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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 618: debated on Thursday 15 December 2016

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rural Broadband

Superfast broadband is now available to over 90% of homes and businesses in the UK—up from 45% in 2010—and is on track to reach 95% by the end of 2017. After that, we are bringing in a universal service obligation in the Digital Economy Bill.

The Minister will be aware that rural communities such as those in North East Fife, and small businesses in particular, rely on broadband, and there are concerns that the current plans do not go far enough. Are there any plans to extend them further so that we can get faster speeds in rural communities?

Yes. The plan to bring in a universal service obligation means just that: it is about making sure that superfast broadband is available to all. If the SNP joined us in the Lobby to support the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently passing through its remaining stages in the other place, we would be very grateful.

Superfast broadband is available across much of Waveney, but not spots remain, particularly in rural areas. The roll-out of 5G could play an important role in plugging those gaps. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined his plans to fast-track this provision. Will he consider some pilots in the Waveney area?

My hon. Friend is a ceaseless champion of better connectivity in Lowestoft and throughout Suffolk. Connectivity is improving: there is a licence obligation to cover 90% of the UK landmass by the end of next year. I am sure he will keep fighting for his constituents to make sure that they get a better signal. The £1 billion announced in the autumn statement will help to get us there.

Access to broadband is an issue not just for rural areas, but for areas such as Dinnington village, which lies on the edge of my constituency, and for new-build housing areas such as Newcastle Great Park, where capacity simply cannot keep up with demand for this vital service. How will the Government speed up delivery to such areas?

The hon. Lady asks a very good question. By 1 January—less than one month away—it will be a legal requirement to put superfast broadband into new housing developments. By the end of the programme that is under way, 98% of Newcastle, which includes her constituency, will be covered for access to superfast broadband. I am sure she would want to welcome that.

Percentages do not mean much to people who do not have broadband, and we just do not have it in many parts of my constituency. This affects not only residents, but businesses, such as the caravan parks that people will not now come to unless there is broadband access. That is the problem.

My hon. Friend is dead right that that is a problem. The universal service obligation is very important in making sure that everybody gets decent access to broadband. In the past few years, that has changed from a “nice to have” to an absolute “must have”, and we are delivering to make sure people have the connectivity they need.

British Film Industry

The UK film industry is a great success story, contributing more than £4 billion a year to the economy and supporting nearly 70,000 full-time jobs. Last year, the Government invested £340 million through film tax relief, and nearly £70 million in grant in aid and national lottery funding through the British Film Institute.

Like many of our creative industries, the British film industry is a fabulous success story. What plans does the Secretary of State have to make sure that it will still be an industry to celebrate post-Brexit, and will she be contributing to February’s White Paper on the future negotiations?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the success of the UK film industry. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members are planning over Christmas to enjoy the new “Star Wars” film, which was made in Britain. Last week, I was in China to sign a co-production treaty, making us only the second country in the world to have both film and TV treaties with the Chinese. That is important because this is a global industry—it relies not merely on the other 27 member states of the European Union, but on the whole world—and I want to make sure that it continues to be a success.

I was born in the shadow of Shepperton film studios and have long had links with the film industry, so may I urge the Secretary of State to do something about getting more apprentices into the film sector? Our great directors and many of our great actors left school at 14 or 15 and did apprenticeships. Today, too many people at the top are not very creative, because they all went to Eton. Will she do something about getting ordinary kids into the film industry again?

I am incredibly proud of the creativity of all our young people, no matter which school they went to. Perhaps that was an audition by the hon. Gentleman, given his close links to film. He rightly identifies that there are issues with apprenticeships in the film industry because of the business model in that industry, and particularly because there are so many freelancers and shorter-term contracts. We are working with the Department for Education to make sure we have the right apprenticeships so that young people can get the skills they need to succeed in the global success that is the British film industry.

With part of “Les Misérables” filmed at Boughton House near Kettering and Keira Knightley’s “Pride & Prejudice” filmed at Weekley village just outside the town, what more are the Government doing to encourage filmmakers to use historic sites in the great British countryside for their films?

I want to see the great British countryside used as the location for great British films. It is fantastic that Kettering has been such a hotbed. I am pleased that a number of films have been made in the Peak district, including in the Staffordshire moorlands. I want to see more of them; they are very welcome.

Surely the decision for the filming to take place in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) was quite deliberate, on account of his prodigious efforts.

Northern Ireland’s film commission, Northern Ireland Screen, has invested some £14 million in the US cable network to enable “Game of Thrones” to be delivered, and some £115 million has come back into the economy of Northern Ireland as a result. Industry-wide speculation certainly brings great accumulation. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that the Northern Ireland film commission brings even more business into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

“Game of Thrones” is another fantastic example of a global franchise that is made in the United Kingdom, this time in Northern Ireland. That is something we are incredibly proud of and we need to make sure that there is as much support as possible. I continue to work with colleagues across all the devolved nations to ensure that film companies understand the diverse breadth of opportunities in the whole United Kingdom.

