Trade Bill

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Committee stage
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (13 Oct 2020)
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for putting forward this amendment. We should also be grateful to other colleagues in the Chamber for asking key questions on this.

Bad trade deals produce clear winners and losers. Surely our task is to make sure that British businesses, including those in Northern Ireland, do not lose out in trade agreements and face unnecessary costs. British businesses have faced an incredibly tough year; the pandemic in particular has seriously impacted on UK trade. We have seen big falls in exports and imports in the three months following April 2020; the ONS found that trade exports fell by £33.1 billion in those three months, while imports fell by £29.9 billion. These were the largest three-monthly falls since comparable records began in 1997. Trade will be vital for businesses in the post-Covid recovery period. The Government should make sure that businesses do not face unnecessary costs arising from trade agreements.

I am glad that the Minister has said previously that the Government have committed to publish their negotiating objectives alongside an initial impact assessment. Can he confirm that a full impact assessment for each agreement will be published by the Government at the end of negotiations? Will this full impact assessment be reviewed by an independent body? Will the Government act on any findings that come as a by-product of the review?

There are clearly major problems for Northern Ireland. Does the Minister expect different costs for businesses exporting or importing goods and services to or from Northern Ireland to result from an EU-UK FTA and any rollover agreement for the Japan agreement? Other businesses in the rest of the UK will clearly be affected by this.

The amendment’s explanatory note also refers to additional costs to businesses operating within the UK’s internal market. Labour firmly believes that there is a need for a strong internal market so that businesses can trade freely across the UK’s four nations, which will be vital for our economy and shared prosperity. This will be discussed at length in the Internal Market Bill, which has some important implications for this Bill.

I hope that the Minister is following these debates closely. I hope that we can be reassured that the impact assessments will be transparently conducted and published, and that the Government will take note of their findings. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I accept that there are costs both ways, but we need transparency. That transparency will enable our businesses to trade better, more freely and more competitively.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel) (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome this amendment, put down by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. As I told the House on the first day of Committee, and as we have touched on since, our continuity agreements seek to replicate the effects of EU agreements, and the 21 agreements that we have already signed show that we are not diverging or introducing new obligations. These agreements are continuity by name and continuity by nature. We therefore do not think it proportionate to produce impact assessments for trade deals that only maintain the status quo. I emphasise that point because I will come to other free trade agreements later.

This is not to say that we intend to deny Parliament information on these agreements. That is why the parliamentary reports that we have committed to publish alongside signed agreements contain detailed information about the volume of trade, the composition of imports and exports, and the wider economic impact of those agreements. As I have said, we will continue to lay these parliamentary reports voluntarily, with Explanatory Memoranda, alongside each new continuity agreement. The recently signed new agreement with Ukraine will of course be treated in that way.

New FTAs are not included in the scope of the Bill—neither are the EU arrangements—but we have committed to publishing in advance of opening negotiations initial economic scoping assessments for the new FTAs setting out what impact we believe the agreements might have. At the end of negotiations, we will produce an impact assessment for the final treaty, alongside an Explanatory Memorandum, prior to it being laid before Parliament for scrutiny under CRaG. The Government believe that this strikes the right balance.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked what kind of independent assessment will be made of these assessments. I am pleased to say that those assessments will be made by the Regulatory Policy Committee. I can also let the House know that the International Agreements Sub-Committee has already received these assessments in relation to the Japan FTA, which we signed a few weeks ago. These agreements and reports have been made available to the IAC on a confidential basis. We committed that the committee would have these agreements to review in good time before the CRaG process started; I am pleased to say that I had a good meeting with the IAC yesterday where we talked through these processes. I look forward to receiving its report in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked various questions relating to trade with the EU, particularly on customs arrangements and other contingency arrangements, including Northern Ireland matters that will arise at the end of the transition period. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness on these matters.

Given these reassurances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, we have had yet another interesting debate where the expertise of noble Lords has been on full display, even if that meant repeating what have perhaps become familiar arguments.

