House of Commons
Thursday 3 September 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 2 September).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Business Engagement
This Government are committed to engaging business and farmers in our trade negotiations. Last Wednesday, I announced the creation of 11 new trade advisory groups to ensure that trade deals benefit the whole UK, from agriculture to the car industry.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. In my Bridgend constituency, the Ford factory is imminently to close and we hear that we may not be getting a much hoped for investment from Ineos, so our local economy is more dependent on small and medium-sized enterprises than ever before. What steps is her Department taking to engage with SMEs in particular to find out what they need as we negotiate free trade agreements with the rest of the world?
We have engaged with SMEs directly, and we are also working through organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce. What we are committed to is negotiating dedicated SME chapters in our trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan to give our fantastic small businesses greater access to those markets.
I am sorry not to be able to be in the Chamber in person. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is listening to British business, and I hope that she will listen to the millions of British workers and consumers who have an equal right to be heard when it comes to trade. With that in mind, may I ask her a simple, factual question: of the 162 individuals that she announced last week will be members of her new trade advisory groups, will she tell us how many of them represent trade unions, consumer groups or non-governmental organisations?
The right hon. Lady will be very pleased to hear that we will shortly be announcing new groups—the strategic trade advisory group, as well as groups consulting civil society and the trade unions—and that is the way that we will engage those organisations in our trade negotiations. I have already had meetings with environmental groups and with trade unions, and I am committed to continuing to do that.
The question really is: why do those groups really not merit being part of the trade advisory group, because of the 162 advisers that she has appointed, there is not a single person from a union, a consumer group or an NGO. Perhaps more important than anything else is that also excluded from the Secretary of State’s new advisory groups is the CBI, which previously sat on a group advising Ministers on continuity of trade for UK firms post Brexit—a group that has met nine times in the past year alone. Will the Secretary of State tell us why the CBI has been totally excluded, and why has the advisory group on continuity after Brexit now been totally disbanded?
We are reformulating the new strategic advisory group, which will contain some large business representative organisations alongside civil society groups, and we will be announcing that in due course. None the less, there is a difference between the detailed consultation that we need to undergo on the specifics of trade negotiation—for example, rules of origin for specific industries—and then the broader strategic advice on our trade policy. It is right that we are consulting the trade unions, the environmental groups and organisations such as the CBI on that broader strategy as well, and we will be announcing that in due course. The hon. Lady will not have to wait much longer.
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Food and Farming
We have established an agrifood trade advisory group to ensure that farmers and food producers are involved in the details of our negotiations. We have also launched the Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise and inform on agriculture, trade policies and export opportunities for UK farmers.
Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Speaker.
We are either facing a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit and, as a result, food and farming have taken on really great importance. It is an issue that has caused near meltdown for the new and already failing Tory leaders in Scotland, with the National Farmers Union, Scotland, giving them the yellow card for being misleading and leaving farmers fuming. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to ease farmers’ anger and consumers’ anxiety and state categorically that there will be no changing of food standards or any compromise whatsoever in any trade deal on the high standards of the food that now goes on our supermarket shelves?
NFU Scotland is not just fuming: it is telling us that that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives is misrepresenting its position. The reality is that the Scottish NFU is clear in its view that it wants the Trade Bill amended to ban food imports not produced to UK standards. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she is at least listening to NFU Scotland, even if she does not agree with it, and will she tell the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) to give a true account of the NFU’s views?
My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) is a huge champion of Scottish farming and the Scotch whisky industry, and I am working extremely closely with him. I am also working very closely with NFU Scotland, and it is involved in the Trade and Agriculture Commission. The fundamental principle of our trade policy is that we will not allow our fantastic farmers, whether in Scotland, Wales, Wales or Northern Ireland, and their great produce to be undermined. What we want them to be doing is exporting more around the world.
During the passage of the Trade Bill, farmers via the NFU and others, including doctors via the British Medical Association, expressed deep concerns that food standards in future trade deals could be under threat, allowing in, for example, vegetables from the US, where 72 chemicals are allowed that are currently banned in the UK. Given that the Government refused to legislate in the Trade Bill to stop the lowering of standards, how will the Secretary of State respond in her engagement with farmers to ensure that that will not happen in future?
In the EU withdrawal Act, all the import standards that we had as part of the EU have been transposed into UK law. Those import standards remain, and we will not be negotiating them away in any trade agreement. Furthermore, we have the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which is specifically involving organisations such as NFU Scotland, to ensure that British farmers get a fair deal and British consumers have products that they can have confidence in.
All that answer confirms is that there are no legislative protections in the Trade Bill and that MPs will have no say in any future trade deal except for potentially a “take it or leave it” choice after the negotiations are concluded. Given that Which? tells us that 95% of the public want to maintain current food standards, why do this Government continue to rule out real legislative protections in a trade Bill that would accord with the views of our farmers, our doctors and the general public?
These standards, such as the ban on chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, are already in UK law as part of the EU withdrawal Act. I have been explicit: it is not a matter for trade policy; it is a matter for our domestic law what standards we have in this country, and we are not trading it away, so it should not be part of any trade Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) speaks from a sedentary position. I do not think that it is the Government’s job to legislate twice for things that are already in legislation.
The standards governing infant formula in the UK are far higher than those in the US. Will the Secretary of State take steps to protect our youngest citizens from the additional sugars and colourants permitted in the United States but banned here?
Any product that is sold in the UK has to be subject to the rules of the UK. Those standards are set by Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in England and Wales, and those rules will not be changed as part of any trade deal with anyone, whether the US, Australia, New Zealand or Japan.
UK Exporters: Covid-19
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of exporters to the country’s economic recovery from covid. My Department is working closely with business to develop a new export strategy, deliver bounce-back plans for key sectors, sign free trade agreements with countries covering 80% of our trade, strengthen our regional teams to level up exporting success and challenge market access barriers whenever and wherever in the world they are found.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting UK Export Finance. It had its 100th anniversary last year and it is repeatedly voted the best export finance agency in the world. It has a range of products and trade experts across the four UK nations and in key locations globally—we have increased that number—making it ideally positioned to support UK exporters and their overseas customers during the pandemic. UKEF, as well as having an established and successful roster of products, is addressing the emerging needs of UK exporters and has come forward with new products, most notably recently the export development guarantee, which provides general working capital and capex to support the operations of eligible exporters, following a successful pilot. I am delighted to say that UKEF has so far provided EDG support to both Jaguar Land Rover and Ford Britain worth £500 million each, and more is in the pipeline, not least for small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Minister will know that businesses are concerned about the double disruption of covid and the end of the Brexit transition. The Government said that they would secure the rollover deals we need to replace those we enjoyed with more than 40 countries and trade blocs as members of the EU. Failure will leave business with increased costs, barriers and red tape, but in the last four years the Department has concluded just half the agreements it wants and not a single one since the start of this year. Will the Minister tell the House not how many are in discussion but how many will be secured in the remaining four months?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he knows, the vast majority of the trade covered by those deals has already been secured in existing deals. Work continues and I am delighted to say that we continue to talk to those countries, as well as, as the original question suggested, supporting exporters, not least Edwin Jagger Limited, for instance, in his own constituency. That company is of particular note and could be of use to him, because it specialises in wet shaving and grooming. If it is good enough for the Chinese and the Americans, I suggest he that gets around to his local supplier.
Environmental Protection Standards: Future Trade Agreements
The Government are committed to meeting their ambitious environmental objectives. We are exploring environmental provisions in the design of our free trade agreements to ensure we continue to uphold the UK’s very high environmental standards. The precise details of each individual UK free trade agreement are a matter for the formal negotiations.
As we can see from the Extinction Rebellion protestors outside Parliament today and from our own inboxes as MPs, people hold environmental standards very close to their hearts. High climate standards are put at risk by leaving the European Union, which has the gold standard on environmental protections. What will the Government do, whether abroad with a country like Brazil or here in the UK, to protect the climate? The climate does cross borders so, whether at home or abroad, what steps will the Government take, with some energy, to protect the environment?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, which I think was very reasonably put, but actually we are doing a huge amount right the way across the board. We guaranteed in our manifesto no compromise on environmental standards in our future free trade agreements. The UK global tariff, which we published earlier this year, goes significantly further than the EU’s common external tariff in making sure that environmental goods are low-tariff or tariff-free. There are 104 tariff lines, including steam turbines, vacuum flasks and thermostats. We are also providing export finance in areas of renewable energy, such as solar energy and wind farms in Taiwan.
