Trade Bill

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel) (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is a great honour to open this debate and indeed to address this House for the first time. I realise that many noble Lords will want to contribute to this very important debate, so I will set an example by keeping my opening remarks concise and to the point.

I start by paying tribute to the extraordinary people throughout our country who are tackling the coronavirus outbreak. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.

I thank all those who have extended me help, advice and friendship since I joined your Lordships’ House—in particular, my two supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, and my noble friend Lord Blackwell. I also give my sincere thanks to the doorkeepers, the Clerk of the Parliaments, parliamentary staff, Black Rod and the police officers, who have all explained the procedures of this House and, more importantly, have sometimes prevented me getting totally lost. I should also give a special thanks to my noble friend and Whip Lord Younger, whose knowledge and support has been invaluable.

Finally, I must thank my partner, my family, my friends and all those who have helped make me what I am today. My faults are entirely of my own making.

I am an ordinary person from an ordinary family, brought up in Croydon and fortunate to have been given a council scholarship to Whitgift School, from whence I went to Merton College, Oxford. As Private Secretary to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, when he was Minister for Health, and later at HM Treasury, where I helped oversee more than 25 privatisations working for my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, I got my first taste of politics.

I then became a banker at Schroders, travelling to around 50 countries exporting the skills of the City. This taught me that globalisation, trade and investment are the best routes to prosperity and peace, and that no matter what our race or creed, or whether we are rich or poor, we are all the same. The only difference is whether we have been given opportunity.

During two decades spent serving on 20 boards of major companies around the world, including chairing two of the UK’s largest financial services institutions, I learned the benefits of good governance, clear thinking and decisiveness. As the first non-military member of a front-line command board when I joined the board of the Royal Air Force’s Strike Command in 1999, and then proudly serving as the lead non-executive for six Defence Secretaries, I gained the utmost respect for our Armed Forces.

I am proud to have been asked to serve this House and our country, and I will do it to the best of my abilities. I thank noble Lords for listening to me and I am mightily relieved that that is my maiden over.

Turning to today’s business, I am honoured to move that this Bill be read a second time. As the Minister for Investment since March, I have had around 250 ministerial engagements, meeting virtually with hundreds of people from companies big and small. I have also held a number of briefings for Members of your Lordships’ House on trade matters, all of which have made me realise the vast experience and knowledge that there is in your Lordships’ House and how much I have to learn.

Above all, it has impressed upon me how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted businesses at an unprecedented speed and scale. To me, that truly highlights the importance of trade: to keep supply chains open and to ensure that we have all the vital equipment we need. In the longer term, it has shown that building resilience and strengthening the rules-based trading system will be crucial to our recovery. That means maximising the economic benefits of trade and ensuring that all parts of the UK, and companies of every size, benefit from it, especially SMEs, the backbone of British business. It means increasing the diversity of our trade—that is, both imports and exports—and reducing our exposure to future economic shocks. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to do just that: to determine our rules, defend our national interests, and champion free, fair, rules-based trade globally.

This Bill, like its predecessor, the 2017-19 Trade Bill, is about continuity and certainty—continuity of the existing trade agreements that we had in place through membership of the EU, and the certainty that continuity offers for our businesses and trading partners, plus giving the Government the vital tools that they need to secure our future as an independent trading nation.

I turn to the main elements of the Bill. First, it allows us to implement the UK’s obligations arising from the trade agreements that we are transitioning from the original EU/third country agreement, such as those with South Korea, Chile and Switzerland, thus allowing trade to continue to flow freely with our established partners. The Government have already signed 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries, representing 74% of the trade with countries with which we are seeking continuity. Every single one of these agreements illustrates the Government’s commitment to maintaining our high standards, whether in relation to the environment, animal welfare, workers’ rights or human rights.

My noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby once wrote:

“The NHS is the closest thing the English … have to a religion.”


I am sure that he meant no offence to the Lords spiritual, but he captured the importance of the NHS to the people of this country, and to this Government. We have been clear: the NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.

I know that a lot of concern has been raised about the trade deals and how they will impact our hard-working farmers. I can reassure your Lordships’ House that this Government are committed to upholding our world-class food safety and animal welfare standards. Food imported into or produced in the UK will always be safe. Chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef are not permitted for import into the UK. The independent Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland make sure that all foods comply with our existing standards. I make it absolutely clear that decisions on these standards are separate from trade agreements.

