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Commons Chamber

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 9 February 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

business and Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Exports from Devolved Nations to the EU

We are supporting businesses in all parts of the United Kingdom through our export support service, including our innovative Export Academy, which helps build market export capability among small and medium-sized enterprises across the UK. We have also established trade and investment offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, increasing the visibility of the Department’s services in the nations, and channelling the benefits of our new export and investment strategies to the entire UK. I am sure the hon. Member is aware of those benefits in his own constituency, with businesses such as Lynkeos Technology winning a £100,000 contract last year in Germany with the assistance of the Department.

I like the hon. Member, but that answer was nonsense, quite frankly. The Institute of Directors found in a recent survey that almost half—47%—of businesses are still finding trade after Brexit a challenge, with just a third envisaging any opportunities at all from Brexit. That report also found that 45% of SMEs are exporting less to the European Union post Brexit, with Scottish exports having already slumped by £2.2 billion because of Brexit. Does the Minister agree that Brexit is an act of state-sanctioned economic vandalism?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is saying this is nonsense. I am sure that those businesses in his constituency and across Scotland who get support from the Department do not share that attitude. As well as focusing on the EU, which is and will continue to be an important trading partner of the UK, we are looking to the entire world, hence focusing on so many other countries. I hope he will be a little more “glass half full” in the future.

Is the Minister aware that the Scottish Government are planning to bring forward draconian restrictions on the advertising of whisky and other drinks in Scotland? Not only will that cost jobs in Scotland but it will make it much more difficult for the industry to export to the EU and elsewhere.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Such measures could have a considerable negative impact on so many Scottish businesses. That is precisely why we are seeking opportunities to support them, for example with trade deals, and trying to ensure that we reduce tariffs and are able to export more overseas. While we are backing our businesses right across the UK, I hope that in future we can get support from the Opposition, who might at some point come and join us and support one of the trade deals we are negotiating.

Unfortunately for the Minister, and unfortunately for Scotland, the latest data from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shows that between July and September last year, exports from Scotland to the European Union slumped by 5%. Will the Minister explain for an expectant nation exactly how that is in any way strengthening the case for the Union?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that, as we recover from a global pandemic, certain sectors and certain industries are suffering more than others. That is precisely why we have an export strategy and why the Secretary of State has articulated a five-point strategy for growth. We will continue to work positively with all sectors to grow our export opportunities. UK exports to the EU for the 12-month period to September 2022 were up by 25% in current prices.

It is not just the SNP who are saying what a disaster Brexit has been. With the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies saying that Brexit is clearly an “economic own goal”, and even a former Brexit Secretary saying that there have been no economic benefits from Brexit, is it not surely time for voters in Scotland to be given the choice between continued British economic decline or a prosperous, independent European future?

I know the hon. Member and some people are tempted to continue to fight the battles of the past, but this Government will be laser-focused on the future and future opportunities. We have the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and so many other opportunities around the world, and I think it would be good for all of us in this place to talk the British economy up, rather than talk it down.

US State-level Market Barriers

2. What recent discussions she has had with her US counterpart on reducing market barriers at the state level in the US. (903564)

We are taking tangible steps to improve our trade relationship with our largest bilateral trading partner, the United States. We have already signed state-level memorandums of understanding with Indiana, and North and South Carolina, which we are using to address barriers and promote British business in priority areas such as procurement, renewable energy, automotive, and life sciences. Together, those states imported more than £3.3 billion of UK goods in 2021. In December, the previous Minister for Trade Policy met counterparts in California to discuss an MOU, and counterparts in Utah to advance our talks. We are also making progress with Oklahoma and Texas, alongside our regular engagement with states across the US.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer, particularly the priority areas he outlined. However, from financial services to online shopping, digital trade is at the heart of doing business with our closest ally—the United States. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress made on removing barriers specific to such digital trade with individual states?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the digital economy. We very much see digital trade as an excellent area to focus on, deepening ties between the US and the UK. As part of that, we are keen to explore where we might be able to facilitate co-operation and promote digital trade with the US at state level. Further, the US-UK trade dialogues in Baltimore and Aberdeen last year helped to identify a range of trade-related areas for the two countries to collaborate on, and we agreed to strengthen further our bilateral trade in a range of areas, including on digital trade.

After failing to get a trade deal with the United States, the Government have resorted to signing non-binding agreements with separate US states. The Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) on the different sectors was interesting, but the Government have refused to confirm what economic benefits these agreements will bring to the UK economy. I give the Minister another chance: will he tell me what value in pounds and pence these agreements will bring to our economy?

Again, I am somewhat disappointed that the Opposition are talking down the opportunities we have. These MOUs seek to bolster the already strong trading relationships with US states, which, as I said, are worth £3.3 billion of UK goods. As we move through and implement the MOUs—we have good faith and goodwill with the people we have been negotiating with—we will inevitably increase our trade volumes. The US is already our strongest and most important trading partner, accounting for about 16% of the UK’s overall trade, and growing.

In my constituency, companies are able to sell to Europe, the far east, South Africa and south America, but they have difficulty selling their products—foodstuffs that come from our farms across Strangford in Northern Ireland—to the US. Will the Minister give some indication of what can be done in conjunction with the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland to open those doors to sales?

We are fighting for opportunities right across the UK. As I said, the US is a really important trading partner. With the MOUs, we are seeking further opportunities, but we are also working on removing trade barriers and inhibitions to trade. For example, since leaving the EU, we have secured major trade deals with the US, reinstating beef and lamb imports and ending damaging steel and aluminium tariffs, so we are working in individual sectors to try to find further opportunities at both state and federal level.

Export Opportunities for SMEs

3 What steps her Department is taking to help increase export opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses. (903565)

UK exports have grown by 24% year on year, and our landmark 12-point export strategy will challenge Government and the private sector to reach £1 trillion-worth of exports a year. As part of that strategy, we created the export support service, which has brought together helplines and services across Government to build a one-stop shop for UK exporters facing challenges in exporting to the EU. We are also delivering for businesses through our dedicated team of international trade advisers, reinforced by Department for International Trade events and programmes such as the UK Export Academy.

Last month, I was delighted to co-host my first successful export academy at Kirklees College in association with the Department for International Trade and UK Export Finance. Will the Minister outline how local DIT officers and UKEF can assist SMEs to export their goods and services across the world?

Mr Speaker, may I first thank you for your leadership in hosting President Zelensky yesterday? It really was a humbling moment for us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), with his can-do attitude, is constantly championing everybody in Dewsbury. As he may know, UK Export Finance offers a range of trade, finance and insurance products to help small and medium-sized businesses fulfil export contracts. It works with more than 100 private sector partners, including all major UK banks. UKEF support is underpinned by the innovative general export facility, a product designed to give SME exporters more flexibility when accessing trade finance. It unlocked almost £250 million of working capital loans in the last financial year. Local trade has obviously helped strengthen the “Made in the UK” branding, which provides export support to SMEs across the country. Face-to-face support for exporters in England is delivered via a network of around 200 international trade advisers. There is so much to say, but I think I should stop there.

SMEs in my area have been doing a huge amount of business internationally. One such company has been exporting 80% of its business for decades. In recent years, it has been challenged by China, and has had intellectual property issues; its IP has been stolen. I am afraid to say that it felt unsupported by the Department for International Trade. It faces an issue in Germany. Will the Minister meet me to help this business with the challenge that it faces in those countries?

The beauty of having former business Ministers in the new Department is that we are across most of these issues, including the issue of IP. I am more than happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman, or to make sure that the right Minister does, because we need to protect our IP.

Export Barriers for Food and Farming Businesses

4. What recent progress her Department has made on tackling export barriers for food and farming businesses. (903567)

May I also pay tribute to you for the way that you welcomed President Zelensky here yesterday, Mr Speaker? The occasion made us even more proud to be British.

Over the financial year up to March 2022, we did away with 192 barriers across 79 countries, including by opening up markets for UK poultry meat in Japan, and for UK pork in Mexico—a market that will be worth £50 million to UK pork producers in the first five years of trade. Of course, Cornwall is home to fantastic British produce, such as Cornish yarg and clotted cream, which are promoted and recognised around the globe through the GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign, and at home through our “Made in the UK, sold to the world” marketing strategy.

