(1 month, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I must inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the reasoned amendment in the name of Keir Starmer. I call Secretary Elizabeth Truss to move the Second Reading. The Secretary of State is asked to speak for no more than 15 minutes.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced in decades. All over the world we see its devastating impact. We will do whatever it takes to support United Kingdom businesses to continue trading, with our network of 350 advisers across the country and trade commissioners across the world.
This crisis highlights just how important it is to keep trade flowing and supply chains open, so that we can all have the essential supplies we need. It is free and open trade that has ensured that we have food on our table and access to vital personal protective equipment and medication. At meetings with my fellow G20 Trade Ministers, I have continually called for a united global response, tariff cuts on key supplies and reform of the World Trade Organisation. Although it is unfortunate that some countries have resorted to protectionism, many have sought to liberalise in the face of this crisis. In particular, I have been working with colleagues such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to highlight the importance of keeping trade flowing.
Free trade and resilient supply chains will be crucial to the global economic recovery as the crisis passes. Time after time, history has shown us that free trade makes us more prosperous, while protectionism results only in poverty, especially for the worst off. Britain has a proud history as a global leader and advocate of free trade. The bold and principled decision of Sir Robert Peel to take on the power of the wealthy producers and repeal the corn laws in 1846 ushered in an unprecedented era of free trade that saw ordinary people in Britain benefit from more varied and cheaper food, helping to grow our cities and power forward the world’s first industrial revolution.
I see a real opportunity again for industrial areas across Britain as we become an independent trading nation. By cutting tariffs and reducing export red tape, our great British businesses will be able to sell more goods around the world. British steel, ceramics and textiles are some of the world’s best, but all too often they are subject to high tariffs and barriers. Those industries are already looking forward to the opportunities that future trade deals will bring.
The US imposes tariffs of 25% on steel; removing them would boost our domestic industries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) knows, that will particularly benefit areas such as Yorkshire and the Humber, which account for more than a third of our iron and steel exports to the United States. Indeed, just this week UK Steel said:
“A new UK/US Free Trade Agreement would provide a significant boost to our trade to this high-value market, create a global-competitive advantage for UK steel producers, and open up valuable new market opportunities.”
Our farmers and food producers stand to gain from a trade deal with the US. The US is the world’s second largest importer of lamb, but current restrictions mean that British producers are kept out. We can also grow, for example, our malting barley exports from Scotland and the east of England.
The tech trade will benefit from a US free trade agreement through cutting-edge provisions on digital and data. Telecoms and tech have more than doubled in the past decade, and an ambitious FTA could see those exports grow further.
While free trade provides opportunities, protectionism would harm farmers, tech entrepreneurs and steel manufacturers. We have already seen this before: in 1930, the Smoot-Hawley Act raised US tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods, resulting in retaliation from other nations and the deepening and prolonging of the depression. As President Reagan said in 1985:
“Protectionism almost always ends up making the protected industry weaker and less able to compete against foreign imports…Instead of protectionism, we should call it destructionism. It destroys jobs, weakens our industries, harms exports, costs billions of dollars to consumers, and damages our overall economy.”
We have a golden opportunity to make sure that our recovery is export led and high value—a recovery that will see our industrial heartlands create more high-quality and high-paying jobs across all sectors. Free trade does not just benefit us here in Britain; it benefits the world. Since the end of the cold war, free trade has lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty. For want of a better word, free trade is good. It is those benefits that underpin our Government’s approach: free and fair trade fit for the modern world.
Let me turn to the contents of the Bill. We can have fair trade only if it is free trade. The Bill will embed market access for British companies by enabling the UK to join the WTO’s Government procurement agreement as an independent member. This will provide businesses with continued access to the extraordinary opportunities of the global procurement market, worth some £1.3 trillion a year. The GPA is an agreement between 20 parties that mutually opens up Government procurement. We have already seen in the UK the way that competition drives up quality while keeping prices low. The GPA keeps suppliers competitive and provides them with opportunities overseas. It is a driver of growth, not a threat to our economy. The idea that we can, or even should, do everything domestically is not desirable or practical in this increasingly interconnected world. Instead, we should be making sure that we have resilient supply chains through a more diverse range of partners. We will be an international champion for free and fair competition in the coming months and years through our discussions at the WTO, the G20 and bilaterally. We will urge other countries not to heed that false, but enticing, call for protectionism.
Let me be clear to the House: the GPA sets out rules for how public procurement covered by the agreement is carried out. As an independent member, we are free to decide what procurement is covered under the agreement. The UK’s GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK health services. Our NHS is not on the table.
We are also committed to continuing our trade with existing partners that have agreements through the EU, such as South Korea and Chile. To date, we have signed 20 such trade agreements representing 48 countries, and others are still under negotiation. This accounts for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018, which represents 74% of continuity trade. People said that we would not be able to roll over these agreements—well, they were wrong, and we will be signing more in the coming months. This work is part of securing the Government’s aim to have 80% of UK trade covered by free trade agreements in the next three years.
We are also looking to new partners. Negotiations with the US and Japan are kicking off. We are prioritising signing FTAs with Australia and New Zealand and accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, otherwise known as the CPTPP. With the UK global tariff now published, there will be an increased incentive for other countries to come to the table to maintain or improve upon their preferential terms and conditions. Fundamentally, free trade is humanitarian and we will maintain preferential margins for developing countries, helping businesses lift millions out of poverty. As a Government, we have committed to going further than the EU has in terms of trade for development, and we are looking at reducing or removing tariffs where the UK does not produce goods and getting rid of cliff edges in current tariff schedules.
That brings me to the second part of our approach: fair trade. The Bill will help establish the independent trade remedies authority, which will help protect British businesses against injury caused by unfair trading practices such as dumping or subsidy, or unforeseen import surges. I tell the House that while free trade has no stauncher friend than this Government, unfair trading practices that hold back British businesses will have no worse enemy. We will fight against state-owned enterprises that use public money to subsidise their goods and Governments who support the lobbying of these under-priced products into the UK market.
Excellent UK industries such as ceramics and steel—represented ably by my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Redcar (Jacob Young) and for Scunthorpe—should not face unfair trade. The TRA will be responsible for investigating claims of unfair trading practices based on the evidence available. It will then make impartial representations to Ministers.
The TRA’s impartiality is vital. Decisions on trade remedies cases can have a material impact on business and financial markets. This Bill will allow us to create an independent body to carry out objective investigations in which businesses can have full confidence. In developing our own trade policy for the first time in almost 50 years, we will use technology to ensure that our trade agreements are fit for the modern world. Therefore, this Bill will give the Government powers to collect and share the trade data that will help our independent trade policy. This will make it easier for our trade policy to reflect the interests of businesses across the UK.
Let me assure the House that this Bill is a continuity Bill. It cannot be used to implement any trade agreement between the UK and the EU itself, nor can it be used to implement an agreement with a country that did not have a trade agreement with the EU before exit day, such as the United States of America. The Bill can be used only to transition the 40 free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries by exit day, and these powers are subject to a five-year sunset clause to ensure that we can maintain the operability of transitioned agreements beyond the end of the transition period. Any extension of this five-year period will require explicit consent of both this House and the other place.
We face a period of unprecedented economic challenge. It is vital that we do not just maintain the current global trading system, but make it better. That means diversifying our trade and supporting those businesses that export. Exports, be they software or steel, cars or ceramics, barley or beef, will underpin our recovery. This Bill will ensure continued access to existing markets by letting us implement trade agreements with partner countries that previously applied under the EU. It will secure continued access for UK businesses to the £1.3 trillion global public procurement market. It establishes the independent body in the Trade Remedies Authority to give our great British businesses the protection they need from unfair trade practices. Trade will be fair as well as free. By adopting a cutting-edge digital first approach, we will be able to give businesses the best possible support.
As we recover from the economic shock of the coronavirus crisis, providing certainty and predictability in our trading arrangements will be vital to securing the interests of businesses and consumers. We will unleash the potential and level up every region and nation of our United Kingdom. Now is the time for this House to speak out against protectionism. It is time for us to embrace the opportunities that free trade and an export-led recovery will bring. I commend this Bill to the House.
I now call the shadow Secretary of State, Emily Thornberry, to move her reasoned amendment, and she has 10 minutes in which to speak.
I beg to move,
That this House recognises that upon leaving the European Union, the UK will need effective legislation to implement agreements with partner countries corresponding to international trade agreements of the European Union in place before the UK’s exit, to implement procurement obligations arising from the UK becoming a member of the Government Procurement Agreement in its own right, to set out the basis of a Trade Remedies Authority to deliver the new UK trade remedies framework, and to establish the powers for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to collect and disclose data on goods and services exporters; but declines to give a Second Reading to the Trade Bill because it fails to set out proper procedures for Parliamentary consultation, scrutiny, debate and approval of future international trade agreements, fails to protect the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty in respect of the implementation of international trade agreements previously negotiated by the European Union and in respect of changes to existing government procurement regulations arising from the UK’s or other countries’ accession to the Government Procurement Agreement, fails to establish sufficient scrutiny procedures to replace those that have pertained while the UK has been a member of the European Union, fails to guarantee that the UK’s current high standards and rights will be protected in future trade agreements, and fails to render the Trade Remedies Authority answerable to Parliament or representative of the full range of stakeholders who should be included in its membership.
In moving this amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, I am conscious that, for many of us, there will be a strong sense of déjà vu: the personnel may have changed, but we have all been here before, with the same Bill, the same amendment, and the same arguments. For once, the Government are correct when they say that nothing has changed. The inescapable truth remains that this Trade Bill, as it currently stands, is a massive missed opportunity for the Government, for this Parliament and for our country.
For the past five decades, our trade policies have been set at European level. Indeed, there is not a single Member of this House who was in Parliament the last time the UK set its own trade policies, so, like it or not, this Bill carries an historic significance, and that is what I want to address today. Is this Bill, in its current form, fit to rise to its historic challenge? After five decades, in which we have seen tremendous upheaval in our global economy, does the Bill provide the legislative framework and the bold and far-reaching vision that we need to underpin Britain’s trade policies for several years to come? After five decades, does the Bill ensure that issues such as climate change and human rights, which were barely a consideration the last time the UK set its own trade policies, are now at the heart of our decision-making and central to our relationships overseas? And after five decades, does the Bill give a proper voice to the devolved Administrations, who did not even exist back then, and to all other private, public and civic-sector bodies whose ideas and insights constantly improve our policy-making and remind us that Whitehall does not know best? Finally, after five decades, does this Bill restore full sovereignty to Parliament over Britain’s trade policies, especially when it comes to the formulation, scrutiny and approval of new trade agreements? Those are the questions I asked myself. As I will explain, the answer that came back, on every front, was a resounding no—even worse, a warning cry that far from restoring the powers of Parliament when it comes to trade policy, this Bill erodes them to nothing.
Let me begin with the first question, namely whether this Bill gives us a legislative framework and a bold new vision for decades of trade policy to come. Here we find ourselves in the strange position of having Ministers themselves tell us that the answer is no. They say that there is nothing of significance in this legislation, and that it is simply a continuity Bill that is designed to maintain the status quo beyond 31 December. I will come back to whether that is right, especially in respect of new trade agreements, but one thing is for sure: there is no bold, long-term vision in this Bill. There is no great legislative framework for the future, and when it comes to the UK shaping its own trade policy after five long decades, this Bill certainly was not worth the wait.
That brings us to the second question, namely to what extent the Bill reflects the necessary and welcome widening of Britain’s trade policy objectives over five decades, and the extent to which it puts at the heart of our future trade agreements the issues of climate change, environmental protection, human rights, workers’ rights, sustainable development and gender equality. Again, we should all be ashamed to say that the answer is: not at all.
I will take just one of those issues, namely human rights. It is disappointing enough that the Government are failing to make it a key priority in negotiating new trade agreements, but what is truly damaging is the Government’s willingness to omit from their rolled-over trade agreements the human rights clauses that are now mandatory in all deals with the EU. If the Government want to refute that, the Minister of State has a simple task when he closes the debate later. He should guarantee that the rolled-over trade agreements that the Government are still trying to negotiate before 31 December with Cameroon and Egypt will both contain clauses enabling the UK to terminate the agreements if those countries continue their horrendous abuse of human rights. Will he ensure that the same policy applies to Turkey, Singapore, South Sudan and every other country with whom we are in negotiation?
The third question was whether the Bill marks a decisive break with the “Whitehall knows best” attitudes that dominated policy making five decades ago, and instead paves the way for Britain’s new trade policies to be formed in a transparent and inclusive way, for example by consulting the elected representatives of our regions and devolved Administrations, benefiting from the expertise of our development and environmental non-governmental organisations, or listening to the concerns of British businesses and their employees. Again, the answer, sadly, is no.
