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Commons Chamber

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022

House of Commons

Thursday 15 December 2022

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

Before we start our business, I wish to invite the House to commemorate a tragic and sombre event. On 17 December 1942—80 years ago, on Saturday—the then Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, read to the House a declaration issued by the wartime allies condemning the treatment of Jewish people by the Nazis in occupied Europe. The declaration followed a diplomatic note sent to the allied powers a week earlier, by the Polish Foreign Minister in exile—the first official report that the holocaust was under way. The evil acts described in the declaration were, and remain, difficult to comprehend. It said:

“From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported, in conditions of appalling horror and brutality, to Eastern Europe…None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation, or are deliberately massacred in mass executions.”

After the Foreign Secretary read the declaration and was questioned on it, the Member for Islington South, William Cluse, asked:

“Is it possible, in your judgement, Mr. Speaker, for Members of the House to rise in their places and stand in silence in support of this protest against disgusting barbarism?”

Speaker FitzRoy replied:

“That should be a spontaneous act by the House as a whole.”

Hansard records that

“Members of the House then stood in silence.”—[Official Report, 17 December 1942; Vol. 385, c. 2083-2087.]

A journalist covering the event said:

“I have never seen anything like this silence which was like the frown of the conscience of mankind.”

Today, we are honoured to be joined in the Gallery by seven survivors of the holocaust, representatives of Britain’s Jewish community and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. As an exception, and because this is such a poignant moment, I have agreed that the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit and our House of Commons photographer can capture images of them here today.

To remember that important moment, and as a tribute to all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, I now invite the House to join me for a minute of silent reflection.

The House observed a one-minute silence.

Oral Answers to Questions

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Trade Barriers: Food and Farming

1. What progress her Department has made on tackling trade barriers for British food and farming businesses. (902792)

8. What progress her Department has made on tackling trade barriers for British food and farming businesses. (902804)

15. What progress her Department has made on tackling trade barriers for British food and farming businesses. (902815)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House to take a moment this morning to show our resolve, and the country’s resolve, never to forget the horrors and barbarism committed on our continent within living memory. We will always remember the holocaust, and man’s inhumanity to man, and we resolve to work to ensure that the suffering of so many is never forgotten and never repeated.

In the past two years we have resolved nearly 400 trade barriers, from opening markets for UK pork in Mexico and Chile to UK poultry in Japan. The recent deals with Australia and New Zealand also provide various mechanisms to identify and address trade barriers. This year the UK achieved the first export of British lamb to the USA in more than 20 years, a market estimated by industry to be worth £37 million over the first five years.

May I take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend to his post, and to associate myself with his remarks regarding today’s commemoration of the holocaust?

My hon. Friend, as a fellow Aberdeenshire Member of Parliament, will be aware, as should everyone, of the high quality of food and drink that Scotland has to offer the world. He will also be aware of the concerns raised by seed potato growers in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere across Scotland about the European Union’s intransigence in not allowing the absolute same standard of seed potatoes that had been available to meet the vast demand for them across the European continent. What is the Department for International Trade doing either to resolve that issue or, indeed, to find new markets for that wonderful product?

I thank my hon. Friend, and constituency neighbour but one, for all that he does to champion farmers in Aberdeenshire, and indeed across Scotland, as he did when he was a Scotland Office Minister. It might interest him to know that UK exports of seed potatoes to non-EU markets increased by 25% between 2018 and 2021, and last year nearly 90% of all UK seed potato exports were to non-EU countries, supported by recent trade agreements with Egypt and Morocco. The DIT Scotland team, based in Edinburgh, as he knows well, works closely with the Scottish Government and their agencies to ensure that Scottish companies are supported to pursue opportunities for their products in new markets.

The number of food and farming businesses in my constituency is not high, but none the less they are really important. They include businesses such as Backyard Brewhouse, a craft brewery. British farming is renowned for its high-quality produce, so what is my hon. Friend’s Department doing to take advantage of this and do all it can to promote our exceptional British produce?

If my right hon. Friend were to invite me, I would be delighted to visit the Backyard Brewhouse in Brownhills. British food and drink are among the best in the world, renowned for their quality and provenance. DIT is delivering an incredibly successful programme of activity for our exports, matching our producers with international buyers. We are placing eight new dedicated agrifood attachés in growth markets around the world.

What more is my hon. Friend hoping to deliver to ensure that our great British produce carries “Brand Britain,” through national and regional UK geographical indicators to an international stage in existing and future free trade arrangements?

I thank my hon. Friend for what she does for the food producers of North Devon. We have fantastic British produce, with protected geographical indications, such as Welsh lamb, Scotch whisky and Stilton, which are promoted and recognised around the globe through the GREAT Britain & Northern Ireland campaign, and at home through our “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” marketing strategy. This supports small and medium-sized enterprises to understand and access the benefits of FTAs and wider export opportunities and future success stories from all parts of the UK. I would be delighted to meet her to discuss what more we can do to support exports from North Devon and, indeed, the rest of the UK.

Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. As we have heard, trade barriers are a problem for seed potato growers, and yesterday the International Trade Committee heard that the biggest change that a Government could introduce to get rid of these and help the UK economy would be to rejoin the customs union and single market. How much do the Government care about the UK economy?

I thank my hon. Friend—the hon. Member for that question. This Government care passionately about the UK economy. It might interest the hon. Member to know that the EU remains a vital trading partner for the UK. Contrary to the claim that trade with the EU has collapsed, Office for National Statistics figures show that total trade in goods and services between the UK and the EU was worth £652.6 billion in the year to June. That is up by 18%.

British farmers could lose out on up to £148 million-worth of growth owing to the New Zealand trade deal, according to a report by the International Trade Committee. A report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that British farmers could lose out on up to £278 million-worth of growth owing to the Australia trade deal. What is the Minister going to do to address those huge potential losses?

As the hon. Member is aware, in our negotiations with New Zealand and Australia we have ensured that there are huge protections for British food and farming, including a long period of transition to allow the market to adapt. We are committed to promoting and driving up exports of British produce overseas, as well as to ensuring that the great British produce we deliver at home is protected.

If you want to enter into the Christmas spirit, Mr Speaker, I would recommend a dram of Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish or Old Pulteney. It is a widely recognised fact that the highland single malts are the best whiskies in the world. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister is an Aberdeenshire man, will he make sure that sales of those whiskies are pushed very strongly?

I would be very pleased to visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and try all those fine whiskies. I had a meeting with the Scotch Whisky Association just last week. It is very excited about the current trajectory of Scotch whisky sales overseas, and very, very excited about what we are doing in India to reduce tariffs on Scotch whisky so that we can further promote that fantastic Scottish export around the world.

According to the Centre for Business Prosperity, more than 40% of products such as shellfish and seed potatoes are no longer exported to European markets, for want of a veterinary agreement with the EU—yet the Government do nothing. I know that exports in ex-Prime Ministers’ speeches have increased recently, thanks to the efforts of Ministers, but why will they not act now to negotiate a veterinary agreement, which would be transformational for British farmers, thousands of British businesses and the British food industry in particular?

This negativity about our export position with the European Union is precisely why so many people are turned off from the Labour party and have been for such a long time. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said, trade with the EU is actually up by 18%. The veterinary agreement would involve dynamic alignment with the EU, which I believe the Labour party is opposed to; the hon. Gentleman might want to correct the record. In terms of overall relations with the EU, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy is engaging every single day with our European partners to see what we can do to drive down trade barriers further, so that we can promote British exports on the continent. Notwithstanding that, we are looking for new export opportunities in emerging markets around the world.

The New Zealand trade deal will mean an expected £150 million hit to agriculture and food-related industries each year. An impact analysis shows that the Australia trade deal will mean an expected £94 million hit to farming and a £225 million hit to food processing each year. On top of that, UK food and drink exports to the EU have already fallen, despite what the Minister says, by more than £1.3 billion, because of the Brexit deal that this Government signed. Given that mounting charge sheet, how can farmers and food producers in this country ever again trust a word that the Tories say?

We will take no lectures from the SNP on supporting Scottish farmers and food producers. It is not the UK Government who are accused of operating in an information void due to the lack of information and slow progress of Scotland’s post-Brexit agricultural Bill. It is not the UK Government who were criticised by the National Farmers Union of Scotland for not voting for the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill a couple of weeks ago. This Government are committed to supporting Scottish, and indeed British, food producers and exporters, not creating division and stoking negativity, which is all the SNP ever brings to the table.

I think Aberdeenshire farmers will take that with a large pinch of salt. The Secretary of State says that she is a huge believer in British farming and the role it plays in our national life. She wrote an article a few years ago on fears about the impact of opening up our markets on domestic producers such as farmers. In the light of all that, how long does the Minister seriously think it will be before he and his colleagues trigger the mechanisms to bring an end to these disastrous trade deals with Australia and New Zealand?

The trade deals with New Zealand and Australia are great deals for British exporters and this country. As I said, unlike the Scottish National party, we are committed to championing Scottish and British exports and food and drink around the world, not creating negativity. It is time that the hon. Gentleman championed great British exporters—great Aberdeenshire exporters—instead of coming here with all that scare- mongering and negativity, as he does weekly.

Financial Services

2. What steps her Department is taking to increase trade opportunities for the financial services sector. (902795)

The Department for International Trade is absolutely committed to increasing trade opportunities for the UK financial services sector. Through our network of in-market sector specialists located in Europe, India, Singapore and beyond, the Department is identifying and removing market access barriers and supporting companies to export their services to the world. Working with organisations such as the City of London, the Investment Association and others, we are promoting the UK’s world-class financial services overseas. We are also championing financial services through our free trade agreements.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that sector, which is hugely important to the UK economy and a major export generator. Our export strategy, which we published last year, outlines the Government support available for British exporters, including the financial services sector. The strategy updates the Department’s support for services firms and helps to give businesses and financial tech innovators the flexibility and resilience to thrive and trade globally. As well as providing large amounts of online support and information, including webinars, the Department provides tailored support services—for example, through trade advisers—from which firms of all sizes can benefit.

If we are to increase trade opportunities for the financial services sector, does the Minister agree that we must deal with the prevalence of money laundering for Russian kleptocrats, which has earned London the nickname “Londongrad”? Does he believe that we need to ensure that we can tackle such illegal activity in the City?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and, of course, that is exactly what we are doing. The Government are very aware of the issues and, with the support of the whole House, have taken robust action on sanctions against Russia, and will continue to do so.


