House of Commons
Thursday 21 April 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—
Trade with African Countries
Overall UK-Africa trade stood at £32 billion last year. We will increase that and achieve our investment goals. By 2030, Africa will have 1.7 billion consumers, and our post-Brexit trade policy will enable those nations to grow their economies and create opportunities for UK businesses.
I thank the Minister for that response. In all my visits to Africa on trade missions, it has been clear that people there really do want to do business with British companies, perhaps in preference to doing business with the Chinese. Will we do everything we can to make British companies realise the opportunities that exist in Africa?
First, let me place on record our thanks for everything my hon. Friend has done to improve trade with the continent and with Ethiopia in particular. He is right to say that there are massive opportunities there, but our great businesses face tough competition, including from China’s growing influence and impact on the region, particularly through soft infrastructure at the moment. In recent months, we have strengthened our situational awareness of what China is doing and are actively supporting UK businesses to reach those opportunities early. We are doing that through providing competitive finance and support across the continent.
As many African countries depend in normal times on Ukraine, Belarus and Russia for almost 100% of their grain, we find ourselves in a situation where we are trading in the same commodities markets as African countries, pushing up the prices for some of the poorest people in the world. Will the Minister acknowledge that, look again at the Government’s cut in aid and put that back to where it was? Will she also perhaps consider that the best way we can deal with that situation is by backing British farming, so that we can feed ourselves and not be robbing the food that should be feeding the poorest in the world?
Let me put the aid budget in context. If we trebled the aid budget, it still would not be enough to deal with some of the situations that that continent is facing at the moment. A group in Whitehall is looking at all these issues, including food security, both in Africa and in Ukraine. Within that, there will be opportunities for other nations to start being able to supply, to step in and fill that gap. Obviously, we will want to ensure that Ukraine’s food security is looked after as well. A huge amount is going on in Whitehall, and if the hon. Gentleman would like some more information, I am sure we could supply him with the detail.
British International English Language Schools
I thank my hon. Friend for, and congratulate her on her tireless work to support the sector. The Department will continue to support the English language training sector with both international student recruitment and the delivery of training overseas. We are supporting English UK’s “English with Confidence” campaign, which recognises the value of the sector to the UK economy—it supports more than 35,000 jobs and generates over a billion pounds each year.
I thank my hon. Friend for his response and for all the excellent work being done. Free of restrictions, English language schools in Eastbourne are beginning to power back after the pandemic, and it was a joy to see students return to Eastbourne over the Easter holidays. However, there are some concerns in the sector, specifically on group travel and visa requirements, which have led to fears that we could lose out to rival destinations such as Malta and the Republic of Ireland. What discussions has he had with his Home Office counterparts to tackle any of those potential barriers, to make sure that this remains one of our strongest exports?
I know the strength of the Eastbourne English language sector, and I believe my hon. Friend met alumni out in the United Arab Emirates; the spread of Eastbourne goes far and wide. The Department continues to work with the Home Office to work closely and constructively with the sector to support its recovery. That has included the introduction of a six-month allowance to study English at an accredited centre under the standard visitor route, meaning that EU students, together with nationals from more than 50 locations, can study for six months or less as visitors. We continue to work with the sector to ensure that we continue to remove barriers to it.
UK’s Green Industries: Foreign Direct Investment
First, I thank my hon. Friend for her efforts in boosting our nation’s trade with Norway and Iceland as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy.
Last year, on behalf of the Prime Minister, we delivered the global investment summit, which saw almost £10 billion of foreign investment into our offshore wind, hydrogen and electric vehicle sectors. Meanwhile, the Office for Investment landed almost £18 billion of further green deals, and just last month the Prime Minister met Australian investors, who committed more than £20 billion to clean energy projects across the kingdom.
I am proud that the UK is a leader in the G7 in the transition to net zero. I am the trade envoy to Norway and Iceland, where there are huge opportunities to do more to further that transition to net zero. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the discussions we have had specifically with companies in Norway and Iceland?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. They were delighted when you waved at them last time.
The United Kingdom is committed to deepening her partnership with Norway and Iceland, which was reinforced by the trade deal that I signed in July last year. It is one of our greenest deals ever and preserves our right to regulate to reach our net zero targets. Twin-tracking alongside that free trade agreement, we continue to collaborate on the development of green technologies such as the North sea link interconnector, which links the electricity systems of the United Kingdom and Norway and will increase the capacity of our renewable markets.
The recent ScotWind announcement from the Scottish Government cements Scotland’s place as the world leader for floating offshore wind energy. It represents an incredible opportunity for unparalleled levels of inward investment while also taking meaningful action on climate change. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the SNP Scottish Government on making Scotland a global leader in offshore wind energy? Will he pledge to do all in his power to support this fantastic international trade and transition opportunity?
I am not sure about wind power, but there is already a lot of hot air in the House. I am delighted that the SNP now supports the British energy security strategy, which champions the power of offshore wind energy. I am also delighted that foreign investors are already responding to the United Kingdom Government’s proposals, including in the form of a sovereign investment partnership with the United Arab Emirates, which is investing £10 billion, including funds for energy transition.
I will forgive the Minister for showing off to his family, but this is an important issue. A net exporter of energy, Scotland has 25% of Europe’s offshore wind potential and is perfectly placed to step in to help Europe to pivot away from dependency on Russian oil and gas and towards renewable energy. Indeed, it is estimated that up to 30 GW could be available to export through ScotWind and INTOG—the innovation and targeted oil and gas process—and on top of that a manufacturing superhub at Nigg and Cromarty firth could export components throughout Europe, thereby reversing the historical position across the UK of importing technology, and so boosting trade. Specifically, will the Minister commit his Government to working with the Scottish Government to maximise this massive transition and international trade opportunity?
I am delighted to say that next week the Secretary of State will be in Aberdeen, demonstrating this Government’s commitment to the whole of the United Kingdom. We work with devolved Administrations across the kingdom to make sure that every corner of the country benefits from international trade. The truth is that while we are batting for every corner of the country, backing British businesses and supporting Scottish jobs, the SNP wants to cut Scotland off from its largest market, which is the British internal market.
Foreign investment in our green industries is extremely beneficial and welcome, as my Cleethorpes constituency can bear out. Equally, British-based companies have great opportunities to export our expertise in the green sector. What initiatives is the Department taking to develop those opportunities?
I always welcome my hon. Friend’s support for our agenda. The Department has already launched interventions to support international investment into all corners of the country. Those interventions include the high potential opportunities programme and the trade and investment hubs. The hub in Darlington assists more than 1,000 foreign direct investment projects throughout the country which will drive the technology forward.
Departure from the EU: Effect on UK Global Exports
For the first time in decades, the UK has an independent trade policy. We have secured FTAs with 70 countries plus the EU, covering nearly £800 billion-worth of bilateral trade in 2020, creating new opportunities for our UK exporters. To take these and more—building on an over £56 billion increase in nominal exports between 2016 and 2021—our export strategy is focusing on the needs of exporters, including a new export support service for exporters to Europe.
I can never be nasty to this Secretary of State as we are old friends. The fact is though that, as I trained at the London School of Economics as an economist and I like looking at the data, I can see that we have lost £20 billion in exports since we left the European Union. The Office for Budget Responsibility and everyone else says what great damage has been done to small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises, which Mr Speaker has in his constituency and I have in Huddersfield, the heart of SME manufacturing. Those businesses are hurting. The Secretary of State’s website says for them to get in touch with her if they need help. What help can she now give to small businesses in this country to enable them to cope?
Although there was indeed a drop in exports during covid, we have seen a 10% increase in the last quarter, which is very welcome. I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, to discuss any particular businesses, but the export support service, which has now been running for a number of months, is there to support SMEs in particular if they have issues with a country in Europe with which they want to trade. The team has also been focusing on supporting businesses with Russian and Belarusian activities in the past month, especially on supporting them to find alternative supply chains. The export strategy, which we published in October last year, is bringing together a whole series of tools to help those SMEs to discover new markets, and, indeed, to use the ones that now have more prospects thanks to the FTAs that we have.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and her Department on their success in lifting the US 232 tariffs on UK steel and aluminium. Does she not agree that this flexibility to boost global trade afforded to us by our departure from the European Union is exactly why my constituents voted for Brexit?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent marriage, which is very exciting. Let me just note that those of us on the Front Bench begin to feel very old when our youngest Members start taking this great step of confidence, which exactly reflects how my hon. Friend has campaigned for his constituents on the matter of steel. It has been a real pleasure to be able to bring the section 232 tariffs to a conclusion so incredibly quickly, working with my US counterparts and understanding that our UK-US relationship is critical not only to trade, but across so many of those inter-related activities. We are working closely together on trade and security matters as we deal with the terrible challenges in Ukraine.
