Global Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 30th January 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 2:28 pm, 30th January 2020

I pay tribute to Bell Ribeiro-Addy for her maiden speech. She clearly holds her views with real passion, and we will hear more from her over the years. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have made maiden speeches today: we heard my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey and, if I may say so, the particularly brave and personal speech from my hon. Friend Stuart Anderson. If there is a common theme, I believe it is that the mothers of this nation can be very proud of all of their offspring in this House this afternoon.

As we leave the European Union and make our own way in the world, I want to talk today about the Government’s role in backing British business. Although there is an important role for Government, and I will explain what I think that can be, we should place it in context. Despite the gyrations of this House, which until this summer resembled Dr Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu—the animal that, as hon. Members will remember, had two heads and no tail—I can report that British business is in terrific shape. Exports are up, and we are the world’s 10th largest exporter despite not even ranking in the 20 most populous countries. Our economy has grown for nine straight years, and it is 20% bigger than it was in 2010. Not only is employment at a record high in my lifetime, but the rate of unemployment is lower than it has been for 45 years. We are the leading destination for foreign direct investment on the continent of Europe—bigger than France and Germany put together.

I am new, Madam Deputy Speaker, so perhaps you and other hon. Members will forgive me, but I am mystified as to why the House will, rightly, unite to celebrate our nation’s many sporting victories, but success on the global economic playing field yields not even a grudging acknowledgement from the Opposition. Although I accept that statistics can sound dry and abstract—sometimes they are—we do not have to look far to turn them into real sales, real jobs and real successes. Take Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is on the edge of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan. It recently reported the highest ever sales in its 116-year history, and, on the back of that, more expansion into new markets, more investment and more jobs. Or consider the equally local sparkling wine producers of West Sussex, who now regularly beat French producers of a similar product in the world’s league tables.

In fact, in sector after sector, British firms are leading, or among the best in, the world. Next week sees the launch of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, which is literally designed to fly to the sun. Its mission will take eight years, during which time it will have to withstand a temperature range of almost 700° C. That solar system-busting technology was built not in Silicon Valley, Shanghai or even Singapore, but here in the UK at Airbus in Stevenage. We wish it great success in its endeavour.

British businesses are thriving in all the fastest-growing sectors in the world: quantum computing, aerospace and automotive, artificial intelligence, genomics, battery and electric mobility, and many more. But there is always more we can do, and if we want to help British business—the Prime Minister has talked about making the UK the best place in the world to start, grow and run a business—there are three things that we should do. We must have the ability to trade with the biggest and the fastest-growing markets in the world. Brexit is an important enabler, but this is about much more than trade deals. The best and most productive way of growing British exports is not to squeeze a little more out of the 250,000 firms that are already exporting, but to help the 90% of British businesses that do not currently export at all to do so. That is about market access. It is about boots on the ground, year in and year out. Her Majesty’s trade commissioners are some of the most productive public servants that this country is privileged to employ, but there are only nine of them, and we need more. We need bigger and better—not nine but 900, or perhaps even 9,000 of them.

We need a joined-up aid policy. I welcome the recent success of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development at the African investment summit; I believe my hon. Friend Theo Clarke will speak more about that later. We need a modern industrial policy that is as much about knocking down barriers as it is about picking winners. We need every Department to see itself as having a role in supporting businesses. We need frictionless access to talent, with the Home Office not just processing visas but speeding up the border queues at Heathrow airport. I support the creation of an economic super-Ministry that can act as a concierge to enterprise and a one-stop shop for smaller businesses, bringing together Companies House and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and servicing businesses digitally with a single identification.

We need a fiscal and governance framework that actively supports business. We do not always have to compete on the lowest rate, but we need something that is fair and stable, and that changes in response to developments in technology and consumption patterns. We need simplicity, reliability and predictability.

Finally, we need a competition policy that is rooted in the global world in which many of our British firms compete, and that does not prevent some of our most successful businesses from achieving their place in the domestic market and competing internationally on the world stage.