Greg Hands contributions to the Trade Bill 2017-19


Tue 17th July 2018 Trade Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
14 interactions (748 words)
Thu 1st February 2018 Trade Bill (Eighth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
64 interactions (3,624 words)
Tue 30th January 2018 Trade Bill (Fifth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
54 interactions (2,490 words)
Tue 30th January 2018 Trade Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
99 interactions (6,230 words)
Tue 30th January 2018 Trade Bill (Seventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
48 interactions (3,598 words)
Thu 25th January 2018 Trade Bill (Fourth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
41 interactions (2,640 words)

Trade Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Greg Hands Excerpts
Tuesday 17th July 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

17 Jul 2018, 2:26 p.m.

We raised concerns in Committee about the Government’s power grab in the Bill. For 40 years, we have subcontracted our responsibility for trade agreements to the EU, while scrutiny has been delivered through the European Parliament and by our own European Scrutiny Committee, yet the Government are not proposing any equivalent scrutiny processes for agreements that will replace those we currently have through our membership of the EU. This lack of scrutiny is a major issue, and we raised the concerns of business, trade unions, civil society, consumers and many more in Committee.

The Labour party submitted a series of amendments in Committee that embodied a full process of parliamentary scrutiny and extra-parliamentary consultation. The Government responded by saying that the new UK agreements would just roll over the terms of existing EU agreements and would thus need no process of scrutiny, having already been scrutinised.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con)
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17 Jul 2018, 2:27 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that we are dealing with existing EU agreements that have already been scrutinised in both Houses of Parliament and that in many cases have already been in effect for a long time—in some cases, decades? It is important to have the ability to scrutinise the agreements if they have changed, but in general I think that he is barking up the wrong tree in alleging that this is an attempt to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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17 Jul 2018, 2:28 p.m.

The former Minister should have waited, because he anticipated my remarks: the Government’s delegated powers memorandum told a different story. Paragraph 46 noted that the new UK agreements would not just be legally distinct but could include

“substantial amendments, including new obligations”.

In other words, these will not just be roll-overs; they will be new treaties that can introduce wholly new terms of trade between the UK and our trading partners—terms that will be binding on us for years to come.

Government new clause 12 is confirmation that Labour was right to identify the problem here. It will require a report to be laid before Parliament before the ratification of any free trade agreement that will highlight and explain any significant differences between the new agreement and the corresponding EU agreement on which the new agreement is based. It is disappointing, therefore, to see this concession wiped out immediately by Government new clause 13, which will allow them to sidestep the obligation to lay such a report. It will also allow the Government to ratify new agreements without having produced the report in question. Government new clause 14 picks up the same point prior to implementation, but by this time the trade agreement will already have been ratified.

We will support new clause 12, but if the Government really mean what they say, they should withdraw new clause 13. We will also support new clause 3, which pays us the compliment of replicating the amendments that we tabled in Committee and which sets out the scrutiny process that should be adopted for new trade agreements.

Break in Debate

Mr Speaker
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17 Jul 2018, 3:17 p.m.

Greg Hands, you have three minutes.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

17 Jul 2018, 3:18 p.m.

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 is 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.

Mr Speaker
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17 Jul 2018, 3:21 p.m.

Order. I want to call the Minister to wind up at 3.25 pm, and I hope that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) will take account of that.

Break in Debate

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

17 Jul 2018, 5:56 p.m.

I will necessarily keep my remarks extremely brief. I cannot match the magnificence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) when she spoke yesterday, but let me say the following to the Chamber. Brexit is a matter of national interest. It is time to put party politics aside, which is why I welcome the fact that Labour Members are open to supporting the Chequers proposals, as captured in new clause 18, which I rise to support. I hear what the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) said about her scepticism regarding whether the proposals could work, but the Prime Minister did the right thing in the national interest by putting on the table a workable, practical proposal, captured at Chequers, that could be negotiated with the EU.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

17 Jul 2018, 5:57 p.m.

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan
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17 Jul 2018, 5:57 p.m.

No. Some Government Members chose to try to scupper that agreement and those proposals yesterday. Some of us tried to stop that; but sadly, we failed. What is proposed in new clause 18—I am delighted to join my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) in proposing it—is eminently sensible. We want to give the Prime Minister space for the negotiations, and it is clear that there is a majority in this House for a customs union to safeguard business, jobs and our constituents’ future financial security. I hope that the House will have the opportunity to demonstrate that shortly.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The majority of the world’s countries are in a customs union. We need to be in a customs union and, I would argue, the single market. The damage that will result from not being in those two things and instead having a free trade, or less trade, agreement with the EU will be 6% of GDP. The panacea often offered is the United States of America, but the US will counter that drop to the tune of 0.2%. To make up for the damage that will be done by not being in the customs union and the single market, we need 30 US-style agreements. The US has a population of about 300 million, and a deal with it will yield a 0.2% gain in GDP. By that arithmetic, we need to make US-style agreements with about 9 billion people, but there is one problem for the Brexiteers: the population of the world is only about 7.4 billion. They should be listening to their friends and colleagues and making absolutely sure that they are not playing fast and loose with jobs, security, employment and with the life chances of people in the UK, young and old. It is a pity for me that Scotland is hitched to this lot at the moment.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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17 Jul 2018, 5:59 p.m.

There are three or four very strong arguments not to be in a customs union as outlined in new clause 18. First, being in a customs union puts massive restrictions on having an independent trade policy. Trade agreements are all about WTO schedules, and if we are in a customs union, we cannot have our own WTO schedules. Secondly, who would run trade remedies in such a position? Would trade remedies be run in London or would they be run in Brussels, and in whose interest? With British jobs and British companies on the line, it is incredibly important that we have the ability to run trade remedies.

Thirdly, on the subject of trade preferences, we want to do better for the developing world. Being in a customs union would prevent that. Finally—

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Greg Hands Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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1 Feb 2018, 11:37 a.m.

Absolutely. I know that many of my hon. Friend’s constituents in Warrington are affected by those closures. We clearly cannot on the one hand see cutbacks, and on the other hand expect an expansion of HMRC’s work commitments.

The Public Accounts Committee recently published its report, following an inquiry into our Brexit readiness, in respect of the border planning group. It raised concerns that

“HM Treasury’s usual business model is inadequate for allocating Brexit funding to departments who are forced to operate together, at pace, to a hard deadline.”

That seems pretty clear to me. When giving evidence to that Committee, representatives of the relevant bodies on the border planning group explained that funding was released on a case-by-case basis, and demonstrated that much of the funding had yet to be drawn down.

HMRC is still wrangling with HM Treasury over a £7.3 million drawdown to cover upgrades to the CHIEF customs system—I think that is what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun was referring to—in order to level up functionality. HMRC also told the Committee that it was not expecting any shift in the risk profile of goods coming into the UK from the EU, and that it had “no evidence to suggest” that there would be increased trade flows with non-EU countries after Brexit. Will the Minister confirm whether his Department’s assessment matches that of HMRC, and that our standards and regulations will match entirely those of the EU, such that the risk profile of goods in or out remains the same?

HMRC has planned operating resources for no change after we leave the EU, per the evidence it gave to the PAC. Will the Minister confirm that it is Government policy for there to be no change in the regulations? Will he also confirm whether HMRC was right to say that there is “no evidence to suggest” that there will be increased trade flows with non-EU countries after Brexit? He is looking at me with a puzzled look, as he often does.

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
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1 Feb 2018, 11:39 a.m.

Don’t take it personally.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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1 Feb 2018, 11:44 a.m.

I was not taking it personally. I have seen him with that puzzled look on many occasions, not just when I am speaking—often it is in response to comments from those his own side.

If the Department for International Trade has any purpose, it is surely to absolutely change the volume of trade after Brexit. That, in turn, suggests that HMRC was not right to say that there would be no changes in trade flows. It also suggests that HMRC is significantly under-resourced, which is more to the point, if it is operating on a no-change assumption. HMRC’s new customs declarations service is geared up for a fivefold increase in customs processing once we leave the EU. Surely the Minister accepts that that is likely to put severe strain on HMRC’s capacity and significant strain on its resourcing.

What the Government and HMRC have said appears to be at odds when it comes to standards and regulations, and whether they will match—especially the comment about there being “no evidence” of increased trade flows. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Member for Livingston was trying to intervene, but she is not.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
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1 Feb 2018, 11:40 a.m.

Very briefly, I commend the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for tabling the new clause.

We have seen in recent days that the Government are usually reluctant to release any impact assessments or reports of any substance, for fear that they will prejudice negotiations and put the Government in the most awkward position. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take heart from the fact that it is now usual for the Government, 24 hours after saying that they will not publish a report, to decide that they will do so anyway. I confidently expect the Minister to stand up and say that those on the Government Benches cannot support the new clause—we will support it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central said—but the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun should not worry or be discouraged, because I have no doubt that within 24 hours, the Government will see sense.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 11:47 a.m.

Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Davies; it is a pleasure to serve under you, as ever.

Clause 7, as we know because we debated it at length on Tuesday, sets out the powers that are needed for the Government to collect data to establish the number and identity of UK businesses exporting goods and services. Clause 8, in turn, sets out the powers that are needed for HMRC to share data with the Department for International Trade and other Departments and organisations in order for those bodies to carry out their public functions in relation to trade. Any trade information collected or shared by the Government under clauses 7 and 8 will come at minimal cost to business and the taxpayer—I will go into a bit more detail in a moment—and will be below the threshold needed for an impact assessment and review.

To deal with some of the points raised in the debate, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun asked about the impact on HMRC. I can confirm that HMRC will not require additional staff or resources for this function as a result of the data provision in the Trade Bill. From what the hon. Members for Sefton Central and for Brent North said, it sounded as if they are going to vote for the new clause. The different Opposition parties seem to be attacking the issue from different angles. Although the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said that too much resource is going to some places—I think that he called it the “Brexit gravy train”—the hon. Member for Sefton Central seemed to say that resources were too limited. However, I think that they are both coalescing around voting for the new clause.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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1 Feb 2018, 11:47 a.m.

To clarify, I was talking about the Brexit process as a whole. It is certainly a gravy train for consultants, because the Government do not have the expertise in house.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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Well, I guess we will leave it at that. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s intervention to clarify precisely what he meant by the “Brexit gravy train”, but let us look at the truth.

The truth is that collecting the data will involve minimal cost to Government and business. The cost will certainly be below the level at which an impact assessment must be published, which is £1 million. I do not know what the cost of the hon. Gentleman’s assessment might be, by contrast, but the cost of the provision in the Bill will be less than £1 million. The Regulatory Policy Committee confirmed to my Department during the course of our analysis that no impact assessment was therefore needed, due to the low costs associated with the provision.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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1 Feb 2018, 11:48 a.m.

Does the Minister accept the interpretation that businesses will need additional support and that that is what is being proposed? HMRC will need additional capacity to help small businesses. Given that the Government and the Secretary of State are determined that businesses will look for new markets to diversify, those businesses will have a lot to do, so we need to give them as much assistance as possible.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 11:49 a.m.

I agree, which is why we have made additional resources available for HMRC. We recognise that it will require additional staff, and that is being discussed. However, that does not relate to this Bill and this power. That is the most important thing to realise. The hon. Gentleman’s points about the generic nature of HMRC are well made, but my point is that this power will be introduced at minimal cost and will not affect the overall equation. The point that he raised about additional resources being needed for HMRC overall is not in dispute.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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1 Feb 2018, 11:49 a.m.

The Minister is being most generous. My point was that the report that we are requesting would help us to better understand the implications for HMRC.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 11:50 a.m.

I do not think that that is necessary. The work that has been done shows that the cost would be less than £1 million. The new clause is all about trying to work out the cost of this particular measure, not about the wider implications for HMRC.

The hon. Member for Sefton Central asked whether this is a futile exercise. I say to him that we will be able to target support directly and ensure that UK business is at the forefront of post-Brexit opportunities, thanks to the data that this provision may well realise.

Finally, I remind the Committee that the Government currently do not collect any export data at all from about 4 million UK businesses. Our analysis elsewhere suggests that about 300,000 businesses in the UK could and should export but do not. We need this limited data collection and sharing power to be able to find and help them. I therefore urge the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun to withdraw the new clause.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I listened to what the Minister said. Clearly, if we stick to the existing trade agreements, nothing will change and everything will be much the same. Although there may be a logic to that, I will press the new clause to a vote because it would allow the Government to print an impact assessment that shows that nothing will change, that everything will be okay and that there will be no impact on HMRC. I would have thought that the Government would be happy to do that, and that it would not take too long.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Break in Debate

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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1 Feb 2018, 12:05 p.m.

The Trade Bill fails to set out a suitable framework for future trade agreements. The arrangements included in the Bill are insufficient and leave a lot to be desired on several important issues that I and many MPs raised in the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Just like that Bill, the Trade Bill puts restrictions on the Executive capacity of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, while placing no restrictions on the capacity of the UK Government. Essentially, under the Bill, Ministers of the UK Government will be able to legislate in devolved areas.

Wales is an outward-facing, globally trading nation and remains open for business.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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Could the hon. Lady outline to the Committee why she did not vote last week for the Welsh Government’s sponsored amendment in this area?

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
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1 Feb 2018, 12:07 p.m.

I thank the Minister for asking that question. As he will recall, I spoke widely in support of that amendment. We will discuss that at a later stage.

In Wales, our economy offers great opportunities for both trade and investment. The Bill must not put that at risk. As I just mentioned, I spoke last week on the principles of devolution. Today, I want to reiterate that the Bill seriously lacks consideration of the principle of devolution and the appropriate frameworks to make it work. It is unacceptable that the Government expect the Welsh and Scottish Administrations to be content with handing over power on devolved areas to Whitehall.

The Bill in its current state hands over an unnecessary amount of power to the Government of the day, whoever they may be, and in no way does it safeguard the principles of devolution that people in Wales and Scotland have fought so hard for. I want to stress, once again, that my reservations with the Bill’s lack of consideration for devolution have nothing to do with extending the powers of devolution.

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Far be it from me to suggest that the hon. Gentleman may be a tad naive, but he is certainly optimistic if he thinks the Government have seen the light on this. I have made this point several times, but the devolved Administrations have said that they will withhold legislative consent motions if the Bill is not amended, so realistically, the Government will need to consider further amendments.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 12:11 p.m.

The Government have made it clear that we seek to maintain the effects of the UK’s existing trade agreements. We make that commitment in relation to all parts of the United Kingdom, which means that we do not intend Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or, indeed, England to be disproportionately impacted by the transitioning of those agreements. Given that we have committed to seeking continuity in the effects of existing agreements, the impact of the transition should be neutral on all parts of the UK.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:11 p.m.

While I take what the right hon. Gentleman says with the greatest of respect—I want to believe him—can he not see that, from the perspective of those of us from the devolved nations, the written and oral evidence given to the Committee paints a very different picture from that which he paints here today? Our concerns are legitimate, yet we have nothing. The Government have supported none of our amendments, despite promises made on the Floor of the House.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I will come on to outline the engagement that we have had with the devolved Administrations and to talk about what that engagement might look like in the future. I stress to the hon. Lady that the Bill is about transitioning agreements that, in most cases, are already in place.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:12 p.m.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, the chief executive of Business for Scotland, put it very simply. He said that the Bill

“puts the power to act almost unilaterally in the hands of a single Minister… At worst, it looks like a deliberate attempt to delay the transfer of EU-held powers…until after the UK Government has had free rein to agree deals that you could say run roughshod over the devolution agreements”.––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 99, Q184.]

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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Again, if I recall correctly, the evidence was almost all about future trade agreements that the UK may wish to enter into. To reiterate, the Bill talks about our existing trading arrangements.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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1 Feb 2018, 12:13 p.m.

Does the Minister not accept that they will technically be new agreements?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 12:13 p.m.

As I have laid out frequently, the substance of the agreements will be the same. That is what we are looking to transition; that is the continuity factor of these agreements. There will of course be the opportunity in the future to come to new trade agreements with the same countries, but we are talking about the continuity of our existing trading arrangements—the 40-plus agreements with 70-plus nations.

On consultation with the devolved Administrations, the Department for International Trade ensures that its Ministers, as well as its directors and other senior officials, visit the devolved Administrations regularly and continually looks for further opportunities to engage with a range of stakeholders across the UK. Indeed, the hon. Member for Livingston knows that, because on a previous visit to Edinburgh I actually went to her constituency. The Secretary of State has engaged with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and with the Northern Ireland Executive.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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We were very glad to welcome the Minister to Livingston and I have been glad to engage with him on issues in my constituency. However, does he not recognise that engagement and consultation are very different from consent? The importance of consent and the devolution settlement being rowed back on are very different issues.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 12:14 p.m.

I do not mean for us to keep throwing questions at each other, but I again stress that the Bill is about the existing trading arrangements of the United Kingdom as a whole. We will engage extensively with the devolved Administrations about what the future arrangements might be. We are being clear that we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations as we transition these agreements as well. The devolved Administrations will, of course, have a role in implementing transitioned trade agreements in devolved areas, including, where appropriate, by amending retained EU law.

We have committed to consulting the devolved Administrations on the most appropriate way to implement the transitioned trade agreements and the agreement on government procurement in areas of retained direct EU law that have effect in otherwise devolved areas. We will welcome their input on the best way to do that so that the agreements are implemented effectively for the whole of the UK. We will also work closely with the devolved Administrations on the role they will play in shaping the UK’s future trade negotiations. It is right that we should have the opportunity to take these discussions forward and to engage the devolved Administrations to understand their views.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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I welcome the fact that the Minister is outlining the engagement he has had with the devolved Administrations, but can he confirm what the views of the devolved Administrations are on the provisions of the Bill?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 12:16 p.m.

