Debates between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson

There have been 19 exchanges between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson

1 Thu 19th November 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (362 words)
2 Mon 16th November 2020 Trade Deals and the NHS
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (1,760 words)
3 Thu 3rd September 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (246 words)
4 Mon 20th July 2020 Trade Bill
Department for International Trade
2 interactions (307 words)
5 Thu 25th June 2020 Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)
Department for International Trade
31 interactions (6,537 words)
6 Thu 25th June 2020 Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)
Department for International Trade
6 interactions (1,478 words)
7 Tue 23rd June 2020 Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)
Department for International Trade
29 interactions (2,971 words)
8 Thu 18th June 2020 Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)
Department for International Trade
20 interactions (2,662 words)
9 Tue 17th July 2018 Trade Bill
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (486 words)
10 Tue 17th April 2018 Leaving the EU: Future Trade Remedies
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (1,606 words)
11 Thu 29th March 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for International Trade
2 interactions (175 words)
12 Thu 1st February 2018 Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (523 words)
13 Tue 30th January 2018 Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)
Department for International Trade
14 interactions (4,019 words)
14 Tue 30th January 2018 Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)
Department for International Trade
22 interactions (3,037 words)
15 Tue 30th January 2018 Trade Bill (Fifth sitting)
Department for International Trade
6 interactions (713 words)
16 Thu 25th January 2018 Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)
Department for International Trade
13 interactions (1,046 words)
17 Tue 9th January 2018 Trade Bill
Department for International Trade
2 interactions (1,412 words)
18 Thu 23rd November 2017 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (286 words)
19 Thu 6th July 2017 Exiting the European Union and Global Trade
Department for International Trade
2 interactions (1,336 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 19th November 2020

(2 weeks, 2 days ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

19 Nov 2020, 9:42 a.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He mentions the Which? survey. I was delighted to be the guest speaker at the launch of the Which? survey, “The National Trade Conversation”, where we discussed many of these aspects. To be absolutely clear to him again, our commitment that there will be no lowering of standards on animal welfare, food safety and the environment is absolute. I urge him again to get with the trade agenda and listen to NFU Scotland, which says it will

“strive to ensure that the best interests of farming, food and the drink and the public continue to be front and centre of any trade deals.”

That is exactly the right approach being taken by NFU Scotland. I urge him and the SNP to get on board with that positive approach for the first time, please.

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

19 Nov 2020, 9:42 a.m.

The Government say that they want to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, but some of its members allow growth hormones, genetically modified food in animal foodstuffs and insanitary conditions for animals. The CPTPP is already in operation, of course, and trade is permitted between its members on the basis of lower animal welfare and food production standards. How does the Minister plan to renegotiate the CPTPP to exclude the lower animal welfare and food production standards it contains, given that existing members of CPTPP say that they will not allow new members to change the agreement?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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19 Nov 2020, 9:44 a.m.

The Secretary of State and I have told the hon. Gentleman time and again at the Dispatch Box that nothing in any trade agreement prevents this country from carrying out its own domestic regulation. We have been absolutely clear that a lot of the production methods and food standards he describes will remain illegal in this country after 1 January. He mentions CPTPP. I urge him to get on board with a positive agenda. Joining CPTPP, a trading group of 11 countries, including Canada, Singapore and Japan, will be a fantastic opportunity. I am not expecting him to support it, because of course he never supported trade deals with those countries in the first place, but I might hope he could reconsider now.

Trade Deals and the NHS

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Monday 16th November 2020

(2 weeks, 5 days ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
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16 Nov 2020, midnight

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for opening this debate, as well as the more than 110,000 members of the public who raised this topic, which is hugely important to us all. There have been a lot of rumours, confusion and misstatements about this subject, so I am more than happy to set the record straight.

The NHS is this nation’s most popular institution, but it is far more than an institution. For more than 70 years, it has been there for all of us, from cradle to grave. It has played a very personal role in all our lives, in some of the most joyful and, indeed, saddest moments. In the midst of this terrible pandemic, the importance of the NHS has become even more acute. I pay tribute to the extraordinary staff up and down our country who are battling the coronavirus outbreak so valiantly and selflessly, and I extend my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, including, I might add, to myself: my father died of coronavirus on 13 April this year. However, it is thanks to the bravery and expertise of our world-class doctors, nurses and hospital staff in containing the virus that we are able to meet here in this House today, and I am hugely grateful for that.

Let me be very clear: our NHS will not be for sale in any future trade deal with the US or, indeed, in any trade deal at all. For the sake of parliamentary time, I can be very brief—the word “no” is one of the shortest in the language—and say no, not at all and never. Protecting the NHS is a fundamental principle of our trade policy. The NHS, its services and the prices it pays for drugs are not for sale, and we will not agree measures that undermine the Government’s ability to deliver on those commitments. The NHS is not, and will never be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic, and no trade deals will ever be able to alter these fundamental facts.

The Government have been consistently clear about our commitment to the guiding principles of the NHS—that it is universal and free at the point of need. As set out in the October 2017 White Paper “Preparing for our future UK trade policy”, the Government will continue to ensure that decisions on how to run public services are made by UK Governments, including the devolved Administrations, and not—this has never been the case—by our trade partners. No trade agreement has ever affected our ability to keep our public services public nor forced us to change the way we run them, and that is not going to change now. Safeguarding the UK’s right to regulate in the public interest and to protect public services, including the NHS, is of the utmost importance. That was, is and will remain the Government’s position.

I turn to the points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned two or three points. First, he is right to say that the NHS is devolved in Scotland and that trade policy is reserved. We recognise the fact that trade policy impacts on areas of devolved competence, and that is why I work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that we have a common understanding. We work well together in those spaces.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned an ISDS threat to public services. The UK is already subject to the ISDS in more than 90 agreements. We have never had a successful claim brought against the United Kingdom through an ISDS court. No ISDS court could overturn Parliament or force any change to the law. This has been stated before, but the Trade Bill refers to the continuity of existing trade agreements; it does not refer to future free trade agreements. The EU does not have a trade agreement with the United States; therefore, the United States is not within the scope of the Trade Bill.

