Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Purvis of Tweed during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Wed 6th Jan 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 13th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard)

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Purvis of Tweed
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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I merely said that it was not defined in Amendment 19.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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It does not need to be defined in Amendment 19 because it would adopt the normal practice of human rights, as defined in the definitions at the front of the Government’s annual report on human rights—which I am sure the noble Baroness reads on an annual basis, as I do.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, indicated, those human rights reports refer to a separate category of countries, the priority countries, and he named them: the A to Z is Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The thrust of the Bill seems to suggest that, unless the Government, through legislation, put sanctions to limit trade with certain countries, any decision-makers would not be able to make any decisions about investing in that country. That is contrary to current practice with countries from A to Z on the priority list.

For example, other than the sanctions that exist against certain elements of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Bill would prohibit a decision-maker in the United Kingdom deciding not to invest in a Taliban state-owned enterprise. That is extraordinary. Under this legislation, a decision-maker would be prohibited from making a decision about investing in a mining or a gold company in Zimbabwe, which has had many concerns over human trafficking and other human rights concerns. That is also extraordinary, because unless the Government have put in trade sanctions, the Bill will prohibit any other decision-making.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am most grateful to the noble Lord as that leads on to my next question. It relates to those who are democratic figures in those countries and, indeed, our country.

As regards this country, my reading of this legislation is that, if I, in Parliament, call on the Government to sanction, let us say, a foreign Government’s Minister, or an enterprise or a body operating in another country—as I have done regularly in relation to the Wagner Group, by calling on British enterprises not to trade with those enterprises owned by the Wagner Group —I would be a person under this Bill whom a body would have to disregard. Not only are the Government seeking the nonsense that decision-makers should set aside due diligence on human rights, they are seeking to neuter parliamentarians raising the very concerns that we have raised on a regular basis.

I remind the Minister why this is so important: on 12 occasions, I had called for the proscription of the Wagner Group, and called on any British enterprises to desist from having any relationship with it, before the Government made the decision to proscribe it. Up until the point that the Government made the decision to proscribe the group, which I supported, I was in contravention of this Bill. I was in contravention of it on all the occasions that I called on the Government to do what I asked them to do, which they then did.

The nonsense of this legislation gets serious when it comes to Parliament raising human rights concerns about other countries. One country on the list is the DRC. A country not on the list is Rwanda. I have raised human rights concerns about the March 23 group in the conflict between Rwanda and the DRC. I am prohibited from calling on any British bodies not to trade with a group that is not currently proscribed by the British Government.

I refuse to be neutered in this Chamber, by this Bill, on raising human rights concerns. The Leader of the House is shaking his head from a sedentary position as to how I might be neutered by this Bill. I am sure that he has read the Bill. I am allowing him to intervene on me to explain why I am wrong in my interpretation of this Bill.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am talking about not the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but the Leader. No, the Leader prefers to shake his head and not to intervene. In his absence, I can think of no better deputy than the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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I will answer the noble Lord’s question: he is not a “decision-maker” for the purpose of this Bill.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am not a decision-maker for the purpose of this Bill but, under Clause 1(7)(b) of this Bill, I am considered to be a “person”. A decision- maker making a decision based on what I asked them to do would be prohibited. Now the noble Baroness is shaking her head. Why would I not be considered a “person” under Clause 1(7)(b)?

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am not going to waste the time of the House getting into these nitpicking debates. The noble Lord is not covered by this Bill.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I do not think that it is nitpicking. I would be considered a person when a body was making a decision based on what I called them to do. I know that I am not a decision-maker, nor am I a Minister of the Crown, nor am I an exempted officeholder, but I would be considered a person calling on bodies to act. If bodies choose to act on what I say, they are currently prohibited under this from acting.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Purvis of Tweed
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, we started Committee with an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Fox. It sought to establish at the very outset of the Bill the principle that nothing in it would have a negative impact on the autonomy of our regulators. I am glad that we are able to say—well, not quite “We told you so”, but certainly the fact is that we have learned little in Committee that has meant that the case is not even stronger, so reassurance needs to be provided in the Bill.