Sexual Abuse in Sport

The Government take these matters very seriously. Yesterday, I co-chaired a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of sports bodies, law enforcement and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to ensure that sports are able to deal effectively with allegations of non-recent abuse and have the most robust possible child protection processes in place today.

The allegations that are under investigation, which involve more than 100 clubs, are truly shocking, but does the Secretary of State agree that the vast majority of coaches and volunteers in local sports clubs play a crucial role in our constituencies? Does she also agree that it is vital that we do not put off or discourage potential volunteers who would never dream of betraying the trust that was placed in them?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We want to ensure that parents and young people have the confidence to participate in sport. We need to know what happened. We need to make sure that the victims come forward, that the police have time to carry out the investigations and that there is confidence in the system. The roundtable that I co-chaired yesterday was incredibly helpful in flushing out where we can do more, because we can always do more, and in giving reassurance that much is being done.

11. I am sure that we are all appalled by the allegations of horrific abuse that have come out in recent weeks, which have besmirched the game that many of us love so much. We are aware of the helpline that is available so that people can phone up and relate what happened to them. Has the Secretary of State had conversations with the football authorities about what more can be done proactively to identify people who had contact with the abusers in the past and assist them in every way to make the difficult decision to come forward and relate what happened to them? (907925)

I confirm that I have had exactly those conversations with the Football Association, the premier league, the English football league and the Professional Footballers Association to make sure that we are identifying people who may have been victims, but who have not yet had the confidence to come forward.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there should be a mandatory requirement for the reporting of known or suspected abuse for everyone who works in regulated activities, including sport?

My hon. Friend will know that the Department for Education and the Home Office have carried out a joint consultation on mandatory reporting. I understand that the responses are being considered at the moment and that a response will be forthcoming shortly.

My contempt is reserved almost solely for the predators and abusers who carried out the crimes rather than the institutions, but the Secretary of State is right that there has to be a reflection on what went wrong and how we can maximise the robustness of safeguarding. Which individual sporting bodies has she met recently to have those discussions?

I do not wish to detain the House with a long list, so perhaps it would be helpful if I wrote to the hon. Gentleman with the full list of the bodies that my hon. Friend the sports Minister and I have spoken to.

Is it not remarkable that the people who are making statements went to football clubs among the 92 teams in the football leagues of Britain, whereas most people like me, working at the pit, were coached at the miners’ welfare, and nobody who helped at the 700 miners’ welfares all over Britain has been brought forward? The truth is that it is about the money as well. When the Government are digging into this, they should remember that there is a class argument about it. It is about people making money, and the Tories know a lot about that.

I am sorry, but I do not think that trying to bring party politics into the matters is at all appropriate. Vulnerable young people have been abused by predatory individuals from all walks of life. Even suggesting that party politics is involved belittles the House.

Football Association: Governance

You will be unsurprised, Mr Speaker, to learn that I have had several discussions with the Football Association on this subject. As recently as Monday, I spoke to the chairman, Greg Clarke, and I was clear that I wanted reform and that the clear mechanism for achieving that is through compliance with the new code of governance for sport, which was published in October.

I have always been a great admirer of the Minister’s optimism, especially when we played on the same five-a-side team. Unfortunately, her optimism about the future of the FA is not shared by three of its previous chairmen, who said earlier this week that legislation was needed to address the deficiencies in the organisation. Will she therefore give an undertaking that, before the end of April, she will come to the House either to announce her agreement with the FA about future governance arrangements, or with proposals for legislation?

On the five-a-side pitch, it was never optimism, just skill.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take this matter incredibly seriously. We believe that the FA has heard the warnings from all parts of the House and all levels in Parliament that it needs to reform quickly. We strongly believe that the incentive of removing public funding will achieve that. I would be happy to update the House on progress in April.

Channel 4

The Minister knows that Channel 4 not only supports a thriving independent production sector through commissioning, but has proven time and again to be a sustainable and successful business model. We know that the Government like to create uncertainty, but will the Minister take it away from Channel 4, its advertisers and the independent production companies that it supports, and make a decision which has been delayed for far too long?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we are looking at all the options to ensure that we have a strong and sustainable future for Channel 4. I am a great supporter of Channel 4. A Conservative Government in the 1980s put it in place, and we will do what is necessary to sustain its future.

I am completely open-minded about the ownership of Channel 4 as long as we ensure that the programming standards are maintained, but may I remind my right hon. Friend that ITV, Sky and many others produce great documentaries and wonderful dramas, and they are privately owned?

Of course that is an important thing to remember. We are looking at how we can have the most sustainable, vibrant future for our brilliant Channel 4.

Is the Minister comfortable with the fact that currently Channel 4 has no one from a diverse background on its board, and will he explain the process by which he or the Secretary of State made a decision that excluded the deputy chief executive of the Arts Council from that board?

