Oral Answers to Questions

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Thursday 2nd May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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12. What progress she has made on supporting businesses to reach £1 trillion in annual exports.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
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UK exports were £862 billion in the 12 months to February. UK services exports reached a record £472 billion in the same period, which is an increase of 10%—they went up by £42 billion. Businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, can access my Department’s wealth of export support at great.gov.uk. That support includes the UK Export Academy, which has had more than 18,000 registrations; our 160 international trade advisers, who help about 6,000 SMEs each year; and 388 export champions, across every part of the UK.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
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Are we really the fourth largest exporter in the world?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that we are. There are many, many more good statistics, which he will find in the publication my Department produced at the end of January; it contains further good news stories on UK exports. The UK is a global exporting superpower and the world’s second biggest services exporter. Services exports to the European Union are at a record high and have increased by 36% since 2018.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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My right hon. Friend has just detailed very encouraging data, much of which results from the hard work of SMEs. Will she give a bit more information about what support is available specifically to SMEs to help them grow and export more of their products and services?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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The Department has declared this year the year of the SME. People often hear news that sounds as though it is just about big business, but SMEs employ most of the people in the UK. We have a network of 160 international trade advisers and our export support services. We have also put in place schemes such as a Help to Grow management course, which 5,290 participants had completed by November. We also have a business support service, which provides support to about 30,000 people in England every year.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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Further to those comments about SMEs, in the light of the termination of the trade show access programme, which supported SMEs in gaining international market exposure, what is the Government’s strategy to provide equivalent or enhanced support to ensure UK food products remain competitive within EU markets?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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We know that a lot of people are disappointed that we closed the trade show programme, but it was a pilot programme and it did not yield the business successes that we had hoped. We are investing in those things that are providing success and demonstrating real benefits. The UK Export Academy is one of them, along with the export support service, as I mentioned, and the international trade advisers. Many of them will have expertise in food and drink. If the hon. Gentleman writes to us with a specific case, we will be happy to help.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Unfortunately for Government Members, and more importantly for the country, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s recent figures, which I know the Secretary of State struggles with, show that exports have dropped on her watch and are set to have declined again this year. If she has a moment to spare from her leadership campaign, she might read the landmark report published by Aston University last week on the significant boost for British exports that a veterinary agreement could deliver through British farmers and the agrifood industry. Why will she not pursue an agreement that is so obviously in Britain’s national interest?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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The OBR puts out lots of figures and the Opposition cherry-pick the ones they think will be most helpful, thinking that we have not done our homework. I encourage the hon. Member to look at the OBR forecasts for growth for this country, which are very high, and I ask him which specific period he is referring to. He should look at what has happened to exports overall, not just periods including covid, which explain why we have had some drops in food exports.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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I asked the Secretary of State about the veterinary agreement; I suspect no one on the Opposition Benches will be surprised that she has not shown any interest in a trade agreement that would help British farmers. According to the House of Commons Library, under the last Labour Government exports rose by 55%, but since then exports have risen by only 32%. Is the truth not that British exporters always do better under a Labour Government?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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That is absolute rubbish. It is not true. The veterinary agreement that he is talking about would create dynamic alignment with the EU, which is not what this country voted for in 2016. We are delivering what the people voted for. Yes, there will be difficulties—we are sorting them out. It is time that the Opposition moved on and accepted the will of the people.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)
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5. What recent progress her Department has made on negotiating a free trade agreement with South Korea.

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Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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7. What recent discussions she has had with the Scottish Government on the promotion of Scottish products in overseas markets.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
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My Department works closely with the Scottish Government and their agencies to promote Scottish products in overseas markets. We have recently delivered our Made in Scotland, Sold to the World exporter roadshow in Glasgow. On top of that, I am pleased to say that the PG Paper Company, a brilliant Scottish business, has just received an award in this year’s Made in the UK, Sold to the World awards.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
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The value of Scotland’s oil exports to the EU reached £9.4 billion in 2023, with total oil exports up 14.7%, so the value of oil as an export commodity cannot be overstated. Those billions of pounds in exports can be balanced against the modest £80 million investment that would increase Grangemouth’s profitability threefold, secure its long-term future and save Grangemouth from closure. Does the Secretary of State accept that it would be absurd for Scotland to be the only major oil-producing nation without a refinery capacity, and will she agree to meet me to discuss this matter further, given that the Scottish Government are otherwise occupied?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. It is something that we are concerned about and the UK and Scottish Governments are working together to understand all the options for the future of the refinery, and working closely on the issue through forums such as the Grangemouth Future Industry Board. I am very happy to meet him—as are other Ministers—to discuss this matter further.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
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Does the Secretary of State agree that, while there has been great progress in promoting and increasing the export of traditional Scottish products, such as whisky, we also need to support new businesses, such as one in South Lanarkshire that is keen to expand electronic vehicle infrastructure into the United States?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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Yes, my right hon. Friend is quite right: our exports need to be about the future, not just about the traditional industries, such as Scottish whisky, which are the pride of Scotland and of the UK. Electric vehicles are one way that we will hit our net zero target, and this is an area that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero is focused on and that I support in Business and Trade. If there is anything specific that we can look into for his constituency, we would be very happy to help.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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8. What steps she is taking to support jobs in steel supply chains.