We see that most starkly when it comes to the Bill’s proposals for the membership of the trade remedies authority. That will be a vital body with a vital task, but it will have no guaranteed representation from the UK’s industry bodies and trade unions—the representatives of the people most affected by the unfair practices that the TRA is supposed to prevent. No wonder there are such concerns and suspicions that the Government’s true agenda for the TRA is not to defend Britain against underpriced imports, but somehow to balance the damage they do to domestic producers against the perceived benefits for domestic consumers. That is not the job of the trade remedies authority. That is why we instead need there to be proper representation on the board for the businesses and workers that it has been set up to defend, and why we need the TRA to be accountable to Parliament rather than Government.
That brings me to the final question, which is of the greatest immediate significance: whether, after five decades, this Bill succeeds in restoring parliamentary sovereignty over our country’s trade policies or whether, in fact, the opposite is true, as Members here and in the other place—all formidably led by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—have consistently said over the past two and a half years.
Let us take an example. The Secretary of State is a fan, it would seem, of the Government procurement agreement. As my colleagues have pointed out in the past, no matter how much we agree with the GPA, it is still incredible that the UK can accede to the GPA and MPs have no practical means to stop it; that the UK’s coverage schedules can be sent to the WTO and MPs have no opportunity to approve them; and that changes can be made in the future to the UK’s commitment under the GPA, and MPs will have less chance to scrutinise them than we did when Brussels was in charge and the European Scrutiny Committee was in place. So in an area such as Government procurement, the Bill does not advance parliamentary sovereignty—it does not even leave us standing still. The Bill takes us backwards.
Let us look at a more contentious area: new trade agreements. The Government have tried to convince us that, because the Bill only seeks to provide the basis to roll over existing agreements, we do not have to worry about the almost complete absence of accompanying parliamentary scrutiny or approval. But the reality is that in many cases there are or will be major differences between the UK’s third country agreement and the EU equivalent it is opposed to replicate.
Let us look at some of the examples we have seen. We have agreements with five countries in a trade bloc where the UK only covers three. We have EU agreements with mandatory clauses on human rights that the UK has agreed to drop. We have an EU agreement with Turkey based on a customs union, which the UK has explicitly rejected. We have an EU agreement with Japan, which both the Secretary of State and her Japanese counterpart have said our bilateral deal should go beyond, and that will doubtless be true of the Canada deal as well.
In short, we will end up with several major new trade deals all significantly different from their EU equivalents, but all subject to the same minimal amount of parliamentary scrutiny and approval, as proposed in the Trade Bill. That is not a restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. That is not anywhere near the gold standard of parliamentary consultation, scrutiny and approval of trade deals that we see in Australia or the United States. That is not therefore what I would call taking back control.
In conclusion, I believe that this Trade Bill offers a historic opportunity, but that opportunity has so far been missed. Instead of a bold, strategic vision for the future of our trade policy, we have a stopgap piece of legislation that even Ministers are trying to talk down. Instead of issues such as climate change and human rights being put at the heart of our trade policy, they have been ignored or consciously dropped. Instead of opening our trade policy to the expertise of others, the Government are denying them even a seat at the table. And instead of restoring Parliament’s sovereignty over trade policy, this Bill leaves MPs even more powerless than before. That is why I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to support the Opposition’s amendment. After five decades, let us spend the time and effort we need to get this historic Bill right.
I will not go over the detailed points in relation to the Bill so eloquently made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I have to say that I recognised some of the phraseology in her arguments—but I want to deal with the context in which it is being brought forward.
During the long gestation of the Bill, a lot has changed. Not only have we had the covid crisis, which will have a fundamental effect on the global economy, but in 2019 we saw the culmination of many of the predictions that were made by the Department for International Trade. We predicted that we would see first a slowdown in the growth of global trade and then potentially a contraction of global trade itself. We watched through 2019 the WTO make predictions on global trade growth, down from 2.8% to 2.2% and 1.4%. It finally came in at 0.7%. The key element was that it contracted in Q4, which has generally in history presaged a downturn in the global economy.
That happened for a number of reasons. The US-China trade dispute had a general effect on global trade, and in particular we saw the shortening of global supply chains, as people sought to onshore and shorten global supply chains by minimising the import of intermediate goods. We saw the inevitable consequence of the trend over the decade of the G20 countries applying more and more non-tariff barriers to trade—quadrupling them in the first half of this decade—and they all matter. A bit of consumer protection here, a bit of environmental protection there and a bit of producer protection here are all justifiable in themselves, but they all add up. They have all resulted in a silting up of the global trading system, and the skies over the global trading system are now darkening with those chickens coming home to roost.
Why does it matter? It matters because a free and open trading system has been our route to the reduction in global poverty, with more than 1 billion people taken out of abject poverty in just one generation. There is another reason it matters, which is that access to prosperity, political stability and security are part of the same continuum. It is unthinkable that the wealthiest countries in the world should pull up the ladder behind us, stopping developing countries gaining access to the same levels of prosperity. It is absurd to believe that we can do that without seeing disruption in global security. If we deny people access to prosperity, do not be surprised if we see more mass migration and more radicalisation. We need to understand that we cannot separate the concepts. Those who wish to introduce protectionism into the global economy will have to bear the consequences of the actions they are currently embarked upon.
I want to see us, through this Bill and beyond, doing more on global trade liberalisation. Going back to where we were pre-covid will not be enough, because global trade was contracting. I was a proud Brexiteer, but I have never been a little Englander. My objection to the European Union in the era of globalisation was not the absurd notion that it was foreign, but that it was not foreign enough. It did not have global aspirations that were in tune with what we as a country wanted to see. Post covid, all the challenges we face together will be bigger, and we will have to work with all those who believe in free trade to put them right.
The UK exports 30% of our GDP. Germany exports 48% of its GDP, and OECD data shows that the trade slowdown has hit the European Union hardest of all in the global economy, with exports from the EU contracting by 1.8% in the third quarter of 2019, even before global trade itself contracted. That is the scale of the challenge that we face.
The Government’s proposed tariff regime reform is to be hugely welcomed, although it could be even more liberal yet. The new FTAs and the roll-over agreements allowed through the Bill are also to be welcomed. Those who put obstacles, political and otherwise, in the way of both the roll-over agreements and the new FTAs through largely pointless and irrelevant arguments need to understand the consequences to the wider global economy, as well as to our domestic prosperity, of doing so.
My right hon. Friend was right when she talked about the bigger picture and how we must champion World Trade Organisation reform. Without it, we will be unable to maintain the rules-based system, which is already substantially under threat. The alternative to a rules-based system is the survival of the strongest, and that will have the biggest impact on the poorest countries. This is an area where we can give a lead as a country not only economically, but morally.
May I start by agreeing with the Secretary of State that it is absolutely vital that we keep trade open and recognise the importance of the supply chain, and that it is absolutely essential that we stand against protectionism? We need to do that, because right now there are three main threats to trade. The first is self-evidently from the covid crisis, which the World Trade Organisation has suggested might cause a fall in global trade of something in the order of 13% to 32%. That is a substantial reduction, no matter where on the scale one looks. The second is the impact of Brexit. Assessments suggest that the UK could lose a substantial chunk of its global trade. The third is the more systemic problem that the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the ex-Trade Secretary, was speaking about, which is the continued implementation of new and the continuation of existing trade restriction measures, with tariffs valuing somewhere around $1.6 trillion in force.
I am not confident that those problems will be resolved any time soon, not least because there is as yet no cure for coronavirus and restrictions of one sort or another may well remain in force for some considerable time, because of the highly publicised lack of progress on the Brexit negotiations, and also, sadly, because of the absence of a functioning World Trade Organisation appellate body. This Trade Bill does not address any of those matters, other than perhaps at the margins, by trying to roll over and maintain the trade the UK has with third countries via membership of the EU and thereby minimise the losses from Brexit.
The Bill does do a number of other things, as the Secretary of State set out. It creates procurement obligations arising from membership of the GPA—the agreement on Government procurement; it creates the Trade Remedies Authority; and it gives powers to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to collect and share data. However, it is not without its problems. Let me deal with the powers relating to the devolved Administrations first. The previous Trade Bill, which was under consideration in the previous Parliament, contained provision for regulation-making powers to be available to the UK Government within areas of devolved competence. That Bill also contained a provision that prohibited devolved Administrations from using powers to modify retained direct EU legislation or anything that was retained EU law by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) 2018 Act in ways that would be inconsistent with any modifications made by the UK Government, even in devolved areas. As a result, the Scottish Government could not consent to that, and that view was shared by the Scottish Parliament Finance and Constitution Committee.
That Trade Bill did not complete its passage and fell, and the good news is that those provisions have been removed from this reintroduced Trade Bill. However, there remains no statutory obligation for the UK Government to consult or seek the consent of Scottish Ministers before exercising the powers they have in devolved areas. However, during the partial passage of the previous Trade Bill, the UK Government made a commitment to avoid using the powers in the Bill in devolved areas without consulting and ideally obtaining the consent of Scottish Ministers. The then Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), subsequently restated those commitments in his letter to Ivan McKee, the Scottish Trade Minister, on 18 March, and I hope that the Minister we hear from today will restate these non-legislative commitments.
The Bill is not without its problems, and they do not relate simply to the devolved Administrations. It allows the UK Government to modify retained direct principal EU law, and it appears to me that there are no legislative limits on such modifications. The second problem is the description of an “international trade agreement” in clause 2(2)(b), which states that it may be
“an international agreement that mainly relates to trade, other than a free trade agreement.”
As we know, modern agreements are as much about regulation, standards, conformance, dispute resolution or food safety as they are about quotas and tariffs. Many people will uncomfortable that Ministers can modify existing agreements in the way in which this Bill permits, particularly without scrutiny and consent.
That leads me to the fundamental problem with the Bill. The absence of parliamentary scrutiny and a parliamentary vote on significant changes or modifications, or, indeed, in the future, on new trade deals as may be envisaged by the Government, is a huge problem. Modern democracies need to have full scrutiny of trade agreements, from the scope of the negotiating mandate right through to implementation. That is absent from this Bill, as is any provision for scrutiny other than through the voluntary scrutiny proposed by the Government in the Command Paper published in the previous Parliament, to which I will return briefly at the end of my speech.
These issues also highlight the absence of any formal input into trade deals or significant modification of existing ones by the devolved Administrations—a problem replicated in the membership of the Trade Remedies Authority, where no formal ability exists for the devolved Administrations to propose or nominate a member with expertise in regionally or nationally significant trade.
I shall turn briefly to the Command Paper that was published in 2019 and covered the previous Trade Bill. Does it still apply? Does the commitment to publishing our negotiating objectives and scoping assessments still exist? Even if it does, does the Minister recognise that that still does not give Parliament or the devolved Administrations any role in approving them? Is it still the intention of the UK Government to provide sensitive information to a scrutiny Committee? Would that be the Select Committee on International Trade, which is ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)? If it is, will any papers provided be publishable, or will they be restricted? If they are restricted, that will still leave Members of Parliament, exporting businesses and other interested third parties none the wiser about the Government’s real intentions. I am conscious of the limited time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so let me end simply by saying—
Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bring his remarks to a close. I thank him for his contribution, but we must move on. I am now introducing a time limit of five minutes, and I advise hon. Members who are speaking virtually to have a timing device visible.
Now that we have left the EU, it seems that 20 continuity agreements have been signed with some 48 countries and that a further 20 have been negotiated, so will the Minister confirm whether there are any countries that do not wish to deal with us at the current time? It seems that Canada and Japan are refusing to be rolled over, so to speak, and want to start negotiating from scratch, so should we not now treat these unsigned countries as new FTAs, rather than including them in this EU roll-over package? Does not clause 2 in effect represent a moment of time that has now passed? In that regard, I think we should take this opportunity to recognise the friendly and co-operative attitude of those countries, such as Switzerland, Israel and Georgia, that did sign up before Brexit.
I understand the need for statutory instruments to be used to effect these roll-overs, but will the Minister confirm that, for the most part, they will be transcribed into our laws by the withdrawal Act, and that these SIs are effectively intended to deal with deal variations? The problem that we debated on the Trade Bill two years ago was that the statutory instruments’ scope could be so wide that they could be used as a Henry VIII provision for anything to do with the roll-over countries other than tariffs. Indeed, I cannot see how it is possible that they could not be used as part of a deal to issue visas, say, in return for trade access, or indeed to add on military or intelligence provisions. I believe that this could apply to amendments made to these deals for five years, even after they have been initially concluded. For instance, I do not see that there is any level of deviation from the EU deals with such counties that would necessitate a Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process. This situation led to no little disquiet last time this Bill came around, and the Government eventually came up with amendments that have now only partly been readopted.
When the Bill was debated two years ago, the first change that was made was to make the SIs affirmative. That has been retained, which is welcome. The second change was to have a three-year sunset period, and that has now been changed to five years, which seems unnecessary. The third change was to have reports produced by the Minister before the first SI, setting out all the proposed changes. In practice, this is sensible in that it will assist scrutiny and also provide a framework if there are multiple SIs. The Minister advised me that he was supportive of using reports, but he did not think they needed to be legislated for. Parliament might like to look at that again.
The fourth change was to provide that these reports should be laid 10 sitting days in advance of the first SI. This would allow comment to be made before the SI was laid, which would be more effective from a scrutiny point of view. Ministers have suggested that this procedure will be used to tie up loose ends or legislate for trade-related variations, but they will appreciate that we as legislators need to scrutinise this legislation with an eye on what it could be used for.
