House of Commons
Thursday 18 June 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
UK-Canada Free Trade Agreement
I spoke to my Canadian counterpart Mary Ng last week, and we talked about progressing our bilateral trade and working together to promote free trade across the world.
Bilateral trade between the UK and Canada is worth £20 billion a year. It grew exponentially following the implementation of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. By comparison, our bilateral trade with New Zealand is worth £3 billion a year. We have opened formal negotiations with New Zealand on a new trade agreement. Can we not go further with Canada and seek something much more comprehensive than simply a roll-over of CETA?
I know that my hon. Friend is committed to Canada, having served as trade envoy and done a fantastic job. As part of our ambitious free trade agreement programme, we announced yesterday our intention to accede to the CPTPP, which is an advanced trade agreement covering chapters such as data and digital and goes far beyond what the EU has been willing to agree. Canada is one of the key players in the CPTPP, alongside countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
Free Trade Agreements: Environmental Protection Standards
The Government are committed to meeting their ambitious environmental objectives. We are exploring all options in the design of future trade and investment agreements, including environmental provisions within those, to ensure that we uphold the UK’s high environmental standards.
Last year’s free trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada ran to 250 pages but failed to mention climate change or global emissions. What assurances can the Minister give the House that the free trade agreement being negotiated by his Government between the UK and the US will not make the same mistake and will put climate change at the heart of it?
The hon. Lady raises a good question. The UK is absolutely committed to our international climate change agenda; that is one of our key objectives. We have not included that because the US is withdrawing from the Paris accord, which we regret. She mentioned the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement. That agreement does include 30 pages of environmental commitments, including, for example, on sustainability, forestry, air quality, marine plastics, multilateral agreements and so on. There is plenty of potential for us to go further on the environment with our US trade agreement.
There is no point in the UK achieving our own zero-carbon targets if the trade deals we reach with other countries are pushing them ever further away from achieving theirs. Can the Secretary of State ensure that all future FTAs agreed by the UK reinforce the legal primacy of emission targets established in the Paris climate change agreement?
It is worth pointing out that nothing in any trade agreement would prevent the UK from reaching its targets under the Paris agreement and to go net zero by 2050—we are the first Government to commit to doing that, and no trade agreement will prevent us from doing that. We remain on the front foot in our advocacy, making sure that the international response remains extremely strong, including through multilateral agreements and the UK contribution to the global climate fund.
Last year, Brazil lost an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire, and the new land reforms proposed by the Bolsonaro Administration will make the scale of deforestation and commercial exploitation in the Amazon even worse. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what environmental conditions are attached to his Department’s £20 million trade facilitation programme with Brazil? Will he promise to suspend that programme if the Bolsonaro Administration persist with their proposed land reform laws?
This question is about trade agreements, and it is worth pointing out that we are not currently in negotiation with Brazil on a trade agreement. The European Union is, by the way. When it comes to trade agreements, the right hon. Lady needs to get her own house in order. Yesterday at this very Dispatch Box, she praised EU trade agreements with Pacific rim countries in the CPTPP. The only problem for her is that those on the Labour Front Bench voted against CETA and did not support the EU-Japan agreement. Worst of all, she led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Scottish Land and Estates has said that food and farming is critical, and it is concerned that UK producers are not placed in an impossible situation where they have to compete in an effective “race to the bottom”. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give that cheaply produced agrifood imports will not lead to that race to the bottom?
First, we have the independent Food Standards Agency, which is committed to high food standards. All the food standards that are currently with us through EU law are put into UK law as a result of the withdrawal agreement, so those standards are not going to be lowered, and they are not going to be negotiated as part of any trade agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but I did not ask about food quality standards; I understand that. I am asking about production standards. As the National Farmers Union of Scotland has pointed out, there is deep concern about the importation of agrifoods into the UK that may be produced to an inequivalent and uncompetitive standard. How will she guard against agrifood imports produced to that inequivalent standard, which is much cheaper and simply could not or would not be done in the UK?
Scottish beef and lamb is a very high-quality product and highly competitive. When the beef ban is ended with the US, we will have the opportunity to get British beef into the US market—there is £66 million-worth of opportunity for that product—but in every trade agreement I negotiate, I will always make sure that our farmers, with their high standards, are not undermined.
Food standards were not a matter for the Agriculture Bill—at least that is what MPs, including Conservative Back Benchers, were told on Report. They were told that they would be included in the Trade Bill. I am sure Agriculture Ministers were telling the truth, so will the Government accept Labour’s amendment to the Trade Bill to enshrine in law the principle that food imported under any free trade agreement must maintain our farming industry’s high production and safety standards?
The reason they were not part of the Agriculture Bill is that the import standards that we already have and which already ensure that we import only high-quality products into this country are being transported into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That is already there. There has been a lot of scaremongering going around about these lowered standards. That is simply not true. We are maintaining exactly the standards we have, which are in place, for example, through agreements with Canada.
Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. We hope to see the Secretary of State at the International Trade Committee next week, as requested by Committee members for a number of weeks. At yesterday’s Committee hearing, the NFU, the CBI and the TUC all coalesced around the figure that Brexit would cost the UK about 4.9% of GDP and an American trade deal would benefit it by around 0.16% of GDP—a thirtieth of what is being lost by Brexit. They said that gains from the Japan deal would be a lot less than the paltry lot from the US deal, so can any Minister furnish the House with the figure for what would be gained as a percentage of GDP from a Japan-UK trade deal?
First of all, I am extremely happy to appear in front of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, and I will ask my office to immediately set that up in the diary. I am very keen to communicate with the Committee about the various trade deals we are negotiating.
We published figures for the scoping study on the Japan free trade agreement, but this is not an either/or. We want to get a good trade deal with the EU. We want to get a good trade deal with the US. We also want to get access to CPTPP, which is a very fast-growing part of the world. That is what we want. We want global Britain to sit at the heart of a network of free trade agreements.
In March, the Government said that Japan must show “increased ambition” and set a higher headline target on reducing carbon emissions ahead of COP26. Is that still the view of the Secretary of State? Will she show increased ambition and include more stretching, measurable and binding climate targets in the new free trade agreement she puts in place with Japan?
We have a huge opportunity to achieve our environmental objectives in many of the free trade agreements we are negotiating. For example, with New Zealand, which is a leader in this area, we will be looking for very advanced environmental clauses, and of course we will seek those in negotiations with Japan. But the hon. Gentleman should understand that there are a number of routes through which we are pursuing our objectives, namely our leadership of the COP26 summit, and it is right that that process should be the primary focus of where we achieve our climate change objectives.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on Cornwall
I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of business in his constituency, including the dairy industry. I can assure him that every region and nation will benefit from our trade deals, and that includes every industry from farming to FinTech to boot. In the south-west, exports of dairy amounted to more than £46.7 million last year and these businesses stand to benefit even further from the removal of US tariffs.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in his ministerial position.
Whether it is our excellent butter, cheese and cream, our amazing beef and lamb, our stunning fish and seafood, or our beer, wine and gin, Cornish food and drink are among the highest quality and most sought after in the world. The Minister will be aware that food producers are concerned that our high standards will be undermined in trade deals, so what reassurance can he provide to Cornish food producers that their interests will be protected, and what opportunities does he see for export?
Who wouldn’t be, Mr Speaker?
Like my hon. Friend, I am also proud of the high-quality produce from British farmers, including from those in Cornwall, and I can assure him that trade deals will help to deliver economic security for Britain and protect us all from new trade barriers and tariffs that could harm jobs and industry. I can assure him that Cornish food producers will be supported at every turn and will continue to be highly competitive. Negotiations will certainly reward them through providing access to new markets.
Covid-19: Import of Essential Medical Products
We continue to work tirelessly across government to secure vital equipment and PPE from overseas partners, including from the US, Malaysia, China, Turkey and South Africa. We have sourced more than 18 billion items from across the globe to be shipped and delivered to the frontline to our NHS.
