House of Commons
Thursday 3 March 2022
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Export Licence Applications
The Export Control Joint Unit has statutory responsibility for the licensing of controlled exports. In 2020, it administered more than 16,000 licences. The ECJU provides guidance and training on the application process. Work is presently under way to modernise the application process and the technology that supports it, to make it more efficient and more transparent.
Trying to export goods is currently a slow and inefficient process. One toy business in Chesham and Amersham told me that it now spends significantly more time on the paperwork than it ever did before. A recent survey of businesses in Buckinghamshire showed that 58% have experienced a rise in cost due to an increase in the same red tape. What proactive, practical steps are the Government taking to help businesses of all sizes to export their goods to the rest of the world?
In 2020, the ECJU administered nearly 16,000 standard individual export licences. It completed 62% within 20 working days, against a target of 70%, and 85% within 60 working days, against a target of 99%. That is why we have brought in work to modernise and streamline the application process so that it will be more efficient and—further to the hon. Lady’s point—will allow businesses to know that they can use the system as effectively and with as little red tape as possible.
Global Trade Barriers
We are negotiating and implementing free trade agreements and removing barriers that British businesses face across the globe. Last financial year, we resolved more than 200 barriers across 74 countries, an increase of 20% on the previous year. We have so far secured FTAs with 70 countries plus the EU, covering nearly £800 billion-worth of bilateral trade in 2020, delivering benefits for communities across the country.
British produce and food and drink are some of the best in the world, especially when they are made in the north-west of England. What steps are the Government taking to reduce market access barriers for businesses in Warrington South and the north-west? What have they done in the past year to help British exporters?
The Department is working hard to reduce barriers to trade, including for my hon. Friend’s constituents in Warrington South. For example, I can tell him that we have successfully secured access for British wheat to Mexico, poultry to Japan and lamb to the USA, just to name a few of the barriers that have been removed, boosting food and agriculture among many other products across the globe.
Survey after survey of business owners report unnecessary hassle and difficulty in exporting to European markets, with extra red tape, checks and delays too often the norm. As no one in the Government is getting a grip on this, why does the Secretary of State not get herself down to Dover to understand directly what needs doing to ease the very real difficulties that British businesses face?
If we could export broken records, I think the hon. Gentleman would be a winner, but I have to say that his description is far from the truth. What are the Government and the Department doing? We have the export support service, the Export Academy, export champions, international trade advisers in the UK and overseas, agri-commissioners, hundreds of staff focusing on specific sectors, the tradeshow programme, UK Export Finance and trade envoys. The key issue is that in-country, where we find specific issues, we liaise country to country to resolve them. It is simply not true that the Government are doing nothing. In fact, we are seeing exports starting to recover and appetite for British goods and services going up ever more.
The Minister is reeling off figures, but he might want to consider this one: 4,300 fewer businesses in the UK are exporting goods and services than in 2018, according to the Government’s own annual stocktake. Why are this Government so anti-trade?
The information is that exports to the EU are now up. Also, the export support service is now proactively contacting those customers who have stopped exporting, because there can be a variety of reasons why people drop off the radar for exporting. Just seeing the glass half empty is not boosting trade in the United Kingdom. We are proactively contacting those companies to get them back on the pitch and back exporting, and talking up the United Kingdom.
They are great at talking the talk but not at walking the walk. The European Union will remain Scotland and the UK’s largest export market for some time to come, yet this Government have done nothing to remove or even ease non-tariff barriers, bureaucracy or Brexit red tape, and they have not done anything about the labour shortages that are hampering exporters. They have spent the past year decimating the fishing industry and its livelihoods. This year, why are they going after farmers, with the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, already roundly condemned by the farming industry, set to result in floods of cheap, lower-quality meat and dairy products being exported into the UK from around the globe?
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that it is a good job that I am leading on exports, not him, because all he ever sees is problems. We are doing stuff. We are doing exports. It is simply not true that the Government are doing nothing. I have been out in the markets. I am not sure whether the Scottish lead on exports has done many overseas visits. I am happy to work with the Scottish National party if it would actually come out and do something. We are removing trade barriers. We have already sent poultry to Japan and lamb to the USA. We are working with the Gulf states, increasing halal sales and sales of Welsh lamb. It is simply not true that this country will be flooded with cheap imports. That is pure scaremongering.
My Department recently published our refreshed export strategy, which has an action-led 12-point plan, and we have introduced a whole range of support measures, as the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has just set out, to help exporters to thrive in the global market, including, of course, our high-quality steel, internationalising key trading sectors and raising the UK exporting culture across the UK for the long term.
We can learn from the United States, of course, where the Made in America Act 2021 and informal targets in Government contracts support US steelmakers. The UK Government have told me that the World Trade Organisation does not allow them to do that, but the US example shows that that is not true. Will the Secretary of State tell her colleagues across Government that we can help boost steel exports if the UK Government give a big vote of confidence to our steel industry and start to make, buy and sell more in Britain?
UK steel exports across the world are worth nearly £4 billion. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in very detailed talks to ensure that our UK to US steel exports get back on track and to clear out the issues caused by the section 232 tariffs over the past couple of years. We and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continue to work with the steel industry to ensure that what is some of the world’s best steel, made across our UK steel yards, will continue to find new markets. We work not only with the US but with all our likeminded allies in the WTO against those market-distorting practices that some nations choose to use, which continue to degrade and devalue the high-quality steel made in the UK. We continue to work very closely with the industry but also with those across the world who want to make sure that the steel market works as it should.
In 2018, the US imposed section 232 tariffs on global imports of steel and aluminium—a defensive reaction at the time to overcapacity in the global steel market and for its own national security purposes. I was able to get the negotiations back on track. My counterpart Secretary Raimondo and I started negotiations to resolve this issue in mid-January. The negotiations are proceeding at pace. Our officials are working flat out to clear through some of the issues, and we hope very much to be able to bring good announcements here in due course.
I thank the Secretary of State for her clear commitment to helping the steel sector. In 2021, the UK’s export levels of steel decreased by around £53 million of GDP compared with the previous year. What steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that there are no further decreases in 2022 and that small steel businesses, which I have in my constituency, and larger manufacturers are supported in this very uncertain period?
The hon. Gentleman is right. As post-covid markets and industrial sites pick up, the demand for steel across the world is growing at pace. We want to make sure that the high-quality steel that we make across the UK finds the right markets. On my travels in my role, I speak regularly to those across the world who are doing complex infrastructure work where our high-quality steel products will be an important part of their procurement programmes. We are making good progress. As I say, I work very closely with the BEIS Secretary to ensure that we give the steel industry all the support that it needs.
Trade: Australia and New Zealand
The free trade agreements that the Government signed with Australia in December and with New Zealand on Monday this week will end tariffs for British exporters and slash red tape, while making it easier for smaller businesses to break into these important markets. The deals with Australia and New Zealand are expected to increase bilateral trade by 53% and 59% respectively in the medium term. These FTAs are also expected to boost the UK economy by over £3 billion.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on signing the free trade agreement with New Zealand, which is another positive step in rebuilding the bonds and historic links we have with the Commonwealth nations, but does she agree that we must do all we can to maintain the benefits secured by this deal by ensuring that any changes to alcohol duty will deliver for UK consumers and that they do not see domestic taxes on wine go up as we finally, and rightly, remove the tariffs?
Our deal with New Zealand is indeed very good news for UK consumers, increasing choice and helping to lower prices on all New Zealand products that are going to come into the UK. The deal removes all tariffs, saving up to 20p a bottle on New Zealand wine. As my hon. Friend seems keen, he will be pleased to know that the products that British consumers love, such as Marlborough sauvignon blanc, will be more affordable. The question on domestic taxation continues to be one that the Treasury looks at and decides on the basis of the health of our citizens, and I shall continue to allow the Chancellor to make those decisions.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege to meet the president of the Farmers Union of Wales, who has expressed concerns about both trade deals, specifically in relation to tonnage of imported meat and whether it will be on the bone or filleted, as this will make a significant difference to the scale of flooding of the UK market. The president tells me that he has been unable to get an answer from the Department on what he deems to be a pretty simple question. I used to be a butcher, and I know that there is a significant difference between the weight of something boned and something deboned when anyone buys it in the shops. In all seriousness, could the Secretary of State clarify this here at the Dispatch Box, or get in touch with the Farmers Union of Wales to confirm this important point in terms of supporting our farming industry?
I have learned something new about the hon. Gentleman. I did not know that that was a former career of his, and I look forward to bringing him into future trade deals to discuss the minutiae of these details. I will ensure that my officials liaise with the Farmers Union of Wales in detail, so that it has absolute clarity on what is in that very large document—a treaty is not just a couple of bits of paper—and we will of course be publishing all the paperwork and the relevant support documents for Parliament and the wider community to have a closer inspection. I will make sure that my officials pick that matter up this week.