I do not think the hon. Gentleman needs me to confirm that. He has said himself what the position of the devolved Administrations is, including on the legislative consent motion. We have listened to them and will continue to listen to them very closely. He has put his point of view on the record as to the perspective of the Scottish Government.

I will come back to some of the points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Brent North wanted to put devolved Administration engagement on the face of the Bill. I stress again that these agreements are about continuity, not future trade agreements. We have been clear in the White Paper that we will engage. We therefore do not require statutory engagement structures in the Bill.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:18 p.m.

One of the trade agreements that we have repeatedly come back to, which makes it quite clear that this is not the simple roll-over of the existing trading arrangements that the Minister is talking about, is the treaty we currently have with Norway. Fisheries are an important part of Norway’s economy. It is almost inconceivable that in the roll-over of that agreement, there will not need to be some provision in that regard. Surely the Minister must address those points, because they are pertinent to the Bill and to the Government’s capacity to do what they seek to do, which in large measure the Opposition believe to be right and proper: to try to make the transition as seamless as possible. However, there will be areas where it is not, and Norway is one of them. We must address that and not simply gloss over it by saying, “Well, we’ll have to deal with that once we know what we’re doing with the EU final deal.”

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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1 Feb 2018, 12:19 p.m.

Of course we value our trade relations with Norway very strongly and closely. By geography alone, let alone the amount of oil and gas coming from Norway, we have incredibly strong trade relations. For the record, I met the Norwegian Trade Minister last autumn. I am perhaps going to sound like déjà vu all over again, but I repeat that the future trading relations with Norway will be very dependent on the future UK negotiations with the European Union. That is not a matter for this Bill; it is a matter that is being scrutinised on frequent occasions in this House and elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Brent North said that we need an engagement structure for future trade agreements. The Government agree that we need to engage the devolved Administrations in our future trade agreements for the benefit of the whole of the UK, as was made clear in the White Paper. We are talking to the devolved Administrations about what that will look like. The new clause would pre-decide that discussion.

The hon. Gentleman talked about international examples for consultation models with the devolved Administrations and gave us a quite interesting exposition of the position in Australia and other parts of the world. It was fascinating stuff, but our constitutional arrangement is very different from any of the international examples raised. As was made clear in our White Paper, we therefore need to design our own engagement structures, in consultation, that work for the benefit of the whole of the UK.

The hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Cardiff North claimed that we were putting a constraint on the devolved legislatures. To be clear, the Bill will allow the devolved Administrations to make regulations that they consider appropriate for the purpose of implementing trade agreements in devolved areas, including in areas of retained EU law.

The hon. Member for Cardiff North said that devolution is being undermined. That is not at all the case. The Bill introduces new powers for the devolved Administrations to work collaboratively with the UK Government to secure continuity in our current trading relationships. Under the Bill, the devolved Administrations will be able to make every decision after exit that they can make before exit. We therefore do not need to commit to such a review or role for the Joint Ministerial Committee in legislation.

The official Opposition’s tabling at a late stage of this emergency extra new clause, which emerged earlier this week, seems to be more about Labour members of the Committee messing it up last week by controversially not supporting the Welsh Labour Government’s amendments, when everyone expected them to do so. When the hon. Member for Warrington South talked about a “political hell”, he might have been referring to the political hell we see all day, every day in the official Opposition in this House and elsewhere. On that basis, I urge the hon. Member for Brent North not to press the new clause.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Had I been disposed not to press the new clause, the Minister’s final remarks would have made me all the more determined to do so. However, I was not so disposed, and we will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:24 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is the last new clause we will deal with in Committee, and it is our last attempt in Committee to introduce a high-level principle into the Bill. We have tried to establish the legal framework for an ethical trading policy that respects human rights, labour standards, environmental integrity and the needs of countries and communities poorer than our own. The Government turned down every single amendment and new clause that tried to enshrine those principles in law. None the less, we will have one final push. We are trying to establish the principle of animal welfare and sentience at the heart of our trade policy. Perhaps the Government will agree to stand up for those species that share our planet with us, but that have no representatives of their own to speak for them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South spoke persuasively—though not persuasively enough to get Government Members to agree—about the importance of maintaining high food standards in all our trade agreements. She referred to the connection between high food standards and the call for animal welfare, whether in respect of the general requirement for food hygiene or the specific target set by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for a reduction of antibiotic use in agriculture. We also argued for animal welfare to be included in any impact assessment of the UK’s trade agreements, whether it is carried out ex ante or ex post. That call stands, and we will continue to press the point until we are satisfied.

I am pleased that the Minister saw fit to agree with us about the importance of this issue. I quote from the Hansard report of our sitting a couple of days ago:

“The Government have always been clear that we will maintain our very high standards on food and animal welfare, and for protection in that space. There will be no race to the bottom. Nothing in free trade agreements precludes a Government from regulating in the domestic environment. I hope that that is enough reassurance for the hon. Gentleman.”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2018; c. 196.]

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:26 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under Tony Blair. Can he point to specific occasions when he raised concerns about animal sentience with respect to trade agreements that were going through at that time?

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:27 p.m.

That is one on which I will probably write to the right hon. Gentleman. I am convinced that there were a number of occasions when I did exactly that. I will try to dig them out from my records and send them to him. I am delighted that he did not stand up to repudiate the remarks recorded in Hansard, as he did the other day. Given that, I take it that he stands by them.

Sadly, the Minister’s reassurance on this matter is not enough. The right of parties to regulate in favour of animal life and animal health is regularly mentioned in the text of international trade agreements, yet that same right is typically circumscribed by requirements that any measures to protect animal health must be undertaken while facilitating trade. Governments may take any measure they like to protect animal health so long as it does not create an “unjustified barrier to trade”. It is left to a tribunal of trade lawyers, who examine the justification of the measure in relation to international trade law, to decide whether it is justified or unjustified.

There is sometimes a clause in the general exceptions chapter of a free trade agreement that affirms that a state may introduce whatever measures are necessary to protect animal life or health, but the meaning of “necessary” is left up to another tribunal of trade lawyers to decide. They may rule that an alternative measure is available that would be less burdensome on trade and therefore conclude, even if the alternative would be less effective, that the measure that was taken does not qualify as necessary after all.

This is familiar territory to anyone who has looked into the history of international trade disputes, both before and since the founding of the World Trade Organisation. There is an entire sub-discipline of trade lawyers and academics who have written about what they call the “necessity test” that is employed to ascertain whether a measure is necessary and thus allowed under international trade law, or unnecessary and thus prohibited.

Let me take as a specific example a free trade agreement that was mentioned in written evidence by the RSPCA, because it contains a fleeting reference to animal welfare. The Government are keen to replace the EU-Korea free trade agreement with a new UK-Korea agreement, which would be implemented using the powers afforded to the Government by the Bill. The chapter of the EU-Korea agreement devoted to sanitary and phytosanitary measures includes specific clauses about enhanced co-operation between EU and Korean authorities on animal welfare issues—anyone who wishes to look them up will find them in article 5.9—yet those fine sentiments are thoroughly undermined by the clause at the outset of the chapter, which states that the objective of the chapter as a whole is

“to minimise the…effects of sanitary and phytosanitary measures on trade”.

The health and welfare of animals—and of humans, for that matter—is already subordinated to commercial interests. That is precisely the problem.

Break in Debate

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:42 p.m.

I rise to speak to new clause 12, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North for proposing it. It would ensure that we provide important safeguards for not just livestock but our farming communities and our consumers by specifying animal welfare and sentience in the legislation.

In November, as we have heard, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promised to make “any necessary changes” to UK law to ensure that it recognises that animals can feel pain. That came after proposals to accept that they are sentient beings were voted down. Now the Government are apparently looking at making UK law that specifically recognises animal sentience. I remind the Committee that the first sentence of the Bill says that it will

“Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements”.

That is why—when we have spoken at previous sittings about ensuring that it is a comprehensive Trade Bill—we have said that this issue should be included.

According to the written evidence from the RSPCA, the EU has 19 farm animal welfare laws that the UK has implemented, giving a high degree of consistency on standards and a level playing field for trade in farm products. That will not be the case when the UK starts to negotiate FTAs with other countries. Thankfully, the UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world, although it is well documented that Canadian and American farm welfare standards tend to be based on corporate standards rather than federal law, as we heard in the International Trade Committee yesterday.

Likewise, an FTA may include sectoral chapters on cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and pesticides. The UK needs to be careful that it does not compromise any existing UK laws, such as cosmetics regulation, or risk that those laws are as sensitive to change as the farm animal ones that I have mentioned.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:44 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech. One of the points he raises surely gets to the nub of the matter. When he says that we should not do anything contrary to domestic law in trade agreements, he rather makes the point for me that the Government and the country will have a right to regulate most of these matters domestically, which is the important thing. We can introduce protections domestically in our laws that would not be subject to the trade agreement.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:45 p.m.

I thank the Minister for his intervention. There is the law that goes through this place, and there is the role and power of the Minister, and very much at the nub of this debate over the Bill is the control the Minister has, as opposed to the controls we and other bodies will have, in influencing any trade agreements.

Break in Debate

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:50 p.m.

It is imperative that animal welfare rights are protected after we leave the EU and that animals keep their status as sentient beings under UK law, which is why this new clause is absolutely vital.

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after the defeat in the House of Commons on this very issue. That letter was signed by over 100 MPs. It is disappointing that the Trade Bill neglected to make it clear that the UK will not enter any trade deals in the future that will require us to water down animal welfare standards. It is clear from the reaction of the public, and from the campaigns and letters that I am sure all MPs have received from constituents and organisations, that people have no interest in seeing chlorinated chicken in our supermarkets, are not happy to see live animal exports and are not willing to compromise in any way on animal rights to please the likes of the current US President or any other leader of a country that does not share the same concerns and views as us on animal welfare and animal sentience. Any trade negotiation or deal will impact on UK animal welfare standards.

Under article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, the UK recognises animals as sentient beings—that they are not just goods but have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat and cold—and that the Government must pay full regard to their welfare requirements. Recognising animals as sentient beings is accepted across animal welfare science and means that we acknowledge that animals are capable of feelings such as pain and are deserving of our respect. It is appalling that this Government could not vote in favour of maintaining—let alone progressing—existing animal welfare standards during the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:48 p.m.

I am not accusing the hon. Lady of spreading misinformation, of course, but a lot of the reactions to that vote spread a lot of misinformation. Various otherwise reputable news outlets such as The Independent and Evening Standard had to retract and withdraw and to print clarifications and apologies for putting out misinformation about the Government’s view on animal sentience. The Government strongly believe in animal sentience, and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill vote was not contrary to that.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:49 p.m.

I thank the Minister for his intervention, but the fact remains that this Government did not vote for that amendment, so are we to keep that trust that this UK Government will introduce those welfare standards post-Brexit? I for one do not find that trust. I struggle to understand this decision by the Government, which is a massive blow for the welfare of wildlife, pets and livestock alike.

Break in Debate

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:50 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but does she not realise that this Bill is about the rules and regulations during trade? That is why we need the new clause in the Bill.

Only domestic animals are covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006; animals in the wild and laboratory animals are expressly exempt. As we seek new deals in our negotiations with countries that perhaps have much lower animal welfare standards, we are particularly concerned that there will be the temptation to lower our standards. The Bill needs strengthening to better protect UK animal welfare standards. I hope the Government will see some sense and support the new clause to ensure that we do not water down those standards.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:51 p.m.

The Government have made clear that we intend not only to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the European Union but, indeed, to enhance them. We are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards anywhere in the world, and they will not be watered down when we leave the EU.

Our food is held in high repute thanks to our animal welfare standards. The withdrawal Bill will transfer on to the UK statute book all EU animal welfare standards— it is very important to understand that in the context of the withdrawal Bill, which was raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff North. Our current high standards, including import requirements, will apply when we leave the EU.

Similarly, the Government are committed to retaining the EU’s recognition of animal sentience. That is why, as has been referred to quite a few times in this helpful debate, at the end of last year the Government published the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, which sets out how we can go even further and better enshrine in domestic law the recognition of animals as sentient beings. That point was capably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden and others.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:52 p.m.

Does the Minister understand that the new clause’s intention is not to run counter to or prevent what we hope the Government will bring forward in that Bill? It seeks to establish the hierarchy of principles in international trade so that a necessity test or any other precursor in the clauses and paragraphs that deal with such issues cannot mean that animal welfare is of a lower order in that hierarchy.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:54 p.m.

Let us try to separate out those two issues. We will deal with animal sentience in the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. What we are talking about here is transitioning existing trade agreements. I will return to the intervention I made on the hon. Gentleman in relation to existing trade agreements, but let me first point out a few more things in the draft animal welfare Bill. It proposes a new obligation on Ministers of the Crown to have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings when formulating and implementing Government policy. A public consultation on the draft Bill has recently closed and DEFRA is considering all the responses received.

We are absolutely clear that all existing commitments relating to animal welfare will remain when these agreements are transitioned—I cannot be any more definitive than that. That is in line with our clearly articulated principle that it is our intent to transition solely the existing effects of the current agreements.

On current agreements, Mr Davies, you and I were elected in 2005, and in a couple of those early years we shared in Parliament I distinctly remember the hon. Gentleman being a DEFRA Minister. I was intrigued when he was seemingly unable to offer any single occasion when, as a Minister in DEFRA—the Department with primary responsibility in this area—he had raised any objection to EU trade agreements going through the House in relation to animal welfare or animal sentience.

I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman’s letter, in which he will explain in detail those occasions he was unable to remember today—he may have time to dig through his filing cabinet from 12 or 13 years ago to find them. I remember well that it was very rare for any Government Minister in Tony Blair’s regime to go against the word of Mr Blair, and very rare for any Government Minister to go against the word of the European Union, so I am interested to see if the hon. Member for Brent North managed to do both at the same time. I very much look forward to getting this letter. May I suggest that he shares it with the whole Committee, because I do not think that it is something I should abuse by keeping it private to myself? I look forward to that letter.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:55 p.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:55 p.m.

Of course—maybe he has remembered.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I just point out to the Minister that I voted for the ban on hunting mammals with dogs? I believe that most of the Conservative party voted to retain hunting mammals with dogs. I also voted to secure an end to cosmetic testing on animals, to ban fur farming and to introduce the Animal Welfare Act 2006. So there were a number of occasions on which my voting record on animal welfare and animal sentience stands up very strongly. I suspect that it would it be in marked contrast to many Members on the Government side of the House.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I now find it even more illuminating. He has now been able to remember all these other occasions when he stuck up for animal welfare, but he still cannot remember a single occasion when, in relation to EU trade agreements, which is what the Bill is all about—

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

rose—

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has now remembered the single occasion. I will give him another opportunity to tell us all about this disagreement he had with Tony Blair or the European Union.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:57 p.m.

It is not about a disagreement with Tony Blair or the European Union, because actually we did vote to ban the export of animals on the hoof in that Government. That was precisely about trade—it was banning live exports. The Minister has to accept that I have a very clear record on animal welfare in terms of not only domestic legislation in this country but international trade.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I am still looking forward to the letter. The hon. Gentleman has still not remembered a single occasion when he raised this in relation to a European Union trade agreement. He has an opportunity. I am sure he will take a little bit of time to prepare the letter, and I am sure that all members of the Committee will look forward to receiving it.

The hon. Gentleman did mention live animal exports, which is an interesting subject. He says that he was concerned about live animal exports, but you and I know, Mr Davies, that while we remain an EU member we are unable to ban live animal exports. I do not know whether, at that point, he was taking an early Eurosceptic turn. Perhaps he mentioned to Tony Blair that he had this fundamental problem with the European Union. It was just after Tony Blair had promised a vote on the EU constitution, which was not delivered, so it may have been an interesting time to have made these Eurosceptic points that he now says that he has.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 12:58 p.m.

Far be it from me to talk about what happened five or 10 years ago and under a different ministerial dispensation, but my recollection was that in the 2000s there was a huge issue about veal being transported in crates, and it was EU legislation that was introduced that actually put an end to that. I would like to think that the UK Government were in support of that, but I do not know—I will defer to either the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 12:59 p.m.

If the hon. Gentleman is a strong believer in EU law, surely he should be voting, and have voted, for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which seeks to take all of this retained EU law into the UK domestic environment.

To return to the issue, we have a manifesto commitment to take early steps to control live animal exports as we leave the European Union. The hon. Member for Brent North claimed that FTAs contain provisions stating that animal health measures must

“not be unjustifiable barriers to trade”.

Again, that returns to the point I made in my intervention on the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, that it importantly does not prevent states from imposing their own high animal welfare standards, which is what we currently do and will expect to enhance in the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden made an excellent and succinct speech, outlining why the Bill is about existing trade agreements and why the Government have separate proposed legislation relating to animal sentience. I can tell her that the consultation closed yesterday and we will consider the 9,000 responses, as well as the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, in due course.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun raised a relevant point when he said that the issue of animal sentience is devolved. I can tell him that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is speaking to the devolved Administrations regarding animal sentience. The clause in the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill refers only to UK Ministers and the role they play, but I would be interested to see what proposals the Scottish and Welsh Governments might bring forward in this space as well.

I hope that is sufficient reassurance to the hon. Member for Brent North. I very much look forward to his letter, but on that basis I ask him to withdraw the new clause.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister can ask, but he will not be successful. We will press it to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

1 Feb 2018, 1:02 p.m.

Mr Davies, I thank you and everybody concerned with this Bill. I am delighted that we have so thoroughly scrutinised this short yet important Bill over the last five Committee sessions. I thank Committee members for the constructive way in which they have engaged in the debate. I am pleased that we have completed proceedings within the allotted time. In fact, we have a little time to spare.

