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

(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-III Third marshalled list for Report - (22 Dec 2020)
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I will be brief. I think there are several more exciting amendments coming after mine. My Amendment 20 is about the ratification of international trade agreements. The Government have failed miserably to demonstrate any material benefits from Brexit so far, and now focus almost exclusively on reclaiming our sovereignty, which they do not seem able to do in other arenas.

In the same way that some individuals agree to sacrifice some personal autonomy by forming a contract or association, trade agreements, by design, cede a degree of sovereignty in exchange for streamlined trade. Amendments 20 and 22 are expressions of parliamentary sovereignty and our sovereignty as a so-called newly independent nation.

They say to the Government and our trading partners that there are areas of our sovereignty that we refuse to sacrifice in the name of trade. Those protected areas include food safety, the environment and animal welfare, which we all care about across your Lordships’ House, the general public and, apparently, the Government, who keep telling us how much these issues matter to them but then encourage their Members to vote “Not Content” to any amendments that would put these protections into legislation. At times, it feels rather pointless. The only thing that has cheered me up today is that it looks as if the Democrats have taken back the Senate in the United States of America. I beg to move.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating this group of amendments, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her support. This opening amendment is on conditions for free trade in relation to environmental obligations. It goes somewhat wider than Amendment 22 in my name and has perhaps a slightly different purpose. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Jones, for adding their names to the amendment to which I shall speak, which is more specifically on the standards that must be maintained across a range of areas of international trade agreements.

The maintenance of food standards within a domestic context was the subject of much debate during the passage of the Agriculture Bill last year. This amendment to the Trade Bill takes the importance of the issue into trade agreements that must abide by those same standards. It would clarify the mechanisms that would ensure that standards were not compromised. I will not replay the many arguments expressed during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, but merely add that legal guarantees on food imports through trade deals should also be laid down in a transparent procedure or code of practice which Ministers must commence in statutory instruments. Such standards on imported food products as appropriate to trade deals must be widened to certain other areas of human rights, public health and labour laws. Should a Minister decide that a change in standards needs to be made, subsection (5) of the new clause proposed by the amendment would specify the transparent steps that would need to be undertaken to effect that change.

Although it was in the Conservative Party manifesto, the Government have been reluctant to commit both to legislative certainty of standards and to public transparency in relation to scrutiny of trade deals. We are all rightly proud of the high agricultural and food standards in this country. Many people believe that trade must be encouraged not to undercut those standards, not only to maintain fair competition across food sectors, including catering and manufacturing, but to maintain and improve health benefits to consumers from transparently-certified production regulations. There are significant doubts over the claim that protections stemming from EU membership have been transferred into UK law. The final EU-UK agreement allows latitude for the UK to diverge from the level playing field in future. The UK will maintain an autonomous sanitary and phytosanitary regime.

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Moved by
22: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Standards affected by international trade agreements
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a code of practice setting out how a Minister of the Crown should take steps to maintain standards established by any enactment regarding—(a) food, (b) animal welfare,(c) the environment,(d) human rights,(e) welfare, and(f) labour law,if a proposed international trade agreement is likely to affect such standards.(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.(3) The code under subsection (1) may provide that a Minister of the Crown ensures as far as possible that a future trade agreement is consistent with United Kingdom levels of statutory protection regarding, among other things—(a) human, animal or plant life or health;(b) animal welfare;(c) the environment;(d) food safety, quality, hygiene and traceability;(e) employment and labour standards; and(f) human rights and equalities, including but not limited to—(i) women’s rights,(ii) child rights, and(iii) the Human Rights Act 1998.(4) This is in addition to and does not impact on the provisions in section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020 (reports relating to free trade agreements).(5) Where a Minister of the Crown decides that it is appropriate and necessary to change standards in pursuit of an international trade agreement, a Minister of the Crown must—(a) send a notification of the necessary changes to primary or subordinate legislation to the relevant Committee in each House of Parliament at the earliest opportunity;(b) consult and seek the consent of the devolved authorities; and(c) take steps to ensure that necessary changes to primary or subordinate legislation have completed their parliamentary processes before the final texts of agreed trade agreements, together with full impact assessments which cover the economic impacts and social, environmental, and animal welfare aspects of the agreement, in advance of such agreements being laid before Parliament under section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.(6) In this section, “United Kingdom levels of statutory protection” means levels of protection provided for by or under any—(a) primary legislation,(b) subordinate legislation, or(c) retained direct EU legislation, which has effect in the United Kingdom, or the part of the United Kingdom in which the regulations have effect, on the date on which a draft of the regulations is laid.”
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I wish to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who said that she finds this amendment extraordinary. I would merely say that making trade agreements has not been specifically undertaken by the UK while a member of the EU and that this is a new area of competence. Thus, new procedures need to be set up and how these agreements will be scrutinised needs to be fully understood—in this amendment, specifically in relation to food standards and other standards. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his remarks in reply to the noble Baroness.