As the Minister will be aware, many imports such as medical products enter the UK as cargo in the hold of passenger flights. Given that the imposition of an illogical quarantine is having a negative impact on passenger confidence and flights coming into many of our regional airports, such as Luton airport in my constituency, will the Minister confirm whether he made any assessment of the impact of quarantine on the import of medical goods, and, in the light of that, does he agree with me that the quarantine should be lifted for less blunt measures, such as fast-track testing, to facilitate the import of medical goods and support the recovery of our aviation industry?
I have to say, Mr Speaker, that I was woken at 4.40 this morning by a passenger flight coming into Heathrow and then by another one at 4.45 am. It strikes me that although passenger traffic coming into the country is much reduced, it is still very much facilitated. I am not aware that any disruption that may be caused by the quarantine regulations is having any direct impact on our ability to import vital PPE into the country.
At the last International Trade questions in May, my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) asked about reducing global tariffs on soap, which average at 17% among World Trade Organisation members and range as high as 65% in some countries. The Minister of State said that it was a very good question and that the Government were working tirelessly to reduce or remove those sorts of barriers. I am sure that that has been the case, so will he tell us what progress he has made on the specific issue of soap tariffs over the past month?
Mr Speaker, you will know that on 20 March, which was the start of the UK lockdown, the EU Commission wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and HM Treasury alerting them to the existence of the potential mechanism by which tariffs in VAT could be waived on certain imports in the light of the covid-19 crisis. We have identified more than190 products that are in scope, ranging from PPE to soaps and disinfectants. When these products are imported by an organisation covered by the relief, the tariff will be zero.
Promoting UK Agriculture Exports
Our food and drink sector is vital to our economy. In 2019, exports increased by nearly 5% to £23.7 billion. We want to see that success continue and will shortly be launching a bounce back strategy for the industry as the world recovers from covid-19.
I am grateful for that answer. I draw your attention, Mr Speaker, to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There are significant opportunities to increase agricultural exports, but for the UK to make the most of them, there is a need to dramatically increase food and drink processing capacity. What discussions has my hon. Friend’s Department had with the Treasury, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to ensure that the right fiscal and grant arrangements are in place?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. My Department is working closely with DEFRA, BEIS and Her Majesty’s Treasury to understand the market and investment trends in the agriculture and food processing sector in a post-covid environment. The Department for International Trade’s high potential opportunity—HPO—programme, which is part of our levelling-up agenda, is already attracting investment in food and drink programmes throughout the UK. For instance, there is agricultural engineering in Telford and aquaculture in Dorset. However, we want to do more, which is why, in partnership across government and as part of our forthcoming export strategy, we will work to identify new investment opportunities in the sector and its supply chain, so that UK agriculture’s full potential can be realised internationally.
UK Tech Sector
I know that my hon. Friend is, like me, proud that the UK tech sector is the dominant and most successful in Europe. With 79 unicorns and counting, last year the sector attracted a third of all European tech investment—more than France and Germany combined. That success has continued this year, and just last week the Secretary of State launched a new tech strategy to support the internationalisation of our firms, including a digital trade network across the Asia Pacific.
British entrepreneurs are at the cutting edge of developing technology medicines—from apps to medical devices—in the fight against coronavirus. What support is my hon. Friend giving to our health tech start-ups to access overseas markets where British innovation can help to save lives?
My hon. Friend is right: companies such as Cambridge-based C2-Ai, which last week won the CogX award for covid-19 health innovation, are leading the way in the UK’s cutting-edge health tech sector. C2-Ai saves lives by predicting avoidable harm and mortality to free up capacity in intensive care units for covid-19 patients. My Department is supporting dozens of firms just like C2-Ai that are looking to provide covid-19-related treatments. We have also produced a directory of those British digital health companies that provide covid-19 solutions and shared that with our international network, in response to inquiries from Governments around the world.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on Blyth Valley
In 2018, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear exported goods worth £496 million to the US, £130 million to Japan, £24 million to New Zealand and £216 million to Australia. Against a backdrop of rising trade barriers, our FTAs will secure and protect existing trade, and, according to our analysis, FTAs with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand will go further and bring additional export opportunities to every part of the country, including Blyth Valley.
In Blyth Valley, we have many successful companies that trade globally. As we move closer to the deadline of 31 December 2020, will my hon. Friend please advise the House what steps the Department has taken to help companies such as Dräger Safety and Tharsus in Blyth, and Miller engineering and Renolit in Cramlington—to name just a few—so that they can take advantage of free trade agreements?
My team is developing a new export strategy, which will align DIT support for exporting businesses, such as the ones my hon. Friend mentions, with our FTA and market access work. In February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Tharsus and the Port of Blyth, and they emphasised to her how important data and digital chapters were for them. Blyth Valley companies will be supported by ambitious FTAs, an enhanced network of international trade advisers in the northern powerhouse and teams in 108 countries around the world.
Free Trade Agreements: UK Farming Exports
We are determined to remove barriers so that more of our fantastic British produce can be sold internationally. We have now become a net dairy exporter for the first time in recent years. A US-UK FTA can reduce tariffs of, for example, 26% on beef and more than 25% on some dairy products.
Some of my constituents in Bosworth have written to me concerned about food standards. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with DEFRA regarding the Food Standards Agency to guarantee that the agency is fully supported to ensure and enforce that our food standards are up to scratch in our new trade deals as they come to fruition?
It is very important to note that we are not going to be lowering our food standards in any of our trade negotiations. British food standards—or certainly those in England and Wales—are a matter for the Food Standards Agency, and it is down to the agency to ensure that standards are upheld. Those standards are also in UK law, transferred as part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, so they are guaranteed, and the Food Standards Agency is an independent body designed to ensure that they are upheld.
Free Trade Agreements: Benefits for All Parts of the UK
When the UK left the EU, we had successfully signed trade continuity agreements with 48 countries, accounting for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018. Now we are seeking new trade agreements so that UK trade is diversified and better aligned with global growth. Analysis shows that the US deal, for instance, will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom, although Scotland and the midlands will gain most. That US deal could reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers for everything from Scottish cashmere to automotive manufacturing in the midlands, machinery manufacturing in the north-west and our world-class services sector in the south-east, the midlands, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
The Humber ports contribute so much to the UK economy, providing a critical trade route into Europe and beyond. Like my hon. Friend, I am proud that the Humber is one of the busiest and fastest growing trading areas in Europe, is responsible for a quarter of the UK’s seaborne trade and hosts 30,000 international shipping movements each year, yet it can do so much more; and, with the help and support of my hon. Friend, it will do so. I cannot comment on any individual free port bids, but I encourage anybody who wants their views taken into account to respond to the Government’s consultation before it closes on 13 July.
Does my hon. Friend agree that trade options such as free port status will add a major boost to our local economies, and that free port bids, such as the one involving Carlisle Lake District airport in my constituency of Penrith and The Border, warrant serious further consideration?
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on the East Midlands
This is an important question. Free trade agreements will certainly help Britain to bounce back from coronavirus and will bring better jobs, higher wages, greater choice and lower prices to consumers and businesses across the country. In the east midlands, lower tariffs and barriers will help to diversify the supply chain and reduce reliance on any single country for businesses that seek to thrive in the new global trading network which we are going to be at the heart of.
I am particularly pleased that we are now finally able to open direct negotiations with some of our oldest and closest allies. Will my hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to support businesses in the east midlands to make the most of the new opportunities created by these future trade agreements?
As a newly independent trading nation, we will be able to champion free trade, fight protectionism and remove barriers at every opportunity. That includes tariffs. We will be trading on British terms with our new global tariff, which will cut red tape and cut costs for consumers and businesses in Gedling and in the region. My Department and our experienced international trade advisers will continue to support companies across the east midlands access exporting opportunities, and to provide export credit and insurance through UK Export Finance.