In 2021, the Conservative Government concluded the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement—the first major trade deal that the UK struck as an independent trading nation. That agreement provides significant opportunities for British business in Japan and goes further than the previous EU deal. It also strengthens our case for accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. The UK Government are also working hard to reduce barriers to trade in Japan—for example, last year, we secured market access for UK poultry, which is worth £65 million over five years.

Last month, I visited Japan with the British Council where I saw its fantastic work to promote UK arts and culture and to strengthen our trading relationship with a key ally in the Indo-Pacific region. Does the Minister agree that the British Council is a soft power powerhouse, and can he tell me what work the Department does with it to boost trade around the world?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. We work closely with all aspects of UK hard and soft power abroad and we frequently work with the British Council, particularly on our education exports, which are a huge sector and a huge opportunity for this country. We engage regularly with the British Council to ensure that the DIT is at the forefront of our educational offer in particular and that the ties of friendship promoted by the British Council feed through into our commercial relationship. There is no better example of that than our excellent recent deal with Japan.

Inward Investment

4. What assessment her Department has made of the contribution of inward investment to the Government’s growth agenda. (902798)

In the last financial year, DIT supported foreign direct investments generating over £7 billion-worth of economic impact to the UK economy and creating nearly 73,000 new jobs, of which 34,000 were outside London and the south-east, contributing to our levelling-up agenda. In 2021-22, we supported 91 inward investment projects aligned with the 10-point plan into the UK, which delivered £13 billion of green investment. In October, as part of the Green Trade & Investment Expo, I visited the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth—an excellent example of our British low-carbon sectors.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure she will agree that the benefits of investment need to be seen throughout the United Kingdom. In that context, will she tell me what her Department is doing to support the levelling-up agenda and, in particular, to locate staff in the regions and nations?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. DIT intends to grow over 550 roles outside London by 2025. Our second major location will be the Darlington economic campus, alongside three new trade and investment offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. I would also like my hon. Friend, as an east midlands MP, to know that I visited businesses in the east midlands just last month, and I am supported by DIT staff based all around the region, who are doing a fantastic job on trade advisory.

Trade Barriers

5. What steps her Department is taking to reduce barriers to global trade for British businesses. (902799)

12. What steps her Department is taking to reduce barriers to global trade for British businesses. (902811)

16. What steps her Department is taking to reduce barriers to global trade for British businesses. (902816)

In the past financial year, we have resolved 192 individual trade barriers in over 70 countries. Forty-five of these alone are estimated to be worth around £5 billion to British businesses over the next five years. The Department is working tirelessly to remove the most prominent bilateral trade barriers—work that has the potential to deliver £20 billion-worth of opportunities for businesses across the entire UK.

My right hon. Friend’s Department has done sterling work in achieving free trade deals with 60 or so countries around the world. However, many other countries are incredibly enthusiastic to do free trade agreements, and none more so than the Kingdom of Thailand. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Thailand, may I urge my right hon. Friend to do all he can to move talks beyond where they are now to secure a free trade agreement with the Kingdom of Thailand, which is keen to continue building on our great trading relationship?

First, I commend my hon. Friend for his work as a former Minister at the Department. He will be delighted to know that we have increased the number of countries with which we have a free trade agreement to 71, in addition to the European Union itself. I also commend him for his work as trade envoy to Thailand and Brunei. He will know that we had our first ministerial joint economic and trade committee with Thailand in June, and we have agreed to deepen our trade relationship by developing an enhanced trade partnership. There are no current plans in place for an FTA, but this enhanced trade partnership could be the first step in laying the foundations for a potential FTA in the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Gulf region offers huge opportunities for British businesses and their export potential? Is he able to update the House on his Department’s work in supporting trade to the region?

My hon. Friend is always looking for opportunities for Blackpool businesses and his constituency. He is right: the UK is negotiating an ambitious trade deal with the Gulf Co-operation Council, and an FTA is expected to boost trade between our economies by at least 16%. We also engage bilaterally with GCC countries. For example, a key recent success was being able to get Holland & Barrett vitamin and food supplements into Qatar, which was worth an estimated £250,000.

I commend the Minister of State on all the hard work he is doing—I am an avid follower of his Twitter feed, and it is interesting to find out which country he is in on any individual day. We do a lot of good exports of cars and so on, but one area we need to grow is invisibles—financial and other services. When we do trade agreements, are we putting enough effort into ensuring that our service sector can take full advantage of them?

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head—quite apart from the fact that he follows me so closely on Twitter. I would perhaps commend that more widely, and I hope my constituents get a look in from time to time. I thank my hon. Friend for that.

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head when he talks about the importance of the services sector. Services are 80% of our economy. We are the world’s second largest services exporter. I used to sit at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on trade, and it was often difficult to get the EU to focus as well as it might have done on services possibilities. We now have an independent trade policy, which allows us to give services the focus that UK service companies and service providers deserve, and financial services are very much at the heart of that. We always make sure that our services offer is right at the forefront of our FTA talks and other bilateral trade talks.

GE Power Conversion, which is based in my Rugby constituency, has strong relationships with shipowners and designers who are increasingly choosing to have ships built in China. They see opportunities for offering their expertise in electrification of large vessels, as the maritime sector decarbonises. Will the Minister provide some clarity on the Government’s approach to trade with businesses in China and give some indication of the steps that UK exporters need to take to compete with international competitors in that market and to gain full advantage of the opportunities that are available there?

In successive Government positions, I have always noticed how diverse the businesses are in my hon. Friend’s Rugby constituency, right at the very industrial heartland of this country. He is right to raise the matter of trade with China. The UK engages with China. We remain open to Chinese trade and investment, while ensuring that robust protections are in place to safeguard the UK’s prosperity, values and security. He raises the issue of GE. We are engaging DIT officials based both in the UK and in China and already engaging with GE.

I am not sure that I follow the Minister’s Twitter feed so avidly as other Members—[Interruption.] Easy! I suspect that he might have retweeted something that was published by the Conservative party earlier this year, which said:

“We’ve secured new free trade deals with over 70 countries since 2016. That’s over £800bn worth of new free trade.”

But that is not true, is it? Actually, the UK Statistics Authority has told the Conservative party to stop publishing such fibs. Did the Minister retweet that, and, if he did so, will he apologise?

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that. He has pointed out the fact that we have done trade deals with 71 countries plus the EU, and that that is about £800 billion-worth of trade with those countries. He may have done this inadvertently, but he draws attention to the fact that the Labour party has failed pretty much to support any of the deals that he is quoting. It abstained on the Japan deal. It abstained on the Australia and New Zealand deals. I bet the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) did not mention that to the Australian Trade Minister when he saw him last week. According to his Twitter feed, the party split three ways on Canada. It has failed to support any of these trade deals over the years. It is a bit rich of the party to raise it now.

Of course the Minister will bluster and try to divert as much as he possibly can from the substance, as he normally does. Sir Christopher Chote from the UK Statistics Authority wrote to me, saying:

“It is misleading to describe the £800 billion figure as a measure of ‘new global trade’ resulting from the recent deals.”

That is black and white. Will the Minister now apologise on behalf of his party and Ministers for sharing that tweet and misinformation and set the record straight? Yes, or no?

May I start by correcting the hon. Gentleman: it is actually Sir Robert Chote who is the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority? I do not resile from the fact that we have concluded free trade agreements with 71 countries plus the EU. I notice, of course, that he voted against the EU deal, preferring no deal. I checked before coming here exactly what the SNP’s record was on these deals. I will read it out. On Japan, it was against —[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Bowie, you got carried away yesterday. I know that it is Christmas; do not let me give you that present.

I checked the record. On Japan, the SNP was against. On Singapore, it was against. On Canada, it was against. On South Africa, it was against. On Korea, it was against. On Ukraine, it was even absent. So I will not take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman about the 71 deals. Perhaps he might start supporting a trade deal for once, and then he can get behind British exporters.

As an active Member of Parliament for my constituency, I know that my Northern Ireland businesses are subject to trade barriers and red tape day in, day out, as we are subject to different trading guidelines from the rest of the UK. The Minister is always helpful, so will he tell us what steps will be taken to address the delay in the passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, to ensure that Northern Ireland can truly be a full economic partner of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I strongly believe in the actual and potential capabilities of Northern Ireland as a great exporting part of the UK. Northern Ireland absolutely plays a full part in our free trade agreements. One standout feature of the Australia deal was about the ability of Northern Irish machinery exporters—a big amount of machinery goes from Northern Ireland to Australia and to New Zealand. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Northern Ireland protocol is an active area of negotiation between my colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Commission. I am sure that he and I will look forward to seeing a resolution for those barriers; we recognise that the Northern Ireland protocol is not working for the people of Northern Ireland and we look forward to seeing a resolution in due course.

Surely it is vital that the Government support British businesses, but even senior Conservatives have admitted that the Government have failed on that front. As it is nearly Christmas, I thought we would indulge in a game of “guess who?”. Does the Minister know if the Secretary of State knows which one of her colleagues called the UK’s trade deals “one-sided”? Was it: the former Environment Secretary; the former exports Minister; or her boss, the Prime Minister?

I thank the hon. Lady for her festive cheers and Christmas quiz. I am immensely proud, as I know the Secretary of State is, of our teams, right across the Department for International Trade, who are out negotiating. We are negotiating with more partners at the moment than any other country in the world on free trade agreements. Those negotiation rounds have been going on recently, into December, with people working incredibly hard to land the best deals for Britain. I am just looking forward to the day when perhaps the Labour party and the other Opposition parties might start supporting these deals, getting behind British business and British exporters into our excellent free trade future.


Boosting exports is at the forefront of this Government’s agenda. I am pleased to say that UK exports were worth nearly £760 billion in the 12 months to the end of October 2022—that was an increase of £57 billion, once adjusted for inflation. Our Export Support Service has received more than 11,800 inquiries since its launch in October 2021, providing call-backs to customers and referring companies to other Department for International Trade services more effectively, to support them on their exporting journey.

