Richard Thomson debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 28th February 2024

(2 days, 6 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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The East-West Council, as proposed, is something that I am personally very enthusiastic about, because it potentially opens up a space in which Scotland and Northern Ireland can co-operate, along with other parts of the UK, on all that they have in common economically, socially and culturally, and that we will continue to have in common irrespective of whatever constitutional arrangements may be in place in future. Will the ministerial team at the Northern Ireland Office agree to meet me, so we can discuss how Scotland could play a positive role in that and to get the engagement with other parts right?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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Yes, of course. We would be delighted to meet the hon. Member to discuss those matters.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Prime Minister was asked—
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 January.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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I know that Members across the House will want to join me in offering our best wishes to His Majesty the King and Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, this afternoon I shall be meeting the extraordinary 100-year-old holocaust survivor Lily Ebert. Lily promised that, if she survived Auschwitz, she would tell the world the truth of what happened. Never has such a promise been so profoundly fulfilled. As we prepare to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday, I am sure the whole House will join me in reaffirming our promise to Lily that we will never forget the holocaust and we will carry forward her life’s work for generations to come.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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Can I echo the Prime Minister’s comments on International Holocaust Memorial Day?

My constituents, like all of our constituents, rely on the Royal Mail to deliver important items of mail and packages, and for people to run their businesses, so they will be very alarmed to learn of the proposal from Ofcom that Royal Mail might be allowed to cut the number of days that it will provide that service. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment to me here today that, on his watch, there will be no reduction in the postal services provided by the Royal Mail in Scotland or anywhere else?

Protecting Steel in the UK

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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First, I express my concerns on behalf of the 2,800 workers at Port Talbot who will lose their jobs and the many others in that community and the surrounding area who will feel the knock-on ramifications of this decision. It is a situation that all too many communities in Scotland, and indeed across the UK, remember from the toxic legacy of the Government’s industrial policies in the 1980s, when the rapid enforced decline of heavy industry across too many places was progressed with. That toxic legacy gives us a prime example, if we needed one, of how not to go about an industrial transition. With the rejection of the multi-union plan, it seems that the present-day Government have learned no lesson in that regard.

Make no mistake: this decision is economically, environmentally and strategically inept. It means that the UK takes a step closer to being the only state in the G20 without the capacity to make its own virgin steel. That is a risk to security, but it also means that the UK is effectively outsourcing the emissions associated with the production of that virgin steel, while unforgivably offshoring the jobs. That is not a just transition; it is just plain daft.

The green transition that we know we need to make should be a main driver of economic growth in the decades ahead, and we can see how Governments in the EU and in the US who get to grips with that challenge can drive forward that investment. In contrast, in Port Talbot we see a £500-million UK Government investment leading to the direct loss of 2,800 jobs. That is a transition of a sort, I suppose, but it does not come anywhere close to meeting the needs of the communities there, the economy or the planet.

Finally, I say as gently as I can to those on the Labour Front Bench that if decarbonisation is not to mean deindustrialisation, they should please have a word with their leader and make sure that he does not water down any further his £28 billion pledge, because communities that depend on our getting the transition right, such as mine, deserve and expect no less.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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To resume her seat no later than 6.44 pm, I call Ruth Jones.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Given the length of time it takes in many cases to gather the supporting evidence to make a claim under the scheme, the pressures on the payments board itself, and the strong likelihood that many of those who are potentially eligible are yet to apply, it is clear that there is a risk that many who could be eligible for a payment might miss out as things stand. One way the Secretary of State could mitigate that is by extending the period allowed for claims to be made and processed. As part of the review, will he consider extending that deadline?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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Yes, that is actually part of the review and one of the questions we are looking at.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 6th December 2023

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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I am absolutely delighted to agree with my hon. Friend: the UK Government are putting Wrexham on the map. I was, of course, delighted with the £160 million investment zone across Wrexham in Flintshire, which was marked by a visit from the Chancellor to the area. The £20 million towns fund for Wrexham will ensure long-term certainty and investment for the area and for the growth deal. I believe that the freeport in north Wales will also benefit my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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According to research from the Bevan Foundation, nearly one in four Welsh children have reported having recently been worried about being cold, and around one in eight have worried about being hungry. What are the Government going to do about that?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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The UK Government have spent £96 billion on measures to help the least well off across the United Kingdom throughout the difficult times brought about by the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. On top of that, in the autumn statement we were able to announce a cut in national insurance, which will put more money into people’s pockets. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be talking to his constituents, who are no doubt hit by the highest taxes in the whole United Kingdom as a result of the policies of the Scottish National party Government.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 15th November 2023

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Prime Minister was asked—
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson  (Gordon) (SNP)
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Q1.   If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 15 November.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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At the start of the year, I made halving inflation my No.1 priority. Today, we have delivered on that commitment. There remains more to do, but this is a strong step forward.