I heard some brilliant speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and for Watford (Dean Russell). My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland talked about how the Labour party and others are whipping up fear. That is absolutely correct, and I have seen it in my constituency. At the last four general elections, the Labour party has run on the fact that Charing Cross Hospital will be either demolished or close—the last four! I can report that Charing Cross Hospital is doing very well and, actually, the Secretary of State for Health announced a floor-by-floor refurbishment of the hospital just a couple of months ago. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there has been record investment under this Conservative Government and that trade is the answer to our long-term prosperity.

We had a passionate, knowledgeable and superb speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Watford about his local NHS, which I know quite well. The excellent Watford General Hospital has served my family—they come from Amersham in Buckinghamshire—for two generations. It is a brilliant hospital, and he spoke with great passion about it.

We heard some of the fears from the hon. Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins). I will deal with the question from the hon. Member for Luton South about the CPTPP. In the negative or positive lists, one is expressly allowed to exclude public services that one does not want to be subject to a trade agreement. The UK could and would negotiate specific exemptions in CPTPP for the NHS and other public services that we deem to be important to us. Of course that lies within our rights.

The NHS in Scotland is devolved, as we know, but the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), in his summary, quickly moved on to talking about separation. In almost record time, even by the standards of the Scottish National party, he showed that separation is more to him important than either the NHS or trade.

I turn to my old friend—certainly not my hon. Friend, but he is a friend—the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). I am not quite sure whether he has noticed the subtle change in Labour’s approach to trade policy as it has moved across north London from the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). On drug prices, the UK has a robust intellectual property regime for pharmaceuticals and medical devices. We will not make changes to our IP regime that would lead to increased medical prices for the NHS. Our negotiation objectives—a lot of people have referred to the US’s negotiation objectives, but no one has referred to our objectives, which were published on 2 March—state that the NHS will not be on the table, the prices paid for drugs will not be on the table and the services that the NHS provides will not be on the table.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about a set of dates—he told an incredible story involving the Cato Institute and an astonishing series of dates. He said that he does not believe in coincidences, but perhaps he might believe in conspiracy theories.

As we are an independent global Britain, the Government are working hard to build our trade policy. As set out in the Government’s manifesto and again in our negotiation objectives, the NHS will not be on the table. Decisions on how to run the NHS and all public services are made by UK Governments, including the devolved Administrations, and no trade deal will change that.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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16 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I am coming to a conclusion.

The UK’s high standards of data protection will be maintained. The Government are clear that health and care data should only ever be used or shared lawfully, treated with respect and held securely, with the right safeguards in place. I am going to leave a few minutes for the response, Mr Stringer. It is absolutely clear that any trade deal could not be ratified without scrutiny by Parliament. There is also a separation between international and domestic law, so any changes made to the NHS through a trade deal would need domestic implementing legislation, just as much as if those changes were to be made without a trade deal. There is no way to sidestep Parliament. The Government will never agree to a trade deal with the US or any other country that risks the future of our national health service or which could undermine the Government’s ability to deliver on our manifesto commitment to the NHS.

There are, however, benefits of trade for the NHS. The whole debate has been focused on fears and threats, but there are benefits. To continue supporting public services such as the NHS, which we all value and from which we all benefit, it is crucial that we have a strong economy. Now that we have left the EU, we find ourselves with a golden opportunity to strike free trade deals around the world, which will help to fuel our economic recovery from covid-19.

In conclusion, the question is asked over and over again, but the answer is not going to change. The NHS is not on the table in any future trade deal. The price it pays for drugs is not on the table and the services it provides are not on the table. The Government will not accept any trade deal that changes our ability to regulate the NHS or any public services, nor will we agree to any measures that would put NHS finances at risk or reduce clinician and patient choice. Scare stories otherwise simply do not fit with the facts. The Government will always put patients and the sustainability of the NHS first.

As an independent trading nation, the UK is reaching out to partners around the world that support our shared values of freedom and democracy and making great trade deals, starting with our friends in the United States, Australia and New Zealand and the deal with Japan that we have already delivered. It is by working together as a global community and embracing values-driven and value-generating trade with like-minded partners that we will be able to beat this dreadful virus and build back a stronger economy to sustain our vital public services, not least our beloved national health service.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 3rd September 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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3 Sep 2020, 9:47 a.m.

The Government’s approach on the environment, and on the environment and trade, is unchanged. No appointments have been confirmed. Personally, I welcome the fact that a former Prime Minister of Australia is willing to help this country out. I think we should welcome his interest and welcome the endeavours he has the potential to make for this country on behalf of us all.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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Palm oil production is having a devastating impact on wildlife and the environment in a number of countries, including Malaysia, and there is real concern among our constituents about the threat to orangutans. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will press ahead with a ban on palm oil imports after the end of the transition period? Will he also confirm that this Government will maintain that ban if we join Malaysia in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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The hon. Gentleman will remember the Prime Minister’s visit to Thailand and the region, and his speaking out about wildlife crime in that region when he was Foreign Secretary, including in relation to the pangolin, for example. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that the UK first published its statement on the sustainable production of palm oil in 2012, and the latest reports indicate that the UK achieved 75% certified sustainable palm oil importation in 2017, which compares with a figure of just 10% under the last Labour Government. We have taken the figure from just 10% to 75% in just 10 years.

Trade Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Monday 20th July 2020

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I have much more to say, in relation to 50 different amendments, but I appreciate that there are a large number of other speakers, so I will call it a day there in order to allow other people their say. I think I have covered the main areas, outlining why we have the requirements in new clauses 5 and 6 on data, why we are confident of our robust approach to parliamentary scrutiny, using the CRAG process and enhanced things that we have introduced to ensure that Parliament gets the information and has the say that it needs, and finally our absolute commitment to not compromising on standards for food safety, animal welfare and the environment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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International trade has rarely been more important. It is critical as we forge a new place in the world outside the European Union. It is also critical to how we recover from the pandemic, as it has the power to deliver prosperity at home and abroad, especially in the developing world as we aim towards the sustainable development goals. We will support the Government where they are right and challenge where they are wrong.

