My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy, and export promotion. I am pleased to announce that this morning UK Export Finance has provided a loan of £27.9 million, under its direct lending facility, to support UK water and waste specialists Bluewater Bio to upgrade water treatment in Bahrain. This announcement shows the continuing demand for British expertise across the globe.
Constituents have written to me to say that we should sit over Christmas to get a meaningful deal. That is not going to happen, so let me wish you a very good one, Mr Speaker.
Given the pictures of the Prime Minister with the Crown Prince of Saudi after Khashoggi was chopped into pieces, and our Government lavishing praise on Bangladesh, a country whose status has recently been downgraded from democracy to autocracy by several human rights non-governmental organisations—not to mention Trump stating that we drop what he calls “unjustified” food and agricultural standards before signing a UK-US trade deal—has not our desperation for bilateral post-Brexit trade blinded us to all ethical and moral considerations before the ink has dried on a single deal?
Absolutely not. This country takes very seriously its international human rights and ethical responsibilities. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, rather than being an apologist, the United Kingdom is a great supporter and champion of those very values globally.
Israel is a very important trade partner for the United Kingdom, and our bilateral co-operation has increased. When I met Prime Minister Netanyahu a few weeks ago, we agreed to have a bilateral trade and investment conference in 2019, to increase those relations as far as possible.
Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to all staff and all Members.
Chambers of commerce across the country contribute to export success through the brilliant advice they deliver all year round. Their direct local knowledge and expertise is much better than the signposting on any website that the Secretary of State might care to mention. In the spirit of the festive season, will he take this opportunity to guarantee the renewal of the contract with the British Chambers of Commerce for the delivery of export advice?
We constantly review the mechanisms by which we can give that advice. One of the things that came across clearly from our consultation on the export strategy was that businesses were looking for peer information rather than information from higher sources. That is why the Government have taken on extra staff for our online community for businesses, so that they can get real-time information from similar businesses.
As part of the UK-China joint trade and investment review announced in January 2018, officials of both countries took part in the third series of technical discussions in Beijing in November. I am happy for my team to be promoting the benefits of Sheppy’s, but I want them to ensure that people also enjoy the wonderful taste of Thatchers, made in North Somerset.
British business continues to export strongly. For example, we are working with companies such as Hawkins & Brimble to maximise global retail opportunities. I am pleased to say that, thanks to help from the Department, the business will be lining the shelves of 300 stores in Canada and the United States with its range of male grooming products—a subject that I know is close to my hon. Friend’s heart—after securing £500,000 of contracts
I am not aware of the exact statistic for cost, but I will happily admit to the House that our record on freedom of information requests in the past has not been good enough. However, a great deal of effort has been put into trying to ensure that we respond on time, and in the latest quarterly report from only yesterday we managed to reach 90%, which is what we were trying to achieve. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I will happily write to him with an answer.
The Tech Hub has been a huge success and a great example of the sort of model that we should be looking at, but we hope to be able to expand that relationship through the trade and investment conference that we will hold in 2019, which will be a celebration not only of our record of trade with Israel, but of the future of our trade with Israel.
Sheep farmers in my constituency export 92% of their produce to Europe and beyond, but have absolutely no idea what is going to happen to their product after 29 March next year. What comfort can the Secretary of State give those sheep farmers to allow them to enjoy a happy Christmas?
Were there to be no deal, that would be a problem for the export of sheepmeat to Europe, so there is one clear answer available to the right hon. Gentleman, which is to support the Government’s proposal, which will enable his constituents to get the market assuredness that they want.
May I finish by wishing you, Mr Speaker, the Members of the House and particularly the staff of the House of Commons a very happy Christmas? Earlier the shadow Secretary of State mentioned the words about the wise men that we heard in Prayers this morning. We would do well to remember that if the wise men had not been carrying cross-border commodities of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we might not be getting the same messages we get today.