I have to mention Cornish blue and Cornish Gouda, which are made in my constituency. South East Cornwall farmers are rightly proud of their excellent produce. What more can the Department do to help these small businesses access the widest possible market?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should be very proud of the food and drink sector. It is our largest manufacturing sector—larger than automotive and aerospace put together. Our Export Academy delivers specialist food and drink modules to get companies started, and our Export Support Service can answer questions on export markets in Europe. Companies can access our network of international trade advisers across England, and the Department has teams in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is over a year since the announcement of eight additional agrifood and drink attachés. Given that there was yet another gloomy report from the British Chambers of Commerce last month, which said that three quarters of SMEs anticipated zero or negative export growth this year, help is certainly needed. Will the Minister tell us what specialist training the attachés have completed on food and drink regulation in the relevant countries? How many UK SMEs have they helped to find new markets, and what is the value of any new exports that they have secured?

I am very happy to engage with the hon. Lady on that question, which had a number of other questions within it. As she knows, we have staff in more than 100 markets, and are building our existing attaché roles in China, Japan and the Gulf region. The Government are placing eight new dedicated UK agriculture, food and drink attachés in growth markets such as the US, Canada, Africa, India, South America, Brazil and Mexico.

Export Opportunities for SMEs

5. What steps her Department is taking to help small and medium-sized businesses export products and services to new markets. (903568)

The Department is opening new markets and creating new opportunities for exporters by agreeing new trade agreements and tackling market access barriers in countries around the world. Indeed, recently a deal was struck, worth up to £20 million, that allows Welsh lamb exports to the US.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto committed to 80% of UK trade being done under free trade terms by the end of 2022. The Government have clearly failed in their commitment to deliver free trade agreements. Does the Minister believe that free trade deals with the USA and India would help more small and medium-sized businesses to export? If so, would he care to apologise to businesses for over-promising and under-delivering yet again when it comes to these deals?

Trade agreements are clearly very important, which is why we have struck 71 agreements with countries around the world, as well as with the European Union. It would be a good thing if the Opposition were to support those free trade agreements. I just reassure the hon. Gentleman that trade with the EU, for example, is now at record levels. Last year, exports to the EU were £330 billion, compared to £298 billion in 2019.

Small and medium-sized businesses make up a large part of the huge food and drink export sector that the Minister has already discussed. Tomorrow, the Scotch whisky industry will announce full-year export results for 2022. Significant growth is expected, particularly in India, even with 150% tariffs. Will the Minister update the House on negotiations with India? Does he agree that a deal to reduce tariffs on Scotch whisky would be good not only for the distillers of Scotch whisky in Scotland but for the wider supply chain right across the UK?

I know my hon. Friend is visiting one of his distilleries next week. I agree with him that opening new markets to our whisky exporters is one of the great opportunities open to us in a post-Brexit Britain. As he knows, whisky is one of the UK’s largest food and drink exports, with £4.6 billion in 2021. We have an ambitious programme of free trade agreement negotiations to break down barriers. We are now in our sixth round of negotiations with India this very week.

Inward Investment

17. What steps her Department is taking to help increase the level of inward investment into the UK. (903583)

The UK’s total inward investment stock is the second highest in the world, having recently passed £2 trillion. As the Secretary of State outlined, we want to make the UK the undisputed top investment destination in Europe, attracting high-impact, high-value investment into our strategically important sectors which will make a real difference to the UK economy. We are facilitating both Government-to-Government and industry investment. The UK-UAE sovereign investment partnership will bring £10 billion to key UK sectors. Likewise, the Moderna partnership will support our research and clinical trials infrastructure, building a state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing centre and creating over 150 highly skilled jobs in the UK. Compared to 2020-21, last year —2021-22—the estimated economic impact of foreign direct investment projects supported by the Department for International Trade increased by 82% and the number of new jobs by 53%.

Minister, why are the answers so long? We have not heard the rest of the questions yet. I have a big list.

Burnley and Padiham are already home to some brilliant international businesses, such as Safran Nacelles, Paradigm Precision and Futaba Manufacturing among many, many more. Together, they support thousands of local jobs. To make our area even better, we want to attract more investment, helping businesses already here to grow and attracting new ones in. Will the Minister agree to meet me to talk through how we can make Burnley the best place to invest in Britain?

I think my hon. Friend, in promoting Burnley so much, has already made it the best place to be doing business. Burnley has a global reputation for manufacturing excellence. The companies that he references demonstrate the attractiveness of his constituency to investors across the globe, and the free trade agreements make it easier for investors to bring capital and create jobs in Burnley. And, of course, we would be delighted to meet him.

The Minister references the life sciences sector, which is so important for future prosperity, particularly in and around Cambridge. We are in danger of falling behind in the race for international investment, as evidenced by the fact that since 2018 we have fallen from fourth to 10th in hosting late-phase clinical trials. What are the Government doing to address that issue?

On clinical trials specifically, when I was life science Minister we commissioned a review of clinical trials—we knew that was a blockage—but I do not think the data he presents reflects the £1 billion Moderna deal we have just secured, including the deal with biotech. The fact that we have life science missions will enable us to attract more attention and work to the ecosystems we have here in the UK, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am more than happy to work with him, because life science is one of our key exports of expertise.

I recently had the honour of welcoming the Prime Minister to Keighley, where he had the opportunity to visit Teconnex, a global leader in clamp technology that also provides battery storage to help commercial and industrial facilities to become more energy-independent. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that with businesses such as Teconnex in my constituency and other world-leading businesses right here in the UK, we can be seen as a more attractive place for foreign investment?

My hon. Friend proudly represents Teconnex as a firm in his constituency. The Department is keen to support all businesses that seek to invest or expand in the UK, particularly those that can help to spread jobs and opportunities across the UK and help us to deliver net zero. The Department is working across Government; we have previous Business Ministers here, and we are very close to the automotive sector and the supply chain. The new Department will ensure that there is a single, coherent voice for business inside Government to help my hon. Friend to represent business in his constituency.

The investment in Moderna will not be worth anything if we do not have the precision temperature-calibrated machinery to help with that development. SK Wiring in Denton is the UK’s only manufacturer of that high-tech wiring. It stayed open during the pandemic, even though it lost 70% of its industrial trade, to keep the covid vaccine going and keep the NHS going. It is now at risk of closure. Can we have an urgent meeting so that we can keep this critical national infrastructure developed in Britain?

Within the life sciences missions, manufacturing is a key point. I was at the life sciences conference in San Francisco when we finalised the deal with Moderna. Of course this is not about playing politics; I am more than happy to meet the firm in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, because vaccine manufacturing will be a key growth area for us.

Trade with European Countries

Europe remains a vital destination for British businesses, with exports of over £386 billion in the year to September 2022. That is up almost 25%, in current prices, on the previous year. As we speak, the Secretary of State is in Rome to establish the UK-Italy export and investment promotion dialogue, which will help to strengthen practical co-operation on exports in high-performing sectors and promote inward investment. We are also working closely with EU member states to tackle priority barriers and unlock export opportunities for UK businesses.

More than half of firms surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce are struggling with the new post-Brexit export system. The Office for National Statistics reports that Brexit costs the economy £1 million per hour, and the UK economy has not recovered as well as other countries post covid. What plans does the Minister have to reduce trade barriers and EU border bureaucracy, which have hugely increased since Brexit?

As I said earlier, I hope that we can look at the opportunities of leaving the EU as well as trying to fight past battles. There are a host of opportunities; for example, I do not think that the EU had a particularly proud record on services around the globe. We are opening up services for many companies, which under the EU we were to a very large degree constrained in doing. We have huge resources for supporting businesses. Trade with the EU has been growing considerably, and we will do everything we can to support further growth.

These barriers have had a greater impact on EU trade than on the UK. When does the Minister anticipate the EU will wake up to what is in our mutual interest?

My right hon. Friend makes a perfectly good point. Our agreement with the EU is one of the most thorough and comprehensive trade agreements, but we need to work further. We are constantly looking at opportunities—country by country, industry subsector by subsector—to open up more trade by reducing the barriers. These are barriers that also existed when we were in the EU.

Over the past three years, according to the latest German trade figures, exports to Germany are up by almost a third from the US, by almost a quarter from the rest of the EU and by more than 10% from China, yet exports from Britain to Germany are down. Everybody else’s exports are up; Britain’s are down. Is it a lack of support to our exporters to Germany, is it the poor deal that the Conservative party negotiated with the EU, or does the Minister blame British business for the situation, as one of last year’s Prime Ministers once did?

Again, all I have to say is that I have much greater confidence in British industries taking advantage of opportunities, not only in the EU but around the world. I wish others in this Chamber shared that optimism and confidence in British business.

Foreign Direct Investment since 2016

8. If she will make an estimate of the level of foreign direct investment into the UK since 23 June 2016. (903573)

More global multinationals have set up subsidiaries in the UK than in any country other than the United States. This is the best place in Europe in which to raise capital. Between April 2016 and the end of March 2022, the Department assisted more than 8,700 foreign direct investment projects in the UK, which have created about 348,000 new jobs across the United Kingdom.

