Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-R-III Third marshalled list for Report - (22 Dec 2020)
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. He is not there, so we will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I rise to express my concern at these amendments. They have been presented at length and with much eloquence by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others. However, they ought not to be for this Bill.

This is not a Bill on our future relationship with the EU or the Northern Ireland protocol. We put all that to bed last month; there is another debate on Friday and a great deal of work continues not least in the EU committee on which I have the honour to serve and in the Joint Committee. However, except on procurement, the Trade Remedies Authority and data, this Bill is concerned with existing agreements between the EU and third countries. I take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister and Secretary of State Truss on the 63 agreements concluded with third countries in the last year, a record that will undoubtedly stand. The idea of attaching new conditions to such continuity agreements on other policy areas such as the Good Friday agreement, however strongly felt by those involved, is inappropriate. I will vote against the amendment for that reason, as I hope will others across the House.

The EU deal is behind us, thanks to the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Frost and the team, and the time has come to get this Trade Bill, which started as long ago as 2017, on to the statute book. I will not extend proceedings by speaking on other amendments which suffer from the same problem and which will also, no doubt, be presented with an equally eloquent case. We do no good in this House by introducing these kinds of conditions into inappropriate or irrelevant Bills. To my mind, they should be rejected.

Separately, as someone who loves and has historically been involved in investment in Northern Ireland, and in the interests of reducing uncertainty, to which my noble friend Lord Cormack referred, I look forward to the Minister’s comments on the teething problems in supermarkets mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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I call again the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. No? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie.

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Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, this short debate follows on from the debate that we had in this House on the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill on 17 December. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I am most grateful to the Minister for his letter of 4 January.

There are just two things that I want to say following on from that. The first is that I am grateful, but not surprised, that in his letter the Minister said that, although the wording in the amendments that we are now making to the Trade Bill varies slightly from the wording of the clauses in the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Act, the legal effect is exactly the same. I do not think we ever thought that the legal effect would be different. What we find somewhat surprising is that, to achieve the same effect at virtually the same time in two pieces of legislation, the wording is not the same. That was a slightly surprising aspect of the drafting that we were presented with when we saw the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill last month.

Secondly, I raised the question of what is meant by, and what is the purpose of, the amendments that put into the Bill the saving provision in Clauses 8 and 9 —that

“nothing in this section authorises the making of a disclosure which … contravenes the data protection legislation”

or aspects of the Investigatory Powers Act. The purpose of the government amendments is to ensure that, when these pieces of legislation and their constraints on disclosure are considered, Ministers can also take into account the powers conferred in this clause.

The Minister’s letter refers to the Supreme Court case of the Christian Institute and others v the Lord Advocate in 2016. I have had the chance to read the judgment and it does indeed refer to the situation where there is in effect, under legislative provisions such as the data protection legislation, a statutory gateway that allows those provisions to be escaped from in circumstances where there are powers for disclosure in other enactments. In the absence of these provisions, the data protection legislation and the Investigatory Powers Act might well make it very difficult for the necessary disclosures to be made in certain specific circumstances. Therefore, it allows for them to be seen together.

Paraphrasing, I think, the language of the Supreme Court, it is necessary for anyone wanting to understand the effect of this clause to have this legislation in one hand and the data protection law—indeed, I would add the Investigatory Powers Act—in the other. It does not tell you how any particular instance would be resolved but it does tell you that both must be considered together, and that is entirely reasonable.

The only issue that one is left with when one reads both the legislation and the Supreme Court judgment is that the clauses we are looking at do not say that the disclosures made by public authorities must be necessary and proportionate. Therefore, I think that it would finally close the gap and make matters very clear if the Minister would confirm that, where these disclosures are made, or indeed where further public authorities have information disclosed to them for their trade functions, the disclosures must be necessary and proportionate to meet those functions.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the government amendments, which are technical in nature but allow proper co-operation between HMRC and the devolved authorities. As I was not able to be in the House in person during debates on the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Act, I have probably not understood the purpose of Amendment 36A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara—but I have a question that perhaps he or my noble friend the Minister could kindly respond to.

I always worry about the wisdom of giving a power to amend primary legislation by order, particularly on the collection or disclosure of information by HMRC, which seems to be the issue in Clause 7(4). As a former international retailer, I know how commercially sensitive such information is and how onerous ill-thought-out form-filling requirements can be. I want to make sure that the power could not be misused by the Executive—we have seen a certain amount of evasion of scrutiny during Covid. I want an assurance from the Minister, assuming that the power to amend primary legislation is retained in what is now being proposed, that the power would be used sensibly. If it disappears, then that would also meet my concern.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, anybody seeking to follow this Trade Bill, including the Bill that we had before Christmas, will struggle to follow the three elements through a natural progression—but we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his forensic skill. He has been able to assist in the scrutiny of this, and the questions he asks are very valid. I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has brought forward his amendment, and I look forward to the response from the Government and the Minister. Like others, I welcome the Minister’s very full letter in response to the debate that we had on that fast-tracked piece of legislation.

There are a couple of areas that are still troubling me, and I hope the Minister will be able to explain those. I am happy with his explanation that it is purely a matter of parliamentary drafting, with the same legal effect. I will use this ad nauseam in my future career in this House, when it comes to any Ministers quibbling over the drafting of any amendments that I bring forward. I will say that it is purely drafting, with the same legal effect—so, speaking personally, I am very happy that that precedent has been set.

I am glad that the amendments to this Bill, which will effectively become the successor to the fast-tracked Bill, reference HMRC sharing information with the devolved Administrations. This goes back to the very first time we discussed these amendments, so I am happy and pleased that the Government have indicated their support for that.

However, I am interested in the language of Amendment 37, which I welcome, when it states:

“facilitating the exercise by a devolved authority of the authority’s functions relating to trade”.

Can the Minister outline what these are? In the previous group, on consulting the devolved Administrations on trade agreements, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, was at pains to stress—and was accurate—that, under the Scotland Act and others, trade, as far as international relations are concerned, is a reserved matter.

However, we all know that there are “functions relating to trade” in the devolved Administrations; we know this for certain because it will be in the Bill. HMRC will facilitate the exercise of those functions by the powers under what will be this Act. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what those “functions relating to trade” are; it would be helpful to us to know the extent of the Government’s position as regards what responsibilities for trade the devolved Administrations have.

Another thing still niggling me is referenced in the Minister’s letter. I have asked on a number of occasions why it was not more straightforward to put authorities that are linked with the ports and their access routes, in Scotland in particular, under those areas in the Bill. The Government have said that the powers were needed in England primarily, as the Minister’s letter stated, because those authorities were identified as the ones facing the greatest disruption at the end of the transition period, but this legislation is now for the long term and this data will also be shared with the WTO and other international bodies.

The Government have said that if it becomes necessary to add an authority in a devolved Administration country, they can use order-making powers to do it, but in subsection (4) there is a reference to an offence in Scotland for a non-existing authority breaching the disclosing information powers, and it carries a term not exceeding 12 months, so for a body that is not included in the legislation it is a 12-month prison sentence for disclosing information. That happens to be twice the length of time that it will now be in England, under government Amendment 40, which is six months. I do not know why that is the case, so perhaps the Minister can explain. There seems to be a ghost criminal offence created by this legislation that does not impact on anybody and is twice as much as it is in England. I just do not understand why.

I hope that the Minister can respond. I will certainly be supporting these amendments. The letter was very helpful and gave the process for indicating when the sunset clause will kick in for the legislation that we passed before Christmas, and given that this legislation is now for the very long term I hope that the Minister can respond to the points that have been raised.