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John BercowMP Main Page: John Bercow (Speaker - Buckingham)
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(1 year, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I am delighted to tell you, Mr Speaker, that I can accord with your wishes and those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke).
The Government have been consistently clear that the priority for the UK’s existing trade relationships as we leave the EU is continuity. Our partner countries are clear on that, too, and this Bill is about continuity. Specifically, clause 2 creates a power to help with the implementation of obligations of the trade agreements that we are seeking to transition into UK-only agreements as we leave the EU. I recognise that Members are seeking reassurance that the Government will be transparent about the content of these transitioned agreements and about what might need to change to deliver this continuity, which we have championed for so long.
Indeed, I understand the purpose of the new clause 6 and the associated amendments, tabled in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), and I held constructive discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon to ascertain how best we could help that transparency. As a result, the Government have tabled new clauses 12 to 14 and amendments 4, 36 to 39, 42, 71 to 75 and 79. I will now explain them in a little detail.
New clause 12 and the associated Government amendments will place a duty on Ministers to lay a report in both Houses of Parliament. This report will explain any changes made to the continuity agreements when compared with the existing EU third country agreements. The report will be laid in Parliament before the continuity agreements are ratified or at least 10 Commons sitting days before any implementing regulations are laid under clause 2, whichever comes first. We want these reports to be as helpful as possible. That is why they will signpost any significant changes being made, to ensure that existing trade agreements can function effectively in the UK-only context. Implementing regulations made under the clause 2 will also now be subject to the affirmative resolution process, which will further enhance parliamentary scrutiny. I have also committed that, for each statutory instrument made under the clause 2 power, the accompanying explanatory memorandum will be explicit in referencing which of the changes identified in the report it plays a part in implementing.
With amendments 44 to 47, we are reducing from five years to three years the length of the period for which the implementing power can be used. The period will be renewable by agreement in both Houses of Parliament.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon agrees that these amendments address the spirit of the issues he was seeking clarity on and provide enhanced parliamentary scrutiny.
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Indeed, I do rise to speak to new clause 3, which is in my name and signed by more than 50 Members of the House from four different parties, and I give notice that I would like to move it when it comes to the votes.
This amendment essentially seeks to remedy the Bill’s failure to provide for a proper role for parliamentarians in the scrutiny and approval of trade agreements. At present, trade agreements can be negotiated, or renegotiated as is likely to be the case with many of the existing EU trade deals covered by this Bill, entirely under royal prerogative powers, essentially giving the Government free rein to decide when and with whom to start negotiations, to set their own priorities and objectives, to conduct the negotiations in great secrecy, and to conclude the deal without any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. That not only sidelines Members of this House, but it also prevents valuable input by civil society organisations and the wider public. This Bill is supposed to help implement an independent trade policy following withdrawal from the EU, but it does nothing to put in place the kind of scrutiny and approval framework that should be required for an accountable trade policy in a modern democratic country. And this is the only legislative opportunity we are likely to have to put such a framework in place.
In his statement yesterday, the Secretary of State for International Trade once again sought to make a distinction between replacements for existing EU trade deals and future trade deals, but the fact is that effective parliamentary scrutiny and approval is needed for both, for it is increasingly clear that, contrary to the hope of Ministers, it is not going to be a simple case of transitioning, or “rolling over,” existing EU trade deals. Some or all of the countries in question are not simply going to be content to continue with the existing arrangements, and Ministers will have little choice but to negotiate a replacement deal. So while yesterday’s statement by the Secretary of State must be welcomed for its clear, if somewhat overdue, recognition of the current democratic deficit in the making of trade deals and the need to correct that if we are to have a modern, transparent and accountable trade policy, it needs to be applied much more fully and more extensively.
Unfortunately, the package of proposals set out yesterday falls well short of what is required, both because it does not apply to the existing EU trade deals covered by this Bill and because it does not go far enough. For example, it is welcome that the Secretary of State proposes a process for Ministers to set out their ambitions before embarking on a new set of negotiations, including scoping assessments, and the commitment to publish impact assessments is also a step forward, but the reality is that recent impact assessments by the Government on trade have focused purely on the impact for exporters, without taking into account at all the wider economic impacts, let alone social, environmental, gender and regional impacts and the effects on workers’ rights. So we need to see a much stronger commitment to transparency.