Not only have the Government put farmers and other businesses at the very heart of our negotiations but we have listened to the concerns of Parliament. We have launched the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission with representation from farming unions across the UK that will make policy recommendations to the Government. We have launched an agri-food trade advisory group to provide the Government with strategic insight and expertise throughout our FTA negotiations. I am pleased that its members include the National Sheep Association, the NFU and the International Meat Trade Association, among others. We are committed to a serious examination of what can be done through labelling to promote high standards and high welfare across the UK market. We have also published an agri bounce-back plan that will provide unprecedented help for SMEs and allow them to capitalise on the trade agreements being negotiated with the US, Australia and New Zealand.

I should like to make it clear that this Government and I are committed to transparency around the trade continuity programme. We have published voluntarily, and will continue to do so, parliamentary reports outlining significant differences between the original EU/third country agreements and the new UK/third country agreements. Regulations implementing these agreements are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I note that the 21st report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made no recommendations on the delegated powers in the Bill.

I recognise that there has been concern that upcoming continuity agreements with countries such as Canada or Singapore will go beyond continuity. Let me reassure noble Lords that this is not our intention. Where we have set out to achieve an enhanced agreement, as in the case of Japan, we have committed to additional scrutiny arrangements that closely mirror those we have put in place for new FTAs.

Secondly, the Bill allows the UK to implement our obligations under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, or GPA, once we accede as an independent party. As noble Lords will be aware, the GPA is an agreement seeking to mutually open up government procurement markets among its 20 parties. Acceding to the GPA in our own right will guarantee British businesses continued access to this £1.3 trillion a year market. That is so important. We intend to accede to the GPA on broadly the same terms as our current membership through the EU. I want to be crystal clear: becoming an independent GPA party does not restrict government from deciding how to deliver health services in the best way for the UK.

Thirdly, the Bill establishes the independent Trade Remedies Authority to protect our businesses against injury caused by unfair trading practices, such as dumping or subsidy, or unforeseen surges in imports. The TRA will deliver an independent investigation process that businesses can turn to when others are breaking the rules, and will recommend appropriate measures where necessary.

Finally, the Bill provides for the use of data to enable government to discharge its trade-related functions now that we are no longer members of the EU. It gives HMRC powers to share data with other public bodies to fulfil its trade-related functions, such as in relation to trade disputes. It provides for a data sharing gateway between departments and specified public bodies to safeguard existing trading relationships by helping ensure that trade flows freely across our borders.

Let me also be clear what this Bill is not about. It is not about implementing those FTAs we are seeking with new partners around the world, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The implementation of such agreements will be subject to separate scrutiny arrangements, and, in line with provisions included in the amendment relating to scrutiny passed during debate on the 2017-19 Trade Bill, the Government will publish their negotiation objectives, voluntarily publish impact assessments before and after negotiations, and keep Parliament updated. At the end of negotiations, treaties will be subject to the usual ratification procedures. Parliament will retain, through the CRaG process, the right to block any treaties from being ratified.

FTAs cannot change UK law; as noble Lords know, only Parliament can do that. Parliament will retain the right to reject any domestic implementing legislation necessary for a trade deal. By blocking any legislation, should it be required, Parliament can also block ratification. This is in line with similar systems, such as Canada’s, and goes further than those in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where parliaments cannot directly block ratification of a trade treaty.

The International Trade Committee in the other place has proposed to the Secretary of State a structure for providing scrutiny. The department is taking this very seriously and we will be working with it, and the International Agreements Sub-Committee, on developing this. I very much welcome this. These committees do an excellent job and I intend to maintain a close relationship with the IAC and its chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith; I know that my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary will be doing similarly in the other place. As part of this, we are committed to ensuring that committees are able to scrutinise trade deals on an ongoing basis, and, where possible, we will share information with those committees on a confidential basis.

Nor is the Bill about negotiations with the European Union on our future relationship. That too will be subject to separate scrutiny arrangements. This Bill is solely concerned with ensuring we have the right tools in place to implement obligations from trade agreements with countries that the EU had an agreement with before 31 January.