Also this morning, the Supreme Court gave a judgment on the Rwanda plan. It confirmed that the principle of removing asylum seekers to a safe third country is lawful. There are further elements that it wants additional certainty on, and it noted that changes can be delivered in the future to address those issues. The Government have been working already on a new treaty with Rwanda, and we will finalise that in the light of today’s judgment. Furthermore, if necessary I am prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks. Let me assure the House that my commitment to stopping the boats is unwavering and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be making an oral statement shortly to the House.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, and I shall have further such meetings later today.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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When the Prime Minister took office, he promised to lead a Government marked by

“integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

What is it about the judgment of David Cameron and his relationship with Lex Greensill, or his lobbying for Chinese state interests, that made the Prime Minister consider him a suitable candidate to be Foreign Secretary?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am delighted that the former Prime Minister has rejoined the Government as Foreign Secretary. He brings unrivalled experience and relationships across the world, and will do a fantastic job championing British interests everywhere he goes.

British Steel

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 8th November 2023

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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

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

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

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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May I begin by expressing my concerns on behalf of the 2,000 workers who are likely to be affected by this announcement? Also, I re-emphasise, as other contributors have, the importance of virgin steelmaking, not just in terms of security, but in meeting demand in the construction industry, where inflation is already racing ahead and our ability to build things will not be helped by being further away from the supply chain and reducing domestic capacity in steelmaking.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think-tank has said:

“Ageing blast furnaces need to be replaced and upgraded to produce greener steel…electric arc furnaces have a role in recycling steel”,

but

“failing to invest in modern hydrogen furnaces belies the government’s promises to invest for the longer term.”

Just as in the oil and gas sector, what plans do the UK Government have for a just transition for the steelmaking workforce? What support will the UK Government be giving to the development of hydrogen furnaces in the UK? What challenges will they put constructively to British Steel over these plans? Given the Government’s high-profile retreats on other climate measures, such as the date for banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars, how much faith can the industry have in any guarantees that the Government do make?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
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Negotiations are ongoing and nothing is concluded. The statement made by British Steel was a proposal, not a conclusion. The steel that comes out of electric arc furnaces can be used for a variety of things, including construction and military-grade steel—it is incredibly nimble—but I fully appreciate that different types of steel are produced out of different furnaces. The hon. Gentleman spoke about hydrogen, and the Government have a substantial hydrogen strategy that we launched in May 2022. The net zero hydrogen fund is worth up to £240 million of capital co-investment out to 2024-25. That will support upscaled hydrogen production projects, allowing companies, including steel producers, the potential to secure supplies of lower-cost hydrogen. Ultimately, decarbonisation pathways for specific sites are commercial decisions for individual companies based on their own operational circumstances. In the case of Port Talbot, it was about timing for using a technology that can be commercialised at scale. At the moment, for that part of the country, it is electric. Hydrogen may no doubt be the next stage of technology that is used.

Automotive Industry

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 12th July 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I had ample cause to reflect as I listened to the Minister’s speech, replete with positivity as it was, that there are probably not all that many electric vehicles on the market that could not have been charged up to about 80% in the time the Minister was on her feet. I wondered whether she was looking to give her name to a standard unit of measurement that we might adopt for such an infusion of charge into a vehicle.

