Lord Frost debates involving the Cabinet Office

There have been 6 exchanges involving Lord Frost and the Cabinet Office

Thu 25th March 2021 Post Brexit: Economic and Political Opportunities (Lords Chamber) 21 interactions (696 words)
Thu 25th March 2021 Northern Ireland and Great Britain: Trade (Lords Chamber) 19 interactions (688 words)
Thu 25th March 2021 Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (Lords Chamber) 19 interactions (582 words)
Thu 18th March 2021 UK-EU Trade (Lords Chamber) 21 interactions (763 words)
Wed 10th March 2021 Northern Ireland Protocol: Grace Period (Lords Chamber) 27 interactions (1,039 words)
Thu 4th March 2021 Space Industry (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (1,807 words)

Post Brexit: Economic and Political Opportunities

Lord Frost Excerpts
Thursday 25th March 2021

(2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what evidence-based analysis Her Majesty’s Government are using to oversee the cross-government work on maximising the economic and political opportunities flowing from the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

Lord Frost Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the UK’s future economic and political opportunities are maximised by the ability we now have to set laws which suit this country’s needs, rather than the lowest common denominator of EU member states. That is true when we review existing legislation and when we set new legislative frameworks for the industries of the future. In doing so, we will draw on economic and analytical support from within government departments and beyond them.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Cabinet. I am surprised that there is no mention of the specific work of anybody. I cite the economic work of Crowley, Exton and Han from Cambridge University, and hope that he will look at it. I want to ask about political opportunities. Does he agree that for 2021, two large opportunities for the independent UK are the G7 and COP 26? Does he further agree that, to maximise these opportunities, it will be more effective to co-operate with the EU as an entity than via bilateral relations with member states?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord that we have great opportunities on the world stage after Brexit. This year the G7 summit and COP 26 meeting are among the most important. Of course, we seek to co-operate with the EU and its member states in whichever way is most appropriate.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Minister to his first outing at Minister of State’s Questions. There are 24 committees and groups set up under the trade and co-operation agreements. They are, in effect, the instruments and controls in its cockpit, but the Government have said that there will be no meetings of these bodies until the end of the ratification period, which is now considerably extended, so the flight deck is empty. Given that the TCA is fully operational, what plans do the Government have to at least get meetings in the diary?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have, of course, read the full and thoughtful report produced by the noble Earl’s committee, which was published on Monday, on this question and many others. We think that it is right to establish the Government’s arrangements fully when the treaty is fully in force and ratified on both sides, which we hope will be very soon.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, should concentrate on outcomes, not process, and that he need look no further than the terrific work being done by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, with 66 trade deals already done and more still to come as evidence of how the Government are delivering opportunities for the UK now that we are out of the EU?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I very much agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s question. More than 60 trade treaties were rolled over last year, and a number of others are now under negotiation with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and so on, and we have an aspiration to join the CPTPP. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is doing an excellent job in this area, and I am sure she will continue to do so.

Baroness Bull Portrait Baroness Bull (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the importance of international access for service industries and the integration of UK and EU services is well evidenced. Some 40% of services trade in the UK’s £116 billion creative sector flows to the EU, and the integrated review reminds us that these services enhance the UK’s soft power and its balance of trade. Will the Minister ensure that this evidence is taken into account in identifying future opportunities for the UK? If the existing evidence is not enough, can he tell us what further evidence is required to convince the Government to prioritise our world-leading, revenue-generating creative industries in future trade negotiations?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the UK is very much a services-based economy and the success of our services industries in all areas is essential for our future prosperity. We are well aware of the particular issues faced by cultural workers and we put forward solutions in the TCA negotiations to try to deal with them but, unfortunately, that was not possible. We are now working energetically with our European friends bilaterally to see whether we can reduce the most difficult barriers and will continue to do so.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as a Minister and as First Minister of Scotland, I was regularly engaged in developing negotiating positions and in other debates on the UK’s position in discussions with the European Union. What arrangements has the Minister put in place to engage with the devolved Governments as part of these new arrangements with the European Union? Specifically, how will he engage with civic society and business in Scotland to ensure that their views are being heard?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we engaged very closely with the devolved Administrations last year during the TCA negotiations and in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement. At the moment, we are considering the best way of engaging the devolved Administrations most effectively in the new governance arrangements that have been set up, and I expect we will want further discussions on that matter before too long.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, when I asked the Minister last week about the absence of the EU/UK agreement impact assessment, he told me:

“The economic situation last year, the impact of the pandemic and the huge uncertainties made it very difficult to conduct an analysis.”—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 447.]

However, that was not the case for the UK/Japan agreement he referred to, on which a 107-page assessment was published at the end of October. The Minister just told the House that the Government are drawing on economic and analytical support within government. Will the British Parliament be able to see any of it?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government routinely publish much information and analysis of this country’s economic prospects. They most recently did so around the Budget earlier this month. Many other bodies, such as the OBR and the ONS do likewise. There is a good deal of comment on the prospects for this country after Brexit, economically and otherwise, and we are not convinced that further publications at this point would add to this very rich debate.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can my noble friend enlighten the House on the progress he is making with the export of shellfish from the UK to the EU? Does he accept that the EU has acted in bad faith in its strict adherence to the rules? Is he contemplating that we might retaliate in kind?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we obviously regret the situation that has arisen with the difficulties in exporting shellfish to the European Union after 1 January. Clearly, nothing changed in the safety of British shellfish or British waters at midnight on 31 December. We are continuing to work with the Commission and member states to see whether we can resolve this situation.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I want to return to an issue we touched on last week when the Minister appeared to dismiss concerns about the January fall in exports, saying:

“A unique combination of facts has made it inevitable”.—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 445.]

