Steel Industry: Contribution to the UK Economy

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Wednesday 25th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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I will not set a firm time limit at the moment, but we have quite a few speakers. Speeches of around five minutes would fit perfectly to allow all the Front Benchers to have their full 10 minutes.

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I commend the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) for setting the scene so well. I do not have a steel factory in my constituency, or an industry that it is dependent on help from Government, but I do have a strong construction sector that depends on the British steel that comes from the factories in the areas others have spoken about, so it is important for me to put on the record why I support what the hon. Members for Newport East and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) and others said in their introductions, and what others will say.

I remember the last Westminster Hall debate on steel. The hon. Member for Newport East spoke then as well, and I think the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) led the debate. We can see that he is in the main Chamber—his name is up there on the screen—and he cannot be in two places at one time, although I venture sometimes to try. The only reason he is not here is that he has obligations in the main Chamber; otherwise, he would be here.

I have listened with great interest to the contributions of Members today, and I agree with much of what has been said. I have long been outspoken about the need for us to bring manufacturing home to purpose-built, modern, green factories that give local people jobs and produce the renowned high-quality steel for which we are famed. I absolutely support what the hon. Member for Newport East and others have said.

You will know, Mr Pritchard, because your knowledge of the issue is every bit as good as mine, that a major issue for my constituents—many will be able to say it with me—is the Northern Ireland protocol. Why do I mention that now? Let me explain. Some of the Members here will be aware—I suspect that you are one of them, Mr Pritchard—that last August His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs informed steel producers of a 25% tariff on some GB steel imports into Northern Ireland. The steel sector is important to me, and it seems that we are being penalised more than anybody else. The tariff is directly related to the Northern Ireland protocol—it is one of the issues apparent between the UK Government and the EU, to which Northern Ireland has no representation—and the rule changes in relation to steel imports. Some of those steel imports reasons relate to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; we understand that.

There are big factors that are impacting UK steel, and Northern Ireland in particular, as expert Sam Lowe has outlined. As has been reported:

“Essentially, steel from Great Britain had been able to enter Northern Ireland without a tariff because it was covered by a tariff rate quota (TRQ) for UK exports to the EU. A TRQ allows a certain amount of a product to enter a customs territory without a tariff being paid, but once a set limit is reached tariffs apply.”

So we in Northern Ireland are being penalised to the tune of 25% for our British steel—our own steel—in our own country. The report continues:

“However, when sanctions were applied to Russia EU businesses could no longer buy steel from there. So at that time the EU scrapped country-specific TRQs for the UK and others in favour of one TRQ for Ukraine and another TRQ covering all ‘other countries’.”

The Northern Ireland protocol means that Northern Ireland continues to follow EU customs rules, and therefore suffers disadvantage, pain and cost factors. It is hard to comprehend. The tariff-free limit for supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is set to be reached quickly. The UK previously had access to its own country-specific quota, which it could rely on to accommodate steel moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but now such movements will be covered by the “other countries” quota, which could fill up much more quickly, given that the entire world has access to it.

What does that mean in practice? It means a 25% tariff on British steel moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It means that, while European manufacturers can supply the UK with no tariff, the same does not apply to businesses in my constituency of Strangford. We want to use British steel from Newport, Scunthorpe and elsewhere, as we have in the past. It means that the local steel supplier just two minutes from my office in Newtownards is wondering how, with a 25% tariff increase, he can continue to be involved with construction industry clients that are already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of increased prices. It means that my steel importers—my British steel importers—cannot supply the suppliers of other Members in this Chamber. It means that all right hon. and hon. Members should stand and join with me in actively opposing the Northern Ireland protocol, not as a Northern Ireland problem but as a UK problem that affects their local economies and mine. I support the steel industry wholeheartedly, and I ask that every Member in this Chamber recognises my position as the Member for Strangford and does the same for Northern Ireland against this insidious protocol.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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Before I call the Front-Bench spokespeople, who will have 10 minutes each, I am afraid that I will have to set a time limit of four minutes for our final three speakers.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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The steel industry—or tin-plate industry, as we call it—is vital to my constituency of Llanelli, where we take the steel from Port Talbot and make it into a range of products that subsequently become tins for food or cans for aerosols. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) on securing the debate, which comes at a crucial time for the steel industry.