The powers in Clause 1 could be extensive when it comes to individual applications. The powers in Clause 4 could be forced on a regulator. The powers in Clause 3 could implement elements of trade agreements on regulators in all four parts of the United Kingdom with little scrutiny or accountability. In reverse order, on the trade side, during the debate on the previous group, the Minister sought to give the impression that the regulatory powers were needed to implement trade agreements and the professional qualifications elements of those agreements because, without those powers, we would not able to implement international agreements and therefore may need to act urgently. Clearly, I have not been following in Committee because, by definition, these regulators are statutory. If the Government’s statement that a treaty would be implemented by primary legislation is correct, that would be the vehicle—when that treaty is being implemented—to make changes to any of the legislation of those regulators. I simply cannot understand why a Henry VIII power is necessary for that.

On forcing the regulators to enter into mutual recognition agreements, if the Government are saying that this measure is purely enabling, there is a degree of merit in that. However, in Committee, we have heard that such enabling could go beyond and add extra pressure. In Clause 1, the powers on the application process are extensive. Whether we have a declarative statement at the outset or the protections that would be brought about by this amendment, there will have to be protections. If the Government genuinely want to avoid a situation where this Bill either must be paused or does not progress at all—my understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is absolutely correct that Bills starting in this place are not subject to the Parliament Act and that the Minister therefore has to be nicer to us—they must provide reassurance. That can happen now only through much greater detail about the organisations and regulators that will be impacted by this, as well as about certain areas of draft regulations along the lines of what the Government would really want to use these powers for. Without meaningful reassurances, this Bill has significant difficulties.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I need to say very little, other than that I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, have said. I know my noble friend has heard the strength of feeling in Committee, about the importance of regulator autonomy. I think there is agreement in Committee, though not necessarily yet with my noble friend the Minister, that something needs to be in the Bill to recognise that.

I hope that by the time we get to Report, if indeed there is a Report stage on this Bill, the Government will have taken ownership of the issue, because I am afraid that if they do not the House will.

Trade Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Purvis of Tweed
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)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry to have to say to my noble friend Lord Lansley that I believe that your Lordships’ House should have nothing to do with this amendment. When the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 was brought to this House, it arrived as a Supply Bill. There was much huffing and puffing by noble Lords on the Benches opposite at the time, but, of course, the House accepted it. The effect was that there was no Committee stage of the Bill and no opportunity to make any amendments. While the Companion is silent on the subject, it seems to me that if we were unable to amend a Bill during its passage through your Lordships’ House, that should also extend to any amendments to the resulting Act, as its nature relating to supply cannot have changed simply as the result of Royal Assent. I therefore hope that my noble friend Lord Lansley will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I am less squeamish that the noble Baroness about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and I am grateful to him for bringing it forward. As our discussion about the Trade Remedies Authority demonstrated, the framework for how the UK, now outside the European Union, will approach trade remedies on disputes where we believe that another country is acting beyond WTO standards and principles, is much more to do with public debate and full, wide parliamentary scrutiny than whether the parent legislation involved financial privilege. Our debates about the Trade Remedies Authority lead naturally to asking what is going to provide a framework of accountability for any decisions taken as a result of its recommendations.

I have only one issue to raise with the Minister. I was not satisfied with the response in Committee to a matter I raised. One of the justifications for not supporting the amendment was that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, the Minister said that there is sensitivity to some of these aspects. Of course there is sensitivity: that is true by definition. In any trade dispute, there will be sensitive aspects; I do not think that is denied. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is absolutely right: we were discussing a previous version of this Bill on Report when the WTO authorised the United States to impose $7.5 billion-worth of tariffs on the EU. The WTO subsequently authorised the EU to impose countermeasures of $4 billion and, as the noble Lord said, from the United States’ point of view, the question whether to make a recalculation for the EU 27 is now being reviewed.

