Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Eleanor Laing Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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I declare an interest as my company has used the furlough scheme.

The furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme have been absolute wonders, and the loans of all different sizes and flexibility have been extremely well received. In fact, in my first ever webinar with Doncaster chambers of commerce, which of course I believe is the best in the country, a poll was carried out where all 30 delegates said that the Government had done an excellent job—high praise, but deservedly so. As a businessman, I know full well that it has been a tough time, so much so that even after all the monumental efforts from the Government things will look decidedly different post covid. I have no doubt that that genuinely frightens many people, but the longer we stay off work the harder it is for us to go back.

Let us take the building industry, for example. I have worked in this sector for many years and it is physically tough. When you have not been doing it for a while, it is hard to go back to. My ask is this: I want large firms, with furloughed employees that are waiting for another initiative while sitting on huge bank balances, to make the first move—not to use social distancing as an excuse not to go to work, but now as an excuse to go to work. We need those building companies to start finishing the houses they started pre-covid, get the footings dug for the next phase, press suppliers to make sure materials are there, pay everyone a little earlier and get confidence back in business. We can wait on Government initiatives and we can blame covid, or we can get stuck in and build our way out of this recession. Or we can all wait to see who moves first—by doing that, we will fail. Let us all start today, not on Monday or a week on Monday. Let us start now. It is imperative. I tell the building firms and all the other big companies that their workforces will thank them for it.

I also ask the Treasury to use whatever it has at its disposal to get this country back to work. I urge the Minister to consider how measures, such as reducing VAT, a reduction in national insurance contributions or scrapping stamp duty, would help to get our great businesses moving again. We cannot rely on support schemes for ever. We need to get back to work. I therefore urge every cash-rich company to do its bit and put its best foot forward and do everything it can. I ask the people of this country to do the same and our Government to consider my suggestions. We are all stakeholders in our future. We are all in this together. We will all win together, or we will all lose together. It is going to be tough, but I will do my bit. Will the risk-takers out there do theirs? If they do, our country will take its rightful place as the envy of the world.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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The next Member for the Opposition has withdrawn, so we go straight to Sally-Ann Hart.

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Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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Many of my constituents have signed the petitions triggering this debate and, in particular, are calling for a dedicated programme of support for our events, cultural and creative industries. Anyone who knows Brighton and Hove cannot fail to be aware that we are home to some of the country’s most vibrant, creative and successful festivals. We lead the way nationally as well in widening access to the arts and unleashing the creative lives as yet unlived in excluded communities. Failing to directly support the creative sector puts 16,000 jobs at risk in our city alone and £1.5 billion in turnover. The consequences for the UK as a whole will be equally devastating, including for our sense of identity as a nation, which is inextricably bound up with cultural innovation from Chaucer to Banksy.

I call on Ministers to introduce urgent life support measures as other European countries have done. Germany, for example, has invested in a €50 billion rescue package. We need a similar cultural sector hardship relief fund to save live music venues, grassroots theatres, arts centres, community pubs, and any space that is a vital hub of culture and social interaction in our communities. Live music venues in my constituency are particularly at risk, and face a cliff edge when furlough ends. As one, Komedia, wrote to me,

“A world without grassroots venues is a world where the future’s talent never get the opportunity they deserve”.

I urge Ministers not to stand by and watch them go to the wall.

Those working in the events and creative industries are often self-employed and need their incomes protecting, too. Yet the self-employed scheme falls far short, failing to recognise the reality of self-employment today, penalising those who combine self-employment with PAYE work, PAYE freelancers, new start-ups and the recently self-employed, women who have taken time out for maternity leave and childcare, and anyone earning £50,000 and over. It is also a kick in the teeth for the nation’s small limited companies whose directors take all or part of their income in dividends. Therefore, as well as expanding access to the self-employed scheme, the Government must immediately extend its duration. The self-employed are still only protected until August, and that is not equivalent to the job retention scheme and it is not enough.

This must also be a green recovery in more than name, because of the accelerating climate emergency—it is currently 45 degrees in the Arctic—and because it makes economic sense as well. Plenty of evidence shows that green projects create more jobs, deliver higher returns on investment and lead to increased long-term cost savings. A green new deal recovery should invest only in industries willing and prepared to adapt to the net zero imperative. If public money is being used to bail out a company, there should be green and social conditions attached. We should not be handing over £600 million to easyJet with no questions asked.  We should not be bailing out BA when it is treating its workers so appallingly.

Finally, a green recovery requires rethinking our entire economy, so that its primary purpose is human and planetary wellbeing, rather than the endless pursuit of indiscriminate GDP growth, which is destroying our planet and undermining the livelihoods of millions of people.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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It should be obvious to the House that we do not have very long left. I estimate that eight more people will be called to speak. As you all have the speaking list, you will be able to work out who those eight are. If you are not among them, it is only fair that I warn you now.