The debate is of course about an industrial strategy, or the lack thereof. While I was preparing for the debate, I had the opportunity to stumble over a few of the various iterations of industrial strategy we have had under Conservative Governments past and present. We had one called “Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future” dating from 2017, which in most respects seemed to be a pretty conventional industrial strategy in what it set out to achieve and the sectors it sought to develop to do that. That was of course replaced by something called “Build Back Better” under the unlamented premiership of the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which notably promised an “open and dynamic economy” and “World-class knowledge and research”, all the while the Government seemed determined to cut us off from our largest competitors and closest market. It promised

“A stable framework for growth and strong institutions”

and boasted of “low, stable inflation”, which sounds somewhat risible after the experience of the past few months. It also promised levelling-up in terms of people and places, despite the fact that we have seen a significant lack of transparency in the allocations made through that funding stream. I suggest that those allocations will do nothing to recalibrate the grossly disproportionate imbalances of wealth and life opportunities across the nations and regions of these islands.

That takes us to the automotive industry. In many ways, it is something of a surprise that there still is one. Part of the deeply held mythology of the Conservatives in terms of the shape of the post-1979 UK is a tale they like to tell of industrial dysfunction and poor industrial relations. While that certainly took its toll on the automotive industry, I think it is the general lack of care that we have shown for manufacturing and the economic vandalism inflicted over that period as services were esteemed over manufacturing that makes the continued existence of our mass automotive sector in the UK a near miracle. That is not just as a result of the general lack of respect for manufacturing; there was also the general economic policy.

Since being elected to this place, I have always tried to talk more about the future of the North sea oil and gas fields than about their past mismanagement. Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, were desperate to get the oil and gas pumping as quickly as they could, to reduce the crippling balance of payments deficit. The result was to push up the value of sterling beyond anything sustainable, which made manufacturing exports uncompetitive. Together with what we might call the policy of sado-monetarism that was imposed with high interest rates, manufacturing was driven down even further and unemployment was allowed to spiral later in the decade to above 3 million, leaving scars in the form of decades of lost opportunities and diminished life chances.

Although automotive production rallied later in the decade thanks to significant overseas investment, in recent years those concerns have re-emerged. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported that manufacturing decreased every year from 2016 to 2022. I hear what the Minister says about the positive trend of the past four months, but there is a longer-term trend over the past six years that cannot simply be wished away because of the past few weeks. In that time, a number of UK-based manufacturers have announced UK plant closures or reductions in capacity.

Greening the automotive industry will be a key element in the green transition. Personal transportation will be here for good, so it is imperative that we seize fully the industrialising of our green opportunities. We have touched on the importance of gigafactories. Batteries are heavy things by their nature, because of the materials that go into their production. There are lots of regulations on their transport, particularly cross-border. They are hazardous to transport over long distances due to their flammability. That means that there will be a strong incentive to ensure that EV manufacturing is located relatively close to where batteries are manufactured—probably in the same country and region.

For all the promises of factories, Britishvolt and the potential of gigafactories here, the UK is at risk of falling even further behind Europe in battery manufacturing. Capacity in continental Europe is expected to reach nearly 450 GWh by 2030. That is simply dwarfing the scale of the ambition, never mind the scale of delivery, that we are likely to see over the next few years. If those batteries are made in Europe or Asia, there is a simple decision that vehicle manufacturers can take about where to build the electric vehicles of the future.

All that is compounded by rules of origin. The new post-Brexit rules that come into effect in January 2024 will place 10% tariffs on exports of electric cars between the UK and the EU, if at least 45% of their value does not originate in the UK or the EU. We have heard about Stellantis, the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer, which has warned that the commitment to make electric vehicles in the UK is in serious jeopardy unless the Government can negotiate a deal to maintain existing trade rules until at least 2027, to give them a chance to adapt.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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I looked at Labour’s Opposition day motion; is my hon. Friend as surprised as me that it does not mention Brexit anywhere?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I was very surprised about that. It seems to be the elephant in the room, and of this discussion. If my hon. Friend is patient, I will come to that towards the end of my speech.

Not just Stellantis makes such warnings; they have been echoed by Jaguar Land Rover and Ford, which have said that if the cost of EV manufacturing in the UK becomes uncompetitive and unsustainable, operations will close. Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, warned at a summit recently:

“We can’t afford to have a last minute, 31 December agreement, because business needs to plan its volumes.”

Andrew Graves, a car expert at the University of Bath has warned of dire consequences of the industry, noting:

“you will start to lose the whole of the UK industry, not just Vauxhall and a couple of other manufacturers…it really makes no industrial sense to locate in the United Kingdom.”