In the interests of saving time, I will not repeat the excellent points that my hon. Friend made on the energy issue. Energy costs are not just an immediate challenge. Now is very much decision time for the future of the steel industry. The US Inflation Reduction Act and President Biden’s determination to tackle climate change have undoubtedly accelerated global interest in decarbonisation, which poses huge challenges for the steel industry. Our steelmaking capacity is ageing, and now is crunch time for steel manufacturers, which must decide where they will invest for the future—whether it will be the UK or elsewhere.

We know that blast furnaces cannot simply be replaced by electric arc furnaces. Yes, they have a role, and could clearly be run on electricity generated from renewable sources, but the real challenge is to decarbonise the blast furnace process of making steel from iron ore. That requires huge investment in research and innovation to develop the technologies of the future. The UK Government need to make the conditions right for companies to choose the UK. We need a clear vision from the UK Government, and determination to ensure that the UK gets ahead of the game and develops the technologies. We have to be prepared to take the risk in order to reap the gains. If the UK can lead the way, we will have not only a flourishing steel industry, but the opportunity to export our steel and our technologies.

We need a clear industrial strategy, from research and innovation through development to establishing production; as well as confidence that there will be a level playing field on issues such as energy costs and confidence, and a commitment to use UK-produced steel in public procurement. The only way we will attract companies to invest in the steel industry of the future is with a proper strategy. The alternative is the demise of our industry. If we are overtaken by countries producing cleaner, cheaper steel, we will be left behind. It is not just the steel industry that needs certainty; all the associated industries need to know whether to invest.

The horrors that have unfolded in Ukraine have reminded us just how important it is that we have our own steel industry—for our security of supply and to support a range of other industries, including defence. The situation has made us refocus on the importance of our own sovereign defence capability and the need to have the materials and the skilled workforce to be able to scale up production if necessary. There is strong cross-party support for sanctions against Putin’s Russia, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East explained, there are loopholes. I understand that the Government may have plans to close the loopholes, but I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed this and indicated when we can expect it to happen.

We need a level playing field when it comes to UK steel having to compete against imports. When there are distortions in the marketplace, with steel arriving at our ports from countries that give massive state subsidies to the steel industry, taking action should be well within World Trade Organisation rules, and is essential to protect our steel industry against unfair competition—all the more so given that both the US and EU protect their steel industries in this way. Without such protection, we risk losing production and workers facing redundancy, and ultimately a lack of future investment in the industry.

Despite that, in both summer 2021 and summer 2022, the UK Government made very last-minute decisions about the extension of the existing steel safeguards. This does nothing to reassure the industry. If we want future investment in the UK steel industry, companies need to know that there is strong political will to protect the industry, and that they can rely on the UK Government to protect them from being undermined by artificially cheap imports. I understand that the Department for International Trade is looking to reform the way the Trade Remedies Authority works. We need a system that really works for the industry—that can respond speedily, carry out investigations and act to protect our industry. The UK Government would do well to look at some of UK Steel’s suggestions to achieve this.

First, we need clear Government policy on how we deal with countries such as China and Russia. Secondly, given that in March 2022 we needed additional legislation to give the Secretary of State call-in powers, consideration needs to be given to how those powers could be part of the system so that the Secretary of State can use them in an initial investigation. Thirdly, reform of the way in which the economic interest test works is needed—

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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Order. I call Tim Farron.

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Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Ind)
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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) for so eloquently leading on this very important debate. I speak today as a member of the Unite and GMB trade unions.

Steel is a foundational sector across the UK, never more so than in Neath Port Talbot county borough. On such strong foundations, economies and supply chains are created. Port Talbot steelworks reaches all the surrounding communities. Thousands of Neath constituents have worked there, or know someone who works there or in its supply chain, as my father did. To say it has been a difficult few years for the steelworkers in Neath Port Talbot would be an understatement. Competing in the global market, the absence of anti-dumping tariffs, the lifting of lesser duty rates and rising UK energy prices have conspired to create uncertainty and fear.