This has been an unusual Bill Committee. The Bill, in my view, is relatively uncontroversial and certainly quite short. Indeed, on Second Reading, I think a little unfairly, the hon. Member for Brent North called it a

“hollowed out little embarrassment of a Bill, which extends to just six pages and four schedules.”—[Official Report, 9 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 223.]

I think he was calling it small and unimportant; I am interpreting the words “hollowed out little embarrassment” in that way. Therefore, I find it all the more remarkable that the Opposition have called some 37 votes on the Bill so far. I am not trying to make a wider political point—or maybe I am—but it was clear on Second Reading and now that they are against the UK having its own trade remedies, against the UK being able to benefit from the more than 40-plus EU trade agreements, and against UK companies participating in the £1.3 trillion global procurement market. I hope they will change their minds on Third Reading.

I also thank the Government Whip and the Opposition Whip, who have ensured that the Committee has run smoothly and effectively. We have had a helpful and constructive consideration of the Bill, and the debate has been superbly conducted by you, Mr Davies, and by Mrs Ryan and Mr Gray, in the Chair. I am very grateful for your and their guidance during our deliberations.

Further, I would like to pay tribute to the usual channels, who I know quite well from previous experiences in this House, for their help and guidance throughout. I also recognise in particular the hard work of Hansard in recording everything. I thank the Clerk for his advice, the Doorkeepers for keeping good order, and my excellent team of officials for their support. This is the Department for International Trade’s first ever piece of legislation, and the officials have done the Department very proud indeed.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1 Feb 2018, 1:05 p.m.

I, too, would like to express, on behalf of all my team, my thanks to you, Mr Davies, to Ms Ryan and Mr Gray, and to all the officials who so ably supported the Minister. We tried to throw as many difficult questions at him as possible, and they tried to field them and provide him with answers as quickly as possible. I have to say we were not always convinced by the answers he came up with, but we recognise the work that went into them and hope that we did not cause the officials too much trouble.

I pay particular tribute to Kenneth Fox, the Clerk of the Committee. He is an exemplary Clerk, and he aided us in ensuring that our amendments were substantive and all in good order. It was extremely helpful to us to be assisted by someone of his experience and wisdom—and calm. I say that because, as you know, Mr Davies, amendments are worked on until the last moment to ensure that they are tabled in good time, and Mr Fox did so with the greatest humour.

I am grateful to all my team: my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South, for Sefton Central, for Cardiff North, for Warrington South, for Blaenau Gwent and for Warwick and Leamington. It has been an excellent team effort. I am delighted that they were all able to contribute to debate in a most positive way. I also thank the Government Members. I thank the Minister, who I think took every intervention he was offered, for his courtesy. I know that serving on such Committees is often a thankless task for Government Back Benchers, who are told by the Government Whip to sit quietly and not to take up too much of the proceedings, but when they did intervene, they did so with courtesy.

We have scrutinised the Bill in great detail. We have not come to an agreement—that much is clear. There are lacunae in the Bill that need to be remedied, and we will return to it on Report and subsequently. I thank everyone associated with the Committee and in particular you, Mr Davies, for conducting proceedings with absolute fairness and impeccable order.

Trade Bill (Fifth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Greg Hands Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for International Trade
Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:35 a.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention because he reinforces the very point that I am trying to establish. Despite the processes that are currently in place for scrutiny of trade deals as they proceed through Europe, and ultimately through the European Scrutiny Committee and through the House under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 procedure, we have here a situation in which a deal that was going to be concluded between the EU and another country can proceed to be signed, but not implemented. Then, in the lacuna—that is, the space between that signature and our leaving the EU—we could be confronted by the Government with a completely different set of trade relations. The trade agreement could be totally different, yet, under the Bill, the Government would have the power to sign and implement it simply because they had already signed a previous agreement before we had left the EU. That cannot be the right procedure for what could be completely new issues under that future agreement.

In one sense, the amendment is a modest one, given the seriousness of the issue it addresses. It merely seeks to exclude from the antidemocratic provisions of the Bill any regulations stemming from treaties such as a future UK-Japan trade agreement, where the correspondent EU agreement will have been signed but not yet ratified, along with all the scrutiny that ratification requires.

Other EU trade agreements could fall into this same category: the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement, the text of which is also being prepared for signing at some point this year; the EU-Singapore free trade agreement which has been initialled but held up by internal EU discussions as to whether it is a mixed agreement or exclusive EU competence, leading to the European Court of Justice ruling on this issue in May last year; and, potentially, some of the economic partnership agreements still to be finalised between the EU and different groupings of African, Caribbean and Pacific states, which were criticised so trenchantly by Professor Alan Winters of the UK Trade Policy Observatory in his oral evidence to the Committee last week. Also in this category is CETA, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada, which has been signed but not yet fully ratified, as it is a mixed agreement requiring ratification in each of the EU member states, in addition to the centralised EU institutions of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

Finally, the amendment tightens up the language of subsections (3) and (4) by requiring not just that the EU and the other signatory or signatories should have ratified trade agreements, prior to Brexit, but that they should have done so with each other. The Bill as it stands simply says that they must have signed “a” trade agreement; it does not say that they have to have signed it with Japan—with the corresponding party. This is ridiculous. The Minister is looking confused. If he wants to intervene, I would be happy to give way to him on this point because it is material.

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:38 a.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I am a little confused about his position on CETA. If CETA is not yet ratified by all the EU28 countries, the amendment, if it became law, would effectively prevent the UK from transitioning CETA to be a UK-only agreement. I know that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to CETA, and he represents a minority view within his party. However, the great majority of Labour MPs welcome CETA and voted in favour of it. It is also something that has already taken effect, so the effect of his amendment would be to take us out of the provisions of CETA that have already been in place and been provisionally adopted since September.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:38 a.m.

The Minister, of course, chose not to respond to the point I allowed him to intervene on because of his confusion.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:37 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to explain my confusion.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:39 a.m.

I am happy to address the Minister’s point and have set out the Labour Front-Bench position very clearly. He should know that the provisions of the amendment do not do what he has claimed they do. What it says is that there must be proper parliamentary scrutiny. He is denying precisely the opportunity for that to happen when a treaty has been signed but not yet ratified. The point of the amendment is to ensure that proper scrutiny can take place and that ratification can have taken place to ensure that.

Break in Debate

We have tried to help the Government out here—I am being very helpful to the Minister this morning, if only he would realise it. Our amendment takes up the challenge from the explanatory notes and identifies the two main categories of agreement that have traditionally accompanied the EU’s free trade agreements as ancillary texts in recent years—either, in the case of mutual recognition agreements, because they help to minimise unnecessary non-tariff barriers in the regulatory sphere, or, in the case of strategic partnership agreements, because they establish social and political conditionalities to accompany the commercial aspects of the trade agreements themselves. At the end of the day, we need the Government to say what they have in mind for that category. Of course, it may be that Ministers have nothing in mind, and it would be good to know that, too. The public and the country need certainty, and the Bill does not provide it in those areas.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. Let me reassure you that, by exit day, the Government aim to have ratified all EU mixed free trade agreements that are currently provisionally applied. They include, for example, the EU-Canada CETA agreement and the Southern African Development Community co-operation in accreditation.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:53 a.m.

If it is the Minister’s intention, as he says, to do what the amendment asks him to do, namely to apply these clauses only to agreements that have been ratified—and he says that they will all have been ratified—what problem does he have with accepting the amendment?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:55 a.m.

The answer to that is straightforward. Although it is our intention to have ratified the agreements, that does not necessarily mean that they will have been ratified by the other EU27 countries. That is the important thing. I will come on to why the hon. Gentleman’s amendment would put at risk agreements that the UK is already party to and that UK businesses are already benefiting from.

We must remember that EU free trade agreements that contain areas of shared or member state competence must be ratified by all 28 member states before they come into force. As we know, that process can take considerable time. We drafted the clause 2 power so that signed EU free trade agreements fall within its scope. That will ensure that it can be used to implement agreements to replace those that have been signed, and which may have been provisionally applied but are yet to be ratified by the EU or the partner country.

Many such agreements are benefiting businesses and consumers as we speak. In other words, they have already taken effect. I know that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to CETA, for example, but we believe that it has benefited UK businesses considerably since it was provisionally applied and took effect in September. I know that he wants to throw away those benefits, so I remind him that most of his party sensibly sees the merits that CETA provides this country. Under his amendment, we would be unable to implement a free trade agreement that falls within this category, which would risk a cliff edge in any trading relationships covered by such an agreement.

To take another example, the UK ratified the EU’s Andean FTA with Colombia and Peru in 2014. In 2016, UK trade with those countries had a value of more than £2 billion. However, that FTA is still awaiting ratification by both the European Union and a number of EU countries. If that is still the case by exit day, the amendment would prevent the clause 2 power from being used to implement a transitioned FTA with Colombia and Peru, resulting in a likely reduction in trade flows between the UK and the Andean countries.

Let me turn to a few points that the hon. Gentleman raised elsewhere. He asserted that the agreement has to be signed by both parties. Clause 2(3), which relates to free trade agreements, states that in order for the Government to be able to use the power when implementing an agreement with a partner country, both the EU and that country must have signed a free trade agreement before exit day. In other words, both must have signed the same agreement.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:39 a.m.

It does not say “the same”.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:55 a.m.

I think the hon. Gentleman said it was ambiguous, but the Government’s intention is clear. We have all laid it out frequently: to transition the effects of the 40-plus EU FTAs, not to renegotiate new agreements. He mentioned the cases of Norway and Turkey. As I laid out at considerable length at the Select Committee on International Trade last week—I know two of his colleagues are members of the Committee—the situation will depend largely on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, which is a matter for the current negotiations, as Norway, Turkey and Switzerland’s relationships are very much linked to whatever our future relationship with the EU might be.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:39 a.m.

Of course, the Minister is entirely right to say that the nature of the agreements that we conclude with those countries would depend on our future relationship as we negotiate our withdrawal from the EU, but the point is that this Bill is supposed to be simply rolling over the existing agreements. The Minister has made a great deal of the fact that we want no change and are simply rolling over what exists into what comes afterwards. That is the trap that he has set for himself, and he must extricate himself.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:56 a.m.

I will just repeat what the Secretary of State said on Second Reading: the Bill is designed to be robust to the different cases of where the future UK-EU relationship might lead us following the negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Japan. In the small number of cases where the EU seeks to establish an FTA, it might be too late to go through conventional EU scrutiny here, and there are also our agreements that will now be sole EU competence. Also, they might not necessarily happen through the current EU scrutiny process. We will consider this in due course, but we are committed to Parliament having its say. Earlier this month we published a response to the trade White Paper, and the Government will consider views as we develop proposals regarding the role of Parliament in future trade agreements.

If we are to avoid trade disruption, we need to make sure that signed EU agreements that are not yet ratified by the EU, including the examples I have given, such as CETA, the Andean agreement and the partner country agreements, fall within the scope of the Bill, otherwise we will jeopardise a considerable part of the current trading relations that benefit this country so much. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman says, the amendment would not improve the Bill. It would actually threaten a great number of our existing trading arrangements.

It is worth remembering that a delay in ratification by another EU member state has no real relevance to the content of an agreement, or indeed to UK scrutiny of it. It is merely a reflection of that country’s domestic situation. To allow such a state of affairs as that suggested in the amendment, and to cause disruption to UK businesses, would be profoundly unsatisfactory.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:59 a.m.

Does the Minister agree that, as Alan Winters said in the evidence session when talking about business and concerns about continuity, the issue is not only transparency and scrutiny, but a recognition—we are calling for this in the amendment—that some changes required in any trade agreement will be technical or substantive? There is a need to understand the degree of what is substantive, and that is not determined anywhere. That is what we and the witnesses—business or academic—are calling for. There is nothing in the Bill that ensures the scrutiny of what is substantive and what changes should be allowed.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:59 a.m.

I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman. By the way, I cannot remember whether he was in favour of CETA or against it, or what his individual position was within the Labour party on some of these agreements.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 9:59 a.m.

I wasn’t present.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 9:59 a.m.

Of course—the hon. Gentleman was not yet elected at that time.

The Government’s intention is clear. This is a technical roll-over: there will not be substantive changes to the agreement. However, that is not what this amendment deals with. The amendment talks about making sure that all deals that have yet to be ratified are outside the scope of the Bill. Our position is clear: agreements that have been signed but not yet ratified should be within the scope of the Bill.

On amendment 9, the clause 2 power is a restricted so-called Henry VIII power. It allows only for the amendment of primary legislation that is retained EU law. As I think we all now know, retained EU law is EU law that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill converts into UK law, as well as the EU-derived domestic law that the Bill preserves. It is a very restricted power.

Break in Debate

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister mentioned a few times proper parliamentary scrutiny of future trade agreements but, clearly, the provision confirming that there will be parliamentary scrutiny in future should not be in the Bill.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:03 a.m.

I am absolutely clear that this Bill relates to the transition of our existing trade agreements. How we approach future trade agreements will be a matter for future consideration. I mentioned earlier that we will look carefully at the responses to the consultation. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman has views, we are keen to hear them. Indeed, we will be seeking views from across this House on what Parliament’s views on these matters might be, but that is entirely a matter for the future.

Amendment 10 would clearly create an unacceptable risk that agreements essential to trade could not be effectively provisioned. If the members of the Committee are concerned about the scope of this power, please let me reassure them that, as I referred to earlier, we have already set out in clause 2 restrictions on the scope of the power.

Given these constraints, the existing drafting of the power, and our clear and firm assurances that this power is not intended to be used for the implementation of future trade agreements, it would be strange to include this amendment, which sets out the required procedure for future trade agreements. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw amendment 5.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:03 a.m.

I am not prepared to withdraw and I propose that we move to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Mr Prisk
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:30 a.m.

I strongly support the hon. Lady’s point about the value of human rights and the importance of workers’ rights and environmental standards, not only as we trade abroad but in how we deal with our domestic politics. That is very important. I am sorry that, at the tail end of her point, she started to suggest that one side of the House somehow does not agree with that. In fairness, there is a range of views across the spectrum, but the principles about human rights and workers’ rights and so on are there.

I cannot support the hon. Lady’s amendment, not because of the values that she talked about at some length but because, in her own words, the amendment seeks to change any future trading agreement. On a point of principle, I do not think that is something the Committee has the power, or is in the position, to do. On that principle, I will vote against the amendment, and I hope other Members do the same.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:30 a.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Bradford South for her interesting and wide-ranging speech. I wholly agree with her strong comments on human rights and the UK being a leader in that space and the wide range of fields referred to in the amendment. In fact, I think all Conservative Members wholly endorse that.

However, I assure the hon. Lady that the amendment is unnecessary. The UK has always sought to comply with international law, and we will continue to uphold our strong commitments to human rights and labour and environmental standards around the world, as well as to the sustainable development goals, gender rights, disability rights, endangered species, fighting climate change and so on. The process of exiting the EU will not alter that position, and we will still be bound by our commitments under international law. Both the Secretary of State and I stated in the Chamber on Second Reading that our aim in undertaking the transition programme is to seek continuity in the effects of existing trade agreements. This is not an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of those agreements, which have already been scrutinised by Parliament.

The hon. Lady referenced least developed countries. I remind her that, despite her warm words, she voted against the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill on Second Reading, which is currently being considered in another Committee and which enshrines a system of trade preferences for developing countries as we leave the EU, to make sure that those powers are in place for the UK to offer unilateral trade preferences. Unfortunately, if her vote on that Bill had been the majority view in the House earlier this month, the UK would not have a system of trade preferences for developing-world countries as we exit the EU.

The amendment is unnecessary, particularly in relation to our compliance with international law.

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:34 a.m.

The Government recently published a 25-year plan for the environment, committing the UK to:

“Leave a lighter footprint on the global environment by enhancing sustainability and supporting zero deforestation supply chains.”

Does the Minister agree that it is vital that the Bill is amended to ensure that the Government can meet that commitment, and to ensure that trade policy does not result in a reduction in environmental standards and protections or in an unacceptable, unsustainable global footprint?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Let me be absolutely clear: there is no intention to reduce environmental standards. In fact, the point of the 25-year environment plan was to enshrine this country’s commitment to the environment over a very long period of time. I heartily commend that plan, but it is not part of today’s Bill. I am happy to underline that we will, of course, remain compliant with international law. On the basis of that assurance, the broader applicability of international law, and the UK’s commitments in all such areas, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:35 a.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:35 a.m.

I will, of course, take an intervention from the hon. Member for Warwick.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:35 a.m.

My constituency is Warwick and Leamington. They get funny about that in my area.

Based on my humble experience, I do not think we have the same kind of reputation for environmental safeguards as certain other countries—our history is weak in that area. One of the reasons for tabling the amendment was to ensure that those sorts of standards are included, and that we are putting that forward for our own protection, as well as the offensive interests of other Governments. The Minister may have a different view from mine. I understand that he has lobbied in Brazil on behalf of certain oil giants such as BP and Shell, so he will take a different stance. I believe that it is an important issue, which is why we tabled this important amendment.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:37 a.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that late but wide-ranging intervention. Let me try to deal with each of his points. On Brazil, it is quite clearly on the record that the discussions were to ensure a level playing field for UK companies, not to change Brazilian domestic requirements in a way that would harm the environment in Brazil.

Secondly, we have an exemplary record on the environment over the last seven years. The UK was a leader in the Paris agreement and the negotiations behind it, as the shadow Secretary of State will know only too well—he takes a keen interest in that and is even the party’s spokesperson. When it comes to recent regulations such as the banning of microbeads and efforts to prevent plastics from entering the environment, the Government have an exemplary record. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Bradford South to withdraw her amendment.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:38 a.m.