The unprecedented economic challenge of coronavirus makes the need for this Bill clearer than ever. It will ensure continuity through powers to implement trade agreements with partner countries which previously applied under the EU; it will secure continued access for UK businesses to the vitally important global public procurement market; it will establish an independent body to provide our businesses with the protection they need from unfair trade practices; and it will ensure that we have the necessary data to offer the best possible support for businesses to trade and to help their goods flow seamlessly across our borders.

In conclusion, as we recover from this economic crisis, providing certainty and predictability in our trading arrangements will be vital to securing the interests of businesses and consumers, and to fulfilling this Government’s mission to unleash the potential of, and level up, every region and nation of our United Kingdom. This legislation will provide us with the tools to do precisely this, and I commend the Bill to the House.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the kind words that have been expressed across the House about my maiden speech and for the warm welcome I have received from your Lordships. I was particularly pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, refer to my emollient bedside manner, and the reference to Standard Life from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. I have been greeted with great courtesy by noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I feel that I have a very constructive relationship with him, and of course I have known the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for more years than he and I would probably care to remember. I always enjoy the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, teasing me about my previous jobs.

I join other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. His comments on equality and human rights were pitched very nicely. I am delighted to welcome him to the House and have no doubt that it will benefit from his knowledge and experience.

This is the first piece of legislation that I will be guiding through this House and I look forward to working with noble Lords to deliver a Bill that provides some of the certainty that businesses so desperately need in these unprecedented times.

I am of course following in the footsteps of my noble friend Lady Fairhead, who was in this very same situation in the 2017-19 Session. She undertook that role with calmness, courtesy and expertise. I have heard various references to the constructive way in which she dealt with Peers, and I will try to follow in her footsteps in that regard.

This place has the benefit of being able to hear from many experts, and we have seen that in action today. Being a newcomer, I stand in awe of the knowledge that there is in your Lordships’ House. I am particularly grateful today for the contributions that I heard from my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Lansley, the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, among many others. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about the need for language skills, and I endorse her views on that.

As ever, the considerable experience of this House will be invaluable in helping us to put in place an effective independent trade policy now that we have left the EU. I was pleased to hear support for the objectives of the Bill from a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Astor, Lord Lilley, Lady Hooper, Lord Taylor, Lord Risby, Lady Redfern, Lord Sheikh, Lady Noakes, Lord Trenchard and many others.

This has been a very wide-ranging debate and I will endeavour to respond to as many points as I can. I may not be able to address all of them in the time available, but of course my door is always open and I am happy to follow up individual points and questions from noble Lords.

We intend to join the GPA, as the House has heard, as an independent party on substantially the same terms as we had under EU membership. This approach will support a swift accession at the end of the transition period and preserve UK businesses’ access to procurement opportunities covered by the GPA, which are estimated to be worth £1.3 trillion annually. My noble friend Lord Trenchard spoke convincingly about this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked about SMEs in the GPA. Non-discrimination is the core principle of public procurement in the UK, and as such we do not have set-asides for SMEs in international agreements. We have an active policy agenda to facilitate SME participation in public procurement, and we will continue to advance that agenda as we accede to the GPA as an independent state.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Whitty, have raised concerns during this debate that the Government’s continuity programme will reduce standards. I want again to be quite clear about this: now that we have left the EU, the UK will be the same country that it has always been—dependable, open and fair. The Government have been clear that we have no intention of lowering standards, and we have fulfilled this commitment through our deeds. None of the 20 agreements already signed has reduced standards in any area.

I recognise the strength of feeling that the issue of standards generates among colleagues on all sides of the House. We can see this during the current debates on the Agriculture Bill and we saw it during the debates on the Trade Bill 2017-19. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade and my Defra colleagues have said, this Government will stand firm in trade negotiations. We will always do the right thing by our farmers and aim to secure new opportunities for the industry. This Government will not dilute our high environment protection, animal welfare and food standards. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured that all imports, whether covered by a trade agreement or otherwise, have to comply with the import requirements as provided for under the WTO SPS agreement.

