Post Office Governance and Horizon Compensation Schemes

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Monday 19th February 2024

(4 days, 19 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- Hansard - -

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about Post Office governance and the Horizon compensation schemes.

Over the weekend, several serious allegations were made against the Government, my Department and its officials by Henry Staunton, the former chair of the Post Office. The allegations are completely false, and I would like to make a statement to the House so that hon. Members and the British public know the truth about exactly what has happened. I would like to address three specific claims that Mr Staunton made in his Sunday Times interview—claims that are patently untrue.

First, Mr Staunton alleges that I refused to apologise to him after he learned of his dismissal from Sky News. That was not the case. In the call he referenced, I made it abundantly clear that I disapproved of the media breaking any aspect of the story. Out of respect for Henry Staunton’s reputation, I went to great pains to make my concerns about his conduct private. In fact, in my interviews with the press, I repeatedly said that I refuse to carry out HR in public. That is why it is so disappointing that he has chosen to spread a series of falsehoods, provide made-up anecdotes to journalists and leak discussions held in confidence. All that merely confirms in my mind that I made the correct decision in dismissing him.

Secondly, Mr Staunton claims that I told him that “someone’s got to take the rap” for the Horizon scandal, and that was the reason for his dismissal. That was not the reason at all. I dismissed him because there were serious concerns about his behaviour as chair, including those raised by other directors on the board. My Department found significant governance issues. For example, a public appointment process was under way for a new senior independent director to the Post Office board, but Mr Staunton apparently wanted to bypass it and appoint someone from the board without due process. He failed to properly consult the Post Office board on the proposal; he failed to hold the required nominations committee; and, most importantly, he failed to consult the Government, as a shareholder, which the company was required to do. I know that hon. Members will agree with me that such a cavalier approach to governance was the last thing we needed in the Post Office, given its historical failings.

I should also inform the House that while Mr Staunton was in post, a formal investigation was launched into allegations made regarding his conduct, including serious matters such as bullying. Concerns were brought to my Department’s attention about Mr Staunton’s willingness to co-operate with that investigation.

It is right that the British public should know the facts behind the case, and what was said in the phone call in which I dismissed Mr Staunton. Officials from my Department were on the line; the call was minuted, and a read-out was sent after it took place. Today, I am depositing a copy of that read-out in both Libraries of the House, so that hon. Members and the public can see the truth. In those minutes, personal information relating to other Post Office employees has been redacted. For all those reasons, an interim chair will be appointed shortly, and I will, of course, update the House when we have further details.

Finally, Mr Staunton claims that when he was first appointed as chair of the Post Office, he was told by a senior civil servant to stall on paying compensation. There is no evidence whatsoever that that is true. In fact, on becoming Post Office chair, Mr Staunton received a letter from the permanent secretary of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Sarah Munby, on 9 December 2022, welcoming him to his role and making it crystal clear that successfully reaching settlements with victims of the Post Office scandal should be one of his highest priorities. That letter is in the public domain. The words are there in black and white, and copies of the correspondence will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The reality is that my Department has done everything it can to speed up compensation payments for victims. We have already made payments totalling £160 million across all three compensation schemes. That includes our announcement last autumn of the optional £600,000 fixed-sum award for those who had been wrongfully convicted. It is the strongest refutation of those in this House who would claim that we acted only after the ITV drama, “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”, was shown. British people should know that a dedicated team of Ministers and civil servants have been working around the clock for many months to hasten the pursuit of justice, and bring swift, fair redress to all those affected.

To that end, I am pleased that all 2,417 postmasters who claimed through the original Horizon shortfall scheme have now had offers of compensation. The Post Office is dealing promptly with late applications and cases where the initial offer has not been accepted. My Department has also established the Horizon compensation unit to ensure that money gets to the right people without a moment’s delay. Last autumn, we announced an additional £150 million to the Post Office, specifically to help it meet the costs of participating in the Post Office-Horizon inquiry and delivering compensation to postmasters. In all, we have committed around £1 billion to ensure that wronged postmasters can be fully and fairly compensated, and through forthcoming legislation, we are taking unprecedented steps to quash the convictions of postmasters affected by the Horizon scandal.

In short, we are putting our money where our mouth is, and our shoulders to the wheel to ensure that justice is done. It is not fair on the victims of this scandal, which has already ruined so many lives and livelihoods, to claim, as Mr Staunton has done, that things are being dragged out a second longer than they ought to be. For Henry Staunton to suggest otherwise, for whatever personal motives, is a disgrace, and it risks damaging confidence in the compensation schemes that Ministers and civil servants are working so hard to deliver. I would hope that most people reading the interview in yesterday’s Sunday Times would see it for what it was: a blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal.

I must say that I regret the way in which these events have unfolded. We did everything that we could to manage this dismissal in a dignified way for Mr Staunton and others. However, I will not hesitate to defend myself and, more importantly, my officials, who cannot respond directly to these baseless attacks. Right now, the Post Office’s No. 1 priority must be delivering compensation to postmasters who have not already been compensated. There were those who fell victim to a faulty IT system that the Post Office implemented, and that it turned a blind eye to when brave whistleblowers such as Alan Bates sounded the alarm. We said that the Government would leave no stone unturned in uncovering the truth behind the Horizon scandal, and in pursuing justice for the victims and their families. We are delivering on that promise, while looking for any further possible steps that we can take to ensure the full and final settlement of claims as quickly as possible.

It is right that we reflect, too, on the cultural practices at the Post Office that allowed the Horizon scandal to happen in the first place. It was a culture that let those in the highest ranks of the organisation arbitrarily dismiss the very real concerns of the sub-postmasters who are the lifeblood of their business and pillars of the local community. Although the Post Office may have failed to stand by its postmasters in the past, we are ensuring that it does everything that it can to champion them today, and to foster an environment that respects their employees and their customers. That is how we will rebuild trust and ensure that the British public can have confidence in our Post Office, now and in the future. I commend this statement to the House.

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

I firmly agree that the revelations in The Sunday Times at the weekend could not be more serious. In particular, if true, the claim that the Post Office was instructed to deliberately go slow on compensation payments to sub-postmasters in order to push the financial liability into the next Parliament would be a further outrageous insult in a scandal that has already rocked faith in the fairness of the British state. If that is the case, it cannot be allowed to stand, and if it is not, it must be shown to be false in no uncertain terms. We have two completely contrasting accounts: one from the former chair of the Post Office, and one from the Secretary of State. Only one of them can be the truth. I hope that we are all in agreement that Parliament is the correct place for these matters to be raised and clarified. What we need now is transparency and scrutiny.

Will the Secretary of State categorically state that the Post Office was at no point told to delay compensation payments by either an official or a Minister from any Government Department, and that at no point was it suggested that a delay would be of benefit to the Treasury? Will there be a Cabinet Office investigation to ensure that no such instruction or inference was given at any point? Crucially, is the £1 billion figure for compensation, which the Secretary of State helpfully just repeated, already allocated, and sat in the accounts of the Department for Business and Trade, ready to be paid? If it is not, will compensation payments be specifically itemised in the upcoming Budget?

The Secretary of State will also understand that following the story at the weekend, victims of other scandals—especially of the contaminated blood scandal—feel that they need to ask whether they have been the victims of deliberate inaction. Will the Government provide assurances that no such obstruction has been placed on any payments of this kind? If so, can they explain what the delay is in some cases? In the full interests of transparency, and to fully ascertain the veracity of any allegations for sub-postmasters and the general public, will she publish all relevant correspondence, and minutes of meetings between the Department, the Treasury, UK Government Investments and the Post Office during this time? Finally, when can we expect the legislation on exoneration that was promised by the Prime Minister?

I cannot stress enough that the last thing that was needed in this scandal was any further allegation of cover-up or obfuscation at the very top of Government. People’s faith in Government, already damaged by scandals such as Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday and Windrush, is hanging by a thread. This miscarriage of justice has shown the devastation that can occur when institutions are allowed to operate without oversight or are shrouded in secrecy. We should all agree that that secrecy must end, and that the full sunlight of public scrutiny should be brought to bear. If everything the Secretary of State has told us today is correct, surely there will be no objection to that happening fully.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I welcome the tone that the shadow Front-Bench spokesman has taken. There is often a tendency for political point scoring, but I think we both agree that this is very much about the postmasters. That is why I ensured that I was at the Dispatch Box: so that people would know the truth. That is what builds trust.

The shadow Minister asked whether I would categorically state that no instruction was given to delay payments. Yes, I can. We have no evidence whatever that any official said that. If such a thing was said, it is for Mr Staunton to bring the evidence. It is very hard to refute a negative. People making wild, baseless accusations and then demanding proof that they did not happen are making mischief, in my view. As far as I have seen, all the evidence points to the fact that no one gave that instruction.

It is also important to look at whether it would even make sense to do so. There would be no benefit whatever to our delaying the compensation, which has no significant impact on revenues. It would be a mad thing even to suggest. The compensation scheme, which Mr Staunton oversaw, has been completed. My understanding is that 100% of payments have been made, so clearly no such instruction was given. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the infected blood inquiry. This is a good example of how people lose faith in the system because of misinformation. That is why I am here to correct the record.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the £1 billion allocation. We give monthly reports that show exactly what payments are being made. He also asked whether we will publish correspondence. No, we will not publish in full all correspondence between Departments, UKGI and the Post Office. That is because we set up the statutory inquiry, which will examine the important issues related to the Horizon scandal, as well as current governance arrangements. We are fully co-operating with the inquiry, but the inquiry was set up by Parliament specifically to look at that. In addition to the read-out of the true content of my telephone call with Mr Staunton, we will consider publishing correspondence between Departments and Mr Staunton in accordance with freedom of information rules, so that people will know exactly what happened, contrary to his account. The hon. Gentleman asked about legislation. That is something that we are actively working on. I expect that we will be able to deliver on that imminently.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I was the postal affairs Minister, the officials in my team not only shared my drive to get the money out of the door—life-changing money for postmasters—but were energised and empowered to do so. I cannot believe for a minute that just a few months later they would be doing and thinking the polar opposite. Clearly, they cannot defend themselves in public, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that conversations about colluding to slow down the compensation did not happen? It is important that we double down and get more money out of the door as soon as possible.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his fantastic work as the postal affairs Minister, and I can confirm that. My officials have looked through all the correspondence, and all the minutes of the conversations that Mr Staunton had with the Department. They found absolutely nothing, and he did not raise the matter in his call with me. If it were something that officials had said to him, surely he would have mentioned it to Ministers—either myself or the postal affairs Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). The fact that Mr Staunton did not do so shows that it is quite likely something that he is making up.

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

I am at a loss today: another Monday, another Post Office scandal. I have tried very hard to pull together my thoughts on the statement, what was said in The Sunday Times, and what was said in this place less than two weeks ago when I led a Backbench Business debate on the culture of Post Office management.

I will ask the Secretary of State a few questions. Will she place on the record whether Nick Read wrote to the Justice Secretary last month defending the convictions, saying that some postmasters were guilty? That is a serious allegation, and I would really like to have an answer.

There has been talk all morning about damaging confidence in the compensation schemes. If there is confidence in them, can the Secretary of State explain why so many leading sub-postmasters affected by the scandal were given such derisory offers, months and months late? That is just not on. The Secretary of State cannot say that Henry Staunton damaged the compensation schemes; it was down to the Government and Post Office Ltd.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Post Office Ltd still employs 40 investigators who secured convictions? I agree with what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) said: exoneration must be hurried up and compensation must be paid sooner rather than later. I have said that every month for the last nine months.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady asks multiple questions. The first is about a letter written by Nick Read, Post Office’s chief executive, to the Justice Secretary. What I can say is that UKGI and Post Office Ltd have both vehemently denied that Nick Read was put under any pressure to write the letter she refers to.

On the risks of making a decision on blanket exoneration, the postal affairs Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), has said repeatedly that we have been faced with a dilemma: either to accept the present problem of many people carrying the unjustified slur of conviction, or to accept that an unknown number of people who have genuinely stolen from their post offices will be exonerated and perhaps even compensated. That is the case, and it is certainly what the Government believe. What she says about people being put under pressure to write a letter is something that UKGI and Post Office Ltd have both vehemently denied.

The hon. Lady repeats Mr Staunton’s allegations, but I have already given a statement saying that they are completely false. She asks about individual cases of people who have been paid. I cannot comment on individual cases, but I would like to clarify that the main scheme in place under Henry Staunton’s watch was the Horizon shortfall scheme. Some 2,417 people were made offers within the original deadline. One hundred per cent have received offers, but 84% have accepted offers. I just wanted to clarify my previous comments.

On the 40 prosecutors still working for Post Office, I have had multiple people giving different bits of information. The inquiry is looking at that and will get to the bottom of it.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State review the governance of UKGI? How did it manage to preside over the Post Office with its dreadful treatment of sub-postmasters? How did UKGI allow senior Post Office managers to rack up and accumulate losses of £1,390 million, effectively bankrupting the Post Office so that it can now trade only if it has the reassurance of massive cash infusions from the Treasury on a continuing basis? Surely this body has done very badly, and we need a better answer.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

That is one of the reasons why we have been making personnel changes in this area. It goes back to the point I was making in the statement: Post Office needs an effective chair. Until the day I had the conversation dismissing him, I never had any correspondence from Mr Staunton about difficulties that he was having with UKGI. If he was having difficulties, he should have told me, rather than give an interview to The Sunday Times effectively stating that he had no control over the organisation that he had been appointed to run.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State says we have to accept that Henry Staunton’s accusations are completely false. The letter that Nick Read wrote to the Lord Chancellor about overturning convictions mentioned that about 300 people are possibly going to be “guilty”. She has just told the House that the investment body did not instruct him to do that. Henry Staunton said he did not tell Post Office to write the letter, and the board did not know about it, so who did? For the sake of openness and transparency, she should produce all correspondence between UKGI and Post Office. The Secretary of State has accused Henry Staunton of lying in public. The only way we can judge whether she is telling the truth is if we have all the information out there.

