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Topical Questions

Volume 661: debated on Thursday 6 June 2019

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy, and export promotion.

Let me take a moment to thank Baroness Fairhead for all her hard work during her time as the Minister for export promotion. She has been an invaluable member of my team: diligent, intelligent and 100% committed, and she will be sorely missed.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise. We are about to publish our first report, which draws attention to the huge potential for encouraging more female-owned businesses to export. What support can the Government give in that regard, particularly by identifying market-ready opportunities abroad for our female entrepreneurs?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he does in this area. The Government’s export strategy is about breaking down barriers so that everyone can benefit from trade opportunities, but that includes understanding the distinct barriers faced by women. We will ensure that our independent policy is gender-responsive, and will actively seek to increase the role of women in trade and support female exporters in particular.

Today we remember with profound respect the importance of the multilateral alliance, and the sacrifices made 75 years ago today. Did the Secretary of State take the opportunity of the recent state visit involving those commemorations to express his dismay that UK companies might now fall foul of the Helms-Burton Act, which would subject British businesses and investors to unfair legal challenge in the United States simply because that country has a dispute with the people with whom our companies are doing business?

The extraterritorial jurisdiction that the US claims under the Act was declared unenforceable by the EU under a Council regulation which we have recently replicated in the UK, but does it not send a chill through the Secretary of State that by deciding to activate Title III, the US President is threatening companies based outside the US which are simply going about their legitimate business? Does that not make the Secretary of State question whether the great deal that President Trump says he is already discussing with the UK would be great for the UK, or just for the US?

I agree that there are issues around the whole concept of extra-territorial rules on trade, which is why of course it is fundamental that we get a strengthening of the rules-based system at the WTO in Geneva. That will help us deal with some of those issues, but where the United Kingdom believes we have a unique role to play—for example in upholding the joint comprehensive plan of action—we will continue to do so, and we will resist any attempts to force UK trading entities to behave in a way that we do not believe is legal.

T4. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to showcase the exports of the Greater Manchester area—and may I take this opportunity to invite him and the Department to host an exporting showcase or roadshow in my constituency? (911205)

I am delighted to answer that question again. Our team in the north-west works with international trade advisers and partners across Greater Manchester to enable local exporters to showcase their products and services overseas, including through bespoke trade missions, events and the DIT digital platform. I welcome my hon. Friend’s invitation. We have an established export hub that travels the length and breadth of the UK to give face-to-face support and guidance to first-time exporters. I will ask our team to contact my hon. Friend’s office to explore areas of collaboration and I encourage colleagues from across the House to invite the export hub to their area.

T3 The Minister will be aware of the potential threat to the NHS from any transatlantic trade deal done by the EU. Will he give a cast-iron guarantee that any post-Brexit deal done with the US will maintain the principles of the NHS, free at the point of use? (911204)

Of course post-EU it will be the Government and this Parliament that will determine what trade arrangements we have, not the European Union. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s passionate defence of the NHS: I trained and worked in the NHS as a doctor. Under this Government the NHS will not be for sale, and I would hope that is something we can agree across the House.

The whole issue of the WTO will be at the centre of what we discuss at the G20. The alternative to a rules-based system is a deals-based system, which would suit only the very biggest and most powerful economies, and we would lose the potential to use trade as a means of getting countries out of poverty. The rules-based system is necessary because it applies to everyone—the richest and the poorest, the strongest and the weakest—and we must give every defence to it that we can.

T5. Will Ministers say a word of praise for the work of the Yorkshire and Humber international trade team based in Barnsley? Would it not be even more effective if it was accountable not to Whitehall but to a directly elected Yorkshire mayor? (911206)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend from Yorkshire who is right to highlight the outstanding contribution from the team in Barnsley. I will leave it to other Departments and Ministers to reply on whether or not a Yorkshire mayor would be the right thing to have, but what I can say is that we will continue to work together cross-party to promote business and employment across the Humber and Yorkshire region.

For the benefit of my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to knock on the head this nonsense that the NHS will be up for sale in any future free trade agreement?

I am tempted to say “I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.” Let me be very clear for the benefit exclusively of his constituents that the NHS is not, and will not be, for sale.

T6. I heard the Secretary of State’s passion as a medic. Will he clarify that he can commit now to excluding the NHS from any future trade deals if the UK leaves the EU, and that no foreign power, no matter how big, will get their hands, no matter how small, on our NHS, no matter who wins the Conservative party’s leadership race? (911207)

Trade with Iceland is of particular importance to my constituency and the ports of Immingham and neighbouring Grimsby. What progress is being made to develop our trading links and investment with Iceland?

I visited Iceland just a couple of weeks ago and had constructive discussions with my counterpart there and with a range of businesses. We have already signed the continuity agreement, which I know will be of enormous benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituency and provide a great deal of comfort to those involved in those industries.

In Blaenau Gwent, we have been working with Fujitsu to encourage our young people to go into cyber-security, but I have learned that there is a real shortage of cyber-security specialists here in the UK. What support can the Government give to training in this key sector so that we can boost our exports for the future?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The value of UK cyber-security exports is set to rise from about £1.8 billion at the moment to £3.2 billion by 2022, and 800 companies are currently involved in the sector. He is right to say that one of the elements we will need to provide is the appropriate education, coming from the sector, to give people the appropriate skills as well as in-house training. The Government, through their wider agenda—the skills agenda, the apprenticeship scheme and what we are doing in the Department—are well aware of the point that he has raised. Without the skills, we will be unable to take advantage of the tech and knowledge that we have.