The former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said that the major role he played in his country’s trade negotiations was ensuring
“that we weren’t sidetracked by peripheral issues such as… environmental standards”.
Does his potential appointment as a policy adviser to the Board of Trade mean that that is the Government’s new approach? How can the Government reassure us that they do not now regard the environment as a peripheral issue?
The Government’s approach on the environment, and on the environment and trade, is unchanged. No appointments have been confirmed. Personally, I welcome the fact that a former Prime Minister of Australia is willing to help this country out. I think we should welcome his interest and welcome the endeavours he has the potential to make for this country on behalf of us all.
Palm oil production is having a devastating impact on wildlife and the environment in a number of countries, including Malaysia, and there is real concern among our constituents about the threat to orangutans. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will press ahead with a ban on palm oil imports after the end of the transition period? Will he also confirm that this Government will maintain that ban if we join Malaysia in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?
The hon. Gentleman will remember the Prime Minister’s visit to Thailand and the region, and his speaking out about wildlife crime in that region when he was Foreign Secretary, including in relation to the pangolin, for example. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that the UK first published its statement on the sustainable production of palm oil in 2012, and the latest reports indicate that the UK achieved 75% certified sustainable palm oil importation in 2017, which compares with a figure of just 10% under the last Labour Government. We have taken the figure from just 10% to 75% in just 10 years.
Trade with the Indian Subcontinent
My Department continues to promote increased trade with the subcontinent. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I recently took part in the 14th annual UK-India JETCO—Joint Economic Trade Committee—during which we set a more ambitious trajectory for an enhanced trade partnership. Through our independent trade preferences scheme, we are strengthening our trading relationships with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too, but our stronger trade ties are already delivering advantages for British businesses. I hope my hon. Friend will excuse a reference from across the Pennines, as I am pleased to announce today that Britain can now export polyhalite to India—it is an organic fertiliser mined in Yorkshire.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for his first questions, on his birthday—congratulations. Bolton-born company Vernacare has big international demand for its infection control products used in hospitals. However, such companies face inflated import duties when trading. Exporting to India is proving cost- prohibitive for some businesses, so does he agree that through increasing co-operation with India we will be able to explore the reduction of import duties and thus bear a bountiful boost for businesses in Bolton?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we can go much further, and increasing bilateral trade and investment with India will benefit both Indian and British businesses, and, of course, our peoples. Here at home this work will support businesses located in every corner of the country, including Vernacare, in his constituency. It is just one example of a company that my Department has worked with to achieve significant success in India already, including agreeing a five-year supply deal with Manipal, one of Asia’s largest healthcare management groups
Although the growth in trade, particularly in services, with India is good news, the UK’s trade in goods with India increased by just 5% in the past five years, while the rest of the G7 all saw double-digit growth, with the US and France seeing increases of almost 40%. There is not a UK trade envoy with India, and the Select Committee thinks that visa restrictions are holding Britain back. Why does the Minister think other G7 countries are doing so much better on trade in goods with India?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has joined the party in welcoming the fact that we will take back control of our trade policy. We will now have the chance to shape our relationship with India, which we have not had in the past. This Government have already delivered value to British businesses worth £250 million a year, based on industry’s own estimates, through unlocking exports of spirits, oats, pigs for breeding, poultry and lamb to India.
International Trade: Covid-19
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Covid has threatened global trade and exacerbated protectionism. Our ambitious free trade agreements—with the United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia—will not only help Britain bounce back by boosting trade but secure greater choice for consumers here by opening up and liberalising international markets. For example, increasing transatlantic trade could add £3.4 billion to the British economy; and the value of our exports to our friends down under could increase by around £1 billion through the deals we are striving for.
My hon. Friend is right. There are no winners in a trade war. We will continue to shine as a beacon for free trade in the world, illuminating and toppling trade barriers through free trade agreements, boosting British influence at the G7, the G20 and the World Trade Organisation, and keeping free and fair trade at the heart of all that we do.
One of our great trade and export success stories in the tech sector is Cambridge-based Arm, the tech giant that designs the chip that goes into almost every mobile phone in the world. During the covid crisis, it has been subject to the threat of sale to an aggressive American manufacturer. What is the Government’s response? What discussions is the Minister having with colleagues to ensure that this jewel in our tech crown is not dismembered?
Arm is a very successful business, and I have regular conversations with colleagues in a number of Departments. The most important thing is that we ensure the environment in the UK is one in which all sorts of businesses want to work and, of course, that we preserve our national security.
Tariffs on UK Exports
We have been pushing hard to remove tariffs in all our trade agreements in order to benefit UK consumers and business, whether the 28% tariff on dinner plates to the US, Japanese tariffs on footwear or the 8% tariff on Tim Tams with Australia.
I am proud to say that since 1962 Crewe has been home to Whitby Morrison, a family-owned ice cream van manufacturer recognised as a world leader. It exports its vans to more than 60 countries worldwide, but it still faces considerable trade barriers. Will the Secretary of State assure me that in trade talks with Japan, the US, Australia and other countries, ice cream vans are on the list so that we can back this great British export?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his championing of this fantastic ice cream van business. Such vans are indeed a great export and currently face tariffs of up to 5% with some of our negotiating partners. We will certainly be looking at removing those tariffs as well as other tariffs as part of the trade deals we are looking to strike.
The proposed UK global tariffs stand to negatively affect polyethylene terephthalate resin manufacturing in Teesside, which delivers more than 70% of the UK’s PET packaging for critical applications such as food and pharmaceuticals as well as personal protective equipment. The survival of Alpek, the UK’s only producer of PET, is threatened by most favoured nation tariffs on its two main raw materials, despite the fact that there is no domestic production of them. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Alpek in my constituency to hear of the effect those tariffs could have and consider a different direction?
Last week, I visited a number of manufacturing businesses in the north-east, which is a manufacturing powerhouse. My hon. Friend is a huge champion of the industry in his area in Teesside, from chemicals to steel. I would be delighted to meet him and the company to see what can be done to help address its issues.
Exports to Non-EU Countries
It is noticeable that, unlike the Opposition, my hon. Friend champions business, champions the UK’s independent trade policy and thus champions the livelihoods of midlands workers. Ninety per cent of global growth is expected to be outside Europe over the next years and we are doing everything we can to support firms, not least in West Bromwich, to start or grow exports whether through signing trade deals, developing a new export strategy or boosting our on the ground network of international trade advisers.
It is clear that, with £3.8 billion-worth of exports, the Black Country is, as I have always said, the workshop of the United Kingdom. What work is my hon. Friend doing with local stakeholders, including our west midlands Mayor, Andy Street, to ensure that around the world people will once again see the words “Made in the Black Country”?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Working with partners in an increasingly devolved United Kingdom is so important to delivering the export success that all of us, at least on Government side of the House, crave. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Andy Street extremely recently to discuss our programme of FTAs and the benefits they can bring to the region, and we will continue to support businesses across the midlands—not least Westfield Sports Cars in Kingswinford, near my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is exploring new opportunities in places like the US, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
US Trade Agreement Negotiations
The third negotiating round of the UK-US free trade agreement took place from 27 July to 7 August 2020. I can announce today that the next round will start next Tuesday— 8 September. In parallel with the negotiations, my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary held a series of meetings in early August with the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.
Given the impending failure of the Prime Minister’s fictitious oven-ready deal with the EU, how much leverage, or lack of leverage, will that failure give the Secretary of State in her negotiating position with whichever candidate wins the US November presidential elections, and what impact will that have on a UK economy already battered by covid-19 and a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman started off with a bit of a misnomer. Let me report from the most recent round of negotiations with the EU: our negotiator reported that these talks were part of the intensified process; they had had good talks around the Court of Justice and the EU’s concerns about the complex Switzerland-style set of agreements, and so on. So actually that was quite a positive round.
In terms of the US, clearly we keep channels of communication open—we talk with all parts of the US political system. We make sure that Senators, Members of Congress and Governors, from both parties and throughout the United States, buy into a future UK-US free trade agreement.
We have taken strong steps towards joining the CPTPP through engaging with all 11 member countries on UK accession to the CPTPP. In July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chaired an event with all CPTPP Heads of Mission in London, and next week she will join a CPTPP meeting chaired by Mexico.