We have recently made some appointments to the Channel 4 board. Those appointments were all made on merit. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that public appointments must be made on merit, and give him this statistic: since this team has been in place in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 24% of all public appointments have gone to people from minority ethnic backgrounds—which is far higher than the proportion in the economy. We are passionately devoted to making sure that our great institutions are represented by people from all backgrounds, and will continue to do that, based on merit.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is absolutely right that Channel 4 is not diverse, so will the Minister make sure that there are not as many politically correct left wingers at Channel 4 in the interests of diversity? As he does so, will he set out why it is in the taxpayers’ interest for the Government to own a left-wing broadcaster?

Of course, Channel 4 pays its way and pays for itself—it is not subsidised; it is just owned by the taxpayer. I am sure, with contributions such as that, my hon. Friend will bring great insight and entertainment to the Women and Equalities Committee.

The Minister talks of merit. Channel 4 has 13 board members. Ten of them are men. All of them are white. Will he explain to the House why he and the Secretary of State blocked the sole black candidate, who was described as outstanding by Ofcom?

In this case, there were four vacancies and we chose the four best candidates. I will have no truck with the argument that we should have tokenism. I support appointment on merit. I also support making sure that we reach into all communities. The fact that this ministerial team has appointed 24% of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds demonstrates how much we care about—

Order. We are not as slow as all that. The right hon. Gentleman has made that point with force and eloquence, but it does not improve by being repeated.

I am afraid that the Minister’s laconic attitude towards this is not helpful at all. He has just said that the appointments were made on merit and that had he gone through with the recommended appointment it would have been an example of tokenism. That is an absolute insult to the candidate, who, as he well knows, was perfectly well qualified and was recommended for appointment on merit.

When are we going to get an end to the uncertainty about Channel 4? The Secretary of State has been in place for 150 days. The sector is in absolute despair about the lack of a decision from the Government. When will we get an answer?

The sector is going from strength to strength. I strongly support it in doing so. We will continue our support for Channel 4, for appointments based on merit and for the great British TV sector.

Creative Industries: Exiting the EU

6. What assessment she has made of the potential effect on the UK’s creative industries of the UK leaving the EU. (907918)

The Government want to ensure the best possible deal for Britain on leaving the European Union. The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, contributing more than £87 billion to the economy and more than £19 billion in exports. We are working closely with the industry to assess both the impacts and the opportunities that our departure presents, and I am hosting a series of round-tables with industry about that.

The Secretary of State is, I hope, aware of the concerns of the world’s biggest festival of the arts that Brexit and hostile immigration policies pose a serious threat to its ongoing success. What assurances can she give the Edinburgh festivals that they will remain truly international in a post-Brexit Britain?

I visited the Edinburgh festival this summer. It was a fantastic experience, and I loved the big signs of welcome, which were very clear that it was a global festival. The Edinburgh festival existed before the United Kingdom joined the European Union, and I want to make sure that it continues going from strength to strength in its anniversary year next year.

Topical Questions

Last week I visited China, along with the largest cultural delegation ever to accompany a Minister from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport abroad. We made key partnerships with Chinese travel companies, the Chinese television sector and the Beijing Winter Olympics, as well as announcing the forthcoming terracotta warriors exhibition in Liverpool.

The BBC royal charter has been approved by Her Majesty in Council, and printed and sealed. I laid copies of the royal charter and associated framework agreement in both Houses today, with an accompanying written statement.

Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind my promoting the MP4 single—the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is part of the band—that is supporting the Jo Cox Foundation. I hope we all download that single and get it to No. 1 for Christmas.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, under its commercial expansion through Project Lightning, Virgin Media is committed to rolling out fibre to 2 million premises across the UK, including in my constituency, thereby helping the Secretary of State to meet her vision of a fibre future. Will she clarify whether the fibre fund will be limited to areas of market failure?

My hon. Friend represents a constituency with 97% superfast coverage, which I am sure he welcomes. He is right to highlight our announcement in the autumn statement of additional funding to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure. We will announce further details about the fund in due course.

Happy Christmas to you and your family, Mr Speaker, and to the staff of the House.

In the light of recent data security breaches, does the Secretary of State have confidence in the operational security of the National Lottery, and that Camelot is operating within its regulatory obligations?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that we should all be very aware and alert to our cyber-security, and that we should take advice issued by cyber-security experts with regard to updating passwords and so on. I met the National Lottery and continue to work with it to ensure that it is cyber-secure.

Can the Secretary of State give the House her absolute assurance that Britain’s national lottery is safe? Will she commit to come back to the Dispatch Box if there are any further revelations of security breaches at Camelot?

I repeat that I met Camelot and am working with it to ensure that it is as secure as it possibly can be, and that it takes all possible cyber-security measures. I am sure the hon. Gentleman and I will discuss these matters over the Dispatch Box. I wish him—and you, Mr Speaker—a very happy Christmas.

T3. The respected independent media monitoring organisation News-watch published research showing that over the past 10 years just 3% of the 4,000 people interviewed about the EU on the BBC’s “Today” programme were supporters of Brexit. Given this demonstrable bias, which since the referendum is now conflated with almost daily doom and gloom from the show’s business section, how can the licence fee payer funded BBC be held to account to deliver the impartial news service its charter requires? (907906)

I am sure my hon. Friend welcomes the charter, which sees a new regulatory regime for the BBC and includes Ofcom having regulatory responsibility, that is being laid today. I am sure he will support the Digital Economy Bill, which is making its passage through the other place, to ensure that the regulatory regime comes into force.

