I wish everybody a happy Ramadan on our first day of fasting.
We are moving towards a world powered by critical minerals. We need lithium, cobalt and graphite to make batteries for electric cars, and we need silicon and tin for our electronics. I am pleased that we recently published our “Critical Minerals Refresh.” This strategy will accelerate the growth of UK capabilities, collaborate with international partners and enhance international markets.
Cornwall is known for its mining—some people even define a mine as a hole in the ground with a Cornishman at the bottom. What efforts is the Department making to ensure that we make the most of our home-grown mineral security?
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of Cornwall’s mining heritage and the world-renowned Camborne School of Mines. This is why we are backing Cornish lithium and geothermal engineering, through the Getting Building fund and the automotive transformation fund, which are collaborating to build a zero-carbon lithium extraction plant at an existing site in Cornwall. I very much look forward to visiting it in the near future.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee.
The Minister knows that the steel industry is an important customer for critical minerals in this country, so will she confirm for the House the status of the Steel Council in her Department and whether it is actively meeting?
I served with the hon. Gentleman on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee for many years. He will be very familiar with the fact that I meet the steel sector and the unions, and I have all the regular meetings, including those with the all-party parliamentary group for steel and metal related industries, which is chaired by Stephen Kinnock. The meetings are most definitely taking place.
I join the Minister in wishing the whole House a happy Ramadan.
It is great finally to see the critical minerals strategy, but, as the Minister indicated in her answer, long-term, durable access to minerals is also dependent on our wider strategic trade policy. The Government have failed in their objective of ensuring that 80% of our trade is conducted under free trade agreements. In addition, the Office for Budget Responsibility says that our exports are projected to fall by 6.6% next year. How does she propose to integrate her critical minerals strategy with our wider trade policy? How much will that 6.6% fall in exports cost the UK economy in cash terms?
I only recently published the critical minerals refresh and I was expecting some sort of positive response, given how it is integrated internationally; it deals with the threats of China and works with the Inflation Reduction Act 2022 in the United States. But of course the Opposition use any reason to dampen a positive step forward for all of our manufacturing sector across the country. UK exports to Europe amounted to £386.9 billion in the four quarters to the end of 2022, which was an increase of 25%—I think that is an increase, not a decrease.