This is a highly regulated space. In the case of food safety, it will be the job of the food standards agencies to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards and that consumers are protected from unsafe food that does not meet those standards. Decisions on these standards are a matter solely for the UK and are made separately from any trade agreements. It is also important to note that our existing import standards already include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products. They also prohibit anything other than potable water being used to decontaminate poultry carcasses.

These protections are already enshrined in our domestic statutes and the Government will be upholding them. Any changes to them would require new legislation to be brought before Parliament. Decisions around standards are a matter for Parliament and they cannot and will not be traded away in negotiations. We have been very clear that our high food safety standards will continue to apply to all food imports, and our priority is to ensure trade agreements benefit the whole UK, including consumers, farmers and businesses.

Some peers have also expressed concerns as to whether our continuity agreements will be consistent with specific international environmental obligations. The noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, all talked about the climate emergency. I can confirm that all the EU agreements we are transitioning are fully compliant with all our international obligations, including the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The same is true of human rights and labour rights. I hope this House will acknowledge the UK’s strong history of defending human and labour rights, alongside promoting our values globally. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, spoke with passion on this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, on labour rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, talked about the benefits we will eventually get from operationalising FTAs. I will dwell on this for moment. It is easy to think that these are just pieces of paper, but their real worth comes when businesses large and small throughout the United Kingdom take advantage of them, hopefully using digital techniques and gaining benefit. That is why we are negotiating FTAs.

I will quickly deal with some of the specific questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about intellectual property. As he will know, our intellectual property regime is consistently rated as one of the best in the world. One of our priorities will be to ensure that future trade agreements do not negatively impact on standards in this area and that our regime will promote trade in intellectual property.

My noble friend Lord Astor asked about trade envoys. I pay tribute to the role he has played as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Oman. My noble friend asked when a newly appointed trade envoy will be announced. As he and I know, this is a train that has been a long time coming. While I cannot provide an exact date, I assure my noble friend that he will not have to wait very long.

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked for a quick update on FTA discussions with Turkey. We place a great deal of importance on our trading relationships with Turkey. Bilateral trade was worth over £18.6 billion in the four quarters to the end of June 2020. We want to protect those existing trade flows by replicating the current trading relationships as far as possible. However, Turkey’s unique position of being in a customs union with the EU means that some of our future trading relationships will be influenced by the agreement we have reached with the EU. My trade colleagues are having good, positive discussions with Turkey, and I am convinced that eventually they will reach a favourable outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked for an update on the agreements with east and southern African countries. The UK, Southern African Customs Union member states and Mozambique continuity agreement was signed in October 2019 and passed CRaG in February 2020. It has not yet been fully ratified by all third countries that were signatories to the original agreement, but I am pleased to say that HMG in our local posts are working closely with local partners to support full ratification and implementation of this agreement.

My noble friend Lady Hooper asked about the EU-Mercosur agreement. This will not be in force before the end of the transition period, but we will look to discuss our future trade relationship bilaterally and collectively and to develop it further in due course.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, asked about the CPTPP—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. I am pleased to say that all its members have now welcomed our interest in accession. We will decide whether and when to formally apply to join in light of these continuing engagements, the process of bilateral negotiations with CPTPP members and our confidence that we will be able to negotiate accession on terms compatible with our broader interests, which is, of course, the only basis on which we would want to join.

The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, asked for reassurance about the important work that our standards agencies, including UKAS, do. I can confirm that we are very grateful for what they do, and that they will still play a large role in helping us deliver our trade agreements.

A number of noble Lords raised the important question of agriculture, and I totally understand. The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that the views of farmers, producers and consumers are able to inform trade policy. As we have heard during the debate, we have established a Trade and Agriculture Commission, following consultation with the industry, and we have a farming trade advisory group. I reassure the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that the membership of these groups is not secret: you can find it on GOV.UK. We are on the side of farmers, and the establishment of the commission has had overwhelming support from the National Farmers’ Union and many others.

I realise there is a strong concern felt by certain noble Lords on animal welfare. Of course, this is laudable but, as noble Lords will appreciate, it is not within the gift of the UK Government to legislate for overseas countries. Indeed, legislating for higher agricultural production standards could have far-reaching, unintended consequences, which could harm the UK economy and our relationships with countries around the world, particularly our partners in the developing world.