When the Trade Bill was debated two years ago, Parliament was promised a new FTA scrutiny regime, yet we have not put that in place, despite trade talks with the US starting. Now that Brexit has happened, the Commons has lost its European standing Committee, which reviewed the EU’s monitoring and negotiation of trade agreements. No equivalent Committee has been formed to replace it, and we have obviously lost the scrutiny previously provided by the EU itself. Keep in mind that the European Parliament’s consent to a new treaty is needed, in a way that does not happen in the UK, where there is no obligation to inform or consult Parliament, no structures for reviewing treaties, and no debate or approval needed prior to signature. There is only the CRAG process to delay ratification, which, in its April 2019 report on scrutiny of treaties, the Lords Constitution Committee described as “anachronistic and inadequate”.
I am not calling for an end to the prerogative power to agree treaties—although we need to appreciate that many pressure groups are—nor am I calling for Parliament to be able to amend draft treaties as the US Senate can, but I am calling for a proper process whereby policy objectives of treaty negotiations are published at the outset and treaty rounds are reported on. If Parliament is not to get a veto, at least CRAG should be reformed. I suggest that should include a new Commons treaty Committee and extending CRAG debates and presentation periods so that they are made more user-friendly. Brexit should involve more UK scrutiny of FTAs, not less.
As we all know, this is a reheated Trade Bill. Sometimes a meal can be all the better for the reheating—it can be better the following day—but sadly, despite all the advice and help that was given on the Trade Bill in the last Parliament, that has not come to be this time. It remains much a dog’s breakfast, with great criticism attached to it and much under-delivery on what is required.
The Bill essentially has two strands to it: the roll-over of free trade agreements and the creation of the TRA. Before we go too far on the roll-over, we almost have to take a step back. If we are indeed looking to roll over EU trade agreements that currently affect us, are we not just admitting that the EU has done quite a good job of arranging trade agreements—so much so that we want to copy them to the letter?
In fact, when we go to copy some of the trade agreements, we find we cannot replicate them. I remember raising in Committee the trade agreement with South Korea, which states that, in the automotive sector, if motor vehicles have 55% local content, the tariff can be exported. Alas, the UK alone cannot do that. The EU can do that—it has a 500 million-odd population and consumers, and the parts come from all parts of its manufacturing base—but the UK cannot take advantage of a rolled-over EU-Korea deal the way it is written at the moment. There are many things lacking at that stage.
On the Trade Remedies Authority, again, much advice has been given about what could happen and what is not happening, and it is a shame that the Government are not listening and refuse to listen to many people. There are many concerns, particularly in the ceramics trade. The TRA was set going on a wing and a prayer. We could have had Brexit long ago, and the reality is that the UK was not prepared. It still is not prepared.
We do not have the scrutiny in place. We do not have the scrutiny that my Committee called for in the last Parliament for the devolved Parliaments, but even if we take a Westminster-centric view of this, we do not have the scrutiny for parliamentarians at Westminster either. Again, the Government have missed the opportunity to get this right, and that is a huge pity. It could have been enshrined in the legislation. It is not enshrined. The opportunity has been missed.
There was an opportunity to avoid the pitfalls of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The European Union and many others have learned that trade negotiations conducted in secret do not get very far and that the population will eventually rebel, as was seen with TTIP. People have learned, but sadly it seems that the UK Government have not learned from that or, indeed, from the passage of their own Bill, which fell at the last parliamentary election, back in December.
NHS procurement should be taken care of. Wearing my constituency hat, a lot of constituents have written to me with concerns about the NHS—about making sure that there are NHS-specific carve-outs, that there is no negative listing affecting the NHS, that there are no standstill clauses, that the NHS is immune from the investor-state dispute settlement possibilities, and that there is no Americanisation of our drug situation in the United Kingdom. Particularly at this point, when the NHS is fighting coronavirus, but at all times in fact, it is incumbent on Parliament and the Government to back the NHS and make sure it is safe and protected.
The Secretary of State mentioned the USA trade deal. We have to take a step back and look at exactly what has been achieved, or the Government have tried to achieve. The USA trade deal will add only about 0.2% to the UK’s GDP, compared with the 6% that will probably be lost after Brexit—about one thirtieth of that. Given that America represents a quarter of the world’s GDP, even a trade deal with every country in the world will not make up the huge gap left by Brexit.
Finally, the Secretary of State began by saying she would do whatever it took to keep Britain trading, as she put it. Surely, at this point, “doing whatever it takes” would include staying away from this disastrously ruinous Brexit, or, at the very least, having the humility to postpone it during the pandemic. This hell-for-leather approach of going for the cliff edge this December is not what business needs at this time, or what the population needs. It is not what any of us needs at this time. If the Government are still too proud to realise that Brexit is a mistake, they should at least delay it, perhaps for one or two centuries.
It is my great privilege to follow my friend and Chair of the International Trade Committee in this incredibly important debate. The Leader of the House said earlier that these proceedings sometimes appear stilted and scripted when done remotely. It is my challenge over the next five minutes to prove him wrong.
In my part of Lancashire, international trade is critical for jobs and prosperity. I am host to fabulous, world-class companies, such as BAE Systems and Westinghouse, the nuclear fuels manufacturer, and smaller companies such as Tangerine Holdings. The Bill is very much about the whole nature of international trade—getting that right and building a framework that will stand the test of time—and that is one reason I support its Second Reading today.
It is also my privilege to serve as one of the Government’s trade envoys. Indeed, the Secretary of State, in her opening remarks, referred to Chile as an example of one of the 48 countries with which a continuity agreement has been put in place. I would say to her that some of my other countries, through the Andean trade continuity agreements, such as Peru and Colombia, also have arrangements to ensure a smooth transition when the UK eventually leaves the EU at the end of this year.
T hat has not happened by chance. Those agreements are in place because of the dedication and hard work of people in the Department, not just in London, but especially in post. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women, many of whom are nationals of the countries they represent, who work tirelessly and understand the nature of their countries in a way that is sometimes difficult to comprehend from London. Their dedication and hard work have got us to where we are today. That sometimes gets missed.
We also have to recognise that the Trade Bill is only part of the picture. Measures such as the many double taxation agreements—there is one in place with one of my countries, Colombia—are really important to ensuring a smooth transition and the financial flows that will come from trade. The Government have been working very hard on that in the last couple of years, but there is still more work to be done in other key markets across the globe.
There has been much fixation in recent years on trade deals, but they are only part of the picture; much of this is about a smooth transition from the EU arrangements to what comes next. If we are unable in this House to demonstrate to our key countries and partners across the globe that we can pass a piece of legislation, why on earth should we be asking our officials and trade envoys to make representations to senators and presidents to get agreements in place so that when we leave we can have that smooth transition? I therefore urge the House to get behind the Bill and to give it a Second Reading unamended.
I would like to take this opportunity, however, to challenge the Government on how we plan to use some of the data-collection powers in the Bill. For example, I would like to see some of the data sharing in HMRC to be used to reshape and rescope bodies such as UK Export Finance, because in all of my key markets we only ever reach a tiny percentage of the credit facilities that we say are available. Given that London is the global capital of fancy credit mechanisms, I urge the Minister—it is great to see him in his rightful place—to use some of the expertise in the City and to challenge whether UK Export Finance needs to be given the opportunity to evolve in order to take advantage of some of the real opportunities that are out there.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have followed your example and set a timer, so in my closing seconds let me just say that free trade is important, not just as a sign of national prestige, but because it creates jobs and generates the wealth to pay for public services at home and, more importantly, abroad. At a time of rising unemployment, my goodness, we need free trade more than ever, so I will be supporting this Bill in its passage through Parliament.
According to research from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Growth Lab, British exports have been declining, concentrating into a smaller number of products and acting as a drag on our economic growth. Remarkably, in the past decade the UK has added only two new export products, and, perhaps embarrassingly, our main new export has been bovine, sheep and goat fat. I declare my interest as an amateur vegan, but I suggest that an economy that is as complex and capable as ours really ought to have done better.
We know that economic growth can be driven by export diversification, but to do that we need an active industrial strategy that works with the market to make clear what we actually want to achieve while investing in workers with the skills to do it. Some colleagues will say, “Ah, but it was the European Union’s job, and now that we are taking back control, it will be much better and the Bill will help us do that.” I would respectfully compare the UK’s record to, for example, that of France, which is, of course, a member of the European Union. During the same timeframe in which the UK majored on bovine, sheep and goat fats, and added around $2 per capita, with a total UK market of $104 million, France has managed to add 10 new projects, creating a new $1.9 billion market and growing GDP per capita by $28. It has therefore been a question of intent and ability, not a question of power.
Based on current capacity, the UK has a pretty good spread of manufacturing capabilities, from chemicals and machinery to automotive, gas turbines and aerospace, but the bulk of our goods-based growth has come from aerospace and automotive, whose capacity relies on European supply chains. Based on current Brexit negotiations, those supply chains are at risk, as well as under added pressure from the pandemic. The Government have largely relied on services-based growth in our economy, which of course is an important part of what we do as a country, but they took their eye off the ball in respect of British manufacturing, resulting in a weaker and more exposed market for goods, exports and economic growth.
That is the context for this Bill, because the questions that we are considering today have been with us in one form or another for the past four years. Most of the provisions in front of us today first came before the House a few months after I was elected in 2017. By any measure, this legislation has taken too long. The priorities given force in the Bill, and which even now run through all the arguments on trade made by those on the Treasury Bench, are the same arguments we have heard over the period of trading inadequacy that I have just set out. The economy is in recession and we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-century collapse in output. The key test is whether the Government are committed to bringing back British manufacturing as a core component of the British economy.
In closing, I would like to ask the Minister to answer a number of questions when summing up the debate. First, will he set out for the House whether Parliament will be given the right to full and transparent scrutiny of the trade negotiations, and confirm whether that will be by a new or existing Committee of this House? As a former member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I note that we had such a function when the European Union was negotiating trade deals, but that does not seem to be replicated in the Bill.
Secondly, local government leaders are in the process of setting out recovery plans post pandemic. What conversations is the Department having with city leaders to ensure that those leaders on the ground have input into decisions made in Whitehall?
Thirdly, Ministers have long said, whether in Brexit or trade debates, that the Government will stand by their commitment to human rights, workers’ rights and environmental protections, but this Bill does not mention climate change or workers’ rights at all. Britain has an opportunity to set the global expectation on these issues. I would like to understand why the Government have not included such provisions. There is a significant opportunity to couple climate diplomacy with export opportunities as we work to help other countries to transition to net zero. I hope the Minister will confirm that these opportunities are also being considered by the Department.
As an anti-modern slavery champion for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I have seen first hand the risks of global supply chains that do not have adequate protections and transparency built in. No work or business in the UK wants to be associated with illegal trafficking and exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. I hope the Minister can set out how the Government intend to ensure that these protections are included in all future trade deals.
You do not need to pay to trade: I welcome the policy behind this legislation and the Bill itself, which makes it very clear that the United Kingdom wishes to be a positive trade partner with as many countries around the world as would like a free trade agreement with us. This Bill ensures that we can carry across the FTAs that the EU has with a range of countries that naturally fall to transit to us as well as to it. Many of us were told that we were wrong when we argued that during the referendum and afterwards, but the Government have proved us right in that of course those countries wish to roll over those agreements. In one or two cases, they wish to go considerably further than the agreements we already have. I welcome the Government’s positive response to that to see what more can be added so that we can have a better deal as we leave the European Union than we had when we were in it.
We must see the policy background to this Bill as including the most important letter written this week by our trade negotiator to Mr Barnier about the parallel negotiations for a possible UK-EU free trade agreement. It is an admirably lucid letter which makes it very clear that, just as in this Bill, we are not sacrificing our fish, offering special payments or agreeing to accept the laws of other countries in order to create a free trade agreement with them, and neither should we do so in the case of the European Union. We voted very clearly to leave the single market and to leave the customs union. Many of us who voted that way strongly believed then, and believe even more so today, that we want a free trade-based agreement with the European Union if that is also its wish, but we would rather trade with it under WTO rules and the excellent new tariff we have set out for external trade if it wishes instead to claim that we need to be some kind of surrogate member taking its laws, paying its bills and accepting many of its views on matters like our fish resources.
It is more likely that we will get a free trade agreement from a reluctant European Union just before the deadline at the end of the year if we have made great progress in negotiating free trade deals elsewhere. That is why the Government are absolutely right to respond very positively to the United States of America, to Japan, to Australia, to New Zealand and to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In each of those cases, the counter-party is very willing. In each of those cases, there are precedents for good agreements between other parts of the world and those countries, and we can build on those and our own models for a positive free trade arrangement.
The EU will see how relatively easy it is to make such progress with those countries we have agreements with. When we were in the EU, the EU had not got round to having agreements with some of those countries—big countries such as the United States of America. When we are outside the EU, that will make the EU even keener to want to have a free trade agreement with us. Rather reluctantly, it will have to admit that it has been making a mistake over these past years in trying to make our exit so protracted and so difficult, and claiming that you do need to pay for trade.
