My question during the Growing Back Better Report, 25 February 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly support the green VAT cuts. Did the Committee examine the future of the petrol and diesel car industry, and especially the future of the diesel engine parts, with all the skilled staff and big assets, if the Government move to an early ban on these new vehicles?

Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question.

The Committee is taking an interest in the impact of a transition from the current economy, with its carbon-intensive sectors, to a net zero economy. We are looking at our future programme and some of the impacts of green jobs, which we are in the middle of an inquiry on now, and we will be addressing specifically the point that he makes about the impact on the motor sector.

In the future, we are interested in some of the impacts of moving from an internal combustion engine source of transport to electrified transport and what that might do across different transport sectors. We will be working with the Transport Committee to ensure that we do not duplicate efforts, but that we are able to look into those matters.

My question during Business of the House, 25 February 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As businesses large and small need more orders to power jobs and economic recovery, can we have a debate on Government buying? Can we learn from the great success of buying so many vaccine doses from UK science and facilities, and buy more innovative and competitive goods and services from companies here at home?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Jacob Rees Mogg): My right hon. Friend, as always, raises interesting and important points.

The Government are planning on creating a much simpler and nimbler procurement system, which will open up procurement opportunity to small and medium-sized businesses. However, I hope he will contribute to the Budget debate that is coming up, which will be an opportunity to talk about these matters at greater length.

My contribution to the debate on Coronavirus: Supporting Businesses and Individuals, 23 February

Now is not the time for tax rises. Now is the time to promote a vigorous recovery as soon as it is safe to do so. Yes, the deficit is far too large, but it is affordable as long as it is a one-off.

The deficit is the product of sensible support for individuals and businesses when they were locked out or closed down, and it was sensible support for the economy as a whole at a time when tax revenues had fallen sharply because people were not allowed to go to work and businesses were not allowed to trade. The way out of all that is not tax rises that would sap confidence and undermine business cash flows even more. The way out is a vigorous recovery that will replace lost revenues, and reduce the need for the support that the Government have rightly produced for small businesses and individuals.

What businesses and individuals will need is turnover, orders and work. I ask all Government Departments—led, probably, by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—to look at how the UK Government can make more work available. The Government have mighty procurement programmes, so when we are building great new railway lines, let us ensure that it is UK steel for the tracks and that it is UK-produced trains with plenty of components and value added, as well as the assembly work taking place in the United Kingdom.

As the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs designs new grants and loans schemes, it should be promoting British food and agriculture at the same time as taking care of environmental concerns. There is a great opportunity to reduce the amount of imported food and to substitute Great British food from our farms and fishing grounds.

BEIS itself leads on energy. Why are we importing so much energy through interconnectors? Can we not have another round of capacity procurement so that we have future electricity generation here in Britain? We have plenty of means of generating power; surely we can harness that.

The Government should want to greatly expand the electricity output of this country because they want to unleash on us a great electric revolution in transport, space heating and powering our factories, so let us make the provision early. Let us invest now for the future so that we have that electric power when it comes to be needed.

A number of businesses have been very badly damaged by lockdown and shut-out, and I am glad that the Government are making some money available to them. I urge them to be generous. It was not those businesses’ fault and we need them to be there when we have recovery.

Small businesses and the self-employed are mightily flexible, but they cannot survive on thin air, and they will need to repay their debts, so give them some turnover and some tax cuts.

My question during the Prime Minister’s statement on Covid-19: Road Map, 22 February 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Government do more to improve air flow, control and extraction in health settings, and to make more safe use of powerful ultraviolet cleaners to reduce cross-infection further?

The Prime Minister (Mr Boris Johnson): My right hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. Our scientific advisers are looking at everything we can do, including the means that he suggests, to reduce transmission of the disease.

My speech during the debate on Local Government Finance (England), 10 February 2021

I thank the Government for their generous assistance to councils to help us through the pandemic crisis. My constituency is served by West Berkshire Council and Wokingham District Council—both are unitaries. They certainly needed money to assist with the extra costs that covid-19 has caused, and there was a scheme, the pressures grant, to do that. The councils certainly needed assistance to deal with losses of tax revenues, and there was a scheme to reimburse 75% of lost tax revenues during these extraordinary times of business closures and business stress.

There were clearly difficulties with shortfalls on sales, fees and charges, and again a scheme was introduced —I am pleased to see today that that is being extended for another quarter, because it looks as though there still will be an overhang into the second quarter of this calendar year. I am particularly pleased that there is additional assistance to allow councils to be sympathetic to people who are struggling to pay their council tax. The one little niggle that Wokingham has still suffered from is that where the council has brought in private sector management for a leisure sector, there can be difficulties with reimbursement for lost revenues. I would like to see further progress in sorting that out.

