Business, Innovation and Skills Questions

Women on Boards

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)

5. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of women on boards. [907820]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)

The proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to 27%. Since 2011, the number of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled to 23.5%. We support the business-led target of 33% of those on FTSE 350 boards being women by 2020.

Nusrat Ghani

I welcome the Minister’s response, but to get more women on boards we have to get more women into business in the first place. I championed and spoke at the Wayfinder Woman conference in Uckfield. The mission of the Sussex-based organisation is to get more women into business. What work do the Government do with such organisations to get women into enterprise so that they get the skills that they need to rise to the top?

Margot James

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work she does to mentor women. More than 16,500 start-up loans have been issued to female entrepreneurs and almost half the users of the business support helpline are women. The Hampton-Alexander review is looking beyond boards at building female pipelines among senior management. We also support the Women’s Business Council.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP)

Is there a regional pattern in low numbers of women on boards? Will the Minister outline what discussions have taken place with ministerial colleagues in the devolved Administrations about increasing the number of women on boards?

Margot James

I welcome the hon. Lady’s commitment to increasing the number of women on boards in Scotland. I will have discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ensure that the national target applies equally to Scotland as to elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

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Self-employed: Support

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)

7. What steps his Department is taking to support the self-employed. [907823]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)

I apologise to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie)—I meant Northern Ireland, of course, in my earlier response.​
The gov.uk website and the business support helpline provide information on starting and running a business. Growth hubs also provide access to local and national support, and 4.8 million people are now self-employed.

Mrs Murray

In South East Cornwall we have some fantastic self-employed people who make a host of excellent food products. Does my hon. Friend agree that there will be opportunities for them to grow their businesses and be released from excessive red tape once we leave the European Union? What advice does she have for them?

Margot James

The Government committed in their manifesto to reducing the burden of regulation on business by £10 billion during this Parliament. We will also carefully consider the implications of leaving the European Union for the business impact target, and the opportunities to reduce further the burdens on businesses such as the excellent self-employed food producers in South East Cornwall.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)

False self-employment is a particular issue in sectors such as retail, care and construction. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority is now expected to regulate those industries, which contain more than half a million businesses, yet has only 79 members of staff across the entire UK. Its director of labour market enforcement has not yet been appointed, despite the new powers being in place. Will the Government ensure that they act speedily on that?

Margot James

I assure the hon. Lady that we are acting swiftly to appoint the director of labour market enforcement. I agree with her that it is a crucial role.

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EU-derived Employment Rights

Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op)

8. What steps he is taking to ensure that all EU-derived employment rights will be protected after the UK leaves the EU. [907824]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)

The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will not, as a consequence of our withdrawal, allow any erosion of rights in the workplace, whether those rights derive from EU or UK law. She has further made it clear that the Government are determined to deliver an economy that works for everyone, and fundamental to that is the preservation of existing workers’ rights.

Mr Shuker

Is it not the fact that our EU-derived employment rights are upheld not by legislation but because they are enforced by the relevant European courts? Given that progress on a British Bill of Rights has been patchy at best, what will guarantee those rights after we leave?

Margot James

Such rights will be upheld by British courts after we leave the European Union. The UK enjoys record employment at the same time as employment rights that exceed what is required by EU law in the important areas of maternity leave, parental leave and statutory annual leave.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

Given the sorry history of Brexit broken promises, does the Minister understand the widespread cynicism expressed about the idea that rights will be protected post-Brexit, including on a continuing basis? Does she agree with the Brexit promise-breaker par excellence, the Foreign Secretary, that these crucial rights are back-breaking?

Margot James

The hon. Gentleman prejudges the situation by saying that we have had a chance to break Brexit promises before we have even started the negotiations. The Prime Minister could not have been clearer—she has been supported in this at the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—that workers’ rights will be protected and possibly even enhanced.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)

rose—

Mr Speaker

The hon. Gentleman bears a striking resemblance to an exploding volcano. Let us hear the fella.

Mr Bone

As always, I am very reasoned, Mr Speaker, but really, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) was talking absolute rubbish just then, which is not unusual. Does the Minister agree with the democratic principle that the Government of the day will decide on employment rights? Is that not what we want—employment rights decided in this House, not in Europe?