Most significantly of all, the Secretary of State’s proposals fail to give Parliament meaningful oversight of new trade deals. For that to happen, Members of this House need a guaranteed vote on the deal that emerges from the negotiations. Without that, all the other measures proposed by the Secretary of State yesterday risk being little more than window-dressing.
The Secretary of State contends that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is all that is needed. However, that process is an utterly inadequate rubber stamp: it gives Parliament a right to say whether a new trade deal should or should not be ratified, but does not enable Parliament to propose modifications. Moreover, as we know to our detriment time and again, Ministers can and do simply overrule Parliament and ratify the trade deal despite Parliament’s objections. In contrast, Members of both the European Parliament and the US Congress get an automatic vote. If this issue is about taking back control, why do we not take back some control in this Chamber and make sure we get the same kind of vote that other legislatures with whom we will be negotiating do?
Trade deals are not simply commercial negotiations; they are public policy negotiations and should be treated as such. Transparency, scrutiny and parliamentary approval should be embraced, not treated as a risk.
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the Minister’s announcement that today’s debate is about continuity and transparency, but the truth is that it is laced with a cocktail of amendments with very different agendas. The two most popular agendas represent attempts to lock us into either the or a customs union, as in new clause 5, or to secure a customs union were the negotiations to fail to secure frictionless FTAs, which is in new clause 18. That would be the clearest invitation to the European Union to refuse those negotiations. The third one—[Interruption.] Be patient.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman is referring to new clause 18, which is in the next group. We have limited time and he is talking about the wrong section of the Bill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. If the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) had waited but two seconds, he would have realised that I was precisely there with my third illustration of today’s agendas: the attempts to avoid free trade agreements altogether, of which new clause 3 is the most striking example, or to scrutinise them to death, as set out in new clause 20.
I wish to linger on new clause 3. It may appear to those outside this House that it contains reasonable requirements. It states that Ministers of the Crown should lay a draft of the negotiating mandate, setting out fields, sectors, principles, limits and desired outcomes of agreements that may well be an exact and absolute rollover of existing agreements that were negotiated decades ago. The truth is that this is the “we do not want any free trade agreements” clause. It would frankly be absurd to pretend that we could ever get anything done, given the requirement to ensure that
“between each round of negotiations”
of some 40 agreements
“all documents relating to the negotiations have been made available for scrutiny by select committees”,
unnamed and unnumbered. Those who drafted that new clause would clearly have been against the anti-corn laws of 1832 and against Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”. They would be against this country actually receiving anything at all in trade, specifically if we manufactured or produced it here in this country. Micro-management would run riot, and it would mean the end of all free trade agreements for all time. I therefore completely reject that approach.
My second point is that what we are talking about tonight ultimately comes down to difficult decisions about what type of nation we want to be when we leave the European Union. It has always been clear to me that if we are to leave the EU, we cannot stay in the or a customs union. It is bizarre that some Opposition Members do not see that our inability to decide our trade preferences, particularly with the poorer nations of the world that are currently disfavoured under the common external tariff regime, could not be significantly improved by having our own free trade agreements.
The next point—the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) is a classic example of this particular school of thought—is that we will not be able to negotiate effective free trade agreements on our own once we have left the European Union and the customs union. I urge all those in this House who believe that to look closely at the potential of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the warm interest from all those involved in that complicated and important agreement in an area of vital growth to the world. The opportunity for us there is significant. We should not listen to those who put up new clauses that would get rid of free trade agreements forever, and we should seize the opportunities that leaving the customs union will offer us if we are to leave the European Union, which we are.
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The hon. Gentleman is fantastic in making the fundamental point that the rest of the world is in regional trade agreements. He is just about correct. Only five countries are not in regional trade agreements, which is what the UK is heading towards: East Timor, Somalia, South Sudan and, we think, Mauritania—
Does the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) think it is incumbent on the UK to think again about being in that company?
This group of amendments is about parliamentary scrutiny, and in a way it is a shame that some on this subject are in later groups. The key thing I want is to ensure that appointments to the trade remedies authority are subject to confirmation by the International Trade Committee in the same way that the Treasury Committee has confirmation hearings on the Monetary Policy Committee and the Financial Policy Committee.
