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Topical Questions

Volume 658: debated on Thursday 25 April 2019

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy and export promotion. I can announce to the House that UK Export Finance will support an Airbus Defence and Space UK contract worth nearly $500 million to manufacture and deliver two satellites and a ground station for Türksat, Turkey’s communications satellite operator.

May I also, with your indulgence Mr Speaker, thank two civil servants who are leaving my Department? My principal private secretary, Oliver Christian, has been an outstanding civil servant and I congratulate him on his promotion. I also thank Amy Tinley, my outgoing special adviser, who has been a force of nature in my Department and will be widely missed across the whole of the civil service.

I congratulate the civil servants on getting out of Dodge while they can.

Scottish Enterprise told the Scottish Affairs Committee that the success of Scotland’s financial industry was based on accessing and servicing all customers in the EU, which it does currently under the free trade non-tariff EU passport system. Does that not highlight once again the vital importance of freedom of movement to Scotland, and that the Secretary of State’s Government simply do not care about Scottish interests or Scotland’s vote to remain?

I will ignore the hon. Gentleman’s lack of grace in his first comment.

What that shows is the importance to Scotland of services and of access to the single market in the United Kingdom. Financial services are one of the country’s greatest and strongest exports, and Scotland benefits hugely from being part of the United Kingdom’s infrastructure.

T2. I congratulate the Government on the GREAT campaign but, in this week of St George’s Day, as we celebrate all things English, will the Secretary of State confirm that we are going to promote not only everything British but the component parts of the United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and indeed our cherished Crown dependencies and overseas territories? (910525)

My hon. Friend, in his usual way, makes an excellent point. It is not just the fact that we have those very important constituent parts of the United Kingdom to celebrate—we also celebrate our commonality and our unity as expressed through the Union.

The world was shocked by the two crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8s that saw the tragic loss of 346 lives. That is, of course, a matter for the European Aviation Safety Agency to investigate, but it is for the Secretary of State to investigate whether the export capacity of Airbus was unfairly affected by Boeing’s failure to be transparent about the pitch instability of the aircraft, or to provide specific safety training on the MCAS system, which was supposed to counter that instability. He will know that in one 12-month period the concealment of those issues helped Boeing to increase its sales against the Airbus A320neo aircraft by 768 planes, while Airbus sales dropped by 748 in the same period. What support, if any, does his Department currently provide to Boeing? Does he consider that its ethical failure has had an adverse impact on Airbus’s sales? What discussions has he had about Boeing with the Directorate-General for Competition and the Directorate-General for Trade in the European Union to protect Airbus’s export capacity from unfair and potentially illegal practices by its competitors?

Let me associate myself immediately with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the loss of lives as a result of the tragic crashes of the 737 Max aircraft. Safety issues are, of course, the responsibility of the Department for Transport but, in the context of international competition, as he is well aware, there have been two recent cases at the World Trade Organisation relating to Washington’s state subsidies for Boeing and European subsidies for Airbus. As far as I am concerned, the issues relating to Airbus have been solved. I think that we would all benefit from a clear set of international rules on aircraft subsidy so that we could be assured that there is a genuine international level playing field, not least because of the rise of the Chinese aircraft industry and its entry into the market.

T6. This afternoon the Confederation of Indian Industry will host a major conference to allow the regions of the United Kingdom to pitch to the states of India for future international trade. What action is my hon. Friend taking to encourage the regions to pitch for business in India? (910530)

According to an EY report, foreign direct investment has tended to move out of London into other parts of the United Kingdom, and there has been an increase in manufacturing activity. We are seeking to expand exports from all parts of the country, not least to India, and I am delighted to say that exports to India were up by nearly 20% in 2018. Only last night I attended the Grant Thornton tracker event with Mr Banerjee, the director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, who is a great friend to this country and to our businesses up and down the land.

