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Topical Questions

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 3 March 2022

In light of Russia’s outrageous, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine it is more important than ever that we stand together with those who share our values and take swift and firm action against those who seek to overthrow democracy and threaten our allies. Trade between friends and allies promotes growth and prosperity and, in a climate of mutual respect, free and fair trading rules bring a mutual economic and cultural boost between nations.

Last week I was in Singapore to sign our new digital economy agreement, the most innovative trade agreement ever signed. The digital sector alone adds £150 billion to the economy and lifts wages, with workers earning around 50% more than the UK average. The agreement connects the UK to the fastest-growing economies in the Asia- Pacific region and furthers our bid to join Singapore and 10 other nations in the trans-Pacific partnership. Membership will mean access to a free trade area with a GDP of £8.4 trillion and vast opportunities for our UK exporters.

On Monday this week, I signed the UK-New Zealand free trade agreement with my fellow Trade Minister Damien O’Connor. The agreement is the UK’s second trade deal negotiated from scratch since leaving the EU. We are demonstrating that global Britain can achieve as a sovereign trading nation, and we are strengthening ties with a close ally that shares our firm belief in free and fair trade.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the trade deals thus far. Last week we held an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on the UK-India talks, and I congratulate her also on kicking those talks off. Will she update the House on the progress of those talks, and can she ensure that we conclude them by the end of this calendar year?

On 13 January this year, our UK-India FTA negotiations were launched in Delhi. That first round concluded on 28 January. Discussions were productive and reflected the UK and India’s shared ambition to secure a comprehensive deal that will boost trade for both our nations. The positive discussions laid the groundwork for the UK and India to make positive and efficient progress, and the second round is due to begin on 7 March. I would not wish to give a precise landing zone, but we are working very closely and with optimism and effort on both sides.

The whole House stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, who are defending the right of sovereign nations to live in freedom with courage, determination and fortitude. Labour supports the toughest possible economic sanctions on Putin’s Russian regime, which is carrying out this barbaric and illegal invasion. I welcome the restrictions on banking and financial measures and the export ban on high-end technical equipment and components in electronics, telecommunications and aerospace, but at the same time we can and must do more. Labour Members have called for a total ban on exports of luxury goods to Russia. Will the Secretary of State heed those calls and commit this Government to that export ban on luxury goods so that Putin and his inner circle cannot live a Mayfair lifestyle in Moscow?

It is a great reassurance for the Ukrainians to know that in all parts of the House, here in the mother of Parliaments, we all stand together supporting them in every way that we can, and, across the world, bring together those voices that say, without exception, that the unprovoked aggression that Putin is showing Ukraine is unacceptable. We will continue to work across Government to make sure that we are using our UK powers as well as working with allies from across the world to tighten the screw so that Putin and his regime will find it more and more difficult not only to sustain their military campaigns but also find that they will no longer have access to their funds. The Foreign Secretary will continue to work on a number of areas. The impact of the SWIFT sanctions will be dramatic and catastrophic for Putin.

I do of course appreciate that it is vital to work together with friends and allies, but let me push the Secretary of State on this specific point, because cutting off the supply of luxury products would send a further signal to those in Putin’s Kremlin, who have, by the way, often accumulated wealth and possessions at the expense of the Russian people. We can act on this and we can act now. So will the Secretary of State work with her colleagues across Government, and indeed Governments across Europe who have concerns, whether on clothing, jewellery or diamonds, to get a comprehensive ban in place to stop Putin and his inner circle living in luxury while barbaric, evil acts are perpetrated on the people of Ukraine?

We will continue to work across Government using all the tools I mentioned, but in the meantime I encourage all those who continue to export to Ukraine to use the Export Support Service if they need that support. We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to make sure that Putin understands fully that the behaviour he is demonstrating is absolutely outrageous. The Foreign Secretary will lead those discussions.

T2. We have many successful global exporters home grown in North Devon, such as Turnstyle Designs, S+H lighting and Saltrock surf wear, but many smaller companies feel that this is not something that they can do. Will my hon. Friend highlight what support is available to companies in remote and rural areas such as North Devon to help them to grow and export? (905841)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have already undertaken over 80 virtual Export Academy events in the south-west of England. If she would like to attend the export showcase on 9 March, we can show her the full range of support that we can provide to her companies.

