There have been 27 exchanges between Justin Madders and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
|Mon 11th January 2021||Covid-19 Vaccination Roll-out (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (2,167 words)|
|Mon 14th December 2020||Energy White Paper||3 interactions (64 words)|
|Wed 2nd December 2020||Arcadia and Debenhams: Business Support and Job Retention||3 interactions (114 words)|
|Tue 17th November 2020||Covid-19: Employment Rights (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (602 words)|
|Tue 10th November 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (60 words)|
|Mon 9th November 2020||Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (599 words)|
|Mon 5th October 2020||Covid-19: Maternity and Parental Leave (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (752 words)|
|Tue 7th July 2020||Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Departmental Spending||7 interactions (105 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Leaving the EU: Workers’ Rights||3 interactions (70 words)|
|Tue 16th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (94 words)|
|Wed 10th July 2019||Retail Strategy (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,063 words)|
|Wed 3rd July 2019||Whistleblowing||15 interactions (2,136 words)|
|Wed 26th June 2019||EU Structural Funds: Least Developed Regions (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (614 words)|
|Tue 4th June 2019||Trade Union Access to Workplaces (Westminster Hall)||15 interactions (1,762 words)|
|Wed 1st May 2019||Environment and Climate Change||3 interactions (416 words)|
|Wed 6th March 2019||Leaving the EU: Protection for Workers||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Tue 5th February 2019||Unpaid Work Trials (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (741 words)|
|Mon 4th February 2019||Nissan in Sunderland||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Mon 29th October 2018||Public Holidays on Religious Occasions (Westminster Hall)||13 interactions (2,713 words)|
|Tue 16th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (102 words)|
|Tue 11th September 2018||Economic Justice Commission (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (1,064 words)|
|Tue 17th July 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (80 words)|
|Wed 6th June 2018||Retail Sector||3 interactions (1,128 words)|
|Tue 1st May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (89 words)|
|Tue 13th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (84 words)|
|Tue 28th November 2017||Budget Resolutions||3 interactions (388 words)|
|Mon 27th November 2017||Industrial Strategy||3 interactions (74 words)|
(5 days, 23 hours ago)Westminster Hall
Thank you, Sir David, for allowing me to make a few comments. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on bringing forward this debate and setting the scene very well, as she always does with any issue she brings forward. I have previously highlighted with the Secretary of State for Health the need to include our teachers in the priority roll-call for vaccines. We did that just last week in the main Chamber.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted that the education of children is paramount. Children are currently out of school and are being taught at home; that is not what families and children need. To expect a mother with no degree in teaching to understand how to teach a child the necessary tools of learning puts stress on the family, and too many children are missing out on learning. Some parents can home-school and others cannot. That is not disrespectful; it is a fact of life.
I have spoken to several teachers who are concerned about the fact that some parents are not logged on to the online learning tools for primary school children. Messages have been sent and encouragement has been given, yet the fact remains that some parents and carers are simply overwhelmed with home schooling. Add to the mix the parents who have to work from home and who are struggling to maintain their work life as well as spend adequate time on their children’s schooling. The pressures are immense, and it is very difficult on households. The pressure on teachers from trying to maintain contact and check the work of 30 pupils online is extensive. It is imperative that our children are back in class being taught by those who know what they are doing. It is clear that vaccinating teachers and teaching staff is necessary to keep them safe and keep our children in school.
I understand that the vaccine has not been tested for children, and there is little that we can do there. However, vaccinating school staff will help curb the spread of this virus. In my estimation, that is an essential part of our fight against covid. It is really important that teachers in nurseries and special needs schools also have the opportunity to have the vaccine—doubly so when we look at special needs schools, which are operating at full numbers and where staff are expected to teach with no protection around incredibly vulnerable children. We all know them; we meet them every day. I asked the Minister last week in the main Chamber to consider adding teachers to the priority vaccination list, and I am asking again for that to be done in Westminster Hall—it is probably one of the coldest places on the planet; it is so cold that we could hang beef in here and it would not go off—that is the truth. That is a fact of life; ask any butcher.
Today in the Chamber, the Minister replied to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on the issue of teachers and the vaccination. Education is one of the cornerstones of our society. That can continue only if our teachers are at full strength and are able to do their jobs, and vaccination is key to that.
Another issue that I want to highlight, as other Members have done—in particular, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron)—is the availability of the vaccine in rural areas and the need for support for rural GP practices that have thousands of patients on record. The patients who are most vulnerable need the best vaccine. We must make use of our incredibly capable armed forces logistics branches to arrange and implement in rural communities what could well be a mammoth task for GP practices individually. The fact is that people in towns will be quicker to receive the vaccine, but those in rural areas and in constituencies such as mine and that of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale really need to have equality in the vaccine roll-out. The precision with which our military operates is second to none, and I believe that it is a resource that we have yet to make full use of.
My mother is 89 years young, and she received her vaccine at 9.40 this morning. It is a happy day for us all, and I am very pleased. I have a sense of relief. Although I have told her to remain at home and be careful, there is a definite ray of hope. We need such hope being felt by every family member of the vulnerable in our society, and I believe that our military—our Army of the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—can support our GPs, who are under pressure, with the standard flu jab programme. It is interesting to read in the papers today that the flu jab—it is really good news, which we should welcome—has been so successful that the number of people dying of the flu has reduced dramatically. The figures for Northern Ireland are very clear.
We have the vaccine, and we have more knowledge than we did this time last year. It is now time to ensure that every person who wants to receive the vaccine will be able to do so in a timely manner. For those who are uncertain about it, or who are certain that they do not want to receive the vaccine, we must ensure that their wishes are respected and that the Government place no restrictions on those who exercise their free choice. Again, I ask the Minister to confirm that and put it on the record.
I am excited about the vaccine—I believe it is very hard not to be. We are in a better place today. We can have some confidence for the future. You and I, Sir David, are confident because we have faith, but we also have confidence in what the Government are doing, which is really important. I am sure the Minister will not let us down. There is a fully trained and obvious ready-to-go resource—let us use the military to get the vaccine out and make a difference to our battle against covid.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern—I suspect the Minister does—that the roll-out of the vaccine has been halted in parts of the United Kingdom because supplies are running out? Is there not a logistical issue to be addressed as well, to ensure that that does not happen?
It is slightly unfortunate, Sir David, that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), asked a lot of questions, because he took up a lot of time. Nevertheless, I will attempt to answer as many colleagues’ questions as possible.
Before setting out details of the plan for vaccination, I thank the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for the incredible passion with which she spoke. I apologise that I was not in the room for her speech—I was in the main Chamber, as she will know—but it has always been our strategy to suppress the coronavirus until a vaccine can make us all safe, because we know ultimately that vaccines are our way out of this terrible pandemic.
This afternoon we launched our complete vaccine deployment plan, the culmination of months of preparation and hard work by the NHS, the armed forces—the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) mentioned the armed forces, and they are embedded in the deployment programme—and, of course, local and regional government at every level. The sooner we can reduce mortality from this pernicious disease and bring an end to that human suffering, the better.
It is worth reminding ourselves of just what that suffering looks like. Sadly, yesterday, 563 deaths were reported. The average number of deaths per day over the past week has been 909, and behind every statistic is a person—a father, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a grandfather or a grandmother—with family and friends. We must never lose sight of that.
In the light of the petition that we are discussing and, of course, the time, I will reflect on the basic principles that sit behind our prioritisation and our strategy. Yes, we want to minimise disruption for pupils, parents and teachers; yes, we want to stop the NHS being overwhelmed, and yes, we want to protect UK jobs and businesses as much as we possibly can, but fundamentally it is about saving lives, and operationally it is about saving as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible.
I defy anyone to provide more powerful grounds for action in order to achieve that. We are following the science and we are vaccinating, according to the prioritisation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which recommended rapid immunisation of our most vulnerable groups. It is worth reminding colleagues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) did, about the first four categories, for whom we absolutely are focused on making sure they have the opportunity of a first dose to protect them by mid-February across all four nations.
I know the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and others are concerned about supplies, and he has contacted me about that. I can reassure him that, having spoken to my counterparts in the devolved Administrations that, while the supply lines have been lumpy—in any manufacturing process, especially one so complex as a novel vaccine that is a biological compound, it is always difficult at the outset, but they very quickly stabilise—we have clear line of sight of deliveries all the way through until the end of February, hence we are able to make the pledge that we will be able to deploy.
(1 month ago)Commons Chamber
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Those issues are absolutely not mutually exclusive. As he says, they comprise a golden thread running through the White Paper. I go back to the point that some Opposition Members have raised about nuclear. As part of energy security, we need to have a diverse energy mix, and that is why nuclear is very much part of that.
(1 month, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I think my hon. Friend was talking about anchor stores and the effect on the high street. I know him very well, so I can predict his question. Yes, if we take out an anchor store, we hollow out a high street, so it is so important that we look at this holistically, work together with local government, national Government and with retailers themselves to build up our high streets and shape them anew.
(2 months ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and also to follow the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I thank the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for securing this important debate. One of the commonest ideas expressed in this crisis is that the world, the economy and our day-to-day lives are going to be different when it is over. One of the things, it seems to me, that many of us here are increasingly concerned about is the impact it will have on employment rights, which people fought for bitterly for the best part of a century. Those rights were hard won and then fiercely defended, but now they are in danger of slipping from what seemed a firm grasp but is becoming looser.
No one can deny the unexpected shock felt by our economy and the impact that covid-19 has had on many sectors, specifically, as the hon. Member said, on the airlines and the air sector in general. As the Member for Edinburgh West, I have also experienced at first hand the trauma of the many employees of Edinburgh airport, connected businesses such as Menzies Aviation and specifically British Airways. Many of BA’s employees, who are constituents, have phoned me just looking for some explanation, help and support for the trauma that they are going through as a result of what some euphemistically call “adjusted contracts” and what elsewhere has been branded, quite justifiably, “fire and rehire”.
However, it is not just British Airways that has used this crisis and used redundancy to make a mockery of the terms and conditions of staff. I have had constituents who were working from home and were then forced to take annual leave because their employers’ IT was not working. I have had people whose jobs disappeared because the company was bought and there was no mention of being TUPE-ed. There is also one section of society that we are forgetting and that is the massive gig economy and the self-employed, who have been completely excluded for 10 months from any support. That is why, as the Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson, I want to see furlough extended not to March but to June next year, until we have, by all predictions, a vaccine and we may be able to resume some sort of normalcy and people’s jobs will be protected.
As we come out of this crisis, unemployment and the fall in vacancies could be disastrous for this country. We will need to keep a needle-sharp focus, not just on our economy but on employment and rights. We must we keep at the forefront of our minds and under the scrutiny of the Government the protection of employment rights. They are not bureaucracy, they are not red tape; they are protection for all of us and our ability to keep a roof over our heads and feed our families.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for having secured this debate. Let us leap straight in on the point that was just raised by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders): the issue of asking people to self-isolate, after being traced through track and trace, is vexed when it comes up against people’s right to an income.
As in other parts of the country, Cumbria’s NHS and public health services have been incredibly successful at tracking and tracing people. Their success rate has been 98%, compared with the Government’s failed equivalent programme, which has a success rate of something like 65%. However, if a person is contacted by the NHS in Cumbria, because of the Government’s failed system, they are not able to access the grant. That is an outrage, and for the past month, Cumbria’s Director of Public Health has been raising this as an issue; so far, the Government have failed to answer it. A right to an income is surely something that should be at the top of all of our agendas for our constituents.
I also want to refer to parental leave, particularly maternity leave. When the Government were coming up with the self-employed income support scheme back in March, they put together a scheme that looked at a self-employed person’s income over the past three years. If that person had taken parental leave—most likely maternity leave—during those three years, they ended up with a reduced income. That is a real blow to people, particularly women who have taken maternity leave in that time, and it shows the Government’s lack of concern for those people who have taken time out to raise a family. On top of that, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, many people do not feel able to, or cannot, return to work after their maternity leave, simply because childcare is not available. Many of them are not able to be furloughed; many have lost their jobs, and they form part of the 3 million people in this country who have been excluded from any kind of Government support.
Many employers in the Lake district and the Yorkshire Dales have done a tremendous job trying to support their staff, and have kept them going for as long as they could. Despite the fact that 40% of the entire workforce was on furlough at one point and we have seen a sixfold increase in unemployment in the south lakes, they nevertheless kept their employees going for as long as they felt they could, but after that short summer season at the end of August, they let their staff go.
The Government have now announced an extension of furlough after months of most Members in this room urging them to make a commitment much sooner, but they left it so late that many employers in my constituency and elsewhere let their staff go in early September. Guess what? The Government will not backdate furlough to anybody who was let go before 23 September. There will be hundreds of thousands of people in this country whose employers did their best to keep hold of them, but realised they had the choice of losing their business and losing all their other staff or losing some of their staff. They made that difficult choice. Because the Government dilly-dallied for so long over extending furlough, there are thousands in that position. The Government should bring forward the date to which furlough can be backdated to the beginning of September.
