Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Monday 7th December 2020

(3 years, 6 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-I Marshalled list for Report - (2 Dec 2020)
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. No? Then I call the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness was unable to give us the benefit of her wisdom.

An advantage of being “tail-end Charlie” as the last speaker of 15, is that most of the points have already been made, which helps to speed things up. Let me start with Amendment 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. He made some convincing arguments and, unless the Minister can convince me otherwise, we should support the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that CRaG was fit for purpose. I contend that it is not. It was designed in another era, when we were part of the EU and the EU was doing our trade deals. Now we are doing our own trade deals—good luck to the Minister and godspeed to all his civil servants; they will need it in this complicated world. The trade deals that we negotiated 50 years ago are hugely different from those we are negotiating now. Today’s deals are much more complex and involve not only trade but each and every one of us—the environment, biodiversity, the way we live. Therefore, it is important that Parliament is properly involved.

How complex trade deals have become is the compelling argument for Parliament to be given a statutory right to look into these matters. Trade deals are only going to get more complicated, therefore the discrepancy between the current situation, which is out of date, and what is needed in the future, is growing. Effective scrutiny by Parliament on a statutory basis would improve the quality of decision-making. Nothing hones a civil servant’s pen quite like getting Parliament to have a good look at what they are doing.

We have heard that a common objection to the wording of Amendment 6 is that it ties the Government’s negotiating arms and affects their room to negotiate with the other side. I do not think it does. In America, Congress is a very useful weapon that the US negotiators use. They constantly say, “We couldn’t possibly get that through Congress”. Our discussions with the EU are at a very delicate stage, and if there had been a mandate from Parliament that one of the negotiating objectives of this Government was that we would be a sovereign state equal to the EU, we would not be having prevarications with some of the EU states. We would have had a much better chance of getting a deal. Rather than the Prime Minister saying: “We are going to be a sovereign state”, he could quite rightly say: “Parliament has said that we are going to be a sovereign state”. That would have saved a lot of the rather frustrating and silly discussions that are going on at the last minute. It would also consolidate the position of the UK as a serious negotiating partner which will ratify whatever deal is agreed if Parliament has had a proper say.

I am very much aware that the Minister has made concessions on a number of points, but that is not the same as having them in statute. In this day and age, given what has happened in America and how the EU looks at its trade deals and has adapted, it is time that we adapted and took a firmer view, giving Parliament the statutory backing that it needs to look at these matters, but not to the extent of tying the hands of the Minister and the Government in any negotiating deal. Therefore, I support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sorry that technical difficulties meant that I could not come in just now. I support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, who made the case for it comprehensively. In Committee, the involvement of the devolved Administrations in consultation over trade was stressed whenever UK Ministers wished to make an agreement that included issues that fall within devolved competences. Respect for, and consideration of, the devolved responsibilities and implications of agreements will result in clearer communication between Westminster and the Government, in better relations with the devolved Administrations, and in clear messages to the population overall. This amendment would bring agreement centrally into Westminster, not disrupted by protesting voices from devolved nations that fuel separatist movements. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has set out the benefits with arguments that I endorse.

On issues relating to health we discussed at length the importance of the Government’s commitment that the NHS is not up for sale. This country’s unique databases have enormous potential value. As health, whether human, animal or ecological, is a devolved responsibility, it is essential that anything touching on health in its broadest context is the subject of consultation with the devolved Administrations. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, eloquently stressed that Ministers should not ratify an agreement that would not be approved by Parliament. In respecting the royal prerogative, the individual nations must not find themselves sidelined.

Amendment 6 is essential to consolidate, not destabilise, the united nature of the United Kingdom. To break up the United Kingdom would indeed be an “abject failure of statecraft”.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I wish to speak primarily on Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and other noble Lords. I also support Amendment 32 on the need for consent from devolved Ministers. In my Second Reading speech on the Agriculture Bill, I welcomed the setting up of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, particularly the appointment of the president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales as a member. I played a small part in the founding of the union 65 years ago—rather a long time.

I received an excellent briefing note from the NFU, and I hope that the Minister will give the assurances that it seeks in that note. The establishment of the commission as a statutory board is important and gives it a degree of permanence, and I welcome the thrust of the government amendments. The NFU has raised the issue of the range of necessary expertise required of its members. It is the word “expertise” on which we need further reassurance. I emphasise the obvious point that agricultural expertise is a vital requirement. I need not say anything further on that.

It also raises the issue of ensuring that devolved interests are properly catered for. I hope that the Government will accept Amendment 32. It was around 1 March 1977 when agricultural responsibility in Wales was transferred from the Government, of which I was a Member, to the Secretary of State for Wales. I tried to anticipate how experience in handling agricultural matters outside Whitehall would be important for a future devolved Government in Wales. Regrettably, this important step had to wait until 1999, but this is one example of the building bricks that were necessary to be transferred and that were so important to the future devolved Administration—hence it is vital that they are properly consulted.

When I was the Welsh Secretary, I also ensured that, when Brussels was concerned with Welsh interests, I attended with the Whitehall Minister of Agriculture. I would be particularly pleased to hear more about the scope of work intended for the commission. This should be spelled out before we leave this important issue.

Lastly, I believe that reassurance is needed about the intention of the Government to review the TAC every three years. It is vital to have wide consultations with relevant interests at this stage. This is a very important body. I welcome it and, in particular, its extended remit and degree of permanence. It will be there to give the views of agriculture to the Government of the day. I support the amendment.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I had very much hoped to give three loud cheers to the Government for putting down this amendment but, at the moment, my noble friend has one and a half cheers. But I am extremely grateful to the Government for at least putting down this amendment.