Over 2,000 local jobs have been lost since 2014. Steel and the steel industry are vital to Wales and its economy. The idea that the steel sector does not have a future is unthinkable, but our steelworkers are as robust as the steel they make. They have so far bounced back from every adversity, but the situation is about to get much worse. Of the top 10 economies in the world, the UK’s is the only one with a declining steel industry. The UK Government should immediately sit down with Tata Steel and other businesses to do a deal on green steel for the sake of the future of our workforce.

The steel sector is a crucial aspect of the partnership between the public and private sectors. The UK Government should look to set indicative targets for the amount of domestically produced steel that we put into Government-funded projects. That would enable us to make, buy and sell more steel in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for steel and metal related industries, of which I am a vice chair, cannot be with us today because he has duties in the main Chamber, but he has spoken in Westminster Hall many times about the importance of the steel sector to the UK, to his constituency and to Wales.

Floating offshore wind has the potential to transform the economy and jobs market in my hon. Friend’s Aberavon constituency and across south Wales, but it will happen only if floating offshore wind substructures and other components are manufactured and assembled locally. The public know we need a Britain that can stand more firmly on its own two feet, and they recognise the need for foundational industries to thrive if Britain is to prosper. Indeed, in one recent poll, 80% of those surveyed declared steel to be a strategically important industry that we must maintain in the UK. That is why the Labour party’s green prosperity plan will marry the quest for sustainable growth and jobs on which people can raise a family with the need for resilience. Net zero should be seen not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity for growth and prosperity. Labour’s proposed green steel renewal fund will secure the future of the steel industry for my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine, who live in Neath and work at Tata Steel. By greening our steel processing, Labour will ensure that our steelmakers can compete in a world in which global steel demand is on the rise. Britain needs its steel as a foundation of the modern manufacturing renaissance that Labour will deliver.

Time is running out for the future of our steel industry. I know that the Minister, who is a very magnanimous person, is working around the clock to familiarise herself with her new brief. I am grateful that she has already met the members of the all-party group for steel and metal-related industries, and I hope that she will stay a while in her new role. I urge her, however, to impress on the Treasury the importance of investing in decarbonisation of the UK steel industry, and particularly Tata Steel in Port Talbot. Without serious UK Government investment now, I fear that Tata Steel in Port Talbot is on the cliff edge.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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Thank you to all our speakers for being on time; that allows each Front-Bench spokesperson to have 10 minutes.

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Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
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I was with the unions yesterday and in front of the APPG today.

I am going to run out of time, so I will quickly touch on the carbon border adjustment mechanism. We are aware of the risk of carbon leakage, which a number of Members highlighted, and we have been monitoring the EU CBAM proposal with interest. As I said to the APPG this morning, once the consultation is out, it is absolutely vital that we put in the best submission. I have agreed to come back to the APPG to ensure we do that constructively.

Public procurement is a key focus of mine. I am trying to get over the negotiations at the moment, and I will reflect on what more we can do with procurement. We are looking at the BEIS steel procurement taskforce, and we will also reflect on what is happening in the United States.

On trade, Members know my positions on countries such as China and Russia, as double sanctionees. I know how important it is to ensure we are resilient in the UK. We work very closely with the Department for International Trade to put together the best packages for trade. I absolutely understand the points made about Russia. We are doing everything we can to ensure that that steel is not arriving here, but I will go back and see whether we can push back any further. I will do everything I can to ensure that happens.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe was keen to reflect on the steel safeguards. We have agreed an extensive solution to the US section 232 tariffs to significantly increase US market access for UK firms.

I am anxious that I am going to run out of time, so I will respond to Members in writing. I reiterate my commitment to the sector and to appearing in front of the APPG as soon as possible to ensure we are putting together a good package and are able to lobby No. 10 and No. 11 collectively.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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I call Jessica Morden to wind up. You have 20 seconds.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden
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I thank all Members for coming along. We have agreed that this is a critical time for steel. I welcome the new steel Minister to her role. I welcome the talks; I think they are a step in the right direction. I also support Community’s call for steel companies to reconsider any plans for restructuring while those talks are ongoing and before we know what future support there might be. I say to the Minister that we need more data on procurement, so perhaps she can provide that—

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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Order.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Energy Price Cap: Residential Buildings with Communal Heating Systems

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Wednesday 20th April 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I hope that the Minister might address that very well made point. We can live in hope.