I will vote for the Bill as vindication that, of course, many countries wish to trade with us on as free a basis as possible. I will vote for it as part of a much bigger package of a free trade loving United Kingdom driving a free trade agenda around the world. I will vote for it because it sends a clear message to the European Union that it is negotiating in the wrong way and running the danger of ending up without a free trade agreement that is rather more in its interests than ours, given the asymmetry of our trade.
Free trade is a good way to promote prosperity. It is even more vital now we need to recover our economies from the covid-19 crisis. I urge the EU to understand that and to co-operate sensibly, just as I give the Government full support to press ahead in negotiating deals with all those great countries and regions of the world that think Britain is a hugely important future partner, and where we see fast-growing trade that can enrich both sides.
Several of my hon. Friends have made the point that current parliamentary procedure is totally inadequate if we are to scrutinise properly and have proper parliamentary oversight of trade deals negotiated by the Government. We are, of course, supportive of mechanisms that will enable the UK to transition from being a member of the EU so that we can enter into our own trade agreements and into international trade conventions through organisations such as the WTO. This Bill, however, does nothing to promote transparency or that proper scrutiny that this House and the country deserve. Therefore, I, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will not support the Bill.
The fact that the Bill is being pushed through in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic means that the importance that would normally be attached to such legislation is being overlooked. The current life-and-death crisis, which has been exacerbated by this Government’s bad management, is totally overshadowing it. The crisis not only overshadows this Bill, but will overshadow much of the legislation that will pass through this House in the coming weeks and months. In addition, the inevitable negative economic impact of a Brexit cliff edge, following the end of the EU exit transition period, can easily be pinned on the coronavirus crisis.
The Bill will lead to trade deals that will have huge implications for our economy and our global alliances well into the future. At the moment, the current and planned continuity trade talks between the UK and the EU are taking place at the same time as preliminary discussions between the UK and United States. The crisis provides perfect cover from view, so those discussions can happen with little scrutiny by this House and little attention from the media to inform the public.
As much as I would like to see a good trade deal with the EU, I am not one of those arguing for an extension of the transitional period. If I thought that the Government wanted anything that looked like a good trade deal with the EU, an extension would probably be a good idea, but I do not think they do. Many Conservative Back Benchers and some of those on the Government Front Bench do not want a deal with the EU and would be quite happy to throw their lot in with any trade deal with the United States—the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is among them.
If the Conservative party wanted a good EU trade deal, it could have had an agreement with the Labour party last year when we were debating our EU exit, and the path would have been set—but the Government did not want that. Now, of course, in the Government’s proposals for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, they are asking for many of the benefits of EU membership without the costs that that membership brings. Having said that, there will still be a large divorce bill running into billions of euros for the UK to cough up, and the clock is still ticking. My bet is that any agreement on trade with the EU will be a fig leaf to hide the embarrassment of the years of discussion and negotiation.
The elephant in the room is, and always was, the United States and what the current President wants for the future. I ask myself, “Why are there two sets of trade discussions—UK-EU and UK-US—going on at the same time?” The Secretary of State for International Trade may claim that the fact that the discussions with the EU are already under way might give the UK some leverage to get better terms from the US in specific areas but, in a likely no-deal outcome or the fig-leaf agreement that I mentioned earlier, any discussions seem extremely unlikely.
In addition, for the moment, the US under President Trump will probably seek only a preliminary agreement that he can wave around for re-election purposes in November. However, if Trump wins again, he will demand that the UK has minimal trading arrangements with the EU and that the UK conforms with US norms through mutual recognition agreements, replacing EU regulations on goods, services and agricultural products, for example. This Bill is leading the UK down the slippery slope of a Government who are becoming less accountable to Parliament and the people of this country, trade relations that are not in the best interests of the people of this country and an economic future over which we have less and less control.
I wish to speak in support of the Bill, but also to address the importance of scrutiny by Parliament of digital trade provisions in proposed future UK trading agreements. This is a vital and fast-moving sector that is very important to the British economy. Technology touches almost all aspects of our national life, as indeed these proceedings themselves make clear.
One of the most important new trade agreements being negotiated right now is the one with the United States, but we need to make sure that the digital trade provisions of a deal do not impact on other areas of domestic law, in particular our ability to legislate to create new responsibilities for large social media companies to act against harmful content online. The example of the recently negotiated trade deal between the USA, Canada and Mexico, which I understand is the basis for the start of the American approach to negotiations with the UK, shows how the danger can lie in the detail of these agreements.
The agreement states that the signatories shall not
“adopt or maintain measures that treat a supplier or user of an interactive computer service as an information content provider in determining liability for harms related to information stored, processed, transmitted, distributed, or made available by the service, except to the extent the supplier or user has, in whole or in part, created, or developed the information.”
What that means, in short, is that while a social media platform can be used to disseminate harmful content, and indeed the algorithms of that platform could be used to promote it, the liability lies solely with the person who created that content, and it could be impossible to identify that person, except perhaps through data held by the social media platform they have used. In this context, the harmful content being shared on social media could include a wide range of dangerous material from content that promotes fraud, violent conduct, self-harm, cyber-bullying or unlawful interference in elections. This provision was included in the US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement, despite opposition from prominent members of the United States Congress, including the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senators Mark Warner and Ted Cruz.
The provision is based on the provisions in US law known as section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act. Section 230 provides broad unconditional immunity to internet platforms from civil liability for unlawful third-party content they distribute. This sweeping immunity gives internet-based entities an unnecessary and unfair commercial advantage over various law-abiding bricks-and-mortar businesses and content creators. Section 230 immunity is unconditional. The platform can even be designed to attract illegal or harmful content, to know about that illegal or harmful content, have a role in generating and editing it, actively increase its reach and refuse to do anything about it, profit from it and help hide the identity of third-party lawbreakers, and still not be civilly liable.
The grant of immunity for online services under section 230 was supposed to be in exchange for the act of voluntary filtering in a proactive and effective way, yet we all know that there are constant complaints about the failure of major tech companies to act as swiftly as we would like to see against content that could cause harm to others. If such a provision were required in the UK-US trade agreement, it would severely limit our ability to tackle online harms, as we would be prevented from creating legal liabilities, or to tackle companies failing in their duty of care to act against harmful content.
This prompts the question whether international trade agreements should be used to fix such important matters of domestic policy. There is growing cross-party consensus on that point in the US Congress as well. In the UK, these should always be matters on which Parliament has the last word. Indeed, in America, those who have advocated the inclusion of section 230 provisions in trade agreements, do so knowing that they will make it harder for them to be removed in US law itself. The Secretary of State for International Trade has assured me that the Government will not accept trade agreements that would limit the scope of Parliament to legislate to create responsibilities to act against harmful content online. I agree with her that that should be our priority, but we need to understand that that will require a different approach to the negotiations on digital trade from that which was followed by Canada with America. We should not include the provisions based on section 230 in a UK-US trade agreement.
Having trade agreements for digital services, data and technology with other major markets around the world is greatly in our national interest, but we need to make sure that they give us the freedom to act against known harms and the freedom to enforce standards designed to protect the public interest, just as we would seek to do in any other industry.
It is a great privilege to take part in this debate. This Bill and this policy area will be one of the most important for my rural constituency of Montgomeryshire. Trade with the outside world and continuing trade with the EU is incredibly important to my agricultural community, as it is to other services and to manufacturing goods.
At the outset, I would like to welcome the 20 continuity trade agreements we have already rolled over. I would very much welcome an update from the Minister on the remaining, with an honest assessment of trade treaties, perhaps with Canada and other countries. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to David Frost, Sir Tim Barrow and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in Brussels for their continuing work. People talk about a lack of scrutiny, but it took me less than 20 seconds to check the update on that particular treaty, check the draft legal texts that are published on the website and read the most recent correspondence from David Frost to his counterparts. I cannot see a treaty being dealt with in so much light as that one currently is.
I want to focus my contribution on agriculture under the scope of the Bill and on trade policy going forward. We have not done trade policy directly as a Parliament, as a Government or as a country for some 40 years. We devolved or evolved or passed that power over to the European Union. Any Member or person in the United Kingdom who wants to hold up the European Union as a body one would want to replicate in terms of scrutiny obviously has not been participating in public discourse over the past five years.
I welcome much of what is in the Bill, but I seek reassurances on agriculture in particular. We produce high quality produce in this country and we are proud of our exports. We are proud of what our farmers are doing in the current covid-19 crisis to supply our domestic suppliers. I think public discourse on food supply is changing. Public discourse is changing on the robustness and the resilience of our supply networks. We have seen first-hand, through the work of the International Trade Committee, what has happened to some trade deals when national Governments have looked at their domestic supplies of pharmaceuticals and food stuffs during this crisis. We need to be very mindful of that as we put new trade deals in place.
Trade is vital for carcase balancing, the ability to sell cuts that the UK market does not want, and for dealing with demand shocks and seasonal issues. Trade is hugely important to my farmers, but I feel that because this subject has been dealt with in the European Union over the past 40 years there is a lot of misinformation. There is not a great deal of clarity on trade policy or how trade deals are put together. I implore the Minister and the Government to put in place some kind of communication package to explain what it means now that we have these important powers and what it means to be negotiating with the world as UK plc.
Last week there was a conflation of import standards with domestic standards and tariffs. It was hugely complicated and hugely frustrating to deal with that conflation of information. In a domestic Bill dealing with import standards, and sanitary and phytosanitary issues on top of that, we need to be clear with our constituents and our businesses what standards we are talking about and what impact the deals will have on our agricultural communities. I implore the Minister not just to engage with the farming unions—the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the NFU Cymru in my case; and I know the Minister has been on Zoom with them this week—but to build a relationship directly with farming communities, too. The unions of course conduct a great political campaign to promote their members’ views, but we need to engage directly. The unions of course conduct a great political campaign to promote their members’ views, but we need to engage directly.
We must maintain our import standards. I very much welcome the Minister’s public commitments, made at the Dispatch Box, to maintain the bans on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. We must be clear that those import standards are staying and that we have the back of the agricultural community in this country. While we look at the resilience of our supply chains and the great opportunities that new trade deals with the outside world present, we must reassure and earn trust. Minister, I have to report back that, in the agricultural community, mainly because of misinformation and miscommunication, we are looking to you to earn that trust and make us some great deals.
The Trade Bill is a bad Bill. It is bad because it fails to establish a proper framework whereby Parliament can scrutinise, ratify and implement all future international trade treaties; because it creates one of the weakest trade remedy authorities in the world, and because it pretends that it is necessary to roll over our existing agreements with third countries through the EU. So necessary is the measure that the Minister will have great difficulty when summing up in explaining how the Government have managed to roll over the majority of them before the Bill has passed into law. This is legislative prestidigitation of the highest order. The Government say that they need the Bill to do what they proudly boast they have already succeeded in doing without it. The truth is that the Bill is about the Government’s abrogating to themselves all future power in relation to trade agreements, freed from the inconvenient scrutiny of Parliament.
The procedure for ratifying international agreements is set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRAGA. It stipulates that any treaty need only be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days. If there is no vote against it during that period, it passes into law. But the Government decide Parliament’s business and can simply arrange that no vote takes place. When CRAGA was introduced, a huge number of democratic scrutiny processes were in place through the European Union. There was the European Council’s negotiation mandate and formal consultation procedures. The Committee on International Trade—the INTA Committee —scrutinised treaties before passing them to the European Parliament to vote on. Treaties then came to the European Scrutiny Committee in the Commons for further examination before the CRAGA process ratified them. Under the Bill, all that is left is the rubber stamp of CRAGA. All other layers are gone. The Bill should try to replace those layers. It cannot be right that there is no democratic oversight whatsoever of trade agreements.
Members of Parliament may disagree about whether an agreement will benefit jobs or adequately protect standards, but they should have at least the right to debate those matters and hold the Government to account. The Bill denies us that right. This is not Parliament taking back control, but Government snatching it from Parliament. That is why I believe the Bill is dangerous.
Let me remind Conservative Members of what they claimed to be fighting for at the last general election. They said that sovereignty meant not accepting the rulings of supranational courts such as the European Court of Justice. Do they therefore agree with us that the use of investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms in future trade agreements should be ruled out in any form? They give higher rights to foreign investors than to our own domestic companies, allowing them to sue our Government in private courts for policy decisions that have an impact on their potential profits. So much for gaining freedom from a supranational court.
Conservative Members said that Britain had to be free to chart its own future in the world. Do they therefore agree that negative lists of services should be banned? It is impossible to specify in a list a service that has not yet been invented. The negative list process would stop the UK Government making a decision about how such services should be provided in future. So much for making our own way in the world.
Conservative Members said that they would safeguard our domestic environmental protections, food safety regulations and animal welfare laws, but simply keeping our regulations for our farmers here does not protect them in a free trade agreement. Allowing the importation of goods produced elsewhere to lower standards will undermine our producers and lead to a race to the bottom—so much for safeguarding our food and welfare standards.