Can I just say to the Secretary of State, in relation to her obsession with tweeting, that although she says that people are jumping “on the bandwagon”, some of us have been involved in this for many years on a cross-party basis, including through work with her colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), so that is quite insulting. What message will the Secretary of State’s tone today send to sub-postmasters? I will tell her: more cover-up and obfuscation. Get the information out there and explain what is going on. Otherwise, she will not have their trust. It will just be more of the same that we have seen over many, many years.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I completely reject the right hon. Gentleman’s assertions. This is the political point scoring that I talked about earlier, which we just need to stop. Rather than focusing on the issue, he is talking about my tweeting. Maybe he should get off Twitter and actually listen to what I am saying at the Dispatch Box. He is talking about a letter that UKGI says it did not ask Nick Read to write. The only possible answer is that Nick Read himself decided to write that letter. I did not ask him to write it, the Post Office says that it did not, and UKGI did not. These are the sorts of things I am talking about—continuing to make aspersions about Ministers. We have made the Post Office an independent body, we have an independent inquiry, and the information will come out in due course.

Conor Burns Portrait Sir Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is no doubt that there was a bad culture in the Post Office for a very long time. It misled a significant number of Ministers, who, to put it gently, could have been more inquiring over the years. Has my right hon. Friend had time to reflect on the words of the non-executive members of the board representing the postmasters, who say that only days before she sacked the chairman, there was still a culture in which they were viewed as guilty and on the take? If that sacking has brought compensation to those people, who were traumatised and misled by the Post Office, and who had their lives destroyed, her decision will go down as a very welcome one.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I agree with my right hon. Friend. The comments by the members of the board who are former postmasters are very interesting. They are saying exactly what I am saying: that Henry Staunton was not doing a good job as Post Office chair. That leads me back to the point made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is more interested in attacking the Government than in looking at what even the members of the board are saying. It is important that we continue to give confidence to people that those organisations are run properly. That was the reason for the dismissal.

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

Having supported constituents in negotiations in relation to the historical shortfall scheme, I can tell the Secretary of State that, whatever the reason for it, the conduct of the Post Office and its agents was characterised by delay and obstruction. That, in turn, led to the view taking hold among sub-postmasters that there was no point in making claims. Since the ITV drama aired, I have heard of several constituents making belated claims. What more are the Government doing to ensure that everybody out there who may have a claim is able to receive compensation?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman’s question is a good one. The fixed-sum awards show that we are taking the matter very seriously. I became Business Secretary in February last year, and my one priority was to ensure that people got their compensation as quickly as possible. I did everything that I possibly could, with the Minister with responsibility for the Post Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), whom I thank for his tireless efforts. He had been looking at the portfolio before I got the job as Business Secretary, and I knew that the work was in safe hands. We have worked together as a team, fought cross-departmentally to ensure that people got the compensation that they deserved, and brought in legislation just before December—well before the ITV drama. The cases that the right hon. Gentleman raises are important, as they show that there is still a lot of work to do, and we will continue doing it.

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

Given the Post Office’s track record with accuracy, I am very glad that we have heard from the Secretary of State—I would rather take her assurances at the Dispatch Box than anything from a disgruntled, sacked former employee of the Post Office. Even during last week’s recess, I still had constituents coming to me saying that they were affected by the Horizon scandal, so can the Secretary of State assure the people watching that the process is very quick and simple? People who still feel that they lost money during that horrendous period need to keep coming forward, because there is an easy process: they can fill in a form to make sure their voice is heard and that they get compensation.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is quite right. I thank him for raising this issue, and also for the work he has done—as a former postmaster, he knows quite a lot about what has been going on. I reassure all of the people who have been affected by this scandal that it is something we take very seriously. When I became Business Secretary, I was absolutely horrified by the sheer scale of trauma that people had been going through. We want people to continue coming forwards; where they are not happy with the process, we will look at it again, but there is a formal process in place to ensure that all postmasters can be treated fairly, equally and equitably.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The allegations of limping towards the general election in relation to delaying compensation payments to postmasters mirror the Government’s behaviour towards the infected blood scandal. They have had the final recommendations for that compensation since April 2023, with no action having been taken, so it seems to me that there is a pattern of behaviour: the Government act only when they are forced or shamed into doing so. With the infected blood scandal, we have been told repeatedly by Ministers that the Government are working at pace. What that really means is that they are limping at pace, are they not?

--- Later in debate ---
Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

No, no, and no. It is a shame that the right hon. Lady stands up in the Chamber and says that the Government acted only when we were forced to do so, because she knows that we brought legislation to this House well before the ITV drama. She knows about the Horizon shortfall scheme, the group litigation order payments and the overturned convictions. She is trying to mix this issue up with the infected blood inquiry, knowing that I have just proved that the allegations made by Mr Staunton are completely false. I have said that minutes will be put on the record showing that this is not an issue that Labour wants to look at beyond political point scoring. I will not stand at this Dispatch Box and allow that to happen.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Sarah Dines (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the weekend, leaks to newspapers appeared to show really poor embedded practices at the Post Office board, using language about our postmasters being “on the take” or “guilty”. What is my right hon. Friend doing to clean up the act?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why we need effective leadership at the Post Office; and it is why I took the decision to dismiss Mr Staunton, among the other issues I have covered in this statement. We need people who care, and one of the things that worries me is that because Mr Staunton has decided to have revenge in the papers, it is going to be even harder for us to find people who will come in and do this very difficult job. I hope they will not be put off by the misinformation that has been in the papers.

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

I thank the Secretary of State for her prompt statement, and for laying out her version of events about the dismissal of Mr Staunton, the Post Office chairman. We have to accept her statements from the Dispatch Box, but I take exception to one point she made. She said that there was no evidence of stalling on compensation, but that evidence comes from the experience of my own constituents, Mr and Mrs Rudkin—their evidence to me was fundamental in unravelling this whole Post Office Horizon scandal. Susan Rudkin’s criminal conviction was overturned in December 2020—she was one of the first nine. When I spoke to Mr and Mrs Rudkin only a few weeks ago, over three years after that conviction was overturned, they still had not received their compensation. If that is not evidence of stalling, what is?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I cannot comment on that specific case, because I do not have the details, but a fixed sum award is available should Mr and Mrs Rudkin wish to take it. There is a process and we will move as quickly as we can. I cannot speak specifically about why there has been that delay, but we are doing everything we can to get the money out to the postmasters as quickly as possible.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a once-proud former postmaster in my constituency, who ran the post office in Swanage. He fell foul of this scandal and was sacked, not prosecuted. His life was utterly ruined and he repaid the money that was owed. That was many years ago, but his wife is now very ill and he has still not had compensation. May I make two points? First, his lawyer tells me that the compensation scheme is taking too long. Secondly, may I ask the Secretary of State for an assurance that he will not be brushed off financially simply because he was not prosecuted? The lives of this man and his wife have been utterly ruined.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I know exactly the sort of people my hon. Friend is talking about, and it is really awful to hear about everything they have been through. I have a constituent who has talked to me about how this scandal has ruined her life. We owe it to them to do everything we can to ensure that they are fully compensated, and I can assure him that Ministers and officials are working on this every day. I know it is not always as quick as people would like, but we want to ensure that it is done properly and that there are no issues following that. I do not have the specific details of that case, but they can apply to the Horizon shortfall scheme, and if my hon. Friend brings it to the attention of the postal affairs Minister, we will look at it specifically.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Ministers have promised that the Government will bring in a new law to swiftly exonerate and compensate victims, so can the Secretary of State tell me why my constituent Chris Head has been offered only 13% of his compensation claim? How can sub-postmasters trust the Government or the Post Office to deliver full and fair compensation when they are still facing so much pushback on their compensation claims and receiving offers that go nowhere near financial restoration, let alone compensation for the injustice? Can I quickly add that the Secretary of State’s suggestion that the Government would have acted in the same way had the ITV drama not been shown is thought to be completely unbelievable by most, and none more so than by the sub-postmasters themselves?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The fact is that when we took the legislation through the House in December, the Opposition Benches were empty. Opposition Members are the ones who decided to take a more keen interest after the drama; we have been working flat out. I do not have the specific details of her constituent’s case, as she knows, but I will continue to repeat what I have said, which is that where people have not received compensation, we can look at that. There is a process, and there is also an independent panel they can appeal to, but the vast majority of people who have been getting offers are taking them.

Brendan Clarke-Smith Portrait Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Too often, quango bosses are rewarded for failure and can walk away with big payouts, and it would be a disgrace for the man who has done so little to get compensation for postmasters to get any himself. Can the Secretary of State confirm that she will block any such payments?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

There will be no payments to Henry Staunton.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the public squabble at the weekend further undermines people’s confidence in what is going to happen and in the Government’s assurances about compensating the people affected by the Post Office scandal. I tend to believe the view of the Secretary of State, simply because the record of Post Office officials trying to cover up, pass the buck and cause confusion is on the record, and we know what they are doing. However, the fact remains that there are still people who have not had any offer of compensation, there is still £1 billion that has not been spent in compensation, and there are still people whose cases have not even been considered. Is not the best way of answering Henry Staunton for the Government to get on with the job and ensure that compensation is paid quickly, and for people to get the compensation they deserve?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. As I said earlier, 64% of people have received compensation, and we want to get that to 100% as quickly as possible. However, we want to ensure that people get the right amount and are compensated fairly, and that is why we have the process, including a point of appeal if they are unhappy with the offer.

The point the right hon. Gentleman made right at the beginning of his question is correct. The points made in the newspapers do undermine the work that we are doing. It was very disappointing to read those statements. It was also disappointing because I had done everything I could to try and keep this out of the news and do it behind closed doors, properly. I made sure when I gave public statements that I said I would not do HR in public. When I found out that it had been leaked to Sky News, I even called Sky News and asked—one of my assistants asked—for that not to be put out in the public domain before I had had a chance to speak to Henry Staunton. I did the same with the Daily Mail, which thankfully did listen. We also need the media to help us in this and not publish false allegations.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am absolutely staggered that the Labour party now seems to be coming out in support of the disgraced Post Office management team—the same management team that oversaw the wrongful imprisonment of postmasters across the country, with hundreds of convictions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when push comes to shove, that lot over there would take the side of the grifters, not the grafters?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

As my hon. Friend says, the Post Office leadership oversaw wrongful convictions. That is one of the reasons why we have had multiple changes, and this is just the latest to ensure that we get the right leadership in place. [Interruption.] I know that some Opposition Members are dealing with this properly, but we can see from the heckling that many of them came here thinking that they could score political points, and I am not allowing that to happen.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many Members are of course angry and impatient about trying to get compensation and exoneration for all of the postmasters as soon as possible. If we are all honest, we as a whole Parliament should have been much more impatient much earlier. There are some rare exceptions to that, including my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who spoke earlier, and obviously Members on the Government side of the House as well. May I just clarify something about the process of Mr Staunton’s dismissal? As I understand it, he found out about it from Sky News. I think the Secretary of State just added a piece of information, which is that she then rang Sky News, before ringing him I think, to try and get them to stop running it. So she knew that this had already been leaked to Sky News, presumably from somebody in her Department. What investigation did she go through to find out who leaked it, and is that person still in post, because otherwise one might just worry that it might have been she herself who leaked it?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I knew that someone would ask that question. I in fact have evidence to show that I asked Sky News not to run the story. Of course I did not leak it—because if I had, that would have created legal risk if Mr Staunton had found out on the news before I had had a chance to speak to him. We have no idea how Sky News found out the information—several thousand people work in the Department for Business and Trade, and many more work at the Post Office and UK Government Investments. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) is heckling, but the point I am making is that leaks are incredibly damaging and harmful; they create legal risk for the Department. I did not do so; I made multiple efforts with at least two media outlets to make sure that they did not create problems for Mr Staunton, and it is one of the reasons why it was very disappointing to see what he did in The Sunday Times at the weekend.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be honest, I am afraid I do not think that the Business Secretary and her statement have helped us to get closer to the truth in this situation; it is a question of the Secretary of State’s version of events and the former chairman’s version of events. For clarity, and to try to draw a line under this and get to the truth, is the Secretary of State willing to refer herself to the ethics adviser?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I think that is a ridiculous assertion, and from someone who clearly did not listen to the statement. The difference between what I am saying and what Mr Staunton is saying is that I have officials who will back me up, I have members of the Post Office board who will back me up, and I have newspaper and media outlets that know that I tried to stop the story. The fact is that the hon. Lady just wants to believe Mr Staunton’s allegations because that helps Labour politically, but they are not true. They need to listen to the truth and stop hoping for lies; that is not what our job is in this House.

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

If Henry Staunton is guilty of what the Secretary of State has accused him, it beggars belief that he was appointed only two years ago by this Government. May I ask her about Post Office investigations? I have yet another constituent who has come forward who was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement by the Post Office and who has not been fully compensated for what they lost when they lost their business. Is it acceptable for the Post Office still to be involved with investigations, given how discredited those are? How can the victims of this scandal have any confidence whatever in the process that the Post Office is involved with?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The way we have been dealing with this issue at the Dispatch Box, the work that the inquiry has carried out and our commitment to look at individual cases and ensure that the process is working out properly is how the postmasters will have confidence in the system.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In recent weeks, I have met with a number of constituents who are former sub-postmasters and who have explained the terrible impact that this scandal has had on their lives. Although they were not convicted by the Post Office, they had to pay large sums of money for shortfalls that frankly did not exist. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s expectation is that those people will be compensated not only for the money they paid, but the financial and personal harm that this scandal caused in their lives?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

That is definitely what we are trying to do. No one should be in a worse position than they were in before the scandal happened. Where we can provide additional compensation, we will be able to do so, and that is what the process is set up to do.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of us will be concerned about the Department that oversees employment rights being one where thousands of people know that somebody is about to be sacked before they do. We would agree with the Secretary of State that the process is about giving the public confidence that when wrongs come to light, they will be righted. The challenge she faces is that the track record of recent decades is not good. It is not just about the Horizon scandal, but the nuclear veterans, Windrush, the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, the infected blood scandal and Grenfell. Time and again, it is the compensation schemes that become the story and a source of injustice. Rather than taking to Twitter, would it not be the right rejoinder for her to become the first Secretary of State to say, “We should put the management of compensation schemes involving Government out to an independent body so that everyone can have confidence”? I am sure she would find support from Opposition Members for that.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

First, I have not said that thousands of people knew that Henry Staunton was being sacked; I said that there are thousands of people who work in the Department, and it could have been anybody who put that out there. It is important that we stick to what has been said on the record. The hon. Lady mentions that these scandals go over decades, and I remind her that the Horizon scandal started under a Labour Government; it is this Government who are beginning to fix it.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the shortcomings of the Horizon scheme, I raise with the Secretary of State the case of my constituent Mr Pennington, a sub-postmaster for 20 years, who went through 10 years of financial distress paying back shortfall amounts generated by errors in the Horizon system. The poorly designed Horizon scheme has paid back only part of the shortfalls of possibly £100,000—and only a paltry £1,500 for 10 years of financial stress and worry. I wrote to the postal affairs Minister four weeks ago and have not had a response. When will the shortcomings of the Horizon scheme be reviewed, so that sub-postmasters such as Mr Pennington receive full—not part—compensation for all those years of distress?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is right to raise that matter. We are aware of the problem. We are working with the advisory board to see how we can fix it and ensure that people get proper compensation. I have just been told by the postal affairs Minister that the letter she is expecting should be with her shortly.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. She will be aware that many post office branches have closed in recent years, including the Clapham Common post office in my constituency, which is due to close on 6 March. In her statement, she said:

“Right now, the Post Office’s No. 1 priority must be delivering compensation to postmasters”.