The Food and Drink Federation does not share his complacency, having seen its members’ exports to the EU collapse by 75% in the past year but by only 11% to the rest of the world. It is clear that the Brexit negotiations, which the Minister was part of, had a hugely significant impact, particularly on small businesses, so I have two questions for him. First, if the fall really was inevitable, why did he not tell businesses beforehand? Secondly, will he urgently convene a meeting, not- withstanding his earlier comments, of the partnership council and the special trade committees to try to save British exports?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the economic situation is clearly hugely influenced by many factors including stock building, the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the effects of the pandemic, which has dramatically affected markets in Europe, to which many of our smaller companies and food companies export. We are working very closely with all those companies to deal with the difficulties they face, and we will continue to do so in support of our great food and drink industry.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I echo the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to this question. The first set of concrete numbers are now available and starting to speak for themselves. What is the reaction to Santander UK’s recent barometer survey published this week showing that 16% of the businesses surveyed—equating to 1,000 businesses—say that European supply chains are no longer viable and 23% say that the increase in the costs of bureaucracy currently prohibits them trading with existing UK markets? Then there is this morning’s news that Santander UK is closing 111 UK branches with the loss of 5,000 jobs. What plans do the Government have to fix these issues?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the ongoing pandemic is clearly having a significant effect on the economic situation in Europe and in the UK. That cannot be removed from the economic situation we are trying to consider. We are working very closely with goods exporters, services exporters and all companies to enable them to deal with the new processes they face to ensure that they can continue to prosper after Brexit.

Lord Fowler Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord Fowler)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the second question.

Northern Ireland and Great Britain: Trade

Lord Frost Excerpts
Thursday 25th March 2021

(2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what initiatives Her Majesty’s Government will pursue in the European Union–United Kingdom Joint Committee to reduce the burdens for businesses in Northern Ireland trading with Great Britain.

Lord Frost Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we are committed to and have legislated to ensure unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods moving to the rest of the UK market as a unilateral UK matter. As to goods’ movement between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we continue to be committed to working through the joint committee to provide pragmatic and sustainable arrangements for east-west trade, and we are supporting all our businesses in doing so.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister now acknowledge that his fiendishly complex barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are throttling local businesses and undermining political stability? Surely the joint and specialised committees that he co-chairs with the EU are fully capable of resolving these problems—or are they simply the direct and inevitable consequence of the Prime Minister’s dogmatic obsession with a hard Brexit? Surely the Minister accepts that unilateral suspensions of, and inflammatory calls to renege upon, the Irish protocol—negotiated by him and agreed by his Government—are also eroding trust with future trading partners, as President Biden has ominously signalled.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the best way of dealing with the issues that are arising on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is for the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented in a pragmatic and proportionate manner that is consistent with all its aims. That is what we intend to do and we are working with the European Union to that effect.

Lord Howard of Rising Portrait Lord Howard of Rising (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, by its recent actions the European Union has shown that it respects the Belfast agreement only when it suits it. The actions of the European Union on 29 January surprised and shocked all those who understand the importance of the peace process. How does the Minister propose to act to safeguard the Belfast agreement and the peace process?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this Government stand fully behind the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It is central to our policy on Northern Ireland. The most important thing about the Northern Ireland protocol is that it should guarantee the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the peace process. If it is failing to do that, it is not working well; that is why we think that a pragmatic, proportionate and appropriate implementation of the protocol is the right way forward.

