting—has gone to the Government and not to the miners. That does not seem fair or right, and I think that that is recognised across the House. My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman have spoken eloquently to the current injustice, and the hon. Gentleman said that if we look at the scheme now, it just does not seem fair. The specific and relatively brief point I want to make is actually about the past, because if the scheme does not seem right now, I think we have strong grounds for thinking that it was not right in 1994 either, when the original decision was made. That might look like a matter of historical detail, but I do not think it is. We are where we are now because of that decision, which Governments of both parties have abided by.

I am particularly grateful for the conversations I have had with my constituent Les Moore, whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and his organisation, the UK Miners Pension Scheme for Justice and Fair Play Association, which, along with the NUM, has toiled on this issue for years. The 50-50 split was decided and announced in April 1994, and we all know what happens when a decision like that is made: inertia sets in. The Treasury is getting billions of pounds as a result, and nobody wants to revisit the matter. No Chancellor, Conservative or Labour, wants to give up that amount of money. But what was the basis of that original decision? Remarkably, it is 25 years old and we still do not really know the basis for it.

I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), because she asked the most material question of all to the Minister last year. She asked the Government to publish the actuarial advice on which the surplus sharing arrangements were made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington said, the reply was, extraordinarily, that no such advice was obtained. If there was no actuarial advice behind a decision that had billions of pounds-worth of implications for hundreds of thousands of miners and their families, that really was negligence of the highest order.

The more closely we look at this decision, the more dubious it becomes. A document from September 1993 was released under a freedom of information request in 2016. It is a report carried out by the Government Actuary, and it is the closest document that anyone can find that is relevant to the time. It is not about the future arrangements, but it does talk about the current practice at the time and implies that at that point miners were enjoying not 50% of the surplus but 70%. So the question then arises: if 70% was the basis of the scheme then, why did it change to 50%? We just do not know the answer to that question.

My point about the history is that Governments of both parties have said that the decision was properly made in 1994, but the increasing evidence is that the decision was not properly made at the time. I have a simple request to the Minister, which is that he should publish the papers underlying the decision that was made in 1994. Then we could all see for ourselves to the first time how and why the decision was reached and what has changed since then. My simple belief is that the decision was not fair then and that it is not fair now. Miners gave so much to our country and we need to repay our debt to them. On that basis, and on the basis of the case set out by my hon. Friend, I believe that it is high time the Government launched a review so that there can be justice for my constituents and for tens of thousands of mineworkers and their families.

Bill Grant (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 8:28 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). My constituency covers what was formerly known as National Coal Board Scotland west area—a thriving mining community in its day—and this is one of a series of debates brought over the years in a bid to seek a fairer distribution of the surplus from the mineworkers’ pension scheme. The scheme was, in effect, divided into four sub funds—the guarantee fund, bonus augmentation, guarantors, and investment reserve—with it being possible to vire moneys between some sub-funds, as appropriate, but the bonus augmentation fund is an exception, because there is no provision by which to make up any shortfall. The mineworkers’ total pension payable is protected, rises in line with inflation, and does not fall in cash terms.

There has been a long history of reasonable and fair requests for changes from former mineworkers, their widows, the Coalfield Communities Campaign and many others, including myself, whose relatives were miners. In my case, my father, my father in law and many other family members were miners. We empathise with those who served in the pits and who are seeking a pension commensurate with the daily dangers that they encountered at the coalface.

Break in Debate

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard

They do not. There are six proposals, which I have written to the Treasury about, and the trustees felt that protecting existing bonuses earned is more important than a review of the 50:50 split at this time.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 9:52 p.m.

The motion states:

“That this House calls on the Government to carry out a review of the existing arrangements for the sharing of the surplus generated by the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme.”

As I understand it, the Government will not vote against the motion, so will the Minister tell us what he is going to do after the motion passes, because it calls for precisely such a review?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 9:52 p.m.

As I just said, I will be meeting the trustees, and their proposals relate to six points, about which I have written to the Treasury to share my analysis.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 9:53 p.m.

But this House is about to pass a motion agreeing to a review, so the Government are going to have to do something about that. That is the point, and I think we would all be interested to know what the Minister intends to do.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard

I am setting out my Department’s position. Whether a review is undertaken is a matter for the Treasury, and the Treasury’s position was set out in a letter from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to MPs on 14 May. That position has not changed. I am sure that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and other colleagues in that Department will want to reflect on any motion passed by this House, but I am trying to update the House in response to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, who asked what the Government were doing about the proposals that had previously been under discussion—the proposals that have been brought forward by the scheme’s trustees.