Does she agree that millions of pounds spent on the Post Office trying to pay innocent sub-postmasters would have been better spent on ensuring that we keep our vital post offices up and down the country?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her tireless work campaigning to save Clapham post office; I know she has had many meetings with the postal affairs Minister. We should be able both to keep post offices open and to compensate.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As this is a genuine national scandal, the exoneration of sub-postmasters with criminal convictions requires that they be treated equally, with a shared speedy and common approach, across the UK. Both I and the recently reappointed Justice Minister in Northern Ireland have written to Ministers asking for Northern Ireland to be included in the forthcoming legislation. However, I understand that the Government are currently not minded to do that with the devolved Administrations. Will the Secretary of State confirm that Northern Ireland will be part of that legislation, which I hope will be brought forward soon?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman will know that Stormont is now up and running, and that we will be having conversations with devolved Governments on the best way to resolve this. We do not have an answer now, but we are aware of the issue and are working on it.

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

The reports on the weekend were extremely alarming, given how sub-postmasters have been treated in recent years. On the obvious question, can the Secretary of State give any assurance or guarantee that the compensation will be paid and taken forward before the general election is called? That surely is what sub-postmasters would ask for, and it is the least that they deserve.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

That is absolutely the right thing to do. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, because it gives me another opportunity to restate that the very idea that compensation would be delayed until after the election is complete nonsense. It does not even make political sense. We want to ensure that people get their money as quickly as possible.

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

I thank the Secretary of State for her positive answers. Across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, hundreds of postmasters and postmistresses are still awaiting compensation for these wrongdoings. While it is understood that this is a sensitive subject for many, will she provide an update on the expected timescale for compensation of everyone who is entitled across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? The fact of the matter is, some people have waited two years, three years and longer, and it really cannot go on.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is right: it cannot go on. I want to see everyone get their money as quickly as possible. By the end of this year, everybody should have received it. That is certainly what I am working towards.

Brexit: Fourth Anniversary

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- Hansard - -

Today, the Department for Business and Trade will be publishing an update detailing the wealth of Brexit benefits the Government have seized since the UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020.

Since the UK’s departure from the EU, this Government have cut burdensome red tape for business. We have built dozens of trading relationships with new friends and old allies. And we have taken back control of our laws, borders, and tariffs. This new-found agility was crucial in helping us get through the pandemic with the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe—which in turn allowed us to reopen our economy even sooner.

Where some predicted decline for Britain’s economy after Brexit, the UK has shown expansion.

Since the referendum in 2016, the UK has grown faster than Germany, Italy, and Japan and at a similar rate to France. Our services exports are at a record high of £472 billion and the IMF predicts that between 2024 and 2028 the UK will see the third fastest growth in the G7—stronger than France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Through Brexit, the UK is capitalising on its economic might, while the Government deliver real, tangible benefits not just for British business but for the British people, too.

We have simplified import tariffs on almost 6,000 goods. Our UK global tariff is lowering costs for both businesses and households. And we have made it easier and cheaper for developing countries to sell to the UK—lifting people out of poverty abroad and lowering prices at home without compromising on quality.

The UK now has a little under 50% of products that are tariff-free compared to the EU’s 27%.

We have also knocked down approximately 500 trade barriers since 2020, including in the US—our single largest trade partner. We have signed memorandums of understanding with seven US states while agreeing quotas for British steel and aluminium—boosting exports and supporting 80,000 jobs across the UK supply chain.

No longer bound by EU state aid rules, we are driving growth in our coastal communities through our freeports programme. In Teesside—the UK’s biggest and first operational port—our tax reliefs, business rates retention policies and investment are helping to generate millions for the local economy while creating thousands of new jobs.

The Government are leveraging our post-Brexit freedoms to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

We have already revoked or reformed over 2,000 pieces of EU law with a clear road map to go further.

At the same time we are making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises—which account for over 99% of UK businesses—to raise finance while simplifying annual leave and holiday pay, and reducing onerous record-keeping requirements under the working time regulations.

Brexit has allowed us to undertake one of the largest shake-ups to procurement rules in this country’s history. Our new procurement regime means a simpler, more effective system, helping SMEs secure a greater share of approximately £300 billion of expenditure every year.

The update we are publishing today also shows that, in addition to delivering for British business and the British people at home, we are delivering for them abroad, too.

The Department for Business and Trade has negotiated free trade agreements with 73 countries from Mexico to Malaysia. We have secured the most comprehensive deal that the EU has ever agreed to in its history. These countries accounted for £1.1 trillion of our trade in 2022 alone.

Our trade deals with Australia and New Zealand—the first to be negotiated from scratch after Brexit—are helping home-grown companies break into new markets on the other side of the world, with the potential to bring in billions of pounds of new investment for the UK.

Our digital agreements with Singapore and Ukraine—regarded as blueprints by other nations striking similar deals—will boost our trading relationships in the digital economy and services sectors by extending market reach and ensuring the secure, tariff-free flow of digital content.

The UK will also shortly be joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It will make over 99% of UK goods eligible for zero tariffs in the Asia-Pacific’s most dynamic economies.

This year, the Department for Business and Trade is seeking further deals with more fast-growing economies including the Gulf Co-operation Council and India.

We will cement global Britain’s status as an outward-looking, international trading powerhouse, redrawing the rules so businesses can thrive, markets are competitive and consumers are protected.

We will drive further investment from British and international businesses into our economy while strengthening our advice and support for home-grown companies looking to grow and export.

Over the coming year, we will continue to open up new markets for business, promoting free trade, economic security, and resilient supply chains as core pillars of the UK’s trade policy.

We are sticking to our plan to deliver the long-term change our country needs and build a brighter future for the United Kingdom, seizing the many opportunities and benefits Brexit has afforded the British people.

[HCWS231]

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Government are proud to champion free trade at every opportunity. We recognise the power and potential of free and fair trade to ease the cost of living, lower prices and extend consumer choice, all of which drives growth across all four nations of our United Kingdom. As exemplified by the free trade agreements that we recently brought into force with Australia and New Zealand, it is UK businesses and UK consumers who benefit when burdensome red tape is cut, greater market access is secured, and trade flows more freely. The UK’s accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership will help us to realise these benefits with 11 countries spanning the Americas and Asia.

As Members will know, this partnership covers a vast area of the globe—500 million people—which already accounts for well over £100 billion-worth in UK trade. Our accession will boost this flow of goods and services even further, leaving more than 99% of UK products eligible for zero tariffs. This matters, because we sell more to CPTPP countries than we do to France and Italy combined. As we join, the partnership will have a combined GDP of roughly £12 trillion in 2022 figures, equivalent to nearly 15% of the world’s total. It will also provide a gateway to the wider Indo-Pacific region, which is set to account for the majority of global economic growth by 2050.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our leaving the European Union has made it possible to secure these deeper economic and diplomatic ties with some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and that it is only because of the decisions made by this Government that we are now getting on with that job?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is correct. We would not have been able to sign this agreement had we not left the European Union, but we are now able to enjoy the benefits of this free trade agreement as well as the one that we have with the European Union.

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of the figures that are sometimes cited about the future size and scope of the Indo-Pacific market include the size and growth of China. Has the Secretary of State reflected further on the evidence that she gave to the Select Committee last week, and can she tell the House whether, if China decides to try to join the CPTPP and meets the technical standards, the UK will block that or welcome it?

--- Later in debate ---
Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman knows what I said to the Committee. It is important to stress the principle that these are not decisions that the UK makes in isolation, but he will hear more about the arguments relating to accession later in my speech.

One of the major benefits of our accession is the fact that for the first time we will have a trade deal with Malaysia and Brunei—economies worth over £340 billion in GDP. What does that mean for British business? It means, for example, that tariffs on British-made cars exported to Malaysia will be cut from 30% to zero, and that our whisky exporters will see tariffs cut from 80% to zero, a move that has been widely welcomed by members of the Scotch Whisky Association.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State has spoken about the size of this deal, and she has mentioned the major players in our markets, the automotive and whisky industries, which are of course very big exporters. Will she say a little about the opportunities that may exist for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the work that is being done to open up those opportunities to them?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

There will be a multiplicity of benefits for small businesses—for instance, the tariffs to which I have referred—but the agreement also contains a chapter that was specifically intended to help SMEs to take advantage of it.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State mentioned car exports to Malaysia. That, of course, will not make up for the millions of pounds that we now risk losing because of the suspension of the deal with Canada for the automotive industry. The Bill will do nothing to tackle that, because it is based on the accumulation of EU content that we need. Will the Secretary of State tell us what on earth she will do to fight for British car makers, given that we shall now have the worst of all worlds, and we are not even part of a “Canada-style deal” with Canada?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

First, Canada is part of the CPTPP. Secondly, the rules of origin, to which the hon. Lady was referring, have still not been fully decided; that will come in March. We are working with our counterparts in Canada. I think the hon. Lady was confusing the discussions on rules of origin with discussions on cheese, which is an entirely different issue.

UK companies will enjoy greater market access in some of the nine countries with which we already have bilateral agreements. Let us take Mexico. Under our current bilateral agreement, chocolate producers must pay a tariff of about 25%, but on accession that will drop to zero. We also said at the outset of our negotiations that we would like our businesses to benefit from the key trade quotas that this agreement offers. I am pleased to tell the House that we have secured access to those quotas as part of our negotiations. That means, among other things, that we have secured better access for UK dairy producers selling to Canada, Japan and Mexico, and it probably explains why Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers Union, has said that the agreement could provide

“good opportunities to get more fantastic British food on plates overseas.”

I am sure that all Members here today would warmly welcome such an outcome.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the Secretary of State and the Government for the stance that they have taken with our friends and allies in Canada, namely that the UK will not permit the import of hormone-treated beef. It is important that we can be a beacon to the rest of the world in that regard. Can the Secretary of State reaffirm to the House and the country that we will stand firm in continuing to prohibit the import of not only hormone-treated beef, but ractopamine-treated pork and chlorine-washed poultry? It is vital that we uphold animal health and welfare standards, as well as helping to protect public health.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I am happy to confirm that that is the case. We are now in a position to make our own decisions on what we do with trade agreements. We have said that we will never compromise on animal welfare or environmental standards, and we continue to regulate. The difference between this deal and the kind of deal that we had previously with the EU is that we did not then have complete freedom to regulate.

Another notable benefit concerns rules of origin. Joining this partnership will mean that content from any CPTPP country can be counted as qualifying when goods are exported within the trading bloc, and that has the potential to benefit our innovative British-based manufacturers, including our car industry. In the automotive sector we have an exceptionally competitive global market, especially as we make the transition to electric vehicles. Critical minerals are needed for their production, and those are inevitably difficult to source in a global supply chain. It is therefore essential to the success of our industry that more countries recognise where a component is made and accept it as part of one supply chain.

For example, say one of our big automotive manufacturers in the west midlands ships a part to Mexico for additional assembly, and that part is then sent on to another CPTPP country, such as Japan, for final manufacturing. Post accession, the parts made in the west midlands will meet the agreement’s rules of origin. That is a real incentive for CPTPP countries to purchase more British-designed, British-made products, and it is part of the reason why our future accession to this partnership has been so warmly welcomed by the sector. Mike Hawes, chief executive officer of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, has said that the agreement makes “eminent sense” and has the potential to deliver opportunities for the automotive industry.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is good to hear from Mike Hawes and to learn what he thinks, but can the Secretary of State give the House some indication of what contribution the CPTPP will make to our GDP?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

According to the models and estimates, it will be £2 billion a year, but it all depends on which countries choose to accede and how many businesses in the UK choose to take advantage of the agreement. A free trade agreement utilisation programme will therefore be critical to our gaining the greatest possible benefits from the CPTPP.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a great deal of argument about where the opportunity for UK exporters is. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the prediction that the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will create a bigger trading bloc and a bigger economic unit than the European Union by 2050, and does she agree that the CPTPP offers the opportunity for countries such as the Kingdom of Thailand, which is not a member, to join in the future? Surely the CPTPP is not about what it is now, but what it will be in the future.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This deal is thinking about the future. Of course we have a close trading relationship with the European Union, but the fact is that, as a share of global growth, Europe is shrinking and other parts of the world are growing. This is our opportunity to get in early and help shape the rules for this trading bloc.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Business Secretary is making a powerful case on why accession to the CPTPP will be transformative for our country in so many ways. She alluded to the importance of business with Malaysia. This is not just about trade; it is also about investment. The importance of Malaysian investment over here is symbolised by Brabazon on the edge of Bristol, and by Battersea power station. Does she agree that all those investments will be much more secure under the umbrella of the first ever trade and investment agreement with Malaysia?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I agree with that statement. I would just like to highlight the significant contribution that our trade envoys, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), and for Gloucester (Richard Graham), are making to our debate on trade. They are getting out there, bringing business to the United Kingdom, selling all that is great about our country, and making a valuable contribution to trade policy in the UK, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for all the work they are doing, travelling around the world and banging the drum for British trade.