T2. BT owns a massive 42% of the UK’s useable mobile spectrum, meaning that challenger companies suffer capacity constraints. Will the Minister ask Ofcom to include a cap considerably below 42% in the forthcoming spectrum auction? (907905)

Making sure we have a fully competitive mobile market is very important. Ofcom will take a view to ensure that that continues. That is in its remit. We will ensure that the spectrum is auctioned in such a way to get the broadest possible coverage.

T6. The National Citizen Service has done a great deal to encourage young people in north-east Lincolnshire, and in Cleethorpes in particular, to broaden their horizons. What further action is the Minister taking to promote participation in the scheme, and will he commit to visit some of the projects in Cleethorpes? (907909)

My hon. Friend is a big supporter of the NCS and I am aware that coastal areas face significant challenges. The NCS can and does have a significant impact on helping those areas. It is therefore great news that there is a place in the NCS for every young person who wants one. This summer alone, 285 young people in north-east Lincolnshire have taken part. Subject to my diary, I am very happy to visit the schemes in his area.

T4. The Minister says he is considering all options on Channel 4. Does that include privatisation and part-privatisation? (907907)

Channel 4 is not paid for but is owned by the Government. It was set up under Government ownership, but it pays for itself through its advertising, and delivers brilliantly—I think—within its remit.

T5. I have arranged for Sport England to attend my constituency in January to meet local sports clubs, many of which are struggling to stay afloat because of a decrease in grants and huge cuts to local authority funding. In the light of the child obesity strategy, does the Minister agree that the Government should make it a priority to engage with and promote these small sports clubs? (907908)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her initiative, and I hope that others in the House will do something similar, because getting Sport England funding involves a lot of work and paperwork. We would encourage all local sports clubs to do it, however, and I congratulate her on her initiative.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says it is investigating 43 premier league players and 12 clubs, including, it is believed, Manchester United, for image rights tax dodging. Does the Minister agree that fans are right to be angry that big clubs and players, including England captain, Wayne Rooney, stand accused of dirtying the beautiful game with a culture of excessive greed and tax dodging?

I agree with my hon. Friend that those in football should protect the reputation of football, but he is asking me to comment on a matter that HMRC is still investigating. Football players, clubs and managers are treated no differently from others and are expected to adhere to the same principles.

T7. I welcome the Government’s announcement yesterday of a review into volunteering, but will the Minister confirm that the Government will provide a full response to each of the review’s eventual recommendations, particularly on the question of the legal status of full-time volunteers? (907911)

May I begin by saying how proud I am of the fantastic work already being done by the NCS and the I Will campaign, which is making a dramatic difference to young people and volunteering? I announced a review yesterday, and of course we will respond in detail to the report’s findings.

It is widely acknowledged that the BBC is institutionally biased in favour of the EU. Will the Secretary of State explain why the BBC does not acknowledge that itself?

I repeat the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone): not only does the new charter require impartiality, but we have Ofcom to regulate that, a new unitary board with management responsibilities for the BBC and the National Audit Office looking at value for money. I think that that package of regulation and value-for-money auditing should give my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) the comfort he needs.

Will the Secretary of State speak to the BBC about the role it can play in the future of Gaelic language broadcasting? It currently spends less than 0.25% on Gaelic programming, and as a result the otherwise excellent BBC Alba is left with a 74% repeat rate.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that this is an 11-year settlement that will guarantee Gaelic language broadcasting. I would be happy to discuss the matter further with the BBC, but I am sure that he welcomes the fact that this is a long-term sustainable settlement.

Our community libraries could be places of study and multi-media use and real community hubs. What steps will my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities to develop our libraries so that they become such community hubs?

We recently published a report, the “ambition” document, which highlighted how libraries are an important part of local communities able to act as community hubs and providing a range of activities in respect of support for reading, digital skills, culture, health, employment and learning. I urge local authorities to think innovatively and to use their libraries to deliver services to their communities so that they are sustainable and can thrive in the future.

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Foreign Direct Investment

My Department is working globally to attract foreign firms to set up or expand their businesses in the UK and to generate new jobs and contribute to national wealth creation. We are promoting the UK as a prime destination for inward investment from across our global network, with dedicated support for investors in 50 overseas markets. With the support of sector specialists, we are ensuring that the UK has the best opportunities to attract higher-quality foreign direct investment.

Latest gross value added figures show that Wales is the fastest growing area outside London, and Cardiff is unabashedly the engine room of the Welsh economy. What positive steps is the Department taking to ensure that Welsh businesses and Cardiff businesses get the help they expect to get?