The noble Lord, Lord Curry, asked the Minister how the Government may respond to the existing TAC as it moves through its report. There are many and varied anxieties. We must have certainty regarding standards that must be maintained in trade agreements. I am very glad to hear that the Government have maintained continuity in rolling over more deals, yet it is disappointing to repeatedly hear misleading arguments about how WTA commitments will constrain us or be an unintended consequence. They do not seem to have fettered the laying down of our current standards. Let us make sure that these current standards can continue by supporting this amendment and setting a governance procedure in regulations. I beg to move and wish to test the opinion of the House.

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We know that there is a period with regard to goods coming from the European Union and migrating from the CE mark to the UKCA mark, but for many countries that have automatically assumed that the UK standards are EU standards, what labelling are we asking countries that have signed continuity agreements to put on their products coming into the UK? If the Minister can answer that point, I think it would go some way to provide a degree of assurance. That is one technical aspect. I support the overall approach of these amendments. As my noble friend indicated, we will also support the amendments if they are pushed to a vote.
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for joining with me in this group of amendments and leading with Amendment 26A on labelling. I have added my name to this amendment as a further step that accompanies all the measures being undertaken to maintain, in a fully transparent manner, the equivalence or consistency of imported food to the current standards that will be applied within the UK. I will speak to Amendments 31A and 34A in my name in this group, and once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her support, and other noble Lords who have spoken.

This returns the House again to the debates undertaken on the Trade and Agriculture Commission during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, which other speakers will remember so well. The conclusion of the Agriculture Act was that the CRaG Act 2010 was amended by new Section 42, while the Trade and Agriculture Commission to implement scrutiny on trade deals would be implemented in the Trade Bill. Unfortunately, the shape of the TAC in this Bill does not comply entirely with the shape agreed with Defra Ministers regarding public health, or the fact that others may well have other ideas about what the TAC should be.

Amendments 31A and 34A would reinsert public health considerations through food imports into the functions of the TAC. Defra Ministers had agreed these aspects and, indeed, Clause 42 includes them. Why, then, does the Minister in the Department for International Trade wish to go back on that agreement? In discussions, Victoria Prentis declared that the Government across all relevant departments, including Defra, the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Trade, had signed off on that agreement. It could well have included the DHSC as well.

I thank the Minister and his team for the discussion undertaken with myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on Monday afternoon. Indeed, I listened carefully to his replies in Committee that gave rise to these amendments. I am grateful to his further but, unfortunately, unconvincing explanations. In Committee, he replied that Ministers can and do receive advice on standards on food from the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, which will take on the role of upholding current legislative bans on foods that would continue to be banned, and that Ministers do not need advice from the TAC as well. He expanded on this on Monday, saying that he sees Amendment 31A as channelling all that advice from the FSA to Ministers through the TAC. To his department, that is not necessary. He wishes the agency’s advice to come directly to his department.

Once again, as experienced when pressing the Minister, the reply seemed to be about process. However, the amendment is not about process and where advice to Ministers comes from. It is about full transparency to Parliament and the public, not merely to Ministers, through the scrutiny of the new export body, the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It does not take over all the reporting structures of the FSA. The TAC can direct and ask questions of the FSA, I am sure, on its investigations and analysis. Normal advice and input from agencies can continue during all the long process of negotiating trade deals, and not be concertinaed down into the CRAG, time-constrained process.

Is the Minister saying that his department did not sign off on the agreements reached during the passage of the Agriculture Bill? Amendment 31A would reinsert expertise on human health into the membership of the TAC, and Amendment 34A would consequently reinsert that advice into the reports of the TAC.

