House of Commons
Tuesday 17 November 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Covid-19 Testing Capacity
We are processing coronavirus tests on an unprecedented scale and expanding capacity further, having already met our testing capacity target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October. We now have five Lighthouse labs operating across the UK, with two more announced yesterday, and significant progress on next-generation testing technologies.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the tremendous progress he has made over recent months on increasing our testing capacity, including the delivery of a new site in my constituency. The recent announcement regarding care homes is welcome. How quickly does he think the trial process can be concluded, so that we can roll out a nationwide scheme to ensure that those in care homes can finally see their loved ones again?
We have discussed many times in this House the importance of the use of testing because of the terrible dilemma of wanting to keep people safe in care homes, yet also wanting to allow visiting. Testing can help to resolve that. The pilots are ongoing in some parts of the country, and I very much hope that we can get to a position where we can offer testing to enable visiting across the country before Christmas
Increasingly, the test itself is only one part of getting a high-quality testing system. The logistics around it are also vital. We are already funding local authorities across the country to support them to roll out mass testing, but we will learn from the pilots, including in Hampshire, to see what extra might be needed.
Testing, backed up by tracing and isolation, is key to avoiding further lockdowns. At the Secretary of State’s press conference yesterday, we heard that tier 1 has had “very little effect” and that the tiers must be strengthened. Can he confirm that it is the Government’s intention to impose a tougher set of restrictions on tier 1 areas post this lockdown?
We will soon be asked to make a decision on the future of the lockdown, so the earlier we get that information, the better.
Testing for NHS staff is crucial for dealing with the backlog in NHS care. Last week, we learned that 139,000 people are waiting beyond 12 months for treatment. We now know that 252,000 people are waiting beyond 18 weeks for orthopaedic surgery, which is often hip and knee replacements, and 233,000 patients are waiting beyond 18 weeks for eye surgery—many could go blind. People are waiting longer for gynae surgery and heart valve surgery, and many are languishing on trolleys in dangerously overcrowded A&Es. As well as testing NHS staff, Ministers have promised to give the NHS whatever it takes. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the spending review will deliver the resources, beds and capacity to bring waiting lists down?
The good news is that we are managing to continue to drive through the backlog that understandably built up in the first peak. Instead of attacking the NHS, the hon. Gentleman should be backing the NHS and thanking it for the incredible hard work that it is doing right now and will be doing this winter.
NHS Capacity for Winter 2020-21
The Prime Minister has announced £3 billion to support NHS capacity this winter. Among other things, that money funds our Nightingale hospitals, so that surge capacity is available, and the NHS’s ongoing access to additional independent sector capacity. It also supports the safe discharge of patients, helping to reduce pressure on beds. In addition, £450 million of capital funding has been announced to upgrade and expand A&Es across the country, to help prepare the NHS for winter, and that money is already being spent.
The £3 million announced to increase winter capacity in Dudley is hugely welcome, but will my hon. Friend also look at Dudley’s bids for capital funding for a hybrid theatre and reconfiguration of critical care? Will he join me on a visit to Russells Hall, so that he can see the transformative effect that those projects would have on care for patients in Dudley South?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s constituents will benefit from £3 million to increase capacity at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley as part of the investment to upgrade A&Es ahead of winter. Future NHS capital spending will, of course, be determined at the upcoming spending review, but once our settlement has been confirmed with the Treasury, we will consider carefully how projects are prioritised within it. In the meantime, I encourage the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust to discuss its proposals with NHS England and NHS Improvement. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this, because I know how hard he campaigns on this issue, and I would be delighted to take him up on the offer of a visit when I am able to.
The NHS will only survive the winter if its workforce are valued and supported. The evidence from the British Medical Association to the Health and Social Care Committee this morning was stark. So does the Minister understand how demoralising it is for staff to hear reports that they may face yet another two-year pay freeze? I asked those on the Government Benches to rule this out last week. I got no answer, so I ask them again today: will they rule out a pay freeze for NHS staff?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is quite right to highlight the amazing work that our NHS and social care workforce have done throughout this pandemic, as they do every year, and I pay tribute to them for that. As he will know, the NHS agrees with its staff multi-year pay deals set by independent recommendations, and we continue with that process.
Lateral Flow Covid-19 Testing
In addition to giving local directors of public health access to tests, NHS Test and Trace will provide access to training, clinical, operational and service design guidance, and communication and engagement support. In addition, all local authorities have funding available up to £8 per head of population to support the roll-out.
I welcome the allocation of lateral flow tests to both Kingston and Richmond in my constituency to allow for mass testing. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether, in addition to the support he has just outlined for the testing, there will be additional resources to support local tracing efforts and to support those who are found to need to isolate?
Personal Protective Equipment Supplies
We have a four-month stockpile of all covid-critical PPE in place. Thanks must go to the tremendous contribution from UK manufacturers, including Honeywell in Motherwell in Scotland, which now meet 70% of our PPE needs. We have distributed 4.7 billion items, ensuring health and care providers and others have access to the critical protective equipment that they need to help keep everyone safe.
According to Treasury figures, the UK Government have spent £15 billion to date on PPE contracts, and the majority to date have been awarded without open tendering, often to those with connections to the governing party or to companies with no PPE experience at all. Does the Minister consider it is acceptable that, instead of that resource being used to protect frontline healthcare staff, so much of it has been squandered on millions of items that are absolutely unusable because they do not meet NHS standards, and how does she propose to restore this Government’s reputation for competence, probity and openness in the tendering process?
The global pandemic presented us with unprecedented challenges in securing the volumes of PPE required. We moved swiftly in order to make sure that we kept people safe. We procured goods and services, and worked with extreme urgency in accordance with procurement rules and Cabinet Office guidance. All offers were prioritised based on volume, price, clinical acceptability and lead time. I am happy to reiterate: we have four months’ supply.
The UK Government removed the zero VAT rating for PPE on 1 November, increasing costs by 20%. Social care and other frontline services are already having to pay higher prices and to buy larger quantities of materials, so why are this Government making it even more expensive to protect key workers during what is the second wave of covid?
I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman. In the main, many of our frontline operators are getting it free—social care, general practice, dentistry, optometry and so on. The relief was designed specifically to relieve the burden of VAT on sectors particularly affected by coronavirus while supply did not match demand. Now the Government are able to supply covid-related PPE across all sectors, the burden of VAT will still not fall on frontline providers for all covid-related PPE and demand will be met. Most businesses that make taxable supplies can recover the VAT that they incur on purchases of PPE as business expenses. They will therefore be able to reclaim all VAT after the 31st. But I reiterate: for the majority of frontline healthcare, it is free.
The price of an FFP2 mask bought by the Government increased by 1,400% in just six weeks to the end of May and gowns by 350%. I welcome all efforts by the Government to procure PPE, but I have concerns that we may not be getting a fair price. One company, PPE Medpro Ltd, was given Government contracts worth over £190 million. PPE Medpro Ltd had no previous experience and coincidentally was only set up on 12 May 2020. Reports have suggested that the company has substantial links to Conservative party donors, so can the Secretary of State or the Minister categorically assure the country that no Conservative party donors are profiteering from the pandemic?
I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but it is that old habit from being a mother of four.
We procure goods and services, as I have said, with extreme urgency in accordance with procurement rules and Cabinet Office guidance. We are confident of our supply, with four months’ worth of covid-critical PPE, over 70% of it now manufactured in the UK, providing UK businesses with jobs and ensuring that all health and care providers have access to critical protective equipment needed to keep patients and staff safe.