The proposals have been considered for several months. They are balanced, and I support them. With the support of my Department, I have formally written to the Treasury to say that we support the proposals, because the trustees have identified that protecting already accrued bonuses is more important than the 50:50 split.

Break in Debate

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 9:58 p.m.

We were doing so well in this debate, and I am heartened by the many contributions, especially from Conservative Members. I say that not to be mean-spirited but to acknowledge the contributions and the sympathy shown for the arguments that have been made, which I appreciate. I had hoped the Minister would be rather more positive in his approach to those contributions.

We have had brilliant contributions from the hon. Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and from my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), for Leigh (Jo Platt) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman).

We have also had notable interventions—too many to list—including from the youngest working miner to come into Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), and from my inimitable hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). We have had some terrific interventions, including from the hon. Members for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) and a number of others.

Justice knows no age and, irrespective of the ages of the Members of Parliament debating this issue, I think we can recognise the injustice that the miners, their widows and beneficiaries are suffering. The Treasury forecast was that it would receive, at best, £2 billion, but it has received more than £4.4 billion and there is an ongoing commitment.

The resolution, which I hope the House will agree, instructs the Government to conduct a review of the existing surplus sharing arrangements. My understanding is that the trustees want to do that, too.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House calls on the Government to carry out a review of the existing arrangements for the sharing of the surplus generated by the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 10 p.m.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) having secured this debate, the House has now passed a motion stating:

“That this House calls on the Government to carry out a review of the existing arrangements for the sharing of the surplus generated by the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme.”

I wonder whether you could give us some guidance, Mr Speaker. With the House having passed, without opposition and for the first time in 25 years of this scheme’s operation, this very important motion, can we use your good offices to persuade the Government to carry out the will of the House? It was very open to the Government to divide the House on this motion, but they choose not to do so, which must mean that they agree with it. Presumably, that means they are going to do something about it, if this House’s deliberations and possible votes are to be meaningful.

Mr Speaker Hansard

The right hon. Gentleman is a natural optimist, and I say that in no pejorative spirit. I am sad to have to advise him and the House of the correct procedural position. I am not making any evaluative judgment; I am simply making a statement of what is. The situation is that the only votes that bind in this place are votes on legislation and votes on taxation. This vote does not bind. It is an expression of the will of the House. I am sorry to say that there have been many occasions on which Backbench Business Committee debate motions have been passed but have not been implemented subsequently by the Government. I rather fancy that this matter will be returned to again and again and again if Members feel that the settled will of the House has not been honoured in practice. I will also add that a situation in which the settled will of the House is not then honoured in practice is bad for Parliament—period.

Budget Resolutions

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Edward Miliband Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2017, 3:50 p.m.

I rise to speak in support of the Budget and, in particular, the key strategic priority it places on the housing market and increasing housing supply. The Chancellor was right to say that we should have a national target for new home completions of 300,000 a year, but that number should not be a mere aspiration; it is an absolute necessity.

For many people in this country, getting on the housing ladder is becoming increasingly difficult. The prices of new homes to buy are rising much faster than people’s earnings. That has been the case for a long time. It is therefore no surprise that the percentage of people who are able to own their own home has declined. We are not looking at investment in the housing market just for homes to purchase. We need to build a lot more units that are affordable to buy and to rent, and we need a much more active strategy to do that. I was pleased that the Government announced that as part of the Budget.

I have supported the proposed development of the Otterpool Park garden town in my constituency, which would create up to 12,000 new homes. Any planning decision involves a degree of difficulty and it is important that we get the local consultation right, but we do need to prioritise building a lot more homes.

Building creates not only new places for people to live, but a considerable number of jobs in the construction sector. Many people who work in construction say that even now, it is difficult to find the people to do the work that is available. Therefore, it was right that a strong priority was placed on training people to work in the construction sector.

I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of the £3 billion resilience fund to be spent over the next two years on preparations for Britain leaving the European Union. My constituency of Folkestone and Hythe contains the channel tunnel. Investing in preparedness to manage cross-border trade is a necessity. Anything that, for whatever reason, slows the progress of road freight in and out of the country will cause congestion and delay. That is bad for the economy and has a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life and the businesses in my constituency and elsewhere in Kent.

