House of Commons
Thursday 16 June 2022
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the death of our friend and colleague Jo Cox, who was murdered on her way to meet constituents in her Batley and Spen constituency. She was doing what so many of us do as constituency MPs, and that was what made her death all the more shocking. May I express on behalf of the whole House our sympathy with her family, friends and colleagues on this sad anniversary? We will never forget Jo, or her legacy. We remember her wise words that we “have far more in common than that which divides us”.
Business before Questions
Contingencies Fund Account 2021-22
That there be laid before this House an Account of the Contingencies Fund 2021-22, showing—
1. A Statement of Financial Position
2. A Statement of Cash Flows and
3. Notes to the Accounts; together with the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—(David T. C. Davies.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
UK’s Green Industries: Export Opportunities
Our clean growth programme launched during COP26 has boosted support for green exporters, including a new clean growth faculty in our Export Academy, while UK Export Finance has provided over £7 billion of support for sustainable deals since 2019. Our free trade agreements are liberalising green trade, supporting green jobs across the country, including on the Humber. This autumn we will host a UK green trade and investment expo in the north-east connecting UK industry with global investors and buyers to promote green opportunities.
It is quite clear that the Government are doing a great deal to promote the green sector and make it easier for our British-based companies to exploit the export market, but given the commitments that have been made by countries across the globe at the COP26 conference, there is clearly always more that can be done. Are the Government planning any additional new initiatives other than those that the Minister has outlined?
The Government will continue to use the free trade agreements to liberalise and encourage green investment. We lead outward-bound trade visits. We are constantly seeking opportunities and talking to our partner countries to assist them in expanding on green exports, particularly in things like solar power, wind power, renewables and smart cities. These are all technological sectors where the UK leads the world.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Scottish Government about the potential for Scotland’s green energy industries such as offshore wind and hydrogen and the part that they have to play in a UK trade strategy?
I am planning a trip to Scotland in the very near future to have the very conversations that the hon. Lady mentions. The Department works closely with the Scottish Government. Only this week, we took a trade delegation of Azerbaijanis up to Aberdeen to look at how people can transition from carbon to renewable energy.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I start by endorsing your comments about our colleague, my friend, Jo Cox? She is still very much missed and always will be.
It is vital that we support green industries in the UK, especially those that are exporting products around the world, yet the investor state dispute settlements threaten green industries and renewable energy projects. Many of these provisions are in the energy charter treaty, which lets fossil fuel companies sue Governments who are trying to decarbonise, such as the Netherlands. Will the Government therefore support efforts to remove in full these protections for fossil fuel companies in the energy charter treaty?
I understand that we have never been defeated in any disputes on that particular subject. If the hon. Lady has any specific issues about barriers that she wants to have addressed, I am more than happy to ensure that that conversation is taken forward. As the Minister responsible for exports, I can say that those particular barriers have never been raised with me when talking to partner countries.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I echo your comments regarding our colleague Jo Cox?
Germany is a key export target, along with other nations, for Scottish clean hydrogen. Scotland is already a net energy exporter—an energy-rich country ready for independence. Given that clean hydrogen from Scotland can generate an extra £25 billion gross value added and create tens of jobs by 2045, what discussions has the Minister had with his Government colleagues about reversing the £1 billion betrayal of the carbon capture and storage scheme at Peterhead, dumped in 2017 and shamefully ignored ever since, in order both to capitalise on and turbocharge this export potential?
If there is such great export potential, I am surprised that the member of the Scottish Government who, let us not say has responsibility for exports, because we have been there before, but who does specific work on exports, has not raised it with me. I look forward to that conversation when I go up to Scotland, but if this is such a barrier, I urge the Scottish Government to discuss it with the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change.
India: Foreign Direct Investment and Trade
Mr Speaker, I should also like to associate myself with your comments about our colleague Jo Cox.
Our trading relationship with India was worth over £24 billion last year, and we are already India’s top investment destination in Europe. We have had many discussions and remain determined to create more good jobs and boost wages across Britain. Together, we are bulldozing trade barriers and—from Scotch whisky to Welsh lamb and medical devices—I think we all know that a trade deal will take our relationship even further.
My constituency of Kensington has strong links with India. We have the oldest gurdwara in the whole of Europe, the Khalsa Jatha, and we also have the residency of the Indian high commission. Indeed, on Sunday I will be with the Indian high commissioner in Holland Park launching International Yoga Day. Everyone is welcome to attend. [Laughter.] Can my hon. Friend explain to the House how a trade agreement with India can benefit the whole of the UK?
I may not be sufficiently flexible to attend and to join the high commissioner on International Yoga Day, but it is wonderful to hear of my hon. Friend’s collaboration.
Following the Prime Minister’s visit to India in April, British and Indian businesses have confirmed more than £1 billion of new investment and export deals in areas from software engineering to health, and this has created almost 11,000 jobs across the country, including in Edinburgh, Leeds, Northumberland and York. This illustrates how investment and a trade deal will continue to bolster our levelling-up agenda to the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s biggest are certainly natural partners, and this, alongside our historical ties and thoroughly modern relationship with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, makes India a clear priority trading partner for the United Kingdom. Through the integrated review, we are pursuing deeper engagement with India and other partners across the Indo-Pacific, and I am very keen to continue our work to support those who do so much to champion Anglo-Indian relations.
Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your comments about Jo Cox? It is hard to believe that it is six years, but while she was cruelly taken from us and from her family, she very clearly lives on with her legacy, and we remember that.
I thank the Minister for his response. We understand that there are clear contacts between ourselves and India culturally, economically and historically. At the same time, can the Minister outline what steps are being taken to ensure compliance with human rights, which is an essential component of any trade deal, as a priority? Human rights must be central to any deal.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great champion of religious freedom in particular, and the Government’s international obligations and commitments, including on freedoms, are always of paramount importance when it comes to making our decisions. We encourage all states to uphold their obligations, and we condemn any incidences of discrimination because of religion or belief, regardless of the country or faith involved. We do engage with India on a range of issues, as global Britain does carry the torch of freedom forward.
We very much welcome the prospect of increased trading opportunities with India, a country with which we have many historical ties. At the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, Prime Minister Modi announced demanding commitments to reduce emissions. After the Government’s shocking sell-out on the Australia deal, what preparation is the Minister making to use a possible trade deal to support Modi’s ambitions and to act on recommendations from the CBI about how our trade policy can support our climate goals, such as by including incentives to meet or surpass emissions reduction targets in a trade agreement?
I am not going to comment on live negotiations. Indeed, we were delighted to welcome the Indian negotiators to London this week for a further round of discussions. We have been very clear that we want trade to be a force for good in the world, including green trade, which we believe can create thousands if not millions of jobs across Britain and indeed the world, and I am sure that the Indian Government would agree.
Trade with Commonwealth Countries
Mr Speaker, may I also associate myself with your remarks about Jo Cox and her legacy? My thoughts are with her family today.
Pre-pandemic, the combined GDP of the Commonwealth was $9 trillion, and nearly 80% of that was due to four nations: us, India, Canada, with which we are now negotiating a free trade agreement, and Australia, with which we have already secured a from-scratch FTA. With 27 economic partnerships, we intend to boost our intra-Commonwealth trade to $2 trillion by 2030.
In this year of the platinum jubilee, what better time could there be to cement our bond with Commonwealth countries? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this would be an excellent year to redouble our efforts to increase trade with those nations, which have such a strong history with our own?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. Yes, we have the jubilee, and we also have the Commonwealth games, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is approaching. It is right that we celebrate and enhance the power of our Commonwealth family. We are united in our commitment to democracy, peace and prosperity, and we will continue to work with our partners to capture the potential of the Commonwealth advantage, which on average allows for 21% lower bilateral trade costs between Commonwealth countries, compared with most non-Commonwealth countries. We should put all our weight behind maximising that.
