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Topical Questions

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 10 June 2021

Last week the UK agreed in principle a new trade deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein worth £22 billion that brings opportunities for British exporters and services, from farmers to lawyers to musicians. It is the first trade deal ever to include provisions on mobile roaming, and it brings benefits to UK fish processing, supporting 18,000 jobs in Scotland, East Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire.

Last month, Members in all parts of the House were horrified by the appalling outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza. Can the Secretary of State set out whether British arms exports were used in any way against innocent civilians in that conflict? If she is unable to do so, does she not agree that the inability to know where our arms are being used, and what for, is hugely concerning given the potential breaches of international law?

We welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza last month. We are committed to a durable ceasefire. As the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) mentioned, we have one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and we take these issues very seriously.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is currently working on a possible trade deal with the Gulf, which would be of great benefit to all concerned. For trade to be successful, we need to ensure easy mobility for business people, but currently Emiratis wanting to visit the UK on the visa waiver scheme are permitted only a single entry in a period of six months. Will the Minister work with colleagues in the Home Office to allow multiple entries so that the UK is never at a disadvantage compared with other European countries? (900794)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the importance of the Gulf given that the six countries in the Gulf Co-operation Council are our third-largest non-EU export market, at over £30 billion last year. I am very pleased that we have a strong visa offer for our partners there, including the electronic visa waiver programme, and that the introduction of Britain’s new points-based immigration system creates a level playing field for the first time in many years. I will continue to work closely with fellow Ministers at the Home Office to make sure that the visa system contributes to Britain rightly being recognised as a world leader with which to trade and invest.

Happy birthday from Blyth Valley, Mr Speaker. I recently had the pleasure of visiting B&B Attachments, a fantastic firm in Cramlington that designs and constructs stock handling machinery for the front of forklift trucks. During my visit, it became evident that now more than ever, we need to showcase the ability of such firms on a global stage. Does the Secretary of State agree that she is doing all she can to support and promote the achievements of our homegrown manufacturing? (900796)

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued support for businesses in his constituency, and I agree with him that B&B Attachments is an example of UK manufacturing at its best. My Department was delighted to help B&B grow its business overseas by providing specialised advice and dedicated funding. The Department is doing all it can to help other manufacturing suppliers from across the regions and nations of the UK to achieve success overseas, including with grants from our £38 million international-isation fund.

Given that physical trade shows are taking place in the EU as early as July and given that so far there has not been any confirmation of what support will be provided to UK exporters, can the Minister provide clarity on when his Department will publish its trade show access programme for the financial year 2021-22? I am sure that the Minister knows that continued delays will be disastrous for UK exporters, as the UK is supposed to be showing the world that it is ready to export and keen to forge new commercial relationships with the rest of the world. (900793)

I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question, because trade show support is really important for putting British business on the front foot. We have worked across multiple industries to improve our digital and virtual offer, and I am delighted to say that in some areas that has led to higher levels of activity than we had before. I will make sure that the House is informed as soon as we have further to say about the plan, possibly following 21 June.

Rouzan, a medic, and Yasin, aged nine—those are only two names of the many children and frontline medics who have been killed during systematic oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli Government. Export licences to sell arms to Israel worth £80 million—£80 million—have been granted by Ministers in the Department over the past three years. Lives have been lost, businesses have been attacked, homes are in rubble and families have been torn apart, yet the UK Government are still selling British-made weapons to Israel. Will the Minister please clarify whether it is UK Government policy to sell arms to those complicit in violations of international law? (900795)

The UK has one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis, and the criteria are clearly laid out in legislation to ensure complete compliance with international law.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work she is doing to secure a free trade agreement with Australia. Does she agree that an agreement with our friends in Australia will deliver for the whole of the Union, bringing huge benefits to businesses and jobs not only in my patch of Stockton South, but in every corner of our United Kingdom? (900801)

I welcome my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for a deal with Australia. There is also the fact that it will lead to entry to the CPTPP—a vast Pacific market of huge benefit to the manufacturing industry in the north-east of England and beyond. I thank him very much for his support.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, post Brexit, there have been substantial changes to checks being undertaken on products of animal origin. However, an abundance of red tape, including the need for certified veterinarians to sign off dairy products, rather than a dairy inspector, as required by most non-EU countries, is creating an additional burden and causing extensive delays to the processing of crucial consumer products. Will Ministers impress on their Cabinet colleagues the need to resolve these delays and press for a speedy resolution to facilitate efficient trade across borders? (900797)

The Labour party is the party of red tape; we are the ones who are getting rid of it. We have called for pragmatism in this area. We are a sovereign nation—we are British, and we are proud of it—and we are going to stand by every corner of this country as we deliver trade benefits and create jobs. In respect of the issues around meat, it is wrong that anyone should be threatening the British sausage. We will stand up for the British sausage, and no one will ever be able to destroy it.

