Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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-R-III Third marshalled list for Report - (22 Dec 2020)
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I hesitate to speak in connection with Northern Ireland matters and have tended to leave these matters to those with more experience of the Province. Like many noble Lords, I regret that the Northern Ireland protocol introduces uncertainties into the status of the Province as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Amendment 17 is fair enough, except that it is unnecessary in a trade Bill. It is not necessary to complicate the Bill in this way because it is incumbent on the Government to comply with the requirements of the protocol. This includes, as noble Lords are aware, an affirmation of the place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom customs territory. Furthermore, the Government would not be able to enact any FTA not consistent with our international obligations. I believe that there is a strong case for saying that entering into the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol breached Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord of Kerr of Kinlochard, knows well, because he drafted it, the treaty clearly states that the terms of withdrawal of a member state shall be agreed against the background of that state’s future relationship with the European Union. The EU, in my view, wrongly decided to cajole us into negotiating and agreeing the terms of withdrawal separately, and ahead of, agreeing what our future relationship should be. I trust that the Joint Committee will continue to make progress in mitigating the damage the protocol may do to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

Amendment 18 covers only north-south trade. It does not mention east-west trade. Amendment 26 covers east-west trade, but not in precisely the same terms. I believe that neither amendment is relevant or necessary in this Bill, although it is most important that facilitations should be agreed which minimise damage to both north-south and east-west trade.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. He is not there, so we will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

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Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for tabling this important amendment and presenting us with the opportunity to debate, yet again, the issue of powers and responsibilities in areas of devolved competence being overlooked or ignored—in this Bill and, as we have seen, in other Brexit Bills that have recently come before Parliament.

I acknowledge, as does the Senedd’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, that the regulation of international trade is a matter reserved to the UK Government, and that on the other hand the implementation obligations arising from international agreements are primarily the responsibility of the devolved Governments and legislatures. Another of the Senedd’s committees—the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee—agrees with this analysis, pointing out that the international trade agreements covered by this provision will encompass a wide range of policy areas that fall within the legislative competence of the Senedd, including agriculture and fisheries.

It is of some comfort that Clause 2 of this Bill confirms the respective responsibilities of the two Parliaments by confirming that non-tariff regulations can be made by UK and Welsh Ministers, alone or concurrently, and are then subject to the affirmative procedure in the appropriate Parliament. Nowhere in this clause, however, is there a recognition of the role of the Welsh Government in trade agreements in their areas of devolved competence. I accept that the agreements themselves are a reserved matter, but omitting the devolved Administrations from playing any part in the process indicates the desire of the UK Government to control and create trading agreements in their favour—agreements that might not meet the needs of the devolved nations.

Sadly, we are faced once again with an example of the UK Government ignoring the powers and responsibilities of the Senedd and the other devolved Administrations, and the lack of a reference to them in Clause 2 makes their omission obvious to all. It is another example from this Government of what I have referred to before as “attempted constitutional change by stealth”.

Actions such as these are perceived in Wales as making a mockery of the promise of taking back control. Control is now seen as being consolidated in Westminster, and evidence is mounting that these omissions act merely as a recruiting sergeant for those who wish to promote an independence agenda.

This amendment seeks to provide that, if trade agreements contain provisions relating to the devolved competences of Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland Ministers, the consent of those Ministers is required to authenticate that agreement, and it has my full support.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I regret that I cannot support Amendment 24 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It would weaken the authority of our negotiators in agreeing the best possible terms in an international trade agreement for the whole United Kingdom.

In an earlier debate, on Amendment 6, my noble friend Lord Lansley explained that although the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, maintained that that amendment did not restrict the prerogative powers of the Government, it did in fact do so by placing limits on the prerogative powers to proceed with negotiations. The arrangements in the CRaG Act, together with the further measures that the Government have taken to increase parliamentary involvement, are sufficient.

Noble Lords will be aware that the negotiation and entering into of international treaties are a function of the Executive exercising their prerogative powers and are a reserved matter for the United Kingdom Parliament.

We should also remember that international trade is an exclusive competence of the European Union, and that member states have the power to block ratification only in the case of trade agreements that include matters other than trade matters and which are shared competences. It seems to me that this amendment would further weaken the prerogative powers and would be likely to give rise to arguments about the extent of the devolved competences described and contained in Schedule 1, which could be exploited by a Government with whom we were negotiating a free trade agreement. Can my noble friend confirm that the Government are already taking the views of the devolved Administrations fully into account? Subject to this assurance, I believe that the amendment would create more uncertainty and should not be accepted.