Trade Bill

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Excerpts
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)
Moved by
7: Clause 2, page 2, line 9, after “considers” insert “necessary and”
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 7, I shall also speak to the others in this group, which it is difficult to argue about knowing what is to come further down the agenda and on the list of amendments. I mean this in the sense that it talks about and effectively looks to amend what I will call the status quo ante. I say this because we very much hope that the Government will accept later amendments about scrutiny and other issues; this would, of course, considerably change what would be said in Clause 2, which is about the implementation of international trade agreements.

In some senses, this debate will largely be conducted in a vacuum. I hope I will be able, as I go through, to argue the points that I want to make and that there are points here that we need to focus on quite hard. This is particularly because the opening subsection here—Clause 2(1)—is drafted very broadly, and I will make a particular point about it. I will read it out:

“An appropriate authority may by regulations make such provision as the authority considers appropriate for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.”

This seems such a wide power that is being given to Ministers, and it needs to be questioned in its own right. However, obviously, it plays back into what I have just been saying regarding future amendments that we will discuss in relation to the power of Parliament and where and how its various committees have a role in this process.

Amendment 7 is very narrowly drawn; it suggests that, before “appropriate” we put in “necessary and”, which would make it read “considers necessary and appropriate” in relation to the power being given to Ministers. There may well be an argument against what I am saying along the lines of, “This is splitting hairs and is a legal definition that we do not need to worry about; it is common in many parts of the statute book and we should not be concerned about it.”

However, I thought it would be worth raising this as an earlier point on the agenda because a similar amendment was moved in the Commons by the Member for Dundee East. Regarding the powers in Clause 2, he pointed out:

“The effect of the amendment would be to limit the scope of the powers”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/20; col. 130.]

He described those powers as “vague and subjective”. I cannot possibly comment on that, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to it. I want to quote, very briefly, what the Minister in the other place said when faced with this amendment:

“The power is needed to implement obligations arising from continuity trade agreements into domestic law over time and in all circumstances.”

He went on:

“Without such an ability to make changes, the UK would be at risk of being in breach of our international obligations.”

I pause, perhaps for hollow laughter. He then said:

“I can assure colleagues that the powers in the Bill will be used in a proportionate way ... The Government view ‘appropriate’ and ‘necessary’ as synonymous”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/20; col. 131.]

That made me think a little, and I went to check the dictionary for my own satisfaction. It defines “appropriate” as:

“Suitable or proper in the circumstances”.

However, it defines “necessary” as “essential” and “needing to be done”. I really do not think that these are synonyms; I hope that when the Minister responds, he will be able to throw a little more light on to this.

However, I pause only to set the scene for discussions picked up in later amendments—on which I am very pleased to be joined by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—and one in my name that I will speak to shortly. As I said, Amendment 9 deals with a situation that we hope will change, but it is basically about the use of the powers that are in the Bill and would be used should it be necessary to change or adjust the terms of a free trade agreement currently organised through the EU but that will become a matter for the UK once the interim period is finished.

We think that Clause 2(1) is important and the whole of the clause deals with the way these powers are implemented but also constrained. The point was made in the other place that, although the primary drafting of Clause 2(1)—which gives the power to

“make such provision as the authority considers appropriate”—

is very wide, there are constraints further on, particularly in relation to limits on such matters as not allowing the rule to be used to change tariffs, for instance. In fact, this is because there are powers in other parts of the statute book that would deal with that. Nevertheless, it is an example of the Government’s argument—which I am sure we will hear from the Minister when he responds—which is that, although this is a very broad-based power, it is necessary because of the uncertain way in which these things might change over time.

However, I wonder whether the Minister, when he comes to respond, might look in particular at some of the issues raised in the Explanatory Notes, paragraph 36 of which states:

“Not all obligations in EU-partner country trade agreements will have been fully implemented by the EU in EU law … by the end of the transition period.”

Therefore, the power in Clause 2 will be necessary to pick this up going forward. Could he give examples of areas where this applies? The Explanatory Notes talk about “procurement” and

“mutual recognition … in respect of enforcement or compensation provisions.”

They may well be the limits, but it would be helpful for the Committee to know a little more about that, and, when the Minister responds, I would be very grateful for this. If he wants to write to me, I will understand.

Paragraph 37 of the Explanatory Notes says:

“It is also possible that adjustments may be required to ensure that the new UK-partner country trade agreements work outside the original EU context.”

It states that this might require a “change to UK law”. We are now talking about changes to primary legislation so, again, it would be helpful if the Minister could give us some examples in relation this. The third point is that paragraph 38 says that it is important that we have continuity over time and that regulations must be “up to date”. Again, I think we accept that this is necessary, but it would be useful to have examples.

I do not want to detain the Committee too long on this, but I point out that the power in Clause 2 is very widely drawn. Constraints are implied in the way the Explanatory Notes are drafted but, as we know, these are not part of the statute book and are not able to be prayed in aid. We need statements from the Government to make sure that those arrangements are clear and available for us as we go forward. I think that deals with Amendment 7.