Building New Hospitals
On 2 October, £3.7 billion-worth of funding was confirmed for 40 new hospitals, with a further eight schemes invited to bid for future funding, to deliver a total of 48 hospitals by 2030. Four in the programme are already in construction, and three others have commenced early, enabling works on site. The hospital building programme is, of course, in addition to significant upgrades to 20 hospitals, which will be complete by March 2024, and is part of a wider programme of investment.
I am grateful to the Minister for those clarifications, and I obviously welcome this programme, but before he came into office, in March 2018, his Department allocated £312 million for a major capital programme at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. Now that an independent reconfiguration panel has confirmed that these decisions were properly made and should proceed, the trust is seeking approval from his Department for advance of funds for enabling work by architects, structural engineers and others. Can he confirm when this requested £6.3 million will be forthcoming?
I am pleased to confirm to my right hon. Friend, a distinguished predecessor of mine in this office, at this Dispatch Box that £6 million-worth of funding has been approved in principle, allowing Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust to develop its plans and produce a business case for this scheme. The Department will continue to work closely with the trust to understand how the right support can be provided centrally to develop an affordable case for the overall scheme and to maximise the impact of this funding, and I will be writing to my right hon. Friend with more detail later today.
The independent reconfiguration panel overwhelmingly backed the plans for the development at the Epsom and St Helier trust; does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour party should take away the threat of a judicial review and allow this investment to take place so that my constituents and the constituents of south-west London can benefit from greater access and better-quality healthcare?
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently gave these plans the green light following independent advice from the IRP, and I am pleased that this will mean my hon. Friend’s constituents and, indeed, many others will benefit from a new state-of-the-art NHS hospital in Sutton. Patients and the public will now be engaged in shaping the detail of the new services; I encourage all local people to participate positively in that process and the council and others to get behind that scheme and that record investment by this Government in his area.
Covid-19: Economic Effect
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others. The best strategy for both health and the economy is to suppress the virus, supporting the NHS and the economy, until a vaccine can make us safe.
The economic effect of the lockdown on the hospitality sector in particular is severe. In large constituencies such as Thirsk and Malton, the infection rate can vary significantly across different districts. When my right hon. Friend moves us back to a tiered system on 3 December, will he look at allocating tiers by district rather than by county to keep the economy as open as possible?
Throughout the process of the tiered system, we have always looked at a level of granular detail, whether at district council level or, indeed, ward level in some cases, to make sure that we have the appropriate measures in the appropriate places. While it is too early to say exactly how we will proceed from 3 December, that is a commitment that I can make to my hon. Friend.
As I have highlighted previously, covid is spread not just by droplets but by airborne particles, so good ventilation is key to reducing the risk of spread indoors, such as in hospitality. On 20 October, the Secretary of State agreed to speak to the Chancellor about removing VAT from ventilation and air-purification systems to make them more affordable. Can the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he has had with the Chancellor and what the outcome was?
If that is the case, can the Secretary of State clarify whether we will hear an announcement from the Chancellor in the near future on supporting the installation of such systems? Even with the good news about potential vaccines, it will be a long time before most of the population are vaccinated, so what is the Secretary of State’s strategy to control covid over the coming year?
Covid-19: Dental Services and Mouth Cancer Diagnosis
This Mouth Cancer Action Month is a timely reminder that everybody should seek advice if they are worried. Early in the first wave, dental services were suspended, but rapidly, over 600 urgent dental centres were set up to deliver care. Since June, dentists have continued to prioritise urgent treatment and vulnerable groups and to provide routine care across the dental network. They have worked hard to restore dental activities, while keeping patients and staff safe, owing to some aerosol-generating procedures that mean we have to take particular care in the dental sector.
I recognise the Minister’s comments that people are trying to get back to work in dentistry, but the reality is that there is massively reduced dental capacity; routine dental work is not going ahead as easily as people might imagine. Dentistry also plays a vital role in identifying mouth cancers. Following on from a previous question, I wonder what help the Minister can give dental surgeries to improve their capacity. Currently, they have to have an hour’s gap between patients. I understand that ventilation systems are available, which can help, but unfortunately they are very expensive. What help can Ministers give to enable dentists’ surgeries to purchase that equipment? Can grants be made available? This is a really urgent question.
I recognise the hon. Lady’s concern in this area. I assure her that I am working closely with NHS Improvement and the chief dental officer. I have held several meetings over the past week alone, and tomorrow I am meeting the chair of the British Dental Association. Some areas of challenge that she articulates, such as fallow time and so on, are things that we are actively working on at pace, as well as looking at specific testing solutions for dentistry. We are also looking at the issue of ventilation. I am happy to report when further work has been achieved.
Yesterday, the House will know that we secured 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, so we have now secured access to 355 million vaccine doses through agreements with seven separate vaccine developers. We have secured them for the whole UK.
We have done a huge amount of work. The deployment of the vaccine is, of course, being led by the NHS, which reaches into all parts of the UK. Our principled approach is that we will deploy the vaccine according to clinical need in every single part of the UK at the same time. That, of course, includes rural areas. A significant amount of work has gone into how best to deploy to rural areas, especially as some of the people who clinically will need to get the vaccine first are also those who might find it most difficult to travel. It is a very important question on which a huge amount of work is being done.
I thank my right hon. Friend and fellow one nation Conservative for his hard work and that of his Department in impossible circumstances this year. Kate Bingham and the vaccine taskforce have done an amazing job in securing so many doses of vaccines, as and when they become available, which will be centrally procured by the UK Government and equally available across all parts of our United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows the power of all parts of the UK speaking with one voice and working together for the good of our entire Union?
I feel very strongly about this, and I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. We should take forward this vaccine and ensure it is available fairly and equally across all parts of our United Kingdom. Of course, it will be deployed in each of the devolved nations through the devolved NHS. I have been working closely with my counterparts, and the four NHS organisations have been working together. Ultimately, let us hope that should a vaccine become available—we still do not yet have one authorised—it will be a moment at which the whole country can come together in support of making sure that those who are clinically most vulnerable will get support first wherever they live.
Anti-vaccination Disinformation Online
The Culture Secretary and I discuss regularly with social media platforms the action that is needed to tackle vaccination disinformation online. I am encouraged by the fact that social media companies who have attended meetings with us have agreed to commit to the principle that no user or company should directly profit from covid-19 vaccine disinformation and to ensure a timely response when we flag such content to them.
It is obviously tremendous news that a vaccine will be available and that the people in the UK may be among some of the first in the world to receive it, but it is important that there is public confidence in the vaccine. The anti-vaccine movement is damaging: it is a threat to public health. Does my right hon. Friend agree that social media companies should not just be taking down anti-vaccine material when they are notified of it, but proactively looking for it on the internet and removing it themselves?
Yes, absolutely. A critical part of tackling disinformation is providing accurate, fair and objective positive information, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right about this point. The social media companies are working—and we are providing content for them—to ensure that proper, accurate information that the public can trust from the NHS about the effectiveness of vaccines can be promoted, as well as taking action to remove information that is not accurate and not correct.
Covid-19: Care Home Visits
Visits from loved ones are what makes life worth living for many care home residents, yet, sadly, these have been too few over the last few months. Unlike the first lockdown, during this period of national restrictions, we want visits to be able to continue. That is why we published new guidance on 5 November advising care homes of the steps that they can take to allow safe visiting while there are high rates of covid in the community. Yesterday, we launched our visitor testing trial and plan to offer visitor testing to care homes across the country by Christmas.
There are almost 2,000 people living with dementia in Lewisham and for those in residential care, a lack of social interaction through visits can cause their condition to deteriorate. Testing for family and friends is the way forward, but the Government’s pilot for this was launched only this week and just 20 care homes are included. With the festive period rapidly approaching, why was this not done months ago, and is it not just another example of the Government delivering too little, too late?