Indespension, at the heart of my constituency, manufactures top-quality trailers, whether for motorbiking, camping or for transporting a mechanical digger, so I am sure my right hon. Friend would have them as his No. 1 choice. In the name of equal opportunities, should not everyone around the world have that opportunity as well?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for promoting the UK’s manufacturing exports around the world. He will be interested to know that north-west business goods exports to CPTPP countries were worth over £2 billion in 2019, and road vehicles were the top export within that, at £333 million. So I am sure that manufacturing exports from Bolton will have a fantastic future, with his support and that of this Department.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I take a very strong interest in our superb bilateral trade relationship with Taiwan, which has actually provided a lot of assistance to the United Kingdom during the pandemic. This autumn we will hold our annual trade talks with my Taiwanese counterpart, with whom I first engaged in such talks in 2016.
Like us, Taiwan, through its membership of the World Trade Organisation, is committed to the same values of free trade and free markets as we are, and we look forward to deepening our relationship with Taiwan in the coming trade talks.
Free Trade Agreements
For the first time in almost 50 years, we are able to determine our own trade policy, and there is much interest in the potential of a free trade agreement with Britain from our partners around the globe. We will weigh up a multitude of considerations and we will be looking closely at the progress we make on market access improvements in the months ahead.
While we remain open to taking forward negotiations with a number of global partners, we have already had productive discussions on how to enhance our trading relationship with the Government of India, as I detailed earlier, with the Gulf Co-operation Council, and with the Southern Common Market, known as Mercosur.
Having lived and worked in South America for five years, I am aware of the huge untapped potential that countries on that continent can offer, particularly for our high-tech manufacturing bases in Dudley and in the Black Country, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) mentioned. Will my hon. Friend update the House on any discussions to open up these markets and opportunities offered by a post-Brexit Britain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the untapped potential of South American markets. Britain used to do more in this part of the world, so my Department is working to reignite those trading relationships through regular ministerial discussions, including with Brazil, to open up opportunities for trade. We have already secured a number of free trade agreements to ensure continuity of access for British businesses, and we are interested in further opportunities to deepen these relationships in the region, including through Mercosur.
Food and Farming Sector: Covid-19
The agriculture, food and drink sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry and supports about 4 million jobs. With exports worth £23.8 billion last year, we are determined to see this success continue. So on 22 June, alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and business, I was delighted to launch an agriculture, food and drink bounce-back plan to drive exports and recovery from covid.
My father was a hill farmer, so it was a pleasure to meet a group of hill farmers in Bilsdale in my constituency, together with British Wool, which tells me that farm-gate prices for fleeces are down by 90% this year—so farmers are better off burning them than transporting them. Will British wool feature in a future free trade agreement?
I thank my hon. Friend, who stands up for Yorkshire farmers whether of sheep or other products. This Government will stand firm in trade negotiations, and we will always do right by our farmers and aim to secure new opportunities for the industry. We are also engaging with stakeholders such as the National Sheep Association through the agri-food trade advisory group. During our negotiations, DIT is also supporting interiors and apparel textiles manufacturers who use British wool at leading international trade fairs such as Heimtextil.
Cornwall is proud to produce some of the finest and most sought-after food and drink, but the sector has been hit hard as a result of the pandemic. Will the Minister lay out how food producers in Cornwall, and indeed around the country, will benefit from the agri-food bounce-back package that he mentioned?
The bounce-back package, as I say, was launched in June. It facilitates additional access for small businesses’ products to UK Export Finance. It launched a suite of export masterclasses and webinars to overcome some of the lack of understanding of opportunities in foreign markets and of the challenges that are faced in entering them. It will further boost our trade efforts ahead of new opportunities that will also be presented by our FTAs.
Already, a series of over 20 agri-food export masterclasses targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises has been delivered, and that programme will continue throughout this year. My Department is working, through our international trade adviser network, to support my hon. Friend’s local Cornish food and drink companies to access virtual meet-the-buyer events and UKAP—United Kingdom agricultural policy—webinars, which will be launched in the autumn and come out of the plan that we worked with industry to create.
We all recognise that a free trade agreement with the United States of America has enormous potential to benefit UK farming, not least by opening up a market of 328 million potential customers, but it does come with some risks, not least the potential import of clinically safe but lower food standard meat products. Will my hon. Friend update the House on what success he is having in maximising the benefits and minimising those risks?
As the Secretary of State has made clear—sufficiently slowly, I hope, for the Scottish National party spokesman—all existing food standards are enshrined in UK law and no trade deal will be able to change that legal position. I can assure my hon. Friend that those standards will be maintained, and I hope that his constituents are not alarmed by the consistent scare- mongering from Opposition parties.
I am delighted to say that we will see beef shipping to the United States imminently. It is worth noting that at the moment there are no lamb sales into the US, which is the second largest importer of lamb in the world. These are the prizes that we are after; these are the prizes that we are delivering.
UK-Japan Trade and Investment Priorities
Direct talks on the UK-Japan FTA between Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took place on 6 and 7 August, and I am pleased to say that they reached consensus on the major elements. We are in the final stage of negotiations and are optimistic about reaching an agreement in the coming weeks. Both sides are committed to a deal coming into force by the end of this year.
The UK’s own forecasts indicate that a trade deal with Japan will be worth a whopping 0.07% of GDP growth in the long term. In the meantime, leaving the EU single market and customs union will impact GDP growth by 5%. We know that the EU has a trade deal with Japan, so can the Minister explain to viewers in Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, why those figures are such a positive thing?
The benefit of trade deals is that they reduce the barriers to trade. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the EU-Japan trade deal has only recently come into force. I am delighted to say that the model deal that we are looking to secure with Japan is more ambitious; it goes further, not least on digital and data aspects, which will be tremendously important to the growing and strengthening tech scene in Scotland and beyond.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) just mentioned, Japan accounts for around 2% of the UK’s total exports. The EU is worth more than 20 times that and already has a trade deal with Japan. With many talks stalling, the UK is on track for a slew of bad deals, or simply no deal at all. Is it not now time for the Government, given their summer of U-turns on the covid crisis, to admit that their Brexit bluff has been called and urgently review this, in the light of the impact that disruption to trade, jobs and livelihoods, and the UK’s covid recovery, will have?
I do not know who wrote the hon. Gentleman’s question, but it is clear that they are hanging on desperately to the idea that there should be a failure. Overwhelmingly, the continuity agreements have been rolled over. We have opportunities, not least with Japan, to go further and have a more ambitious programme, as well as to set new standards through deals with Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
It is noticeable that in all the years that the EU has been in charge of our trade policy, it has never signed an FTA with the world’s largest economy, let alone the next largest economies in the world. The truth is that it is dawning on the hon. Gentleman and his separatist, schismatic colleagues that they are going to see not a failure of our trade policy but a success.
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations with Australia
Trade negotiators from the UK and Australia held the first round of negotiations for a UK-Australia free trade agreement between 29 June and 10 July. Round 1 saw a full and productive discussion covering most aspects of what might be included in a comprehensive free trade agreement. The second round will start on 21 September.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows that the high commissioner from Australia House, George Brandis, has been engaged in very extended talks with parties in Northern Ireland to encourage businesses there to look for growth opportunities with Australia. How do the Government intend to extend the opportunities in a trade agreement to businesses in Northern Ireland so that they can flourish under this free trade agreement?
I thank the hon. Member for that question. First, I commend the Australian high commissioner, who really does an excellent job right the way across the United Kingdom in promoting the benefits of this deal. We have been clear from the very beginning that UK free trade agreements will benefit Northern Ireland. Yesterday, I was speaking to Bushmills in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and talking to Colum Egan about Irish whiskey, particularly with reference to the Australia free trade agreement, including what we can do on rules of origin and on seeking to remove the current 5% tariff on both Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky going into Australia. I am sure that we can continue to do more work to make sure that Northern Ireland continues to benefit from the UK free trade agenda.
We are making good progress on negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and on accession to the CPTPP. We are also intensifying our negotiations with Australia. We want a gold standard deal that pushes new frontiers in trade and advances British interests in vital areas such as financial services, telecoms, tech, and food and drink. We want to work with like-minded friends and allies who believe in free trade and fair play.
My hon. Friend is right. Cornwall is renowned for its fantastic food from clotted cream to the Cornish pasty. I am going to be in Cornwall in a couple of weeks’ time, visiting the Saputo creamery, which exports Cathedral City to the United States—there is currently a 26% tariff on that cheese, which I am seeking to get removed—and I would be delighted to visit her in her constituency and see some of her great food businesses as well.