Amendment 10 would apply the provisions in the Bill to trade agreements other than the EU rollover trade agreements and allow the Bill to act as a framework for future trade policy. I suppose that, in tabling this amendment at this time, we are anticipating debates to come, as I have mentioned.

However, it is important that we get the context for this right. It is a complete mystery to me—despite the extensive discussions that we had the last time the Bill was in your Lordships’ House and despite our subsequent meetings with the current Minister and officials about this—why the Government cannot see their way towards an accommodation with those of us who believe very strongly that there is a role for Parliament to play that is not constrained by the negative resolution procedure under CRaG and that the Government would benefit from having more engagement with Parliament during the process of setting up trade deals and in relation to what they are doing, and would benefit in their negotiations with third parties on deals. This is because there would always be the constraint under which Governments would be able to say that they were not able to get such-and-such through Parliament and therefore they could not take it further. However, these issues will be rehearsed on future days, so I will not go into them in any detail, but I wanted to get a bit of the sense of that into the debate that we shall have on this group of amendments.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his comments. The continuity agreements were those that were in force before 1 January or had been agreed to by the EU, even if not fully ratified, before then. We were fully participating members of the European Union then. The committees of this House and the other place that scrutinise European legislation—the noble Lord knows much more about that than I do, being a new boy—scrutinised these agreements and did that satisfactorily.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken in this debate. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I have felt optimistic at some moments and deeply depressed at others. I am going to end up being optimistic because I am that sort of chap. I will take the good that I have heard from my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Haskel, in particular. I was grateful on this occasion not to be attacked by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. It is always a good day when that happens—I am only joking.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made some good points about keeping in mind the difference between ratification and implementation as we go forward. He is right to stress that point and I am sure we will come back to it. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised a number of questions that had a bearing on that. I started to get slightly worried about where he was heading —for example, on the issue about the implementation of agreements made under the royal prerogative being ratified under the CRaG arrangements. This is an obvious consequence of where we stand with our current procedures. It leaves the question open as to why we need primary legislation. If the Minister is saying that all future deals are to be made in relation to existing standards that will never be lowered, in view of not changing or disadvantaging our labour and environmental standards and our future arrangements on climate change—on the agenda later today—what is this primary legislation of which he speaks? This is something we will need to come back to and I will be thinking about it.

Finally, I want to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which I thought was a good one. Can I join her in asking the Minister whether he could write to us about it? Paragraphs 44 and 45 of the Explanatory Notes refer to varieties of trade agreements and the Minister did not deal with that in his response to the noble Baroness. The types of agreement within the definition of “international trade agreements” include memorandums of understanding and he will know that this matter has been raised with him by the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House. It is a topical point and I would be grateful if he could give us some further information when he is able to do so. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.
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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and bow to their expertise. I am stepping in in the place of my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, who is, unfortunately, not able to speak today. I know that the three of them have had sufficient conversation to enable me to be sure that I can support everything that has been said up to this point.

Many of us are utterly frustrated that, in this era when we are so concerned with climate change, the advancement of rail is frequently constrained by the concerns of rail equipment companies about the security of their rolling stock. This protocol addresses that issue. It provides a public registry for rolling stock, which would hugely facilitate cross-border operations of freight and passenger trains, and the certainty that a registry offers. It would free up financing for rail stock, because it provides mechanisms for repossession of collateral in cases of insolvency.

Stimulating private investment in this arena is absolutely critical. This is not a burden that most countries around the world can carry at government level, so ensuring private participation is crucial. We move now into an era where our concern about climate change means that rail options, in contrast to aviation or road options, are increasingly attractive because of the environmental benefits, and very often it is far more cost-effective for exporters and importers.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said, the UK has increasingly become a player once again in the manufacture of rail equipment and it needs international markets. It would of course be of benefit if those markets had much greater certainty and confidence in those who are selling.

I am somewhat concerned because, when I last looked—and perhaps the Minister might correct me—only Luxembourg had actually ratified this treaty, although many countries have signed it, as the UK did in 2016. We really want to make sure that there is no obstacle to UK ratification, which would undoubtedly give others the confidence to go ahead and ratify, lifting the whole platform of rail as part of the ongoing future, so that it has much more significant international consequences than even domestic consequences.

I hope very much that we can use this opportunity to bring the issue once again to the Government’s attention. I am very comforted: it sounds as though the Government have found a route for ratification to be achieved. I do not think any of us particularly care what the route is, provided that it is secure and effective. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on this issue.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for introducing this amendment. I am afraid that it is outside my normal expertise area, and I listened with interest to what he had to say. We should support his argument that if it is possible through this Bill to facilitate the rail sector and its development, we should do so. I am happy to back up the points made by other speakers.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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My Lords, we have a change of rider as I leap into the saddle. I turn to Amendments 8 and 19 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, eloquently explained to this Committee the nature of and reasoning behind these amendments. Taken together, they would expand the scope of the Trade Bill, incorporating the implementation of private international law conventions to which the EU was signatory before exit day.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his constructive engagement with my noble friend Lord Grimstone and our departmental team of officials over recent weeks. As the noble Lord has outlined, this amendment would allow the UK to implement the provisions of the Luxembourg Rail Protocol.