Surveillance Technology: Trade with China
China remains a significant trading partner for the United Kingdom, and there is scope for mutually beneficial trade and investment. In 2021, China was Britain’s third largest trading partner, but our approach to China is, and will remain, rooted in our values. As set out in the integrated review, we want a positive trade and investment relationship with China, but we will make sure that Britain’s national security, and the values of the British people, are protected.
The EU Parliament, Australian Government, and the US recognise the dangers of Chinese state owned surveillance cameras, and are introducing sanctions against Hikvision, and others, due to the national security considerations, and the facilitation of human rights atrocities in Xinjiang. The UK Government have not ceased trade in those products, and are placing them in UK schools, hospitals, on our streets, and even in Government Departments. Does the Minister agree that the UK should immediately cease trading in security equipment with China, and funding those companies implicated in genocide?
We remain seriously concerned about allegations levied against Chinese surveillance firms with regard to Xinjiang, and we take the security of our citizens, systems and establishments very seriously. We have a range of measures in place to scrutinise the integrity of our arrangements. In addition, the Procurement Bill will further strengthen the ability of public sector bodies to disqualify suppliers from bidding for contracts where there is a history of misconduct. We have already set out a number of measures to help ensure that no British organisations are profiting from or contributing to the violations of rights.
UK-India Free Trade Agreement
As I said a moment ago, talks with India continue to be positive, and on Monday we welcomed Indian officials to London for the fourth round of negotiations. An FTA offers the opportunity to deepen our already strong relationship, which was worth over £24 billion last year. We are determined to grow that, creating jobs in every corner of the country, including in whisky distilleries across Scotland, on which 150% of tariffs and taxes must currently be paid in India.
The Republic of India has a respected independent legal system, and that will form part of the basis of the FTA between the UK and India. The Secretary of State will be aware of my constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal. What importance do the Minister and the Government place on a well-functioning legal system that respects human rights and the dignity of the individual when progressing free trade negotiations with states such as the Republic of India?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says, and he has raised this issue with me in the past. Her Majesty’s Government are committed to working with the Government of India to resolve longstanding and complex consular cases such as this. The Foreign Secretary met the hon. Gentleman and the family of his constituent on 9 June, and she committed to continuing to raise those concerns with the Indian authorities. Our strong ties with India benefit British prosperity and security, and vice versa, but we are clear that increased trade need not come at the expense of our values.
UK Exports to Ukraine
Since 22 February, the Export Support Service has supported over 400 businesses and individuals wishing to export to Ukraine. To support British businesses, the Department for International Trade has expanded its Export Support Service to act as a single point of enquiry for businesses and traders with questions relating to the situation in Ukraine and Russia. The Department will continue to support business and traders during this period. Having a dedicated export support team ready to help at the end of the phone will help businesses to access the information they need at any time. Indeed, the Department runs Britain’s system of export controls and licensing. The export control joint unit is expediting urgent export licence applications for Ukraine.
The British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union is honoured to be hosting a delegation of Ukrainian MPs to Parliament today; I will share that information with them. For Ukraine, the big issue in exports is getting grain out of the blockaded port of Odesa. What conversations is the Minister having with the World Trade Organisation to stop the illegal blockade?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Indeed, until Russia’s invasion in February, Ukraine was one of the largest exporters of grains and vegetable oils. Britain has developed a six-point plan for tackling food insecurity. We continue to work with international partners, including at the WTO, to find ways to resume grain exports from Ukraine to the countries who desperately need them, particularly in the developing world. The outcome that we want is to keep trade flowing and to keep prices down.
On 10 May, Britain laid legislation to liberalise all tariffs on imports of Ukrainian origin. Those measures have reduced barriers faced by Ukrainian businesses and consumers in their time of need, making it easier to obtain essential goods and aid from Britain. In lockstep with our allies, we are introducing the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, with, for example, up to 60% of Russian foreign currency reserves currently frozen. Analysis shows that, as a result, Russia is heading for its deepest recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The United Kingdom is exploring how she can support the Ukrainian Government’s reconstruction efforts. There may be opportunities for British businesses to contribute with their skills, technology and ingenuity. To that end, I am delighted that, tomorrow, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), will host the Ukraine investment summit to bring together British companies who have expertise in reconstruction with Ukrainian decision makers to begin identifying opportunities for collaboration.
Trade Remedies Authority
The Trade Remedies Authority seeks to defend UK industries from unfair trade practices. It was established last year and has already begun a series of investigations and making recommendations to support businesses in sectors vital to the UK national interest.
Hydro, which produces aluminium extrusions at its Birtley factory in my constituency, is concerned that the final measures proposed by the Trade Remedies Authority will not protect it from imports from China and that they are nowhere near as strong as EU tariffs. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State meet me and Hydro to discuss the situation and how the proposed TRA decision will affect the company?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The provisional rates are based on the evidence that the TRA had gathered at that point in its investigation. Companies will have to pay provisional duties only if there is a decision to apply a definitive anti-dumping duty. The TRA was in Parliament last week, I think, willing to talk to Members of Parliament. It is always open to doing that, as well as to speaking directly with businesses, but I shall pass on her comments to the Secretary of State. She is not here today because of MC12—the World Trade Organisation’s 12th ministerial conference—but I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s concerns are passed on to her.
UK Food Exports: Promotion
The Department works with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to promote cheese exports in the middle east and China. We have dedicated cheese stands at trade shows in the middle east, such as Gulfood. We promote cheese through China’s social media. We operate “meet the buyer” events. For example, I was out in Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, and saw for myself how our Department’s people on the ground try to ensure that major supermarket chains have access to British cheese. We have over 100 specialists in food, beverage and agriculture, and newly appointed agri-commissioners in key markets to continue to boost this important sector.
Mr Speaker, I hope you and the whole House will agree with me when I say that the cheese produced by the farmers of the four nations of this great country is the best in the world. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] So, I want to hear that cheese is at the heart of our trade and export policy. Let us hear about the action being taken to ensure that more people in the middle east, China, India and across the world are eating our Great British cheese.
Let me reassure my right hon. Friend that the grand fromage in No. 10 Downing Street—[Hon. Members: “Groan!”] It was certainly a cheesy line. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he expects us to continue to push the export of food and beverage. It is working, because the UK’s cheese exports to the world were £565 million in 2021. Exports to China were £3.9 million in 2021, which is an increase of 3.9%. Exports to Saudi Arabia are up 53% and exports to the Gulf in general are up 16.2%. This is a British success story, which we will sell to the world.
USA: Tariffs on Imports from UK
The Minister is doing excellent work to help pave the way for UK businesses to do more trade in the US, and lifting tariffs is just one of the ways we can do that. Will she set out what more the Government can do to support our leading service sectors, as well as help our small and medium-sized enterprises to get their foot in the door?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. In addition to a free trade agreement, which will assist us on tariffs and those kinds of barriers, we are pursuing a twin-track approach with US states. That will help our service sector in particular. We are also looking at the mutual recognition of qualifications in accounting, auditing, legal services and so on. Next week, we are holding a UK-US SME dialogue in Boston to help us open up procurement possibilities for companies that would find it difficult to seek out those opportunities.
Covid-19 Vaccines: Global Access
Negotiations on the response to the covid-19 pandemic are taking place at the World Trade Organisation’s 12th ministerial conference this week. Although I cannot comment on live negotiations—and they are very live today—the UK is seeking a comprehensive multilateral declaration addressing the trade policy issues that will make a real difference to global access to vaccines.