A very happy birthday to you, Mr Speaker. In Burnley and Padiham, we have world-class skills and products, and when we export those, it is phenomenally successful, but we know that businesses struggle with having the confidence and knowledge to export if they have never done it before. Could my hon. Friend set out what steps the Department for International Trade is taking to give businesses the support they need when exporting for the first time, so that we can push the “made in Burnley” message even further around the world? (900804)

I am pleased to say that my Department has recently created the new Export Academy, designed precisely to equip businesses with the capabilities and confidence to export successfully. My hon. Friend is such a champion of his local exporters, and it is so refreshing to have Government Members like him championing local business. I believe that he is holding an exporters fair shortly, and I congratulate him on that. He will be pleased to hear that 259 businesses from the north-west have joined the SME pilot Export Academy since it began, including 15 from the Burnley area. We have international trade advisers for the northern powerhouse, so additional resource has gone in there, and with his help, we will continue to champion northern businesses, and businesses from Burnley in particular, over the coming months and years.

The International Trade Secretary described her new deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein as a “major boost” for our trade, but the Norwegian Government were more realistic. They said that the deal is “not as comprehensive” as our previous arrangements, that trade would be“more bureaucratic and less dynamic”and that without a veterinary agreement, there will be“a number of trade barriers”that we did not previously face. Does the Secretary of State recognise that more honest description of the deal, and will she take steps to reduce the barriers to trade that she has created for our exporters and importers? (900810)

Once again, the Labour party is obsessed by membership of the European Union. It has not moved on from the referendum, when the British people provided a clear signal to us in this place that we should get on with delivering the benefits of Brexit. This deal is a world leader in digital trade, eliminating the need for paperwork, and many countries and trade blocs could learn from that.

I feel somewhat inadequate that I can only say this in English, but many happy returns, Mr Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as and when a trade deal with the United States is agreed, the Government will not compromise on the principle that underpins the online safety Bill—that digital platforms, including American ones, must comply with the duty of care to keep their users as safe as they reasonably can—and that that will hold true whether or not the Bill has completed its legislative passage and is enforced by that point?

The UK is committed to making our regime the safest place in the world to be online. In trade negotiations, we will protect our online safety regime, while also promoting our thriving digital industry. I am pleased that in free trade agreements with Japan and the European economic area, we have agreed free flow of data alongside protecting Britain’s high standards, and that is exactly what we would do in an agreement with the United States.

Scotch whisky is vital in North East Fife, not just because we enjoy a wee dram, particularly on birthdays—many happy returns, Mr Speaker—but because it forms a key part of the local economy. With four independent distilleries in my constituency, the success of these businesses matters both for those in directly linked jobs and for those working in tourism and hospitality. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Prime Minister will use his bilateral meeting with President Biden this week to agree and publish a clear road map for the permanent settlement of the Boeing-Airbus dispute, which would remove the risk of tariffs being reimposed on Scotch whisky and other sectors?

It was very positive news when the tariffs were lifted earlier this year. We are now working very closely with Katherine Tai, the US TR, with whom I have regular conversations, on a permanent settlement to this arrangement, and we are making good progress.

The difference is that you and I don’t count the years, Mr Speaker. Instead, we make the years count, and that is important.

It is really important that we have these trade deals and I support them, but I wish to express concern about the Australian trade deal. I declare an interest as a member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. The Ulster Farmers’ Union and my neighbours, who are members of it, have expressed concern about the quality of Australian beef and the fact that it might impact adversely on the Northern Ireland beef sector and industry. We export most of our beef. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the deal will not impact on the Northern Ireland beef sector?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have met the Foyle Food Group, for example, who were the first beef exporters to export to the United States when we got the ban removed. I know that there are huge opportunities around the world for high-quality Northern Ireland beef. Part of what we are doing with the Australian trade deal is opening up wider access to the Asia-Pacific markets, which have higher prices than here in the UK and in Europe and will bring more opportunity. I am very happy to have further conversations with the hon. Gentleman.

I now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.