We will push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:56 a.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I would still contend that there is a confused viewpoint regarding the single market and how it aligns with membership or otherwise of the EU. Again, where the rail franchising system in the United Kingdom has been liberalised, clearly there is no impediment to the Scottish Government making a public sector bid. That proves that it can happen within the EU single market.

In conclusion, I welcome any commitment to strengthen the public sector ethos and public sector ownership, and I will be interested to hear what the Government have to say.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:57 a.m.

As I have mentioned, the aim of continuity means that this exercise will not be used as a back-door way to alter how the UK delivers public services. I make it clear to the Committee that the protection of public service delivery is written into many EU trade agreements and they already include safeguards to protect EU country Governments from being forced to privatise their services. That protection has worked for 20 years.

I will turn to some of the individual points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Sefton Central talked about the agreement on government procurement. Just to be clear, the GPA operates on a positive list basis—that is, only areas listed by GPA members in their GPA schedules are covered by the GPA’s obligations.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman will know, as I do, that negotiations on the trade in services agreement are ongoing at the WTO, but are not making a great deal of progress. The UK’s position, as it currently stands, will be represented in those discussions by the European Union.

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:58 a.m.

If the Government will not support the amendment today, will the Minister provide assurances to the Committee and to the British people that the Bill will not put vital public services, such as the NHS, at risk of piecemeal privatisations that are ultimately detrimental to those who rely on those services?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:58 a.m.

We have been clear that many EU trade agreements presently provide those protections and we have been clear that this exercise of transitioning existing EU free trade agreements will not be used for any back-door attempt to do anything to the NHS that would prevent our right to regulate domestically for the NHS. This party has a proud record of defending and protecting the national health service, and that will continue.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 10:59 a.m.

Does the Minister recall that during the drafting of CETA, while Germany put a clear exemption into the agreement’s text that it would not allow any privatisation of its health service in that way, the UK failed to do so? One reason the ancillary document—the interpretative document—was necessary was to make that clear, but that document was not binding in law. As such, the Government do not have a good record on this, do they?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 10:59 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman and I had an extensive debate on this matter in February. We are satisfied that the protections in CETA are adequate for protecting our national health service and our right to regulate in the domestic market.

It has long been an aspect of UK Government policy under successive Governments to make sure that trade agreements work for services. That is actually in the UK national interest—80% of our country’s GDP comes from services and 79% of our employment comes from services—and has been an objective of successive Governments.

I remember when the hon. Gentleman was a Minister under Tony Blair. The Blair Government rightly ensured, in particular within the European Union, that services were part of the trade agenda. Although the hon. Gentleman has changed his opinion on many matters in the intervening 10 years since Mr Blair left office, I am a little surprised that he and his colleague now seem to be arguing against the UK doing more to ensure that services are a key part of future trade deals.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11 a.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 11 a.m.

Of course I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene, to clarify where he is with Tony Blair.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11:01 a.m.

My relationship with our former Prime Minister is probably not in scope for the Committee. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party and the Opposition in Committee do not in any way want to stop the very valuable exports that our service industries make to the rest of the world. We want to see them flourish, but we want them to do so within a framework that does not prejudice the protections that should properly—as the Minister has acknowledged—be in place for public services and the public sector in this country, and the right to protect our national health service and to ensure that public procurement can be done properly.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 11:02 a.m.

I think we shall leave it at that. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his clarification of where he stands in relation to Tony Blair.

Protecting the UK’s right to regulate public services is, of course, of the utmost importance. UK public services are protected by specific exceptions and reservations in EU trade agreements where relevant. As we leave the EU, the UK will continue to ensure that rigorous protections are included in all trade agreements that it is party to. On that basis, I ask the Opposition to withdraw the amendment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11:02 a.m.

I will not be drawn on everything the Minister said, but I will go back to what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said in his short speech. The amendment and the Bill are about trade agreements and not about the single market. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North made it clear on Second Reading exactly what our relationship with the single market will be once we have left the European Union—if we are not a member of the European Union, it is not possible to have a say in the rules, so we are therefore not a full member whatever our relationship with the single market. He explained it extremely well.

The amendment is about the relationship with future trade agreements and about having the right protections for public services. I go back to what I said in my speech: the amendment is about ensuring that we have the ability in law to bring services back in, in the light of Carillion, whether they are to do with the NHS or other services. In the public interest—the public good—this country should have the ability to decide where its public services are run.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11:04 a.m.

I share my hon. Friend’s surprise because, as I said in my speech, repeated public reassurances and “best endeavour” commitments from Ministers are not the issue; legal certainty and absolute exemption are required. If the Minister will not accept the amendment, perhaps he will tell us now that he will bring forward his own amendment later in our proceedings to achieve exactly that.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 11:04 a.m.

We are talking here about future trade agreements, on which I have clearly laid out our position. I will just pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington. I think he is incorrect in what he said on any evidence I might have given to the International Trade Committee last February. To be clear—and perhaps to my regret—I did not appear in front of that Committee until last week.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11:05 a.m.

It is odd to be intervened on about the comments of another Member. I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington meant the Secretary of State. I thought all Ministers spoke as one in Government, although we have seen enough evidence in recent days, weeks and months to suggest that that is not entirely true. Today is perhaps the latest example, with the leaked reports from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. We are wandering, and I think the Chair might have something to say on that.

Over the weekend, the Prime Minister left a degree of ambiguity in her words on this issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North quite rightly reminded us, the German Government felt sufficiently concerned about CETA to exclude healthcare from its provisions. We should be very mindful of that. The Government are keen to, in their words, roll over that agreement, although with the acknowledgement that that may involve technical changes. Perhaps we can all agree that it will become a corresponding agreement.

There is a body of evidence from across the years showing the need for cast-iron guarantees to protect public services, so that they can be delivered in the public good and brought back in house where necessary. Without it being legally binding in the way we have set out in the amendment, it is difficult to see how that can be achieved. I will ask again: if the Government will not support the amendment, will they bring forward their own amendment that delivers on exactly that point later in our proceedings? There will be further opportunities in this House and in the other place to do so.

Question put, That the amendment be made

Break in Debate

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11:20 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I repeat that it is important to maintain the regulatory standards we have in this nation.

The US Government trade representative confirmed in writing at the very outset of the negotiations that the USA’s TTIP negotiators would be seeking to eliminate or downgrade those sanitary or phytosanitary measures that prevent US exports from entry into the market of the UK and other EU member states. That was one of the central reasons why TTIP became so toxic across country after country in Europe, and why the European Commission soon discovered that it had no legitimacy to continue the TTIP negotiations at all.

I should also note that there is a commercial aspect to this. The celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, was so concerned about the potential impact of TTIP on his business—which is based on high-quality food imports at every stage of the supply chain—that he took it upon himself to call on the previous Secretary of State for cast-iron guarantees that food standards would not be included as part of the TTIP negotiations. The Secretary of State was unable to give him those guarantees, since the TTIP negotiations were, at that same moment, addressing sanitary and phytosanitary measures at the express demand of the US Government. Of course, those negotiations were going on behind closed doors.

That is what Wilbur Ross meant when he warned that the USA would demand the downgrading of UK food standards. That is why it has been so appalling to see the current Secretary of State laughing off the threat represented by such a downgrading of our standards.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 11:22 a.m.

I have been listening carefully, but to be absolutely clear, I think the hon. Lady referred to the previous Secretary of State. Obviously, the current Secretary of State is the first and only Secretary of State for International Trade. Could the hon. Lady perhaps clarify whom she is referring to as the previous Secretary of State?

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 11:22 a.m.

I am referring to the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable).

Amendment 8 also seeks to ensure that the food we eat comes from healthy animals that are naturally resistant to disease, not dosed up with antibiotics as an alternative to maintaining food hygiene throughout the production process, which is a standard model of industrial farming in the USA. We all know about the real threat of superbugs that develop their resistance to antibiotics. That is why the Veterinary Medicines Directorate has set targets for the reduction of antibiotic use in agriculture. This is where the interface between animal welfare and food safety becomes most compelling, and why British farmers should be proud to produce food that adheres to the highest standards—all the way from farm to fork.

Finally, this amendment would ensure that the bodies responsible for upholding and enforcing food standards in this country have the capacity to meet any extra requirements placed on them.

Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Greg Hands Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for International Trade

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2 p.m.

May I start by welcoming you to the Chair, Mr Davies?

The Government have already made it clear that we will not use the necessary and indeed pertinent exercise of continuing the effects of our existing agreements as a back-door way to reduce standards, including food safety standards. As the Prime Minister said in Florence in September, we are

“committed not only to protecting high standards, but strengthening them…we will always be a country whose pitch to the world is high standards at home.”

I am happy to reaffirm the Prime Minister’s commitment to the Committee. We are committed to upholding and strengthening our high standards in public health and safety, product performance and protecting the environment.

Faisal Rashid (Warrington South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

How does the Minister plan to prevent a race to the bottom on food safety standards in the UK and to protect British consumers if he is not prepared to accept the amendment?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:01 p.m.

The Government have always been clear that we will maintain our very high standards on food and animal welfare, and for protection in that space. There will be no race to the bottom. Nothing in free trade agreements precludes a Government from regulating in the domestic environment. I hope that that is enough reassurance for the hon. Gentleman. On protecting the environment, high standards and high quality are what our domestic and global consumers demand, and that is what we should provide.

To be clear, nothing in the Bill would allow us to do a free trade agreement with the United States because, as we know, the United States does not have a free trade agreement with the European Union. While the hon. Member for Bradford South gave an interesting speech of some length about what may or may not happen in any future trade agreement with the United States, it is worth mentioning that the Bill does not cover free trade agreements with the United States. Any future free trade agreement with the United States must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers, and uphold food safety and animal welfare standards. However, that is a matter for a future day; it is not relevant to the Bill before us.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:03 p.m.

Surely the Minister appreciates that the examples of the USA were given in order to clearly illustrate the principles. At no point was it suggested that those examples were a necessary follow on. However, they illustrated the principles, and the Minister must appreciate that and take it seriously, in terms of the amendment.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

We take incredibly seriously food safety standards, animal welfare and so on. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that he has serious concerns in those spaces in respect of any of the 40-plus current EU trade agreements that we are seeking to move into UK law, perhaps he could let me know.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to adumbrate on that. The particular concerns relating to growth hormones in beef are, of course, of equal importance in the context of any future UK-Canada trade agreement, given that Canadian beef farmers are permitted to use growth hormones in a way that our farmers are not. The EU granted a higher quota to hormone-free Canadian beef exports in the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement negotiations. It was only popular pressure that prevented the European Commission from relaxing the ban on imports of hormone beef. We simply want to ensure that Parliament is the place where this country takes decisions on whether to relax or tighten our food standards. We do not want those decisions taken in secret trade negotiations and then imposed on us through the excessive powers in the Bill.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:04 p.m.

I am certain that CETA is consistent with our food safety and animal welfare standards. What is more, I think the majority of Labour MPs agree with me. Last February, Labour MPs split 86 in favour of CETA and 68 against, so whatever concerns the hon. Member for Brent North has, I gently suggest that he tries to persuade his own party before coming to see the Government.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:05 p.m.

Again, I am happy to take on the Minister on that. He is talking about something that happened before the previous election, and as personnel change, so perhaps does the wish of the members of the parliamentary Labour party. However, that is not really the point. He will also find that those people on the Labour Benches who wanted to support CETA on that occasion seem now to have changed their views about whether CETA—the Canadian model—is a good model for us to pursue in the trade negotiations. Most of them seem to have turned tail and run to the other side.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:06 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is trying to mix up the transitional and existing trade agreements with our future trading relationship with the European Union—which, I remind the Committee, is also not a subject of the Bill. I think he said that his vote against CETA was before the previous election, and if he is suggesting that he might have changed his mind on CETA, I am all ears. When we come to ratification of the treaty, I would personally welcome him as a sinner that repenteth, were he to come into the Lobby with Conservative Members to support the Canadian free trade agreement.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:06 p.m.

I will not give way. We are getting a little off the point.

We are absolutely clear that all existing commitments on standards and regulations will remain when those agreements are transitioned. That is in line with our clearly articulated principle that our intent is to transition solely the existing effect of the agreements. The amendment is therefore unnecessary and I ask the hon. Member for Bradford South to withdraw it.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:07 p.m.

We will not withdraw the amendment and wish to proceed to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:27 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Davies, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I welcome his opening remarks, and I might have an opportunity to show how much when other amendments go to a vote. I also welcome his support for amendment 35. He talked about the wisdom of co-operation and of working with Government, and the wisdom of devolved Administrations. It is maybe a pity that the wisdom of the devolved Administrations is coming through me rather than directly, but we will just have to deal with that.

Amendment 35 is very modest. All we are asking is that, if the UK Government propose to extend the sunset clause, they must consult the Scottish and Welsh Governments. That does not seem to be too big an ask to me. It is also more pertinent given the five-year period proposed in the Bill. Given that the Bill, as I keep hearing, is to do only with the UK’s access to existing EU trade deals and bringing those deals into UK legislation, it makes me wonder why we would ever need a period beyond five years. We are dealing with legislation that should be coming forward quickly, given the date for leaving the EU, and given that the International Trade Secretary has said that these negotiations will be the easiest in human history. Why we would need Henry VIII powers beyond five years is a mystery. We are just asking for the courtesy that the Scottish and Welsh Governments are consulted if that is the case.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:11 p.m.

We have had a wide-ranging and interesting mini debate, full of historical references and colourful metaphors. We have had Henry VIII, plenty of sunsets and royal pageants. The hon. Member for Warrington South even introduced a Trojan horse. It has been a helpful debate.

Let me try to explain why we have included the sunset clause for this power, because once I have explained, all will become clearer. It is so that Parliament can have the chance to review its merits once again five years after exit date. However, since this power may be required to ensure the operability of transition agreements beyond the five-year period, potentially indefinitely, it is important that the Government have the option to extend the use of the clause 2 power. That will, of course, be subject to the approval of both Houses.

For example, the power might be needed so that we can make technical changes to agreements after exit day to ensure that they remain operable on a longer-term basis. To give a specific example, in the case of a transitioned mutual recognition agreement, we may need to change secondary legislation to update the names of awarding bodies in third countries so that UK businesses can continue to use such bodies legally. Alternatively, where our trade agreements refer to international standards—we debated environmental and labour protection earlier, for example—we may need the power to update those references in domestic legislation to ensure that we remain compliant with our international agreements. Removing the possibility of extension would compromise the purpose of the power in ensuring the continuity and future operability of our current trading arrangements, risking disruption for UK businesses in the future.

Break in Debate

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:31 p.m.

I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman is determined, in his approach and plan, to consult the devolved nations. If he is, why not put that in the Bill to ensure that it happens?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:32 p.m.

Because I like to keep legislation as brief as possible and, as I shall explain, I do not think it necessary for us to write that obligation into the Bill. Of course, we would continue to engage should we need to extend the clause beyond its sunset five years after exit day.

I was intrigued by the exchange between the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and for Brent North. I am still trying to find out why, on Thursday, the Labour Front-Bench team did not support the amendment promoted by the Welsh Government. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman properly explained, but perhaps when he responds he can throw a little more light on why he has seemingly jettisoned his colleagues from Wales, one of whom is on this very Committee.

On the requirement for a legislative consent motion, we have been clear that we are seeking such a motion for the Bill. I heard what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said about that, and I am sure that we will engage further. We are obviously talking to the devolved Administrations so that we can work towards delivering a Bill that will benefit the whole UK. Given that, we do not think that the formal commitments on consultation and engagement in amendment 35 would add substantively to the Bill. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press the amendments.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have no intention of withdrawing amendment 11, so we need to press it to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 1:30 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 13, in schedule 2, page 12, line 5, leave out from “section 1(1)” to the end of line 6 and insert

“may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

This would require regulations implementing the Agreement on Government Procurement to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

This amendment is a simple but vital first attempt to restore democracy to the Trade Bill. It is simple because it replaces the negative resolution procedure the Government wish to use for future regulations under paragraph 2(1) of schedule 2 with an affirmative resolution procedure. It is vital because, without that, the Government have carte blanche to introduce regulations to implement the obligations arising from our independent membership of the GPA without the slightest hint of anything resembling parliamentary scrutiny. While the UK is a member of the World Trade Organisation in its own right and will continue to be so after Brexit, we are a member of the WTO’s plurilateral government procurement agreement only by virtue of our EU membership. We know that the Government will have to initiate a separate parliamentary procedure under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to prepare for the UK to rejoin the GPA in its own right. I am pleased the Minister made the commitment in our first line-by-line session last Thursday that there will be a vote in Parliament to decide on the terms under which we rejoin the GPA.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 2:43 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. That is not a correct assessment of what I said on Thursday. I said we would allow the power for Parliament to bring forward a vote under the Act. It is clearly stated in Hansard.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:44 p.m.

Good Lord, Mr Davies, it’s a jolly good job I have an extract from the Hansard here. I will press on and then quote from it.

CRAGA does not require there to be a debate or a vote on any treaty laid before Parliament under its terms, as has been repeatedly confirmed by the House of Commons Library via an expert witness from the Hansard Society and by everybody else who has read the Act or knows what it says. Yet, it certainly leaves the possibility open for Government to hold that vote if they are prepared to do so. Again, I am pleased the Minister reaffirmed last week not only that it is possible under CRAGA for the Government to bring forward a vote on the UK’s terms of entry into the GPA, but that

“the terms on which the UK enters the GPA in our own right will be subject to a separate vote in Parliament.”—[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 131.]