(2 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this. The oil and gas sector, as he knows, is currently developing its own proposal for a transformational North sea transition deal, as we call it now. Once we receive its input and ideas, we will be able to negotiate with the sector to make sure that we have the right level of ambition with regard to net zero while preserving the much-valued jobs and expertise that he and others are so keen to promote.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, showrooms were one of the first businesses required to be closed that were reopened in the last national restrictions period. What I would like, and what I know he wants, is for us get to the point on 2 December where we move back into local restrictions and we are able to open up businesses across the country.
(2 months, 1 week ago)Westminster Hall
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who delayed his wedding, I speak as someone who got married in September and experienced the nightmare of having to change plans and guests right up to the last minute. In fact, the only two things that, fortunately, did not change were the date and the groom, so I feel that I have some understanding of how the wedding industry has suffered this year through lockdown. It has been a particularly turbulent year—and one that was unnecessarily turbulent, as the rules brought in were not based on science and were arbitrary.
Let me introduce right hon. and hon. Members to David Irlam, a constituent of mine who understands those arbitrary rules only too well. He owns a restaurant, King Street Kitchen in Knutsford, and he also has wedding venues, Colshaw Hall and Merrydale Manor in Tatton. There are stark differences: his restaurant is much smaller, yet David could legally host up to 60 guests from 30 different households there. He could not do so in his wedding venues, which are much bigger and with outside space: they were capped at 15 guests.
My constituent also said that Government had not taken into account the measures that the wedding industry could put into place to be covid-compliant, or the changes and distress when rules were changed overnight. When the rules were changed overnight, Arley Hall—a massive Jacobean hall with outside space, hundreds of acres and beautiful gardens—was allowed to hold a wedding service, but then all the guests left and went to a pub up the road, where they were allowed to eat. That venue had all the food and all the staff, but could not have that take place.
Tatton, and Cheshire as a whole, is an area with a thriving wedding sector. The number of weddings held the year before was 4,500; that figure is now down to 800, and the ones taking place are much smaller. When I speak to constituents who have wedding businesses, they say that, on average, they use about 25 preferred local suppliers. None of those suppliers has the income from those weddings now, but it does not have to be that way. With some thought, some coherence, and a road map to allow weddings to take place—in a covid-compliant way, obviously—the sector could re-emerge and allow weddings to take place.
At the Oak Tree of Peover, Jacqui Mooney explained to me that she has had to postpone 90 weddings and cancel 30; her income is less than one sixth of what it was. Please note that her business interruption insurance, for which she paid a very high premium, has not been of assistance in any way; furthermore, Competition and Markets Authority guidance and insurance companies have pushed brides back to the wedding venue, saying, “Quote frustrated contracts and insist on full refunds.”
The Oak Tree of Peover has helped brides and grooms in any way it can: it has postponed once for people, it has postponed twice for them, but it has been a logistical nightmare. In Jacqui Mooney’s words, “I dread things now if things do not turn around, because I can’t sleep of a night. I’m not eating because of all the things I have got to do and the money I pay back.” That is true of the business at Styal Lodge Weddings, too.
I end on this note, which is what David Irlam—operator of Colshaw Hall and Merrydale Manor—says: “I would happily be a guinea pig for the Minister. I will do a business venue that is covid compliant. I will do track and trace. I will make sure people are served at the table. I will make sure we do absolutely everything that is covid compliant. Please look at the rules we have put in place.” Please have a Zoom meeting with this person, and the rest of the people in my patch, so we can go back to having weddings and true once-in-a-lifetime—for most people—celebrations.
(3 months, 1 week ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in such an important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the 337 people from my constituency of York Central who signed the petition, which aims to make things right for parents.
I want to put on the record how important it is to support women through their pregnancies. Will the Minister raise with colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care how essential it is that birthing partners and fathers are able to accompany the woman from pregnancy to birth—antenatal care, scans and hospital appointments—and for any care required after birth?
I will touch on two key issues. First, I thank the Petitions Committee for its report and its 23 recommendations, on which I want to reflect in the little time that I have. A constituent has written to me about neonatal care. She is a mother who gave birth 11 weeks early during the pandemic. That is so difficult, not least when her baby was moved to Middlesbrough, which is now in lockdown. She and her family need to be able to spend appropriate time to nurture and be with their baby. Bringing forward neonatal leave by two years would really assist her in that, and doing so now would help her even more. In the same way that the Government have moved at lightspeed to bring in so many measures during the pandemic, I ask that they bring in this important measure to support families in their time of need—April 2023 is too late.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adoption and permanence, the second issue I want to look at is the current inequality between adoptive parents and birth parents. Will the Minister take another look at that inequality, not least in the Government’s response to the Petitions Committee report? We know, for instance, that self-employed adoptive parents are not entitled to an equivalent to the maternity allowance that self-employed mothers can access. They can ask the local authority for support, but they may not get it, and it is means-tested, unlike for birth parents. The 2016 independent review of self-employment in the UK highlighted that disadvantage, yet four years on, there has been no redress. I ask the Government: why?
Special guardians are currently not entitled to any form of parental leave or pay, yet they fulfil a crucial parental role. That creates real inequality: research shows that around half of kinship carers have to give up work to care for their children. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who last week published an excellent report about the real hardship that kinship parents face. We need to see real change. Labour would have introduced a year of maternity pay and leave, following best practice, and we need to get that right for all parents.
I urge the Minister to bring forward proposals to ensure that there is no inequality between adopters and special guardians, and birth parents. For many of those parents, bonding with their child and addressing the issues of attachment are so important if their families are to succeed and thrive in future. Despite their response, I ask the Government to revisit those issues to ensure that we can create strong families in future.
My thanks go to the Petitions Committee and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for securing the debate. I thank Bethany and the maternity petitioners, Maternity Action, Pregnant Then Screwed and everybody who has been trying to help people at this incredibly difficult time.
This issue has had an impact on my family. My sister-in-law Suzanne had baby Fraser during lockdown—I understand that they may be watching the debate at home. Like all parents, they have been doing their absolute best in the most difficult of circumstances, and we are all so very proud of everything that they have done so far. However, it does not have to be this hard. If the Government took on some of the recommendations made by the Petitions Committee in its report, it would certainly make it a good deal easier for many parents and families right around the UK to look after their wee ones. It would make things just that wee bit easier at this very difficult time.
I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities. Over the past five years we have seen a worsening of an already precarious situation, with underfunded services, a patchwork of local support and volunteer groups doing their best—with very few resources—to support people when they are breastfeeding.
A report by Dr Natalie Shenker and Professor Amy Brown, which came out in the past few days, deals with this issue. They surveyed over 1,200 mothers who breastfed during the pandemic to see how they were affected by lockdown. Around 40% of the mothers said it had been a positive experience, because they valued the privacy and the time at home—perhaps having a supportive partner there, and perhaps getting a wee bit of extra time to do things. However, around 30% of the mothers surveyed felt that lockdown had been incredibly negative and incredibly difficult for them. They had felt isolated, abandoned and overwhelmed by the intensity of being alone with a baby for such a long time.
Although many of those mothers were able to breastfeed through that, many were not, and they struggled and gave up before they wanted to. The survey found that of the participants who had stopped breastfeeding, only 13.5% described themselves as ready to do so; they had given up before they had wanted to. Others had introduced formula when they had not intended to; the figure was 68.7%, with many of those doing so earlier than they had planned to. A staggering 70.3% attributed their decision to stop breastfeeding to the lack of face-to-face support. Some of that has been because of the lockdown and the restrictions, but the Government could have put a lot more in place to make the situation easier.
The National Breastfeeding Helpline has done incredible work, through its volunteers, to try to help and support people, but with some problems, people really need someone standing next to them to help them when they are feeding a baby. The Government need to do a lot more to resolve the issues of underfunding and the issues around health visitors, which have meant that people have felt very alone and scared when they have been on their own with a baby for a long period.
The situation has worsened existing inequalities within the system. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, people in poverty, people in small flats with no gardens and people with less educational attainment all found it more difficult to pursue breastfeeding when they really wanted to. I ask the Minister to look at these issues very carefully and see what more can be done to help and support people, not only now but in the future. Funding must go into these services.
(6 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
It is a real pleasure to take part in what has been a good debate. I commend the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for his characteristically thoughtful and articulate opening remarks. The quality of my hon. Friend’s contribution was matched by many others that followed, and I mention in particular the forceful and powerful speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). Given the toll that the pandemic has taken on our economy, it is right that they and a number of other Members chose to focus their remarks on the measures introduced by the Department to support businesses and individuals through the lockdown, and on what still needs to be done to address the gaps and deficiencies that exist.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point: other countries have done it and we have been calling for sector-specific packages for those in most need. The Government have done it for steel; let us get on and do it for aerospace and the other sectors that need additional support.
A number of other Members mentioned the environment and climate emergency. Given the primacy of the climate threat over the long term and BEIS’s lead role in ensuring that our country plays its part in tackling it, I want to use the time that I have to focus on the Department’s record in driving progress towards the net zero target for which we legislated just over a year ago.
Although 2050 is too late, we can continue to take pride in the fact that we were the first major economy to adopt a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero. But setting a target is one thing; hitting it is quite another. As things stand, not only are the Government failing to do anything like enough to meet our legally binding 2050 target, but they are not even on track to meet the less ambitious target that preceded it. I am afraid Ministers give every impression of being entirely relaxed about that fact. How else do we explain that over the past 12 months, while basking in the virtuous afterglow of legislating for net zero, the Government have done precious little to set us on the road to carbon neutrality?
The Committee on Climate Change put it in characteristically diplomatic terms when it stated in a recent annual progress report that last year
“was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019.”
The charge is irrefutable.
According to the CCC, last year the Government failed on 14 of the 21 progress indicators, fell further behind in many areas, and met only two of 31 key policy milestones. It is simply not good enough.
The human, economic and social cost of the coronavirus crisis has been severe, but as we turn our attention to rebuilding the Government have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy and make up lost ground, and it is imperative that they seize it. There have been some positive signs in recent weeks that suggest that the Government may recognise the force of this argument. Take the package on energy efficiency measures that was trailed yesterday. We believe that the amount allocated to social housing is woefully inadequate, we take issue with the fact that the private rented sector has been almost entirely overlooked, and we have concerns about whether it will be possible to deliver in the seven-month window provided, but the investment is welcome. However, it has to be the first step, rather than the last word, when it comes to energy efficiency; the start of a long-term, year-on-year programme of support rather than merely a one-off annual boost. The same principle must apply in other areas.
All of which is to say that when it comes to judging the impact of tomorrow’s statement and the autumn spending review on our decarbonisation efforts, what matters is not only the scale and nature of the stimulus, but whether the measures to be announced form part of a co-ordinated long-term approach and are interwoven with the policy change required to drive emissions reductions through the remainder of this crucial decade.
If we are to get on track for net zero, the impetus ultimately has to come from the centre, but for obvious reasons BEIS has a crucial role to play in supporting the centre to set that strategic direction on decarbonisation and direct its spending appropriately to that end. Yet in several crucial areas the Department is still failing to provide the clear, stable and well-designed policy framework that businesses and investors require.
With that in mind, I will finish by putting a series of specific questions on the record, in the hope that the Minister may be able to answer at least some of them in his response. First, for the past year, as we have heard, we have been repeatedly promised that the energy White Paper, the aim of which is to provide much-needed certainty to business on the future energy system, is imminent, yet there is no indication in the estimates we are debating today that the Department is preparing for anything other than business as usual. Are we therefore to assume that the White Paper will be further delayed, or is it still the Department’s intention to publish it before the end of this year and then ask the Treasury for the necessary additional resources at a later date?
Secondly, when it comes to the decarbonisation of heat, the estimates merely appear to contain a broadly static commitment to expenditure on the renewable heat incentive. Leaving aside whether funds allocated to the RHI will be rolled over to underpin other proposed low-carbon heat schemes, does the Minister agree that the total resources currently allocated by the Department to heat are nowhere near enough to respond to the challenge presented by this most difficult of sectors?
Thirdly, taking the estimates in the round, is the Minister not uncomfortable about the apparent disparity between the lofty ambitions set out by his Department when it comes to low-carbon energy, particularly in the clean growth plan of 2017, and the focus of day-to-day spending by the Department on older, high-carbon sources?
Fourthly, and finally, given the commitment to phase out coal from our energy system entirely by 2024, why has the application for a new open-cast mine at Highthorn in Northumberland not been dismissed out of hand by the Government?