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Secretary of State moves off the subject of cars, I want to make an intervention about our trade with Canada, which involves more than £745 million-worth of exports. We currently benefit from tariff-free trade because of the extended accumulation of origin rules. That tariff break will end at the end of March, and because talks have broken down, we face a situation where our car exports are about to be hit by tariffs. Can she tell the House a bit more about how she plans to avoid a tariff war hitting UK car exports at the end of March?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

This is a good opportunity for me to state explicitly that the talks have not broken down. We are having multiple discussions with Canada on cheese, in which we have not come to an agreement. However, the quota that we have under CPTPP with Canada is 16.5 kilotonnes, which is more than the 2 kilotonnes we are selling to Canada at the moment, so we are not particularly concerned about that, although it is disappointing. We have an ongoing rules of origin discussion, and we have an FTA discussion, which I have paused, for reasons that the right hon. Gentleman will know—

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated dissent.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

Well, he should know them, because I believe I referred to them in the Select Committee; I hope he was listening. The point I am making to the Chair of the Select Committee is that trade is dynamic. On some issues that we are negotiating and discussing with our partners, we have differences of opinion; and others are going swimmingly. This is not a reason for us to cast aspersions on our trade relationships with the countries in question.

Joining this partnership will deliver for our manufacturers, but crucially it will also deliver for our globally renowned services sector. The UK is already the world’s second largest exporter of services, behind only the US, and services exports are at record levels. CPTPP, with its modern and ambitious rules on services and digital trade, plays to the UK’s strengths, given that almost 80% of our economy is services-based. It will reduce market access barriers, such as data localisation requirements; British businesses will not have to set up costly servers or data centres in each member country, and that will save them significant time, money and other resources. This agreement will help flagship British businesses such as Standard Chartered and BT to gain smoother access to markets in Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia, strengthening our trade with those nations for years to come.

We also have a ratchet mechanism for the first time with Malaysia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam, meaning that if those countries relax rules for a particular service, restrictions cannot then be reintroduced in future. That is another clear example of how this agreement will unlock smoother, simpler trade. The director general of the Institute of Export and International Trade, Marco Forgione, has rightly said:

“This is all good news for UK businesses, giving them greater access to one of the fastest growing regions in the world”.

The issue is not just the benefits that joining this partnership will bring over the short term. This is a growing agreement, designed to expand and bring in more markets and more opportunities for UK businesses in the long run. As the first acceding country, we will be ideally placed to take advantage of that future growth.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome our accession to CPTPP, which I think will be of great national benefit, but understandably Members across the House will look to businesses in their constituency. The Secretary of State is well aware that many businesses in my constituency in the Humber region are focused on the energy sector, particularly renewable energy. Does she see any great advantages for them?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

There are multiple advantages that will accrue to my hon. Friend’s constituency. I do not specifically have figures for the energy sector, but I do have good news relating to Yorkshire and the Humber: 465 businesses are already exporting to Malaysia from Yorkshire and the Humber, and CPTPP will help to boost that region’s economy by around £210 million in the long run. In 2022, Yorkshire and the Humber exported £1.3 billion-worth of goods to CPTPP. Within five years, tariffs of up to 30% will be eliminated on UK exports of machinery to Malaysia, cutting costs for businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber. We will reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers, which could mean many more companies—such as the jukebox manufacturer Sound Leisure, which already exports to five CPTPP countries—being able to enter more dynamic markets.

The Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), raised questions about China, and I promised to address them. On China’s application to accede to the agreement, which I know many hon. Members are interested in, let me first say that there are six economies with applications to join the group—China, Taiwan, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Ukraine—and more may apply. Members have not yet made any decisions on which economies will accede in future.

Every applicant must fulfil three essential criteria, called the Auckland principles, to join the group. First, they must be able to meet the high standards of the agreement. Secondly, they must have a track record of compliance with existing trade commitments. Thirdly, and crucially, they must command a consensus of the whole group. These are strong criteria, and they make it clear that working as a bloc is vital. The purpose of this partnership is to be a growing trade bloc, and we share that ambition. We want this agreement to grow, but our accession has set a clear precedent for those that follow. The robust process that the UK has been through has only reinforced the high standards that the partnership seeks to promote, and it has proved that the bar is not easy to meet.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Jayawardena
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does that not prove that by being positive and seeking to engage with partners around the world, we can shape this trade area in line with our geostrategic and trade interests?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

Yes, it absolutely does. That is one of the ways that we are able to increase UK influence across the world, not just in Europe or near neighbouring countries. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right on that.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State talks about free and fair trade and about high standards, but there is nothing on labour rights in this CPTPP deal. Is that because she does not care about labour rights? Does she not think it matters whether UK businesses and workers have to compete with those producing products and services in circumstances where there are no trade union rights and no health and safety rights, for example? Is it because she does not care about labour rights, or because she was unable to negotiate anything?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I think the hon. Lady might be confusing the contents of the Bill with the text of the agreement. The text of the agreement is on gov.uk, and she will find a chapter there that covers labour rights.

I turn briefly to the Bill. It is technical in nature, but in enabling us to comply with the provisions of the deal, it is crucial to unlocking the benefits I have described. First, the Bill will ensure that the UK’s domestic procurement regime is compliant with the partnership’s rules, and it will give effect to the UK’s market access commitments to CPTPP suppliers. This small change will deliver big benefits for British businesses, allowing them to compete for contracts in Canada, Japan and Peru that go beyond our existing agreements. It will also mark the UK’s first ever trade agreement with Malaysia and Brunei that contains Government procurement provisions, and will create entirely new access opportunities for UK businesses. The Bill will also allow conformity assessment bodies established in parties’ territories to apply for approval in the UK. This will mirror the treatment that UK conformity assessment bodies will receive from CPTPP parties, which would reduce costs for UK businesses.

The Bill will amend domestic law so that, in relation to agrifoods only, an application to register a geographical indicator can be opposed on the ground that it is likely to cause confusion with a pre-existing trademark or application for a trademark. The Bill will also introduce the ability to cancel a registered agrifood GI on the ground that, at the time the GI was applied for, it was likely to cause confusion with a pre-existing trademark or application for a trademark, or because it is a generic term.

Finally, the Bill brings our approach to copyright in line with the CPTPP by amending the basis on which foreign performers, such as musicians, can qualify for rights in the UK.

In sum, the implementation of the Bill is essential for the UK to meet its obligations upon accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. The agreement offers significant benefits to UK businesses and consumers, by lowering tariffs, driving up trade and giving us access to the markets that will be front and centre of the global economy for the next quarter century. It is right that we seize the many opportunities that the partnership will bring, which is why I commend this Bill to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Gentleman knows, other evidence was given to the Select Committee that underlined the likely loss to farmers and the agriculture sector in general. I will be happy to send him the note from that Select Committee.

There are questions about the intellectual property section of the Bill. There are wider concerns that Britain has been forced to be a rule-taker on the use of secret courts, that there are poor environmental and labour rights provisions and, crucially, that Ministers have no plan to help British business capitalise on this deal. Given the Government’s woeful performance on economic growth, the recent huge increases in barriers to trade and the cuts in support for exporters, we are pleased about any measures that help our exporters even a fraction.

The Secretary of State did not own up to it but, for the foreseeable future, this trade deal will have, at best, a minor impact on our terms of trade. There are trade benefits to membership, notably in the rules of origin provisions and in trade with Malaysia and Brunei, and there is longer-term potential if CPTPP becomes a deeper or more extensive trade bloc. In geopolitical terms, the closer ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific that CPTPP ushers in are welcome in these increasingly uncertain times.

Unfortunately, rational debate about these opportunities and trade-offs has been hampered by some of the more extravagant and exaggerated claims made by Conservative Members for the benefits of CPTPP membership. It was set to offer “unparalleled opportunities” for the UK. It was going to be a “glittering post-Brexit prize”. The Secretary of State has even done her own bit for such boosterism, with her Department claiming last year that all that is needed is for the US and half the rest of the world to join, and then there would be an extra £21 billion for the UK. I enjoyed “Wonka”, but I did not expect to find that level of fantasy preparing for this debate.

According to the Government’s own figures, this trade treaty was only ever going to deliver a 0.08% increase in economic growth over 10 years. It is nice to have, particularly given the mess that the Government are making of the economy, but now even the limited trade benefits they promised us have been cut in half.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman references my Department’s trade figures. These are modelling forecasts based on old figures that did not count the dynamic effects of trade agreements. They are completely out of date. They were done well before the agreement had even been negotiated, so they should not be used as a basis for deciding how this agreement will do.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One set of figures the Secretary of State’s Department definitely did not put together were those that the Office for Budget Responsibility produced. It now expects only a 0.04% increase in our economic growth, after a decade, from joining CPTPP. As we already have free trade agreements in place with nine of the other 11 CPTPP members, formally joining CPTPP feels rather thin compensation for Ministers’ many other failures on trade.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Thursday 25th January 2024

(4 weeks, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What steps her Department is taking to support businesses in rural areas.

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

The Government provide extensive business support for all businesses, including those in rural areas. As a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency, I am keenly aware of the difficulties that apply specifically to rural businesses because of their location. With other Departments, we focus on access to energy, and we work with the Department for Education on apprenticeships. We also have the British Business Bank’s recovery loan scheme, and the Start Up Loans company, which improves access to finance to help businesses to invest and grow. I believe that that package helps rural businesses.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Sutherland spaceport could be a fantastic boost for local businesses. Equally, floating offshore wind in the North sea presents opportunities for the Wick and Scrabster harbours. To underpin that, we need the transport infrastructure. The public service obligation for Wick airport runs out in March this year, with no word from the Scottish Government on whether it will be continued—it would be a fatal blow if not—and then there is the abject failure to invest in the A9. Promise after promise after promise has been broken. What advice does she have for me?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to speak to the SNP-led Scottish Government, who are responsible for much of that investment. It is a real shame that the SNP Government do not care about rural businesses or small businesses in Scotland. Office for National Statistics figures show that Scotland lost more than 20,000 businesses last year, and they were mainly the smallest businesses employing up to 50 people. However, I take his point about infrastructure. We have to look at that on a UK-wide basis, and I am prepared to look in a little more detail at what my Department can do to support him.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that my right hon. Friend is doing a great job for rural businesses. However, the Met Office, which is under her stewardship, is responsible for providing wind forecasts, which are particularly important given that the Orwell bridge was closed recently. I would like there to be more transparency and, specifically, for the Met Office to publish the wind speed on its app so that there is transparency for all businesses and the bridge is not closed unnecessarily.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

That sounds like a significant issue. However, I am pleased to say that the Met Office is the responsibility not of my Department but of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. We can raise the matter with DSIT colleagues to ensure that they look at it as quicky possible.

Rob Roberts Portrait Mr Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Welsh Government on the adequacy of Government support for small businesses in north Wales.

--- Later in debate ---
Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- Hansard - -

The Department for Business and Trade has done a lot to bring foreign direct investment into the UK. Just last November, we raised £30 billion at our global investment summit. Specifically for north Northamptonshire, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that his constituents can take advantage of the DBT national and regional investment teams, which work with local partners to provide support for foreign investors who wish to invest and set up in the region.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Hollobone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Recent inward investment into the Kettering constituency includes the Ball Corporation from the US building Europe’s largest and most modern aluminium drinks can manufacturing plant in Burton Latimer, creating 200 new jobs. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate and thank Ball for its confidence and investment in north Northamptonshire’s manufacturing economy, and encourage others to see Kettering—with its superb connectivity and motivated workforce—as an ideal location for further investment?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I am extremely pleased to be able to do so. I congratulate and thank Ball Corporation for placing its investment in Kettering. That is exactly the sort of investment that we want to see all around the UK: it is the levelling-up agenda writ large. I also thank all the officials in my Department, but especially my Ministers, who travel all around the world—including to the US—to promote the UK. We never talk this country down; we let people know that this is a great place to do business, and we are seeing the benefits of that strategy.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. When she plans to bring forward legislative proposals to exonerate the remaining sub-postmasters with criminal convictions relating to the failure of the Post Office Horizon system.

--- Later in debate ---
Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that regulators support economic growth.

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

At the autumn statement, we announced the decision to extend the growth duty to Ofgem, Ofwat and Ofcom, alongside a series of reforms to the duty to hold regulators to account for delivering growth in the sectors they regulate. We are also currently consulting on proposals to strengthen the economic regulation of the energy, water and telecoms sectors.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but on retained EU law reform, in the June to December 2023 reporting period there were only two regulatory reforms of note, which were on wine marketing and working time calculations; the rest were technical corrections. What steps is she taking to speed up reform of retained EU law to ensure that regulation works for business and enables growth?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I am glad that my hon. Friend read the report that I sent out this week on what we have been doing. However, I disagree that only two reforms of note have been delivered. We have repealed or reformed more than 2,000 measures. The Port Services Regulations 2019, which were not designed with UK ports in mind, are an example. We have also passed the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023 and the Procurement Act 2023. I remind him that that list is what we are using the schedule for, and there are many other mechanisms in the retained EU law programme to deliver on that road map so that we improve our economy and make it more competitive by making sure that our laws are tailored to our economy.

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

In support of economic growth, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) cut £235 million from Environment Agency budgets when she was at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Rather than bringing economic growth, that served to bring sewage growth: sewage discharge doubled between 2016 and 2021. I was delighted to hear yesterday that the Government will adopt my Water Quality Monitoring Bill, but will they also restore some of the cut Environment Agency funding to bring back powers as well as duties?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

A spending review, where we can look at these things, will be coming up shortly, but I really have to challenge much of what the hon. Gentleman said. It is a misrepresentation to say that the issues going on with sewage are to do with the actions of my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). This Government have been taking reforms through the Environment Act 2021 to improve the situation throughout multiple Governments, including the one in which his party, the Liberal Democrats, participated during the coalition. So it is very wrong to make that case.