Free Trade Agreements: US and Japan
We have launched negotiations with both the US and Japan. We want to secure ambitious trade deals that benefit every part of the United Kingdom. Scotland is expected to be a particularly strong beneficiary from those deals.
Despite what the Secretary of State said in response to previous questions, there are persistent concerns about the lifting of the ban on pathogen reduction treatments, which would permit chlorine washes over food as part of future trade deals. That would be bad for us and bad for animal welfare. To address those concerns once and for all, will the Secretary of State commit to enshrining minimum food standards into law? If she will not, will she devolve the necessary powers to Scotland to allow us to do it for ourselves?
Free Trade Agreements: Freedom of Religion or Belief
The freedom of religion is a universal human right. The UK has a strong record of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally. Our strong economic relationships with trading partners allow the Government to have open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights and religious freedom. The Government will continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows that I lead for the Government on freedom of religion or belief as the Prime Minister’s special envoy and on taking forward the Truro report. The Minister also knows, from our previous work when I was a trade envoy covering Pakistan, that there was a GSP-plus—generalised system of preference—trade clause which meant that human rights had to be respected. Around the world at the moment under covid-19, religious minorities have suffered immensely. Can we ensure that our future discussions on trade cover fully and frankly our concerns on freedom of religion or belief and wider human rights?
My hon. Friend has done superb work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion and belief. He references the Truro report, which was set up by the previous Foreign Secretary. Its overall approach is very much endorsed by this Government. He also draws reference to his time as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan, when I worked with him very closely. The GSP-plus scheme will be rolled over into a UK scheme. Obviously, that will include key human rights obligations, including freedom of religion and expression.
UK-US Free Trade Agreement
We have just commenced round 2 of trade negotiations with the United States. Talks so far have been positive and constructive, but I am absolutely clear that we will only sign up for a deal that benefits all parts of the UK and all sectors of the UK.
In the absence of any final agreement between Britain and the EU on trading arrangements beyond the end of this year, is it not impossible for the UK and the US to have a meaningful discussion about the extent to which the UK’s regulatory framework can diverge from the EU’s in any future trade deal? Does that not mean that the chances of actually getting a deal with the US done and through Congress before the November election are virtually nil?
Let me be absolutely clear that we have not set a timetable for completion of the negotiations with the United States, because we are concentrating on getting a good deal rather than meeting any particular negotiation timetable. I am afraid that the hon. Lady is absolutely wrong with respect to the EU, because we have been clear that we are not aligned with EU regulations. We have our own independent regulatory regime and we are negotiating with all our trading partners, whether the US, Australia, New Zealand or Japan, on that basis.
The Government have repeatedly promised this House and the British public that they are committed to non-regression on food standards. However, there is great concern over a number of practices in the US that are currently banned in the UK, such as the widespread use of antibiotics to increase growth in animals. As the Government approach their negotiations on a trade deal with the US, does the Secretary of State accept that it is time to put that commitment to non-regression on food standards into law?
Support for Small Businesses and the Self-Employed
I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the unprecedented support for businesses and workers, including small businesses and the self-employed, that this Conservative Government have put in place. SMEs are the backbone of our economy and will be at the heart of the Department’s new export strategy as our response to covid-19.
Do the Government recognise that, aside from covid-19, one of the biggest threats to small businesses in the UK is reaching the end of the transition period with no trade deal? What assessment have they made of the number of SMEs in the UK that would go bust if faced with the toxic combination of covid-19 and a no-deal Brexit in December?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of SMEs. They need Government support to enter international markets, and that is why the DIT exists. We are not responsible for negotiation with the EU, but we are confident that we will reach a good deal with it. The Department is putting SME chapters in our trade deals with other countries. It is a pity that the Labour party opposes every trade agreement and continually shows its indifference to small business and enterprise, but I am looking to the hon. Gentleman, as he may be able to do what no others have done and lead the shadow Secretary of State away from being an enemy of business and towards supporting it, as he does.
Free Trade Agreements: UK Car Manufacturers
The automotive industry will see more change in the next 10 years than it is seen in the past 100. That is why we are investing so heavily in research and development to ensure that the UK industry can be a global leader in clean transport. Lowering trade barriers is an essential step in attracting further investment and allowing the industry to thrive at a time of unprecedented change.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association say that a UK-Japan agreement would greatly benefit economic prosperity in the UK and Japan. What opportunities for the sector does the Minister see in future FTAs that would help businesses such as Ford UK, based in Basildon?
My hon. Friend and the SMMT are both right. Turkey—as well as Japan—is important, not least to Ford. We prize our trading relationship with Turkey and recognise how important Turkish supply chains are to our automotive manufacturers, including Ford of Britain. I am pleased to say that UK and Turkish officials are working hard to ensure that trading arrangements transition into a bilateral agreement at the end of the implementation period, and I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting, unlike the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), issues that will help prosperity, jobs and businesses in this country instead of posturing and posing for the benefit of the hard left.
UK Exports of Arms and Equipment
We assess all export licence applications on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. We draw on all available information, including reports from NGOs and our own overseas network. I can assure the hon. Lady that we will not license the export of equipment where to do so would be inconsistent with the consolidated criteria.
I thank the Minister for his response, but there is a worrying pattern here. Last year, the Secretary of State said that her Department had inadvertently allowed licences for arms destined for Saudi Arabia to use against Yemeni civilians. Now she has failed to answer the clear questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) regarding the export of riot control equipment to the US and its use against civilians involved in the Black Lives Matter protests. Is that because the Secretary of State has inadvertently allowed those exports, too, or does she simply not know what is happening in her own Department?
Not at all. The United Kingdom has issued licences to the United States in a number of different areas, and those have been provided in written answers to the shadow Secretary of State, but we continue to monitor developments in all countries, including the United States, very closely, and we are able to review licences, and suspend or revoke them as necessary, when circumstances require. That would be done in line with the consolidated criteria.
Arms export criteria state that licences should not be granted if
“there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression”.
In the light of the police in America using tear gas and rubber bullets, which may have been supplied by the UK, to attack Black Lives Matter protesters, will the Minister cancel licences involved in the arming of repression? On a technical point can he tell me whether tear gas equipment is covered by the open general export licence for the US-UK defence trade co-operation treaty?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I have just given. We will continue to monitor developments closely. We will review where necessary. On the technical points that she refers to, I welcome her probing question. We believe that criterion 2 is very important. It addresses the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination, and that is something that Her Majesty’s Government will certainly bear in mind as we review situations in the United States or elsewhere.
Free Trade Agreements: Human Rights
The UK has commenced trade negotiations with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The UK has a strong history of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally, and our strong economic relationships with like-minded trading partners allow the UK to open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights. We continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.
I thank the Minister for his response, but does he agree that the Government’s de-prioritisation of human rights in favour of trade has been exacerbated and highlighted by Brexit and has been part of a long-running trend dating back to the coalition Government? Pragmatism on human rights has been particularly clear when it comes to the promotion of trade, and there has been a conscious decision not to seek the inclusion of clauses relating to human rights in most of the post-Brexit agreements. The Government have listed 16 countries and trading blocs where negotiations are ongoing about rolling over existing EU trade deals beyond 31 December, so can the Minister tell us whether human rights are part of those discussions, and will he guarantee the inclusion—
Let us be absolutely clear: there has been no relaxation or watering down of the UK’s complete commitment to human rights. That is valid right across the Government, including in the Department for International Trade and in trade deals. The hon. Lady referred to the continuity EU agreements. Part of the issue there is that the Cotonou agreement itself is expiring. What we have sought to do is to ensure that the practical outcome of that element of the existing EU trade deal is maintained in the rolled-over deal. That applies to such things as the Andean agreement and other agreements that we have with developing-world countries, ensuring that human rights remain at the core of the agenda and that there is no watering down of the human rights commitments in existing trade agreements.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I begin by thanking the hon. Lady and welcoming this opportunity to respond to her question on the merger between DFID and the FCO. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced that they will merge to become the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I can tell the House that the process will start immediately and will be completed by September. Alongside this merger, Her Majesty’s trade commissioners will now report formally to the ambassadors and high commissioners in their respective countries. The Prime Minister will set the UK’s overall international strategy, through the National Security Council, and by integrating development policy with our diplomatic network, the UK will be following a similar model to that of some of our closest international partners, such as Australia and Canada.