There are three key areas to which our amendments to the Trade Bill refer: social, environmental and democratic. First, on social, the Bill has profound implications for workers’ rights, human rights, public services and the economy. Secondly, on environmental, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) reminded us on Second Reading, international trade agreements have a massive impact on our ability to tackle the climate and environment emergency. Meanwhile, food production and animal welfare standards are matters of enormous concern to farmers and consumers alike. Thirdly, on democratic, the complete absence of scrutiny runs like the Sant Andreas fault through the Bill. [Hon. Members: “San Andreas.”] Thank you—the San Andreas fault.

Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 25th June 2020

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
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25 Jun 2020, 2:05 p.m.

I begin by welcoming you to the Chair this afternoon, Sir Graham. I appreciate the concerns that there should be adequate parliamentary scrutiny of regulations made under the clause 1 power. I am satisfied that that is the case, and let me explain why.

As I have said, the power is intended to allow the UK to make technical changes—for example, to reflect new parties joining the government procurement agreement or existing parties withdrawing from it. In the case of a new or withdrawing party, it is important that the UK is able to respond quickly and flexibly. Once a new party deposits its instrument of accession, there is, under the rules of the World Trade Organisation GPA, 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 procurement opportunities covered by the GPA, and of course vice versa. If the UK failed to offer the new party this guaranteed access, we would be in breach of our GPA commitments. Equally, a party to the GPA can decide to withdraw unilaterally. When a party notifies the Committee on Government Procurement that it intends to withdraw, it will cease to be a GPA member just 60 days later. It is therefore vital that we are able to react quickly to such a notification, either to join or to withdraw.

If the power to amend UK legislation to reflect a party’s withdrawing from the GPA were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, we might not be able to legislate in time to remove the party within the 60-day time limit. This could result in UK contracting authorities continuing to give a party that has left the GPA—companies from that country—guaranteed access to the UK’s procurement market that it is no longer entitled to have. Furthermore, the former party would have no obligation at the same time to give UK businesses reciprocal access to its procurement markets. I am confident that Members will agree on the need to regulate quickly in these instances, both practically so that UK businesses are not disadvantaged and to show good faith to the other party.

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

The Minister made great play two years ago of the idea that the affirmative resolution procedure takes 30 days longer than the negative resolution procedure. However, that is not an issue because the Government are notified months in advance that this is coming, and Government officials are able to put in place the necessary regulations, whether negative or affirmative. There is plenty of time to get ready to avoid the catastrophic outcome that the Minister describes.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 2:09 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In fact, accession to the GPA typically take some years, so in that sense it would have been telegraphed quite far in advance—the most recent party to join is Australia. But it would be inappropriate for us to ratify someone joining the GPA in advance of them actually depositing the papers, so although joining is a lengthy process, the actual ratification process is very short. That is the key difference in this case.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report on the Trade Bill 2017-19 raised no concerns, nor made any recommendations, about the use of the negative procedure in relation to this power. However, let me clear: when new parties are seeking to accede to the GPA, we will ensure that Parliament is kept informed. Parliamentary scrutiny is more effective before an accession is agreed, because that is when the views of Parliament can be taken into account.

Where a WTO member is seeking to join the GPA, it is our intention to notify Parliament, to keep the relevant Committee—in this case, the International Trade Committee—informed as the negotiations proceed, and to allow further discussion where desired. That is the right time for Parliament to be actively involved in a debate, for example, on Australia’s accession to the GPA—although the case of Australia is backward looking, of course, to when we were covered by the GPA through our EU membership. If there were such a case going forward, the right time would be during the discussions to the accession, not after the accession had been agreed.

I remind Members that there has already been parliamentary scrutiny of the UK’s market access schedules and the text of the GPA, which were laid before Parliament in line with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That process concluded without objection in 2019. Any further changes to the GPA, including the UK schedules prior to our accession, will again be scrutinised in line with CRAG.

I hope my comments provide reassurance to the Committee. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment and commend schedule 2 to the Committee.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir Graham, I am guided by you. The Chair is always right and I completely accept your point. The Minister may choose to respond to the excellent suggestions that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West has made, but I think we have made the case that the chair of the TRA should be interviewed and there should be adequate parliamentary scrutiny of his or her appointment.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I would like to start by repeating what I said in 2018 when I first took this clause through a Committee and what I and others have said since: this Government are committed to creating an independent and objective investigation process in which businesses and consumers will have full confidence and to setting up the Trade Remedies Authority with the right pool of skills, qualities and experience.

I recall that broad agreement was evident for the principle of an independent impartial body during the previous debate on the TRA during the Trade Bill’s 2017 to 2019 passage. Without wishing to linger on the point, my startlement that the Opposition are so opposed to this legislation increases, although they claim to support all its parts.

Many will know that the World Trade Organisation allows its members to take action to protect domestic industries against injury caused by unfair trading practices, such as dumping, subsidies or unforeseen surges in imports. Quite to the contrary of what I think the hon. Member for Harrow West said, nobody wants to turn a blind eye to dumping. It is quite the opposite, but we can only do that with a functioning and legally operating Trade Remedies Authority.

Where there is evidence that dumping is happening, countries are permitted to put measures in place to remedy the situation, hence the term “trade remedies”. Measures usually take the form of an increase in duty on imports of specific products following an investigation. Establishing an independent trade remedies function is integral to the UK’s new independent trade policy. We must get it right. Decisions on trade remedies cases can have profound impacts on markets and on jobs, and that is why we need to create an independent, objective investigation process that businesses can trust. We will be appointing the best people.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 2:40 p.m.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I think he is wrong to say that there is resistance, but I gently suggest that the matter is without the scope of the Bill, interesting though that topic and the future of the WTO might be.