Margot James

This House will decide on employment rights, but it is important to remind my hon. Friend that during the lifetime of this Government, the Prime Minister could not have been clearer that workers’ rights will be protected after Britain leaves the European Union.

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Energy Bills

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)

10. What steps he is taking to help consumers reduce their energy bills. [907826]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)

The retail energy market works well for those who are able and have the time to switch, with customers able to make savings of up to £300 by moving on to the cheapest tariffs. However, we want a market that works for all consumers not just those who switch supplier. That is why we have been clear that we want energy companies to come forward with proposals on how they are going to treat their loyal customers fairly.

Justin Tomlinson

The Competition and Markets Authority has found that two thirds of households are on expensive standard variable tariffs. Does the Minister agree that suppliers should do more to ensure that their loyal customers are on better-value tariffs?

Margot James

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not right that customers are penalised for their loyalty. We want energy companies to treat all their customers fairly, and not just customers who switch between suppliers. That is why we have challenged them to come forward with proposals to ensure that all their customers get a fair deal.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab)

I have been saying for about five years now that companies have been overcharging their customers who are on the standard variable tariff. That has been confirmed by the Competition ​and Markets Authority, Ofgem and the Government. The only way we will shift how those companies operate is by extending to those people on the standard variable tariff the protection we offer those on prepayment meters. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what more we can do to ensure that we give the big six energy companies a kick up the backside?

Margot James

I am happy to meet the right hon. Lady, who has extensive experience in this area. We are certainly considering the CMA remedies.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con)

A large number of rural properties are heated by oil-fired central heating. Will the Minister confirm that home efficiency measures are a vital way of cutting bills for those rural properties?

Margot James

I agree with my hon. Friend. Efficiency measures are fundamental to reducing the energy bills not just for people in rural areas, but for the population as a whole.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)

This week, a senior Ofgem executive warned that, as a result of our higher reliance on renewable energy, consumers may face the possibility of having to pay a premium to ensure that they have a reliable source of electricity to their homes and without having their lights turned off. What discussions has the Minister had with Ofgem on that, and are the Government considering the policy of relying on costly renewable energy rather than on cheaper fossil fuels?

Margot James

We have an ongoing dialogue with Ofgem on a number of issues, but apropos the cost of supporting investment in low-carbon technologies, this is expected to increase, but so too are the savings from energy efficiency policies. This means that by 2020 household energy bills are still estimated to be lower on average than they would have been in the absence of those green policies.

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Topical Questions

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)

T2. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), for the recent meeting in relation to my private Member’s Bill on the regulation of certain laser pens. Will she clarify when the consultation’s call for public evidence will start and when the Government will come forward with their conclusions? [907807]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work to bring the misuse of laser pointers to the Government’s attention. The Government are concerned about the misuse of high-powered laser pointers and will seek evidence early next year on the potential options for tackling such misuse.

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Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)

T3. A construction business my constituency has alerted me to corporate mandate fraud, by which a fraudster pretends to be a company and asks its customers to change the bank account details for future payments. What steps can the Minister take to alert all businesses to such criminal behaviour? What discussions has she had with the Home Secretary about bringing the perpetrators to justice? [907808]

Margot James

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this type of fraud, which affects businesses in all sectors. It is essential that business owners and staff know what to do when they are notified of changes to bank account details. The best pointer in the first instance is the advice available on the Action Fraud website.

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Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)

T6. Will my hon. Friend ensure that those who benefit from self-employment are aware of the different kinds of national insurance contributions? Will she also ensure that they pay the correct NI class, so that they are able to access the full range of support available to other types of jobseeker in the event that they re-enter the jobs market? [907811]

Margot James

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister commissioned Matthew Taylor to carry out an independent review of modern employment practices, such as in my hon. Friend’s example, as part of ensuring that our economy works for everyone. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will also consider my hon. Friend’s suggestion.

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Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)

Is it not time for the Secretary of State to order an investigation into the Royal Bank of Scotland’s practices on lending to small businesses?

Margot James

The situation with RBS is under review and I am sure proposals will be made in the near future.

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Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)

When will the Government publish their response to the Law Commission’s report on “Consumer Prepayments on Retailer Insolvency”? We need to do more to protect consumers when businesses go into administration.

Margot James

I will note the hon. Lady’s comments and I will write to her. I am sorry, but I did not hear all of the question.

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