Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 9 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-III Third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (1 Oct 2020)
The UK has historically taken international law and its international obligations seriously. However, what many thought was our unshakeable observance of international commitments has in recent weeks been undermined, as has been shown by the EU starting legal action against the UK over the Brexit deal in the past few hours. Amendment 12 not only ensures that we remain committed to the path of a more sustainable future, but would re-signal to the wider international community that the UK Parliament remains an institution that takes seriously the obligations of agreements we as a sovereign nation have signed.
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - -

[Inaudible.]—the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that the Government are genuinely committed to achieving our environmental and climate change objectives. In so far as I depart from him and others, it is not in relation to that but in relation to the effect of the amendments.

The amendments in this group have a number of different effects. Amendments 12 and 40 essentially bear upon the agreements to be implemented using regulations made under Clause 2, which, as the Bill is presently constructed, are the roll-over agreements that we started with from the European Union. I have no reason to understand—unless somebody tells me otherwise—that any are inconsistent with our environmental obligations, so I do not understand why it is necessary to put amendments in the Bill to tell us that we should not implement them if they are contrary to those obligations since I do not think that is the case. That is step one.

Step two is that a number of these amendments go further. They want to construct what is essentially a structure for mandating the Government to enter into future international trade agreements only in ways consistent with our international obligations on the environment and a series of other specific requirements. We will encounter this argument again and again during scrutiny of the Bill. My view is that while the Bill is an appropriate mechanism for us to improve the process of scrutiny of future trade agreements, it is not right in this legislation to attempt to construct a list of what the Government are intending to achieve in future trade negotiations. It would be a very long list. Having constructed such a long list, the Government would be unable to conduct any of those trade negotiations with any negotiating flexibility whatever. People could just look at the legislation and say, “We know what the British Government can do, and it is not very much”.

Mandating international trade negotiators in advance also means that we would trespass into the territory of removing from Governments the executive power of the prerogative and executive prerogative. We could do it, but if we are going to do it, we should do it in the context of a major piece of legislation which sets up a statutory framework for doing so. We have no such statutory framework, and I do not think we can conceive that it should be added to piecemeal in this way. I therefore cannot agree with most of Amendments 40, 69 and 73.

Amendment 21 appears to have been constructed simply to prevent the Government implementing any trade agreement with the United States. I do not know of any country outwith the criteria other than the United States, it having issued notice of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. If I understand the amendment, it would come into effect on 20 November 2020 at the earliest. Expressing a purely personal view, I hope that will not happen and that it will not be necessary.

I want to mention one or two other small things. I do not understand Amendment 14 at all since it seems to replicate what is already in the Bill. We are intending to implement agreements similar to, or the same as, those we entered into as a member of the European Union. If it is saying something other than that, it would introduce a degree of ambiguity which I do not think is desirable.

Amendment 22 does something completely different. It removes the power to modify retained direct principal European Union legislation. We went over this in some detail the previous time this Bill was before us, two years ago. I still do not understand why this is necessary in so far as the power is already in the Government’s hands under Schedule 8 to the EU withdrawal Act 2018. Perhaps the Minister will explain why it is additionally necessary to legislate in this way now.

Finally, although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is not with us, his spirit moves with us none the less. If one looks at Clause 2(6) one will see that line 26 states:

“Regulations under subsection (1) may, among other things, make provision”

and then there is a list. On 20 March 2019, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, asked what “among other things” meant and why that phrase was there. The subsection is there to say that the regulations may make provision in a number of specific respects, but the drafters have given Ministers additional freedom to do what exactly? Since these are roll-over agreements, it seems to me that the words “among other things” are not necessary. At the time, my noble friend Lady Fairhead said that it was an interesting point and she would take it away and think about it. Therefore, if they have thought about it, they have put it back in the Bill having thought about it, or else they did not think about it and have simply reproduced the Bill and it is as pointless now as it was then. Perhaps the Minister will kindly tell us what “among other things” in that line means.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the other noble Lords who have signed his Amendment 12. As the Committee should be aware, the United Kingdom has been a leader in standing up internationally for high environmental standards around the world. As the Minister made clear at Second Reading, all the continuity agreements that we have been and are negotiating are fully compliant with our international obligations, including the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is unnecessary to constrain the Government’s freedom in negotiating trade agreements with countries, including developing countries which may not have adopted the same environmental standards as we have, because that might have unintended consequences. Furthermore, the Paris Agreement targets only carbon reduction, but does not fully address the equally great national security challenge of providing clean energy for the whole planet, particularly in a world that needs more energy, not less.