We will be appointing the best people to the TRA, including the non-executive members of its board. As with any public appointments, the appointment of non-executive directors will be subject to the well-established rules that govern public appointments of this kind.

Amendment 1 seeks to give the International Trade Committee the statutory power to approve or veto the appointment of the TRA chair. It is established practice that decisions on public appointments are for Ministers who are accountable to Parliament and the public for those decisions. The Cabinet Office “Public Bodies Handbook” explicitly states that Ministers normally appoint the chair and all non-executive members for non-departmental public bodies.

Following the Liaison Committee’s report in 2011, further guidance was issued by the Cabinet Office setting out the tests for determining which non-departmental public body appointments should be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny. That guidance makes it clear that pre-appointment scrutiny should apply only in respect of three types of post:

“i. posts which play a key role in regulation of actions by Government; or

ii. posts which play a key role in protecting and safeguarding the public’s rights and interests in relation to the actions and decisions of Government; or

iii. posts in organisations that have a major impact on public life or the lives of the public where it is vital for the reputation and credibility of that organisation that the post holder acts, and is seen to act, independently of Ministers and the Government.”

In my view, none of those three requirements is met. The TRA is not a regulator, it does not protect or safeguard against the actions and decisions of Government, and, although we believe it is important for business confidence that it is seen as independent of Ministers, it is not an organisation that can be described as having a major impact on public life or the lives of the public.

I turn now to a few other points that cropped up. On EU remedy measures, we have been clear that we will transition appropriate measures into the UK. We have launched transition reviews of those, and we have consulted and will continue to do so. The economic interest test is a matter for the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, but there is of course a presumption in favour of measures in that Act.

On the engagement of trade unions, Simon Walker and the interim body—the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate—met the Trades Union Congress yesterday and is engaging unions frequently. I remind the Committee that the board are not the decision makers on trade remedies; they set the strategy and hold the chief executive and the executive to account. There is no role for the TRA at the WTO or any involvement with the appellate body. I believe that I have responded to the British Ceramic Confederation letter, but I will study carefully what is in it.

Under the provisions of schedule 4, to which we will turn shortly, the TRA must produce an annual report, which the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament. The TRA will also be subject to the scrutiny of the National Audit Office and parliamentary Committees. In addition, complaints against it can be considered by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who may also share information with Parliament. I hope that that reassures the Committee that the amendment is not appropriate, and I ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw it.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister made a number of interesting comments. He talked about businesses and consumers having full confidence in the Trade Remedies Authority. He did not mention workers, and he did not mention the devolved Administrations in that statement at the start of his response. I am sure that causes concern.

The Minister spoke about the need to act independently and repeated the point about business confidence. He has also made the point that the TRA needs to be an organisation that business can trust. But if it is to be independent, there needs to be scrutiny of appointments. He said that a reason why it does not come under the code for appointments to be approved, other than by Ministers, is that it does not have a major impact. Trade disputes have major impacts. I mentioned the SSI closure; that was 5,000 jobs. I am shocked that the Minister does not regard that kind of incident as having a major impact. I am sure that workers up and down the country would share my concern on that point.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I have checked exactly what I said. I said, “organisations that have a major impact on public life”. I did say that it would have a major impact on jobs, but I think “public life” would be considered more broadly than the immediate jobs of a particular workforce, important though they are. We are talking about the broader public.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is in danger of dancing on the head of a pin with his phrases. Honestly, 5,000 jobs is not a major impact on public life? I think the people of Redcar and the north-east would disagree with him strongly about that.

It is essential that we have this system of scrutiny in place. There are pre-appointment scrutiny sessions for many roles in public life. The Minister set out the rules—I think he set them out correctly—but he also gave us, in his description of what is independent, and in the phrase “major impact on public life”, an argument in favour of our amendment. For that reason, we will press it to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 2:54 p.m.

As with amendment 1, it is the lack of scrutiny that we are opposed to, not the creation of the Trade Remedies Authority. That is the subject of amendments 2 and 3, which are particularly important—as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West reminded us in the debate on amendment 1—in the absence of an effective WTO and given the concerns about international co-operation and collaboration on important matters that can lead to damaging trade disputes.

The amendment requires that the Secretary of State lay the annual report of the TRA before Parliament

“no later than 1 August of the calendar year in which the last day of the financial year covered by the report falls”,

and amendment 3 requires that a report is prepared for Parliament in a timely fashion on each recommendation made to the Secretary of State.

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 all of its components. Such requirements are nothing new in the realm of trade remedies. In the European Union, the Commission is obliged to report to the European Parliament. This is supposed to be a continuity Bill; the continuity in this case would be to apply equivalent processes in the UK to what we had in the EU.

The report to the European Parliament is obliged to give MEPs statistics on the cases opened and the number of measures adopted. MPs here should be given the same information by our TRA so that they may scrutinise its work. MPs should be able to look at the number of cases initiated and the number of measures adopted, and therefore be able to judge whether the TRA is taking measures to defend our industries and jobs, and is working with the devolved authorities—not just putting the consumer interest first, at the expense of producers, jobs, and the regions and nations of the country.

Industry would be more comfortable if there was a more rigorous approach for parliamentarians to get involved in the setting of the rules for the system—it is not just us saying this, but industry, and both sides of it. As in the rest of the Bill, the Government propose nothing on parliamentary oversight or scrutiny of the TRA. Yet again, they want to make decisions that will have profound impacts—on key sectors of industry, on thousands of jobs and on the regions and nations—behind closed doors, without scrutiny and without accountability to Parliament. Unless that scrutiny is there in law, there is no guarantee that it will happen.

Giving parliamentarians an oversight power over the work of the TRA would 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, once again, and we will see the loss of jobs that we saw in the steel sector in 2015 and 2016. It is only right that this House gets to scrutinise the work of the TRA to ensure that it is doing its job properly.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 2:58 p.m.

I recognise the desire of Opposition Members to ensure that our trade remedies system is impartial, objective and transparent. Those have been our guiding principles, too.