The Government said they would not sell off the NHS, and of course they cannot. The NHS is not an entity that can be sold, but free trade agreements can contain an innocuous-sounding provision about the restructuring of pharmaceutical pricing models. That is the way to undermine the health service—by downgrading our bulk purchasing power against big pharma companies. So much for the NHS being “safe” in their hands.
Finally, does it follow that if this Bill is enacted, by necessity we will end up with all these measures? No, it does not. It does mean, however, that if they exist in any proposed FDA, Parliament will have no means of stopping that. This debate is about more than trade; it is about the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive. It is about the sovereignty of Parliament—something that every Tory who will vote for this obnoxious Bill swore in their manifesto to defend.
I am afraid we cannot hear Richard Graham at the moment, so I will now call Robert Courts.
It is an honour to speak in this debate and to participate in the detail of the Bill with my colleagues from the International Trade Committee. I am pleased that so many of them are taking part in this debate. Free and open trade has created the world in which we live—a world that is open, prosperous, and inventive. One of the greatest prizes to be seized by any Government is the ability to carry out an independent trade policy, which is what we are doing today.
Why does trade matter in the first place? It is pretty straightforward. Exporters and their supply chains are responsible for millions of jobs in the UK. Countries whose economies are open have higher productivity, because of competitive pressures and greater specialisation. Analysis by the Department for International Trade suggests that businesses that export goods are around 21% more productive than their non-exporting counterparts. Those exporters provide a larger proportion of UK manufacturing and labour productivity growth.
However, we can do so much better that we currently do. That same survey data suggests that 250,000 to 350,000 UK businesses have tradeable goods and services, but do not currently trade internationally. When we couple that with the undoubted, unquestionable benefit of the UK brand, which has fans from North America to China and everywhere in between, this is an opportunity for each and every one of us throughout the country. When we consider the potential benefits of a US trade deal alone, and the possibility of bilateral trade increasing by more than £15 billion, increasing wages by £1.8 billion and benefiting every area of the country, we see the extraordinary prize that lies before us. All that is before we even start to consider the exponential growth that is likely to come from the developing world in the next 10 to 20 years.
It is foolish to see trade as some game of numbers that is reduced to statistics. People have traded together since one cave dweller traded food for tools in the dim and distant past, and what trade starts, friendships continue. Whether it was Bastiat, or someone else, who said that when goods do not trek across borders, soldiers will, the essence of that remains true, as is its flipside. Trade helps people to understand each other and get to know something of the way that other societies work. That must be delivered through an independent trade policy—one that applies our priorities to our country, and does not let somebody else’s priorities be applied for us.
Those who say that the Bill does not make provision for high standards must know that this is not the place for that; this Bill sets the framework for the conversations that are to come. In any event, the Government have been crystal clear about our ambitions for the future. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on 3 February,
“we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards… We are not leaving the EU to undermine European standards. We will not engage in any kind of dumping, whether commercial, social or environmental.”
However, having high standards is not the same thing as letting others set them for us, or seeking to control the way that others regulate their industries. If, in any event, we want to set trade defences, barriers or tariffs, we will need the Trade Remedies Authority that is set out in the Bill.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that those who object to the Bill as it stands are those who object to free trade in general and wish to cling to the old-fashioned protectionist agenda that was defeated in this country more than 100 years ago. Protectionism will always have an appeal for those who wish to protect vested interests, but we should be clear: history makes it clear that protectionism leaves everybody the poorer, and the poorest worse of all. That is all the clearer when we look at the impact of the current crisis. Exporters and their supply chains are responsible for millions of jobs in the UK. With unemployment rising during the crisis, job creation with exporters afterwards will be more important than ever, and we must have the flexibility to make our own measures for our own markets. Only by having that flexibility can we ensure that Britain’s economy is successfully refreshed.
As we look to ensure that we have what we need to protect us for the future—PPE, medicines and other things —it is natural to wish to turn inwards, to protect we have and to keep more for ourselves, and to ensure that we in our island can look after ourselves. In some ways, that is an understandable impulse, but not in the area of trade. Not only is it morally wrong to retreat behind a protectionist barrier wall by which the developing world is excluded—we would pay the consequences for that behaviour in any event—but it is against our own interests. We cannot make everything ourselves and we cannot make everything well. We should concentrate on what we are good at—high-tech industries, for example—and look elsewhere at where others can better help us and we can help them, too.
It is keeping open global trade routes that has enabled us to be fed, to buy PPE and to secure essential medication from all across the globe. Free trade is not just an economic opportunity, but the openness of the system itself provides a vital defence. We must seek to diversify our supply chains, because in that way we can improve our resilience to withstand future challenges and ensure that we reduce our reliance on countries—
Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech, but we have to move on now to Paul Girvan—[Interruption.] We will come back to Paul Girvan, and will move on to Marco Longhi.
The Trade Bill we are discussing today is a framework that allows us to continue to trade as a nation state with those countries who already have a trade agreement with the EU. It enables UK service providers to seek out business in Government procurement markets worth £1.3 trillion, and reshores from the EU those protections available under WTO rules to support British business against unfair trading activities under the new trade remedies authority.
Why is that important? It means that we will harpoon yet again the ill cited arguments that we will crash out and fall off a cliff edge through Brexit. It means that we can seek out new business, and it means that we can finally take effective action ourselves against rogue nations who do not respect international trading conventions. Let us remind ourselves of the EU’s impotence when China dumped its excess steel on our markets, and the jobs it cost us here in the UK.
It is an undisputed fact that open markets and free trade generate wealth and our new-found and hard-won ability to seek out new markets will grow our economy. Covid-19 has brought about a global tendency towards protectionism, which we know has the opposite effect. We must not be drawn into this trap at any cost, as we shall be poorer for it. However, what covid-19 has shown is that for all their rhetoric, the EU’s institutions fail to respond effectively, if at all, and its constituent members immediately behaved as a collection of nation states. They offered a shallow apology to the Italian people for leaving them to their own devices while protecting their own. I must ask, was that not entirely predictable? That begs the question of how, as a nation at this historic junction, we consider the strategic implications of a future crisis. Should we be more self-reliant in key areas such as energy, food and medicines? Many large corporates are now reshoring as they understand the total cost of outsourced activities, including problems with quality control, the cost of unreliable supply chains and the carbon footprint of products, just to name a few. That is why I was delighted to hear about our investment to produce 70 million masks in the UK and create around 450 jobs at the same time. It is about taking a risk-based approach and understanding the total cost-benefit arguments of decisions that we take in the key areas that affect our national resilience.
Globalisation is here to stay. As we harness the great opportunities presented to us by Brexit and FTAs, our biggest challenge is how we do so. The area that I represent in Dudley and the many areas that my new colleagues represent have not always benefited. Globalisation has seen benefits, but also a race to the bottom with a low-wage economy in traditional manufacturing and the loss of jobs in the sector. Buying a pair of boots for a few pounds less is not a huge benefit if there is not a job to go to.
Analysis shows that there are between 250,000 and 350,000 businesses that currently do not export but could. My plea is that we target those businesses, with a special focus on those in the midlands, with determination, enthusiasm and strategic focus, and at real pace, so that we can add value and bring new jobs to these areas while we also minimise the devastating impact of covid-19 on local economies and people’s lives.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and to have an opportunity to talk about the Bill, which is a road map to the UK and Northern Ireland’s future trading relationship with the rest of the world. It is important that we uphold and protect the good standards that we have set.
The Bill is focused on five main areas: procurement and the GPA; trade agreements; the formation of a trade remedies authority; information collecting, mainly in respect of HMRC; and data sharing. I want to focus mainly on what will affect Northern Ireland, which has a large proportion of exports, with 17% of all Northern Ireland sales going out of the country—sales worth £6.2 billion in 2018-19.
Two of our main sectors are machinery and transport: machinery makes up £3.2 billion of our total, and food, agriculture and the export of live animals make up £1.5 billion. I agree with the comments by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) about agri-food, which we have to protect. We must ensure that we maintain the standards that have been fought for and achieved, and that we implement them as much as we can in any future agreements. We have a fantastic farming and agri-food industry in Northern Ireland. We have fought hard to ensure that our industry is sustainable, and we want to ensure that it is there for the future.
The pharmaceutical industry plays a big role in Northern Ireland. In my constituency we have Randox, and elsewhere in Northern Ireland we have Almac and Norbrook Laboratories. All are working hard during this covid-19 crisis. They have an offer to the rest of the world that we have to maintain.
We have a great wealth of talent in our tech industry. It was recently announced that 65 jobs are to be created in Northern Ireland at the American firm Cygilant. We have to ensure that we have opportunities to uphold. I am a free marketeer, but I do believe that we have to protect those industries that are currently struggling and make sure that they have every opportunity to be included in trade deals.
The previous Bill fell in 2019 as a result of the Westminster election. As we did not have a Northern Ireland Assembly in place at that stage, we had no input from the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to what should or should not be included in that Bill. We have an opportunity to ensure that all areas of the United Kingdom are represented on the new body, the TRA, that will be set up. All regions of the United Kingdom and the devolved areas should be represented on it. I am asking for an assurance that when deals are put forward, they apply in full to Northern Ireland, are fully accessible to businesses and trade from Northern Ireland and will be for the benefit of all. This Bill is an opportunity for us to take back trade certainty and to take back control within our own Parliament and we will support it. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate this afternoon.
We can now go back to Richard Graham.
I hope you can hear me better this time, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to join this debate.
As our debate across the country widens gradually from how to protect our citizens’ health to how to protect their jobs, this Trade Bill is important. Some 30% of our GDP comes directly from our exports, and they in turn generate many of the jobs of all of our constituents. This is especially true in high-value manufacturing and engineering, cyber and services, in all of which there are some great examples clustered around my constituency of Gloucester.
This Bill, which provides the infrastructure for our own trading agreements with the Government procurement and the Trade Remedies Agency, is part of our plan to put our exporters in a position not just to recover but to grow again. Alongside the talks with the EU being handled through the Cabinet Office, and those by the Department of International Trade with the US, Australasia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this Bill highlights some of the Government’s strategy to take this forward.
I support all the goals mentioned in the Bill, but at the same time we should be honest about the risks. Global trade is currently in decline. Nationalism and protectionism are on the rise. The backdrop is not as benign as it was for an overall expansion of our trade, growth of exports and expansion of jobs in exporting businesses. We clearly do need to finish the agreements with our allies, such as Singapore, Canada and Japan, with which agreements did already exist. Trying to negotiate separate agreements with separate teams simultaneously with both the US and the EU is high-wire trade diplomacy. I wish our ministerial teams and all the negotiators all good fortune in taking these forward successfully. I believe that many of these things will go down to the wire, and our teams should play tough. They should stick with the game, and we need their success.
It is also worth highlighting the opportunities from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is an important accession opportunity rather than an FTA. Even though there is some overlap, we should not forget the importance of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. TPP is not a complete substitute for continuing to grow our business with ASEAN in terms both of exports and bilateral investment. The way in which investment from the Philippines, to pick one small example, has turned around the fortunes of the Glaswegian Scottish whisky blender Whyte and Mackay is a strong case in point when it comes to the advantages of inward investment.
May I encourage the Secretary of State, the Minister who in his place and their teams to focus strongly, as we go forward, on the Continent of Asia both for greater market access through economic dialogues, as well as on FTAs and the TPP, recognising that most of its agricultural commodities and handicrafts are completely complementary to rather than competitive with our own output. Our services, for example those providing health insurance for millions across south-east Asia, are hugely beneficial for those countries as well as for our businesses. Ultimately, that is why this Bill is so important: it is an opportunity not only for us but for our trading partners, and we are right to strongly make the case as to why free trade does matter across the world.
I shall now suspend the House until 4.24 pm.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party have put on record our concerns about the concept of upending the trade environment for businesses, particularly while many are in the fight of their lives against covid, as well as our scepticism about the possibility of negotiating this deal in just seven months, given the social distancing and travel restrictions on us all.
We have another few objections to the content of this Bill. The first concerns democratic oversight and the Bill’s failure to uphold basic principles of scrutiny and oversight, including around delegated powers. When Brexit was fought for on the basis of powers for this Parliament, it seems bizarre that MPs would vote to hand those powers to the Government unchecked to allow them to negotiate and sign, with incomplete scrutiny, trade deals that could have a massive effect on many aspects of our lives. Trade is a reserved matter, and this has particular implications for those of us in devolved regions where the powers may very well cut across devolved matters.
Our second objection relates to the protection of the national health service. The Bill fails to provide cover for that, despite numerous invitations to the Government to do so. The Government may say that the national health service is not for sale, but many people feel that actions in the medium and recent past make that unlikely to be true. Many have pointed out that we had applause for the national health service just last Thursday, but on Monday of this week a Bill was introduced that will seriously hamper the ability to provide health and social care services. Leaked papers from last year make very clear—if they were not already—the US’s interests in a trade deal, namely further access to NHS contracts and data. If the Government want people to believe that that will be off limits, they need to legislate specifically for that.
