All 39 Parliamentary debates on 23rd Mar 2023

Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent
Thu 23rd Mar 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Thursday 23 March 2023
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
The Secretary of State was asked—
John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1. What recent progress she has made on updating the statutory duties of economic regulators in the utilities sectors.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are committed to bringing forward a consultation in the coming months on proposals to reform our approach to economic regulation in the utilities sector. This will include the outcomes of our review of the regulators’ statutory duties.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the bright and shiny new ministerial team to their roles, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as the new broom, to get this moving a lot faster. Some economic regulators are too expensive, too slow and too soft, so could we use the upcoming competition Bill to refocus them on sharper competition so that consumers get better deals and fewer rip-offs, because otherwise we will miss the best opportunity for years?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is quite right. As set out in our policy paper, the duties and functions of Ofwat, Ofcom and Ofgem have significantly expanded since privatisation. I agree that the Bill would enable us to move more quickly, and I would like to work with him to see what we can do to improve regulation more broadly.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her response to this important question. All our constituents are squeezed due to rising prices over which they have no control. In the light of her response, and in anticipation of her correspondence with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), I hope that we can increase accountability and reduce prices, and thereby reduce inflation, which will help our constituents.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right that our constituents are at the end of what the regulators are doing, so our reforms should build on their strengths and continue to reinforce the UK as a leading global destination for investment in utilities infrastructure, to the long-term benefit of all our constituents and consumers.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What recent assessment her Department has made of the effectiveness of businesses’ actions on corporate responsibility.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are rightly proud of the record of UK companies when it comes to corporate responsibility. The UK is home to 10 of the world’s top 100 companies, ranked by social responsibility. These standards are reflected in the UK being considered by business leaders to be the world’s third most important country for investment.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have recently taken action on deforestation in supply chains through the Environment Act 2021, and they have made progress on regulating British companies overseas through the Bribery Act 2010 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015, but I want them to go further. The Cerrejón coalmine in La Guajira, Colombia, has been responsible for widespread, persistent, harmful pollution, and for the diverting and polluting of many rivers, causing the displacement of more than 20 indigenous communities. The companies involved have ignored local court rulings. What more can be done to ensure that businesses registered in the UK uphold human rights and do not commit environmental damage? Will the Minister look again at this case?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises an important case. The UK is a signatory to the OECD’s declaration on international investment and multinational enterprises, a voluntary set of standards intended to promote responsible business conduct worldwide. My Department is the UK’s national contact point on these guidelines, allowing anyone who thinks there are problems to make a complaint, which will then be investigated. I am very happy to work with him on that basis.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend update the House on any recent discussions that he or his Department have had with the Home Office on the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I regularly meet Home Office colleagues, including this week to make sure this legislation is fit for purpose and will do what it says on the tin: tackle economic crime.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What steps her Department is taking to help protect critical minerals supply chains.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish everybody a happy Ramadan on our first day of fasting.

We are moving towards a world powered by critical minerals. We need lithium, cobalt and graphite to make batteries for electric cars, and we need silicon and tin for our electronics. I am pleased that we recently published our “Critical Minerals Refresh.” This strategy will accelerate the growth of UK capabilities, collaborate with international partners and enhance international markets.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Murray
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Cornwall is known for its mining—some people even define a mine as a hole in the ground with a Cornishman at the bottom. What efforts is the Department making to ensure that we make the most of our home-grown mineral security?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of Cornwall’s mining heritage and the world-renowned Camborne School of Mines. This is why we are backing Cornish lithium and geothermal engineering, through the Getting Building fund and the automotive transformation fund, which are collaborating to build a zero-carbon lithium extraction plant at an existing site in Cornwall. I very much look forward to visiting it in the near future.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister knows that the steel industry is an important customer for critical minerals in this country, so will she confirm for the House the status of the Steel Council in her Department and whether it is actively meeting?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I served with the hon. Gentleman on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee for many years. He will be very familiar with the fact that I meet the steel sector and the unions, and I have all the regular meetings, including those with the all-party parliamentary group for steel and metal related industries, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). The meetings are most definitely taking place.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I join the Minister in wishing the whole House a happy Ramadan.

It is great finally to see the critical minerals strategy, but, as the Minister indicated in her answer, long-term, durable access to minerals is also dependent on our wider strategic trade policy. The Government have failed in their objective of ensuring that 80% of our trade is conducted under free trade agreements. In addition, the Office for Budget Responsibility says that our exports are projected to fall by 6.6% next year. How does she propose to integrate her critical minerals strategy with our wider trade policy? How much will that 6.6% fall in exports cost the UK economy in cash terms?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I only recently published the critical minerals refresh and I was expecting some sort of positive response, given how it is integrated internationally; it deals with the threats of China and works with the Inflation Reduction Act 2022 in the United States. But of course the Opposition use any reason to dampen a positive step forward for all of our manufacturing sector across the country. UK exports to Europe amounted to £386.9 billion in the four quarters to the end of 2022, which was an increase of 25%—I think that is an increase, not a decrease.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. If she will take steps to publish a new industrial strategy.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14. If she will take steps to publish a new industrial strategy.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Prime Minister has made it clear that growing the economy and creating better-paid jobs is one of our top priorities, and the Government are working with industry across the UK to achieve that. We have set out clear plans for prioritising technology sectors, advanced manufacturing, financial services and creative industries, and this includes our investor road maps. In particular, the Chancellor has announced 12 investment zones across the UK, which could benefit from £80 million of interventions over the next five years.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have not published an industrial strategy since 2017 and, as a result, the UK now has the lowest level of business investment in the G7. So what is the Minister’s plan to encourage business investment in the UK, given that the Government have not even published an industrial strategy?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Lady has misunderstood exactly what we are doing. We have industrial strategies, be it for the automotive sector, the aviation sector, the maritime sector, or science and tech—that one was published just yesterday. This is not just about publishing strategies; it is also about delivering, which is what we are cracking on with and doing. As for UK investment, we are the leading country for start-up capital outside the United States, and just a few weeks ago we attracted £20 billion into tech—this is twice as much as France and Germany.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

While the EU and the US are investing billions in accelerating their transition to net zero, including through the Inflation Reduction Act, the lack of a robust green industrial strategy in Britain is leaving us stranded at the back of the pack. Does the Minister share my frustration that the Chancellor’s Budget did so little to set out a convincing strategy for green growth? Do the Government intend to make the public wait for Labour to win the next general election before a world-leading green industrial strategy that drives private investment in green industries and establishes the UK as a clean energy superpower is brought before this House?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to dampen the hon. Gentleman’s ambitions about winning the next general election, but we do indeed have a strategy to deal with decarbonising our economy. We are supporting research and development to help decrease our reliance on gas and electricity and deal with long-term energy security: we have £380 million for the offshore wind sector, £385 million for nuclear R&D, and £120 million for future nuclear enabling. We have a green industrial strategy and we are keen to ensure that we deliver it right across the country, for all of our communities.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

People in Scunthorpe, Rotherham and Port Talbot know how important steel is for their communities. We Labour Members understand how important it is, for communities and for the green transition. The UK is the only G20 country in which steel production is falling, but when asked about the survival of this strategically important sector, the Business Secretary said:

“Nothing is ever a given.”

Is that because the British steel industry is not safe in her hands?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not know where the hon. Member got that quote from, but the British steel industry is very safe in our hands. Let me explain why. There has been over £800 million of support for energy costs, and over £1.5 billion to support competitive funds to ensure that the sector can decarbonise. We have done a huge amount of work with our steel sector. Colleagues from across the House will agree that in every meeting, whether it is with the unions or the sector, we are on the side of the steel sector and steelworkers, including when challenging commercial decisions are taken.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What steps she is taking to support the post office network.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16. What steps she is taking to support the post office network.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for the fantastic job she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on post offices. I met the Post Office leadership this week to reiterate our commitment to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the post office network. We have funded the network to the tune of £2.5 billion over the last 10 years, and have set access criteria to ensure that vital services remain within local reach of our citizens.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his kind words. Last month, London Economics issued a report showing that the Post Office has a greater economic impact on the UK than Heathrow airport, with three in 10 small and medium-sized enterprises using it at least once a week. The Minister has said that he will invest lots of money in the post office network, but could he also look at “drop and collect” locations? They have a Post Office lozenge, but they are not the properly functioning post offices that most Members in this House would expect.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Drop and collect locations offer important services for our citizens, and can be counted towards the commitment to having 11,500 branches. Having said that, the access criteria overlaid on that commitment ensure that branches offering core services, including the sale of mail products, access to cash, and banking and bill payment facilities, remain within 3 miles of 99% of our population.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) referred found that the social value delivered by the Post Office is 16.5 times greater than the financial input it receives from the Government, so will the Minister carry out an analysis of how additional investment in the post office network will allow it to continue to grow, so that it can help our communities and small businesses to grow and develop?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a very good point. We are working all the time with the Post Office—as I said, there was a meeting earlier this week. Around half of its 11,500 branches are in rural areas. They are hugely important to our local communities, as the hon. Gentleman says. The Government’s funding for the network helps to ensure the viability of rural branches. Of course, this will always be work in progress. We are keen to make sure that the facilities are there for our communities.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I wish Ramadan Mubarak to all those who today mark the beginning of the holiest period in the Islamic year?