Break in Debate
That may well be the case, but I think taking coal off the electricity generating system—the power generation network—is historically one of the most significant things that this country has done. If we look back in our own lifetimes, we see that coal and industrial questions relating to it were a dominant part of industrial and political debate only 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but in 2024 we hope to remove coal entirely from electricity generation. That is a huge success. We typically do not get the credit we would like in this House, but that is a significant achievement.
I want to talk briefly about some of the broader questions relating to this debate. It would be invidious of me to single out individual speeches, as there were so many good ones, but there are one or two areas where I want to reconfirm Government policy and give a good account of what we have achieved.
Many of the speeches I heard as I sat on the Treasury Bench were understandably focused on the Government’s response to the covid-19 outbreak. At the start of the crisis, the Government made it perfectly clear that we would do whatever it took to support our businesses and economy, and we have substantially delivered on that. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun mentioned the £330 billion commitment from the Treasury and said that it is an example of failure because the amount of debt—the loans that we have given—is a fraction of that, but of course the £330 billion also includes the furlough scheme, which was not in the form of a loan. It was the Government intervening and paying wages. It was a huge intervention, and it had nothing to do with loans. I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that. This has been a cross-Government effort, and we in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have played our part in delivering a range of Government-backed finance schemes.
Let me re-enumerate those schemes: the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme, the bounce back loans, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and the future fund, which is an equity-to-debt scheme. As of this week, £45 billion-worth of loans have been approved through those schemes, backed largely by Government guarantees.
The accusation from some quarters of the House was that the Government had not done enough, and it was very much necessary to state for the record what we actually had done, and that is what I will proceed to do.
In the last few minutes of my remarks, I turn my attention to what is at the centre of the Department and at the centre of its strategy: the net zero commitment. I think it was the hon. Member for Bristol North West who said that this cannot just be a stand-alone policy. It is not; it is at the heart and centre of Government strategy. I also reject those voices that say that somehow we are the laggards and the backward students. That is a completely wrong characterisation. I mentioned coal. Germany’s date to remove coal from its electricity power generation is 2038—a whole 14 years after this Government and this country will have left coal behind. We are leaders, not followers, in many of these respects. The Prime Minister outlined in his speech on 30 June that we intend to
“build back better, build back greener, build back faster”,
and that is exactly what we intend to do.
The Prime Minister has already spoken of our plans to run 4,000 new zero-carbon buses and the new plan for cycleways as part of the upgrades to transport infrastructure. Since the outbreak of covid-19 in this country, we have published the first stage of our transport decarbonisation plan. That plan provides a measure of certainty and a clear pathway to the future. We have announced a £2 billion package for cycling and to encourage people to walk, which is not only more energy efficient, but also tackles issues such as obesity and exercise. We can remobilise and decarbonise at the same time, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) made a passionate set of speeches, and I agree with her to some degree—we can always do better and go faster—but I disagree with the idea that somehow we have simply idled our time away and done nothing.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your patience and for the very brisk way in which the debate has been handled. We have heard some excellent speeches. BEIS is now considering how best to support businesses. The green recovery is at the heart of what we want to do post covid, and we are exceptionally focused—more than any other Department—on delivering the strategic goal of net zero. In all this work, we will continue to listen to businesses, large and small. I particularly look forward to engaging in debate with Members of this House, as I have done in the past. We are also listening to business representative organisations. We are determined to get it right for individuals and businesses who need support, for our economy and for the future.
(1 year, 2 months ago)Commons Chamber
I find that intervention from the hon. Gentleman, of all people, quite shameful. As an ex-Conservative Minister, he will be aware of the Government’s proud record of, and commitment to, enhancing workers’ rights and protections. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As I have tried to explain to other right hon. and hon. Members, whenever a new piece of EU legislation is brought into force, the Government will provide a report to the House so that the House can express its opinion on whether it enhances, reduces or changes workers’ rights, and when a Bill is introduced in this place that affects employees’ rights, there will be a requirement to consult businesses and trade unions on any impact, for better or worse, on workers’ rights. It will be for this House to decide what gets taken forward.
(1 year, 6 months ago)Commons Chamber
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s tireless championing of the case for improved road and rail in Essex, and I am happy to lend my support to her campaign. The county has a vibrant, enterprising economy, but greater investment in connectivity would deliver more jobs, housing and opportunities right across the region.
The industrial strategy chose to invest to make Britain a leading location for the next generation of vehicles, irrespective of Brexit. This month, we have worked with Jaguar Land Rover to secure the electric XJ at Castle Bromwich. Last week, I launched the new electric Mini, to be built in Oxford. Immediately after these questions, I am unveiling Lotus’s Evija , the UK’s first all-electric hypercar, made in Norfolk. I am determined that Britain’s automotive strength will flourish through the next generation of vehicles.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomes the commitment given by Vauxhall’s owners to invest in Ellesmere Port, but he is absolutely right that they have said that that depends on a successful resolution of Brexit that means Vauxhall can continue to trade without tariffs and friction with the rest of the European Union. That reinforces how vital it is to secure such a deal.
(1 year, 6 months ago)Westminster Hall
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) for securing this important debate. We have already heard powerful contributions on both sides of the Chamber about how the Government’s lack of a clear, coherent and holistic retail strategy is damaging our high streets and shopping centres, not to mention the livelihoods of those trying to make a living in the sector.
I will begin by recounting a couple of conversations I had with business owners in Batley and Spen. A couple of months ago in Batley, I called into a restaurant called Mi Nonnas. It is a really nice coffee shop and lunch destination. The owner showed me painful statistics demonstrating the fall in his revenue due to the controversial changes to our bus routes, which have completely decimated his restaurant’s footfall. He told me that he has not taken a wage, and that the situation is really stressful for him and his family. His is not the only local business affected by those changes. Sadly, since 2010, we have lost 3,000 bus routes nationally, and central Government cuts have seemingly little regard for the wider consequences for retailers.
The second conversation I had was at a lovely needlework and wool shop in Heckmondwike. The owner told me that footfall had really reduced because the last bank had left the community. The people who use her shop are often older people who knit and sew. They are less likely to take a longer journey to go to a bank, so they take their business elsewhere; considering that the UK has lost almost two thirds of its banks and building societies over the past 30 years, that will not change any time soon. A fifth of the population are 2 miles adrift from their nearest branch, likely with a substandard bus route to boot.
The massive hike in business rates announced last year is another issue that constituents mention to me regularly. In an age when people shop online, our local independent retailers need a leg up. They need vision and creative thinking. They are hamstrung by antiquated rates systems, which price too many independent retailers out of the market. Although I welcome the short-term rate relief for some businesses announced in last year’s Budget, it is nothing more than a sticking plaster. While our high streets are increasingly dotted with vacant shops, the big supermarkets get a cut in rates and online giants such as Amazon pay a fraction of their multibillion-pound turnover. That does not make sense to me. With the collapse of big brands such as Toys R Us, which had a store at Centre 27 retail park in my constituency, it is clear that these issues go way beyond our high streets.
The retail sector accounts for more than 3 million jobs in the UK, yet it is often overlooked. The British Retail Consortium warns that 74,000 jobs were lost last year, and that up to 900,000 will be lost by 2025. That would be a staggering blow to the sector. We need a clear retail strategy. The fact that the Government’s industrial strategy, which was unveiled almost two years ago, has yet to create a sector deal for retail speaks volumes. The Government’s Retail Sector Council, which was designed to address key challenges facing the sector, meets a paltry three times a year. That is not good enough. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid), who is no longer in his place, local authorities have to bid against one another for money from the future high streets fund. There is no guarantee of success, and the fund goes nowhere near far enough to address the myriad issues that have been raised in the debate.
How do we move forward? Let us start with the basics. We need to ensure that people can access our businesses. Public transport is crucial. We need to invest in buses and trains to end this downward spiral. We must not have communities where there are no banks left. I applaud NatWest, which has a pilot scheme to bring a number of banks under one roof and offer a limited service to businesses. We need to escalate such opportunities, and perhaps Government should drive them.
I am delighted that the Labour party recently committed to introducing a network of post banks based in post offices in the hearts of our communities. It is really important for older people in particular to be able to access their money, and that business owners do not to have to travel too far with cash in their pockets, or put their workforce at risk by asking them to carry large amounts of money around on buses and elsewhere. Our business rates system also needs fixing. Nothing but a comprehensive review and overhaul of the system will suffice, so I am pleased that the Labour party is committed to doing exactly that, along with taxing online retailers, implementing free wi-fi and banning ATM charges. Like colleagues, I commend USDAW’s brilliant Save Our Shops campaign, which focuses on levelling the playing field between traditional and online retailers, improving pay and conditions, and changing perceptions of retail jobs.
We are just not having the conversations that matter with policy makers. It is down to us as Members of Parliament, and to trade unions, to try to get those conversations going. I do not think policy makers understand the myriad challenges for villages such as Birstall, or bigger communities such as Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike. Having short-term fixes and Departments working in silos certainly is not cutting it.
A clear retail strategy that looks at the whole picture is overdue. We need great ideas for making our high streets more community focused, tackling loneliness and introducing flexible workplaces and leisure opportunities, and for bringing culture—buskers, art and so on—to our high streets and greening them. We need to ensure that our retail survives and can transform our towns and villages, bringing us a sense of place and home, and making our communities great places to live and work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather confusing to look at the ownership of some of those banks? Of course, we stepped in some time ago—they were bailed out to the tune of billions of pounds—so there is ownership there, but where is the control? It is as though the referee has just walked off the pitch. Do we require Government intervention?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing this important debate on a matter that is not raised often enough in this place. As a former retailer, I have seen many of these issues over the years, and I am delighted that she has been able to bring the debate to Westminster Hall. As we will get into online retail, I bring the attention of hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The hon. Lady talked about the effects on people, communities and indeed companies. She brought up the spectre of the BHS closures, which was deeply hurtful to many people involved. She also talked about the work of local authorities and the possibility of them getting involved, and correctly called for a longer-term strategy and vision from the UK Government.
The hon. Lady talked about the business rate system in England, which is a key issue. I will come on to the Scottish context. She also mentioned the requirement for proper pay for people working in retail. She will be glad to know that in Scotland the real living wage—not the pretendy one—is being promoted by the Scottish Government, which indeed is a real living wage employer. Almost just at this moment, the 1,500th private real living wage employer in Scotland has been unveiled: Johnstons of Elgin, the menswear retailer. It was congratulated by the fair work Minister, Jamie Hepburn MSP. Congratulations to Johnstons; it is a really good example.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) talked about changes to banking and rural communities. I disagree about everyone being able to go on to online banking. Many people with disabilities and people in rural areas need banking facilities in the heart of their communities. In particular, those who are vulnerable need access to cash in a way that cannot be done online. The hon. Gentleman did, however, make an interesting point about town planning, which people should consider carefully.
The right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) discussed retail’s important contribution to the UK economy and employment. Indeed, in Scotland, retail is the largest private sector employer, accounting for 250,300 jobs. Retailers are kind-hearted, having donated £10 million to good causes in Scotland, and retail accounted for 13% of all new businesses formed in Scotland in 2016. It also accounts for a fifth of all business rates in Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about out-of-town versus city centre. There is much debate about how we marry the two so that everyone can benefit, because they are realities. That is one for greater consideration. He also mentioned the loss of UK Government offices, which I have seen in the highlands, with the tax offices, Department for Work and Pensions offices, local passport offices and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency offices all coming out of communities and affecting people and local businesses, particularly retail.
The right hon. Gentleman brought up another subject close to my heart: support for post offices. These people desperately need a better deal so they can secure a living wage. As the Minister will acknowledge, there are people in post offices struggling to make a living. The right hon. Gentleman also made many suggestions to the Minister in a very good speech.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) talked about regenerating town centres, accepting the online issue. I still get a bit of a shiver when thinking about this future of deliveries by drones, with all these drones whizzing about. The temptation to bat them out of the way might be too strong, but we should be aware that that may come in the future. He talked, quite rightly, about the danger of isolation for the elderly and those who are not internet-savvy—I think he included himself—with different ways to shop. He said that people deserved better, and he talked about the real living wage, so I am sure he will join me in congratulating Johnstons of Elgin.
The hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that local authorities and the Scottish Government should work together. He will be glad to welcome the work that the Scottish Government are doing with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on town centres. As well as providing the best business rates in the UK, the SNP Scottish Government have put together a business rates relief package worth more than £75 million. Ninety per cent. of businesses in Scotland will pay a lower poundage than they would anywhere else in the UK. The Scottish Government have launched a £50 million town centres fund in partnership with COSLA, with local authorities allocating the funds. That goes a long way in promoting the work between Government and the local authorities.
(1 year, 6 months ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move,
That this House calls for a fundamental review of whistleblowing regulation to provide proper protection for a broader range of people.