The UK Government’s lack of action to ensure that the UK has the capacity to build batteries necessary for EU production—coupled with Brexit, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) rightly raised—has made it virtually impossible for domestic UK production to help us meet our targets on CO2 emissions. As Mike Hawes said:

“We urgently need an industrial strategy that creates attractive investment conditions and positions the UK as one of the best places in the world for advanced automotive manufacturing.”

That must be a priority for the UK Government, but I do not see any indication beyond warm words that it is. To quote someone else who might know what they are talking about, Andy Palmer, former chief operating officer at Nissan and chairman of battery start-ups InoBat and Ionetic, has warned that

“we are running out of time”

to get battery manufacturing up and running in the UK, and that the failure to address the issues also caused by Brexit could lead to 800,000 jobs lost in the UK—basically those associated with the car industry.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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On job losses, Madam Deputy Speaker you will remember as well as I do the impact of the closure of Linwood car plant on the town. Many would say that Linwood has still not fully recovered from that closure, when thousands of workers were put on the scrapheap. Is my hon. Friend worried about what will happen to places such as Sunderland and Ellesmere Port if the Government do not get a grip?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I share my hon. Friend’s concern. [Interruption.] There is some sedentary chuntering—if the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) gives me a chance to respond to the intervention, I will gladly give way to him if he has a substantive point to make. We can still see the industrial scars of the devastation reaped by the sudden closure of the Linwood factory in 1981. What we do not see quite so readily but is still every bit as debilitating is the impact on families who lose opportunities to participate fully in the economy. There is a very high price associated with getting this wrong, which goes far beyond simply not seeing factories on greenfield sites.

The motion speaks about a lack of a meaningful UK industrial strategy, which is a fair accusation. It calls for the need to

“urgently resolve the rules of origin changes”

that are looming in 2024. At this point, I am bound to observe that both Labour and the Conservatives make grandiloquent promises about how each would seek to harness the power of the British state to transform the economy and, with it, the lives and opportunities that follow. For the two years in every three over the last century that the Conservatives have had power, or the one year in every three that Labour has had power, neither has done that.

I mentioned the various iterations of Conservative industrial strategy; I have read Labour’s industrial strategy, which carries the signature and many photographs of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). In many ways it is a very fine document, but when it comes to the impact of rules of origin, as with much else, a position promising to make Brexit work means absolutely nothing. I say this as gently as possible: Brexit can never be made to work, either in its current form or in any conceivable variant. As long as making Brexit work is part of the strategy, no matter which party it belongs to—Labour or the Conservatives—it will be left with a slow puncture.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Will the hon. Member give way on that point?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I was coming to the end of my remarks, but I will give way since I mentioned the hon. Member.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I understand the strength of feeling on that point and how, when we have this conversation, many will revert to that Brexit argument. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to recognise not the political case but the economic one: we have the lowest business investment in the G7 under this Conservative Government. We want to provide a stable platform for that investment to increase in gigafactories, R&D, hydrogen and all the things we want to see, but reopening that debate—and the independence debate—is not the stable way to realise those opportunities in future. If we spend all our time doing that, we will find that other countries get to a point that we will never be able to catch up with, because we did not focus on the real opportunities at hand.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I could not disagree more. This is not a stable platform. The Conservatives are offering us the stability of decline, and it seems that Labour is embracing that for fear of frightening its former voters in the red wall. It seeks to get them back not with honesty, but by telling people what it thinks they want to hear. It should have the intellectual honesty to recognise that the real debilitating impact on securing future growth opportunities is not from the issue he mentions, but from the barriers that have been imposed. To hear that Labour intends to further padlock them in place will depress a great many people the length and breadth not just of Scotland but, looking at opinion polling, far beyond.

I regret to say that although the motion contains many fine words—it is certainly a fine document in many respects from Labour—while it remains saddled to the Brexit the Conservatives have given us, it will not do anything to tackle the fundamental problems it diagnoses.

International Trade and Geopolitics

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 20th April 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in such a wide-ranging and comprehensive debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on the knowledgeable and expert way in which he opened the debate that he secured. It is extremely important that we are discussing the various intersections of this subject, as geopolitics is about our interaction with the world not only through our conventional power but through our soft power and trade. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) rightly alluded to the soft power we exert and the benefits we offer to the rest of the world through our leading education opportunities.