It is welcome to see the progress the Government are making with the digital partnership with Singapore, the Australia trade agreement, the New Zealand trade agreement and the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. This is not anti-trade but pro-trade—and free trade, for that matter. The Secretary of State has come before the International Trade Committee and told us that she would give us scrutiny. The Trade and Agriculture Commission was given eight days’ advance warning on the New Zealand deal, but the International Trade Committee was not. Can she tell us why the Committee was not given the scrutiny of the New Zealand deal that it should have had?
The Minister for Trade Policy answered a point of order yesterday setting out the detail of the communications. We always try to ensure that we are able to provide the information in as timely a manner as we can. I am looking forward to my opportunity to discuss the Australian and New Zealand trade deals in more detail with the International Trade Committee—I think it is already in the diary—and I know that it will hold me to account 100 % when I get there.
A £150 million hit to fishing, forestry, agriculture and food manufacturing from the New Zealand trade deal was described in this Government’s impact assessment as nothing more than a “process of economic adjustment” and just a
“reallocation of resources within the economy”.
This again exposes the Government’s shock-doctrine, libertarian approach to free trade and the economy. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether she is content for those sectors to just go down with the Brexit ship?
The New Zealand free trade agreement will see bilateral trade increase by almost 60%, which we expect to boost the UK economy by nearly £1 billion in the next few years and to increase wages across the UK. Red tape will be slashed for nearly 6,000 UK small and medium-sized enterprises, with nearly 250,000 people working in those supply chains. UK exporters will no longer pay tariffs on a huge range of foods, and they will now have an advantage over international rivals.
It is exciting that we will be able to offer new opportunities for our smaller businesses to discover and grow into the New Zealand market. Indeed, we will be working very closely with our New Zealand partners as we look to accede to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership later this year, which will open up enormous new markets for all our exporters across every field of opportunity.
Trade Deals: Farmers and Food Producers
Our aim is to support and promote farmers and producers, to create opportunities for them and to ensure they have the knowledge and support to capitalise on those new opportunities, to be a positive force for improving standards and to ensure that our producers do not face unfair competition.
Environmental regulations and restrictions, on pesticides for example, are there for good reason, but they cost our farmers money either in sourcing alternatives or in lower yields. The farmers I speak to are very concerned about the use of chemicals, such as Paraquat in Australia and neonicotinoids in large parts of the European Union, that they are not allowed to use here. Their costs are therefore higher. Will these matters be addressed in the trade deals so that we get a fair and level playing field?
There are many things we can do to drive international standards, to improve animal welfare and to encourage others not to use particular pesticides that affect insects we are keen to have around a bit more. There are many things we can do outside free trade agreements, and we have done them. As my hon. Friend knows, we have championed many of these issues.
I have a responsibility to understand the opportunities for our farmers not just in volume but in value, and to understand the additional costs they may face in producing very high-quality produce, which is obviously welcome. I have a deep and growing understanding of these matters, and I work closely with our colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We understand the detail, we are talking to agriculture commissioners and Ministers around the world, and we will arrive at the right place in all the trade deals, which are obviously bespoke to each nation.
In October 2020 the Department for International Trade said that, within five months, up to 77 extra British food and drink products would get protected status in Japan, thanks to the UK-Japan trade deal, highlighting Carmarthen ham, Shetland wool, Yorkshire rhubarb and Lakeland Herdwick lamb among the products that would benefit. Can the Minister confirm that, despite all the time that has passed, during which 56 new EU products have been recognised in Japan, fewer than half the UK products we were promised have even reached the consultation stage, including none of the specific products I mentioned?
I would be happy to update the hon. Gentleman with the specifics, but our analysis shows that the deal we have done with Japan will, in the long run, increase our trade but also improve our workers’ wages. These are good things. We obviously require other nations to put through legislation, to scrutinise and to get processes through their own Parliaments and committees, but that is what we will work towards. Those things will improve our economy and make a real difference to our workers and producers.
Trade with EU: SMEs
To support businesses exporting to the EU, the Department launched the Export Support Service in October 2021. The ESS provides businesses with access to answers about exporting their products or services to Europe, routes to other Government services and access to other forms of export support, such as the export academy. Monthly goods exports to the EU for December 2021 are nearly 21% higher than the 2020 monthly average, higher than the 2019 monthly average and higher than the 2018 average.
My constituent George Chattey runs a company called LuvJus drinks. He imports his drinks, which are manufactured in Austria. He recently had a consignment stuck in a warehouse for more than two and a half months because he could not get the right advice, either when he placed the order and arranged for the export, or when the drinks were in the warehouse and needing release. Can the Minister tell me what he is doing, or what the Department is doing, to improve the quality and availability of advice to importers, both at the point where they are arranging their imports and when such problems occur? We cannot have perishable goods sat in warehouses for that length of time, and my constituent had an enormous amount of trouble getting the right advice from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other bodies.
Actually, no, I cannot tell the hon. Lady, because I am the Minister for exports, not the Minister for imports. What I can do is ensure that the relevant Minister comes back to the hon. Lady with a substantive answer if she wishes to write to me with the details.
In my constituency, businesses keep contacting me to share details of the detrimental effects that Brexit has had on their business, such as countless zero-sales days, which they had not experienced before. I am not making that up. Will the Government listen to small businesses, stop their Brexit ideological blind spot about this and, for example, reopen the SME Brexit support fund, with a simplified application process and an expanded remit?
I am not sure I am the one with the Brexit blind spot, but I have to say that the Government are working very hard with our trade industry groups and our representative bodies. I frequently meet those groups, ranging from the Federation of Small Businesses all the way up to the CBI. Officials, both here in London and in post, will work with specific Governments to eradicate any issues inter-country, where there is perhaps an overzealous interpretation of the rules. More deep-seated problems will be dealt with on a Government-to-Government level. If the hon. Lady has details of specific businesses and specific issues that she would care to share, I would be more than happy to ensure that the Export Support Service gets back to her or to her constituents who wish to export.
My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a global market, not just the EU, and the wider European market. The export strategy “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” is there to assist. Specifically on support, we have the ESS, the export academy, the export champions, a network of trade advisers both here and overseas, agrifood and drink attachés, the tradeshow programme and UK Export Finance. If any hon. Member wishes to find out more about the specific support we provide, they are welcome to attend the parliamentary export showcase on 9 March in Portcullis House.
I am sure you would agree, Mr Speaker, that it is hard to concentrate on trade this morning, given the unfolding tragedy we see in Ukraine. But getting down to the earth of trade, may I say that Huddersfield is the beating heart of manufacturing and we also have lots of farmers in our beautiful countryside in my constituency? How have this Government got it so wrong that my farmers are unhappy and my SMEs are unhappy, because exporting, which they are so good at, is so darn difficult now and they do not seem to be getting any direction or support from this Government?
All I can suggest is that the hon. Gentleman gets his exporters to talk to me and not to him, because we will provide them with an optimistic and enthusiastic support service. He should come along on 9 March to the export showcase and find out the specifics of the practical support that we will give to his constituents.
Recent research from the British Chambers of Commerce shows that over two thirds of SMEs that export say that the EU trade deal is not enabling them to grow or increase sales. Rather than just saying that he is waiting for answers from the EU, as he did at the last International Trade questions, will the Minister tell us precisely what proposals he has made to the EU, and when, to reduce the additional cost of paperwork associated with export health certificates and to eliminate the problem of companies being asked to register for VAT in multiple EU states?
Trade and Export Promotion
Perhaps I should just stand at the Dispatch Box full time. My Department has a strong package of support for British exporters, as I have reiterated several times already this morning, so that they can take advantage of the markets that we are opening through our free trade agreements. From encouraging businesses to export through the “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign to our world-leading UK export finance offer and our on-the-ground support in the UK and overseas, UK businesses are being supported at every stage in their export journey. I repeat that there is an offer to attend the export showcase on 9 March.
UK connectivity is concentrated in England, and particularly in the south-east of England. That presents a growing challenge to Scottish businesses, given the impact of carbon and haulage costs, and queuing at the port of Dover, particularly with perishable export goods. Does the Minister agree that reviewing the port infrastructure, and particularly the reintroduction of ferry links from Scotland to Europe, is of growing urgency, and will he meet me to discuss possible mechanisms to improve that situation?
The renewable energy sector has been one of the success stories in the UK in recent years, particularly in my constituency where there are many well-paid jobs. What are the Minister and his Department doing to ensure that we can export more from the renewable energy sector?