For me, a key priority in building the physical resilience we will need is not only to manage the electronic processing of freight as it passes in and out of the country, but to ensure that we have the physical infrastructure to hold lorries if they have to queue before leaving the country or if there is any requirement for customs checks as they arrive. The delivery of the lorry park on the M20 at Stanford West that was envisaged and proposed two years ago as a relief for Operation Stack is a vital piece of national infrastructure. I was disappointed that the Government had to withdraw their planning application to build it because of a judicial review, but I know that it is being looked at again. I see that the Financial Secretary is in his place. I raised this matter with him last week and welcome the letter he sent me to confirm that the ring-fenced budget of £250 million that the Government allocated for the delivery of that lorry park is still there. It is a vital piece of infrastructure and we need to ensure that it is delivered.

On the other spending commitments in the Budget, I welcome the additional £2 billion this year and into next year for the national health service. It is important that that reaches the places that need it most. The Health Secretary is not here, but I believe that greater consideration needs to be given to GP services and primary care in coastal communities, where the often complex, unique and challenging requirements have led to the average number of patients per GP being much higher than the national average. We are struggling to recruit GPs in such areas. I have spoken to the Health Secretary about that issue on numerous occasions and know that it is a priority for him. However, we need to ensure that the extra money for the health service goes to the parts of the country where it will make the biggest difference.

There has been a lot of talk about increasing investment in research and development and about increasing the research and development credit. That is incredibly important for the future of the economy, and I want to touch on artificial intelligence, which will be an important driver of growth in the future, as the Secretary of State set out in his remarks. Effectively, artificial intelligence is the robotic harvesting of the data footprint that we leave as we increasingly conduct our lives online and the designing of new products and technologies around that to meet people’s needs. That throws up a number of ethical issues.

Algorithms that run programmes are private property—they are copyrighted; they are not shared, and many platforms, such as Google and Facebook, fiercely guard the information—but we need to make sure that, when new services are designed based on our data footprint, companies behave ethically and responsibly and that we are able to check they are safeguarding the interests of the people they seek to serve through that technology. That is why the announcement of the creation of the centre for data ethics and innovation is incredibly important. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which I chair, will be looking at the distribution of disinformation and how companies’ algorithms either support or could act against it. There is, however, an important ethical question about the right of third-party organisations to check the work being done. Innovation through AI can, then, transform the economy, but it throws up some ethical issues that we have to get right.

The Government have taken an interest in driverless cars, but driverless cars, though an exciting technology, do not work without a signal to allow them to receive the information they need, which is why the creation of the national 5G network is so important. Without a signal, a driverless car would suddenly stop in the middle of the road. The investment in the 5G network requires investment not just in poles and masts but in fibre infrastructure. A key part of the industrial strategy has to be the move to a full fibre economy as quickly as possible. We simply cannot deliver on massively important new technologies such as 5G for the whole nation without that infrastructure to support it.

As an adjunct to that, I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital has talked about whether there should be a universal service obligation for 3G mobile signal. In many parts of the country, including Elham valley in my constituency, the 3G signal is weak. Ofcom will shortly be publishing a study on the real level of service delivery by mobile phone operators and whether it falls below the requirement stated in their licences. If it does, there will have to be some further inducement to act to make sure that basic coverage is better than it is. In the longer term, however, we need investment in a 5G network.

Finally, the joint working between the Government, the CBI and the TUC on retraining is crucial. Technology means that people’s jobs will change faster and faster throughout their lives, and people need the ability to retrain throughout their working careers to take advantage of this.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2017, 3:57 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), who made some important remarks about Brexit and the risks we face.

I want to start my remarks about the Budget with the words of the Prime Minister at the Conservative party conference in 2016. She said this about the EU referendum:

“It was about a sense – deep, profound and let’s face it often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them. It was a vote not just to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union, but to call for a change in the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever.”

I agree. The referendum told us that the status quo was not good enough—in fact, was not nearly good enough. Surely, then, the test of the Budget is whether someone listening to it and seeing its contents would conclude that this was a Government determined to live up to her words.

One or two policies in the Budget look somewhat familiar. The energy price cap used to be part of a Marxist universe; now it is Government policy. The “use it or lose it” policy on land banking was described by the Foreign Secretary—an eminent person—as “Mugabe-style” land expropriation; now it is on the way to becoming Government policy under the wise counsel of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin)—an unlikely authoritarian Marxist.

