My Question during the Statement on Covid-19, 19 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the big reductions, based on the vaccinations, in case and death numbers. Will he briefly update us on better air extraction, cleaning and other measures to control infection in hospitals to reassure the many patients who now need non-covid treatment?

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Mr Matt Hancock): My right hon. Friend has asked about this many times, and he is quite right to, because it is not just about cleaning.

We have learned a lot during the pandemic about the importance of good ventilation, and that is now embedded in infection prevention and control. As cases in hospitals come down, hospitals across the country are separating, as much as is possible, those who might or do have covid from people who are coming to hospital having been tested and knowing that they do not have covid.

That is incredibly important to reassure people that if they are asked to come to hospital by a clinician, it is the best place for them.

My Speech during the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, 23 March 2021

Of course I welcome the idea that we should do everything we can to promote greater science and better technology. Our country has a fine history and tradition of scientific breakthroughs and scientific excellence in our universities and our scientific societies. We also have a fine tradition in technology, with entrepreneurs developing new industrial processes and new products and making great breakthroughs that have benefited humanity widely, and of course we should do everything we can to support that. There may well also be a gap that this body can fill between all the methods we have of backing science and technology, and I wish it every success.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister pointed to the recent great success of universities, companies, medics, scientists and Government in coming together—here and elsewhere, but particularly here—on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Why did that work? Because there was a very clear, defined task. There was great excellence and expertise already in companies and university science, and the Government helped to bring that together, to pump-prime the process and then to provide very large orders, as did other Governments and health services around the world, to make it worthwhile and to defeat the virus.

Now, we hope that do not have too many of those concentrated needs, but that model worked without ARIA, so this body has to define something a bit different from that. I notice that MPs are already discussing the adequacy or inadequacy of its resources, by which they usually mean money. I do not think it is possible to have any idea of what would be a good and realistic budget for it until talented people have been appointed to run it and have set out what it is trying to do. The first thing the Government need to do, therefore, following the success of this legislation—I am sure it will pass quite easily—is to appoint really great people to lead this organisation who just have that feel, that touch and that intelligence to judge risk, to sense opportunity, to see where the niches are and to define the unique breakthroughs and areas where this body can make a serious contribution. As some have said, a scattergun approach is probably not going to work; trying to do too much across too broad a spread would require a lot of good fortune. This body will need some targeting.

ARIA then has to work out how it commercialises whatever it produces. The UK has had a century or more of plenty of breakthroughs and technical innovations, but in quite a lot of cases we did not go on to commercialise and exploit opportunities, and we allowed others around the world to adapt patents or take the underlying principles and develop their own products, making many more jobs and much more commercial success out of these things than we did. The leaders of this body therefore need to ask how they will commercialise the ideas, how big a role that will play, and at what point they will work with commercial companies that could come in and take advantage.

That leads on to the issue of security. I do not think British taxpayers want to spend more money on blue-sky research and interesting technical ideas only to see them taken away, perhaps resulting in many more products for the Chinese to export back to the United Kingdom. What we want is that integrated approach, where the ideas that the Government have helped to pay for through this body, working with universities and perhaps with companies, can go on to be commercialised and add to the stock of wealth and jobs and make a wider contribution to the human position.

I suggest that the Government link the development of this body to the work that they have started to do, and they need to do much more widely, on national resilience. I am an admirer of what President Biden has set out to do in the United States of America on supply chains. He has a very ambitious programme—a 100-day programme for targeted sectors and a one-year programme for all the sectors of the US economy. It is looking at what America can do better, at where America needs to fill in gaps in her knowledge and understanding of patent, designs and specifications, at where America needs to put in new capacity to avoid shortages or more hostile powers interrupting her production processes by withholding import, and at where the Government machine can use intelligent procurement, appropriate grants and interventions to work with the private sector to have a much better supply chain, creating more jobs and providing national resilience.