First, may I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys? The work that we are doing on green energy and renewables is at the heart of the export strategy. On any specific issues that my hon. Friend would like to take up to ensure that we can boost that world-beating sector, we would be more than happy to link up his constituents, or any companies that he wishes to put in contact with us, so that they can exploit the opportunities globally, where we are a world leader.
Promoting trade has to be done in the context of protecting British interests. The 2019 Conservative manifesto made a commitment to cover 80% of UK trade with free trade agreements. The unanswered concern of the Farmers Union of Wales about meat on or off the bone raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who is no longer in his place, shows just the level of scrutiny required to protect the interests of our farmers, as does the protection of our jobs, consumer standards and environmental and welfare commitments. Does the Secretary of State not worry that not only will she be responsible for a broken manifesto promise but, by taking on an “any deal will do” approach, she is undermining UK interests?
No, the whole ministerial team are absolutely confident that we will continue to deliver world-beating FTAs, and we liaise with all who have interests. The hon. Lady mentioned things such as agriculture and food, and we liaise with representative bodies such as the NFU to ensure that their concerns are fully represented in the FTAs. I am sure that she will join us in celebrating all the FTAs that are opening up new markets so that we can export the best of British products.
Trade Negotiations: Foie Gras and Fur Import Regulation
The Government are committed to upholding the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, as outlined in our manifesto. I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Government will update the House in due course on any future legislation.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. My constituents in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, and elsewhere, are very angry that the Government are considering dropping the proposed ban on foie gras and fur imports, when there are perfectly acceptable alternatives to both that do not involve cruelty to animals. Foie gras involves the force feeding of ducks and geese to fatten and enlarge their livers, and fur imports into the UK involve animals being kept in cages that are far too small. How can the Government continue to claim that the United Kingdom is a world leader on animal welfare?
We have agreed groundbreaking animal welfare provisions in our Australia and New Zealand trade deals, including stand-alone chapters reflecting the importance of animal welfare. As we do more trade deals in the months and years ahead, that will continue to be an incredibly important part of our focus. In relation to the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, DEFRA ran a call for evidence last year, from 31 May to 28 June, seeking public views on the fur market. A summary of responses to that call for evidence will be published soon.
Trade: Persian Gulf Countries
The Gulf is an important trading region for the United Kingdom, with an overall trade relationship worth £32.4 billion in 2020. The countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council are among our largest trade partners globally. Having just completed a public consultation, we aim to start negotiations on a free trade agreement with the GCC later in 2022. Work continues bilaterally with countries in the region. In fact, having just returned from a visit to the United Arab Emirates, I can tell my hon. Friend that I have seen at first hand that the opportunities for UK trade in the Gulf are enormous.
I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Gulf represents a massive opportunity for many goods, from education and defence to vehicles, food and agriculture. It is an open market where people want to buy British, where we are a trusted partner and where we are regarded as a seller of high-quality goods. I can reassure him that in food and drink alone, the demand for top-quality British produce is already more than £600 million a year.
Exports: European Markets
As I told the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) earlier, my Department launched the Export Support Service in October 2021, as a free service to support exporters to Europe. That unified service is just one part of the package of measures—I have listed them a couple of times—that the Department provides to UK exporters.
Small businesses in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney continue to tell me the difficulties that they are having with exporting to the EU and the added bureaucracy, and I am really keen to hear from the Minister about further support. I heard what he said earlier, but I do not think the message is getting through. There is a lesson to be learned about communication and how to get that message to businesses, because they are clearly not aware of the level of support that is out there. Perhaps he could give some more detail about the support and grants that are available, and what more the Government will do.
I will not reiterate the full list of support that is available, but the hon. Gentleman is welcome to come to the export showcase next week to see all that in detail. If he would be interested in becoming a parliamentary export champion for his constituency, to make that line of communication much stronger and direct to him, I would be very happy to facilitate that appointment.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her response. The CPTPP is a great opportunity to deal with a growing economy, a growing market, and a market that is precisely for the kind of high-quality food and drink products that are produced in Scotland, and in my constituency of Banff and Buchan. Contrary to some reports in recent weeks, will my right hon. Friend provide a firm commitment that in no future or current trade deal will we allow the import of hormone-injected beef or any other foodstuff that would be illegal to produce and sell in the UK?
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to flatten that myth. The UK’s import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and our trade deals do not and will not change that. I hope that he will call out people who are scaremongering about these deals, as the deals are good for our producers and good for driving global standards, and they will be good for our economy and wages in this country.
My right hon. Friend and her Department are to be massively congratulated on having got to the final stages of the CPTPP agreement. It is a market worth £8.4 trillion. Does she agree that it presents an enormous opportunity to propel our exports into a very high growth area of the world in the Pacific Rim and that it will have particular implications for certain sectors such as food and drink and financial services?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. There are indeed many people across the Department and our network around the world who are to be congratulated on getting us this far. He is right: there are massive benefits in market opportunities, but the deal will also have a disproportionately positive effect on sectors here that have high wages. That will really help in creating jobs with above average wages. We will work very hard to ensure that we can realise those opportunities in the shortest possible time.
Flow of Goods from the EU
I thank the Minister for her answer. Unfortunately, Brexit has erected trade barriers with the European Union, and businesses are struggling with imports and exports. A new business in my Edinburgh South West constituency lost thousands of pounds importing a consignment of honey, because it lacked the correct paperwork. A huge amount of effort went into sorting out that paperwork, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The Scottish chamber of commerce tells me that Scottish businesses are effectively spending twice as much in costs due to inconsistencies in interpreting rules for imports and exports across the European Union and its partnership countries. This situation has been brought about by Brexit, so the Government have a responsibility to help businesses, such as the one in my constituency that I mentioned. Will the Minister reopen the Brexit support fund to help business?
I would say two things in response to that. First, much of the friction that the hon. and learned Lady is talking about is coming from the EU’s requirements on us. In voting for Brexit, it was not our intention, or the nation’s motivation, to erect trade barriers. The problem was that the price of frictionless trade was too high. That is why the UK has left the EU. What we want to do is remove barriers; we want as frictionless trade as possible. I hope that she will help us make the case to the EU to do that.
We have the Export Support Service which the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has spoken about, and also the Trader Support Service, which is focused absolutely on these issues. There is also financial support to enable businesses to export or to get their sectors better prepared for some of the challenges that they are facing. Our door—I speak for all Ministers—is always open to the hon. and learned Lady if she wants to raise individual cases. We stand behind our producers, our manufacturers and our exporters, and we will do everything we can to ensure that they are maximising the opportunities available to them.
Agricultural Exports to EU
We support our farmers and food producers through all stages of their export journey to Europe and across the world. That includes support to exhibit at global food and drink trade events such as Sial in Paris and through the UK trade show programme. We also provide support through our network of agriculture, food and drink trade advisers based across Europe and we are working with the National Farmers Union and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to establish a mentoring programme for agricultural exporters.
The British Veterinary Association reports that over the past two years the number of EU vets registering for work in the UK has fallen by two thirds, while demand for food-related export certificates has increased 12-fold, by 1,255%. Wales was denied a seat at the trade negotiations, of course, and now Welsh farmers face increased competition from New Zealand and Australia. Is the hon. Gentleman really satisfied that his Government here in London are supporting Welsh food exports?
In light of Russia’s outrageous, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine it is more important than ever that we stand together with those who share our values and take swift and firm action against those who seek to overthrow democracy and threaten our allies. Trade between friends and allies promotes growth and prosperity and, in a climate of mutual respect, free and fair trading rules bring a mutual economic and cultural boost between nations.
Last week I was in Singapore to sign our new digital economy agreement, the most innovative trade agreement ever signed. The digital sector alone adds £150 billion to the economy and lifts wages, with workers earning around 50% more than the UK average. The agreement connects the UK to the fastest-growing economies in the Asia- Pacific region and furthers our bid to join Singapore and 10 other nations in the trans-Pacific partnership. Membership will mean access to a free trade area with a GDP of £8.4 trillion and vast opportunities for our UK exporters.
On Monday this week, I signed the UK-New Zealand free trade agreement with my fellow Trade Minister Damien O’Connor. The agreement is the UK’s second trade deal negotiated from scratch since leaving the EU. We are demonstrating that global Britain can achieve as a sovereign trading nation, and we are strengthening ties with a close ally that shares our firm belief in free and fair trade.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the trade deals thus far. Last week we held an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on the UK-India talks, and I congratulate her also on kicking those talks off. Will she update the House on the progress of those talks, and can she ensure that we conclude them by the end of this calendar year?
On 13 January this year, our UK-India FTA negotiations were launched in Delhi. That first round concluded on 28 January. Discussions were productive and reflected the UK and India’s shared ambition to secure a comprehensive deal that will boost trade for both our nations. The positive discussions laid the groundwork for the UK and India to make positive and efficient progress, and the second round is due to begin on 7 March. I would not wish to give a precise landing zone, but we are working very closely and with optimism and effort on both sides.