I thank the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for his support in making the application to the Backbench Business Committee and all the other MPs who supported the application. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee, the Chair of which is sitting in front of me, for enabling this incredibly important debate to take place. I want to start by telling four brief stories to illustrate why facilitating whistleblowing is so important.
I was the Minister in the then Department of Health who initiated the review led by James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool, of the horror of what happened at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. In his report from June last year, the very first chapter deals with the nurses who tried to speak up in 1991 about what was happening in that hospital. However, the report refers to the silencing of those nurses’ concerns and to a patronising attitude towards them, although they were trying to do the right thing. The consequence of not listening to those nurses is the extraordinary and horrifying conclusion of the report, which is that over 450 older people died following the inappropriate prescribing of opioids. These old people had gone in for rehabilitation but came out dead.
In this context, we can often be talking about life and death situations, so enabling and empowering people to speak up can literally save lives. That, at its most clear and stark, is why this matter is so important. The horrific scandal at Gosport hospital could have been stopped if those nurses have been listened to, but they were not, and that is an outrage in itself.
Scrolling forward to 2013, Dr Chris Day, a brave junior doctor working in a south London hospital, raised safety concerns about night staffing levels in an intensive care unit. It is in all our interests that brave people should speak out about safety concerns in any part of our health service, but perhaps particularly in intensive care units.
What happened to Dr Day, because he spoke out, is wholly unacceptable. He suffered a significant detriment. His whole career has been pushed off track, and his young family have been massively affected. Junior doctors in that unit were put in the invidious position of being responsible for far too many people compared with national standards, so he pursued a claim against both the trust and Health Education England. The NHS spent £700,000 of public money on defending the claim and, in large part, on attempting to deny protection to junior doctors who blow the whistle against Health Education England. Lawyers, disgustingly, were enriched.
Late last year, the tribunal that eventually heard Dr Day’s case ended early after he was threatened with a claim for substantial costs. He and his wife could not face the prospect of losing their young family’s home, so he caved in. That is surely scandalous treatment of a junior doctor. He was defeated by superior firepower. We have the grotesque spectacle of the NHS, of all organisations, deploying expensive QCs to defeat a junior doctor who raised serious and legitimate patient safety issues.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support in pursuing the Dr Day case, and I completely agree with the points he makes.
Sir Robert Francis, in his 2015 “Freedom to Speak Up” report, spoke about how NHS whistleblowers who had given evidence to him overwhelmingly experienced negative outcomes, and he talked of a hostile culture of fear, blame, isolation, reprisals and victimisation—in our NHS, for goodness’ sake.
Those stories continue. The impact on individuals can be devastating and profound. They can be ostracised, abused and disadvantaged in their career, with dire consequences for their mental health. One nurse who tried to expose wrongdoing said, “I would never put myself in that position again. I would rather leave.” What a damning indictment of how we treat people in our treasured and cherished public service.
Break in Debate
I completely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. I cannot understand why any organisation would not embrace the feedback someone brings them when it has to do with the types of things whistleblowers raise: why on earth would any business or public sector organisation not want to know when things are not being done right—what is right in terms of the law, what is morally right, and what is right in terms of the values of the organisation? And there absolutely should be a no recriminations policy in any organisation worth its salt. I also absolutely believe that there needs to be a place where whistleblowers can go, a safe harbour where their case will be properly treated and respected and where they will get the necessary level of support, whatever that support might be, so their case can be properly heard.
I think I have made it clear that I strongly believe that no organisation of any repute should be operating in the ways we have heard discussed in this debate by various colleagues. Governments and companies should be confident enough to know when they are wrong, and they should be honest and brave enough to address that. The reaction to whistleblowing should be to say, “Thank you; thank you for speaking up”, and then when the whistleblower’s words and evidence are evaluated organisations should be more than happy; in fact, they should be recognising and themselves rewarding whistleblowers who speak up so that the changes that flow from that will mean they as businesses or public service organisations can become more efficient, effective and ethical in the way they operate.
The APPG will soon publish its findings and recommendations, and we will further consider and promote the case for an independent office for the whistleblower, giving protection to and advocating in the interests of whistleblowers. We shall also be asking for an end to the use of non-disclosure agreements to cover up wrongdoing, criminality and other morally dubious behaviour. That idea must be fully debated and explored, because there are currently far too many abuses of NDAs.
Parliament and Government have a responsibility to set the conditions and the standards; we have to create the culture in our country where people feel confident that they can and should speak up in the public interest. We want whistleblowing recognised as a positive and public-spirited thing to do, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply today, but this is the start of the debate on this issue, not an end, and we must recognise the courage and integrity of people who do the right things for the right reasons, because they are guided in what they are doing by conscience and the public interest.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Department of Health is based in Leeds, and one of my constituents whistleblew about the DH2020 process in her role as a trade union representative. She was not supported, and she was hounded out of the job she loved, incorrectly. She won her case at an employment tribunal, but that was no compensation to her because she is no longer in that job and has had her career ruined by whistleblowing on behalf of all the employees in the Department of Health who have been affected by DH2020.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the contract between Health Education England and the trusts, which demonstrates the degree of control that Health Education England has over the employment of junior doctors, was not disclosed for some three years in that litigation? It was drafted by the very law firm that was making loads of money out of defending the case against Chris Day. I have raised this with Health Education England, but it will not give me a proper response because it says that the case is at an end. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is totally unacceptable and that it smacks of unethical behaviour for that law firm to make money out of not disclosing a contract that it itself drafted?
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). I am impressed by his hard work in matching the sad reality of NHS practice with its policy on paper and in thinking through the implications for patient care.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for helping to secure this important debate and to the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for his hard work as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on whistleblowing, on which I also serve. As he did, I thank all those whistleblowers who have been willing to come before our group to discuss this issue.
I also thank my constituents. Even though I am a new Member of Parliament, a number of my constituents have tried to blow the whistle and, in almost every single case, their experience has accorded with what has been described today—an initial unwillingness to address the issues and problems raised, followed by, in many cases, retaliation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston described the variety of ways in which that retaliation occurs, which are difficult to write down and take action against.
The retaliation has been quite extreme in some cases. One constituent had a vexatious legal case taken against them. They were cleared, as they should have been, because they had done absolutely nothing wrong. Of course their name is still on the legal record, even though they were cleared, and they believe that is having an impact on their employment.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) described the pattern at Lloyds bank, which is a common one. His account accords with the account of the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner, with whom I have discussed this case a number of times. He is rightly exercised about it, because it indicates many people’s continuing unwillingness to deal with these issues properly.
I do not want to speak for long, but I want to address the need to reform PIDA and the non-disclosure agreement regime. That must come after a thorough review of all the arrangements for whistleblowing, as urged by the all-party parliamentary group on whistleblowing.
As a number of speakers have said, it is unclear to many whistleblowers who is a prescribed person under PIDA and the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014. I find in my constituency casework that even within the category of “prescribed persons” it is often very unclear whether the scope of interest of that prescribed person covers their case. For example, in the field of education, the chief inspector is able to deal with issues relating to the welfare of children living in school-provided accommodation but cannot deal with unethical educational practice within those schools. It appears that the only body that could be appealed to in that case is the Secretary of State for Education, but there does not seem to be a clear procedure in that Department to deal with whistleblowing concerns. I recognise that this is not the same Department as today’s Minister’s, but the Government overall need to make sure that proper procedures are in place. After all, our constituents are informed on the website that lists those prescribed persons that if they cannot find someone to report to and they do not want to report to their employer, they should take their case to their Member of Parliament. If we do not know exactly who then to take the case up with to try to get some resolution, that puts us and our constituents in a difficult position.
We need to have a proper investigation of whether the existing list of prescribed persons is appropriate and whether those bodies are adequately prepared. In addition, because of the lack of preparation in many cases, we find that regulators and other bodies are ill-equipped to separate out vexatious complaints and genuine whistleblowers—there is a huge inefficiency in the system there. We also find that regulators who are not on the list of prescribed people often are not aware of, and do not understand, how to advise whistleblowers about who they should approach. I have had a number of cases where whistleblowers have tried to ask the relevant regulator, who is not a prescribed person, what they should do and they have then been signposted to the wrong people and given duff advice. That should not be happening, and the Government need to grasp the nettle and provide coherent guidance.
I very much agree with the right hon. Member for North Norfolk about many of the gaps, but we also need to deal with the issue raised rightly by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) about the fact that those bodies, including those that have a duty under this regime, often talk to each other in a way that completely contradicts the principles of the legislation. They are sharing information inappropriately, even though it is already covered by that PIDA regime. One case of that has been mentioned, but I have dealt with one case where someone’s case was casually discussed at a semi-social networking occasion by a public employee and the whistleblower’s employer. What makes it even worse is that the case was related to child protection. We cannot have this situation where almost chummy relationships lead to that valuable information being inappropriately shared.
I want to comment on the use of non-disclosure agreements and bring this discussion into line with that on their use in sexual harassment cases. The Women and Equalities Committee has criticised their use in relation to sexual harassment, and we should be questioning whether they are ever appropriate in relation to whistle- blowing cases. The UK legal system is strong on libel compared with that of other countries. Those of us concerned about investigative journalism might argue that it is too strong, but it is very strong in international terms. If untrue statements are made by those who have been whistleblowers, that can be pursued in court by their previous employer or by the body about which the whistleblowing complaint was made. If we are really to learn from the testimony of whistleblowers, it should not be possible to silence them with NDAs.
As everyone else has done, I wish to end my speech by thanking the whistleblowers in my constituency. There are a number of them I cannot name because of the procedures I have just talked about and because they are concerned about the impact on their professional reputation if their name becomes known as that of a so-called troublemaker. That is an enormous problem because, as Members have mentioned time and again, whistleblowers provide a corrective to malfeasance and illegal activity, and their testimony is incredibly important.
When I talk about whistleblowers’ evidence, I always think about the phrase “It can lead to positive change”. I learned that phrase from the Oxfam whistleblower Helen Evans, who was one of my constituents. The whole process of what happened to her is instructive. Sadly, some people tried to weaponise the evidence that she brought to the table and use it against international aid, but she has consistently and rightly argued that what she and others uncovered indicated not only that those vulnerable young women and girls in Haiti had been appallingly treated, but that they really needed economic empowerment. She was never arguing against international aid; in fact, quite the opposite: she was arguing for it. She has been determined to argue that what she did must lead to positive change, and indeed her example, and that of others, is leading to positive change in the international aid sector. Those who initially did not listen to her now say that they are grateful for her testimony. That is often the case with whistleblowers, but they should not have to go through that fight to get to that understanding.
We need positive change in our public services and in the private sector, wherever unethical or illegal behaviour goes unchallenged. We should recognise and praise those whistleblowers who help us to get that positive change.
Break in Debate
I am happy to meet colleagues to talk about things they would like done in this area, and I note that the right hon. Gentleman distinguished between guidance and a review, which I will come to.
I want to outline what the Government have done and what steps are being taken, though I understand that for some colleagues these have not gone far enough. We have increased the scope of the protections in whistleblowing legislation by extending them to NHS students, nurses, midwives and job applicants in the health sector. We have also fulfilled the commitment to keep the prescribed persons list up to date. In response to the recommendations from the Women and Equalities Select Committee, we have committed to adding the Equality and Human Rights Commission to the list of prescribed persons at our next annual update. It will be subject to parliamentary time, but we aim to present that to the House before the end of the year. As I outlined earlier, I will consider whether there are things we can do within that to make it clearer.
We have also introduced guidance for prescribed persons and employers to help them to support whistleblowers. The most recent reform was a new legislative requirement for most prescribed persons to produce an annual report on whistleblowing disclosures made to them by workers.
The whistleblowing legislation at the moment is regarded as proportionate, but as new evidence comes to light and as things change, it is right that we keep these policies under review, and it is right that we have these debates in the House of Commons so that the Government can be challenged over what is happening now and how we can improve.
(1 year, 6 months ago)Westminster Hall
The lack of clarity and detail over the potential loss of funding three years after Brexit is a cause for general alarm. Those critical funds are extremely important in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran, where they fund employability initiatives and measures to tackle poverty and the promotion of social inclusion. Three years later, we still have no idea how much cash the replacement shared prosperity fund will have to distribute. We do not know what charities and voluntary organisations will be eligible for funding. We do not know how the funding will be administered and which programmes that currently benefit from the fund will be left staring a black hole in the face. I urge the Minister to give much-needed and much sought after clarification on this issue. Will we have equivalent like for like replacement funding post-Brexit, and can he guarantee it whether or not the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal? A yes or no would be interesting.