Amendments 54 and 55 in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would set up a new trade body, the international trade commission. This body would be responsible for setting criteria for assessing whether provisions in FTAs on imports of goods into the UK meet or exceed domestic standards of production and would, as a result, set restrictions for which goods could be imported under trade agreements. The other place has debated whether imports would need to meet our domestic production standards—a requirement which would be in addition to meeting existing specifications such as on food safety standards—and decisively rejected such a suggestion.

The Government absolutely recognise the strength of feeling around standards and imports of agricultural products into the UK. We have not only reaffirmed our commitment to maintaining high standards during debates on both this and the Agriculture Bill, and on many other occasions, but have taken clear action. I hope to explain this in more detail shortly. However, I first ask your Lordships to consider the real effect of Amendment 54. It would establish a new, permanent and unelected body, which would set criteria for assessing and scrutinising international trade agreements before they could be laid in Parliament.

The Government consider that this would be inappropriate and harmful to the due process of parliamentary scrutiny—a process which already includes an assessment of the impacts of the trade agreement and allows time for both the International Agreements Sub-Committee of our House, and the International Trade Committee in the other place to produce an independent report on it. The amendment would suspend parliamentary scrutiny of new trade agreements until this new body had been established and the criteria set. I believe that this would harm the interests of UK businesses and consumers. Importantly, it would also leave Parliament beholden to the terms set by the international trade commission. Moreover, the establishment of such a body would place it in direct conflict with existing bodies, which already have the remit and expertise to oversee and advise on standards, such as the food standards agencies, the trade advisory groups and the new Office for Environmental Protection. The creation of an international trade commission would only cause confusion with these trusted agencies, to the detriment of all. Furthermore, the amendment would require overseas countries to produce—and demonstrate that they produce—to UK standards before we would be able to import those goods. As I said, the criteria for such assessment would rest in the hands of a new, untested and unelected trade body.

Currently, the UK imports enormous volumes of food from overseas, including from the developing world. An amendment such as this could have far-reaching and, I am sure, unintended effects, preventing the UK being able to import a range of foods, with significant knock-on effects for supply chains, businesses and consumers within the UK, as well as, importantly, for developing countries and other export partners, which send agricultural products to the UK. For example, Vietnam, Ghana and Indonesia are major exporters of coffee to the UK, and we receive large volumes of bananas from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon. The impact of this amendment, requiring countries to meet the UK’s specific standards across a range of criteria, could ultimately prohibit imports from these trade partners and, in doing so, lose a valuable income stream for those developing countries as well as, frankly, affecting the British businesses and consumers who depend on them. My noble friend Lord Lansley made some powerful points in this regard about the damage that this would cause.

The standards that this amendment seeks to protect are already enshrined in domestic statute and the Government will uphold them. Of course, any changes to existing standards would require new legislation to be scrutinised by Parliament. Decisions around standards are a matter for Parliament and will be made separately from negotiations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will agree with me, even as a new boy, that statutory instruments are a statutory process.

The Government have taken decisive action to uphold our commitments to high standards. First, we have established new trade advisory groups, including a dedicated agrifood group, which will provide technical and strategic expertise that will feed directly into negotiations. Members include such organisations as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the British Retail Consortium, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish Seafood Association, UK Hospitality and Tesco, among others. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, will accept that it would be highly prejudicial to the United Kingdom if our negotiating stance became public when we are in the middle of negotiations. We want to draw on the expertise of the members of these groups during negotiations. This is not secrecy for secrecy’s sake but common sense in asking them to keep confidential the information they receive from their privileged position in these groups.

In June, the Secretary of State for International Trade established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which brings together stakeholders from across the sector to provide recommendations that will inform the Government’s decisions and policy-making in relation to agriculture. The commission will produce a report with its recommendations and the Government have committed to laying this before Parliament. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the resources available to the commission; sadly, I do not have this information to hand but I will write to her.