Let me say that my hon. Friend, given that his constituency is Cardiff North, is the engine-room of the Cardiff economy. The Department for International Trade works for the whole of the UK, but I stress that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already visited Wales, and I am working with the Wales Office to see what more we can do. We also support the Welsh Government by offering them support in posts overseas. We see the opportunities presented by Wales as very exciting.

Today we are told that it could take up to 10 years to reach a trade agreement with the EU after we leave, while research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests a drop in trade of up to 60% if we are outside the customs union. Foreign investors are vital for the British economy, so will the Minister give those investors some of the certainty they so desperately need—and that we need, as well? Will he tell them whether he wants Britain to be inside the customs union and whether he wants tariff-free access to the single market or not?

It has been made very clear that the Government are not going to give a running commentary on what we are proposing to do. I also stress that the comments of Ivan Rogers are opinions and words taken from interlocutors and do not necessarily define how long it will take to create a trade deal. It is worth bearing in mind, if we look at various trade deals around the world, that while the Trans-Pacific Partnership has taken potentially eight years, the US-Jordan trade deal took just four months. It is very difficult to establish exactly how long any trade deal will take.

As the UK becomes a world leader in the fourth industrial revolution—new technology—will the Minister update the House on what steps his Department is taking to secure foreign direct investment in this vital new sector?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on launching the all-party parliamentary group on the fourth industrial revolution. This type of innovative approach by businesses moving forward is incredibly important to the success of this country’s economy. We are working extraordinarily hard to make sure that this innovative approach is being transmitted around the world through our posts overseas, and that we can secure foreign direct investment to support it.

World Trade Organisation

2. What discussions he has had with the World Trade Organisation on the approval of new schedules for the UK after the UK has left the EU. (907891)

I have had a number of constructive discussions with the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Azevêdo. We have made clear to the WTO membership the UK’s intention to replicate as far as possible our current obligations in order to avoid disrupting our trading relationships or those of our trading partners across the world. The UK will need its own schedules in the WTO regardless of the nature of our future trading relationship with the EU.

Given that the list of countries offended by the Foreign Secretary grows longer by the day, what contingencies are being put in place should there be some opposition to the renegotiation of the UK schedule?

The contingency that the hon. Gentleman asks for is in place, because until new schedules are negotiated and agreed, current schedules will apply. It is worth noting that the European Union itself, having failed to negotiate EU28 schedules, is still operating successfully under the EU15 of 1995.

Civitas has estimated that if we were to go to World Trade Organisation terms with the EU, EU businesses would have to pay £12 billion to access the UK market, and UK businesses will have to pay £5 billion to access the EU market. Does the Secretary of State accept those figures? If the Government do not accept them, will he tell us what the Government’s figures are?

Whatever the actual figures are, there is one point that is more important—the introduction of any impediments to trade and investment in intra-European trade would be disadvantageous to producers and consumers alike. Of course, the Government have made it very clear that we will try to get maximum access to European markets in order to avoid a disruption of trade.

Are not these WTO schedules of concessions just one of many examples of the mammoth bureaucratic task that has to be conducted, and should we not be thanking our ambassador to the European Union for the reality check he has given about the decade-long period it will take to extricate ourselves from this process? Does the Secretary of State agree we should not be rushing so headlong into this timetable?

Yes, we face a number of bureaucratic challenges, but the people we should be thanking are the British people for giving us such clear instructions to leave the EU.

The UK has high standards in the workplace and for its products and animal welfare. Does the Secretary of State agree that a free trade deal with zero tariffs with countries that have much lower standards could have a significant commercial disadvantage for many of our companies?

The whole point of reaching an agreement is because it is beneficial to both parties, otherwise an agreement would not be reached, and regulatory and compliance standards will always be an important part of that.

Global Trade

With the current slowdown in the growth of global trade, the UK must be a world leader in championing free trade worldwide and banging a drum for British business. Our measures to support UK business trading globally include a network of advisers in 109 markets, online advice at and support through UK Export Finance. Both myself and ministerial colleagues have continued to meet businesses in the UK and abroad, including 50 ministerial visits to 34 markets overseas.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Professor Patrick Minford has estimated that UK trade liberalisation would cut consumer prices by 8%. Does the Secretary of State agree that forging our own free trade arrangements outside the EU presents huge opportunities to ease the cost of living for low-income families?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and he is right to highlight the potential of free trade to reduce the cost of living in this country. Free trade ensures that more people can access more goods at better value, making their incomes go further, whereas protectionism tends to hurt the poorest the most.

It has been two years since the then Environment Secretary announced with great fanfare plans to sell pigs’ trotters to China. As my written question this week revealed, we are still no closer to signing the pigs’ trotters protocol. If it takes this long to reach an agreement to sell pigs’ trotters, what does that say about our ability to make all the other trade deals we need in the wake of Brexit?

I am very intent that our agricultural exports continue apace. I shall continue to push pigs’ trotters as fast as they can possibly go.

A very alluring prospect, to be accomplished by the right hon. Gentleman probably not without sweat or emotion.