As for Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I am not quite sure what its purpose is. As I understand it, it would prohibit the application of the powers created in this clause for the purposes of an enhanced continuity trade agreement such as that which we have agreed with Japan. Why would the noble Lord and my noble friend wish unduly to restrict the freedom of our negotiators to take any available opportunity to include enhancements to any continuity agreement?

As for Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, I oppose it for the reason suggested by my noble friend Lord Lansley. It seems to me that it is designed to prevent a trade agreement with the United States, and that would have a negative effect on the economy and deny opportunities to British exporters and food producers.

Amendment 40, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, is similarly unnecessary. In any case, your Lordships have received repeated assurances that none of our continuity agreements will deviate from the high standards that we apply to environmental issues, similar to human rights, as debated in a previous group. The Minister has already reassured the Committee that the Government will continue to publish parliamentary reports with each continuity agreement.

It will not surprise my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering to hear that I do not support her Amendment 69. It is clear that the Food Standards Agency has the powers to permit, or not, the sale of any foods which might be imported under FTAs. The amendment also seeks to require alignment of our agricultural marketing standards with those of the EU, which we have left. I agree with my noble friend that high animal welfare standards are a laudable objective, and we have done relatively well in this country in this area. However, I think she is incorrect to argue that animal welfare is exactly the same as animal health and hygiene. We will be free to set our own regulations after the end of the transition period. I earnestly trust that we will move quickly to adopt standards that are WTO compliant, unlike those of the EU, which in certain respects conflict with the WTO’s SPS agreement.

As my noble friend the Minister said at Second Reading, it is not within the gift of the UK Parliament to legislate on animal welfare standards for overseas countries. 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. As the Minister said at Second Reading, 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 those standards are a matter solely for the UK and are made separately from any trade agreements. I ask the Minister to confirm that that remains the Government’s position.

For similar reasons, I am also opposed to Amendments 73 and 74 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In any case, does my noble friend the Minister not agree that the Government would obviously not seek to enter into an international trade agreement without any merit with any nation? Neither should we expect only to enter into agreements which share precisely our positions on all multilateral environmental agreements.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I want to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about today’s drugs not always necessarily being the cheapest. I accept that, but on the other hand, I am sure he would agree that in the overwhelming range of medicines, today’s drugs are highly valuable and economic.

I remember that during my time as director of VSO, I attended a training course for medical personnel of all kinds, doctors, nurses and so on, who would be going off to take up exacting assignments in the poorest parts of the world. The lecturer was absolutely brilliant. He was an eminent physician who has gone on to even more eminent positions. At a certain point he dished out two pieces of paper each to everyone in the room. He said, “Please write down on one piece of paper the last drug that you prescribed for a patient. On the second piece of paper, please write down the name of the last drug that you took.”

The lecturer collected these in and then went into a state of outrage—he was a very effective performer—saying, “You are going to do vital medical work in various parts of the world”. As he went through the bits of paper, he said, “Look at this! You know that, for this patented drug, there is a generic drug available at a cheaper rate. You know that—why have you done it?” People were just flummoxed; they did not know why they had done it. They had got into a culture where too much of the sale of medicines was in the hands of PR and advertising companies that were, on the back of drugs, making a lot of money by finding more attractive ways of presenting things that were available generically.

I also remember at that time that, in Bangladesh, there was a great deal of concern because we were trying to support a factory—an enterprise—that was making generic drugs available in Bangladesh. My goodness, the moves that were afoot to try to undermine the viability of that company.