Farmers in Wales and in Gower are rightly angry because the Government’s own assessment shows that it is the beef and sheep markets that are going to suffer in the light of the Australia and New Zealand deals. Farmers in Wales cannot and never will be able to compete on price. How do Ministers and the Secretary of State square that circle and protect the livelihoods of farmers in Wales?

In all these deals we need to stay focused on what are the actual benefits and what are the actual risks for farmers and producers. To give one example, currently New Zealand does not use even half of its quota, so the notion that this market is suddenly going to be flooded with sheep meat from New Zealand is not correct. We need to look at the facts on this. There will be opportunities for our producers and that is what we need to stay focused on.

T3. Both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) had the great privilege of visiting Bangladesh last month with the Al-Tazid Foundation, where we had the opportunity to meet not only His Excellency the High Commissioner, who is doing such a fantastic job, but the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. We also took part in the business side. Bangladesh’s economy is growing at great pace; it is an increasingly dynamic economy. I appreciate that we are going to do a trade deal, but can the Secretary of State outline what steps are being taken by the Government to intensify trade, co-operation and investment between our country and Bangladesh? (905842)

Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing global economies and is strategically important to the UK as part of the Indo-Pacific tilt. DIT is preparing to hold a second trade investment dialogue with Bangladesh this year and there will be a visit by the Prime Minister’s trade envoy later this month. I am more than happy to speak to my hon. Friend, and I will ensure that any specific issues are fed into that dialogue.

Trade rules are so often rigged against women, especially women living in lower income countries. Will the Department commit to carry out mandatory gender impact assessments on all future UK trade deals in order to promote greater gender-just trade?

As part of the free trade agreements we have negotiated so far, we have specific gender chapters, because we wish to use the authority and the commitments that we make to these issues and work with these friends and allies with whom we are drawing trade agreements together. We want to ensure that we push for those values and for ground-level opportunities for SMEs led by women across the world, so that they can achieve.

T4. Some pork producers, including Cranswick, which has premises in Thirsk and Malton, did the right thing and self-suspended export licences to China due to a covid outbreak. Seventeen months later, those licences have not been reinstated. Can we do whatever we can to get these licences back in place? It would help Cranswick, those other producers and the pig industry generally, which is suffering quite badly. (905843)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and it needs to be resolved swiftly. Ministers from across this Department are lobbying to that effect, as are our Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Prime Minister has raised it personally.

It cannot be business as usual. As many countries are needing to divest and diversify their energy supply away from Russia, what trade mechanisms can the Secretary of State put in place to ensure that the UK can be part of that effort to assist those countries achieving that objective?

As we continue to look at how we can use our sanctions powers and work with allies across the world, things like the new sanctions brought in by the Secretary of State for Transport over the past week will start to bite on energy flows coming out of Russia.

T5. I warmly welcome the new trade deals that are being announced. Not all of them include financial services, which is our biggest export sector. Working closely with the Treasury, can the Secretary of State update the House on where the strategic focus is in increasing access for financial services firms and financial services exports? (905844)

The Government remain committed to championing export opportunities for our world-class financial services businesses. Through targeted export campaigns and an expansion of existing support services, we are promoting trade opportunities across the financial services spectrum and in specific areas such as asset management, green finance, fintech and insurance. The Government are also signing ambitious free trade agreements that will open new markets and reduce market access barriers for UK financial services, and I am in regular dialogue with the City Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on these issues.

When the Secretary of State responded to the question about luxury goods by not answering it, it begs the question, why not, and raises the question of whether there are conflicts of interest behind it. The contrast with Syria, where export controls were put in place, is stark. If it was appropriate for Syria, why is it not appropriate for Russia? I remind her of her words. She talked about working with allies and tightening the screw, so will she now, with her colleagues across Government, put in place that ban on luxury goods?