The most important element, to my mind, is that the WTO authorised it. I do not think anybody on any side of this House is proposing that the UK should act illegally in a trade dispute in which we are then seeking to be on the right side, inasmuch as we would not use WTO procedures. The WTO procedures are quite clear: you cannot put forward countermeasures which will include tariffs unless they have gone through the due process in the WTO.

Therefore, the notification of the WTO, with the tariff measures as part of the countermeasures, will be in the public domain. It will be debated. It is therefore nonsense to think that there will be scrutiny, transparency and a public debate regarding our measures to the WTO, but not in Parliament. Many sectors will be involved, as we saw with the US measures. I do not need to go into the detail, but be it whisky, textiles or the metal industry, these measures and potential countermeasures have an impact domestically on certain sectors, regions and nations of the UK. Therefore, it is right that, if we are to make a measured and targeted response to a third country that we believe has acted against its obligations, we ensure that we are not acting in self-defeating self-interest, and a degree of accountability is thus required.

I simply cannot understand why the Government believe that measures that have been made public cannot then be approved by Parliament. I continuously support the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in this regard.

Trade Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Purvis of Tweed
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has said on a number of occasions: trade agreements mean little if businesses cannot operationalise them and use them to export more and import better. We on these Benches agree: we believe that the UK should be in a position for prosperity if we can have the right trading relationships around the world. To do that, we need to know what kind of barriers exist, what levels of bureaucracy have been put in place and how the Government are supporting businesses to overcome them.

Paragraph 21 of the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement with the EU says that,

“the Parties envisage comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation”.

Paragraph 22 goes on to envisage “ambitious customs arrangements”. Our motor industry, held up by the Government and others as a success story—rightly so—has called repeatedly for full implementation of the Union’s customs code and for the UK to take a different approach from the one that it has so far in ensuring that businesses have as little bureaucracy and as few barriers to trade with the European Union as possible. The SMMT, representing the industry, brings to stark attention, in its January briefing, what we face at the start of 2021:

“Basing the new UK/EU trading relationships on the provisions permissible in a free trade agreement will significantly change the administrative processes related to the movement of goods between the UK and the EU. There is a risk that the trade agreement between the UK and the EU results in increased friction at the border. Delays to the arrival of components at manufacturing plants are measured in minutes. Every minute of delay could cost approximately £50,000 in gross value added to the industry, totalling over £70 million per day. For automotive manufacturers, border delays are unacceptably disruptive, and if the sector in the UK is to remain competitive, these must be avoided.”


Frictionless trade had been the mantra, we recognise that, but now it looks as if we are going to be having it on truly Newtonian levels. The Government have, however, not chosen to carry out impact assessments on their border operating model, on the new measures to be put in place, or indeed on the costs to businesses that are going to be exporting and importing. Instead, they have chosen some business estimates of costs and ignored others.

Officials, not Ministers, confirmed that the Government’s most recent estimate on the likely necessary bureaucracy at our border ports, first published by HMRC in December 2018 and confirmed by the Government, is that there would be an additional 215 million customs declaration forms for businesses importing and exporting goods. That would apply regardless of whether Britain and the EU conclude a trade deal this year with the aim of removing all tariffs and quotas, so that is likely to happen. Can the Minister confirm that that is the latest estimate and tell us whether the Government have asked HMRC to update any of the cost estimates in light of the publication of the new border operating model, and whether that is the basis on which we should go forward? If it is then, although we were told that there would likely be a net £9 billion saving from leaving the European Union, there would also be a £7 billion cost to exporters and £7 billion to importers annually, and an extra £1 billion at least for cost of preparation plus commitments for ongoing costs. But there is no impact assessment on the business burden itself.