I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for having introduced her amendment because, if there is one thing that we must hold dear, it is that we cannot allow any further privatisation of the health service by the back door. It is inadvertent sometimes, but sometimes it is quite deliberate by those who try to manipulate trade deals in the interests of their own countries and industries.

I also commend very warmly my noble friend Lord Bassam. He is absolutely right that it is vital that Governments of all persuasions have available without inhibition the opportunity to introduce public ownership where it becomes essential. We again know that there have been too many dangers that these rights may be curbed. We have had a peculiar situation in Britain where, because of the curbs that already exist, we have had nationalised companies in other European countries running British rail systems. That is just absurd. We must not open the door to the possibility that more of that could occur. My noble friend is absolutely right to have brought his amendment into the context of the Bill.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I say first that I very much agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Noakes had to say, which means that I can save myself saying some of those things by thoroughly agreeing with her, in particular on the point she made about the disinformation about private ownership in the NHS.

When the noble Lord, Lord Patel, whom I regard as a friend, makes his points, he has to answer the following question. Is it his proposition that when the Priory Group, which was a UK company for many years, was bought by an American company, that should have been prevented by the UK Government? That is the question that he has to answer. In fact, it was not prevented by the UK Government, and indeed for decades Governments in this country have allowed foreign ownership of UK companies. If we were to stop that, it would of course have very big implications for the investor relationship that we have with other countries. However, that is not what we are proposing, and I do not think that it is what either the Official Opposition or the Liberal Democrats are proposing, so it does not really have any force as an argument.

More to the point is whether anything in our trade relationships and trade agreements that we enter into prejudices our ability to have a National Health Service free at the point of use, paid for out of general taxation and controlled by us as a public service? There is nothing in those trade agreements that allows that. In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee—she might care to look at the evidence that has been given—is examining in detail the Government’s proposals for negotiations with the United States on a prospective free trade agreement. That expressly excludes any measures that would have any impact on the NHS or on our ability to control our pharmaceutical pricing and supply system. That is very clear; she can look at it.

All three amendments relate to rollover agreements; they do not talk about future trade agreements. Therefore, the debate about the American free trade agreement is irrelevant to these amendments. I looked at one example —the Canada-EU agreement, which is able to be rolled over with the benefit of implementation through this legislation. A description on the EU legal database of Chapter Nine of the agreement on cross-border trade in services says that

“this chapter fully upholds governments’ ability to regulate and supply services in the public interest.”

On Chapter Eighteen, which relates to state enterprises, monopolies, and enterprises granted special rights or privileges, it says, in terms:

“The rules ensure that both parties have the full freedom of choice in the way they provide public services to their citizens.”

There is a general exception which says that provision can be made

“to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.

I think that the proposers of amendments of this character have to look at what they are proposing and ask whether it changes anything. The rollover agreements comply with those requirements, and therefore the legislation is entirely robust.

I rather deprecate the idea that one proposes amendments and, before listening to the debate, says, “Well, I might bring it back on Report”. I suggest to noble Lords that they listen to the debate and, if they propose to bring back an amendment back on Report, they redesign it so that it bites on future trade agreements. At least we could then have a debate that was relevant. There is nothing in what is proposed here in relation to health or public services, in particular, that bites in any sensible way on the existing trade agreement.

We should remember that these trade agreements do not change domestic law. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for example, that the law of the land says that you cannot introduce charges for NHS services other than by new primary legislation. That is the only way in which it can happen. Therefore, we do not need to trust the Prime Minister; it is in the law. Of course, one can change anything through primary legislation, but the Prime Minister has not done so, and I can confidently say to noble Lords that I know that he will not do so to introduce charging for NHS services. He would not get it through even if he tried.

Therefore, I do not quite get any of this. Frankly, Amendment 13 feels a bit as though the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, wants to ignore the result of the last general election. If the election had gone another way and Jeremy Corbyn had become Prime Minister, he could have done these things and trade agreements would not have stopped him. It is the election that stopped him, and not trying to legislate to stop trade agreements being irrelevant.