That is why we are establishing the Trade Remedies Authority as an arm’s length body and why we will require the TRA to produce a report on the performance of its functions during each financial year, which the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament. The Bill requires that to be produced

“as soon as reasonably practicable”

after the end of that financial year. That is in line with other arm’s length bodies, such as the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Imposing a fixed deadline by which the TRA’s annual report must be laid before Parliament is unnecessary. Prioritising an arbitrary deadline over ensuring a full and detailed report for Parliament and businesses to scrutinise is in no one’s interests. I am sure that the TRA, like all other NDPBs, will use its best endeavours to publish the annual report as quickly as possible following the end of the financial year. It is of course possible that that could be within the timeframe suggested in the proposed amendment. However, the TRA statement of accounts must be certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General before being laid, and that reliance on processes outside the TRA’s direct control makes it unreasonable to set a deadline for publication in statute.

The TRA’s annual report will follow best practice on openness and accountability as set out in the Cabinet Office publication, “Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments”, which provides a clear structure of best practice requirements, although we recognise that these will not be specific to each organisation that they cover. As with all non-departmental public bodies, we expect the TRA to follow best practice for an organisation of its type and to include appropriate performance indicators, rather than that being set by statute. As a new organisation, it is important to ensure that the TRA has the flexibility to develop and adapt these key performance indicators as it settles into its functions and continues engagement with stakeholders.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

26 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

As we have heard, amendment 28 seeks to create a new role for the TRA in analysing the impact of retaliatory or rebalancing duties imposed by the Secretary of State as a result of an international dispute. We should perhaps remind ourselves of the roles and responsibilities relating to international disputes, and the purpose behind the provision in the customs Act—to give it its proper title, the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018—which the amendment refers to, and which the hon. Member for Sefton Central has been referring to as well.

Before going into the detail, I will say a couple of things about some of the broader issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The Airbus-Boeing dispute is clearly not directly within the remit of amendment 28, but it is not, I suppose, so far from it. Let me be clear about today’s announcement. We oppose the tariffs coming from the US vigorously. We find them unnecessary and harmful to trade between the US and the UK. We have raised our opposition with the US trade representative in person in recent weeks. I confirm to the Member for Warrington North that my understanding is that gin is included. There is not a decision to impose tariffs on gin, by my understanding, but gin is one of the products they are actively looking at.

On the questions that the hon. Member for Sefton Central asked about the Finance Bill, I think I am best off offering to look at those, and the most appropriate Minister will respond to him. As a former Treasury Minister, I am slightly mindful that the questions are probably within the Treasury’s area, and it may be better for the Treasury to respond. I do not think that there will be time to respond before the sitting ends at 5 o’clock in any case. However, contrary to what he suggested, it is highly unlikely that a Treasury or other Minister has said that we should operate outside the World Trade Organisation’s rules in the cases that he raised.

Section 15 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act provides for the Secretary of State to change the amount of import duty that applies to certain goods as a result of an international dispute. There are several scenarios under which that could come about. The first is if the UK has successfully challenged trade-restrictive measures imposed by another WTO member under the WTO’s dispute settlement system. If the other member fails to comply with the WTO’s ruling in favour of the UK, the UK Government would be able to impose duties to redress the issue.

Secondly, if there is a dispute between the UK and one of our partners under the terms of a free trade agreement, the UK may be able to impose retaliatory duties. Thirdly, there is the possibility that the UK could be subject to a dispute in the WTO, or as part of an FTA, and be required to provide compensation to the relevant WTO member or FTA partner. That conversation could take the form of imposing lower duties on certain goods. I reassure Members that variations in import duties in response to trade disputes are intended to be temporary in nature, and will be removed when action has been taken by the country or territory in question to bring itself into compliance.

What is clear from all this, and what Parliament has already accepted in passing the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act, is that it is for the Government to decide whether it is necessary to change import duties as a result of a dispute. We should be clear, however, that the resulting duties, whether higher or lower, are not trade remedies measures. That is the problem with the amendment.

Although the Trade Bill enables the TRA to provide expert support to the Secretary of State in order to build the evidence base for decisions on international disputes where needed, as we have already discussed during our consideration of amendment 3, the TRA does not have a role to play in determining duties arising from international disputes, and those duties are not trade remedies measures. Interesting though they may be to the Opposition, that would expand the role of the TRA into areas for which it is not intended. The TRA will be the UK’s expert body on trade remedies—that is the reason we are establishing it. It will not have the wider remit that the amendment would confer on it. I hope the Committee will agree and I ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw the amendment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 3:21 p.m.

That was a quite remarkable finish. I think the Minister said that the TRA will be the UK’s expert body on trade remedies.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 3:21 p.m.

Yes.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 3:21 p.m.

Yet it is not going to be able to get involved in helping the Secretary of State by advising her where she might vary import tariffs in the event of an international trade dispute. Clause 6(1)(a) refers to

“the conduct of an international trade dispute”,

which seems to be entirely the right place to be looking for support for the Secretary of State when she is being given remarkable and unusual powers. If that support does not come from the Trade Remedies Authority, the Treasury will be advising, but it is a role for the Secretary of State for International Trade, not for the Chancellor.

The Minister correctly said that aspects of what I have asked about are for Treasury Ministers, but this is a responsibility of the Secretary of State for International Trade. That is why it has come to this Bill Committee; there is not another opportunity to deal with this issue. It is entirely relevant to look at support from within the Department for International Trade, which is why we tabled the amendment. I am concerned that the Minister has not come back with an alternative to how this power might be used.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I would not normally intervene on the hon. Gentleman’s summation, but I think he is confusing two things: he is confusing an international trade dispute, the result of which may be retaliatory tariffs or some kind of other tariff action, with a trade remedy, which is in place to prevent something like the dumping of products where the UK is a producer of those products. They are fundamentally different things. The Trade Remedies Authority is set up to deal with trade remedies, not per se with the subjects of international trade disputes.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 3:23 p.m.