I would like to have my say! Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I think there is broad agreement across the House that the world will not fully defeat covid until its vaccination levels are the same as those we have been very fortunate to get through the NHS. Will the Minister go further and give more detail on what we are asking for in those negotiations? She was quite brief in what she said.
The right hon. Lady’s question is very timely. The negotiations are going on as we speak, so I do not want to comment on those live negotiations. She will know that we firmly believe that having strong intellectual property rights is key to ensuring that investment is going into the science base and that these products and vaccines will continue to be developed. We need that to happen, as well as to ensure that there is equity and that the world can make use of these amazing products.
Perhaps the reason that the Minister of State does not want to give any more detail is that in Geneva this week the Secretary of State has actually been leading efforts to water down or block any deal on access to covid medicines. I gently ask the Minister of State this: with so few people in developing countries having had their first covid vaccine, why are Ministers so determined to prevent some of the richest companies across the globe from giving the poorest people in the world the tools they need to stop transmission and save lives?
That is a ridiculous mischaracterisation of this country’s stance. We are one of the largest donors to the covid advance market commitment, which is ensuring that the vaccine is being rolled out in 92 developing countries. We are at the forefront of that effort. What the Secretary of State is trying to do is ensure that investment in the science base that created these vaccines remains strong. We need to do both of those things if we are going to vaccinate the world.
Trade: UK and California
Across the US, we are unlocking barriers for business at state level, while also engaging at the federal level. There is huge potential for growing trade in California, and I have visited California three times as part of the Department for International Trade stateside tour.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but as California is the fifth largest economy in the world, will she redouble her efforts and, in particular, give us a timescale for securing a memorandum of understanding with the state of California similar to that which she successfully negotiated with Indiana?
We are currently talking to about 25 states with regard to memorandums of understanding, including California. Larger economy states will take longer than smaller economies to arrive at the final MOU. We think that within the first eight we will have some super-economy states, including Texas. California will be a little way off, but I hope to conclude a large number of these MOUs by the end of this year, and we expect to sign further in the coming weeks.
The UK Government, as we have heard, are in talks with 25 individual US states, in the hope of establishing tailored free trade agreements. I believe that the Cabinet has set California and Texas in its immediate sights. If the UK Government have no qualms in entering into trade agreements with sub-state actors such as those US states and do not think that that violates US sovereignty, why do they oppose the Scottish Government entering into their own free trade negotiations?
This argument, I am afraid, is a false one, and it has also been perpetrated with regard to the Australia deal. The structures and kinds of regulations and laws that we are talking about are not equivalent. In Australia’s case, we are not talking about law or EU retained law; we are talking about guidelines that sit at state level. Obviously, the MOUs that we are agreeing with US states are not free trade agreements in terms of tariffs; they talk about our regulation, mutual recognition of qualifications and all of those things. Within those MOUs, we are actually doing partnerships between particular locations of the UK, which could include the devolved nations. Northern Ireland has such an MOU with other parts of the US, and I encourage the Scottish Government to get on board, because there would be massive advantages to people in Scotland if they did so.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s progress in her discussions with California, but she will know that many leading companies have left California for Texas because of that state’s low-tax, light-touch, pro-growth regulation. Will she update the House on the progress that she is making in her discussions with Texas? What lessons has she learned and passed on about the scope for regulatory reform in this country?
There is massive scope for such reform, which is one reason why we are pursuing this agenda. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that business is seeking out business-friendly states in the United States. There is now some competition to secure MOUs with us, and we are going after states that are really open for business and open to bringing people, ideas and money together to solve the world’s problems. Texas will be a trailblazer state; we have signed with Indiana; and Oklahoma, the Carolinas and others are really pushing the agenda forward. There are massive potential benefits for us, and for the United States too.
Export Opportunities: International Markets
Our export strategy and export support service have cross-Whitehall support. The “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign will help to reach more than 67 million consumers, buyers and business leaders in 24 key markets. Our nine trade commissioner regions, our 40 Prime Minister’s trade envoys and our international market advisers are all helping businesses to exploit major market openings through our free trade agreements.
In the light of recent price hikes on fuel and ambitious net zero targets, seaport connectivity and infrastructure which allow goods, especially perishable items, to travel quickly are vital to businesses that export or wish to do so. With hundreds of thousands of jobs reliant on accessing the European market, does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government should make serious strategic efforts to re-establish a direct ferry link for freight between Scotland and mainland Europe? That would also provide resilience for international trade, given the ongoing pressure on ports in the south-east of England.
The hon. Gentleman is passionate about seeing ferry services restored from Scottish ports to mainland Europe, and he is absolutely right. Although it is very much a devolved issue, I am more than happy to encourage the Scottish Government to pursue it. It is a genuine issue, because the ability to build additional routes into the UK for freight builds resilience into the market and helps us to alleviate pressure points, particularly in moments of disruption across the straits. Importantly, as the hon. Gentleman says, it helps to reduce the carbon miles for haulage firms as they take goods from the straits to Scotland.
Exports to European Markets
Our export support service provides businesses with tailored support for exporting to Europe and beyond. Businesses are connected to our excellent array of support services such as the UK Export Academy and our trade show programme. We are operating bilateral partnerships to open up markets and overcome market access barriers. There is currently an eight-week consultation on an enhanced FTA between the UK and Switzerland. Those are just some of the measures that we can take to help businesses to export to European markets.
Research published yesterday shows that UK exports to the EU fell by £12.4 billion, or 15.6%, in the first six months of last year. I have seen that at first hand in my Ogmore constituency: businesses are being left with no option but to set up legal entities and warehouses within the EU in order to export. That is understandable, given the barriers that they face, but it results in jobs being moved away from the UK. Will the Minister commit to getting back around the table to reduce the costs and red tape that businesses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom are facing when exporting to the EU?
I have to say that I do not recognise that data. The Office for National Statistics data published yesterday showed that exports have continued to grow, month on month. For the past 12 months, exports to the UK were £650 billion. That is £53 billion up. Those are not my statistics, but those of the ONS. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he disagrees with the statistics, he should take that up with the ONS. These are the highest levels of exports to the EU since records began.
Given that the Prime Minister’s poor trade deal with the EU has already damaged exports and cost jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) says, the warnings from business groups this week that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill risks further damage to trade and investment ought to have rung very loud alarm bells across Whitehall. Will Ministers commit to publishing, before the Bill’s Second Reading, an analysis of its implications for British exporters and all those whose jobs depend on exports to European markets?
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of Scotland’s great cultural exports. It has its own specialist vehicle for touring, but Brexit red tape and cabotage rules mean that it is very difficult and expensive now for it to export its cultural wares in Europe. Can the Minister tell us what he is doing to remove the Brexit red tape that is tied around our musical industries?
I can tell the hon. Lady what I am doing about it. We appreciate that creative industries are massive exporters for the UK and they are highly valued. What the Department does across all sectors, not just creative industries, where we identify specific barriers resulting from our new trading arrangements, is have regular contact with our partners in-country. Sometimes it is about interpretation of the rules and sometimes it is the rules. What we do is sit down with our colleagues to work out whether we can find a practical solution for the benefit of both the UK and our European partners.
The UK signed a trade and economic development memorandum with the state of Indiana on 27 May. The first such arrangement between the UK and an individual US state, it forms part of our twin-track approach to trading with the United States, seeking out ways to unlock barriers for business at state level in addition to our engagement at federal level. We are to sign further memorandums of understanding in the coming weeks.