The UK trade performance is the worst on record. Lost output is estimated at £100 billion a year. With such an appalling record, it is hardly surprising that the Government are making false claims to have secured £800 billion in new free trade deals when most post-Brexit trade deals are just roll-overs. Businesses in Bedford, big and small, are overburdened with red tape. Will the Minister explain how businesses in my constituency can improve growth and trade with the biggest trading bloc in the world?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, but I am afraid that what he says is simply not true: the Japan deal was not a roll-over, and neither were those with Australia and New Zealand; the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership discussions we are in right now will not lead to a roll- over; and a deal with India, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just returned from, will not be a roll-over. The hon. Gentleman talks about the EU, so I am afraid I am going to have to repeat what I said earlier: trade with the EU in the year up to June was up by about 18% and worth £652.6 billion. We are committed to growing our exports around the world and supporting British exporters to get out there and sell fantastic British goods and services into new markets, but we are also committed to continuing to sell into the EU and we continue to do so very effectively indeed.

Farmers in my constituency —I remind the House that I am one—have expressed concerns about ensuring that agricultural interests are adequately taken into account in the upcoming free trade agreement with Canada and the trans-pacific trade agreement that the Minister refers to. I welcome him to his place; will he please invite the Secretary of State to meet me and other colleagues representing agricultural constituencies to discuss those concerns?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for bringing to my attention that it will also be a new agreement between Canada and ourselves, which I forgot to mention in my earlier answer. We are pursuing an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement with Canada that builds on our existing trading relationship, already worth £23 billion. We have been clear that the new agreement must work for British exporters, including those in our agriculture and food and drink industries. That includes maintaining our high animal welfare and food safety standards for farmers in Ludlow and across the UK.

According to a recent report by the Social Market Foundation, while world goods exports were 7.9% higher by mid-2022 than they were at the end of 2019, the UK’s goods exports were 21% lower. “Could do better” would be a kind end-of-term report. Will the Minister now commit to a recommendation from the Institute of Directors to monitor and publish the impact of Government assistance from the Department’s teams—both overseas and UK- based—to assess their effectiveness and inform improvements so that all businesses get the best possible support for their exporting needs?

This Department and, in fact, this entire Government are committed to growing our exports. We are going to export our way to growth and, in the 12 months to December 2022, trade was worth £748 billion.[Official Report, 9 January 2023, Vol. 725, c. 6MC.] We are rolling out our export support service, making export champions more visible and more available across all nations and regions of this United Kingdom. We are committed to working with small and medium-sized enterprises to get them into exporting and we are supporting those companies that export already. We are driving up exports from this country and our new independent trade policy—something that, if the Labour party had its way, we would not have in the first place—allows us to do just that.

Trade Policy: Food Prices

The UK’s trade policy works to increase access to good quality, good value food from around the world. For example, our recent free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand reduce or remove tariffs on the vast majority of goods, which could help to lower prices. However, there are many factors which contribute to UK food prices and the precise impact of each is uncertain. Beyond immediate price changes, security of global food supply is essential to guarantee the availability and affordability of UK food in the long term.

That is all well and good, but a new report from the UK in a Changing Europe think tank has said that new trade barriers as a result of Brexit have caused a 6% increase in food prices in the UK. Asked why food prices are rising, the former chief executive officer of Sainsburys, Justin King, answered “Brexit”, and this month a Bank of England policy maker went on the record to say that,

“Brexit has fuelled a surge in UK food prices”.

Does the Minister agree that staying in the EU kept food prices low and that independence and the European Union would keep prices down?

I am always interested when the hon. Gentleman cites various reports, many of which I have of course read and studied closely, but I like to return to the facts. I checked beforehand, because I thought he might raise this. He is right that food price inflation is a real concern, and yesterday’s inflation data showed that food prices are still rising even though overall inflation is falling, which will cause difficulties for many countries across this country. However, the premise of his question is not quite right: in the UK, the most recent data available shows that food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 16.4%, whereas in the EU27, for the same period, they rose by more—17.3%.

In this House I have been a champion for promoting the availability of affordable, healthy and nutritious food to those from all regions of the UK and all backgrounds. Families are feeling the cost of living pressures, as evidenced by research from the British Retail Consortium, which recorded a record high 12.5% inflation in UK food prices in November. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that he is doing everything in his power through his trade negotiations to mitigate the effect of food price inflation on ordinary working families?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is right to raise, as I did just a moment ago, the importance of this issue to families up and down the country, including in Stoke-on-Trent. The Government have comprehensive measures in place to support families through this winter, including council tax discounts, and energy and further help. On food and trade policy, ensuring that we remain committed to free trade, and that we have diverse sources of supply, is essential. We must ensure that Britain remains open for food exporters to come to the UK and help to keep prices down, as well as recognising the vital job done by our own domestic agriculture and food production sectors.

UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement

The UK-Australia free trade agreement is expected to unlock more than £10 billion pounds of additional bilateral trade. We are working at pace to implement it, so that businesses can benefit from it as soon as possible. The Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill is making its passage through Parliament. It passed Report and Third Reading on Monday, and was introduced into the House of Lords on 13 December. The Government and the devolved Administrations are working together to progress the required statutory instruments to implement the agreement. We expect the free trade agreement to come into force in spring 2023.

The UK-Australia trade deal has been beset by difficulties and major delays to its passage through this House, and even the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), no longer has to put a “positive gloss” on what was agreed. I, too, have serious concerns about the impact of the deal on Welsh and UK farmers. Will the Minister explain the delay behind the scenes? What discussions have been had with business managers about the delays to the Bill’s passage through the House, and will he give us some clarity?

I would like to correct the hon. Gentleman. We are progressing at pace, and we are having conversations with the devolved Administrations—indeed, I had conversations with Ministers from Wales and Scotland recently. Overall, enthusiasm for the deals is considerable right across the UK. Let us not forget that they will boost the economy, to the tune of £2.3 billion for the Australia deal and more than £800 million for the New Zealand deal. That will bring huge benefits right across the country, and all nations of the UK will benefit from a 53% and 59% boost to bilateral trade through the Australia and New Zealand deals respectively. We all want to move at pace, and we are having constructive conversations with the devolved Administrations.

The UK- Australia free trade agreement is, so the House has been told, a stepping stone to accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. As we saw on Monday, it is not clear that Ministers have learned the lessons from the rushed negotiations on the Australia deal, and there is real concern that the existing rules of the CPTPP will be largely forced on Britain. I am sure the Minister will not want Britain to be a rule taker, so can he assure us that we will not be subject to any new secret courts through the investor-state dispute settlement?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that discussions with the CPTPP are ongoing, and we are confident that we will strike a mutually beneficial and extremely good deal. I advise him to watch this space.

Trade Remedies Authority: Aluminium

11. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures taken by the Trade Remedies Authority to help protect the aluminium extrusion industry. (902810)

The UK trade remedies framework has been established to ensure that the Trade Remedies Authority has full independence when investigating unfair trading practices. As is the case with aluminium extrusions, the TRA provides thorough, objective and expert advice to Ministers based on evidence collected during the course of an investigation. The reasons for the TRA’s recommendation will be published alongside the ministerial decision to accept or reject the recommendation in its entirety.

Over the past year I have been asking about the impact of the Trade Remedies Authority’s determination on this issue, and I now hear that the final determination is due to be published in days. There are real concerns that the proposed tariffs will do nothing to support our domestic aluminium extrusion producers, such as Hydro in my constituency, and producers in the constituencies of other MPs. What support will the Minister give to our domestic aluminium extrusion producers, should their fears about the dumping of aluminium extrusion prove correct? Will he meet me to discuss the situation?

The hon. Lady is correct. She will be aware that the recommendations are due to be published soon; she will understand that I cannot pre-empt today the conclusions of the investigation. As I have said, the TRA is independent and it reviews evidence very carefully indeed. On the hon. Lady’s other question, I would be delighted to meet her to discuss the matter further.

Topical Questions

Yesterday, I returned from Delhi after holding trade talks with my counterpart, Minister Piyush Goyal, during the sixth round of the UK-India free trade agreement negotiations. We agreed that an ambitious, balanced deal that works for both our countries can be reached and should be reached at the earliest opportunity. Meeting key UK and Indian businesses at the UK India Business Council and Confederation of Indian Industry trade conference made clearer still the opportunities that the FTA would create for businesses and future generations in both our countries. I look forward to updating the House at the end of our round.

In 2019, our trade with CPTPP countries reached £110.7 billion, so does my right hon. Friend share my optimism that joining the bloc will increase our national prosperity? Does she agree that free trade and helping businesses such as those in Orpington to export are how we will create genuine, long-term, sustainable wealth?

I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for CPTPP. Joining CPTPP will offer new opportunities for businesses in Orpington and across the UK. The potential increase to UK GDP is projected to be £1.8 billion. More than 99% of British goods exported will be eligible for tariff-free trade, including in new markets such as Malaysia. Customs procedures will become clearer and more efficient. Firms working in services will have increased market access, greater transparency and predictability.

May I wish all hon. Members a very happy Christmas? In the spirit of Christmas cheer, I will offer the Minister for Trade Policy some help after his struggles in the Christmas quiz from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) earlier: it was, of course, the Prime Minister who said that the Australia deal was “one-sided”.

There is more:

“The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK”.—[Official Report, 14 November 2022; Vol. 722, c. 424.]

Those are not my words, but the words of the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). Quite simply, why should anyone have confidence in the Conservatives’ trade policy when they do not have confidence in it themselves?

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. The Australia free trade agreement is a great deal. It will boost the household wages going into our pockets by an estimated £900 million. It will grow the UK economy to be an estimated £2.3 billion bigger in 2035. It will see the removal of all tariffs on UK exports, which will make it easier to sell all UK goods, from cars to chocolate and Scotch whisky. There will be lower prices at home. I had a meeting with the Australian Trade Minister, and we had a very good conversation. I think it is a shame that the shadow Secretary of State did the same and is now coming here to say negative things about the deal.

If the Secretary of State thinks that those views are nonsense, I suggest she takes them up with the Prime Minister and the former Secretary of State. It was their judgment that I put to her, not my words.

On trade, the reality is that the Conservatives are delivering either bad deals or no deals at all. That is what happens when we have a Government who are high on rhetoric and devoid of strategy, with workers and businesses paying the price. Let me ask a simple question. If the Government will not hit their target of 80% of our trade being under FTAs by the end of the year—and they won’t—when will they hit it?

