Business, Innovation and Skills Questions: 2nd February 2016

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
I pay tribute to the great work that my hon. Friend is doing to support the workers in his constituency who have been affected by last week’s unfortunate announcement of redundancies at Port Talbot. However, as the Secretary of State has already outlined, we have delivered on four of the five asks by the industry and we continue to work with Tata. When the consultants have finished their work at Port Talbot, Tata will come to us and we will continue our discussions. We will do all we can to ensure that steel continues to be produced not just at Scunthorpe but at Port Talbot.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
T3. The Government have set a target of trebling exports by 2020. Can the Secretary of State explain how delaying a decision on UK airport capacity supports that aim? [903396]
Sajid Javid
It is absolutely right that we make a decision on aviation capacity in the south-east, and the Government were right to appoint an independent panel to look at this. It has come back with its findings. It is right that we look carefully at those and we recently made a statement on that. There is no doubt that when the decision is made, it will be one of the contributory factors that will help us to achieve that target.

Several hon. Members rose—
Mr Speaker
I call Mark Menzies.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con)
Question 7, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker
No, it is topical questions. Get in there, your moment has arrived!

Mark Menzies
T7. You caught me off guard there, Mr Speaker, and I apologise. [903400]

Ms Angela Eagle
Pay attention.
Mark Menzies
I apologise to the Labour Front Benchers, too.

The backbone of the north-west economy is built around small and medium-sized enterprises, so will the Secretary of State outline what help his Department is giving to small businesses across the north-west?

Sajid Javid
My hon. Friend is right to talk about SMEs being the lifeblood of the economy in terms of the employment and growth that they produce. We have taken a number of measures, including cuts to tax and to regulation. Later on today, I will be opening the Second Reading debate on the Enterprise Bill, when we will announce a number of new measures.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
T4. The welcome new procurement guidelines for steel are worthless unless they have an impact on procurement practice. What are the Government going to do to ensure that this is delivered properly? How will they ensure that all Departments and government contractors follow these guidelines? How will the Government assess their impact? [903397]

Anna Soubry
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and he will of course know that 98% of Network Rail’s tracks are made in his constituency. He can be assured that we will make sure there is real delivery on those procurement changes. May I just pay tribute to the councils of Corby, Sheffield, Powys, Cardiff, Rotherham and his own in North Lincolnshire, all of which have signed up to the new agreement to make sure that in their procurement they use sustainable and brilliant British steel?

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con)
T10. More than 4,000 people have started an apprenticeship since 2010 in Fareham, which is great news for people who want to learn new skills and for productivity. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) on his work in this area and in encouraging people from Fareham to attend my apprenticeships fair on 12 February at Fareham College? [903403]

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles)
If I could, I would spend every day at an apprenticeships fair in one of my hon. Friends’ constituencies—or, indeed, in an Opposition Member’s constituency. I was in Carlisle last week with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) at his fantastic skills show, and I urge everyone in Fareham to attend the one set up by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes).
Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
T5. Tidal lagoons present a “crucial industrial opportunity for the Northern Powerhouse”,so writes Yorkshire’s Allerton Steel. Port Talbot’s Fairwood Fabrications Ltd says that “rare opportunities to redeploy skills should be seized with both hands before being lost to the region altogether”. Does the Minister agree that when the British steel industry identifies a new market around which it could build a recovery, it is time the Government sat up and listened? [903398]

Anna Soubry
As we said, we have been listening. Five asks were made and we have delivered on four of those, with the fifth being the subject of a review—I hope we will see delivery on that in due course. We are doing absolutely everything we can do to ensure that steel continues to be produced at both Scunthorpe and Port Talbot. I have to say that more jobs were lost under Labour Administrations than have been lost under Conservative Governments.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con)
The proposed tube strike this weekend will add misery to the Monday morning commute of many of my constituents, yet the strike will be conducted on the basis of a mandate dating from June 2015. Does the Minister agree that such disruptive action should be undertaken only on the basis of a fresh mandate from union members?

Nick Boles
Conservative Members are very clear that it should not be possible to call a strike on the basis of an out-of-date mandate, and we are legislating to stop that. We are clear and our candidate to be Mayor of London is clear on that, but Labour wants to oppose this measure and support tube strikes that will prevent people who are paid a lot less than tube drivers from getting to work over the weekend.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
T8. Will Ministers confirm what recent meetings they have had with devolved Administrations, local authorities and other public bodies on their proposed anti-Trade Union Bill? Can they confirm that the proposals, particularly those on facility time and check-off, have no support across the public sector? Is it not time to dump those proposals? [903401]

Nick Boles
No. I am simply sorry to see yet another party of opposition standing up for illegitimate strikes that cause huge disruption for people who are trying to work hard, trying to get their kids to school and trying to get to work on time. I am glad to say that the Conservatives will be standing up for working people, not trade union bosses.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con)
Despite the Government’s excellent record on apprentices, disabled people still face significant barriers. The Alliance for Inclusive Education has raised specific concerns about the requirements for maths and English. Will my hon. Friend the Minister review those concerns and write to the alliance and me to assure us that he is taking all steps to ensure that disabled people can take advantage of apprenticeship opportunities?

Nick Boles
This is such an important issue that I hope that I can go one better and invite my hon. Friend to come and meet me, along with the people who have such concerns. I have had other such meetings, not least with my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), on similar issues. It is very important that we get this right.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
T9. Has the Secretary of State read the report from the Centre for Cities, which shows that a large number of Britain’s towns and cities are low-skill, low-wage economies? What is he doing to ensure that there is joined-up thinking across Government to ensure that we tackle not just education and skills but the transport links to access those new jobs? [903402]

Sajid Javid
I have not seen that particular report, but now that the hon. Gentleman mentions it I will be pleased to take a look. He is right to identify skills as a key issue in helping to create jobs and increase productivity. That is why, for example, we have introduced the apprenticeship levy and are putting forward plans for that. It will make just the kind of difference that he is looking for.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)
I thank the Minister for Skills for supporting the apprenticeship awards at Grosvenor House last week. We gave out awards to small and large businesses and to brilliant apprentices, as well. Would it not be great if next year we had awards for the public sector, with all the permanent secretaries at next year’s awards, after today’s Bill goes through the House, and if we saw the public sector really getting behind apprenticeships?
Nick Boles
Mr Speaker, you will have noticed that my hon. Friend has a badge shaped like a capital A on his lapel. I am sure that we could all think of many things that that could stand for, but in his case it stands for apprenticeship ambassador. He is a fantastic ambassador for apprenticeships and I am sure that, during next year’s awards, the public sector will be able to show itself as a supporter of apprenticeships.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP)
Does the Minister agree that the practice of cash retention, especially within the construction industry, should cease?
Anna Soubry
It was a great pleasure to take part in last week’s debate, in which the hon. Gentleman made some very important points. We are having a review, but it is a lengthy one, and he knows that I have undertaken to do everything I can to bring that forward and see that we ensure that we take a modern look at an outdated practice.