May we have a cross-Government effort on post-Brexit reform to ensure that our regulation does more to facilitate competition and new market entrants? That is crucial not only to grow our domestic economy but to secure trade agreements and boost international trade.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She is one of the authors of the appropriately named TIGRR report—the report of the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform—which pointed to some great ideas and focused on how we can ensure that our regulation is enabling, not a barrier to deepening trade ties and opening up opportunities for our citizens. In addition to our work on our domestic regime, we are, as I said earlier, working with other nations and getting our regulators to talk together, so that we can improve our international trade opportunities.
Mr Speaker, I echo your words about Jo Cox, whose ongoing legacy is testament to her remarkable dedication and compassion. Members across the House will be thinking of her family today.
Steel is a foundational industry for our economy, yet Members across the House will be aware of the difficulties that steelworkers have been through in recent years, from the US tariffs to the current cost of living crisis. The clock is ticking for the UK steel sector, with just 14 days left for the Secretary of State to make a decision on whether current trade safeguards remain in place. Will the Minister of State help to remove the uncertainty by urging the Secretary of State to make that decision today?
The Secretary of State needs no urging, but it is important that she is able to make the right decision on this. The steel safeguards reconsideration is ongoing. I know the deadline is looming. My right hon. Friend is carefully considering all the information that has been presented to her. Obviously, we expect a decision very shortly. We understand its importance to the steel sector, both producers and end users.
To say that a decision is expected shortly simply is not good enough. To ensure that this vital industry can survive, Ministers must stop dragging their feet and act urgently to safeguard the steel sector. Jobs and livelihoods in our communities are at risk. Labour backs UK steel. Does the Minister of State not accept that the reality is that, with time passing, Ministers are too busy propping up the Prime Minister to act decisively for the people?
With regard to the right hon. Member’s last comment, it is always a good indication that we do not have to look at the ONS statistics to know that the trade numbers are going the right way when the Opposition spokesman wants to ask questions that are not related to trade. This Secretary of State has done a huge amount to support the steel and aluminium industries of the UK, not least in managing to renegotiate the decision on section 232 tariffs. She will continue to do that and she will make an announcement on the safeguarding issue very shortly.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We recognise that the risk of carbon leakage is a very real one, and on 16 May we announced our intention to consult on a range of possible mitigation options, including product standards and a carbon border adjustment mechanism. We are working with our international partners and we are clear that any policies we consider will have to fit in with other UK priorities, which include the cost of living, economic growth, and our commitment to the World Trade Organisation, free and fair trade and the needs of developing nations.
According to Action Aid, the UK’s position on trade and women’s rights has yet to be set out through a clear, comprehensive UK trade strategy. Further to this, Action Aid has also accused the UK Government of taking a quick delivery approach to securing free trade agreements. In the SNP, however, we have committed to adopting a feminist foreign policy in an independent Scotland, and this work is being undertaken. In their current and future trade deal negotiations, will the UK Government commit to conducting gender-specific impact assessments of its free trade deals, not just economic impact assessments? Will the Department commission an independent statutory body to conduct these gender-just impact assessments?
I am delighted to be able to confirm that Britain is committed to creating a global trade policy that ensures that women have the same opportunities from trade as men, and that women worldwide can benefit from trade as a route to prosperity. That reflects a core element of this Government’s modernising trade agenda. We recognise that women face varied and disproportionate barriers to trade in some areas, and that they are underrepresented among entrepreneurs and businesses that export, and we will continue to do more to ensure that everyone benefits from global trade.
Last month the Secretary of State set out priorities for green trade, both in the global green transition and in maximising opportunities for the UK by driving global action on trade and the environment multilaterally through our engagement in the G7 and the World Trade Organisation while strengthening bilateral co-operation through our free trade agreement agenda. By 2030, low-carbon industries could generate up to £170 billion-worth of UK exports. For example, UK Export Finance’s climate change strategy commits it to achieving net zero across its portfolio and operations by 2050. In 2021, UKEF provided £3.6 billion-worth of support for sustainable projects, an increase of 50% on the previous year.
I remind the hon. Lady of the trader support service and the export support service, which are there to provide bespoke support to businesses. I encourage her to put them in touch with her constituents.
I am afraid the figures do not bear out what the hon. Lady is saying. The increase in goods exports to the EU, to which the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) alluded, has in part been driven by an 8.1% increase in exports from the UK to the EU in April compared with March. We are bouncing back from the pandemic and the difficulties as we changed our border and left the EU. The country is improving on that front. Where issues remain, whether for the hon. Lady’s local businesses or for the Northern Ireland protocol, we are determined to resolve them.
I thank my hon. Friend for all his work to champion the steel industry. The 500,000-tonne annual quota secured for steel exporters is almost double the annual volume of UK steel exports to the US between 2018 and 2019, and it provides a significant opportunity for the UK industry to increase its supply to US customers.
The statistics I quoted are from the Office for National Statistics. Across all goods there is a marked improvement, but we want to do more in the food and drink sector. That is why we are putting in place bespoke food, drink and agriculture attachés around the world to ensure our farmers and producers have more opportunities in global trade.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend raises this issue because, of course, our trade and partnership agreement was originally signed as one of the first continuity agreements back in 2019, but the Prime Minister announced last year that we would begin talks with Israel on an enhanced and improved UK-Israel free trade agreement. We have had a consultation, and I look forward to taking that work forward to boost our trade and investment relationship and to make sure the further ambitions of both nations are secured.
I would direct the hon. Lady’s businesses to contact the export support service, which provides practical assistance in overcoming particular issues. On top of that, we also have the internationalisation fund, the shared prosperity fund and the trade access programme. Picking on one pot that is no longer available misses the point. A whole range of financial support pots are available to businesses. If she would like directions to those pots, I am more than happy to write to her.
Obviously, we have agreed an enormous number of trade agreements, including several from scratch. We have a new export strategy and more support for British business; we have a new export finance mission; we are an Association of Southeast Asian Nations dialogue partner; we have a voice back at the World Trade Organisation; we have created the Trade Remedies Authority, to help support our own economic interests; we have set our own global tariff regime; we have streamlined nearly 6,000 tariff lines, lowering costs for business, and scrapped thousands of unnecessary tariff variations; we are creating a single trade window; we will have the most effective border in the world by 2025; and Mr Speaker will be very pleased to hear that we are bringing forward measures to ensure that cat fur products are not allowed to be traded. All this is in addition to blue passports and the prospect of the crown stamp on a pint of English beer.
The hon. Lady will know that work in government is looking at our global tariff and our tariff regime, with specific reference to ensuring that we are helping on the cost of living issues, which are really affecting our constituents. Leaving the EU has enabled us not only to make those decisions, but to treat developing nations with better preferences on tariffs, helping their economies as well as our own.
We heard a lot in the reply to an earlier question about exports of cheese. What initiatives are the Government planning to extend the export market for seafood? My constituency and neighbouring Grimsby are major centres for excellent seafood.
The Food and Drink Federation reported last month that food and drink exports are showing strong recovery as they get back up to pre-covid levels. Some of the specific actions we are taking include the creation of a new food and drink export council; this is between the Department and the sector, so that we continue the collaboration. We have also announced a new £1 million export fund to support our world-class seafood exporters, and held food and drink spring export showcases in the UK and overseas. I also urge my hon. Friend to contact me and I will arrange a briefing with our trade commissioner for China, where seafood exports are absolutely booming.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda is an excellent opportunity to promote trade with the Commonwealth. As chair of the all-party group on Africa, I am well aware of the important role that diaspora communities can play in growing trade, where familial and friendship links are so important. Newcastle, like many cities and towns in this country, has a number of Commonwealth diaspora communities. What specific help can people in Newcastle expect from this Department to trade with the countries they, their parents or their grandparents may have come from?