The UK has had a great track record of attracting foreign direct investment since we voted to leave the European Union. The figures given by the Minister will include the £200 million investment by Ball Corporation in the United States in the UK’s largest and Europe’s most advanced can manufacturing plant, in Burton Latimer. How does the UK’s record of attracting foreign direct investment compare with those of our major EU competitors?

My hon. Friend has given a fantastic example of the opportunities that have been created. The UK is a highly attractive destination for FDI, and has been among the top recipients in Europe over the last decade. According to the Financial Times and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the UK has the highest market share of greenfield FDI capital expenditure in Europe, at 20%—almost double that of Spain, which is in second place with 12%. It also has the highest levels of Food and Drug Administration stock in Europe, second only to the United States globally. It is remarkable how far we have progressed in such a short time.

The Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act 2022 makes investing in the US very attractive, particularly for innovative green technology. How are we going to compete?

In my previous role I was dealing with the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act, and I hope I will continue to do so, because so many business representatives whom I have met have raised it as a concern. The hon. Lady has referred to green technology. A great deal of work has already been done to promote all our expertise, especially in relation to hydrogen, but there is a huge amount of investment in the UK’s green technology sector and technology in general, and we are also a leading light when it comes to lithium. I was recently in Cape Town with our Green Lithium firm, which wanted to negotiate on how it could do more work in the United States. That is exactly what we are here to do—to facilitate collaboration of that kind.

Trade Envoy for the Commonwealth

9. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of establishing a trade envoy for the Commonwealth. (903574)

The countries of the Commonwealth are important trading partners. Our total trading relationship was worth more than £146 billion in the 12 months to September 2022, which is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already appointed trade envoys to 15 Commonwealth nations. We have trade agreements with 33 Commonwealth members, and five of the 11 members of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership are in the Commonwealth as well.

As chairman of the 1922 committee’s Back-Bench foreign affairs policy committee, I recently shared our report with ministerial colleagues. One of its recommendations was the creation of a Commonwealth-specific trade envoy post. Does my hon. Friend agree that in this post-Brexit era, increasing trade and movement between the Commonwealth and the UK should be a top priority to foster economic growth? By the way, this is not a pitch for that job.

Yes, I am afraid that those jobs are at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

I hear what my hon. Friend is saying. We already have extensive coverage through the existing network, but we review the network regularly because we are committed to working with our allies in the Commonwealth to remove the barriers to trade and strengthen trading relationships to foster economic growth. Growing exports to Commonwealth countries is a priority, and trade increased by 25% in the year to September 2022. As for movement, we have a new global immigration system which is vital in supporting trade and economic growth, and the movement of business people on a temporary basis promotes and supports trade in services and goods and investment activities. Recognition of professional qualifications and business travel are always an important part of our trade deals.

Automotive Exports

The Department is working across Whitehall and with industry to secure export-led investment as the sector makes the transition to zero-emission vehicles, including new electric vehicle models, along with battery gigafactories and the electric vehicle supply chain. We have a dedicated export support system throughout the UK in the shape of our international trade advisers, ensuring that the automotive industry is the country’s biggest single exporter of goods, exporting nearly 80% of vehicle production—about 6% of the UK’s total exported goods.

If we are to continue to drive British automotive exports, it is critical that automotive businesses such as Vauxhall in Luton can make the transition to manufacturing electric vehicles effectively. The rules of origin from 2024 onwards highlight the need to attract the wider electrified supply chain to the UK as soon as possible. How is the Minister working with the automotive sector to expand our domestic electric vehicle supply chain—especially in respect of batteries—to avoid any future tariffs when rules of origin come into effect?

The hon. Lady will hopefully find some comfort in the fact that I have many meetings with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and have met the automotive sector multiple times to deal with this issue. We are very much aware of the rules-of-origin issue, which is why we are investing so much in batteries. In particular, the Faraday battery challenge is a £541 million project to help us to develop new battery technologies. I have mentioned already that I was in Cape Town to deal with the diversification of access to critical minerals in supply chains to ensure that we can process them and manufacture here.

Would the Minister like to congratulate Group Lotus in my constituency, which exports more than 70% of its car production? Would she like to take the opportunity to come to Hethel to see the new Lotus Evija supercar, which can do nought to 180 mph in nine seconds?

I am not sure that I can speak as far as that car goes, but I am more than happy to come to Hethel to visit Group Lotus. The amount of progress that has been made by experts, academics and scientists when it comes not only to zero emission vehicles but to speed is remarkable.

Foreign Direct Investment: Metro Mayors

11. What recent discussions her Department has had with Metro Mayors on attracting more foreign direct investment. (903576)

I met Andy Street this week to talk about foreign direct investment, and Lord Johnson will meet the 10 Metro Mayors today and look to discuss how we can attract more investment into mayoral combined authorities and how the Department can connect strategic regional opportunities to major international capital, such as the sovereign investment partnerships that have been established over the past 18 months by the Department and the Office for Investment.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for London as a global city, and last year we published our first report, which featured analysis of the London-plus effect, a term coined by the London & Partners agency to show that our capital is the gateway to the world and that companies that first invest in London go on to contribute £7.6 billion and create 40,000 jobs throughout the country. Is my hon. Friend’s Department willing to consider convening roundtables with the Metro Mayors on how to maximise the potential benefit to the UK of the London-plus effect?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Andy Street was very clear about the importance of London to regional development in the west midlands. The Department convenes roundtable joint sessions with the M10 Metro Mayors twice every year, in additional to ongoing ministerial-mayoral bilaterals and official-level engagement. Such meetings include the discussion of shared priorities in respect of international trade and investment and of greater collaboration throughout all regions to increase foreign direct investment from new and existing investors.

The Minister will know that there are no Metro Mayors in Wales, but there are city deals and leaders that link across the south-west of England into Bristol and across the south Wales belt. Will the Minister set out what he is doing to work with local government leaders in Wales to ensure that investment is brought into Welsh constituencies as well as those throughout England?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are pleased that across York and North Yorkshire we are about to get our own Metro Mayor; I am sure he is working hard to bring that kind of governance to his area too, because it clearly delivers opportunity right across the country. As he knows, the FDI stock in the UK is worth £2 trillion, which is the second highest amount in the world. I am sure the opportunities would be beneficial to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents should he strike that kind of deal.

Free Trade Agreement with the US

We recognise that the US is not currently focused on FTAs. However, we stand ready to resume negotiations when they are ready. In the meantime, we are working to improve the trading landscape, including by removing US steel and aluminium tariffs and lifting the US ban on British lamb and beef. We are also working with the US on areas of shared interest that include digital trade, small and medium-sized enterprise support and supply chain security.

The reality is that there has been no real progress and, despite all the previous rhetoric, there remains no free trade agreement with the US. Does the Minister think his suggestion that this is the fault of the US President will help or hinder future negotiations?

As I said, the US is not currently negotiating FTAs, not just with us but with any other country. We are working and we have very good dialogue with one of our closest allies in so many areas, including economically, culturally and militarily, and that dialogue will of course continue. As I said in my previous answer, we are working in many areas, including steel and food, to create opportunities, alongside work in respect of the memorandum of understanding. Considerable progress can be and will continue to be made, even without an FTA.

Global free trade is and always has been the greatest motor for global prosperity, which is why many of us voted for Brexit. A free trade deal with America is the greatest prize of all. Will the Minister confirm that, as far as we are concerned, there are no barriers at all—whether it be chlorinated chicken or whatever—to trying to conclude an agreement? We want this deal with the US. Does the Minister think that it will happen?

We are very keen to conclude a deal with the US, but, at the moment, it is not able to enter into those negotiations. However, that will not prohibit us from continuing to find opportunities and to remove barriers where and when we can, as well as seeking those opportunities across the world. I appreciate what the right hon. Member said at the beginning of his question about how we, on the Conservative Benches, are firm proponents of free trade. It is good for the UK economy and good for the world economy, and we need to continue to make sure that that message is heard loud and clear.

Had the Conservative party negotiated a free trade agreement with the US, as it promised at the general election, British firms would have been protected from new market barriers to green trade that are being introduced by the US Inflation Reduction Act 2022. That means that new investment and jobs here in Britain in green energy, electric vehicles and new technology are at risk. Is it not the truth that the infighting in the Conservative party last year meant that Ministers woke up much too late to the threat and that they have done far too little since to try to ameliorate the damage?