First, as someone who has been personally threatened by Alexander Temerko, I would just say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to make insinuations about Members of Parliament in that respect. If we are going to assist this situation, stop those who are enemies of this state and have clean politics at both ends of this House, we need to focus on individuals, their moral obligations and what they have and have not done. The hon. Gentleman caveated his remarks to the Prime Minister yesterday in that spirit, so I caution him to follow his own advice.

On the issue of luxury goods, many products have been exported not only to Russia, but to other countries supporting Russia’s appalling, barbaric war.

There are obviously complex legal obligations surrounding that, which is why the Department has stood up the export support service. There was much criticism of Italy’s carve-out on those products, which I think was wrong. Our objective is clear: Russia must pay the price for this barbaric war and our policies will do that.

Order. We ought to be cautious about the language we use against Members. I support the Minister, who is suffering heavily from intimidation from people who I would not support. Let us be a bit more cautious about how we put things in future.

I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and of the Opposition in condemning the Ukraine invasion and in their criticism of Russia. It goes far wider than that, however, and it certainly cannot be business as usual, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) just said. The free world is now in an existential struggle with despotic regimes such as Russia and China. What does global trade look like in the new era? I invite my right hon. Friend to—

Order. They have to be short questions. [Interruption.] In fairness, Sir Bernard, you know better than anybody, which is why you are the Chair of the Liaison Committee. I think the Secretary of State has got the message.

Do you want to leave? Seriously, it is not fair to other Members. I have to look after all Back Benchers.

We will continue to work across Government and with our allies to ensure that Putin’s regime feels the absolute force of all the sanctions that we can bring to bear.

Short question: I have every respect for the Secretary of State. Will she promise to burn the midnight oil and do something very dramatic to take on Russia and those countries that have failed to criticise it?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that not only I but every member of the Cabinet and all our Ministers are indeed burning the midnight oil to ensure that, as we work with our allies across the world, the message is absolutely clear and that pain—economic and other—is felt firmly by Putin.

This year’s research by Social Enterprise UK has found that social enterprises are overtaking the rest of the private sector in the proportion of firms that are exporting overseas. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the value of greater diversity in business?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With my other hat on as Minister for Equalities, I can say that with the full support of the Secretary of State, we are working to ensure that the exporters and their supply chains are fully representative of all sections of society.

What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts in the Scottish Government about how to increase Scottish exports to South American countries?

I am planning to visit our new trade and investment office in Edinburgh and I look forward to a dialogue with my counterpart at the first opportunity.

Can the Secretary of State update the House on the plans for a UK-Israel innovation summit and free trade agreement, following her recent visit?

Israel is one of our strongest allies and largest partners in global trade. We are working closely with our Israeli counterparts to deliver a successful summit in the next few weeks.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the big landmark trade deals, such as those with Australia and New Zealand, grab all the headlines, of equal importance is the less-publicised work that she is doing to tear down the trade barriers that prevent the export of British goods and services around the world?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Not only do the free trade agreements open the door for new opportunities to take away market access barriers but we continue to work week in, week out to pick off those market access barriers that can release more trade with friends and allies around the world. Some 200 of those have been cleared in the last month and we will continue to work closely on others. I encourage businesses that have particular issues to bring them to the Department’s attention.

In standing four-square with the people of Ukraine, it is important that we really make sanctions work and the Government have led the world in doing that. Crypto- currencies have been widely used to evade sanctions. Will my right hon. Friend look into that matter?

Steel is hugely important for Rotherham and Rother Valley, which is why it is essential to see the tariffs set by the United States on British steel dropped as soon as possible. Can my right hon. Friend outline what steps she is taking to get a resolution on this to get more jobs for Rother Valley and Rotherham?

My hon. Friend is a champion for Rother Valley, and he will be pleased to know that our section 232 tariff negotiations are going well. I will be speaking to my opposite number, Secretary Raimondo, in the next few days, and we hope to reach a conclusion very shortly.

In Northern Ireland, there are 123,000 SMEs. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure they are awarded the same trade opportunities as those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and has the Northern Ireland protocol hindered trade opportunities for SMEs?

I will raise that with my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to make sure that they have full access to all the trade support mechanisms that I outlined previously to ensure that all Northern Ireland businesses are fully aware of all the support packages available to them.