A number of points have been raised, and the point which struck home was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who said that public expectation is high for the TAC. She is absolutely right. I fear that the TAC, as proposed in the amendments before us, will turn out to be a peely-wally TAC. As a result, it will give the Minister every opportunity to use the proposed new clause in Amendment 36 to repeal it by statutory instrument. That will lead to a huge loss of public confidence in the Government and in agriculture, which has been a matter of so much debate.

We brought the Government to this state, kicking and screaming, through the hard work on the Agriculture Bill. Could my noble friend tell me what membership he envisages for this commission? The point has been made that it is a bit vague, but unless the commission has experts and access to experts, it will not be able to report to the high standard that we hoped and expected of it. Can the commission do work other than looking at trade deals once they have been negotiated? Will there be a lull? If a negotiation is going on, the commission can look at it, and that might bring up other bits of work that it ought to do for future trade deals. But the Government could turn around and say to the commission that because there is no trade deal under negotiation, sorry, your job is finished. Could my noble friend be more specific on the workload he expects of the TAC?

The next point I want to raise was also raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh when she introduced Amendment 7. It is on the wording of the proposed new subsection (2)(4A)(a) in Amendment 34, which refers to “human life or health”. What happens around food security that affects people’s health? Will it be covered by the work of the commission? When we were discussing the Agriculture Bill, the quality of food that would be produced by and imported to this country was a huge concern. It affects human health and, if the TAC is not allowed to look at human health, will aspects of that be omitted?

My last point concerns the shortness of the TAC’s life. Is my noble friend convinced that he will get the right quality of people to serve on it, given that it is an intermittent body, with every likelihood that a Minister could wake up one morning and lay a statutory instrument for its demise? Before a Government decision is made and such a statutory instrument is laid, will my noble friend confirm that he will consult all relevant interested parties and publish their advice? If that is not the case, I fear that the TAC will not produce the quality of reports that we want and will not continue in existence for as long as many noble Lords have anticipated. I hope that my noble friend can change my one and a half cheers into three cheers.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I greatly agree with what he said and want to amplify one of his points. I also support Amendment 7, but do not think that it is finished business yet.

When the Agriculture Bill passed through Parliament, many noble Lords advocated amendments about the UK’s food standards: that they should be written into law to protect us from lower food standards in the future. This was backed massively by the public, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and many other noble Lords have said. Some 2.6 million people signed a number of related petitions, and 260,000 people took the trouble to write to their MP because they were concerned about this. The Government have instead opted to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on to a statutory footing, extending its lifespan and requiring it to look after these important matters. Is this enough? I think not.

We know that trade deals can put huge pressure on food standards and lead to the import of food produced to lower—or indeed higher—standards. Evidence shows that a number of prospective future trading partners want the UK to lower its food and animal welfare standards and to allow the import of currently banned products, including the well-known examples of chlorine chicken and hormone beef as well as others such as products containing residue of pesticides.

The TAC was formed by the Government in response to consumer and farming concerns. Its main aim is to consider the development of the Government’s trade policy, to reflect consumer and developing world interests and to consider how we engage with the WTO on animal welfare. However, as it stands, it will relate only ever to broad farming, food, environmental and animal welfare concerns. Food safety is considered, but not public health.

However, we now have it on a statutory footing and have expanded proposals for membership to include experts on trade, animal and plant health, and animal welfare. This is welcome but not enough. The Government’s amendment categorically excludes the TAC from considering the impact of agri-food trade on human health. Its reference to what the TAC reports on states that, in preparing the report for Parliament, the Secretary of State for International Trade must

“request advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission … except insofar as they relate to human life or health”.

If the TAC is limited to thinking about health very narrowly, within the confines of a sanitary or phytosanitary source, wider considerations such as impacts to diets, antimicrobial resistance or pesticide residues will be lost. If it is not the role of the TAC to consider this, who will consider it? We all know the long impact of bad diets—those heavy in sugar, fats and salts. We have seen this as Covid has torn through our communities this year. We legislate very well and effectively that food will not kill you today, but we have nothing on food that will kill you tomorrow or, more to the point, in your children’s tomorrows.

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics published a report just last week showing how future trading partners for the UK are giving livestock antibiotics to make them grow faster, a practice which has rightly been illegal in the UK and across the EU since 2006. When I raised this in this House the other day, the Minister was emphatic that we have good antibiotic rulings. However, in 2022 the EU will ban the importation of meat and dairy produced in this way but the UK Government have not yet committed to this. This new report shows that, overall, farm antibiotic use per animal is about five times higher in the US and Canada compared with us, with use in United States cattle being about seven times higher. Antibiotic use per animal in Australian poultry is 16 times higher than ours. These are very serious facts.

Where is public health? Somewhere between the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill and the TAC. Why is it not in a leading role as we go forward in these crucial debates? I understand, although I might not agree, why the Government chose not to put public health right at the top of the Agriculture Bill as a public good. I know it is impossible to recompense people for growing food which has a monetary value, but I do not feel reassured about where this is going to be. I am also not reassured that it will be left in the hands of the Food Standards Agency, much as I admire it, because I do not understand its relationship to the Trade and Agriculture Commission. At the moment we do not have a public health expert on that body. This is slithering through the cracks; if we do not catch it now, in future it could have very serious consequences for us all.