Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 29th September 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-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Grand Committee - (29 Sep 2020)
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I offer the Green group’s agreement with the legal aims of all noble Lords who have spoken so far. Amendments 1 to 5 seek to keep environmental and public health protections, and in particular workers’ rights protections. I note that there has been very strong support for Amendment 5. I offer support, too, for Amendments 100 to 102, because of the need for democratic control of this House—something that we seem to spend a lot of time talking about these days. I also agree very much with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, about how they would keep basic minimum standards here, so it is very hard to see why the Government would disagree with any of them.

However, I can perhaps offer different sentiments to some of the ones expressed in the debate thus far. The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, said that we had seen a century of rising standards. That is broadly true if you start from the beginning and go to the end, but in recent decades there have been real falls in standards, and when we look at the state of the world, whether we consider the natural environment or the climate emergency, we see that there has been a massive degradation.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, said that there is no point having trade that reduces our standards. I very much agree with that, but we have a real problem in that so much trade has done just that. On Friday, I was at the launch of a report by the Green House Think Tank and the Green European Foundation on trade and investment requirements for zero carbon, which set out how much damage trade has done historically. However, what we are debating are the amendments, and however much we might want to shape towards a trade world that has less trade in it but far better trade that does not build in environmental destruction and exploitation of workers, we do not want to go backwards. These modest amendments, as other noble Lords have said, seek modestly to ensure that we do not go backwards. I therefore commend them to the Committee.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I agree entirely with the speech of my noble friend Lord Hain. We have moved a long way from when public contracts and the wages thereof were governed by the 1946 House of Commons fair wages resolution. We do not want to go back to those days, but we will if we are not careful.

Before making my main point, I want to reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in her question about small traders. I agree with the sentiment behind her questions to the Minister, but in relation to schools, hospitals and prisons, there is an real ongoing problem: it is not possible to create a situation where someone can bid—or feel that they have a chance of bidding—for a particular prison or school, or for a group of prisons or schools, simply because we have devolved the administration and awarding of contracts to the lowest possible level; there is no central control. Small firms will miss out unless something is put into the process that allows them to benefit. On the other hand, I do not want to leave the EU, so I do not want small firms to benefit either way; there is a better way of reorganising the EU.

The only reason I asked to speak on this group is Amendment 100. It is another example of how this Government are constantly trying to make sure that this House does not get a voice. The Bill talks about scrutiny as a resolution of either House of Parliament. That is not good enough. The amendment would correct it: it should be each House of Parliament. The contempt shown by Ministers for the parliamentary scrutiny process is abysmal and on a massive scale, and it has to be pulled back constantly. The House of Commons will try to make that provision tomorrow, and we have to do it in this Bill. I therefore offer 100% support for Amendment 100.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, listening to noble Lords who have contributed so far, it seems to me that they are losing sight of the fact that Clause 1 is really about enabling the UK to take advantage of the GPA, and they seem to be trying to make that much more difficult. Several noble Lords talked about a reduction in standards, and a race to the bottom was mentioned twice. Government policy is not to race to the bottom; it is not to diminish standards. We constantly hear that noble Lords in other parts of the House do not trust the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, said that we need amendments to allay his suspicions. I have to say to him that we do not legislate just to allay the suspicions of Liberal Democrat Peers; we legislate for effective legislation.

Many of the amendments are just telling the Government how and when they have to go and negotiate on certain things. If they were passed, they would be quite burdensome on the Government, who have quite a lot to do to try to get us ready for a post-EU trading world for the benefit of the UK. Nothing really happens if there is no outcome from most of the amendments, which seems to me a flaw in them.

I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said about SMEs. There is an issue about SMEs having access to public procurement opportunities in the UK, as well as the rest of the world, which is what we are talking about getting access to through the GPA. The answer is not to go and negotiate with other signatories to the GPA. The issue of SMEs not having the access that they think they could have would be better dealt with by more specific and targeted government action to remove any barriers to SMEs taking part in government procurement, wherever they are. I hope that my noble friend can say something about what can be done to enable those SMEs which wish to take part in government procurement—not all do, especially not international government procurement —to do so.

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Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 11, a wide-ranging amendment, and make some general comments arising from it. I am particularly concerned about the relationship between leaving the single market—going it alone—and international law, because in various permutations there are a number of aspects that impact on a whole range of things here in this country and more widely, as quite a number of speakers have already pointed out this afternoon.

In particular, I would like to know how the Government would react to an international commitment, hitherto embedded in EU law but also part of international law, which they disliked. As we know from wider political debate over recent weeks, adherence to the rule of law is important—to Parliament, to the public and to the Government. On the other hand, one of the curious consequences of exercising sovereignty in its rawest form is that you are able to overrule the rule of law, whatever you might have signed up to previously.