As I said, the US is not focused on free trade agreements at the moment, and we are disappointed that the US has opted to pursue policies in the Inflation Reduction Act that will harm British businesses and impact global supply chains. The UK expects to be and, as the closest ally of the US, should be part of any flexibilities in the implementation of the IRA, and we will continue closely engaging with the US Administration to ensure that UK concerns are addressed.

Tackling Modern Slavery: Trade Negotiations

14. What steps her Department is taking through trade negotiations to help tackle modern slavery in global supply chains. (903579)

The UK is a world leader in the promotion of human rights and remains committed to ensuring that trade supports an environment where workers’ rights are upheld, including working towards the eradication of modern slavery in global supply chains. We should remember that the UK was the first country to produce a national action plan for the implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. In both our agreements with Australia and New Zealand, for example, we have secured world-leading modern slavery provisions.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but the UK has named the Gulf Cooperation Council as one of its priorities for trade deals and has begun negotiations. We know that the economies across the Gulf are built on the terrible kafala system, enabling coercion and debt bondage and facilitating modern slavery. How can the Government justify such talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council given those basic human rights concerns?

Protecting UK workers’ rights remains a priority for this Government. The UK will continue to meet its obligations under the International Labour Organisation and to advocate for the highest labour standards and working conditions globally, and that includes in our discussions on free trade agreements. In the UK GCC FTA, we will retain the UK’s high standards and protections, including the right to regulate labour, and we will also seek assurances that labour rights are not reduced to gain a trade advantage. We have these discussions in this and other Departments, and we are always happy to have frank conversations with our friends.

Green Industrial Sector

16. What steps her Department is taking to help increase trade opportunities for the green industrial sector. (903582)

Green trade is a foundational building block of sustainable growth, helping to protect our environment and our energy security, and future-proof UK jobs. In the two years to October 2022, the Government have supported £20 billion of net zero-related inward investment to help grow our green industries.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we drag our feet developing new renewable energy industries, foreign investment will go overseas?

I agree with my hon. Friend and thank her for her incredible work on the Celtic sea initiative. I attended her reception in Parliament, which was very well attended indeed and very optimistic about the potential for the Celtic sea.

We know that the net zero transition will create new industries worth around $10 trillion to the global economy by 2050. We recognise that the international landscape is becoming increasingly competitive as a result, but we are not dragging our feet. Securing inward investment to the UK’s green economy is a top priority for the Government, and the Department will be working closely with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, UK Export Finance and the Office for Investment, using all the levers at our disposal to promote the UK offer overseas.

Parliamentary Scrutiny of New Free Trade Agreements

18. What steps she is taking to support effective parliamentary scrutiny of new free trade agreements. (903584)

The Government are committed to transparency and effective scrutiny in our trade agenda, going beyond the statutory framework set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That includes providing extensive information prior to the commencement of talks on free trade agreements, as well as regular updates to Parliament during negotiations. At the end of negotiations, we have committed to additional parliamentary scrutiny time, as well as to publishing further information such as the advice of the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission.

Over the last year, the Government’s former Environment Secretary, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has labelled the Government free trade agreements a failure, and the Prime Minister has called them one-sided. Is such criticism the reason the Government spend so much time avoiding any real detailed scrutiny of these trade agreements?

I respectfully disagree with the hon. Lady’s characterisation that there is insufficient scrutiny, and I respectfully disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who made some comments earlier this year. Last time I answered this question, you quite rightly had a go at me, Mr Speaker, because I gave a long list of examples of extensive scrutiny on our free trade agreements. I will spare the House by not repeating it , but I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave previously.

Topical Questions

The Secretary of State for Business and Trade is currently in Mexico, driving forward our negotiations to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and progressing bilateral trade discussions. I am delighted to be representing the Department as the Minister for international trade; I thank my predecessor for his work in delivering the Government’s ambitions, and the former Minister for exports as well.

Just last week, the then Minister for trade policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), held talks with his counterparts in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore on trade, outlining the benefits the UK will bring to CPTPP as we look to conclude our accession process. When the UK joins, the bloc will represent 15.4% of global GDP, rising from 12%. Later today, I am meeting ambassadors and high commissioners from all CPTPP countries, where I look forward to discussing how we can enhance their ties with the UK. Our negotiators continue to engage with their counterparts.

International students are of huge benefit to every constituency in this country, not just to university cities such as Cambridge, but different parts of the Government seem to be sending out very different messages as to how welcome they are. Will the Minister tell us what his Department is doing to secure this important trade benefit for the UK?

The Government are always open across multiple Departments to engage constructively with industry and players, and that will continue to be the case. If the hon. Gentleman would like to invite us to have a discussion with him, somebody in his constituency or other stakeholders, we would be delighted to do so. We work with businesses in this party.

T4.   Wimbledon, Morden, Raynes Park and Motspur Park are home to many high-tech companies, including GripAble, which is developing solutions for neuro diseases. What are the Government doing in these trade deals and what steps are they taking to ensure that we get investment and trade in high-tech companies? (903592)

My hon. Friend once again promotes a fantastic business in his constituency. The UK tech and digital sectors are key for us and are our greatest success stories, with a total valuation in excess of £1 trillion in 2022. The UK tech sector retains the No. 1 spot in Europe and is No. 3 in the world, as the sector’s resilience brings continued growth. On tech within life sciences, we are one of the top countries in the world to be seen collaborating and investing with.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and all House staff for the work on President Zelensky’s visit. I also welcome the Ministers to their rearranged places, but I do not think it is a surprise that the Prime Minister has decided to shuffle the deckchairs on this particular ship. We had a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with no industrial strategy and we had a Department for International Trade delivering either no deals or bad deals. In an assessment of the Conservatives’ 13 years in office, can the Minister inform the House when they expect to hit the target of £1 trillion- worth of exports, which David Cameron promised by 2020?

What a blow to one’s ego to know that one’s Department is such a disappointment, but we are working so closely with our colleagues to drive investment, represent businesses and focus on trade that it makes absolute sense for us to be here. I know that I am new to this business, but I thought that the £1-trillion target was for 2030. If that is the case, we have seven years to go, so I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman be a little patient. In seven years’ time, he will be there, on the Opposition Benches, and we will be here, on the Government Benches, ready to update him.

David Cameron promised it by 2020; the last Prime Minister but one promised it by 2030; and, as the Department for International Trade set out in a written response, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that the target will not be met until 2035—15 years late. Is that any surprise? The Government have delivered no trade deal with the US, no trade deal with India, and an ongoing impasse on the Northern Ireland protocol, and the current Prime Minister said that the deals that they have delivered, such as the Australia deal, were “one sided”. The truth is that they can swap around Ministers and departmental names, but at the heart of it is a failing Government who are out of ideas.

I completely understand why the right hon. Member may be confused. We on the Conservative Benches represent business, and I know that the Labour party was stopping people from doing their business by backing the strikes. We on this side of the House represent trade, but I cannot think of a single trade deal that he was proud to support. I can understand the level of complete confusion, but I do not understand some of the figures that he cites.

There is such fantastic news out there. We have talked about the fact that we have attracted £20 billion in tech. Why would the right hon. Member not be proud of that? If he wants to talk about reports, just last night I read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which said that the UK would be the fastest growing G7 economy by 2050, and will outgrow Germany, France and Italy. That is good news. I thought Thursday mornings were about promoting Great Britain—

And topical questions are meant to be short and brief. I call Philip Hollobone to set the example.

T6.   Excitement is building in Kettering ahead of the visit by the Minister with responsibility for small business, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), to the North Northants Business Network on Friday 10 March. One hundred representatives from local small businesses are really keen to meet him. Will he be kind enough to give us a taster of the optimistic message that he will bring to small businesses in Kettering? (903596)

Excitement is also building in me ahead of my visit to Kettering. I am a proud champion of small businesses, which, as we all know, are the engine room of growth in our economy. That growth has been good over the past 12 years—the third fastest in the G7—but we want it to be faster. I am very keen to engage with my hon. Friend to see how we can help small and medium-sized enterprises to do that.

T2.   Now that the Trade Remedies Authority has been in operation for almost two years and has produced its decision, can the Minister tell me what plans there are, if any, to review how it operates and the guidelines to which it works? (903589)

I thank the hon. Lady for the constructive engagement that we have had about the TRA. I know that some of its decisions have been impactful on her and her constituency. We will be looking for some reform of the TRA, and I would be happy to discuss that further with her.

T7. It is brilliant to see that state-level memorandums of understanding are being signed in the US, but with only three so far, it is clear that we can go further to cement that important trading relationship. What progress are we making with other states, and when can we expect further MOUs to be signed? (903597)

Absolutely. We have agreed MOUs with Indiana, North Carolina and, most recently, South Carolina, as my hon. Friend sets out. We are actively engaging with other states, including Oklahoma, Utah, Texas and California, and I look forward to updating the House on further progress.