Lord Mandelson Portrait Lord Mandelson (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government are in real danger of blundering around in Northern Ireland on these sensitive trade issues. The unionists feel, understandably, that putting a trade border down the Irish Sea is a betrayal of their community. To mitigate this, will the Government seek a Swiss-style veterinary agreement with the European Union, which would eliminate many—not all, but many—of the trade barriers created when the Government originally entered the withdrawal agreement? Is there any downside, in the Minister’s view, to such a veterinary agreement that is more important than smoother trade and political stability in Northern Ireland?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in the implication of his question: that the protocol must be implemented in a way which protects the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions, east-west as well as north-south. On the question of a SPS or veterinary agreement, we proposed in the TCA negotiations last year that there could be an equivalence arrangement between us and the EU. Unfortunately, the EU was not open to that. We continue to be open to such an equivalence arrangement, if the EU is interested in it.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too want to press on the issue of an SPS agreement. It is not only that a lot of the problems of deliveries from Great Britain to Northern Ireland concern foodstuffs and plants; exports of products such as shellfish and Scottish salmon from Great Britain to the EU have been massively hit by Brexit red tape. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, asked the Minister specifically whether there was any downside to an SPS agreement. He did not answer that question, so why are the Government not seeking a veterinary so-called SPS agreement?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the downside to a Swiss-style SPS or veterinary agreement is that it would require our food and drink sector to accept not laws that were made in this country but the laws of the European Union. As far as this Government are concerned, that is quite a considerable downside to such an agreement. It is why we cannot accept one that is based on dynamic alignment.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, for over 20 years, discussion and dialogue have been at the heart of the Northern Ireland peace process and the protocol should be no exception to this. Will the Minister talk to the European Union through the joint committee, and to the Irish Government through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which was set up by the Good Friday agreement, and, above all, talk to all the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Executive and their leaders? Only by talking will we ultimately resolve these issues.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I very much agree that dialogue is extremely important. I and my team are in constant touch with Vice-President Šefčovič and his teams, and of course my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland also has many contacts in Northern Ireland. I am pleased to say that there will be a specialised committee tomorrow, 26 March, within the joint committee framework to consider all the issues related to implementing the protocol. We continue to pursue dialogue in that framework.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, while the Northern Ireland protocol remains in place, British medicines going from Britain to Northern Ireland will, from 31 December this year, need not only to comply with EU regulation but to be batch-tested inside the EEA. They could therefore be hostage to capricious EU export bans. Will my noble friend assure the people of Northern Ireland that the Government will guarantee them a continuous, reliable supply of medicines, including any necessary vaccine boosters, even if that requires the Government to take unilateral action?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the people of Northern Ireland must of course have access to a wide availability of medicines and pharmaceutical products, just as in any other part of the UK. There is, of course, a grace period in place until the end of this year for the protocol provisions. We have proposed, as is known to the EU, that this should be extended by a further year. We continue to discuss this matter.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, given that the protocol prevents the flow of free trade within the United Kingdom internal market and stops any elected representative, either at Stormont or here at Westminster, having any say or vote on laws which govern a large degree of the economy of Northern Ireland, does my noble friend agree that these matters must be addressed and corrected at the earliest opportunity; that we as a sovereign, independent country must ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are treated in the same way as people elsewhere in the United Kingdom; and that we have to do this to ensure that we have a stable future for devolution and a balanced and proper implementation of the agreements, not a one-sided interpretation and implementation of them?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct to say that the future of the protocol depends on the consent of the elected representatives and the people of Northern Ireland. If that consent is not maintained, it is difficult to see how the protocol can be genuinely durable. All sides must work to sustain it. The EU needs to be aware of the impact its decisions have had on the ground in Northern Ireland in recent months, and continue to work to implement the protocol in a pragmatic and proportionate fashion.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, touring and performing in Europe is crucial to our creative industries in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister take the opportunity to put on record today the reason why HM Government rejected the offer made in the EU draft legal text of March 2020 to exempt musicians and artists from any new visa requirements or restrictions on short-term work on the continent?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the British people voted to end free movement in 2016 and that was a central part of our approach to the negotiations in 2020. The specific proposal made by the European Union would not have dealt with all the difficulties that cultural workers face. The proposal that we made would have, so we regret that agreement on it was not possible, but we continue to discuss this matter bilaterally now with European member states.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

Lord Frost Excerpts
Thursday 25th March 2021

(2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) why Her Majesty’s Government unilaterally extended the grace period for checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the temporary operational measures announced by the Government earlier this month were taken to avoid disruption to supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries, in accordance with the protocol’s aim to minimise disruption to everyday lives in Northern Ireland. We continue to discuss the implementation of the protocol with the EU within the joint committee framework.

Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister and welcome him to his new post. Why did the Government not listen to the 29 trade associations that said in December that there were not enough official vets to cope with the new rules requiring export health certificates for trade in animal products crossing the Irish Sea? He tweeted on 12 March:

“overall freight volumes between the UK and the EU have been back to their normal levels for over a month now”.

Is he saying that for the first quarter of 2021 the volume of trade between the EU and UK will be approximately the same as for the first quarter of 2020? If not, what is he saying exactly?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