We heard concerns from some noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, about the National Health Service. I reiterate yet again that our position is absolute: the NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to any company, anywhere. It will remain universal and free at the point of need, and no trade agreement will alter that fundamental principle. I noted carefully the points made about health data. I love the expression “mutant algorithms” from the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and I will draw his point to the attention of our negotiators.

ISDS is a subject which often causes excitement, and my noble friend Lord Caithness raised the issue during his contribution, as did the noble Lords, Lord Freyberg and Lord Hendy. I confirm that ISDS tribunals can never overrule the sovereignty of Parliament. They cannot overturn or force any changes to law; they can only award compensation if a foreign investor’s rights under an international treaty, to which the UK is party, have been breached. ISDS cannot force the privatisation of public services. There has never been a successful ISDS claim against the United Kingdom, but our investors operating overseas have often benefited from these agreements.

I turn now to the question of parliamentary scrutiny. In relation to the continuity agreements, our objective, as noble Lords know, for transitioning EU third-country trade agreements has been to secure continuity in existing trading relationships. The original EU trade agreements have already been scrutinised, both by the European Parliament, on which the UK sat, and member state legislatures such as our own.

I know that last time a similar Bill was debated, noble Lords did so in the absence of any real-world example of how the continuity programme would work, but we are in a different position now. We have ensured that Parliament has had the opportunity to fully scrutinise all continuity trade agreements, and of the 20 we have signed so far, noble Lords have held three debates on six of them, and not one attracted a Motion to Regret. To clarify a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, made about the UK-Israel continuity agreement, it went through the CRaG process and concluded that process in March 2019.

Furthermore, to provide additional transparency for our programme, we have voluntarily adopted the proposal put forward during the passage of the Bill in the 2017-19 Session and laid a report alongside each transitioned trade agreement to explain to Parliament our approach to delivering continuity.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab)
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May I make a point that might help the discussion?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I will be very happy to discuss that point with the noble Lord afterwards, if it would be of assistance.

Our continuity agreement treaty scrutiny arrangements received praise recently from the House of Lords EU Committee, which, in its recent report Treaty Scrutiny: Working Practices said:

“We encourage other Whitehall departments to follow the lead of the Department for International Trade and make similar commitments to ensure that other important agreements … are scrutinised just as effectively as trade agreements.”


Praise indeed.

Many Peers raised issues in relation to parliamentary scrutiny of future free trade agreements. While, of course, the Trade Bill does not deal with these agreements, I recognise the importance that noble Lords attach to Parliament having proper oversight. As I said when I opened this debate, the implementation of such agreements will be subject to separate scrutiny arrangements. We will be publishing negotiation objectives, voluntarily publishing impact assessments before and after negotiations, keeping Parliament updated on negotiations and, at the end of negotiations, treaties will be subject to the usual ratification processes.

I know that a number of noble Lords do not share my view that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act provides an effective and robust framework for scrutiny of all treaties that require ratification, but it has worked, it is the arrangement we have, and it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that the information we provide under CRaG is transparent and helpful and allows, in particular, the committees to do their work properly. The UK has scrutiny mechanisms via the CRaG procedure whereby Parliament can see exactly what we have negotiated and can, if it chooses, prevent ratification by voting against the treaty—in the case of the other place, it can do so indefinitely.

I stress that no trade agreement can, of itself, alter our domestic legislation. We will ensure that there will be a report, independent of government, published by the committees at the beginning of the CRaG process, that will assist parliamentarians and the public in understanding the implications of agreements. We have heard a number of comments from noble Lords about devolution. We have listened carefully to the concerns of the devolved Administrations and I am pleased that the Scottish Government have now recommended consent to the Bill. I hope that continued engagement with the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive will lead to further recommendations for legislative consent to the Bill.

This has been a long debate and a number of extremely valuable points have been raised. With a huge sense of relief, I now turn to my closing remarks, and I imagine that noble Lords are as grateful for that as I am. I know that I have not been able to address all the points raised by your Lordships, but if there are matters that noble Lords would find it helpful to discuss further, I would be only too happy to meet them at any stage. I look forward to the further stages of the Bill and to working in a spirit of partnership and purpose to provide the certainty that businesses and consumers in all four corners of our great nation crave and need in the current circumstances.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.