As Secretary of State, I have been very clear that what is important is the substance of trade deals, not the timing. It is about the deals, not the day. I am negotiating quality trade deals for the UK that will last for generations to come. We are thinking about the future, not trying to re-fight the Brexit debate.

T2. Medtrade in my constituency has not only been supplying battlefield bleed control packs to Ukraine, but recently received approval for a new treatment for postpartum haemorrhage, which affects 14 million women globally and causes 80,000 deaths a year. Will the Secretary of State join me in meeting Medtrade in Crewe to understand how we can better help such innovative life sciences companies in our constituencies? (902819)

I thank my hon. Friend and Medtrade for their support in sending supplies to Ukraine. My Department is committed to supporting innovative life sciences companies; he will have seen the Board of Trade’s recent report on life sciences. DIT North West has worked with Medtrade for several years to grow its exports and will continue to support its export journey. I am sure that the exports Minister—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie)—will be happy to meet him to further discuss what we can do.

The Secretary of State recently announced signing a memorandum of understanding with the US state of South Carolina focusing on life sciences and automotive—areas that are very important to the north-east. Could she set out exactly how businesses in Newcastle can benefit from that memorandum of understanding and whether it is supposed to compensate for the lack of any trade agreement with the United States?

It was me who signed the deal with South Carolina last Wednesday, and the hon. Lady can see the deal for herself on We have done deals with Indiana and North Carolina. Offshore wind is important for her area of the country, and North Carolina brought in an offshore wind delegation to see its governor just a couple of months after the signing of the deal, so these deals are leading to tangible opportunities.

T4. As was rightly pointed out earlier, food price inflation is a huge problem for British consumers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should look at negotiating trade in tomatoes from Morocco, which has the potential of saving about £180 million a year? That would be a big improvement for the British consumer, as every little helps each individual. (902822)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend raised Morocco, because although they were defeated in the end, their performance was marvellous in the World cup last night. We have a new agreement with Morocco. We are keen to diversify our sources of food supply. We had the inaugural UK-Morocco trade and investment sub-committee meeting in July, and I look forward to doing more with Morocco, as I am sure my hon. Friend does.

Will the Government accept that if the anti-dumping duties placed on Chinese imported aluminium extrusions are too low, the result could be the loss of thousands upon thousands of British jobs?

As I said a few moments ago, a report will be coming out very soon, and we will be able to comment further at that point. We have had many representations, and the Trade Remedies Authority has worked very carefully on these issues.

T5. The UK has a highly developed renewable energy sector, which includes many businesses based in my constituency. Across the world there are many countries eager to remove fossil fuel generation. Can the Minister give an assurance that the Department will do more to encourage our renewable energy sector to get more into the export market? (902823)

I can indeed. At the green trade and investment expo in Gateshead last month, I saw many companies from around the UK that are engaged in exporting renewable energies technology around the world. Indeed, the UK is home to world-leading companies in the design and development of renewable energy, and the Department for International Trade has already supported over £5 billion of exports across the energy and infrastructure sectors in the past.

The Centre for Business Prosperity at Aston University has estimated that 42% of British exports have disappeared from European shelves since Brexit. Is the Secretary of State proud of her party’s 12-year record in charge of export policy?

The hon. Member obviously was not listening to what I said earlier. Trade with the EU is actually up 18%. Instead of coming here and talking down Scottish and British businesses that are exporting to the continent and around the world, he should join us—he should be here championing Scotch whisky exports, which are up; he should be here championing Scotch beef exports, which are up; and he should be here championing the great Scottish financial services exports, which are up around the world and transforming lives for the better.

T6. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on trade envoy positions? Following my recent Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office report on the Commonwealth, which I am sure he has read, will there be a specific trade envoy position for the Commonwealth family of nations? (902825)

My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate of ties with the Commonwealth. We already have a trade envoy appointed to 15 Commonwealth nations. We have no plans to add a dedicated Commonwealth trade envoy to the programme. We have trade agreements with 33 Commonwealth members, with a further 16 benefiting from reduced tariffs, and six of the 11 trans-Pacific partnership countries are Commonwealth members.

Northern Ireland’s food and drink exports are worth some £5.4 billion, and we export 65% of the sector’s manufacturing to the UK, the EU and the rest of the world. What discussions has the Minister had with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, in which I declare an interest, to commit to protecting Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry in any future trade deal?

I have not personally had any meetings with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, but one of my Ministers has. I want to emphasise that our export strategy is focused on such issues. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me with more specifics, I would be very happy to take them up on his behalf.

T7. The road to net zero provides many local job-creation opportunities on the north East Anglian coast in technologies such as offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture. The Government are backing these industries, but significant private sector investment is required. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend outlined what her Department is doing to attract inward investment to these exciting emerging sectors. (902826)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work not only as the MP for Waveney but as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the British offshore oil and gas industry. He is well apprised of what we are doing in the energy sector. DIT and the Office for Investment work directly with project leads, investors and financial institutions, and we are seeing excellent progress. For example, ScottishPower is investing £2.5 billion in its East Anglia ONE project, the first of four in the region, including a £25 million state-of-the-art operations and maintenance facility in Lowestoft. Events such as the recent green trade and investment expo in Gateshead, which I mentioned, are showcasing UK opportunities to the world in many technologies, such as carbon capture and hydrogen.

Exports such as squid from the Falklands are an enormously important part of the economies of our overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that everything possible is being done to support the trading relationships of this important part of the British family?

We work closely with the Crown dependencies and overseas territories to ensure their interests are actively represented in our FTA programme and trade negotiations. DIT officials have fortnightly contact with them, and the Minister for Trade Policy has recently engaged with them and will continue to do so.

I was interested to hear the Secretary of State’s update on India. Can she go into more detail on how many chapters have closed and on the big opportunities in this trading relationship?

Sixteen chapters have closed. I returned from India just yesterday, and I am still a bit jetlagged. We had two days of invigorating trade talks. Minister Goyal and I had face-to-face discussions on the priority areas within the FTA, including goods, services and investment. I had meetings with multiple businesses that the embassy and all our fantastic officials are supporting.

The Minister for Trade Policy mentioned the North Carolina trade agreement he has just signed. Can he explain how this will help businesses in places such as West Oxfordshire to export to every corner of the United States, our largest trading partner?

We have now signed three of these deals. Last week, we brought Utah a bit closer and we have agreed to start negotiations with California. As a practical example, an offshore wind delegation went to see Governor Cooper of North Carolina just a few months after the deal. We had the first meeting of the working group on Indiana last Monday, at which we talked about increasing the opportunities for UK firms to bid into state procurement markets in the United States. As we know, the US is a very federal system and some state procurement markets offer great potential for companies across the UK, including in my hon. Friend’s Oxfordshire constituency.

We have recently signed several agreements with Indonesia, which is good news, and the follow-up is now critical. Will my right hon. Friend confirm, first, that the next round of Joint Economic and Trade Committee talks will happen here in London in the first quarter of next year? Secondly, will the new Government-to-Government framework have Indonesia as a priority? Thirdly, and perhaps most intriguingly, can we move to negotiations on an FTA as soon as possible?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a doughty champion of Indonesia and on being such a good trade envoy. He is right that we want to have a JETCO early next year. The Department is liaising closely with its counterparts in Indonesia, and I would be delighted to invite him to assist us in all our engagements to make sure we see all the good things that he wants to happen.

I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for leading us in the one-minute silence commemorating 80 years since this House recognised that the holocaust was taking place in Nazi-occupied Europe. It was a powerful moment for the House, and thank you, too, for the welcome you gave to the incredible holocaust survivors who are with us this morning.

Following the Minister’s meeting with the French Trade Minister Olivier Becht yesterday, does he agree that there is a new mood of optimism around the Franco-British bilateral relationship, and that the planned summit in the new year provides a really good moment to think about deepening our ties of co-operation, especially on trade and energy security, and increasing people-to-people contact?

I join my right hon. Friend in commending you, Mr Speaker, for the commemoration earlier today. My right hon. Friend is quite right that I had a very good meeting with Olivier Becht yesterday. It lasted a full hour, online, and we covered an enormous range of issues, including preparations for the UK-France summit coming up early next year. That will be a great opportunity for us to build on that relationship.

As the Minister responsible for exports—my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie)—said, trade with the EU is going back up. That is great news and we need to make sure that the trading relationship with France—we are the third largest investor in France and that is a really important relationship —continues to flourish. I know that my right hon. Friend, as chair of the all-party group for France, will take a keen and continuing interest in that.

Chinese Consul General: Attack on Protesters in Manchester

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs to update the House on the investigation into the Chinese consul general’s attack on protesters in Manchester.

As Members of the House will be aware, the Foreign Secretary laid a written ministerial statement yesterday to update the House on actions taken following the incident that occurred outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester on 16 October. I was as shocked as all Members of the House to see the disturbing social media footage of violence there that day. The right of free expression—the right to protest peacefully, the right to speaks one’s mind free from the fear or threat of violence—is an absolutely fundamental part of our democratic life in the UK.

In our immediate response, the Foreign Secretary summoned China’s acting ambassador—the most senior Chinese diplomat who was in the UK that day—to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to demand an explanation for the incident. His Majesty’s ambassador in Beijing also sought a further explanation from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Following the incident, Greater Manchester police initiated an investigation. As part of that investigation, the police requested that the FCDO approach the Chinese Government to ask them to waive immunity of the Chinese consul general and five of his staff to enable interviews to take place. We informed the Chinese embassy of that request and set yesterday as the deadline, making it clear that we expected it to take action.

Indeed, we have been clear with China from the outset that we would take firm action should the police determine that there was a need to interview officials regarding their involvement in the incident. We rightly expect the highest standard of behaviour from all foreign diplomats and consular staff in the UK regardless of their privileges and immunities.

In response to our request, the Chinese embassy, acting on instruction from Beijing, notified His Majesty’s Government earlier this week that it had removed the consul general from the UK. The embassy also notified us that five other staff identified for interview from the incident by Greater Manchester police have either now left or are about to leave the UK. I wish to put on record my thanks for the professionalism shown by Greater Manchester police, particularly given the complexities of dealing with this case.

