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Rare Earth Metals

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2022

11. What recent steps his Department has taken to increase the supply of rare earth metals while maintaining high environmental standards. (901027)

We are absolutely focused on critical minerals. I am delighted to say that we will publish a critical minerals strategy, which I personally commissioned and have a personal interest in as Secretary of State.

China has been hoovering up rare earth metals around the world, and obviously other parts of the world have far worse environmental standards for extraction than the UK, but rare earth metals are vital to Nissan in Sunderland, where many of my constituents work, and to Britishvolt, which is just up the road. I thank the Department for the extra money that has been provided recently, with £1 million for Northern Lithium and Weardale Lithium in my constituency to look at this, but what more can the Government do to really help deliver the UK production of vital rare earth metals?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on that necessity. The Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre was launched only last week and is looking at precisely the question that he raises. In respect of Nissan and Britishvolt, he will know that we landed those investments only last year. We are looking very closely at how we can secure the supply chain here in the UK.

Rare earth minerals are essential to our economy, not least in low-carbon sectors and in defence. The Japanese Government developed their rare minerals plan as long ago as 2010, in response to a blockade by China. I know the UK Government say that they will publish a critical materials strategy in the autumn, but if other countries have been building resilience since 2010, what confidence can we have that this Government will develop an effective strategy for our economy and our national security when, as the Secretary of State has just admitted, they have only just woken up to the scale of the risks that we face?

I think the hon. Gentleman does the Government a disservice. Obviously Japan was focused on security of supply, given its immediate exposure to China. Where we have come in is in bringing together, for instance, the United States and Canada: officials in Canada whom I speak to are looking at our critical minerals strategy with great interest, and we are very much leading the way in the Five Eyes.