T3. I understand that the Government are set to undertake a second round of trade negotiations with Israel in the spring. Israel applies our current agreement to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, against the EU negotiator’s original intentions. Have the Government considered how they will go about preventing any repeat of that situation and preventing illegal settlements from benefiting from the prospective deal? (903591)

We are progressing with the free trade agreement with Israel. We are excited about the opportunities it presents, in particular because of the focus on science, technology and innovation. I understand the point that the hon. Lady is raising. I think some of it cuts across other Departments, but I will write to her.

The global dairy market is forecast to be growing in the region of 2%, so can my hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that our world-class British dairy products are at the front of the queue to benefit from that growth?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said earlier, food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector—larger than aerospace and automotive put together. He is right to point out the opportunities for dairy in our free-trade negotiations, and that will be taken forward as the negotiations progress.

T5.   Banks and insurers are using environmental, social and governance criteria to block companies that work in the defence industry, stifling jobs, skills, innovation and UK exports. Why have the Government done nothing about that? (903594)

The hon. Lady raises an important point, but we are trying to work across all sectors—industry by industry and sector by sector. We have clear processes, particularly when it relates to arms. We are trying to seek opportunities for fair trade across the world, whether it is imports or exports, and we will continue to make sure that we do so on an ethical basis.

What action does my hon. Friend intend to take to reduce tariff barriers with developing countries, such as Pakistan?

I believe that my hon. Friend is the trade envoy to Pakistan, and I look forward to collaborating with him. Pakistan already has a preferential trading relationship with the UK through our generalised scheme of preferences. This will be replaced by the developing countries trading scheme, and Pakistan will continue to benefit from duty-free exports to the UK and the removal of tariffs on 156 products. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend.

Edusport Academy, based in my constituency, was set up in 2011 and had a thriving business prior to Brexit. It brings young sports people over to Scotland, combining sport and English language training. Since Brexit, Edusport has struggled to make the business work due to restrictions put in place by the Home Office. Will the Minister meet me and Edusport to discuss how we can make this business work and continue to thrive?

As I have said, we will continue to work with the EU to try to reduce barriers that do exist. I cannot make a promise on behalf of the Home Office, but I note what the hon. Lady has said, and I will try to facilitate the appropriate meeting with the appropriate Minister for her.

The fairness of imports and exports in Northern Ireland is hindered by the impacts of the Northern Ireland protocol. What steps are being taken to ensure that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is sitting in the House of Lords like the Mary Celeste, as others have said, passes smoothly and efficiently to reinforce trading fairness for businesses in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland plays a full part in all our trading agreements, and I believe that a Northern Irish machinery exporter is involved in the Australia deal. My hon. Friend and I have spoken quite a bit about the Northern Ireland protocol in respect of the Bill I took through recently, and he will be aware of the sensitive discussions that have taken place with the Administration to ensure everything can be as smooth as possible. If needed, I will always be available to meet my hon. Friend.

Sitting suspended.

Governor of Xinjiang: UK Visit

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the planned visit to the UK of the Governor of Xinjiang.

We understand from the Chinese embassy that the governor of Xinjiang may visit the UK next week. To be very clear, he has not been invited by the UK Government or the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and we have no confirmation that he will, in fact, travel. Our expectation is that he will travel on a diplomatic passport, and therefore he has not yet been granted a visa. If he does visit, I assure this House that under no circumstances will he be dignified with a ministerial meeting.

China’s actions in Xinjiang are abhorrent and we will not legitimise them in any way. However, robust engagement to challenge human rights violations and to stand up for the rights of the oppressed is at the core of the UK’s diplomatic work around the world. We must be prepared to use diplomatic channels to achieve that end, hence officials would be prepared to offer him a meeting. In line with that principle, there is only one reason why such a meeting would take place—to make absolutely clear the UK’s abhorrence of the treatment of the Uyghur people and to say that we will not relent from exposing the horrors to which they are subject. That point needs to be set out clearly to China. It is only right that people responsible for human rights violations are confronted on these issues.

The UK has played a leading role in international efforts to hold China to account on Xinjiang. In 2019, we became the first country to step up to lead a joint statement on China’s actions in Xinjiang at the UN. Since that first statement, which was supported by 23 countries, we have worked tirelessly through our global diplomatic network to broaden the caucus of countries speaking out. Our leadership has sustained pressure on China to change its behaviour and consistently increase the number of countries speaking out. Most recently, our diplomatic effort helped to secure the support of a record 50 countries for a statement on Xinjiang at the UN third committee in October.

We have imposed sanctions on four individuals and one entity in Xinjiang, and have introduced robust measures to tackle forced labour in supply chains. We have consistently raised our concerns at the highest level in Beijing. Let me be absolutely clear that we will continue to emphasise at all levels that the world is watching what China’s authorities say and do in Xinjiang. They cannot hide their abuses. The UK and our allies will not turn away.

I find that response from my hon. Friend, for whom I have the highest respect, to be a very weak turn from the Foreign Office. The Uyghur region in north-west China has been the site of severe human rights violations, crimes against humanity and genocide for more than six years. In 2017, satellite imagery confirmed that a network of internment camps had been set up throughout the region. Throughout this time, Erkin Tuniyaz has been responsible for the murderous and repressive policy, alongside its architect, Chen Quango.

Testimony from camp survivors—who are absolutely appalled to hear that a Foreign Office official will meet this individual—and leaked official Chinese Government documents, satellite images and drone footage indicate that the camps are sites of severe mass arbitrary detention and severe human rights abuses, including systematic sexual violence against women, torture and the forced sterilisation of many women. Reports of cultural and religious oppression, mass digital in-person surveillance, forced labour, mass sterilisations and abortions and a system of mass criminalisation and arbitrary detention are also completely documented.

The weak response from the Foreign Office hides something. It is not that it has invited him here, but it has made it clear that when he comes, he will be welcome to see officials. Whether or not the Foreign Office is tough, this is a propaganda coup for the Chinese Government. Governor Tuniyaz has defended the use of mass detention centres and doubled down and expanded their use. During his tenure, more than 1 million Uyghurs and other people from predominantly Muslim minorities have been detained in Xinjiang. A man who declares that nothing is going on is hardly likely to be bothered by a Foreign Office official telling him, “Now, now, you’ve got to stop this.”

I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that in 2021, the House of Commons in this United Kingdom declared for the first time that genocide is taking place against the Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region of China. Let us compare our response with that of the United States. The UK has sanctioned only three rather junior people. The US has introduced 107 punitive sanctions, five new laws, 11 specific investment bans and 10 sanctions on individuals, including Chen Quanguo and Erkin Tuniyaz. I call on the UK Government to rescind this invitation and sanction Erkin Tuniyaz and Chen Quanguo for their role in this crime against humanity and genocide. The place to deal with these individuals is in a tribunal or court of law, not in the quiet office of a Foreign Office official.

I appreciate sincerely the long-standing interest of my right hon. Friend in this issue, and he speaks with great sincerity and power. He draws a comparison with the sanctions regime in the US. The numbers might be different, but that reflects our desire and approach to use these opportunities to deliver a very strong and robust message. It is institutionally the judgment of the FCDO that we are better off not denying ourselves the opportunity to send extremely robust and strong messages of condemnation of the brutality that has been carried out by the Chinese state in Xinjiang. He alluded to that difference of approach, but we are confident in its utility.

My understanding is that, in advance of the suggestion of this meeting, the invitation was extended to human rights groups in the UK to afford them the opportunity to send a very strong message to this individual about their view of repression in Xinjiang. That was at the heart of what was judged to be useful about the prospect of such a meeting.

I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for bringing this urgent question to the House. The issue of Xinjiang has been debated in both Chambers of this Parliament, and following a Back-Bench motion, Members of this House voted that genocide had occurred in this area of China.

In September last year, the UN high commissioner for human rights said that the treatment of the Uyghurs may constitute crimes against humanity, and this House has made clear its view that the treatment of the Uyghurs amounts to genocide. It is therefore deeply worrying to learn of the planned visit to the UK of the governor of the very province in which these outrageous and systemic acts have taken place. Has the Minister made an assessment of the relationship between Chen Quanguo, who is an international pariah, and this particular individual?

I am acutely aware of, and in principle agree with, the general points that the Minister has made about engagement. However, we have to be very robust with regard to human rights. Is the meeting essential to UK-China relations? I do not think it is. I fear that this planned visit to the UK highlights the serious lack of political leadership at the Foreign Office. The Minister knows the views of this House and should have made it clear that this meeting was ill-judged and inappropriate.