As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, we are disappointed that these individuals will not be interviewed. It is therefore right that those identified by the police as involved in the disgraceful scenes in Manchester are no longer, or will shortly cease to be, consular staff accredited to the UK. Throughout this process, we have been clear that, in the UK, we adhere to the rule of law, follow due process and respect the operational independence of our police.

Our firm diplomacy and our actions demonstrate the seriousness with which we took this incident, and the correct outcome has now been reached. The UK will always use our diplomacy to demonstrate the importance of abiding by the rule of law, and we expect others to do the same.

Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker, and let me put on record how disappointed I am that the Government felt that a written ministerial statement was sufficient to update the House on this issue.

The consul general and five others brutalised a refugee on British soil, and rather than being expelled or prosecuted, they have been allowed to slip off—to flee like cowards—which makes their guilt even more evident. By giving them a week’s notice, which goes far beyond the Vienna convention on consular relations, we have essentially denied Bob Chan any sense of justice. I am afraid that, at this point, the Government are being opaque, and I cannot identify any meaningful action that they have taken beyond giving the diplomats notice to flee the country, and essentially allowing the Chinese Communist party to claim now that it was simply the end of their term in Britain: they were not removed, they were not expelled, it was just time for him to leave our country.

I am not asking the Government to be tough for toughness’ sake. Justice is needed to deter future action and to ensure that we stand by the refugees who come to this country for safety. I ask the Minister please to reassure refugees in our country that we will not stand for transnational repression, and that we will take action by declaring those individuals who have fled personae non gratae so that they can never return to British soil again and potentially brutalise people or undermine the values that we have in this country.

As I said in my statement and as was said in our conversations with the Chinese embassy, in London and indeed at post—our ambassador’s conversations with the Chinese Government in Beijing—we made it very clear that the Chinese diplomats’ behaviour was completely unacceptable, but because, as I have said, we believe in the operational independence of the police, we asked for Greater Manchester police to be allowed to investigate the matter, and asked for the Chinese to co-operate fully with the police investigation. The diplomatic frameworks that exist for that very purpose were observed, and we are content with the outcome that the Chinese direction from Beijing was to bring its people home and remove them from being accredited members of the UK diplomatic corps.

I thank the chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), for the urgent question, and for her tireless work on this issue to date. We have heard of government by press release, but I think we now have government by urgent question. This is the third urgent question with the third Minister and the third slightly different version of events, and the impression is of dither and delay.

Of course Labour Members believe that the right of free expression, including the right to protest and to speak one’s mind, is essential to our democratic way of life, and we thank Greater Manchester police for their intense efforts in this regard. However, I have three brief questions to ask the Minister. First, will the officials removed by the Chinese Government be declared personae non gratae, to send a clear message about our dissatisfaction with their unwillingness to engage with the investigation? Secondly, has there has been concerted engagement with international partners about the episode to prevent similar occurrences in New York, Canberra, Amsterdam or Ottawa? Finally, will there be fresh and concerted cross-Whitehall engagement to ensure that pro-democracy activists and Hongkongers are given the protection that they deserve here in the UK? Members of this House have spoken with one voice and I should like to hear a robust response from the Government.

As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, the Vienna convention on consular relations allows states to withdraw members of a consular post at any point, and we were clear that we were asking the Chinese either to waive immunity or to do that. They have chosen that route. That is how the framework is set out. We are disappointed that these individuals will therefore not be interviewed, but it is absolutely right that those responsible will shortly be getting on to a plane and leaving the UK.

As the hon. Lady will know, issues across posts are discussed regularly and forcefully, and the Foreign Secretary has ensured that all our embassies are fully up to date on his very clear directions. As I have said, I know all of us in the House agree that we value that freedom of expression—that freedom to protest peacefully—and, indeed, ask others around the world to demonstrate it as well. We will continue to ensure that our police forces are able to do what they need to do, independent of Government direction. This is a framework of which we are all extremely proud, and often, wherever we are in the world, other countries note and are impressed by our ability to maintain it. We will continue to protect the rights of all who wish to demonstrate and share their views peacefully to do so.

I concur with everything the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), said. There was clear video evidence of outrageous violence by Chinese nationals, and the consul general admitted it. It is clear that the Government should have expelled the diplomats without having to wait for a police investigation. Any other person in this country guilty of such crimes would have been arrested at that stage. It is a clear admission of guilt that they have now scuttled off into the night back to China. At the very least, the Government must now retrospectively say that they are personae non gratae.

Will the Minister invite the Chinese ambassador, without coffee and biscuits, for a serious lesson on what freedom of expression actually means in this country? Will he say that when China eventually builds its new embassy it will allow free and peaceful demonstration outside, because that is what we do in this country, and that we will not tolerate intimidation of the many Hong Kong British overseas nationals coming to this country who are still at risk of the tentacles of the Chinese Communist Government using these sorts of bully boy tactics?

I note the very colourful description in my hon. Friend’s request. I am pleased to update him with the fact that, in my new post, I have been able to meet the Chinese ambassador. Just last week, I went to pay my condolences on the death of President Zemin. I was able to sit and have a short conversation with the ambassador, during which I raised these issues, which at the time were ongoing. We will continue to meet, and I note the request for less of a welcome than perhaps one might otherwise give. It is really important to maintain those conversations and, as my hon. Friend says, ensure that every embassy accredited to the UK understands our values and our rights. All those who wish to demonstrate peacefully to raise concerns on any matter should be free to do so. We will continue to stand up to ensure that everyone across the UK understands that, and we will continue to support our police to allow that to happen.

I thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), for forcing the Government to the Dispatch Box to address this issue.

The Minister and others are right about the right to protest—that must be protected. We cannot allow the creep-in of authoritarian tactics here. China removing the six individuals is not a success story for the UK. Justice has not been served. Does the Minister agree that the Chinese Communist party’s actions show wilful disregard for the rule of law and the UK’s diplomatic authority? Criminal investigations should have been progressed. The instigators of Bob Chan’s assault will not now be held to account. The UK Government cannot think that that is acceptable. Does the Minister regret that? The UK Government have failed to act strategically on China while our allies and partners, including the US and Germany, have done so. The UK has not even published the long-promised strategy on China. When will that now be progressed?

I note the hon. Gentleman’s request on the China strategy. I am afraid that I cannot provide any more detail at the moment—it is not in my purview to do so—but we continue to work very closely on it. He will have heard the Prime Minister, in his Guildhall speech a few weeks ago, set out very clearly what he described as “robust pragmatism”. We will be hearing further on that.

On this particular issue, it is really important to be clear that once the Greater Manchester police confirmed, after consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, that it was satisfied that the level of injuries of one of the reported victims was consistent with a section 39 assault, we followed through with the action I set out. We gave the Chinese Government one week to comply with the request to waive privileges and immunities, so that the police could interview those involved and urge them to co-operate fully. They decided to use the diplomatic tools available to them to send their people home.

I was unaware until this incident that there was even a Chinese Government consulate in Manchester. May I suggest that we conduct a review into where all the consuls are? There are a number of embassies outside London. We should ensure that they all have a police liaison officer so that everyone understands their duties and responsibilities here in the United Kingdom.

I will take that point away and discuss it with the team. Just as we have in many countries, there are consulates general not only at the main embassy but across large areas. Thinking of our own, the One HMG programme was done to help us bring together our trade and agriculture experts and those working in-country. He is quite right that we see consulates general across the UK for many embassies that are accredited to the Court of St James’s. I will take that point away.

I join the Minister and the Opposition Front Bencher in praising Greater Manchester police. We should have not seen scenes such as that in our great city. I am disappointed that this issue has had to be raised as an urgent question, because the Foreign Secretary was making a statement on his Department’s media channel about it last night. I am concerned that he is not here.

The Minister summed it up: these diplomats are accredited, so what happens when they are replaced in the consulate of Manchester? Will those officials have a semblance of the common good and allow encounter and dialogue, or will they be replaced with further state-sponsored thugs?

The Chinese embassy and Beijing will no doubt send a new consul general in due course. We will be clear, as we always are with all those who come to serve in their embassies in the UK, that we expect the highest standards from all staff. That will continue to be the case.

China, of course, always displays its absolute contempt when it identifies weakness amongst its opponents and counter- parties, doesn’t it?

The Foreign Secretary was clear with the Chinese embassy, and we have followed through. I am pleased that the outcome is that those whom Greater Manchester police identified as involved have been sent home by Beijing.

I concur with the congratulations to Greater Manchester police on their swift action to support the refugee in this case. I agree, very unusually, with the remarks of the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) about the consequences of, quite frankly, a lacklustre Government response. What do the Government think will be the response from China to this poor display?

I think the whole House agrees that Greater Manchester police behaved incredibly well through what was a difficult situation. As we have discussed, the Vienna convention on consular relations sets out clearly the rules of the road between all our diplomats across the world. We have always and will continue to expect the highest standards of behaviour and protocols here in the UK. We will reiterate that in due course.

Those exercising their freedoms here in the UK should never feel threatened or intimidated by the actions of foreign states. Can the Minister confirm how she is working with ministerial colleagues and Government agencies to establish and address other threats to freedom of expression by foreign actors? Could she make particular reference to concerns about Confucius Institutes, which have been raised in this place a number of times?

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work as the Prime Minister’s envoy on freedom of religion or belief. Hers is an incredibly important voice that reaches across the world, setting out the UK’s absolute clarity on our values. We will continue to do that. I hope she will be pleased to see the human rights report published, as promised, at the beginning of the week. We continue set out how the UK is leading on that. We continue to look across the piece at all centres. The Prime Minister has set out more work for us to do to ensure that all those who are here under diplomatic authority follow the rules of the road that we set out clearly.

Does the Minister agree that this is only one incident in a pattern of behaviour by the Chinese Communist party, as others have referred to? The assaults on British journalists, the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong and the genocidal activities taking place in Xinjiang province warrant greater international condemnation and action. Just yesterday, China attempted to stop Iran being ousted from the UN body tasked with empowering women’s rights. That is what China does, and everybody is a target. Does she plan to raise this with her Chinese counterpart? Will accountability be applied on every occasion that the United Kingdom has to highlight issues of abuse by the Chinese Communist party?