We also have serious concerns about the environmental ramifications of the approach set out in the Bill, which we do not think is compatible with an acknowledgment of our obligations to address climate change and improve resilience. The Bill should be underpinned by binding high environmental standards and non-regression provisions, but it is not. If done badly, these trade deals risk a race to the bottom on environmental protections and standards, as well as labour protections and standards. The fact that the Government rebuffed attempts to introduce standards via the Agriculture Bill will convince many people that the Government are not serious about such protections.
That leads me on to farming. Farmers in Northern Ireland and, I would imagine, elsewhere were dismayed by the Government’s failure to accept reasonable amendments to the Agriculture Bill. That leaves farming and many other sectors facing an uncertain future. That is particularly true for farmers in Northern Ireland—I am sure it is the same in many other regions—who trade and market on the basis of exceptionally high standards. They now fear that they will face competition from products of low and, indeed, unknown standards.
I want to finish with some questions that I hope the Secretary of State will address in her wind-up. One is about the trade arrangements that we currently enjoy with other territories—I think there are 74. How many of those arrangements have been rolled over to date, given that we require them all to be so within a matter of months? Does she anticipate that any countries that have rolled over, or that have indicated a willingness to do so, will seek to renegotiate in the light of the tariff schedule that was published yesterday? Does she acknowledge that every differential between the UK and the EU tariff schedules adds to the list of goods at risk in the Northern Ireland protocol and offers incentives for smuggling? Does she believe that that is yet another unfortunate consequence that people in Northern Ireland have to deal with, despite having rejected Brexit at every turn?
Finally, the Secretary of State has pointed out in the past that Northern Ireland will have UK tariffs applied—and lower, if that is negotiated with partners—but if any future arrangements require changes to regulatory practices and areas that are covered by the Northern Ireland protocol, will those arrangements have a carve-out for Northern Ireland?
It has been almost four years since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. For the majority of that time, my constituents have been wondering what this would mean for them, their families and their businesses. Much has been made of the negatives in the last few years. What might go wrong? What markets are being lost? What standards are being lowered, and so on?
Today, of course, we find ourselves in a state of flux. The year 2020 has taken an unexpected turn and has altered the world in such a way that we are currently not sure what our normal is. Our coastal and rural communities are understandably nervous about what their future will look like. I understand those concerns completely, but the Bill offers a glimpse of life in the future, and for this we must be optimistic. With this Bill, global markets are a step closer to being opened up to Truro and Falmouth, the whole of Cornwall and the entire United Kingdom.
Figures suggest that a free trade agreement with the US, for example, could potentially boost the economy in the south-west by £284 million in the long term. One business in my constituency that might benefit from this is a copywriting agency based in Penrhyn. It works for tech companies around the world, including the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and Salesforce, and around 35% of its business is from overseas. Two of the biggest clients are now based in the US, and it received funding last year from the Department for International Trade to travel to Boston to develop stronger relationships with one of its clients, a global software firm. Another company, also based in Penrhyn, uses precision 3D laser scanners to offer a safe and highly efficient surveying service to a wide range of industries. Founded 10 years ago as a 3D mining surveying company, it has branched out and offers surveying for yachts, vessels and other architectural design, with work being explored in the Balkans and on the African continent. These are just two examples of businesses in my constituency where I hope future open markets will be of greater advantage. There are many such businesses in Cornwall that can springboard once tariffs and red tape are reduced.
To support the dairy industry, food and drink and small businesses, the FTA could allow changes to tariffs for key exports such as dairy, which are currently as high as 25%. It could also see protection and growth for the region’s famous local exports. The south-west already exports £3.7 million-worth of drinks to the US, and a deal could help to build those exports and maintain effective protection for food and drink names to reflect their geographical origins, such as Cornish cider and, of course, Cornish pasties.
Last week, we voted to ensure that the Agriculture Bill moved to the next stage of its progress through Parliament. The House will remember that there were two amendments regarding the protection of food standards. I voted with the Government because I felt that this was not a discussion that should disrupt an otherwise fantastic piece of legislation. However, it is an important issue and one that Cornish farmers and I feel very strongly about.
Many farmers in my constituency are concerned that opening up the markets to imports from the US, in particular, could unfairly disadvantage them. However, managed correctly, I strongly believe that the UK agricultural sector will greatly benefit from a UK-US trade deal. There are clear opportunities for agricultural exports, of course. Currently, the average tariff on Cornish cheese, for example, is around 17%, which means that US consumers must pay more, so our quality produce is often priced out of the market.
However, on the tricky subject of food imports, I believe that the Government need to consider open, clear and obvious labelling—I am a big labelling fan and I am becoming a labelling nerd. I really want to see the Government working with food and agricultural industries to ensure that consumers can really see what they are buying. In my heady days as a new MP, all the way back at the beginning of the year, the Secretary of State made encouraging noises about better labelling, and that, for me, is key. When purchasing fresh meat, we see that our labelling has got much better. I, for one, always look to see that a chicken is free range and British. I am reassured by that, as I know that our free range chickens are, on the whole, happy chickens. However, someone buying a chicken korma ready meal, for example, will see no indication of where that chicken started its life or of whether it was content with its lot.
In closing, we must trust the British people to do the right thing, and we must give them all the information they need to make the correct decisions. Most people want to support British farmers, and reward their hard work and high animal welfare standards. The Government have a responsibility to make that as easy as possible; it is not protectionism—it is trust. It is about trusting our farmers and farming industry to carry on being the best—
Order. The hon. Lady has exceeded her five minutes.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, as it represents a major step forward in the UK’s journey to reclaim its role as the independent, global trading nation we all want it to be, delivering on a pledge I made to my constituents and the Government made to the country. Burnley has been a beneficiary of free trade: our largest employers include Safran Nacelles, of France, and Paradigm Precision, of the United States, and only a few weeks ago, Ultimate Visual Solutions, a local business, worked with the Department for International Trade to secure its first order in Vietnam—I am sure it will be the first of many.
Sadly, however, our area has lost jobs in recent weeks. Lancashire is the fourth largest manufacturing cluster for aerospace in the world, and that is one of the most global of sectors, in terms of both the supply chain and the customers it serves. The sector has been hit hard, and our challenge is to make sure that free and fair trade helps to spur our recovery on, getting the hundreds of thousands of businesses that do not currently export exporting, and generating economic growth and the jobs that go with it. I am committed to doing everything I can to make sure that is the case in Burnley. I was particularly pleased to hear the Secretary of State mention the textiles industry, as anyone who knows Burnley well will know that it was once the centre of global textiles and continues to have a thriving industry, which I know can reclaim that title once again.
For international trade to work, we need to ensure we have a safety mechanism—a way of dealing with those countries that say they trade freely but seek advantage through anti-competitive means. The proposal in this Bill for a Trade Remedies Authority is therefore welcome. That body will need to have the teeth required to deal with subsidies, dumping and any other measures used to distort the market.
As we take this step again towards being an independent, global trading nation, it is right that we also consider why trade is important, and not just why we are supporting it. The simple truth remains that free trade creates free people; it has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other measure, and it continues to drive global economic growth. That is why the UK initially joined what was then the European Economic Community; we saw, and continue to see, the benefits of striking trade relationships with like-minded countries. Having left the EU, it is important for us to look at the agreements struck on our behalf over the past 40 years to identify whether to carry them over. This Bill allows us to do that. I congratulate the Secretary of State and the whole departmental team for the way in which they have done this; 48 of these agreements are ready to be rolled over, securing more than £110 billion-worth of trade.
I have heard some people criticise the way in which the Government are planning to roll over some of the agreements, including the one with Japan, as though trying to be more ambitious, liberalising more trade and securing thousands more jobs in the UK were, in some way, a bad thing. The message from the House in this debate should be clear: the Government have our full support in trying to strike the best trade deals. We should roll them over where we can, where it is in our interests, but we should also build on them where we can, getting the best for Britain, because as we emerge on to the world stage of trade, we should be the leading light. I welcome the Government’s transparency as to where they seek to do that. Last week, we got full sight of the negotiation objectives for the UK-Japanese negotiations, just as we have done in respect of the US ones. The Secretary of State has made herself available to all colleagues on many occasions to discuss the UK-US free trade agreement, and I am sure that similar time will be made available to discuss the Japanese negotiations. Committing to using the affirmative procedure for any secondary legislation required to implement these continuity agreements ensures that there is ample time for debate in both Houses.
We also need to ensure that our trade agreements—those that are getting rolled over and those we negotiate in the future—are fit for the 21st century. Where we can negotiate new deals that allow UK technology companies to operate globally, including through innovative regulatory mechanisms such as the FinTech bridge, we should do so. Chapters on that, along with those on SMEs, will allow our businesses not just in Burnley but beyond to scale up rapidly in the global market, delivering the economy of the future.
I warmly welcome the Bill. It puts the UK back on the global trading map with an independent trade remedies body, and it provides the mechanism needed to roll over and expand existing trade agreements. For that reason, I look forward to voting for the Bill later.
The Liberal Democrats will be voting against the Second Reading of the Trade Bill. It denies the British people the same rights that they enjoyed as members of the European Union, including the right to scrutinise and properly debate the terms on which we will trade with the rest of the world. When we were represented by Members of the European Parliament, we enjoyed that right. Our representatives were required to vote on all draft trade deals before they could be ratified. There is not enough time today to go over the old debate on whether or not the UK is better off as part of a single trading bloc—Members will surely be in no doubt about my own views on that issue—but it is inconsistent to have secured the right for the UK to negotiate its own trade deals, only to promptly shut the British people out of all discussions about them.
What would our constituents wish us to prioritise if they were allowed a say? They would want to know that goods coming into our country were produced to the same quality standards as the domestically produced goods they will compete with; that any food coming from abroad was farmed with sufficient regard to animal welfare; and that consumers were protected from shoddy or unsafe goods. They would want to know that the workers producing those goods in other countries had the same rights as UK workers, and to know that cheaper prices for imported goods were not achieved at the cost of employee welfare. They would also want to resist a race to the bottom by business owners who argue that maintaining employment standards in this country makes them uncompetitive. They would want to know that the UK and our international trade partners were pushing forward towards the goal of achieving net zero carbon, and that we could not accept goods into our domestic market that were produced with environmental standards that where any lower than those of goods produced here.
The Government wish to preserve the Union, but we know that they are happy for part of the United Kingdom to trade under different terms from the other nations to meet their political objectives. What else will this Government trade away if they are left unscrutinised? Our counterparts in trade negotiations will have to have their deals endorsed by their legislatures. The US deal will need to be ratified by Congress. Its negotiators will know what will and will not get through Congress, and they will use that as a negotiating position. We will not have the same negotiating strength, as our counterparts will know that we do not have to defer to Parliament. It will be much easier for the UK to yield than it will be for the US, and how tempting will that be, if the Government prize a quick political win over uninteresting detail that nobody can scrutinise?
The International Trade Secretary is surely aware that the significance of tariff barriers is declining as the significance of non-tariff barriers increases. Those non-tariff barriers can be complex and shifting and require difficult choices. Do we prioritise cheaper goods over the fight against climate change? Do we open up foreign markets to our exports at the risk of bolstering a regime that does not respect human rights? These questions should be debated on the Floor of the House so that the public have a full understanding of the decisions that are being made on their behalf.
This country is a very different place from the one that last negotiated its own trade agreements. We have a far wider range of consumer goods available to us, and many of us have sufficient income to be able to make discerning choices about which ones we will purchase. We are better informed than we ever were, and we use that information to guide our buying choices. Consumers are using their buying power to demand and achieve significant improvements in the ethical and environmental production of the goods they purchase. Why should the British people not being able to influence how that same power is exercised on their behalf on a national basis in the global marketplace?
To oppose the Bill is not to endorse protectionism, as some Members on the Government Benches have implied. It is simply to state that the Bill does not seek to realise fully all the opportunities that building our own trade policy represents. It robs the British people of rights they have enjoyed for 50 years and it weakens our negotiating position on future trade deals.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Over the past three months, our primary focus has been coronavirus and the challenge we face on a national and local level. It is right that we have spent a huge amount of time, effort and focus on coronavirus. At the same time, if we do not prepare as parliamentarians for the future beyond coronavirus, whenever that terrible disease eventually moves on, and if we do not spend time thinking through how we reshape the world and take advantage of the opportunities that will come, we are not doing our jobs adequately.
One of the big jobs is ensuring that we have the right foreign policy, trade policy and international trade policy. That is why I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill. I do not share the criticisms from Members that we are not giving the Bill adequate scrutiny or that now is not the time to make these decisions. I do not claim to be an expert in international trade, but in some ways, we do not need to be experts in international trade to welcome a Bill that, at its heart, perpetuates the principle that I hope most people in this place stand for: free trade.
Free trade is one of those principles and ideologies that is not much talked about other than as a negative, but actually, it has significantly improved our lot domestically over many centuries. Vitally, it has also improved the lot of so many people across the world, ensuring that so many people are lifted out of poverty and giving us so many opportunities. Yet Members on the Opposition Benches focus on the challenges or disadvantages of it.