In answer to the first part of the question, I say that we work very closely with companies wishing to trade into Northern Ireland and have set up a movement assistance scheme specifically designed for companies exporting food and drink. On the second part, I say what I said in my tweet—freight volumes are back to normal and have been since the beginning of February. We must await official figures for trade value, and those are subject to some of the same considerations discussed earlier.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my noble friend agree that, under the Belfast agreement, Northern Ireland is not a hybrid state but an integral part of the United Kingdom —ultimate responsibility for which rests with the sovereign United Kingdom Government? Where there is evidence that the protocol is not working as envisaged—as the Prime Minister recently acknowledged —and Northern Ireland is disadvantaged, is it not the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to take whatever action is necessary to remedy that, unilaterally if required?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My noble friend is absolutely right; Northern Ireland is not subject to some sort of co-governance arrangement with the EU. Northern Ireland is fully part of the United Kingdom, its custom arrangements and internal market. The protocol is extremely clear on this point. However the protocol is implemented, it must be done in a way consistent with these fundamental provisions.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the effects of the Minister’s decision on the grace period is that nobody now knows when the new treaty will be ratified. I take him back to his answer to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the Government’s February decision that the entire governance structure under the new treaty—all the myriad committees charged with tackling practical problems, tying up loose ends and rebuilding relations—should stay on ice until after ratification. No one knows when ratification will be. The report by the EU Select Committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, saw no justification for allowing matters to drift in this way. The Minister’s answer suggests that he does not agree. If so, what is his justification for this drift and what was the withdrawal agreement legal base for his unilateral decision on the grace periods?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, our expectation is that the trade and co-operation agreement will be ratified by the end of April. We have agreed to that in the partnership council by written process. We look to the European Union to uphold that obligation. The unilateral measures were lawful as part of a progressive and proportionate implementation of the protocol.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said that a road map to the full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol was needed. Since the noble Lord has taken office, has he had the chance to meet Mr Coveney? If not, does he have plans to do so at an early date? There are many of us who think that, on the basis of the noble Lord’s distinguished diplomatic record, he might do a better job spending more time on diplomacy and less time issuing ideological declarations.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I have of course had a conversation with the Irish Foreign Minister, as I have with many Ministers around Europe. Our intention is to pursue the issues arising from the protocol through dialogue, both with the Commission and with our European friends.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, further to his earlier replies to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, can the Minister confirm that concluding a bespoke EU-UK veterinary agreement will be a key priority during the grace period? Does he feel that progress is already being made in that regard?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the European Union has a number of SPS and veterinary agreements with third countries based on equivalence, not dynamic alignment. We continue to be open to an arrangement based on equivalence. At the moment, our understanding is that the European Union does not wish to negotiate such an arrangement.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Frost, to his distinguished place on the Front Bench; I have many good memories of working together on European issues in the Blair Government. When it comes to making the Northern Ireland protocol work more flexibly, the key question surely is about trust between the Commission and the British Government. Will he seize this golden opportunity today to affirm publicly that the British Government are not seeking to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol or negotiate any changes to the text that the Prime Minister himself agreed?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I too have happy memories of working with the noble Lord in a rather different context a few years ago. Our clear position is that the protocol depends on the consent of all the people of Northern Ireland. As long as that consent is not maintained, it is difficult to see how the protocol can be genuinely durable. We are working to sustain the protocol, but in a pragmatic and proportionate fashion.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too welcome the Minister. Is he aware that some of us strongly support his unilateral action in extending the grace periods? Without them there would be shortages of food and no medicines in Northern Ireland. Banning British sausages in Belfast hardly strengthens the Good Friday agreement, but a temporary waiver is not a permanent solution to these problems. Is he confident that there is sufficient flexibility and potential easements in the protocol for a permanent solution, or is it going to require action under Article 16?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank my noble friend for his words of support for the operational measures that we took earlier this month. These measures are lawful and consistent with the progressive and good-faith implementation of the protocol. They are intended to avoid disruption to everyday life in Northern Ireland, which we would otherwise have seen. We are working with the Commission to see if we can find solutions to those problems and many others on a more permanent basis, and we continue to pursue that actively.

Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I give full support to Her Majesty’s Government in taking the action to extend the grace period for trade checks between GB and NI. In the face of the belligerent attitude of the EU at the joint committee, I believe that there was no alternative. However, does the noble Lord agree that the trade border is now on the island of Ireland, at Belfast, Larne and so on? As such, if it can be there, is there any credible reason why it cannot be moved to inside EU territory—specifically, inside the Irish Republic—making the EU responsible for the protection of its internal market?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Baroness for her words of support and for acknowledging that we had no choice in the operational measures that we took earlier this month. The protocol depends on cross-community support and the consent of the majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As a matter of logic, if that consent were not to be renewed in the future, it would have implications that all sides would need to consider at that point.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. There will now be a brief business statement.

UK-EU Trade

Lord Frost Excerpts
Thursday 18th March 2021

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the United Kingdom– European Union Trade Cooperation Agreement on the reduction in trade with the European Union since 1 January.

Lord Frost Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides for 100% tariff-free and quota-free access to each other’s market for the UK and the EU. It is first trade agreement in the world to do so. A unique combination of facts has made it inevitable that we would see a reduction in trade with the EU in January, and we should use caution in drawing any conclusions from the initial figures released on 12 March.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. We are, of course, where we are, but I am sure he would agree we have a particular problem at the moment with the export of animals, meat and shellfish, where exports are down by between 56% and 83%. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other noble Lords from across the House who are acutely concerned about this issue and wish to see it sorted, including the possibility of the Government negotiating a sanitary and phytosanitary agreement similar to that which Switzerland currently enjoys with the European Union?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am always happy to meet anybody to talk about the issues relating to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. We have, of course, pulled out all the stops to help businesses deal with the changes to our trading relationship with the EU, whether they are operating in these fields, whether they are SMEs or whether they are working in the agri-food or any other area.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, new figures released last week, as the Minister touched on, show that UK exports to the EU have plummeted by 40% since the transition period. Do Her Majesty’s Government take responsibility for that and, more importantly, will the Minister elaborate on the plans to rectify that reduction in trade?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, there are several potential factors affecting trade with the European Union, as well as any direct impact coming from the TCA. There is clear evidence of stockpiling at the end of last year, which will of course affect the flow of trade, and obviously there is the general economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has depressed economic activity in many ways. That is why we must be cautious before drawing any firm conclusions from the January figures.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the TCA gives us the freedom and the opportunity to develop our own regulatory regime for the City, to maintain and enhance its position as the leading global financial centre. Does the Minister agree that we should be bold and swift in making necessary changes to our EU legacy regulatory framework, while taking a proactive leadership role in international fora such as IOSCO in developing proportionate principles-based rules at the global level? Does he also agree that it will manifestly not be the EU’s interests to continue to try to prevent European companies raising capital and accessing services provided in the UK’s financial markets?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I very much agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s question. I endorse his view that we should use our freedom to develop our financial services industry, and the framework that regulates it, over time in a way that suits us, and build the City’s huge advantages as a global financial centre.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, last year I asked the noble Lord, Lord True, what work the Government were doing to forecast an assessment of the various complexities that the Minister referred to. He wrote to me on 19 May, saying:

“A call for evidence will open in the coming months, and we will provide further details in due course. The call for evidence will capture complexity and represent the varying impacts that will be felt across different parts of the economy. We will continue to keep Parliament informed.”