Not per se. The clause states:

“The TRA must provide the Secretary of State with such advice, support and assistance as the Secretary of State requests in connection with—

the conduct of an international trade dispute”.

It is not just about prevention, but about the conduct of an international trade dispute. We will end up disagreeing on this issue. With the way that the Bill is crafted and the way that the Government are setting up the Trade Remedies Authority, this was an obvious place to be looking to give the Secretary of State support and advice. Given that that is one of the key functions of the Trade Remedies Authority, it would be wise for her to have support in making such decisions.

I will wait for the Minister’s response to my questions. I think the problem was that the Treasury Minister was not able to answer them because they are technically challenging. The questions he was asked were difficult, so I am not surprised by what he says about answering a little later. It is very important that we get this right. Perhaps he can come back with exactly how advice and support will be given to the Secretary of State. I gave the examples at the start because they are current and show just how serious these issues are, and it is really important that we get them right. So I will wait to hear back from him. In the meantime, we will test the will of the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 3:45 p.m.

As we have debated many times, the Bill, with its long title, is a lot more than that.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 3:45 p.m.

Thanks to the Opposition’s amendments.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 3:45 p.m.

The last Bill became an awful lot more after it was amended in the Lords, and I suspect that things are heading the same way. However, the hon. Member for South Ribble is right. Of course we have the highest food standards in the world. I say it already, and we have pride in those high standards. It is matter of safety, production and welfare, and all three of those have to be retained. I remind you, Sir Graham, that it was the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who confirmed that chlorinated chicken must be part of any post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK. That was confirmed by trade representative Lighthizer on many occasions, including when he said that on issues such as agriculture

“this administration is not going to compromise”.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 4:09 p.m.

I am happy to have a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the difference between standards and methods, but I am not sure that the difference is that big.

The dictation of our domestic standards to our trading partners might well appear a laudable goal, but the new clause would require them to keep aligned with just seven days’ notice. Subsection (3) of the new clause states that a register

“must be updated within seven days of any amendment to any standard listed in the register.”

Our trading partners’ standards would therefore have to remain dynamically aligned to our domestic production standards with just seven days’ notice. That could have serious consequences for our existing trade flows, let alone anything negotiated in the future.

This is true for the developing world. The beans that we can buy at Waitrose in Fulham—I imagine that they are similar to the ones at Waitrose in Putney, for example—come from Kenya and Egypt. The last time I bought beans was at the weekend. Bananas from the Caribbean might not have production standards that are the same as those in the UK, but they can still meet our import standards.

Those markets would not be able to keep up with our changes. Given just five days’ notice, they would have to dynamically align with whatever the UK decided and, within seven days, make the changes to their domestic production standards. That strikes me as being wholly impractical. The impact of the new clauses could be severe on livelihoods in the developing world. I invite Opposition Members to go and see some of the Kenyan or Egyptian beans being produced and tell some of those workers that, as a consequence of new clause 9, they might well find themselves having to align with UK production standards in the future.

The new clauses might have been drafted with the US in mind, but this is UK law and it would apply to all our trading partners. These measures would likely render inoperable the very continuity agreements we have been discussing and, indeed, potentially prevent a deal with the EU itself. There would be an irony in the UK, through our domestic law, seeking the EU to dynamically align with our standards.

As I said on Tuesday, the UK banned veal crates some 16 years before the EU, and we can take great pride in that; it is a great achievement. The idea that the EU would sign a trade deal with us whereby it would have to commit to dynamic alignment with our standards with just seven days’ notice is highly questionable, to say the least. Members who want continuity with those 40 deals should not vote for these new clauses, nor should those who want a trade deal with the European Union.

New clause 9 would have the unwanted effect of discouraging partners with whom we are yet to sign a continuity agreement from negotiating with us. This Government were elected on a manifesto promise that, in our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, and we will not. Parliament will have significant oversight of any regulations made under this power, and any statutory instruments brought forward will be subject to the affirmative procedure. Given our robust commitment to British food and farming, I ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw the new clause.

Like new clause 9, new clause 11 stipulates that all food imported to the UK should be held to the same standards as that which is produced in the UK. The proposal stands in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee East, although I suspect he has the same intentions as the hon. Member for Sefton Central in tabling it. I have already provided assurances that EU import standards, praised by the NFU and others, will be replicated in domestic law at the end of the transition period. Our import requirements include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and any changes to existing legislation would require new legislation to be passed by Parliament.

Given that we have high safety standards in place, and that the wider unintended consequence of the new clause would be to threaten both the resilience of our food supply chains and our opportunity to ensure that we secure continuity for British businesses and customers through our ongoing continuity negotiations, I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee East will not press the new clause.

New clause 17 stipulates that any animal welfare or sentience regulations arising from trade agreements must be aligned with existing commitments in UK and retained EU law. I can assure Members that our world-leading animal welfare standards are at the heart of our continuity negotiations. None of the agreements already signed with 48 countries is inconsistent with existing standards, as the parliamentary reports published alongside those agreements demonstrate. In fact, the UK has some of the most comprehensive animal welfare regulation in the world. We have introduced one of the strictest ivory bans in the world and we have a manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening. World Animal Protection rated the UK as having the joint-highest animal welfare standards in the world, tied with Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

I share Members’ desire to ensure safeguards both for British consumers and for farmers. However, the protections we are already putting in place, coupled with the unintended consequences of the proposals, mean that these measures would be of no benefit. Our manifesto commitment is clear: the Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to support farmers, protect consumers and safeguard standards. I hope that that explanation, alongside the 20 continuity agreements that Parliament ratified, provides reassurance to the Committee that the Government’s commitment to maintaining standards is being delivered. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press their proposals to the vote.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 4:10 p.m.