I thank the hon. Lady for that important question. She will know that both import and export figures with regard to Commonwealth nations are increasing quite substantially. There are many schemes that both our Department and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have in place. Obviously the local enterprise partnership networks are also assisting with this.
When a group of us from the British-American Parliamentary Group visited California last month, we were much impressed by the work of our trade teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, those teams would be able to be even more effective if they had more flexibility to employ local staff, in line with prevailing labour market rates, as filling vacancies is a problem. What will the Government do to enable them to do that?
We are doing several pieces of work on that, but one thing we are looking at in respect of our memorandums of understanding and our economic dialogues with individual states is the mutual recognition of qualifications. We are focusing on technical trades in particular, with legal, accountancy and audit, engineering and architecture being the trailblazers. This will not only help UK firms to win more business but help with the labour-market issues that are affecting businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.
How are Ministers planning to promote the Trade Remedies Authority to businesses in Scotland, to increase the awareness and take-up of its services where necessary?
They should follow the hon. Lady’s example: I know that she attended the session with the Trade Remedies Authority. It is incredibly important that we get the message out to businesses that the TRA is an independent body with which they can take up issues. I thank the hon. Lady for attending and for enabling me to say that at the Dispatch Box today.
There are significant opportunities for British exporters to the Gulf states that are members of the Gulf Co-operation Council, not least because we already export a lot and because the barriers for our exporters are greater than those for GCC exports to the UK. Will my hon. Friend update me on what progress is being made on achieving such a deal?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised the great opportunity there is with the Gulf Co-operation Council. The bloc is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and is a major trading partner of Britain, with something like £23 billion-worth of trade. We closed our public consultation some time ago and are raring to go on negotiations on an FTA with the GCC very soon.
Will the Minister outline what steps have been taken to solidify our technological partnership with Israel, in the light of the tremendous advances that come from that nation, and the potential that home tech companies have to expand if we can build relationships more effectively?
Israel is one of the middle east’s most dynamic and innovative economies and there is a great opportunity in tech in particular. It is not only a bilateral opportunity but a multilateral or plurilateral opportunity: I was recently in Brazil, which is interested in a three-way partnership between Brazil, the United Kingdom and Israel.
Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests Resignation
Let me start by thanking Lord Geidt for his work as Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests and, indeed, for his years of public service before he took up that role. I hold him in the highest regard. He has been honoured multiple times and is, of course, an example of excellence and service in public life. I thank all Members for their work in respect of this matter, but I think all Members of this House will recognise that Lord Geidt has demonstrated diligence and thoughtfulness in the way he has discharged his role over the past year. We have benefited hugely from his service.
The Prime Minister will be issuing a letter in relation to Lord Geidt’s announcement. Both Lord Geidt’s letter and the Prime Minister’s reply will be deposited in the House shortly—as soon as my office has those letters, Mr Speaker, they will be placed in the Library. The Government are of course particularly disappointed that Lord Geidt has taken this decision, because only very recently—as the House knows from the debate last week—significant changes were made to the role and status of Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests. As I set out to the House last week, the changes represent the most substantial strengthening of the role, office and remit of independent adviser since the post was created in 2006.
Let me set out briefly the reforms to the role that the Prime Minister has introduced. First, the independent adviser has a new ability, which Lord Geidt and his predecessors did not previously have, to initiate investigations in relation to allegations where there has been a breach of the “Ministerial Code”. This is a significant change. Previously, as the House knows, as an adviser, he and his predecessors were not permitted to do this. The adviser will still need the consent of the Prime Minister of the day to start an investigation, but, as I made it very clear last week, this consent will normally be given.
The “Ministerial Code” now includes new detail on proportionate sanctions for a breach of the code. Previously, there was no proportionality in those sanctions, and even the smallest of technical breaches by a Minister in place might have resulted in an enforced resignation. Now there is a proportionate range of options, and that was exactly as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
In future, the independent adviser will be consulted about the revisions to the code, as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The “Ministerial Code” now includes more specific references to the role of the independent adviser and more specific references to the duty on Ministers to provide the independent adviser with all information reasonably necessary for the discharge of the role.
In conclusion, as Lord Geidt himself has made clear, the new arrangements are workable, and he noted the increased transparency that they bring. The Government will of course now move to make new arrangements and we look forward to working within the strengthened system that I have described.
I say to the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, that he knows that his answer should have been three minutes. I am sure that the team here could have managed to get that speech down to three minutes. I say to Members on both sides of the House, please, do not take advantage, as there is a lot of other business to follow.
I welcome the fact that this letter will be published. It has taken my asking an urgent question to get that, so I am very glad that I was able to do so. Clearly, the new arrangements for the independent adviser are not workable, which is why Lord Geidt has had to resign.
To lose one ethics adviser is an embarrassment, but to lose two in two years, just days after the Prime Minister’s own anti-corruption Tsar walked out on him, means that it is becoming a bit of a pattern—a pattern of degrading the principles of our democracy. The Prime Minister has now driven both of his hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair in two years. It is a badge of shame for this Government.
In an unprecedented move, the Cabinet Office had failed to publish Lord Geidt’s resignation letter and it has taken this urgent question to get it. Lord Geidt described resignation as a “last resort” to send a critical signal to the public domain. Can the Minister confirm whether ongoing investigations launched by Lord Geidt will now be completed? Will that be in the Prime Minister’s letter? For example, how will the shameful allegations of Islamophobia experienced by the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) now be investigated?
Yesterday, No. 10 stated that Lord Geidt had been asked to give advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest. What is that? Can the Minister confirm whether that relates to a direct or an indirect financial interest of the Prime Minister, a family member, a friend or a donor? When will a replacement be appointed? Can the Minister assure us that there will not be another five-month gap? I know that it will be hard to recruit somebody for this position, because it has clearly been shown to be unworkable. Lord Geidt’s predecessor walked out following the publication of his findings on the Home Secretary’s bullying, which was excused by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has ridden roughshod over the rules.
In conclusion, what comes next? This vacancy must be filled urgently, but the role must be reformed, as the Committee on Standards in Public Life has concluded. Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Decency matters. I hope the Minister will do the right thing and come clean about this resignation.
Let me briefly answer the hon. Lady. I cannot speak to other investigations that may or may not have been in progress, but we will find about them in due course. That speaks for itself. As for other sensitive matters, it is obviously not appropriate to dwell on those. What is clear though is that the letters will speak for themselves. I think the hon. Lady will wish to wait for those.
I will channel my rare inner Lady Bracknell and say that for the Prime Minister to lose one adviser on Ministers’ interests may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness—I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will take that in the spirit it is meant. I thank Lord Geidt for appearing before our Committee on Tuesday, where I think he did his best—with what he would work with, I think was one thing he said, but he did his best none the less. I am very sad that he felt the need to resign, and I look forward to reading his letter and the reply from the Prime Minister. Can the Minister give the House some reassurance on this particular point? There was a five-month vacancy in the role upon the resignation of the previous independent adviser. How much more quickly will that be filled this time?
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me that it is important to ensure that whoever holds that role is not under constant political pressure to attack the Prime Minister for party political reasons and that, if they do not do so, they are not accused of being a lackey or a patsy. That is not something our independent advisers on Ministers’ interests deserve. We want the best public servants in our public life. We have had one in Lord Geidt, and we will work further in due course, but I know my hon. Friend will agree that it is in the public interest that party politics is not allowed to put pressure where it does not belong.