Those are the words the Minister actually used. I am surprised he wants to cavil about them now. As he knows, our dissatisfaction with CRAGA is that it includes no requirement for a debate or a vote on a treaty laid before Parliament under its provisions. We are dependent on the good will of the Government as to whether Parliament is granted or denied the opportunity for a vote.

In this instance, I thought the Government had confirmed that there will be a vote, not that there might be, depending on the Labour party, so we look forward to the Government introducing that debate in Government time. However, that in no way deals with the broader issue of why Parliament should be dependent on the Government’s good will to have the opportunity to exercise its rights to due democratic process.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 2:52 p.m.

Again, my hon. Friend puts it very succinctly and very well.

The delegated powers memorandum argues that the negative resolution procedure is appropriate to implement the UK’s obligations as an independent member of the GPA. It argues that it would be inappropriate to demand primary legislation to bring in the legislative changes necessary to reflect our new status as an independent GPA member, as this could introduce a significant delay in the proceedings.

Labour Members agree; we are not opposing the Government on that point. Primary legislation would be inappropriate to implement our obligations under the GPA once we had fully debated the terms on which we were joining the agreement, as the Minister promised us last Thursday that we will. Yet the issue here is not primary versus secondary legislation; it is negative versus affirmative in respect of the resolution procedure that governs the secondary legislation.

We simply do not believe that the negative procedure can be appropriate, precisely because of the lasting damage that could be done to contractors currently providing councils with goods and services if the regulations about Government procurement are made wrongly. Nor do we accept the Government’s contention that they must be allowed to use the negative resolution procedure because of time pressures inherent in the GPA itself. It is entirely spurious to suggest that the 30-day period between depositing the UK’s instrument of accession to the GPA and the accession coming into force is in any way coterminous with the drafting of a statutory instrument and its passage through Parliament.

The guidance on drafting statutory instruments issued by the Government Legal Service recommends allowing an absolute minimum of 22 weeks for the very simplest of negative instruments, with more complex ones requiring anything up to 61 weeks from their inception to the time they come into force—that is, well over year. Affirmative resolution instruments require only marginally longer, depending again on how complex they are—the Government Legal Service suggests allowing 26 to 67 weeks. In both cases, the process requires many months of planning beyond the 30-day period stipulated in the GPA. Government officials will have had to start work on the secondary legislation months in advance of depositing the UK’s accession instruments with the WTO, and they can just as easily factor in an affirmative resolution procedure as they can a negative one.

When it comes to the future accession of other WTO members to the GPA, which may well happen, the situation is even more acute. Here, Members of Parliament will have had no opportunity to consider any of the ramifications of opening up our public procurement contracts to new countries. So the only chance we will have of subjecting those new regulations to any scrutiny will come through the procedure that we enshrine in this Bill.

The WTO lists 10 countries that are in the process of acceding to the GPA: Albania, Australia, China, Georgia, Jordan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Oman, Russia, Tajikistan and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Five other WTO members have undertaken commitments in their WTO accession protocols to initiate accession to the GPA: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and the Seychelles. If and when they do accede, the UK will need to open up its Government procurement contracts to suppliers from every one of those countries. Once again, we agree with the Government that it would be overly burdensome to require new primary legislation every time another country accedes to the GPA. We are not asking for that. But we disagree that new Government regulations to implement our obligations should just be passed through on the nod. That is why we are arguing for the affirmative procedure in this case too.

Once again, the Government’s argument that we are constrained by the 30-day period between a country’s accession and our having to grant that country access to the UK’s public procurement market is entirely spurious. We will have been party to the negotiations surrounding their accession for months beforehand, giving Government officials ample time to prepare the requisite instrument for either negative or affirmative resolution.

This is a blunder. Even where a statutory instrument is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, the scrutiny that it undergoes is still remarkably light. MPs who have previously been assigned to Delegated Legislation Committees—and there will be many in this House—know they are not encouraged by the Whips to engage and speak. The affirmative resolution procedure has been called farcical and a waste of time. The Hansard Society notes, not surprisingly, that this system is “not fit for purpose”. It concludes with the stinging rebuke to all of us who are responsible for the proper functioning of Parliament that

“MPs can no longer be indifferent to the inadequacies in the system. They must now finally take seriously their democratic responsibility for delegated legislation.”

That is why the Labour party has tabled amendments to the Bill calling for an upgrading of the process for parliamentary scrutiny in respect of regulations stemming from our new trade obligations. As we have noted repeatedly, those obligations are serious. They are binding commitments made in international treaties that cannot easily be repealed. Domestic legislation can be repealed much more easily. If there was ever an example of secondary legislation crying out for proper parliamentary scrutiny and oversight, this is it. For the regulations necessary to implement obligations arising from the UK’s independent membership of the GPA, we consider the affirmative resolution procedure to be appropriate and proportionate. However imperfect the system is, at least the affirmative procedure provides Members of Parliament with the possibility of a debate and a vote. It is then up to us to make proper use of that opportunity.

Having heard the objections of such an independent body as the Hansard Society, I hope Government Members will agree with us—on this amendment at least—and support it.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3 p.m.

The UK currently participates in the government procurement agreement, known as the GPA, through our EU membership. The GPA offers UK businesses guaranteed access to approximately £1.3 trillion per annum of global public contract opportunities. We intend to remain in the GPA with the same rights and obligations that we currently enjoy as part of the European Union. Those were negotiated by the EU on behalf of member states for the 1994 GPA. The 2012 revised GPA was negotiated by the EU and scrutinised by the European scrutiny Committees in Parliament.

The power in clause 1 is a narrow one designed to allow us to implement the GPA as an independent member, as well as to reflect new parties joining and crucially—the hon. Member for Brent North rather overlooked this—to allow existing parties to withdraw from it. It will be a case of the UK using clause 1 to reflect having a new status within an existing, established agreement on procurement.

We need to be able to use the power quickly, so that UK businesses can continue to benefit from guaranteed access to an annual global procurement market worth £1.3 trillion. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the terms of the UK’s independent membership through the CRAG process. That process gives this House the power to consider, and where it felt this was appropriate, to block the UK’s ratification of the GPA.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:01 p.m.

I agree with the Minister’s interpretation of what he has just read out. Does he accept that he also said the following:

“the terms on which the UK enters the GPA in our own right will be subject to a separate vote in Parliament”?—[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 131.]

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:02 p.m.

Hence, the clarification, twice over, to be absolutely precise how that vote would work. I know the hon. Gentleman has attacked the negative resolution procedure, but I do not remember any such exhortation when he was a Minister under Tony Blair—I did not listen to every single thing he said in those years, but I do not recall that. I think he would have troubled the scorers if he had attacked such a procedure at the time under CRAG, which as we know is an Act of Parliament introduced by the last Labour Government.

The hon. Member for Brent North confirmed last week that he did indeed vote for CRAG. He said it was important in the days when the treaties in question had already been scrutinised by the EU and scrutiny was also passed down to

“this Parliament, where the European Scrutiny Committee…would examine forensically the contents passed from Europe”.—[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 149.]

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the revised GPA in 2012 went through the very process he described to the Committee and the very process that he voted for in 2010.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the GPA power is not time-limited. The answer is that new accessions to the GPA are covered by the clause to ensure that the UK does not breach its own GPA commitments. It is also essential to have the power to reflect withdrawals to ensure that withdrawing parties do not continue to enjoy guaranteed access to UK procurement markets. I will speak in more detail about withdrawals from the GPA.

The hon. Gentleman asserted that the GPA power continues into perpetuity, including the Henry VIII power. There is no Henry VIII power in clause 1, which allows for the implementation of the GPA. The powers in clause 1 are narrow in scope. They are designed to allow the UK to make legislative changes that reflect its new status as an independent member but, none the less, as a member of an existing and settled agreement.

The UK needs to use the power in clause 1 quickly to prevent UK businesses from losing guaranteed access to valuable procurement markets. The revised GPA has already been scrutinised by the EU and the European Scrutiny Committee, using the powerful microscope the hon. Gentleman described last week and for which he voted not so long ago.

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:04 p.m.

Last Thursday my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North spoke of the emails members of this Committee had received from members of the public urging them to amend this Bill to protect our democracy. The number of these emails in my inbox—and, I am sure, in all other Members’ inboxes—has reached just over 5,000. If the Government will not support these amendments to introduce at least some degree of parliamentary scrutiny, what good reason can they give the 5,000 individuals who have taken time to contact us for ignoring their concerns?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:06 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it allows me to put on the record something that concerned all members of this Committee when they logged on last Tuesday and discovered, seemingly, a large number of emails—hundreds and, in one case, 1,200—about this Bill. I am sure he, in the course of being a good constituency MP, would seek to check whether those emails were, indeed, from his constituents. I have to report that my colleague who received 1,200 such emails discovered, following further examination by his very diligent parliamentary staff, that precisely four of those 1,200 emails came from his constituents.

I would say to the hon. Gentleman that, in respecting parliamentary rules, I would have a close look at those emails and ask where they are coming from. Is the hon. Gentleman, indeed, answerable to these people? All of them will have a Member of Parliament in this House who will be the right person to direct those emails to. Getting 5,000 emails from across Britain in relation to one issue in this Parliament need not necessarily be representative of a wider move against this Bill, which is a technical Bill all about the continuity of our existing trading arrangements.

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:07 p.m.

I thank the Minister for giving me time. This is a national issue; it is not just a constituency-based issue. I understand that there is parliamentary procedure and that we do not have to reply to all those emails if they are not from our constituents. However, surely it tells us, as parliamentarians, that the problems and issues among the general public and in the business environment are quite immense.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:08 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We might be going too far down this road. I do not want to sound in any way condescending to a new Member, and my only advice to him, having been a Member in this House for 12 years, would be that the receipt of 5,000 emails from 650 constituencies is an average of nine emails per constituency. If he is suggesting that we make public policy, and that each of us makes our policy decisions, based on the opinions of nine constituents, I do not believe that would be a helpful road for us to go down.

Returning to the GPA, the UK’s independent membership will be considered under the CRAG process, meaning Parliament will be able to scrutinise the terms of the UK joining the GPA before the GPA can join, as I referred to in the debate on Thursday. The Government therefore believe that the negative resolution procedure provides an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny for the power to implement the GPA in clause 1.

Furthermore, the Opposition amendment would also apply the affirmative resolution procedure when the UK uses clause 1 to make regulations to reflect new parties joining the GPA or—this is a very important point—existing parties withdrawing from it. In the case of new and withdrawing parties, it is important that the UK is able to respond quickly and flexibly. Once a new party deposits its instrument of accession, there is a period of only 30 days before that accession comes into force. The UK will then be under an immediate obligation to provide that new party with guaranteed access to UK procurement opportunities covered by the GPA. If the UK failed to offer the new party this guaranteed access, it would be in breach of its GPA commitment. On the other hand, a party to the GPA can decide to withdraw unilaterally, and where a party notifies the GPA committee that they intend to withdraw, they will cease to be a GPA member just 60 days later. Therefore, it is vital we are able to react quickly to such a notification.

If the power to amend UK legislation to reflect parties withdrawing from the GPA were subject to any affirmative procedure, the UK might not be able to legislate in time to remove the party by the 60-day time limit, which, of course, could result in the UK contracting authorities continuing to give guaranteed access to UK markets to a party that is leaving or had already left the GPA, and was therefore no longer entitled to access.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening carefully to the Minister. Does that 60-day timescale for countries seceding from the GPA mean that in those cases the Minister will not be able to fulfil the guidelines for statutory instruments that I referred to? If that is the case, it suggests that at an absolute minimum a statutory instrument, even on the negative procedure that he proposes, would only be for 22 weeks and at the outside for 60 weeks. Is he confirming to the Committee that in those circumstances, the guidelines laid down by the Government and Parliament in this area, even for the negative procedure, would not apply?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I want to make sure of the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. Perhaps I can pledge to write to him, copying in other members of the Committee and you, Mr Davies, on precisely how this fits in with our statutory instrument procedures.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:11 p.m.

To conclude, the withdrawing party would have no obligation to give UK businesses reciprocal access to its procurement markets, and it is of course vital that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise new accessions to the GPA.

I reassured the Committee last week and earlier today that we want to ensure a clear and significant role for Parliament in scrutinising future trade agreements. The provisions will enable those agreements to be completed effectively and efficiently, while respecting due process in Parliament. New accessions to the GPA will be included within that scrutiny process. That will ensure that Parliament can scrutinise new accessions during accession negotiations. The power that we are discussing will be used after that scrutiny, and approval of the accession, so I invite the hon. Member for Brent North to withdraw the amendment.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:12 p.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance that he will write to the Committee, but I will press the amendment to a vote, because it makes an important point.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:23 p.m.

Again, my hon. Friend makes the point about the discrepancy between the scrutiny available to us here in this sovereign Parliament and the scrutiny available to members of the European Parliament. It would seem entirely at odds with the Government’s stated purpose for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill if we ended up having fewer scrutiny powers than Members of the European Parliament. That would seem to be a travesty.

I look forward with perhaps slightly more than the usual expectation to the Minister’s response to the amendment, given that this is the issue on which not only the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield spoke on Second Reading, but on which several other hon. Members from across the House registered their profound concern. This is the moment when we discover whether the Government are prepared to heed the calls of right hon. and hon. Members alike and look at the Bill in a much more sensible way.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:24 p.m.

Let me reassure hon. Members that I listened very carefully to what the hon. Member for Brent North said. First, let me repeat that the majority of free trade agreements within the scope of the Bill have already been ratified, and Parliament had the opportunity to scrutinise them during ratification. Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee also scrutinised these agreements when they were negotiated, included, signed and provisionally applied. They had, of course, already gone through the European Parliament process as well, to which the hon. Member for Warrington South helpfully drew our attention.

The Government have made clear their intention to ratify by exit date all the EU free trade agreements that currently provisionally apply, including the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement, and the economic partnership agreement with the Southern African Development Community, or SADC.

The hon. Member for Brent North drew attention to the comments of a South African Minister. To be honest, I cannot remember precisely whom he referred to, but for clarity I refer him to the memorandum of understanding signed by the Secretary of State for International Trade in South Africa in either August or September. Both parties specifically agreed to transition the agreement and maintain continuity, without substantive change. Whatever the hon. Gentleman’s South African said, the memorandum of understanding is absolutely clear in that regard. As I said to the International Trade Committee last week, 70-plus countries have agreed in principle to maintain continuity in trading arrangements. For example, we signed a similar memorandum with the CARIFORUM group to do precisely that.

Parliament’s scrutiny of these agreements, which have already been scrutinised, will be guaranteed by the process under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. As we have made clear, this is a technical exercise to secure continuity in our existing trading arrangements, not an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of existing agreements. That means that further scrutiny of those agreements, the benefits of which are already felt by businesses and consumers, is unnecessary. As we have made clear, we want Parliament to play a vital role in the scrutiny of future trade agreements that are not covered by the Bill, but that is for a separate occasion. We made clear in the trade White Paper and in this Committee on Thursday that our future trade policy must be transparent and inclusive.

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:27 p.m.

We heard from many witnesses last week that so-called roll-over agreements not only will be legally distinct from our existing EU agreements, but are likely to be substantially different in their terms. Does the Minister agree that those new agreements need to be subjected to adequate scrutiny and parliamentary oversight, and that a super-affirmative procedure is appropriate?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:28 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I very much appreciate the way, as a new Member, he is getting stuck into the Bill, but I remind him that, in terms of securing the continuity of agreements, more than 70 countries have now agreed that there will not be substantive change. I mentioned South Africa, with which we have a memorandum of understanding saying that. There is no need to re-scrutinise agreements that are substantively the same and have already been through the proper scrutiny processes of both Houses. That is why we made clear in the trade White Paper and in this Committee on Thursday that our future trade policy must be transparent and inclusive, and that Parliament will be engaged throughout the process. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Brent North to withdraw amendment 16.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We intend to press amendment 16 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Amendment 17 is, in a sense, our fall-back position should amendment 19 not succeed. I cannot believe that the Government will risk the ire of right hon. and hon. Members from the Conservative party as well as the Opposition parties by turning down every single attempt to introduce scrutiny provisions to the Bill. We would have preferred something altogether more rigorous than just intervening at the late stage of implementing regulations, but if that is all that the Minister is prepared to leave us with, we will have to satisfy ourselves with that meagre pottage. In the relevant Delegated Legislation Committee we would then be able to have a debate and vote when the implementing regulations were submitted.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:32 p.m.

I think we are potentially about to have quite a similar debate to the one that we just had, but let me be as succinct as I can. I remind Members that this power will be used only to introduce regulations that reflect current obligations in our EU trade agreements. That means that we are not seeking to change the effects of our existing trade agreements through the power. The agreements have already been examined by Parliament as part of its regular scrutiny of EU business. Ratified free trade agreements have already been through the normal parliamentary scrutiny process for treaty ratification.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:32 p.m.

The Minister said that the Government are not proposing to change the provisions in any of the treaties. I think he said earlier in our debate that 71 countries had already agreed. Could he just clarify for the Committee once and for all, because he has failed to do so thus far, whether that includes Norway, Switzerland and Turkey?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:34 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, but we have already covered that ground as well. The agreements with Norway, Turkey and Switzerland will inevitably be dependent on our future trading relationship with the European Union, because of the unique way that each of those countries operates in conjunction with the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman says that we are not proposing changes. It is just as important to recognise that more than 70 of our partners do not want substantive changes to the agreements either. Perhaps we need to put aside for a moment some of the ways in which the Bill operates, and think about what is in the interests of our trading partners. It is as much in their interests as ours to have continuity of the existing agreements. It is therefore not a surprise to me that more than 70 countries have said that they are not seeking substantive changes to the agreements.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:35 p.m.