The Minister will be aware that the model of sub-post offices is based on the expectation that most of them will be run by small, semi-independent or independent retail businesses. Those businesses are under desperate strain for a number of reasons, some of them within the Government’s control and some not. The people who run these businesses tell me that they are put off the possibility of taking on the responsibility for a sub-post office because it is now more a drag on the business than a benefit. What steps is he taking to review the business model on which sub-post offices operate? It is quite clearly not fit for purpose, and we are getting to crisis point. If it is not changed soon, we will lose even more post offices.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The model of a post office is evolving to a more diversified approach, but it is important that remuneration is fair and makes post offices sustainable. I was pleased to see that in August 2022 some improvements were made to remuneration. I appreciate that they may not have gone as far as some might wish, but nevertheless we want to see a sustainable network and make sure that our sub-postmasters are fairly remunerated.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In an hour or two we will hear the latest update on the Horizon compensation scheme. Has the Minister made an assessment of how much damage that scandal has done and is continuing to do to the willingness of businesspeople to take on responsibility for running a sub-post office, given how severely badly treated, and indeed betrayed, so many of their potential colleagues have been in the past?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, that is a very fair point. It was a horrendous scandal, and the first thing we need to do is properly compensate the victims. Alongside that there is an inquiry going on, headed by Sir Wyn Williams. It is important that we find out exactly what went wrong and who was responsible, and where possible hold those people to account. I think that will restore some measure of confidence to those who have been subject to such disgraceful mistreatment.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. Whether her Department is taking steps to help increase trade with Ukrainian businesses.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Supporting Ukraine is a Government priority. On Monday, I signed the UK-Ukraine digital trade agreement, Ukraine’s first ever digital trade deal, guaranteeing access to the UK’s financial services sector, which is crucial for their reconstruction efforts.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend’s Department has this week published a guide to doing business in Ukraine. Can she outline what this industry guidance sets out and how businesses can get further information if they need it?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the guide to doing business in Ukraine that my Department published. It provides an overview of the Ukrainian market, including setting out Ukraine’s reconstruction needs and the expected financing and procurement routes for reconstruction projects. It is accompanied by information on the business environment, trading agreements between our countries and logistical guidance. The information is intended to help businesses considering working in and with Ukraine to understand how their market works and encourage industry to increase trade with Ukraine.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Maybe one of the best ways to assist in increasing trade with Ukraine is to limit the opportunities for the Russian Federation to access Scottish limited partnerships. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is still time to improve and strengthen the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill to limit them?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In co-ordination with our allies, we have implemented the most severe economic sanctions ever imposed on any major economy and will maintain pressure on the Russian regime to secure peace. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me with more detail about what he is referring to, I can look into it, but I assure him that this Government are doing everything we can within the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill to ensure the integrity of our economy and our allies.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also took part in a very sobering visit to Ukraine last month and saw for myself the utter devastation of homes, businesses and infrastructure, with World Bank estimates of reconstruction costs now at some $630 billion. In spite of warm words, we still have no clear plan from the Government for the seizure of Russian state assets that could be used for the recovery of Ukrainian businesses and the reconstruction of Ukraine. Now that the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin, and with the United States, the European Union and Canada already looking to seize assets, can the Secretary of State tell us when the Government will set out how they will seize frozen Russian state assets?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said in my earlier answer, we have introduced the largest and most severe economic sanctions ever imposed on a major economy. We have sanctioned £20 billion, or 96%, of UK-Russia goods trade from 2021. Since the start of the invasion, UK goods imports from Russia have fallen by 99% and goods exports to Russia have fallen by 80%. Sanctions have sent Russia into a severe and sustained economic recession. Of course we will do all we can, but not all of the things the Opposition are asking for have easy mechanisms to deliver.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Anum Qaisar (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. Whether she plans to advise businesses not to trade with illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Nigel Huddleston)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK has a clear position on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: they are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace and the two-state solution. As set out in Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office guidance on overseas business risk, there are clear risks to UK businesses related to economic and financial activities in the settlements and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Qaisar
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Ramadan Mubarak to everyone celebrating.

In January, the Foreign Secretary told the House that the UK Government’s position on the illegality of Israeli settlements remains unchanged. If that is the case, will the UK Government finally suspend trade in goods and services between the UK and companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements? Do the Government understand that if not, the UK is essentially legitimising outposts that clearly violate international law?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK’s long-established position on the settlements is clear, as I outlined. The UK does not recognise the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of Israel, including the illegal settlements. For example, goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank, including East Jerusalem, are not entitled to tariff or trade preferences under either the agreement that the UK has with Israel or the agreement between the UK and the Palestinian authorities. I think it is important for the House to recognise that, of course, we also have an agreement with the Palestinian authorities.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8. What steps her Department is taking to support the growth of micro- businesses in rural and isolated communities.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As somebody from a business background who also represents a rural area, I fully understand the importance of provision of a range of support to help small and microbusinesses to grow, including those in rural areas. Such businesses can find support through the free business support helpline, the 38 growth hubs across England, and the newly launched “Help to Grow” website, as well as through start-up loans. I note that 240 businesses on the Isle of Wight have benefited from start-up loans.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted that that is the case. I want to tie this question into previous comments about post offices. Some microbusinesses and small businesses are incredibly reliant on post offices and sub-post offices. My sub-postmasters—Andy Smith in Ventnor was the last I spoke to, a couple of weeks ago—are increasingly concerned about the payments regime for sub-post officers. They have asked me to look into several specific instances, and I have written to the Minister about that. One area in which I think we could make improvements is banking payments. Banks are increasingly shutting down. Why? To save money. They pass the responsibilities for cash takes on to sub-postmasters, who do not get the remuneration—or anything like enough—to make it economically worthwhile. Will the Government look at the payments system, specifically in relation to banks?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an interesting point. That relationship between banks and post offices is important for post offices and the banks, so we urge for fair terms to be struck. We also have concerns about the banking deposit limits that were introduced recently to cover money laundering issues. I am looking into that in great detail and at great pace to ensure that those issues are resolved, because they are limiting remuneration for postmasters, too. I am very happy to take that forward.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know that my constituency has large rural areas and lots of farmers. Like many microbusinesses, they have difficulty in getting a bank account at all. Could he do something or talk to other colleagues about it? Social and trade enterprises cannot get a bank account. Could we get some action on that?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about specific instances, I will be very happy to look at them. There has been a significant increase in the number of new banks entering the marketplace, such as Starling Bank and Tide, so it is getting easier to open a bank account. I know that it is difficult with some of the larger banks. I am very happy to look into the specific instances that he refers to and see if we can help.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of business insolvencies.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In total, 22,109 companies entered insolvency in England and Wales in 2022, which was 57% higher than in 2021. There were lower rates of insolvency in 2020-21 because of the measures that we put in place to prevent the foreclosure of certain businesses. The trend over the last three years is pretty consistent with previous trends, but it is something that we are looking at very closely.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Notwithstanding that the trend may be consistent, in the last quarter of 2022, 313 companies in Scotland were insolvent. In my Edinburgh West constituency, companies are struggling, particularly those in the hospitality sector, in which there is high energy use. The Federation of Small Businesses has criticised the Budget by saying that there is nothing for businesses once the energy prices support ends at the end of next month—there is nothing for cashflow; there is nothing for tackling late payments. For the sake of small businesses, will the Government review their decision to take away support for businesses at the end of the month?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have not taken away support; they have replaced one scheme with another. The scheme we have now reflects the fact that wholesale prices have come down significantly since the peak between July and December last year. Of course, we are concerned about businesses that are suffering, particularly those that entered into contracts between July and December on fixed rates that last up to a year. We are working with Ofgem and suppliers to see what can be done to ensure that those businesses are not unfairly treated.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the tax cut for business worth £25 billion in the Chancellor’s Budget will benefit national and international businesses in the new powerhouse city of Southend such as Olympus KeyMed and ESSLAB, incentivising investment, boosting growth and delivering more jobs not just in Southend but across the UK?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What an excellent question—I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In previous Budgets, the Chancellor has set the annual investment allowance effectively for SMEs at £1 million; that is permanent policymaking. He has now introduced full expensing across the piece, which, as she says, costs around £9 billion a year. We are the only country in the developed world, to my knowledge, that has done full expensing across the board in that way, and it will be a massive boost to business investment, not least in Southend.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our great British businesses are being let down by 13 years of Tory failure, with little to help but sticking-plaster policies. The Minister may not be aware, but insolvency numbers are at their highest level in four years, which is perhaps no surprise when we look at this Government’s record on small businesses, with Help to Grow: Digital ditched, energy bill support slashed and business investment the lowest in the G7. It is no wonder that the Federation of Small Businesses says that the Budget has left many businesses feeling “short-changed”. It is clear that for this Tory Government, small businesses are an afterthought, so will the Minister follow where Labour leads—reform business rates, boost skills, make Brexit work and make Britain the best place to start and grow a business?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish I could say I was surprised that the hon. Lady is once again talking Britain down. The reality is that UK growth since 2010 has been the third fastest in the G7. The private sector is now bigger than it was pre-pandemic. Private sector growth has been on trend in terms of other countries, with businesses growing. The FSB says that three out of five businesses are more resilient than they were pre-pandemic. Of course, we would all like to reform business rates, and it has been looked at on a number of occasions, but simply saying that we will scrap something that would cost £22 billion a year without putting in place a replacement for that funding is irresponsible. What will she do to replace business rates—[Interruption.] She made the point. She wants to scrap business rates, but what will replace it with, given that it would cost £22 billion a year?