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

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

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

As Secretary of State for Business and Trade, I am committed to ensuring the resilience of the UK’s critical supply chains. Last week, the Government published the “Critical Imports and Supply Chains Strategy” to help UK businesses build secure and reliable supply chains. Our 18-point action plan will help businesses to deal better with global supply chain issues from overcoming bureaucratic barriers to dealing with severe shocks caused by events such as the pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine and the attacks on the Red sea that have threatened a key route for global trade. DBT led the development of the strategy, which was shaped by the experiences of UK businesses. I was delighted that representatives of industry as well as key international partners joined us at the strategy’s launch at Heathrow airport, which is, of course, the UK’s largest import hub by value.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Speaker, I wish you and the rest of the House a happy Burns night for this evening. Is it not a scandal that the only way to get the great chieftain o’ the puddin-race exported to the United States is by sending the vegetarian version? [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Could not the Secretary of State put that into her 18-point action plan and get on and do something, or does she want to risk forever being known as a cowran, tim’rous beastie? [Laughter.]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his esoteric question. We are continually removing barriers to US-UK trade, and we are trading with the US more than ever before. If he has a specific example that I can help with so that he can enjoy his Burns night, I would appreciate it if he wrote to me, and we will look at the matter in detail.

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

T2. With many banks closing on high streets, the post office is picking up so much slack, but in rural areas the limits placed on the amount of cash that can be paid in at the post office is having a real impact on businesses. For instance, pubs have a lot of cash but cannot pay it in because of the limits. Can the Minister review that and ensure that the post office can take far greater volumes of cash from rural businesses?

--- Later in debate ---
Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. The Secretary of State has often stated her support for post-Brexit regulatory reform and divergence, and did so again in answer to an earlier question. Is she in a position to deny reports in The Daily Telegraph today that the Government have pledged to introduce a requirement that all future regulatory change will be screened to ensure that extra barriers in the Irish sea are not created? That could be a significant impediment to divergence from EU laws.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I cannot comment on the ongoing Northern Ireland political process, to which I am not a participant. However, it is clear that we retain the ability to diverge. I agree with my right hon. Friend that if we are to seize the benefits of Brexit, we need to find that comparative advantage over the EU in our regulations, otherwise there would be no point. I remind her that I was the Business Secretary who made sure that there was transparency, rather than an invisible bonfire, in what we were doing on EU regulations. I ended the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice on 1 January. We have a comprehensive deregulation programme, which I am pushing. I understand her concerns, and I will speak to colleagues across Departments to ensure that they are raised at the highest level.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesperson.

--- Later in debate ---
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. A lot of concern has already been expressed in the House this week about the steel industry. With the expansion of renewables across Scotland and the rest of the UK, there will be demand for the vital materials required to build more wind turbines, which may now need to be sourced from abroad. Will the Secretary of State tell us what steps will be taken to try to provide the vital materials for an important industry?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

It is really important for us to not misrepresent what is happening on steel. Our steel industry is not disappearing; our steel industry is evolving. We will continue to have significant steelmaking capability in the UK, including producing materials for the industries the hon. Lady talks about. But we should also remember that the changes to Port Talbot are part of the decarbonisation that all Opposition Members have been asking for. This is the biggest single emitter of carbon in the UK and this House voted to reach net zero by 2050. Everything we are doing is to ensure that we do that in a sustainable and sensible way.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following on from the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), for the sake of clarity, can the Secretary of State confirm that it remains the Government’s position to ensure that the UK has the capacity to produce virgin steel here in the UK?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The Government maintain that we want to ensure that we keep steelmaking capability in the UK. At the moment, we import ore to make steel. When we talk about virgin steel many people assume there are no imports in the supply chain, but there still are, even now, and whatever changes we make will require some imports. However, we are making sure that our steel industry is more resilient than ever before, at a time when it faces oversupply from China and India. That is the real problem faced by the steel industry in all of western Europe. We do a lot with tariff measures, such as steel safeguards—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Debbie Abrahams.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

So there is a lot we are doing.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Please, do not do that. I called the next Member, so I expect you to sit down. It is topical questions, not free statements.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. The Secretary of State took advantage; I do not want the hon. Lady to do exactly the same.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I believe that this might be an issue for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but if the hon. Lady will write to me, we can look at that specific case.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for working with me on the issue of button battery safety, and grateful for the ongoing commitment of the five working groups that were set up in 2022 following the tragic death of one of my constituents, Harper-Lee Fanthorpe, and the campaign for Harper-Lee’s law. Will the Minister meet me to discuss progress, and, in particular, how the guidelines drawn up by the Office for Product Safety and Standards can be made compulsory so that more deaths and injuries from button battery ingestion can be prevented?

--- Later in debate ---
Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my desire to revitalise our fantastic local high streets. Flitwick Town Council plans to do exactly that, but it needs support from the community ownership fund. May I urge the Secretary of State to look favourably on its forthcoming application?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman working so hard for his community. The community ownership fund sits with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but I am sure that if he makes representations to those in the Department, they will be able to give him a more substantive answer.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

And the final—short!—question comes from Barry Sheerman.

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

Will the Secretary of State look at the impact assessments of universities? The traditional universities are failing to meet the standards of sustainable development research, and Manchester, Huddersfield and Newcastle Universities are doing much better. Will the Secretary of State look into that, and push the other universities to do better?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

This is a matter that sits with the Department for Education, but of course my Department takes an interest in all the innovation research that is going on, because it will help to boost the UK economy. I am sure that officials in my Department have been looking at those assessments, and will be able to provide details if the hon. Gentleman has a more specific question.

Electric Vehicle Rules of Origin: Extension

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Monday 8th January 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch)
- Hansard - -

On 21 December, the United Kingdom and the European Union jointly agreed an extension to the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement’s rules of origin for electric vehicles and their batteries, until 31 December 2026.

To access zero tariffs under the TCA, businesses must prove that their products include a minimum level of EU or UK-manufactured content. These requirements are known as rules of origin and help determine where products originate rather than where they are shipped from, to ensure lower tariffs are correctly applied to eligible products and to support market competition. The TCA included a staged approach for electric vehicles and batteries, which required phased increases in these rules of origin requirements. The first increase was due to take effect on 1 January 2024, before a final increase from 1 January 2027. The agreement with the EU cancelled the 2024 changes, meaning the existing rules of origin will last until the end of 2026.

This extension of the rule set for these commodities has also been replicated in the UK-Turkey preferential trade agreement. This agreement has been amended by Joint Committee Decision to ensure consistency between the preferential trade agreement and the EU-Turkey customs union.

The agreement avoided a cliff edge which could have seen consumers and manufacturers in the UK and EU hit with £2 billion to £4 billion-worth of tariffs—on average over £3,000 per car—and it safeguards the position of UK manufactures as they transition to net zero, protecting thousands of British jobs. This is a pragmatic change which will help economic growth, UK consumers, and the environment; it recognises the disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic, global supply chain pinchpoints and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

This Government are determined to ensure the UK remains one of the best locations in the world to build zero-emission vehicles, and we have taken action accordingly. At the autumn statement, as part of the advanced manufacturing plan, we announced over £2 billion in capital and R&D investment for the automotive sector to support the manufacturing and development of zero-emission vehicles, batteries and supply chain—building on existing support.

The UK and EU remain determined to develop domestic electric vehicle battery capacity, so we have also agreed to remove our ability to amend further these rules of origin again until 2032. In November we published the UK’s first ever battery strategy, outlining our plan to attract investment and achieve a globally competitive battery supply chain by 2030.

The UK’s approach has already attracted landmark investments in gigafactories and electric vehicle manufacturing. This includes the recent announcement of a £2 billion Nissan-led investment to produce two new electric vehicles in Sunderland; Tata’s investment of over £4 billion in a new 40 GWh gigafactory; BMW’s investment of £600 million to build next-generation Mini electric vehicles in Oxford; Ford’s investment of £380 million in Halewood to make electric drive units; and Stellantis’s £100 million investment in Ellesmere Port for electric vehicle van production.

[HCWS165]

Gender Recognition

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Wednesday 6th December 2023

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Minister for Women and Equalities (Kemi Badenoch)
- Hansard - -

It is this Government’s policy that the UK does not recognise self-identification for the purpose of obtaining a gender recognition certificate. However, the Government are determined that everyone should be able to live their lives free from unfair discrimination. We are proud to have passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and Turing’s law. We also introduced a modernised and affordable gender-recognition process, while recognising the need to maintain checks and balances.

Today, we are laying an order to update the list of approved overseas countries and territories for parliamentary approval. That is provided for under section 1(1)(b) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and follows previous periodic updates. This is long overdue. The list of approved overseas countries and territories was last updated in 2011. A commitment was made to keep the list under review, so this is a further step in implementing our response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation.

We are doing this because some countries and territories on the list have made changes to their systems and would not now be considered to have similarly rigorous systems as the UK’s. Inadvertently allowing self-ID for obtaining GRCs is not Government policy. It should not be possible for a person who does not satisfy the criteria for UK legal gender recognition to use the overseas route to do so. We also need to ensure parity with UK applicants: it would not be fair for the overseas route to be based on less rigorous evidential requirements. That would damage the integrity and credibility of the process in the Gender Recognition Act.

We have finalised details of overseas countries and territories to be removed and added to the list laid today via an affirmative statutory instrument. We have undertaken thorough checks in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to verify our understanding of each overseas system in question and measure it against the UK’s standard route to obtain gender recognition.

My officials and I formally engaged with colleagues and Ministers from devolved Governments in advance of laying this statutory instrument. The Government are committed to ensuring that this outcome of the 2020 Gender Recognition Act consultation is followed through and upheld, and the overseas list will be updated via statutory instrument more regularly in future.

This work is important because of the complex interactions between the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010. The complexity of the legal situation was reinforced by the judgment in December 2022 by Lady Haldane in the judicial review brought by For Women Scotland, upheld on appeal last month by the Inner House of the Court of Session, which effectively stated that a gender recognition certificate changes a person’s sex for the purposes of the protections conferred by the Equality Act. Labour’s Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010 did not envisage that the words “sex” and “gender” would be used as differently as they are today. That is having an impact on all policy that draws on those Acts, including on tackling conversion practices and guidance for gender-questioning children.

To that end, I am exploring how we can rectify these issues across the board and provide legal certainty. That will reduce the tensions that have emerged as a result of the confusion around the terms “sex” and “gender”, first by ensuring that we are evidence-led in the approach we take—for example, when considering appropriate treatment of children on the NHS, we should be fully informed by the final report from the Cass review, which is due early next year; given the complexity of this area, the review is understandably taking longer than originally expected—secondly, by ensuring consistency in how we implement policy across the board; and thirdly, by exploring whether we need more clarity in law. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that we clarify the definition of sex in the Equality Act, while ensuring that any further proposed legislation fully takes into account the complexity of issues.

We should not leave ordinary people to suffer unintended consequences because we in Parliament are shy of dealing with difficult issues. I commend this statement to the House.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for Women and Equalities for advance sight of her statement. I welcome the chance to respond to her on these important issues. Such opportunities are vanishingly rare, given that I believe this is the first oral statement she has made on the women and equalities brief this year. Like Santa Claus, it seems she gets to work when Christmas is around the corner.

I started this morning by joining a debate on the Government’s continued failure to ban conversion practices, a promise that was made over half a decade ago. I was sorry not to see the Minister there to explain that failure in person—no conversion practices ban, no commitment to making every strand of hate crime an aggravated offence in order to tackle the staggering rise in violent hate crime targeting LGBT+ people, and no provision to schools of the guidance that has been promised repeatedly but not delivered. She has been unable to deliver in any of those areas, and she even tried in her statement to say that legislation passed over 13 years ago has caused those delays—you couldn’t make it up.

Let us be clear. There are millions of British LGBT+ people in this country. I would love to hear from the right hon. Lady what she is doing for them, after her Government ditched their LGBT action plan, disbanded their LGBT advisory panel and frittered away taxpayers’ money on a cancelled international conference that LGBT+ organisations refused to attend.

Of course it is important that the list of approved countries is kept up to date. That was what Labour provided for when we passed the GRA back in 2004. The list was last amended in 2011, when two countries were removed from it and nine added. At that time, the Government said that they expected that it would be necessary to update the list

“within the next five years.”

Here we are 12 years later and the Minister has just got around to it. That is the kind of timescale our country has grown used to when it comes to Conservative delivery. Indeed, even she herself said that it is long overdue.

The right hon. Lady outlined several changes, and it is important that we understand fully why the decisions have been made. Why is there so little information on why they have been taken? As just one example, as I understand it, Germany approved self-ID this summer, but it is still on the list. Is that because its changes apply to birth certificates rather than to GRCs—it does not have such a certificate—or is it because of the timing of its reforms? There is no clarity and no information. We are talking about likely very small numbers of people, but for those individuals it is important to get this right. It is extremely difficult to determine the Department’s approach on the basis of an extremely thin explanation.

Many people living in this country who hold GRCs from the overseas route will be worried about what this means for them. Will the Minister be clear—do the changes impact their rights in any way? What about those with applications that are still outstanding?

As a result of the changes, many countries that are close allies of the UK have been removed from the list. Will the Minister explain whether she has had bilateral discussions with each of them over the implications of this move? She referred to thorough checks, but not to any bilateral engagement; does that mean that none took place? If so, why was there no such engagement on an issue on which I suspect we as the UK would expect to be consulted were the shoe on the other foot?

On that note, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the changes on the mutual recognition of UK GRCs in other countries? Did she consult her newly appointed colleague in the other place, the Foreign Secretary, about the diplomatic impact of the changes? If so, does he agree with them? I note that, for example, China is now on the approved list, but our four closest Five Eyes allies are not.

The Minister mentioned that there was consultation with the Scottish and Northern Irish authorities, but she did not say what the upshot of that was. She also did not indicate what the impact of the change is on our arrangements with Ireland. Will she please clarify that?

Finally, changes to the rights of foreign nationals in this country may lead to wider concerns about the mutual recognition of marriage rights, and other rights such as adoption. Will the Minister clarify whether the Government have any plans in those policy areas?