That was really telling. It has taken until today for the Government to come up with a form of words to justify not supporting higher food production standards. The intervention, I think by the hon. Member for Dundee East, really did nail it. There is a world of difference between methods and standards, of course there is. How something is produced to a certain standard is one thing; the method used is entirely another. This is the point we have been making again and again in the proceedings of both this Bill and the Agriculture Bill. The Government have been pushing a defence of food safety, but not how it is produced, how animals are looked after or, indeed, how plants are protected. It is really telling that that is the defence being used and that it has taken them a while to get there. There can be and there are different methods of production all over the world, of course there are, but they can be to the same high standards. I am afraid that it did not work, and it will not work. It will not wash, unlike the chlorine the previous Secretary of State at one point said was perfectly safe and acceptable, before changing his mind when he realised it was not acceptable or palatable.

So, there are those differences and we should have concerns about hormones in animals. We should have concerns about the impact of antibiotics. We should have concerns about the impact on fruit and vegetables as well. As my hon. Friends have pointed out it is not just the United States, but countries that are directly a part of the continuity aspect of the Bill, that the Minister is so fond of reminding us about. It is Japan as well as Canada, by the way.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 4:52 p.m.

On a point of order, Sir Graham, I thank you, Ms Cummins, and everybody involved in the Bill for all your hard work in Committee. Once again, I am both pleased and privileged to have been able to engage in a thorough debate on the contents of the Bill, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Trade Bill in the last Parliament. I have been in and out of the Department for International Trade, but on returning to the Department, I found the Bill looking more or less the same as when I left the Department in June 2018.

I thank the Committee for engaging with the issues in a positive and constructive way; we have had some real insight, not only into trade policy overall, but into how opposition parties deal with trade policy. I will not dwell further on that, because I have made a few points already, but it is good to see that the approach patented by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—with the Opposition’s trade policy a moving feast—lives on today in his absence.

We have had a great debate, carried out in a good spirit, during our two-week immersion in trade policy. I think that, no matter which party one belongs to, a full two-week immersion in trade policy is a great thing as we move forward towards our independent trade policy, effective from 1 January 2021. We can all only benefit from such an immersion.

My thanks also go to the Government and Opposition Whips, who have ensured that the Committee has run smoothly and effectively, and to you, Sir Graham, and Ms Cummins, for being exemplary Chairs. I am very grateful for your guidance during our deliberations. I pay tribute to the usual channels for their help and guidance throughout; to Hansard for their diligence in recording all that we have said for posterity; and to the Clerk for his advice.

I also thank my team of officials for their support in undertaking box duty without ever entering the Palace of Westminster; I do not think that is a good thing overall, as I always encourage civil servants to come into Parliament as often as possible. It is very important for civil servants to understand how Parliament works but, given the current circumstances, I am fully understanding of the Department’s procedures for the scrutiny of the Bill.

The last time I stood here, I said that this was the first ever piece of legislation from the Department for International Trade. It is still our first Bill. I am confident that this legislation will now make its way on to the statute book and will be all the better for the work of the Committee.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 4:54 p.m.

Further to that point of order, Sir Graham. I add my thanks to you and your co-Chair, Ms Cummins, for your diligent and considerable efforts to ensure order during our deliberations. I thank the witnesses who gave evidence, the Clerk, all the officials and Hansard. As the Minister said, it is a challenging time for all who are involved in making sure that Committees operate effectively.

I thank the Whips. The Government Whip was entirely fair in her criticisms of the Opposition, as she raised the same number of points of order about my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West and me—fair play to her for her fairness. The Minister described the Bill as a continuity Bill a number of times, and he has been the continuity Minister on the continuity Bill. He is nothing if not consistent, because he gave exactly the same answers as he gave last time around. I hope that this time we will make some progress on the Bill and see the end result. I dare say that we will return to some of these arguments on Report, and that the Lords will have their say.

The Minister mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North. Where would we be without the hon. Gentleman? At least this time we did not have to resort to making up fictional names for countries to make our points. There will have been no Xanadu in Hansard until now.

I thank hon. Members on the Government Back Benches for bearing with us—it is a thankless task. I hope one day to be on the Government side, although I do not know whether I would hope to be a Government Back Bencher. Being a Government Back-Bencher in Committee, where they take a vow of silence, is undoubtedly a thankless task, but most of them managed to perform their duties diligently. One or two found it impossible, but I understand that. With that, I thank everyone for their contributions.

Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 25th June 2020

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 12:03 p.m.

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Ms Cummins. I did not get the chance on Tuesday because the supergroup carried on for the entirety of the morning.

Amendment 16 seeks to remove the power to renew the sunset clause after five years, and I am afraid I cannot support it. It would undermine our ability to implement our obligations from trade agreements beyond the first five years, which risks putting us in breach of the agreements and could open us up to legal challenge. I am sure that is not what the Opposition are seeking to achieve.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 12:03 p.m.

If the Minister cannot support a change to the five-year sunset period, why did he support it in the previous Parliament, when it was three years?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 12:03 p.m.

I think the hon. Gentleman’s timeline—or the timeline of the hon. Member for Harrow West—may be a little incorrect. As it happens, I left the Department on 21 June 2018, which predated that amendment being made. In any case, the context then, which I will explain, was rather different from the context now, and I think it is very desirable that it be five years, not three years, for the reasons that I am about to explain.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in everything that the hon. Member for Harrow West just said. The power is in large part needed to make technical changes that ensure that the agreements remain operable. The fundamental misunderstanding on his part is that it is not five years extra to complete the negotiations, sign the deals or finish the negotiations—no. It is five years that is needed to make sure the agreements remain operable once they have been signed.

Before I come to the real detail, let me give the hon. Gentleman an update on some of the agreements he asked about. It was interesting to hear him focus on Andorra and San Marino. Those countries are, of course, in a customs union with the European Union.

We are in discussions with both countries, but in our view, they are largely dependent on what the future relationship between the UK and the European Union looks like, for those two countries are in a complete customs union with the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman asked for clarity about Turkey. I was surprised by that question, because I checked his Twitter feed, and he does actually follow me on Twitter, which I do not take as a compliment ordinarily. He must have seen what we put out three hours ago from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade:

“Great to see”—

UK and Turkey—

“trade talks progress today. Let’s build on our already strong trading relationship worth £19bn. We are working hard to ensure we can reach a UK-Turkey trade deal at the end of the transition period.”