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support energy-intensive industries.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support energy-intensive industries.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There has been support to the value of about £18 billion for businesses to help them with their energy bills, and we are determined to secure the future for our energy-intensive industries and to protect jobs. To support those most at risk of carbon leakage, the Government have announced the British industry supercharger, to support those most exposed to the cost of electricity. Those measures will bring the energy costs of the UK’s energy-intensive industries in line with those charged across the world’s major economies.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of the tourism and leisure businesses in Blackpool are energy-intensive, not least the world-famous illuminations and pleasure beach, which now pay hundreds of thousands of pounds more for their energy than previously. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the specific challenges around energy consumption facing the tourism industry, ahead of a busy summer season?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Once again, my hon. Friend is a stout campaigner for his constituency, and for the tourism and leisure businesses in Blackpool. He will know that the decision about which businesses fall within the EII scheme is for the Treasury; I am not sure whether the £63 million for leisure centres falls within that catchment or not, so of course, I will meet with my hon. Friend to make sure he has the absolute clarity that he needs. The EII relief scheme is in place to support the most energy-intensive industries, but let me sit down with him and work out whether that industry falls within that category.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s support for the energy costs of businesses in my constituency has been most welcome. As the Minister will know, fishing is a key industry there, so I am particularly pleased that the processing and preserving of fish, crustaceans and molluscs is included in the energy and trade intensive industries scheme. Representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association tell me that they are surprised not to be included in that scheme—especially as manufacturers of wine, cider and beer are—despite falling within the top 20% of sectors by energy intensity and the top 40% by trade intensity. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of that industry to discuss this apparent anomaly?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises the fishing industry. There are two Back-Bench colleagues present who are huge champions of that industry—I dare not say anything further—and I know that my hon. Friend is a huge promoter of Scottish products, including Scottish whisky. I look forward to a tour post Ramadan at some point soon.

The decision about who falls within the EII scheme was taken by the Treasury. I have been reading about the work that my hon. Friend has been doing on behalf of the sector, and I counter-propose a meeting that involves Treasury officials and Ministers. If my hon. Friend is happy with that, I am more than happy to set it up.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am honoured to be the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for steel and metal related industries, and I thank the Secretary of State to agreeing to come and meet us—I am very much looking forward to that discussion. However, may I raise again the issue of her Sky interview in which she said, or certainly strongly implied, that it is not a given that we should have a steel industry in this country? Given the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world, the massive role that steel plays in providing good jobs that people can raise a family on and the vital role it plays in the transition to a decarbonised economy, may I invite the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box and clarify her position—that steel is, in fact, a given in the United Kingdom?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unfortunately, I have to come to the Dispatch Box—that is just the way it works—so I disappoint the hon. Member by not being the Secretary of State. However, he knows that steel is absolutely key to our sovereignty and security and for the resilience of all our sectors. The Secretary of State has mentioned repeatedly that the quotes that are being repeated in the Chamber are a misrepresentation. The commitment to the sector continues. It was in place for years: it is why we had £800 million of support for the energy sector, and it is why we have a £1.5 billion competitive fund to help the sector decarbonise.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Small businesses such as coffee shops and cafés in our high streets are the lifeblood of a local economy—one example would be Jeanie’s Coffee Shop in Baillieston. Running a kitchen all day is an incredibly intensive process for energy, and John Devaney was telling me last week how that business’s energy bills have gone up. As the Minister is being so generous with other meetings, would she be willing to meet me to look at how we can support businesses such as Jeanie’s in Baillieston to ensure that they get through the cost of living crisis?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be full of meetings, but I defer to the Minister with responsibility for small businesses, who is more than happy to have that meeting. We have provided billions of pounds of support for businesses to deal with their energy costs, and we have the new supercharger in place. We lobby the Treasury long and hard, and we are more than happy to represent businesses small and large.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. If she will make an estimate of the number of UK businesses that chose to list on the New York stock exchange in the last three years.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK is the most internationally connected financial centre in the world. We continue to attract some of the most innovative and largest companies. More than £17 billion of capital was raised for firms in the UK—a 15-year high—with over 120 deals completed. The UK is taking forward ambitious reforms to rules governing its capital markets, building on our continued success as Europe’s leading—globally, the second largest—hub for investment.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is Government debt crowding out productive investment?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is always so succinct in his questions, and there is often a huge amount of sense behind it. I fundamentally agree that we need to collaborate with business and industry. [Interruption.] Forgive me, Mr Speaker. The response I want to give to my right hon. Friend’s very good question is that, as he will be pleased to know, there is the Lord Hill listing review and the Sir Douglas Flint review, and in particular the Edinburgh reforms, which will be considering competitiveness and will, I think, provide some sort of answer to his question. It would be remiss of me—because I know that he is particularly interested in this—not to mention that it is 50 years since women were first admitted to the floor of the New York stock exchange after 170 years of just men.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15. What steps her Department is taking to help support the fashion and textile industry. [R]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Department actively engages and promotes fashion and textile companies domestically and internationally. In 2022, fashion, footwear and textiles exports totalled £7.5 billion. For 2023-24, my Department is providing the British Fashion Council with funding to support London fashion week, and the UK Fashion and Textile Association with funding for activity at key international trade sector shows. To drive sustainability across the sector, we have announced, via UK Research and Innovation, a £15 million circular fashion programme.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Chancellor has set out his long-term plan for growth, including harnessing our creative industries. As has been said, the UK fashion and textile industry already punches well above its weight, employing in excess of 500,000 people, including in Scotland. Will the Department meet the all-party parliamentary group on textiles and fashion to look at what more can be done to harness young fashion designers who want to walk in the wake of such icons as Stella McCartney?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would be happy for either officials or a Minister in my Department, depending on diaries, to have a meeting with the APPG. It is a sector that we want to support, and we will do all we can to demonstrate that.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

17. What steps her Department is taking to help support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Through finance, we are making sure that the Government are supporting UK SMEs through our recovery loan scheme and through the start-up loans scheme, which has provided 101,000 loans and nearly £1 billion. On business support, a network of 38 growth hubs across England provides access to information and advice, and we are removing barriers by supporting SMEs seeking to export through the Export Academy, UK Export Finance, cutting red tape and incentivising investment.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Businesses and traders in Stoke-on-Trent city centre are supported by the fantastic team at our Hanley business improvement district. This week, with investment from the safer streets fund, they are giving a much-needed facelift to shop fronts in Hope Street, making the gateway route to our city centre more attractive. Does my hon. Friend agree that such initiatives, which make our shopping areas more attractive, are a good investment that encourages business growth locally? Will he join me in congratulating my city centre BID?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to do so. I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work. The money that has been invested in Hope Street will contribute to its being a safer, more welcoming place to visit and shop, which in turn will support the local economy. Regenerating streets such as Hope Street is essential to making our high streets and town centres successful, and I congratulate her on the work she does in this regard.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The financial viability of the high street continues to decline as businesses struggle to compete with online shopping, the impact of which will be felt most keenly in local and small to medium-sized businesses. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor about the urgent need for a long-term, local-scale economic plan to support high streets?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. We have put in place £13.6 billion of business rates support to help businesses over the next few years, but we are also improving access to finance, improving business support through our growth hubs and cutting red tape, making it easier for businesses to start up and scale up in the UK. That work will continue.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18. What steps her Department is taking to help businesses increase their level of trade in the Indo-Pacific region.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

20. What steps her Department is taking to help businesses increase their level of trade in the Indo-Pacific region.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are currently negotiating accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, a bloc worth £9 trillion of global GDP in 2021. As part of that, our businesses will get enhanced access to the Malaysian market for the first time. Beyond CPTPP, we are continuing negotiations on the UK-India free trade agreement and working to implement FTAs with Australia and New Zealand, in addition to existing trade dialogues with Indo-Pacific partners.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for the assistance that her Department gives me in my role as trade envoy to the Republic of Korea. Does she agree that the forthcoming negotiations for an enhanced trade agreement with Korea offer real opportunities for British businesses?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do agree, and I would like to thank my right hon. Friend for his tireless work as the trade envoy to promote closer trade links with the Republic of Korea. Our trade relationship with Korea is thriving, no doubt thanks to all his hard work. It amounted to about £14 billion in 2021, much of which is in critical goods such as microchips, cars and pharmaceuticals. It is currently supported by our 2019 FTA, so we are going to start discussions with Korea to review how we can make the FTA even stronger, ensuring it continues to support existing trade and create new opportunities for British business.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to my right hon. Friend’s reply, what more specifically can she say about what help His Majesty’s Government is giving to South Derbyshire and British businesses as a whole to take advantage of trade opportunities in Cambodia and Laos?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We have increased the tempo of trade missions in Cambodia, and we are actively supporting British companies to expand operations in the education, infrastructure and sustainable energy sectors. In May 2022 the Department appointed a new export support service trade officer to help British companies, including those in her constituency, that wish to export to Laos. It is also eligible for preferential treatment under the developing countries trading scheme. Both initiatives will help boost the UK’s trade with Laos, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend on improving relations with that country.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