Through all the good and necessary steps that the Government are taking to protect consumers through the energy cap, the timescales are quite difficult for our residents who are facing the cost here and now. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about what help, if any, can be given to those on heat networks now. I hope that if there is a consultation and it is a quick one, it will also throw up lots of secondary concerns. For example, how can we address the detail of meters? Can any price cap in this area take into account different monitoring systems as technology evolves? Can we have a cap on the wholesale price for consumers as well as domestic users with a single supply? It is not an easy task to resolve this.

Right now, we in Parliament need to ensure that there is interim support that takes into account the nuances of those locked into heat networks—they are literally locked into this. Indeed, I was concerned to hear reports from some of my constituents who are currently excluded from the otherwise comprehensive package of support being offered by the Treasury, precisely because they are on a heat network.

I am sure that the Minister will be relieved to hear that I do not think that a solution will necessarily require more money. We just need to ensure that Government support is allocated fairly and takes into account the complexities of people locked into heat networks with no price caps.

I hear time and again that transparency is key to resolving this matter, and right now I am concerned that Ofgem does not quite have the capacity to target the support that is needed to residents who are affected. In fact, that was brought up in the responses to the Government’s “Heat Networks: Building a Market Framework” consultation. It seems that some of those previous concerns are now transpiring, and I suspect that we are seeing the additional complexity of a top-down approach when the market really requires a bottom-up approach.

To conclude, I hope that the Minister can address a few of the concerns that I have mentioned. I know that the Government are committed to making heat networks a key part of their energy policy. After all, heat networks have the potential to offer low-cost, low-carbon heat. But without intervention now, hundreds of thousands of families are facing horrendous and unaffordable heating bills. What is important here and now is that we must not leave families living on these schemes behind.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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I do not wish to impose a hard time limit, but quite a few Back Benchers would like to contribute and we would like to hear everyone if possible, so I would be grateful if Members could practise self-regulation and stick to about four minutes if possible. I call Rushanara Ali—[Interruption.] You are on the list. Okay, you have withdrawn. I call Sharon Hodgson—[Interruption.] Well, you are on the list. We are going to go home earlier; that is fine by everybody, I am sure. I call Janet Daby—[Interruption.] You are on the list as well, but that is fine. Siobhain McDonagh, I know you will want to speak.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Pritchard. Anyone would say that I was garrulous after those comments.

I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) on bringing forward this really important debate. For households across our country, the cost of living is soaring. We have seen the biggest tax hike since the 1940s, the largest drop in living standards since the 1950s, public sector net debt reaching the highest level since the 1960s, and real earnings growth facing the largest one-year drop since the 1970s. Rising inflation, a hike in national insurance, and rocketing energy costs are putting unprecedented pressure on the pockets of hard-working families in all our constituencies.

However, as we have heard, approximately 150,000 housing association residents have heating and hot water delivered to their home via a communal or district heating network, rather than an individual boiler. Their way of paying energy is not regarded as domestic but business use. When it comes to energy payments, some might call them non-doms—perhaps we had better not go there. The Ofgem price cap does not protect those residents, so housing associations face the prospect of either absorbing soaring energy costs or passing them on to tenants and leaseholders.

This issue was first raised with me by my constituent Mr Johnston at the beginning of the year. He was worried that the lack of price cap protection and the soaring costs of energy may mean that he and his neighbours at Sadler Close in Mitcham could face an up to tenfold increase. They currently pay an estimated cost, with leaseholders paying through service charges and tenants through their rent. Mr Johnston lives in a Clarion-owned housing block and, despite my recent criticism of Clarion, I was delighted and relieved to learn that it has a commodity-capped agreement in place with its energy provider for another two years, so tenants and leaseholders will experience little increase, if any, in their gas charges. I am, of course, concerned about what will happen in two years’ time.

