Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 641: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, for establishing an independent trade policy, and for export promotion. I am delighted to announce that my Department recently appointed John Mahon as our new director general for exports; he will oversee the delivery of the Government’s export strategy. Later today, my fellow Ministers and I will be in Stirling for the third meeting of the Board of Trade.

In the light of the latest mass killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israel Defence Forces, will the Secretary of State review and apply the criteria for arms sales to states that violate international law?

The UK has one of the most robust arms export systems, which we operate under the consolidated criteria in line with our EU partners.

I welcome the Department’s focus on international trade. I am delighted to hear that the Redditch eastern gateway is included in a project and strategy that the Secretary of State will announce today. Will he update the House on what he will do to bring much-needed international investment into Redditch?

Later today I shall outline a project to attract £30 billion of foreign direct investment to the United Kingdom. Many projects, such as the one mentioned by my hon. Friend, are not necessarily visible to global investors, but our new website will ensure that we can attract more investment in middle-sized opportunities, which will genuinely help to bring prosperity to constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s.

T3. In 2017, Britain sold £216 million worth of military contracts and supplies to Israel and £571 million worth to Turkey. The disproportionate use of deadly force by those nations against Palestinian and Kurdish citizens has been rightly condemned. Does the Minister agree that the UK needs a transparent and human rights-oriented arms trade to ensure that this country does not enable brutal attacks to be made on civilians? (905370)

All export licence applications are rigorously assessed, case by case, against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. No licence will be granted if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. However, we continue to monitor the situation in Israel and Gaza closely.

T2. I hope that the Secretary of State enjoyed his recent visit to Aberdeen, which is probably the most productive part of Scotland, let alone the United Kingdom. Does he agree that the oil and gas industry is a deserving recipient of the export finance that is boosting that valuable sector? (905369)

I did indeed enjoy my visit to Aberdeen, where I was able to chair a roundtable of companies from across the oil and gas industries as well as meeting senior figures from the Wood Group. Representatives of UK Export Finance were present at both meetings, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we are more than happy for UKEF facilities to be made available to the sector.

T4. Given the uncertainty over the future customs arrangements between this country and the rest of Europe, what steps is the Department taking to ensure that training is provided for the additional customs officials who will be needed to deal with the probable extra workload? (905372)

That is not, in fact, the duty of the Department. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is responsible for customs in the United Kingdom. None the less, HMRC has received extra funds from the Treasury to ensure that preparations are made for Brexit.

The UK defence and aerospace industry plays a vital role in the country’s prosperity, and Farnborough, in my constituency, has a special place at the heart of it. What steps is the Department taking to support the industry, and will the Secretary of State kindly confirm that members of his team will attend the Farnborough international air show in July?

I can certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend. He will also know that in order to improve the functioning of our defence and security exports we are reorganising the Defence and Security Organisation so as to separate the defence from the security elements, because they require different levels and types of Government intervention and contact. I want to ensure that the appropriate skills are there to maximise our defence and security exports.

It was my pleasure to address the hon. Gentleman’s all-party group on India only last week, and we have a huge success story. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has talked about the trade audit—the trade review—that we have done with India. I can also report that bilateral trade has increased by 15% over the last year, and we remain the largest G20 investor in India, with British companies currently employing around 788,000 people in India.

It was a pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State to my constituency last week where he could see that, from food and drink to oil and gas, Aberdeen is best placed to take on the opportunities of Brexit. I thank my right hon. Friend’s Department for promoting Aberdeen’s £150 million Queen’s Square project this afternoon. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the benefits to Scotland of extending the high potential opportunity scheme, and does it not show that Scotland is better off in the United Kingdom?

One of the benefits of having a UK-wide Department is that we are able to use economies of scale to lever international investment into the whole of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend will be aware that a number of projects in Scotland are being highlighted today during our visit to Stirling, and it is much better to have a UK-wide Department able to bring investment to all parts of the United Kingdom than to have it broken up and fragmented.