Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 29th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee
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-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Grand Committee - (29 Sep 2020)
I remind the Committee that, when we reach that stage, I would be very grateful for two statements from my noble friend: the first, about how future trade agreements will be implemented into domestic legislation through bespoke primary legislation; and secondly, that the processes to which the then Government committed themselves in the previous Trade Bill for agreeing future trade agreements will be the basis—we hope, the complete basis—for the present Government’s approach to the approval of future trade agreements.
Lord Haskel Portrait Lord Haskel (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, apart from any rollover deals which we entered into when we were part of the European Union, these amendments deal with the ratification of future trade deals. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I support these amendments, for many reasons. First, as my noble friend Lord Stevenson explained, they give Parliament on opportunity, a chance, to improve treaties by flagging up ambiguities, loopholes or unintended consequences which may have been missed.

When we were members of the EU, these trade agreements were scrutinised for this purpose, on our behalf, by the European Parliament. It had considerable say in these negotiations and actually voted on the final text. This scrutiny is particularly important because international treaties are binding on future Governments. Indeed, full parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals was a commitment in Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto. Now that we have left the EU, we find that instead of Parliament having a say in these agreements, it is largely an executive power, and ratification becomes a formality.

When we debated the previous Trade Bill, Amendment 12 on Report proposed a similar process for ratification. It was approved by a strong majority in this House. Indeed, the House’s concern is demonstrated by the setting up of our International Agreements Committee to look at progress on trade negotiations—the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to this.

These amendments also bring the management of our trade agreements into the 21st century, as my noble friend explained. This is because trade deals have become much more than simple matters of business. They are strategic; they are geopolitical; they affect our standard of living. This is why ratification has to be so much more than a simple executive process. Amendment 10 acknowledges this by setting a framework for future trade policy. This is so Parliament can ensure that our social and environmental values and standards are maintained. Amendment 10 assumes that these matters were taken into consideration when the EU negotiated a trade agreement, so this arrangement does not apply to rollover trade agreements, which I think is reasonable.

In supporting these amendments, I was influenced by a paper published by the Global Economic Governance Programme. It compared our ratification process with that of other countries in the EU. They involve their Parliaments extensively with the ratification process. Here, the extent of our Parliament’s power is to delay ratification by 21 days, which is the only way it can hold the Government to account. This is clearly inadequate, and these amendments set about putting it right. That is why I support them.

Another reason why I support these very timely amendments is that, in recent weeks, public trust in the Government’s executive powers has declined because of the way they are using their emergency powers to control the Covid-19 epidemic. This decline in trust is likely to be demonstrated in the other place tomorrow. If we are not careful, the same lack of trust will happen with the Government’s power to ratify trade deals with little parliamentary input. Again, this is why these amendments are timely and important, and they have my support.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, this Bill is supposed to be about continuity agreements. I accept that Amendments 10 and 103 are within the Long Title, but I do not understand why whoever drafted the Bill gave it a Long Title which allowed amendments dealing with non-continuity agreements, non-free trade agreements, to come within its scope. However, we are where we are.

I put my name down to speak on this group of amendments mainly because of Amendments 10 and 103, which seem to be another back-door attempt to override the CRaG process, which is based on the much more long-standing process of the Ponsonby rule. It is part of a long-standing tradition that that is how we handle treaties in our Parliament. I accept that we will have a longer debate on that when we get to the group including Amendment 35. We ought to recognise that this is not simply a question of Parliament not being involved. In February 2019, the Government announced their approach to involving Parliament in international treaties, which supplements the formal CRaG processes. The current Administration have confirmed that they broadly stand by that earlier announcement of policy. It would be helpful if my noble friend the Minister could reaffirm that today.