It is good to see the Secretary of State in good health.
With what the Secretary of State calls the UK’s independent trade strategy, the UK cannot even export a chicken leg to any country in the world without the commensurate weight of paper and bureaucracy going with that chicken leg. When she sees the lorry queues in Kent and what used to be an easy market for the UK, I wonder whether her Department has catalogued the hurdles of paper that exporters now have to cope with to trade with the European Union, especially as the Financial Times reports that, in “cut-off” UK—to quote the Minister—exports have fallen 14% compared with a rise in the rest of the world of 8.2%. This independent trade strategy is looking pretty woeful.
As I have already set out, the export support service, which we launched at the end of last year, is there to support those SMEs that have experienced technical issues when trading with the EU. Many of those issues have now been resolved, and we are helping businesses to deal with them. We are also helping those SMEs in all our constituencies that are considering exporting for the first time to look at how they can discover markets within the EU, across the wider European nations and in the rest of the world.
I take this opportunity to wish Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday, and all the great people of England a very happy St George’s day at the weekend.
With the Chancellor’s having accepted a report from the Office for Budget Responsibility confirming an ongoing 15% hit to British exports to Europe, and given, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) alluded to, the continuing extra red tape, customs checks and costs that businesses here face thanks to the Prime Minister’s poor trade deal with Europe, when will the Secretary of State publish a plan to put right some of that damage, to help British business and to make Brexit work better?
I will set out just some of the areas the export strategy is bringing forward, to help the hon. Gentleman to see exactly the strategic work we are doing. There is the export support service, which I have mentioned, and financial support for exporters, working through the shared prosperity fund to include export support through local investment plans. UK Export Finance is there to help and will look at supporting SMEs, where historically it has only supported large contracts. Having run a successful regional pilot of the UK Export Academy, we are rolling that out across the UK, providing digital tools. That is proving very popular, as businesses can educate themselves before launching into new markets.
The Department’s own research shows that export-related jobs pay higher than average, so the hit to our European exports, which the Secretary of State seems so complacent about, will prolong the cost of living crisis. It also underlines that since 2010 British exports have significantly underperformed compared with the rest of the G7, notably the United States and Germany. Businesses tell us that other countries have more ambitious export support programmes, while the Prime Minister blames our exporters for a lack of “energy and ambition”. Where does the Secretary of State think the blame lies?
I have set out the export strategy, which is bringing forward these tools, which goes exactly to the hon. Gentleman’s point. We are the opposite of complacent; we are here to support, through a dozen different routes, businesses to grow the export markets they already have or to discover exporting for the first time. One in seven businesses that could export does not yet, and we are keen to help those businesses find those markets across the globe, not only across the EU. Free trade deals such as the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which we are negotiating this year, will give us the opportunity to open up nearly $8 trillion-worth of new markets. We want to ensure that businesses can access those through all the tools we are providing for them.
Reducing Barriers to Global Trade
Bulldozing trade barriers enables countless British businesses to export goods and services around the world with greater ease and at lower cost. We resolved more than 200 barriers in the year ending April 2021—a 20% increase on the previous year. From securing British access to Japan’s poultry market, estimated by industry to be worth up to £13 million per year, and lifting the decades-long ban on British lamb exports to the US, estimated to be worth £37 million over five years, to cutting costs in services trade, an export of £304 billion in 2021, by up to 7% annually, we are getting on with the job.
Getting on with the job indeed. Breaking down barriers to trade and providing businesses with the right tools and support to reach global markets is exactly what we should be doing. I welcome the Department’s regional trade advisers and the role they play in supporting companies such as Carlton Packaging in Milton Keynes. To build on that support, will my hon. Friend work with me to bring together business in Milton Keynes, the Department and those regional trade advisers to support those business opportunities now that we have left the European Union?
I am very pleased to know that businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency, including Carlton Packaging, are receiving support from this Department. Milton Keynes has not only exports worth over £3.4 billion, but a great champion of our trade deals in him. I shall be delighted to work with him to help businesses to use those deals to create jobs and boost wages while lowering prices for consumers.
Outstanding EU Trade Issues
This Government have delivered the first free trade agreement the EU has ever reached based on zero tariffs and zero quotas. Our collective focus is now on implementing that agreement, ensuring that it delivers for our citizens and businesses. We have established the export support service as the first point of contact for UK businesses looking to export to the EU. Since its launch in October, it has received over 8,000 unique enquiries.
The export support service is clearly not working. In 2016, the Vote Leave campaign promised us tariff-free trade with the EU with minimum bureaucracy, not another support scheme. We find ourselves in a bureaucratic nightmare with freight delays and red tape blocking what was once hassle-free trade. SMEs in my constituency simply cannot afford the legal advice that is needed to navigate all that red tape. That is no surprise because HMRC data has shown that British trade with the EU has fallen significantly. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the Government will finally deliver on hassle-free, tariff-free trade like we were promised, or will she finally admit that this was never going to happen and that this trade fiasco is going to be the norm for us from now on?
As I said, the agreement reached has zero tariffs, which is exactly what the hon. Lady asks for. If there are specific businesses in Streatham that have issues and have not been able to get support from the export support service, she should contact me and my team, because 96% of all those who have used it have said to us that they would recommend it to others, which I take as a sign that the system is working. It is there not only to support those who have trouble but to help with discovering how to access new markets. Exporting is often considered difficult, but if we talk to those who do it, they say that they want to champion others. Our export champions, which are businesses that volunteer to speak to others and encourage them to export, are there to help those who are considering it. I would be happy to put some of her local businesses in touch with them as well.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I have discussions with many colleagues across Whitehall on a regular basis. The supply chain resilience question has obviously exercised all of us, and our businesses, ever since the problems when covid hit and we had to have so many new ways of thinking about our supply chains. We are now having to support our businesses, including those that have had supply chain issues through Russia and Belarus and are struggling to find new supply chains. There is a very strong and continuing thread throughout Whitehall to make sure that we support all our businesses. If anybody knows of any businesses that are struggling, they should contact us directly or through the export support service.
I very much hope that the Secretary of State will agree that her Department’s business is not just about making deals but about making sure that those deals work for UK businesses.
This month, again, the British Chambers of Commerce has cited Brexit red tape as a cause of export stagnation, while IT systems failure has contributed to massive gridlock in Kent, the Road Haulage Association has warned of perishable goods going bad, and the Cold Chain Federation has said that Britain is being seen as too much hassle to deal with. So what exactly are the Secretary of State and her Cabinet colleagues doing to clear up this mess and to provide the efficient, smooth-flowing export routes to the EU—our biggest trading partner—that our businesses and hauliers deserve?
A number of factors have contributed to short-term delays at different points, including ship refitting, roadworks, bad weather, and the loss of a DFDS ferry due to damage, as well as checks for operators and issues on the other side of the channel. The volume of traffic through Dover means that some queuing is commonplace. I and those across Government continue to monitor that situation. The Department for Transport, in particular, is engaging very closely with the port of Dover, the ferry operators, industry groups and local stakeholders to ensure that the smooth running of trade can continue.
SMEs: Support for Export to Global Markets
Our export strategy’s action-led 12-point plan will support SMEs to thrive in the global market and raise the UK’s exporting culture in the long term. It includes our Export Academy, which has already received over 7,000 business registrations, and our export support service, which has dealt with over 8,000 enquiries, 1,000 of which are from businesses around my hon. Friend’s constituency in the south-east. We have the trade access programme, the international trade advisers, the export champions, and a whole range of support that we can provide, including UK Export Finance, to help SMEs to get on and export.
I thank the Minister and the Department for all they are doing in championing British exports. Jubilee Clips in Gillingham in my constituency is a fantastic local family-run business that employs over 100 people and exports hose clips to over 90 countries around the world. A real issue that it is facing is the uncertainty at the channel border crossing, which is leading to delays in delivering on its contracts. These delays are having a significant impact on local businesses and their ability to export. Will the Minister clarify what steps are being taken to address this specific challenge facing businesses in Kent and Medway?
The export support service notes all complaints about delays and raises them with HMRC, because the DIT is not responsible for the border. Where we find that there are different interpretations of the rules on either side, we work with our bilateral partners to eradicate those issues. On Jubilee Clips, if my hon. Friend wishes to write to me or bring the company in, I would be more than happy to discuss the matter in more detail.