I hope that the agency will look at what we can do to ensure that we make our weapons and defence requirements, as the new policy suggests that we will do more often. It should look at how we can grow more food and make sure that we have more of our own fish so that we have fewer food miles and more national resilience in the food chain. It should look at a series of industrial areas where we have in the past been very successful to see where we can improve the technology and add to the UK capacity to produce.

My suggestion to Ministers is that the first task is to get really excellent people; the second is to work with them on defining realistic and achievable objectives; and the third is to ensure that the agency is properly resourced—£800 million might be the right amount, but if the agency comes up with really worthwhile things that look as though they will work, we will want to back it with more money. If it was not getting very far, I think a number of MPs who say that they do not mind failure would become rather more critical. This will need quite a lot of ministerial and parliamentary supervision. I wish the agency every success, and I look forward to hearing to more detail about what it is trying to do.

My Question during the Statement on Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, 23 March 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly welcome the emphasis of the statement on making more in Britain, because we cannot be properly defended if we rely on imports for crucial things. Is the UK undertaking a full audit of the designs, intellectual property and rare materials we would need to manufacture all our crucial defence equipment here, were we to face a blockade or other hostile action against our imports? President Biden is currently carrying out such a supply chain analysis for his country.

The Minister for Defence Procurement (Mr Jeremy Quin): As my right hon. Friend will know, the supply chains in defence are vast, but it is an analysis that we are undertaking. We are doing it project by project, making certain that the most crucial are investigated first, but we are doing an analysis of our supply chains, and that is being elevated to the Defence Board, to make certain that we have greater oversight of what goes into our crucial defence kit and equipment.

My contribution to the debate on Leaving the EU: Impact on the UK, 17 March 2021

I welcome the opportunity to debate the many opportunities that Brexit presents. It was always the case that, once we had achieved Brexit, the Government needed to use the freedoms it brings to promote the greater health and prosperity of United Kingdom citizens. We meet today with a success already as a result of these freedoms. The United Kingdom Government decided last year not to join the common vaccine procurement system of the European Union. They went their own way. They had confidence in British science and in British medicine, and they had confidence in great companies based in the United Kingdom and in our great universities.

It is tremendous news that, as a result, the United Kingdom helped pioneer one of the first successful vaccines. The United Kingdom pre-ordered a very large number of vaccines for United Kingdom people on the basis that some of these vaccines would be good and would be available for use, and that put the United Kingdom in the position to vaccinate much earlier, saving more lives than those countries can that were not in the happy position of having early supplies of vaccine. Even our regulators were quicker and more agile. Our regulators gave regulatory approval to the first vaccines some weeks before the European regulator, though the European regulator came to the same view in due course.

I think this is a model for how we can use our freedoms more widely to promote our health and better prosperity. I would draw the Government’s attention to a very important policy initiative from President Biden. They may find it surprising to see me recommending something from a Democrat President, but I think his 24 February Executive order—looking at America’s supply chains, and saying that America can do much better at developing its own technology, putting in its own industrial capacity and creating many better-paid jobs by having more capacity in the United States—is a model we should follow. Indeed, it is the model we have been following with the development of the vaccine, which has led to more good jobs in the United Kingdom and more United Kingdom productive capacity.

The Biden initiative starts with a very rapid—100-day —attempt to fix the need for the United States of America to have a much bigger presence in pharmaceuticals, batteries, rare earths and minerals, and semiconductors. There is then an annual programme, involving all the relevant Departments of Government, of going through the supply chains and asking what can be done to use innovation funding, Government procurement and Government regulation to encourage more onshoring and more exciting technical developments. Of course, a country needs to have strong competition law and not to abuse state aids, but many good things can be done with the massive procurement programmes of the British Government, like those of the American Government, to encourage competitive responses in the United Kingdom and to encourage that increasing capacity.

I hope the Government will do more on both the Northern Ireland border issue, where I think we need to be firm—and I support their recent action—and on the fishing industry, where I think we need more rapid progress to build up our fleet and to take back control of more of our fish. That was the promise and that is clearly the intended journey, but I wish the Government would be firmer, because I do not think that at the moment we have the right deal to promote that industry. If we wish to develop our green policies, as we do, we need to do more at home, cut the food miles, cut the fish miles and have more value added in the United Kingdom.