When were Ministers first made aware of the planned visit, and did it receive personal approval from the Foreign Secretary? What assessment has been made of the moral injury that this would cause to the Uyghur minority in this country, who have come to the Houses of Parliament to tell us of their suffering? Has this decision been informed by the moral injury that it will cause? Finally, will the invitation to visit the UK now be rescinded? What action will the Foreign Office take as a result of this urgent question?

I am grateful for the constructive tone and characteristic interest that the hon. Lady shows. Is this meeting essential? We judge that this might be an opportunity to send a very strong message to someone who is involved in the governance of Xinjiang. That is at the heart of the judgment that was made about this opportunity.

The hon. Lady asked when Ministers were aware. I know that Ministers were aware in the usual, routine way and made a judgment that, on balance, it was useful to endorse the prospect of officials engaging with this individual.

The hon. Lady makes a good point about the risk of moral injury. It is important to say that, with regard to this specific proposition, FCDO officials were keen to invite Uyghur human rights groups in the UK so that they have an opportunity to express their views to this individual as a means of delivering a very strong message of condemnation. That judgment was at the heart of the decision, but she makes a good point about moral injury.

The hon. Lady asked whether the invitation will be rescinded and, of course, it is not an invitation. The FCDO did not invite this individual. Our expectation is that he is travelling on a diplomatic passport. I am grateful to have been able to answer these questions, and I am grateful for her constructive spirit.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing this urgent question but, Minister, I am afraid this is simply not good enough.

In Xinjiang, women are being forcibly sterilised and children are in concentration camps. There are forced labour camps and systematic rape, yet the Minister has just confirmed from the Dispatch Box that Ministers approved of this visit by one of the masterminds of this genocide. Worse, a Cabinet Office Minister claimed this week that the complicity of Chinese state-run companies, such as Hikvision, in Xinjiang is “contested.” Exactly what position are this Government taking? There is no legitimate reason to allow this man, Erkin Tuniyaz, into our country. The only meetings with him should be in a courtroom.

Will the Government now sanction Erkin Tuniyaz, as well as Chen Quanguo, the butcher of Xinjiang? We have to refuse to meet them. Like-minded EU countries have already announced that they will not meet this man when he comes to Brussels. We should not only refuse to meet him, as our like-minded friends have, but we should deny him a visa.

Will we now introduce a sanctions regime specifically for Tibet, where we are seeing the exact same thing? Millions of children have been kidnapped from their parents and put into concentration camps so that they can be assimilated and so that genocide can be committed against their culture. This is wrong. I am sorry, but the Government have to get a grip on China issues. We let Chinese officials flee this country, having given them a week’s notice, and now we are inviting them into the halls of Westminster. It is not good enough. We have to get a grip.

I do not think they will be coming to Westminster, as we would have to give permission. Let us not open that debate.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for her long-standing interest. She rightly mentions the suffering of women and children, specifically in Xinjiang, which has moved us all. Our judgment is that Erkin Tuniyaz is not travelling because of an invitation from the Foreign Office. Given that our expectation is that he is travelling on a diplomatic passport and will be here, because he is not sanctioned—

Because he is not sanctioned, we therefore judge that this is a useful opportunity to deliver an extremely strong message to this individual. Of course, colleagues will note that there is a differential approach with regard to the US sanctions regime.

Order. I am in the Chair. Members are meant to speak through the Chair, not face towards the back of the Chamber.

The judgment of Ministers is that such opportunities are useful in offering a chance to express a very forthright condemnation of the outrages in Xinjiang. I think this reflects the Government’s policy of robust pragmatism when it comes to China, which is at the heart of our wanting to continue such dialogue.

The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) is absolutely right that the Government have handed a propaganda gift to Beijing.

In 2020, the Uyghur tribunal found that, beyond any reasonable doubt, China is responsible for crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide, yet today we find that someone at the heart of those crimes is coming to the UK next week—a man accused by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China of playing a central role in the persecution of the Uyghurs.

As we have heard, the Government’s position on China has been appallingly weak and goes no further than to urge the Chinese authorities to change their approach. Given that, hitherto, they have failed to move Beijing one iota in its treatment of the Uyghur people, why does the Minister believe that allowing this man to come to the United Kingdom and to meet FCDO officials will suddenly change things? Will it not be exactly the same message that they have given before, and will the Chinese not treat it with exactly the same contempt? Given that that is what will happen, why does the Minister honestly believe that meeting this man will make the slightest difference to Beijing’s approach?

The hon. Gentleman is questioning the utility of this kind of diplomacy, and it is a reasonable question, but our judgment, institutionally, is that opportunities to send strong messages to these sorts of individuals are useful and will be taken heed of by the state apparatus. I think the expectation of officials was that an invitation should be extended to Uyghur human rights groups in the UK to enable them to engage with this individual directly and send that strong message. I think that was at the core of the judgment that was made.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for making it absolutely clear that this man is not getting in here, even if the Minister is going to give him space in the office. But I ask you this, Sir: is not the very fact that an announcement of his intention to travel has been made—in the language habitual to the Government of China—“a provocation”?

I think this is an opportunity to send a robust message from our side about everything we judge completely outrageous and unacceptable in Xinjiang. We therefore judge that there is utility in the prospect of officials meeting this individual.

Is this the best we can do? This country used to have a tradition—on both sides of the House, in both major parties—of standing up to tyrants, butchers, fascists and great persecutors. That seems to have been abandoned. Is not the only conclusion to be drawn in Beijing from the actions of this Government that we will do nothing to stand up to them?

We have stood up to China when it comes to Xinjiang. We have sanctioned individuals, and we continue to make the strongest possible representations. That is in line with our policy of robust pragmatism. We will be robust, but we will also engage and send a strong message when opportunities arise.

I welcome the question from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), and her reference to the actions of Europe. One of the key freedoms I thought we had secured by leaving the EU was the freedom to act and to lead. Indeed, yesterday we heard powerfully in Westminster Hall from the President of Ukraine just how much the residents of Ukraine appreciate that leadership of the international community’s support for Ukraine. When this country speaks, the world listens, so can my hon. Friend explain why the UK Government appear unwilling to hold China to account with the same determination and vigour on this matter?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we have shown leadership on Ukraine, and we seek to show the same leadership on matters relating to our relationship with China and the travails and suffering of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Of course, we may take a slightly different approach on the numbers of individuals or entities sanctioned in relation to Xinjiang. That is based on the notion that a greater degree of engagement allows us to send extremely robust and strong messages of condemnation, and that is at the heart of our approach in this regard. I should also put on record that, of course, this individual would not be invited into King Charles Street—into the FCDO. This would be an external meeting, if indeed it took place.

Well, that will really show them, won’t it? There is really only one reason for having a meeting like this: to keep that man talking until the rozzers arrive with a stout pair of handcuffs. As I understand the Minister’s position today, the approach of His Majesty’s Government to sanctions for people like this is that they allow us to deliver robust messages. If that is the strategy—and it has been for some years now—can the Minister offer the House the list of areas where progress has been made as a consequence? In what way have things got better for the Uyghur population in Xinjiang?

We seek in a whole range of ways to condemn China’s brutality in order that it might be lessened, and we also seek expressly to advocate for individuals. The utility of this sort of engagement is often on behalf of specific individuals. I will not comment on individual cases here, but I do know that thorough engagement is carried out in the interests of specific and individual human rights activists imprisoned in Xinjiang, and I am sure that advocacy is appreciated.

The treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in China is absolutely outrageous—a genocide, and one that the whole House condemns. My hon. Friend is of course quite right that this individual is not sanctioned, but that prompts the question: why is he not sanctioned, given that he is the governor? I understand that the survivors of the camps have actually applied to the Attorney General for permission for him to be arrested on arrival. Will my hon. Friend take back to the Foreign Secretary the urgent need to review the number of people who are actually sanctioned? In fact, if the governor of that province is not sanctioned, the question is: why not?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his questions and, indeed, for his long-standing interest. I am sure the Foreign Secretary will be taking note of these proceedings in the House today. We do not speculate about future sanctions, and we always keep these sorts of issues under constant review.

It would be helpful to understand exactly why this particular individual has not been sanctioned. Can the Minister give some more clarity on that point, not least because my constituents—and, I suspect, the constituents of everyone else in the House who has spoken or is going to speak on this urgent question—will be profoundly concerned about the level of human rights violations taking place towards the Uyghur community, for which this man appears to be very directly responsible?