Let me be clear: Labour wants to modernise the Gender Recognition Act while making sure that that does not override the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. We recognise that sex and gender are different, as the Equality Act does, but I am afraid the Minister’s statement only underlines how chaotic her Government’s approach has become, with the Conservatives apparently completely divided on these issues and focused on rhetoric rather than delivery. LGBT+ people deserve better.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

It is extraordinary that the hon. Lady would say that the Conservatives are divided on this issue. Does the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) agree with her? The disgraceful way that she has been treated by members of the Labour party shows that we beg to differ. We are united on this side of the House; they are not.

The hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) asked quite a number of questions and I will take the time to go through them in sequence. First, she complained that this is the first time she has heard me give a statement on this issue. The fact of the matter is that I am in this House for oral statements and there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and the Minister for Equalities has been in Westminster Hall. One thing I am very keen to do is to stop the Labour party using this issue as a political football. They have messed this—[Interruption.] They laugh, but it was Labour party MPs who, during the debacle over section 35, stood on a platform, on stage, with an attempted murderer complaining about this Government, so I refuse to countenance any criticism from them. They have messed around so much on this issue.

The hon. Lady claims that Labour has a policy on gender recognition. It is the policy we announced three years ago. Hollow, empty, repetitive—they have done absolutely no work whatsoever on this issue. Let me take her questions in turn. She asked why countries such as Germany have been removed from the list—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. It is not possible to intervene while the Minister is responding during a statement.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady questioned why certain countries are on the list and others are not. Again, I heard lots of laughter from Members on the Back Benches. I am going to have to reinforce this really important point: this is not a tool for foreign policy. This is a tool that is used to make sure that other countries’ systems are as rigorous as ours. I understand why people will have concerns, but this is not about virtue signalling as to which countries we like or which countries we do not like—far from it. This is about whether another country’s system meets our guidelines.

The hon. Lady talked about countries such as China. It is a very good question and I will explain to her why some countries that we might not expect to be are on the list. I will use the example of Kazakhstan, where to obtain gender recognition applicants must undergo gender reassignment surgery. That includes forced sterilisation, something which we condemn completely. It is banned in our country and is a form of conversion practice. Recognising certification for someone who has undergone that is a compassionate acknowledgement of what some transgender people in other countries have had to go through to obtain their certification. Are we really going to say to people with GRCs from China or Kazakhstan who have been forcibly sterilised by their state that we do not think they are serious about legally changing their gender? Of course not. That is why we have included certain countries. If people have gone through such extreme measures for gender recognition, we should not be giving them any additional issues here.

There are countries with which we work very closely, and with which we carried out a good deal of extended engagement. I am also the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, and I work with embassies across the world and Ministers across the world. I spoke to other countries’ Ministers about this issue, and they recognised the sovereignty of the UK. Ambassadors have been notified. We engaged in a great deal of collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office throughout this process, and we are monitoring the international reaction to the legislation. Members can be assured that diplomatic posts have been notified of the changes, and we have provided them with comprehensive question-and-answer documents that address any potential misconceptions about what this statutory instrument does.

That returns me to what I was saying about why I am so careful with the interventions that I make about equalities. Labour Members do not do their homework. They stand up in the Chamber and produce repetitive lines from social media. They think that they can use LGBT people as a shield for silly policy. We are going to do the policy properly: we are taking a lot of time to do this right. Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), the Minister for Equalities, I am keen to ensure that LGBT people across the UK understand that this Government are making sure that we are doing things in a way that will not collapse once it makes contact with reality.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement. I agree with her that the law concerning sex and gender needs to be clarified, which is why later this afternoon I will present a private Member’s Bill to do just that. First, the Bill will make it clear that single-sex spaces and sex as defined in the Equality Act 2010 are on the basis of biological sex, and secondly, it will protect those under 18 who are undergoing hormone treatment for gender dysphoria. It will also ensure that the state does not formally recognise social transitioning for those under 18. Given what my right hon. Friend has said, may I ask whether the Government will back my Bill?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I certainly support any effort to clarify the law, and we should start from first principles. No child is born in the wrong body, and no child should be put on a pathway towards irreversible medical transition. I am also conscious that it will take time to amend law, and I am therefore focusing on what will work for now. That is why we are publishing guidance to give clarity to schools as soon as possible. I remember discussing the growing problem of what we describe as social transitioning with my right hon. Friend when she was the Minister for Women and Equalities. I am pleased that she has come round to my point of view, and I am keen to work with her to see how we can ensure that the legislation works properly in practice.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement, although I would have welcomed a good deal more detail. I do not know whether it is because the UK Government have been missing in action on their own commitment to ban conversion therapy for the last five years, but they seem much more interested in culture wars than in looking after the rights of some of the most vulnerable people. Of course, this is the same UK Government who are intent on blocking the democratic will, expressed across parties, of the Scottish Parliament. Again, they seem to be more interested in constitutional shenanigans than in human rights.

The Minister talked about unintended consequences. Has she undertaken an impact assessment of the impact of this change on the safety, health and wellbeing of those affected? What conversations has she had with international counterparts, and what specific evidence did she receive ahead of the change that made her decide to remove these named territories? Can she tell us exactly what will happen to those already living here, and living under their new gender, who come from the places that she is now removing from the list? Can she say where this leaves the motion of reciprocal arrangements? What of those from the UK who are living elsewhere? Does she recognise that the UK is travelling rapidly backwards on the rights of LGBT people and that this decision is very much out of step with other progressive countries around the world? What consideration has she given to the UK’s international reputation?

From sending vulnerable refugees to Rwanda, placing barriers in front of care workers who want to come to the UK and now this, we can see the dearth of compassion at the heart of the UK Government writ large. We have all heard the reports that the Conservative party intends to fight the general election on the trans debate and culture wars, but nobody’s identity should be in question. As the Minister herself said, nobody’s identity should be used as a political football. We need to stop that. She needs to reflect and she needs to change tack.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. She talks about our using this issue as a culture wars football, yet the Labour Opposition spokesperson says that this is the first time that she has heard us say anything about this in the House. Surely both cannot be true. I think it is extraordinary that she is telling us that we are not compassionate. It is her Government in Scotland who were allowing rapists to be housed in women’s prisons while using self-identity as a cover, so I will not accept that. We are the ones who are thinking about women’s rights. We are the ones who are thinking about safeguarding. We are the ones who are thinking about vulnerability.

The hon. Lady asks me about reciprocal arrangements. The fact is that our system is a lot more rigorous, so there is no reason for others to stop accepting our certificates because they have not changed. It is because other countries have changed their process that we are updating this policy. We cannot have a situation where there are rules for people in this country and where we allow people from other countries with different rules to be able to access things that people in the UK cannot access. This is about equality before the law. This is about parity. Reciprocal arrangements will be fine. She also asked about people already living here. This is not retrospective legislation, so it will not impact people who are already here. We are just making it clear: self-ID is not something that this Government support. We do not believe that this is something that people should just declare, because that creates the very same problems that she saw in Scotland in the Isla Bryson case, with rapists going into women’s prisons. We will not allow that to happen on this Government’s watch.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course we cannot change biological sex. The GRC establishes legal sex for the purpose of exercising certain rights. Given that we have had a massive shift in rights since the Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2004, particularly with same sex marriage, can my right hon. Friend advise me exactly what additional rights are granted through the giving of a GRC?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. This is one area where we are trying to provide clarity. As a result of the Haldane judgment, there is now confusion between biological sex and legal sex and certainly in terms of the interpretation that people put on it. A gender recognition certificate had different standards in terms of what could be obtained until this judgment. We want to make it clear, for instance, that single-sex spaces will still be protected. We will do a lot more to clarify that. As I said, the Haldane judgment changes that, which is one reason why we need to look at this very carefully. There were 30 pages in the Appeal Court report, which shows how complex this issue is. The law is no longer clear. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the law is now a mess because of changing times. We need to provide clarity. We cannot assume that the wording as was intended in 2004 and 2010 still works in 2023, and we are carrying out work to fix that.

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

I will be calling only those who were here at the start of the statement. Members will know if they were not here, so I do not expect them to stand.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, Madam Deputy Speaker, not wishing to be upstaged by the ex-Home Secretary, the Minister whose job it is to defend vulnerable minorities chooses to make her first statement this year in the House to announce two measures attacking transgender people. Why does she think that the UK, which was the first for four years up until 2015 in the European league of LGBT rights, and has now fallen to 17th under her watch?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I completely reject the right hon. Gentleman’s assertion. I have come to the Floor of the House for an SI, which is unusual for a Secretary of State, because I think it is important that Members across the House have the opportunity to ask questions. I am not afraid of anybody on the Opposition Benches. I am not afraid of a single one of them, because I know that they do not take this seriously. The right hon. Gentleman asks why we have fallen. It is because self-ID is something that we differ in opinion with from other countries—[Interruption.] It is. It is a fact. We are different. But just because other countries believe that self-ID is the way does not mean that we in the UK have to do what everybody else is doing.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The issues of gender recognition and self-ID that my right hon. Friend is working to clarify are increasingly an issue in amateur and professional sports, with the risk of serious injury to women and girls and also examples of unfairness. Does she agree that, in general, for most sports, it is safer and fairer to separate on the basis of biological sex?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I do agree. Certainly in the majority of physical sports it is fairer and safer to separate on the basis of biological sex, and it is crucial that sporting bodies understand their responsibilities to women. A poor understanding of equalities law has led to women such as the pool player Lynne Pinches having to take legal action to ensure fair competition in their sport, and girls often fear being physically injured by biological males. Rather than speaking up about the abuse, they endure it because they are scared of being called bigots. I would say to people across the House that calling people transphobic and calling them bigots when they express concern is creating a chilling effect. I had a group of schoolchildren, teenage girls, in my office who told me that because of mixed-sex sports they are bullied and pushed around—one of them talked about her glasses been broken—because the boys are using the opportunity to bully. We should think about children and we should think about protecting them, so I disagree with the labelling of anyone who has a different opinion as transphobic. That is what is causing the problems in this debate, and I am determined to bring some light rather than the heat that others continue to generate.

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

I actually agree with the Secretary of State that putting labels of any sort on people in any part of this debate is unacceptable and we should not indulge it. The Secretary of State also said that this is an important decision, and I agree with that too; it is an important statement. She also said that this has to be evidence-based, and I completely agree with that. Could she tell us which organisations in this country concerned with LGBT rights and with human rights generally she consulted on this statement, and what their responses and recommendations were?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is right; we did carry out extensive consultations, but remember, this is something that we do repeatedly and periodically. The fact that we have not carried this out since 2011 shows that we have been remiss in our duties, and that is something that I am fixing. One of the issues is that a lot of people do not understand the law when it comes to self-identification. We are providing clarity there. We have engaged with numerous LGBT groups, but the fact of the matter is that many of them support self-ID. That is not this Government’s policy. Stonewall does not decide the law in this country—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Whatever it is that people want to campaign on, we will listen and we will hear, but we have been very clear about this. This is something that we are not budging on. We are updating the law in accordance with Government policy, and we will continue to do so.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which provides some much-needed clarity, because self-ID does threaten the dignity and safety of women and girls. She is absolutely right to say that the UK should not recognise GRCs from countries that operate policies of self-ID. Sex matters, in life and in law, and it is right that the UK has its own rigorous processes for gaining GRCs, but these safeguards do not apply to the process of changing sex markers on passports and driving licences, which are far more commonly used for identification in everyday life. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the Passport Office’s 2021 review and decide whether we can stop this self-ID by the back door through driving licences and passports?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is a good one. This is one of the things that came to light as we looked at Government policy across the board and it is an example of how the law needs updating. The reason that we have this is not that the Government supported self-ID but that before the same-sex marriage law came into being we wanted people to be able to change their legal documents so that they could get married. Now that we have a law that has fixed that, we should again look at some of the measures we put in place earlier, and that is why my hon. Friend is right to raise this. It is a Home Office issue, but I will raise it with the Home Secretary and see what we can do to repair it.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will say this as gently as I can. As a gay man, I feel less safe today than I did three years or five years ago. Why? Sometimes it is because of the rhetoric used in the public debate, including by the Minister. [Interruption.] I am afraid we are not able to have a debate. Let us have a debate; I would be very happy to debate. I am just making the point that many of us feel less safe today, and when people over there on the Government Benches cheer, as they just did, it chills me to the bone—it genuinely does.

I will ask the Minister two very simple questions. First, how many people does she think today’s decision will affect—a precise number? Secondly, she will know that there are lots of people in the UK who have entered into a same-sex civil partnership or marriage and would like that to be recognised in other countries around the world, so that they can live their lives there, wherever it may be. What has she done since being in power to ensure that more countries recognise same-sex civil partnerships and marriages?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I, too, will speak very gently. The hon. Gentleman says that my rhetoric chills him to the bone. I would be really keen to hear what exactly it is that I have said, either in this statement or previously, that is so chilling. I will tell him what chilled me. In May 2021, against official advice—I stress that officials said, “You should not have this meeting”—I met a young lady called Keira Bell, a lesbian, who told me of the horrific experience she had had at the Tavistock clinic. It was an eye-opening experience. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) talked about “transing away the gay” in his speech in Westminster Hall. We are seeing, I would say, almost an epidemic of young gay children being told that they are trans and being put on a medical pathway for irreversible decisions, and they are regretting it.