The whole House stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, who are defending the right of sovereign nations to live in freedom with courage, determination and fortitude. Labour supports the toughest possible economic sanctions on Putin’s Russian regime, which is carrying out this barbaric and illegal invasion. I welcome the restrictions on banking and financial measures and the export ban on high-end technical equipment and components in electronics, telecommunications and aerospace, but at the same time we can and must do more. Labour Members have called for a total ban on exports of luxury goods to Russia. Will the Secretary of State heed those calls and commit this Government to that export ban on luxury goods so that Putin and his inner circle cannot live a Mayfair lifestyle in Moscow?
It is a great reassurance for the Ukrainians to know that in all parts of the House, here in the mother of Parliaments, we all stand together supporting them in every way that we can, and, across the world, bring together those voices that say, without exception, that the unprovoked aggression that Putin is showing Ukraine is unacceptable. We will continue to work across Government to make sure that we are using our UK powers as well as working with allies from across the world to tighten the screw so that Putin and his regime will find it more and more difficult not only to sustain their military campaigns but also find that they will no longer have access to their funds. The Foreign Secretary will continue to work on a number of areas. The impact of the SWIFT sanctions will be dramatic and catastrophic for Putin.
I do of course appreciate that it is vital to work together with friends and allies, but let me push the Secretary of State on this specific point, because cutting off the supply of luxury products would send a further signal to those in Putin’s Kremlin, who have, by the way, often accumulated wealth and possessions at the expense of the Russian people. We can act on this and we can act now. So will the Secretary of State work with her colleagues across Government, and indeed Governments across Europe who have concerns, whether on clothing, jewellery or diamonds, to get a comprehensive ban in place to stop Putin and his inner circle living in luxury while barbaric, evil acts are perpetrated on the people of Ukraine?
We will continue to work across Government using all the tools I mentioned, but in the meantime I encourage all those who continue to export to Ukraine to use the Export Support Service if they need that support. We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to make sure that Putin understands fully that the behaviour he is demonstrating is absolutely outrageous. The Foreign Secretary will lead those discussions.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have already undertaken over 80 virtual Export Academy events in the south-west of England. If she would like to attend the export showcase on 9 March, we can show her the full range of support that we can provide to her companies.
Farmers in Wales and in Gower are rightly angry because the Government’s own assessment shows that it is the beef and sheep markets that are going to suffer in the light of the Australia and New Zealand deals. Farmers in Wales cannot and never will be able to compete on price. How do Ministers and the Secretary of State square that circle and protect the livelihoods of farmers in Wales?
In all these deals we need to stay focused on what are the actual benefits and what are the actual risks for farmers and producers. To give one example, currently New Zealand does not use even half of its quota, so the notion that this market is suddenly going to be flooded with sheep meat from New Zealand is not correct. We need to look at the facts on this. There will be opportunities for our producers and that is what we need to stay focused on.
Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing global economies and is strategically important to the UK as part of the Indo-Pacific tilt. DIT is preparing to hold a second trade investment dialogue with Bangladesh this year and there will be a visit by the Prime Minister’s trade envoy later this month. I am more than happy to speak to my hon. Friend, and I will ensure that any specific issues are fed into that dialogue.
Trade rules are so often rigged against women, especially women living in lower income countries. Will the Department commit to carry out mandatory gender impact assessments on all future UK trade deals in order to promote greater gender-just trade?
As part of the free trade agreements we have negotiated so far, we have specific gender chapters, because we wish to use the authority and the commitments that we make to these issues and work with these friends and allies with whom we are drawing trade agreements together. We want to ensure that we push for those values and for ground-level opportunities for SMEs led by women across the world, so that they can achieve.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and it needs to be resolved swiftly. Ministers from across this Department are lobbying to that effect, as are our Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Prime Minister has raised it personally.
It cannot be business as usual. As many countries are needing to divest and diversify their energy supply away from Russia, what trade mechanisms can the Secretary of State put in place to ensure that the UK can be part of that effort to assist those countries achieving that objective?
As we continue to look at how we can use our sanctions powers and work with allies across the world, things like the new sanctions brought in by the Secretary of State for Transport over the past week will start to bite on energy flows coming out of Russia.
The Government remain committed to championing export opportunities for our world-class financial services businesses. Through targeted export campaigns and an expansion of existing support services, we are promoting trade opportunities across the financial services spectrum and in specific areas such as asset management, green finance, fintech and insurance. The Government are also signing ambitious free trade agreements that will open new markets and reduce market access barriers for UK financial services, and I am in regular dialogue with the City Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on these issues.
When the Secretary of State responded to the question about luxury goods by not answering it, it begs the question, why not, and raises the question of whether there are conflicts of interest behind it. The contrast with Syria, where export controls were put in place, is stark. If it was appropriate for Syria, why is it not appropriate for Russia? I remind her of her words. She talked about working with allies and tightening the screw, so will she now, with her colleagues across Government, put in place that ban on luxury goods?
First, as someone who has been personally threatened by Alexander Temerko, I would just say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to make insinuations about Members of Parliament in that respect. If we are going to assist this situation, stop those who are enemies of this state and have clean politics at both ends of this House, we need to focus on individuals, their moral obligations and what they have and have not done. The hon. Gentleman caveated his remarks to the Prime Minister yesterday in that spirit, so I caution him to follow his own advice.
On the issue of luxury goods, many products have been exported not only to Russia, but to other countries supporting Russia’s appalling, barbaric war.
There are obviously complex legal obligations surrounding that, which is why the Department has stood up the export support service. There was much criticism of Italy’s carve-out on those products, which I think was wrong. Our objective is clear: Russia must pay the price for this barbaric war and our policies will do that.
I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and of the Opposition in condemning the Ukraine invasion and in their criticism of Russia. It goes far wider than that, however, and it certainly cannot be business as usual, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) just said. The free world is now in an existential struggle with despotic regimes such as Russia and China. What does global trade look like in the new era? I invite my right hon. Friend to—
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that not only I but every member of the Cabinet and all our Ministers are indeed burning the midnight oil to ensure that, as we work with our allies across the world, the message is absolutely clear and that pain—economic and other—is felt firmly by Putin.
This year’s research by Social Enterprise UK has found that social enterprises are overtaking the rest of the private sector in the proportion of firms that are exporting overseas. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the value of greater diversity in business?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With my other hat on as Minister for Equalities, I can say that with the full support of the Secretary of State, we are working to ensure that the exporters and their supply chains are fully representative of all sections of society.
What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts in the Scottish Government about how to increase Scottish exports to South American countries?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the big landmark trade deals, such as those with Australia and New Zealand, grab all the headlines, of equal importance is the less-publicised work that she is doing to tear down the trade barriers that prevent the export of British goods and services around the world?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Not only do the free trade agreements open the door for new opportunities to take away market access barriers but we continue to work week in, week out to pick off those market access barriers that can release more trade with friends and allies around the world. Some 200 of those have been cleared in the last month and we will continue to work closely on others. I encourage businesses that have particular issues to bring them to the Department’s attention.
In standing four-square with the people of Ukraine, it is important that we really make sanctions work and the Government have led the world in doing that. Crypto- currencies have been widely used to evade sanctions. Will my right hon. Friend look into that matter?
Steel is hugely important for Rotherham and Rother Valley, which is why it is essential to see the tariffs set by the United States on British steel dropped as soon as possible. Can my right hon. Friend outline what steps she is taking to get a resolution on this to get more jobs for Rother Valley and Rotherham?
My hon. Friend is a champion for Rother Valley, and he will be pleased to know that our section 232 tariff negotiations are going well. I will be speaking to my opposite number, Secretary Raimondo, in the next few days, and we hope to reach a conclusion very shortly.
In Northern Ireland, there are 123,000 SMEs. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure they are awarded the same trade opportunities as those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and has the Northern Ireland protocol hindered trade opportunities for SMEs?
I will raise that with my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to make sure that they have full access to all the trade support mechanisms that I outlined previously to ensure that all Northern Ireland businesses are fully aware of all the support packages available to them.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 7 March will include:
Monday 7 March—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill.
Tuesday 8 March—Opposition day. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 9 March—Estimates day. There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for Education in so far as it relates to the national tutoring programme and adult education, and the Ministry of Defence. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Thursday 10 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, followed by a general debate on International Women’s Day. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 March will include:
Monday 14 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Professional Qualifications Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
It is devastating for us all that we continue to see the consequences of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and unjustifiable attack on Ukraine. It is a heinous violation of international law, and the Labour party stands with our allies, including NATO and our other partners, in condemning it in the strongest possible terms. We have a united House and a United Kingdom. We will continue to strengthen our unity and resolve, and we stand in complete solidarity with the Ukrainian people and with our NATO allies among countries on the border.