This move is about placing our world-class aid programme at the beating heart of our foreign policy decision making. We will integrate the development expertise and know-how that DFID does so well with the diplomatic reach and clout of the Foreign Office, ensuring that our impact abroad is bigger than the sum of its parts. Far from diminishing our ambitions, it will elevate them. As the Prime Minister set out on Tuesday, we retain our commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development, but through closer integration, we will maximise the impact of our aid budget in helping the very poorest in the world, while making sure we get the very best value for taxpayers’ money.
For too long, we have indulged an artificial line, dividing the goals that our aid budget and foreign policy serve. This coronavirus crisis has confirmed just how artificial that line is. Across Whitehall, I have chaired the international ministerial group, bringing all relevant Departments together to support the most vulnerable countries exposed to covid-19; to energise our pursuit of a vaccine, working with our international partners; to return stranded British citizens from abroad; and to keep vital international supply chains open. In every one of these areas, we have been compelled to align our development, trade, security and wider foreign policy objectives. As in many a crisis, necessity has proven the mother of innovation. For example, at the GAVI vaccine summit, which the Prime Minister recently hosted, we smashed the target for vaccine funding, with $8.8 billion raised. That was a major success, where our development and foreign policy objectives had to be integrated to serve our dual aim of securing a vaccine for the British people, while making it accessible for the most vulnerable people, right across the world. Likewise we are working to bolster the health systems and institutional resilience of the most vulnerable countries, doing so not only out of a sense of moral responsibility, but to safeguard the UK from a potential second wave of the virus. I am afraid those demarcating a boundary between our national interests and our moral responsibilities in the world are mistaken. Covid has reinforced just how inextricably interwoven they are, just how much they reinforce each other and why we need to integrate them in our foreign policy decision making. It is to boost our impact and influence in the world, and that is exactly what we are doing.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister U-turned on free school meal vouchers for disadvantaged kids in England, only to stand at the Dispatch Box and cancel meals for the world’s poorest. UK aid reduces suffering. It is not some “cashpoint in the sky”; we will look to the £900,000 military plane makeover for that. DFID is a world leader. It is what global Britain is all about. No wonder the proposed merger with the Foreign Office has been roundly condemned by three former Prime Ministers.
We have to question why this merger is happening now, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, when our aid is needed most. Why is this happening prior to the integrated review? The Prime Minister insisted that massive consultation had taken place. Which non-governmental organisations were consulted? To my knowledge, none was. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that DFID employees only heard the news on social media? Were unions consulted? Can the Foreign Secretary commit to retaining all jobs, including the 200 EU nationals who work for DFID and those in East Kilbride? What assessment have the Government made of how much this will all cost?
Is the Secretary of State for International Development happy with this change? It is striking that she has as yet made no statement on the matter. It is almost as though the merger has taken place overnight. Will international development retain a Cabinet Minister and a seat on the National Security Council, so that humanitarian concerns are heard at the very top of government? The Government have committed to 0.7% of GNI on aid spending, but can the Foreign Secretary confirm that this will be overseen by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact? If not, how will the Foreign Office—poorly rated for official development assistance transparency—be held to account? Can the Government commit to maintaining the International Development Committee?
Can the Foreign Secretary guarantee that this will not open the door to tied aid? Do the Government have any intention to repeal or amend any legislation about international development, and if so, in what way? Do the Government intend to continue to use the Development Assistance Committee definition of aid, and if not, what definition will they use? Will the Government ensure that poverty reduction is central to our approach, and how is this consistent with the Prime Minister’s ambitions to take aid away from Zambia and give it to Ukraine?
Finally, what will happen to all new DFID projects, which reportedly have been paused, and will the Foreign Secretary have a say? How will this decision impact on current recipients of DFID’s spending? Will it impact on the UK’s Gavi commitments referenced by the Prime Minister, and will the Government commit to equitable access to covid-19 technologies?
I thank the hon. Lady. It is good to hear that she is championing global Britain, and I agree with her on her points about the centrality of UK aid to our foreign policy, including our soft power. I totally agree with her on that. Her instincts and ours are entirely aligned.
I have explained and set out in my answer to her question exactly why we are doing this now. Covid-19—the crisis, the challenge—has forced us to align and integrate more closely than we have done before, and that was a positive step, but it has also shown how much further we can go if we integrate the formal decision-making structures. The discussions about and consideration of this have been going on for several weeks and months, but it has been under debate for considerably longer.
The hon. Lady asked about the financial repercussions of the merger. Of course, there are opportunities to save administrative costs, but as we have made clear, there will be no compulsory redundancies or anything like that. We are committed to the 0.7% of GNI commitment, which is something she asked. I can give her reassurance about that. We want the aid budget and the development know-how and expertise that we have in DFID—it has done a fantastic job, including under respective Development Secretaries—at the beating heart of our international decision-making processes.
The hon. Lady asked about the Select Committee. It is ultimately, I believe, a matter for the House, but certainly the Government’s view is that normally the Select Committees would mirror Government Departments. However, as I say, that is a decision for the usual channels and, ultimately, for the House.
The hon. Lady then asked about the National Security Council. Ultimately, the Prime Minister leads the foreign policy of the day. He does that, in practical terms, through his chairmanship of the National Security Council. The role of Secretary of State for the new Department will be to make sure, in an integrated and aligned way, that aid is right at the heart, not just of the Foreign Office, but of Cabinet discussions and NSC discussions.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the Gavi summit. The Gavi summit is an exceptional example of why it makes sense to integrate our decision-making processes in this way, because it links our development means and goals with our wider foreign policy goals. We want a vaccine for the people of this country, but we also know, as a matter of moral responsibility but also good sensible foreign policy, that we must do more to uphold the most vulnerable countries and help them weather the crisis, so that we do not get a second wave of this crisis.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa has just come back from a virtual meeting on Yemen. Yemen is another exceptionally good example of where our foreign policy interests in bringing an end to that terrible conflict align with our development and aid goals—with trying to alleviate the humanitarian plight. I would hope that is something that Members in all parts of the House could get behind.
My right hon. Friend has already spoken about various opportunities. Will he please speak very clearly about the ethos of the international aid Department, and how much that ethos will be kept in the new structure? Because clearly Britain’s soft power really does rely on a fantastic team of people, who have done amazing work over the years to develop an independent and very powerful voice for the UK in standing up for the world’s poorest. Now I think that can be integrated with our politics; in fact, I think it is fundamental to our foreign policy that we champion both together, but clearly it does require maintaining those people, keeping that ethos and maintaining the morale of an amazing team.
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I know that he has looked at this very closely. We have discussed the integration of foreign policy on many occasions. That is absolutely essential, and I agree with him entirely that we want to keep not just the funding but the expertise, the know-how, the branding, the soft power—the elements that make the United Kingdom a development superpower—in the new structure. However, the reality is, and I thank him for his agreement on this, that we have an opportunity to do even better if we focus our aid and our foreign policy, and indeed, we are more aligned on trade and defence and wider security matters in a more focused way. That is the exciting opportunity that this merger allows, but I agree with him entirely on the point that he raised.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for her important urgent question.
“The effectiveness with which DFID is able to deliver aid is because the Department has decades of honed experience in understanding the most effective and targeted ways of spending taxpayers’ money”—[Official Report, 10 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 276.]
—not my words, but those of the Secretary of State for International Development, last week, who now appears to have simply been completely overruled.