We have made some progress in that we have stopped new tariffs being imposed on blended whisky. We have also got the tariffs removed on shortbread, such as Walkers, which has helped protect 250 jobs. However, the reality is that the EU has been responsible for negotiating the Airbus retaliatory tariffs; it has failed to do so, and that is why I have entered direct talks with the United States. I will be having more talks in the coming months to get these unfair, unjust tariffs removed on single malt whisky.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is worth reminding ourselves that he and I were both elected in December on a strong programme of no compromise on our standards on the environment, animal welfare and food safety—he and I collectively and individually. That is in the manifesto, and it has been made in repeated statements by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the International Trade and the whole DIT team.
They say it never rains in East Devon when in the company of my hon. Friend, which was certainly true on my great visit to his constituency. We met a huge number of great businesses and landowners who look after our countryside and curate it for the next generation. We will never sign a trade deal that compromises Britain’s high environmental protections or animal welfare and food safety standards. Indeed, I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to promote our excellent British produce overseas through agriculture, food and drink bounce-back plans.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; I would always seek the support not only of the House but of people across the United Kingdom, because we want every single trade deal we sign to benefit our businesses, our consumers and our country. However, if some doubtful people on the Opposition Benches do not believe me, there is protection, because under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 system any trade deal can be blocked by this House. Of course, I would never consider putting forward a trade deal that would not command the support of the House, but there is always that protection for those doubting Thomases on the Opposition Benches.
I think it is absolute hypocrisy to hear that type of argument from the Labour party. Until recently, they had a shadow Chancellor, whom the hon. Lady supported, who called for the lynching of one of my female colleagues and never apologised. Labour has never elected a female leader, despite having the opportunity time and again. The reality is that they would rather virtue-signal and indulge in tokenism than take real action to improve the lives of women.
I am sure the whole House will join my hon. Friend in sending sympathies. We are ramping up defence engagement. We supported Britain’s largest ever delegation to the Indian defence expo in February this year, including 160 British business leaders. India increasingly prefers to contract defence and security deals via Government-to-Government frameworks, so we are leading that cross-government work to enable British businesses to do more in the future.
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. As we take up our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation we intend, alongside pushing our agenda on technology and services, to work with like-minded partners on the environment to get strong environmental agreement alongside our work on COP26.
We will use our new FTAs precisely to support the priority asks of UK small and microbusinesses that export goods and services around the world, including increased transparency on rules and regulations; international co-operation to support SMEs; and the securing of FTAs that benefit the whole UK economy, not just the largest players.
The reality is that those on the left of politics are always intolerant of anyone who does not agree with them but are prepared to defend anything from their own friends, such as the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). When is the hon. Gentleman going to condemn the right hon. Gentleman’s call to lynch one of my female colleagues?
All our decisions about pesticides are of course made in line with the best available science, but I assure my hon. Friend that our agri-food trade advisory group will absolutely look to make sure that our farmers are not disadvantaged in trade negotiations.
Front Line Defenders published a report in 2019 that detailed the firings, torture and trials in military courts of trade unionists and workers who organised strikes in Egypt. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will not sign a trade deal with the Egyptian Government unless they agree to respect the right to form unions and the right to take industrial action?
We will seek to provide continuity of trade with as many countries as possible through our continuity trade programme. We are always mindful of the trading partners we work with and we respect the rights and responsibilities that are intrinsic to British values in all that we do.
The Government have either reached free trade agreements or are in active negotiations with 15 of the 40 countries that the International Trade Union Confederation has identified as in the bottom category worldwide for their respect of workers’ rights. Will the Minister tell us in how many of those trade agreements the Government have secured or are seeking to secure clauses designed to protect workers’ rights?
The details of free trade agreements are reserved for formal negotiations, many of which are ongoing. Her Majesty’s Government have been clear that increased trade does not have to come at the expense of our high labour standards. Britain is an active member of the International Labour Organisation, and we will continue to uphold our world-leading standards and international commitments.
I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments, because the rollover agreement that the Government reached with Kosovo last year removed the requirement in the corresponding EU agreement for Kosovo to improve its laws on labour, health, safety at work and equal opportunities for women and men, for persons with disabilities and for persons belonging to minority groups. Can the Minister explain why?
As the Secretary of State and other Ministers have made very clear, what we do in this country remains in domestic law, and our trade deals do not change the fact that we have world-beating standards of labour protection. Indeed, this Government have done great work to combat modern slavery, introduce a national living wage and ban exclusive zero-hours contracts.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for taking this point of order, because it relates to the questions that we have just heard. In answer to my question on rolling over the deals that we currently enjoy through membership of the European Union, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), said, and I quote, that
“the vast majority of the trade covered by those deals has already been secured,”
and that was repeated by one of his colleagues. It is, however, contradicted by the Department’s own website, which says that 19 deals have been secured worth £84.07 billion last year, but there are 18 deals outstanding worth £84.5 billion—and that does not even include Japan. Will the Minister take this opportunity to correct the record and confirm that the vast majority of trade is not covered by these deals, and in fact they cover slightly less than half?
I think the hon. Gentleman is getting confused between the number of deals and the amount of trade that they cover. We have covered over 70% of the continuity trade, but some of those countries are smaller than others and have smaller amounts of trade.
I think you have both put those things on the record for today, and we will end questions with that. In order to allow the 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.
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the implementation of the kickstart scheme.
Yesterday, the Government launched our new kickstart scheme, as set out in the written ministerial statement and the letter sent to all Members of both Houses. This £2 billion programme will fund the direct creation of thousands of additional jobs for young people at risk of long-term unemployment, to improve their chances of progressing to find long-term, rewarding and sustainable work.
As we build back our economy and return fully to work, a lack of work experience can be a barrier to stepping on to the jobs ladder, which is why, through kickstart, employers will be supported to access a massive recruitment pool of young people who want to work and are bursting with potential. Employers from all industries and across the private, public and voluntary sectors are eligible if they can meet our simple criteria on the provision of roles. Employers will need to show that these are additional jobs which provide the experience and support a young person needs to improve their chances of permanent employment. These need to be new roles that do not simply replace staff recently made redundant.
Funding available for each job covers the relevant national minimum wage rate for 25 hours a week, the associated employer national insurance contributions, and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions, as well as £1,500 for wraparound support. There is no limit to the number of jobs that can be created, and organisations of all sizes are encouraged to participate.
If a business wants to offer only one or two kickstart jobs, as set out in the online guidance, employers can contact their local employer support managers with an expression of interest, and we will work to link them to an appropriate intermediary. These intermediaries could include local enterprise partnerships, local authorities or business groups, ensuring the necessary support is in place to deliver placements effectively. We will continue to be proactive on involving employers and intermediaries following the scheme’s launch yesterday.
We have already undertaken substantial engagement on our labour market strategy. I want to pay tribute to our civil servants in DWP and the Treasury who have brought this scheme to fruition, and I particularly want to thank and recognise my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), the Minister for employment, who has worked tirelessly with her usual passion for helping young people get on in life and who I know will continue to do so.
Kickstart is a key strand of our plan for jobs focused on young people and will be a boost for the British economy. I want to encourage businesses and organisations all to take advantage of the most ambitious youth employment programme in our history and help kickstart to become a flying start for our young people.
Since the crisis began, we have been urging the Government to introduce a scheme based on the last Labour Government’s hugely successful future jobs fund to get as many young people into work as possible. We therefore welcome the kickstart scheme in principle, but we want assurances that it will be delivered in a way that maximises its impact. On that note, it is disappointing that it has taken until September for the scheme to be launched, and it is disappointing to have to summon Ministers via an urgent question just to ask basic questions on how the scheme will work.
In July of this year, there were already over 1 million young people not in full-time education or full-time employment. This is an urgent problem and we believe that the three key tests of this scheme are: whether the jobs it provides are real, quality jobs; whether it is available to support smaller businesses as well as larger ones; and whether it provides opportunities for long-term employment beyond the initial subsidised placement.
I ask the Secretary of State, first, how the Government will ensure that the jobs provided under this scheme are genuinely new, additional jobs. That is essential for the scheme to be a success, but how will it be evidenced? Secondly, given the existing scale of need, how will the Government ensure that the jobs that are created go to those who need them most? Even if, say, 200,000 new jobs were created, we could reasonably expect over 1 million young people to be eligible for those jobs. We need those jobs to go where they will have the biggest impact.
Thirdly, what feedback have the Government already received on the arrangements the Secretary of State has outlined for small businesses to participate in the scheme, given that the minimum number of jobs that can be created from a bid is 30? I hope she understands the considerable strength of feeling that already exists from small businesses in relation to that point. Fourthly, the jobs will be for a minimum of only 25 hours a week, but the Secretary of State has already brought back conditionality and sanctions, expecting people to look for work for 35 hours a week. If the Government’s expectation is that everyone should be working 35 hours a week, why are the jobs that the Government themselves are creating not for 35 hours a week?