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Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
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There is no doubt that the period that we are living through has been one of the most unusual that we will ever have. It has been a tremendous challenge for us all, filled with fear and the unknown. These unprecedented times have been met with unprecedented actions when it comes to this Government: 11,200 people in my constituency have benefited from the job retention scheme and 3,100 people have benefited from the self-employment scheme. These are families and individuals who have felt more secure and safer during these incredibly challenging times.

The Government have not stopped there: from the small business grant fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grant, and the business interruption loan scheme, through to the bounce-back loans and the deferral of VAT payments and self-assessment payments—I fear I could spend my entire three minutes outlining the amazing actions that the Government have taken over the past three months. What I will say is that I am incredibly proud to support a Government who have put ordinary workers and families first.

As we enter a new stage, I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in saying that it is vital that we put green concerns at the heart of our strategy. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) that we need to unleash our private sector and continue to support it, because it will be at the heart of everything that is good. It has had a very difficult time, and we need to support it.

My constituency is beautiful—it is, as I have previously mentioned, the most beautiful constituency in the entire country—and has tremendous tourism potential. We have talked about those who have unfortunately slipped through the cracks in the Government’s various schemes. One example is Creswell Crags in my constituency, which is a wonderful tourism destination. The Minister is almost certainly rolling his eyes, because he is bored of me mentioning this, but I will once again put on record that we need to continue to support that wonderful attraction and the many others in Bolsover, because our tourism potential is unlimited.

I conclude by saying once again that I am incredibly proud of everything we have done. We have a long way to go to get out of this crisis, but I believe that we are showing the leadership to get through it.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I am afraid that the next speaker will be the last person called from the Back Benches this afternoon. I call Sarah Olney.

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Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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Will the Minister put it on the record that the creative industries contribute a huge amount to our economy and improve everybody’s mental wellbeing? Will he recognise that, welcome though the support schemes were, many freelancers and directors of limited companies, particularly in the creative industries in my constituency, have been left—

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Lady for her passion. That passion is shared by Ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and elsewhere, and conversations are ongoing about further support.

Hon. Members will appreciate that, given the time constraints, I am unable to respond to many of the other specific points and questions that were raised today relating to multiple Government Departments and other bodies. However, I will make sure that relevant Ministers are aware of all the points that have been raised in this debate.

I cannot mention individually everyone who has contributed to today’s debate, but I thank everybody for their thoughtful and constructive comments. In particular, I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet; my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), for Buckingham (Greg Smith), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher); the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami); and the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for mentioning tourism, hospitality and leisure—and, of course, aviation. Obviously, that sector is very close to my heart.

I would also like to thank those who have mentioned many other sectors, including my hon. Friends the Members for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), and for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who raised issues about the arts, technology, zoos and many other important sectors.

Before I conclude, I want to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry), who made a very eloquent maiden speech. He talked with passion and pride about his work, about his West Indian heritage, about this land of opportunity and about his 26 years in the RAF. That is particularly timely this week, which is Armed Forces Week. He is rightly proud of his family, and he has done his family proud. His constituency can be equally proud to have an MP of his calibre as their representative in this place.

It has been a great pleasure to participate in today’s debate, and I thank everybody for their contributions. This debate has been extraordinarily valuable, and I am sure that the dialogue will continue.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making possible these first debates from the Petitions Committee on the Floor of the House. I thank all who have contributed. Above all, I would like to thank once again those who created and supported the e-petitions. The e-petitions were started by Matthew Rakowski-Goreta, Miles Croxford, Oliver Tooley, Evgenia Galinskaya and Anand Limbachia, who can all be assured that their voices have been heard by the Government in the support package and by Members in this House this afternoon.

As others have done, I commend the Government for a package of support that has saved the livelihoods of so many millions of people. It was delivered at phenomenal speed. My experience in Government makes me think that it is so difficult to get even the smallest thing done at speed. The speed of the reaction was essential. I ask the Government to reflect on those gaps in provision that have been identified, particularly by the Treasury Committee: the newly employed, the newly self-employed, directors of limited companies, and freelancers on short-term contracts. I also echo the strong points that were made about securing the future of aviation and, of course, of the performing arts and culture, where the need for support and for a plan for reopening is urgent.

I close by echoing the comments, praise and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry). It was a great honour that he made his maiden speech in the debate for us all to hear. It was a heart-warming story, and I wish him well with his tenure in the House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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This is rather extraordinary, because we are ending a couple of minutes early. We all encouraged people to speak so quickly and to be so brief that those who spoke latterly were so disciplined in the way they did it that we end up with a couple of minutes, as it were, to spare. But there is never time to spare; there is always something else to do in this House, so I shall put the Question.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions relating to support for UK industries in response to covid-19.

Royal Assent

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I am very happy that in these couple of minutes that remain before 5 o’clock, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Birmingham Commonwealth Games Act 2020

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020.

I do not think that I need to suspend the House in order to allow people to leave and other Members to come in safely. I think that if I simply filibuster from the Chair for a moment or two, all Members who are currently in the Chamber might be able to leave towards the Bar of the House and those who are about to take part in the next proceedings can appear from behind the Chair.