Many countries are using non-tariff barriers to block global trade. However, as the Secretary of State is well aware, in countries such as Brazil we are now seeing real progress in the removal of local content regulations. What more can be done to encourage other countries to follow this example?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as our trade envoy to Brazil. I was extremely impressed in the meetings I had last week in that country that we are now seeing major attempts not only to open up markets, but to deal with endemic corruption. That corruption is one of the biggest single barriers to trade, and, as the World Bank has made clear, improved governance is a major improvement in the potential for trade.

The Secretary of State recently reaffirmed the Government’s target to double exports by 2020, but at the autumn statement the Office for Budget Responsibility contradicted this, stating that it expects UK trade to reduce as a result of the UK leaving the EU and the single market. So who is right: does he accept the assessment of the experts of the OBR, yes or no?

I am tempted to ask the hon. Lady if she would like Santa to bring her a dictionary, because expectations and targets are not the same thing.

Will my right hon. Friend seek to unblock the global trading system by adopting a new open anti-distortions agreement that can deliver free trade and self-government, fight crony capitalism at home and defend against predatory practice abroad, like the one proposed by the Legatum Institute special trade commission?

I do not think I need to explain to my hon. Friend that I and my fellow Ministers have set out the case for free trade on a number of occasions. We are seeing a slowdown in the rate of global trade growth at present, which is a threat to the prosperity of people across the globe. We must have more open trade, fewer tariffs and fewer non-tariff barriers if we are to succeed in that task.

One of the steps that the Government are taking to expand UK trade is through arms sales, particularly to the middle east. In July, the Committees on Arms Export Controls heard evidence that there was an imbalance in arms sales, with promotion coming at the expense of regulation

“such that in UK practice those things are at odds.”

Does the Secretary of State recognise that imbalance? If he does, what does he propose to do about it? If he does not, has he chastised the White House for the remarks this week that “systemic, endemic” problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting of civilians in Yemen drove the US decision to halt a future weapons sale, which has the Secretary of State and British policy in this area looking callous and threadbare?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; this is the first time in my life that I have been grateful for being colour blind. [Laughter.] This country has one of the world’s strictest arms control regimes. It is both robust and transparent, and decisions are scrutinised intensely. I simply do not accept the picture that he paints of the UK’s attitude.

I am going to play the role of tie referee and say that the tie of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) is absolutely beautiful. It is tasteful and interesting, not boring like all too many ties. Now, let us hear from the fellow from Gloucester.

The UK has an excellent tradition of hosting major international sports events—most recently the Olympics, the Commonwealth games, and the Rugby World cup—and other countries hosting such events can benefit from our expertise. In 2018, Indonesia will host the Asian games, which is a great opportunity to highlight the improvements it has made in infrastructure development. Should my right hon. Friend have the chance to visit south-east Asia in the new year, will he highlight British expertise and the help that we can give Indonesia to deliver a magnificent Asian games?

Yet again, I am able to thank an hon. Friend for working as a trade envoy—this time to Indonesia. My hon. Friend’s specific point applies more generally: the United Kingdom can provide great service sector skills to many countries, which not only helps them to mature their economies, but provides them with the ability to grow their markets, offering an export opportunity for the United Kingdom.

Newcastle international airport plays a vital role in the north-east’s economy, by facilitating over £300 million-worth of exports every year. Like other English regional airports, however, it faces unfair competition on tax as air passenger duty is devolved to Scotland. The Government have failed to commit to mitigate that. What discussions will the Department have with the Treasury to ensure that airports such as Newcastle can continue to play a vital role in international trade?

Such imbalances are an inevitable consequence of devolution, for which the hon. Lady’s party campaigned. I also have a regional airport in my constituency, and I can assure her that the ongoing discussions with the Treasury will be not just general but personal.

Free Trade Agreement: USA

The United States is our single largest export market, accounting for £100 billion-worth of UK exports. As the Prime Minister said, the UK and US are, and will remain, strong and close partners on trade, security and defence. We cannot negotiate and conclude trade deals while we are a member of the EU, but we can discuss our current and future trading relationships. The Secretary of State for International Trade, Lord Price and I have all visited the US since taking office. We look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump to ensure the continuing prosperity of our nations.

The excellent Minister is quite correct that the USA is our biggest single export market, although we have no trade deal with it. However, the current President said that we would at the “back of the queue” when it comes to a trade deal. In the discussions that the Minister will have in the US, does he think that President-elect Trump will put us at the back or the front of the line?

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the bilateral trading relationship and the investment relationship. Every day, 1 million Britons go to work for American companies here and 1 million Americans go to work for British companies in the United States. Not only are our exports to the US very strong, but they grew by 19% in the most recent year for which data are available. Of course we look forward to developing a stronger and more open trading relationship with the new President and the new Congress.

One of the main proponents of a future UK-US trade deal in Congress is Congressman Charlie Dent, who happens to be a very good friend of mine and of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). However, President-elect Trump was elected on an anti-globalisation mandate, so why does the Minister think the new President will put UK-US trade deals at the front of his agenda in a post-Brexit environment?

