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Topical Questions

Volume 636: debated on Thursday 22 February 2018

My Department has responsibility for export promotion, foreign and outward direct investment, and trade policy. I am delighted to inform the House that my Department has appointed the first three of our network of Her Majesty’s trade commissioners, and Richard Burn, Antony Phillipson and Crispin Simon will serve as trade commissioners for China, North America and south Asia respectively. They will develop and deliver strategies to ensure that we can take full advantage of leaving the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. What evidence is he seeing for growth in UK manufacturing exports to the wider world? I have just returned from a visit to Pakistan with leading British companies in my role as trade envoy to enhance trading between our two great countries; will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Elin Burns and Matt Lister, our trade experts in Pakistan?

I pay tribute to all those people. We are seeing a big rise in our manufacturing order books, not least on the back of our strong export performance. In recent times, we have seen the biggest growth in consistent monthly manufacturing numbers for some 30 years. The figures produced by the Office for National Statistics suggest that our exports now represent 30.3% of our exported GDP—the second highest figure on record.

Given the Government Front-Bench team’s uncharacteristic failure to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) to the Opposition Front Bench, I know that you would want me to do so, Mr Speaker.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Food Standards Agency recently detained large quantities of out-of-date meat in a company called Norish Cold Storage? The meat is believed to have come from Ireland and South America. Given that Norish is the parent company of Town View Foods, one of the directors of which, Plunkett Matthews, was also a director of Freeza Meats, a company implicated in the Irish horsemeat scandal in 2013 and found guilty of meat-labelling fraud, will the Secretary of State urgently liaise with Ministers in the Republic of Ireland, the FSA here and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to ensure the supply chain for this illegal meat is identified, that our sanitary and phytosanitary regulations are properly enforced and that those behind the illegal trade—

Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that if the meat was previously hot, it would certainly be freezing cold by now.

I was not aware of that particular allegation. This cross-Government issue is clearly not one entirely for my Department, but I will ensure that other Ministers are made aware of it.

T3. There is immense potential for growth in bilateral trade and investment between the UK and Israel after we leave the EU. Does the Minister share my hope for yet greater levels of trade with the start-up nation, and will he update the House on the progress being made by the UK-Israel trade working group? (903916)

Britain’s relationship with Israel is stronger than ever, with record levels of bilateral co-operation in trade, investment, science and technology. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the UK-Israel trade working group is making good progress in ensuring continuity in our trading relationships as we leave the EU.

T2. Bearing in mind the upcoming Israel Apartheid Week in universities, of which a boycott of Israel and its products is a big component, will the Minister outline how he intends to enhance trade with Israel for our mutual benefit and offset that destructive campaign by the anti-Israel movement? (903915)

We strongly welcome our ties with Israel, as does the hon. Gentleman. As has just been said, the Department has established a joint trade working group, and we continue to liaise closely with the Israeli Government to strengthen trade, investment and other ties between this country and Israel.

T4. Next Friday, I will be attending the COMBEbusiness event, which showcases the brilliant small and medium-sized enterprises in north Devon. What is the Department doing to attract international investment to those businesses, which form the bedrock of the south-west’s economy? (903917)

We work in collaboration with the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership to attract foreign direct investment into Devon. More widely, the Department works with local enterprise partnerships and local authorities across the south-west to promote inward investment opportunities to foreign-owned companies. In 2016-17, DIT recorded 101 inward investment projects in the south-west, creating 3,402 new jobs.

Although my party does not want to leave the single market or the customs union, a properly planned and managed transition period is always top of the agenda for businesses across Scotland, particularly in our thriving food and drink sector. Does the Secretary of State agree with his own Government that a sensible transition period is required, or is he sticking to his cliff-edge position, which will have a devastating impact for businesses across Scotland and the UK?

We believe across Government that the simplest way to get to the position that we will be able to enjoy, of leaving the single market and the customs union, is via a transition period that is carefully planned and that gives predictability to business.

T5. Last week, I visited the US as part of a cross-party delegation to discuss the future of financial services, and I was very encouraged by the positive response from a variety of stakeholders. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the potential for a future UK trade deal with the US? (903918)

We have four working groups with the United States at the present time, and at the last one we announced a UK-US small and medium-sized enterprise dialogue. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the first dialogue on SMEs will take place next month and will involve more than 100 businesses as part of a very constructive process.

Remoteness of location in the UK is no constraint on the success of some of our malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. Can I tempt the Secretary of State or his Ministers to come and visit Old Pulteney in Wick or Glenmorangie in Tain? Will they do everything to secure the future prosperity of the distilleries in my constituency?

I already have several invitations to visit distilleries, and I intend to take a very close personal interest in this particular sector.

T6. Further to his earlier answer, does my right hon. Friend agree that the prospects for future trade with our close friend and economic partner India remain very bright? (903919)

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I mentioned the India trade audit that has just been published. The Secretary of State met his Indian counterpart, Minister Prabhu, during our Joint Economic and Trade Committee meetings in January, and they agreed that bilateral work will now explore addressing barriers in four recommended sectors: food and drink, life sciences, information technology and services.

The UK remains a major transit hub for illegal wildlife trafficking, and we rely on Border Force to prevent that trade. Will the Minister tell his colleagues in the Home Office to ditch their dangerous plan to replace Border Force staff with volunteers?

Actually, this Government have made enormous efforts to stop wildlife trafficking. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made it a major part of his visit to south-east Asia last week, and he made particular reference to the pangolin, which at the moment is the world’s most trafficked animal. This Government are leading global efforts in combating this horrendous trade.

T7. Does my right hon. Friend agree that free trade helps consumers by lowering prices and that free trade has been one of the biggest contributors to combating global poverty over the past 100 years? Will he embrace the opportunities created by Brexit to do free trade deals that will help consumers and British businesses? (903920)

At the WTO this week, I again made the case for free trade, and the UK is a global champion of free trade. We tend to discuss our trade in terms of producers, but we must always remember that free trade is an enormous benefit to consumers in lowering prices, improving choice and increasing quality. Free trade has also been the route by which we have taken more than 1 billion people on this planet out of abject poverty in the past generation, which we should celebrate.

With no prosecutions leading to convictions since 2011, with no register of arms brokers—as the USA, Canada, Germany and France have—and with the Government selling weapons and spy equipment to eight human rights abusers, how can the Government continue to claim that we have the strongest arms export regime in the world, or are they just not implementing the rules?

I do not know whether colleagues are aware of it, but they rather ruin their questions when they try to pack too much in. Topical questions are supposed to be brief. I understand the temptation—I used to feel it myself—but it ends up being a worse and a lesser question than something shorter and more pithy. It is such an obvious point that the hon. Gentleman must be extraordinarily clever not to be able to grasp it.

All export licence applications are considered on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, based on the most up-to-date information and analysis available. I would be happy to meet the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) to discuss these issues further.

T8. How can the many excellent manufacturing businesses in the Black country benefit when we leave the customs union? (903921)

My hon. Friend is a fine and upstanding voice for the Black country. He will know that manufacturing experienced a 2.8% growth rate over the past year. Leaving the customs union provides an opportunity to enhance that growth, particularly as manufacturing exports outside the EU are growing so fast.