There was no call for evidence, and the Government have not kept Parliament informed. Does there exist any forecast from the Government that shows that by value to the UK economy, UK trade with the EU will grow?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the question of the economic benefits or disbenefits of our relationship with the European Union has been extensively debated over the last few years. There have been many publications on the subject, including from this Government. The economic situation last year, the impact of the pandemic and the huge uncertainties made it very difficult to conduct an analysis. We of course continue to keep this question under very close review.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there are clearly problems with companies not being used to the new procedures. I know from experience how helpful BEIS and HMRC can be to a European company that has made a pig’s ear of its paperwork. Are their European equivalents being similarly helpful to British companies which have not got the procedures right?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is true that there have been some problems and some overzealous enforcement in isolated cases, which have been well publicised. However, I take this opportunity to say that generally the European authorities have been very supportive and pragmatic in the way they have dealt with issues at the border, and we welcome that fact. Operational co-operation with member states, in particular our closest neighbours, has been excellent.

Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the huge problems in relation to work in Europe confronting our valuable music sector. Jobs have already been lost and tours cancelled as a result of the lack of suitable arrangements in the TCA. Is the Minister aware that the main ask of the performing arts is for a separate, bespoke visa waiver agreement, which would go a long way to resolving key concerns? Will he promise to discuss such an agreement with Maroš Šefčovič at the earliest opportunity?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government of course recognise the importance of the UK’s cultural industries. We made proposals during the negotiations last year that would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily without work permits. They were rejected by the European Union. Now that negotiations are over, we are working with the sector to help it adjust to this new relationship. We have a working group with industry representatives which is feeding into our process. We are of course discussing a range of issues with Maroš Šefčovič as regards the implementation of the TCA.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on the issues he raised, but in response to my noble friend Lord McNicol, he seemed reluctant to admit that there was a problem and he certainly did not answer the part of the question about what the solutions were, so I shall try again. Your Lordships’ House has been fully engaged in preparing the UK for its new relationship with the EU. There has been an unprecedented number of documents, Bills and statutory instruments that we have all waded our way through to get to the detail, but all behind ensuring support for the Government’s border plans. Yet here we are, less than three months in, and that model is creaking. The Minister is now tearing up plan A in order to push back implementation dates. Can he tell us what he thinks has gone wrong?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, as I say, it is too early to draw conclusions from any figures in January; there are too many other factors influencing the economic situation. We have always made clear and are assiduously implementing our plans to get businesses the support they need to manage the changes to our trading relationship with the EU. There is a new Brexit support fund and a Brexit business taskforce. We are supporting the fisheries industries and many others through the initial difficulties of the change in relationship.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, rather than trying to deny the reality of the massive drop in exports to the EU, the Government need to address how practical improvements can be made regarding Brexit red tape. So far, their approach to solving border problems is simply to refuse to apply the rules that they agreed to. How will the Government establish trust and a good relationship with Brussels and member states that are essential to getting those improvements to help business and consumers?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, of course we seek a constructive relationship with our European friends in all areas relating to the trade and co-operation agreement, and we look to build a friendly relationship between sovereign equals. That is what we intend to do. That is what we are working towards. We are acting constructively when we can, but we are standing up for our interests when we must.

Lord Loomba Portrait Lord Loomba (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, after leaving the EU, the UK has the advantage of trading with any country around the world. The EU has already negotiated a trade agreement with China and, considering our present relationship with China on account of human rights, can the Minister tell us whether the UK will be able to sign a trade agreement with China? If so, when is it likely to happen?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Department for International Trade made a huge and successful effort last year to roll over many of the trade agreements that we benefited from as an EU member and is negotiating a large number of new agreements at the moment. I note that in its 12 March press release relating to the trade figures the Office for National Statistics noted that there was already a visible potential benefit from our agreement with Singapore and markets in Asia. That shows the benefits we can gain from such agreements in future.

Lord Fowler Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord Fowler)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed and it brings Question Time to an end.

Northern Ireland Protocol: Grace Period

Lord Frost Excerpts
Wednesday 10th March 2021

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the response of the European Union to the United Kingdom’s decision to extend until October the grace period for checks on certain goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we have noted the position set out by Vice-President Šefčovič in his statement on 3 March about the limited and temporary operational measures the Government announced last week. These measures are lawful and consistent with the progressive and good faith interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol. We will carefully consider any further steps the Commission decides it needs to take.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. I strongly support the actions taken by the Government in recent days as a necessary, proportionate and lawful response to the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Does my noble friend agree that the somewhat hysterical reaction of the EU yet again demonstrates its one-sided inability to recognise legitimate unionist concerns and to see the Belfast agreement through all of its strands—an agreement that its intransigence now threatens to undermine? In addition, can my noble friend assure me that this unionist Government will robustly defend any legal actions brought by the EU and that they will take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the UK internal market?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank my noble friend for his words of support for the decisions taken by the Government last week. Our overriding aim is to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions—all the strands, north-south and east-west. The protocol was designed to achieve this. All sides need to be sensitive to the social and political realities, and the fact that the operation of the protocol rests on the confidence of both communities in Northern Ireland. I reassure my noble friend that we will consider any legal process launched by the EU very carefully; we will defend our position vigorously. The protocol is explicit in respecting the territorial integrity of the UK and we will ensure that is sustained.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I join in very warmly welcoming the noble Lord to the House. Does he accept that behind this trade crisis in Northern Ireland is his own hostility to the European Union? He has taken Britain out of the customs union and single market and therefore necessitated these trade controls. Is he aware that Margaret Thatcher, who largely created the single market, said:

“How we meet the challenge of the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor, in our competitive position in European and world markets into the twenty-first century. Getting it right needs a partnership between government and business”?