A Canadian company sponsored by several Pacific island states is poised to begin deep-sea mining at the bottom of the Pacific ocean next year unless we manage to secure a precautionary pause at the International Seabed Authority meetings that are going on at the moment. Will the UK be joining France, Germany, Spain, Chile, New Zealand and some Pacific nations in calling for that precautionary pause, and in what way can we support the economies of Pacific island states without them having to resort to sponsoring such environmentally damaging activities?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and this is a serious matter. The Minister responsible for industry and economic security—the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) —has been dealing with this issue, and she will get in touch if the hon. Lady writes to her.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Here in the UK, we are rightly proud of our high food standards, which include very low allowable levels of pesticide residues in the food we eat. However, organisations such as the Pesticide Action Network have warned that the Government could weaken standards on pesticides and other factors in a rush to sign free trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific region. Can the Government therefore confirm that new FTAs will not lead to a weakening of standards such as those on pesticide residues in food entering the UK?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We have repeatedly said that we are not lowering food standards at all for any free trade agreements that we are signing. That is something we have committed to, and we would want to reassure all of those who lobby on this issue that our trade negotiators have it very much at the forefront of their minds.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my priority is to support UK companies to thrive at home and abroad. During my visit to Israel this month, I held talks with my counterpart, Nir Barkat, on our upgraded FTA. Israel’s economy is booming, its services sector has grown by 45% in the past decade alone and, while in Israel, I met Teva Pharmaceuticals and Trigo, which are involved in pioneering partnerships with the UK. I also saw the Israeli appetite for British expertise in sectors such as fintech and projects such as the £30 billion Tel Aviv metro.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Albert Bartlett is a potato processor in my constituency of North Norfolk and one of its largest employers, with 250 staff. Due to water abstraction permits, this and other farming businesses are simply not going to be able to continue trading or even growing in Norfolk if they are not helped. These significant water licensing issues are affecting all of Norfolk. Has my right hon. Friend spoken to DEFRA colleagues about water supply shortages and how they are impacting on businesses growing food, food security and employment all over the UK?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As set out in the environmental improvement plan, the Government recognise the need to improve the resilience of our water supplies. We are committed to a twin-track approach of investment in new supply infrastructure and action to reduce leaks and improve water efficiency. This includes support for agriculture, such as grants for reservoirs through the farming transformation fund. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs takes decisions on this issue, and we will liaise on my hon. Friend’s points and make references to Ofwat, which is the regulator in this case.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The automotive industry is a jewel in the crown of British manufacturing, but to keep that jewel we need to be building batteries for electric vehicles in the UK. So far we have one gigafactory up and running, while Germany already has 10 times our capacity. Alarm bells are ringing across the sector, and we recently had disappointing news with Ford announcing job cuts in Essex. The Faraday Institution estimates that the UK needs 10 battery factories by 2040 to retain our car industry. Does the Secretary of State agree with that assessment? If she does, how and when will she publish a clear plan for how the Government intend to hit that target?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have a strategy in place to support the automotive industry, with £1.3 billion of innovative projects, including the Faraday factory challenge —[Interruption.] I have a response to the question. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that we have investment in place, so let me continue. With a budget of £544 million, the Driving the Electric Revolution scheme includes nearly £80 million of Government investment through the Innovate UK programme. I suggest that the Opposition Front Benchers flick through my “Critical Minerals Refresh” document, because there is a fantastic page on UK battery supply chains—not just the automotive transformation fund but the Envision AESC announcement, which is worth £1 billion for the north-east electric vehicle hub. Perhaps they will read it before the next Question Time, so that they have a tricker question for us to deal with.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. One up-and-coming internet provider in my constituency understands from Building Digital UK that the next roll-out will create a single cross-Devon and Cornwall procurement contract. That will be available only to companies that already have massive turnover, thereby blocking smaller, more agile companies that may be able to deliver contracts faster. Will the Minister review that urgently, if necessary working with others?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, because it gives me an opportunity to point out that that is also an issue in my constituency, and something I am concerned about. Unfortunately, it is a matter for the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, because BDUK is an Executive agency of hers, but if she requires any support from me as Business Secretary, I would be happy to provide it. BDUK is doing a good job in looking at this issue in the round, but we would be happy to help and do whatever we can to support businesses in all our constituencies.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. The crypto and digital assets all-party group has been informed, shockingly, that many businesses are struggling to even open a UK bank account. What support can be given to address that issue, and ensure that the UK remains an international hub for fintech innovation?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which is similar to the one raised earlier. I am happy to look at any particular instance where businesses cannot open a bank account. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury is also interested in this issue, so if my hon. Friend writes to me about any instances I will look into them.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. My right hon. Friend will be aware that our creative industries rely on a stable copyright regime to protect thousands of jobs. Can she reassure them that the Government have no plans to weaken our gold-standard intellectual property laws as part of the EU retained law process?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill allows the UK to take the next step in reasserting the sovereignty of Parliament, and ends the special status of retained EU law in the statute book. Reforms will not come at the expense of our already high standards, and we will maintain our commitments to international obligations, including the withdrawal agreement. We will, of course, ensure that the UK’s position as a global leader in the creative industries will not just remain but be strengthened.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. Every time I speak to those running sub-post offices in my constituency, I hear the same message: the various packages that are available and the business models are simply not sufficient for them to run a viable business. What will the Government do about that, or are we just going to wait until it becomes a crisis?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is no waiting at all and the issue is constantly on our agenda. This week I met the Post Office leadership to look at the sustainability of post offices. We are keen to ensure that the post office network is sustainable, and that sub-postmasters are remunerated fairly. We provide financing to the post office network to ensure it is sustainable, with £2.5 billion over the past 10 years, and that will continue. We are determined to ensure that that network is sustainable and provides those services for our citizens.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. This month we are due to have the seventh round of trade talks with our partners in India, working towards a free trade agreement. My right hon. Friend’s predecessor but one promised a free trade deal by Diwali. What assessment has she made about achieving a free trade deal by Diwali this year?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Nigel Huddleston)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State has been very clear: it is about the deal, not the date. We will not tie our hands by setting an arbitrary deadline. I am pleased to confirm, however, that round eight of the discussions is currently under way. Both nations have committed to and are working together for a mutually ambitious deal. We are working through substantive issues such as goods, market access, services and investment. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s continuing commitment. It is vital to expand on the deal with India, with £35 billion in bilateral trade sustaining half a million jobs in the two countries.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. In all the discussions about the Post Office, the Minister did not mention meeting the trade unions. Is he aware of current research by the Communication Workers Union on the opportunities to develop the role of the Post Office and postal workers within the communities of Scotland? Will the Minister engage with the trade unions to discuss the work of protecting post office services across these islands?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have met CWU representatives. I am always keen to listen to new ideas on how we make the post office network more sustainable, so yes, I am absolutely willing to do that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put them in touch with me.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I ask about the CPTPP? Unlike the European Union, this organisation is growing all the time as a percentage of global population and global GDP. When will we finally enter this very exciting trade agreement? When will we have a campaign across the United Kingdom to inform businesses of the tremendous opportunities of us joining the CPTPP? When I talk to my constituents about how excited I am about the CPTPP, they ask me, “What is the CPTPP?”

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

For the benefit of my hon. Friend’s constituents, the CPTPP is the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, the new trade bloc we hope to join imminently. We have reached a great stage in negotiations, but, as he will have heard in answer to questions from across the House, trade negotiations are not easy and we need to make sure we protect UK food standards. There is a lot we are doing, and I think we will have some good news for him in due course.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T9. I welcome the Secretary of State’s visit to Mexico last month. If she had the chance to do some shopping, she may know that the largest chain of department stores in Mexico is called Liverpool, founded in 1847 and named after my home city and port for all the merchandise that was shipped through it. There is huge potential for infra- structure building in Mexico, including in clean technology. What is her Department doing to link UK industry to those opportunities and that potential in Mexico?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am afraid I did not have any time whatever during that trip to do any shopping. It was all about the UK-Mexico free trade agreement, which will do exactly what he wants. The negotiations are ongoing and continue to reflect the shared ambition for an agreement that is both modern and comprehensive. We talked in particular about services and investment in digital. We are aligned in the green chapters and in areas such as small and medium-sized enterprises, innovation and trade, and on gender equality.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What discussions have the Government had to secure further memorandums of understanding with individual US states? When visiting Nebraska last year, I spoke to the Governor of that state. There is huge enthusiasm, especially among Republican-led states, to strike further deals, so it would be brilliant if we could get some of them over the line.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend, because while the US may not be interested in a free trade deal at the moment, we are working with individual states to develop memorandums of understanding. We have already concluded them with Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, and are in discussions with California, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma. We are open to further discussions, because there is huge opportunity of mutual interest.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister explain how the UK can maintain a close and historic friendship with Israel during the current difficulties? Can he let us know what the Prime Minister will do, when he meets the Israeli Prime Minister this weekend, to challenge the sale of goods produced in illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer the hon. Lady to my answer earlier on part of that question. With our friends and allies, including who we trade with, we raise issues and concerns of interest to our constituents and to the British Government on an ongoing basis, not just in trade and business discussions but through other channels and Government Departments. We are happy to have robust conversations with our friends.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unlike other alcohol producers, the Scotch Whisky Association and industry are having to put up with a 10% increase in duty, making the cost of whisky 75% tax. Spirits are effectively excluded from the draught support scheme, and distilleries cannot access the energy-intensive industries support that other alcohol producers can. When will we get a level playing field for the Scottish whisky industry?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