This is what I am doing for young LGBT children: I am making sure that they do not find themselves being sterilised because they are being exploited by people who do not understand what these issues are. I am saying this on the advice of clinicians and academics, because clinicians from the Tavistock clinic have been whistleblowing, talking about what these issues are. The hon. Gentleman says that he is traumatised; we are traumatised by what is happening to young children, and we will run away from this issue no longer.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Like millions of people across this country, including the LGB Alliance, I am concerned by the erosion of hard-won rights of women and girls, not least the right to female-only spaces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a coherent policy across the whole of Government—every single Department—to ensure that we protect female-only spaces, and that we should make that a core commitment ahead of the next election?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I do agree, and I agree that it has to be across the board in Government. Some of that work is already under way. But I think it goes far beyond that. This cannot be a left or right issue, and it cannot be an issue on which certain people are personally invested in their own campaigns and cannot see the other point of view; it needs to be something that we work on together, on both sides of the House. If, while I am making a technical statement and explaining our thinking, Members across the House are talking about how they are traumatised, that is not serious policymaking. We need to be able to have a proper conversation, take the heat out of the debate and speak properly, as Members of Parliament representing all our constituents.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It infuriates me to hear people in this Chamber speak about the LGBT community as if it is one homogenous group. We are not one homogenous group, and there are many LGB and T people who oppose self-ID for obvious reasons. One of the issues that I am deeply concerned about is that many public bodies have not been observing their public sector equality duty properly. In some cases they have been erasing sex from legislation, which is outwith that duty. What action can be taken to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose and matches all the protected characteristics contained in the Equality Act 2010?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that issue. That is why I mentioned the work that we are doing on clarifying the difference between sex and gender. As I said, these terms were used interchangeably when we originally legislated in the House, which has created confusion in terms of understanding.

Public authorities should aim for clarity in what they do. Many organisations, particularly hospitals, think that removing the term “women” is more inclusive. It really is not—it is excluding. I would gently say to them that if they are using phrases such as “chest feeding” or removing words such as “mother” from paperwork and forms, they are not helping. They are making things worse and they are creating confusion. I am going to work with public authorities. The Minister for Women is also a Health Minister. We take this issue very seriously, and we will see what more we can do to provide clarity. Providing clarity is the key point.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Women’s participation in sport is significantly lower than men’s. We need to encourage more girls and women to participate in sport because it is good for their long-term health as well as their mental wellbeing. We have heard stories—and I have heard stories in my constituency—of women and girls being put off sport by the presence of males for safety, privacy or fairness reasons. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage girls to participate in sport and to protect integrity, fairness and privacy in women’s sport?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

This is something that I have said it is crucial that sporting bodies understand. They are responsible for managing the rules in this space, and quite a lot of them have updated their guidance to reflect that, but not all of them. Young women in competitive sports should not have to silently accept that biological men will always beat them and take their chances to win gold. Generations of women before them have worked really hard to ensure that women have a place in sports and that those who excel are rewarded for that and are recognised.

The Equality Act 2010 is not a barrier to fair sport for women. It permits it, and it even requires it, so I shall work with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—the Minister for Equalities is a DCMS Minister—to ensure that fair sport is a right that every woman and every girl can enjoy.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the commitment by the Secretary of State to evidence-based policymaking and to awaiting the outcome of the Cass review. She will be aware, like me, that the interim report from the review stated that it had heard from young lesbians who felt pressurised to identify as transgender male. As a lesbian, that is something that concerns me.

As well as having evidence-based policymaking, does the Secretary of State think that it is important to be clear about what are and are not our obligations under international law? Does she agree that there is no international treaty to which the United Kingdom is a signatory that requires us to have a system of self-identification? The current system we have is legally compliant and is compliant with the European convention on human rights. While some people talk about self-ID as best practice, that is no more than an expression of their opinion. Does she recognise that self-identification raises real issues not just for the safety of women and girls but for their privacy and dignity, as well as for the rights of same-sex-attracted people freely to associate?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. Self-ID impacts on all the things she mentioned. We speak less about freedom of association and the impact on that. It goes to the point made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) that we need in many respects to separate sexual orientation from what we refer to now as gender identity—that is, what is under the “T”. We have lumped them together before. That was helpful in many circumstances, but I have seen this issue arise in other equalities work that I have done around race, where we use the term BAME to lump together lots of different groups. When that occurred, we missed a lot of information about what was happening within those groups. We need as much granularity as possible if we are to serve people who are LGB as well as people who are T.

The hon. and learned Lady asks what work we are doing to stop lesbians being made to feel as if they have to be trans-identified males. I have asked the Equality Hub to do some work with The Lesbian Project, which I know is interested in fixing this problem. On the point of international treaties, she is absolutely right in what she says. So much of the criticism about how our international standing will fall is not evidence-based policy, but “not a good look-ism”. It says, “This is not a good look and we probably should not do it,” but that is not how we should be making policy. We should be looking at the facts, thinking clearly about the outcomes we want and acting accordingly. That is the way the Equality Hub, under my leadership, will continue to behave.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State for Education said today that to completely stop children being able to socially transition at school required change in equality law, yet children who do socially transition can end up on a pathway to puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries that leave them infertile and have an impact on their bone, and even their brain, development. This is tearing families apart up and down this country, and we cannot continue to let it happen in our schools. I will therefore be supporting the Bill from my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) this afternoon when she lays it before Parliament. Will the Secretary of State meet concerned colleagues from across the House to change this law in order to protect our children at school, because that is a must?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am happy to meet Members from across the House on this issue, but I stress that changing the law is not going to be easy. It will not be straightforward and it will need consensus, broadly, across the House, because of many of the issues I alluded to earlier.

On his earlier point about social transitioning, he is actually right. It is probably worth my putting on the record what social transitioning is, because I know that a lot of people may not necessarily be clear about what I am referring to. Social transitioning is a relatively new phenomenon. It is rooted in gender identity theory, which I must stress is a very contested ideology. The term is often used to refer to a range of actions that a child may take to appear more like the opposite sex, accompanied by an expectation that they will be treated as if they are. That may include requests for a child to change their name, the pronouns associated with them or their uniform, or to use different facilities from those provided for their biological sex. Not all of those requests will comply with legal duties on schools, particularly those to safeguard children.

Social transitioning is not a neutral act, as it has been recognised that it can have formative effects on a child’s future development, which is what my hon. Friend is alluding to when he talks about cross-sex hormones. We are taking this very seriously. We will have the gender questioning guidance out very shortly, and I hope it will address many of the issues he is concerned about.

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

I commend the Minister for her wisdom in her answers to all the questions she has been asked today. Will she confirm that just as a person can have a full driving licence at 16 in the United States of America and yet would not be able to apply for a full licence in the UK until our legal age is attained, the same premise is in operation here, in that our laws supersede those of other nations in this sovereign matter? In other words, decisions are made here by our Minister and our Government.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

We do need to make sure that there is clarity across the board that it is Ministers in this country who are making those decisions clearly and being held to account in Parliament. A lot of loopholes have become apparent that allow people to change things through different means other than via Parliament. Some of that is about changing the colloquial meaning of quite a lot of expressions. Bringing as much as possible into law to provide clarity will be really important.

Conor Burns Portrait Sir Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I invite my right hon. Friend to agree that, despite some of the rhetoric we have heard in the House today, the United Kingdom is an immeasurably better place to grow up as a gay person than it was in decades gone by and that this House is at its best when it can find moderate consensus on what is right for our citizens? In that light, I ask her whether it is still the Government’s intention to bring forward conversion therapy ban legislation to this House. If the Government do intend to do that, will she give me and, through me, the House and the country an assurance that we will put often confused, vulnerable and frightened young people at the very heart of that, and that evidence-based decisions will inform the legislation the Government bring forward?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I am very happy to confirm that, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the measured tone in which he asked his question—it is a model for Opposition Members. We have done so much work under this specific Government and even under my watch, including on our HIV action plan and on trans healthcare. We have established five new community-based clinics for adults in this country. There is a lot that we are doing, so it is wrong to characterise us as not caring about LGBT people, and it also sends the wrong signal to our international partners. If they feel that we are not doing well, it is not because of what we are doing, but because of what Members are saying.

On conversion practices, let me give a little more clarity about what we are doing with a longer answer than normal. This is a matter of deep interest across this House, so I would like to set out my thinking fully. A commitment was given to publish a draft conversion practices Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. I am determined to meet that promise, as is the Minister for Equalities. Attempts at so-called conversion therapy are abhorrent and are largely already illegal, so a Bill would identify those practices as a particular threat to gay people and confirm the illegality of harmful processes intended to change someone’s sexuality.

In the time since that Bill was first promised, the issue has developed. Now, the threat to many young gay people is not conversion relating to their sexuality, but conversion relating to gender identity. Girls such Keira Bell, who was rushed on to puberty blockers by the NHS and had a double mastectomy, now regret the irreversible damage done to them. I believe that this is a new form of conversion therapy. Respected clinicians, such as those who left Tavistock, have made clear that they are fearful of giving honest clinical advice to a child because if they do not automatically affirm and medicalise a child’s new gender, they will be labelled transphobic. Any Bill needs to address many of those issues, and that is why we are going to publish a draft Bill.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a shame that the Secretary of State is not making a full statement on the issue of conversion therapy, because it is a concern for many Opposition Members, and we would like some actual facts, which she has not provided until now. She also has not provided the statutory instrument referred to in the statement; I do not see it lying on the Table, it is not in the Vote Office and it is not online, so we cannot scrutinise the names of the countries that are to be added to or removed from the list. From the Dispatch Box, could the Secretary of State could list those countries and clarify whether they include the United States? Has she received any diplomatic representations from the United States, or any other country whose status is due to be changed, opposing the decision she has announced?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman about the statutory instrument. As far as I was aware, it had been laid. That is what I was told, so it is news to me. That should have been the case.

All the details that the hon. Gentleman has asked for will be provided in the SI. I am not going to read out a long list of countries from the Dispatch Box, but I have not received any message from the United States, so I do not think that that is an issue.

Simon Clarke Portrait Sir Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for a clear and cogent explanation of why the Government are taking the action that they have. Does she agree that as we seek to address this very sensitive and important issue, it is important that we avoid the kind of language that we heard from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), precisely because it obscures the fact that we are trying to find a legislative way forward that protects the interests of vulnerable young people rather than sees them signposted—often prematurely—in a direction that is irreversibly harmful to them?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend—he has said it far better than I could. Let us have the debate in this House, rather than having people out there have the debate, which creates the climate of fear that many have referred to. The harder they make it for people to speak honestly in this Chamber, the worse the situation will get, so I urge Members across the House to listen to my right hon. Friend, because the point he has made is really important. We in this House need to set an example; shouting, barracking and calling people “bigot” and “transphobic” is not going to help LGBT people in this country.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State talk about what the implications would be if sex were defined in law as biological? Would existing trans people have to act in all public appearances in accordance with their biological sex, so, unless they had a gender recognition certificate, trans men would have to use female toilets and trans women would have to use male toilets? I am genuinely trying to find out the implication of what she has announced, without any papers before us to look at.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady asks a good question. The way I would explain it is that this is not an issue that we had before. I wish that we did not have to make these changes, but the fact is that many trans people were living their lives peacefully and with dignity until others started exploiting the loopholes. It is not trans people whom we are trying to limit; it is the predators who are using the loopholes and giving the trans community a bad name.

We are trying to protect against the example that I used before: male prisoners claiming that they are female and going into female prisons. We need to continue to provide clarity, because many public authorities are confused and do not understand. People should use the toilets for their biological sex in the vast majority of cases. In some cases, that will be difficult, but we need to provide more clarity so that predators do not exploit the loophole. That is what we are trying to do. As I said, in the vast majority of cases, we are trying to protect vulnerable people.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is my first time commenting on this issue. Recently, the “genderbread person” concept was found on a school intranet in Ipswich. It promoted the idea that biology does not matter and that it is all about what is in your head—complete self-identification. It also promoted outdated gender stereotypes and a list of hobbies and jobs associated with men and women, so presumably, if someone liked football, somebody might say to them, “Have you thought about being a boy?” That is completely regressive. Does the Minister agree that there is no place for a “genderbread” person in schools at all, and that we should be incredibly careful about promoting anything to do with gender ideology in primary schools?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend raises a good point. That is one thing that I am seeking to resolve. As we have not provided clarity in the law, a lot of the space has been filled by many dubious organisations that produce very dubious material with no basis whatsoever in biology or law. They push it because they think that they can get away with it. We as a Government have a responsibility to clear out that material from schools. I think that the Secretary of State for Education is looking at the materials that are being taught under relationships, sex and health education.

As my hon. Friend made clear, it is important that primary school children in particular are protected. That is why the guidance that we will put out on gender-questioning children will address that issue—except in the most extreme safeguarding cases—and I expect it to include clinical advice. We should not be socially transitioning any primary school children at all, or introducing them to those theories.

Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici (Great Grimsby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. My fear, and that of my constituents, is that the aggressive activism with regard to gender puts gay and lesbian people in real danger of hate crimes and different activism. We also need to protect men, boys, women and girls. My biggest fear in all this is that self-identifying men in particular will cause confusion for women, who still do not have equality. We must ensure that women are safe in health treatment settings and single-sex spaces.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is right. We need to ensure that we provide accurate data so that public authorities across the board, particularly hospitals, know exactly who and what they are dealing with. We have seen examples of people not receiving the right medical care after being identified as the wrong sex because of a GRC or a self-declared difference in sex or gender. We need to ensure that does not happen. We have seen issues across the board. The ONS is again looking at how to make the census clearer, because it was obvious that many people who completed it did not understand the question. That is what we are trying to say: this is a new space, a new area. Lots of things are developing. We should not be rushing to legislate; we should legislate carefully. That is why many of the things that people have been expecting are taking time. We are waiting for the Cass review, but we will carry out this work.

Jonathan Lord Portrait Mr Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A few years ago, a loving, caring, intelligent and thoughtful married couple came to my surgery, and they were very distressed because they had just found out that their child had been questioning their gender at school and the school had, for several months, not informed them. This child had been counselled by two adults who had no appropriate qualifications. As we seek clarity on the law and the guidelines, will my right hon. Friend assure me that parents will be informed and included in those conversations, except in the most extraordinary circumstances?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I confirm that I want to make sure of that. As we saw in the guidance on gender-questioning children, it is absurd for such a significant change to be taking place without parents knowing. Of course, that may not be possible in the most extreme circumstances, but the vast majority of parents love their children and care for them. We should not treat parents as the enemy. They need to know what is going on because, quite a lot of the time, gender-questioning children have comorbidities—perhaps they are autistic or perhaps there is something else going on in the mental health space that needs clinical advice, rather than just putting them on the social transitioning pathway.