Does the noble Lord agree with Lady Thatcher?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord for his question. We developed a model of Brexit and implemented it on the back of the election victory in December 2019, which is about leaving the customs union and single market. We believe that the United Kingdom will benefit from control of its own laws, trade policy and money. That situation will give us benefits. We would like a constructive relationship with the European Union and I will be working to ensure that happens.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I also welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box. We knew that businesses which export out of the UK to the EU required an HMRC EORI number, but now businesses need a Northern Ireland EORI number to trade internally in the UK with Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, stated in a letter to me on 11 February that, of the 770,000 trading businesses in the UK, only 58,000 have a Northern Ireland XI EORI number. Why would businesses in the UK require export registrations to trade with other parts of the UK? If there is unfettered trade within the UK, why do only 12% of UK businesses currently have the capability to trade with Northern Ireland?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

This Government are working extremely hard to ensure the fair and free flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have provided more than £200 million to support businesses through the trader support service and processed declarations for over 200,000 consignments. Some 34,000 businesses are registered and 98% of declarations are handled within 15 minutes. An EORI number is part of the requirement to trade now that we have left the customs union, but we are doing our utmost to ensure the free flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland as the protocol requires.

Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I was heavily exposed to the Troubles across the whole span of my broadcasting career, so I am particularly alert to the delicacy of the current situation in Northern Ireland. The Governments of John Major and Tony Blair invested enormous political capital in resolving the tensions there. Will this Government?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Our overriding aim is to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is an avowed and primary purpose of the Northern Ireland protocol. As we implement the protocol in a pragmatic and proportionate way, we do so very mindful of the considerations he has in mind and protecting all aspects of the peace process.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, temporary derogations, waivers or exemptions are by definition not a long-term solution to the problems intrinsic in the protocol. Will my noble friend the Minister address the asymmetry—the absurdity—at the heart of the protocol: its contention that checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland undermine the Good Friday agreement and may even jeopardise peace, but checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain have no such consequences?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My noble friend makes a very good point. The protocol was designed to deal with the very complex reality to which he alludes. It needs to be implemented in a way that takes account of all the strands of the Good Friday agreement—east-west as well as north-south—and enables cross-community consent for those arrangements to be sustained. That means that the smooth flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland needs to be preserved, as well as an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and thank him for engaging afresh with the EU Committee in his new capacity. How was the joint committee apparatus, including the joint consultative working group on the withdrawal agreement, used to discuss and disseminate the Government’s decision on grace periods before its announcement? Further, given the furore, if they had their time again, would they have played things differently?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Earl for his question, and I look forward to appearing before his committee again in the near future. We have been working through the joint committee mechanisms since the beginning of the year and before. The measures taken last week were operational, technical and temporary. We informed the Commission of those through the appropriate channels and at the appropriate level before the decision was made public.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I think we all welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, is now able to answer Questions from the Dispatch Box and we look forward to an ongoing dialogue with him about his Cabinet responsibilities. His role in the negotiations has been credited with getting the agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol over the line. He would have been aware then of all the implications. Given that he supported the creation of, and now co-chairs, the Joint Committees he has referred to, which are designed to resolve such disputes, would not the most mature and pragmatic way to deal with this issue be to continue with that process? Does he understand that the unilateral action he is championing is a double threat? It jeopardises the European Parliament’s ratification of his own agreement and damages our international reputation if we cannot be trusted to keep our word.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the Baroness and I look forward to answering many more Questions from this Dispatch Box about our approach to the relationship with the European Union. We would like to see a constructive relationship with the European Union in future. The difficulty we are faced with this year is that the EU’s decision to invoke Article 16 in Northern Ireland has created a new and very difficult situation that has undermined cross-community confidence and we have been trying to deal with that. We would like to do so in a constructive and consensual way but we also have to have to regard to the situation and the need to maintain confidence and consent across both communities in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I also welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. Can he confirm exactly how and when the Irish Government were informed about the decision unilaterally to extend the grace period?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We do not go into the detail of diplomatic communications at the highest level but I can confirm that the Irish Government were informed of this decision before it was made public by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 3 March.

Lord Kilclooney Portrait Lord Kilclooney (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, likewise, I welcome the noble Lord to his position at the Dispatch Box. As one living near the border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and as a former MEP, I am very conscious that border issues can destabilise Northern Ireland. I am disappointed that the European Union does not recognise that. I am even more disappointed that the House of Lords European Union Committee did not recognise the tensions and trading problems that the protocol would create. Today the Vice-President of the European Commission, Šefčovič, is addressing the Friends of Ireland in the Congress in Washington. I hope he will ensure that he gets a report from our embassy in America on what is said. In so far as the future is concerned—