This Government value and support the Scotch whisky industry. Just last year, we helped to liberalise tariffs on Scotch whisky in the USA. My Department and I are in continual discussions with the Scotch Whisky Association and industry to see what we can do to support them.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The retail sector is a hugely important part of our economy and a huge employer in my constituency. What are the Government doing to support it in difficult times?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The retail sector is benefiting from the £13.6 billion of business rates support and the 75% discount up to £110,000 per premises. These are difficult times for many businesses, not least retail, but we are keen to ensure that we end up on a fair and level playing field. Also, businesses will benefit from the economic turnaround that we expect later this year.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Secretary of State aware of just how much wonderful research is going on in our universities in medical technology, environmental technology and all the rest? Will she do something to make our universities more entrepreneurial? Some are lagging in their expertise. What can we do to make universities partner with business to make them more entrepreneurial?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right that we want universities to become more entrepreneurial. We had fantastic work at Oxford University with AstraZeneca. Many of them are doing quite well. I am keen to hear his suggestions of what I can do to encourage universities. The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology is working on this issue, but from a business perspective, we want to ensure that we are continuing to facilitate relationships with both businesses and universities, especially in clusters where universities are essential to the local economy.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Why is the Secretary of State perpetuating the myth that the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is a good thing, necessary or going to receive Royal Assent in anything like the shape in which it was first presented to this House? What is the target date for Royal Assent? Should she not prepare now to drop the thing entirely?

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the negotiations for a free trade agreement with India, can the Minister perhaps update the House on the impact of the closure of the internet in the state of Punjab over the last week, and the reduction in freedom of expression for the majority of the Sikh population of that state?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I mentioned in answer to a previous question, when it comes to other issues, including human rights and freedom of the press, these are conversations we also have with our friends and colleagues around the world. We cannot deal with all these issues with free trade agreements.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The United Arab Emirates recently warned Ministers against raising concerns about human rights issues in Gulf Co-operation Council countries if we want to negotiate strong trade deals. That goes completely against our trade principles. Can Ministers confirm that they will not be held to ransom and will not sign trade agreements where human rights are a key concern?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In everything we do, we ensure that we continue to promote and assert British values. That includes within the trade agreements that we are signing with all countries.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

You have called me, and I have a question ready-made here, Mr Speaker. Like on “Blue Peter”, here is one I prepared earlier.

Only yesterday, the Secretary of State signed a trade deal with the Ukrainian First Minister to provide pivotal support to the Ukrainian economy. Has the Secretary of State assessed how soon that will impact Ukraine in helping it—[Interruption]—lay the foundation for revival?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid I missed the end of the hon. Member’s question but I am happy to write to him in response.

Food Price Inflation

Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

10:34
Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on food price inflation.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Mark Spencer)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will respond on behalf of the Secretary of State. I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

We recognise that food prices have gone up. The recent increase in food price inflation was driven by upward price movements in eight of the 11 food categories. The three most significant price increases since February 2022 are oils and fats, at 32.1%; milk, cheese and eggs, at 30.8%; and non-classified food products, at 28.9%. While recent unseasonable weather in Morocco has also created some temporary supply disruption to fruit and vegetables, domestic retailers have held prices comparatively low compared with the rest of Europe, where increased demand led to some cases of 300% rises in the price of some vegetables.

A number of media outlets have reported that the recent shortage of some salad and vegetables has been the driver for the increase in food inflation in February, but that is not the case. The overall inflation rate increases have been caused by several factors. There are other categories where price increases have been greater than that of vegetables over the past year.

These high overall inflation rates are driven by high utility prices and pressures on global supply chains that are being felt across Europe and beyond. Commentators expect the rate of inflation both across the economy and for food and drink to be near its peak. The Government have put in place a number of measures to support households with prices, including committing £37 billion to support households with the cost of living; £1 billion of that has already gone towards help with the cost of household essentials.

Looking forward to April, the Government will be uprating benefit rates and state pensions by 10.1%. The benefit cap levels will also be increasing by the same amount in order to increase the number of households that can benefit from those uprating decisions. In addition, for 2023-24, households on eligible means-tested benefits will get up to £900 in cost of living payments. That will be split into three payments of around £300 each across the 2023-24 financial year. A separate £300 payment will be made to pensioner households on top of their winter fuel payments, and individuals in receipt of eligible disability benefits will receive a £150 payment.

Free school meal eligibility is being permanently extended to children from all families with no recourse to public funds. The Government have extended free school meals to more groups of children than any other Government over the past half century. We remain committed to ensuring that the most disadvantaged children continue to be supported.

We are also working closely with retailers to explore the range of measures they can take to ensure the availability and affordability of food, so while we recognise that this is a challenging time for consumers, we are taking a large number of steps to support people with the cost of living and I have great faith in the food supply chain, which has proven itself to be extremely resilient over the past few years.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister of State for his response, but this is a cost of living crisis driven in large part by the cost of food, so where is the Secretary of State? She seems to spend more time in the departure lounge than in her own Department at times. Mr Speaker, I feel like I am shadowing a shadow. Where is the Secretary of State on the most important issue at this point in her brief?

Once again, we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis, in which food inflation is playing a large part. If inflation overall is not curbed, the danger is that that will have an impact on the ability of people to pay their mortgages and we could see further interest rate rises as a result. There are serious questions about the Government’s approach to the cost of food and our food security. Some producers are reducing production and some are exiting completely. There are now 7,000 fewer food producers in agriculture than in 2019. Food inflation is up 18.2%, which is the highest in 45 years, and import costs to February are up 12.7%. The Minister knows—he is in the business—that those import costs today will be felt for months to come.

There has been warning after warning. Thanks to you, Mr Speaker, this is the second urgent question on food security, but where are the Government on farming payments, on labour shortages, on energy costs, on the costs of feed and fertiliser and on the impact of avian flu? Last time the Secretary of State was here, her advice to the nation was a call to arms to go out and buy turnips —those were her words of wisdom. That just does not wash. When will the Government realise that this is a crisis of their making and they need to take action now?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and statements—there were not many questions in there. I can tell him that the Government wholly recognise the challenge that inflation brings to the economy. That is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set out a number of measures to curb inflation and to manage the economy in a way that he will struggle to understand.

I would also say that huge pressures in the global economy, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on the back of a global pandemic, are being felt all around the world. Global energy prices have driven huge spikes, for example in the cost of fertiliser, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned: ammonium nitrate went from circa £250 a tonne to in excess of £1,000 a tonne for a short period. The good news is that global gas prices are easing back and coming back under control into a more affordable price range. That will take time to feed through to some of the cost pressures that are being put on our primary producers, but the Government are continuing to talk—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman mentions labour. That is why the Government increased the number of seasonal agricultural worker visas to 45,000.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We need 90,000.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

So the hon. Gentleman says, but there are an extra 10,000 visas available should the industry request it and require it. That request has not come to the Government, because we still have enough people in the supply chain with the 45,000 visas that are available. We continue to work and co-operate with retailers, processors and the food sector on continuing to supply good-quality food to our consumers.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yesterday’s inflation numbers were a sobering reminder of how terrible a tax inflation is on our economy. It is a tax that harms everyone, but it harms the poorest most. Does the Minister agree that, while Government fiscal policy this year needs to help in terms of halving inflation, the primary responsibility for getting inflation under control has been set in a remit letter given to the independent Bank of England? It is the Bank’s job to make sure that inflation gets back in its box.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work chairing the Treasury Committee and holding the Treasury to account. She will be aware that the Prime Minister’s priority is to get inflation back under control and get it down. We will continue to work across Government to make sure that that happens, and we do recognise the challenge that this brings to consumers and to our constituents.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesperson.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the shadow Secretary of State on securing this urgent question. The cost of living crisis remains the SNP’s top priority, alongside tackling energy bills. This Government talk about halving inflation, but just yesterday it went up again to 10.4%, and we know that at lunchtime the Bank of England will hike interest rates up to reflect that.