Scrapping a Department that is crucial to global vaccine development provides health care and aids the world’s poorest in the middle of a global pandemic is irresponsible and counterproductive and wrong. The Government should be totally focused on steering our country through the challenges we face right now. We have had one of the highest death tolls from covid-19 in the world. Millions of children are out of school and face the worst unemployment crisis in a generation, which will hit young people and the lowest-paid the hardest; and these challenges are global, too.
Instead, the Prime Minister has decided to undertake a large-scale restructure, which will cost millions of pounds of public money, and he will abolish a Department that is the most transparent, the most effective and a global champion at delivering value for money for British taxpayers. Instead, UK aid will be spent through Departments, which, TaxPayers Alliance found,
“to poverty reduction or the national interest.”
So can the Foreign Secretary tell me: when did the Prime Minister decide this matter? Why did he not wait for the conclusion of the integrated review? Did the decision go through the National Security Council? Which civil society and development partners were consulted? How much will the reorganisation cost and what legislative changes are planned? Will the DFID budget be ring-fenced in the new Department?
The Foreign Secretary also mentioned trade envoys. What role now for the Department for International Trade? Multiple former Prime Ministers, from both sides of the House, have criticised the decision. A former Conservative Secretary of State for International Development said:
“Most British diplomats lack the experience and skills to manage 100 million pound development programs…Trying to pretend these two very different organisations are”
Laurie Lee, the chief executive of Care International, said,
“this is the worst decision on aid since the Pergau dam scandal”
“In the middle of a national crisis, the Prime Minister has chosen to spend time, focus and effort on fixing a problem which does not exist…it’s not too late…to think again.”
This is not global Britain. This retreat from the global stage is a mistake, and we firmly oppose this attempt to abolish the Department. It will not only have a life-threatening impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, but it will reduce our ability to make the world safer, fairer and better for all.
He is shaking his head before he receives the answer—I thought we were going to have a sensible debate about the pros and cons of this change. I listened carefully to what he said, so he might do me that courtesy in return. We had an integrated approach, and we brought the alignment as far as we conceivably could on covid, the repatriation of nationals, the hunt for a vaccine and keeping supply chains open. However, this situation has brought to light and made clear to us how much more effective we can be if we integrate through this merger.
The hon. Gentleman asked when the Prime Minister made the final decision. Obviously, he spent weeks considering it, but he announced the change on Tuesday, swiftly after the conclusions had been resolved. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the aid budget will be protected, and we are committed to the figure of 0.7% of gross national income—I think that reassures those who are concerned that somehow the aid budget will be cut as a result of this change, which is not true.
The hon. Gentleman asked about DIT and trade, and as the Prime Minister made clear on Tuesday, we will ensure that our trade envoys are responsible for formally reporting to ambassadors and high commissioners in their respective countries. More broadly, the International Trade Secretary, who answered questions in the House a few moments ago, is doing an exceptional job in striking those free trade deals, which are a great opportunity for businesses and consumers in this country. That will continue. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned third party support. There has been widespread agreement on this from the Chair of the Select Committee, from my predecessor as Foreign Secretary and from the HALO Trust, which is a charity that deals with landmines and welcomes this move.
I will leave the hon. Gentleman with one thought: of OECD developed countries, only one has a separate Ministry of Development. Indeed, the tide has been in the direction of integrating foreign policy with aid and development, as that is the progressive thing to do. I understand why the Labour party, which set up DFID, feels proprietorial about it, but what matters is the effectiveness of foreign policy. What we have learned during coronavirus is that this merger will ensure that we can be as effective as possible, and deliver more efficient value for taxpayers’ money.
In the past week, we have seen three changes to the machinery of government, including the merger of the FCO and DFID. All those moves are designed to maximise our resources, as we reignite and re-establish the UK’s global position. To continue that restructuring and make it even more comprehensive, particularly with the trade commissioners reporting to the ambassadors, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to support our business export activities, by eventually bringing the Department for International Trade into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office? Surely that would now make sense.
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her expertise and experience in this area. We are not proposing to integrate DIT into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but through the structure with trade envoys we want to maximise our impact in those countries where we are seeking to liberalise, free up and open up greater access for British businesses and British exports.
The decision to abolish the Department for International Development and rechannel funds for eradicating global poverty to further diplomatic and commercial interests is unforgivable, particularly amid a global pandemic. The last three Prime Ministers opposed this merger, as does every development organisation that has been in touch, and the SNP. Today, the International Development Secretary is not even present to answer any questions. Will the Foreign Secretary say whether the Cabinet was consulted? Were international development organisations consulted, and which, if any, supported this decision?
How will aid spending be scrutinised in the new Department? Will the UK continue to follow the Development Assistance Committee definition of official development assistance, or will the Government try to redefine aid on their own terms? Finally, today we learned that one of the UK Government’s recent Secretaries of State would like the HMS Royal Yacht Britannia to be funded on the back of the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised people in the world. Is the royal family even aware of that? Is it not the case that such a move is led not by a vision of global Britain, but by the myopic Prime Minister of “let them eat cake” Britain?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive and measured response to this proposal. He asked a series of serious questions, and it is incumbent on me to respond to them. He asked about protecting the aid budget. We have made clear that we remain committed to 0.7% of GNI. He asked about consultation. Of course, there were discussions across government about this, and it has been looked at closely. The Prime Minister had indicated, with the establishment of joint Ministers across the FCO and DFID, that we wanted to take steps down this path to further integration. As I mentioned in my previous responses, what has really focused our minds is what we have learnt in coming through the challenge of coronavirus on the international level.
The hon. Gentleman asked about third-party support. The former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has welcomed it. My right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) has welcomed it. The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has welcomed it. He said that no NGOs did, but I can quote James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust, a landmine clearance charity, who said that he welcomes this decision because UK policy
“is very siloed… and needs to be broken down”
and brought together. We certainly endorse that. Aid policy and the aid budget will be at the centre—it will be the beating heart—of our international decision-making.
Will my right hon. Friend consider using overseas aid to create a large-scale, nationwide voluntary overseas apprentice scheme, sending young people overseas to work with charities and businesses to help developing countries but also develop the skills that they need?
I thank my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Education Committee, who always manages to get apprenticeships into every question he asks with fantastic zeal and enthusiasm. I share his passion. I would be very interested to look at any suggestions he had. One of our priorities is ensuring that every young girl can have a quality education at least up to the age of 12, and that is a good example of where we want to maximise, strengthen and reinforce development policy within our wider international agenda.
This rushed merger was done without consultation with the sector, Parliament, staff or the staff trade unions, at a time when the global south is about to be hit by a global pandemic. The Government urgently need to clarify the implications of the merger on the 3,600 DFID staff. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Prime Minister that there needs to be an ODA Select Committee? Is he committed to the Conservative Independent Commission for Aid Impact? Can he confirm that existing DFID projects will continue and funding agreements will remain in place, and what will happen to the current review of DFID projects?
I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Lady does in this area. I do not think it is right to say that we are having no scrutiny. I am here before the Chamber, the Prime Minister has made a statement to the House, and we want to continue that as we go through this process. She asked about accountability. Of course, we want maximum accountability for not just the process but the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in terms of the structures that apply to it and here in the House of Commons.
I have already answered the question about the Select Committee. Our view is that, in the normal course, it is right for Select Committees to mirror Government Departments, but ultimately that is a matter for the House. There is a huge opportunity in this process to leverage the very best of our aid—not just money but ethos, passion and commitment—with the muscle and clout that comes with our diplomatic network, and that is what we are committed to delivering.
As the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare, the interconnectedness of the modern world means that no one is safe until we are all safe. The UK’s commitment to international development is even more vital in the response to covid-19 at home and abroad. The sudden merging of DFID and the FCO and the absence of any parliamentary scrutiny or consultation means that we must focus on the quality of aid now spent through the Foreign Office. Can the Foreign Secretary give the House a commitment that the aid budget will not be tilted towards richer countries like Ukraine and that we will continue to spend at least 50% of aid in the least developed countries? Can he give a yes or no answer to this: will there be a retaining of a Cabinet Minister responsible for international development—not the Prime Minister—with a place on the National Security Council, so that humanitarian and development considerations are heard at the top of government?