Right now, however, other tenants in similar situations will not be as fortunate. On 16 February, I wrote to the chief executive of Notting Hill Genesis regarding the Meadows estate on Mitcham Common to seek clarity that my constituents in those blocks would not face the same issue. Given the urgency of the energy price rises, I had hoped for a speedy response but, unfortunately, two months later I am still awaiting a reply. Even if those tenants are fortunate, thousands of others will not be.

The problems of unregulated energy supply are threefold. First, the monopoly of supply means that customers in shared blocks may be locked into long-term contracts with no way of holding suppliers to account on quality or price. Secondly, there is a lack of transparency. Residents often do not know that their energy will be supplied by a heat network. I took it upon myself to share the Clarion information outlined earlier in my speech with my constituents, fearful that many of them may not be aware of the impact of energy costs on their income. Who would have thought that a letter saying that their energy prices would be the same for two years could be heralded as such brilliant news? Thirdly, higher ongoing operating costs caused by property developers trying to cut the up-front costs of installing a network may simply result in higher costs for customers.

Minister, we need to examine the cost increases faced by residents in shared blocks and consider who has been hit disproportionately. We need to look at the regulation of energy costs paid in this way and quickly, because the clock is ticking towards the next big price hike in October. Warm words will not ensure warm homes, and without action the problem will get worse very quickly.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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Do we have any other takers?

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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I will be incredibly brief—I think we will be voting shortly—and will pick up on a couple of points made by others in this debate. I have been raising issues about the lack of consumer protection for customers of communal heat networks since I was elected in 2015. It is a very long-standing issue, and there has been a tangible lack of progress in addressing it.

The first issue is the statutory regulation of the sector. We have come a long way. I remember raising this matter when I was a member of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change before the Department was abolished, and Ministers would tell me that statutory regulation of the sector was not required, that introducing it risked strangling an emerging industry at birth and that they were not going anywhere near it. I remember asking the CMA—[Interruption.]

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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Order. I have to suspend the sitting for a Division, and I understand that we will be having a lot of them. The first suspension will be for 15 minutes, but it will be 10 minutes for subsequent votes. If Members could make their way back a little faster after the final vote, we can get off to a quick start.

Storm Eunice

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Monday 21st February 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Again, I refer to the 2013-14 period. I know that a number of people here were not in the House at that time, but this was precisely the issue that came up then and we have tried to engage with Flood Re. It has responded more effectively and we will see what more can be done in this area.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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Shropshire has seen three storms in one week, with massive flooding along the River Severn, displaced flooding and a huge amount of storm damage. Often in these circumstances the actions or inactions of insurance companies, in supporting businesses that have been struggling after the pandemic and are now being flooded and people who are being driven out of their homes, compound the trauma that so many people suffer. Will the Secretary of State ensure that his Department deals with the Association of British Insurers and others to ensure speedy payouts? [Interruption.]

SMEs: Access to Finance

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
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I remind hon. Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind hon. Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room, and make sure that mobile devices are turned off.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered access to finance for small and medium sized enterprises.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am grateful that this timely debate was granted. Following the UK’s departure from the European Union and our ongoing economic recovery following covid-19, the UK has a unique opportunity to shape a diverse financial services sector that serves a fair, robust and competitive economy with small and medium-sized enterprises at its heart. Research by the Industrial Strategy Council, economists at Sheffield University and the International Monetary Fund concluded that the UK is the most regionally imbalanced country in Europe when it comes to the productivity of its economies.

It is worrying that the job opportunities and livelihoods of most UK citizens depend on where they live. We know that skills and talents are spread throughout the country but opportunity is not, and so it is with SME finance. The Prime Minister has rightly made levelling up his key mission, examples of which I am already beginning to see in my constituency, with the establishment of the Darlington Economic Campus providing life-changing new opportunities for the Tees valley. I and my Conservative colleagues look forward to the levelling up White Paper and the opportunity that it will provide to right some of the imbalance in our country that has perpetuated under Governments of all colours for decades.

How does regional inequality relate to small businesses up and down the country? As Mark Carney said when Governor of the Bank of England in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet for bankers and merchants in 2019, SMEs across the country face a £22 billion funding gap. A recent inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), my good friend, found that SMEs report significant problems in accessing finance.