I shall press my amendment to a vote and call on the support of the House to return this matter for further consideration in the Commons, which previously agreed to the Agriculture Bill outcome, with the addition of public health in the scrutiny process of the TAC.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I turn now to Amendment 26A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

First, it is important to note—I hope this provides some reassurance to the noble Baroness—that all imports must meet the UK’s regulatory requirements, and this includes imports needing to meet our high food safety standards. Of course, this will remain the case. However, the amendment will undermine our abilities to successfully negotiate and agree new international trade agreements and to import goods from trade partners. That will have implications for all goods imported under our international trade agreements, including continuity agreements and the WTO agreements.

Requiring that such labels be applied to imports only would discriminate between domestic and imported goods. This may seem a technical matter, but it would risk violation of the UK’s WTO and FTA commitments, as well as imposing additional labelling costs and administrative burdens on imports. The amendment would also have dire consequences for developing nations, which are unlikely to be able to meet this new requirement and would no longer be able to export goods to the UK, thereby losing a valuable income stream for them, their local businesses and communities.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about conformity marking. This is a complex matter and to ensure that my answer is completely accurate, I will, with his permission, write to him and, of course, place a copy in the Library.

Turning to Amendments 31A and 34A, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for the meeting we had on Monday to discuss these. I completely understand the good intentions that lie behind these amendments. Of course, the Government recognise that public health and health inequalities are important issues. The fact that advice will not be sought from the statutory TAC in relation to this should in no way dilute this message, which I thoroughly endorse. This is why the Government have taken steps to ensure that relevant interests are taken into account at every step of the negotiations process, from public consultations at the start, dedicated trade advisory groups during it and, of course, independent scrutiny of the final deal at the end.

The government amendment to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing, which we discussed at length on the first day of Report, provides an advisory role for the TAC to help inform the report required by Section 42 of the Agriculture Act. The TAC will advise the Secretary of State on the extent to which FTA measures applicable to “trade in agricultural products”—as specified in the Act—are consistent with UK levels of statutory protection relating to animal and plant life and health, animal welfare and the environment. It will not advise on human health because the Government believe that this advice is best taken from other appropriate bodies. This in no way diminishes the importance of that advice; it means that we believe that it would be best for this advice to come from other, better-qualified, bodies. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, we will, of course, make it clear, in due course, where the advice is being drawn from in this important area.

We believe that it would be inappropriate for the TAC to be expanded in the way proposed because there are already groups looking to tackle the issues raised by this amendment. We consider that, if the TAC advised on these issues as well, it would risk wasteful duplication of effort with existing groups with similar functions—indeed, this could overwhelm the TAC and prevent it from fulfilling its obligations in other areas. Important issues such as health inequalities involve multiple factors beyond trade policy that the TAC’s remit cannot fully address. I really believe that this is not the right forum. The TAC’s advice should focus specifically on product characteristics rather than broader policy on public health and health inequalities.

In preparing the Section 42 report, the Secretary of State may also seek advice from any person considered to be

“independent and to have relevant expertise.”

Of course, this will be a transparent process. This does not restrict or exclude experts in any specific area of human health. I hope that this reassures noble Lords, and I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.

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Moved by
31A: After Clause 6, after subsection (3)(d) insert—
“(e) public health and health inequalities.”
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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Any potential drop in imported food product standards will directly affect public health. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her wide-ranging perspective on food, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for their support. There is an issue with contaminants and food poisonings in other countries’ food products, and there are efforts from Downing Street on obesity. There is the issue of highly hazardous pesticides, as well as growth promoters and AMR concerns.

We feel that the TAC has an important public health role to play and will need expertise returned to its function to advise Parliament and Ministers on such matters and on future trade deals, or its importance will be severely diminished. The FSA is not expected to put great emphasis on production methods, and the environment and animal welfare impacts of production do not necessarily correlate with food safety issues. Neither are apparent on inspection of the final product. Advice needs the coherence of being a meaningful part of reports to Parliament by the Trade and Agriculture Commission, without further pressure being put on the already struggling FSA, which does not have the same transparency and accountability to Parliament.

I therefore wish to press my amendment to a vote.

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Moved by
34A: After Clause 6, in subsection (2), in inserted subsection (4A)(a), leave out “except insofar as they relate to human life or health”
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I beg to move.

Amendment 34A (as an amendment to Amendment 34) agreed.