I share the hon. Lady’s passion and commitment in this area. We have made the commitment to 0.7% of gross national income. We will discuss and scrutinise all the questions around accountability and the structure of the new body. Aid will be represented not just in foreign policy but in the NSC and at the Cabinet table by the Secretary of State for the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—that would obviously be me—and the Prime Minister will oversee it through the NSC, which he chairs.
First, will the Secretary of State confirm that claims that this merger will take money from the world’s poorest are simply false? Secondly, will he say whether this is a one-off move or part of a programme to give greater coherence and integration to British overseas policy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In fact, I wanted to say in relation to the previous question that we are absolutely committed not just to safeguarding and protecting but to improving the work we do to help and lift out of poverty the most vulnerable and the poorest around the world. My hon. Friend asked whether this was a process. I think we are on a process of further integration, but our current plans are the ones that we have announced, and we are very focused on making sure we get maximum effectiveness out of this merger.
Approximately 600 jobs in the Department for International Development in East Kilbride in my constituency may be placed at risk by the shocking Government plans announced this week—shocking to staff, who found out just a few hours before the announcement, and shocking to the international community. They have caused considerable anxiety for local staff and all their families, who have been contacting me. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss these crucial issues for my constituency and to guarantee that those highly skilled DFID jobs will remain in East Kilbride?
First, may I give the hon. Lady the reassurance she needs that the office in her constituency will not be closed? Is it not fantastic to have an SNP Member of this House asking for and giving value to the work that the United Kingdom Government do in Scotland, both domestically and around the world? We welcome her support in that regard.
I had the privilege of being a merged Minister in both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, and I could see how well our embassies and high commissions worked across Africa presenting a “one UK” face to the world. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure me on three points: first, that he will be a strong voice in Cabinet for the world’s poorest and most dispossessed; secondly, that the proportion of the aid budget that is spent in the poorest and most conflict-affected countries will continue to be significant and at least where it is now; and thirdly, that he will prioritise the campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the fantastic job she did. It is hard to believe but we do believe we can do even better by integrating, through this merger, the aid and foreign policy functions. She asked three specific questions; it is a yes on all three counts. Indeed, one of the first things I did yesterday was speak to Professor Paul Collier, one of a number of experts in the field, to look at how we can maximise our aid effort alongside our foreign policy, our trade and our wider international security objectives.
For 20 years, since the success of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, there has been a consensus across the House about the importance of international development, and I commend the Churches in particular for delivering and establishing that consensus. I deeply regret that this downgrade is bringing it to an end. Does the Foreign Secretary recognise how many people in the UK profoundly disagree with his claim and believe there is a profound difference between focusing on doing good in the world—tackling poverty and dealing with the climate crisis—and what he and his colleagues regard as our own national interests?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He is one of those Members of this House I always listen to with great care and interest, and he has a track record on these issues as well as on financial issues and many others. I made this point in my opening remarks that we have to be careful about this artificial dividing line between what serves our moral sense of duty and what serves a harder, grittier perception of the national interest. I think that that is an artificial dividing line. I believe in a sense of moral self-interest, an enlightened self-interest, and if he looks at what we are doing on vaccines at the Gavi summit, he will see that that will crystallise the opportunity for us to do things that serve the people of this country, by securing a vaccine, while helping the most vulnerable in the world.
Britain is not alone in unifying its foreign policy, so does my right hon. Friend agree that we can learn from countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which run well-respected and well-funded development programmes from their Foreign Ministries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is perhaps one of the reflections of the debate in this country that very little attention is paid to the fact that of the OECD countries, there is only one now with a separate Ministry for Development. Indeed, the trend since 2009 has all been in the opposite direction—in Belgium, Australia, and Canada. The zeitgeist and the progressive thing to do is to bring together those functions to ensure that they have maximum impact together.
The Pergau dam aid for arms scandal under the Conservative Government more than 25 years ago exposed the dangers of tying aid to foreign policy. Indeed, in 1994, in a landmark judgment, aid for Pergau was declared unlawful. Is the Foreign Secretary fully confident that there is no danger at all of history repeating itself?
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making. It is a perfectly respectable one, but the world has moved on, policy has moved on, and accountability and governance have moved on since the 1980s. Of course we are in a different place. I pay tribute to all the work that DFID has done since 1997. I understand why the Government, through that period, thought it was right as of and in its time. The best way now, the progressive way now, to integrate foreign policy with aid and development is to bring those functions together, and that is where most of the developing countries—indeed almost all of them—have gone.
Departmental fragmentation is a very real problem in government, which is why I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend. This Government’s commitment to international aid is, of course, enshrined in law. How will he ensure that social justice programmes, such as those that he has already talked about, including 12 years of quality education for girls, which has been championed by the Prime Minister, continue to receive the priority they need within a much more complex framework?
I thank my right hon. Friend and former Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. Of course she will know from the equalities agenda how easy it is for cross-cutting issues to fall between the cracks of individual Government Departments. We remain absolutely committed, and she will know that I am personally committed, to our campaign to ensure that there are 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, not just as a matter of moral duty but because it is one of the best levers to raise poverty in those countries. I also cite COP26 and climate change as another example of where we need to bring together our domestic ambitions and our international ambitions across the board and unite our diplomatic muscle and leverage with our development goals.
The spread of covid-19 has pushed half a billion people into poverty and 265 million to the brink of starvation. This merger is a massive distraction in the middle of an emergency. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that official development assistance will not be misspent on foreign security projects, which risk the UK contributing to human rights abuses abroad?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she takes a very close interest in this matter. In relation to conflict situations in particular—I have mentioned Yemen, but I can think of other situations around the world—integrating the aid and development budget and policy is the way that we will get a coherent approach, which not only brings the conflict to an end and alleviates the humanitarian crisis, but is the best vehicle for protecting human rights sustainably.
In my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, may I say that that our best high commissions around the world, such as that in Abuja, already work on an integrated basis? Does not this merger merely justify what is already happening on the ground?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, we are taking advantage of those officials—I have asked Nic Hailey to head up some of this work in the Foreign Office, as he has experience in Kenya doing exactly what my hon. Friend described in Nigeria—to help us knit together the aid, the development and the wider foreign policy functions. It is misplaced, but I understand why, to think that these functions, including the international security functions in those countries, should remain siloed. The most effective way, with the highest impact, is to bring them together.
For the past two decades, the world has witnessed the impact of DFID’s life-saving investments in the HIV response and the wider global health arena. That critical UK global leadership on HIV, health and international development must not be squandered at a time when years of progress are already at risk of being unravelled. How does the Secretary of State believe this level of focus will be achieved in an already overstretched FCO?
The hon. Gentleman raises exactly the point at issue. We want to maximise our focus and funding, but also our political effort, on those key priorities and ensure that we are delivering with the very highest impact. HIV and some of the other ground-breaking areas where we have helped to reduce disease, malnourishment and poverty are absolutely a top priority in the new administrative structures.
This important and necessary change provides the crystal clear clarity of purpose needed to boost and bolster global Britain. Our commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid is enshrined in law. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe it to the people of our nation and the many we help across the world to make the best use of every penny?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is exactly what this merger is all about. Ultimately, it is not about the institutional mechanics, but about the strategic objectives and ensuring that foreign policy, aid and our wider international objectives are brought together and that we demonstrate at home and abroad—in all the areas he described—that we are bigger than the sum of our parts.
“some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 670.]
That is how the Prime Minister describes aid to the poorest and most exploited nations and people in the globe. In a Spectator article, he previously mocked such aid as “politically correct”, with aid workers building toilets that people will end up living in and handing out condoms. In the same article, he said of British colonialism in Africa:
“The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”
Is it not the brutal truth that the Prime Minister is not interested in poverty reduction at home or abroad?