Will the Minister detail what impact the Department’s 12-point strategy, entitled “Made in the UK, Sold to the World”, has had on SME exports from Scotland and how any progress can be further built on?
Trade with Israel
I am thrilled that our two Prime Ministers have agreed to negotiate an ambitious free trade agreement, with exciting new provisions in digital, data, technology, services and innovation. We have completed our consultation and are analysing the responses now, with a view to launching formal negotiations, along with others, later this year.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to negotiating a trade deal with our great friend and ally Israel, which will be of huge benefit to lots of businesses in High Peak and across the country. May I urge the Minister to go further and ensure that any deal does not just include products but looks at services, which make up around 70% of both the UK and Israel’s economies? It is an area in which we are both world leaders, and there would be much mutual benefit.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend correctly points out that our two economies have strong service sectors but our current deal predominantly caters for trade in goods. That is why we intend to negotiate a more ambitious, comprehensive and innovation-friendly trade deal, which will open up opportunities for British businesses in areas such as tech, data and digital. My hon. Friend will be aware that next month we are hosting the first ever joint innovation and investment summit between our two countries. That will be a key moment as we deepen our relationship, creating opportunities to increase trade and investment between our nations, create new jobs and boost wages.
Exports of Renewable Energy Services
The DIT champions the UK’s green exporters all around the world. At the beginning of this month I was in Norway, where I promoted the UK’s green energy offer, and Lord Grimstone spoke at WindEurope in Spain on 6 April. Renewable sector teams within the Department are also working to establish export capability guides, to highlight the UK’s strengths. In our Australia and New Zealand trade deals, we have agreed the removal of tariffs on UK exports of products such as electric vehicles and wind turbine parts, and we have also secured the most substantive climate provisions that Australia and New Zealand have ever committed to in an FTA. UK exports in energy saving and sustainable energy systems increased by over 20% between 2016 and 2019.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. The offshore wind industry in East Anglia is a great success story, and there are more and more examples of local businesses working all around the world. There is a worry that this may only be short-term and transitory as other countries set up their own local industries. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend outlined the strategy that is being pursued to ensure that the sale of UK equipment and services is a permanent feature of offshore wind’s global supply chains.
In 2020, the Prime Minister announced that £160 million would be made available to upgrade offshore wind ports and manufacturing, and the money has now been invested. We announced £1.6 billion of investment in our offshore wind sector just last year, including seven new major manufacturing investments and two new offshore wind ports, creating 4,100 jobs by the end of the decade. Alongside that, we have agreed the removal of tariffs on UK exports of products such as wind turbine parts, knowing that we will continue to grow and invest in our manufacturing as well as the service and support aspects of the offshore wind sector, in which the UK continues to be world-leading.
UK Steel Exports
Since 2018, the US Government have imposed tariffs of up to 25% for steel coming into the US. Last month I was pleased to reach a resolution with the US Government, and the tariff-free volumes that we have secured on steel and aluminium will mean that UK steel and aluminium exports to the US can return to levels not seen since before section 232 tariffs were imposed. The deal will deliver for our steel and aluminium industries across the country, and for the 80,000 UK jobs supported by the sector.
I am glad that it took only four years. May I, as the trade rapporteur for the Council of Europe, turn the Secretary of State’s attention to EU carbon border taxes? Does she agree that they will help boost UK exports to countries that export steel manufactured products to the EU? Will she also pursue a UK carbon border tax so that Chinese dirty steel, which has twice the carbon footprint of British steel, does not undercut our steel, and work in harmony with the EU so that we can help protect our jobs and exports and, indeed, the planet?
The Treasury is looking closely at all those questions. Indeed, they are also the subject of discussions that I have had in some detail with my counterparts in the US and other nations. Thanks to the leadership that the UK offered at COP26, the question of how we manage these global questions is now right at the centre of all discussions. The EU is putting forward proposals, and I will continue to work with the Treasury as we think about how the UK wants to fit with that. If the hon. Gentleman wants more detail and information, I refer him to the Treasury.
UK Sanctions on Russia
I am very busy today, Mr Speaker. In co-ordination with our allies, we are introducing the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, to help cripple Putin’s war machine. We are denying Russia most-favoured-nation treatment relating to hundreds of key products, ramping up the pressure on Russia’s economy by making it more difficult for it to trade by imposing punitive tariffs of 35%. We are prohibiting the export of certain goods, including critical technologies and luxury goods, and finally we are also phasing out the import of Russian oil and coal to deny it access to lucrative energy revenues. Details can be found in the impact assessment on gov.uk.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Last week I visited Poland with Conservative colleagues as part of Project Maja, the Conservative social action project. It included a visit to the Russian border, and what is usually a very busy border crossing with lots of commerce on both sides was, obviously, eerily quiet. The economic impact of this war is going to be long lasting for the neighbours in that region for some time, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we do all we can to boost trade with them?
I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to our eastern European neighbours and allies. This is an incredibly difficult time for all of them, not only in security terms but in terms of economics and trade as well. I will meet the Ukrainian ambassador this afternoon to discuss further ways in which we can support them and help Ukrainian businesses to continue to trade as easily as possible, and we are working very closely with CBIs in the region to help them find solutions. This is a very difficult situation, and the UK, working in concert with the US and the EU, will do all we can both to stop the trade and opportunities for Putin to raise cash to fund his war machine, and to ensure that those countries that are standing by Ukraine, providing it with defensive support and incredible humanitarian support to keep its citizens safe, will be able to trade as easily as possible through this difficult crisis.
You almost caught me out there, Mr Speaker. May I, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, wish Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday on this special day?
I thank the Secretary of State very much for her response to the question. This United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is united in its campaign to put sanctions on Russia. The effects include some companies across the United Kingdom, but companies in Northern Ireland in particular are having to find alternative places to sell their products and alternative sources to purchase products that they usually buy from Russia. What has been done to help those UK companies, including those in Northern Ireland?
Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, this is difficult for some businesses. Our export support service has been focused on supporting those businesses with difficulties created by their Russian or Belarusian supply chains. It is a pleasure to be able to say that it has been extraordinary to witness so many businesses taking such decisions, even though it is economically difficult for them, because it is the right thing to do morally to step away from anything to do with Russia. Huge credit and thanks to all the businesses taking those very difficult economic decisions.
Looking at Northern Ireland, while some businesses are suffering, businesses such as Thales in Northern Ireland have been extraordinary in helping to provide support by providing the NLAWs—next-generation light anti-tank weapons—and defensive equipment that can help the Ukrainians fight the Putin war machine. Enormous thanks to all those businesses that are helping to support us and are working with the Ministry of Defence in particular to make sure that we can support the Ukrainians with the defensive equipment they need.
UK Trade Agreements: Workers’ Rights
The Minister will be aware that the TUC was first promised a seat on a trade advisory board in November 2020, and 18 months on it has still not been offered that seat. It was quite right that life sciences, transport, financial services and various other bodies have seats on these trade boards. Why do the Government have a problem with the TUC or any of our trade unions, which do an enormous amount of work in protecting workers’ rights in this country?
The issue is that the unions have not taken up the seat they were offered, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has included dialogue with unions in our trade negotiations at every opportunity—most recently, with the work she has been doing to secure a US FTA—and we will continue to do that. They are important stakeholders, and they will always be offered a seat at the table.
The hon. Member will know from the trade negotiations that we have concluded already, that this always forms a part of those negotiations through our discussions and consultations. I can get her chapter and verse on that and some details. It is not one of the FTAs I look after, but I can assure her that that is a core part of our negotiations.
In 2019, the UK signed a trade deal with Colombia. Two years after that deal, Colombia remains the deadliest country for workers and trade union members, with 22 assassinations in the last two years alone. However, the UK’s trade deal has no clear enforcement mechanisms to protect the rights of workers or trade unionists. Will Ministers learn anything from this failure, especially when they negotiate future trade agreements with Gulf states?
I refer the hon. Member to some remarks on this issue that I made last year in Westminster Hall, where I took the time to list some of the activists—trade union activists, environmental activists—who have been brutally murdered. I listed those people on the Floor in Westminster Hall because it is important that we shine a spotlight on those issues. She will know that we have also taken great efforts to raise this issue at the UN, and I think we are upholding our obligations to those people in doing that.
Support for UK Manufacturing Exports
In 2021, the DIT launched a new export campaign for manufacturing businesses—"Made in the UK, Sold to the World”. The campaign, in line with our refreshed export strategy, celebrates the quality of the UK manufacturing sector and its global demand. We are supporting businesses across all the UK regions and nations to amplify and boost export opportunities throughout the manufacturing sector.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Would he join me in celebrating the success of the port of Liverpool, which had its busiest month in March, when it handled 52,000 containers? Would he also continue to do all he can to ensure that we make more use of these amazing facilities, especially to export British manufactured goods?