In the past, both West Berkshire Council and Wokingham Borough Council have suffered from pretty tight, or low, social care grants, and I am pleased to see a reasonable increase in social care grant going through for the next year. I urge Ministers to continue to look at that grant, because there is growth in demand and need, and we want high standards of care for people who require assistance. Certain councils, particularly the two serving my constituency, which were right at the bottom of the pack in terms of the amount of grant in relation to population, needed some tweaking of the sums. It is a very difficult situation. It is as costly looking after the elderly or children in Wokingham and west Berkshire as it is in the rest of the country, so we need at least as much, proportionately, as other places. We have often suffered from that.

I want to reinforce the Secretary of State’s important message about the role that councils can and should play in getting the country back to work and, in particular, in revitalising, refreshing and renewing our town centres, our village shopping areas and some of the shopping centres in which councils are engaged or have a stake. It is true that councils are very important agents in setting the tone, providing the regulations, sorting out the planning, and sometimes, as co-owners or landlords, creating the right kinds of spaces in our town centres and facilitating or providing the right environment for a return to vibrant life.

Let us be in no doubt: this is going to be a big ask and a difficult task, because the covid crisis and the resulting closures have accelerated a number of trends that were already under way. There will be more online shopping relative to shopping in shops, even after we get some return to normal and people can get out more and more shops can open. People will need to be tempted back to the restaurants and the cafés. We will need to work carefully with the businesses that own and run the shops and manage the cafés and restaurants to make sure that government, where it can, assists them and allows for the adaptation and development of town and village centres so that they can flourish again, with probably a different mix of services and businesses from that which preceded the covid crisis.

For example, as councils are usually the highways authority and they control access to town or village centres, surely the first thing they need to do is to review that access. A lot of families are going to need the car for elderly people, for children or because of the distance they are from the town centre in order to get there in the first place. They may need the car because if they are buying too much shopping to carry easily, they will need the boot to take the shopping back home. We need to make sure that car access is permitted. That requires looking at junctions to smooth them and make them safer, but also to improve the safe flow of traffic. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State mention that there will be money for bridges, because quite often impediments to getting into towns are created by railway lines and rivers, and we may need more bridging capacity. I hope that the Government will look particularly at light-controlled junctions, because those with the wrong phasing can be clumsy and impede progress for people into town, city and village centres.

Councils often either own the parking provision or are important in making sure that it is adequate, and they sometimes regulate the car parks. I therefore hope that they will understand that in order to tempt people back into these centres to turn them back into the vibrant spaces we want, there may need to be a discount or a generous offer, certainly in the early days, to give people the idea that it is safe to go back into the town, that they are wanted there, and that they can then park for long enough. Increasingly, visits to our towns and shopping centres will not just be for be an hour or so to go and do a bit of quick shopping—people will want to sit down and have a coffee or lunch. They may want to take advantage of some of the services in the town centre, as well as actually buying physical goods. They may wish to enjoy the experience of lingering a bit longer in the shops, having been denied that for so long. I hope councils will look carefully at parking arrangements, and be generous.

I hope planning authorities will look carefully at flexibility so that owners, who may include the councils themselves, are allowed to carry out sensible plans for optimising the use of the building. The Secretary of State has been doing a lot of work on ensuring that planning restrictions and designations do not get in the way of sensible flexibility. Indeed, we will need plenty of flexibility and imagination, because a number of businesses that operated in town and city centres a year or more ago will not be available.

A great number of large chains of shops have gone through receivership or made major reductions, having come to the conclusion, one way or another, that they want fewer physical stores. Even if they have a good online offer, which will work with their favoured locations, we will see a lot of those chains retreat from high streets and shopping centres. I also fear that, wherever possible, a lot of small shops may need a friendly arm around them from the council and the Government, as otherwise we could lose a lot of capacity in the small shop area.

I trust that councils and the Government will work to make the situation as attractive as possible. A bit of money may need to be spent on beautifying towns and village centres, and ensuring they are in good order to welcome people back. Councils often have town or shopping centre managers, who need to be given backing in order to come up with imaginative solutions.

This huge task is in everybody’s interests, including shoppers, landlords, employees and the councils. Above all, councils need to help the Government to rebuild the tax base of our towns, cities and village centres, and ensure that there will be that flow of business revenue in future—not just business rates, but the trading revenues that the national taxation system can collect and reroute to local government. Without prosperity there is not sufficient money for great public services, and councils must be part of the process through which that prosperity is rebuilt. I thank the Secretary of State for the help he has offered local councils. I urge him to please be generous on social care, and to do everything he can to promote the recovery we desperately need.

My contribution to the Statement on UK Shellfish Exports, 8 February 2020

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State work with fish and general food retailers to promote and sell more of our great fish and other food products to domestic consumers? Will that in mind, will he urgently make grants available to expand cleansing facilities for shellfish, because we will need them for the domestic market?

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(George Eustice): I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. It is important that we build domestic demand. Indeed, many fish processors say that demand in the European Union is flat anyway because of the coronavirus and the lockdown, while UK retail demand remains quite buoyant for some species, although sadly not for all—in particular, the shellfish sector is quite reliant on export trade.

He is right that we should do more to promote fish, and we are working on a project with Seafish that the Government will co-fund to help build demand in exactly the way he outlines.