We need answers, we need honesty and of course we need an unequivocal commitment from the Government that the communities who need the fund and who benefit from it will not be sacrificed, abandoned and forgotten as the Government drag us off the Brexit cliff-edge. I remind the Minister that the Government must respect the devolution settlement, and that it is imperative that the UK Government work with all the devolved Administrations to reach agreement on future funding arrangements that make sense for all parts of the UK. I look forward to hearing what he has to say about that. My constituency and country must not be short-changed.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for introducing the debate so well. Colleagues representing Cornwall constituencies have made a good case for the argument that the far south-west does not get its fair share, and they are right—we do not. We have not had our fair share under the Governments of the past nine years, and we risk getting an even worse deal if we do not get post-Brexit funding right. I worry that we are getting it wrong politically in Parliament at the moment, and that the Government are getting it wrong through their lack of planning for what would replace EU funding for the region after no deal.
Whatever our views on the European Union, and whether we voted remain or leave in the south-west, there is no doubt that the EU funded us fairly, and Westminster continues to fund us at below-average levels. That is despite the fact that Cornwall is one of the poorest counties in the entire country, and despite huge levels of deprivation in Plymouth, with below-average spend across the county. When we get lumped together as part of the south it annoys me, because some of the poorest communities in the country are in Plymouth and Cornwall. Our peripherality has made things harder, but that is not recognised by Westminster in the funding formulas, although the European Union has recognised it in the way it has distributed funding. One need only look at towns funding to see that in action. Out of a £1 billion fund there was only £30 million for the entire south-west region. It was supposed to be allocated on the basis of need, and that episode has not built confidence in the way any future Government will allocate funding after Brexit.
There is an important rationale for funding based on a clear distinction, so that wherever someone lives—in Plymouth, Devon, Cornwall, or anywhere else in the country—they should be funded fairly and given the same opportunities as people have anywhere else. That is what must happen. I worry because there is the risk of no deal on 31 October and the new system is not in place. People do not know what will happen to the funding streams that they currently enjoy. They do not know what forms they will have to fill in, what deadlines they will have to meet, or what happens to existing funded programmes. I worry that that is causing concern.
I remember the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), now a Tory leadership contender, starting the referendum campaign in Cornwall —in the constituency, I believe, of the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth—and grasping a pasty. I think he called it the pasty of independence. We now know that the geographical indicators that protect Cornish pasties might not be there with a no-deal Brexit. In fact, it looks as if they probably will not. So we need to make sure in the far south-west that we protect not only our funding streams, but our fantastic products. That is really at the heart of the issue. We need to make sure that whatever system replaces the European funding if Brexit does happen, distribution will be fair. I worry at the moment that the poor deal for the south-west will continue unless there is a consultation that clearly brings about change, to give such regions a better deal.
(1 year, 7 months ago)Westminster Hall
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was a union rep at my workplace before I joined Parliament, and the number of cases in which I represented my colleagues is unbelievable. There are a number of things that union reps can achieve, working with the employer and of course the workers, and that is crucial.
With the success of New Zealand in mind, I want to see similar legislation adopted in this country. Last month, I presented a private Member’s Bill to that effect, which seeks to remove a number of restrictions on trade unions’ conducting business in workplaces. I have received a lot of support for the Bill from hon. Members, over 50 of whom were willing to co-sign it. However, to date I have not been supported by a single Conservative or Liberal Democrat MP.
Arguments against increasing the collective bargaining power of working people have long been discredited. It is a myth that strong trade unions drive down profit. If strong trade unions drive down productivity, why has the UK long suffered from a productivity gap despite having the most restrictive trade union laws in western Europe? In truth, a happy, well-respected workforce is also a productive one, but the stories I have heard from union officials paint the opposite picture: too many people in this country feel exploited and dispensable at work.
If we are to transition away from a low-wage, precarious economy, increasing the collective bargaining power of our workers is critical. That is why I am fighting to improve trade union access to the workplace. We need strong trade unions and a better deal for working people.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the fundamental problems now, with so many workers working for small and medium-sized companies, is the lack of a place to meet? Often, workers just need to discuss some of the issues, but they have no opportunity to do that, and that makes it difficult for them to join a trade union. Does he agree that that is something we could look at seriously?
My hon. Friend mentions the construction industry. I have a constituent who found that she is blacklisted not only from a particular company but from the whole sector and is therefore unable to get employment in the field she is an expert in, all because of her trade union activity. Does he agree that that has to be wiped out? We cannot have people unable to get work because of trade union activity.
My hon. Friend was just coming on to health and safety. Our area has a lot of heavy industry manufacturing. Does he agree that all the evidence demonstrates that where there is an active trade union branch, there is a much better safety culture than where trade unions are not welcome or, in some cases, prevented from organising?
My hon. Friend mentions insecure employment. Does he agree that while those on short-term or rolling contracts are among the least organised of the workforce in the United Kingdom, they actually need to be members of a trade union probably more than any other group of workers?
It is a great pleasure to follow the previous speakers in this important debate. Having worked for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—USDAW, the shop workers’ union—for 18 years before coming to this place, I have seen an enormous amount of good practice in a trade union. I am sad to say that, since being elected as a Member of Parliament, I have seen the opposite side of the coin. Constituents come to me with employment cases, some of them really serious, and my first question is always whether they are a member of a trade union. I am really sorry to say that the vast majority are not; if they were, they would not end up in these situations with their employers.
Only 14% of workers in the private sector are in trade unions, so it is a very rare breed who have the benefit of trade union protection at work. While working with USDAW and the retail sector over many years, I often heard from skilled and experienced reps; they had been trained and had done training courses on employment rights, and were far better at negotiating under their companies’ grievance and disciplinary procedures than the managers, who were often straight out of business school, or were moved around shops in different areas and so were never able to build up the expertise that the reps had.
Employers are missing a trick by not seeing trade union representatives as an asset to their workplaces and workforces. Having helped to put together presentations for employers on the value of a trade union in the workplace, I know that a trade union can absolutely bring value for money and productivity to a company. A union can also ensure that a company is doing everything by the book, and can certify that at national level; at local level, the presence of a trade union rep can give people confidence in the management in the company—confidence that things are being done right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned health and safety. I am honoured to have the laboratory for the Health and Safety Executive in my constituency. It is really useful to be able to talk to people there about how best to implement health and safety at work, particularly given the decline in the resources that the Government give to the Health and Safety Executive. We have seen inspections decline—they are now done on a risk-assessed basis—but where a workplace has trade union representatives who are trained in health and safety, those health and safety reps do risk assessments and take soundings from their work colleagues, who often feel more able to raise problems with their trade union representatives than with their management, particularly if they are concerned about their safety. That is even more the case where there are people in the workplace with a disability or some other form of impairment. It is so important that they feel that they have that support.
We have some basic rights at work, but in the UK they are particularly basic, and we often see that even those are not provided. We have a system of employment tribunals whereby individuals have to put their head above the parapet, as has been mentioned; they have to show that they are able to make a complaint in order to access an employment tribunal. That does not help the rest of the workforce, who are probably suffering in exactly the same conditions, particularly where the issue has to do with the minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, parental leave or flexible working. Those are basic rights at work that we expect to be in place, but too often they are not, and individual employees have to put themselves forward in order to be able to access a particular right. Many feel that it is not worth it; many feel that it is better to move on to a different place of work. That does not help the other people there.
To access the protection from unfair dismissal, a person now has to have been in a workplace for two years. We have an increasingly mobile workforce, so a growing number of people are not able to access the right to claim unfair dismissal, and do not feel that they can access any of the other rights that enable them to take a case to their employer or to a tribunal, especially where they cannot get the support of a trade union representative in that. That is why, as I have said, it is so important that trade union representatives are able to come in and support individual members in a workplace. Even where the union is not the recognised trade union, the trade union reps need to be able to support their members, who are paying for the privilege of membership. If they are paying for that service, it is not right that their employer should be able to deny it to them.
Break in Debate
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. He is not just a powerful advocate in the Council of Europe, but a powerful advocate in this place for the role it plays in helping to make positive change, not only in this country but across Europe.
Trade unions have played a long and positive role in our society; they have long represented their members and lobbied for wider changes in society. They have campaigned on equality issues for women and other groups, helped to tackle child poverty and fought against modern day slavery. They have shown how we can bring about change that benefits everybody in society.
Over the decades, unions have improved the working lives of their members, and this Government hope to see that continue. Throughout the country, trade union health and safety representatives have made our workplaces safer, which not only benefits workers but contributes to our economy, by reducing accidents.
Unions have also invested in people, working to develop the skills of their members. Unionlearn is an excellent example of that. It has helped to engage with more than 50 trade unions in more than 700 workplaces. Unionlearn has helped those with low literacy and numeracy and also helped to recruit and support thousands of apprentices. That is why the Government continue to support initiatives such as Unionlearn with over £8 million over the previous and coming years.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, as a fellow north-west MP, I am a passionate advocate of the positive role that unions can play. I have stepped into this debate today because the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who is the Minister with responsibility for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility, has to take an urgent question in the main Chamber. This is her policy remit, but I will certainly speak to her to see what we can do to ensure that we lobby for things such as Unionlearn in the spending review. I am passionate about trade unions. In 2015, I helped to re-establish the Conservative workers and trade union movement in my own party, so Members have a friend of the trade union movement stood before them today.
Let me turn to the points made in the debate. I think it would be helpful if I set out the legislative position. Workers in the UK have a right to join a trade union. That right is protected under our trade union law. It is automatically unfair for an employer to dismiss an employee on the grounds of trade union membership or for being active in a trade union, and employers cannot subject their workers to detriment in attempting to deter union membership or participation in trade union activities.
All union members have the right to participate in union activities, which includes members who are union officials. They have the right, for example, to organise union meetings and consult their members. Furthermore, the right to be active in the affairs of a trade union is enhanced where the union is an independent union that is recognised by the employer for collective bargaining purposes. Officials of such unions may seek time off work with pay to discharge certain union duties. Members who are union learning representatives may also seek paid time off in order to carry out their functions. Individual workers can enforce these rights at an employment tribunal.
(1 year, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I pay tribute to Greta Thunberg and the school strikers, including those from my constituency, and to the protesters whom we saw outside Parliament last week for ensuring the climate change is once again at the top of the political agenda, where it must be. Under this Government and in this global context, their actions are necessary.
The Government have failed on climate change. Since 2010, a raft of policies and initiatives that were driving progress have been scrapped. Today, Conservative Members have called for action on energy efficiency, yet the Tory Government’s cancellation of the green homes scheme means that the retrofitting of insulation is 5% of its level in 2012. We should have been building on those initiatives to make further progress, not talking about the extent to which we have moved backwards.
In the very limited time that is available to me, I want to raise an issue that has not been mentioned so far today: fossil fuel divestment. Part of the system change that we need to see involves taking money out of dirty, damaging, exploitative fossil fuel extraction. We can do something about that here, in this place. Both my local councils, Lambeth and Southwark, have committed to divest their pension funds out of fossil fuels, yet our parliamentary pension funds remain invested in fossil fuels, despite 100 Members writing to the trustees last year calling on them to divest and remove our money from fossil fuels and invest it in sustainable industries. I call on all Members here to join that call.
We need the Government to act comprehensively at the scale required by an emergency. Climate change demands that it is the prism and the underpinning principle of all our political and economic decision making. We must act to address this emergency.
My city of Oxford has not just declared a climate emergency, but is putting in place the UK’s first ever zero emissions zone and is also convening right now a citizens’ assembly to discuss measures to deal with that climate emergency. If we decide collectively in this House that we have a climate emergency, we must act on it, and we need to do so above all in three areas.
First, house building standards were watered down appallingly under the coalition Government. We have been told there will be changes on energy efficiency, but we need to go further. The Government not only need to change on energy efficiency, but also need to make sure we are protecting wildlife in every new development, particularly those between Oxford and Cambridge.
Secondly, we need concerted action from central Government to promote environmental innovation. At present, we are relying on enthusiasts, volunteers and individual companies and councils to drive that change. That is not good enough. I am very proud of project LEO and project ERIC in Oxford—big projects changing our energy infrastructure locally—but they need to be backed up by Government investment otherwise this will be piecemeal. This should be mainstream, not just a matter for enthusiasts.
Finally, we must be honest about the challenges we face; I agree with the Secretary of State that we have got to be honest. I am sick and tired of hearing people say they care about the environment and then the next minute tweet out criticism of a policy like the ultra-low emission zone. I am very proud of those who say, “Yes, we’ve got to take those difficult steps and have those difficult conversations,” including London Labour MPs such my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous).
We are facing up to it; we are dealing with this in a grown-up manner, and that is what Government should be doing, not, sadly, making the sort of short-term politically expedient points that we so often hear greeting environmental measures. Let us grow up, just like those kids have been doing when out in the streets; that is what we need to do in this place.