I congratulate the port of Liverpool on its busiest ever month and look forward to the record being beaten regularly as exports from the north-west continue to grow. The Department continues to help exporters across the Liverpool city region and the wider north-west. Indeed, last month I joined a joint mission to Ireland with the Mayors of the Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester—the first of its kind. The mission allowed us to showcase 15 exporters from the north-west, who were able to talk about the strength of the region, to boost the future trading relationship between our two countries.
We are proud to advance UK manufacturing exports through our free trade agreements programme. For example, with Australia and New Zealand, we eliminated tariffs for 100% of UK manufacturing exports. In almost all cases, tariffs will be eliminated the day that the agreement comes into force. That will save, for example, £34 million of duties for UK car exports to Australia from day one, supporting our levelling-up agenda.
My constituency has a long history of manufacturing excellence, whether in iron and steel or in producing the best glass in the world. I have fantastic companies, such as Quality Metal Products. How is the Department ensuring that UK manufacturers remain competitive in attracting inward investment to help companies in my constituency to support growth?
The UK has a proud reputation as one of the most attractive economies in the world. In 2020, the UK secured the most greenfield foreign direct investment in Europe, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Last year, the £1.4 billion global Britain investment fund announced aims to increase our attractiveness, especially to manufacturers. I am more than happy to link up with my hon. Friend’s manufacturers to see what we can do to boost manufacturing in her constituency.
The figures reported for UK goods exports show that they fell by 14% in the three months to January compared with the same period in 2020. That is in contrast with an 8.2% global average rise over the same period. When the Minister and the Secretary of State announce a range of initiatives to help exporters, will they admit that the capacity is simply not there to deliver the additional support for exports that especially our small and medium-sized enterprises need?
I wholeheartedly disagree with the hon. Gentleman: the capacity is there. We provide the export support service, the international aviation fund, international trade advisers, the export academy, export champions, the tradeshow access programme, the international market support programme, UK Export Finance—all of which were showcased at the parliamentary export showcase, which I am not sure the hon. Gentleman attended. He could have found out more details if he had come to it.
As part of the UK’s leadership on sanctions against the Putin regime, we have raised tariffs by 35% on hundreds of Russian goods worth £900 million in trade. By the end of 2022, the UK will end all dependency on Russian coal and oil, and end imports of gas as soon as possible. We have banned the export of key oil refining equipment and catalysts, and we are banning the import of steel and iron products and the export of luxury goods.
On a more positive note, during my recent visit to the US, I was able to secure the removal of the section 232 tariffs, meaning that we now have tariff-free access to the US market for the first time since 2018. I also chaired our first UK-US joint dialogue on the future of Atlantic trade, whereby the UK and the US can build and deepen our co-operation on trade. I will be welcoming my US counterparts to Aberdeen next week to continue those discussions.
I have also launched the FTA negotiations with Canada. Both countries want a new and modern trade deal, befitting our close and historic relationship. I will provide further updates to Parliament as those negotiations progress.
The south-west is known for not only its food, but its wonderful drink. Thousands of acres of orchards across the west country produce some of the world’s best cider, supporting around 12,000 jobs. What steps are the Government taking to help our drinks industry get their products on shelves across the globe?
We are striving for tariff-free drinks exports through our FTAs, and the Prime Minister promoted that when he hosted a food and drink showcase in Downing Street last November. We are opening new markets and extending our network of 100 overseas food and drink advisers by recruiting eight new specialist agriculture attachés. So I hope that the multi-award-winning Ventons Devon Cyder, Courtneys of Whimple cider and the Smedley family’s Four Elms ciders will take full advantage of those opportunities.
In recent weeks, the Government announced the suspension of all tariffs and quotas on trade between the United Kingdom and Ukraine. Labour supports that, but may I press the Government to go even further? The political, free trade and strategic partnership agreement between the UK and Ukraine was signed back in 2020. Will the Government commit to updating that agreement to make the scrapping of tariffs and quotas not just a temporary measure but a permanent one to support the Ukraine’s recovery from this appalling illegal invasion in the years ahead?
I am grateful that the Opposition support the Government’s work to help Ukrainian businesses to continue to trade in an incredibly difficult time for them. We will continue to look at how we can both support Ukraine and its population to defend its territory—that will involve ensuring that its economy can thrive—and tighten the sanctions and trade pressures on Russia and those such as Belarus who work alongside it. In the short term, we will bring that forward through the existing FTA. We will also continue to work with the Ukrainians. As I said, I am meeting the Ukrainian ambassador later today to discuss how we can further support that country.
I have met the Ukrainian Business and Trade Association, as I am sure has the Secretary of State, and I know that there were already issues with how the quota system worked before the invasion occurred. Having any trade restrictions back in place will only cause further problems for Ukraine’s economic recovery. Any permanent, updated trading arrangement with Ukraine will be supported by Labour, so will the Secretary of State set an urgent date to bring a permanent arrangement into effect to give desperately needed certainty to Ukrainian businesses?
As I said, we are continuing to work very closely with our Ukrainian counterparts, and after questions the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), will meet the business group to continue those discussions and ensure that we are both targeting in the short term and thinking about long-term ways in which we can support Ukraine and help it recover from this illegal invasion.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. UK exports to that country were up 7.2% on the previous year. He will know that recently we have had a UK-led consortium committing $8 billion of investment into telecoms, which will significantly increase growth and jobs and help the digital economy in that country. I thank him again for the role that he played in securing that investment.
I am really pleased that the Prime Minister is able to be in India today and tomorrow to discuss broad matters of trade and to support the Department’s work to bring together a really comprehensive trade deal with India in the months ahead. He is also there to discuss the international situation. He has a good relationship with Prime Minister Modi, and I know that he will discuss all these issues. The UK, the US and the EU have been working in close concert to bring together a series of sanctions, limitations and export bans, and the Prime Minister will discuss with Prime Minister Modi what we have been doing in the UK, with the US. They will continue to take the direction that they need for their economy.
Locally based trade advisers, as well as support through the UK export academy, can help businesses such as Cornwall’s Ideal Foods take advantage of all free trade agreements. Cornwall’s very own tea grower and producer, Tregothnan, will benefit from tariffs being removed on all UK food and drink exports to Australia.
It is always a pleasure to meet the hon. Lady. I am happy to confirm that we are committed to bulldozing trade barriers. I am pleased that Chile has been able to approve British pork producers exporting into a market that is worth over £200 million as part of our total trade in goods and services of £26.5 billion. There is more to do; I am happy to meet her.
The six GCC nations form together one of our largest trading partners, with total trade standing at over £31 billion in the four quarters to September last year. In January, we completed a public consultation in support of a trade deal with the GCC that gets the best deal for British businesses and consumers. We aim to start those negotiations with others later this year. In the meantime, we are driving forward investment, including £1 billion from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia supporting sustainable aviation in Teesside, and, as I referred to earlier, £10 billion from the United Arab Emirates in a sovereign investment partnership.
We are always looking for companies we can showcase. We can sell companies such as Vivarail around the world. Whenever we talk to our partners abroad on bilateral agreements looking for investment in green and renewable energy, including on transportation, we will always do our best to push forward expert companies such as the one the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
We are making considerable progress on that. We are in discussions with around 20 US states. I have just returned from Texas, which if it were a country in its own right would be the seventh largest economy in the world. We are going to do a state-level agreement with Texas, we hope, by October this year. We will start signing those agreements with US states next month. The first eight we have in the pipeline will be equivalent to 20% of the United States economy.
During the recent British-American Parliamentary Group trade and security delegation to the US, we received the unequivocal message that any US-UK trade deal would have to be worker-centric. We also heard that the Secretary of State had said during the Baltimore dialogues that levelling up was the British equivalent of worker-centric and that therefore any levelled-up trade deal would have workers at its heart. Can she confirm whether that is the case and, if so, how she will ensure a worker voice at every trade meeting and discussion?
The Baltimore dialogues—the first of our trade dialogues, held just a few weeks ago—was exactly that: a gathering together of voices from across businesses, industry councils and trade union groups from both sides of the Atlantic. It was an incredibly constructive discussion. We were pleased, obviously, that our voices were there, as they always are at all our tables. It was interesting that the US was really pleased to be bringing its trade union voices to the table with industry for the first time. It was a very positive discussion, which embedded clearly how everybody will be at the table as we move forward together.