Over the summer, I met Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the co-authors of the Congress resolution calling for a future US-UK free trade agreement. We strongly welcome the support right the way across Congress on our future trade relationship with the United States. As for the President-elect, I suggest we wait to see his actions. He did say during different campaign events:

“Trade has big benefits, and I am in favour—totally in favour—of trade…Isolation is not an option. Only great and well-crafted trade deals”.

We look forward to working with him in the future.

What consideration has the Department given to the President-elect’s views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

In a very general sense, the UK remains supportive of trade deals, right the way across the globe, that reduce or remove trade barriers—tariff barriers or non-tariff barriers—to help facilitate the flow of international trade.

The TPP, which has just been mentioned, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been fraught with difficulties and concerns from the public, businesses and sectors. So what will the Minister do when negotiating a bilateral trade deal with the US to make sure that those issues do not derail that kind of deal?

The first thing to say is that TTIP is still on the table, and we have always been clear that the rights of Governments to regulate in the public interest will still be there in all these different trade deals. As the hon. Gentleman will know, TTIP has been debated in the Commons on at least five occasions, and the views of parliamentarians have been made clear. We will make sure that there will be no reduction in regulatory standards if TTIP comes to pass.

Trading Opportunities Abroad

6. What steps his Department is taking to support businesses in establishing future trading opportunities abroad. (907896)

8. What steps his Department is taking to support businesses in establishing future trading opportunities abroad. (907901)

The Department is working across the UK, as well as in both current and future export markets overseas, to help British businesses. We are helping them to export their goods and services, identify new export opportunities and win those export sales. We are doing this digitally, through the website, and in person, through our network of international trade advisers across the UK and through our overseas staff in 109 countries.

Businesses in my constituency do not always have the resources to explore export markets but are keen to maximise opportunities. What is the Department going to do to help those businesses, so that they can find more opportunities abroad?

May I refer my hon. Friend, who is a champion of businesses in her constituency, to the website? Although it has been going for only one month, 174,000 users have visited it, more than 6,000 users have already made use of our selling online overseas services and nearly 1,000 businesses have created a profile on our “Find a buyer” service. This was highlighted to all hon. Members when the Department sent out our MPs’ toolkit, so that all MPs can help their constituents to find new markets and raise their eyes to the horizon.

With only 5% of businesses trading directly with the EU, surely leaving the internal market will allow us to relieve the other 95% from the shackles of over-regulation? Will the Minister say a bit about the balance his Department is going to strike between inward and outward investment?

I thank a member of the Select Committee for his very wise question. It is a new approach by this Department to look equally at overseas direct investment for businesses looking to move overseas. This is incredibly important because it provides opportunities for many businesses to create new opportunities and new markets overseas. It is worth bearing in mind that, as British businesses invest overseas, they take with them skills and expertise, which can only help those developing economies to grow, thus creating even more opportunities for British businesses in further developed markets.

9. The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said yesterday that he is considering four options for the customs union: completely inside; completely outside; the Turkish model, which is partially inside but outside the single market; and the Swiss model, which is outside but with customs arrangements. Are there enough staff in the International Trade Department and the Brexit Department to assess by February the concerns of UK businesses that leaving the customs union would devastate their complex cross-border EU supply chain by exposing new paperwork hurdles and tariffs? (907902)

The Department for International Trade is currently recruiting some of the finest people known in this country to help us to develop that. I stress to the hon. Lady that this whole exercise is not just defined by one Department or by the Department for Exiting the European Union; every Department is working to help to maximise the assistance that we can give both to British businesses and to the entire economy.

Expanding UK global trade will mean that we need better connectivity within the UK. With that in mind, does the Minister agree that expanding Heathrow and adding more flights from Northern Ireland will enable more of our exporters in Northern Ireland to reach clients, particularly in new and emerging markets outside the EU?

I certainly agree that greater connectivity through airports is incredibly important for the whole country. However, I must stress that the details for such arrangements are for Ministers in the Department for Transport, so perhaps I can refer the hon. Gentleman to them.

Order. I am very conscious that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) had her question transferred to another Department, and I am sensitive to her plight. If she wishes to give the House the benefit of her thoughts, doubtless she will bob up and down during topical questions and we will all be grateful for that.

Topical Questions

The Department for International Trade has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation through overseas direct investment to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU. Like the UK, my Department is open for business.

Will my right hon. Friend shed some light on the difference between our trade deficit with the EU and our trade deficit with the USA?

I am pleased to say that we do not have a trade deficit with the US; we have a trade surplus with the US. In fact, we send £100 billion of exports to the US a year, which is 20% of our total, with a £40 billion surplus. The US is responsible for 26% of all our inward investment, and we are responsible for 23% of outward investment to the US. It is a very, very interdependent relationship.