On Tuesday, the Home Secretary came to give a statement on the assistance the UK is providing to people fleeing this conflict, and we welcome this. However, there are still some questions about how it is working in practice, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House took these up. Quite a broad range of family members of Ukrainians in Britain should now be able to come to the UK, but it seems that family migration visas are currently not being administered to people arriving via France, but being administered only from eastern European border countries. Despite what the Home Secretary said here on Tuesday, the guidance on the website is still not quite clear, particularly on whether Ukrainians in the UK who do not have indefinite leave to remain can bring family over. Colleagues have also raised concerns about whether the helpline for this situation—I am afraid that helplines are a bit of a business questions theme—has been fully operationalised. Could the Leader of the House please ask the Home Secretary to come back with some clarifications on these questions?
We know that the toughest possible sanctions must be taken against all linked to Putin and against the Russian Government’s interests. Russia must be fully cut out of the western economic system. The sanctions package so far announced contains good measures, but we believe the Government could go further on banking sanctions, individual asset freeze designations against Putin’s oligarchs and so on. We want to work co-operatively with the Government on this. Will they go further?
There is also the question of the enforcement of sanctions. The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation —the body meant to deal with this—appears to have issued only six fines for sanction violations in six years, despite many more breaches. Could the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to come and explain to the House what he is doing to ensure sufficient resources are in place so that sanctions on dirty Russian money can be properly enforced?
We welcome the progress that the Leader of the House has announced with all stages of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill next week, especially given that last week he and the Prime Minister said it could wait until the next Session. However, in its current form a key plank of the Bill—the register of who truly owns property in the UK—will not come into force for existing owners until 18 months after the Bill passes. That gives Putin’s cronies plenty of time to launder their assets elsewhere, so will the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will support Labour’s amendments to shorten this timeframe and finally clean up the corrupt Russian money that has been too long allowed to infest the UK?
We will continue to work with the Government to strengthen our support for Ukraine and our NATO allies, but we also cannot ignore the reality of the continuing cost of living crisis. This week we have had a massive rail fare hike that will be a nightmare for millions of passengers. Families already facing soaring taxes and bills will be hit with the highest rise to the cost of the daily commute for almost a decade, pricing passengers out of the railways and undermining urgent action needed to tackle the climate emergency. I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware that for his constituents a season ticket for commuters from Hucknall to Nottingham, a 15-minute journey, has gone up by over £200 under his Government, so may we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on why rail fares are surging, forcing people up and down this country to pay the price for decisions from Downing Street?
Finally, may I wish colleagues and people in Wales and everywhere a happy St David’s Day?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments about St David’s Day and, more importantly, about Russia and Ukraine. It is vital that this House works together and her co-operation and support for the measures the Government are introducing is vital and should be fully recognised.
The hon. Lady mentioned refugees and I think even she would have to recognise that the way in which the Government are performing and opening our doors to those who find themselves in the most terrible of circumstances is the right way to proceed. We are being very welcoming: we are allowing people who are here already to extend their stay and to stay indefinitely, and our doors are very much open to those who find themselves in those circumstances. I hope the hon. Lady will continue to work with us to improve those measures.
On sanctions, we should recognise the speed with which the Government have worked. We have introduced measures and sanctions that have really taken the pain back to Vladimir Putin. The introduction of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill next Monday is a demonstration of the speed with which the Government are operating, but there is more to come: more sanctions will be brought to this House and another economic crime Bill will be brought forward in the very near future. The Government should be praised for what they are delivering. It is absolutely clear to see that the Prime Minister and the Government are not only leading for us but are leading in the world. We were the first country to call out and say Russia should be removed from the SWIFT banking system; there was resistance in the international community and the Prime Minister has convinced those countries to support us and remove Russia from that system. That is clear global leadership from the Prime Minister.
On the cost of living, the hon. Lady is of course right to recognise that there are challenges. She mentioned the rise in the cost of rail tickets, and even in my constituency people are facing that, but she must also recognise that under a Labour Government the investment in some of that infrastructure was sadly lacking. Labour electrified 11 miles of rail line; this Government are performing much better than that. We are investing in our rail infrastructure. In comparison, the Labour Government did not perform very well; we are still reaping the rewards of their lack of investment even 10 years later.
Another example is our nuclear energy industry. If the Labour Government had invested in our nuclear infrastructure, we would not be facing some of the challenges we face. Luckily, this Government are taking those challenges seriously and investing in our rail infrastructure and our energy infrastructure. The hon. Lady should be supporting us in doing that.
With everything that is going on in the world, I wonder if the Leader of the House could still find time for a debate on Malvern Hills College. It was taken over by Warwickshire College Group in 2016. There is an education covenant on the site. It was closed during the pandemic and it has not reopened. It appears that Warwickshire College Group is trying to flog the site to the highest bidder and is refusing mediation. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this matter, which matters so much to my constituents?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this issue. I am sorry to hear of the challenges that Malvern Hills College is facing. I know that she is a champion in her constituency for the next generation and their right to be educated at great establishments. There is an opportunity for her on 14 March at Education questions. I am sure she will be here to ask the Secretary of State directly what he can do to assist.
It has now been a week since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. We can only look in awe at the passionate defence of their country by the Ukrainian people. We can only imagine the horror this morning in the cities now almost completely encircled by Russian forces.
The SNP is grateful to the Leader of the House for the flexibility he demonstrated in arranging the House business last week. I am sure he will want to convince us that he will continue that approach as we go into the business next week. What we need to see as a priority is an increase in the number of people, Putin’s friends, being personally sanctioned. When will we see further, necessary measures to get Russian money totally out of our financial institutions and our politics? When can we expect to see the UK brought into line with the bulk of the rest of Europe in allowing Ukrainian refugees free access to the UK?
I do not usually bring up constituency cases, but I want to mention Gavin Price who runs the Schiehallion hotel in Aberfeldy. He has offered employment to two people who are fleeing Ukraine. He says he will pay for accommodation and flights, and meet the cost of any work visas, and I am sure he is not alone among businesses in making that generous offer. He was told that that could take up to three months. Surely, we must be in a position to set red tape aside and allow people to come here when there are places available for them to do so?
It is right that we are now almost exclusively focused on the darkening situation in Ukraine, but we cannot simply forget the issues around the behaviour of the Prime Minister and the series of parties at No. 10. He is the first sitting Prime Minister to be questioned under caution by the police, for 12 alleged breaches of covid rules. Will the Leader of the House update us on when we might be able to further consider that matter? I am sure he undoubtedly agrees that this is an issue we must return to with utmost seriousness.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am genuinely grateful for the support of the SNP in sending a single message to Vladimir Putin about the way he is conducting himself. I am also grateful that he recognises the flexibility the Government are demonstrating in their ability to make available time at the Dispatch Box for questions and debate about what is happening. I think that will continue. I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent Gavin Price. That is a true demonstration of what the British people feel and how welcoming we are as a nation to those people who find themselves in the most terrible circumstances.
In that context, when we consider the horrors happening in Ukraine, to try to pivot back to Downing Street events looks a little crass, if I might say that to the hon. Gentleman. We are thinking about families literally fleeing for their lives, with their villages and towns bombed and destroyed. To try to pivot back at this moment in time is a little bit crass. As he is aware, an investigation is taking place. Once it is concluded, I am sure there will be an opportunity for him to make his political points and undoubtedly he will.
The Government have very generously supplied £4.5 billion to Transport for London to cover loss of income. The trade unions, for the second day this week, have literally brought London to a halt. There is, of course, one person who is completely silent about that: the do-nothing Mayor of London. May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on the position of the talks about a long-term deal on the financial basis of TfL? What action will be taken to prevent this happening again?
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this matter. He refers to the do-nothing Mayor, who, of course, when standing for election was vocal in saying that he would not allow strike days on the London underground. Frankly, his record on strikes has been absolutely appalling. I contrast that with his predecessor as London Mayor, who was exemplary in delivering better transport to the people of London. On 17 March, my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Transport and draw attention to the London Mayor’s lack of performance.
I thank the Leader of the House for the statement and announcing the Backbench Business for next Thursday, when we will debate International Women’s Day. I remind him that we have an application on the stocks for St Patrick’s day on 17 March, with a debate on the Irish in Britain.