We have been testing and have prioritised testing in care homes going back as far as May, and we have been carrying out whole care home testing. We are now testing over 500,000 staff and residents in care homes every week. Now, as testing capacity increases, we are launching the visitor testing trial with 20 care homes across Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall. We will use the lessons from that trial to roll out testing more widely across the country as fast as we possibly can.
I am afraid the Government’s pilot scheme simply fails to understand the scale or urgency of the task. The average time someone spends in a care home before they pass away is two years, so after eight months of not being able to visit, families do not have a moment to lose. If the Government believe that weekly tests make it safe for care home staff to go to work, why not just do the same for families? Will the Minister now agree that a proportion of the 157,000 tests that are currently spare capacity every day will be ring-fenced for family visits so that we can safely bring all families back together in time for Christmas?
I absolutely want to enable relatives to go and visit their loved ones in care homes, but we have to remember that we are against a backdrop where covid is incredibly cruel to those living in care homes. We have seen outbreaks that have gone from one resident across to almost all residents within a few days, with staff also affected, so we have to get the balance right. We have to make sure that we do this in a way that is safe to residents and staff. That is why we are carrying out the trial to learn the lessons, so that we do it right and so we can then safely roll out testing and more visiting across the whole country.
Covid-19 Testing Pilot in Liverpool
The Liverpool pilot will help to inform a blueprint of how mass testing can be achieved and how rapid testing can be delivered at scale. We are now making mass testing available right across the country.
Covid-19 Vaccines: Distribution
On top of the positive news this week of two vaccines, a covid vaccine will be deployed only once it has met robust standards on safety, effectiveness and quality through clinical trials and been approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency or an appropriate regulatory body. The Government have asked the NHS to be ready to deploy any safe, effective vaccine as soon as it is available. Distribution arrangements must be flexible and include the make-up of the workforce needed to rapidly deliver a vaccination programme, training requirements, consumables and any supporting infrastructure. The key point, though, is that the Government have been clear they will do everything they need to do to roll out a successful vaccine.
Does the Minister agree that it is going to be a mammoth logistical effort, not only to do a vaccination-style thing as we do every year with flu, but to include everybody? Also, it looks as though, in order for the vaccine to be effective, people might have to have two injections rather than one, which doubles the number. Can she give any view at this stage, given the logistical efforts that are going in, of how long it will take us to safely vaccinate everybody in the country?
First, I would like to place on record my enormous thanks to Liverpool and its local leadership for how it has helped us with repatriating from Wuhan and with the mass testing. I am sure that Liverpool will once again step to the fore with any help we might need with deploying the vaccine. We will deploy it as fast as possible, but there is a process. We have to know that it is safe, through the regulatory framework. We then have to know that as it arrives from the manufacturers, we can distribute it at pace. We are aiming to do that, and every sinew is being strained to ensure that we can deliver as swiftly as possible. The entire population wants to get on with living a normal, or more normal, life.
Covid-19: Care Home Residents
Sadly, covid is cruel to care home residents, and outbreaks are hard to prevent and control, especially when covid rates are high in the surrounding community. As we set out in our winter plan for adult social care, we have a regime of regular testing for staff and residents, we are supplying personal protective equipment to care homes, we have been offering training in infection prevention and control, backed up by Care Quality Commission inspections, and we are providing £1.1 billion to social care specifically to go towards the cost of infection prevention and control.
I know that my hon. Friend has already touched on this subject, but she will be aware that since April, many people have not been able to visit relatives and loved ones in care homes, so will she please tell the House again what is being done to improve testing and to roll out the flu vaccine to ensure that these visits can resume safely after the latest lockdown?
My hon. Friend is a great advocate for the care sector—for those who receive care and for the workforce—in Southend West. Yesterday we launched a trial of visitor testing, and we plan to offer this to care homes across the country during December. On his question about flu vaccinations, this year we are carrying out the biggest ever flu vaccination programme. So far, the majority of care home residents have been vaccinated, but there is further to go for care staff, and I urge any careworker who has yet to have their flu jab to ensure that they get it over the next few weeks.
Covid-19: Adult Social Care
Our winter plan sets out what we are doing to support adult social care during the second wave of the pandemic, including supplying free PPE to meet social care’s covid needs across domiciliary care, day care services and personal assistance as well as in care homes, and includes a further £546 million of funding for the infection control fund, bringing the total we have provided to social care for infection control to £1.1 billion.
The new megalabs will open in 2021, one of which will be just down the road in Leamington Spa. This is very welcome news for the care sector in Stourbridge, which needs fast access to testing to carry out its amazing work, and let us not forget that these megalabs will bring thousands of jobs to the midlands. The UK is already No. 1 in Europe for testing capacity. With these new labs on stream, that capacity will double. Will my hon. Friend commit to prioritising the social care sector in this new capacity?
The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. Adult social care has already been at the front of the queue for testing. Care homes in Stourbridge and across the country have had whole care home testing since May. We have now sent out more than 13 million test kits to care homes. Every week we are testing more than half a million staff and residents, with nearly 90% of results back within 72 hours. I will continue to make sure that social care is a priority, going beyond care homes to include domiciliary care and supported living as we increase testing capacity.
Covid-19 Autumn 2020 Lockdown: Newborn Babies
The indirect impact of covid-19 has been significant for pregnant women and their young families. Support for families is a priority, and it means short-term and long-term harms can be prevented. Health visiting teams have continued to support and prioritise high-need families. We have also gone to great lengths to ensure that informal support networks that have been there in the past to support mothers and younger babies can remain and provide the support they were unable to give during the first wave.
I know that my hon. Friend is well aware of the desire of new families to return to face-to-face services as soon as is possible, but does she agree that the amazing work of so many in the early years sector to deliver online and digital services at this incredibly difficult time must not be lost? When we return to face-to-face services, we also therefore need to capture all the amazing learning on digital and make sure we can amplify support for new families in that way.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend on that. First, may I pay tribute to her for the work she has undertaken throughout her career with families, parents and young babies, and on early years, particularly the first years of a child’s life? I am sure Members on both sides of the House are hugely anticipating and excited about receiving her review on early years and young families. She is right to say that using digital technologies has enhanced so many areas during the first lockdown and throughout our time with covid, not only in mental health, but with young families and children. In a way, it has been a catalyst whereby we have embraced technology in all areas across health service delivery. We are making sure that we continue to do that and we do not lose the moment.
Many low-income families have struggled to make ends meet during lockdown. Families with babies under one are entitled to Healthy Start vouchers of only £6.20 a week, which is not enough to buy any infant formula that I can find on the market. By contrast, Scotland’s equivalent provides £8.50 a week for Best Start foods. The all-party group on infant feeding and inequalities, which I chair, produced a report on the cost of infant formula in 2018. It recommended the uprating of Healthy Start vouchers, because the cost involved in buying formula means that families are watering down formula or feeding their babies unsafe alternatives. Will the Minister urgently consider uprating Healthy Start vouchers, to ensure that low-income families can claim their entitlement, because many do not?
Non-covid-19 Healthcare Treatment
The Government are supporting the NHS’s ambition to continue to restore elective services for non-covid patients, while of course recognising the pressure on services from covid-19 infection control, with September statistics showing services already restored to about 80% of last year’s levels. Some £2.9 billion of additional funding has been made available from 1 October to manage ongoing covid-19 pressures, alongside recovering non-covid activity levels.
I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Given the difficulties faced by the NHS because of covid-19, what considerations are being given to additional initiatives or the management of existing resources to address patient demand and break the backlog of non-covid-related treatments, such as diagnostic interventions for cancer?