The recommendations made in the Dimbleby report are under consideration by Defra and will no doubt be responded to by my colleagues there in due course; as my noble friend Lady Noakes reminded us, this report has not yet been finalised. Furthermore, we have listened to concerns around animal welfare in production and have committed to a rapid examination of what can be done through labelling to promote standards and high welfare across the UK.

Our various new initiatives and the setting up of new groups for exploring issues around standards and international trade policy are already looking to tackle some of the issues raised by this amendment. I would, of course, be very happy to meet the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to discuss these matters further. In summary, however, we consider that the creation of a further new body would risk harmful conflict with existing groups with similar functions. I hope that I have managed to reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that there is no need for the body they propose. I therefore ask that the amendment is withdrawn.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lansley, and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for his response to the debate. I want to make one point. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, may not have understood my point about the unilateral scheme of preferences in developing countries. It was simply that, since Amendment 54 bites only on those international trade agreements that are subject to the CRaG process, it would not bite on the unilateral scheme of preferences at all. So, it does not do what the mover of the amendment is looking for it to do; when they look again on Report, noble Lords should—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, suggested —take it away and think about how they can support the Government to maintain and deliver our standards, rather than seek to go around them.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I have nothing to add to those perceptive comments from my noble friend.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I think that we will come back to this issue.

The Minister referred to Ghana as a good example. I referenced Ghana in the previous debate. We are still engaging on whether we will have a continuity agreement with it; it has not been agreed yet. The disruption in trade with Ghana will come if we revert to a non-EPA basis at the end of the year, rather than from anything to do with anything in this amendment regarding standards.

Can the Minister state whether we currently import, or will import, any goods from GSP countries or LDCs that do not meet our standards? My understanding is that we do not and will not. We offer them tariffs that are preferential to those for other countries if they have goods to be imported into the UK that meet the standards, because that is under the unilateral trade preferences scheme, but it is not standards that we seek to reduce. The Minister said that insisting on maintaining UK standards would somehow act against least-developed countries, but that does not apply because they do not currently export to us if they do not meet our domestic standards. I wonder whether he can clarify that.

Given that, yesterday, the Agriculture Minister did not categorically shut down the requests from MPs that the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s life be extended and sent over to the DIT, is the Minister’s mind open to the longevity of this Trade and Agriculture Commission? One of the ways forward could conceivably be to extend the lifetime of that commission; we could progress on that basis.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. We will come to GSPs in a later debate; if the perceptive points he made are not answered then, I will perhaps write to him. Secondly, I always keep an open mind about the matters that we debate. We will reflect on the debate that happened in the other place last night.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am grateful to those noble Lords who contributed. I would be most grateful if my noble friend could extend his invitation to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to myself and the other co-signatories of this amendment, and perhaps also invite the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. This formula worked extremely well with his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, who I am sure would commend it to us.

I suspected, even though I raised this in the House yesterday, that my noble friend would not have the figures on the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s budget. He will be pleased to know that I have the topical Oral Question on Thursday, when I am sure he will be able to provide those figures because they are the subject of the Question.

The International Trade Secretary herself referred to Kenya as a wonderful new country that we are going to do deals with. It subsequently found itself in a spot of bother with avocado pears; we will certainly wish to revisit that.

I do not think that any of the signatories to these amendments intend to tie the Government’s hands; indeed, I do not. The purpose of the amendments was to understand the thinking on the role of, and resources available to, the current Trade and Agriculture Commission. I have no doubt that current members of the commission do not wish to carry on, so this is an opportunity to either reappoint new members to the Trade and Agriculture Commission or revamp it into a new body, such as the one in the US calling itself an International Trade Commission.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his amendment on trade promotion and strategies. It has stimulated an interesting debate. It is interesting to me because it provides me with the an opportunity of agreeing, for once, with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, about the need to make any trade promotion strategy government-wide, which goes without saying. It is also interesting because the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned the trade in pigs, our influence on China and how we might learn from its ability to market pigs’ trotters. It is some years since I consumed a pig’s trotter, but the thought of it fills me with great joy.