Finally, while welcoming the scheme, I was alarmed by the Prime Minister’s presentation yesterday of kickstart as an alternative to providing continued targeted furlough support. The furlough scheme was there to ensure that people had jobs to return to when the alternative for many people would have been redundancy if their employers did not have the revenue to meet their payroll. Those circumstances still exist in some businesses—not in all, but in some—and that is why countries such as Germany, France and Ireland are continuing their furlough schemes until 2021. Needed as this scheme is, it cannot be a replacement in those sectors that do not have the ability to train and recruit new staff yet, and I strongly urge the Secretary of State to acknowledge that point too.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his sort of support for the kickstart scheme. I really think that across the House we should see this as an opportunity for us all to help young people in our constituencies. On the principles of the future jobs fund, we have actually taken some learnings from that, on where it worked and where it did not. He referred to the fact that it had taken so long to get here, but we had the pandemic in March and this approach was announced in July. We have worked tirelessly on it and, as I say, I pay tribute to my civil servants in that regard. This is actually quite a contrast to the financial crisis of the late noughties, because I think I am right in saying that that placement scheme did not get going until October 2009. It was a long time before that happened, so we have worked at pace.
There are other elements from last time that we have learned from. Hardly any private sector businesses were involved, and the criteria were so stringent in different ways that, frankly, that scheme was very limited. I know that it is not about setting targets for these things, but the consequence of that was that the future jobs fund achieved just over 100,000 placements, although the ambition had been higher. So we have simplified the criteria.
The hon. Gentleman points to the threshold for small employers to get involved, but it is exactly the same threshold that applied to the future jobs fund, where businesses could only get involved by going through their local councils. We are opening this up in a different way, and I think we will start to see local enterprise partnerships and chambers of commerce getting involved as intermediary bodies, as well as councils. There is also a lot of support for this from many of the mayoral combined authorities.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of hours per week. The reason for this is that this is not just about rebates like the coronavirus furlough scheme. Young people will be expected, with their employers, to do more to prepare themselves for the world of work, and that may include work search in additional time. So that is another reason why intermediaries are going to be a key element in helping some of our small businesses to provide these placements, as well as the wraparound support that will be required. On the other elements to which he referred, I know that he has tabled several written questions and he will be answered.
I thank the Secretary of State for a very helpful update. By way of some instant feedback, I found in my inbox this morning many questions from employers in Warrington South who are already keen to be part of the kickstart scheme. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will pay 100% of the cost of wages, national insurance and pension schemes, so there is no reason why businesses in Warrington South cannot sign up and create new jobs for young people?
My hon. Friend is right: we are paying 100% for 25 hours a week, which is the minimum hours that we would expect people to be working. Of course, if employers want to pay more and do more, they can. This is not a limitation on the ambitions of organisations or the relevant contributions. I am pleased to say that people can go on gov.uk/kickstart today and see the online guidance. If they are a small business and cannot offer 30 jobs over the next 18 months, they can go straight to a contact in the DWP, and we will do that linking for them. More than 6,000 people had already started an application yesterday. That is very encouraging, and I am excited about it.
We welcome any intervention that can protect jobs and secure the future of young people across these isles. The most effective intervention would, of course, be to extend the furlough scheme. I have three clear questions to ask in the time I have. First, why have the UK Government failed to respond to Scottish Government correspondence asking to work together on the implementation of the kickstart scheme, which is for Scotland, England and Wales? The Scottish Government have introduced a £60 million youth guarantee, which will guarantee every young person an opportunity for education, a job or training, backed by additional funding for apprenticeships and the new job start payment.
Secondly, why have the UK Government set as a minimum to qualify for the kickstart scheme that employers need to take on 30 new employees? Adding the bureaucracy set out yesterday will not help small businesses or young people in Airdrie and Shotts, and there is deep concern from the Federation of Small Businesses about this being a barrier, so why is there a 30-job minimum? Finally, will kickstart participants be paid the real living wage? I understand that they will not —why not?
The hon. Member may not be clear on the elements of the scheme, so I encourage him to read the written ministerial statement, the “Dear colleague” letter and what is on gov.uk. It is not a case that an employer has to come forward with a minimum of 30 placements over the lifetime of the scheme. That is if they want direct access to the DWP and a direct relationship, which is completely different from what happened under the future jobs fund. Small businesses can go through intermediaries, and that is why we have those links.
In terms of working with the Scottish Government, I am very conscious, and it is right, that the Scottish Government should be doing elements of this. Scotland has the highest unemployment rate in the UK, so it is no surprise that they are trying to fix that. It is important that we have the scheme consistently across Great Britain. In Northern Ireland, this is entirely devolved, but we will be working closely with it. It is important that we have a national framework and local delivery, and I am pleased that our jobcentres in Scotland are already on the case.
The kickstart scheme is a brilliant example of the lengths that this Government are going to in order to support employment across the whole country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging businesses in Blackpool South to sign up and take part in the scheme, so that we can make a real difference to the lives of young people in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is so right. He is a great champion for the young people of Blackpool, as well as people of all ages. This scheme is really important to help communities such as Blackpool, and I am pleased that he is taking a lead in promoting it. It is key that we have a wide range of placements available. Of course, all referrals will be through the Jobcentre Plus network. It is that local partnership between our jobcentres and local employers, as well as the national approach that can be taken by larger organisations, that will mean that this reaches every part of the country, from coast to coast.
I opposed the closure of the future jobs fund in 2011. The Work and Pensions Committee, in its report in June, highlighted what a great job that scheme did 10 years ago, and I warmly welcome and applaud its return. Will the Secretary of State encourage charities, as happened last time, to take full advantage of the scheme, because they can create jobs that will give many young people a great start to their working lives? What will she do to ensure that disabled young people can take full advantage of it? Will she ensure the collection of sufficient data to allow a thorough evaluation subsequently, like the one published by her Department in November 2012?
I welcome the endorsement of the Select Committee Chairman. He will recognise some similarities to the future jobs fund, but ours is a much more ambitious programme and we are opening up more gateways into making sure that young people can access work and support. Of course the scheme is open to charitable organisations, which have been part of aspects of our engagement in considering the design of the programme and can be a very useful source here. My ministerial colleague in the Lords, Baroness Stedman-Scott, has great experience from her previous organisation and is already being an active ambassador with not only a variety of companies but other institutions, as is the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies).
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the young people of this country are our future and that the kickstart scheme is both a huge help to them in securing work and gaining valuable experience and immensely helpful to businesses that are coming out of lockdown and getting back to business, as it helps them to add to their workforce?
I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a mutually beneficial arrangement for young people and employers. The amount of money that has already been set aside is £2 billion of investment over, in effect, the next two years. We know that unlimited placements can be generated, and I am conscious that we need to try to get those partnerships going quickly, so that we can help young people to get on that first rung of the ladder.
What safeguards has the Secretary of State put in place to ensure that disabled young people are fully able to benefit from the kickstart programme? The employment rate for them stands at 37%, which compares with a figure of 57% for non-disabled people, so will she ensure that this new programme supports disabled young people?
The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work has, as with all DWP Ministers, been a key part of making sure we work at this as an entire Department. We have also been working with colleagues right across government, so we are taking a whole-government approach. Ensuring that we keep monitoring this issue has a role to play in this. In answer to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), let me say that we will be keeping this scheme going and trying to learn from it as we go, to make sure that we are reaching all parts of not only the country but our communities.
I welcome the opportunity for young people to gain work experience, but the objective of kickstart must be sustained employment. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how kickstart will help young people into work beyond the six-month placement?
It is widely recognised that getting is job is easier once someone has had work experience and is in a job already. This creation of thousands of additional jobs through this scheme will, in itself, help to stimulate young people’s chances of getting future long-term employment. This is only one of the offers being made to the young people in our country today—there will be different routes that people might take—but we are particularly focusing here on kickstart, where we are trying to avoid the long-term scarring that could happen if people do not get any work at all.
Cyber College Cymru in Blaenau Gwent gives opportunities for young people in the digital security sector, where there is strong employer demand. That industry will be vital to our future economy. Boosting jobs for young people is the right thing to do, but this needs to deliver long-term job security. Will the Minister clarify how many jobs will be created by the scheme and over what period?