The NHS is working hard to maintain elective activity as far as possible during the second wave with extra funding, as has been set out. As shown in published September data, hospitals are carrying out more than 1 million routine appointments and operations per week, with around three times the levels of elective patients admitted to hospitals than in April, with many hospitals innovating to get through their lists. For example, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and West Berkshire sustainability and transformation partnership has set up additional bespoke cataract units to deliver services. In addition, we have been making use of independent sector sites to assist the NHS with almost 1 million NHS patient appointments taking place within those facilities.
One adverse consequence of the first lockdown was that many people failed to seek treatment because they were afraid of the virus, but due to good planning and hard work, the staff of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are able to treat covid patients while still undertaking the normal work of the hospital. Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of Broadland should continue to seek medical assistance when they need it, confident in the knowledge that it will be provided in a covid-safe and effective manner?
I share my hon. Friend’s fulsome praise of the staff at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the work that they are doing. They have a strong champion in him. Indeed, I pay tribute to all the health and social care staff who have worked so magnificently throughout the pandemic. I can wholeheartedly agree with everything he says. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been clear throughout this pandemic that anyone who needs medical help should continue to seek it in the knowledge that they will be treated in a safe and effective manner appropriate to their needs. To put it bluntly, it is a case of help us to help you.
For cancer care, we are still dealing with the backlog from the first wave, but we are now hearing of treatments being cancelled during the second wave. Extremely vulnerable immuno-compromised cancer patients need covid-free wards and staff need regular testing. Similar backlogs to the first wave could be the difference between life and death. I ask this at every Health questions but am yet to receive a persuasive answer. What will the Government do differently in order to restore cancer services?
I am grateful to the shadow Minister, who always asks measured and sensible questions. He is right to ask that particular question, but I am very happy for him to raise with me any specific incidents of where urgent cancer care is being cancelled in the current situation. We have worked extremely hard, as has the NHS, to ensure that treatments such as that and emergency and urgent treatment can continue. He asked what we are doing differently. We have learned a huge amount, as has the whole country, over the past six to nine months. We have increased capacity in our hospitals, which is why, with the measures that we have taken, we can continue far more surgery and far more treatments, particularly cancer treatments, than we could in the first wave.
We are seeing major scientific advances that will help to get things back to normal. We are expanding mass testing with the two mega labs that will add another 600,000 to our daily testing capacity and, on vaccines, we have secured an initial agreement for 5 million doses of the very promising Moderna vaccine and begun clinical trials of the Janssen vaccine.
It is now 41 days since I asked the Secretary of State whether he would stop the clock so that no one seeking access to fertility treatment loses out because of delays due to the pandemic. When does he hope that his Department will get around to answering?
The provision of fertility services is happening in the normal way in as many places as possible across England, but it is not happening everywhere because of the huge pressures on the NHS from the second wave of covid. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State was saying a moment ago, there are pressures on the NHS. There are now 15,000 people in hospital with covid across the UK, but the NHS is doing far more normal services that it was not able to do in the first wave.
This morning, the Select Committee has been hearing about workforce burnout. Witness after witness said that the one thing that would make a big difference to NHS staff is knowing that we are training enough doctors and nurses for the future even if we do not have enough now. Nearly two years on from the NHS 10-year plan, we still do not have the workforce projections published—I know that the Secretary of State is keen to get them published. Can he assure the House that, when they are published, they will be the independent projections and not what the Treasury has negotiated with his Department as part of the spending review?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. I can give him a couple of projections and a couple of facts. Over the past year, we have 13,500 more nurses in the NHS than we did a year ago, and thousands more doctors. Let me give him this projection, which I am sure that he and everybody on the Government Benches will buy into: we are going to have 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by the end of this Parliament.
Yes; the lateral flow tests that are being used in Liverpool are accurate. They measure whether somebody is infectious and have a very high specificity. We publish all these statistics, having had them assessed at Porton Down in one of the best medical science units across the whole world, so I assure the hon. Gentleman—and, through him, his constituents —that the lateral flow tests have a quick turnaround and a high degree of accuracy regarding whether someone is infectious. I have not seen the reports to which he refers, but I assure him that the best thing that people can do if they are offered a test is to get one.
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and to discuss with him how we can strengthen the services that are available across Dorset, especially as the population is not as dense as in some other parts of the country. We need to ensure that we get services out into the community, rather than just in the big cities.
As a proud supporter of the Conservative Government’s introduction of the national living wage, I am a big fan of the pay increases that we have seen for some of the lowest paid people in the country, such as some of those working in social care including the home care sector, about which the hon. Member speaks. National living wage legislation is not a “nice to have”; it is mandatory, and all employers must follow it.
The hon. Gentleman and I share a passion for ensuring that organ donation is possible and is supported wherever it is needed. That is very close to my heart through personal experience—not mine, but that of a friend. The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue and driven a change in the law, and I am glad that the change in the law to an opt-out system has happened. However, during the first lockdown there was clearly a slowdown in the number of donations, and we do not want to see that. There are more services available in the second peak of this coronavirus crisis. I look forward to working with him and others to make sure that organ donation is as high as it possibly can be.
Yes, I do, and so does the Prime Minister. We feel very strongly about this. It is so important that we have the work across the country to tackle obesity; this has only been made more urgent because we know of the link between obesity and the risk of dying from covid. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and others to make this happen.
I am very happy to look into that idea, while making sure, of course, that we also have the availability of staff, which is critical. We have just had two questions from Stoke-on-Trent. Let me say how much I appreciate the work of everybody at the Royal Stoke, who I know are doing so much. There are difficult circumstances there because of the second wave, which is quite significant in Stoke. I thank everybody at the Royal Stoke for all the work they are doing.
Yes, I would be happy to do that. We are proposing roving teams who can get out into rural communities across England. I know that there are ongoing discussions between those in the NHS in England and in Scotland who are responsible for the deployment of the vaccine. However, it is a critical principle that it should be deployed according to clinical need, not according to where people live across the United Kingdom.
Yes, that is right. A vaccine will be approved only if it is both effective and safe, so when your ticket comes up, if you are asked to take the vaccine, then I and the whole serious clinical establishment—all of those who understand the vaccines and the value of them —will be urging people right across the country to get it, because it is good for you, it protects your loved ones and it protects your community. It is the primary route, alongside other things like testing, by which we will get out of this and get life back more closely to normal.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s tenacity and doggedness in making the case for Epsom. I am a big supporter of the decision that has been made, and I am afraid, from his point of view, that the final decision on the location of the new hospital—in Sutton—has now been made. However, I am always open-minded to what further health services can be deployed in Epsom itself, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend and I work together on that.
Yes. Vaccines could not be approved if there were not volunteers who were willing to take them and play their part. I want to end this session, if I may, with a tribute to my PPS, my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), who, along with some other Members of the House, is taking part in a vaccine trial, and therefore doing his bit to make vaccines available to help everybody across this country.
The Health Secretary will remember—his hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) was there as well—that we had a really good meeting on 2 October about the link between covid and vitamin D. Since then the PM even said, two weeks ago, that good news is on the way. Will the Secretary of State update us on what is happening? The Government are meant to be getting rid of dither and delay. We could be like New Zealand; they have only had 16 deaths in care homes in the whole of this pandemic. What can he do?
Before the urgent question, I wish to make a short statement about Divisions. Last week, I announced that the number of proxies in operation meant that I could reduce the voting time before the doors are locked from 12 minutes to 10. I can now reduce the time further, to the normal time of eight minutes from the start of the Division. As at present, the occupant of the Chair may extend the time in a particular Division where there is evidence of delays or problems getting to the Division Lobbies.