Another day, another scandal, another humiliation for the Prime Minister as another sleaze adviser quits. Let us not forget that when Lord Geidt took this job on 16 months ago he was the personal appointment of the Prime Minister, and we were assured that his credentials were absolutely impeccable. Lord Geidt said that if he were to resign it would be a last resort, and that he would use that resignation to send a critical signal into the public domain. We need to know what critical signal he was sending out last night. As yet, we do not have details of his resignation letter. We could speculate—could it be lawbreaking? PPE contracts? Breach of international law? I am pleased that the Minister is publishing the correspondence in full, but will he define “shortly”, as opposed to immediately, and will he confirm that all the correspondence will be published in full when it is published?
Lord Geidt’s credentials are impeccable and remain impeccable. He is an example to people like me and to all people in public life for the service he has given to Queen and country over the course of decades. The hon. Gentleman seeks to criticise people who hold those public roles and make political points if they do not support his position, and I suggest that is not the right approach.
This is the second of the Prime Minister’s hand-picked ethics advisers to resign, alongside his anti-corruption champion. I have met children from two primary schools in my constituency this week. Children as young as seven can see what is plain as day—that this Government are rotten from the top. Does the Minister have any concerns about the impact that this shocking mess is having on trust and confidence in Government and in our democracy?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) on securing this urgent question, but it is a bit of a shame that it is not on something our constituents care about. I do not know who Lord Geidt is—I bet half of the Opposition do not know who Lord Geidt is. If you want to get rid of the Prime Minister, you lot sitting there, move—[Interruption.] Not you, Mr Speaker; I know you do not want to get rid of the Prime Minister. I would never suggest that.
Sorry, Mr Speaker. I got carried away. Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition know that if things are as bad as they say they are, the way to get rid of the Prime Minister and this Government is to have a vote of no confidence in the Government. The loyal Opposition have not been willing to do that. I think my constituents will draw their own conclusions about that.
May I gently say to the Opposition parties that if they wish for a change of Prime Minister, they should do something different from attacking personalities? They should attack policies, but of course if they were to attack policies, they would find that they would lose.
Government is accountable to Parliament. The independent adviser on Ministers’ interests is a crucial role that is appointed by the Prime Minister. Does the Minister accept that the only way to begin the process of restoring trust in standards of public life—standards undermined by the Prime Minister—is to give Parliament a role in the appointment of the new adviser? At minimum, we should be looking at a scrutiny session by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and a confirmatory vote in this House.
Lord Geidt is a public servant of superb, unequalled reputation and the utmost integrity, and his departure is greatly to be regretted. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me more generally that those placed in a position of judgment over others must not have a previously stated position on the matter in question?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, and it of course is an age-old principle of natural justice that no person should be a judge in their own cause. Where an individual has given a view on the guilt or innocence of any person, they ought not then to sit in judgment on that person. I know the point that he is referring to, and I have no doubt that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) will consider that.
I always feel sorry for the Minister when he has to come and defend the indefensible, but what we have heard this morning is a real disservice to the House, in that we have not seen these letters. They should have been available, but can I also say this to him? It is not only disgusting and disgraceful, but it is shambolic. This is the Government. We are talking about the responsibility of the Prime Minister, but the responsibility is not his alone: it is for the honour and integrity of every Member of Parliament on the Government Benches that they should do something about this shocking scandal that undermines our parliamentary democracy.
It is the job of all Members of Parliament of all political parties to maintain the honour and integrity of this House, and that is what the Prime Minister continues to do. The fact is that Prime Ministers of all political parties have had Ministers who have been in breach of the ministerial code. Last week I cited some on the Labour side.
They have not always done so, and I gave examples last week in the Opposition day debate of cases where Labour Prime Ministers did not take resignations from Ministers who were found in breach of the ministerial code. I would rather not refer to those names again—they are on the record—but that is an example of a Prime Minister being able to say whether they continue to have confidence in their Ministers. That is a constitutional imperative. They must be able, whether a Labour Prime Minister such as Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, or a Conservative Prime Minister, to have confidence in their own Ministers. They cannot absolve themselves of that responsibility by farming it out to somebody else, however honourable that person is.
I am incredibly grateful to the Minister for confirming to the House that the letter of resignation does exist, because the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also, I understand, a leading lawyer, said on the “Today” programme this morning that he did not know whether the letter exists, and then he went on to say that he had not read it. We are extremely grateful to the Minister for confirming that. Why is the letter not available to us now? He knew he was responding to this urgent question. We could have then discussed its contents. We have heard about Lady Bracknell; what we have before us this morning is Uriah Heep.
I think we can do without the literary references, but what I will say is that the letter does exist. I can confirm that, and it will be released very soon. By the way, it has only been about two working hours since this matter was dealt with, so the Government are acting very expeditiously.
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend a practical question? We understand that the Prime Minister asked his special adviser Lord Geidt to give him advice on a particular issue. That advice has not yet been given and the person who was asked for that advice has now resigned without even giving any notice or extending his terms so that he could answer that question. Who will answer the burning question that was put to Lord Geidt by the Prime Minister a few days ago?
I am afraid that we will have to wait and see.
May I take this opportunity to refer to an earlier question? I think I may have mischaracterised what the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) said. If I did, I would like to apologise if that was not his intention.
What is it about the current Prime Minister that causes him to have such rotten luck in retaining ethics and anti-corruption advisers?
When questioned at the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday, the now former ethics adviser described himself as
“an asset of the Prime Minister…rather than a free-orbiting adviser”.
Does the Minister not agree that it is time for the ethics adviser’s appointment to be truly independent of the Prime Minister and of politics, and for them to be appointed by the civil service board?
I think all our independent advisers since 2006 have been independent of politics. They have been people of the highest integrity and probity, as is Lord Geidt. It is a position that is increasingly put under considerable pressure, but we must have regard for that and ensure that the standards are maintained.
The integrity and ability of Lord Geidt is not in question. The question that we are all asking is, what on earth was it that encouraged him to tender his resignation? What scandal should we expect to come down the tracks?
May I make a point to the Minister and to the House? To do effective work, an ethics adviser is required to be above day-to-day political feuds and not the focus of them. In the last few weeks and months, however, the position of the ethics adviser to the Prime Minister has been at the centre of political feuds on both sides of the House—not confined to the Opposition or to the Conservatives. What actions will the Minister take to ensure that the new appointee is protected from being the target of political attacks from whichever side?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I alluded to before. We must be careful to ensure that future independent arrangements are made so that individuals or entities are not put under political pressure to either do something or be accused of being some sort of patsy. The right thing to do is what is important.
I cannot believe that the Minister has come here without the letter being published. Is the Downing Street photocopier broken or is it more game playing? I suspect the latter. I want to ask him about the commercially sensitive matter that Lord Geidt was asked to investigate, which I noticed he did not deny when responding to the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). He did not answer her question as to whether it relates to a direct or indirect financial interest for the Prime Minister or any of his friends, families or business associates. He could answer that question now. He does not need to give any details that would be commercially sensitive; he could just confirm who it relates to. If he does not answer that, it does not look like carelessness; it looks like a cover-up.
Today, the Minister for defending the indefensible has been sent out to account for the resignation of Lord Geidt, who was no longer willing to do the same. My constituents see Westminster Ministers breaking the rules with no consequences, no sanctions and no ethics. Is it any wonder that they now have no faith in this broken Westminster system?
After many years working in both the public and private sectors in many countries around the world, I cannot think of a single instance where the behaviour of someone in a leadership position obliged a person responsible for giving ethical or standards advice to resign twice in succession and yet the person in the leadership position remained in place. Does the Minister agree that my constituents will conclude that the Prime Minister finds it hard to maintain a working relationship with ethical advice, and how many resignations of ethical advisers will it take before the Prime Minister does resign?
I am sure that the Minister will agree that principles and standards in public life must be upheld. Can he confirm from the Dispatch Box that the Government have no plans whatsoever to abolish the role of the independent adviser on ministerial interests?