As has been mentioned throughout these debates, trade offers many benefits to UK businesses and will play a vital role in our post-Covid recovery. The Government must make sure that when they sign trade deals those benefits are shared across SMEs and large companies, as well as different regional groupings.

The amendment usefully refers to trade and export strategies, and I shall pick up a few points on the Government’s approach, especially their export strategy. Their stated ambition is to increase exports from 30% to 35% of GDP, with the Department for International Trade and UK Export Finance playing a key part in achieving that goal. Their previous ambition of increasing exports to £1 trillion by 2020 was not achieved. The National Audit Office has criticised the evidence underlying the strategy to increase exports to 35% of GDP and has said that it is not clear how stretching such an ambition is and that the timetable in which the target is expected to be achieved is not clear. The Public Accounts Committee has also said that it is unclear how the DIT’s work is well-linked to the Government’s export strategy ambition.

I have questions for the Minister. How and when will the Government achieve their 35% target? How are the overseas networks of DIT and UKEF staff working closely together to avoid missing export opportunities? The Federation of Small Businesses supports the 35% target but would welcome a grant scheme to support smaller businesses in particular—which is where we look for growth—looking to invest in new export processes. Are the Government giving that active consideration? It goes without saying that we need a strategy that actively promotes trade internationally in these new times, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, called them, as we find our way in the new world free of the EU. We must have that strategy in place, and this debate has highlighted that. Colleagues have brought into it the valuable experience, knowledge and insight that they gained from the all-party parliamentary group.

The Minister in the other place has said that he is developing a new export strategy. What is it to be and when will it be published? Can we have more debate on it and can the House expect to have regular updates and reports based on it?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his amendment and his wise words in his introduction, honed by his years of experience.

As discussed when I met my noble friend to speak about this amendment, international trade agreements are not worth the paper they are written on if businesses and consumers are not educated and enabled to take advantage of their contents. I also fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the need to operationalise those agreements. He and I were in complete agreement when we discussed this. I therefore agree that it is right that the Government should regularly review the benefits realised through the measures adopted for the international trade agreements they negotiate and the trade and export promotion strategies that they deploy. The strategies are vital, and I and all my ministerial colleagues in the department are well-seized of this.

The new all-party parliamentary group for trade and export promotion is an important development, and I am pleased to thoroughly endorse it. The energy of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, as co-chair, and its eminent sponsors will surely lead to its success.

Coming to the substance of the amendment, I hope that my noble friend will be pleased to hear that my department already has plans to publish such a report every two years. I hope that noble Lords will appreciate that the two-year period is appropriate because to do so more regularly would be overly burdensome for the department to pull together and would provide insufficient time to monitor the benefits realised. I assure noble Lords that the fact that the period is two years rather than one year in no way means that we do not agree on the importance of this topic.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to the trade access programme. I am well aware from my contacts with SMEs how valuable many of them find it, and I will write to give him an update on its present stature.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that we are fully seized of the points he makes and that my domestic and international colleagues work closely together on this. If at any time a conversation with me or my ministerial colleagues would help him, we would be happy to have one.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Lansley is reassured that the Government share the objective behind his amendment and that our proposal for a biannual report meets it in a proportionate way. Consequently, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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I am most grateful to the Minister for his response and to all those who took part in the debate. Everyone expressed their views in a positive way, and there was widespread support for the amendment’s objectives. I particularly thank my noble friend for his support for the objectives of the all-party parliamentary group. We look forward to working with him, his ministerial colleagues and officials in trying to ensure that we engage fully, not only here in Parliament but with the business community, in making that happen.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, not least for referring to the Federation of Small Businesses. In the report it published earlier in the year relating to SMEs and more recently when Make UK published its report on exports, it was abundantly clear how important it will be for us as a country to bring small and medium-sized businesses into export markets, not only in Europe, to which many have been accustomed, but beyond it. Thirty years ago, I set up an active exporting scheme through the British Chambers of Commerce that mentored small businesses to help them get into exporting activity. I hope that we can look at schemes of that kind because it is important to make that happen.