All this, I am afraid, puts pressure on household budgets, which are under enormous strain already. Stats from the Office for National Statistics show that food price inflation runs at 18.2%. The poorest tenth of households experience an even higher rate of inflation, according to the Resolution Foundation. A number of adults are buying less food at the supermarket; worryingly, we are hearing of mothers diluting formula with water just to try and get by. Does the Minister agree that we therefore need to look at the essentials guarantee proposed by the likes of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust: £120 a week for single people and £200 for couples? If the Government will not do that, will they just get out of the way and let an independent Scotland get involved so that we can actually tackle food poverty and make sure that people can live in dignity?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think being able to ride the challenges and operate on an international basis as a United Kingdom is actually a very good example of our being genuinely better off together. However, we recognise that the spike in food prices is a challenge for consumers, particularly the people on lower incomes whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That is why the Chancellor has introduced a £37 billion package to support those people, including pensioners, and that is why they will receive regular £300 payments over the next few years, with continued support from the Government to try to mitigate the impact of these prices.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me first draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Before the recent rises in energy and fuel costs, the UK had the most affordable food prices in its history and was considered to have the third most affordable food prices in the world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Chancellor made exactly the right decision in continuing to freeze fuel duty, and that that will be extremely welcome both to food producers and to the food processing industry?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that we have benefited from very low food prices for a number of decades, because of the robust systems that we have in place for retailers and producers of high-quality food. He is also right to recognise that fuel costs are a huge driver of inflation if they are allowed to rise dramatically. That is why the Chancellor has maintained that support, and I am glad that he will continue to do so in the future.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Rising food price inflation is terrifying for many families, none more so than those who are already struggling with the cost of living crisis. I speak to numerous families in my constituency who are having to use food banks although in many cases both partners are in full-time employment. That is truly shocking, and such an indictment of Tory Britain in 2023. The Government are clearly not doing enough, so may I ask the Minister what more they can do to help manufacturers and suppliers to bring costs down and make food more affordable once again?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We continue to have regular meetings with the processing and hospitality sectors and with retailers to ensure that there is co-operation throughout the food supply chains. There has be fairness in those supply chains so that risk and reward are shared equally among primary producers, retailers and processors. I think that that co-operation will continue, and the Government are always available to try to co-ordinate these discussions to ensure that we have most effective food supply chains possible.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s measures to assist people with cost of living pressures are among the most generous in Europe, and includes their paying roughly a third of people’s energy bills, but this news on food price inflation is really worrying. Can the Minister assure us that the Government are on track to deliver the Prime Minister’s promise to halve inflation by the end of the year?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We continue to monitor inflation, and the Prime Minister’s ambition is to reduce it. Food prices have driven that inflationary figure over the last month, but the good news is that we are starting to see signs that it is at its peak, and already some of the driving factors such as the wholesale prices of gas, fertiliser and imports are beginning to ease back.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that all of us, as constituency Members, are dealing with an increasing amount of casework relating to the cost of living. Yesterday the all-party parliamentary group on ending the need for food banks, which I co-chair, published its first report, “Cash or Food?”, which I commend to all Members. Sadly, no one from the Government was able to attend the launch, so will the Minister agree to meet me and discuss its findings?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is always a pleasure to meet the hon. Lady. She did text me to draw my attention to the event, but my diary did not allow me to attend. However, I will of course be happy to read her report and to meet her at some point in the future.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s short-term measures are of course welcome, but we also need a long-term food security plan to encourage farmers to grow more and to ensure that more of our food is produced in this country rather than our relying on expensive imports. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that that long-term plan is implemented?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend has asked an important question. This applies to energy production as well as food production, which is why we are moving away from the common agricultural policy to environmental land management schemes that will help farmers not only to produce great food, but to have a positive impact on our environment and our biodiversity.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Chancellor of the Exchequer may be trying to convince us that he has the economy, and inflation along with it, under control, but food prices show us what is happening to the lives of people in our constituencies. The price of full-fat milk has increased by 42%, the price of low-fat milk by 34%, the price of eggs by 32%, and the price of bread by 21%. These are staple foods that people have to buy. Why is the UK so far out of step with other countries, with such huge food price inflation?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right that we are not in step with our European colleagues, who have seen 300% rises in some fruit and vegetable prices. We are way below those sorts of spikes. If we compare food prices across Europe, we see that the UK is very well placed. That is because we have a very robust food supply chain. However, I accept that the fact that it is harder elsewhere is of little consequence to our constituents. We recognise the challenge they face. That is why we have introduced a huge package of support for people with their household bills.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, inflation is about supply and demand. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that having more domestic production will help our food security. It was worrying to hear that food producers—I am thinking of midlands tomato growers—switched off their electricity instead of planting and having an early season, because of the cost. They said that it did not pay for them to grow an early crop. How can the Department help to enable producers to produce more? This is a question of the cost of electricity, but it is also about ensuring that we have that supply.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in this area; I know that she is a big campaigner on food security and the cost of food, particularly for her constituents. Again, we are working with the sector to try to help and support those who produce food in greenhouses. I recently had the privilege of visiting Thanet Earth in Kent, which is producing cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers for the UK market, linked to an energy supply plant from which it gets free heat and carbon dioxide to help with that process. There are opportunities to do that in the UK. Traditionally, in January and February we have procured tomatoes and cucumbers from north Africa and southern Europe, because the climate is much warmer there. Unfortunately, Morocco and southern Spain suffered a snow event, which led to some challenges in the supply chain.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Food prices have risen by over 18% in the past year. For people in my constituency on low wages, the underlying crisis being caused by that and, of course, the hidden cost of basic foodstuffs rising by two or three times that amount, is crushing. Contrary to what the Minister said, the London School of Economics put the price increases at the door of Brexit. Will he apologise for his Government’s actions and allow my constituents the same access to the single market as those in Northern Ireland?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard earlier, food inflation is higher in Europe than in the UK for some products. He may well want to join back with his friends in Europe, but we have the very best and most robust supply chains. Brexit makes very little difference to that trading relationship. We are still importing products from our friends in Europe, as well as other parts of the world, and we are supporting UK producers to produce great food here, too.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Public sector procurement will play a significant role in ensuring an affordable, healthy and sustainable supply chain. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consulted on that last year; the consultation finished on 4 September, and apparently there were 126 responses. I have to keep checking that the consultation really did exist, because whenever I ask Ministers about it, they do not seem to know. Labour has adopted one of its policies, about 50% of food being locally sourced and sustainable. When are we going to hear from the Government whether they will do the same?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are very keen to use the power of government to procure top-quality, UK-produced food. As the hon. Lady identifies, we made a commitment to try to get to 50% as soon as possible. We remain committed to encouraging UK Government Departments to procure great British food, which is one tool the Government are using.

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Both Chelwood Foodbank Plus and Stockport food bank support people in my constituency, and I am grateful to them. The Trussell Trust network has had to distribute more than 7,000 emergency food parcels each day this winter. Is the Minister proud of his Government’s record on food poverty?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The number of households in absolute poverty has actually gone down since the Government came to power, but I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the people working in Stockport’s food banks. We recognise the challenge that consumers are currently facing, particularly those on low incomes, which is why the Chancellor was so supportive in introducing a huge package—£37 billion—to help households get through this crisis.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