I think colleagues will know that, when it comes to the metrics for such things, the judgment has been made that it is worthwhile maintaining the opportunity to engage with some of these sorts of individuals. Of course, all of these cases are kept under review. We will not speculate on future sanctions, but I think it reflects the approach of more engagement in order to deliver strong messages, rather than less, and therefore more sanctions.

What is happening in Xinjiang is an absolute disgrace, and the whole House clearly condemns it. The Minister says that inviting this gentleman over—sorry; not inviting, but allowing this gentleman over—will send a strong message, but what message is going to be sent that has not already been sent to the Chinese? The Minister also said that the meeting will not happen in King Charles Street—at the FCDO—so where exactly will it be happening? In the spirit of democracy, openness and the freedom to protest we have in this country, will he tell us where it is, so that those who want to protest can actually go and protest outside this meeting?

This is not organised by the FCDO, and our expectation, with the oversight that Ministers have, is that directors might meet this individual. The details of that are yet to be confirmed, if indeed it does happen. I think the opportunity therein was that they would give very strong messages, including on individual cases of human rights activists imprisoned in Xinjiang, and that was therefore the utility of such a proposition.

The strongest action, the most forthright message, or the robusto, would of course be for the Government to sanction this individual. That is the bottom line. Given how the Government are confronting this issue in Xinjiang, I fear for other parts of China. As a result of this soaking-wet response this morning, I fear even more for Hong Kong. The Government have been sitting on a sanctions report since a formal submission in November last year, calling for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to involve himself in sanction moves against 16 individuals in China. When are the Government going to report back on that sanctions request?

I note the hon. Gentleman’s question and he makes a good point in drawing a comparison with Hong Kong. I will not comment from the Dispatch Box about future sanctions, but we note the content of that report.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing this urgent question. I hear what the Minister says about us taking a different approach, but what assessment is the FCDO making about whether that approach is working? Surely the fact that this individual is going to come to the United Kingdom, when we know they would not go to the United States, is evidence that the approach is not working and we need to rethink.

The Government’s approach is one of robust pragmatism, but we would always keep that under review and pay a great deal of attention to the actions of our allies.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am really struggling with the Minister’s thinking on this. On one hand he says that what is happening in Xinjiang is abhorrent, illegal under international law and a crime against humanity, but on the other hand he is facilitating meetings with the governor of that province. That is not a sustainable position, and it certainly does not hold China to account. When will the Government get a grip on this issue, finally and definitely stand up for human rights and against crimes against humanity, and tell China that this is not acceptable and the governor of Xinjiang is not welcome here?

We will continue to send those messages, and my expectation is that directors, were they to meet this individual, would be sending exactly those messages. More broadly, we will keep our approach under review at all times.

The Minister knows how much I respect him, as we all do in this House, but his answers this morning have been incredibly disappointing. I have to say that—I know it may not be his Department to answer, and he has been given the job. Two years ago Parliament voted to declare the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims to be genocide. Erkin Tuniyaz has not only had direct involvement in those activities, but is one of the lead offenders, directly responsible for implementing mass detentions, forced sterilisations, sexual abuse, slave labour and even organ harvesting. A person responsible for such crimes should never, ever be welcome on British soil.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question and I respect him enormously—he knows that. Of course we all share a deep sense of sorrow about the appalling abuses of human rights in Xinjiang, and that is at the core of everything we do in our advocacy for human rights. With regard to the current issue, of course we will keep this approach under review.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek through you a correction by the Minister of something he said earlier? He said that the Foreign Office had invited those who have fled Xinjiang and are here in the UK to meet this murderous man, but in fact they were never invited; they were only invited to submit their thoughts about this to the Foreign Office, or perhaps to meet one of the officials.

Capital Projects: Spending Decisions

(Urgent Question): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I have lost count of the number of times that we have had to drag Ministers from this shambolic—[Interruption.] To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities what is his assessment of the capital projects and spending decisions in his Department.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, I am glad we know what question we are being asked. Levelling up is one of the defining missions of this Government. Whether it is moving 22,000 civil servants outside of London by 2030 and backing overlooked town centres and high streets, or devolving power and money away from Whitehall and Westminster, this Government are delivering for the people of this country. There has been significant focus on the mechanics of government in recent days. Even if the question asked today was not that clear at the outset, it is absolutely the case that processes change and may apply at times in different ways.

We are working within a new delegation approach with the Treasury, which involves Treasury sign-off on capital spend. We will always work closely with the Treasury. We value its focus on value for money; it values and shares our mission to level up the country as a whole, and we will continue to do that. We are making good on our promise to spread opportunity across the country, with £9.6 billion of levelling-up funds announced since 2019, on top of the £7.5 billion commitment to the nine city-based mayoral combined authorities in England. That includes £3.2 billion of funding via the towns and high street funds, £3.8 billion from the levelling-up fund, £2.6 billion from the UK shared prosperity fund and £16.7 million from the community ownership fund.

There has been no change to the budgets of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, whether capital or revenue; no change to our policy objectives; no dilution of our ambition; and there are no implications for the Government’s policy agenda. Four years ago, this Government promised the British people a stronger, fairer and more united country. It was a promise embodied in levelling up, and it is a promise we are going to keep.

It appears that nothing is going right in this place today. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to drag Ministers from this shambolic, failing Department to the House to account for their failures—failures to deliver and failures to understand the impact of our money that is being spent. An extraordinary report in the Financial Times today suggests that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been banned from spending any new money on capital projects without approval from the Treasury. It follows a damning National Audit Office report, which provided evidence that the Department had no idea about the impact of the money that it was spending, and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee made an assessment that billions of pounds of our money were being wasted, because the Government had engaged in a programme without any understanding of the impact of that programme.

If this report is true, we are in the absurd situation of having a Secretary of State who does not even have the authority to sign off on a park bench. Is this true? If so, what is the Government’s assessment of what that means for the levelling-up agenda, of which a third round of spending has just been announced, and for tackling the housing crisis? Is it true that this decision by the Treasury was prompted by unauthorised spending commitments made by the Secretary of State at the convention of the north to spend money on improving appalling housing standards, after the desperate death of a two-year-old boy in Rochdale? I understand that the Secretary of State is in Rochdale today. How can he possibly tell housing associations to sort themselves out if he cannot sort out his own Department? We deserve to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer believes that a Secretary of State who is finally—belatedly—spending money on improving housing standards is a Secretary of State who has gone rogue, because that would be very serious.

The rumours are swirling that there is huge underspend in the Department. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, yet I understand that the affordable housing budget has not been spent and that there are levelling-up funds that have not been spent either, which will now be clawed back by the Treasury. Is that true? Will the Government publish the correspondence between the Departments about this matter? It is our money, and we deserve to know.

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for her questions. There was a significant amount of hyperbole in there and a significant amount of suggestion and inference, but the reality remains, as I confirmed in my initial response to her question, that there has been no change to budgets, capital or revenue. There has been no change to our policy objectives, no dilution of our ambition to level up, and no implications for the Government’s policy agenda. [Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State does what she does best, which is to heckle from a sedentary position, but I will try to answer her questions. She suggests that there has been a failure to deliver. I would talk to the communities up and down the land that have been given these funds, opportunities and possibilities. We see delivery daily. I see it in my constituency; towns are being transformed through the towns fund, which has been providing funding since 2019.

The shadow Secretary of State asked a question about capital spending; I answered it in my last response. She also asked about the implications for the levelling-up agenda. There are no implications for the levelling-up agenda.

I thank my hon. Friend for answering this urgent question. Capital projects across the country may be slipping because they cannot be delivered immediately. Will he confirm that where there is slippage, the capital funds will still be available, and will not be clawed back by the Treasury, so that we do not lose the benefits of capital projects that everyone wants?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. My understanding is that where commitments have been made, they absolutely will be adhered to; that will be understood, and they will be provided for. In my constituency, there have been commitments of £25 million under the town deal for both Clay Cross and Staveley; we are still expecting that, and are spending. We will still realise the benefits of those two lots of £25 million, which will be spent transforming communities that were ignored for far too long under the Labour party.

Members need only have attended Tuesday afternoon’s Westminster Hall debate on this subject to realise that the levelling-up agenda is unravelling. There was an astonishing admission of last-minute ministerial interference from the Treasury, particularly in Glasgow, where it is reported that £500,000-worth of employee work hours were put into bids that were unsuccessful due to that last-minute interference.