Break in Debate

Lord Kilclooney Portrait Lord Kilclooney (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My question is this. In so far as the future is concerned, there must be agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Will the Government ensure that the common travel area will be secured, that all three strands of the Belfast agreement will be supported and that the sovereignty of the United Kingdom will extend throughout Northern Ireland?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I agree very much that all sides must be sensitive to the social and political realities in Northern Ireland and to the need for the consent of both communities if it is to work effectively. Our actions have been aimed at restoring that confidence. Indeed, I can reassure the noble Lord that we will protect the common travel area—which is specifically protected in the protocol—but our overriding aim is to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the territorial integrity of the UK. Northern Ireland’s place in the customs union and single market will be protected.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend and wish him well in the task that lies ahead. Following on from the questions of my noble friends Lord Caine and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, can he tell me—I fear I may be a little simple and he will have to be patient with me —what evidence has been put forward by those who insist that checks on goods crossing the land mass of Ireland undermine the prospects of peace while, by contrast, checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea do not? Can he explain why Brussels can simply stop trade in vital goods such as vaccines to Northern Ireland, but threatens us for doing business with our own people? Am I simple or is it all a rotten case of double standards?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very acute observation about the situation. As I have noted, the protocol must be implemented in a way that takes account of all strands of the Good Friday agreement—that is, east-west as well as north-south. The EU’s decision to activate Article 16 in January, however briefly, has compounded the difficulties and severely shaken confidence. We would obviously prefer it if the EU would reckon with the situation it has created and work with us to ensure that trade can flow in all directions, including to Northern Ireland, in a free and fair manner.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lady Smith, does the Minister not now regret taking unilateral action against an agreement which he was party to? Does he not worry that no one will accept or trust his word ever again?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, there were already challenges in the operation of the protocol in early January this year and they were already having a direct and disproportionate impact on citizens in Northern Ireland. The EU’s decision to invoke Article 16 compounded the difficulties and undermined cross-community confidence. Our actions have been aimed at restoring confidence and minimising disruption to the everyday life of people in Northern Ireland. That is what this Government will work to ensure.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am afraid that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. My apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

I am going to take a moment or two to allow the Chamber to clear a bit before we move on to the next business. There is a moment or two for you to shuffle out.

I think everyone has now shuffled. We now come to the Motion in the name of the Senior Deputy Speaker.

Space Industry

Lord Frost Excerpts
Thursday 4th March 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, from Labour’s Front Bench I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Parker and Lord Johnson, who spoke earlier, and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who we will hear from in about 45 seconds’ time. There is a guy, Sanjeev Gupta, who currently rents a one-bedroom flat above a hairdresser’s on Lewisham High Street so that he can work from home. Sanjeev is a geologist, and in his flat he has five computers and two other screens for Zoom meetings. He is helping to direct and control the movements of Perseverance to drill and collect samples to help determine whether there has ever been life on Mars. Compare his endeavour with the Government’s investment in OneWeb, against the advice of experts and the concerns of the space agency. Is this OneWeb investment part of the UK’s global navigation satellite system? If not, what is it? As we have heard, OneWeb continues to manufacture its satellites in Florida. The high-skilled, well-paid jobs will come only if we get our investment and industrial strategy in sync—or are we destined, like Sanjeev Gupta, to rent more flats in Lewisham from which to explore the final frontier?

Lord Frost Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) (Con) (Maiden Speech)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is an honour to make my maiden speech in this debate and it is a privilege to do so here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for initiating this debate. I know, not least because I was an official in his department when he was the Minister responsible for this issue, that he has a long-standing and most important interest in this subject. Under his leadership, he reinvigorated this country’s work on the space sector, and where we are now is very much the product of his efforts. We intend to build on them to the benefit of the whole country. He made a number of very important points and, indeed, listed some challenges, as did many other noble Lords, and I will respond to them as I go.

First, however, I begin with thank yous. They may be traditional but they are no less heartfelt for that. I thank Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments for their help and advice, and I thank the doorkeepers, who, in the short time since my introduction, have been unfailingly helpful and friendly. I am grateful to my two introducers: my noble friend Lord Shinkwin—a friend and colleague from our time supporting this country’s great wine and spirits industries—and my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a distinguished Minister in many capacities and currently in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Johnson of Marylebone and the noble Lord, Lord Parker of Minsmere, on their incisive maiden speeches, the latter particularly on his distinguished future appointment.

As has been said, it is also my own maiden speech today. I have spent most of my life working on international relations in various capacities—on international trade, as the head of trade associations and, of course, as a diplomat—although I fear I seem to have acquired a rather undiplomatic reputation during the last year or two in negotiating with our European friends. It has been an honour to have been part, for 25 years, of the best diplomatic corps in the world. I am delighted to rejoin in this House many former colleagues from that world, all more distinguished than I in the depth of their knowledge and breadth of their experience. I look forward to debating with them, as I am sure I will, but more importantly to learning from their expertise.

I now turn to my subject. The UK has an extraordinary history of discovery and innovation. We remain a global innovation leader and we want to cement the UK’s place as a science superpower. Our aim is to invest in science and research that will deliver economic growth and societal benefits for decades to come, and to build the foundations for the industries of tomorrow. Space technology is a clear example of what can be done. The global space market could be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040. The past decade has, indeed, brought a global space revolution and the exploitation of space is vital to our economic future. As my noble friend Lord Holmes said, it is a frontier of possibilities.

In the UK, we are pioneering a new space age. On the back of the Space Industry Act 2018, we have established a new National Space Council to co-ordinate space policy. I reassure my noble friends Lord Willetts and Lord Moylan and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we will publish very soon—this summer—the new national space strategy to boost UK space innovation, and that it will be appropriately funded. Our space sector already employs 42,000 people across the country, from Cornwall’s Goonhilly Earth Station to a future Shetlands space centre. The Government are working to help every region to benefit. My noble friend Lady Verma underlined the importance of making sure that the whole country benefits. We are backing plans for a network of space hubs to attract commercial investment. It is very important that all this work, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, said, supports the aims of boosting maximum growth across the country.