We have currently set aside £2 billion to support this scheme, so well over 200,000 jobs could be created, but, as I have said, the number is unlimited. On different sectors, government itself is not going to create lots of jobs, although I am sure there may well be opportunities in aspects of the civil service and similar. This is about working with different sectors. We know there are growth sectors where we need more people to go into them. The hon. Gentleman recognises that there are shortages of certain skills, and indeed he refers to his local college. There will be opportunities for local employers who are needing those skills to take this scheme as an opportunity to bring a young person on, as well as help with training.
I welcome the opportunity that the kickstart scheme provides for many young people in Stoke-on-Trent Central whose employment prospects have been affected disproportionately in this pandemic. It is a great opportunity for them to get a foot on the jobs ladder. I thank my right hon. Friend for confirming that kickstart is open to employers from all sectors—large and small—businesses and charities. Will she confirm that information about this great scheme is readily accessible both to employers and to young people themselves?
I thank my hon. Friend. I know that she is a huge champion of getting young people to become entrepreneurs and that this is a passion of hers. Yes, the information is there on gov.uk/kickstart. Of course, if, in feedback, we hear that more information is needed, we will continue to update that. Our jobcentres are ready to help a large number of people to try to find that placement, and I genuinely believe that she, along with her hon. Friends in Stoke, will be helping to get more employers and other organisations involved.
The award-winning Tayport Distillery in my constituency is very keen to take part in the kickstart scheme, but it is much harder for small businesses to apply, as they cannot do so directly if they are not taking on more than 30 people, and, frankly, intermediary bodies’ information seems to be, at best, in development. Given the delays already experienced—we still have a couple of months until the first participants start the scheme—will the Secretary of State make it easier for small businesses, which are the lifeblood of many economies, by allowing them to apply directly?
The scheme is being set up at pace, so I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assertions. On small businesses, it is far easier than it has ever been for them to participate in this sort of job creation scheme. I am pleased that she already has businesses showing interest, and I encourage her to direct them to gov.uk/kickstart from where they will be able to get the links to their local employment manager.
I thank my right hon. Friend for this announcement today. It has been truly inspirational telephoning large and small local businesses in Derbyshire Dales, as there is quite a level of excitement about the scheme. I know that she is determined to help young people across the country. It is crucial to their lives. Can she confirm what other support, other than the kickstart scheme, is available for young people to help them get over this pandemic?
The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, has held a roundtable meeting in Derbyshire. That has been part of the engagement. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) is right to suggest that there are other alternatives. Of course apprenticeships are available, which was further confirmed yesterday with the announcement of additional support, providing a longer-term relationship between young people and an employer. There are traineeships as well. So there are many opportunities available to try to help our young people get into the world of work.
Paying some 17-year-olds £4.55 an hour for a three-day week for six months is welcome as far as it goes, but it is not going to avert the looming jobs crisis. The best way to avert that crisis is to extend the job retention scheme. Does the Secretary of State agree that that scheme should be extended, and if not, is this not less kickstart and more a kick in the teeth for millions of other workers living in the UK?
I do not know the hon. Member very well, but I am disappointed by his attitude. Candidly, millions of jobs have been protected by the furlough scheme, and we have extended that once already. He will be aware that Scotland has the highest unemployment rate in the UK. That is not a record for the SNP Government to be proud of, which is why we are ensuring that the kickstart scheme reaches all parts of Scotland. I hope that he will join in and try to make this a success in his great city of Aberdeen.
I welcome this outstanding scheme to get the young people and the lifeblood of our future economic prosperity into work. I am slightly concerned, however, that some unscrupulous employers may use this scheme to reduce the hours of people already on their books, or potentially not to give the hours to people who are already with them on flexible contracts. Will my right hon. Friend explain what safeguards are in place in the scheme to stop employers from doing that and to make sure that the rights of existing workers are also respected?
My hon. Friend is right to talk about existing workers. We have been clear in our guidance, and will continue to be so in our assessment of applications, that this is not simply displacing existing roles. I am confident that, in particular on small businesses, with the involvement of the intermediaries, that extra quality assurance will be there. I am sure that when he is out and about in his lovely constituency, he will be able to champion the scheme and show how people can get that link.
As our economy reopens following many challenging months, now is the time to build a recovery that will work for young people and the planet they will inherit by investing in green jobs. How will the kickstart scheme contribute specifically to our green recovery from covid-19?
The hon. Gentleman is right that part of building back better is about building back greener. In several of the sectors where we have been encouraging ways to get involved in kickstart as well as apprenticeships, it will be about that green recovery. As I said earlier, it is not that we can create in every individual job. That is why we are working with organisations and businesses to try to do that. I believe that this boost of paying wages for 25 hours a week for a young person who is bursting with potential and wanting to get into the world of work will be a boost to those companies in and around his constituency who want to have that green recovery.
I very much welcome yesterday’s launch of the kickstart scheme, which can do much to help young people across Great Britain get into work. Since the launch, I have heard from a number of small business owners such as Hal Holmes-Pierce, who runs an independent shoe shop in Prestatyn and is keen to be involved. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that business owners such as Hal will be able to take part in the scheme?
I am sure my hon. Friend will be pleased that we are establishing a youth hub in Rhyl in his constituency, which will be part of an important link between our Jobcentre Plus network and local businesses such as those to which he refers. I am sure we can get under way with more webinars and similar so that we can bring employers into this exciting opportunity for young people in his constituency.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) highlighted, young disabled people are far more likely to experience unemployment. Even before the pandemic, 29% of disabled 16 to 24-year-olds were not in education, employment or training compared to 9% of their non-disabled peers. If they are black or working class, they are even more likely to experience unemployment. I heard what the Secretary of State said, but will she be clearer about what specific measures her Department is taking to ensure that the kickstart programme targets those who most need support? There is a real danger that they will be left completely behind and suffer even greater disadvantage during the pandemic.
Actually, the employment gap between disabled people and people without disabilities has narrowed under the Government since 2010. That is a record of which we are proud, but we know there is still more to do. In terms of a national framework, it is clearly important to try to help people with disabilities get into work. There is already a wide range of funds, so I am conscious that local jobcentres will be working with potential employers or other organisations to try to ensure that everybody who needs the most support and who would be away from the employment market for the longest without that intervention, will be covered.
I am absolutely sold on this superb initiative and it received a ringing endorsement yesterday from our hard-working jobcentres in east Berkshire. Could I please ask the Secretary of State how the Government intend to convince our perennial doomsters about its full utility and longevity?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and endorsement. He is right to be enthusiastic about this opportunity for young people. The scheme is intended to take applications up to December 2021 to roll into summer 2022. Of course, this is just one element of our Government’s plan for jobs, but the ambition is unprecedented. I can think of a whole series of large employers in his constituency such as 3M and Waitrose headquarters who I am confident can join, but it is also bristling with smaller employers who I hope will be able to join the scheme, too.
It is good to see the Secretary of State learning not only from the Future Jobs Fund example but the Jobs Growth Wales example set by the Welsh Labour Government over the past few years. It is so crucial that this leads to long-term employment, not just temporary employment, so will she agree to work closely with the Welsh Government to dovetail this scheme with the existing Jobs Growth Wales scheme, the apprenticeship scheme, the traineeship scheme and the ReAct scheme, which are already in place, to ensure that there is a full package for young people in particular to stay in work? Will she look again at the 30-person limit? SMEs are a much bigger part of the economy in Wales and we need to ensure that they are able to benefit as much as they can from the scheme.
The Government already have close relationships on aspects of trying to help people get into work. It is worth pointing out that the Welsh Labour Government’s own report into Job Growth Wales, published in June this year, found that the programme suffered from a lack of clarity and momentum. It does not matter who provides the support to get people into work, whether it is the Welsh Government or the United Kingdom Government. I want to make sure that we focus on the young people for whom it is intended, rather than some of the bureaucracy that may come in other ways.
I support the general principle of the Government intervening to help young people into work in this way and I was really disappointed in 2010 when the Government dropped the Future Jobs Fund. I am slightly disappointed that this scheme has been allowed to be designed in such a way that it is for the convenience of the Department, rather than small businesses. Having been a Government Minister I know how this works in the Department for Work and Pensions, but could the Minister, in all seriousness, go back and talk to officials and see if there is any way of making this more friendly to small businesses?