It was a very interesting debate about the nature of reports. I gently say to my noble friend Lady Noakes that the amendment refers to “the Secretary of State” because “the Secretary of State” is every Secretary of State, not just the Secretary of State for International Trade—so it can within the amendment be a cross-governmental report.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his amendment and his excellent speech, which said everything that needs to be said around this very difficult area, with considerable skill and a huge amount of information that we will need time to absorb.

The House seems united in the view that this is a serious issue that has a lot of support and needs to be implemented. I will be interested to hear how the Minister responds to it. What is most attractive about the amendment is the innovative use of the courts as a way of trying to give a point of factual accuracy around which decisions can be taken. I have not seen this before; it is not something that we have ever had proposed and it is worthy of further consideration. Indeed, it may have wider applications.

That puts the House in a bit of a spot. If it is clear that there is a way of checking, in a way that is respected in the use of our courts, to assess whether or not an action needs to be taken, are we not put on notice to live up to our responsibilities as signatories to this convention to prevent, protect and punish? Indeed, if we care about our moral values as a nation, we should have no grounds not to support the amendment.

Having said that, I wonder whether it is worth picking up one or two points that suggest that a bit more work on the amendment might make it achieve even more. Others have picked up on the question of why it is applied only to rollover agreements when it has the capacity to deal with all free trade agreements. Although this is a terrible thing to say, why stop at the issue of genocide? Are there not other egregious issues that would need to be considered in the same class as genocide? As my noble and learned kinsman Lord Hope said, the torture convention may well be an opportunity for further thinking around this area.

While I support what has been said today about the proposal and I want to give whatever assistance we can to the movers of the amendment, I suggest that maybe there should be other discussions before we reach Report, because what is said in the amendment goes with the grain of so many other amendments that we have looked at around the question of human rights that it would be good to see if we could find something that brought them all together. We need something that is helpful to the broader causes that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, espouses but is capable of bringing in other issues that other Members of the House also care about.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I turn to Amendments 68 and 76A in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, which seek to ensure that any regulations made under Clauses 1 or 2 are revoked in the event that the High Court makes a preliminary determination that they should be revoked because the partner country has committed genocide. I was very thankful for the opportunity to discuss the amendments with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra yesterday.

I unequivocally reiterate the Government’s commitment to upholding human rights and opposing genocide in all its forms. It is the British Government’s policy that any judgment on whether genocide has occurred is a matter for judicial decision, rather than for government or non-judicial bodies. Our approach is to seek an end to all such violations of international law and to prevent their further escalation, irrespective of whether these violations fit the definition of specific international crimes. Any determination as to whether war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide have occurred is a matter for competent courts after consideration of all the evidence available in the context of a credible judicial process.

As your Lordships are aware, the Bill enables the Government to ensure continuity in relation to specific agreements we were party to through our membership of the EU. These agreements met international obligations in respect of human rights and we have maintained, and will continue to maintain, those obligations in the agreements we sign. Should we have any concern about the behaviour of any partner country in relation to human rights abuses, we would take it up with them through the appropriate channels. In continuity agreements —the subject of our deliberations today—there are often suspensive clauses that allow us to suspend agreements in the event of human rights breaches.

We have heard again today, as we did during the debate on Amendment 33, the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. The examples he gave of the Uighur Muslims in China are truly chilling. I understand and share his concerns; the Government condemn any human rights abuses, including the egregious situation in China. As the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place on 6 October, this is not something that we can turn away from. The UK Government are playing a leading role in co-ordinating international efforts to hold China to account for these violations and we will continue to do so. We will of course continue to raise these concerns with Chinese officials.