Clearly, international law has a different impact at home and abroad, but the old, clear line of demarcation between home and abroad, and the relationship between the role of Parliament and the exercise of the prerogative is, I believe, mere fancy, as has been mentioned by a number of speakers. Decisions taken abroad, outside the jurisdiction, may not be directly enforceable in the courts at home, but they define a Government’s standing and credibility and, if implemented, can have a far greater impact on the UK than much domestic legislation.

For all this, I believe that the Committee is fully entitled to a cogent, understandable and comprehensive description of the Government’s approach to these matters, and that it should be given from the Dispatch Box to ensure the whole story—a kind of Pepper v Hart process. How this question is answered may very well determine how my votes are cast if and when amendments to the Bill are pressed: and I dare say that the same may be true for others.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will say at the outset that I was astonished by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine. I shall not comment on it, but I thought it was astonishing—astonishingly negative, I might add. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was helpful in the sense that he correctly pointed out the obvious: namely, that the defects of Amendment 33, as he sees them, can be knocked into shape for Report. But that is the purpose of Committee, so I do not see it as a problem.

I was very proud to add my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I agree with everything he said. We have some serious issues regarding China. In the normal meaning of the word, it is clearly using slave labour, and has been for many years. The issue of predatory purchasing of products around the world is really serious.

I hope that the Minister will have picked up by now that there is a general lack of trust in the Government. This has been brought about, I have to say, by speeches from the Prime Minister and other senior Cabinet Ministers. There is a feeling that we want to cut corners and buccaneer our way round the world, as we used to do. All that means is dropping standards and, as I said at Second Reading, less transparency.

I will not go over the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He will not remember this, but the last time I followed him was in 1978, just after his maiden speech. I said a few complimentary things about it and the late Eric Heffer went absolutely berserk. A review of dependency on China is long overdue. If we are subject to 229 categories of dependency, of which 57 are critical, that is a strategic issue for the Government to look at with our partners and friends, whether inside or outside the EU.

I understand what infrastructure means. I do not have a problem with trade in infrastructure, which is different to the trade in goods. The water for the cup of tea I have just had was boiled in a kettle made in China. The shop where I purchased it had 16 models of electric kettle; every single one was made in China. I am sad to say that the trousers I am wearing—which I would not be standing up in the House of Lords in—were made in China. That is not infrastructure, but I understand what that is; it is listed in the amendment.

It is time for a disengagement. Only one country in the world is named after a family; China is actually owned by a political party. We have to take cognisance of that. It is not the Chinese people, or even the infrastructure of China. It is the co-ordinated effects of the Chinese Communist Party and we ought to be aware of that. So I wholly agree with the sentiments of and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

My message to the Minister is: there is a bit of a lack of trust in general, and the Government have to address that in this and other Bills. I too have been waiting for the telecoms Bill. Because of illness, I only got sworn in to the House in late June, so I could not participate in the debates on it, but there are some serious issues. I agree with the Government on telecoms; they are absolutely right. I agreed with Theresa May looking at Hinkley Point and I disagreed with the decision that was arrived at. These issues have to be looked at and addressed. The Minister has to take back to his colleagues that there is a general lack of trust in what the Government are saying and what they might do—hence these amendments.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 33 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I am a firm believer in the need for democratic oversight of key procurement areas in international trade agreements. As other noble Lords have pointed out, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave a comprehensive rationale for the amendment and why it should be placed on the face of the Bill.

Many Members of your Lordships’ House are deeply concerned about human rights violations in China and feel that, if it is going to be involved in critical infrastructure procurement deals, the deals have to be subject to legislative rigour by way of primary legislation and, maybe, to regulation by secondary legislation. It is well worth noting the commentary from the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, earlier today.

Having done some research in support of Amendment 33, I note that there have been considerable abuses by the Chinese against the Uighurs, as has already been referred to. There has been forced sterilisation of Uighur women, organ harvesting and detention of Uighur people into classified re-education camps. In fact, earlier this year Dominic Raab said there were “gross and egregious” human rights abuses. In view of what the Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes—a former Governor of Hong Kong—have said, surely, based on their evidence and knowledge, it would be prudent to accept such an amendment in the Bill. The fact that they have also banned the Uighurs, who are Muslims, from fasting during Ramadan is a gross infringement of human rights and civil liberties. I have no hesitation in supporting this amendment and urge the Minister to give grave and positive consideration to ensuring that it is placed in the Bill.