I appreciate the point that the Minister seeks to make. However, as he says, there are 70 of them and one of us. In any negotiation, the disadvantage is always with the minority. We are going to be in a very difficult position. One could well imagine—this point came up at the International Trade Committee last week—that the opportunity exists for those nations to renegotiate or, recognising the time pressure that we will be under, to make changes. Surely it should be for Parliament to consider any such change to a trade agreement, not for the Minister or a select few.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:36 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman puts his question in a reasonable way. I know he is a member of the International Trade Committee and was there for the evidence session last Wednesday. However, it is not the case that we and the 70-plus countries are in some kind of plurilateral agreement. The number he talks about is the number of agreements, not the number of negotiating partners to that same agreement. Essentially, they would run the same risk that we would run if anyone were to want to renegotiate the agreement. The risk is that we would run out of time to have the transitioned agreement in place come the day that we leave the European Union. We have as much risk and as much downside as the counterpart does. That is the important thing to understand. The Government therefore consider the negative procedure to offer the appropriate level of further scrutiny over the operation of the power.

Turning to amendment 19, as we have made clear, the purpose of the Bill is to help maintain the effects of our existing trading arrangements as we leave the EU. It is vital that we secure that continuity without delay, to avoid disruption for businesses and consumers. That is why we are seeking a power that ensures that our transitioned trade agreements can be implemented in the nimblest and most efficient way possible, through the negative resolution procedure. A switch to the super-affirmative procedure would risk undermining that objective. Statutory instruments subject to the super-affirmative procedure may take even longer than using primary legislation to implement a transitioned agreement, which would therefore increase the risk of a cliff edge in our trading relationships.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:37 p.m.

Just to clarify—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—the agreements will in many cases be trilateral because of our existing relationship with the EU and the relationship with the other country among the 70-plus the Minister mentioned. There is therefore an opportunity for that other country to make the negotiation or arrangement difficult. That is why we are seeking to put in place scrutiny in Parliament.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:39 p.m.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments I made earlier: none of the 70-plus countries that we have spoken to has said that it wants to do that. It would not be in their interests for them to do so, for reasons of maintaining continuity in our trade relations. That is very much in our and their interests.

Let me finally remind the Committee that Parliament still has oversight of statutory instruments introduced under the negative resolution procedure, using well-established processes as outlined in CRAG. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Brent North to withdraw the amendment.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:38 p.m.

We will press amendment 17 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:41 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 20, in schedule 2, page 12, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) A statutory instrument containing regulations of a Minister of the Crown under section 2(1) relating to an international trade agreement other than a free trade agreement which does not meet the criteria under section 2(4) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

This would require regulations implementing an international trade agreement which is not a free trade agreement and which does not correspond to a prior or existing EU agreement to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

This is the final amendment in our series trying to introduce just a modicum of parliamentary scrutiny into the Bill. It refers to the last category of trade agreements that have not yet been covered in the previous amendments.

If hon. Members cast their minds back to amendment 3, which we presented in the first line-by-line sitting last Thursday, that amendment sought to expand the remit of the Bill to include not just agreements that correspond to existing EU agreements but those with countries where there is no prior EU agreement in place. The major set of amendments that I presented at that sitting sought to introduce a full process of preparation, debate and scrutiny up to the point of signature of free trade agreements within the category of comprehensive agreements that need to be notified under GATT article XXIV or GATS article V. Amendment 20 picks up on trade agreements that are not free trade agreements for the purposes of GATT article XXIV or GATS article V, and that do not correspond to an existing EU agreement. Without the amendment, they would not be covered anywhere in the expanded Bill as we envisage it.

We do not believe that it would be an appropriate use of parliamentary time to subject every new mutual recognition agreement to the full rigour of impact assessment and mandate-setting parliamentary scrutiny. We believe it would be enough to have the minimum scrutiny of the affirmative resolution procedure, which allows for a debate and vote where it is thought necessary, but which also allows for the swift passage of regulations through Parliament where they are clearly non-controversial.

I will point out here that some mutual recognition agreements and other agreements are potentially very controversial. In the case of mutual recognition agreements with countries whose regulatory systems are radically different from our own, such as the United States, there could be huge pitfalls in allowing for mutual recognition where it could lead to products entering the UK market that have not been subjected to the rigorous tests that we demand in our jurisdiction. If anything, we are erring on the side of being too pragmatic in suggesting that those agreements be subjected to the affirmative resolution procedure only, seeing as the affirmative procedure can be open to the abuse I described earlier in my reference to the Hansard Society’s report. At least we can take comfort in the fact that a Delegated Legislation Committee would have the power to hold the most controversial regulations up to scrutiny and subject them to a vote in Parliament, which would be a quantum leap from what the Bill currently offers.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:44 p.m.

Clause 2 would limit the scope of agreements on which the power can be used to those where the other party had a free trade agreement signed with the EU before exiting. Amendment 20 would establish a procedure whereby the power is used in relation to agreements falling outside those parameters. As we do not wish to extend the scope of clause 2 to allow the power to be used in relation to more agreements, it follows that we do not need to apply a procedure to the implementation of such agreements. The amendment, therefore, is unnecessary in every way.

However, if the spirit of the amendment is to explore what constraints we have drafted into the clause 2 power, I am happy to provide reassurance to the Committee. As I have said before, the power can be used only in relation to free trade agreements with countries that have signed EU free trade agreements before exit day. A free trade agreement covers substantially all trade notifiable to the World Trade Organisation. To be clear, the power cannot be used to amend primary legislation except when that primary legislation is retained EU law. It cannot be used to implement a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union itself. Nor can it be used to extend or create new criminal offences or create new fees or charges.

The power has a five-year sunset clause from exit day. If the Government wish to extend this period, they may do so only with the permission of both Houses. We and our trading partners are clear that this will be a technical exercise to ensure continuity in trading relationships. It is not an opportunity to change or renegotiate the terms of these EU agreements. Therefore, I ask the hon. Member for Brent North to withdraw the amendment.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:46 p.m.

I do not wish to shock the Committee, but we will not press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Break in Debate

Mr Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:49 p.m.

I will not detain the Committee for long, but it is important when we establish a new authority to step back. Some of these issues will be raised in debates on amendments, so I will not get too far into the detail.

I strongly support the creation of the Trade Remedies Authority. As our trade policy is slowly developed in the months and years to come, we will need it to be underpinned by a robust remedies regime. Certain characteristics of the authority are very important, and it would aid the interpretation of the Bill in due course if the Government’s aims and intentions were set out on the record.

For an authority to be effective, it needs certain characteristics. First, it needs to be objective and evidence-based. I think that most Members would agree with that in general, but it becomes far more difficult when there is an acute case that is difficult in our constituencies or is of a totemic nature nationally. We need to be clear when we establish the authority that it should be objective and evidence-based in its deliberations and when advising Ministers.

Secondly, the organisation needs to have a broad base. It needs to be open and accessible. All stakeholders must feel that they are able to engage with the authority, and that they are listened to by its whole structure. We have heard examples of authorities in other countries. I simply say that I want to ensure that the consultation process includes not just the business world, but the workers whose jobs may well be threatened and consumers, whom we heard mentioned in evidence. I hope that the Minister can confirm that it will. Many of these issues require a balance between those two sides, and we need to ensure that we have such a balance. It is also important that the authority listens and is seen to listen. The characteristics I have touched on—objectivity, broadness and inclusivity—are important if the authority is to be recognised both here in the United Kingdom and by our trading partners abroad.

The third characteristic is efficiency—or timeliness, as some lawyers describe it. I always find it entertaining when lawyers describe timeliness. Efficiency is of course in tension with the idea of a broad consultation, but we are all aware that there will be cases where prompt action is required, so it is necessary to have good processes in place. Although those will clearly come later, it is important that we put that on the record at this stage, and we would benefit from hearing from the Minister about that.

The most important characteristic, however, is independence. We have heard on Second Reading and in Committee that we all want the authority to be independent and that, naturally, it should be at arm’s length from the Government—the current Administration and future Administrations—for many years to come. That is right, but if it is to be effective, the authority also needs to be able to withstand the media and political pressures that will arise when individual cases come forward. We must ensure that the structure that the Bill builds is robust enough to withstand those pressures. That is why the authority’s non-executive members must be appointed on the basis not of sectional interest but of merit.

We will debate in due course whether the non-executive members should include people from Wales or Scotland, or trade unionists. There are merits to ensuring that the authority listens to all such interests, but I worry that if non-executive members are appointed because they represent one sectional interest or another, the authority’s ability to give independent, objective advice to the Government will be limited. We will come on to the details of that when we debate amendments, but that is an important broad principle.

I strongly believe that if we are to have a remedies authority and an effective set of remedies rules, we need to ensure that those principles are clearly set out not just in legislation but by Ministers and those who are appointed to the authority, so that people both here and abroad can see that that is the intention. I think that would also answer some of the concerns about whether the authority will listen to workers through the trade union movement, by ensuring that consultation is broad and that the authority is clearly outward facing.

It comes back down to this last point: if we want others to follow the rules in trade, so that we have a free and fair system, we have to be seen to abide by those rules ourselves. There will come a moment when this authority reports to a Minister, when there will be a totemic business that is right on the cusp because of a particular practice, or there will be job losses that sharply affect a community that has already lost many jobs. At that moment, the test of the authority is whether it is objective. Is it giving its advice to Ministers on the basis of evidence? Is it genuinely independent and therefore able to be trusted by people here and abroad? Those are important principles and I welcome the Minister’s response.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:55 p.m.

Right.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:55 p.m.

He didn’t tell you?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 3:55 p.m.

No.

Mr Davies, I would like to start by stressing that the Government recognise the important role of making sure—that you are in the right place at the right time. [Laughter.]

I will respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford because he raised some incredibly strong points. Free trade is not trade without rules, as the Secretary of State outlined on Second Reading. It is vital for us to have the ability to conduct and operate trade remedies. That is the position we need to be in. I am therefore doubly if not triply surprised that the Opposition voted against creating this body on Second Reading.

My hon. Friend outlined—I know that we will come on to debate some of this when we consider the amendments—some of the key parameters that we want in the Trade Remedies Authority, in that it needs to have regard to a wide variety of stakes and interests in this whole process: businesses, workforces, consumers and so on. We need to make sure that our regime is robust in this space.

It is also important for the message we send abroad, because Members know that free trade has been questioned by more and more countries over the last five to 10 years. Many countries are looking at what the UK does generally in trade policy—and that includes trade remedies—to show that we are committed free traders. People are looking forward to the UK rectifying its own schedules at the World Trade Organisation as we retain and regain our independent voice there to make these points. Trade remedies are a vital part of that and it would be folly for the UK not to have a proper arm’s length trade remedies authority that can do this.

As for my hon. Friend’s points on efficiency and promptness, regarding some of the detail of the Trade Remedies Authority’s operations, I advise him to have a look at what is going on with the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, which incorporates a lot of the day-to-day workings of the Trade Remedies Authority and is being debated as we speak in another room. Most of all, regarding his important points about the independence and arm’s length nature of this body, it is incredibly important to ensure that we have specialists on it who can withstand pressures, non-executives appointed on merit and not representing sectional interests. We need to make sure that our Trade Remedies Authority members can consider UK-wide issues, but also regional issues at the same time, without being beholden to a particular sector or region. Our objective is therefore to have an independent, evidence-based approach to trade remedies.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4

The Trade Remedies Authority

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 21, in schedule 4, page 14, line 24, leave out line 34 and insert—

“(a) a member to chair it, appointed by the Secretary of State with the consent of the International Trade Committee of the House of Commons,”.

This would establish the requirement for Parliament, through the relevant committee, to give its consent to the Secretary of State’s recommendation for appointment to the Chair of the Trade Remedies Authority.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 3:59 p.m.

It is interesting that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford chose to speak in the clause 5 stand part debate, because many of the points he made relate to amendments 21, 22 and 23, which I now speak to on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends. During his interesting and thoughtful speech, he made very strong arguments in favour of each of our amendments. He spoke of the need to be evidence-based and objective, which would be much easier achieved by the balanced membership proposed by our amendments. Equally, he spoke of the need for a broad-based membership—I agree. He also made the argument for balancing the different interests that are involved in delivering trade remedies and an effective Trade Remedies Authority. I will be interested to see how he votes, given that he made the case for supporting each of our three amendments.

As ever, the Minister reminds us of the vote on Second Reading. He neglected to say that in our reasoned amendment we called for the need for effective legislation to implement the establishment of a Trade Remedies Authority to deliver the new UK trade remedies framework. We voted for that, and he voted against it. If he wants to tell me why he voted against an amendment that called for the establishment of a Trade Remedies Authority to deliver the new UK trade remedies framework, he can do so now.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:02 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to do so. We all know that the usual purpose of a reasoned amendment is that it allows an Opposition party to put forward a point of view about a Bill while nevertheless still allowing it not to oppose the Bill itself. That is the standard way in which reasoned amendments operate. We were simply amazed that once his reasoned amendment fell he nevertheless opposed the Bill. That shows that he opposes the continuity of these trade agreements, the creation of a Trade Remedies Authority, and data-sharing powers that will help our exporters. I am afraid that that is on the record from his vote on Second Reading.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:03 p.m.

I am glad that the Minister has confirmed that we voted to support the creation of a Trade Remedies Authority and that he voted against it. I think that was very clear in that lengthy intervention.

As the explanatory statements make clear, amendments 21, 22 and 23 would have the effect of giving Parliament the power of consent over the appointment of a chair to the Trade Remedies Authority set up by the Bill. They would establish a procedure for the appointment of non-executive members to the authority, and ensure that the TRA includes representatives of key stakeholder bodies among its non-executive membership—all things that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford requested.

Break in Debate

The Secretary of State has flaunted his free trade credentials time and again. His advisers range from the former Institute for Free Trade—it is now called just IFT because it cannot legally call itself an institute—to the Legatum Institute. They are of a certain dogmatic persuasion that trade should be unfettered at all costs. If the Secretary of State were to appoint one of his friends from the IFT or Legatum to chair the TRA, producers, trade unions, and stakeholders in the nations and regions of the UK would have cause for concern.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:16 p.m.

I have a quick question: does the hon. Gentleman agree with his party leader that free trade itself is a dogma?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think we should press on. The Minister has enough to worry about.

As Mr Stevenson of the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance told us last week:

“Some see trade remedies as purely protectionist and would abolish them completely”.––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 65, Q124.]

It is key, therefore, that Parliament, through its relevant Committee, should get to scrutinise who the Secretary of State appoints as the head of the relevant body, and that it should make sure it is someone with the competence, experience and disposition to stand up for the best interests of British industries and the British people.

Similarly, amendment 22 would ensure that the Secretary of State cannot appoint non-executive members to the TRA at his whim and fancy. He should not be able to stack the TRA with members of a certain political and ideological persuasion that would mean they would be less likely to act on complaints brought forward and less likely to recommend measures. We heard from Mr Stevenson of the MTRA last week that if all its members

“thought trade remedies were protectionist, we would never get any trade remedies through”.––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 65, Q124.]

Parliamentary scrutiny of the membership of the TRA is even more important in the light of the evidence given to this committee by Mr Tom Reynolds of the British Ceramic Confederation. He highlighted to us at column 67 that, within the context of our membership of the European Union, the UK Government took on the role of the “liberal counterweight” opposing strong trade defence measures. However, now that we will not have the other 27 member states, of which a majority is for trade remedies, we cannot afford to take the same approach.

Unfortunately, according to Mr Reynolds, UK civil servants and experts are “steeped in that heritage” of the UK being a neo-liberal counterweight. We cannot afford to let that institutional memory dictate how our independent trade defence policy is conducted. We need to ensure that the non-executive board of the TRA is a watchdog that ensures balance in the system. The only way to do that is to allow this House, through the appropriate Committee, to have a say on the appointment of the board members.

Finally and most importantly, amendment 23 would ensure that the TRA includes among its non-executive members representatives of stakeholder bodies potentially affected by the recommendations of the TRA. Those stakeholders are the producers, the trade unions representing the workers and a representative of each of the devolved Administrations. We have put that into our amendment because we believe that the key stakeholders affected by unfair trading practices should be represented around the table where decisions are being made that affect the survival of their industries and jobs, and the wellbeing of their communities. The TRA will only be enriched by experts from industry, trade unions and the devolved Administrations, who are the ones facing the realities of dumping on a day-to-day basis and close to home.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:21 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. The Bombardier experience shows that countries are prepared to apply very significant trade remedies. We have to be realistic. We need to be in a position to have our own trade remedies system, be prepared to use them and not expect that not using such processes is always appropriate. That is why we must have the right membership, including from the trade unions, to protect jobs, as my hon. Friend has said, because otherwise we leave ourselves wide open.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:21 p.m.

Can the hon. Gentleman be absolutely clear? I am intrigued. Is he saying therefore that he agrees with the US approach—not having a lesser duty rule and allowing these very large punitive tariffs to be put on British industry, Bombardier in this case, exporting to the United States? I think he is agreeing that he likes the US approach.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:22 p.m.

That is not what I was suggesting. I am saying that we have to recognise that countries such as the US, as demonstrated by this case, are prepared to act. We have to be realistic about that. We have to make sure that we have the right representation on the TRA so that we are making the right case. I do not think 300% tariffs is a good idea at all, but we certainly need to be able to make the right judgments when such things apply. There is a balance between protectionism and the approach in the Bombardier case.

Break in Debate

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:36 p.m.

I feel that it is important to make these broader points, because they are germane to the issue and to the amendments.