No; after all that bluff and bluster, there is really only a one-word answer. Look at what this Prime Minister did when he was Foreign Secretary—his commitment to making sure every girl has 12 years’ education; the passion that he has brought to the COP26 agenda—a conference that we will host; his commitment to making sure that we promote media freedom throughout the world, as well as all those wider aid and development functions. This is someone who has direct experience of foreign policy and knows, as I understand, that we can maximise our impact in all those areas where we share aspirations and objectives right across the House and that we can get better results for the people we are trying to help across the world, but also for taxpayers’ money in this country.
I very much welcome this merger, which is good for global Britain, good for aid beneficiaries and good for our ability to explain and advocate international development among a generally sceptical population. Can the Foreign Secretary say, however, what the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s role will be in the merged Department? Also, since DFID’s terms and conditions of service for its staff tend to be rather better than those for Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff and diplomats, will there be a levelling up or a levelling down?
May I thank my right hon. Friend and say what a fantastic Minister he was in the Foreign Office? I worked very closely with him and he was exceptional. He will know from his brilliant work on Yemen the importance of bringing together conflict resolution foreign policy objectives with the aid and development budget and programme that we have been delivering. We will come forward with the details he described as soon as practical so that this House can scrutinise them, but I can certainly tell him that we will want to maintain, if not increase, maximum scrutiny over the aid budget and the functioning of this merger.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer to the urgent question. This move mirrors similar situations in countries such as Australia, with its well respected Aussie Aid. In the merger of the FCO and DFID, what importance will be attached to the provision of sexual and reproductive health rights and family planning as a key component of ODA going forward?
May I thank my hon. Friend and say what a fantastic Minister she was for the Asia-Pacific region? She will know first hand what can be done when we combine all the resources, expertise and efforts right across government in the international sphere. On the public health goals she mentions, we will not be diluting or dimming the development goals in any way, shape or form.
The reorganisation of Government Departments is day-to-day business; what we object to is the explicit and deliberate politicisation of international aid. Will the Foreign Secretary at least commit to meeting the international development non-government organisations to discuss, for the first time, implementing this selfish vanity project in the least bad way possible?
The hon. Gentleman talks about not politicising and then he comes up with a comment like that. Of course, we will look very carefully. We understand—I want to be clear about this—why NGOs are not universally, shall we say, welcoming this merger. Over £1 billion goes into NGOs’ budgets every year from the aid budget, so I understand why they take a very close interest. I have given the reassurance that we are retaining the 0.7% commitment. Ultimately, in the last analysis, we have to ensure that our policy and taxpayers’ money is brought together and invested in a way that can deliver the most effective results for the strategic objectives of alleviating poverty for the most vulnerable and delivering on climate change and on the wider international agenda that we on the Conservative Benches passionately support.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa, I would like to put on record my view that the takeover of DFID by the FCO will undermine Britain’s influence in Africa, not enhance it. Diplomacy is not development. Diplomacy must and should be driven by British interests. Development must be seen to be in the interests of the country concerned. DFID benefited from not being seen as an arm of British foreign policy. Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to confirm that this takeover will not lead to a reduction in the proportion of aid that goes to Africa?
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Lady, but I respect her view. I actually think that Africa—we mentioned Nigeria and Kenya as two examples—is an area where we really need to bring together, in one united, forged effort, development, aid and foreign policy objectives in conflict zones. I started my career as a war crimes lawyer—I worked in the FCO—and I saw the risk of having a shadow aid foreign policy at the time of conflict resolution. Bringing those things together will lead not only to a more effective aid and development set of objectives, but to more effective foreign policy. I think that will be at its highest and greatest in Africa.
Having spent time with DFID teams around the globe, I was initially concerned when I heard about the merger. However, they always worked positively and I believe we should, too. I therefore wish my right hon. Friend well in looking after the aid budget. I know that he believes in social justice and results, so I trust him to do so. As I am sitting next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), may I ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure that we deliver value for money with our aid budget?
I agree with everything my hon. Friend says. He mentions our right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. I pay tribute to the incredible work he did at DFID. We are absolutely committed, with even more passion and even more zeal, to those objectives, while at the same time, as my hon. Friend rightly says, making sure we can deliver the best bang for our buck with British taxpayers’ money. The best way to do that is in a co-ordinated and integrated way. That is what the merger will achieve.
After failing to consult the Cabinet let alone the sector, does the takeover not spell the end of collective responsibility and transparency and show us that it is not the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister in charge but another Dominic—and he has got to go?
I had thought we were on the cusp of a very serious question but it descended into political cut and thrust. Actually, what we are really focused on, and what this crisis has proved, is that necessity is the mother of innovation and invention. We have to try to drive greater effectiveness not just domestically as we tackle coronavirus but in our international effort, and that is what we are focused on.
I welcome the merger for all the benefits of co-ordination and synergy that it promises. Can the Foreign Secretary please confirm that it will also come with a more comprehensive strategy for combining all the multiple threads of soft and hard power?
We have of course taken this merger decision now because we can see that we need to be as effective as we possibly can be during this coronavirus challenge. Equally, it will help to galvanise the integrated view that will bring into play all the wider security factors that my hon. Friend mentioned.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 22 June will include:
Monday 22 June—Second Reading of the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 23 June—Remaining stages of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, followed by motions relating to the establishment of an independent expert panel to consider cases raised under the independent complaints and grievance scheme.
Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 June—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a debate on a petition relating to the recognition and reward for health and social care workers, followed by a debate on a petition relating to the support for UK industries in response to covid-19. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Petitions Committee.
Friday 26 June—The House is not expected to be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. Let me start by sending my condolences to Dame Vera Lynn’s family and friends. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] The Queen mentioned some of the songs that we all know: we will all meet again someday.
I thank the Leader of the House for allotting another Opposition day. Obviously, we will be dealing with highly topical subjects. I do not know what we have done to deserve another day, but we may yet force another U-turn, as we did through our “Holidays Without Hunger” campaign. He has not announced the recess dates and it is important for us to know them, as well as details of the business, as we are keen to get on with the legislative programme that he says he wants to get on with. Mention has also been made of a mini-Budget in September, and it will be useful to know when the Session will end—whether it is to be in November or in May.
Can the Leader of the House say when the Intelligence and Security Committee will be set up? It looks as though the Government are either hiding something or incompetent—perhaps it is both.
The Environment Bill is in Committee and is apparently due to report on 25 June. The shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary has said that about 18 sittings have to be completed, so I wonder whether the Leader of the House could enlighten the House on that.
“it’s reign of terror now and, inevitably, reign of error next”.
Those were the words of Tim Montgomerie, lately of the Leader of the House’s parish. It seems that we are already into the reign of error, because shop workers, who have worked their socks off, keeping us all in food, and who have been so polite and helpful, may be asked to work extra hours on Sunday—that is cruel. We are opposed to that, and I hope the Leader of the House will do a Marcus Rashford and work with the Opposition to make sure the Government do a U-turn on that. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has just done a survey, finding that 92% of shop workers oppose the move and two thirds of them feel they are under pressure when they are asked to work on a Sunday.
What about the reign of error on school meals? That went right to the wire. The Government were going to vote against us until it went right to the wire; the shadow Secretary of State for Education was about to stand up and then she had to admit that the Government had done a U-turn.
Again on the reign of error, not one but three former Prime Ministers think that the Prime Minister is wrong. I do not know whether the Leader of the House heard what the Prime Minister said:
“it is no use a British diplomat one day going in to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent and to do something for democracy in his country, if the next day another emanation of the British Government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250 million.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 674.]
That shows that the Prime Minister does not understand international development.