New clause 12 gives me a little tickle, a little laugh, because it says that Ministers will now come to report to the House when there are any significant differences in the free trade agreements we have as a member of the EU that will be rolled over. Apparently the agreements will be cut and pasted, and it was only at last year’s Conservative party conference that the Secretary of State for International Trade himself promised that, one second after midnight, all 40 agreements will be rolled over and available from March 2019. Well, it has not quite been going his way, because the Government have not got a single other jurisdiction to sign up legally to doing that.
I welcome the return of the Bill to the House and, perhaps not surprisingly, I support the Government’s approach, having been the Minister responsible for the Bill until about three weeks ago. I commend the approach taken by my successor in moving a number of these issues forward, particularly in his discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly).
Parliamentary scrutiny is crucial for trade agreements, and we have seen the difficulties in recent years with trade agreements that have been insufficiently scrutinised, or where there was a feeling that there had been insufficient scrutiny—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership perhaps being the most important example.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s proposals yesterday for the scrutiny of new trade agreements. Returning to where we started, it is vital to distinguish between the 40-plus existing EU trade agreements and what may happen for future agreements. No one should underestimate the importance of those EU agreements. With Japan being in scope, too, the volume of our trade that is done with countries for which there is an EU trade agreement—that is not the same as saying the volume of trade that is dependent on those agreements—rises to around 16%, which is an incredibly important part of our trade. As we know, none of these countries are in principle opposed to doing and rolling over these agreements. I have had productive talks with South Korea and South Africa, as I am sure my successor has. Various memorandums have been signed agreeing to transition these agreements. So I refer anybody who says that these countries have problems doing that to those agreements that were signed, for example, the one signed with the South African Trade Minister, Rob Davies.
I welcome the approach taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon and his agreement that we are now satisfied with and have coalesced around new clauses 12, 13 and 14. We are always trying to get a balance between ensuring that any significant change to a trade agreement is scrutinised by Parliament and not creating a laborious and cumbersome procedure that would potentially jeopardise the future of one or more of those 40-plus agreements. I am delighted that we seem to have reached that agreement. I have visited businesses that are directly impacted by some of these agreements, including the Ford factory just outside Johannesburg, which is very dependent on the EU-South African Development Community agreement, in terms not just of taking components for vehicles from the UK to South Africa, but exporting finished vehicles to the EU. The business voice is very much saying that it wants these agreements to continue—that is business’s principal concern.
Finally, I wish to argue against new clauses 3 and 16, and other proposals that seek to legislate now for future trade agreements. It is only fair that we look at the proposals made by the Secretary of State yesterday in this House and do not prejudge them by passing legislation today, as it would have an impact on future trade agreements. We must make sure we listen to all voices, so that they are included in consideration of where we take future trade agreements.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This Bill would not be needed if we remained in the customs union. The Government are repeating, like an old record, that, “Leaving the EU will transform us into global Britain, striking trade deals around the world. While striking them, we just carry over existing deals.” How realistic is that? Outside the EU, Britain is a much less attractive trading partner. Businesses invest in Britain because we are an entry point to the European market and the single market. Is it reasonable to think that the UK can negotiate alone the same deals it can when part of a block of 28 countries? Although some countries have indicated they are prepared to copy and paste over existing deals, others will be watching and waiting, reserving judgment to see exactly what access the UK will have to the EU after Brexit. For that reason, we simply cannot accept that existing trade deals will be copied and pasted; significant changes will come along.
I am pleased that the Government have recognised that Parliament needs some say in the matter by tabling amendment 75 and accepting my amendment 4. However, the Government’s understanding of parliamentary democracy remains pretty poor. Amendment 75 allows MPs to approve, by affirmative statutory instrument, any changes in the law required by one of these continuity deals. It is a take-it-or-leave-it vote. It is not amendable and it is not meaningful. That is why the Government need to meet the concern raised in new clause 3, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and which I support. People voted leave for different reasons, but nobody voted to make themselves poorer, to lose their job or to have food and product safety standards thrown out the back door.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, let me just say something about new clause 2, which is in the final group. The Government must be honest about the impact of any trade deals they sign and Parliament must be able to scrutinise this. The Tory leavers say, “Brexit is the will of the people”, but the Tories are in disarray, trying to work out among themselves what the will of the people actually is. As the chaos and confusion grows, it is time that more Members, on both sides of the House, joined the Liberal Democrats in supporting a people’s vote on the deal. We need to be honest with our constituents about the economic realities of Brexit and then give the people a final say on the deal.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is a great deal of concern across Parliament about the mysterious disappearance of the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable). He has been missing since last night. This morning, he was texting about being the only person really fighting Brexit. I just wonder if you and the parliamentary authorities could ascertain his whereabouts and whether he is indeed safe, and report back to me and all those people who are so concerned.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for letting me raise this. On the same subject, have you had any concerns raised with you about the absence of the Leader of the Opposition in relation to fighting against Brexit for the past two years? Has anyone shared any concerns that they may have on that score?