National Security and Investment Bill

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are giving certainty, and we expect that most call-in decisions will be decided upon within 30 days. I said that we expect that less than 1% of all transactions in any given year will be called in, and only about 10% of those will then face detailed scrutiny.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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Will the Secretary of the State provide clarity to the House about the jurisdiction of the Bill? For example, if a German technological company was listed in Germany but the IP and research and development was based in the UK, what powers would the Government have to act?

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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of interest and experience in investments. This Bill focuses on national security, and we have been clear that we will define the sectors where mandatory notification is required, which is right and proper. The whole point of the Bill is that we are taking a proportionate approach. We do not want some kind of chilling effect on investment coming into the UK. We have been a beacon for inward investment over many years with, as I said earlier, three quarters of a trillion dollars coming into our country over the past 10 years. We would not want that to change.

Transactions covered by mandatory notification that take place without clearance will be legally void. Again, that is in line with the French, German and Italian regimes. Parties to an acquisition may, of course, voluntarily inform the Secretary of State about their acquisitions to seek swift clearance to proceed. We have also streamlined the information required for notification from 36 pages, as required under the Enterprise Act 2002 for competition modifications, to a third of that.

The use of digital processes will make interaction with the Government much simpler, more transparent and slicker, and Government will aim to provide clearance for most transactions within 30 working days of notification, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) raised earlier. Having spoken to the investment community over the past week, I know that that timely approach to the clearing of transactions is welcomed.

Moving on to the assessment of called-in transactions, part 2 of the Bill provides powers to assess transactions should the Government call one in. Where the specific legal test is met, the Government may impose conditions or, in extremis, block or unwind transactions. I stress once again that the Government will use those powers sparingly and proportionately.

The Government will take the necessary powers in the Bill to gather information about any transaction. However, such information will be strictly safeguarded against inappropriate disclosure. That includes, of course, information from parties, regulators and others to make informed decisions on transactions. If no remedies are imposed, a final notification will be provided at the end of a national security assessment. Alternatively, the Government may choose to prescribe remedies.

Any notification decision under the Bill will be subject to legal challenge from the potential acquirer entity by way of judicial review or appeal, and the Government will be able to apply to the court for a closed material procedure to protect commercially sensitive and national security matters in such proceedings. The investment security unit will ensure that the entire process is streamlined and supported by robust digital structures and governance to ensure swift decision-making on assessments.

It is worth noting that the new regime will be underpinned by both civil and criminal sanctions, creating effective deterrents for non-compliance with statutory obligations. Again, that is in line with sanctions in the French and German regimes.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard
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Is it not the case that a call-in itself could be commercially sensitive, particularly to a listed company? In that regard, a default of self-referral to the Government would probably be a better way for industry to ensure that share prices are not unfortunately affected by what might be a legitimate call-in.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Of course, self-referral, as he refers to it, is possible. In fact, if any company has particular concerns as to transactions that they may be undertaking or part of, they will get a swift assessment from the Government.

I make the point, though, that we will not be effectively publicising call-ins when they take place. Clearly, at the end of a transaction, if there was a particular remedy, that would be made public. It is also worth pointing out that the Government will publish an annual report, not on individual transactions, but on the scope of the transactions and sectors that have been looked at. I hope that that will give future investors an opportunity to consider the type of transactions in which the Government have a particular interest.

The final measure that I want to detail relates to the overseas disclosure of information relating to a merger investigation. Under section 243 of the 2002 Act, there is a restriction on the ability of UK public authorities to disclose merger information to overseas authorities unless the consent of the entity has been given. Clause 59 of the Bill removes that restriction. That will strengthen the Competition and Markets Authority’s ability to protect UK markets and consumers as it takes a more active role internationally, allowing the UK to set up comprehensive competition agreements with our international partners.

In conclusion, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House see that the Bill updates our national security powers in a proportionate, pro-trade and pro-business manner.

--- Later in debate ---
Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). Although I did not agree with everything in his speech, I have fond memories of being in his constituency playing rugby as scrum half, fishing, and go-karting on rickety self-made go-karts that often fell apart. I also went to my first rock concert at Aberavon leisure centre—The Who; I think they were at Madison Square Garden some years earlier, I hasten to add.