The Treasury’s decision to rein in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is far from being standard practice. So far, we have not received an honest reason why that happened. Have the Government given up all pretence of caring about levelling up, or do they no longer have faith in DLUHC to deliver it? Three of the five most deprived areas in Scotland have not received a penny of levelling-up funding. Is the levelling-up project now funnelling money from the poorest areas to the wealthiest? Given the astonishing admission on Tuesday afternoon in Westminster Hall that Ministers interfered at the last minute to take out any round 2 applications from areas that received money, no matter how little, in round 1, will the Minister apologise to the House, and to the local authorities that put so much time and effort into preparing the bids?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely incorrect to say that the levelling-up agenda is unravelling. Just last month we announced several billion pounds of additional capital spending on levelling-up projects bid for in round 2. As for caring about levelling up, communities up and down the land are getting the opportunity to transform their area, and to make good on promises that were not delivered under successive Governments for many decades. We in this place should celebrate that, rather than focusing on what is being focused on now. I gently say to him that if in Scotland, as in Derbyshire and elsewhere in the country, a number of areas have not been successful in getting funds that were on offer, are being provided and will be spent, I very much encourage those areas to apply when round 3 of the levelling-up fund opens in the coming months.

As a great lady once reminded us, there is no such thing as public money, only taxpayers’ money. Does my hon. Friend agree that we Conservative Members should never apologise for applying the most stringent checks and balances, so that every penny spent is spent wisely?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are seeking to transform areas, including mine, that were ignored for far too long, but are doing so in a way that works for the Government and for taxpayers, so that their hard-earned money is spent in the right place, at the right time, to the right effect.

I congratulate the Minister on a valiant attempt at deflection. He has said that the budget and the policy had not changed, and they have not; what has changed is that the Treasury no longer trusts the Department to spend the money without Treasury approval. That is the change, isn’t it? Normally, surely this would be a matter for conversation between permanent secretaries, or between the Secretary of State and the Chancellor—“Bring yourselves into line, and sort yourselves out.” That presumably has been done, but now there is the strongest public condemnation from the Treasury of the Department’s ability to spend money properly. How can the Minister ever again admonish a council leader, or hold them to account, for not spending money properly?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee, my constituency neighbour in South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire, for his comments. We had a similar exchange yesterday on the local government finance settlement. I have already outlined what the change is and I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, but I have to reiterate that there has been no change to budget or to policy objectives. We continue to look forward to working with the Treasury, and with all other Government Departments, to achieve the outcomes we all want in this House, whichever Bench we sit on.

Given the social and economic division created by the Government over 13 years, the announcement of levelling up led to a reasonable expectation that money would be directed to the areas of greatest deprivation. Having listened to several debates on the subject this week, I now have doubts that that is the case. Will the Minister confirm that the single criterion for the direction of funds will be based on deprivation? Will he publish the details?

The information about the distribution of levelling-up funds has been published. I have seen, across Yorkshire and north Derbyshire in the coalfields that the hon. Gentleman and I both represent, a significant transformative opportunity through the towns fund and the levelling-up fund, which will make a huge difference to those places that traditionally have been left behind and which this Government, and this Government only, have responded to in our policy agenda.

Colleagues will note that the Minister attempts to obfuscate through refusals to address the fundamental question of whether the approval process has changed. What supposedly drew the ire and frustration of the Secretary of State’s colleagues was a speech in Manchester on 25 January suggesting that further funding would be available for some northern councils. What caused more angst in the Treasury: the fact that money was being spent in a rogue manner, or the fact that it went against the Prime Minister’s long-standing ambition to divert money away from deprived areas back towards places such as Royal Tunbridge Wells?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for Stretford and Urmston for his point. He will know, because he has long experience in local government, that that would be a crude and inaccurate misrepresentation of what the Prime Minister said a number of months ago. The hon. Gentleman’s first point was about obfuscation. There was no obfuscation. I was absolutely clear at the beginning of my response about what has changed and why that is the case.

As other Members have noted, it has been reported that the Treasury has intervened in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ban new capital projects—on which the Minister keeps avoiding to give us an answer—because of concerns that the Department is not effectively managing public money. The Government’s most recent decision to create four new Departments could, according to analysis conducted by the Liberal Democrats, cost the public an estimated £60 million. Does the Minister agree that the Government should get their existing Departments in order before making costly decisions to set up four more?

I refer the hon. Lady to my answers at the outset, which explained very clearly the changes and how there is no ultimate change to what is being spent in communities up and down the land to transform areas that have been left behind for a long time.

Let me put it in local government terms for the Minister. When a council is told that it cannot spend any more money without specific approval, it is called a section 114 notice. What is it like for his Department to get the equivalent of a section 114 notice?

Let me put it in terms of reality. This Government’s budgets are not changing, this Department’s objectives are not changing, and this Government’s ambition is not changing on levelling up.

The Secretary of State is not here, but I wonder if the Minister can talk to the Secretary of State so that he can talk to the Treasury about the importance of support for local authorities with capital for repair and maintenance of highly important, much-loved but also sadly rapidly dilapidating existing buildings, such as in Gateshead our leisure centre and swimming pools and even Gateshead International Stadium? The huge withdrawal of revenue support grant, which is of course revenue, has paralysed the financial capacity of local councils like Gateshead to support investment in existing buildings. What will the Minister do about that? Will he talk to the Secretary of State and ask him to talk to the Treasury?

Obviously, I will speak to the Secretary of State; we talk very regularly about some of the challenges that the hon. Gentleman highlights. I know that the hon. Gentleman will have seen yesterday’s local government finance settlement, which makes £60 billion available to councils over the next financial year, both for revenue and for other activities. It is ultimately for councils to make decisions about how they spend that, but I absolutely accept his challenge. That is why we introduced the levelling-up fund and the towns fund: to try to respond to some of those challenges. That funding has already had a significant impact and will continue to do so over its delivery. However, I am happy to pass his points back to my colleagues.

Local councils, now and in the days and weeks ahead, will be going through their budget-making processes. The news that they may not be able to draw down on capital funding, whether it has already been agreed or is to be agreed, will put some of those budget-making processes at risk or add additional layers. I ask the Minister again: does his Department have the authority to release funds for current projects or authorise funds for future projects, or is the report in the Financial Times true—yes or no?

I explained the change at the outset: there is no change to the budgets that we have provided and there is no change to the local government finance settlement, which was announced yesterday.

Let us be under no illusions: this is wealth redistribution, but not the wealth redistribution and investment practised by the EU. This is Tory wealth redistribution, taking from areas that need investment and giving to areas that already have it. My constituency missed out on the towns fund: its bid was rejected. Despite an excellent bid from the Caledonian Railway in Brechin, it got hee-haw out of the levelling-up fund, too.

Will the Minister apologise for this grotesque “you can look, but you can’t touch” form of Tory funding?

We can always trust the Scottish National party to debate something that has already occurred and to take the situation back to the European Union. If that is the comparison that the hon. Gentleman wants to make, let me tell him that my constituency, North East Derbyshire, did not receive any significant money under the European Union in recent years, but as soon as we left the EU it received towns funding and levelling-up funding. That is because the Government have ensured that we are responding to the needs of local areas. We are actually trying to listen to and take heed of those areas that have been left behind, irrespective of the point about the European Union.

The Minister’s Department covers some of the funds that are most vital to our communities. As it is, we do not have enough of them. He has been very clear that there is no change in the budget, but can he be absolutely clear that the Treasury will not stop decisions being made on important projects that we need in our communities?

It was only a few days ago that the Chancellor himself visited a successful levelling-up round 2 budget area, which demonstrates the commitment of the Treasury—just like the commitment of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—to deliver on what we say. We intend to do so, because it is so important for these communities to have the transformation that they need and want.

The Minister has said in various answers that the ambition has not changed, the policy has not changed and the budget has not changed. The reality is that the sign-off process has changed: the Treasury now signs projects off for his Department because it does not trust the Secretary of State.

We are shortly due to move to stage 3 of the levelling-up fund. Stage 2 was a farce; stage 1 was a mess. What assurance can the Minister give that stage 3 will start delivering for some of the most deprived communities, including in my Ogmore constituency, which has had nothing?

Just for clarity, the Treasury signs off budgets across Departments without any issue, as it has done under the Labour party, the coalition and the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman asks about round 3 of the levelling- up fund. We have given out billions of pounds under rounds 1 and 2. Local communities are excited by the opportunities that the changes will bring. I encourage his area to apply for round 3; I hope it is successful, and I hope he can share in the transformation that will come, which is already being delivered elsewhere.

The first line of the policy paper “Levelling Up Fund Round 2: prospectus” states:

“Investing in infrastructure has the potential to improve lives”.

I am anxious to find out how such infrastructure improvement can take place on coastal roads, where the environmental impact of erosion is leading to the isolation of communities. Will the Minister commit himself to a dedicated levelling-up strategy to address this serious issue?