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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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13. What recent progress she has made on increasing levels of trade with the United States.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
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Over the past two years, UK-US trade has grown 35% from £230 billion to £311 billion, while shared investment between our two nations now totals over £1.1 trillion. In March, following the excellent work of our trade envoy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Sir Conor Burns), I signed a state-level arrangement with Texas. That means that UK businesses now have memorandums of understanding with eight US states with a combined GDP equivalent to a quarter of the whole US economy.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I am delighted to report that US motorsport giant Andretti has shown a massive vote of confidence in the UK by taking 40,000 square feet of facilities in Buckinghamshire, with another 70,000 square feet on order, and is already employing over 100 people locally in high-tech jobs. That clearly opens up huge opportunities for automotive and motorsport supply-chain businesses on both sides of the pond, including General Motors. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming Andretti to the UK in its bid to get on to the Formula 1 grid, and what more can she do to ensure that automotive and motorsport supply chains can operate on both sides of the Atlantic?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I was delighted to see my hon. Friend visit the opening of Andretti Global’s new facility in Silverstone last month. I wish it luck as it continues its preparations to enter Formula 1. That investment is another vote of confidence in the world-leading innovation that the UK has to offer. Andretti Global will also specifically benefit from the MOU that we have signed with Indiana, which will enhance our trade relationship in key areas, including advanced manufacturing.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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14. Whether UK wine companies have sought advice from her Department on preparations for producing wine in pint measures under the Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

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Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
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Post Office governance is a priority for the Government, and I have said many times that it is vital that we have the right people leading that organisation. I am therefore pleased to tell the House that, on Wednesday, I announced the appointment of Nigel Railton as its interim chair. Having previously been chief executive of Camelot, Nigel brings a wealth of experience of transforming organisations, and I am confident that he is the right person to lead the Post Office through this period. Nigel Railton will take up his post as soon as possible, and will be invited to give Ministers his views on the future direction of the Post Office in due course.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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When will the Government admit that their Brexit dream of people quaffing pints of wine and invoking the spirit of Churchill was always a fantasy, and that the reality is, in fact, a Brexit nightmare of border checks, reduced consumer choice and business closures?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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It is nonsense to say that this reduces consumer choice; it actually increases consumer choice. I cannot imagine why anyone would be complaining about the sale of pints of wine. If the hon. Gentleman does not like them, he does not have to buy them.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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T4. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department have been looking into the closure of Kelsale post office, an outreach service in my constituency. Very recently, we voted through more money to subsidise the Post Office, including £50 million for rural branches. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make sure that that money is allocated? I know that the Post Office is trying to cut costs, but that should not be at the expense of customers in Kelsale.

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Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali
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Well, it is not working, and the Minister and the Secretary of State should take this seriously, because it is damaging our high streets and causing huge concern up and down the country. He and the Secretary of State should go and meet those businesses, and hear from them directly.

Turning to another issue, we have seen 14 years of Conservative under-investment in public infrastructure, a failure to provide certainty and a failure to get a grip on the economy. Business investment has also suffered. Had it matched the average investment levels of France, Germany and the US, our GDP would be nearly 4% higher today, and wages would have been boosted by £1,250 a year. Can the Secretary of State outline how she plans to fix this crippling investment gap, and what will she do to make sure businesses get the support they need so that we can get the economic growth this country desperately needs after 14 years of under-investment?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I remember a time when Labour Members were telling everyone that we should not invest in nuclear, and it is under this Conservative Government that we are investing in nuclear infrastructure. That has only happened under Conservative Governments. The hon. Lady asks about the plan. I would remind her about the global investment summit we had in November, which raised nearly £30 billion in one day. No one is better than our current Prime Minister at delivering inward investment for this country. Business investment is rising, and it is rising because of the policies that he and the Chancellor have put in place, such as capital expensing.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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T5. Yesterday, I was pleased to meet a number of UK aerospace businesses demonstrating and showcasing extraordinary innovation right here in the United Kingdom, including Safran, which has a significant base in Pitstone in my constituency. Can I ask my hon. Friend what the Department has done to ensure that we can increase aerospace exports?