I welcome the Bill. As has already been stated, it is perhaps a little long overdue, given that my predecessors on the Intelligence and Security Committee suggested in 2013 that such a Bill was required urgently. I also put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), who has been calling for such a Bill for many years. I am sure he is, at least in part, happy to see the Bill before the House. I also commend the Secretary of State, the Minister and, indeed, the whole ministerial team for bringing the Bill forward so early in this Parliament.

It is, of course, right that the Secretary of State has new powers to scrutinise strategic and sensitive investments in sectors that might pose a national security risk to the United Kingdom. The Bill should also act as a legislative assurance, or reassurance, for would-be investors and businesses. They can now avoid, hopefully, being targeted and potentially exploited by the hostile states and entities hidden behind the respectable veil of supposedly legitimate mergers and acquisitions that take place in the City every day—strategic partnerships, joint ventures and major investments.



The Bill also rightly responds to the huge advances in technology, as we have heard from other hon. Members today, which in itself further widens the potential scope of the Government’s national security concerns—and, indeed, remit—particularly around intellectual property, patents and copyright. Although this might prove problematic for the Government, particularly around dual technology, it is absolutely right that it should be addressed. We heard from the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) earlier on the use of dual technologies. However, the Bill should not mean compromising growth or prosperity, and I was glad to hear the Minister underscore that. Got right, there is no need for it to compromise or conflict with national security and national prosperity. It is more than manageable, certainly with this excellent ministerial team, for the Government to balance national security and economic competitiveness, and to give the Government greater powers to assess and scrutinise investments that could reasonably be viewed as posing a potential risk to the UK’s national security. The Bill rightly empowers the Secretary of State, where necessary, proportionately to impose remedies up to and including blocking the transaction, using full through to lower-level measures. If the risk to national security is extreme, clearly those fuller measures should be deployed.

Of course, the Bill protects businesses that are small. We have heard from hon. Members on that as well, and I think the Government need to be careful that investors are not put off by the potential for many months of bureaucracy and hurdles to entry to market, particularly at the start-up stage or the second or third capital raising stage for entrepreneurial SMEs. The Bill will, of course, look at small businesses, and many of these small businesses have a global reach although their turnover might not be particularly large. They might—by definition, as small businesses—have fewer than 30 employees, but that does not necessarily mean that their technology and intellectual property are not of interest to some of the UK’s adversaries.

In welcoming the Bill, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and his Committee for their work. He has raised this issue over many years, and I would like to put on record my thanks to him. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has rightly mentioned computing hardware, quantum technologies and satellite and space technologies. There is a list of 17, and I will not go into them now, but it is absolutely right that these very sensitive areas fall under the remit and the scrutiny of this new legislation. Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know as a previous distinguished member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, that the Committee is currently considering the threat of this whole area in its current inquiry into the national security threat that China may or may not pose. In my view, it poses a significant threat in a lot of areas. Will the Minister give an undertaking to the House that there will be a timely publication of those mandated reporting sectors?

If I may, I would like to ask a few questions, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, of the Government. Can the Minister explain the Government’s arrangements for the new investment security unit? How will it interact with the national security apparatus and structures that already exist, including the investment security group? Will the investment security unit consider acquisitions that might result in an indirect threat—for example, through supply chains or managed service providers? What safeguards will there be in the Bill to prevent non-UK Governments from pressuring the UK Government to call in certain mergers and acquisitions that those Governments might find offensive or inappropriate even though the UK might take a different view? Also, on the issue of competitors, what safeguards will there be to prevent vexatious and spurious calls for the Government to intervene by competitors who feel they are going to lose out as a result?

This Bill is long overdue, but it is right to give credit where credit is due. I thank the Government for bringing it forward and I hope that they will work with the ISC and the whole House as it goes through to Report stage. I commend the Bill and thank the Minister for all he is doing.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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I am always very interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s contributions on this subject. We should look at the details of actual deforestation, but he must not allow himself to get distracted from the big picture. The deployment of offshore wind has been a huge success for the UK. As the Secretary of State said, the price per megawatt hour has come down by two thirds and renewable energy is absolutely at the centre of our strategy to reach net zero carbon.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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In 2016, the United States became a net exporter of liquefied natural gas. In 2019, the United States became a net exporter of all oil products: both crude and refined. In order to diversify the UK’s energy risk, is it not time that the Government started to interact with the United States, perhaps as part of a trade deal, to import both gas and oil from the United States?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I met the newly appointed US Energy Secretary a couple of weeks ago and we work very closely with the United States. Of course, this week we published our terms for our negotiation for a free trade agreement with that great country.