We are driving unprecedented investment in green industries, with the British energy security strategy announcing further cuts to the red tape that hampers growth in some of these sectors. My noble Friend Lord Grimstone is leading our new Office for Investment, and I am delighted that our friends across the Gulf are as keen as we are to back innovation in this area. For instance, £100 million has flowed in from Qatar to support small modular reactors and net zero technology.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2019—now the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—insisted to the public that food and welfare standards would be maintained under UK trade deals struck after Brexit. Indeed, the Prime Minister has said so frequently, but the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency is reported as saying yesterday that he wants to see food regulations slashed. Who is right?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we have reached a major milestone on that accession process by moving to market access negotiations with that trade bloc. In addition to opening up a new market, this will also help us on such matters as maritime security and meeting the goals of the integrated review. CPTPP has strong rules against the unfair trade practice whereby some countries—China has been mentioned—give unreasonable advantages to state-owned enterprises or discriminate against foreign investors. Our vision for that part of the world has trade at its heart.
Business of the House
It will be a pleasure. The business for the week commencing 25 April will include:
Monday 25 April—Consideration of Lords message on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, followed by consideration of Lords message on the Health and Care Bill, followed by motion relating to the appointment of the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, followed by consideration of a business of the House motion relating to the carry-over of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, followed by consideration of a business of the House motion relating to the carry-over of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, followed by consideration of a carry-over motion relating to the High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill.
Tuesday 26 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, followed by general debate on childhood cancer outcomes. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee. That is followed by a general debate on Ukraine, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords messages.
Wednesday 27 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Elections Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of a Lords message on the Nationality and Borders Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords messages.
Thursday 28 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords messages.
Depending on the progress of business in the coming days, the House will be prorogued on 28 April, subject to Royal Assent being signified to all Acts.
There is a good showing for business questions today, isn’t there, Mr Speaker? I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I am pleased to see, and thank him for, the rapid rescheduling of the debate on childhood cancer.
May I start by wishing a very happy birthday to Her Majesty the Queen on behalf of the official Opposition? Also, although this is not the birthday slot, I could not possibly get through my speech without mentioning the birthday of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
Welcome back, one and all, after Easter. I hope that everyone was able to spend time with loved ones. After two years of separation, people across this country value time together more than ever, and it is because of that feeling that revelations of the Prime Minister’s actions are such a betrayal. We in the Labour party cannot stand by and ignore that, because we know that this shambles is not good enough. Our cross-party motion today appears to me to be a House matter, so on a technical point, will the Leader of the House confirm or deny whether his colleagues have been whipped to block our motion on what appears to be a House matter? If the Prime Minister’s case is referred to the Privileges Committee, will the Committee have access to the information it requires? Will the Conservative party recognise that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has recused himself from any such inquiry, accusations of partisanship are entirely inappropriate now?
This Government’s response to our entirely proper motion is reminiscent of another attempt they made to meddle with proper processes in order to save themselves and their mates. Does the Leader of the House recognise that this looks awfully like Owen Paterson mark 2? On 8 December last year, the Prime Minister said to the House:
“there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 372.]
in the parties, not-parties or whatever they are now called. Will the Leader of the House find out whether that has happened?
The arguments made by Conservative Members for keeping the Prime Minister rather fall apart. They cannot say that they cannot change the leader during wartime—although they do—because, in the last century, so many Prime Ministers changed during wartime. They also know that a change of Prime Minister would not dim support across this House for Ukraine and our NATO allies. Surely in wartime it is even more important that the Prime Minister be beyond reproach. I invite hon. and right hon. Members to reflect on what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition will say, and to ask themselves what it is about the Prime Minister that they are so willing to defend.
On a practical note, may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm whether or not the card readers in the No Lobby will be working sometime today? None of us wants a repeat of last night, although I salute the Clerks for their valiant attempts with the papers.
On Tuesday, the Home Secretary gave a statement on her shameful proposal to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, an unethical policy that would cost taxpayers billions and make it harder to get fast and fair asylum decisions. As far as I can see, it has no support from specialist organisations, but nevertheless the Home Secretary insists on pushing it forward. At the same time, however, Members from across the House are reporting to me significant delays because of a Home Office backlog across all policy areas, from passport applications—delays to which will affect all our constituents—to visas and everything in between. MPs cannot update constituents. The Home Office seems to be in a state of meltdown. This is not about civil servants; it is about leadership from the top.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to explain how visa applications are being processed by the Department, what she is doing about the unacceptable delays to passports, and how she intends to carry out her unworkable policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda? In fact, does she understand that the term “illegal asylum seekers” does not even make sense, as by international law asylum seekers are allowed to come here to seek asylum, and if they have not been assessed, they cannot be illegal by definition?
While we are on the subject of the Home Secretary, it took me three months to get a response from her last year, but at least I got one. As the Leader of the House will know—I know he is sympathetic to this cause—other Members are not getting timely responses from Ministers, either to parliamentary written questions or to letters. They must be answered in a timely manner. We seek these responses on behalf of our constituents. The right hon. Gentleman will know that that is a reasonable request. As we go into Prorogation, may I have his co-operation on ensuring that Members on both sides of the House have letters and questions to Ministers answered in a timely manner?
Let me make a quick interjection about the Online Safety Bill, a landmark piece of legislation. Time was squeezed and many colleagues were not called to speak on Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when we return from any recess, similarly important, big business is not scheduled for the first day back, when urgent questions and statements are inevitable?
The British people deserve leadership, and a Government who hold themselves to the highest possible standards and diligently follow the rules. They deserve better than this.
Before the Leader of the House responds, I might be able to help on the question of the readers last night. The Chair of Ways and Means reported the issue this morning. I have gone to the Clerks, and I am expecting a report back. This will be looked into over the weekend, and I will come back on Monday and share what I learn with both the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House.
Thank you for that update, Mr Speaker. I am sure that this evening, should the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) wish to enter the No Lobby, the readers there will be working.
Let me start by joining the hon. Lady in wishing both Her Majesty and the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) a very happy birthday; I think the hon. Gentleman is slightly younger than Her Majesty. The hon. Lady went on to talk about the Prime Minister and this afternoon’s debate. The good news is that she will have five and a half hours in which to debate whatever she wants, and to make all the party political points she wishes. I think that the Prime Minister has been pretty clear—he came to this Dispatch Box and apologised for the mistake he had made—but he is wholly focused on what matters to the hon. Lady’s constituents and to mine: dealing with the rising energy costs in the world following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. That is what our constituents want him to be focused on, and that is what he is doing.
Moreover, as the hon. Lady has indicated from a sedentary position, the Prime Minister is demonstrating global leadership, working with our international colleagues and promoting the economic welfare of the United Kingdom through our relationship with India. That is what he should be doing, and is doing.
The hon. Lady talked about Rwanda. She will be aware that the Home Secretary was at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday making a statement on that subject. This is a new migration and economic development partnership, the first in the world to tackle head-on the imbalance between legal and illegal migration routes. It is the right thing to do, because it breaks the model set by those who are exploiting very vulnerable people, and endangering them by putting them in vessels that are not seaworthy to cross the English channel. We are developing safe routes for the people who do find themselves in those circumstances, and that is the right thing to do.
I will, however, join the hon. Lady in her comments about timely responses. She is wholly right to hold Ministers to account. They should respond to Members on both sides of the House in a timely fashion, and I will write to Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the situation improves. I hope the hon. Lady will recognise that the global covid pandemic has put a huge amount of strain on a number of Departments and has increased the volume of correspondence that they have received, but Members are nevertheless entitled to receive that timely response.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Online Safety Bill. Tuesday was a busy day, featuring three ministerial statements. The timing of statements is, of course, entirely a matter for you, Mr Speaker; it is for you to decide how much time you allow for them, but it did allow for—
Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I know you would acknowledge that the timing is a matter for you. The issue of online safety is obviously very important, which is why so many colleagues wanted to speak about it, and why the Government are introducing the Bill. I have a number of times heard the hon. Lady ask, at the Dispatch Box, “When is the Online Safety Bill coming?” When we finally deliver it, she is still not happy. I can only deliver what she has asked for. The good news is that there will be plenty of opportunity to debate online safety, and I am sure that the Government will supply time for those debates.
May we please have a debate about raising the quality of our bathing water? So many of my constituents love swimming and doing water sports on the Solent throughout the year, and I thoroughly recommend it, Mr Speaker, if you would like to try it. However, the bathing water regulations specify that testing is necessary only between May and September. May we have a debate on how we can improve the testing of our seas and rivers, so that more people can enjoy them all year round?