We as parliamentarians suffer the quagmire—the fog—of special interest groups, who are perpetually rent-seeking when it comes to these Bills. We suffer the white noise of groups such as 38 Degrees who seek to spam us in ways that misinterpret and offer misinformation about the reality of what we are trying to do.
It is free trade that has partly been responsible for the reduction in absolute poverty by more than half since 1990. It is free trade that contributed to the magnificent growth of economies around the world, such as those in South Korea and Germany, out of the ruins of war 50 or 60 years ago. We should stand up for the opportunities that free trade offers.
This is not a paean to free trade on just a principled or conceptual basis. Free trade presents demonstrable opportunities for people in my constituency and constituencies across the country. It supports jobs in places like Clay Cross, where people go to work every day in highly skilled factories to export goods across the world. It supports entrepreneurs who see new opportunities and new markets around the world for their ideas, so that they can grow their businesses in places like Dronfield and Eckington. Bluntly, it supports us all in our old age, because we put money into pensions that grow by investing in companies that use free trade to satisfy demand, move goods around the world and ensure that, ultimately, people get the things they need. I do not just support free trade from a principled perspective; I support it because it helps North East Derbyshire and every single other constituency in this country.
We also need to support free trade and Bills such as this because of the opportunities that will come in the next few decades. We will have to get over the challenges caused by coronavirus in the next few years. Opening up markets, seeking to obtain deals across the world and seeking to roll over, as the Bill does, existing deals and enhance them where possible are exactly the kind of opportunities we need to take as we rebuild our country after the grave difficulties that were so unexpected in the last three months or so.
Free trade does not mean a free-for-all. It means the opportunity to build fair and equitable trade for all of us. Ultimately, free trade and the legislative framework that supports it give us and our constituents the opportunity to build better lives and to offer that to people across the world. It is something I celebrate, and I hope that the majority of people in this House do the same.
There is a great deal of public concern about the Bill before us today, because it fails to provide for effective parliamentary scrutiny in future trade agreements. In effect, the Government will have free rein to do what they like in signing trade agreements with countries around the world, including countries that do not have the same level of environmental protections, food safety and animal welfare regulations that we currently have. Free trade agreements can have an impact on our labour standards, and on the ability of our public services to operate in the public sector. That has profound implications for the quality of all our lives, and for our democracy.
Before the current covid-19 crisis, large sections of the public had become aware of the privatisation of the national health service which has been going on under this and previous Conservative Governments. The Bill fails to protect the future of the NHS, since it does nothing to prevent trade deals from being done behind closed doors without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012, introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government, brought in complex changes, undermining our national health service as a public service delivered by public sector employees. The abolition of the student nurse bursary seemed designed to erode further the public sector ethos of our NHS. Yet, despite this onslaught from the Government, today we see doctors, nurses and other NHS workers putting their all into serving all of us as our country goes through the most terrible of public health emergencies. It is humbling and we owe them an immense debt of gratitude for their outstanding dedication. In this context, it is all the more important that those of us in Parliament and in this place stand up for the NHS and fight to protect it. I believe that the Bill fails to protect the future of our national health service.
The British Medical Association has been quite clear that the Bill should stipulate that the health and social care sectors are excluded from the scope of all future trade agreements to ensure that the NHS can be publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable. It is also quite clear that the Bill should rule out investor protection and dispute resolution mechanisms, to ensure that foreign private companies cannot sue the UK Government for legitimate public procurement and regulatory decisions, and that protections should be included in the Bill to ensure that NHS price control mechanisms are maintained so that patients have access to essential and life-changing medicines.
I am very concerned that, while our fantastic NHS workers are doing everything they can to tackle covid-19 and provide care and support to anyone who needs it, the Government are seeking to pass a Bill that does nothing to enable elected representatives meaningfully to scrutinise trade deals to protect the NHS. The Trade Justice Movement has said:
“The current processes are fundamentally undemocratic: Parliament has no guaranteed say on trade deals, and the government is not required to be transparent before or during trade negotiations.”
At the last general election, the Conservative party manifesto promised:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Yet, the National Farmers Union has highlighted the absence of any provisions to safeguard the high farming production standards in the context of the international trade negotiations. Compassion in World Farming has quite rightly said that any new trade agreements must not undermine UK standards for animal welfare, food safety or environmental protections, and that they must protect UK farmers from imports produced to standards lower than those in the UK.
During the transition period following the UK’s exit from the European Union, trade remedies are dealt with by the EU. At the end of the transition period, we need our own trade remedies authority to investigate alleged unfair practices. However, the new trade remedies authority provided for in the Bill lacks the independence, parliamentary oversight and accountability needed 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. There is no provision for ensuring a voice on the trade remedies authority for industry bodies or trade unions, and there is no proposed mechanism for their ongoing consultation on trade practices affecting the competitiveness of UK industries or the employment of workers therein.
To conclude, the Bill fails to make provision for meaningful and effective parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and gives the Government immense powers to turn back the clock on safety standards in the food we eat, the products we buy, our employment rights and the way in which public services are delivered. It threatens the future of the NHS by leaving it exposed to greatly increased privatisation—
Order. The hon. Lady has exceeded her five-minute limit.
This is an important Bill for global Britain, and important too for our local manufacturers, not least in Stoke-on-Trent. As a passionate supporter of free trade, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not only as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central—an urban constituency with many excellent exporting businesses—but as a former small business owner who traded with many nations and sold products internationally for UK markets.
Covid-19 is having a profound effect on world trade. We will not know the full impact for some time, but we do know that free and fair trade—the global movement of goods and materials—has been key to fighting this terrible virus. We all expect a vaccine, regardless of where it is first successfully developed, to be shared with the global community. Crucially, flexibility, wherever possible, is being demonstrated in the most extraordinarily creative ways by our domestic producers. After the pandemic, we will be able to embrace in full the exciting opportunity of free and fair trade.
Fair trade means rules-based trade. I welcome and am encouraged by the willingness of the Department to retain trade remedies against the outrageous practice of dumping, particularly of ceramic wares and especially by China. It is precisely because our manufacturers are not competing on a level, rules-based playing field that we need to keep tariffs on many ceramic goods. Our producers do not expect special favours, but they do expect safeguards against special favours being granted elsewhere.
Free trade can lead to fierce competition, but this should not necessarily be regarded as negative. Under normal circumstances, world-class firms like Portmeirion, Wade Ceramics and Emma Bridgewater in my constituency are more than up to the challenge of producing the very best products in the global market, leading consumer trends, creating sales opportunities, and attracting investment. Indeed, in much of the quality ceramics markets globally, we are the fierce competition. The prospect of a trade deal with America that feeds the huge US demand for British ceramics is a real and positive one. I know that both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the US ambassador are particularly keen to seize the opportunity of feeding the US appetite for British ceramics.
But we are not currently in normal circumstances. The return to work is slow, and the new practices will take time to adjust to. The Trade Remedies Authority needs to be alert to the problems of rule-breaking and watch rogue actors, as we will be in Stoke-on-Trent. We hope that the Government take the lead by ensuring that “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” is emblazoned as a back-stamp on every piece of tableware they procure and that Potteries pottery is in use in our embassies and high commissions across the globe. Indeed, I hope that the Department will seriously look at housing a trade adviser in Stoke-on-Trent, hopefully at a purpose-built ceramics park and centre for international research into advanced ceramics manufacture. We are determined to keep Stoke-on-Trent as the world capital of ceramics, at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing and traditional table and ornamental ware.
I welcome the clarity on the global tariff and support this Bill as a key step in realising the opportunities for global Britain.
Free trade is vital for Britain to have a robust economy, so I welcome the fact that this new Trade Bill gives Britain the opportunity to write a new chapter in our trading history. Free trade provides an environment that encourages fair competition, leading to greater specialisation and increased innovation.
Over 250,000 UK businesses have tradeable goods and services but do not currently trade internationally. This represents millions of pounds and thousands of jobs that the British economy is missing out on. I have been speaking to Staffordshire County Council and the Department for International Trade to encourage more Stafford-based businesses, both big and small, to explore further exporting opportunities. I welcome this Bill because it sets out a framework for a truly global Britain.
We are all aware of the devastating impact that coronavirus is having across our communities, from the tragic loss of life to the long-term impact that it is having on our economy and my constituents’ quality of life. I fully support the wide range of measures that the Government have introduced to tackle coronavirus and the unprecedented lengths that the Chancellor has gone to in protecting the economy and supporting people’s jobs.
In my roundtable with members of the Staffordshire chamber of commerce last week, I was therefore disappointed to hear that jobs across Staffordshire may be at risk. Trade provides a beacon of hope for the future of our economy, and it is imperative that every link in the supply chain is encouraged to grow. Just as coronavirus has demonstrated in such a devastating way how closely we are all connected, it is global co-operation that will be vital to defeating this deadly virus, so we must use the lessons learned from this pandemic to foster more collaboration between nations.
I welcome the fact that the Government have been working with the World Trade Organisation and the Commonwealth to champion a liberal free trading agenda across the world and to support developing countries in maintaining the benefits of trade for their economies and populations, which is all the more important now that the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Kigali, which was scheduled for June—I had planned to attend—has now been postponed.
If I may focus for a moment on Africa, our two-way trade has enormous value—a total of £35.1 billion of goods and services in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics—creating sustainable jobs both at home and abroad. I was pleased that our Prime Minister seized this opportunity by hosting the inaugural Africa investment summit in London earlier this year, where he promised to renew our economic partnership with Africa, which contains some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Let me explain how trade with Africa directly affects my constituency in the west midlands. Last summer, I visited a Fairtrade co-operative cocoa farm in central Ghana. I saw for myself the jobs that the farm provides, especially for women and the families they support. Not only is it a great Fairtrade initiative, but the beans are used to produce chocolate that is transported throughout the world, including chocolate found in my supermarkets here in Stafford and across the UK. It was concerning to hear that Ghana’s cocoa industry is now facing a $1 billion shortfall in revenue, with devastating consequences for the farmers I met last summer.
African countries are facing a dual crisis with the impact of coronavirus on their populations and the global economic slowdown, which threatens to undo the hard-fought economic gains of the past 25 years. It is vital that Britain has the opportunity to create its own trade policy that strikes the right balance between encouraging imports of goods that we need and incentivising manufacturing and production on home soil to sell in Britain and export around the world.
I welcome the fact that the Trade Bill will work hand in hand with a number of other measures, such as the UK global tariff, to usher in a new era of trade. The UK is removing tariffs from goods that it does not produce and that come from developing countries—cotton yarn, for example, is going from 4% to 0%—and at the same time backing British agriculture by applying tariffs on other goods. The Prime Minister has pledged that the UK will be the foremost champion of free trade in the world. I hope that the Trade Bill will boost British goods and ensure that we can encourage others to trade out of poverty.
I wish to focus my remarks on what the Bill and the Government’s trade policy means for human rights around the world in terms of our existing obligations and our commitment as a country to stand up against human rights abuses wherever they take place.
When striking trade deals across the world, many nations use trade to influence human rights policy, yet there is concern that, faced with the need to strike quick deals to demonstrate success in the aftermath of Brexit, the Government will water down human rights protections, particularly when China, India and Russia—all countries with a poor record on human rights—rank within the UK’s top 25 export and import markets.
China’s deliberate evasion of human rights is well known, with the mass detention, torture and mistreatment of the Uyghur Muslims in particular, along with controls on their daily lives. Russia is also notorious for its weak human rights record, lack of accountability for those in public office and widespread torture and persecution.
While any abuse of human rights is abhorrent and must be challenged, the Indian Government’s human rights abuses in Indian-occupied Kashmir—well-documented by several human rights organisations, including the United Nations—is particularly important for my constituents in relation to any trade deals with India. As we speak, the region is now almost 10 months into a brutal lockdown that has seen cities, towns and villages placed under what is in effect a siege, with food, water and medicines restricted from entering and civilians restricted from leaving. This lockdown has also seen communications cut on an unprecedented scale, which has prevented any spread of information and left security forces even more unaccountable. With a need for reliable information to restrict the spread of coronavirus, this electronic curfew causes yet more harm.
Sadly, this experience is nothing new for the sons and daughters of Kashmir. They are routinely subjected to persecution, discrimination and heavy-handed tactics by Indian security forces, with a disproportionate use of force, including the indiscriminate firing of live ammunition and the routine use of pellet guns that have left hundreds of Kashmiris, including children, blind for life. That is to say nothing of the repressive control measures, rapes, tortures and indiscriminate detentions that take place across the region at the hands of the security forces. What is scandalous is that those committing these human rights abuses are immune from prosecution under the Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, rendering them in effect untouchable, despite their crimes.
The Indian Government also continue to deny the Kashmiris their right to self-determination, as was mandated by a United Nations Security Council resolution that is now well over 70 years old. There is no prospect any time soon of the vote that will allow them to shape their own destiny, particularly following the illegal decision to revoke articles 370 and 35A. In effect, that decision repeals what little autonomy Kashmir held in its position as a disputed territory at the heart of an unresolved conflict. What the Indian Government are doing in Indian-occupied Kashmir is vile and abhorrent, and it must be called out and challenged.
