Finance Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), although he will forgive me for not taking any economic advice from him. He talks about economic assessment with no sense of self-awareness that he was the man responsible for the 2019 Labour party manifesto. I believe I am the first Member to speak who shall represent a freeport area, so, on behalf of the people of Teesside, may I say thank you to the Government for designating us a freeport zone?

I wish to speak against new clause 25, which would only delay the implementation of our new freeport policy. I direct Members to my recently updated entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a member of the new—currently shadow—Teesside freeport board. If we consider the intentions behind new clause 25, we will see that they are ones that Teessiders know all too well. Labour never wanted our new freeports, despite them being in places such as Redcar and Cleveland, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, places that Labour used to say it cared about. True to form, new clause 25 is the Labour party in desperation to see our freeport policy fail, so that it can simply say, “I told you so.”

The same attitudes were shown in Labour’s position on the EU referendum, and the people of Teesside have already shown them how they feel about that. Our new freeport in Teesside will create 18,000 jobs over the next five years, and since the freeport designation in the Chancellor’s Budget, we have already seen the announcement of more than 2,000 jobs coming to Teesside, with GE picking Teesside as the destination for its new wind turbine blade manufacturing, supporting the Government’s plan for a green industrial revolution. Adding more bureaucracy, form filling and complications through new clause 25 would only delay those new jobs and prevent us from getting on with the task at hand, which is the transformation of Teesside.

In Redcar and Cleveland we are proud of our area’s industrial heritage and the vital role the steelworks and foundries have played in the past, providing those raw materials to build the railways, ships and bridges that were once the envy of the world, and in many cases still are. The fires in our furnaces were the beating heart of the industrial revolution, and now with hydrogen, wind power and carbon capture all promised and planned within our freeport zone, it will be Teesside’s innovation and technology that leads our green industrial revolution.

When Labour lost Hartlepool, the front page of The Northern Echo held a column from a former Labour MP saying that Labour needs to listen. Well, now would be a good time to start, but instead, here we are again, with the public supporting our freeport policy and Labour voting against it. Labour Members may not want any election advice from me, but I have some for them anyway: stop dwelling on problems and start looking to the potential and to solutions. Stop standing in the way of our freeport policy and work with us to make it a success. Stop talking Teesside down and start helping us to turn it around, and vote against new clause 25 tonight.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young). Like him, I shall take this opportunity to make a few brief remarks in support of freeports, although, as hon. Members would expect, they will be in support of a freeport in Wales, and north Wales in particular. In doing so, I shall speak against new clause 25.

Freeports and free economic zones are a common feature of international trade, with dozens utilised by our closest allies. Not only have they propelled many of the world’s previously impoverished nations to prosperity, but there are well-established international frameworks for their operation. Indeed, the OECD code of conduct for clean free trade zones is an example, to which this Government have already pledged compliance.

The measures set out in new clause 25 are simply unnecessary, and the additional costs, such as the paperwork proposed, will only reduce the attractiveness of Britain’s ports. Let us make no mistake: the ultimate bearer of extra costs will be not multinational business, but the workers of this country who will miss out on prosperity from export-driven work.

Wales occupies a vital position in UK trade. If we consider just the Republic of Ireland, we will see that in 2019, two thirds of goods carried from the Republic of Ireland came via Wales, and four fifths of goods carried to the Republic of Ireland went via Wales. I also note that Holyhead is on the international trade routes that link Dublin to Moscow, such is the strategic importance of the location and role of Wales—particularly of north Wales. It is essential, therefore, that we create an environment there that is attractive to investment and private finance. According to the British Venture Capital Association, Wales has one of the lowest average investments from venture capital in the UK, accounting for just 3.3% of all funding over the period 2016 to 2018.

A freeport offers a structured environment for investment. Whether linked with the advanced manufacturing cluster of north-east Wales—Wales’s hottest economic growth spot—or the green energy projects and innovation found on Ynys Môn, or the leading telecoms research at the University College of North Wales, the structured reliefs and incentives of a freeport offer businesses and investors a clear and attractive proposition and are a clear demonstration of the Government’s commitment to the area.

This Finance Bill makes clear the Government’s aim of growth, development and levelling up for Wales. It also presents an exciting opportunity for co-operation and collaboration with the Welsh Government. With their assistance on, for example, the additional reliefs possible for the planning laws within their control, there is an opportunity not only to deliver a freeport in Wales, but to create one of the most attractive freeport models for investment in the UK.

In conclusion, our United Kingdom is an island nation and a trading nation, and our prosperity has always come from across the seas. Freeports are an essential step towards stronger trade and exports in a global Britain, and this Finance Bill will deliver that. In Wales, we know that, although we are outward-looking, our strength comes from within. For centuries, we have exported our goods and resources around the globe. North Wales slate has roofed the world, and copper from the Great Orme in Aberconwy was used to forge bronze-age implements used in areas ranging from Brittany to the Baltic.

A freeport in Wales—in north Wales—is an opportunity to ensure our connection to a global economy, to bring investment and growth that will bring jobs, and to secure our tradition of global export for another generation. I shall be voting against new clause 25.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I thank all Members who have commented or spoken in this debate on freeports. As the House will know, freeports are a very important part of the Government’s policy to level up the British economy and to bring investment, trade and jobs to parts of the country that in many cases have not had the economic vibrancy that we as a nation would have wished. They symbolise and reinforce the opportunities provided by this country’s status as an outward-looking trading nation, open to the world.