The hon. Gentleman continues to be a great champion for those oppressed in many parts of the world. We now have a robust and active sanctions regime, and we use it firmly to make clear our views on those breaching it through either corruption or human rights aggressions where we can identify those. We have a number of sanctions on Chinese entities and individuals exactly along those lines, and I will be happy to write to him with more details about them, if that would be useful.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the written ministerial statement laid yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, the House was informed that the Chinese Communist party was given one week to waive immunity for those whom the police wanted to speak to. That deadline passed last night, but the Minister has just stated from the Dispatch Box that two Chinese consul staff remain in the UK and will leave shortly. Given that the deadline has passed and no action has been taken by the Government, may I seek your guidance on whether the House was misled when it was informed that a deadline had been set, or was it merely a rhetorical deadline?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The consul general left the UK first. Of the remaining five, I do not have precise numbers on the last few—I am not sure whether it is two or three. We are waiting on an update from the Chinese embassy later today that all of those five have left the UK.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 19 December will include:

Monday 19 December—Second Reading of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 20 December—Debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subject for the debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 20 December and return on Monday 9 January.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 January includes:

Monday 9 January—Second Reading of the Procurement Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 10 January—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (Reduction) Bill, followed by a general debate on a subject to be confirmed. On that point, I am aware that yesterday we had to pull a debate on Ukraine because of the Home Secretary’s statement. Our solidarity with the people of Ukraine remains unwavering. I will be listening, as always, to suggestions from colleagues on what the topic of that future debate should be.

Wednesday 11 January—Opposition day (11th allotted day). Debate in the name of the official Opposition on a subject to be announced.

Thursday 12 January—Debate on a motion on the current situation in Iran and the treatment of protestors, followed by a general debate on landfill tax fraud. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 13 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 16 January includes:

Monday 16 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Online Safety Bill. The other business will be announced in the usual way.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and may I start by wishing her and you, Mr Speaker, as well as all House staff, Members and their staff a very merry Christmas? Mr Speaker, did you know that 1843 was a very special year for the Victorian revival of Christmas? As well as the world’s first Christmas cards, it also gave us one of Britain’s best-loved novels, “A Christmas Carol”, a beautiful story of the transformation of an unscrupulous boss who treats working people poorly, visited by three ghosts putting him on a path to redemption. Even Christmas miracles can only go so far, so I am not expecting the Government to follow suit, but let us give it a try anyway.

I will start with a reflective visit from the ghost of Christmas past. After 12 years of Tory failure, what have they actually achieved? What will they be remembered for in 30, 40 or 50 Christmases’ time? This country feels broken. Since 2010, national debt has soared. That was before the pandemic and Ukraine. Child poverty, crime and homelessness—up. The pound, healthy life expectancy and standards in public life—down. Labour’s Sure Start centres, libraries and football pitches across the country—closed. Where in the future business is a plan to fix all that? The British people deserve better.

Successive Tory Prime Ministers have said they would fix the crisis in social care. Most famously, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on the steps of Downing Street promised to fix it “once and for all”. What happened to that plan? The sector is in crisis this Christmas. Do the Government have a plan? If so, will a Minister come to the House and answer Members’ important questions? On other health policy there is failure too. We were told that the Government’s 10-year plan for dementia would be published this year. Where is it?

Things do not get better with a visit from the ghost of Christmas present. We have a Tory cost of living crisis made in Downing Street and more than a decade of damage to our public services, leaving backlog Britain at breaking point, with backlogs in the courts and a fraction of asylum claims dealt with each year, costing the taxpayer millions in hotel costs and letting vulnerable people down. As for the NHS, we are heading into winter with more people waiting for treatment than at any time in history, and they are waiting longer than ever. Nothing is working and it is on the Government. They could be training 7,500 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax break. That is Labour’s plan; where is the Government’s? Where in the future business is the Bill to fix the NHS?

Then we have the ghost of Christmas yet to come. With the Tories, we are set for weaker economic growth, bigger backlogs and worsening crises, but the lesson from the story is that it does not have to be this way. There is hope. I am sad to say—actually, no I am not, but I will say it anyway—that it is not “PM4PM”. The alternative choice is a Keir Starmer-led Labour Government with an ambitious, bold, practical legislative agenda and a plan that speaks to people’s priorities, not a Government picking up Bills, waving them around for a bit and then dropping them when their Back Benchers do not like them anymore. We have housing targets gone, the Schools Bill gone, and the transport Bill missing in action.

Although I welcome the statement following business questions on the contaminated blood scandal, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) has been pushing for it since March. Given that one victim dies every four days, may I ask the Leader of the House to push for more regular updates next year?

I was glad to hear the Leader of the House say recently that she will be sticking around to fight the next general election. She knows that since she was appointed to the role, I have enjoyed our exchanges, and I will enjoy them even more when we swap places. As we look to 2023, can I ask her to make a new year’s resolution to end Government disdain for Parliament? Will the Government treat Members and our constituents with respect and answer written parliamentary questions and correspondence on time? Will they provide comprehensive copies of the correct ministerial statements to you, Mr Speaker, and to Opposition Front Benchers? Will they get their act together and stop dropping Bills and promises to voters? Whether the Government can muster the courage to call a general election next year, or we have to wait until 2024, Labour is ready. We have a plan, and we are ready to win. Happy new year.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for presiding over the minute’s silence we had earlier today. It was an historic moment to mark the 80th anniversary of the first time the House heard about what we now know as the holocaust. Because of that, I hope you will allow me just to put the names of the survivors who joined us today on record. Thank you to Mala Tribich MBE, Steven Frank BEM, Dr Alfred Garwood, John Hajdu MBE, Joan Salter MBE, Dr Martin Stern MBE and Yvonne Bernstein. I also thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their work. I am sure all hon. Members would concur with that.

We had two important visits this week, from His Majesty the King and, more significantly, Santa. I had a letter from the children in the nursery, who were keen for me to put on record our thanks to Santa for visiting them this Christmas and to assure them that we will not have to put minimum service standards into legislation for Santa and his elves; they will be working over Christmas. I also put on record my thanks to the staff of the House, who have done an incredible job this autumn term with some important events. I wish them all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

I turn to the hon. Lady’s points. On the infected blood inquiry, I am pleased that more information has come forward. We need to keep people informed. I set up the compensation study and it is incredibly important that those interim payments are made and that people are fully compensated for the suffering they have had to endure.

I knew that the hon. Lady would make a Christmas-themed statement today, and she never disappoints. She talked about the ghost of Christmas past, but if it appeared and took us back to pre-2010, we would discover some interesting things. For example, the unemployment rate, which is now 3.5%, was consistently 8% under Labour. During the entire period that the Conservatives have been in coalition or full Administration, council tax has gone up by 36%; in the same timeframe under Labour, it went up by 110%. On that trend, people would be paying £1,000 extra on their council tax bills today.

We have reduced fuel duty by 7.5%; Labour put it up by 42%. If that trend had continued, it would be 81p per litre. We now have 10% more good or outstanding schools; in Labour’s Wales, teaching numbers have fallen by 10%. We also know that in Wales, where Labour is in Government, waiting lists are five times higher than in England. The Defence budget is now in balance, but when we came into office in 2010, the deficit, including the equipment programme, was £71 billion, thanks to Labour—twice the size of the Defence budget.

That is why, although we have faced tough times and there are tough times ahead this winter, I thank my lucky stars that this Government are leading the country through them, because Labour’s record speaks volumes about its inability to do that. Every time the Conservatives come to power, our country is improved; every time Labour comes to power, the reverse is true. I sincerely hope that when the ghost of Christmas present visits us, it will be to celebrate a fifth historic term for a Conservative Administration. Happy Christmas, everyone.

A very happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and the staff of the House. The main post office in Tunbridge Wells has been closed since 30 November and has missed the whole Christmas period because of a squabble about who is responsible for repairs to the building. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to intervene with the Post Office to stop inconveniencing my constituents in that way, reopen the post office and sort out the dispute without detriment to my constituents?

I am sorry to hear about the issue that my right hon. Friend raises; it sounds as though some heads need knocking together. As Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are not until 17 January, I shall write to the Department on his behalf and ask the Secretary of State to look at the matter urgently.

First, may I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who is unable to be here, due to family circumstances?

I wish everyone a merry Christmas, and I hope everyone has a guid new year—if Hansard do not know how to spell “guid” by noo, I am happy to help with the spelling at some other point. I also echo the Leader of the House’s statement on the holocaust survivors who were able to join us today. The year before 1942, my home town was obliterated by national socialism, in the worst aerial bombardment suffered in these islands during the second world war. My constituency stands in solidarity, as I am sure the entire House does, with those across Europe who survived the holocaust under national socialism and with those whose memories we commemorated today.

Becoming Chief Whip for the SNP—and then suddenly and very briefly shadow Leader of the House—has made it a bit of a strange week, but I am delighted to take up my new position. I was also delighted that everyone on the Opposition side of the House gave us some hope for 2023, when they decided to say no to probably one of the worst ten-minute rule Bills that this House has ever seen. It was a quite hideous and horrendous piece of proposed legislation, supported by some senior Members on the Government’s Back Benches. I am glad that the Government at least gave us a bit of hope by making sure that the payroll did not turn up to vote for it, so we are grateful for that.

As a child of the ’70s, I have to say that there is a whiff of Christmas past this year. We are seeing nurses out on strike across the road at St Thomas’s—I wish them well, as I am sure most Members in the House do, with their deliberations and their demands for improvements. At least in Scotland we do not have that dispute; the Scottish Government have settled it, and we are moving forward in the hope that we can build an NHS fit for the future.

I wish all Members and staff a very merry Christmas and a guid new year. In the forthcoming period, if Scotland cannot leave the voluntary Union, I wonder whether the Leader of the House will be able to tell us, if England decides to leave the Union—if it is voluntary—what opportunity there will be for it to do so. The Government clearly do not want to discuss Scotland’s position, which we raised yesterday, and which the Government voted against.

Given that there is a whiff of the ’70s, I am glad that we have a Scottish Parliament to stand up for Scotland, to defend the weakest in our society and to make sure that, as we head into the deepest element of this cost of living crisis, there is hope for the new year at least in Scotland. We on the SNP Benches will continue to be Scotland’s voice and to demand the right to national self-determination.