We can look at international development, first, as reparation for former colonialism. It goes to organisations on the ground. It is about education and health, and economic development. It provides support to people in their own countries so that they do not feel that they have to leave their countries to search for a better life somewhere else. Most importantly, it gives people hope and it was the right thing to do. I know that the Foreign Secretary said that we are following Australia and Canada, but we in Britain lead; we do not follow. I want to say thank you to Jan Thompson, the acting high commissioner in India, for bringing back all my stranded constituents. She is a diplomat; she is not dealing with international development. It is diplomats who are involved in freeing Nazanin, freeing Anoosheh and freeing Kylie, who, if reports are correct, has been beaten because she has started a choir. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find out about that. May we have a statement, not just an urgent question granted by Mr Speaker, from the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on exactly how the Department will be set up? This is chaos and incompetence, without any idea for the infrastructure of the machinery of government.
Another machinery of government change was slipped out in a written statement last week. Apparently, border controls are now in the Cabinet Office. It seems that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wants to wear a uniform and a cap so that he can count people in and count people out. But, really, are we to have border controls in the Cabinet Office? We need an urgent statement on what that is going to look like.
We see the reign of error again in the chaotic and incompetent policy announcement on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Prime Minister obviously does not trust any of his Ministers to do the work, but for those who cannot remember, it was a Labour Government in 1976 who put through the Race Relations Act and the Commission for Racial Equality, which said:
“We work for a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued. We use both persuasion and our powers under the law to give everyone an equal chance to live free from fear, discrimination, prejudice and racism.”
Those of a younger generation who do not think they face racism—it is because we had the Commission for Racial Equality, which changed society.
The Government have to stop dragging the BBC into politics. They know that the over-75s commitment was made by political parties. The BBC has educated, informed and entertained us through this lockdown. The Government must do the right thing in the middle of this crisis and fund the free television licences.
Last week, I missed our Chief Whip’s birthday. I want to put on record his fantastic record. It was on Saturday, the same day as the Queen’s official birthday. He has served five leaders over four decades, and two Prime Ministers, and we thank him for all his work, and also thank Sir Patrick Duffy, formerly of this place, as Member for Colne Valley and for Sheffield, Attercliffe. He is 100. He published his autobiography at 94, and the title is “Growing up Irish in Britain and British in Ireland and in Washington, Moscow, Rome and Sydney”. Sir Patrick, I am sure the whole House wishes you a very happy birthday.
I agree with the right hon. Lady that the whole House sends its condolences to Dame Vera Lynn’s family. She sang uplifting tunes that ensured the nation’s morale was good at a time of desperation. It is noticeable that when we had a difficult time recently, it is once again her words that our sovereign reached for. We look forward to “bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover” as we get blue passports back, so as people come in they will be looking for bluebirds waving their blue passports. We commemorate and remember her for the great contribution she made to boosting the nation’s resolve and morale.
I appreciate the right hon. Lady’s gratitude for Opposition days. I always do my best to ensure that there is contentment on the Opposition Benches. In that spirit, may I add to the celebratory comments about the Opposition Chief Whip’s birthday and his service to Parliament, for which I think he has a genuine commitment and love? I think that has been good news for how this place has operated in some, although not necessarily in all, ways, because he is also a very effective party politician. [Interruption.] I am in favour of effective party politicians. I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. There is no criticism in that; it is part of making a democracy work.
Recess dates are always subject to the progress of parliamentary business and that remains the case. As soon as I can bring an update to the House, I will do so. The Environment Bill is an important Bill. Obviously, because there were no Public Bill Committees during the period when we were entirely hybrid, there have been delays. It would be very unlikely for it to be out of Committee at the date currently proposed.
I am very glad the right hon. Lady welcomes the Government policy on free school meals. The Government are a Government who listen, and that is quite right. It is very odd that the Labour party should come late to a party asking for something, and then when the Government give it, complain that the Government have given it. I do not really see the logic in that. I think the Government have done absolutely the right thing.
As regards the merger of DFID and the Foreign Office, this is an absolutely brilliant policy. It is one that commands support across the country, because it is putting British interests first. It was not from this Dispatch Box, but from a Dispatch Box in a very similar place—it had to be replaced after the damage caused by the bomb—that Lord Palmerston pointed out that we have eternal interests. Our nation’s interests must be served by the structures of government, and that is what is being done. We must ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent, and taxpayers have a right to demand that their money is used carefully.
The Prime Minister has been here to make a statement to the House. You, Mr Speaker, rightly keep Her Majesty’s Government on their toes when announcements are not made to this House, and sometimes they creep out at press briefings, which is something you deprecate, but when the Prime Minister comes and makes the statement to this House, does he get the laurels that he deserves—the paeans of praise that should come to him? No, not at all; we get grumbling, moaning and complaining that it is not enough. It has to be said that some people can never be satisfied.
The right hon. Lady called for a uniform for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; I can tell her that as Lord President of the Council, I am entitled to a uniform but, as I understand it, the uniform has not been worn by any Lord President since the coronation of George V. I therefore do not intend to resurrect that ancient tradition. [Interruption.] I do not have the uniform and nor will I be seeking to get the uniform. I do believe that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is entitled to have a flag on his official car, but I understand that that practice has also fallen into disuse.
The right hon. Lady referred to the Government’s commitment to racial equality, which is a very important subject. It was clear in our manifesto that we will ensure that Britain is a fairer society and tackle racial and ethnic inequalities where they exist. The new commission has been set up to have a fresh and positive approach to try to ensure that we have as fair a society as we possibly can. The seriousness with which the Government take the issue is shown by the seniority of the person put in charge of the commission, working from Downing Street.
Finally, the right hon. Lady questioned whether the BBC was being brought into politics. It is noticeable that it is the left that likes to see much higher funding for the BBC; I wonder why that is.
May we have an urgent debate on aviation, for two reasons? First, because many of us want to express our support for BA staff, who are currently having a very difficult time with their management; we need to stand up for them. Secondly, because the 14-day quarantine in aviation is such a good policy that it needs rapid improvement to air bridges or testing. We need to get the aviation industry going and those two issues need fully to be discussed in the House.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important question. Many of us represent constituents who have worked for British Airways and given long service over many years, and there are concerns about the way that they have been treated. This matter has quite rightly been brought before the House under an urgent question, and I think could be debated next week in the Petitions Committee debate relating to support for UK industries in response to covid-19. The matter clearly comes under that heading, so the debate will be available.
I note the point that my hon. Friend makes about the quarantine regulations, which of course are for a period and will be reviewed. The issue of safe countries is being looked at, as the Foreign Secretary said on the wireless this morning.
First, may we have a debate on how the fiscal framework within which the devolved national Administrations operate should be changed to improve their capacity to deal with the current pandemic and its aftermath?
To date, the Scottish Government have spent more than £4 billion on covid-19. Most of it will be funded through Barnett consequentials, but several hundred million has had to be diverted from other priority spending. For the UK Government, that would not be a problem, as they can overspend if necessary and borrow unlimited amounts to cover the cost. Neither of those options is available to the Scottish Government under the fiscal framework. I hope the Leader of the House will agree that when the framework was devised, no one had in mind the need to cope with a crisis on this scale. On Tuesday, four out of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament united behind a call for additional fiscal responsibilities. Their motivation was practical, not ideological. When can we discuss this Parliament’s response to that call?
Sticking with responses to coronavirus, we have discussed previously how the crisis sadly brings out the worst in some people, and we now hear that companies such as BA are intending, under cover of the pandemic, to execute mass redundancies and then hire back fewer people on worse pay and conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has launched a Bill, with cross-party support, to outlaw such Dickensian employment practices. It would be an easy matter—would it not?—for the Government either to make time to discuss that Bill or to bring forward proposals of their own.
Finally, I return to the matter of voting during the current emergency. It seems the Government are determined to do just about anything to stop Members voting remotely, including introducing new technology, as we have seen this week. Why do they not stop messing about and do the common sense thing by switching the e-voting system back on: a tried and tested system that not only allows Members who cannot attend to vote but makes it much safer for those who are on the premises?