International Climate Action

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Thursday 26th September 2019

(4 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom
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I hope the hon. Gentleman is not the agent for that particular book and taking a commission on every one sold. Obviously, that would be a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, I take his point. We need to be shouting from the rooftops. There are so many brilliant young people out there doing that for us, but he is right: we all need to do all we can to tackle the issue.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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May I welcome the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050 while creating jobs? Given today’s paper, I hope that most of them will be green jobs. What is the Government’s rationale for not agreeing with the Opposition’s target of 2030?

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom
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I regret to say that the 2030 target announced by the Labour party is simply not credible. Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said:

“We need zero emissions. Getting there by 2050 is tough and expensive but feasible and consistent with avoiding most damaging climate change. Aiming for zero emissions by 2030 is almost certainly impossible, hugely disruptive and risks undermining consensus.”

I urge Members to work, on a cross-party basis, on zero emissions by 2050.

Space Policy

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Wednesday 18th July 2018

(5 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
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It is highly unusual to get welcoming remarks from the Scottish National party, and I am tempted to just bank them and sit down.

We are very aware that Prestwick is home to innovative launch companies like Orbital Access and is close to Glasgow’s world-leading small satellite industry, and that Snowdonia is a leading site for remotely piloted vehicles and autonomous testing. We want all of the UK to benefit from this huge technological development. That is why we announced additional grants this week, so that they can bid for them to develop the market in their area and make a success of space.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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On Galileo and a possible replacement satellite system, is it not in the EU’s security interests as well as our own national security interests for the EU to continue to work together collaboratively with UK industry, and in particular the space sector?

Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
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My hon. Friend puts his finger on why the situation with Galileo is so hugely frustrating. Only about two months ago we worked very closely with the French Government on military strikes in Syria, so the idea that the UK somehow cannot be trusted on sensitive security matters is totally for the birds. Our future participation, if we were to participate, is dependent on our ability to independently ensure the integrity of the system, so that we can rely on it for strategic defence and security uses. That is why the UK has put forward its red lines, but I agree that there is huge benefit in mutual co-operation and the Commission would do well to take the rational position that that is in our mutual security interests.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Tuesday 14th March 2017

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lord Johnson of Marylebone Portrait Joseph Johnson
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The UK is a powerhouse of academic research, and our collaborations with institutions in Europe and around the world are an important part of that success. Through the industrial strategy, we want to continue to play to our great strengths as a science and research powerhouse, and we will continue to welcome agreements to collaborate with our European partners on major science and technology programmes in years to come.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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Agri-science plays a vital part in the industrial strategy, but more could be done. Is the Minister aware of the excellent work of Harper Adams University in my constituency? It exports its excellence all over the world.

Lord Johnson of Marylebone Portrait Joseph Johnson
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I am aware of the excellent work undertaken by that institution in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Agri-tech receives considerable support through our public investment in R and D, and will continue to do so.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mark Pritchard Excerpts
Tuesday 31st January 2017

(7 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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The hon. Lady has two eminent universities in her constituency that are going from strength to strength. I agree that it is important that the best researchers from across the world come to our universities, and the Prime Minister said in her Lancaster House speech that that was a priority for our negotiations.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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Science funding includes funding for the satellite sector, which is an important industrial base for the UK. The Government have set a target to grow this sector by a further 10% of global share in the next two decades. What more money could be put into the satellite sector from the industrial strategy challenge fund?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. We say in the strategy that we should build on our strengths, and the satellite sector is a shining British strength that is creating huge numbers of jobs. It is specified throughout the industrial strategy as an area in which we want the industry to work together to ensure that, in particular, we are training the technicians and engineers of the future, which is what we have been doing.