My speech in response to the Budget, 4 March

I welcome the extension of help to individuals and companies. All the time people cannot go to work or businesses cannot trade and all the time that there are pandemic regulations and social distancing that impede people going about their normal business, it is vital that the Government offer alternative income and support. I am pleased that the Government came up with a big response originally, and it is necessary to carry it on for as long as these restrictive measures remain in place.

I also welcome the fact that the OBR has decided that we will be borrowing £39 billion less in the current year than in its recent November forecast. I think that serves as a reminder or a warning to all those trying to debate the economy based on a set of figures; these are very uncertain times. It is difficult for the official forecasters to come up with accurate figures, and we should be especially suspicious of ideas based on what the deficit might be in a couple of years’ time. This deficit will fall very rapidly.

Assuming the great success of the vaccines continues, and assuming that we can relax and get people back to normal work and normal business within a few weeks or months, we will then see the deficit come down because so much of the deficit has been caused by the special pandemic measures.

The figures confirm that around £250 billion of extra spending in 2020-21 was the direct result of the special pandemic measures, and that there will be another large figure in the first part of 2021-22. We want to see the end of all those special expenditures—because people have better-paid jobs to go back to, businesses are trading successfully, and there is turnover and profit coming back to our small and large businesses—and so much of that expenditure was a poor substitute for being able to do the thing itself.

There was of course some loss of tax revenue, and again, we would expect to see tax revenue rise quite rapidly as soon as people can trade properly again, as soon as there are more transactions in the economy, and as soon as we are making more goods and providing more services to each other, as I am sure we will. So the Chancellor is right to say that the crucial step to getting the economy back to health, the deficit down and the numbers back into shape is to promote a recovery. He is right to want more investment in our economy.

The public sector numbers show public sector investment going up, and it is very important that good projects are chosen that will have a good payback. It is very important, too, that the tax incentives are correctly honed so that we get the boost in private sector investment that we want. The Chancellor is also right not to rush out any new fiscal rules.

We will need a new set of rules in due course, however, and they must be geared to a faster growth policy and a policy about levelling up and investing in great projects around the United Kingdom.

That must be linked to sensible discipline on public finances and, above all, to keeping the good control of inflation that we have had for a number of years now. It is reassuring that the OBR and the Bank of England are very confident that inflation will remain low, which gives us a bit more flexibility, but we need to watch that inflation situation.

I note that the OBR thinks the balance of payments is going to be weak for two or three years, and that provides an opportunity. In the post-Brexit world there are huge opportunities that we can exploit more easily in import substitution. Why do we not, for example, with our great green policies, plant many more trees and make sure there is much more sustainable husbandry of trees so that we replace many of the timber imports?

And while we are about it, can we replace the pelleted timber coming in to produce power at Drax with home-produced sustainable timber? We should also put in sufficient electricity capacity, because if we want an electrical revolution we will need a lot more capacity, and while we are doing that we should get rid of the imported electricity through the interconnector, which we rely on more and more for no particular reason.

We used to be able to have all our own power provided in the UK with a decent margin and I suggest we return to that. We can do a lot more on food and fish, too. I urge the relevant Ministers and Departments to promote food and fish, and also to make sure that the grant schemes and regulations that are now under our control are used to increase our capacity so that we start to substitute many of the items that are coming in.

A recovery needs more orders and more investment in capacity; it requires excitement over new products and services and the restoration of old products and services. That must be the single thing that most motivates all the relevant Ministries and Government policy, because the only way to get this very big deficit down is to have more revenue and less expenditure, and the only legitimate expenditure to cut is all the spending we have been doing as a poor substitute for a decent economy with well-paid jobs and successful businesses.

So I say, let’s go for growth; let’s do everything we can to promote more things being made and grown and sold within the United Kingdom. There are huge opportunities, and that will be good economics.

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.