My hon. Friend has raised an important matter. Indeed, I have seen the Prime Minister bathing in the sea fairly recently. Of course, we introduced the landmark Environment Act 2021, which is intended to improve our environment, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the issue, and hopefully there will be an opportunity for her to raise it directly with Ministers on Thursday, during questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
I too would like to wish a very happy birthday to Her Majesty, and also to his majesty the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), as we on these Benches always refer to him.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us a full day’s debate on the privilege motion. We cannot wait to see the hordes of Tory Back Benchers getting to their feet to say what a wonderful, truthful and honest character the Prime Minister is. Of course, he is not here; he is in India. I do not know who is advising him, but apparently the first thing they got him to do when he arrived was to spin some yarn. I see that the Government’s amendment is jointly in the Leader of the House’s name, in what must be a supreme effort to kick the can down the road. I say again to colleagues on the Tory Back Benches that they had better be absolutely certain of what is in that can, because I suspect that, when they eventually have to open it, it will be packed full of the most rancid, noxious contents that they will then have to feast upon. This is not going to save the May elections. At some point, they are going to have to decide whether they get rid of him or whether they go down with him.
We are also going to have to have a debate about the type of language we use in this House, because it cannot go on like this. We cannot refer to the Prime Minister with the one word that the public now most closely associate with him. We cannot even refer to a fictitious Disney character who is associated with the word that the public most use about him. The public think we are absolutely mad, and that view will only have been compounded by the activities of last night. We had one hour to debate countless important amendments and two hours to vote on them. Then the card readers broke down, and we were back to pen and paper. Some cartoon classics may indeed be out of bounds in this House, but at some point this Disney wonderland is going to have to enter this century.
Can I just say for clarification—and I think we ought to be a little bit more honest—that we have very good Clerks and that two card readers were still operational? All those in the other Lobby were operational. Please let us not discredit a system that did actually work, and it worked quite well.
I will not comment on the card reader. Occasionally things break, and the House authorities responded rapidly to ensure that the Division could continue. I know it was a little frustrating for colleagues having to queue up, but we should give credit to those individuals who stepped in to help us. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked any other questions at all, to be honest. He made his point about the debate this afternoon, and he has only another 40 minutes to wait until the Paymaster General gets to the Dispatch Box. I am sure he will be interested to hear what the Paymaster General says, and he will be able to make his party political points at that time.
The Leader of the House will recall from his time as Chief Whip that I greatly struggled with the lockdowns, and the legacy of covid has pumped so much poison into this country and into the veins of this place. Can we please try to find a way today not to have a fractious debate and a Division? I believe genuinely that the Prime Minister is a good and decent man, and he can make the case to the Privileges Committee directly without having to divide this House and have yet more poison pumped into public life. Please can the Chief Whip find a way of making that happen?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to highlight the fact that language matters in this place. It has an impact on people in the outside world and on how they perceive politicians, and getting the tone of this debate right will be absolutely crucial. I know that the Chief Whip will have heard his comments and I am sure he will reflect on them.
I thank the Leader of the House for rescheduling this afternoon’s debate on childhood cancer outcomes for Tuesday. That is an important debate and it will be really good to get it in before the end of the Session. The Backbench Business Committee met for the last time on Tuesday gone; we could not see any point in meeting next week as our business runs out at the end of the Session. We will be writing to the Leader of the House with our legacy list in case there is any time for Backbench Business debates before the Committee is re-established in the new Session of Parliament.
Many of my constituents are reporting extensive delays in receiving passports, and they are also finding it exceedingly difficult even to contact the Passport Office to find out what is happening. Could the Leader of the House use his good offices to try to get the Home Office to do something about this? It is becoming quite serious.
I thank the hon. Gentleman not only for his question but for his work throughout the Session in providing great topics for Back Benchers to debate. There have been some fantastic debates in this Session, and I give credit to him and his Committee for supplying those topics. I will look at his legacy list with interest, and I will certainly liaise with the Chief Whip on what we can do to provide time should there be a gap in parliamentary business before the Backbench Business Committee is re-established as quickly as possible.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments on passports, and I will pass them on to the Home Secretary. I know this causes enormous frustration to constituents who are planning summer holidays for the first time in a long time. They want to have their passport quickly so that they are able to travel.
I am 100% behind the Prime Minister, but what a wonderful democracy we live in: he had to come here this week to make a statement, and today we have the opportunity to decide whether he should be referred to the Privileges Committee.
One question asked by the shadow Leader of the House that the Leader of the House did not answer is about whipping. In his new role, will the Leader of the House make it absolutely clear that it is a great privilege and honour to be a Member of Parliament and that we exercise our vote not as delegates but as representatives? The Whips’ advice is what it is: advice. Members put their country first, their constituency second and their party third. Most times, for Conservative Members, the three are in line. Can we have a debate next week on the role of the Whips Office? By the way, the Leader of the House was an excellent Chief Whip, and so is the current Chief Whip.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as the Government Chief Whip. I was blessed with former Chief Whips not commenting on whipping, and the current Chief Whip deserves that privilege, too. Whipping is a matter for the Chief Whip.
The Prime Minister has made some comments from India on this afternoon’s debate. The Paymaster General will be here in about 40 minutes, and those messages are being received. Let us enjoy the debate when it comes.
The Leader of the House will remember that there were three questions at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions on hospital rebuild schemes that have been agreed and approved but where the money has not come through from the Treasury. One of those schemes is at Whipps Cross in my constituency. We can all guess what the hold-up is in the Treasury, but can we have a statement from a Treasury Minister at the Dispatch Box to explain exactly what is going on?
I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury. Huge commitments have been made to rebuild a number of hospitals across the country and to get those projects running as quickly as possible. We stand by those strong commitments, and the rebuilding and investment in our NHS over the past five years is unprecedented. We will continue with that investment.
I assume the Leader of the House will be very busy conveying requests from hon. and right hon. Members in relation to the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. May I please add two items to that list, and perhaps we can have a debate before the Queen’s Speech? First, I have previously raised with him the long-promised Bill to ban the import of hunting trophies. Secondly, will he add the recommendations of the fan-led review of football governance, which I understand require primary legislation, so that a situation such as happened at Derby County will never happen again?
As my hon. Friend says, the Queen’s Speech is not far away. We have committed to banning the import of hunting trophies from nearly 7,000 species, and we will shortly publish further information on the response to the fan-led review. I recognise that it is hard for hon. Members to contain their excitement, but I urge her to wait a little longer. All will be revealed.
Will the Leader of the House assist me with an urgent issue relating to the Ukraine family visa scheme? My constituent’s mother has thankfully made it out of Ukraine and to the UK, and she has been granted a visa. However, she is now struggling to get any proof of address, without which it is difficult to register with a general practitioner to receive the cancer care she needs or to open a bank account. Home Office staff have told my office that they are unable to issue a document proving her address without a change of policy from Ministers. Will the Leader of the House ask Home Office Ministers to look into this and to make a statement to the House?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. If she writes to me with details of the individual case she is talking about, I will make sure it is put in front of the Home Office as quickly as possible. I hope she would recognise that the Government have already issued 56,000 visas. It is a huge commitment to getting a number of people in. However, I hear the concern she has about that individual case, which sounds like a challenging one, and I will make sure the Home Office responds to her in a timely way.
If I walked down to the Front Bench and smacked the Leader of the House, I would possibly be done for assault. If I smacked a dog, I would possibly be done for cruelty to that dog. Yet when we talk about smacking children, we say that it is a nanny state if we question that, even though we tell parents that they must put seatbelts in the back of cars for their children’s safety. I am not calling for an outright ban on smacking children, and I recognise that parents bring up children in the best way they can, but I do think that the Children’s Commissioner is courageous and right to raise these matters in The Times as she has done. We need to discuss these matters carefully and have a debate. So can we have a debate after the Queen’s Speech about the smacking of children and whether it should be permitted?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question on something that is worthy of debate. Colleagues from across the House would want to engage with that debate. On a personal level, I do think that parents have the right to chastise their children in a way in which they see fit, but there clearly is a line where that stretches into abuse, and the authorities are robust in making sure that children are safe in the UK. However, this is worthy of debate and I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate.
Although established 160 years ago, the Land Registry has been able to establish the ownership of only 83% of the land of England; the ownership of the other 17% is unknown. Unlike Companies House, the Land Registry does not have an open access register and anyone wishing to establish who does own the 83%, by purchasing copies of all the registered titles would have to pay £72 million for the privilege. So can we have a debate on the Land Registry?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We should celebrate the fact that 160 years have passed since the introduction of the Land Registry, which is important. I understand his concerns. I hope he would recognise that there are bits of land everywhere whose ownership is difficult to establish, as often they are not claimed by anybody. We usually find that the local authority will deny ownership if there are costs associated with the land, until there appears to be huge value attached to it and then everybody wants to claim it. However, I think that is worthy of debate and perhaps he ought to apply for a Backbench Business debate.