The Government made a statement on CPTPP earlier this week and, as Members might expect, I questioned the value of that deal relative to how much the Government have lauded what they see as its benefits. Clearly I touched a bit of a nerve with the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, because not content with chastising me in her immediate response, she then took the opportunity in her responses to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) to have a second and a third go at me. I am tempted to say that that might betray a bit of a snowflake tendency, which seems to run slightly at odds with the carefully curated political persona. None of the overhet assertions to the contrary that were handed out to all Members who questioned the CPTPP did anything to dispel my fear that it represents an agreement that will drive down standards, that lacks adequate safeguards for domestic regulation and that represents a poor substitute for all the other trade deals that we have been forced to leave behind through exiting the European Union.

I am sorry to say that that trade and geopolitical picture is not an especially happy one at the moment. UK goods exports are the lowest in the G7 following Brexit and they have not shown much sign of recovery, even since covid. It turns out that putting up trade barriers to our largest export market, and our closest one geographically, carries hefty economic consequences—who could have guessed that? Business investment is not forecast to return to 2019 levels until mid-2025, and the UK is forecast to have the worst economic record of any G20 country in 2023, including, astonishingly, sanctions- hit Russia, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest forecasts. Its “World Economic Outlook” estimates that UK GDP will contract this year. All of that is compounded by the 4% hit to GDP that we know has come from Brexit. I am left wondering whether there are sufficient trade deals around the world yet to be concluded to ever adequately fill that gap.

This manifestation of the UK Government’s trade policy, a bit like the Australia and New Zealand trade deal, might appear to put some political chalk on the board for the Government, which they would find convenient, but these deals potentially come at the expense of domestic producers and of our sovereignty, through the investor-state dispute settlement clauses, with all the implications they carry. They also threaten to make a mockery of the Government’s oft-stated sustainable trade goals.

I am forced to pose the question: how could matters that we are told are so important to this Government, such as sovereignty, economic growth, domestic production, domestic standards and global environmental and human rights concerns, end up being compromised by the deals the Government then go out to negotiate? Sadly, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that outcomes from those deals will end up being contradictory to the public statements and publicly stated policy objectives, simply because the Government do not appear to have any kind of trade strategy written down anywhere.

In her foreword to “The UK government’s strategy for international development”, a document published last May, the then Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), stated that

“in the world we face today our development work must form an increasingly key part of a coherent UK foreign policy.”

There are quite a few reasons why I could take issue with that statement on its own terms, but it is bizarre, is it not, that the Government have a document setting out how they seek to link aid to foreign policy but not one that links their trade policy to their domestic and international objectives? The UK Government certainly do not have a published document to that effect. If they have an internal one, it is clearly not working. This really does matter, not just because of its domestic impacts but because of the negative effect it will have on the international impact that the Government might hope to have.

Let us consider the facts. As it stands, the UK Government are negotiating trade deals on behalf of the UK, the four nations that make up the UK and the devolved Administrations without having a comprehensive trade strategy in place—or at least one that any of us can measure them against. That means that harmful concessions are much more likely in the process of engaging in the wider world, as has already happened, particularly with regard to the agrifood sector. This comes at a time when many countries, including even the United States of America, recognise that trade policies need fundamental transformation to support a step change to a sustainable green economy based on workers’ rights and shared prosperity. However, the UK Government are pursuing a policy of free trade deals, seemingly at any cost, without that framework in place to guide them.

In contrast to the UK Government, the Scottish Government do have a published written trade strategy. It sets out five principles that underpin the Scottish Government’s trade decisions and relationship, which are based around pillars of inclusive growth; wellbeing; sustainability; net zero; and good governance. It positions trade within a framework of a wider economic, social and environmental context and considers the strategic role of trade in contributing to those wider governmental ambitions. The Scottish Government are using all the powers and influence available to them to make tangible progress on delivering on that in support of Scotland’s national strategy for economic transformation. Where powers are currently reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government are seeking to engage as best as they can with the UK Government to act in a way that acknowledges the interests of Scotland and supports our economy and our people, and the planet.

