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Topical Questions

Volume 677: debated on Thursday 18 June 2020

We have launched trade negotiations with four of our closest partners: the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand—close allies with shared values, believing in democracy and free enterprise. We are prepared to walk away if any deal is not in the national interest. We will not lower our food standards. They are overseen by the independent Food Standards Agency and are in UK law. Ambitious free trade agreements will deliver on the Brexit promise to drive an industrial revival in this country and level up the UK.

I note the response that the Secretary of State gave to her opposite number earlier when talking about Brazil, but we are still trading with Brazil. Between 2013 and 2019, British financial institutions provided over $2 billion in financial backing to Brazilian beef companies linked to Amazon deforestation. How can we ensure that there is greater transparency in our supply chains so that we are not unwittingly, through exports from Brazil, contributing to such environmental degradation?

First, we are doing a lot of work on our supply chains, looking at vulnerabilities and resilience and making sure we have more transparency in supply chains. That work is being led through the Department for International Trade and Project Defend. Through our climate change negotiations, as we head towards COP26, that is precisely the type of issue that the Business Secretary will be looking at.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-standing agreements between local authorities, sectoral agreements involving UK universities and counterparts abroad, such as the British Israel Research Academic Exchange Partnership, and the many agreements between UK local authorities and regions in, for example, China, can provide a useful foundation and route in for trade deals that are based on existing identified mutual opportunities and interests? (903483)

First, I praise the long-standing work that my hon. Friend has done in local government leadership over many years. Local government and councils will play a key role. This week, I have spoken to civic leaders, including Andy Burnham in Manchester and candidate Shaun Bailey in London, and impressed on them the importance of trade and investment decisions in our biggest cities. Trade and investment is a whole-UK effort involving all four nations, and all regions and cities, including councils and local government. I praise my hon. Friend for his work.

On Monday in Yemen, 13 civilians travelling by road, including four children, were killed in an alleged Saudi airstrike—the latest innocent victims of this barbaric war. A year ago this week, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is unlawful for the Government to license any more exports of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen, and ordered the Government to review all extant licences in the light of that judgment. A full year later, can the Secretary of State tell us whether that review of extant licences is complete and, if not, why not?

As the right hon. Lady knows from the written ministerial statement I made earlier this year, we have been reviewing our processes and making sure all the work we do is compliant with the consolidated criteria.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the fact is that, a year on from the Court of Appeal ruling, British firms are still exporting arms for use in Yemen, and that is unacceptable.

On a related issue, the Government refuse point black to tell us whether British-made tear gas and other riot equipment have been used in the United States over the past month. I ask the Secretary of State a very simple but important question that goes alongside that: does she condemn the tear gassing and beating of unarmed, peaceful protesters and journalists, and will she make it clear that riot equipment should never be used in that way?

Of course we are all extremely concerned about what has happened in the US—in particular, the killing of George Floyd. We are very, very concerned about that. However, we have one of the strictest arms licensing regimes in the world and we are absolutely clear—I have made this clear to the team—that we always comply with the consolidated criteria.

Given that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that was meant to take place next week—I planned to attend it as the co-chair of the all-party group on trade out of poverty—has been postponed, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the Government continue to back the SheTrades initiative in order to support businesswomen throughout the Commonwealth? (903484)

I thank my hon. Friend for her commitment to this important cause. I am convening a meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, due to take place this autumn, and the issue of female empowerment and entrepreneurship and the SheTrades initiative will be on the agenda for the meeting.

Can I ask about Welsh lamb? Every time I ask the Government about this, they always say to me, “Oh yes, it is all very worrying. We don’t know where it is going to go. It is very important that we make sure that there are no tariffs on Welsh lamb going into Europe.” It is important, because 50% of Welsh lamb is eaten in the UK and the rest goes to Europe. It does not go to any other markets, pretty much, around the world, so we have to get a zero tariff on Welsh lamb. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that, please? (903480)

I am working very hard to get rid of the small ruminant rule in the United States, which prevents the export of our fantastic Welsh lamb to the market—[Interruption.] I hear the hon. Gentleman shouting from a sedentary position. The US is the second largest importer of lamb in the world. It is a massive opportunity for lamb. In fact, this afternoon, I have a call with some Welsh sheep farmers to talk to them precisely about these opportunities. I suggest that he gets behind the US trade deal rather than shouting from the Back Benches.

Manufacturers in the Black Country have recently shown the resilience and ingenuity that demonstrate why the Black Country is head and shoulders above the rest, in the whole United Kingdom. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that manufacturers in the town that I represent—in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton—can increase their exports and we can ensure an industrial renaissance for manufacturers in those towns? (903485)

This is very opportune, because last week, I was the guest speaker at the Black Country chamber of commerce, and they were uniformly enthusiastic about the Government’s free trade agenda and trade and investment agenda. Perhaps if the Opposition were to go along, they might hear that, and some of this enthusiasm might rub off on them. I remember taking a question from a particular firm, Thomas Dudley, in the area about the roll-over of the CARIFORUM agreement with the Commonwealth Caribbean countries and the Dominican Republic. It was very concerned to hear that the Labour party is opposed to the Trade Bill, which would see the roll-over of that EU agreement and make an operable UK agreement. They were shocked at the seeming disregard by—[Interruption.]

Order. I think you have made the political points very well, but it is not an election yet—I think you can hold your fire a little bit longer. I would be more worried that people will be asking who you sat next to at the dinner.