Let me say at the outset that the Government are supportive of ratifying the Luxembourg Rail Protocol. We recognise the competitive advantages which this could bring to the UK rail sector and UK financial services, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, outlined so convincingly in his speech today and at Second Reading. I also took note of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who pointed out the economic advantages.

However, I do not believe the Trade Bill is an appropriate vehicle to provide the powers necessary for the implementation of this agreement. As has been explained to your Lordships, the powers conferred by the Bill are limited and narrow in scope, yet wholly essential for the delivery of the UK’s independent trade policy. It is our view that the contents of the Bill should not expand beyond essential readiness for life outside the European Union.

However, I can advise the noble Lord that the delegated power that was originally part of the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill would have allowed the Government to implement domestically private international law agreements, including the private international law elements of a convention such as the one to which he refers.

The Government intend to reintroduce this in Committee in the other place, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, I understand is to be as early as next week—I think 6 October. I therefore urge the noble Lord to encourage your Lordships in this Committee and beyond to support the reintroduction of the delegated power when the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill returns to this House for Lords consideration of Commons amendments in coming weeks.

The Department for International Trade has engaged on an official level with the Department for Transport, which supports the Luxembourg Rail Protocol. The Department for Transport believes that the protocol has potential economic benefits for the UK, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said.

I would be very pleased to facilitate a further conversation on this in conjunction with my noble friend Lord Grimstone in my capacity as a Whip with responsibility for transport and trade policy, and perhaps as an interdepartmental broker—I hope a very honest one. On that basis, I ask that these amendments are withdrawn.

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Moved by
11: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“(4A) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with and are consistent with—(a) the provisions of international treaties ratified by the United Kingdom;(b) the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015;(c) the primacy of human rights law;(d) international human rights law and international humanitarian law;(e) the United Kingdom’s obligations on workers’ rights and labour standards as established by but not limited to—(i) the commitments under the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on Fundamental Rights at Work and its Follow-up Conventions; and(ii) the fundamental principles and rights at work inherent in membership of the International Labour Organisation;(f) women’s rights and the United Kingdom’s obligations established by but not limited to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;(g) children’s rights and the United Kingdom’s obligations established by but not limited to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and(h) the sovereignty of Parliament, the legal authority of UK courts, the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that regulations made under the Bill can only be made if the trade agreement which the regulations would implement does not contravene the UK’s international commitments with specific reference to human rights and related treaties, and must respect the sovereignty of parliament.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her support for this amendment.

This group deals with high-level considerations—whether we should have constraints and, if so, whether they should be introduced through primary legislation should the Government wish to depart from international agreements or standards which are subject to international treaties such as UN conventions.

We are of course party to a large number of international agreements. The amendment deals in particular with provisions of international treaties that have been ratified—for example, those on the sustainable development goals, international human rights law, international humanitarian laws, the obligations relating to workers’ rights and labour standards, which we have already discussed under the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and various others relating to matters such as women’s rights and the rights of children, although of course they are not limited to just the conventions that we have, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. So the list is very long and very important, and I am sure that no Government would wish to see us depart from any or all of them, should we be in a position to do so, simply for particular trade reasons.

Later groups will deal with our self-generated standards, and there are considerable overlaps. So in a sense this is perhaps a two-part debate, and this one will focus on the outward arrangements that we make with external agencies. But it should not constrain us, and I hope that the Minister will not keep his powder dry, as he said he would in an earlier debate on another issue.

Having said that, I suspect that the Minister’s line will be that the Government will always adhere to the rule of law and treaty obligations, but I think it is fair to point out that trust has already been broken through the Government’s own actions. Even so, it raises the question of why, if there is never to be an occasion on which we would wish to depart from our existing treaty obligations, we are talking about any constraints on the activities that the Government might wish to engage with in terms of their primary legislation agenda related to trade. However, that is for further discussion.

Also in this group is Amendment 18, led by my noble friend Lord Hendy, and that will lead to an interesting debate. In addition, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his powerful Cross-Bench supporters on Amendment 33 will be worth hearing and discussing. We also have an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about reporting arrangements in relation to trade agreements, which I think will also be of value. I beg to move.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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I call the noble Baroness, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering. No? I think the noble Baroness is unable to join us at this point, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. I have carefully noted them.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am conscious of time and I will try to be brief. We had an interesting discussion because this was a good group, even though it was quite widely drawn. We touched on the limits and what the Government should have to say about their policies going into negotiations. We talked about what aspirations they might have, how they go forward and the scrutiny arrangements that should follow. Out of that came a sense, that we all shared, that if you wanted evidence that trade matters to Parliament, this debate and particularly the section on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, proved that we were talking about substantial issues at the heart of what we think about a democracy and that are important for how we relate to society more widely.

Having said that, we should not forget the earlier discussions, particularly those led by my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lord Hain. I thought that the speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and my noble friend Lord Judd, were also important and I also appreciated the comments made by my noble friend Lord Hunt. We covered a lot of ground, have a lot to think about and will read Hansard carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.