(1 year, 10 months ago)Commons Chamber
No, what the Prime Minister set out in that speech was to have the voice of workers represented in the boardroom. The action that we have taken in requiring businesses to establish a worker representative, or to have a non-executive director with the function of representing workers, or to have a works council with an influence on the board, was something that I was proud to set out in furtherance of the Prime Minister’s assurance.
I am very proud of the record of this country and this Government in advancing rights in the workplace. The “Good Work” report by Matthew Taylor established, way before many other countries, a means of ensuring changes to UK law around the platform economy and the gig economy to ensure that people are not disadvantaged by these new platforms. The Prime Minister and I have both given that commitment. In deference to some of the scepticism that the words of the Prime Minister should be sufficient, this parliamentary mechanism to enshrine a degree of scrutiny and give this House the ability to insist that that non-regression is abided by is the basis of the amendment that was proposed, and that we are accepting and acting on today.
(1 year, 11 months ago)Westminster Hall
Order. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespersons no later than 5.23 pm. The guidelines give five minutes to the SNP, five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Stewart Malcolm McDonald will be allowed a couple of minutes at the end to make concluding remarks. Five Back-Bench Members wish to contribute, so I will impose a four-minute limit on each speaker.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on bringing this forward. It is a pertinent issue and one that I firmly believe in.
I am also a firm believer in hard work—that is a fact. I was raised that way and raised my boys in the same way. If people want a new car, they must work hard and save hard, and keep the old banger as long as they can. If they want their own house, they must work hard and save for longer. That has always been the motto in our family. I understand that it is harder now for young people to get into the housing market, no matter how much work they carry out, but that is a debate for a different day.
The debate today is clear. As I said to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) before the debate started, I can well remember my dad hiring people, watching them for the day and then saying at the end of the day, “Here is your pay; I don't think you are actually cut out for this job.” By and large, the person understood and accepted that. I can never imagine him getting someone to work for the day and then saying that they did not pass the test. That is for a very simple reason: it is simply not fair to expect someone to work for a day and not pay them—not ever. That is the way it is. If that were true in my dad's time, it is certainly every bit as true today. The principles of decency and rightness dictate that we treat people how we would like to be treated—with dignity and respect. That is what the hon. Member for Glasgow South referred to in his introductory speech—dignity, respect and fairness.
I fully understand those who wish to trial employees. Do they have the customer skills? Can they think on their feet and use logic? Can they handle the work? People can or cannot—a trial will ascertain that. I am all for trial periods or probation, but I believe they must be of a short duration and for a specific purpose, and most of all they must be paid. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment to entrenching the right to be paid for work. I am glad that it allows people to come for an interview that includes work experience time. The six tests that the Government outline and how they expect the law to be interpreted are very clear. I want to quote them here, to have them on record.
“Whether a ‘work trial’ is genuinely for recruitment purposes,”
and that is the crux of the matter,
“(if it is not, it will generally be considered to be work and the individual will be eligible to be paid the national minimum wage or the national living wage); whether the trial…exceeds the time that the employer would reasonably need to test the individual’s ability to carry out the job offered (in the Government’s view an individual conducting work in a trial lasting longer than one day is likely to be entitled to the national minimum wage);…the extent to which the individual is observed while carrying out the tasks; the nature of the tasks carried out by the individual and how closely these relate to the job offered (where the tasks are different from those which the job would involve…but rather to get the tasks carried out); whether the tasks carried out have a value to the employer beyond testing the individual…(this will normally indicate that they do not have such a value and that the individual is not ‘working’); whether trial periods are important (aside from recruiting) to the way the employer runs its business.”
There should be no other misunderstanding with employers or perspective employers. If someone is asked to work a day, they should be paid for that day. I recently read an article on the calling of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church. A massive part of his outreach was about better working conditions for mine and coal workers. While impressed with what he achieved a long time ago, it is sad that we are still having to say to people that it is not okay to expect something for nothing, from someone who wants nothing more than a job to pay the bills.
I am all for internships and apprenticeships, and I am also all for ensuring job suitability. If someone cannot do a job then they may lose that job. What I am not for is people being taken advantage of, and unfortunately that is what is happening. It must stop. Minister, we are seeking clarification of the law and assurance. We support the workers in their every attempt to ensure that those who work are paid, no matter how long or short that work is.
(1 year, 11 months ago)Commons Chamber
Obviously the hon. Gentleman has great familiarity with the industry, from his constituency perspective. The industry has consistently expressed itself satisfied with the deal that has been proposed. It has said so in terms at the overall level, through the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and individual companies have said so. The industry is concerned that this House has not come to a resolution to turn that agreement into something that it can depend on. I hope he will join colleagues from across the House in advocating the kind of compromise that will enable the whole House, not just by a slim majority but wholeheartedly, to agree a deal that can send confidence to investors in this industry and others around the world.
When I first made the statement to the House on 31 October 2016, I described the programme of support that has been operated for many years, in which investment in training the workforce, environmental improvements and R&D can be applied for, and those applications are subject to independent scrutiny. We have a good record of providing that. It is available to large, medium and small firms and is well known in the sector.
(2 years, 2 months ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and to take part in the debate. I strongly echo the support we have heard for public holidays on Diwali, Dussehra, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. I find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—a most unusual position for me—that the two most important days of the Jewish calendar are also very worthy of reference in a debate such as this.
I commend the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and the Petitions Committee for initiating the debate, which is surely about the ambition of the Muslim and Hindu communities to recognise their most holy of days with public holidays and about their demanding that they are better valued, as communities and individuals, by the country in which they live. I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it beggars belief that exams are allowed to take place on such important occasions. Just as with Brent Council, Harrow Council makes a point of not holding significant council meetings on days when important holidays are taking place within the communities that they serve.
I must confess that I have always supported increasing the number of public holidays and have always been sceptical of the claim that doing so would cost an arm and a leg. It is difficult to believe that the bank holiday granted for the diamond jubilee cost employers around £1.2 billion. I suspect that that is about as robust a statistic as one from the Vote Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum. I welcome that the Labour party is committed to making the national days of the home nations public holidays, but I ask Front-Bench Members, as I ask the Government, to go further.
The hon. Member for Harrow East alluded to the idea of a four-day week, which is no longer seen as a completely mad, hare-brained idea. There are progressive employers that have already introduced four-day weeks for their employees, or that are generous in giving employees time off to attend to matters of personal importance or to celebrate religious occasions. It really should not be beyond the wit of the greatest country on earth to find a way to grant public holidays for these hugely important days.
It is worth spelling it out that Islam and Hinduism are the second and third largest religions in the country. Islam represented almost 5% of the UK population as far back as 2011; I suspect that figure is higher now. Hinduism represents more than 1.5% of the English population, and I am pleased to say that many Hindus live in my constituency.
Let me start with Diwali and Dussehra, which are both major Hindu festivals. I intend to spend much of Diwali visiting some of the great temples that serve my constituency, be it the International Siddhashram Shakti centre, Stanmore temple—that is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Harrow East, but we think of it as in Harrow West—or, in Brent, Neasden temple, which is one of the great Hindu temples worldwide and which many of my constituents attend regularly, particularly during Diwali.
Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings owned by the community are brightly illuminated. One of the great joys of Diwali is seeing such celebration and such light.
Other faiths celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains—it has been an honour today to attend the Jitopreneurs event taking place in the House of Lords—observe their own Diwali, alongside the Hindu Diwali. There is a Jain temple in Kenton Road; that, too, is not quite in Harrow West, although we see it as in Harrow West. There is a temple in Hayes, which many of the Jains in my constituency attend. The most important Jain temple in the UK is at Potters Bar, and many of my constituents will go there to celebrate Diwali.
It is worth spelling it out that the festival of Diwali is already an official holiday in a number of countries around the world, many of which have hugely close links to the UK. If it can be achieved that Diwali is marked in other countries, why cannot it be marked in the UK?
Dussehra, too, is a major Hindu festival and it is celebrated at the end of Navratri every year. It is observed in different ways from Diwali and is to remember the goddess Durga’s victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura to restore and protect dharma. It is equally, if not more, important.
The two Muslim events that the petitioners understandably think should be marked as public holidays are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha is arguably the most holy of days, coming as it does at the end of the annual Hajj to Mecca—arguably one of the most remarkable acts of pilgrimage of any faith worldwide. It honours the willingness of Ibrahim—Abraham—to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command, so even those of us of a Christian faith can recognise the significance of that moment without, surely, too much thought or effort. Eid al-Fitr is also a hugely important religious holiday for many of my constituents. It celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the month of Ramadan.
On those occasions, the Salaam centre in north Harrow in my constituency, Harrow central mosque and, indeed, Stanmore mosque in the constituency of the hon. Member for Harrow East, which many of my constituents attend, are hugely busy places as people from my constituency attend to mark days that are of huge spiritual significance to them.
I recognise that there has traditionally been a reluctance with regard to the change that is sought, so it is worth my pointing out, as others have, that England and Wales have the lowest number of public holidays. Germany, whose economy some would say is doing slightly better than ours at the moment, has almost 50% more public holidays than the UK and productivity that is significantly higher. If Germany can make its economy work well with a larger number of public holidays, why on earth should not England and Wales—and, indeed, Scotland and Northern Ireland—do so as well?
Given that I suspect that the Front Benchers will not immediately cave today and say that they will support this change, I shall briefly mention an initiative from the United States, where the most progressive employers have introduced paid personal days for staff members to enable them to observe religious occasions or to use them for other personal reasons. They are not written into law as such, but they are a concept widely recognised by employers. Perhaps with tax incentives to assist, even the most recalcitrant of employers’ organisations might be willing to recognise that that could be a route, initially, to help employers to adjust to their employees being able to take time off to, perfectly reasonably, celebrate those two hugely important sets of public holidays in the Hindu community and the Islamic calendar.
In a spirit of optimism but also of hard-nosed realism, I recognise that those of us on the Back Benches still have some way to go to push Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers to accept the case for further paid public holidays to recognise important religious occasions, but I hope that this debate will contribute to that process and reassure those of Hindu or of Islamic faith that there are Members of Parliament who are determined to make the case for the special and holy days of their religion to be recognised in the way they should be.
Order. I am struggling to see how that is relevant. The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting remarks, but if he could confine them to the need to have holidays for religious observance, as the petition outlines, I would be grateful. I would like to hear the Minister’s response to that part of the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) as Opposition spokesperson for the first time. It is good to be here.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) not only for introducing the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, but for his thoughtful and informative speech. I thank the other hon. Members who have taken part, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). It was great to hear how he led the charge for a similar debate in 2014. He is a big champion of the diverse community in Harrow East. I am also grateful to the people who signed the e-petitions that have brought us here today.
I am proud that we are one of the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith societies. We should all be proud of that diversity, which is at the heart of our economic success. It has made us the strong, vibrant nation we are today.
The Government welcome the celebration of Diwali, Eid and other religious festivals. This year, the festival of Diwali will take place on 7 November and I send my best wishes to everyone who will be celebrating in Britain and around the world. Downing Street will host its Diwali celebration on 15 November.
Break in Debate
One is enough, but I thank my hon. Friend for his invitation. As he highlighted earlier, many parliamentarians throughout the country will celebrate that day with their constituents, as he will, and they will ensure that they are present at a lot of these events.
As Members will know, the current pattern of bank holidays is well established. There are eight permanent bank and public holidays in England and Wales. Scotland has nine and Northern Ireland has 10. The Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 allows for dates to be changed or other holidays to be declared. This allows for holidays to be declared to celebrate special occasions or one-off events.
The Government regularly receive requests for additional bank and public holidays to celebrate a wide variety of occasions. Recent requests have included public holidays to commemorate our armed forces, to mark particular royal events and to celebrate certain sporting successes. We carefully consider every request that we receive.
Although the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk has made a powerful case today, the Government do not believe that it is necessary for such extra bank holidays to be declared, for reasons that I will now outline. First, the costs to the economy of introducing new public holidays are considerable. The most recent assessment of an additional holiday for the diamond jubilee, which has been spoken about today, showed a total cost to employers of around £1.2 billion. Depending on the nature of the holiday that is being proposed, costs may be partially offset by increased revenues for businesses in the leisure and tourism sectors, and by a boost in retail spending. However, it is not expected that public holidays for Eid or Diwali would result in an increase in tourism.
Although bank holidays have become widely observed, workers do not have a legal right to take time off for specific bank holidays or to receive extra pay for them; that depends on the terms of their employment agreement and contract. In the UK, full-time workers receive a minimum annual leave entitlement of 28 days. That is a combination of eight days to represent bank holidays and the EU minimum annual leave of 20 days. The extra eight days of leave do not need to be taken on bank holidays themselves, giving workers flexibility. Many employers offer extra leave entitlement on top of the statutory minimum.
It is at the heart of the Government’s quality of work agenda to encourage employers to respond flexibly and sympathetically to any requests for leave, including for religious holidays. The relationship between the worker and the manager is a key aspect of good quality work. Part of a sound relationship is mutual respect and a willingness to accommodate a worker’s religious or cultural commitments.