On the fundamentals, however, on the underlying economic strategy, I am afraid it is not change, but more of the same. I want to highlight two issues: the refusal to address deep inequality in our country and the continuation of austerity. We all know about the cost-of-living crisis—it is not contested any more, although the Secretary of State did not really talk about it. I will give people just one fact: on the path suggested by the OBR, the average worker will not get back to 2008 earnings until 2025. That is the scale of the challenge we face. Are the Government making things better or worse when it comes to this and the gulf in living standards between the top and bottom? I am afraid they are making it worse. According to the Resolution Foundation, tax and benefit changes since 2015, including those in the pipeline, mean:

“The poorest third of households will lose an average of £715 a year compared to average gains among the richest third of households of £185 a year.”

The Prime Minister apparently believes that the message from the Brexit result was that people felt that the country worked for a privileged few but not for most. The Budget, however, makes the position worse rather than better.

I should love to hear from whoever winds up the debate what Ministers’ defence of these distributional figures is, because this is discretionary Government policy. It is a political choice, not an economic necessity. We need only look at what is happening to corporation tax to understand that. Corporation tax has been cut by more than £10 billion since 2010—and, by the way, businesses have not even been asking for those cuts. The Chancellor could have pointed out that the current rate of 19% was the lowest in the G7 by some distance, and that there were other priorities, but no: he is going to spend billions more pounds on cutting corporation tax to 17%. It seems that he can afford to spend those billions, but he cannot afford to keep benefits at the same level and has to cut them. That is the political choice of this Budget.

Let me turn from the issue of distribution to the issue of debt and the deficit, which the Secretary of State talked about. I am old enough to remember when the Government said that they would balance the budget by 2015. In fact, that was not so long ago: it was in 2010. I am also old enough to remember the 2015 election campaign, when I was told that if we did not balance the budget by 2018, catastrophe would follow. What does Robert Chote, the director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, say? He says:

“If the deficit is to continue falling at the average rate expected beyond the end of this spending review, then it won’t reach balance until 2030-31.”

What an extraordinary failure! A deficit promise is to be kept not five years late, not 10 years late, but 16 years late, and the Government have the cheek to go on about the deficit. They have failed to deliver on the promises that they made, but they are pulling off a remarkable feat: they are both failing on those deficit promises and cutting spending. The Secretary of State did not mention that. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there will be day-to-day departmental cuts of £10 billion per capita by 2022, with welfare cuts on top. If ever we needed proof that austerity had failed, that would be it. The Government are not meeting their deficit promises, and they are carrying on with the cuts.

There is a deeper point, however. The Prime Minister’s words were right. People were not just voting on immigration in Europe, although of course they were doing that; they were also voting for a big change of direction. Continued austerity, continued spending cuts and worsening inequality constitute not a change in direction, but more of the same. We know what the Government should have done. They should have realised that cutting taxes for the richest, and the largest corporations, is not the way to ensure that a country succeeds. They should have put an end to austerity and cuts in public spending, and they should have recognised, more than they did, the cruelty and pain caused by welfare cuts that we all see, as constituency Members—including what is happening with universal credit.

I do not know what the precise Brexit settlement will be, but it is already clear from last year’s autumn statement that the impact on the economy and public finances will make it harder—let us be frank about this—to deliver the fairer society that was one important part of the mandate of the referendum, which makes it all the more important for us to have a Government who are committed to action to bring that about. On that score, and by the standards that the Prime Minister set herself, the Budget fails. It proves to me, yet again, that this Government cannot bring the change for which the people voted in the referendum.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Order. I must now reduce the speaking limit to four minutes.

Retail Energy

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Thursday 12th October 2017

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Oct 2017, 12:23 p.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is always a doughty champion of consumers. It is right in a competitive market that decisions should be taken by the companies, but it is clear from the proposals that we have made that we expect responsibility to be exercised and that unfair advantage should not be taken, especially not of vulnerable consumers who are not as able to switch, for example—this may apply to payment methods, in the way that he described. That is absolutely part of the duty of the regulator to look after consumers.

Perhaps I could take this opportunity to reply to the point, which I did not respond to, that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) raised about the other costs on consumer bills. We have commissioned a review by the energy expert Professor Dieter Helm that will be inquiring into just such things and reporting shortly.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Oct 2017, 12:24 p.m.

Given that this policy was once described from the Dispatch Box as “a con”, “a joke”, “disastrous” and “living in a Marxist universe”, it would be churlish not to welcome the Secretary of State’s conversion to it today. Well done. He is very welcome to the party. However, I still think his voyage into the Marxist universe is a bit slow, if I can put it that way, because this is a draft Bill. It is four months since the general election. He said that there would be help this winter. He could have chosen to fast-track this measure with the Opposition Front Bench and get the help in now. Why so slow? Why not do it now?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Oct 2017, 12:25 p.m.