This morning, I was contacted by my constituent Sarah Thomas, who is head of the Pechersk campus of the British International School in Ukraine. Thankfully, she is now at home in Gateshead, but she is massively concerned about her work colleagues, many of whom are UK nationals with Ukrainian families and family members who are either still in Ukraine or in nearby countries and cannot get visas for their family members to travel to safety here in the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his work as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. I hear his plea for St Patrick’s day on 17 March, and we will try to deliver on that. He is right to draw attention once again to the plight of those people facing devastation in Ukraine, and their friends and families. The Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are working hard to try to ensure that the transport passages to the UK are as free and flexible as possible.
Measured against World Health Organisation guidelines, 100% of schools, GP surgeries and hospitals in my constituency are located in places with dangerous levels of air pollution. That means that, for 3,000 babies born across Stoke each year, their first breath is toxic. Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation have recently partnered to highlight the impact of air pollution on respiratory diseases. Levelling up Stoke-on-Trent Central must include tackling this health issue, which disproportionately affects constituencies such as mine. Will the Leader of the House secure Government time for a debate on this important issue?
The Government take air pollution incredibly seriously. Latest published figures up to the year 2020 show that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Our clean air strategy has been praised by the World Health Organisation as an example for the rest of the world to follow. Our nationally determined contribution commits us to supporting decarbonisation approaches, striving to improve air quality and minimising adverse impacts on human health. We have provided £880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air plans. There will be Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on Thursday 10 March, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take that opportunity to question the Secretary of State further .
Plans for a west midlands gigafactory in Coventry will result in a £2.5 billion investment in the local economy, creating up to 6,000 new, highly skilled jobs directly alongside thousands more in the wider supply chain in Coventry, Warwickshire and the surrounding region. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the west midlands gigafactory venture so that we can hear how the Government intend to put their full support behind the rapid delivery of this crucial project?
I will give the hon. Member every assistance that I can in my role as Leader of the House. She is right to highlight this fantastic plan. I will also write to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that he, too, puts his full weight behind the plan.
My right hon. Friend knows that Derby has an exceptional industrial and railway heritage and is at the centre of the UK’s rail network, with connections across England and Scotland. However, those are not the only reasons that Derby would make the best location for the Great British Railways headquarters. Does he agree that Derby has the largest concentration of rail sector employees in the country, and that this provides an incredible opportunity for collaboration between the public and private sector in the rail industry once GBR moves in?
The Great British Railways transition team is running a competition on behalf of the Department for Transport. I should be careful to tiptoe through my answer so I am not seen to be favouring one bid over another. The deadline for expressions of interest is 16 March, and I wish my hon. Friend every success in her pursuit of the Derby bid. The UK has a proud heritage in rail. The Government are embarking on the biggest investment in our railway infrastructure, with £96 billion through the integrated rail plan.
That is an important issue. Local authorities have responsibility to ensure that landlords provide adequate accommodation for their tenants. All conversions of that nature should follow building regs and make sure that standards are upheld for their tenants.
Ruby’s is an award-winning fish and chip shop in the village of Thringstone that has been owned and operated by the same family for almost 50 years. It is one of many excellent fish and chip shops in my constituency, but the owner tells me that the business outlook has never been more volatile. With record price rises for fish, batter, fat, wrapping paper and, of course, energy, many fish and chip shops are worried about whether they will survive. Could we have a statement about what action the Government will take to ensure that they protect the future of our fish and chip shops, which are a great part of British life?
I declare my interest in fish and chips, Mr Speaker. Takeaways are recognised as a huge part of the night-time economy. Such businesses provide a service to our communities and should be supported. I wish my hon. Friend’s fish and chip shop and all fish and chip shops well, up and down the country.
I recognise that the Government have held a series of debates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but in such cataclysmic circumstances there would usually be full-day debates in Government time. This House is more or less unequivocal in its condemnation of the invasion, but there are certain difficult questions that have to be faced, some of which have been raised already. There are also increasing numbers of press reports, which have not really been answered or dealt with yet, to the effect that Indians and Africans are being turned back at the Polish border. Because such complicated issues need to be raised at length, could we have a full day’s debate in Government time?
I think that even the hon. Gentleman will concede that the Government have offered a huge amount of time. Last week, we had not only Defence questions, but three statements on Ukraine, three hours of debate on the Russian sanctions, Prime Minister’s questions, an Opposition day motion, a Backbench Business debate and Friday’s urgent question. This week, we have had three statements, three hours of debate on the Russian sanctions, PMQs and an Opposition day motion. The Government have provided a huge amount of time to debate these matters, and Foreign Office questions on 8 March will be another opportunity. The House will continue to debate and raise questions about these matters.
In Telford, we have two bridging hotels for Afghan refugees, who have been there for seven months now. When I visited, they told me that they want to work, get settled into communities across the UK and rebuild their lives. I have tried to find out how much longer they must wait in limbo in the two Telford hotels, but I cannot get an answer. As we focus on the crisis unfolding in Ukraine, it is crucial that we do not forget the Afghans whom we welcomed last summer. Would the Leader of the House be kind enough to arrange for the Minister for Afghan Resettlement to come to the House to update us on the progress of the scheme?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation from Afghanistan carried out by any country. Under Operation Warm Welcome, we are ensuring that Afghans arriving in the UK are able to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate in their local communities. We are working closely with local authorities to bring forward enough offers of housing to provide every family with a suitable home as soon as possible.
In cities such as Bath, Airbnb has had a devastating effect, and not only on the local housing market but on traditional B&Bs and small hotels. The effect is particularly dramatic when whole houses are turned into Airbnb properties. It is a travesty of the original intention behind Airbnb as part of the sharing economy—now it is just big business. Before any further damage is done, could we have a statement from the Business Secretary on how he intends to address the huge damage that Airbnb does to local family life and to local businesses?
The hon. Lady raises an important matter that is worthy of debate. She will also recognise, however, that by facilitating people’s ability to visit Bath, Airbnb has a huge beneficial effect on the rest of the economy, with people visiting cafés, restaurants, museums, antique shops—
And chip shops, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. It is important to facilitate people’s ability to visit and make use of tourist attractions. I am sure that the Business Secretary will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments, and she will have an opportunity to address them directly to him at the next Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions.
Everyone in the new city of Southend-on-Sea stands in full solidarity with the people of Ukraine at this terrible time.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the performance of the UK’s ambulance service? Twice in the past month elderly, vulnerable and frail residents in Southend West have been left, having had a fall, lying in the street, cold and frightened, not knowing when an ambulance will arrive—it then arrives hours later. Despite urgent representations to the chief executive of the East of England ambulance service, we have not even had an acknowledgment. This service is not fit for purpose and must be addressed urgently. Please may we have a debate on the UK’s ambulance service?
We are committed to supporting ambulance crews, who work tirelessly to respond to emergencies every day. We have more than 4,000 ambulance crews in operation across the country—an increase of 500 since 2018—and the Government have invested huge sums in our NHS throughout the pandemic. However, where there are performance issues, it is important that Members raise them, and I would be happy to support my hon. Friend in bringing this to the attention of the Secretary of State.
Can we debate support for our artists and musicians? As the Leader of the House will know, many of them suffered greatly during the pandemic, and freelancers often got no support at all. Those who were lucky enough to get a small grant of £2,500 from the Arts Council were assured in ministerial answers and by Treasury advisers that, as that money was for new projects, it would not be taxed. Yet on 20 January, the day after Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tax advisers were still giving that advice, they changed their minds. Why are the Government breaking their promise and picking the pockets of our already hard-pressed artists and musicians?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Treasury questions are on 15 March, and I am sure he will be present to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer that question directly. He is right to draw attention to those who suffered through the pandemic and whose industries were completely paused for that period of time. We now have an opportunity as a society to get back out there, to visit our restaurants, to enjoy those clubs and venues that provide those services, and to support our artists.
The port of Immingham in my constituency is the largest port in the UK, and therefore a major centre for the logistics sector. The sector is experiencing growing frustration at the delays to customs and the processing of import/export certificates and the like. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in the near future so that we can look at this in more detail?
My hon. Friend is right to say that our ports provide an important service not only to his constituents but to the whole economy. This is something that is worthy of debate, and I would encourage him to apply for a Backbench Business debate or even an Adjournment debate to highlight the great work that our ports do.
Many of my constituents are deeply concerned about the standing charges on their energy bills. For those whose energy consumption is low, from next month, when increases kick in, the standing charge will be around a quarter of their entire electricity bill. This means that the poorest are hit disproportionately by these charges. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what discussions he will have with the energy regulator Ofgem about scrapping standing charges on energy bills so that consumers can more easily and simply compare the costs charged by energy providers?
Of course I will take up the matter with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whose responsibility it is to negotiate with and talk to the energy providers. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to it, but the Government have actually put a lot of work into supporting those families who are dealing with the cost of energy increases. Some of the pressures are of course global, but the Government are aware of the challenges we face and will continue to support those families who find themselves in difficult circumstances.