I thank the hon. Gentleman and send my good wishes to his colleague, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock)—I am sorry not to be able to wish her a good Christmas in person.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the most vulnerable in society. This Government have not just acted to protect people this winter by providing cost of living payments and extra money to the Scottish Government to enable those to happen, but we have increased benefits in line with inflation—that is our record, as well as introducing the triple lock. If the Scottish Government were so aggrieved, the hon. Gentleman needs to explain why they did not take up their powers on controlling welfare payments earlier, as they could have done. They were very happy to leave things with the UK Government for longer than they needed to.

The hon. Gentleman did not actually mention Scottish independence until the very last moment in his speech. I thought he might be setting a record by talking about other issues, but he let himself down at the last moment. Normally, I am pretty brutal with his colleague, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, who is not here today. However, in the Christmas spirit, I will not just outline all the rational arguments that I do every week for why we are better together as the United Kingdom—the £2,000 tax dividend; the strength of our defence and security; our global reach; and our ability to offer support in a crisis situation, whether it is cost of living issues or any help needed, for example, with the ongoing situation in Shetland, where His Majesty’s armed forces are available to step up and help. Sometimes we forget that the arguments for the Union are ones that appeal not just in the head but to the heart. The reason so many people in this place object to the SNP’s obsession with independence is that it will rip apart a family of nations and the families that live in those nations. That is my Christmas message to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues this year.

All this year, Hindus across the world have been celebrating Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s birth centenary. That culminates with a festival that begins today in Ahmedabad, where, literally, millions of Hindus will gather, culminating in the opening of a new mandir. Thousands of our constituents will be visiting, so, as we celebrate Christmas, will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing those travelling to India a very successful festival? Can we have a debate in the new year on the contribution made by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in building more than 1,100 temples across the world, so that Hindus can celebrate their religion?

I thank my hon. Friend for providing me the opportunity to wish all those travelling for that festival well, and all his constituents a very merry Christmas. He will know that there is an opportunity for a debate in the new year, as announced in the forthcoming business, and I have heard his bid for that today.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I have a little Christmas advertisement on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee. We are very much open for business. We welcome applications from Back-Bench Members for debates in Westminster Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays and here in the Chamber usually on Thursday afternoons. The Clerks to the Committee are situated in the Table Office and are very happy to assist and advise Members on how to apply for debates and provide them with application forms. Applications are expected to be cross-party and have support from a significant number of Members.

The debate on Tuesday on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment will be led by my friend and colleague, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee.

Following the minute’s silence this morning to commemorate the recognition of the holocaust, may I give advance notice that we have an application on the stocks for a debate to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, which we would like to be aired on 26 January, the day before Holocaust Memorial Day itself.

Mr Speaker, I wish you, Members across the House and every member of staff the very best for the Christmas season and all the very best for 2023.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all the work that he has done over the past year to facilitate the Backbench Business Committee. I endorse his advert for people to come forward with debates and also to ensure that those debates are well-attended and lively. I know that many organisations outside this House will want to see us debating the issues that they care about, and he provides us with an excellent service in doing that.

I thank him also for notice of the topic on 26 January. I look forward to hearing the issues that people want to raise next week, on 20 December. I also look forward to hearing the announcement of the topic for the debate on the first Thursday back, on 12 January.

I very much welcome the debate on 12 January on the situation in Iran, but can we also have a debate in Government time on what more we can do to protect the rights of women around the world? Yesterday, the United Nations sent a very strong message to Iran by expelling its representatives from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Will my right hon. Friend join the United Nations in sending a strong message that a regime that brutally represses women and girls and then hangs in public young men who stand up for them has no place on any committee in any country anywhere in the world?

As I said in my opening remarks, we will be having a debate on Iran, but let me thank my hon. Friend for providing the opportunity, not just for me, but for the whole House, to say very clearly that, although the House may not be sitting over the Christmas period, all Members will have their eyes on what is happening to protesters and to those who are currently in detention. The world is watching and it will continue to do so, and we will continue to shine a spotlight on what is happening in Iran.

Mr Speaker, may I start by wishing you and all the House staff a very happy Christmas? I also wish to thank you for holding the minute’s silence to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the notification of the holocaust to our predecessors—that was very moving.

We are seeing a flatlining in life expectancy. In my constituency and in other areas of the north, our life expectancy is reducing. We are also seeing an increase in health inequalities. Dementia is now the leading cause of death. As a former public health consultant and chair of a trust, I was proud of the work the previous Labour Government did to reduce those inequalities and to be the first to have a dementia strategy. Will the Leader of the House agree to have a debate in the new year on the health of our nation and, in particular, on how we are going to build back fairer, which I understand was a commitment of the previous Government earlier this year?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising a matter of concern to every Member in this House. Clearly, there is a massive catch-up job to be done, not just on the waiting lists that we are cracking through, but on ensuring that people are mentally well and dentally fit—all those things that they may have missed out on, particularly during the pandemic. I shall certainly make sure that the Health Secretary has heard her request.

Good morning, Mr Speaker. May I take the opportunity to wish one and all a happy Christmas? Following the letter sent to the Prime Minister in November by the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner urging the Government not to build any more so-called “smart motorways”, which were introduced in 2006 by the Labour party, and the detailed witness testimonies and the Select Committee on Transport reports on the same issue, may I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Leader of the House whether she will allow Government time for a debate on the future of smart motorways across the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The next Transport questions are on 19 January, but, as that is a little time away, I will write to the Secretary of State to ask him to update my hon. Friend on the progress of analysing the safety data from the roll-out of smart motorways, and to keep him and his office informed.

May I, too, pay respect to the survivors of the holocaust who came to Parliament this morning? Although I was not alive at the time, the shame will never leave me that these atrocities were committed by the country of my origin.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as I ask this question. The ban on no-fault evictions is long overdue and I am pleased that the Government are committed to ending them. But the illegal eviction law must be reformed at the same time, otherwise we risk frustrated landlords taking unjustified actions to evict their tenants via that way. The current law on illegal evictions is incredibly difficult to understand and is rarely enforced. It needs to change at the same time and I hope that the Government will engage with the lawyers and organisations that are raising this concern. In the meantime, will the Leader of the House indicate when we can expect the renters’ reform Bill, which was promised by the end of the year?

The hon. Lady will know that I am going to say that future business will be announced in the usual way, but I know that this is a priority for the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Levelling-up questions will be the first questions session of the new year, when I encourage her to raise that point directly with the Secretary of State.

My constituent Jenny Green, president of the RAF Widows’ Association, lost her husband Group Captain William Green in a Tornado crash over the North sea in 1990. The crash was attributed to negligence, despite guidelines stating clearly that this should only be

“where there is no doubt whatsoever”.

That wording was further strengthened in 1994. This is obviously a matter of great concern to my constituent, so may we have a debate on the process of attributing negligence in tragic incidents such as this?

I thank my hon. Friend for continuing to raise this matter. He will know that when the Ministry of Defence has looked at this and other issues, it has a judgment to make about whether a future inquiry would be in the public interest. The difficulty is, of course, that this is not necessarily a public interest, but a very private interest for family members and others involved. I will write to the Department on his behalf and ask it to explore other ways in which perhaps there could be some closure for that family.

Season’s greetings to you, Mr Speaker, and all members of staff of the House. On today’s nurses’ action, which has been taken most reluctantly, I want to say that two of the closest members of my family were gravely ill for weeks in Yorkshire hospitals, and I had an accident and almost lost the use of my leg, which was recovered thanks to the skill of the staff. The nurses looked after all three of us, as they do tens of thousands of other patients every day. They do not ask for anything, except that we leave that hospital better than we came in. They stand by us; it is time we stood by them. The Leader of the House no doubt believes she is an extremely persuasive person, and no doubt she is, so can she not, over the weekend, persuade the Prime Minister to make a statement on Monday or Tuesday—since there is another action on Tuesday—that he will resolve the nurses’ case to their satisfaction so that we can have a Christmas where the NHS begins to rebuild?

I know every Member of this House will have similar stories to the ones the hon. Gentleman alludes to. We owe a huge amount to our healthcare professionals and all those who supported him. He knows that an inflation-matching pay increase for all public sector workers, which would be around 11%, would cost £28 billion, about £1,000 per household. What we must do to keep our NHS strong and reward those who work in it is to get our economy going and control inflation, and that is what this Government are focused on.

Town centres are at the heart of our communities, and yesterday evening Conservative-controlled Rugby Borough Council adopted an ambitious long-term strategy for the regeneration of Rugby town centre, bringing together private and public sector investment to create a vibrant destination for leisure and retail as well as increasing amounts of residential accommodation. Might we have a debate on the supporting role that Government can play in enabling the regeneration of our town centres up and down the country?

As a former high streets Minister, I was excited to hear what Rugby is doing. My hon. Friend will know we have invested £2.4 billion in town deals and more than £830 million in future high streets funding. Obviously, the nearly £5 billion in levelling-up funding will be invested in town centres and high streets too. It is also critical that we share good practice, so I hope that Rugby council will put what it has done on the high streets website in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities so that others can learn from its good practice.

Many people across the UK face Christmas misery as online shopping deliveries have been delayed or lost by delivery firm Evri. After expressing concerns about this company on social media, I have been inundated with stories of late or lost parcels, no or poor customer service, drivers earning less than the national living wage, drivers’ pay being withheld and a pathetic petrol allowance that is insufficient to cover increased fuel charges. This is a classic case of corporate greed over staff welfare and customer service. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make a statement regarding this company?

I am shocked to hear that from the hon. Lady and I will immediately ask the Business Secretary to get one of his Ministers to look into it, as people are waiting on deliveries, particularly over the Christmas period. The message to companies that want to short-change their workers and their customers is that not only will they lose their workforce and their customers, but she will also give them a spanking on the Floor of this House.

Community pharmacies play a vital role in our communities, and across the Bolsover constituency. Not only do they provide important medical services, but they also provide somewhere for the elderly to go in order to discuss their condition. Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the importance of independent community pharmacies, and the vital role they play in promoting community cohesion and supporting residents in rural towns and villages?

I thank my hon. Friend for providing me with the opportunity also to thank the healthcare professionals who work in that sector. We do not have to convince the Prime Minister of what my hon. Friend has said, as he is very aware of the important role that community pharmacies play. Such places play a vital role in ensuring that people stay fit and healthy over the winter months, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise the issue again at Health and Social Care questions on 24 January.