I certainly have not joined the Marxist universe that the right hon. Gentleman inaugurated and that has been taken up with such enthusiasm by those on the current Labour Front Bench. The problem with the proposal that he put forward—one of many problems—was that it would have frozen energy prices when prices in the wholesale market fell, so consumers would have been paying more. That is a good reason why we should act with the grain of the market rather than imposing a policy that would have been disastrous for consumers.

It is important that Ofgem has the powers and it is exercising some of them. I have been clear and candid with the House that I do not think it goes far enough, so through this Bill we would require that. We are putting that forward with immediate effect for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important that we establish that it has the support of the House and then Ofgem can act on that, but it has been clear in its statement that, as the Bill is scrutinised, it will prepare and consult on the implementation requirements so that no time is lost.

Economy and Jobs

Edward Miliband Excerpts
Thursday 29th June 2017

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con) Hansard
29 Jun 2017, 2:28 p.m.

I shall oblige you, Mr Speaker, by falling within the limit. I want to speak briefly about the way the measures in the Queen’s Speech will contribute to the economic success of the west midlands, a region with a growth rate of more than 5% in the past two years. In fact, the growth rate of the borough of Solihull, containing my constituency, outstripped that of China at more than 7%—it is certainly an example of what the Chancellor called a fundamentally robust regional economy.

Without question, the stellar performance of the car industry has contributed to that success, but other branches of manufacturing have benefited as well. In turn, that has resulted in record low unemployment among the young people in my constituency. Some 6,000 of them have obtained apprenticeships, which has allowed them to benefit from some of the 100,000 new jobs created in the borough of Solihull alone since 2010.

The focus in the Gracious Speech is on an industrial strategy that will spread good practice, help to improve living standards and productivity, and ensure that the benefits of growth are shared. The manufacturing renaissance in the west midlands was boosted by regional growth funding, but the promise of the extra £23 billion for national productivity investment will boost it further.

The shortage of skilled labour in our region is holding back many young people from taking advantage of the jobs that are being created across the area. So I am delighted that the second pillar of the industrial strategy puts the emphasis on skills. The inclusion of a new system of technical education will benefit some of the 50% of youngsters who do not go to university, helping them to get well-paid jobs by learning STEM subjects, which employers value so highly.

On the council estate in my constituency a new engineering academy has opened and there is a new campus for my college of further education, which has two new streams of apprentice engineers for automotive and aerospace. I had my preconceptions challenged when I visited it because I found that the engineering apprenticeship students were 50:50 men and women. And I do mean women. Many of them had missed out on their education while they had their kids, and had come back to secure a qualification that would obtain them a well-paid job. They explained to me that the night shift in the car factory was a good solution to fitting work round their family responsibilities. They get back home to take their kids to school, get a bit of kip, get up again, pick their kids up from school, give them tea, oversee their homework, then their mum comes in and sleeps overnight.

It might surprise the House to hear, and I set the challenge to a visiting Secretary of State, just how much someone can earn as an experienced car production worker. The salary can be £60,000 a year, which allows someone to get a mortgage for the average house price in the west midlands of £183,000. One of the women said to me, “I can earn much more like this than stacking the shelves in a supermarket.” That for me is a clear example of aspiration. In time we will definitely reduce income inequality and change lives for the better through education-led regeneration. It is small wonder that Solihull College has been awarded a gold rating by the teaching excellence framework.

In my role as Second Church Estates Commissioner it is my job to link up what happens in both Houses of Parliament. I would like to share with the House what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his contribution to the Queen’s Speech. He saw the importance of sharing growth across the whole economy. The Church of England is well placed to help; it is the largest provider of primary education. He sees it as particularly important that we raise the standards of education in schools, to give children all over the country the opportunity to take up the kind of jobs that I have just described.

As a member of the all-party parliamentary group for inclusive growth, I believe that the current rise in populism internationally reflects the challenge that Governments in all advanced industrial nations face in tackling the impact of globalisation. So I welcome the Government’s commitment to raise the living wage and the impact of raising the tax threshold, which has lifted so many people out of paying tax altogether.

There are new challenges on the way, with the digitisation of the economy, and we will need to demonstrate that technological progress can support rising living standards for all. My concern in listening to the shadow Chancellor is that the success of regions such as the west midlands would be put at risk by his plans if they ever became a reality, and that is why I am a supporter of this Queen’s Speech and the architects of our economic success.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard
29 Jun 2017, 2:37 p.m.

It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman).