For us, the bottom line is ensuring that the devolved nations and the devolution settlements that were agreed on a cross-party basis are respected. That is absolutely at the heart of these amendments. I hope that we are able to get support for them, cross-party—and certainly from our Labour colleagues.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:37 p.m.

May I start by correcting an inadvertent error I made earlier? I mentioned an agreement that was signed by the Secretary of State for International Trade with South Africa and SADC in August or September. It was actually earlier than that. It was signed in July by Lord Price. I know that the hon. Member for Brent North takes an interest in South Africa, so I will quote briefly from what was said:

“The Southern African Customs Union…has welcomed the UK’s intention to prevent disruption of trade relations with other countries as it leaves the European Union”.

I think that clears up where we are with South Africa.

Let me start by stressing that the Government recognise the important role that Parliament, industry stakeholders and the devolved Administrations play in building the UK’s future independent trade policy. We look forward to working with all those groups and organisations on the establishment and operation of the Trade Remedies Authority to ensure that their views and interests are taken into account where appropriate. However, these amendments are not appropriate to the creation of that new function.

Decisions on trade remedies cases can have profound effects on markets, so we need to create an independent and objective investigation process in which businesses and consumers have full confidence. That is why we are setting up the Trade Remedies Authority as an arm’s length body with the appropriate degree of separation from the Department for International Trade. The hon. Member for Sefton Central said that trade remedies are inevitably political. That is precisely why we are ensuring that investigation and evidence-gathering must be done independently.

Faisal Rashid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:38 p.m.

James Ashton-Bell of the CBI told us that the fundamental question it has about the Trade Remedies Authority is

“who makes the ultimate decisions about when to take action and when not to take action.”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 24, Q52.]

Given the lack of clarity about that, does the Minister agree that it is vital that appointment to and operation of the Trade Remedies Authority is as transparent as possible?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Yes, and the authority is very transparent in its operation. A lot of how the authority operates is outlined in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, which is being debated down the corridor. I strongly feel that there is really good transparency in the arrangements we have made regarding the authority’s independence, arm’s length nature and specialist and independent evidence-gathering. We are also ensuring that it is accountable to the Government and that, at the end of the day, a political decision is still taken about whether to impose trade remedies.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:40 p.m.

I think we would all welcome a sense that this body was independent, so can it be right that one person with a particular view of trade should be empowered under the Bill to appoint every single member of the TRA, including the chair? Depending on the order in which they make the appointments, that is entirely possible under the Bill.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:40 p.m.

No, it is not.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is shaking his head, but under the Bill, so long as the Secretary of State appoints the chair last—there is nothing to prevent him doing that—he is empowered, absolutely on his own, to put his friends, cronies and the people who have his view of trade in every single position. He would then appoint the chair. If he appoints the chair first, he has to do the rest in conjunction with others.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:42 p.m.

Let me be of assistance to the hon. Gentleman. It is quite clearly laid out in the appointments procedure that the Secretary of State appoints the chair, and the other non-executives in consultation with the chair. In exceptional circumstances, the Secretary of State can appoint the chief executive, but only if the chair has not yet been appointed. That is laid out in the legislation. The executive members are not appointed by the Secretary of State. It is important to understand that the Secretary of State does not appoint the whole body.

On top of that, the appointments process of course follows good governance principles and rules on public appointments. For the benefit of the Committee, I will outline those rules. First, the Government are responsible for setting out the processes and principles that underpin the management of public bodies. Secondly, there are explicit rules on the roles of Ministers and Departments in the public appointments process. The rules outline the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who is the independent regulator of public appointments. I am sure they would take more than a casual interest in the TRA, were the case that the hon. Member for Brent North outlined to transpire.

The rules also include the governance code for public appointments. We have worked with governance experts in the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury to ensure that the TRA complies with those governance rules and others. The rules include guidance on managing public money and all the usual protections we would expect to see in an appointments process.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:43 p.m.

Will the Minister, in the light of his remarks, comment on schedule 4(2)(1)? It states:

“The TRA is to consist of…a Chair appointed by the Secretary of State…other non-executive members appointed by the Secretary of State…a chief executive appointed by the Chair with the approval of the Secretary of State or, if the first Chair has not been appointed, by the Secretary of State, and…other executive members appointed by the Chair.”

In other words, the majority of the Committee—all the non-executive members, the chair and the chief executive—can be appointed by one individual: the Secretary of State.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:43 p.m.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to later in the schedule. If he would care to turn over the page, it states:

“The Secretary of State must consult the Chair before appointing the other non-executive members.”

He is being highly selective in choosing elements of the Bill that appear to suit his argument.

Most importantly, these are public appointments, so we will of course have a standard competitive process following good governance principles and rules on public appointments. The successful candidates will be selected based on whether they have the right skills and experience to deliver this new UK-wide function effectively. The arrangements are broadly consistent with those of equivalent arm’s length bodies.

On the role of Parliament and amendments 21 and 22, it is important to ensure that the TRA’s senior leadership, and particularly its chairman, are in place as early as possible to enable the TRA to be operational by the time the UK leaves the EU. That will ensure continuity for UK industry. Giving the International Trade Committee a role in the appointment of members to the TRA, including its chair, would add additional stages to the appointment of non-executive members, thereby delaying the process. More significantly, referring back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, it would risk politicising the appointment process, thereby undermining the TRA’s status as an independent and impartial body.

Amendments 23 and 38 to 41 on the devolved Administrations, industry and other stakeholders risk directly undermining the TRA’s independence, impartiality and expertise by allowing appointees who are beholden, or perceived to be beholden, to the groups whose interests they represent. Those appointed members could be at risk of making decisions based on vested interests, rather than on behalf of the whole UK economy. They could undermine the TRA’s expertise by allowing its non-executive members to be appointed based on the clout of their stakeholder group, rather than on merit.

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:46 p.m.

To be clear, people appointed on merit by the UK Government will be completely impartial, but people appointed by devolved Governments will suddenly have such conflicts of interest that it will pull the whole TRA system down a hole?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:47 p.m.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the point is to have a UK-wide perspective, and for the appointments to be based on expertise in that space, and made following good governance principles. That is the objective for the membership of the TRA.

On trade remedies, I think the hon. Member for Sefton Central impugned my hon. Friend the Member for Corby by saying that he was not sufficiently interested in the steel industry. I have known my hon. Friend for some time, and he is incredibly passionate about the steel industry. He takes a keen interest in the operations of the TRA, and is quite expert in this space. He knows that much of the detail of the operation of the TRA is not in this Bill but in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:47 p.m.

The Minister really should not make such accusations; he knows that is not what I said or what I meant. I am well aware that the hon. Member for Corby takes a keen interest in the subject, along with all Members representing constituencies across the country with a steel industry presence; they work together extremely hard, cross-party, to try to support the steel industry. It was a completely inaccurate accusation, and I hope the Minister will withdraw it. My criticism was entirely of the Government and their failure in the European Union to support the measures that were needed.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:48 p.m.

I think we are in one of those cycles; I am alleged to have impugned the hon. Gentleman by saying that he impugned my hon. Friend the Member for Corby. I will just leave it on the record that my hon. Friend is a doughty defender of the steel industry in the House, and through his influence with the Government.

I think the hon. Member for Sefton Central suggested that the Secretary of State should not appoint members at all. We need the Secretary of State to appoint the non-executive members in order to ensure that they are directly accountable to an elected representative with responsibility for the whole UK, because ultimately trade remedy measures will be taken across the UK. That person is quite properly the Secretary of State, who is accountable to Parliament. That is broadly in line with what happens in other arm’s length bodies.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about putting in place the right framework for the TRA. We are clear that we will operate a robust trade remedies regime to protect UK industry from injury caused by unfair trading practices and unforeseen surges in imports. I said of the TRA at the very beginning that free trade does not mean trade without rules. Rules are incredibly important, and making sure we have a strong defensive capability is a key part of that. That is why there will be a presumption in favour of measures in all dumping and subsidies investigations—that is in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill.

It is right that there is a mechanism for identifying whether measures are likely to have a disproportionate impact on other economic actors in the UK, such as downstream industries and consumers, and whether they might have a regional impact or an impact in one of the nations of the United Kingdom. The economic interest test ensures that the trade remedy system takes into account wider economic considerations in addition to the interests of UK producer industries. It is a chance to step back and consider whether measures would be in the best economic interests of the UK and will ensure that measures are not imposed where that is not the case.

Points were raised about different balances within the board. We have to come back to the overriding factor that should prevail to ensure that we comply with good governance principles: appointments are made following an open, competitive process on the basis of merit and on the basis of being able to discharge the function of looking at the whole question of a particular issue that might be prompting a trade remedy on a UK-wide basis. That is why it is important that we have built appropriate processes into the framework set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill to ensure that impacts on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are given due consideration.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 4:52 p.m.

The Minister is being extremely generous in giving way. Before he finishes his peroration, would he agree with me that there is a sensible distinction to be made between the executive members and the non-executive members of the TRA? Executive members are expected to be specialists. They are expected to have specialist trade knowledge or specialist knowledge that could determine whether dumping has taken place and so on. The non-executive members have more of a representative function. In that context, would he not see that that distinction in the amendments and others we support has some purchase?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 4:53 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because it allows me to say that I do not agree. The non-executive members are not intended to be representatives of particular interests or particular parts of the United Kingdom, or particular sectors or producers or consumers or trade unions. The idea is that all members of the board have the ability to think right across the question of what is happening in terms of the injury that has been created or reported to have been created. What is the best way of assessing all the evidence? What is the best way of doing, for example, the economic interest test? I entirely disagree with him. These people are not representatives. They are able to take a dispassionate, evidence-based and informed decision, looking at all of the available evidence.

The TRA will consider the wider impact of trade remedy measures as part of the economic interest test. As part of that process, the TRA will consider the impact of measures on different groups across the UK, including any regional or distributional consideration. It is important to understand that its members do not have to be, and in fact should not be, representatives of those regional distributional considerations or producer or consumer and so on. They are designed to look at the evidence and come to a recommendation based on the overall evidence in front of them. It will also consider the likely impact on affected industries and consumers. We would expect the TRA to gather information where relevant to inform the economic interest test. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not be withdrawing the amendment. The Minister talks about good governance. Non-executives often, on many boards, in many situations, come from membership organisations. They then use their judgment on a wide range of issues, but they come from those membership organisations. I am afraid he is wrong about that. He speaks of the risk of political appointments. There is one way to ensure that this is a politicised series of appointments: to leave everything in the hands of the Secretary of State. That is for sure. If the appointment process is so watertight, why is there a whole section in the Bill dedicated to what happens if the chief executive is appointed by the Secretary of State? It is being anticipated as, I guess, a quite likely scenario.

The Minister talked about accountability to Parliament, but there is none under the Bill. There are a number of examples of parliamentary scrutiny of appointments. Select Committees play a significant role in a number of appointments to public office. The Treasury Committee gives its consent to the appointment and dismissal of members of the Budget Responsibility Committee. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has the power of veto over the appointment of an Information Commissioner, and there are a number of examples of pre-appointment hearings for significant public appointments.

When something is so crucial to our economic and international trade future, why do the Government not care to involve the Select Committee in the appointments? If they will not support the amendments, I look forward to them coming forward and dealing with the point that the Minister made in his summing up about how he expects accountability to be delivered to Parliament. I will put our three amendments to the vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Greg Hands Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for International Trade
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 5:35 p.m.

I will speak to amendments 24 and 25, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. As the explanatory statement makes clear, the amendments would ensure that our Parliament is kept informed in a timely fashion about the work of the Trade Remedies Authority.

Parliament should be able to scrutinise the work of the TRA to ensure that it is working in the best interests of the UK economy and UK producers. Such requirements are nothing new in the realm of trade remedies. At European Union level, the Commission is obliged to report to the European Parliament and to give MEPs statistics on the cases opened and the number of measures adopted. Members of this Parliament should be given the same information from our TRA once it is up and running, so that they can scrutinise its work. MPs should be able to see how many cases have been initiated and measures adopted and so judge whether the TRA is taking measures to defend our industries or mostly putting consumer interests first at the expense of British producers, jobs and the regions.

Tom Reynolds of the British Ceramic Confederation pointed out that he would be more comfortable if there were a more rigorous approach for parliamentarians to get involved in the setting of the rules for the system. Just as in the rest of the Bill, the Government propose nothing in the schedule about parliamentary oversight or scrutiny of the TRA. Yet again, they want to make decisions that will have profound impacts on key sectors of British industry, thousands of jobs and many regions, behind closed doors and without any scrutiny or accountability to Parliament. The Minister and his colleagues might talk the talk on returning sovereignty to this Parliament, but when it comes to it, they once again fail to respect the very principles of parliamentary democracy.

Giving parliamentarians oversight powers over the work of the TRA will ensure proper scrutiny and accountability. A weak trade remedies regime is of benefit to nobody in our country. If anybody thinks that having a weak regime will open up trade opportunities with international partners, they are mistaken. Partner countries will take advantage of that, and we will once again see the loss of jobs, as we did in the steel sector in 2015 and 2016. It is only right that this House gets to scrutinise the work of the TRA to make sure that it is doing its job properly.

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 5:35 p.m.

Welcome back to the Chair, Ms Ryan. May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Livingston on redefining the term “moving an amendment”? She was actually in motion as she did it, so I commend her on her dexterity.

It is important that we create an independent and objective investigation process in which businesses and consumers will have full confidence, as I referred to previously. For this reason we are setting up the TRA as an arm’s length body with the appropriate degree of separation from the Department for International Trade. The Trade Bill requires the TRA to produce an annual report on the performance of its functions during each financial year. That must then be sent to the Secretary of State, who must lay the report before Parliament.

Let me deal with the four amendments. Amendments 42 and 43 are concerned with the sharing of the reports, requiring the TRA to submit annual reports on the performance of its functions to each devolved Administration, in addition to sharing copies with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Much as I strongly endorse our consulting with and involving devolved Administrations at all stages of this process, and expect the TRA to pay due heed to the devolved Administrations and to involve them as well, I must tell the hon. Lady that the amendments are unnecessary. The Bill already requires the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the TRA’s annual report before the UK Parliament, and at that point it will be a publicly available document for all to see right across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Amendment 24 is on the annual report itself. The Bill already requires the annual report to be produced

“as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year to which it relates.”

The amendment, which seeks to impose an arbitrary fixed deadline for when the TRA is required to produce the report, is therefore also unnecessary. We are balancing giving the TRA a statutory requirement to produce the report on time, while recognising the importance of safeguarding operational flexibility, which is particularly important for a new organisation.

Amendment 25, on the investigation report, is interesting. I have referred a few times to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, which is in Committee in another room. As laid out in that Bill, the TRA will be responsible for making recommendations on trade remedies cases to the Secretary of State. However, the amendment could lead to recommendations made by the TRA being released publicly before the Secretary of State has reached a final decision. Indeed, it is unlikely that the Secretary of State would make the decision in five days given the potential need to consult across Government. In my view, this could undermine the impartiality of trade remedies recommendations by increasing lobbying of Ministers by any parties affected by the TRA’s recommendations, be they producers, consumers or other stakeholders.

Faisal Rashid (Warrington South) (Lab)
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30 Jan 2018, 5:39 p.m.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the amendment seeks a role for MPs that is akin to the role that MEPs have with regard to trade remedies?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is right that MPs have a role and that the TRA reports to Parliament. That is why the TRA publishes the annual report and is answerable to the Secretary of State, who is answerable to Parliament. Publishing the TRA’s recommendations before the Secretary of State has made the decision based on them is not a good idea, for reasons I will outline.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
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30 Jan 2018, 5:40 p.m.

Does that explain why the Government were so backward in making representations to the US International Trade Commission with respect to Bombardier? The Minister said that it would be inappropriate to lobby such an organisation. Is it the Government’s position that it is inappropriate for lobbying to take place when a trade remedies authority is considering whether dumping has taken place or what remedies might be appropriate? Is that his approach to defending British industry when it faces trade defence measures abroad?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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30 Jan 2018, 5:41 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is confusing different processes. The British Government made extensive representations to the parties and the ITC during the investigation process in the United States. That is the key difference. Of course people will be expected to make representations during the investigation process in the UK, but my point was about publication of the TRA’s recommendations between the investigation process and the Secretary of State’s pronouncement.

In any case, I dispute the hon. Gentleman’s point. The UK Government have put in enormous efforts: my boss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, spoke at length with Wilbur Ross, and the Business Secretary also made representations. Very extensive and successful representations were made to US authorities, to Boeing and other companies, and to the US Administration.

Amendment 25 could lead to unnecessary disruption of the market in the key period between the TRA’s recommendations and the Secretary of State’s decision.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
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30 Jan 2018, 5:41 p.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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30 Jan 2018, 5:42 p.m.

Let me make a little more progress.

Amendment 25 could delay the Secretary of State’s decision. The evidence base for the TRA’s recommendations should be made available to the public after, not before, the Secretary of State accepts or rejects them, as required by World Trade Organisation agreement. That is the right time for the evidence base to be put in the public domain.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
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30 Jan 2018, 5:42 p.m.

rose—

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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30 Jan 2018, 5:42 p.m.

I will take a late intervention from the hon. Gentleman.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 5:44 p.m.

It is only the one he deferred a few moments ago. I am grateful to the Minister, because he has engaged in debate and the Committee has been the better for it. However, he mentions the appropriate point for intervention. The American situation involved two decisions: the US Department of Commerce made an initial determination and then the US International Trade Commission had to look at whether any damage had been caused and recommend any appropriate charges. The situation was somewhat akin to a recommendation being made to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State deciding what to do about it. There is a real parallel here that the Minister is denying. As I am sure he acknowledges, amendment 24 would not set an arbitrary deadline; it would ensure that the Secretary of State laid the report before Parliament in a timely fashion.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 5:44 p.m.