My speech during the debate on Exiting the European Union (Value Added Tax), 3 February 2021

 

As the Minister has told us, these are two important statutory instruments for the facilitation of trade generally and for the facilitation of trade within Northern Ireland and between GB and Northern Ireland, and to the extent that they make things easier and allow zero rating of important services and goods, I welcome them wholeheartedly. But, of course, as others have said in this debate, we meet today against the background of clear difficulties and problems in the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, where it appears that a number of important impediments to GB-Northern Ireland trade have been inserted, and it is crucial that the talks go well and we get rid of them as quickly as possible.

So when we look at the administration of VAT, which is an important part of the trade process, I would like an assurance from the Minister that these regulations, and all the other VAT and excise rules applying in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom, will be solely administered and enforced by United Kingdom authorities, because I have much more confidence in them.

Will he also assure me that the aim of these statutory instruments, and the wider VAT legislation that they add to and amend, is to ensure that the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, or the other way, will be as smooth and easy as the movement from London to Surrey or from Manchester to north Wales, because that is what I thought we had agreed and signed up to—that Northern Ireland was a fully integrated part of the United Kingdom single market, under our single market and taxation rules? I would like the reassurance through these statutory instruments that we are intending for that to be true.

Will the Minister also confirm that there has for many years during our period in the European Union been an important VAT border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, but that it has always worked very smoothly and was not enforced at the physical border, in accordance with the spirit of agreements and not wanting barriers at the land border?

It was an electronic border and adjustments were made by computer or by correspondence so that these things could be sorted out in a sensible and decent manner without having to have people queuing at borders to make complex calculations and submissions.

If that is the case, does the Minister agree that it is in that spirit that we need to find the answer to the current impositions and difficulties affecting our trade across those borders? It seems very odd that we cannot replicate that success of our past trading, where electronic manifests, trusted trader schemes and so forth, and proper electronic VAT registration worked very well. Surely the UK authorities, if we are the proper and sole enforcement authority in Northern Ireland, can work with trusted traders, VAT-registered hauliers and ferry companies and so forth, and we can accept their certification or word that the goods on their load are entirely GB-Northern Ireland or Northern Ireland-GB. We can then accept, therefore, that there are no other considerations and the loads can then move as smoothly as from London to Guildford or Manchester to north Wales. It would be very helpful to hear the Minister’s views on how that can be achieved and how quickly we can get to that point.

It is absolutely crucial to the people of Northern Ireland, as we have heard from their representatives, that they can trade smoothly with the rest of the United Kingdom. That was fundamental to the spirit of the agreements that the United Kingdom entered into with the European Union over the issue of trade with and between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I hope the Minister will have good news for us and that these things can be sorted out quickly.

My Question to the Leader of the House

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): People voted to take back control so that the Government would use the new powers to make their lives better, so will the Government urgently make time available for the VAT cuts, the new enterprise zones, the freeports, the policies to increase our fishing fleet, the policies to boost our domestic food production and the so many other good ideas that Ministers should be queuing up to put through our House now we are an independent country?

The Leader of the House (Mr Jacob Rees Mogg): My right hon. Friend is not only right but he reads my mind.

There are great opportunities: the new financial services regulation, which will encourage innovation and competition; the faster and more agile clinical and regulatory regime that is going through with the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill; a revolutionary approach to gene editing, on which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is consulting; freeports, on which the Treasury is consulting; and looking at public procurement differently.

We are really taking back control and seeking the advantages, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will join in this enterprise and send a list of all his good ideas to every Minister so that we know there are more ideas bubbling away.

My intervention during the Statement on the Police National Computer, 18 January 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I thank the Minister, the Home Secretary and the police leadership around the country for the very professional way in which they have responded to a most unfortunate error, an error that none of them wanted or made personally. Will he give us a little bit more encouragement, however, because is it not the case that there are now many good ways to retrieve data that has been wrongly deleted? Might we be looking at a remedy for this in a few weeks’ time, when the computer experts have finished their job?

The Minister for Crime and Policing (Mr Kit Malthouse): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the initial assessment was some optimism about the ability to recover this data, not least because it is held in a number of areas. We will not have the full picture until we get to the end of this week, once we have analysed the report and, of course, looked at the data that we should have deleted but have not because of this error. However, he is quite right that we should be optimistic about that and recognise that all is not lost. There are other ways that this data can be cross-checked, in particular as part of a police investigation. We are working with our policing partners to ensure that they make full use of that, so that they can proceed as usual with their investigations.

My question during the Urgent Question on the Northern Ireland Protocol: Disruption to Trade, 13 January 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend introduce urgent legislation to ensure the smooth flow of goods between Northern Ireland and GB? Is it not crucial to our Union, in respect of both Northern Ireland and Scotland, that the Government keep their promise to take control of our laws and borders and to demonstrate a more prosperous internal market for the whole UK?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Michael Gove): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want, first of all, to make sure that we are doing everything technically and administratively in order to ensure the smooth flow of goods but, as the Prime Minister confirmed to the House earlier, if we need to take further legal steps, then of course we will.