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I rise to speak to new clause 4, which stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The extent to which the Bill encroaches on matters of devolved competence and undermines the power of devolved authorities is of particular concern. I am proud that it was a Labour Government who delivered the devolution settlements. They were established with a presumption of full devolution, except in matters considered reserved to the Government of the United Kingdom. Indeed, amendments to devolution legislation contained in the Scotland Act 2016 and the Wales Act 2017 specifically put that presumption on to a legislative footing, stipulating that Ministers would not legislate on matters that fell within devolved competence without “normally” seeking the consent of the appropriate devolved Government. However, the Bill seeks to do exactly that.
The Public Bill Committee heard in great detail the serious consequences the Bill would have for the United Kingdom and each of the devolved nations and their respective Administrations.
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I am concerned about what the Minister said. Does he not accept that if the provisions in clauses 1 and 2 are taken in conjunction with Government amendment 34, they will allow the Westminster Government to use Henry VIII powers to modify primary legislation or retained direct EU legislation in areas that are a matter of devolved competence? That is to go beyond “not normally”, which is why new clause 4 is essential.
You will be glad to hear, Mr Speaker, that I do not have a great deal more to say.
Let me engage with the shadow Secretary of State’s point. The powers that the Government are taking relate to where any regulations under section 12 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act are in force and intersect with devolved Ministers’ rights to modify retained direct EU law. We are carving out an area in which the UK Government believe it is right and proper that the interests of the wider United Kingdom have precedence. I think the shadow Secretary of State understands what I mean; indeed, from the look on his face I believe he probably secretly agrees with what I am saying.
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I beg to move, That the schedule be read a Second time.
There is a wide range of issues covered by this final group of amendments we are debating today. I therefore propose to focus on the Government amendments in my opening remarks.
We are committed to creating a world-class Trade Remedies Authority. That is why Government have already begun recruiting TRA staff into the Department for International Trade, so that they can be properly trained before the TRA becomes fully operational. Once the TRA is legally established, staff who have been recruited into the Department will be transferred over to the TRA. Government new schedule 1 and Government amendment 58 are crucial to ensuring that this transfer can take place. This is standard practice when establishing a new arm’s-length body, as set out in the Cabinet Office’s statement of practice on transfers of staff in the public sector.
Trade remedies cases can have material impacts on markets and jobs. We must therefore create an independent investigation process that businesses can trust. That is why we are setting up the TRA as an arm’s-length body, giving it the appropriate degrees of separation from government, and ensuring that people with the right qualities and qualifications are appointed to the board to oversee this new function.
There are other amendments in this group, tabled by other hon. Members, on the TRA. I will wait to hear the points they make before responding to the detail of those amendments. Before I sit down, however, I will underline the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade yesterday in his statement to the House. The Bill is about continuity rather than future arrangements. This is why we have now separately set out the role that Parliament, the devolved Administrations, the public, business and civil society will have in our future trade agreements. We believe our approach makes good on our commitment to build an inclusive and transparent future trade policy.
Amendments 44 to 47 reduce the sunset period and renewal periods from five to three years. This has been discussed in previous debates. Amendments 31 and 32 allow Agreement on Government Procurement, or GPA, power to reflect updates to the list of Government entities in the UK’s GPA schedule. Amendments 34, 40, 41 and 48 clarify the scope of the powers in clause 1 and 2. Amendments 59 and 60 update references to data protection legislation, and amendments 31, 35, 43, and 51 to 57 are drafting changes.
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It might help if I could advise the House that, in recognition of contributions from right hon. and hon. Members today, it is my intention to bring forward an amendment in the other place—[Laughter.] If I may. [Interruption.] If I may. Thank you.
It is my intention to bring forward an amendment in the other place that takes in the essence of new clause 18 but removes the defective element relating to the customs union. The Government amendment will restate our intention to establish a customs arrangement with the EU. [Interruption.]
Very few people ever say that, Mr Speaker.