May I end—again—by saying that I do not think it is right to make an exact comparison between the UK and US situations? As I said earlier, the design of the Trade Remedies Authority in the UK has been informed by international best practice, but it is fundamentally a different system. The right time for representations to be heard from businesses, consumers, MPs and other stakeholders is while evidence is being gathered, not between the TRA recommendation and the Secretary of State’s determination. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Livingston to withdraw amendment 42.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Amendment proposed: 43, page 18, line 40, after “Parliament” insert “and shall supply copies to—

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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30 Jan 2018, 5:51 p.m.

We recognise that it is essential to the efficient performance of the Department for International Trade and to the future delivery of trade policy that the Government have access to appropriate information about our imports and exports. We are also very aware of the impact on businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, of any increased burden in administration and mandatory reporting.

Clause 7 seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State may have access to such information, as collected by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, that would establish the number and identity of exporters. What exactly the information is that will be required is not disclosed and the clause does not limit HMRC in terms of what information may be sought, only setting out that the information may be used for

“the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State”

in his endeavour. HMRC could, in theory, use the power to request significant volumes of information that might be subsequently determined not to be needed for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State, but that none the less requires disclosure under this provision.

This is not a trivial matter. Businesses and business organisations have expressed their concern about the provision, because much of this information is already collected by HMRC and businesses do not want to have to provide it more than once, because of the time that that would require and the impact it would have on their day-to-day operation.

That prompts the question of why powers must be awarded that would replicate that which is already being done. If existing legislation does not provide for the Secretary of State to access this data, one may very well understand the need to stipulate that such information may be shared with his Department. However, if such information exists already, the burden should not be put on businesses to furnish the same information in a different format, simply because of a failure to collate the information that is already in the possession of Government Departments or agencies.

That is why we tabled amendment 26, which would allow the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs to authorise their officers to disclose such information to the Secretary of State for the purposes described in the Bill, and amendment 29, which would prevent the potential creation of duplicate or conflicting regulations.

Amendment 29 recognises that section 10 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 contains provisions on the disclosure of exporter information by HMRC. SMEs are, after all, the backbone of our economy and we should encourage them to increase exports and not bog them down with tax forms and administration that may put some businesses off exporting.

Currently, much of the information is contained in the various documents and forms that must already be furnished to HMRC. For example, there is mandatory Intrastat reporting, which requires goods exporters to submit on a monthly basis details of goods and exports within the European Union, subject to minimum annual thresholds. Of course, that measure is enforceable by the European Union, but perhaps the Minister will confirm whether it will continue to be enforceable under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I imagine a note will wing its way to him about that shortly. [Interruption.] He already knows—impressive. There is always a first time.

Similarly, VAT-registered exporters are required to supply HMRC with EC sales lists that detail their EU customers, the respective country codes and the value of goods supplied to them. On top of that, customs declarations must be made that record product codes, transport modes, duties levied and other relevant information for the purposes of accumulating information on the number and identity of exporters.

The much-trumpeted new customs declaration service will allegedly be operating by March 2019. Will the Government be incorporating this reporting requirement into it, or will additional systems be needed? In other words, how does the Minister intend to avoid duplication? HMRC has already acknowledged that there is a risk that the new customs declaration service is unlikely to be in place by exit day, so it will be phased in, which will result in limited functionality and scope when launched. That prompts the question about whether the new customs declaration service will be geared up in time for the reporting requirements of the Bill. Will the Government consider additional resources for HMRC to carry out additional duties for all these additional reporting requirements?

Our amendments recognise that where such information may not otherwise be available, regulations may be passed to require other persons to disclose it. However, the Government must clarify whom the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs may so instruct. The provision is extremely vague and potentially awards sweeping powers to HMRC to request information from persons entirely unconnected to an exporter or indeed trusted agents and advisers who might otherwise be bound by a duty of confidentiality.

Clearly, as some of our witnesses suggested, many existing reporting obligations are applicable to the export of goods rather than services. That gap needs to be addressed. Unlike goods exports, which have commodity codes for export purposes, there are not the same proper definitions and appropriate attributable codes for services, which means that it is difficult to determine when a service becomes an export. If the Minister does not have the full detail on that, I will not be entirely surprised, but perhaps it is something for his officials to persist with. The service exports to which these provisions will apply must be qualified, particularly as the definition of what constitutes a service may be vague. Many businesses have significant group operations and may provide services between subsidiaries, which would be treated as intra-group charges. Do the Government intend to inflate service export figures by including those details?

Amendments 27 and 28 are designed to prevent services that should not or would not be considered to be exports from being considered such by requiring that only exports with appropriate codes and identifiers can be considered for those purposes; that includes new codes where needed. However, we also recognise and welcome efforts by HMRC to tackle abusive transfer pricing and aggressive tax planning. Can the Minister tell us whether HMRC will use that information for such purposes in addition?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 5:59 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his set of questions, which I will answer as far as I can. Let me start with why we need the data collection and sharing powers.

It is important that the Government have a more comprehensive understanding of UK exporters. The powers will allow the Trade Remedies Authority to fulfil its function by using full and proper data on the UK business population. They will also equip my Department with robust data to develop trade plans globally, and help us better to understand the impact of future trade agreements and policies so that we can direct our resources appropriately. Ultimately, that will provide better value for money for the taxpayer by enabling more targeted approaches to Government intervention and support for existing and potential exporters.

Clause 8 sets out the powers necessary for HMRC to share the data with the Department for International Trade and other Departments and organisations, for those bodies to carry out their public functions related to trade. I will come to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but those powers need to be wide enough to be able to withstand future institutional developments, so the clause will also allow HMRC to share the data with, for example: other bodies that DIT sets up to cover specific functions, such as the Trade Remedies Authority; bodies that carry out a public trade function, to ensure that the UK is able to put in place and maintain an independent trade policy as we leave the EU; and bodies outside the United Kingdom, such as the World Trade Organisation, with which the UK will be obligated to share data as part of our international obligations. That is currently done through the European Union; there is no change to the effect of that provision.

Amendment 32 would restrict the Government’s ability to take on functions related to trade formerly carried out by the European Commission, such as those related to trade remedies. You will know, Ms Ryan, that the European Commission currently does trade remedies investigations, a lot of which are data-driven. The amendment would hinder our ability to take such a data-driven approach ourselves.

Amendment 26 duplicates in clause 7 the necessary data sharing powers already set out in clause 8. Looking ahead to this country leaving the European Union, the amendment’s requirement to seek HMRC commissioner approval before any data is shared would also restrict the Government’s ability to share data at speed. It may be necessary, for example, to share data with the Trade Remedies Authority quickly or immediately when dealing with a trade defence case. I would not want the Trade Remedies Authority to be prevented from taking urgent action—sharing data about an important trade remedy quickly and efficiently, for example—in relation to a sector such as steel or ceramics because the Opposition had imposed an artificial delaying power with their requirement to seek HMRC commissioner approval before any data is shared.

Faisal Rashid
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30 Jan 2018, 6:03 p.m.

I understand what the Minister says about speed and things that have to be done, but many businesses, particularly small businesses, often struggle to stay on top of their reporting and administration requirements. There is a risk that any increased burden on them could put them off exporting. How do the Government intend to collect this information while ensuring that they do not place an unfair burden on small businesses?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 6:04 p.m.

First, in the long run, small businesses will benefit from the Government being informed by a full set of data on the exporter community. It is difficult for the Government to set policy in relation to exporters without having a full picture of how many exporters there are and in which sectors. In the medium to long run, our ability to collect that data would help small businesses considerably. Secondly, the provision of that data will of course be voluntary. If a small business did not want to participate, for whatever reason, it would not be compelled to do so. It is very important to recognise that.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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30 Jan 2018, 6:04 p.m.

rose—

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 6:04 p.m.

I give way first to the hon. Member for Cardiff North.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 6:05 p.m.

What does the Minister intend to do with the information that is collected? Also, what international bodies do the Government believe that information—much of which may be commercially sensitive —should be shared with, and why should they require such data?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 6:05 p.m.

On the international bodies, I refer the hon. Lady particularly to the WTO, with which we are actually obliged to share a lot of that data. Much of that data sharing is currently done through the EU, but once we are outside the EU we will be obliged to share that data with the WTO on a stand-alone basis. Domestically, sharing a lot of the data with the Trade Remedies Authority will enable it to be well informed as it looks at the impact of alleged dumping on UK domestic industry, which is, after all, the purpose of the TRA.

I will take an intervention from the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington. [Interruption.] Oh, he had the same intervention.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 6:05 p.m.

Similar.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 6:06 p.m.

It is good to see people thinking similarly. Sharing data quickly and immediately may be necessary for, as I say, the TRA dealing with a trade defence case, or where data is immediately required in a fast-moving future trade agreement negotiation.

Clause 7 sets out the powers needed for the Government to collect data to establish the number and identity of UK businesses exporting goods and services. Amendments 26, 27 and 28 would narrow the ability of the Government, both now and in the future, to determine what data we wish to collect and how we may collect it. The Government should retain the ability to determine in the future what relevant trade information they may need to request from businesses, although I stress that providing that information is voluntary. At this time, we are not able to anticipate precisely what those needs will be.

On some of the individual points, I think the hon. Member for Sefton Central claimed that HMRC is unrestricted in what data it can source. I stress that the power in the Bill is to request information. The Treasury will specify what information will be requested, and will do so by regulations that will come before Parliament. There is no obligation on businesses to provide that information, although we say, and strongly believe, that it is in their interests to do so, to help to inform the Government’s export policy.

On additional resources at HMRC, I rather feel that that might be a debate for another day in another place. However, the resources given to HMRC post Brexit to deal with Brexit are already there. Various announcements have been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the last 18 months on that. I point out that the power has been assessed and its likely cost looked at. It has been deemed to be relatively inexpensive and overall will not add a cost burden on HMRC.

On inflating exporter numbers, I do not think that that would be accurate. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that there is some kind of Government plot to artificially boost the number of exporters, so that we can suddenly say what a great job we have done because the number has gone up. No—the purpose of collecting the data is to have an accurate picture of the number of exporters. For example, we know there are 5.7 million private sector businesses in the UK. HMRC collects export data from 1.9 million VAT-registered businesses. There are 2.2 million VAT-registered businesses in the UK. We therefore think that the Government do not collect any export data from about 4 million UK businesses. That is what we want to do. Our analysis suggests about 300,000 businesses in the UK could and should export but do not do so. The key is to find where those businesses are and encourage them to export, so that the UK does a much better job on exports.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether Intrastat will continue. When the UK leaves the EU, Intrastat will not be applicable for exports and will not continue in this case. Finally, there were questions relating to the interaction with the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. Similar to my response to amendments 26 to 28, the Government should retain the ability to determine in the future what relevant trade information they may need to request from businesses. At this time, we are not able to anticipate that precisely, but I have given some indication of the sort of areas we might look at and what all those needs would be.

Amendment 29 refers to powers in section 10 of the 2015 Act. Those powers relate to disclosure of existing exporter information by HMRC officials and therefore are not directly relevant to the powers in clause 7 relating to the collection of data. In other words, it is different data. Bearing all of this in mind, I ask the hon. Members not to press their amendment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 6:10 p.m.

I thank the Minister for his answers. I was puzzled by one thing. Why does the Bill not specify that the data would be for sharing with the Trade Remedies Authority if that is the primary purpose in collecting it at this point? He says there will be other organisations, but it is a bit odd that the Bill does not say as much.

Our concern—a concern that comes from business—is about giving HMRC the power to request. That is an interesting phrase. Anyone who has had any dealings with HMRC as a business tends to experience that as a fairly strong power to request. If we asked most people who run businesses, they would say it is a bit more than a power to request; they interpret it as not having any choice in the matter. That is one of our big concerns, and I hope the Minister will take that on board.

The Minister made the point that this is about the medium to long run and there will be improvements for smaller firms over that period. By implication, that leaves out the short term. I would welcome a brief intervention to confirm the implication I gathered from what he said—that there may be a hit or an increase in the demands and burdens on smaller firms while the new system is settling down. I will give way to him if that is what he thinks is going to happen.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 6:12 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I do not accept that there will be an increase in the burdens for anybody involved in this process, because it is a voluntary and essentially very limited process. I would say to him that the data could be extremely helpful in informing Government policy, and that is why he should withdraw his amendment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for that clarification. We are keen to avoid unnecessary reporting requirements and an adverse impact, especially on smaller firms, as this country needs them to do well in trade and exports. We are supportive of the right approach and the right level of data collection in achieving such an objective. In that spirit, I will not press amendments 26 to 28. We will press amendment 29 to a vote because we still think it is important to avoid the duplication of powers in the 2015 Act. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 29, in clause 7, page 5, line 3, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not make provision that could be made by regulations under section 10 of the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.”—(Bill Esterson.)

This would avoid duplication, in respect of the collection of information from exporters, with the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 6:20 p.m.

Thank you for bringing me back on track, Ms Ryan.

I trust that the Committee recognises the impact that poor application of those powers might have on businesses. It may even result in entirely opposite outcomes to those intended. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to such concerns. I hope that he will address my questions about how some of the powers will be exercised and what measures will be put in place to protect our exporters.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

30 Jan 2018, 6:21 p.m.

The clause sets out the powers that will enable the Government to establish for the first time ever the number and identity of UK businesses exporting goods and services. HMRC currently collects export data from approximately 70% of the 2.2 million businesses that are registered for VAT. As I said earlier, there are 5.7 million private sector businesses in the UK. That means we do not collect export data from about 4 million businesses. Our data does not include certain sectors, smaller enterprises and many exporters of services.

Why is it important that the Government have a more comprehensive understanding of UK exporters? First, the information will allow the Trade Remedies Authority to fulfil its function using full and proper data on the UK business population. Secondly, it will equip my Department with robust data to develop trade plans globally and will help us better to understand the impact of future trade agreements and policies in order to direct our resources appropriately. Ultimately, it will all provide better value for money for the taxpayer by enabling more targeted approaches to Government intervention and support for existing and potential exporters.

We are not able to anticipate all the data that we might need in future, including for those functions that I have just described to the hon. Gentleman. It is therefore vital that we retain the ability to specify the type of information to collect now and in the future to ensure that the Government are able to discharge fully all relevant trade functions.

Should amendment 30 be passed, it would not be possible to collect trade data through the tax return. We do not know whether the collection of such currently unknown data might, for example, require the modification of an Act of Parliament. I confirm to the hon. Gentleman that at such time as the Government specify what information we wish to collect and how we will collect it, we will return to this House, as is already set out in clause 7(5). I also assure him that any information collected and the way we request it will be done in such a way as to cause minimal cost to Government and business. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 6:23 p.m.

I wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

30 Jan 2018, 6:28 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Ryan. The good news at this stage is that there are fewer notes written in advance—the Committee might be quite relieved about that. New clause 3 was originally drafted by colleagues from Plaid Cymru, and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Livingston and I were more than happy to add our names in support. Actually, we have been completely vindicated on that given how events have panned out today. There have been no concessions to any Scottish Government or Welsh Government amendments. The Government voted down the Labour amendment that would have allowed impact analysis to be undertaken and at least understood. They have excluded any provisions for devolved authorities to be involved in the Trade Remedies Authority.

The new clause is quite simple: it seeks to propose a sub-committee of the Joint Ministerial Committee, to look at effects in the devolved nations of any international trade agreement implemented by the powers in the Bill. It is simple, effective and it does not create a whole new body, because it just creates a sub-committee of the existing JMC. In terms of administration, it should not be excessive, and so I ask members of the Committee to support the new clause.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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30 Jan 2018, 6:29 p.m.

I can be brief. The Government have made it clear that they seek to maintain the effects of the UK’s existing trade agreements. We make this commitment in relation to all parts of the United Kingdom, which means that we do not intend Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, or indeed England, to be disproportionately impacted by our transitioning of these agreements. As we have committed to seeking continuity in the effects of existing agreements, the impact of the transition should be neutral on all parts of the UK.

In relation to consultation with the devolved Administrations, as we have laid out frequently on Second Reading and in Committee, the Department for International Trade ensures that each of its Ministers, as well as directors and other senior officials, visit the devolved Administrations regularly and continually look for further opportunities to engage with a range of stakeholders across the UK.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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30 Jan 2018, 6:30 p.m.

The Minister will forgive me if I find his comments somewhat ironic given what has been in the press over the last couple of days about impact assessments. Does it not seem reasonable that the Joint Ministerial Committee—which, as my hon. Friend says, is already in place—should have a sub-committee? He may think that as things stand there may not be an impact on the devolved nations, but I am sure that, like the rest of us, he does not have a crystal ball. Would it not make sense to put into legislation the ability for the devolved nations to have a sub-committee of the JMC to make it the best possible legislation that it can be?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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30 Jan 2018, 6:31 p.m.

I accept the hon. Lady’s intervention, and she makes a case, but my point is that it is not necessary to have the review. These are existing agreements that, in a huge number of cases, are already in place. Some have been in place for a long time. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun says that an additional review process will be simple and effective, but I am not quite so sure. For example, the amendment makes neither reference to the intended product of such a review—how the review process would work—nor to the continued role of the devolved Administrations in the review after it has been reported.

I think it is much better that we stick with our position of consulting frequently and engaging with the devolved Administrations, without an extra review of agreements that are already in place. We have been clear that we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations as we transition these agreements, therefore we do not need to commit this kind of review to legislation. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the clause.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
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30 Jan 2018, 6:31 p.m.

It is appropriate to once a