The hon. Gentleman talks about the Future Jobs Fund. It was a failure in getting the private sector involved. It was a failure in getting much smaller businesses involved. That is why we have stripped back the criteria to focus on what really matters for the young person, rather than a tick-box exercise on all sorts of different benefits that needed to be created. I am not trashing the Future Jobs Fund, because the intention was absolutely right, but we want to make sure that this has a wider ambition. There is already a youth hub in Cardiff. We have already had approaches about wanting to get involved. That is why the gateway for small businesses is much simpler than it has ever been in previous similar schemes. I am confident that we will make it a success.
Charities and social enterprises delivered over 60% of placements under the Future Jobs Fund, with over half retaining employment after six months. However, most organisations can only take on one or two young people due to capacity. The Labour Government worked closely with the sector to make it easily deliverable, yet this Government’s engagement with charities and social enterprises has been insufficient. Will the Secretary of State commit today to meet sector leaders from organisations such as the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Social Enterprise UK to ensure that every job that can be found is found and that young people are given real hope and a future?
The hon. Lady should be aware that there have been 330 stakeholder engagements with a mixture of groups and of course social enterprises will be a key element of that. The important thing is that we make sure we have good jobs for young people to go into. I absolutely believe that social enterprises will be an important part of that. When I was at Canary Wharf yesterday at the launch of the scheme, the social enterprise around the Canary Wharf Group was expressing interest in how it can bring together a number of different organisations in Canary Wharf to make sure a wide variety of businesses can be involved. That absolutely has to be the way forward.
Some 72% of the population in my constituency are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give me that measures will be taken to ensure that young people from minority backgrounds have equality of access and opportunity under the scheme, and that the systemic inequality we all know exists in our employment market will not be allowed to be a feature of the scheme?
The hon. Lady is right to focus on the young people in her constituency and their challenges to employment. There is already a youth hub in Birmingham. We are learning from the employability coaches who are already in place. The West Midlands Combined Authority is very keen. The Mayor and the chief executive, Deborah Cadman, are very engaged in wanting to make this happen. My officials will be meeting the West Midlands Combined Authority again today.
The UK is one of the most regionally unequal countries in the developed world, especially when it comes to employment, so will the Secretary of State say how the kickstart scheme fits with the Government’s levelling-up agenda? What guarantees can she give that communities such as the ones that I serve in South Yorkshire will get the additional support that they need?
I think the hon. Gentleman was in a roundtable with my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment that focused on that issue. Part of our approach is about having a national framework but a lot of local deliverability, with very local connections, so it is part of the local recovery. I am sure that he and several other Mayors who have been in those roundtables are very up for that. Of course, trying to level up across the country is a key priority for the Government, and we will be straining every sinew to help people like the hon. Gentleman, with his local community, to try to generate those jobs.
By giving them opportunities to get their foot in the door, this scheme demonstrates that this Government are really going to help young people get on in life. I have already started discussions with my local chamber of commerce, because I am keen to work with businesses in Crewe and Nantwich that are really keen to get involved. Will the Secretary of State confirm how small businesses are able to take part in the scheme, to push away some of the negativity we hear, which is not based in reality?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I assure him that the British Chambers of Commerce has been heavily involved in this. Of course the full details came out yesterday. I know that individual chambers of commerce may well be set up as intermediaries. They need to do what is right for them. I have made it clear that that cannot be only for their members; the organisations that they reach have to be broader than that. I am confident that we will get those intermediary bodies that are not already established up and running very quickly, and I encourage him to make sure that his local chamber is one of them.
My hon. Friend is right; the future jobs fund did have some good achievements, and we have learned from what worked well and what did not work so well. The main thing I would point out is that this is a much bigger programme with a much wider range of involvement and, even if some of that is through an intermediary, every organisation can easily get involved. We have simplified the criteria. We are still making sure that these are new additional roles, but it is important that we try to get some of these placements under way. I am sure that we will have some very lively kickstarters starting their new jobs before the end of the year.
This is a very welcome scheme, but it does not apply to Northern Ireland. Under devolution, we have the opportunity to develop a local scheme with a Barnett consequential; however, it was only this morning that our Department for Communities indicated its intention to do so. Can the Secretary of State confirm that her officials are willing to help Northern Ireland to develop its response?
I was in Northern Ireland last week meeting senior people from the Department for Communities as part of a fact-finding mission. Our officials are in regular contact, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this is a devolved matter. If the Department for Communities would like our help as part of the mutual relationship that we already share, we would be happy to support, but it is important to state that this is devolved, and we absolutely respect that.
Three jobcentres serve my constituency: in Barton, Immingham and Grimsby. I visited the Grimsby site a couple of weeks ago, and the staff there are enthusiastic about the work they are doing to encourage young people. One thing that cannot happen under the present arrangements, of course, is the usual programme of job fairs and similar group undertakings. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that we need close links between jobcentres and further education colleges, for example, in order to encourage our young people into this scheme?
There are usually already very good relationships between colleges and jobcentres. There are actually some virtual job fairs happening already; there is a particularly big one in London today focused on accounting. That is the not quite the new normal, but it is to try to engage a wider group of people. I will ask the local area manager to follow up with my hon. Friend to make sure that he is fully aware of all the virtual job fairs that are available.
Midlothian is the fastest-growing region of Scotland, with record growth in new businesses operating there. They would welcome the chance to use the kickstarter scheme, but 93% of them are SMEs and cannot access the funding directly. Why is the Minister putting big business first and putting bureaucratic blocks in the road for small businesses, who are the backbone of the economy?
I was also in Scotland last week, talking about the potential of this in helping young people right across Scotland. Barriers have actually been removed from previous designs of schemes. This is a straightforward way to try to help people to get involved, but it is important that the extra support that goes to help these young people is delivered at good quality. That will be important for the employer but also for the intermediary, who will often have a greater amount of experience to help to ensure that this is fully effective.
Tourism is vital to north Devon, and many small tourism businesses such as Mill Park caravan and campsite in Berrynarbor are enthusiastic about recruiting local young people through the kickstart scheme. Will my right hon. Friend detail how smaller businesses wanting to take on just one or two young people in rural areas like north Devon can participate, when we are currently lacking any intermediaries?
I am pleased to hear that people in my hon. Friend’s constituency are keen to get involved in offering these opportunities for young people. The best way, if they have an expression of interest, is for them to contact the local jobcentre or directly email their expression of interest to the contact, which is set out on gov.uk/kickstart with one simple link to go from there.
In terms of access, there will be an opportunity for potential umbrella organisations that may include her destination marketing organisation as a way of co-ordinating this approach. We are also expecting local enterprise partnerships to get heavily involved. I know that many discussions are already under way.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 7 September will include:
Monday 7 September—Remaining stages of the Fire Safety Bill, followed by motion relating to the appointment of trustees to the House of Commons Members Fund, followed by motion relating to the reappointment of the Chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, followed by motion relating to the reappointment of an Electoral Commissioner.
Tuesday 8 September—Remaining stages of the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 9 September—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be a debate on protection of jobs and businesses, followed by a debate on this summer’s exam results. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 10 September—General debate on the aviation sector, followed by general debate on support for the tourism industry after the covid-19 lockdown. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 September—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week, and for the Opposition day. May I correct him on the title of the second debate on our Opposition day? The official title will be “The personal role and involvement of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education in this summer’s exams fiasco.”
I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who is standing in for the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard).
One small plea, Mr Speaker, in terms of voting: that we separate the queues. I know that you, too, are quite keen to separate the Ayes and the Noes. If we could do that, that might be safer.
On an extremely serious note, yesterday the Prime Minister, in response to the Leader of the Opposition, said that he would not meet the families of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK because they were in litigation. They have said they are not in litigation, so I think the Prime Minister has to come to the House—maybe he will do that on Wednesday—to correct the record. Could he then meet the families?
Could the Leader of the House find time to introduce urgent legislation on the rotection of renters? I think the current protection runs out on 20 September and we need that urgent legislation for further protection.
We have prayed against the town and country planning permitted development regulations—I think there are three sets of them. The shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), has written to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Leader of the House will find time for that debate.
During August Parliament was not sitting, but extremely important announcements were being made. I cannot understand why the Government, who say consistently that Parliament is sovereign, do not come to the House to explain changes in policy. Apparently, algorithms will now be used in planning decisions. That takes away the very nature of making planning decisions—whether relevant considerations are taken into account or whether irrelevant considerations are taken into account—and it undermines administrative law. When you make a decision, you must give reasons.
The Town and Country Planning Association says that 90% of planning applications are approved and there are 1 million unbuilt commissions. It is time for the shires to rise up and oppose these new policies. Will the Leader of the House ask the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to come to the House to explain why he is using algorithms to stomp on our green and pleasant land?
