Business, Innovation and Skills Questions: 15th March 2016

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD)
T4. I welcome the Minister’s reiteration last Wednesday of her and the Department’s view that they will abide by the will of the House of Commons regarding the pubs code, which currently includes an outrageous measure whereby tenants have to surrender the length of their lease for the market rent only option. To ensure that she abides by the will of the House, will she see that that measure is taken out at the final stage of drafting? [904078]

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
As I have said before, I will undertake to be true to all we promised we would do when this matter was considered last year during the passage of ​the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, and that is what we will do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman might now adopt the words of the British Institute of Innkeeping, which has welcomed the appointment of Mr Paul Newby as the Pubs Code Adjudicator, saying he has fantastic integrity and that he will be both feared and respected by pub companies. It sounds to me like a job well done.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con)
Given the large number of young people interested in becoming self-employed or setting up their own business, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps are being taken to help the next generation of entrepreneurs achieve their ambitions?

Anna Soubry
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because as he will know we have had a real look at how the self-employed work and the sorts of changes that might be made to improve their conditions and to ensure greater fairness with those who are not self-employed. As somebody who was self-employed for many years, I am fully aware of this issue. We are looking at the excellent report that has been produced and seeing how we can encourage more people to start up their own business and, if they are self-employed, ensure they get a better deal.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
T5. In February, the Cabinet Office announced its intention to insert a new clause into grant agreements for charities. Many universities, including my local University of the West of Scotland, are worried that that will prevent them from being able to advise Government, Parliament and political parties. Will the Minister confirm whether universities will be exempt from any new clause, and if so, what form the exemption might take? [904081]

The Minister for Universities and Science (Joseph Johnson)
We are discussing with Cabinet colleagues exactly how we might treat universities with respect to that proposal.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con)
The Secretary of State will know that the beer and pub industry in the west midlands employs 86,000 people in 5,000 pubs, has 124 breweries and contributes £1.3 billion in tax. Given his support for the brewing industry when he was in the Treasury, when he led the call for the duty cut, will he outline what his Department is doing to support the beer and pub industry—and will he pick up the phone to the Chancellor and ask him for another cut?

Sajid Javid
My hon. Friend has been an excellent advocate of that industry, helping it to grow and create thousands of jobs. He will have just heard from the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) about the Pubs Code Adjudicator, which I think is a very positive development. I have heard my hon. Friend loud and clear on the desire for a further cut, and I know he has made his representations to the Chancellor. When I was Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I recall getting a beer named after me—Sajid’s Choice, which was a fine brew—so there are many reasons to cut beer duty.
Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab)
T6. As Government spend on small and medium-sized businesses topped £2.1 billion last year, I wrote to the Government to ask how much was spent in the north-west and particularly in Oldham. With an average UK spend of £188 per head of population, why does the north-west get just £29 per head of population and Oldham, at the heart of the northern powerhouse, just £15? [904082]
Anna Soubry
I am happy to discuss the figures with the hon. Gentleman, but as we know, we have a Chancellor and indeed a Government who are absolutely committed to the northern powerhouse, with hand and with heart—and that is what we continue to do.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con)
As Ministers know, the steel industry is a very important employer in Corby, and with the final pre-Budget discussions taking place, would Ministers impress on the Chancellor that a business rates holiday for the industry would be very welcome news?

Anna Soubry
We will always continue to fight for our steel industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I understand the need to look at business rates and particularly plant and machinery, and we continue to put these important arguments forward. Whether or not we will be successful, we can only know tomorrow.

Anna Turley (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op)
T7. Last week, I met a large number of companies that are currently involved in securing and maintaining the former SSI site in my constituency. They expressed extreme and urgent concern about the environmental situation on the site, particularly in view of the hazardous waste, which they believe is affecting the environment. Will the Minister commit to an immediate and urgent environmental review of the site, ahead of the implementation of the mayoral development corporation? [904083]

Anna Soubry
I am always keen to make sure we do the right thing by the site. I shall be revisiting Redcar on 21 March, as I promised to do, six months on from the unfortunate closure. The hon. Lady makes a good point. I am keen to ensure that we have this mayoral development company, but it must not be a white elephant. If we need to take decisions now to secure a proper future for it, we will do that.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
Businesses in my constituency are continually telling me that their plans for expansion are hampered by excessive and over-regulation, much of which emanates from the European Commission. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will always fight on behalf of businesses rather than regulators?

George Freeman
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for small businesses, and I am delighted that in the last Parliament we reduced the cost of regulation on small businesses by £10 billion. Furthermore, we are committed to turbo-charge our deregulation initiative: it is not just one in, one out; it is one in, three out.

Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers highlighted innovation as a key driver of growth across the global economy. It also found that UK companies were less innovative and less focused on innovation as a driver for growth than the global average. With UK gross domestic product growth revised down by OECD and the IMF, is it not time that the Minister paid greater attention to supporting innovation in our economy?

Joseph Johnson
Since 2010, the UK has risen from 14th to second place in the global innovation index, behind only Switzerland. We continue to support innovation in this country through Innovate UK and our expanding Catapult network.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
The most promising sector in the British economy at the moment is life sciences, yet historically start-ups in this sector have had difficulty attracting venture capital. Will the Minister update us on progress he is making on getting this vital resource into this vital sector?

George Freeman
That gives me a chance to congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership as deputy Mayor of the MedCity initiative in London. The life sciences sector is growing fast. Last year, we hit a 17-year financing high, with more than £1.7 billion raised for early-stage companies. The challenge now is to make sure that those emerging businesses grow into substantial global companies, which is where my focus lies.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab)
I welcome National Apprenticeship Week, which gives us a great opportunity to praise all apprentices, and to promote apprenticeships as a means of securing training skills and jobs for the future.

In a statement on apprentices last Thursday, the Minister of State said:

“We do not expect all companies that pay the levy to use up all the money in their digital accounts”.—[Official Report, 10 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 454.]

What does that mean in practice? Can large and small companies take up any unspent levy? What estimate have the Government made of the number of companies involved, and of the proportion and value of the levy that will not be used by larger firms?

Nick Boles
As ever, the Chair of the Select Committee has asked some penetratingly good questions, but I fear that I must ask him to wait until tomorrow, when he will hear more, as he will during the next few weeks.
Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con)
Does the Minister agree that we need to give more training support to small businesses to encourage them to hire women who are re-entering the labour market after significant career breaks post-children?

Sajid Javid
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We are focusing strongly on the issue, and we are working on it with the Women and Equalities Minister. We want to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to re-enter the work force, and we will treat that as a big priority.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
The Government have pledged to halve the disability employment gap. What is the Minister doing to ensure that disabled people have access to apprenticeship opportunities and can fulfil their potential?

Nick Boles
It gives me great pleasure to be able to agree entirely with the hon. Lady. This is incredibly important. The current rate of participation in apprenticeships is not too bad—I think it is about 8.8%—but we can always do more. We need to ensure that the requirements for the qualifications, particularly in English and maths, that some people have to acquire as part of their apprenticeships do not discriminate against those who are disabled.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con)
Does the Secretary of State agree that, given that Conservatives In is keen to promote the economic case for our remaining in the European Union, it is excellent news that the CBI has said that 80% of its members support the EU?

Anna Soubry
Absolutely. It is incredibly important that an organisation of the CBI’s standing is backing the Stronger In campaign. Indeed, we hear an increasing number of voices from business standing up for British companies, and not just saying how bad it will look if we leave—pointing out that what Brexit offers is very little and very confusing—but making the positive case for our staying in a reformed European Union, which is in our better interests.