Continuity Trade Agreements: Parliamentary Scrutiny
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade to make a statement on the proposed parliamentary scrutiny of future Continuity Trade Agreements.
In under two years, the UK Government have signed or agreed in principle trade agreements with 52 countries that account for £142 billion of UK bilateral trade. That accounts for 74% of the value of trade with non-European Union countries that we set out to secure agreements with at the start of the trade continuity programme. Since the transition period began, we have expanded the ambition of our programme above and beyond that original scope. In November we signed an enhanced deal with Japan, accounting for £30 billion of UK trade in 2019, and we expect to make significant progress in securing further deals before the end of the transition period. We believe that this is the largest set of parallel trade negotiations ever conducted by any country.
Parliamentary scrutiny is central to our continuity negotiations. All signed agreements would be subject to the statutory scrutiny process as set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, providing a guaranteed period for Parliament to scrutinise and debate these agreements. Indeed, Parliament has held debates on six of our signed continuity agreements, and not one of those debates has carried a negative resolution. Further, we have voluntarily published parliamentary reports alongside all continuity agreements, explaining any differences from the predecessor EU agreements. I am pleased to see that our approach to scrutiny was praised in a recent report by the House of Lords EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, “Treaty scrutiny: working practices”.
As we approach the end of the transition period, it is possible that the scrutiny window for remaining agreements will extend beyond 1 January into the new year. That means that we may need to use provisional application for a short period, in order to guarantee continuity of trade relationships and avoid any cliff edges. I thank the right hon. Lady for her two letters on the subject to the Secretary of State last week. Provisional application is a well-established and widely used mechanism to give effect to treaties while domestic ratification procedures continue in parallel. Many EU trade agreements were or are being provisionally applied, including the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada and the agreements with Ukraine and with the Caribbean Forum. I remind the right hon. Lady that those EU agreements have already been comprehensively scrutinised at EU level and by this Parliament. In fact, the Government published a technical note in Parliament last year setting out our assessment of provisional application and the circumstances in which it might be used.
We will always take the time necessary to negotiate the right deals. Any agreement we sign must benefit British consumers and businesses, preserve our high food standards and protect the NHS, and they must share wealth across all our nations and regions as part of our levelling-up agenda. We look forward to submitting further continuity FTAs to Parliament for scrutiny once signed, and we welcome further debates on our independent trade policy.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question on an issue that should never have become urgent. The Government have literally had years to protect our free trade with countries such as Canada, Singapore and Mexico, but with just six weeks to go until the end of the transition period, 15 of those continuity agreements have still not been secured, leaving £80 billion of UK trade at risk—two and a half times our trade with Japan. Those 15 agreements have been left so late that the Government will now have to ride roughshod over the rules of parliamentary scrutiny to implement them in time.
Why do we find ourselves in this sorry mess? Why were 20 agreements signed in 2019, but only four so far in 2020? Why have we heard Governments such as Montenegro and Cameroon saying that formal talks were held in September 2019, but then nothing for a full year afterwards? Why, in just the past week, have we heard the Prime Minister of Canada say that Britain has lacked the “bandwidth” to do a deal and the Government of Ghana express dismay that their UK counterparts would turn up late and badly briefed to meetings and then leave early with nothing resolved?
Those are all the hallmarks of Ministers who are simply not doing their job. How else do we explain why the agreement reached two weeks ago with Kenya has still not been laid before Parliament and cannot now receive the full 21 days of scrutiny? It is sheer bumbling incompetence, and instead of taking responsibility today, the Secretary of State has sent her Minister in her stead —a fitting symbol of a total failure to grasp this issue during her 16 months in office. It therefore falls to the Minister of State to answer my three final questions. First, what new steps is his Department taking to get these 15 agreements over the line before Christmas? Secondly, when will UK businesses be told if any of those agreements, including with Mexico, are definitely not going to be reached? Thirdly, how can Ministers continue to defend the adequacy of the rules for parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals after the absolute mockery that they have made of them today?
It is genuinely a pleasure to answer this question. Let me try to take in turn the different points made by the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). First, may I say in general that we are working very hard on the remaining agreements? We have around 700 dedicated officials in the trade policy group who are working on the agreements, and the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), and I are also working carefully on them.
Are we riding roughshod? No, we are not. CRaG would still be fully operating—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury scoffs, Mr Speaker, but she voted the same way that I did for CRaG in 2010. She should have belief in what she voted for under the previous Labour Government.
As for provisional application, it is absolutely an accepted part of international procedure. It is under the—[Interruption.]
The Vienna convention has been around for a long time, and I mentioned that many agreements were provisionally applied by the European Union. I specifically mentioned the CARIFORUM agreement with the Caribbean Community countries and the Dominican Republic, which is also of course a Caribbean country. The reason I mention it is that it has been provisionally applied for the past 12 years. It was signed by the last Labour Government. If the right hon. Lady was happy with something signed by the previous Labour Government that is still provisionally applied today, she is making a bit of a mountain out of the remaining days that we are adding to the process, given the fact that that has been provisionally applied for 12 years. Kenya is a new deal; it is not the continuity of the pre-existing deal.
What steps are we taking? We are stepping up our efforts and working extremely hard. When will UK businesses be told? We are telling businesses all the time about the deals that we have done and landed.
The right hon. Lady mentioned Ghana. There is a deal on the table; it replicates the EU agreement and is consistent with the EU-Ghana stepping stone deal applied in 2016. We are not asking Ghana to do anything that it is not already doing.
The right hon. Lady said in her letter to the Secretary of State on 10 November, which she referred to, that representatives of countries from Cameroon to Montenegro have been communicating with the shadow International Trade team. I do not know whether it is quite right for the shadow Secretary of State to be corresponding directly with our negotiating partners during negotiations that we have been carrying out on behalf of the whole country. I would urge her in the interests of transparency to release all that correspondence with our negotiation opposite numbers, which she referred to in that letter.
It is ironic that the right hon. Lady invokes Ghana, given the amendments to the Trade Bill that she supported on other countries’ domestic production standards. The very exports that she is so worried about would have been prevented under those Labour amendments from entering the country in the first place.
The irony in Labour Members complaining that we have not yet rolled over all these EU agreements is this: they did not support these agreements in the first place. They voted against EU-Singapore, they abstained on EU-Japan, and they split three ways on EU-Canada, so they are complaining about agreements not being rolled over that they never supported in the first place.
As we know, Labour has moved on from the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury is caught between them both, first geographically and now on policy. She cannot escape from this: when it comes to trade and trade agreements, successive Labour leaders cannot decide whether they want these agreements or not. In short, they are in complete chaos, and their approach deserves to be dismissed.
I thank the Minister for his detailed and full responses. With more trade equating to more jobs in Dudley North and across the country, will my right hon. Friend update the House on the upcoming trade deal with Mercosur countries in the light of the recent Joint Economic and Trade Committee with Brazil?
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. I am aware of his background—I think he worked for five years in Brazil and knows the market extremely well. Mercosur is, of course, a very important partner for the United Kingdom, and there are significant opportunities for British business to do more trade, including with Brazil. Just last week, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire, were pleased to host their first Joint Economic and Trade Committee with Minister Fendt from Brazil. They spoke about success to date in financial services and food and drink sectors. As there is not an EU-Mercosur deal in effect, any future UK-Mercosur deal is not within the scope of this programme.