From Guildford to Glasgow, the UK is already home to world-leading small satellite manufacturers. Now we want to be Europe’s best destination for launching them into orbit too. I agree with many noble Lords who noted that there is competition for this facility. We are investing £40 million to ensure that we match up to that. My noble friend Lady Mobarik raised the potential spaceport in Scotland, and I can reassure her that we are considering appropriate plans for both the sites she mentioned. We are very conscious of the spin-off benefits for communities wherever facilities eventually settle.

We expect the first launches in 2022 and I reassure my noble friend Lord Johnson that of course we intend the regulatory framework to be in place by then. On that point, which my noble friend Lord Willetts also raised, our rules will be based on the world’s most modern space legislation, building on industry consultation to ensure safety and drive innovation. Of course, outside the EU, as he said, we also have the ability to set these rules for ourselves and create the best possible context for innovation and growth. It is certainly not our policy to have more complicated legislation than the European Union in any area, and my own responsibilities as Minister for the opportunities of Brexit underline why we will take this seriously.

My noble friend also raised our aspirations for OneWeb and associated issues. I note the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and many others, and the controversy that still surrounds this investment. We believe that it was a justified risk and will show benefits in the future. We are committed to making a success of our investment in OneWeb, and we anticipate that the satellite communications service will be live at the end of this year. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, asked about our share in OneWeb. We have invested £500 million and we maintain a significant share in OneWeb. This will obviously dilute over time but we will retain a special share, giving us the final say over the company’s future and the technology that it uses.

We are also working across government, including the Ministry of Defence of course, to ensure resilient delivery of positional navigation and timing. This is central to underpinning the UK’s critical national infrastructure. The space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme is currently analysing a number of innovative options for capability in this area, including different satellites at different orbits. We will set out our requirements soon.

As my noble friend Lord Bates and many other noble Lords said, although we aspire to be a leading space power in our own right, we cannot achieve everything that we want to achieve without international collaboration. As has been said, the UK is a proud founding member of the European Space Agency. Currently, we invest more than £370 million annually in the agency, ensuring that UK scientists and engineers take lead roles in ground-breaking missions. As many noble Lords mentioned, last month the European Space Agency made its first call for new astronauts since 2008. I very much hope that we shall see new British candidates to follow Tim Peake in reaching for the stars, inspired by the huge opportunities before us.

Our EU trade agreement, which I negotiated, has opened the door to our continued partnership in the world’s largest earth observation programme, Copernicus. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about other EU programmes. In those negotiations, we were not able to reach a satisfactory outcome that would have enabled participation in our interests.

We are also investing in new broader international partnerships. Only last week, the UK signed the world’s first space bridge with Australia, deepening a space relationship that goes back to the test launch of the Black Arrow rocket from Woomera in South Australia, 51 years ago today. My noble friend Lord Willetts raised COP 26. We are committed to ensuring that it is used to showcase world-leading scientific expertise in this and many other areas. Also on international collaboration, my noble friend Lord Willetts raised the space international partnership programme. This is the biggest such programme and is world beating. We will take his points into account as we consider the future of this programme and its funding. We will also reflect on the suggestions from the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Cromwell, regarding the governance of space—a new frontier, as has been said—and an international space organisation. We will draw this to the attention of the responsible Minister.

UK space businesses need skills and technology to compete. That is why, last week, we announced new support for a space sector export academy to help build valuable trade skills. We are using space to support STEM education, notably by helping university students and apprentices to access placements in our thriving space enterprises.

I note, and will reflect on, the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about access for disabled communities and others in this whole area. I will draw this to the attention of the responsible Ministers.

Last year, the UK Space Agency launched its national space innovation programme—the UK’s first dedicated fund for cutting-edge space technologies. Partnerships with the private sector are of course also critical. If I may be forgiven another personal allusion in a maiden speech, I come from the greatest city in the East Midlands, the city of Derby, where my parents spent their working lives at that great British company Rolls Royce. That is why I was personally pleased to see the Government’s announcement in January of a partnership with Rolls Royce to investigate the possibility of nuclear power in space exploration. This will be a genuinely game-changing technology.

On space and defence, as my noble friend Lord Lancaster mentioned, last year we announced the new joint Space Command and have recently appointed its first commander, Air Commodore Paul Godfrey. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord West, that we are committed to protecting national security in space, as we are anywhere else. This is the first priority of the Government. We are committed to countering aggression in space and, as has been said, we have worked to achieve the UN resolution on responsible behaviours in space—once again, a first.

To conclude, I thank my noble friend Lord Willetts once again for raising this important question. I have tried to answer all the many rich points made in this debate, and of course I will review Hansard and write if there are any points that I have failed to deal with. This Government are backing British businesses and scientists to ensure the maximum benefit: economic, scientific and, as my noble friend Lord Bates said so eloquently, for the imagination. Our space programme will forge the next chapter in our space story.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I might presume to congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech and extend to him a very warm welcome both to the House and to his ministerial post. I also congratulate all the speakers on the discipline with which we have conducted this debate—including the maiden speakers, who have shown great promise for future contributions to the House.

That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room. The Committee is adjourned.