The Government’s decision to reduce air passenger duty on return domestic flights is a huge boost for regional aviation and will make it easier to restore commercial passenger flights to Blackpool airport. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how we can support regional aviation and the role it can play in levelling up, delivering economic growth and boosting tourism in resorts such as Blackpool?
My hon. Friend is a huge champion for Blackpool and for Lancashire. The Government recognise the important role that the aviation sector plays in the UK economy. The package of reforms announced at the Budget will particularly benefit regional airports, which tend to account for a greater proportion of domestic fights. I would be happy to raise his concerns with the appropriate Minister on his behalf.
My constituent Anoosheh Ashoori is a British citizen who has been held hostage in Iran since 2017. His prison is well known for the physical and psychological torture of its prisoners. The Government have offered only warm words on getting Anoosheh home, and that is simply not enough. The Iranian nuclear deal negotiations, which will allow hostages to be released, are currently concluding, so will the Government agree to bring a statement to the Chamber on the Foreign Secretary’s meeting last month with her Iranian counterpart on this matter?
The hon. Lady is right to draw the House’s attention to this matter. I was appalled to see charges brought against Mr Ashoori, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has raised the matter with Iran. I wish her well, and let us hope that we can get him home as soon as possible.
The fast-moving situation in Ukraine obviously means that the Government are having to move very quickly on our response to the flow of people leaving Ukraine. In the light of the Home Office statement this week and Home Office questions on the changes that the Government are introducing to immigration policy, and following the request from the shadow Leader of the House and other Members for clarification, can the Leader of the House confirm that he agrees with the assurances given by his predecessor in a letter dated 21 December to the Chair of the Liaison Committee about the expectation of engagement of Ministers with Select Committees, so that the Home Affairs Committee can quickly scrutinise the announcements that have been made this week and call the Minister to answer questions? We know that this is important to all Member of this House seeking answers to the queries and questions of their constituents.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her work as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I hope she would recognise that Ministers are very keen to appear before Select Committees not only to defend but to promote their performance. I also hope she would recognise that, while we are in the middle of this crisis and while Vladimir Putin is waging war on the people of Ukraine, several Cabinet Ministers are very busy. I will take up the matter with the relevant Minister on her behalf and encourage engagement with her Committee.
Can we have an update on Evusheld, an important prevention therapy that could protect immunocompromised people who we know are unlikely to have developed an antibody response from the vaccines? This important drug will give immunocompromised people protection from covid that they do not have from the vaccines and, importantly, will allow them to enjoy the same freedoms as everybody else. In whatever form, such as a statement or a letter, we need to know urgently when Evusheld is likely to be available.
I am more than happy to assist the hon. Lady’s campaign. I will write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make sure he is aware of her comments. I recognise her efforts in this area, and I know she is a champion in supporting people who have immune challenges. If I can assist her in any way, I will.
The Leader of the House knows that the people of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are kind and good friends to have in a crisis. There has been an incredible outpouring of support over the last week for the people of Ukraine, with the Ukrainian centre reporting people coming in with offers of money, support and shelter. Given that desire, which has also been expressed to the local authorities and local Members of Parliament, can we have a debate in Government time on how we can harness this incredible act of community solidarity?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to this, and I saw the vigil held in Nottingham city centre in support of the Ukrainian people. A fund has been set up, and the Government have committed to match funding £20 million of that fund. I will make sure he has the details to advertise to his constituents, and I will do the same.
People across the highlands, including my constituents in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, continue to pay more per unit for electricity than people anywhere else in the UK, despite seeing clean, cheap, renewable energy being generated in their backyard. Worse still, when the eye-watering price increases come through in April, the many off-gas-grid customers face more misery than ever. This is a UK Government responsibility, so may we have a debate in Government time on the energy crisis facing rural communities, especially in the highlands?
I recognise the challenge that the hon. Gentleman highlights. I represent a rural constituency, and there are challenges for those living in rural communities. He is right to recognise that these challenges are best solved by the Union, and we can certainly co-operate together. The British Government can bring to bear the might of the Union to solve the challenges our communities face.
The Leader of the House may have seen this week that my campaign to put an end to the marketing of misleading in vitro fertilisation add-on treatments, such as embryo glue and assisted hatching, is gaining traction. For families desperate to have a child, IVF is already an expensive process and is completely unaffordable and out of reach for so many people. Will he therefore agree to a debate in Government time to discuss this important issue?
I agree with the hon. Lady that this is certainly worthy of debate. I genuinely feel for those who are going through IVF. It is very expensive, but these couples will be pursuing it in the hope of ending up with a beautiful bouncing baby. I certainly wish the couples facing these challenges all the best. I suggest that she applies for either a Backbench Business debate or an Adjournment debate to highlight these important challenges.
Since the invasion of Ukraine started, the UK has only managed to sanction nine individuals, nearly all of whom have already been sanctioned by other countries—some since 2014. It is only nine individuals, not the hundreds the Prime Minister has referred to. I think everyone in this House wants to see the Government move much faster on sanctioning individuals, because at the moment it feels like we are basically saying to them, “You’ve got a few weeks to sort yourselves out and launder all your money away.” Foreign Office officials and the National Crime Agency are saying, in effect, that they may not be able to do anything, for instance, about Alisher Usmanov for months. He has already been sanctioned in the EU. Can we think of clever ways in Parliament, using parliamentary privilege, to make sure that we can advance these sanctions?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will recognise that we have introduced these measures now where we can bring forward those sanctions. He is also right to recognise that that is best done across the international community, so that there is no safe haven. A process is in place. I do not want to get drawn into discussing individual names in the Chamber today, but the Government are looking very closely at what more we can do and drawing up a list of people we can certainly take our sanctions fight to. I am sure that more updates will be given at the Dispatch Box in the near future.
I do not know whether you are aware of this, Mr Speaker, but my Ukrainian club in Huddersfield very much admires you for the leadership you have shown on Ukraine. Can the Leader of the House think of other ways in which we, as a Parliament, across the Benches, can have more impact? Is there room for a delegation to key people in Europe or to Washington? Is there something we as a House can do more of? Could we have the Cabinet Secretary come here? Individual ministries might be doing things, but is there a really joined up process, right across Departments, taking on this dreadful Russian regime and making sure that sanctions and so much else are as effective as possible?
I think the hon. Gentleman would recognise that there is joined-up government here, across all Departments. There is co-operation; we are working together to properly take the message and the fight back to Vladimir Putin through our sanctions regime and our messaging, but also through support in military equipment and humanitarian aid. But I am sure that there are more opportunities the House can take to highlight these important issues, and he will be one of the voices drawing the attention of the world to this matter.
I pay tribute to my constituents Bryce Cunningham, from Mossgiel Farm, and Shirley Wallace of Saxen Office Furniture. They organised community collections for aid to Ukraine and the wider community response was astonishing. However, one issue they encountered was that the first lorry going out to Ukraine was impounded overnight in France. May I get a ministerial statement outlining what work is being done to streamline customs arrangements for humanitarian aid and to co-ordinate voluntary aid as well as strategic military and medical supplies, so that the right aid is getting to the right places as quickly as possible? I understand that there are also pressures on supply chains and supply routes in Poland.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member’s constituents, who are trying to assist on the challenges that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people face. I think our response is best done at state level. I would encourage his constituents to engage with the Foreign Office to try to get assistance to unblock the challenges that they face. I shall draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the matter he has raised.
Yesterday, the children of York lined our city streets to pray for Ukraine, forming a human chain from the Minster to the Bar Convent. On Saturday, the people of York will be standing with Ukraine in St Helen’s Square. As they see Polish families opening up their homes to take in Ukrainian families, they want a response from the Government on whether there can be a reassessment of how we can support refugees in this country, bearing in mind that perfection is often the enemy of the good, to ensure that people can come into homes—not just Ukrainian refugees, but Afghan refugees?
I join the hon. Member in paying tribute to the people of York, and to British people up and down the country who are opening their arms in support of Ukrainian people. If I can assist in any way, I shall do so, and I shall write to the appropriate Minister on her behalf.
2022 marks the centenary of Rutherglen Lawn Tennis Club in my constituency—a huge achievement. I hope that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating it. Will he schedule a debate in Government time on the contribution of sports to local communities and the benefits for mental and physical wellbeing?
I am delighted to join the hon. Member in congratulating the tennis club on its centenary. She is right to highlight the fact that sport plays a really important role in not only people’s physical health but their mental health. On a Sunday morning, up and down our great nation, thousands of kids and parents are engaged in sport. It is good for the nation, good for their health and good for their mental health.