As though that was not enough, the Secretary of State for Education must come to Parliament—not just on our Opposition day, but next week, given the written and oral evidence of the chair of Ofqual. On Tuesday, the Education Secretary did not apologise for the debacle; all he said was that he was
“deeply sorry that those who have borne the brunt…have been students”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 42.]
There was nothing about the mistake—no mention that students had to demonstrate to be heard. There were three in the marriage: the Department of Education, Public First, which was appointed in June, and Ofqual. We need an urgent statement and a proper response, and the current Secretary of State for Education must explain who knew what and when, and that includes the Prime Minister. They are using algorithms to stomp on the dreams of our young people.
It is very sad that the great educationist, Sir Ken Robinson, passed away; he made a great contribution to education and his TED talks were absolutely amazing—they have the most views, and I urge people to watch them.
May I write to the Leader of the House about a constituent whose two sons had their grades downgraded and cannot take the A-levels and GCSEs that they want? He has been very responsive whenever I have written to him.
Of course, we all mourn the passing of John Hume, that great peacemaker. Talking of Ireland, may we have a debate on the £355 million package and the £200 million that goes to the trader support service, which will help with paperwork for the Northern Ireland border? We are slightly confused by the remarks of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: he says that although the
“protocol doesn’t change the economic or the constitutional position”,
it does give Northern Ireland
“privileged access into the European single market.”
Well, we would like that for the rest of the United Kingdom. So there is in fact a border in the Irish sea.
Why is the Department of Health and Social Care not answering written questions? Hon. Members are getting answers back saying that it is not possible to answer the question in the usual time. Why?
In answer to a question at column 6 of Tuesday’s Official Report from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) about the remaining functions of Public Health England, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that the new functions would be “embedded” in the NHS, but did not say how. Will the right hon. Gentleman come to the House to explain what is going to happen with all those functions of PHE, instead of randomly closing A&Es around the country?
May we also have an urgent statement on the recruitment process at No. 10? Yet another person who has applied to the adverts for “weirdos and misfits” has now had to resign because of their extreme views, and a Minister has had to relinquish shares in a company because his company was given a contract under these emergency schemes. That goes to the heart of No. 10—there is something rotten at the heart of No. 10. It is like Palmyra: they are destroying accountable structures on the ground of false ideology. Here is the “Ministerial Code”:
“Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions”
of Government Departments and agencies. They are not.
Of course I am going to raise Nazanin and Anoosheh, but let me take a different tack: will the Leader of the House ask the Defence Secretary to kindly look at Richard Ratcliffe’s letter? There is also Luke Symons in Yemen; my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is supporting the family.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) is on the mend, but I just want to finally mention Julia Clifford, who works in the Tea Room and who is, sadly, very ill. I know she has the love and support of all hon. Members throughout the House; we wish her a speedy recovery—it will be a long one, but we want to see her back in the Tea Room.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about that. The pleasure that all Members get from going to the Tea Room is due to the wonderful staff there, who work so hard and cheer us all up. They spread a degree of sweetness and light, which politicians sometimes try to do, but not always as successfully as those in the Tea Room.
On Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, I note what the right hon. Lady says about a letter to the Defence Secretary. I will take that up—and, indeed, Anoosheh Ashoori. Both of these issues are of considerable concern to Her Majesty’s Government. I do not have any particularly new information, but I am always willing to take up any points that the right hon. Lady raises at these sessions.
May I also associate myself with the words of the right hon. Lady about John Hume, who was indeed a great contributor to peace? May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
Now I want to come to the right hon. Lady’s political points—this question of No. 10 appointments. We are lucky that No. 10 Downing Street has such fine people working there—fine intellects, people doing their best for this country, people thinking things through, coming up with inspired ideas—and I do not think it would be possible to imagine a better functioning, more forward-looking Government than the one we currently have. [Interruption.] Of course the Opposition scoff, but dare I say it, that is in the title of being in the Opposition. It is, as Disraeli said, the job of the Opposition to oppose, even when they see this shining beacon of wisdom in front of them, as they get in No. 10.
Not everything Disraeli said needs to be quoted. It is like the Bible—even the devil can quote scriptures from time to time.
Let me come to the individual points. The Prime Minister is very good at holding meetings with people and is very responsible about the meetings that he holds. He cannot inevitably, with all the good will in the world, possibly hold meetings with everybody who asks for them and I know that the right hon. Lady understands that.
As for the protection of renters, they have been protected but there is always a balance to be struck. There are stories now about people not being able to go back into their own homes because people are not paying rent and therefore they are keeping out the homeowners who are coming back from abroad, and all sorts of things. There is a balance in this, and the Government have, I think, struck the right balance in protecting people during this extraordinary crisis, but that cannot go on forever.
As regards the Town and Country Planning Act regulations, I am in discussion with the Secretary of State in regards to whether or not the prayer against them can have time found for a debate. I will report back to the House with an answer to that in due course. The right hon. Lady called for the shires to rise up. I am a county Member, not a borough Member—I believe that she is a borough Member—and I would not call upon the shires to rise up, and certainly not my shire county of Somerset. The last time we rose up was of great importance, because it was of course when Alfred the Great defeated the Danes. So when Somerset rises up, the nation is reformed, changed, improved, but we are a peaceable people in Somerset and therefore I think have no immediate plans to rise up.
The right hon. Lady then had a pop at my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary.
I think he has done an absolutely first-class job under difficult circumstances, and the truth is—
No, he has been upgraded. He is an A* individual and an A* Secretary of State—not on estimated grades, but on the facts before us. We know he is an A* Secretary of State because he was able to react to a situation quickly and put it right. The real success of Governments is, when there is a problem, being able to put it right. That is what my right hon. Friend did and for which he deserves the most enormous credit. He regularly appears in this House, so there is no question of him failing to make appearances and answer questions—as, of course, is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has been before this House and kept us up to date on numerous occasions over the last six months and will continue to do so, because the Government have the fullest respect for this House, as it should.
Of course I note the right hon. Lady’s point that the Department of Health and Social Care is not answering written questions in a timely way, and I will take that up, because that is part of my job as Leader of the House. I have, as the House will know, been very sympathetic to the Department of Health and Social Care particularly during this pandemic for some tardiness in response. I think, six months in, that sympathy is not as great as it previously was, and that is probably true for the House as a whole, so I will absolutely take up what she has asked me to do.
On the position of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland remains a fundamental part of the United Kingdom and will have complete, uninhibited access to the GB market. That is a very important part of the withdrawal agreement.
We send our best wishes to Julia in the Tea Room and join the tributes paid to John Hume and others.
After three days back, it is almost as if we have never been away. The Government’s shambles over the summer has continued. Despite the Leader of the House defending the Secretary of State for Education, it seems to have been a huge surprise to the Education Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that they might be required to make statements in the House on the first day back, because the official Opposition and SNP Front Benchers did not receive sight of those statements until minutes before Ministers got to their feet. That was quite unfortunate, and I hope the Leader of the House can assure us that the usual courtesies will be more properly observed in the future.
I am sure that some Government Back Benchers are taking great delight from the fact that the new term has begun with the Government ripping up cross-party consensus on international aid and threatening to undermine the 0.7% target, just at the time that our poorest brothers and sisters around the world need it most. Can the Leader of the House assure us that, even if the Department for International Development is no more, the Government are not afraid of scrutiny of their aid spending and that the International Development Committee will be able to continue as a non-departmental Select Committee for as long as it needs to?
What is increasingly emerging out of all this is a tale of two Governments on these islands: right-wing populism from the Leader of the House and his colleagues to mask the utter shambles of their domestic policy agenda, compared with the strong leadership being shown in Scotland and a hugely ambitious programme for government announced by the First Minister this week. This Tory Government just want to get back to pressing a reset switch, to return to the rat race and trickle-down economics as soon as they can. In Scotland, we recognise that the opportunity exists to work our way out of the pandemic towards a greener, fairer society and economy. The more those policy agendas diverge, the more people in Scotland will seek to go their own way.
Finally, on a slightly more consensual note, the Leader of the House will know that this month marks the 10th anniversary of the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom and his prophetic speech in Westminster Hall. Would the Leader of the House be willing to discuss with interested parties in this House, the House of Lords and elsewhere how that visit can be appropriately reflected on and commemorated?
What an extremely good point the hon. Gentleman makes about His Holiness the Pope Emeritus, who made a wonderful and inspirational speech in Westminster Hall 10 years ago and told politicians a few home truths with an authority that only the Holy Father can have. It