The Queen’s Speech debate after a general election is a chance to reflect on what we heard during the election. That is particularly important given the result we have just seen. Let us be honest across the House—we were all a bit gobsmacked by the result. Jon Snow went on television the day after the election and said, “I know nothing”, and I think that probably applies to many of us.

Having heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has departed, I am bound to ask, “If it is all going so well, why did it go so badly?” In other words, the result did not exactly meet Conservative expectations. I believe that there is a deeper explanation. It has been said that many people have

“a sense—deep, profound and let’s face it often justified—that…the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them.”

Those are not my words but the words of the Prime Minister in her party conference speech.

If we look at the remarkable turnaround that took place during the election campaign, we can blame the social care policy, we can blame the Prime Minister, but I think it is deeper than that. The tide is going out on a certain way of running the country—large inequality, the next generation seeing their chances diminish, and permanent austerity. The crucial point about the campaign—I think Conservative Members know this—is that the Prime Minister who stood on the steps of Downing Street as the agent of change became the agent of the status quo. The reality is that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party became the agent of change. That is why we saw the change that we did in this election.

The question about this Gracious Speech is whether it shows that the Government understand the lessons of the election campaign. Listening to the Chancellor, one would think that it had all gone brilliantly and the Conservatives had got a landslide majority, as they had planned. They did not. I look at the Gracious Speech and I ask this question. Does it include an attack on the burning injustices that the Prime Minister promised in her words in Downing Street? Is there the transformation in life chances that she promised? Is there a determination to stand up to the most powerful as she promised? The answer, to coin a phrase, is no, no, no. We do not see any of that in this speech.

I want to make some positive suggestions about how Members across the House, working together, can rectify the gaps in the Queen’s Speech, and I will make three in the time I have. The first—it will not surprise hon. Members to hear me talk about this—is on energy prices. I do not normally read The Sun—people might recognise that, but on 9 May I read something that caught my eye. It said:

“I am making this promise: if I am re-elected on June 8, I will take action…by introducing a cap on unfair energy price rises…It will protect around 17 million families.”

That is brilliant, I thought. That is my policy, more or less. It was from the Prime Minister. Then I look at the Queen’s Speech—where has it gone? Where is the price cap legislation? All we have is a consultation and a letter to Ofcom—a U-turn on the U-turn, which happened yesterday as well.

Let me put it this way: 84% of people supported parties with a price cap in their manifesto. Not a soft cap but a hard cap. It was proposed by the Labour party and the Conservative party. So let us do it. I welcome the intervention by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) in the Queen’s Speech debate when the Prime Minister spoke.

Secondly, the Prime Minister says that she cares about insecurity. Zero-hours contracts may have started under the last Labour Government, but let us be honest about the situation. The number has gone from 168,000 in December 2010 to 900,000 by the end of last year. If we care about insecurity, it is unfathomable that we are not acting on this. We heard it from our constituents on the doorsteps. We heard that sense of insecurity; it is part of the explanation for the result of the general election.

Thirdly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about corporation tax. We have cuts in corporation tax still to come that will cost £5 billion over the next few years. If there is no magic money tree, is it really the priority that Apple, Starbucks and other companies should pay 17% tax when ordinary families in Britain pay 20%? Why? Where is the fairness in that? Where is the sense of tackling the burning injustice that the Prime Minister talked about?

I want to end on this thought. Ever since 2015 I have stopped believing opinion polls—people will not be surprised to learn that. I make an exception in the following case, which is not about voting intention. I was reading the newspapers on 9 May, and people were asked by Ipsos MORI whether they thought that the country was rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful—76% of people in Britain agreed and just 16% disagreed. The question for all of us, whether we like it or not, left and right, is what is our answer to that. For my money, the next election will be decided by who has the compelling vision to meet that desire for change. On the evidence of this Queen’s Speech, the Government have no answers and it will be up to Labour to provide them.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con) - Hansard

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate on this very important topic. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband); he will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with everything he said, but I agree with his main point at the end—that it is up to politicians in the House to set out a compelling vision for how they are going to solve the big problems of the age.

Clearly, the economy—the continuing need to clear the deficit and pay down the debt—is one issue, but there are many others, some of which were tackled in last week’s Queen’s Speech. After my intervention on the shadow Chancellor, he kindly offered to send me a copy of his manifesto. I do not need that, but I was sad not to see any reappearance at the Dispatch Box of the “Little Red Book”. I do not know whether he still reads it regularly, but it may have been a guiding influence in the preparation of that manifesto.