By insulting my wife’s taste in ties, the Secretary of State must await her reprimand, but she must wait in line because there are others who wish to reprimand him. The European Scrutiny Committee told off the Secretary of State for going to Brussels and agreeing the comprehensive economic trade agreement between the EU and Canada without first bringing it to the UK Parliament for scrutiny. He undertook to the Committee that he would bring CETA for debate in this House by the end of November, a deadline that he missed. The Committee then set a more generous deadline, but that deadline expired two days ago, on 13 December. Will he tell us whether he actually believes in taking back sovereignty from Brussels—does he or does he not? If he does, repeatedly denying the UK Parliament the right to properly scrutinise such an important trade agreement is a very odd way to go about it. Will he now commit to bring a debate and a vote to the Floor of the House before the European Parliament finally votes on CETA on 2 February?

May I very gently say to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), whom I hold in the highest esteem, that I hope, in due course, his PhD thesis will be published?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way before Christmas. We did not go against procedure. Owing to parliamentary timetable constraints, we could not offer a debate in the House before signalling political agreement on 18 October. We have committed, and continue to commit, to holding a full parliamentary debate on CETA as soon as possible, and we are working with business managers to arrange it. The European Parliament has now changed the date of the expected vote on the agreement to 2 February 2017, and we hope to have a debate well within that timetable.

T2. Over the past five years, South Korea has been our second fastest growing trading partner. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should seek to boost trade with South Korea further still until we leave the EU and, after we leave the EU, enter a prompt bilateral trade deal with South Korea, which its Government would welcome? (907882)

I know that my hon. Friend takes a huge interest in Korea and his Korean community in Kingston. He knows that I visited Seoul, as did Lord Price, in September and saw for myself what natural allies we will be in the global future of free trade. I had excellent meetings with Samsung and with other interlocutors. We look forward to working very closely with South Korea in the future in developing free trading relationships, and I will make sure that my hon. Friend is very involved.

T3. Recently, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said in relation to emissions standards that what is good enough for India is good enough for us. May we have a firm assurance that no emissions standards will be watered down as part of any free trade deal? (907883)

The Government take very seriously their environmental obligations and will continue to do so.

T4. On Monday, I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announce that she wanted to take the trade relationship with Israel to the next level—our key ally in the middle east and strong trading partner. Can my right hon. Friend set out the steps that he is taking to ensure that we put in place a new trade deal with Israel, so that we can cement that commitment by the Prime Minister? (907884)

My hon. Friend is right. We have an extraordinarily good relationship with Israel, and we are the second biggest export market for Israel. Currently, we are governed by the association agreement that the EU has with Israel, and we are certainly keen to engage with Israel to make sure that in a post-Brexit world there is no disruption to the trade that we have.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is delighted to be back in the Cabinet, but does he agree that the 1 million jobs that will be put at risk if we leave the customs union matter more than his own career?

I repeat that the Government have made no decision yet in relation to the discussions and negotiations that we will have with the European Union. We have made no decision yet on the customs union. That will be part of the ongoing discussion and the Government will make decisions based on evidence.

T5. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to promote our world-class science base around the globe? Will he confirm that he recognises that face-to-face collaboration is an important part of that continued success, and that we need to attract the best and the brightest to do their research here? (907885)

I commend my hon. Friend on his work as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. As he will know, I was in his constituency on Friday looking at some technological innovation at DP World’s fantastic port facilities at the London Gateway. The UK has a long-established system that supports and therefore attracts the brightest minds at all stages of their careers. We will make sure that Britain is the global go-to nation for scientists, innovators and tech investors.

If I understood the hon. Lady’s question correctly, while we remain members of the European Union, of course we are party to all the EU agreements and all the human rights elements attached to those. With regard to the future, the UK has as strong a history as any in the EU of promoting and protecting human rights around the world, including in relation to trade.

T6. In prioritising a post-Brexit free trade deal with Israel, will the Minister ensure that as far as possible the Palestinian Authority is included, because enhanced trade between the UK, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be an essential part of building a sustainable and lasting peace? (907886)

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. The British Government absolutely support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestine state. We should continue to engage with those countries. I was in Israel not so long ago, but I also visited Ministers in Palestine. We are very keen to engage with both Israel and Palestine.

A recent parliamentary question revealed that the involvement of Scottish companies in the recent trade visit by the Prime Minister to India was very limited. What extra effort can the Secretary of State make to ensure that Scottish companies are better represented by the UK to support them in exporting into new international markets?

We have repeatedly said that this Department is open to all businesses in the United Kingdom when it comes to seeking our support for exports, and I hope that the Scottish Government will encourage businesses in Scotland to work with the Department for International Trade, so that we can maximise that. We have made that offer, and we hope that they will take it up.

We have repeatedly set out our worries about the slowdown in the growth of global trade. That has implications across the globe. It is worth making the general point that we need more free trade because it increases global prosperity. Increasing global prosperity leads to greater political stability, and greater political stability leads to greater global security. It is not possible to disaggregate those different elements.

When the Secretary of State is lobbying for foreign inward investment, does he agree with the comments of his friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that a pound spent in Croydon has more value to this country than a pound spent in Strathclyde?

I bow to no one in this House in terms of my credentials as a Unionist, and I want to see prosperity spread to every part of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Scottish Government’s economic policies will help to contribute to that.