Just a few of the political casualties of the Prime Minister’s premiership so far have been Allegra Stratton, who did not attend Downing Street parties; Lord Wolfson, on the principle that the PM should not breaks the laws he makes; the PM’s anti-corruption tsar; and now Lord Geidt, presumably—who knows, because the send button has not been used on the email—for being unable to hold the Prime Minister accountable for breaches of the ministerial code. When will someone actually responsible for the degeneration of standards in government be the one to go—namely, the Prime Minister?
On TV this morning, the Secretary of State for Justice indicated that the resignation could be for confidential reasons, could be for security-related reasons that therefore cannot be disclosed, or indeed could be for other reasons. When will the appointment of Lord Geidt’s successor be made? How can the House be assured that the person who is appointed will have a permanent position and will stay the course?
Business of the House
It will be a pleasure. The business for the week commencing 20 June will include:
Monday 20 June—Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill.
Tuesday 21 June—Opposition day (3nd allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 22 June—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill.
Thursday 23 June—General debate on investing in the future of motor neurone disease, followed by a general debate on the national food strategy and food security. Business determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 24 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 27 June will include:
Monday 27 June—Committee of the whole House on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 28 June—Conclusion of Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, but all we can conclude from his statement is that, whether it is failing to deal with the Tory cost of living crisis or just adding to backlog Britain, this is a Government with no plan. They continue on with reckless undermining of British institutions and principles that we on this side of the House are proud of.
And now the Prime Minister adds to his own labour market shortage after losing his second ethics adviser in just 14 months. There is a reason why even his hand-picked referees cannot defend him: it is because the Prime Minister is indefensible. He should come to this House and come clean about the events that led to Lord Geidt’s resignation. I am glad that Labour’s urgent question finally pushed the Government into announcing they would publish the resignation letter, but why was it not published earlier? Why has it not been published yet? Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to come to this House and answer questions after it is published? Does he have any answers to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) during the urgent question on concerns, which I share, about the impact of all this on public faith in our democracy?
Meanwhile, Labour, the party of patriotism, stands up for our world-renowned broadcasting industry. On Tuesday, in our successful Opposition day motion, we called on Government to reverse the decision to sell off Channel 4. That provides great entertainment, quality news reporting, good jobs around the country—including in Bristol—and projects British values and creativity overseas, so could the Leader of the House tell us why the Government are prioritising selling off Channel 4 over dealing with food, energy and fuel bills?
Not happy with selling off our country’s most treasured institutions, Government are also selling out our global reputation. Breaking international law with the Northern Ireland protocol legislation damages our standing on the world stage, and it does not solve the problem. It does look like the Government are deliberately making things worse to distract from their own civil war. Ministers say that it is normal only to publish a summary of legal advice, but this does happen to be the only Prime Minister to have broken the law while in office. So I ask the Leader of the House: if the Government have nothing to hide, will he undertake to publish the legal advice in full?
This morning, we heard that more than 150 men who worked at the British embassy in Kabul are still in Afghanistan. Many have applied to come here, but have not heard back from this Government, and many have been tortured, which is shameful. The Home Secretary told us only yesterday that there are supposed to be safe and legal routes here. This needs sorting. Will the Leader of the House get the Government on to this today?
Last week, a BBC investigation revealed shocking abuse and safeguarding failures in children’s homes run by Calcot Services for Children. At the same time as these alleged incidents, the company recorded massive profits. We have not had a response from Government, so could the Leader of the House please ask an Education Minister for a statement?
The Government’s failure to tackle backlog Britain is piling misery on to millions. Waiting lists in Government departments cripple our economy, cost the taxpayer billions of pounds and prevent people from getting on with their lives. Just look at the Home Office. We have families forced to pay for fast-track passport services and millions wasted on failed outsourced contracts, including a courier service—you could not make this up—that is losing hundreds of passports. This is a Home Office in freefall.
Labour called for an apology from the passports Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—but he cannot even tell us the scale of the backlog. He said work continues to recruit more staff over the summer. Where is the urgency? Given the Home Office’s well-known top-down culture of fear, I am sceptical that it will be able to fill the jobs. So could the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement telling us exactly how many outstanding passport applications there are and how she plans to recruit more staff?
It is worth mentioning that backlog Britain seems to extend to the Government’s own legislative agenda. The renters’ rights reforms announced today are welcome, but they were promised three years ago. All we have is a White Paper. When will they bring the legislation forward and give renters the rights they deserve?
Downing Street is now Britain’s boulevard of broken dreams—a Queen’s Speech in disarray, failure to tackle the Tory cost of living crisis, writing off billions to fraudsters, selling off British institutions, selling out Britain’s reputation and no grip on backlog Britain. A party unable to govern ought to make way for one that can. Labour will get the country back on track.
We are getting into a regular pattern, where the hon. Lady basically stands up and has her weekly rant. She started with Lord Geidt. We have just spent an hour debating that and the Minister I think answered those questions. Those letters will be published very soon and we await that. She went on to talk about the sale of Channel 4. I think we had a slight glimpse of Labour party DNA, where apparently public is good and private is bad. Actually, that does not stack up. Channel 4 is a great TV station and releasing it into the private sector, and allowing it to flourish and compete with other great private sector programme providers, will allow it to continue to be a world leader. We look forward to it flourishing within the private sector.
Afghanistan is a very important issue and the Government managed to get out 15,000 people under very difficult circumstances. I acknowledge that there are people who struggle to get out, and we continue to help people to find safe routes to get to the United Kingdom. It was a huge success to get in there and get thousands of people out in the middle of a war zone, and the people involved in that process should be commended.
The hon. Lady went on to talk about waiting lists and passports. The statistics are out there: 91% of people get their passport within six weeks and we continue to recruit more people. I acknowledge that 91% of people getting their passport within six weeks means that 9% of people are struggling to get their passport. That is why the Home Secretary is bringing on more staff. She has brought 750 on already. More are coming before the summer. We acknowledge that we need to get people their passports, so that they can enjoy a summer holiday post covid as we move forward.
The hon. Lady made passing reference to the backlogs in the NHS. That is why we introduced the health and social care levy to help fund the NHS and provide support to get the backlogs down post pandemic. It is disappointing that the Labour party decided not to support that investment in the NHS and not to address those challenges. We can see through it—Labour just likes to complain. It does not have a plan. It just wants to criticise the Government because it does have not a plan, and it will do anything it can not to talk about its union bosses who are going to call strikes and make people’s lives a misery. It just wants to throw mud and criticise, to hide the fact that it does not have a plan for the country and the British people.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on support for parents with children who are gravely ill, such as those on continuous life support? One of my constituents, Archie Battersbee, is only 11, yet he is on life support in hospital following a freak accident at home in April. His family are by his side, day and night. Does my right hon. Friend agree that maximum professional mental health and emotional support, not just legal support, is needed in these extremely sad circumstances?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Of course our thoughts are with Archie and his family at this very difficult time. Such difficult situations put a huge amount of pressure on friends and family, and they need help and support with physically getting to and from hospital, but also their mental health and the impact that has on their family life. That is why we are expanding and transforming mental health services in England through the NHS long-term plan, which will see an additional 2 million people able to access mental health support. The House will want to recognise Archie and his fight.
I am sorry I was not in my place last week, Mr Speaker, to enjoy all the fun. But I don’t know what those 140 Tory MPs were possibly thinking. Don’t they know that Scotland needs this Prime Minister? We have a referendum to win, and we need him in place because he is the best recruiting sergeant we have ever had. Come on Tory MPs—think about the Scottish national interest and let the big dog roam free, unneutered.