The problem here is not simply the incomplete deals; it is the process we are following, which is not fit for purpose. MPs have no ability to vote to amend our negotiating mandate. As the Minister said, the Government report voluntarily, normally at the end of a negotiating stage to tell us that everything is great, but with no information about obstacles overcome or new obstacles emerging. Perhaps towards the end of a negotiation, the negotiators go into a tunnel from which no information emerges unless it is leaked to provide leverage, which is profoundly unhelpful. We are then offered a vote on a short take-it-or-leave-it debate—again, with no ability to amend or to reflect or represent constituents or sectoral interests. Finally, we find out, normally from the foreign press, as was the case with Switzerland and Norway, that the deal is not what the Government trumpeted it to be.
I ask the Minister, briefly, what action will he take to expedite the outstanding deals? What action will he take to mitigate the potential tariff and quota costs on some £80 billion of trade? More importantly, what action will the Government take because CRaG is not fit for purpose and we need a new system that allows MPs scrutiny and the ability to amend?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the rather more thoughtful questions than those of the official Opposition. Of course, to be fair to him, he voted against CRaG. In fact, he, I and the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) were all elected in the same year, 2005. He voted against CRaG, which is fair enough, and the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury and I voted for it. I can understand his consistency in being opposed to the process. However, we are confident that it represents a robust way of ratifying trade agreements and of Parliament having its say.
Not only that, but we have added to the CRaG process by publishing a scoping analysis and a likely economic impact assessment in advance of the deal, made written ministerial statements after each round, and then publishing an impact assessment when the deal is finally done which gets sent off to the International Trade Committee and the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee in the other place. We have gone far further than CRaG.
I will also say this about SNP Members. Once again, they are complaining about these deals not being rolled over, but they are all deals that they have either not supported or abstained on. They abstained on EU-Japan. They abstained on EU-Singapore. They are against EU-Canada. They are against EU-South Africa. They are against EU-Korea. In fact, I have gone back 15 years, and I cannot find a single trade deal that the SNP has ever supported or voted for, so it is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to come along today and say that the deals have not been rolled over—none of which he supported in the first place. The SNP is anti-trade, it is hellbent on breaking up our Union and it is against Scotland’s best economic interests.
Listening to both the parties opposite, given how important free trade is for prosperity, I say thank goodness we are the ones in government. I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the work they have done in making as much progress as they have. I am confident that they will complete that progress in the time that remains.
As we head into 2021 and seek to negotiate another new round of free trade agreements, I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that not only are we champions of free trade, but we set environmental sustainability at the heart of the negotiations. Those are global challenges that must be reflected in our commitment to free trade.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his interest in this area. The UK’s new independent trade policy is designed to be very environmentally friendly. That occurred in the Secretary of State’s speech to the World Trade Organisation in the spring. The UK global tariff that we have published reduces import tariffs, or eliminates them entirely, on 104 environmental goods entering the UK, including things such as steam turbines. We have gone significantly further than the common external tariff of the European Union. When it comes to our negotiations with future trade partners, the US, New Zealand and Australia, we have committed to promoting trade in low-carbon goods and services, as well as supporting R&D, innovation and science in sectors such as offshore wind, smart energy, low-carbon advisory services and energy from waste.
The International Trade Committee first reported on the roll-over of trade deals in 2018. Hon. Members probably remember that we were told then that all the agreements would be signed about a minute after midnight on 29 March 2019. It is a huge concern that we still have not done 15 of those deals—indeed, with 44 days to go, the biggest trade deal with the EU is still uncertain. Is it not the truth that jobs, businesses and communities need to be better served by the Government in their work associated with Brexit and these incomplete trade deals? It is time for the Government to get their act together, and quick.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I remember appearing before his Select Committee during that inquiry in 2018, which I know he will remember well, too. The fact of the matter is that we have done roll-over deals with 52 countries. That is a very strong achievement and represents some 74% of the value of trade with non-EU countries that we set out to secure agreement with at the start of the trade continuity programme, which was when he did his inquiry. We are working flat out at the moment. He will know that just in recent weeks we have signed deals with Ukraine on 8 October, Côte d’Ivoire on 15 October and Japan on 23 October, and we signed an agreement in principle with Kenya on 3 November.
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) raised Ghana, because that is what I am concerned about. The Ghanaian contention that the deal on offer is not compatible with the Economic Community of West African States simply does not stack up in my opinion. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Ghana’s deal with the EU is compatible with ECOWAS and our deal replicates the EU deal exactly?
I thank my hon. Friend for his keen interest in Ghana, which is an interest I share. I went with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2009 to help train up Ghanaian politicians. It is a country that I have kept a keen interest in for the past 11 years. There is a deal on the table. It replicates the EU agreement, gives full duty-free, quota-free access to our market and is consistent with the EU-Ghana stepping stone deal applied in 2016. There is no evidence that that existing EU deal has damaged Ghana’s relations with its ECOWAS neighbours.
I am surprised that the Minister keeps evading the whole thrust of the urgent question he was asked. Why is he so terrified of parliamentary scrutiny? He can talk about chaos on the Labour side, but chaos and confusion reign in No. 10. There is chaos and confusion in our relationship trying to get an agreement with the European Union as we leave. What is wrong with this Government? I am a member of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, which is being abolished just when we need it for parliamentary scrutiny. Why are this Government so terrified of being responsible and accountable to this House?
I just remind the hon. Gentleman, because he was definitely in the House in 2010, that the CRaG process, which was set up by the last Labour Government and which I strongly suspect he voted for, is exactly the system of parliamentary scrutiny that we are using as the basis for these continuity trade deals now. Not only that, but, as I have already outlined, we are building on the CRaG commitments with additional reports and additional involvement from the International Trade Committee and the House of Lords International Agreements Committee.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our departure from the EU offers the UK a golden chance to lead the world in modern areas such as services, technology and advanced manufacturing, creating great opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs in Stockton South?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Services represents about 79% of our GDP and 80% of our employment. The UK, as we know, is a world leader in tech and digital and far ahead of our closest European competitors, France and Germany. We are one of the world’s leading international financial services centres, with best in class industry, infrastructure, talent and expertise. The recently announced deal with Japan goes further than the EU deal when it comes to services, particularly financial services.
The Minister knows, but did not say, that the current CRaG process was put in place when many other layers of democratic scrutiny were applied to international treaties through the EU, but those layers are now gone. Now that his Department has failed to conclude the roll-over agreements, does he accept that democratic scrutiny needs to reflect not just the convenience of Government, but the proper oversight and challenge of Parliament? Or will he only change his view when he finds himself in opposition?
I think the hon. Gentleman is operating under the misconception that the Government do not want Parliament interested in trade and in trade deals. We are constantly at this Dispatch Box—I, the Secretary of State and the rest of the ministerial team—talking about trade and trade deals. We welcome all the additional parliamentary scrutiny. I remind him that the CRaG process he talks about was set up under the last Labour Government. We have gone further in terms of the reports that we publish and the involvement of Select Committees in both Houses of this Parliament.
The Prime Minister of Canada went on the record last week to say that the two nations had reached a point where, in effect, a deal with Canada was there for the taking. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that analysis, and can he update the House on the progress of the continuity Canada deal?
We are confident that we will be able to secure an agreement with our Canadian partners for entry into effect on 1 January. It is an incredibly important deal. I remind the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) that her official position, under the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) at the time, was to oppose doing this deal in the first place. Canada is an important strategic partner for the UK and our 16th largest trading partner worldwide. The UK exports £11 billion-worth of goods and services each year, and we stand ready to secure and expand this trade.
These deals cut across many devolved powers, so surely there should be a significant consultation and scrutiny role for devolved Parliaments and Governments, learning from experience in Belgium and Canada, for example—or does the Minister share the Prime Minister’s rather extraordinary view that the devolution of powers was a mistake in the first place?