I do not disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the amendment he and other noble Lords have tabled being within the Bill’s scope. However, and I say this with regret and almost in a sense that I am using bureaucracy to counter the most passionate arguments that we have heard today, Clauses 1 and 2 can be used only to implement the GPA and non-tariff obligations from those continuity agreements we signed as a member of the EU before exit day. China is not a party to the GPA. Additionally, China does not have a free trade agreement with the EU, so Clause 2 cannot be used to implement any future free trade agreement with it.

I am of course very happy to discuss these matters further with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the other sponsors of the amendment. I reassure noble Lords that the Government take issues relating to genocide extremely seriously. I hope, for the reasons that I have offered, that the noble Lord will have confidence to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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There are no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I will address Amendments 71 and 72, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Freyberg. I express my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, having heard the background to his interest in health data. Before I turn to the detail of these amendments, I hope I made clear on the second day of Committee the Government’s absolute commitment that the NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.

I have heard your Lordships’ concerns that medical data or access to suitable medicines may be affected by our programme of trade agreements. I am pleased to reassure your Lordships that this is not the case. As noble Lords know, the NHS is usually protected through a range of exceptions, exclusions and reservations in trade agreements. The Government will continue to ensure that the same rigorous protections are included in future trade agreements, safeguarding the NHS against the privatisation that we are often accused of plotting. Our published negotiating mandates for the US, Australia and New Zealand make the Government’s commitment to the NHS crystal clear: it is not for sale.

We need the powers in this Bill to provide continuity of trading relationships with existing partners, avoiding disruption for businesses and consumers. Our continuity programme does not seek to change the way in which public services or health services are delivered. None of the 21 agreements we have signed has had any substantive effect on the way in which health services will be provided.

Amendment 71 stipulates that regulations could be made using Clause 2 of the Trade Bill only if they allowed for the scrutiny of medical algorithms, technology or devices with respect to the methodology for the processing of sensitive data. I reassure your Lordships that before any medical device can be placed on the UK market, it must have been assessed as complying with the Medical Devices Regulations 2002. These regulations cannot be superseded by a trade negotiation without further legislation.

The MHRA is the designated competent authority that administers and enforces the law on medical devices in the UK. At the end of the transition period, the role of the MHRA in the UK will be the same as now. It will retain sovereignty over all aspects of medical device regulation in the UK, regardless of any FTAs agreed. Furthermore, the Government are clear that health and care data should only ever be used and/or shared where used lawfully, treated with respect, held securely and where the right safeguards are in place. The UK’s high standards of data protection will be maintained in all trade agreements. In other words, these are decisions for Parliament and Parliament alone. Your Lordships, and colleagues in the other place, will have full oversight over continuity agreements through the use of the affirmative procedure for any regulations made relating to medical devices.

I turn to Amendment 72. This stipulates that regulations could be made using Clause 2 of the Trade Bill only if they do not restrict our ability to process and manage patient, public health and social care data, and if they contain an explicit exclusion of investor-state dispute settlement for access to medical data. No trade agreements, whether with continuity partners or new FTAs, will affect our ability to decide which services involve private providers. The Government are acutely aware of the strength of feeling on these issues in this House and of our colleagues in the other place. I repeat: the NHS is not, and never will be, on the table, not least because your Lordships would not allow it.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that it is absolutely crucial that data is always protected to the highest standards, including when the NHS enters into partnerships with research and commercial organisations. NHS organisations must continue to meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability and ensure that partnerships have explicit benefits to patients and people in the UK. Decisions made about the use of health and care data will prioritise patient and public benefit and ensure that data is kept safely and securely.

As I have said before, none of the 21 agreements we have signed makes any provision for investor-state dispute settlement in the UK. However, because our signed agreements do not have explicit exclusions relating to ISDS for patient data, this amendment would force us to return to negotiations with all 21 partners and seek the introduction of this exclusion. This cannot be a proportionate step.