If it is not too indelicate to raise this today, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Leader of the House whether it would be possible to have a debate on the radical proposals to change the Accession Council? I am sure that we in this House can come up with less radical proposals, touching on the venue rather than the admission.
Last year, Ministers said they would
“reset the dial on women’s health”,
but we still have no date for the hormone replacement therapy prescription changes in England. May we have a statement on HRT changes, to show that the Government are taking women’s health seriously?
This is absolutely an important issue that the Government recognise and that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is currently looking at. It has been debated a number of times in the House, but I certainly recognise the challenges in respect of HRT provision and supply for many ladies up and down the country and the issue is worthy of further debate.
It is about not just the HRT prescription changes but supplies of HRT. Pharmacies in Romsey and Southampton North have completely run out, which leaves women of a certain age—and before my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) makes a comment, yes, I declare an interest—without access to the oestrogen gel that enables us to sleep and to work competently. Please will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in this place, following on from the brilliant debate secured by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), so that we can make sure that pharmacies work hand in glove with the DHSC so that we can get the supplies we need?
Following that question from my right hon. Friend and the one from the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), inspiration has hit me, so I can say that the Department of Health and Social Care is aware of the supply issues that are affecting a limited number of HRT products. Most HRT products, including alternatives to those for which we are experiencing supply issues, are available. The Government are working closely with suppliers and stakeholders to resolve the issues as quickly as possible and to ensure that the NHS is informed on a regular basis. It is an important matter and I will raise it with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on my right hon. Friend’s behalf.
Some of the mighty structures in the North sea were fabricated in yards in the north of Scotland—I myself worked in two of them: Kishorn and Nigg. Offshore wind energy is going to be a vital part of the UK’s future energy mix and we do not want such structures to be built abroad; we want them to be built in the UK. Would it not be a good idea to have a debate in this Chamber about the future of offshore wind and a close look at where in the United Kingdom we can build such structures?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy came to the Dispatch Box on Tuesday to make a statement on our energy supply network. It is important that we have a balanced network of supply, including from offshore wind, which will be a vital way forward. As the hon. Gentleman indicates, there are huge numbers of opportunities for employment in the United Kingdom in respect of not only renewables but other sources of energy, and the Government will continue to push forward on them.
Rugby is a fast-growing town and expects a population of around 135,000 by 2031, but currently 83% of my constituents are more than 15 minutes’ drive away from an accident and emergency department, which is significantly longer than the journey for people in the vast majority of constituencies in England. Recently, I carried out a survey on urgent and emergency care to which 3,000 constituents responded, and 98% of them say they believe that Rugby should have its own full accident and emergency department. May we have a debate to consider how increases in healthcare provision should go hand in hand with the growth of a community?
I am happy to raise that matter with the Department of Health and Social Care on my hon. Friend’s behalf. It is important that our constituents can access urgent care when it is needed. I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have committed to build 40 new hospitals across England by 2030, to transform services for local communities, and that there has been significant investment in the upgrade of existing A&E facilities.
I am sure the whole House has been horrified, as I have been, by the violent scenes in Jerusalem in recent days. Attacks on civilians, including worshippers, have been deeply distressing to see. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Foreign Secretary has not yet come to the House to deliver a statement? Will he confirm what conversations are taking place among the Government to ensure that arms provided by the UK are not used in the conflict in violation of international law? Will he also outline what steps the Government are taking to secure lasting peace in the region, which will include an independent Palestinian state?
These are of course delicate issues that need to be handled in the right way. The Foreign Office engages with the Israeli Government and the interested parties in the area. Violence is never the answer and we should do all we can to promote peace in that area. I am certain that the Foreign Office will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments, but if it has not, I shall make sure it is aware of them.
Earlier this week, I was privileged to attend an event with colleagues about diabetes. At that event, I met sufferers, and, as you will know, Mr Speaker, many people live with type 1 diabetes and cope with that condition. Many more are affected by type 2 diabetes—up to one in four of us I learned at that event. Information and understanding—awareness—are critical. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about the strategy of the Government who I know take this matter seriously? Given that so many of our constituents will be so affected, I think that this would attract widespread interest from across the House. We must do more to help those living with diabetes.
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend missed Health questions this week and the opportunity to ask the question of the Health Secretary himself, but I am sure that there will be further opportunities to do so. He is right to highlight the plight of those who suffer with diabetes, and also those who may have mild diabetes without realising it. He has contributed today in highlighting that so that more people may think about their health and get checked by a GP if they feel any symptoms.
Liverpool has a long-established Somaliland community and they were devastated when fire destroyed the Waheen market in Hargeisa. Can the Leader of the House explain how the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is supporting Somaliland, and can he call on the Foreign Minister to consider granting diplomatic recognition to bring positive changes to the country?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Somaliland is an important part of Africa. I am sure that the FCDO will continue to engage with the Government there. She will have the opportunity to raise this matter at the next Foreign Office questions, but it may be something that is worthy of an Adjournment debate, so that she can take more time to lay out her concerns.
It is right that the Prime Minister is visiting India at the moment to secure a closer partnership with our friends and allies. In that context, can we consider having a debate on the protection of Asian elephants, as their habitats are being reduced in that country and they are also subject to some cruel practices, particularly with regard to some very questionable “tourism”? I would be grateful if such a debate could be considered.
My hon. Friend is a long-time campaigner on animal welfare issues, and is recognised across the House for his work in that area. He is right to once again draw attention to the plight of elephants in Asia. There may be an opportunity for him to raise that directly with the Minister at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions next Thursday, but I know that, should he secure an Adjournment debate on the matter, a number of colleagues will want to engage with that debate.
This weekend marks the anniversary of the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, which paved the way for the establishment of our precious national parks. Yet 90 years on, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 still only allows the public to access around 8% of the land in England. The evidence of the importance of nature for our health and wellbeing continues to grow, so it is profoundly disappointing to learn today that the Government will not be releasing the results of the Agnew review—the Access to the Outdoors Commission. Can we have an urgent debate on the right to roam and the importance of extending that by amending the CRoW Act as soon as possible?
I join the hon. Lady in recognising the huge contribution that access to the open countryside can have on people’s physical and mental health. We are blessed in this country with hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpath to allow people to access the countryside, but I hope that she also recognises that, as well as a place of leisure, the countryside is also a place of food production and business. At this time of year, there are lambs in the fields, so it is quite important that people keep dogs on leads when accessing the countryside. Food production is a very important part of the UK economy and, as I have said, we must recognise that the countryside is a place not just of leisure, but of business and food production.
The collapse of funeral plan provider Safe Hands has left 46,000 people facing the loss of their funeral prepayment plan. Moneys that should have been safely ring-fenced in a trust have been distributed to directors and shareholders in the form of loans and dividends. That amounts to financial misconduct. Can the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister please to work with the funeral plan industry and the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that Safe Hands plan holders do not lose out, and to make a statement?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question on this important matter. The Treasury continues to monitor the implementation of regulation in the sector closely, to ensure that the transition to regulation is smooth. Dignity, one of the largest funeral plan providers, has committed temporarily to provide funerals to Safe Hands customers until 22 April, which addresses the short-term risk to consumers. The FCA is working closely with the sector to ensure a good outcome for Safe Hands customers over the long term. I will of course pass on her concerns to the Treasury.
Can we have a debate on geography and history lessons? I gather that one Conservative Member has recently stated that we are sending refugees to
“a safe European country, Rwanda”.
Another Conservative MP said that the Church of England was disestablished many years ago, which will come as news to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Her Majesty. Many Government Ministers have also said that we cannot change the Prime Minister during a time of war, despite the fact that we changed Prime Minister four times during the Afghan war, once during the first world war, the second world war and the second Boer war, and twice during the Peninsular war. Can we have a debate on the intelligence of Conservative Members?
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has asked a question. He will have five and a half hours this afternoon to make the party political points he wants to make. He made a great effort to make them just now. The House of Commons is blessed with a number of very bright MPs, and he should gently reflect on the language he uses sometimes. The level of debate in this place needs to be lifted sometimes, and he can assist us in delivering that.
My hon. Friend will see the Chief Whip in his place. The Prime Minister has indicated that he is keen for the House to decide on the business later today. The vote on the unamended House business will be a free vote to all Conservative MPs and that will be the case this afternoon.
