Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 9 February 2017

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, including through overseas direct investment to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU. In terms of investment, I can announce to the House this morning that McLaren will be opening a £50 million manufacturing plant in Sheffield that will create 200 new jobs.

Given how desperate the International Trade Secretary is to negotiate a trade deal with the US, what guarantees will he give that Scottish farmers will not be undercut by chlorinated chicken and substandard beef imports?

The quality of produce sold will be a major part of any negotiation, but as for undercutting the Scottish economy, I am regularly told by investors in the United States that one of the things hanging over them and depressing investment opportunities is the threat of separation.

T2. I welcome the recent establishment of a UK-Israel trade working group. Bilateral trade between the two countries has increased year on year, and our close co-operation in cyber, academia and medicine continues to grow. Can the Minister provide any further information about how the group will work, and does he share my view that we should strike one of our first trade deals with the middle east’s only democracy? (908710)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the very good trading relationship we have, and hope to continue to have, with Israel. The Prime Minister announced the trade working group when the Israeli Prime Minister visited earlier this week, but it is worth bearing it in mind that the EU already has a trade arrangement with Israel, and this is something that, in the first instance, we would look to continue. I am sure, however, that there will be many opportunities to improve on that, given that that trade deal was done between one country and 28 countries, whereas a bilateral deal will be easier to negotiate.

The Secretary of State promised that Parliament would have the opportunity to debate the important comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada on the Floor of the House. Unfortunately, he broke that promise and the debate was sidelined to an obscure Committee of the House earlier this week. Given that the UK will soon be responsible for negotiating its own international trade deals following Brexit, what assurances can the Minister give the House that parliamentarians will have an opportunity to scrutinise such trade deals fully in the future, and not be afforded the discourtesy we unfortunately were in relation to CETA?

It was not an obscure Committee; it was a two-and-a-half hour debate in Committee Room 10 following the proper procedures laid out by the House. I remind the hon. Lady that, at the end of the debate, she failed to oppose CETA, yet the Scottish National party in yesterday’s deferred Division voted en masse against it. Like the official Opposition, it changed its position on something that has been debated for eight years now within the space of merely 24 hours.

T5. Many Cornish men and women emigrated to seek work in New Zealand in the late 19th century. Will my hon. Friend now support other great Cornish exports of our wonderful produce, such as Cornish cider produced by Cornish Orchards in my constituency? (908714)

It is good to see the far west of this country being so well represented today, on a one-line Whip just ahead of the recess. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are fantastic products coming from her constituency, including award-winning brands such as Cornish Orchards cider, Cornish Blue and Cornish Gouda. It is absolutely the job of the Department to go out to the rest of the world and, as I said before, to push Cornish exports far beyond the Tamar to the four corners of the globe.

When I wrote to the Secretary of State in November to ask for an investigation into his Department’s support for any British businesses engaged in corrupt practices, he replied that his Department had no power to conduct such an investigation. Last week, after the publicity surrounding Roll-Royce’s deferred prosecution, he announced precisely such an investigation. When did the powers of his Department change, when will the inquiry report back, and will he explain why he has refused to comply with the open government principles of the OECD anti-bribery convention?

Rolls-Royce has made it clear that it will not tolerate improper business conduct of any sort. It continues to co-operate fully with the Serious Fraud Office, and we await the final outcome, on which it would not be proper to comment beforehand. UK Export Finance notes, and is reviewing, the statement of facts released as part of the deferred prosecution agreement with regards to Rolls-Royce, but the details of the statement are a matter for the SFO and it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.

Continuing the trend of exporting from the south-west, last week Gloucestershire-based SME Fluid Transfer International won a £6 million contract to supply aircraft-refuelling vehicles to Indonesian airports. The key ingredients were British manufacturing, a strong commitment to the market, and a very good local partnership. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Fluid Transfer, and will his Department work with me to produce a short video to capture the story and inspire other small and medium-sized enterprises by showing them what can be achieved?

I am sure that my hon. Friend played a part in that deal, given that he is a trade envoy to Indonesia and given the extraordinary work that he does in some of the ASEAN countries. We shall all be delighted to help to promote investment of this kind in every way we can.

T3. A hard Tory Brexit will damage the Scottish aerospace industry, which contributes more than £130 million to the Scottish economy. Will the Secretary of State assure us that that sector will continue to have barrier-free access to the European single market? (908711)

It has been the Government’s clear aim to ensure that there is tariff and barrier-free access once we have left the European Union, and that is exactly what we intend to negotiate—and, of course, the Scottish aerospace industry will be all the stronger for being represented by the whole United Kingdom.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that company registration with the use of a Companies House-type model is important to promoting the economies of developing countries that seek foreign direct investment, and is also good news for the UK’s financial services sector?

My hon. Friend has made an important general point in his specific question. An open trading system is a win-win: our economy, as well as other economies, can gain from sharing the same open system.

The entire departmental strength is now some 3,000. We are adding some 50 extra staff to our trade policy group this week, and the process will continue. We will increase the numbers further in the months ahead as we look to our WTO obligations, the transposition of our EU free trade agreements, and the FTAs that we have. The current number of about 200 staff will be augmented as we proceed.

As the Secretary of State knows, UK steel is the best in the world. What opportunities does he envisage to promote the sale of it around the world?

We take an ongoing and strong interest in the steel sector. It faces difficulties at present because of the low global steel price, but we see a good future for UK steel, and the Department looks forward to taking part in a whole-of-Government approach to ensuring that it is sold abroad.