Brendan Clarke-Smith Portrait Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for reassuring us that the Government remain committed to protecting women’s rights and children with policies that are based on biological reality, not extreme ideology that conflates sex and gender. Does she agree that today’s statement will help to stop people finding loopholes around this?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

Yes, I agree. The purpose of this SI is to provide clarity. The law has not really been updated since 2011. We need more frequent updates to ensure we keep up with what is happening in this space.

In answer to earlier questions about the availability of the SI, it was tabled at 12 noon. I am sorry that it was not ready for Members.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I spent my entire professional career working in state secondary schools as a teacher, and the one place where debates around gender self-identification should never apply is with children. As we have seen divisive critical race theory entering our schools, we are now seeing an equally divisive gender ideology. Will the Secretary of State confirm for my residents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that her announcement will help to ensure the classroom is a safe space for vulnerable young people?

--- Later in debate ---
Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. As a teacher, he knows how carefully we need to look after children, and how carefully we need to ensure we are safeguarding across the board. He is right, and this SI is just one step we are taking to provide clarity. There is more coming, and not all of it will be legislative. We will bring in measures to help people understand exactly what is going on. We should not assume that the knowledge we have in this House is present in the population. I have met people who do not understand the difference between being gay and being trans. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) is complaining that my answers are long. It is because I want people to hear the truth and to understand what the Government are doing.

James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The main feature of countries that have come off the list seems to be their adoption of laws that remove all safeguards on changing gender. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this approach is dangerous? What further steps is she taking to address its expansion?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I cannot control what other countries do. All we can do is emphasise our own policies. Across the House, we have conversations with international counterparts. There has been a lot of interest in what we are doing. I remember speaking to a Minister who said their country—I will not name the country—had brought in self-ID early because they thought we were going to do it, and that they were now thinking again. There are countries, even in Europe, that are taking steps to limit this, because they have seen the consequences and do not think that the benefits outweigh the disbenefits. I am glad that we in the UK are setting a standard for evidence-based policymaking and are showing others how to get this right.

Points of Order

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Wednesday 6th December 2023

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I believe the Minister did confirm that the order has been laid, and it should therefore be available in the Vote Office. However, the Secretary of State may like to confirm that, or if she does not have the information immediately available, to say that she will report back about it.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Minister for Women and Equalities (Kemi Badenoch)
- Hansard - -

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to confirm that the order has been laid. I have just heard from officials that it has been laid.

None Portrait Hon. Members
- Hansard -

After the statement.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will ensure that it is available in the Vote Office.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

It was laid well before the statement to the House. I am sorry it has not been published, but it was laid, so we have done our bit.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the Minister has confirmed that it was laid. We will find out why it was not in the Vote Office and come back to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty).

I call the shadow Leader of the House.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Thursday 30th November 2023

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership on small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK.

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

The CPTPP is one of the major benefits of Brexit. It has the potential to deliver billions of pounds to our economy and benefits small businesses across the UK. The deal delivers lower tariffs, reduced red tape, and cutting-edge digital provisions that directly support small businesses to trade more. It has an SME chapter committing all countries to make the agreement accessible for SMEs. I know that will be welcome news for my hon. Friend ahead of Small Business Saturday.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. It is great news that we are progressing membership of CPTPP and I welcome what she says about SMEs. Many SMEs will be new to exporting and need expert advice. Will she outline what particular plans there are to help small businesses?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

We will ensure that our support offer for SMEs will help firms build their capability to import and export under our free trade agreements. We have started preparing for CPTPP entering into force. We will be producing written guidance on gov.uk to ensure businesses are equipped with the knowledge they need to access those opportunities. Specifically, our export support service, network of international trade advisers, export academy, and in-market support services will also help businesses to access opportunities in CPTPP markets.

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

In my constituency of Strangford SMEs are an integral, core part of creating jobs, putting wages into pockets, and ensuring that people can progress and learn more trades. We want to be part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland pushing for the CPTPP. What can the Secretary of State do to help me and my businesses in Strangford to be a part of that and to move forward?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman will know that we had the Northern Ireland investment summit a few months ago. We met lots of businesses and investors who talked about how they want to take advantage of these markets. In fact, we have had one of the first big investors into a factory in Belfast. What I can do is help him with some of the materials we have around the export academy and the export support service, which he can hand out to businesses in his constituency who want to find out more.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For UK businesses to benefit from agreements like the CPTPP, we must have a clear plan to boost small business exports. Labour has a plan to remove export barriers, with clear information and support. That is in stark contrast to the Government’s approach, which has been a catalogue of failures, including the recent fiasco with the Government’s export website, which was so deficient that firms were forced to seek essential information from foreign Government websites. What immediate steps will the Department take to provide some stability and ensure UK businesses can excel in exporting?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I think the hon. Gentleman might be talking about something that happened three years ago, which we fixed. He talks about the export support service website. Businesses have actually been praising it. [Interruption.] Businesses have been praising it; they very much have been. We have an expert toolkit, which has been developed by business and trade officials. What is interesting is that all he says is that Labour has a plan to remove export barriers. We have actually been removing export barriers. Labour talks about a plan with no detail. No one is taking it seriously at all. The Conservative party is the party that represents business in the House of Commons.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What recent progress her Department has made on bringing forward legislative proposals on reform of audit and corporate governance.

--- Later in debate ---
Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What steps she is taking to help support businesses in Essex to export.

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

As a fellow Essex MP, I can assure my right hon. Friend that this matter is close to my heart. Businesses can access support through great.gov.uk, including our self-serve digital offer, the export support service, international trade advisers and UK Export Finance. My Department is helping Essex companies such as Icon LifeSaver in Colchester to secure potential sales of over £10 million in the US, Colombia and Estonia. Kestrel Liner Agencies, which is headquartered in my constituency and last year received its third Queen’s Award for international trade, has also benefited. We are focused on priority trade barriers in particular, which could boost UK exports by around £20 billion over five years.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State will know inside out what the wonderful county of Essex has to offer when it comes to business exports. We have companies such as Wilkin & Sons and Wicks Manor, and many other producers who will sell the produce that households across the country will enjoy this Christmas, at home and abroad. Will the Secretary of State highlight how she is working across Government with other Departments to reduce the barriers to export that cover, for example, produce, manufacturing costs, energy costs, and even the processing of animals?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

Removing barriers to trade is one of this Government’s top priorities. My right hon. Friend will know many of the things that the Government have been doing, including subsidising energy bills, because we recognise the difficulties that manufacturers and processing plants face. At the moment I am particularly focused on resolving trade barriers. We have resolved 178 trade barriers worth more than £6.5 billion to businesses, including those in Essex, over the next five years. Food producers in her constituency specifically will be pleased to know that just last month, when I was in Japan for the G7, we resolved a barrier restricting exports of cooked poultry from the UK to Japan, which I think will provide a festive boost to UK exporters worth an estimated £10 million over five years.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. Whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of revoking arms export licences to Israel.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15. Whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of revoking arms export licenses to Israel.

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

Since the barbaric terrorist acts by Hamas against Israel on 7 October and the subsequent conflict in the region, the Government have been monitoring the situation very closely. The UK supports Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and take action against terrorism, provided that that is within the bounds of international humanitarian law. Export licences are kept under careful and continual review as standard, and we are able to amend licences or refuse new licence applications if they are inconsistent with the strategic export licensing criteria.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No one is suggesting that Israel does not have the right to defend itself—but, as the Secretary of State says and we agree, within the bounds of international law. The mass killing of civilians in Gaza should concern us all. Without resorting to platitudes about the relative toughness of the UK’s arms export controls, could she please identify which arms export licences are currently in force, including open licences for end use by the Israeli defence and security forces, and provide details of them to the House?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I do not believe that is something that I am able to do or should do. I can tell the hon. and learned Lady that last year we granted 114 standard individual export licences for military goods valued at £42 million to Israel. If there is a specific issue that she would like to highlight, we are prepared to look at it, but she will know that security and defence exports are not necessarily best discussed on the Floor of the House or in public, for obvious reasons.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A state that supplies military equipment that is used in the commission of violations of international humanitarian law is at risk of complicity in a humanitarian catastrophe. In continuing with those licences and supplying UK arms to Israel, what assessment does the Secretary of State make of the potential for UK Government complicity, if Israel is found to have committed war crimes in Gaza by the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I am quite surprised that there is not a word of condemnation, and the implication that the UK is complicit is really not the sort of thing we would expect from a British Member of Parliament in this House. I completely disagree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government take our defence export responsibilities extremely seriously and operate some of the most robust and transparent export controls in the world.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14. What recent progress she has made on negotiating a trade deal with India.

--- Later in debate ---
Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers (Stockton South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

This week, I hosted more than 200 global CEOs and investors at the UK global investment summit, which was an extraordinary success. The Prime Minister set a £9.5 billion target to beat, and we tripled it, securing £29.5 billion of investment and more than 12,000 jobs. The success of the GIS is a vote of confidence in the UK. My Department’s work, supported by the £20 billion business tax cut in the autumn statement, is securing our country as a world-leading business and investment destination.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many people are aware of the incredible story of the Redcar steelworks site being reborn as Teesworks, creating 20,000 jobs and unlocking £2 billion in private investment. Fewer people are aware that Stockton’s very own freeport business park is being built at the airport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Teesside, as the home of the UK’s first and biggest freeport, offers a unique opportunity to those investing in the industries of the future?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I do agree, and my hon. Friend is quite right to praise the progress that has been made on delivering Teesside freeport. The freeport has already been successful in securing several landmark investments, including from SeAH Wind, which is investing £650 million in building an offshore wind manufacturing facility. That will create around 750 high-skilled jobs and builds on the measures announced in the autumn statement last week to further strengthen the offer of UK freeports. My Department will continue to work with freeports, in Teesside and elsewhere, on securing high-value investment.

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

This is the Department in charge of growth, investment and exports. In the latest figures, following the autumn statement, growth has been downgraded. Business investment is still forecast to be the lowest in the G7, and goods exports have declined, both to the EU and to non-EU countries. Given that there are so many amazing businesses and sectors in the UK, how do the Government account for their poor performance?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I will not allow the hon. Gentleman to spin his way out of what is actually a very good news story for the Government. The fact is that the UK has overtaken France to become the world’s eighth-largest manufacturing nation. We are the world’s fifth-largest exporter. We are growing faster than Germany and France, and have received more investment than them combined. We are the top investment destination, certainly for financial services. We are doing well. Perhaps this is the moment for me to tell him what businesses told me at the global investment summit: that they were unimpressed by the Labour shadow Ministers they had met; that their offer was unimaginative; and that they were repetitive, and had no vision for the future of business in the UK.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We follow the Secretary of State’s Twitter feed, and quite simply, we do not believe her.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about late payment. In the nine years that the Government have spent consulting on late payments, 450,000 businesses have gone under while waiting to be paid. Why do the Government’s new plans on late payment apply only to firms contracting with the Government? Why do they not rather follow our proposal to make sure that all public companies disclose their payment practices?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I have been working with the Federation of Small Businesses and others on late payments. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the measures announced in the autumn statement; this is an issue that the Government take very seriously. I disagree that we are implementing our plans in a partial way. We will resolve this issue, but I am afraid that I completely disagree with the Opposition: have done quite a lot on this, and many businesses have praised the measures that we announced in the autumn statement.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. On 14 November, the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the US state of Florida. This is the seventh such agreement that the Government have signed with a state in the US, and I understand that there are ongoing discussions with other states. Obviously, that is welcome. Will the Secretary of State give us an assessment of the effect of this approach, and tell us what the next steps are to getting a more general trade agreement with the United States?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

We are ready to have a free trade agreement with the US, but it is not undertaking free trade agreements with any country. That is, of course, disappointing, but it knows that we stand ready. That is why we have the state MOU programme. The latest figures show that UK-US trade has reached £310 billion. We are the biggest investor in Florida. I was pleased to meet Governor DeSantis earlier this month, and I also met the California Governor, Gavin Newsom, who wanted to be even faster in signing an MOU with the UK. They believe that this country has a lot of opportunity, and they want to do business with us.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Import tariffs on egg products allow us to recognise the higher cost of UK egg production because of safety, welfare and environmental considerations. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that eggs and egg products will be afforded sensitive product status by the UK in future free trade agreement negotiations, and that import tariffs will remain in place on those products?

--- Later in debate ---
Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. At their busiest time of year, British cheese exporters are warning of damaging losses as the Government continue to fail to reach a deal that ensures access to the Canadian market. Every day that the Government fail, companies such as the Snowdonia Cheese Company in north Wales lose contracts, and they cannot make plans with the looming deadline of 31 December a matter of weeks away. Can the Minister update the House on the negotiations to extend the deadline for cheese tariff quotas between the UK and Canada?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

We are aware of the situation, and are working on it—negotiations to resolve it are actively ongoing. UK cheese is in increasing demand in Canada, and exports of UK cheese benefit businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK has made continued and repeated efforts to find a solution since negotiations began, including by seeking an extension to the current arrangements, and we are clear that the UK is rightly entitled to ongoing access to Canada’s World Trade Organisation cheese tariff quota under our rights and obligations at the WTO.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Brazil, I know that the best way of supporting exports from my Dudley businesses is to remove barriers to trade. That is why I was absolutely delighted when both our countries signed a double taxation agreement, in good faith and to the highest possible standards. There appear to be complications in Brazil at the moment with ratifying that agreement through Congress, as we have ratified it through our Parliament. What more can Ministers—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, perhaps—do to try to persuade Brazil that it is indeed a very good deal for itself as well?

--- Later in debate ---
Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6.   Could I revisit my earlier question to the Secretary of State about arms export licences to Israel? I and many others do not agree with her secrecy approach, and I and many others believe that Members of Parliament are entitled to this information, so I will try another approach. Could she detail the classification and description of the goods, the stated end use and the licence type, including direct transfers and those via third countries, and could she place that information in the Library for Members of Parliament?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - -

I believe there is a quarterly register that may contain some of the information the hon. and learned Member is asking for, but I am not able or going to list every single export decision that has been made by the export control joint unit. I will see what I can do to get her a fuller answer, but she will know that this is a very sensitive issue. I have a quasi-judicial role, and I must be seen to be impartial at all times. I will do what I can to provide the information she wants, but I do not have a list to provide her with this morning, and certainly not on the Floor of the House.