I have confirmed to your Lordships that our health service will be protected through trade negotiations. However, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which will also progress through Committee in this House in the coming weeks, may be a suitable vehicle if your Lordships consider that further reassurances on this technical subject are required. I would be happy to facilitate a conversation to that effect if it would be helpful.

I hope that these reassurances will give your Lordships confidence that the NHS will not be harmed by our trade agreements and that the amendment can therefore be withdrawn.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister so I call the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this is an important and valuable group of amendments and I congratulate my colleagues on bringing them forward and providing us with the opportunity to shine a bit more light on the Trade Remedies Authority. Labour believes that the creation of the TRA is necessary and welcome, in principle, once the UK has finally left the EU, so that we can protect domestic industries in our own right, investigate allegations of unfair practices by overseas competitors and seek their resolution via the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanisms.

However, we are also worried that the new Trade Remedies Authority lacks the stakeholder engagement, independence and parliamentary oversight and accountability to ensure that it will operate transparently and fairly when investigating and challenging practices that distort competition against UK producers, in breach of international trade rules. It is no secret that similar concerns were shared by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, which said that

“it is not clear why … the functions and powers of the Trade Remedies Authority cannot be set out in more detail in this Bill”.

Schedule 4 states that the Secretary of State will appoint the chair of the Trade Remedies Authority, who will in turn appoint the chief executive and non-executive members. This process needs to ensure an independence of thought and action at the TRA. The Secretary of State should not appoint someone just in their own image, or necessarily with the same political leanings and economic opinion. We cannot have an unbalanced TRA that looks only at the approach favoured by the Government. The chair must balance interests in exactly the right way to do these things. Can the Minister therefore explain how independence at the TRA will be guaranteed? Can he explain what parliamentary involvement there will be to ensure that independence and that, whoever the chair is, they receive representations from across industry, employers, the unions, consumer groups, and the devolved nations? How will the TRA ensure a wide membership?

It is clear that we need a functioning TRA and a functioning trade remedies system, but that functioning will be undermined if there is no independence. This group of amendments enables us to focus on that important thing. I must say that I am very much drawn to the constitutional innovation of having confirmation hearings, so that at least questions can be asked by parliamentarians of the process and of those involved.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that the amendments tabled by noble Lords are intended to reinforce the independence and impartiality of the TRA, but I reassure them that this legislation has already been designed with this in mind. Both the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act have inbuilt protections of the TRA’s impartiality that already address many of these points. I reassure the Committee that we want the TRA to be independent and impartial, because it is the absolute requirement for a body of that sort.

Turning first to Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, it is of course important that the Secretary of State has regard to the operational independence and impartiality of the TRA. But imposing a positive duty may require the Secretary of State to take potentially excessive steps to protect the TRA’s independence, which might prevent her making any requests at all, thereby depriving her of the vital expertise that the TRA holds.

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Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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I am grateful. Just for the avoidance of doubt, will my noble friend the Minister agree that it is not without precedent for pre-appointment hearings to take place for appointments made by Ministers? I think that under the Cabinet Office guidance there are about 50 of such. I was not proposing that the chair of the Trade Remedies Authority be included, although, frankly, the fact of it having public impact, being important and being required to be independent would justify including it in that list. Will my noble friend go away and consider whether this appointment should be subject to pre-appointment hearing?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for that question. I have some skin in this game, because I was the author of the public appointments code in which these requirements appear. I shall certainly consider the point that he has raised and write to him about it, but, frankly, with no great confidence that I will agree with him when I do so.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD) [V]
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When the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, drew up that framework for public appointments, there was no way in which he could have anticipated this role, so I hope that he will look closely at the role of the TRA chair and listen closely to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

I was delighted to hear from the Minister that the Secretary of State cannot vary duties recommended by the TRA and cannot, without the TRA’s say-so, impose those duties. I appreciate that clarification.

I smiled at the thought that there might be “excessive steps” to protect the independence and impartiality of the TRA. It is hard to think of anything that would be excessive if it were to support those principles of independence and impartiality, so fundamental are they to the role.

Given the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.