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Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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As everyone on the Government Benches knows, even if we had a trade deal with the US, the hon. Member would be standing there telling us how he would be voting against it. The fact of the matter is that the US is not carrying out any free trade agreements with any country. There is nothing we can do about that, so instead we have been negotiating deals with states at an individual level, as I mentioned. For the last one, the governor of Texas came to the UK to sign a trade deal memorandum of understanding between Texas and the United Kingdom. Our relationship with the US is going well. I spoke about exports increasing, and our trade increasing to £311 billion. Trade with the US is going well. We will continue to pursue a free trade agreement, but trade requires two parties in order to deliver.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
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Are Ministers as concerned as I am about continued reports that Royal Mail is determined to move away from a six-day service? In a large rural constituency such as mine, with an older population, people continue to rely on the Royal Mail for important communications. Can the Minister make clear that that is not the direction of travel the Government want Royal Mail to go in?

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Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)
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Would it be acceptable if the UK became the only country in the G7 that could not make its own virgin steel?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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My hon. Friend will know how committed this Government are to the steel industry, but at the moment it is going through a transition. We care about having primary steel-making capacity in this country—that is something we want to do and to keep, but as she knows, even now we still import ore. I know she is concerned about British Steel and its future. I will be visiting her constituency in Scunthorpe and we will be able to discuss those matters further.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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T3. Yesterday, the BBC reported on expert analysis that has been submitted to the transition board, indicating that cutting 2,800 directly employed Tata Steel employees could lead to up to 9,500 additional job losses, due to the huge number of contractors and sub-contractors who are indirectly employed by Tata. When the Government handed £500 million of taxpayers’ money to Tata to do that deal, had they made a full assessment of the job losses: not just those directly employed by Tata who would lose their jobs, but the vast number of jobs that will be lost through the supply chains and contractors?

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Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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When the Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), bragged to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) earlier that his trade envoys had to have a qualification of “diplomacy and discretion”, did he have in mind the former trade envoy to Colombia, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies)?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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If the Opposition want to make an accusation, they should go ahead and do so, rather than this playground game that they are playing, which is insulting to every trade envoy, on both sides of the House, who is delivering for this country.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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Green Resource Engineering Ltd, a highly successful company in Willand, already exports £1 million of engineering business to South Korea every year and has done so for the last six years. The managing director, Richard Booth, let me know that exporting to Korea is already straightforward; by contrast, getting parts in from Europe has become a real headache. Rather than fretting about a free trade agreement with Korea, how are the Government monitoring additional red tape after having left the European single market?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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We have the most comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU—more than with any other country in the world—so that should not be the reason for difficulties in bringing in components. If the hon. Member has something specific that we can look at, I will be happy to take a look, but we have been doing everything to ensure that trade—in auto in particular—continues to boom, and it is booming. We were able to stop the issue with rules of origin, which was going to have a deadline at the end of this year. In terms of specific components that are having trouble getting across the border, I will need a bit more detail to provide him with an answer, but that is not about leaving the EU.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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India is the second largest market for Scottish whisky in the world, making it an extremely important market for the Scottish economy. Currently, whisky exported to India has a 150% import tariff placed on it. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that, in any trade deal signed with India, that tariff is reduced?

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be odd and inappropriate for the United Kingdom to impose any form of arms embargo against Israel when His Majesty’s armed forces are in the region and working with Israel to provide humanitarian support, and the UK would expect Israel to help in the protection of His Majesty’s forces?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. The Prime Minister addressed this issue yesterday. I know that there is a lot of interest in arms exports to Israel, and yesterday my entire Department was blockaded by protesters, meaning that civil servants who needed to get to work could not do so. The Government continue to monitor closely the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the strategic export licensing criteria. The Government take their defence export responsibilities extremely seriously and operate some of the most robust export controls in the world.

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Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I am afraid that I do not have the details to answer that question. On the face of it, given the information I have, it is not something I have heard before, but we can write back with more information. However, it does not sound like that is the case.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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In my constituency we have the fantastic company Selwyn’s, whose seafood is first class. It exports a lot; what is the Government’s current assessment of the export of cockles and other seafood in the Welsh market?