We cannot let our desire for trade allow us to ignore this. The Government must not be afraid to put human rights and high standards before trade, especially when it concerns those nations, such as India, with whom we share strong historical, cultural and social ties. In this region in particular, we have both a historical and moral duty, and as is the case with all human rights abuses, it is an international issue, not a domestic one or a bilateral one, that we cannot and must not ignore.
With time not permitting me to speak longer, let me say in conclusion that while this Bill allows the UK to pursue new trade deals, it must not pursue a new approach on human rights or overturn years of hard work in pursuit of a quick deal that turns a blind eye to human rights abuses, human suffering, the abuse of workers or the watering down of environmental protections. Instead, it must commit to strengthening our human rights commitments and to ensuring that any future trade deal incorporates the highest standards on human rights. At the very least, this means an end to the detention camps in China and to the persecution, discrimination and injustice in Kashmir, with the repeal of the special powers Act and a free, fair and independent plebiscite for Kashmiris to decide their own future, in line with the United Nations resolutions that this House has an absolute duty to uphold.
The last speaker from the Back Benches is Fay Jones.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to have been called to speak in this debate, and to be called last.
The Bill before us today is one of continuity, which during these uncertain times will provide reassurance to many of the hard-working rural businesses in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. The Bill builds on two manifesto commitments on which I was elected: to protect the national health service and to protect our farmers from substandard imports. Trade is the cornerstone of our economy, and ensuring that stability is maintained as we leave the transition period is paramount. With our exit from the European Union, there has never been a better time to broaden our horizons and to seek opportunities as an independent trading nation.
Constituents have contacted me recently to voice their concerns about the Bill and the fact that the national health service could be vulnerable to privatisation when the UK joins the Government procurement agreement in its own right. I am certain that it will come as great reassurance that the Bill makes it clear that the UK’s GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK healthcare services.
Every day we are reminded of the overwhelming importance of our national health service and the services that it provides, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all those working on the frontline, particularly in Brecon and Radnorshire. I am glad that no part of the Bill will change the way in which we deliver our healthcare provision in the UK. It is clear that the NHS will remain a public service that is free at the point of use, paid for by taxation and fundamentally working for the benefit of the public.
Brecon and Radnorshire is home to some of the greatest farmers in the country—arguably some of the best in Europe. This morning I had the pleasure of talking to the young farmers clubs of Brecknock and Radnor—or rather, they did most of the talking. Representing a constituency that revolves around farming, I want to ensure that those young farmers have a bright and prosperous future. Their high-quality produce is more than a tradeable commodity; it is a source of deep pride, to them and to me. Their commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare and food production is very inspiring and should be championed at every opportunity, especially as we deliver on signing new and ambitious trading agreements around the world.
I firmly welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that we will not compromise on our standards when pursuing future trade deals, as that would inevitably lead to a decline in our prized agriculture sector—something that I cannot accept. I wholeheartedly echo the comments of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), who called for greater engagement with the farming community on the Bill. I know that the Minister will give consideration to that. I am grateful that the Secretary of State confirmed yesterday that she is happy to visit one of the seven livestock markets in my constituency, and I look forward to welcoming her as soon as possible.
With the creation of a new independent body, the trade remedies authority, businesses and producers in the UK can have confidence that as we secure the benefits of global free trade, we can simultaneously provide a safety net for our domestic industries. As our trade remedies are currently maintained by the European Union, it is imperative that the authority has the necessary powers to protect UK producers against unfair trading practices such as unfair subsidies and dumping, and I wholeheartedly support those aims.
The Bill will ensure that we are able to roll over our current trading arrangements. Now, as an independent nation, we have the chance to reaffirm and expand our agreements. We are limited only by our ambition. Rural mid-Wales needs every opportunity to trade our produce and services around the world. Driving jobs and economic growth through international trade is crucial and a priority of this Government, but I urge Ministers to give rural entrepreneurs as much of a fighting chance as their urban counterparts. Our message is clear: an independent Britain will be open for business, and across Brecon and Radnorshire we are willing and eager to play our part.
We now go to Bill Esterson to wind up the debate for the Opposition.
Labour believes in free and fair trade. International trade will play a vital role in how we recover from the biggest economic shock since the second world war, but we cannot return to a system of unscrutinised trade deals that open the door to lower living standards and higher carbon emissions. The Bill should provide a framework for trade policy, create a trade remedies regime that works for the whole country and give people the confidence that trade deals will be properly scrutinised by MPs and civil society, but it does very few, if any, of those things.
International trade agreements have the potential to undermine our public services, favouring foreign multinationals eyeing up our NHS, for example. They can be used to undermine workers’ rights here and abroad, and to damage food safety and animal welfare. They can prevent action to tackle the climate emergency. That is why there is so much concern about the Bill and why the lack of scrutiny envisaged under it is wrong—wrong for the agreements covered by the Bill and wrong because of the precedent it sets for future trade agreements, such as that with the United States. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) was one of a number of Members who expressed similar concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) called for human rights to be strengthened, and not ignored, as part of trade negotiations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) gave an excellent analysis of the case for investment in our manufacturing base, which of course requires a trade remedy system that acts in the long-term interest of manufacturers and does not give equivalent importance to temporary consumer gains from unfairly subsidised imports. In fact, the hon. Members for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) gave perfect examples of what can go wrong when low prices for consumers are put first, only to see workers in domestic manufacturing lose their jobs.
The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) was right when he said that trade agreements are about much more than trade. He also highlighted the lack of engagement with the devolved Administrations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) did an excellent job of scrutinising the Bill last time around, as the then shadow Secretary of State. His description today of the weakness of the trade remedies system and what he called the Government’s view of Parliament as “an inconvenience” was again an excellent analysis of all that is wrong with what he called “this disastrous Bill”.
In last week’s Agriculture Bill, the Government blocked attempts to lock in food standards, and environmental and animal welfare protections. In a framework for international trade, rights and standards should include those proposed last week—not just food safety standards, but standards that do not deliver an unfair advantage from the cheaper production that results from insanitary conditions for livestock and often the use of GM foods to boost yields. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said that he was told last week that those were matters for the Trade Bill—perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that is true.
On continuity agreements, we told the Government what would happen when they tabled a similar Trade Bill to that in the last Parliament. We said then, and we say again now, that the new agreements need to be properly scrutinised by Parliament, by the devolved nations and by civil society. Twenty of the existing deals remain to be signed. Why? Because the third countries want better deals—deals that need proper scrutiny, the scrutiny so far absent from the 20 deals that have been signed already.
What is proposed is undemocratic. While we were part of the EU, the European Parliament carried out scrutiny and voted on new trade agreements. That scrutiny process has been deleted with nothing in its place. I hope that the Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), will take note that his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) quoted promises of a new scrutiny regime made by this Government. He called for more scrutiny, not less.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) made similar comments, and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) made the same point in the context of the way in which trade is a reserved matter with the potential to cut across delegated powers in the nations of the UK.
Labour believes that MPs should have unrestricted access to negotiating texts as they are formulated, with the power to analyse those texts with the technical experts of their choice. As the House of Lords European Union Committee has warned mere “accountability after the fact” for Government negotiators does not represent “a sufficient basis for” meaningful “parliamentary scrutiny”. The devolved Governments, employers and unions should also be fully engaged.
When the Minister responds in a moment, will he tell me whether he has considered how the proposed parliamentary scrutiny and approval of trade deals in the UK compares with that in Australia, which the Secretary of State in her speech said was a model of free trade? While he is about it, will he tell us about the systems in the United States, in New Zealand and in other similar democracies? Finally, I ask him what the Government have to fear about emulating the level of consultation, evaluation and affirmation of trade deals that we see in those countries.
I call the Minister, whom I ask to take no more than seven minutes, please.
It is a pleasure to respond to what has proved to be a spirited and well-informed debate. The Bill provides us with the opportunity to come together to shape a piece of legislation that will underpin and enable our country’s prosperity in the years to come up. Members from all significant parties and parts of the UK made valuable and considered contributions this afternoon.
The House will be aware that I was the Minister responsible for taking the Trade Bill through Committee during the previous Parliament—as alluded to by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—in my previous role in the Department for International Trade, so I stress that I am a continuity Minister for a continuity Bill. Nevertheless, my involvement in this latest Bill has been limited until relatively recently, so I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), who has done great service in engaging in constructive dialogue with colleagues from across the UK, as well as with key Opposition figures in both this Chamber and the other place, to bring the Bill back to Parliament.
Members have raised a number of important issues; I will try to answer as many of their questions as possible in the short time available. I am happy to write to Members to follow up on any further points, if any Members feel that to be necessary. I will also be holding a virtual “open door” session for all MPs on 4 June, when I can answer any further questions that they may have.
Before I turn to the issues, let me remind the House of the purpose of the Bill: it will enable the UK to implement our obligations in the trade agreements that we have signed and will sign with countries that already had trade agreements with the EU at the point at which the UK left the EU, on 31 January 2020. It will also enable us to implement our obligations under the WTO agreement on Government procurement, create the Trade Remedies Authority, and enable us to have data-sharing powers to assist in trade.
Let me respond to some of the individual points made. We welcome the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) back to the Dispatch Box. Most extraordinarily, she said that the Bill was “not worth the wait”. She should try telling that to UK companies that are already participating in the $1.3 trillion global procurement market as a result of the GPA. She should try saying “not worth the wait” about the £207 billion-worth of UK trade with those countries with which we are signing continuity agreements. She should try telling that to those companies and jobs that depend on a strong trade-defence regime in this country to protect against unfair trading practices. The Bill is well worth the wait.
The right hon. Lady asked about human rights; none of the 20 agreements signed so far contains any weakening of human rights commitments. There was no termination clause in underlying EU agreements, which is all we are seeking to replicate in the Bill. All the continuity agreements that the UK has signed so far have been laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process—a process that the right hon. Lady voted for, when she was a Labour Member of Parliament, supporting her Government of the time.
Let me turn to some of the other points raised. It was fantastic to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) talking about trade, welcoming the UK global tariff and discussing WTO reform, the rules- based system and his continuing interest in the WTO.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) asked whether any countries did not want a deal with us; the answer to that is no. I am happy to meet him again, as I did during the progress of the previous Trade Bill, to discuss his other points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) made an important point about the US section 230 and how it is dealt with in the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement. I know he has had repeated assurances from the Secretary of State but, again, I am happy to meet him to discuss these issues. We heard an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), talking about high-quality produce in rural Wales. It is worth pointing out that, although it is not covered in this Bill, the prospective US free trade agreement is a great opportunity for farmers in his constituency to be able to sell Welsh lamb into the US for the first time, and a great opportunity for Welsh cheese.
We also heard excellent speeches in support of free and global trade from my hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Robert Courts), for Stafford (Theo Clarke), for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). We heard from the hon. Member for South Antrim (Paul Girvan), who wants Northern Ireland to benefit from all UK trade deals. That is absolutely clear in the withdrawal agreement and it is one of our commitments. The hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) asked how many have already been rolled over. The answer is 20.
We heard from two of our brilliant trade envoys. My hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Fylde (Mark Menzies) asked about trade with Latin America, CPTPP and ASEAN. Those are all vital. We heard important points from my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) about important industries in their constituencies. The hon. Members for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) gave continuity speeches for a continuity Bill.
Finally, this Bill is a pragmatic first step in the Government’s independent trade policy, ensuring stability now while building a bridge to the outward-looking, internationalist, truly global Britain that we envisage for our future. I urge hon. Members to reject the amendment and I commend the Bill to the House.
Order. I must now conclude the debate and put the questions in accordance with the order of today. Before I put the question, I confirm that Mr Speaker’s final determination is that remote Divisions will take place on the reasoned amendment and on Second Reading. There is therefore no need for me to collect the voices or for Members present in the Chamber to shout aye or no. I remind the House that the first vote is on the reasoned amendment, in the name of Keir Starmer. The question is that the amendment be made, and it falls to be decided by a remote Division. The Clerk will now initiate the Division on MemberHub.
The remote voting period has now finished. I will announce the result of the Division shortly. As the next question is contingent on the outcome of this Division, I will suspend the House for five minutes.
I can now announce the result of the remote Division.
Question, That the amendment be made.
We now come to the Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time. The Question falls to be decided by a remote Division. The Clerk will now initiate the Division on MemberHub.
The House proceeded to a remote Division.
The remote voting period has now finished. I will announce the result of the Division shortly. As the next Question is contingent on the outcome of that Division, I suspend the House for three minutes.
I can now announce the result of the remote Division that has just taken place.
Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The announcement was made to the House earlier this afternoon regarding the provisional determination that a remote Division would not take place on the following questions relating to the programme motion and money resolution. That is also the final determination.
TRADE BILL (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Trade Bill:
The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 25 June 2020.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed. —(Iain Stewart.)
Question agreed to.
TRADE BILL (MONEY)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Trade Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown, government department or other public authority under or by virtue of the Act.—(Iain Stewart.)
Question agreed to.