It is a generous offer from the Front Bench, and one that I am tempted to accept, but I would say to the Minister: let’s do this the other way around. I will make him a generous offer. Why does he not accept new clause 18 today and then amend it in the Lords? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] I will tell the House why. Subsection (2) of my new clause is entirely in line with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which is now part of our law in this country, the House having passed it. All it says is that it should be the objective, after 21 January, which date is in clause 13(10) and (11).
Had I used any other word than “union”, the Front Bench would have accepted it. Frankly, I do not see the problem. Yesterday, we took several amendments that we were told did not undermine the Bill, and this does not undermine the Bill either. It keeps the plan on the road. I say to my Front Bench in all good faith: why not do it this way round? Accept new clause 18 now and I will work with them to find something in the Lords that they find acceptable.
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I will be as brief as possible, Mr Speaker.
Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. Every month 45 million patient-packs of medicine go to the EU from the UK and 37 million packs move the other way. It is hard to think of a single other product that illustrates so well the importance of frictionless trade.
This amendment supports the Government’s intentions as explained in the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech and their White Paper, but we must go further and enshrine them in law because of the very real impact on people’s lives, on the NHS’s ability to operate, on the industry, and on investment in the UK. That is why I will press this new clause to a vote.
I will also support new clause 18 this evening. Yesterday was the worst experience in politics I have had in eight years, and I am sorry that it has changed the dynamic. I started the week intending to support our Prime Minister in her deal and the White Paper. Yesterday changed that, and that is why I will be supporting other colleagues on these Benches when we come to new clause 18 this evening.
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Surely new clause 17 is a no-brainer. If we are going to preserve anything, we must surely keep the frictionless flow of medicines and treatments for our national health service going. If ever there were an example of an ideology getting in the way of common sense, it would be that of a hard Brexit attitude physically placing itself at the border in the way of the free flow of those medicines. We know that 45 million packages of medicines cross that border every month. That is how essential this is, so new clause 17 has to be supported.
New clause 18 has been tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). I have to say to him that he is being incredibly generous to the Government in relation to this proposal. He is giving them the benefit of the doubt on the free trade area in goods. It is true that, whatever we get, the lowest common denominator will be a free trade area in goods. We will have to get that. But frankly, I am really quite surprised by the way in which some Conservative Members have been treated by the Government in respect of the ERG amendments—all of which were accepted without any objection—when some of them are trying their best to preserve the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan. Those Conservative Members are being very generous, but I think it is reasonable to put in place a safety net in the form of a customs union in January. I hope that, on this one occasion, we can put party politicking to one side and do the right thing for our country.
Every day, a large number of components come into our country from outside the EU and they meet the deadlines of the just-in-time systems, as do the components from the EU. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) should understand that you cannot send a car out with only 79% of its components assembled because they are the ones that came from the EU. Manufacturers send their cars out with 100% of their components, including the non-EU ones, which are coming in perfectly well. More than half our trade is done with non-EU countries that are not part of the single market or the customs union. We have already thought about the need to get rid of frictions on the borders for non-EU trade. We have worked internationally through the WTO which, through its trade facilitation agreement, has several instructions for us and for the EU to ensure that there is a minimum of friction at the border for non-EU, non-customs-union trade as well, which is why our manufacturers can work with it.
EU trade is not without administration and bureaucracy. The Intrastat declaration must be made, the commodity code must be identified, the VAT has to be settled and the excise must be settled if necessary. Those things are not done at the border. The lorry drivers do not have to stand in a queue while trying to work things out. When we are outside the EU’s customs union, the situation will be the same for everything else that does not come in within the customs union framework. This is the modern world. It is electronic. There are computers. There is the off-site settlement of taxes and of customs. The WTO knows about that.
The future for us will be great, but we must be free to have our own international trade policy and our own agreements with countries other than those in the EU. We must have the ability to set out our laws and spend our own money. The British public would expect no less of this Parliament, and they will not accept any higgling of their decision to leave the EU.
If the customs union is not important, why have BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Airbus suggested that they need to keep the current border arrangements. If we are to preserve just-in-time manufacturing in this country—Jaguar Land Rover is on the outskirts of my constituency—we must either have a customs union or find an equivalent, as suggested by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who is being patient with the Government. The suggestion from some Members, as we have just heard, that the customs union or an equivalent is not important flies in the face of the evidence and what businesses up and down the country are telling us.