We saw some news break this week that the Foreign Secretary has written to UK ambassadors and high commissioners around the world to try to get them to ensure that there is a “strengthened approach” to dealing with Scottish ministerial visits, to make sure that the Scottish Government are kept firmly in their box and do not get any ideas above their station in their international engagements. There is a supreme irony here: a Scottish Government who do have a trade strategy are to be chaperoned around the world so that Ministers are kept in their place by officials representing a Government who do not have a trade strategy.

Food security is a matter of key concern, and we have seen its impacts in the bare supermarket shelves, the shortages of certain vegetables and the rotten meat scandal. Clearly, climate change and conflict pay an enormous part in disrupting supply chains, but there is no doubt that leaving the EU has not helped either. It has left us at the end of those strained supply chains and hampered our domestic food production and our ability to acquire food on the open market. So, sadly, we are hit the first and the hardest when those supply chains break.

The integrated review update from a few weeks back said that the UK Government are worried enough that they will be assessing vulnerability in our food system and supply chains. Frankly, it is incredible that that has not happened already. We desperately need a food security resilience plan that looks at that intersection of trade and domestic food production.

The issue of food security has not suddenly crept up on us and we could look at many other areas of the economy too. One key lesson we should have taken from the pandemic is surely that no matter how much we can be ideologically committed to free trade and open markets, there is a fallacy in assuming that this country will always be able to buy whatever is needed at any point on the open market and, consequently, that it is possible or desirable to run down domestic production. Our approach to trade in food should reflect our need to be self-sufficient where that is possible, and it should reflect our values. Food should be produced in ways that keep us and the animals in the food system healthy and safe; it should seek to reduce our global environmental footprint; and it should support high-standards producers at home and abroad who are pioneering the farming and land stewardship methods that will get us to net zero.

In this vacuum, there is a real opportunity to start matching industrial strategy to trade strategy in a way that does not happen at present. There is perhaps no better example of an opportunity in that area than when it comes to technology and the environment, and that is of particular interest to me not just as a Scottish MP, but as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency right at the heart of the energy economy in the north-east of Scotland.

Scotland has the potential to be a green energy powerhouse, creating up to 385,000 jobs, boosting our economy by up to £34 billion a year by 2050, permanently lowering energy bills and embedding energy security by being a reliable energy partner from the resources around our shores and on our landmass. The Government’s own net zero tsar has written about the former Department for International Trade in his most recent report. He notes that

“there is a missed opportunity to further trade in environmental goods which could expand UK exports in these goods.”

He goes on to say:

“Promoting environmental goods and services should be a top priority for the Government…In order to maximise the potential of free trade agreements to make a positive difference for the net zero transition to remove the barriers to trade in climate change products and services, the Government should be establishing a minimum threshold for the environmental provisions which all new FTAs should adhere to.”

I would very much like to start seeing evidence that that is happening.

Finally, I wish to touch on the matter of aid. In November 2022, the current UK Minister for International Development said:

“We used to be a foreign aid superpower, but our reputation has declined.”

Aid cuts are clearly a huge part of that reputationally. My party will once again take this opportunity to reiterate our calls for the 0.7% of GNI spent on international aid—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I was very lenient earlier in the debate about the length of speeches, because I appreciated that there was plenty of time this afternoon, and I am sorry to say to him that, having been lenient, the plenty of time has run out. Normally, I would have asked him to speak for something like six or seven minutes. I did not do so, because I was not aware that we had run out of time, but I hope that he will help by concluding quite soon.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will endeavour to bring my remarks to a controlled and orderly stop very soon.

Having made my point about aid, that seems like a good cue to finish by recalling the words of the NATO General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, from last year, when he said:

“Our economic choices have consequences for our security. Freedom is more important than free trade. The protection of our values is more important than profit.”

I am certain that no one in this House disagrees with that, but, in the absence of a clear, coherent trade strategy aligned with a clear, coherent domestic policy, it is impossible for the Government to say that they are acting in the interests of upholding freedom, prosperity, quality of life, quality of environment, social justice or human rights around the world, and that urgently needs to be addressed.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd March 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Jonathan Haskel, an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, has estimated that Brexit has resulted in the loss of approximately £29 billion of business investment to the UK as a whole. Does the Minister believe that the Windsor framework will undo the proportion of the damage that has been done to the Northern Irish economy? If so, why does he consider the market access that that framework underpins to be good enough for one part of the United Kingdom but not good enough for the rest of us?