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Topical Questions

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

Earlier this month, I submitted the UK’s formal application to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. Joining CPTPP will put us at the heart of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and slash tariffs for key industries such as cars and whisky. Membership of this high-standards agreement comes with no strings attached, with no requirement to cede control over our laws, our borders or our money. Joining will help propel a jobs-led, export-led, investment-led recovery from covid across our United Kingdom.

I thank my right hon. Friend for all her hard work flying the Union flag with pride around the world. There has never been a more important time to champion the exporting potential of British business, so will she enable the Department for International Trade to partner with me so that I can ensure that the Potteries’ world-leading ceramic tableware manufacturers, such as Churchill China and Steelite, based in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, can benefit from support for exciting exporting opportunities?

We recently launched the parliamentary export programme, through which MPs can partner with DIT, and we will shortly be recruiting a second cohort of MPs; I know that the Exports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), already has my hon. Friend’s name on the list. I also invite my hon. Friend to join our virtual Japan mega-mission, which is being led by the Exports Minister in the next couple of weeks and will bring Stoke-on-Trent firms in contact with Japanese companies so that they can sell their fantastic goods.

Can the Secretary of State say when the review of procedures for the resolution of investment disputes between investors and states in the UK-Canada agreement on trade continuity will take place, and how the views of Parliament and the public will be taken into account in the review? (912498)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am working very closely with my Canadian colleague, Mary Ng, to make sure that that happens as soon as possible.

As we embark on our recovery from covid-19 in the post-EU era, will my hon. Friend provide the assurance that businesses in Bracknell need, and will he please outline what measures have been considered to improve the attractiveness of British exports? (912490)

Bracknell businesses should be assured that we have a plethora of new initiatives to whet their exporting appetites. We are committed to helping businesses realise their economic potential through exports, and we provide a comprehensive global system of support to help them do so. There are a range of initiatives that enhance UK exporting, including our international export hubs, the £38 million internationalisation fund providing grants, and UK Export Finance’s general export facility, another new initiative, all of which combine to help upskill firms, build their capability and finance everyday costs.

One of my Saddleworth constituents who runs a small import-export business in woollen goods has told me of the difficulties that his business is facing, including that there is no customs clearance agent in the UK who will take on new clients. This is in spite of the fact that he was told, prior to Christmas, that this would not be an issue. As I speak, he has bulk export products delayed in Madrid and Milan airports, Dublin port, at the Greece and Turkey border and in Tokyo. He says that the cash flow implications for his businesses will be very damaging. This, of course, is all within six weeks of Brexit, a situation that he feels will eventually cripple his 19-year-old business. He asked me, and I ask the Trade Secretary in turn: why is this such a mess, and where are the grassy uplands that the Government promised? (912502)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try to be as quick in my response.

I will pass on the hon. Lady’s concerns to the Cabinet Office. The Government have invested considerably in customs and clearance agents. I refer her and her constituent’s company to the different helplines that are available both from us at DIT and, most particularly, from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Border and Protocol Delivery Group to provide practical assistance for her constituents.

It was good to see the Government’s new Open Doors food and drink export campaign launched this week at the National Farmers Union conference, but I was rather surprised to see that only one in five food manufacturers sell overseas at the moment. Will the Minister tell me how producers in Hampshire can take advantage of our new international opportunities and trade deals through Open Doors and what support is available? (912491)

The simple answer is for them to go to There are educational masterclasses, meet the buyer events and the opportunity to send samples of their products to overseas buyers in specially selected hampers. Those are just some of the activities open to Hampshire businesses.

With the Biden Administration announcing plans to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the UK is isolated on the world stage as it continues to sell arms to this barbaric regime. Will the Minister explain how this Government can claim to have the most effective export regime in the world when it has the moral stain of being virtually isolated in the world in its obstinate support for Saudi Arabia, which is a serial human rights violator? (912506)

As I said earlier, we have one of the most robust systems in the world for arms export controls. All exports are governed by the consolidated criteria, and we have a proud record in this country of upholding our values. In the 19th century, we abolished slavery. In the 1990s, we were peacekeepers in the Balkans. We have always played our role in the world and we will continue to do so.

It was brilliant to welcome the Secretary of State to Keighley when she met Tony Day from Marrose Abrasives; they are export champions, with products going worldwide. We have many brilliant manufacturing businesses in Keighley that are hungry for growth opportunities around the world. I would welcome suggestions on how they can get involved and influence future trade arrangements so that we can make exporting easier. (912492)

Is not it fantastic to hear that genuine enthusiasm for business, jobs and the prosperity that results? What a shame we do not hear it from the Opposition. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State enjoyed her visit to Marrose Abrasives, and there are many opportunities before our negotiations with New Zealand, Australia and the United States. We have conducted public consultations. We have trade advisory groups, so through representative organisations and others, we are open every day to hear from businesses such as Marrose and make sure that their voice is heard and drives our trade policy objectives.

This month’s figures show that the UK authorised arms sales worth almost £1.4 billion to Saudi Arabia. In the same month, the UN warned that the conflict in Yemen had taken a sharp escalatory turn. As several other Members have asked, will the Minister please explain why he has not followed the lead of his counterparts in the US and Italy and halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia? Does he agree that this behaviour has actively undermined efforts on peace talks? (912508)

As I have said, we do have a robust arms export control policy in Britain, and it is absolutely right that we maintain our own independent policy. The policies of the United States are a matter for the United States.

The strong British pound and economy attracted significant foreign investment when the UK was a member of the EU. Can my right hon. Friend outline the steps that are being taken to ensure that, as we come out of the EU and out of the pandemic, the UK becomes an even more attractive place to invest, increasing quality jobs and helping to turbocharge our economy? (912493)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right; the UK is a great place to invest. The UK was the first major economy to make a breakthrough in attracting foreign investment, under Margaret Thatcher, now four decades ago. The UK has remained an extremely attractive place to invest since. In November the Prime Minister announced a new Office for Investment, jointly led by No. 10 and the Department for International Trade.

As our economy looks to recover from covid-19, there are businesses in my constituency that can expand globally. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps the Department is taking to help not just large companies but SMEs to access global markets? Will he join me in encouraging businesses in the Vale of Clwyd to attend the first local parliamentary export programme event on 4 March? (912494)

SMEs are vital to increasing UK trade, which is why we are seeking SME chapters in all our free trade agreements, and we provide a vast range of support for them. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a trailblazer for the parliamentary export programme, and I encourage businesspeople in the Vale of Clwyd to attend the virtual meetings that he is organising, chairing and using to ensure that his local companies get all the international sales support that Government can offer.

Does the Minister agree that we cannot remain silent or indifferent to the worst crimes and atrocities, whether against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, the Uyghurs in China or people anywhere else in the world? Will she guarantee that the Government, although not supporting the genocide amendment that is coming to the House soon, will at least stop playing political games and allow a straight vote on the matter? (912517)

I agree with the hon. Lady that the atrocities committed by China in Xinjiang are abhorrent. The Government have taken firm action on supply chains and businesses doing business in that part of China, but expanding the role of the UK courts raises serious constitutional issues, and instead the issue needs to be addressed politically.

Are we using our position at the World Trade Organisation to counter reprehensible trading practices by China and others? (912496)

I thank my right hon. Friend. He is right to identify these unfair practices in world trade. Put simply, for far too long, China has not been transparent, with practices such as industrial subsidies for state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfers and claiming special differential treatment. We will continue to work at the WTO and with G7 democracies to tighten up the rules and ensure that they are properly enforced.

I suspend the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next item of business to be made.

Sitting suspended.