T3. Because of the shambles over Brexit, UK manufacturing currently has the highest-ever level of stockpiling in the G7. The latest survey conducted by the North East chamber of commerce shows low levels of cash and, as a consequence, a sharp downturn in export activity. Cash is king: it is the lifeblood of business. Will the Secretary of State speak to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury and, as a matter of urgency, provide financial support for UK manufacturers to deal with this Brexit chaos? (910527)

The entire premise of that question is wrong. There has not been a depression in export activity. In fact, in the first quarter of this year, exports rose by 3.1%, which was an acceleration of the trend in the fourth quarter of 2018.

T7. Britain is also great at green tech, and a leader in areas such as offshore wind technology. What opportunities are being exploited for us to export our expertise in clean technology to other parts of the world? (910531)

It is important that we take climate issues seriously. Whether or not individuals accept the current scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, it is sensible for everyone to use finite resources in a responsible way. The United Kingdom was the first country to establish legally binding emission targets, through the Climate Change Act 2008, and we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 country. We are leaders in clean energy production, and it is estimated that $11.5 trillion is likely to be invested globally in clean energy between now and 2050. That represents an enormous opportunity and the potential for more jobs in the United Kingdom, which, as I have said, is already a global leader in terms of both practice and exports.

T4. May I ask the Secretary of State to welcome Anzac day, and our long-standing friendship with Australia and New Zealand? May I also ask whether he recognises what every major economy understands—that in order to export, firms need a strong domestic market, including public sector contracts? Rather than believing that we are the only ones in step and lecturing other countries about changing their ways, should we not face reality? Will the Secretary of State urge his Cabinet colleagues to put British firms and British workers first and, in public sector contracts, to put Britain first? (910528)

There is also the small matter of putting British taxpayers first, and ensuring that they are getting value for money from any contracts that we award. However, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Anzac day. In fact, may I take the opportunity to invite colleagues to join me and others at the wreath-laying ceremony that will take place at the Cenotaph at 10.30 this morning, and the service at Westminster Abbey that will follow it?

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments earlier on trade agreements and the NHS. As a former clinician, can he confirm categorically that future trade agreements will not impact adversely on the values, standards or funding model of the NHS?

As I said, it is very important that NHS policy and management are decided by British political debate, not from outside. We have had considerable success in utilising the private sector to augment the NHS. As Andy Burnham said, the previous Labour Government worked with the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists, and they came right down. I would hope that any future Labour Government would have exactly the same freedoms to use the same policies.

T5. Donald Trump is an “America first” US President, so does that mean that in any future trade deals with the US we will be “Britain second”, to our disadvantage? (910529)

Is there any opportunity to further promote UK steel exports through the GREAT campaign in the year ahead, not least because it is the best steel in the world?

We will take every opportunity to support UK steel exports, and of course exports in general, which is why we produced our export strategy last year. With the help of Members such as my hon. Friend, we will champion local businesses and ensure that that message goes right around the world.

The Canadian model offers a useful example of how the devolved Administrations should be involved in trade policy formulation. Does the Secretary of State agree that a substantive role in the strategic trade advisory group is essential for the meaningful involvement of the Welsh Government in UK trade policy?

The strategic trade advisory group is there to provide a broad societal view of what should be achieved in free trade agreements. We are of course talking in depth with the Welsh Government about their views on what we ought and ought not to be doing on trade policy, the industries we should be championing and how. I do not think that the strategic trade advisory group is the right place for that engagement, but there is of course a Welsh business represented on the group.

It is vital for us to encourage low-income countries to participate fairly in world trade, and for that they need inward investment. Will the Minister kindly advise us on what the UK is doing to promote investment into low-income countries so that they can participate fairly and reasonably in world trade, with world-class goods and services?

I thank my hon. Friend for championing lower-income countries around the world. We have made outward direct investment a priority. We are working with the Department for International Development to help developing countries to attract FDI. The Prime Minister has tasked us with making the UK Africa’s biggest G7 investor by 2022. Through our own investment promotion programme, DFID’s Invest Africa programme, and the Africa investment summit, which I am organising with DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we aim to drive mutual prosperity, in Africa and beyond.