The Minister mentioned that she is talking to Welsh sheep farmers later today, but what discussions has she recently had with the Welsh Labour Government on the potential effect of any free trade agreements on the economy in Wales, particularly in relation to the devolved responsibilities? (903482)

We engage with the devolved Administrations on a regular basis. Baroness Morgan is my opposite number in the Welsh Government and we have a very good relationship, both on free trade agreements and on the whole relationship on trade between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. We make sure, through the ministerial forum for trade, that the devolved Administrations are updated and kept constantly apprised of our free trade agreement agenda. I look forward to continuing our excellent work with the Welsh Government.

Does the Minister agree that global free trade agreements present more opportunities than threats to British agriculture, particularly as we have fantastic products such as North Yorkshire lamb and cracking cheeses such as Wensleydale? Indeed, I think they also make cheese in Lancashire, Mr Speaker. Does the Secretary of State agree that there are likely to be more Americans wanting to eat British beef than British people wanting to eat American beef, particularly if accompanied by Yorkshire pudding? (903486)

I completely agree about the fantastic products such as Wensleydale, Yorkshire beef and lamb and all these opportunities. In fact, the first cargoes of British beef will be leaving UK ports this summer destined for America, now that the beef ban has been lifted. That is worth £66 million to the industry over the next five years. Of course, there is nothing nicer than a Sunday lunch and a nice bit of beef and Yorkshire pudding.

From the continuity agreement, exports to Chile have grown on average by 16% a year and consumers in the UK have benefited from lower prices on fruit, nuts and excellent Chilean wine. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Chile, I ask the Secretary of State what further progress will be made to ensure that that trading relationship with Chile goes from strength to strength? (903488)

I thank the hon. Lady for her positive question about Chile. Chile is an important trade partner of the UK. Of course, it is a key member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we want to join. We want to have a better trading relationship with Chile and the 11 fast-growing members of that agreement.

My rural constituency of North Norfolk is highly agricultural, with farming being the lifeblood of the community, so along with telling me what steps are being taken to ensure that high animal welfare and import standards are kept, can we be positive and can the Secretary of State tell me about the great opportunities that there are for the farming community in North Norfolk to celebrate with a free trade agreement? (903487)

As I have said, we are absolutely committed to maintaining our high animal welfare standards and our high import standards and also to making sure that our farmers do not face unfair competition. That is something I am going to negotiate in every trade agreement we are discussing. There are huge opportunities, such as with malting barley. We are the second largest exporter of malting barley into Japan, and there are fantastic malting barley producers all across Norfolk who will benefit from lower tariffs and more trade.

My constituent Freddie Melville wrote to me last week. He is 10, and when he grows up he wants to be a farmer like his dad. He told me that all animals deserve to be reared to a high standard and that allowing lower standard food into the UK would reduce what his father and other farmers get paid for their food. The Government want a trade deal with the US and want to protect UK farmers and consumers. They cannot have both. If they truly believe in their welfare standards, will the Minister commit to enshrining them in trade legislation, as they should have done with the Agriculture Bill? (903490)

If the hon. Lady looks at the analysis of the US agreement, it shows that UK farming benefits. That is because people in the United States want to buy high-quality, high-welfare UK produce.

Will the Secretary of State comment on how well placed the Food Standards Agency is to enforce our high import food standards? (903489)

My hon. Friend will know that the Food Standards Agency is extremely well placed on this issue. He will know that the chair, Heather Hancock, sent a letter to all parliamentarians, which I recommend all parliamentarians read and digest. There was also a letter from the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade about the important work of this non-ministerial Government Department. To be clear, decisions on standards will be made separately from trade negotiations.

The use of bullets, tear gas and batons on innocent protesters has, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, shocked the world in the aftermath of the brutal killing of George Floyd, so can she tell us whether her Department has authorised the export of any of the above in the past 12 months? (903494)

I have already answered a letter from the shadow Secretary of State on precisely this issue. Quarterly, we publish exactly which export licences we issue as a Department. We are completely transparent, and we operate in line with the consolidated criteria.

It is good to see you again, Mr Speaker. I listened very carefully to the statement yesterday by my right hon. Friend and also to her remarks this morning about animal welfare. She must understand that there is still a concern because of the Government’s refusal to accept the agriculture Committee amendments to the Agriculture Bill. Will she give the House a complete assurance that once we have left the European Union and ended the transition period, no goods—animal products, fish products or bird products—will be allowed into the United Kingdom from the EU or anywhere else in the world where those are reared under conditions that we simply would not permit in the United Kingdom? (903491)

I can give my right hon. Friend an absolute assurance that all the regulations we currently have in place with the EU will be transposed into UK law. However, it is not the case that we ask other countries to follow our domestic regulations. We currently import produce from Canada on zero tariffs without those requirements. We currently import goods from the developing world without those requirements. What is very important, and what I am committed to in all the trade negotiations, is making sure that any deal we achieve does not undermine our domestic production standards.

Complacency from the Government, and indeed from the international community as a whole, over human rights violations in Kashmir has contributed to the crisis that is unfolding at the line of actual control. The Indian and Chinese armies are now toe to toe, and there has been a Mexican stand-off between Pakistan and India since last August. I do not need to remind anybody that these are three nuclear powers. What economic and other levers is the Secretary of State using to resolve this crisis? Will she urge the Prime Minister to call for a UN Security Council meeting to avert a global disaster? (903495)

Obviously, the whole of government is extremely concerned by the situation in Kashmir. It is primarily of course a matter for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that trade assists dialogue and assists countries and peoples to come together. In reference to India, we are having a JETCO—India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee—shortly to talk about trade between the UK and India. In relation to Pakistan, as I said earlier, we are rolling over the GSP-plus arrangements that the EU currently has with Pakistan, which also include a key human rights element. Making sure that dialogue continues and that trade continues will assist in that.

I am sure the House would like to be with me in prayers and thoughts for the sad news that Dame Vera Lynn has died—one of the great British icons.

In order to allow safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.