When the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, she said, in a memorable televised Select Committee exchange with me, that the responsibility for food poverty lies with DEFRA. I note that she is not here. Does the Minister believe that these food price inflation figures will result in more people using food banks, and that the best way to end food bank use is to support the affordable food networks of Good Food Scotland and Feeding Britain? Will he meet them and me to discuss how we can support affordable food projects?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We should be clear that I am the Minister with responsibility for food, which is why I am here to answer this urgent question. We take this challenge very seriously, and we continue to work with other Departments to try to help households cope with food price increases. As I said earlier, the good news is that we are seeing signs that this is the peak of food price inflation. There are signs that global gas prices, fertiliser prices and import costs are starting to reduce.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Kim Johnson.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that case, I call Barry Sheerman, who always has a question.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know the Minister to be an honest chap, so will he stop making excuses, whether it is Putin or snow, and wake up to the fact that the food bank network is crumbling? The network cannot cope with demand, and it cannot get the supply. Its volunteers across the country are stressed out by the pressure. When will he do something? Perhaps all the money raised by the plastic bag charge could flow not into the supermarkets’ back pockets but into the food banks.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have a responsibility to deal with the facts as they are presented. It is a statement of fact that Ukraine was a huge producer of food within Europe. It is a statement of fact that Putin’s illegal invasion caused global gas prices to go up exponentially, and even the hon. Gentleman would recognise that that has had a huge impact.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the retailers are creaming off huge profits on the back of the plastic bag tax, but the margin on their profits is actually around 1% or 2%. We continue to work with retailers and the processing sector to make sure there is fairness in the supply chain, so that the risk and reward are shared. UK retailers are doing a very good job of keeping us well supplied and of suppressing prices as much as possible in comparison with our European colleagues.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our constituents who use first-stage infant formula with their babies are experiencing soaring costs, and those who are unable to afford these increased prices are watering down the formula to make it last. Such products should be treated with the utmost caution, as unsuitable alternatives can damage the health of babies. What does the Minister have to say to families in our constituencies who are not able to afford infant formula for their babies? What action will he take to ensure these products are affordable and available to all?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise how challenging that situation must be. That is why the Government are putting in huge support packages to try to help households cope with the increase in energy and food prices. We will continue to look after the most vulnerable people in society, offering them support to help them through this challenging time.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many food and drink businesses express their frustrations to me, as Chair of the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, about the lack of co-ordination between the Minister’s Department and BEIS. Given the influence of inflation, the challenges in the labour market, and the need for technology adoption and automation in the sector, is it not time for a proper, co-ordinated sector deal between BEIS, the Department for International Trade and the Minister’s Department for the food and drink industry?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We do, of course, talk to our colleagues across government, and we also invest a huge amount in technology to help develop new technologies to reduce the price of food production. We are running competitions to encourage robotics and computerised systems to help in the processing sector. We have also introduced the gene editing Bill—the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill—which I hope will reach Royal Assent very soon. It will help the industry to develop new technologies to reduce the cost of food production.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I grew up in West Dunbartonshire in the 1970s and 1980s, when the legacy of de-industrialisation was compounded by recession after recession, weak economic growth became the norm and well-paid, skilled jobs were replaced with minimum wage service industry jobs, creating a vicious circle that seems difficult to escape. Will the Minister advise my constituents, and similar constituents across these islands, who are living close to the breadline what the Government are doing for them, as Brexit Britain has brought about this 1970s food inflation?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a fundamental difference between today and the 1970s: employment is at a very high level and lots of jobs are available to people. But that does not mitigate the challenge that some constituents are finding themselves in. That is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced this huge package of support to try to help people with that cost of living challenge they face.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Kim Johnson.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me a second opportunity. The Minister mentioned the number of children accessing free school meals. We have nearly 4 million children living in poverty, so will he explain what assessment he has undertaken of the impact of food price inflation on the delivery of school meals, given that schools receive only £2.41 per pupil and that has increased by only 7p in the past 13 years?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are supporting more children now than at any point in history. We continue to offer them that support and we will carry on doing that. School meals are the responsibility of the Department for Education, but we consistently have conversations with our friends across government to make sure that we are co-operating and co-ordinating our approach.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are 10 food pantries across my constituency supplying the surplus food from the various main supermarkets for between £5 and £10 per bag. The demand is so great that the volunteers cannot keep up with people doing their weekly shops at these pantries. We now face a new challenge: FareShare, which co-ordinates the surplus food, is running out of surplus food. What is the Minister going to do to start dealing with the huge problem of constituents paying for a week’s food of whatever they can find for £10, which is almost past its sell-by date, but the suppliers are running out? When is he going to get a grip and start dealing with the issues of food poverty in this country?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the great support our retailers are giving to those people who face that challenge; they continue to work with charities in that sector to help supply food to the most vulnerable. Of course, the Government also play their part with a huge package of support, helping people through this challenge.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My concern is here and now: the food banks in York are running out of food because demand is going through the roof and people cannot afford to make the donations that they were. For my part, I am having a food drive on 31 March and 1 April for our city to donate. What is the Minister doing on his part? Will he make grants available to food banks so that they can actually afford to feed our city?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We continue to work with the whole sector, including retailers, manufacturers and primary producers, to maintain the most robust food supply chain. I pay tribute to the work that food banks do in the hon. Lady’s constituency to support the most vulnerable; that is what we are doing too, as a Government, by supporting people with the cost of their household bills.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our farmers were promised by the Conservative Government that the support that they received from the EU would be replaced in full after the UK left the EU. Instead, their subsidies are being phased out; there will be a basic payment cut of 20% this year. On top of that, in April, farmers’ energy bill support will be cut by up to 85%. Given those 2016 Government promises to farmers, will the Minister commit to stopping the phasing out of support payments until the new environmental land management schemes are fully rolled out, so that we can bring down food prices?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are moving to a new phase—away from the common agricultural policy and towards environmental land management schemes. If we listened to him and his party, and agreed to motions that they have tabled in this place and the other place, we would cut off farmers’ access, up and down this country, to the environmental land management schemes, which also cover countryside stewardship. The fatal motion his party has tabled in the other place would crash the rural economy, and destroy the opportunity for farmers to move to a new system and improve our environmental impact.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Food retailers report that food packaging is a key area in which costs have risen significantly. That contributes to higher prices in shops. What conversations have there been about supporting businesses in reducing packaging, or sourcing more affordable materials?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There have been many conversations, both across Government and with producers, manufacturers and retailers, on reducing the amount of plastic packaging that we release into the environment, and on making packaging more reusable and recyclable, and less costly to the consumer.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As it is his birthday on Saturday, and given the worries about the price of birthday cakes, we had better hear from Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am still a young person at heart. I thank the Minister very much for his responses. He understands the issues well. He and the Government are doing their best. I hail from a constituency that grows the best potatoes: Comber potatoes. Everyone knows that they are the best in the UK, and indeed the world. My constituency ships ready-to-eat mash and other veg throughout the United Kingdom. The potential is there for us to be self-sustaining. Will the Minister outline how he intends to support the farming industry, so that it can make more British produce to sell in the internal market, which will lower the price of staple foods? That, in turn, will lower inflation for all.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and for his interest in this area. I hope he recognises that we are self-sufficient in lamb; we are very close to being self-sufficient in beef; and we are more than 100% self-sufficient in liquid milk. The UK has a very good supply chain and top-quality producers. The good news, which I hope he will join me in celebrating, is that the Windsor framework now allows Northern Irish farmers to plant Scottish seed potatoes without interference. That is good news for the United Kingdom, for Scottish seed producers, and for Northern Ireland’s potato growers.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for answering the urgent question.

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

11:08
Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Anum Qaisar (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on talks to de-escalate the violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK is intensely focused on, and concerned by, the increasing violence on the west bank. The Foreign Secretary spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, on Tuesday to emphasise the importance of Israeli de-escalation ahead of the convergence of Easter, Passover and Ramadan. As the Foreign Secretary set out to this House on 14 March, he has also urged the Palestinian leadership to take steps to avoid a cycle of violence. While the security situation remains fragile, I welcome Israeli and Palestinian engagement in the meetings in Aqaba on 26 February and Sharm el-Sheikh on 19 March. It is critical that both parties abide by the commitments made there publicly and take forward the confidence-building measures that they have promised.

The UK wants to see three steps that would demonstrate commitment to de-escalating the worrying situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. First, the Palestinian Authority must resume security co-operation with Israel, fight against terror and incitement of violence, and improve the security situation in area A of the west bank. Too many Israelis have been killed in terror attacks in Israel and the west bank this year. Such targeted attacks against civilians are unlawful, unjustifiable and repugnant.

Secondly, Israel must do more to tackle unacceptable settler violence such as that perpetrated against innocent Palestinians in Huwara. The UK has consistently urged Israeli security forces to provide appropriate protection to the Palestinian civilian population, bring to justice perpetrators of settler violence and end the culture of impunity. The UK condemned the Israeli Finance Minister’s comments calling for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out” and his recent comments that deny the existence of the Palestinian people, their right to self-determination and their history and culture.

Thirdly, Israel must also cease its unilateral steps that push parties further from dialogue and reduce the possibility of meaningful negotiations. Those steps include stopping approval of settlements, legalisation of outposts and evictions of Palestinians in occupied territory, particularly in east Jerusalem. The Foreign Secretary raised our concerns about the speculation of settlement building on the E1 site in the OPTs and we are pleased that there has now been a moratorium on that expansion. However, we are deeply concerned at the recent repeal of the 2005 Disengagement Plan Implementation Law by the Knesset. That decision is another unilateral measure that damages any renewed efforts at de-escalation and risks further undermining a two-state solution.

All Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security, not just through the upcoming festivals of Easter, Passover and Ramadan this spring, but for the long term. That will require political will, good faith, strong co-operation and meaningful actions by both Israelis and Palestinians. The UK remains resolute in its commitment to a two-state solution based on 1967 lines.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Qaisar
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay my respects to both Palestinians and Israelis who have been killed in recent violence. Ramadan Mubarak; today marks the start of Ramadan and I, like many Muslims, am fasting. Yet Muslims and those of other faiths or no faith in the occupied Palestinian territories have seen a significant increase in human rights violations perpetrated by Israeli authorities.

More than 1,000 Palestinians are at imminent risk of forcible transfer from Masafer Yatta, an action that would amount to a war crime. The situation is rapidly deteriorating and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lands in the UK today on a state visit. During talks, the UK Government must call for a de-escalation of violence.

Amnesty International concluded last year that Israel is

“committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.”

Will the UK Government raise those concerns with the Prime Minister? The Finance Minister recently stated:

“There is no such thing as a Palestinian people”,

and said he wanted to see the Palestinian village of Huwara wiped off the map. Will the Minister put on record her disgust at that type of language?

The Israeli Government continue to push for the development of illegal settlements, despite promising not to do so. If that construction does not stop, will the UK Government commit to suspending trade deal talks with Israeli counterparts until we can ensure human rights are safeguarded?

The UK Government must acknowledge the systematic and calculated discrimination against Palestinians in occupied territories carried out by the Israeli military and authorities. Will the Government finally halt their approval of the sale of arms to Israel and support the need for an independent investigation by the International Criminal Court into human rights violations?

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Al Jazeera has escalated her killing to the ICC after the Israeli defence force refused to investigate her killing and former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said:

“No one will investigate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare”.