Today is the fifth day this month that members of the Communication Workers Union are taking industrial action at Royal Mail. Having spoken to a number of superb postal workers in my constituency, I have real concerns about the way the company is being run. It has gone from making a huge profit to losing hundreds of millions of pounds in 12 months. It has prioritised parcels over letter delivery, and it now wants to drop the universal service obligation. If the future of the Royal Mail is for it to become a gig economy courier company, that will have huge implications for the quality of service and the terms and conditions of postal workers. That is something on which this House ought to have an opinion, so may we have a debate about the future of Royal Mail?

The hon. Gentleman will know that questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are not until the second week we are back, so I will write to the Secretary of State on his behalf to ensure that he has heard those concerns.

May I wish you, Mr Speaker, your staff, and all Members a very happy Christmas?

With the current cost of living pressures and freezing weather conditions, this Christmas will be busier than ever for our wonderful charities, social enterprises and voluntary and community sector organisations. I am sure we all want to thank them for the incredible work they do. In my constituency, hundreds of organisations will be going the extra mile this year. Those include YMCA North Staffordshire, Stoke city community trust, the Hubb Foundation, Saltbox, Citizens Advice, Better Together community support group, Sutton Trust community group, Stoke Samaritans, Caudwell Children, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust Charity, Savana, and Helping Angels, as well as vast numbers of faith charities that work to help those most in need. I can only highlight a few, but I enormously appreciate them all. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking those wonderful organisations, and will she make parliamentary time available to debate the creation of a community wealth fund from the dormant assets funding?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible work that voluntary and social organisations do every day, and particularly at this time of the year. She will know that the Government are considering the use of dormant assets for community wealth funds, following a consultation run earlier this year. That response from the Government is due out in the new year, and may well coincide with 26 January and the next questions to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

A constituent of mine received a penalty charge notice from a private car parking company called Smart Parking, which stated that because he had not paid a measly £1 fee he was to pay a £60 fine. He did pay the fee, and he challenged the fine, which has now risen to £100. He took it all the way to the ombudsman, which ruled against him due to a lack of evidence. I have asked the company whether it carried out any investigation involving CCTV or balance on the meter, without a satisfactory reply. Such complaints seem to be a widespread problem, according to many reviews on Trustpilot, so may we have a debate on private parking regulation?

I am sorry to hear about the difficulties of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. If he wants to give me further details of the concerns about that company, I will write on his behalf to the Secretary of State and make sure that the issue is flagged with him.

On 5 January 1983, Police Constables Angela Bradley, Gordon Connolly and Colin Morrison tragically died while attempting to rescue a man off the Blackpool coast. Their loss is felt to this day in my constituency and by the Lancashire police force. A memorial service to mark the 40th anniversary of the tragedy will take place next month. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to their tremendous bravery? Will she find time for a debate in which hon. Members can highlight the exceptional contribution that police officers make in our communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter and for getting those brave individuals’ names into today’s Hansard. I will certainly ensure that the matter is raised with the Home Office and that we consider how we can further mark their incredible service and sacrifice. This is a week in which we have all been very aware of the tragedy of people drowning in cold water.

Perhaps we could have a debate on the accurate use of Charles Dickens as a political metaphor. Much as I hate to contradict my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and the Leader of the House, Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by four ghosts. The first was the ghost of Jacob Marley, who was condemned to roam the earth, dragging chains behind him as a penance for his meanness during life. After the Government’s miserliness in refusing even to meet nurses to discuss a pay increase, may I remind the Leader of the House of the message of Jacob Marley, namely that redemption is available? Does she agree that the Government ought to meet the nurses to discuss a decent pay rise before Christmas?

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker—and, as Tiny Tim said,

“God bless Us, Every One!”

As a Portsmouth MP, I am delighted that Charles Dickens is featuring so heavily in this business question, but I repeat the answer that I gave earlier. We value our NHS staff tremendously. The Minister who has been primarily concerned with the matter—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield)—is a nurse. We understand the incredible job that nurses do very well, but we also have to ensure that we are able to control inflation and that pay rises in the public sector are affordable.

Transport in South Yorkshire is devolved to our Mayor, who boasts a budget of some £225 million and an investment fund worth £900 million over 30 years. While Greater Manchester and Teesside are steaming ahead with their devolution deals, South Yorkshire is being ignored. My constituents want answers about the daily cancellations of buses between Worksop and Dinnington and the scrapping of routes to Crystal Peaks. I myself have written several letters to the Mayor on the subject, some of which I sent as long ago as September. None of them has been answered.

The one time the Mayor turned up to Rother Valley to discuss the buses, he held a meeting to which neither I nor the local councillors and parish councillors were invited. It was not even advertised on social media. I gather that only about 10 Labour activists were in attendance. Can we have a debate on how to make the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority more accountable for the issues for which it is responsible in Rother Valley?

I am sorry to hear about the difficulties my hon. Friend is having and about how his constituents are being short-changed. He mentions the budget for the mayoral combined authority; it has also received £1.6 million from the local transport authority recovery fund from April to December this year. Levelling Up questions are on 9 January and Transport questions are on 19 January, but in the meantime I shall write to both Secretaries of State to flag up my hon. Friend’s concerns.

This morning, I joined nurses—caring, professional and dedicated nurses—on the picket line. They told me that the reason they are going out on strike is the retention issues among their workforce. Staff are leaving because they simply cannot afford to work any more. They are going to agencies, which is costing the NHS even more. It is therefore crucial that the Government stop grandstanding on the issue and hiding behind the pay review body. Instead, I ask the Leader of the House to go to Cabinet and ask the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary to come to the negotiating table now and settle this pay dispute.

In addition to what I have already said in this session, the Health Secretary understands that there are issues other than pay; it is about the environment and new practices that the Royal College of Nursing wants to bring in. He has said that he is very happy to discuss those matters. Pay increases have to be affordable, and we are always minded of the strength of the workforce going forward, which is why we are pleased that we have record numbers of people wanting to come into nursing.

Year on year, the number of people who lose their life to alcohol rises in this country. It has risen 7.4% in the last year—that is 2,000 more people dying from alcohol this year than in 2019. Every death is a tragedy, and it is also preventable, and yet this Government seem to have done very little, if anything at all, to tackle this public health crisis. They even fail to implement evidence-based policies, which baffles not just me but many professionals. How many more people must die before the Government accept that alcohol harm is out of control in this country? Will the Leader of the House speak to Cabinet and the Prime Minister about whether the Government will conduct an independent review of alcohol in the style of the Dame Carol Black report on drugs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Our healthcare policy is evidence-based, and it is also important that we scale good initiatives that are taking place in the NHS—for example, alcohol screening for people who come into accident and emergency, which has had a huge impact on getting people into treatment when they need it, and the work we have done over the last five years in particular that has led to homelessness being reduced by 50%, which has wrapped the care and support that those individuals need around them. However, he raises an important matter, and I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on his behalf to flag his concerns.

A constituent of mine applied for a visa for his mother-in-law to come to the UK from Ukraine. The application was made in August, and the family has received no further updates. I have contacted the Home Office myself, only to be kept waiting for weeks and told that it cannot help without the applicant’s permission, failing to recognise that she is stuck in a war-torn country. Can we have a debate on the action that can be taken to help this lady and no doubt countless others like her and to address the failings in the Home Office?

I am sorry to hear about that case. As I advertised at the start of this session, there are opportunities for debates, and we are always keen to hear suggestions from Members. I am sure that Ukraine will be a frontrunner for that, but let us not wait for that; let us try to get his constituency case sorted today. The Home Office is providing a new service where it is possible to have a bespoke surgery with a caseworker, and my office will be in touch with his office later today to help him set that up. It is very important that we get these things sorted swiftly, and we will assist his office to do that.

Mr Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you and all House staff a merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah? Last month the House of Commons Commission agreed to launch a consultation on excluding Members of Parliament charged with violent or sexual offences from the parliamentary estate. In proposing the highest possible threshold for even considering exclusion, this House risks making Parliament a less safe space to work, making things easier for perpetrators and even more intolerable for survivors of sexual violence among our community here. Will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss this matter and my concerns about the process of consultation undertaken?

There is a reason why we have consultations on these matters—it is so that people can express their views, and I urge the hon. Lady to contribute to that. I put this consultation forward with other members of the Commission, and it is a very important principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. Clearly, for certain charges, there would be concerns about workplace safety and so forth, but it was felt that having the point being at charge rather than arrest would be a better balance between that important principle and the potential damage to an individual who is perhaps falsely charged and has claims made against them. There is a reason why we are consulting on this. Members should respond to that and encourage their members of staff to respond. My door is open to all Members, as I am sure is the case for other members of the Commission, the shadow Leader of the House and Mr Speaker too.

Will the Leader of the House check whether Ministers are on strike? I ask because, as she knows, I have been trying to get a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport for many months—the Secretary of State keeps changing—about the Rhondda tunnel. The Leader of the House is still very welcome to come and be dangled down my hole.

I am meant to be co-chairing, with a Minister, the programme board on creating a national strategy for acquired brain injury. I have been trying to get a meeting with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care since July. Admittedly, he was sacked in September and reappointed in October; but none the less, it has been many months and I still cannot get a meeting with even the junior Minister for social care, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). It really does feel as if they are not taking their job seriously.

The hon. Gentleman is being rather unfair to my colleagues. I had an incident in my constituency yesterday about which I needed to contact the Health Secretary, and he responded within the hour. I am always here to facilitate such meetings. I have to say, the hon. Gentleman’s previous invitation to Rhondda did not sell it to me. It sounded like I might be taking my life in my hands, but of course I am always happy to visit his constituency.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas, especially you, Mr Speaker, and the staff who look after us in this place.

Because I get better answers at business questions than I do at Transport questions, I will update the Leader of the House on this week’s disastrous timetable changes imposed by the Department for Transport. My usual train normally goes to Charing Cross, but this morning I was forced to change at London Bridge. Imagine my shock when the entire train, more than 1,000 people, got up to change at London Bridge. These changes are inconveniencing thousands of people on their morning commute to work. Can we have a statement from the fat controller in the Department for Transport about these disastrous changes, so that we can find out when the situation will be rectified?

I will write to the Department for Transport today for the hon. Gentleman. Transport questions is not until 19 January, and I am sure his constituents would appreciate engagement before then.