As we know, international trade is a reserved matter. However, it does have an influence on a large number of areas of devolved competence, so it is quite right that we involve the devolved Administrations in formulating our trade policy and our approach to different trade negotiations. In terms of the relations that I have with the Scottish Government, the ministerial forum for trade meets quarterly, involving not only the UK Trade Minister—myself—but the three devolved Administrations. Since May, in the time that I have had the remit for talking with the devolved Administrations, I have met with Scottish Minister Ivan McKee five times.
Listening to what has been said so far, I am very glad that the Conservative party is in government, because we really recognise the value of free trade, not just in terms of GDP figures but the very real impact it has on our constituents—on the great people of Bishop Auckland and beyond. On that note, does my right hon. Friend agree with the interesting stance of the shadow Secretary of State that we should only make future trade deals with countries with which we have a trade deficit?
The shadow Secretary of State has come out with some extraordinary comments in recent times. That particular one sounded like it was verging on Trumpian mercantilism. My hon. Friend is right that, at a time of growing protectionism, trade provides economic security at home and opportunities abroad. It is a key part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Trade is very much part of this country’s future, as are trade agreements.
I am afraid I cannot share the relief of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) that we have a Conservative Government, because as we move closer to the end of the transition period, my constituents, and constituents and businesspeople all over this country, are increasingly worried about their inability to secure the deals and the clarity needed. As a Scot, I am not a nationalist, so my views cannot be dismissed as wanting to undermine the interests of Scotland in the United Kingdom, so can the Minister give us some indication of where these deals are going to come from, how they will be settled and what scrutiny they will have in this place?
I urge the hon. Member to judge us by our actions, not just our words. We have done continuity agreements with 52 countries, which account for £142 billion-worth of bilateral trade. On top of that, we have done a bespoke bilateral deal with Japan, which is the first stand-alone UK free trade agreement that this country has negotiated in 40 years. She should welcome the actions that we have taken to secure the future of these trade agreements and, in the case of Japan, improve on them.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress made so far in agreeing to roll over more than 20 of our existing trade deals? Is he able to reassure the House that the Government have sufficient capacity to continue to get trade deals over the line?
That is a good question, and the answer is simply yes. The trade policy group, which I have been involved with in two different stints at the Department, is an incredibly dedicated, highly professional group of people. It has grown from around 45 at the time of the referendum in 2016 to more than 700. We have taken in private sector expertise—lawyers, experts in trade flows, experts in particular product lines and so on. I am confident that we have the capacity and the right people in place, and I pay tribute to them all for the hard work that they have been doing.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) pointed out, the Canadian Prime Minister said last week that Canada was ready to reach a continuity agreement with the UK but that the British Government lacked the “bandwidth” to finalise the deal and, indeed, that his offer to provide support to the UK’s negotiators had not been taken up. Is not this just an embarrassing situation for the Government, who claim to be promoting global Britain?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. As I have already said, we are in a good position with Canada. I am confident that we will be getting a deal. I saw those comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, whom I greatly respect. The only other person I have seen make those comments is Winston Peters, the leader of the New Zealand First party. I see it sometimes from the negotiating teams opposite; we need to take what they say in a live negotiation with a pinch of salt.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made on the continuity agreements that are so vital for our country’s prosperity, not least in sectors such as agriculture, which is so important to my constituency. With that in mind, does he agree that, while the Opposition parties seek to play political acrobatics with trade, it is this Government who are listening and involving farmers in our future and continuity trade deals by putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing?
My hon. Friend is quite right. I think I am actually due to speak with farmers in his constituency in the coming 10 days or so, which I am looking forward to very much. He is quite right that putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing means that all the National Farmers Unions from across the United Kingdom will play an active role in assessing trade agreements going forward.
Even the Scottish Tory leader’s senior adviser, the former Tory MP for Angus, has said that this Government need a “wake-up call” as we see decisions taken by the UK Government without regard to Scotland. A failure to roll over these FTAs would lead to a tariff and quota disaster for Scotland’s £15 billion food and drink sector. Indeed, with food and drink exports four times more important to the Scottish economy than the English economy, we can see why Scottish producers are horrified at this abject ministerial failure. Why will the Minister not acknowledge this £38 billion crisis? What will he do to fix it for food and drink producers in Scotland?
I think the hon. Member’s phrase was “abject ministerial failure”. We are working hard to roll over all these agreements. I just remind him that these are all agreements that were opposed by the SNP in the first place. It abstained on EU-Japan and EU-Singapore, and it was against EU-Canada, against EU-South Africa and against EU-Korea. He ought to be celebrating the fact that these agreements are not being rolled over, to be consistent with his previous position. We are working hard to make sure that they are rolled over.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to follow the significant headway we have been making on a number of these trade agreements, and that we should help great British businesses, such as those in Stoke-on-Trent, to grow jobs by making the most of these agreements?
My hon. Friend is quite right. Both the Secretary of State and I have enjoyed meeting businesses in his constituency—particularly those in ceramics—and right the way across the city of Stoke. We have them on our minds in all our trade negotiations, to ensure that we get new opportunities for the ceramics industry in the Potteries and elsewhere.
The Minister seems keen to tell us how hard he and his team are working; meanwhile, crucial trade partners such as Canada seem to feel that the Government just have not got their act together and are not giving this the attention it deserves. Does he not realise that what is really important here is that British businesses, which need certainty about what their trading arrangements will be in January, are sat here in the middle of November still no clearer about whether we are going to be able to trade tariff-free with Canada?
I remind the hon. Member that the deals that we have rolled over represent around three quarters of the programme. We have updated businesses, as we have updated this House, after each of those deals to make sure that they are kept apprised. When it comes to Canada, of course, this is a live negotiation. We have contact happening every day with Canada. It is worth remembering that Canada actually walked away from the negotiation in 2019, and did not return to the table until July this year. As soon as Canada returned, we put in place a negotiating team and we got on with it.
Trade, and the jobs, investment and prosperity it brings, is an incredibly powerful way to level up our country and transform left-behind places such as Redcar and Cleveland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that promoting trade and helping our businesses to export is the best way to rebuild and reshape our economy?
I thank my hon. Friend and he is absolutely right. We have talked very much about the trade policy aspects of this Department. We are engaging very strongly with the US, for example, on steel tariffs. I know that is something his constituents will keep an ongoing interest in, making sure that those unnecessary and counterproductive tariffs are removed. But when it comes to the wider picture, the Department for International Trade more broadly works incredibly hard at promoting both the exports and inward investment that I know will be really important to his Redcar constituents.
While recognising that negotiating international trade deals is a reserved matter, the Minister will be aware that many of the policy areas included in trade negotiations are devolved to Wales. Considering this, I find it quite incredible that trade deals can be signed without the formal agreement and approval of the Welsh Parliament. Earlier, he alluded engagement that there had been with the devolved Governments, but can he inform the House whether he has received any critique from the Welsh Government about the approach of the British Government to these continuity deals?
I have an excellent relationship with the Welsh Government: first with Baroness Morgan and more recently with Jeremy Miles. The hon. Member is quite right that international trade is a reserved matter, but it does impact with devolved competence. I believe that the Welsh Parliament either has or will be recommending legislative consent to the Trade Bill, which I think is testimony to how well we are working together in the interests of all the people of Wales.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s comments on this topic. I also welcome progress on continuity trade agreements so far as a first step to more comprehensive trade deals in the future. Does he agree that we cannot force countries back to the negotiating table and we must not do any deals at any price?
My hon. Friend is quite right: it takes two to tango, and that is as true for international trade agreements. If the partner does not want to negotiate, of course we will speak with them and use all the levers we have to try to get them to the table, but at the end of the day, if the partner does not want to negotiate, I am afraid that can happen.