I will now touch on a few points that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk made. Discrimination in the workplace is not tolerated and is completely unacceptable, so I was very sad to hear about some of the issues that he raised and about some of the feelings that individuals have expressed, which he referred to in his speech.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about swapping religious festivals, but, as I outlined earlier, people do not necessarily have to take bank holidays off, so there is flexibility with the annual leave entitlement for people to make use of that time on their own particular religious holidays.
However, the heart of the argument is around making sure that we do all we can, as a Government, to ensure that employers are sympathetic to the needs of their workers. As everyone who has spoken here today has outlined, the key to the success of companies and businesses is the happiness of their employees. As a Government, we will continue to encourage business to respect people’s views and meet their needs.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised the issue of education, which is an important part of this debate. I can only speak about my own experience from when I was at school. Even then, in the ’70s—well, in the ’80s, I should say—[Interruption.] Yes, I was at school in the ’80s. Actually, I benefited at my comprehensive school from a really good religious education, which did not just focus on Christianity; it covered all the other major religions that are present in this country, too. So I found that, both at school and after I left school, I was in an environment that was very multicultural, even in the ’80s, and I believe that I left school with a good understanding of many of the religions that we have spoken about today. Nevertheless, that is something that we must keep abreast of, and I am sure that the Department for Education will welcome the questions that have been put to it today.
I will just mention a couple of points that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East made. He is a strong champion for his constituency and it was great to hear him also talking about Jewish holidays and his constituency. He mentioned the need for employers to understand and to be sympathetic to the needs of particular individuals, and we will continue to monitor that.
I thank the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), who is another strong champion for his constituency, for his contribution. However, even though he was very determined that he wants to increase the number of public holidays, I am yet to be convinced about the type of extension that suggested. Nevertheless, it was great that he was able to make his point.
Finally, I will touch on the contribution by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. As I have outlined, we receive a lot of requests for different holidays. We have had requests for St George’s day and an “EU independence” day, and very recently there was a request regarding Harry and Meghan’s wedding. I am sure that the requests for new bank holidays will continue as time goes on, and I am also sure that all the constituents out there would always relish the thought of another day off work. The hon. Gentleman also talked about employers’ awareness of religion, and that is key to what I will come on to later.
I noticed that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that bank holidays could be directly relatable to the productivity of employees, and I think that is a theory that might be tested. However, he also mentioned that with our move to new technology, such as artificial intelligence and robots, there will definitely be job losses. The Government are committed to ensuring that we can provide an economy, a workplace and the skills and jobs that will keep people employed. I am not yet convinced that we need to establish more bank holidays on the back of that change, but he probably has a counterargument.
I will make two quick points to address some of the hon. Gentleman’s other comments. First, I understand that he has asked some questions around the assessment of the cost of bank holidays. Since I became the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I have not done that assessment, but it would be an interesting area to consider. However, I would always argue that the costs that have been established could be, in reality, potentially higher, so it would be interesting to see who was right and who was wrong on that point.
Regarding our leaving Europe, we have been clear on workers’ rights. As we leave Europe, this Government have been clear that we will not make any concessions in relation to the workers’ rights that we already have, and that we want to ensure that our workers’ rights are protected and built upon. I think that the Prime Minister has been very clear on that.
On the hon. Gentleman’s comment about self-employment, and self-employed people not necessarily being able to benefit from bank holidays, the whole essence of being self-employed is around the flexibility of work; self-employed people are not subjected to the same restraints as full-time employees with regard to their holiday entitlement. So, although he makes a point around self-employment, self-employed individuals actually have a lot more flexibility than others do, particularly to enjoy the religious festivals that they may want to observe.
Flexibility is key for self-employment, but with regard to the group of people he mentions who are working on such contracts, there is a ban on exclusivity and those individuals are still given the opportunity to request the holiday that they are entitled to as flexible workers with accrued holidays.
In our industrial strategy, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy took responsibility for reporting on and improving the quality of work across the UK. That was a key recommendation of the Taylor review of modern employment practices. In his review, Matthew Taylor set out an overarching ambition that all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent, with realistic scope for development and fulfilment, and that is an ambition of this Government. Although being in employment is vital to people’s health and wellbeing, the quality of the work is also a major factor in helping them to remain healthy and fulfilled.
We know that working flexibly helps people to balance their work and personal lives. Certain approaches to flexible working can allow people to build up additional leave entitlements, to use however they choose. Such flexibility is vital in creating an inclusive economy. Employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service already have the right to request flexible working. That accounts for more than 90% of employees, which sends a clear signal that flexible working is a normal practice for anyone in the workplace and not limited to those with caring responsibilities. The Government would like to take that further. We announced earlier this month that we will consider a new duty on employers to advertise all jobs as flexible, turning the tables on flexible working from something an employee might consider requesting into something an employer will consider offering.
Britain is a great place to live. However, we cannot ignore the fact that in too many parts of our country, communities feel divided. The Government are fully committed to the principles of freedom of religion and belief. I am proud that this country has in place some of the strongest protections in the world to allow people to practise their faith or belief. More than that, we understand that faith communities make a valuable contribution to our society by creating strong social networks, supporting vulnerable people, undertaking charitable work and providing education. We continue to support interfaith work as a means of breaking down barriers between communities and building greater trust and understanding.
Since 2011, the Government have funded the Church Urban Fund’s near neighbours programme, which brings people from diverse faiths and backgrounds together to increase trust and understanding. More than 1,600 local community integration projects have been funded, across 40 local authority areas, and more than a million people have benefited. We also fund the work of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, to facilitate dialogue between faith communities and run the annual interfaith week.
Our industrial strategy commits us to doing more to address the under-representation of people from minority ethnic backgrounds in the labour market. That is good for society and good for business. The McGregor-Smith review estimated that equal employment and progression across ethnicities could be worth £24 billion to the UK economy per year. I encourage employers to look at the review. It provides concrete actions that can be taken to identify and tackle any workplace barriers. As an example, it sets out how staff networks can be a forum for the discussion of how a business can take account of holidays or festivals in an equitable way.
On 11 October, Business in the Community published a one-year-on report on progress against the review’s recommendations. Although there were areas of progress, and significant effort from the Government and employers, I was disappointed to see that that was not always reflected in employees’ lived experiences. One in four employees from a minority ethnic background had witnessed or experienced racial harassment or bullying from managers in the previous two years—an appalling statistic. Only 35% of people felt comfortable talking about their religion in their organisation, and only 38% felt comfortable talking about race. We must ensure that workplaces are comfortable places for the discussion of difference, so that everyone can contribute their perspectives and experiences.
The Prime Minister launched the race in the workplace charter on 11 October, through which organisations sign up to five practical calls for action to ensure that they are tackling barriers faced by people from ethnic minorities in the workplace. The charter builds on a number of the recommendations of the McGregor-Smith review, and I encourage employers to sign up to it.
All this afternoon’s contributions have been informative and respectful. It has been a great debate and I thank all the constituency MPs who have spoken. I know that there will be disappointment that the Government have been unable to support the e-petitions for public holidays for Eid and Diwali, but I have welcomed the opportunity to set out our commitment to a fair and flexible workplace for all. Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk for introducing the debate today.
(2 years, 3 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am aware of the ambitions in Torbay and I am encouraged to see the high-level commitment from the Torbay Together partnership. I encourage Torbay Together to continue its engagement with the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership to ensure that the forthcoming local industrial strategy reflects the potential for the local area, and I commend its strategy.
The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), met and spoke to Cammell Laird last night. It has finished one contract and a number of other contracts are on the way. It has also received £150 million for projects that it is engaging in and the Minister will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to update him.
(2 years, 4 months ago)Westminster Hall
Thank you, Mr Hollobone; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I reassure you that I will not talk for 10 minutes. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) on securing this particularly important debate and on his mind-blowing speech.
I welcome the final report of the Economic Justice Commission and, in particular, its recommendations on the reversal of this Government’s damaging decomposition of workers’ rights. This decade is forecast to be the weakest decade for average real earnings in 200 years. One in 10 workers is said to be in insecure work. Many of my constituents tell me of employers who impose restrictions, withdraw hours and refuse their workers rights, without their having the status of an employee in return. Meanwhile, there are almost 1 million people on zero-hours contracts, with the toxic combination of falling real wages, frozen benefits and insecure work resulting in 8 million people in working households living in 21st century poverty. Given this reality, it is heartening to read the report’s notable strong stance for workers’ rights, hard-wiring justice into our economic system as opposed to treating it as an afterthought.
Over recent weeks, I have seen at first hand the urgent need for many of the report’s workplace recommendations. I place on record my ownership of a single Sainsbury’s share—a golden ticket to attend its annual general meeting. This is an organisation that goes against recommendation after recommendation in the report. All Sainsbury’s shop floor staff are currently in the final stages of a consultation over new “sign or resign” contracts that will slash the salaries of 9,000 of its most longstanding and loyal members of staff. They will lose their paid breaks, their Sunday premium will be removed, the night shift will be shortened and their bonus scheme will go.
Some Members may argue that that is an unavoidable cost-cutting exercise for a key player in the struggling retail sector. Sainsbury’s argues that it is an exercise in fairness, to ensure that all colleagues doing the same role are paid the same. But I argue that the organisation simply shows no regard for its lowest paid staff. Although he scrapped the bonus scheme for shop floor staff, chief executive officer Mike Coupe has just taken home a £427,000 bonus as part of his £3.4 million pay packet—and we wonder why he sings about how he is “in the money”.
Many of those staff have shown decades of dedication to the organisation. While their salaries crumble, their bills, mortgages and rent at the end of each month remain the same. Take Paul, a 53-year-old staff member of 29 years who this week resigned from his role upon facing a £1,300-a-year pay cut. He describes himself as angry and upset that his loyalty has been sacrificed for the company’s profits. We met the Minister last week to discuss Sainsbury’s and the wider issues with such “sign or be sacked” contracts.
I have no qualms about those at the top being well paid, but I call for consistency, fairness and parity, and for the importance of the contribution of those at the top to be recognised in tandem with that of those at the bottom. As the IPPR report states, remuneration committees should contain elected worker representatives who decide the pay, incentives and conditions of all company staff in one whole-company pay policy. It would be really hard for people to agree to a £500,000 bonus for the chief executive officer if they knew that would mean cutting the take-home pay of the people at the bottom.
The need for such a policy becomes all the clearer when we consider exploitative “pay between assignment” contracts. In theory, such contracts are a sensible proposal, under which agency workers are guaranteed a basic level of pay between assignments and while they are out of work. However, in reality, workers are often kept on those lower paid contracts even when they are in the same job for years on end with no such gap between assignments. Such exploitative contracts can and must be prohibited, and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed the recent consultation on ending them. I congratulate BT and the Communication Workers Union on working together to end them in the near future, which will lead to an increase in the take-home pay of 1,200 call centre staff. I would also be grateful if the Minister told us what the Government’s response is likely to be to the recommendations of the Taylor report on work and the gig economy.
The Economic Justice Commission proposes putting fairness at the heart of the economy, because that would make it perform better and improve the lives of millions of people. Who would have thought it?
I did not expect to intervene, but my hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The case he makes has been rehearsed by the Opposition for some time, but it has now been endorsed by the International Monetary Fund, which reported over the summer that the dismantling of labour protections accounts for a huge slice of the fall in labour’s share of national income. That is not just our view—it is now the IMF’s view.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Like others, I commend the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) on bringing forward the debate, and on the work he does as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on inclusive growth. In his opening comments he mentioned a moral mission, and I certainly agree with that. Frankly, more politicians need to get behind this subject. I share the sentiment of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who thought that more Members would be present. This important subject needs more than a one-hour Westminster Hall debate.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the issues he raised, including deindustrialisation, growth and the squeeze on wages, and the fact that the rich are getting richer meaning that we need a new economic model. I commend his reflection on Labour’s 13 years in power in which it did not address that. Labour has certainly moved on from the days of Peter Mandelson talking about having no problems with people getting filthy rich; that is progress. I also commend the work of the commission and its report, with its intention of stimulating debate about necessary changes to the UK economy. I also welcome how it considered Scotland in the round, not as an afterthought.
Who can argue against the principle that prosperity and justice should go hand in hand? As I said, I agree with the comments of the right hon. Gentleman, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to his challenge to her to outline which principles in the report she disagrees with.
We are aware that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is increasing all the time, and I am concerned that the UK Government do not seem realise that or care about it. As the report sets out, the UK economy is not working and the nations and regions are diverging even further. Fundamental reform is required, and the ultimate aspiration must be a fair economy that has economic justice hard-wired into it. That in turn will make for a stronger economy.