Do the Government accept that, unless they urgently support the ICC investigation, they are turning a blind eye to blatant military impunity for murdering Palestinians?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to repeat that the UK condemned the Israeli Finance Minister’s comments calling for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be wiped out, and his recent comments denying the existence of the Palestinian people. We have condemned that absolutely, and I think that has been heard clearly.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will visit the UK tomorrow, and has asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister. He will have a short meeting with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. I know that the Prime Minister will raise the issues that concern us—as all good, trusted friends and partners do. We are confident and always do so with all our partners, including Israel.

The hon. Lady mentioned the anniversary of the death of respected Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. It seems extraordinary that we are already a year on. The UK is committed to working with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to advance that peaceful two-state solution. We voted no on the resolution pertaining to referral to the ICC because we consider that is not helpful to bringing the parties back to dialogue. As I set out in my answer to the urgent question, we continue to work with all parties to help find a way forward. We hope that the continuing role of talks will help to move that forward.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In recent weeks, three of the many terrorist attacks that have occurred in Israel were committed by children under 15—two stabbings and one shooting. I ask the Government to urge the Palestinian Authority to do more to tackle that toxic culture of radicalisation and anti-Israel hatred, which is leading to the exploitation and radicalisation of children, and to their involvement in terrorist attacks.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend highlights one of the most distressing aspects of the continued violence and despair between both countries. We continue to work with all parties, as I have set out, to try to reduce the level of violence. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will raise that in his meetings tomorrow and ask parties to continue to take urgent measures to reduce tensions, de-escalate the situation and, indeed, end that deadly cycle of violence. Of course, that includes supporting them in trying to keep children away from that radicalisation position.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Labour party stands for international law, human rights and a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a sovereign Palestinian state.

At the last elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went into coalition with the far right and, under that new Government, an already fragile situation has worsened. His promotion of extremists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich has put ultra-nationalism in key positions of the Israeli Government. I am sure that the whole House will have been appalled by Smotrich’s remarks in Paris this weekend, when he denied the very existence of the Palestinian people and their culture.

Thus far, 2023 has seen one of the highest death tolls for Palestinians and Israelis in a long time, with more than 80 Palestinians and 14 Israelis killed this year. There has been a renewed assault on the rights of Palestinians, a ramping up of inflammatory rhetoric, and dangerous new moves to try to legitimatise illegal settlements, threatening the viability of a two-state solution. Israel has suffered from terrorist attacks and a new militant threat, and the Israeli Government are also taking steps that threaten to undermine Israel’s democracy. President Netanyahu’s attempts to undermine judicial independence and dispense with equality laws for the LGBT+ community are sowing division and deep unease. The weekly mass protests in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem demonstrate that Israeli society is now also deeply divided.

What is the Minister’s assessment of the impact of what many in Israel see as fundamental attacks on their precious democracy? The Prime Minister has, in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow, an opportunity to use Britain’s close relationship with Israel to take a clear stance on human rights, respect for international law and commitment to democracy. I am deeply concerned that the recently signed road map for UK-Israel bilateral relations dilutes long-standing UK positions, held by successive Governments, in relation to international law. The road map makes no mention of supporting a two-state solution, and it implies that settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories could be treated as part of Israel for the purposes of trade. Can the Minister tell the House whether the road map amounts to a change in policy, will she reiterate that the Government still support a two-state solution, and will she make it clear that the UK deplores the current escalation of violence?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is always encouraging to hear both sides of the House agree that the UK’s position on the middle east process finding a resolution is that we want to see a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living side by side with a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees. That remains a clear position and has not changed.

The road map that the Foreign Secretary signed with his counterpart earlier in the week in London fulfils the commitments that were made in the November 2021 memorandum of understanding on strengthening co-operation across a range of relationships around our economic, security and technology ties and, importantly, advancing our co-operation on environmental and climate change issues, and leveraging our combined strengths in that area to address some of the global health challenges. It also contains provisions on the importance of regional co-operation in working together to expand the historic Abraham accords. That is a series of practical issues that we will work upon together with our Israeli friends, but it does not in any way change the UK’s position—it is good to hear the shadow Minister set out the same—on the agreed settlement that we continue to support.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Polling conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that 72% of all Palestinians supported the formation of armed terror groups such as the Lions’ Den. These groups have been behind more than 1,000 terror incidents over the last year and are facilitated with Iranian and Hezbollah financial and military support. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the emergence of these groups, the high level of support they are receiving and the Palestinian Authority’s apparent loss of control over so much of the west bank to these terror groups?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I reiterate that we absolutely condemn violence from all sides, and we want to ensure that we help the Palestinian Authority to improve their security through the work of the British support team in Ramallah, whom I had the privilege to visit last year on my visit to the OPTs, along with the many networks that we are helping to strengthen and stabilise their own communities. We remain resolute in our commitment to Israel’s security, and we condemn Hamas’s use of indiscriminate and abhorrent rocket attacks. We want to continue to provide support and the strong, clear message that every Israeli and every Palestinian has the right to live in peace and security.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar) on securing this urgent question. Clearly, settlement expansion is a major issue in the violence that is continuing to break out. This week, the Israeli Parliament voted to allow Israeli citizens to occupy four sites in the west bank evacuated in the 2005 disengagement. The High Court of Justice has already classified this as private Palestinian land. Clearly, the moratorium that the Minister mentioned is not being respected here.

We know that this is not a simple situation, but there are some simple steps that we can take here to make a difference. Will the Minister support the UK banning trade in Israeli settlement goods? Will she include the UK Government’s own stated position that these settlements are illegal in any and all agreements with Israel and provide for consequences for breach of that? Will she also carry that forward into forthcoming trade deal discussions? Will she stop the export of equipment and arms proven to be repeatedly used in settlement expansion, and will she do it now?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK’s position on settlements is clear: settlements are illegal under international law and call into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution. We have urged Israel to halt its settlement expansion, which we believe threatens the physical viability of a Palestinian state. In February, we and our partners—the US, France, Germany and Italy—set out strong opposition to these unilateral steps. They are contrary to international law, and they undermine the prospects for peace.

In relation to trade matters, our long-established position on settlements is clear: the UK does not recognise the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of Israel, including illegal settlements. Goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank, including East Jerusalem, are not entitled to tariff and trade preferences under either the existing trade agreement between the UK and Israel or, indeed, the agreement between the UK and the Palestinian Authority.

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was really pleased to hear from the Minister that she and the Government continue to support the two-state solution on the former boundaries of 1967. How does she believe that can happen? When I visited recently, the settlements are being built on top of Palestinian houses, and they are insisting on demolitions of Palestinian houses. How can it possibly work?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises the concerns that we all have. The voice that we use directly with both our Israeli and our Palestinian friends sets out the continued clear direction that we want to see: de-escalation and, indeed, retrenchment from those illegal settlements. This continues to be something that is on the agenda whenever we are in talks with them, and I am certain that the Prime Minister will raise those issues tomorrow when Prime Minister Netanyahu is here.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Time after time, we see on social media the crimes against humanity being visited on the Palestinian people. We see it with regularity: homes, houses and schools being destroyed, with bulldozers at the door. Will the Minister understand that this country has a special responsibility and a special place of leverage to make demands? We cannot keep going with the same endless warm words around this conflict. The time has come for this Government to recognise the state of Palestine with immediate effect, and to demand a ban on settlement goods and on the settlements themselves. Will she commit to that?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I say, the UK Government continue to ask all parties to take urgent measures to reduce those tensions and de-escalate the situation. Because of what the hon. Gentleman has described, we continue to make those statements, and we are engaging closely with all our international partners to try to help end that deadly cycle of violence. We will carry on raising these issues with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to support co-operation, stability and economic development for the benefit of all their peoples, and we will use the economic tools to help us do that, alongside others. This continues to be at the forefront of the Foreign Secretary’s work.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since January, 14 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists, and 80 Palestinians have lost their lives during confrontation with the IDF or in the course of terrorist activities. At the same time, we have seen the emergence of Lions’ Den and other terrorist groups, and we have also seen the role of Iran in encouraging those terrorist groups across the world. Will my right hon. Friend review the position on Lions’ Den and these other terrorist groups so that they are proscribed in this country, and also finally proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my hon. Friend is aware, this is a Home Office issue, and as I have said, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting the Home Secretary tomorrow on his visit. We continue to work closely with the Home Office on all these matters, and we will await its view on them.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Minister has said, the settlements on the west bank are illegal and they undermine the possibility of a two-state solution, so will the Government make it absolutely clear to Benjamin Netanyahu that any attempt to annex the west bank is totally and unequivocally unacceptable?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I have said, the UK’s position on settlements is absolutely clear. Settlements are illegal under international law and they call into question Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution. We continue to raise the issue with our Israeli counterparts and to condemn settler violence in order that de-escalation provides the opportunity for peace talks to progress.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The historic Abraham accords prove once and for all that peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours is not only possible, but can quickly bring remarkable and positive change to the region. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the accords, and does she agree that Palestinian leaders would be best served by embracing their spirit and joining Israel at the negotiating table as soon as possible?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Abraham accords have provided an opportunity to move forward, and we were pleased to see progress at the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh meetings earlier in the year, and we continue to support and encourage all sides to continue that process. This is difficult—we understand that—and we stand ready to support all to ensure that a two-state solution is the one that we reach.