You have a lovely tie, by the way, Mr Speaker. I was encouraged that this week the Islamabad High Court judge Justice Babar Sattar issued a verdict barring girls under the age of 18 from getting married, even of their own free will, and prohibiting parents from marrying off girls who are under 18. It is welcome news and a giant step in the right direction. It is a crucial step forward in ending forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate or statement on that important topic, and on what more must be done to ensure that no girls anywhere in the world, and especially in Pakistan, face the fear of forced marriage?
The hon. Member is right to draw attention to what I would call the crime—I think in effect it is a crime—of forcing girls into marriage. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) has a private Member’s Bill on this matter. I am sure that he will be able to link up with her to work together to end that barbaric practice across the world.
Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
We have entered the eighth day of Ukraine’s fight for survival. In the week since Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, premeditated and barbaric attack on a free and peaceful neighbour, the UK has led a united Western response to his brutality. We are working with allies around the world on multiple fronts to ensure that the Russian dictator feels the full cost of his invasion. On the military front, we have provided Ukraine with the weaponry to inflict significant losses on the invading Russian forces. On the economic front, we have worked with international partners to cripple the Russian economy, but as history has shown us, there are other powerful ways of isolating rogue regimes.
Culture and sport can be as effective as economic sanctions if used in the right way, and so in the last week I have been working to mobilise the full might of the UK’s soft power against the Russian state, and applying pressure both publicly and privately across the sectors to use every lever at their disposal to entrench Putin’s position as an international pariah. Culture is the third front in the Ukrainian war. Earlier this week, I brought together governing bodies from across sport and I made the UK’s position clear: Russia should be stripped of hosting international sporting events, and Russian teams should not be allowed to compete abroad.
Across sport, the arts and entertainment, we are ostracising Putin on the global stage. The upcoming Champions League final and Formula 1 Grand Prix will no longer be held in Russia. Likewise, Russia has been banned by UEFA, FIFA, World Rugby, the International Tennis Federation and the International Olympic Committee. Venues across the country have cancelled upcoming performances by the Bolshoi and Siberian ballets. Disney and Warner Bros. have pulled their films from Russia. Netflix has stopped its projects. BBC Studios and ITV Studios have stopped trading with Russia too, and Russia has been banned from taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Putin is now suffering a sporting and cultural Siberia of his own making, and it will be causing the Russian leader real pain. Ask Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who gave a very moving interview on the radio earlier this week. A few weeks ago, he was playing at the Australian Open. Now he is back in Ukraine, preparing to fight for his country’s survival. He said that Putin loves nothing better than watching Russia’s sports teams’ glory on the world stage, his athletes draped in the Russian flag.
Putin needs the kudos of these global events to cover up his illegitimacy and the hideous acts he is perpetrating in Ukraine. The Russian despot is desperately trying to hide the grim extent of his invasion from his own people. That is why I strongly support, and continue to encourage, the kinds of emotional displays of solidarity we have seen across sporting events in the last week, including the Carabao cup final and the Six Nations. Lights and symbols cannot stop bullets and bombs, but when Russians see their favourite footballers wearing shirts emblazoned with the bright blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, it helps to open their eyes to the cold reality of Putin’s actions. Likewise, every time an international organisation or figure publicly stands up against what Putin is doing in Ukraine, they chip away at his wall of lies. I thank and applaud all those who have done so, in this country and internationally, and I continue to push for organisations to exile Putin’s Russia from their ranks.
That is why I have called on UNESCO to bar Russia from hosting its annual world heritage conference in June. It is absolutely inconceivable that that event could go ahead in Putin’s country as he fires missiles at innocent civilians in neighbouring Ukraine. If it does go ahead, the UK will not be attending. That is also why I urged the International Paralympic Committee urgently to rethink its decision to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete. Such pressure works; the IPC’s decision was the wrong call, and I welcome the fact that overnight it has listened and this morning it has reversed that decision. I wish our athletes the best of luck in Beijing over the coming days. Later today, I will be hosting a summit with countries from all over the globe to discuss how we can continue to use the power of sport to isolate Putin at home and abroad. We have to keep ratcheting up the pressure. Putin must fail.
In my Department, we have been working tirelessly to use the power of tech and the media against the Russian dictator and to shut down and counter his propaganda and lies, because they are key weapons in his arsenal. The Department’s counter-disinformation unit has been working to identify and remove Russian disinformation online. Alongside the US and others, we have been working closely with platforms to take pre-emptive action against Putin, and to demonstrate the consequences of his brutality in real time to the Russian people. Apple has paused all sales in Russia, Google has added new safeguarding features to Google Maps and Search, and WhatsApp is hosting a helpline for Ukraine’s state emergency service that sends people information and critical news about the local situation.
While big tech has stepped up in a really positive way, we are also encouraging and supporting platforms to go even further to tackle certain challenges, including disinformation, service disruptions and the humanitarian crisis triggered by the conflict.
In this digital age, the Ukrainian war is being fought on the ground and online, so we need to use tech wherever we can as a force for good to counter Putin’s aggression, to expose his weaknesses and to bolster the people fighting for their survival in Ukraine.
From the very moment that Putin began his invasion, I was very clear that he must not be allowed to exploit our open and free media to spread poisonous propaganda into British homes. RT’s own editor-in-chief has called the network an “information weapon” of the Russian state. That is why I wrote to Ofcom last week, urging it to examine any potential breaches of the broadcasting code. Ofcom has since opened 27 investigations into RT and is now reviewing whether to revoke RT’s licence entirely.
In the meantime, those investigations have been overtaken by events. I was very glad to see yesterday that the channel is now officially off the air on British televisions, after it was shut down on Sky, Freeview and Freesat. I have also written to Meta and TikTok asking them to do everything that they can to prevent access to RT in the UK, as they have done in Europe. I am glad that YouTube has already answered this call and done so.
We are on the side of free media. That is why it was brilliant to see that the audience for the BBC’s Russian language news website has gone up from 3.1 million to 10.7 million in the past week. Despite his best efforts to censor reporting in Russia, Putin’s own citizens are turning to factual, independent information in their millions.
At this point, I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks and admiration to all those journalists, working for the BBC, ITV and other news outlets, who are risking their lives to bring us unbiased and accurate news from a live war zone. We will keep ratcheting up the pressure on Putin, and I will use all the levers in my Department to ensure that he is fully ostracised from the international community.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I associate myself and the official Opposition with the comments that the Secretary of State has made about the courage of the Ukrainian people and those who are returning to fight for their country. I add my support to all the journalists who have travelled from the UK and around the world to report—free reporting, challenging Putin’s agenda and countering his disinformation. Those journalists are heroes and we owe them a great debt.
We are in agreement. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who cannot be here today, has long been calling on the Government and sporting and cultural bodies to take tough action against Russian aggression and Belarusian complicity.
Our thoughts today are with the Ukrainian people and armed forces. We see acts of heroism day after day and courage beyond words in the face of Putin’s illegal invasion. Only a few hours ago, Russian troops took control of the city of Kherson, a stepping stone to the port of Odesa, where Ukraine’s main naval port and navy reside. With each passing day, the situation continues to escalate. This situation requires the fullest and strongest possible international response.
Across this House, we all recognise the importance that Putin and Russia place on participating and succeeding in sporting and cultural events, from chess to ballet, to football. Indeed, in 2010, when Russia won its bid to host the 2018 World cup, Putin spoke enthusiastically about the impact that football had had on his native Leningrad during the second world war and how
“it helped people to stand tall and survive.”
Success in sport buoys a nation, boosts national pride, and offers an unrivalled feel-good factor, bringing people together. Indeed, sport can offer a cloak of legitimacy and deflection. Despots such as Putin crave this international attention and spotlight. We know the value that Putin places on hosting international tournaments and on Russia competing in international competitions. That is why we have been calling for full and immediate sporting and cultural sanctions against Russia and Belarus from the start, and for those countries to be banned from international competitions.
UEFA and Formula 1 moved quickly to cancel events in Russia. Others have now followed suit. Regrettably, though, some have dragged their feet, or are hedging their bets. International sporting and cultural bodies must hit Putin where it hurts and send a clear, immediate and unequivocal message to the Russian people that Putin has turned their country into a pariah state. We welcome this morning’s decision by the Paralympic committee to ban Russia from competing in the winter Paralympics. We should see no fudges, no ifs, no buts—outright bans must be the norm.
We fully support what the Secretary of State has announced today, but we have some questions. What further discussions is she having with sporting bodies on the complete and total boycott of Russia and Belarus? I understand that some, such as FINA, have said that Russian athletes and officials can take part, but with neutral status. She rightly raises tennis, but Russian and Belarusian players will still be able to play at upcoming grand slams, including Wimbledon, under a neutral flag—