I do not wish to relitigate any of the arguments about European Union membership—and I knew that would get some smiles from the Benches opposite, but I genuinely do not—but the question is not whether we go back; it is about how many barriers there are for us to go forward. These are legitimate questions, because on top of this, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told MPs last Tuesday that it was estimated that up to 300,000 export health certificates would be required from 1 January next year for agricultural goods—a five-fold increase on current levels. There is a genuine concern about the burden on rural businesses from the processing costs for official veterinarians to carry this out—if they are actually available. Do the Government have contingency arrangements for the turn of the year if there are difficulties in securing these certifications?

As our amendment relates also to burdens for Northern Ireland—and there will be ample opportunity to debate the internal market legislation that is coming—I want to refer to one element of the Northern Ireland trading relationship that has been highlighted recently by the Food and Drink Federation. The federation has said that, regardless of the protocol being implemented in full and regardless of the internal market provisions—wherever they might be in due course on the customs process—there are likely to be costs on goods travelling into Northern Ireland that must comply with EU rules governing customs, VAT, plant and animal hygiene, and product labelling. This is linked with 1.5 million tonnes of food and drink travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland each year. The Government have indicated their willingness to provide some funding for businesses from Northern Ireland to offset some of the costs for this, but can the Minister explain to us what the current level is?

This is all building to the necessity of asking the Government to report on what barriers and costs exist. We have received some indication from the border operating model to which I referred. We already know, from the document that was published last week—the 271-page border operating model—that this is going to add huge burdens at our borders. We know that there is a six-month deferral for our border processes because they have not been ready and that this is not going to be all that is necessary for this. However, what we did learn last week was that businesses are going to need permission to move their vehicles to Kent. The Government are going to require a statutory Kent access permit for businesses seeking to export from anywhere across the UK if they wish to exit from Dover. Therefore, not only do we now have a debate about unfettered access to Northern Ireland: there is not even going to be unfettered access to Kent on the M20 for those wishing to export.

We know from Michael Gove’s Statement in the House of Commons whose fault this is likely to be; rest assured, it will not be his. He said:

“Every business trading with Europe will need to thoroughly familiarise itself with new customs procedures and, whether they develop their capacity in-house or work with a customs intermediary, enhanced preparation is vital.”


This is two months away. He went on to say, referring to businesses, that,

“just 24% believed that they are fully ready.”—[Official Report, Commons, 23/9/20; col. 961.]

Therefore, in addition to the grants of support and in addition to what the Government have indicated is going to be necessary for intermediaries, we know that there are insufficient numbers of those to support businesses.

I asked at Second Reading about the number of intermediaries recruited after the Government’s undertaking to help our exporters, but the Minister did not reply. I wrote to him, and he kindly sent me a thorough reply but without the information about how many intermediaries had been hired. Can he answer that today with up-to-date information?

Finally, businesses have been calling for some clarity on this additional bureaucracy, these new barriers to export and the new burdens on importers. If businesses are going to be taking up the greater exporting opportunities that might present themselves, they need to know in advance, with a degree of certainty, what kind of barriers and burdens they face. That is why these amendments are important. I hope that the Government support the principle of them: to have as much information out there as timely and accurately as possible. It is not just for 1 January that we need to prepare; it is ongoing. That is why I hope that the Government will support these amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I was quite surprised to find the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, concentrating on the costs involved in the border between the UK and the EU. When I put my name down to speak in this group, I thought it was about assessing the costs of our trade with other countries. Let me be clear: I am always in favour of ensuring that the Government identify the costs and burdens on business in all of their activities, so he will not find me opposing his amendment on that ground at all.

However, his amendment is very unclear, because it is not clear what the counterfactual is: costs compared with what? In the context of his subsection (1), which is about the rollover agreements, are the costs compared with the current status quo—that is, in the implementation period—or with trading on WTO terms after 1 January, or with something else? It is very unclear. In the case of subsection (2), presumably the cost will be compared with trading with those other third countries on WTO terms because that would be the counterfactual. It seems to be highly unlikely that we would enter into a free trade agreement with another party that involved costs additional to those trading on WTO terms, so the noble Lord’s amendment does not entirely make sense.