The report also highlights issues that my colleagues and I have been going on about for a while. The UK economy is overly reliant on household consumption, excessive household debt and further increasing property prices—it is as if we never learnt the lessons of the financial crash 10 years ago. Sure as fate, another crash will come. The report also outlines that the UK has a serious investment problem, sitting at about 4% below the OECD average. Just today I was at a civil engineering briefing where it was noted that the UK is ranked 24th on infrastructure investment. We obviously need greater investment in infrastructure, and true regional and national investment in infrastructure would help to rebalance the economy. That must be looked at seriously.
Scotland has been playing catch-up, because before the creation of the Scottish Parliament we were always overlooked on infrastructure. I welcome the report’s call for greater borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament to allow for greater investment in infrastructure. I am interested to hear what the Minister will say about that.
The report also outlines that there should be further devolution, as the UK is
“one of the most centralised states in the developed world”
and, as was touched on, the “most geographically unbalanced economy” in Europe. These matters are connected, and they are particularly pertinent to me as just today I have received written answers from the Scotland Office saying that the Secretary of State for Scotland has no interest in devolving further powers to Holyrood. He does not even want the Scottish Parliament to have the same powers as the Northern Ireland Assembly when it sits. That is a sad indictment of the Secretary of State’s ambition for Scotland. Again, I look forward to what the Minister will say about further devolution of powers.
On the workforce and the balance between the working and non-working population, the report highlights the risks associated with an ageing population, which is a bigger issue in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. I agree with the recommendation that immigration policy should be devolved to Scotland. It is predicted that we will need an additional 860,000 contributing workers by 2041, so we need control over immigration.
The report shares the Scottish Government’s ambition to tackle the gender pay gap. Complementary policies on that and gender balance deserve further consideration. The report says that
“all firms above 250 employees should be required to publish their pay scales—both ranges and averages by role—to employees within their firms”.
Thanks to the Scottish National party, we have the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018, which sets the objective that 50% of non-executive members of public boards should be women. It also requires steps to be taken to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of a board. That gender balance will help us towards a fairer and more understanding economy.
On fairness, the report suggests that everyone aged 21 and over should be paid the real living wage, and I concur. In Scotland, a higher percentage of workers receive the living wage, but until Westminster takes action and provides legislation it will not become a reality for all.
The report says that it has
“already drawn on the Scottish government’s Fair Work agenda”
“the establishment of a new national productivity agency, skills policies and a ‘good jobs standard’”,
which could deliver fairer working practices. The SNP Government are striving towards that, and it is time for the UK Government to do likewise and have a dramatic rethink about how the economy works. Otherwise, I look forward to the day when we have an independent Scotland, where a Government who have the correct will and desire can implement those policies.
(2 years, 6 months ago)Commons Chamber
The hon. Lady, as always, makes a powerful point. We are taking action by prosecuting companies that are not paying the national minimum wage and we are ensuring that those basic rights are enforced. We want to get this right because this legislation will have to last not just for six months or a year, but for many years as our economy develops.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I was around his constituency on Saturday helping to launch the RSS Sir David Attenborough—what a fine place he represents. He is absolutely right to focus on these basic maternity protections. This Government are continuing to improve paternity and maternity rights. We want to get that right and that will be part of our response.
(2 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
Thank you for the welcome opportunity to contribute to this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also welcome the Opposition using their time to discuss these ideas, although obviously I do not agree with a number of things in their motion.
As many Members on both sides of the House have said, the fundamental point is that the high street and the retail sector are changing. Things are being done differently. We have to recognise that that is not something that we in this place can or should control to the extent suggested by some during the debate. The market is ultimately a market of people. It is a market of our electorate. It is our children, parents, friends and next-door neighbours. When we depersonalise these discussions, suggesting that things are being done to businesses, we miss the point that fundamental changes are taking place on the high street.
Every single job loss is a tragedy. I understand the concerns about, and the challenges created by, people having to do things that they were not previously required to do. Ultimately, however, we have to recognise that big trends and big changes are taking place. Ten years ago, 2% of our purchases were online; that figure is now 18% and it is only going to get bigger. As I said when the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) kindly allowed me to intervene on her, although challenges are created by jobs lost as a result of changes to the high street, many jobs are being created in other industries.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). He is a doughty campaigner and he made his point loudly and clearly, but there was an inherent, slight conservatism—he will not like me saying that—to some of his comments. I understand his point about automation, but so far it has created many more jobs than it has caused to be lost. I accept that his principles are valid and commend him for them—he said that he does not use the automated checkout—but if we were to resolutely adopt them, some would argue that we should not have come here by tube today or by train last week because they put people who kept horses 300 years ago out of business.
I do not seek to take the argument to the extreme, but the point is that we cannot stop progress. It is the responsibility of places such as this to discuss how we make sure that our constituencies are safeguarded to the best possible extent, but we must also recognise that there are trends happening that we should not stop or want to stop, because this is about how people want to live their lives, shop and interact with their local community, which is more important than we may think.
Like a number of Members who have spoken, I have a retail background. My father, just like the Secretary of State’s father, was a milkman. I spent most of my teenage years helping my parents on that milk round, often doing more early mornings than I particularly wanted to as a 15 and 16-year-old. I remember the town centre in my part of the world in Chesterfield when I was growing up. I delivered to shops such as Radio Rentals, which is no longer there because we no longer rent radios or need to do so. High streets have got to change. They have always developed. There is always a requirement to be careful about it, but we have to accept that change is inevitable.
That said, we also have to accept that we have to be cognisant of certain things. I completely agree with the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston about banks. I formerly worked in a bank. I understand their issues about making branches work, but they are adopting a short-sighted and wrong strategy regarding the removal of vital banking facilities from parts of the country. I have never understood why banks do not come together and share space so that everybody still has that vital link, with a desk for Santander and another for Barclays and any other bank that wants to join. We cannot simply channel everything through the post office, because that ends up with the ridiculous situation whereby it is always massively busy with far too few people to physically man it. We have discussed similar problems elsewhere on the high street as a result of an insufficient number of people.
I commend the Government’s work, particularly on town teams. I have some great town teams in my part of the world. Eckington town team spends an incredible amount of time organising events at Christmas and over summer to bring people into Eckington, where my office is located, and to encourage them to help and to see their local town centre and local village centre. Clay Cross town centre is doing the same thing. Clay Cross is the birthplace of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), who is not in his seat. The area is now represented by a Conservative MP—[Interruption.] I had to get that one in. The town team has introduced initiatives such as “Clay Cross on the beach”. I would never have thought—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman would never have thought—that on a bank holiday weekend a load of sand would be put in the middle of Clay Cross, to encourage people to come. Such initiatives will make people choose that destination and show them the opportunities provided by their towns, including the shops and other possibilities. We in this place have to recognise that great work is going on elsewhere.
I do not want to suggest that there are no challenges. Local authorities in particular have a responsibility to do more. The local authority in my part of the world is completely shirking its responsibility to regenerate our town centre. A number of discussions are taking place, particularly in Dronfield. The town council is doing lots, and businesses want to do lots, but the district council is doing almost nothing and it should be called out for that.
There are challenges and difficulties, but we have to recognise that change is going to happen. We need to guide people through that, but we should not be afraid of those changes. The high street is going to change. It has always changed and it will change in the future.
(2 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
Break in Debate
Matthew Taylor set out in the good work plan how we can further enhance the protections for workers such as Sheila. There is a huge amount of day-one protections, and we are looking at what we can do with flexible working and zero-hours contracts to give greater certainty and security to workers exactly like Sheila.
The Government recognise that unfortunately some employers continue to offend repeatedly in this way. We are looking at what further measures we can take in the work plan, and more widely in the work of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to ensure that such repeat offenders are clamped down on.
(2 years, 10 months ago)Commons Chamber
When it comes to the new generation of automotive technology, the ambition of this Government is not outstripped by anyone. We are working very closely—hand in glove—with the industry, through the Automotive Council, to make sure that we are the best placed in the world not only to research the new technologies, but to manufacture them in this country.
The Government’s long-term partnership with the automotive industry is an exemplar of our industrial strategy. Only a fortnight ago, I went to Derbyshire to welcome Toyota’s decision to build the new Auris in Burnaston, helping to secure 3,000 jobs between Burnaston and Deeside in north Wales.
I regularly meet with chief executives of car companies, including Mr Tavares. It is very clear that we are determined, as the Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech, to make sure that this very important integrated supply chain is able to continue to operate. It is worth bearing in mind that since my team have been in the Department every single major new model decision has gone our way. I am determined to keep up that advocacy.
(3 years, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
This is the Budget that was trailed as the “Ruth” Budget for Scotland, and it is the Budget that the Scottish Tories have apparently stepped up to the plate and delivered for Scotland, so let us look at what they have delivered. They claim credit for the VAT exemption for the police and fire services. The SNP raised that in the Chamber 63 times and forced a vote on it, so we have clearly led the way. The Scottish Tories do not even seem to care about the need for a refund of the £140 million that has already been stolen.
What else have the Scottish Tories delivered? Nothing. Not one original idea in the Budget can be credited to them. We are still left with a rail budget that has been cut by £600 million in real terms, and with no Ayrshire growth deal. There was nothing about the £200 million CAP convergence uplift that was meant for Scotland and nothing about renewable energy, and we are faced with a real-terms revenue budget cut of half a billion pounds over the next two years. The 10 Democratic Unionist Members who still sit on the Opposition Benches managed to get a £1.5 billion package for a couple of key votes, and we are meant to believe that they are a solid voting lobby.
There was one welcome measure for the oil and gas industry in relation to the transferable tax history, but, as is pointed out in paragraph 3.54 of the Red Book, the idea was first mooted in a Government paper in 2014, so it is certainly nothing to do with Scottish Tories. The fact that it is predicted to bring in £70 million makes it an easy decision for the Treasury anyway.
Today’s theme may be the future economy, but that future economy has already been curtailed by the £30 billion of tax giveaways in the last Budget—£30 billion that could have been spent more wisely. The incoherent policies continue with the flagship announcement of a £3.2 billion stamp duty giveaway that is now predicted to do no more than increase house prices and bring in nothing for the Treasury bung. While increasing the pay gap for the young, the Government think that they can woo young voters back with the promise of a railcard, but paragraph 4.46 suggests that it will be funded by other rail users rather than the Treasury. Tuition is free in Scotland, but the Tories think that freezing fees at £9,250 per annum will bring young voters flocking back to them. I say to them that they are aff their heids.
As a nation, we have been socialised to think of the economy in abstract terms. It is analysed as a distant entity that needs to be served, slavishly, to keep the big, scary beast from collapse. When we hear the Chancellor tell us that inequality has narrowed, that there are more people in work and that our public services are protected, we could almost believe him. That is, if we did not actually speak to any real people outside the Westminster bubble. We could suspend disbelief if we never spoke to any workers or reflected on what is happening in our communities.
Every time Government Members cheer about the new jobs on the Government’s watch without any critical analysis of the nature of those jobs —short-term, insecure and low-wage—they lose credibility. On behalf of my community in North West Durham, I must convey extreme disappointment and anger at the Budget. Aside from the pantomime proceedings, it offered nothing to my community.
I shall give one example in illustration—the stamp duty giveaway. In the north-east, average house prices for first-time buyers are £125,591. That would mean a tiny giveaway of £11.82. Please forgive those people who have endured seven years of pay freezes—a typical prison officer, for example, who is now only £30 better off now than seven years ago—if they do not jump with joy at those announcements.
We need something completely different. We must be brave enough to say that borrowing is necessary for investment and that people must have a wage that they can live on—it is not fine to pay them a minimum wage that keeps them in starvation. I have met people who have been broken by this system and it is not their fault. The global banking crisis was not their fault. The recession was not their fault. The rules and traps of the system were not of their making.
To see the tears of grown working women and men flow directly as a result of Government policy tells me that we need a complete overhaul of our economic system. If the Government are not brave enough to do that, they must move over. If the economy does not work for everyone, it is not worthy.
(3 years, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The purpose of the strategy is not just to inform the decisions taken by Government Departments—although it is important that they should be consistent with it—but to give confidence to investors so that they can predict the direction of policy. We have seen that today in the life sciences sector. It is important that the strategy is kept refreshed and up to date, and one of the proposals in the paper is to establish an industrial strategy council, which will be an independent body that can report to the House and others on progress and ensure that we are agile enough to keep up with developments in technology.
Part of the sector deal with the automotive sector will do precisely what the hon. Gentleman suggests—that is, look at the supply chain and create opportunities, backed by the industry and the Government working together, to make it easier for suppliers, including small suppliers, to locate in this country. He is bang on the money: that is what was proposed by the sector and it has been agreed in the sector deal. That shows the value of this strategic approach, with the Government and the sector working together to address some of the known opportunities.