If the Government were in control of this situation and favoured transparency, they would have come to the House to make a statement, not be forced to via an urgent question. British businesses need to know how existing arrangements will be preserved. The Government’s negligence is leaving them susceptible to disruption to as much as £80 billion of global trade. I have listened carefully to the Minister and, as expected, it was lacking in any detail. When will the Government be able to share any real detail on how we are going to avoid this imminent risk to jobs and livelihoods?
I would point the hon. Member to the agreements that we have signed in recent weeks with Ukraine, with Côte d’Ivoire and with Japan, with Kenya agreed in principle. We are looking forward to further agreements in the coming weeks that I hope she will welcome and support.
Could I congratulate my right hon. Friend again on the Japan free trade deal his Department has just concluded, which has created new opportunities, such as for Lucideon in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central? Does he share my enthusiasm about the deal as an important pathway to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?
Our SPS—sanitary and phytosanitary—rules are based firmly on human health concerns, but they can have important animal welfare benefits by barring the import of food produced according to controversial intensive farming methods that would be unlawful here. With that in mind, will the Minister confirm that our trade deals will retain the ban in this country on ractopamine in pork and bovine somatotropin in dairy produce?
I can confirm that on 1 January under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 all of those existing rules will be transferred over to the UK statute book, and those bans will be maintained, which fulfils the manifesto pledge made by my right hon. Friend and I both individually and collectively last December.
I recognise that Northern Ireland is part of UK trade policy. However, under the protocol, while our goods can freely circulate across the European Union, we are not covered by the EU’s free trade agreements. There are major concerns that companies that are part of the supply chain for EU products will now be excluded from those processes due to rules of origin complications. This is a major problem for our agrifood industry in particular, especially the dairy sector. Will the Minister undertake to give urgent consideration to these complicated issues?
I greatly respect the work the hon. Gentleman has done in Northern Ireland over recent years, and he and I met in a separate capacity last year to discuss some of these problems. He is right: it is clear that under the withdrawal agreement and the protocol Northern Ireland is covered by UK free trade agreements, which is absolutely the right position to be in. Rules of origin complications with EU trade agreements are part of the active negotiation between London and Brussels at this very moment.
John Davies, who farms at Merthyr Cynog in my constituency, sits on the recently created Trade and Agriculture Commission in his role as president of NFU Cymru. He will be a loud voice for Welsh farmers, not holding back in his advice to Government. Does the Minister agree that having experts such as John scrutinising the detail of trade deals ensures they benefit Welsh farmers and proves this Government’s commitment to backing British farming?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and farming in Wales is so important that we have put its representatives on the Trade and Agriculture Commission not once, but twice; both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales are on it. We have excellent interactions and hear their feedback at the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and we look forward to that continuing when it is put on a statutory footing.
Wales has an exporting economy, with exports which in 2019 were worth £338 million with Turkey and £234 million with Canada. What assurance of stability can the Minister give Welsh exporters to these countries that they can continue their businesses next year?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, and he is right to highlight the importance of Welsh exports. They are very important to us at the UK Department for International Trade, and we are working very hard to get continuity of our trading arrangements with Canada—the CETA.
There is one section of the community for which trade deals are literally a matter of life and death for their business, not just some minor tweaking of tariffs and regulations. In the 1930s people could walk all the way from Lincoln to Grimsby across derelict farmland because of the import of cheap American wheat, so in the rush to conclude free trade deals will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be a gold standard process in this House, equivalent to our old European Scrutiny Committees, so that Members of Parliament who represent rural seats can hold the Government to account and protect our superb farming industry?
My right hon. Friend represents his rural Lincolnshire constituency very effectively. There is no rush to complete future free trade agreements; he mentioned particularly the United States and there was no rush to do that. It is very important that we get the right agreement rather than a quick agreement, and I have already detailed how our commitments to parliamentary scrutiny go well beyond the previous Government’s CRaG procedures; we have added a lot to that.
I thank the Minister for all he has done so far to secure the trade agreements, but may I ask him a question about the agrifood sector? Does the Minister agree that it is essential that we have the detailed proposals not simply to scrutinise, but also to get some indications to businesses who do not yet know how to plan for January, and whose position in limbo must come to a very speedy end? When does the Minister believe that that information will be available for those businesses?
As soon as we conclude one of these continuity agreements and sign it, we will seek to publish it as soon as possible and start the CRaG process. The hon. Gentleman asks about the agrifood sector, which is incredibly important to Northern Ireland. I have met representatives of the sector on various occasions. I suggest that he looks, as I am sure he has done, at the UK-Japan deal and the potential protection for about 70 geographic indicators in that deal, as a sign of our commitment to the whole agrifood sector.
The potteries were founded in Burslem by Josiah Wedgwood. They are known worldwide for their world-leading ceramic tableware, which, sadly, those on the Labour Benches forgot about. As the proud Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and the chair of the all-party group for ceramics, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that deepening our trading ties with countries that share our values, ideals and high standards is essential for growth in the UK ceramics industry?
My hon. Friend is quite right. We have gone through Stoke from south to central and now to north. I reiterate our commitment to the ceramics industry, ensuring that we break down barriers, and reduce and remove tariffs to our ceramic exports in a way that is consistent with the UK values that I know both he and I share.
The Minister will know that when new trade agreements or changes to trade agreements can affect other areas of policy, there are, understandably, questions, so I thank him for meeting me on numerous occasions to discuss digital and trade policy. Specifically looking at the EU-Japan trade agreement, will the Minister say whether that agreement will change the enforcement powers for people’s data protection rights? Has his Department already consulted, or does it intend to do so, directly with the Information Commissioner on that?
I thank my hon. Friend for all his interaction. As the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, he has genuine expertise in this area and has continued his interest in it. He mentioned the EU-Japan trade agreement, but I think he is really asking about the UK-Japan trade agreement and the difference with the EU-Japan deal. If I commit to write to him in some detail on exactly where those differences are, he will be able to see them. I expect the report that is being submitted to Parliament will look at those differences in some detail.
Is it not true that the Government have just overstated the ease with which they would be able to do all this? We were going to have 40 trade deals on 29 March 2019, and we were going to have a trade area bigger than the EU, which was going to include China and the US. Prime Minister Trudeau said the talks hit the buffers because of the inability of the UK Government to negotiate trade deals—that is the truth of it. What are the Government going to do to ensure not only that we get these rollover trade deals dealt with, but that we have proper scrutiny of them?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman made his question as long as he did, because it gave me the chance to check the voting record on the Canada deal he just mentioned. He actually voted against it when the vote came to the House of Commons, so it is a bit rich of him now to complain it is not being rolled over.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the officials and Ministers in his Department on achieving 74% of the continuity agreements we wanted with non-EU countries? Will he further update the House on the progress he intends to make with the other 26%?
At a time when our economy is in peril and just 44 days before we leave the transition arrangements, we still have no agreement with the EU. Fifteen continuity agreements are yet to be agreed, breaching the Government’s own deadline which the Prime Minister clearly said was immoveable, yet the Trade Minister comes to the Dispatch Box and says that he will extend provision into January. Will he tell businesses what will happen to their trade with those 15 countries on 1 January, so they can now make their plans?
It is relatively straightforward. If the agreement is made with the remaining countries and there is not the time to put it through the CRaG process before 31 December, it has the potential to be provisionally applied. The terms of that agreement will remain on 1 January in accordance with the existing EU deal going into that time, so there should be no interruption for businesses. Parliament will still have the opportunity, under the CRaG process, to give that agreement full scrutiny.