It was remiss of me earlier not to wish Her Majesty a happy birthday and English friends a happy St George’s day on Saturday, but it was even more remiss of the Department for International Trade to glide over and ignore the appalling export trade figures. To remind the House, the UK is down 14% on exports while the rest of the world is up 8.2% in the same period. Can we have a debate on which is failing—Brexit, the Department, or perhaps both?
The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for International Trade at departmental questions. The UK has a great opportunity following Brexit to reach out, and that is what the Prime Minister is doing today in India. Some 11,000 jobs have been created by the trade deal and trade negotiations that he is talking to the Indian Government about today. There is a huge opportunity for the UK Government now that we are outside the EU, and the hon. Gentleman should celebrate and welcome that investment around the world.
Does my right hon. Friend believe, as I do, that a debate would be useful to discuss the actions the Electoral Commission might take in directing all local councils to use simplified postal voting forms, which would be beneficial in ensuring fewer technically spoiled ballot papers and increase turnout figures at local elections across the country?
Such a debate would be very timely, given the upcoming local elections. We hope we will have Lords amendments to the Elections Bill next week, and there may be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise the matter directly with Ministers during that debate.
I have visited the local food bank in Barnsley, which has seen record levels of demand in recent years, with the main reason for referral being low income. As bills and prices rise, can we have a debate in Government time on how this Government are failing working people and failing to tackle the cost of living crisis?
I hope the hon. Lady would recognise that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused huge ripples around the world in terms of energy prices and food prices. The Government do take that seriously. That is why we are supplying huge amounts of investment to try to protect those families who are most vulnerable from the cost of living increases. That is why we have changed the tapers on universal credit to allow those people who are in work and who claim universal credit to keep more of their money. That is why we have reduced the tax on fuel so that people can try to afford the increasing cost of petrol. The Government are doing a huge amount to try to support those families who are most vulnerable but also to spread the cost of taxation to those who have the broadest shoulders.
Residents constantly contact me about the state of roads and pavements in the London Borough of Harrow. I put this down to the inefficiency of the Labour-run council. However, on Saturday The Sun published the real reason, with £2 million of council tax payers’ money being given to contractors, contractors not actually doing the work, and then council staff receiving kickbacks. There is an ongoing police investigation on this issue. I understand that every member of the department has now either resigned, retired or been sacked. The council tax payers naturally say, “Are councillors involved? What has been going on?” This has been covered up for eight months. Can we therefore have a debate next week on corruption in local government and transparency? Whether it is Liverpool, Croydon or Harrow, Labour-run councils are corrupt.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. It is an important principle that local government is independent of central Government. I understand that the council is co-operating with the police on this matter. The Government will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that a good record of transparency, probity, scrutiny and accountability is maintained across councils in this country. My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job of shining a light on the woeful track record of the Labour-run council in Harrow. I encourage voters there and across the country to vote Conservative on 5 May.
In keeping with the theme of today being menopause questions, can I highlight that despite promises by the Government to introduce reduced charges for women in England, it still has not happened? My attempts to get answers for these women about costs and shortages have been thwarted by the Department of Health and Social Care. It has taken three weeks to respond to an urgent letter. Responses to named day questions have arrived 10 days late, the answer being nothing that would not have been available at the time of asking. This shows a total disregard for women. We must stop treating women in this way. Will the Leader of the House please help me to help the 13 million menopausal women in this country who deserve our respect?
Yes, I will assist the hon. Lady. I recognise and pay tribute to the work that she has done in this area. She is a huge campaigner on these matters and I recognise her contribution to this debate. I will write on her behalf to the Secretary of State for Health. I recognise that we do need to do better in responding in a timely way to matters raised by colleagues across the House, and I will assist her in that matter.
I have always been a strong supporter of the Scouting movement, both as an MP and prior to that. Indeed, my son achieved the Queen’s Scout Award. However, last week the district commissioner asked me not to attend an event, saying:
“The Scouts is a non-political movement—I would not want this positive message to be muddied by recent controversial incidents and policies.”
Can the Leader of the House advise me on how I go forward in continuing to support the Scouting movement?
I am disappointed to hear that. I think that colleagues across the House will recognise the great contribution that Scouting makes to young people in this country. As a former cub and scout myself, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. It is a non-political organisation that should not get involved, and traditionally has not got involved, in politics. I hope that the leader who wrote to my hon. Friend will reflect on his comments and encourage colleagues across the House to engage with the Scouting movement.
I hope that Chester Zoo’s success in becoming the second most popular tourist attraction in the UK will not overshadow some of its important scientific work and achievements, such as protecting rainforests through its palm oil campaign and the outstanding work in developing a treatment for elephant herpes, which will save thousands of elephants. Can we please have a debate on the work of zoos in promoting science, sustainability and environmentalism?
I think that is something that is very much worthy of debate. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to apply for a Back-Bench business debate or an Adjournment debate on that matter, and I join him in congratulating not only Chester Zoo but zoos up and down the country, which are informing the next generation on such matters and contributing to the debate.
Recently the Egyptian-born hate preacher Omar Abdul Kafi went on a UK tour, giving lectures at Finsbury Park mosque in London and a number of venues in Leeds, Liverpool and Mayfair. Abdul Kafi has previously given sermons about killing Jews and advanced antisemitic conspiracy theories, and he is known to have directly inspired the Stockholm suicide bomber, Taimour Abdulwahab. Given these facts, can we have a debate on how on earth such an individual was allowed to enter the country and how that is compatible with the Government’s wider Prevent strategy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Antisemitism has absolutely no place in our society. We expect anyone involved in spreading hate to face the full extent of the law, which is why the UK has robust hate crime tools to support the investigation and prosecution of those who incite racial and religious hatred. I am aware that the individual has made shocking remarks in the past, and I will raise my hon. Friend’s concerns with the Home Secretary.
Mariana and her three-year-old son Nestor fled the war in Ukraine to Poland. My constituent is sponsoring them under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. They completed their application on 25 March and are still waiting for a decision. With nowhere to stay in Poland, they have had to return to Ukraine and spend five hours a day sheltering from air raids. The delays in expediting visas are putting innocent civilians at risk and do not match the generosity and compassion of the British public. Can we please have an urgent debate in Government time on this issue?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to highlight the generosity of the British people in welcoming refugees from Ukraine. I know that Lord Harrington meets MPs on a regular basis and I am sure he would be available to her, should she request such a meeting to try to expedite the visa application that she mentions. We have issued 56,000 visas already. A number of schemes are up and running, and we continue to keep our borders open to people who find themselves in the most difficult of circumstances.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituents Rory and Cheryl Thorpe, who—with your fantastic support, Mr Speaker—have become the first small gin producers to have their gin, Ruddy Fine gin, stocked here in Parliament under the new guest gin scheme? Can we have a debate in Government time on how we in Parliament and Government can best showcase Britain’s fantastic small food and drink producers to the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I am personally committed to showcasing how we can support and sample the many superb food and drink producers across the United Kingdom, but especially those in Nottinghamshire. I had the pleasure of meeting Rory and Cheryl from the Ruddy Fine gin company last night. I can highly recommend the gin, and I pay tribute to them and my hon. Friend for promoting UK food. There is a great opportunity for the UK around the world, and the Ruddy Fine gin company is a great part of that.
The Leader of the House may be aware that tomorrow marks the fourth annual Stephen Lawrence Day, following the tragic racist killing of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. The day was established by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). The Independent Office for Police Conduct recently released a report stating that stop and search was causing trauma and damaging confidence in policing, despite the police’s promise of reform. Correct stop and search works—it helps—but a number of black people still do not have confidence in stop and search and the powers that the police are using. Can we please have an urgent debate on the police’s use of stop and search?
The hon. Lady is right to once again draw the attention of the House to this important matter. The Metropolitan police clearly work as hard as they can to protect all communities across London, but I recognise the concerns of some of those communities about these measures, and that is something that is worthy of debate. I encourage her to apply for a Westminster Hall debate.
My constituents and those in neighbouring constituencies are being greatly inconvenienced by the appalling service provided by TransPennine Express on its south trans-Pennine route. It should be an hourly service, but its website shows that this afternoon there will be four hours between trains. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Rail Minister to give a statement to the House on how the rail operating companies are meeting their franchise commitments?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. As we enter the summer period, I am sure that a lot of people will want to visit Cleethorpes and experience all it has to offer as a tourist destination, and rail transport will play an important part in getting people there to celebrate all that is Cleethorpes. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Transport is aware of my hon. Friend’s comments and responds to him directly.