We need a debate about the opportunities that Scotland can secure through being unshackled from this place. Can you imagine any other successful, resource-rich country in the world being asked to forgo all its internal democracy to be run by this place—this morally bankrupt, failed state? It would be laughed all the way out of the United Nations, but that is what Scotland has: a Prime Minister we did not vote for doing things that we profoundly disagree with.
Following the urgent question earlier, we need a full debate about who should become the next ethics adviser to the Prime Minister. I know it is a tough job and someone has got to do it, but think about it. The job security is good. All the new person has to do is say, “The Prime Minister is a very fine chap who always demonstrates the highest possible standards of behaviour. And he doesn’t even like partying.” I am sure that the House could provide a list of candidates to fulfil the role in that post. My starter for 10 would be the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, or perhaps Machiavelli. How about Attila the Hun or Vlad the Impaler?
The stench of moral decay from this failing Government now stinks to high heaven, and the House wonders why Scotland wants to get out. The Scottish people are closely observing this place and, when they are given the opportunity to make a decision about their future, they will grab it with both hands.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Government are getting on with the job and delivering on behalf of the British people. They are concentrating on the huge backlogs that we face following covid and dealing with the fight against global inflation. I understand why he wants just to talk about independence and another referendum—and maybe another one after that and another after that. It is because he does not want us to talk about the SNP Government’s diabolical record. He does not want us to talk about their failing education system and how they are letting young Scottish kids down. He does not want to talk about the debacle about their ferries—their landlocked ferries cannot sail on the ocean waves. That is why he just wants to talk about independence.
Please can we have a debate on the support given to homes that have less conventional fuel supply sources but still face fuel inflation like everyone else? I think in particular about those who live in park homes, who may have contracts detailing where they have to buy their liquefied petroleum gas, or metering arrangements through park owners. I fully recognise that the Government’s general support on fuel prices has been fantastic, but in a debate we could explore how different types of homes are exposed to fuel inflation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is an undoubted champion for those people who live in rural areas such as Harrogate and Knaresborough. He will know that the Government are committed to targeting support to the people who need it the most in our fight against global inflation. The issue of households who do not receive electricity through a domestic electricity supply contract, such as residents in park homes, was covered by the Government’s technical consultation, which concluded on 23 May. The Government’s response to the consultation will be issued later this summer.
The Leader of the House will be aware that many of us on both sides of the House frequently raise the scourge of knife crime, which affects constituencies not just in London but across the country. It certainly affects mine. A knife crime event organised by my neighbours, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), started a quarter of an hour ago in Committee Room 14. Could we also have a statement from the Home Office? Many of us—this affects both sides of the House—are worried that, with the longer days, we will see an upturn in knife crime.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right to highlight the issue and I encourage Members across the House to attend the event in Committee Room 14. The Government take knife crime seriously: that is why we committed to another 20,000 police officers and we have already recruited 13,500 more of them. Colleagues across the House do the right thing in highlighting the challenge and the Government will continue to work on it. I hope that he will be in his place for Home Office questions next week to raise the matter again with the Home Secretary.
On the sixth anniversary of the dreadful murder of Jo Cox, who I remember as a happy young Labour MP who was clearly going to make a mark on this place—I also think, of course, of the loss of my dear friend David Amess—I thought it might be helpful to the House if I read out an email that I got yesterday:
Just wanted to say something to you Peter.
YOU ARE AN ODIOUS”—
the next word begins with F, and the next with C. It continues:
“I hope you get a horrible painful cancer and suffer in agony.
Either that or someone kicks”—
the F word again—
“out of you in the street.”
That is not fair, obviously, to me. It is not fair to my staff, who have to read it, and it is not fair to my family members. I do not raise this today because it is about me—I bet that virtually everyone in this House has had something like this. On the anniversary when we remember Jo, I wonder if the Leader of the House could arrange for a statement or debate, or, more importantly, something to stop this sick element in society.
It is appalling. It is not acceptable. I will take this up and speak to our head of security immediately after I have finished in the Chair. I remind Members that if they get emails, threats or any intimidation, please let us know. You can go directly to the police in the constituency, but certainly speak to people here. It is not acceptable. It is not tolerable. We will not put up with it. We will follow up on what has been mentioned. Sorry, Leader of the House, but I do think it is important.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to you and all the work you have done in this area? I know that the House is certainly grateful for your efforts and I echo your comments. It is a poignant moment to reflect on colleagues we have lost and to recognise the seriousness of this issue. Sometimes it is easy to dismiss such emails as just an email, but they can turn into physical violence and that must be avoided.
It was recently brought to my attention, by members of the ACORN Union and tenants in York House in my constituency, that properties in that building are fitted with asbestos floor tiles and that the social landlord responsible for the building has failed to make residents aware of that. Understandably, it has caused great concern to the residents of York House, particularly where the asbestos floor tiles are damaged. It has left them deeply concerned for their health. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on social landlords and their absolute responsibility to keep their properties and those living in them safe, especially where asbestos is present?
I am sorry to hear of the plight of those residents. I am glad that the ACORN Union has drawn the issue to the hon. Gentleman’s attention and I am sure he will take action to ensure it is put right. The Government take this issue very seriously, which is why we are introducing the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. There is a White Paper this morning on taking action to ensure we get good landlords and good tenants. We can make progress in this area and I look forward to him supporting the progress of the Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for his comments earlier on Afghanistan. For about six months, my office and I have been trying to assist a constituent of mine whose former colleague is in hiding. He was very publicly exposed as having been involved in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism, and served the UK Government in Afghanistan for over 10 years. Can he use his good offices to speed up the process at the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence? Could we possibly even have a debate in this House to discuss how we can improve the situation for those people out there who served, with great courage, our country and our allies over the years we were in Afghanistan?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that case. A debate would be worthy of consideration. The Government have a proud record of supporting people and getting them back to safety and to the UK. If he wants to write to me with the specific details of the case, I will make sure I raise it with the Home Secretary directly.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has published a report, “Tip of the Iceberg” indicating that waiting times in accident and emergency and access to emergency care are a lot worse than officially reported. That is down to a reporting mechanism that only counts the time from DTA—decision to admit—made by a responsible clinician, which is often hours after a patient first arrives in A&E. The college found that in 2021, on average over 1,000 patients waited in A&E for 12 hours or more from time of arrival every single day. May we have a debate in Government time on this hugely concerning and important issue?
I would welcome a debate. That is why the Government introduced the health and social care levy to give the NHS investment to cope with the covid backlogs, and why we are doing NHS reform. I do not understand why the hon. Lady did not support that NHS investment through the health and social care levy. I only hope that she will have another opportunity to put the record right and to support the Health Secretary as he brings forward reforms to make the NHS more efficient.
The BBC has announced that it plans to end the local TV news bulletins produced in Oxford that serve my constituency of Aylesbury. Instead, we will receive a bulletin from Southampton. Stories about sailing and the coast are not terribly relevant to one of the most inland towns in England. I am extremely concerned that this move is in contravention of the BBC charter, which says that all audiences should be able to engage fully with major local issues. Could my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tell me how best this can be addressed by this House?
I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that the BBC is operationally and editorially independent of Government, and that that is a decision for the BBC. We recognise that the BBC is having to make difficult financial decisions. However, under the licence fee settlement, the BBC will continue to receive around £3.7 billion of public money. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is conducting an inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism, which plays a vital role in scrutinising local authorities. That is something that I personally value: the BBC’s “East Midlands Today” is a great resource. I look forward to seeing what the Committee reports in due course.
Thousands of immunocompromised people are still shielding because they know that the vaccine does not really work for them. However, there is hope with Evusheld, so will the Leader of the House help to press to ensure that a timeline is published for when this life-changing drug will be made available?