He has it right in front of him on his own Twitter feed; I urge him to read it. People mock social media—I might have been critical of social media in my time—but they occasionally perform a useful function. Helping us to keep up to date with what is going on in the world is one of the most useful aspects. So there he has it from just three hours ago.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the so-called temporary agreement with South Korea. It is not a temporary agreement. The agreement includes a review clause after two years, which is a standard feature of many international trade agreements. The review clause states—I am paraphrasing slightly—that if the two parties do not believe it is mutually advantageous to continue the agreement, there is the option not to. That does not mean to say that it is a temporary agreement. All international agreements can be cancelled by one party or the other, if they feel the agreement is no longer mutually advantageous. Of course it leaves open the possibility of doing a more extensive agreement in the future, but that is the case with all trade agreements.

When a country signs an agreement, no one is saying that it will stay in place forever. There may be opportunities in future to extend it into areas of trade that had not been thought of when the original agreement was signed. That is an entirely normal phenomenon. For example, the EU and Mexico have done an enhanced agreement based on their original agreement, which dated from about 2000 or 2002, to bring it up to date. New things come along, such as e-commerce and so on, so of course trade agreements are updated, but it is wrong to describe that trade agreement as temporary.

We are in discussions with Canada, but I return to the points that the hon. Gentleman made on Tuesday. He is so against the Canada agreement that, if there were any delay in the discussions with Canada, he should be cheering that not condemning it, because he is opposed to the agreement in the first place. I thought that would update him on where we are with the agreement.

Let me describe what it is all about. In the case of a transition mutual recognition agreement, we may need to change secondary legislation after the point of signing, and after 1 January 2021, to update the names of awarding bodies and third countries so that UK businesses can continue to use such bodies legally. It is not extra negotiating time. It is extra time to ensure that the agreement remains operable.

Alternatively, where our trade agreements reference international standards, such as environmental protection, we may need to update references in domestic legislation to ensure that we remain in compliance with our international agreements. Equally, a potential use of the power could be to upgrade the list of entities subject to procurement obligations to reflect machinery of government changes.

I used the example last week of DCMS changing its name from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. That name change might need to be reflected to keep one of those agreements operable, so a change in domestic legislation would ensure that the procurement obligations in the agreement are kept operable. It is not extra negotiating time. The power could also be used to update the list of entities subject to procurement obligations, as I have said.

I think there is a misunderstanding of the nature of the power. If Opposition Members had expressed concerns about the breadth of the power—in other words, the ability to carry on amending legislation for many years afterwards—that would be a much more legitimate concern than the professed concern about extra negotiating time. The Bill has been scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Its 33rd report on the 2017-19 Bill raised no concerns about the delegated powers in the Bill, including the sunset clause, and welcomed our move to introduce the affirmative procedure for any regulations made. I see no reason why it should reach a different conclusion on this Bill.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry, it is new clause 18 that I rise to speak to. I am grateful for the correction.

On 13 March 2019, an identical amendment was tabled by Baroness Fairhead in the House of Lords. I will just remind the Minister of what she said in her brief contribution:

“I trust that this House will accept this as further evidence that the Government have a strong desire to be transparent with Parliament, businesses and the general public about their continuity programme.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 March 2019; Vol. 796, c. 1060.]

She said that in good faith, because she wanted the amendment to be accepted. It was accepted by the House of Lords and became a substantive part of the Bill, and the Commons would have considered it had the Government brought it back in the time available. There was plenty of time to discuss it then. The Government Whip made a point of order earlier. If the Government have a real problem with timing today, they should think about the problem that was caused by their not bringing back the Bill at any time during the period after March 2019, when an identical amendment, tabled by the Government, was agreed. The Minister has to answer the question why, if this measure was good enough for the Government on 13 March last year, it is not good enough now.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Over the past few days, I have outlined the Government’s position on our approach to clause 2 and I will not repeat that to the Committee. The general point about the continuity powers has been frequently made. I will focus my remarks on the Opposition amendments.

First, I must inform the Committee that the letter I promised the hon. Member for Harrow West on the position of Kenya and Ghana has gone out to all members of the Committee. I pledged that on Tuesday, so I think that is pretty swift. It should be in everyone’s inboxes.

Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:29 p.m.

More than half of the continuity agreements have already been ratified, each with a report. The intention is to carry on producing those reports. I will deal with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman raised earlier, including his quite technical points in relation to the roll-over of the South Korea and Switzerland agreements. I will come back to him on the points he raised about differences between the EU version and the UK version.

The reports have enhanced parliamentary scrutiny, and I can confirm that we will continue to publish reports for the remaining continuity agreements.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A moment ago, the Minister mentioned that the Lords had held debates on previous agreements that have been subject to these reports. That did not happen in the Commons; that has gone. Given that the Government set the time, will the Minister take this opportunity to promise that the Government will create time in the Commons for debates on the remaining so-called continuity agreements, not least because agreements such as the one with Japan are significantly different to the ones we were party to as members of the EU?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but there is no way of knowing whether the UK-Japan agreement will be significantly different, because it is yet to be negotiated. We are trying to get an enhanced agreement with Japan, but that negotiation is under way. It is be impossible to speculate in what way, or to what degree, it will be different from the EU agreement. We are hoping for an enhanced FTA, and we believe there is further to go with Japan on that, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s request would be appropriate.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I was going to return to the Command Paper, because the hon. Member for Sefton Central asked me a direct question about it. If the hon. Gentlemen will bear with me, I will return to the status of the Command Paper in due course. I want to make a bit more progress in setting out why we think this approach is not right overall for the Bill.

The Bill focuses on ensuring continuity of trading relationships with existing partners. Businesses and consumers are relying on the consistency that the Bill provides. Amendment 6 would disapply CRAG to international trade agreements and instead seek to apply a super-affirmative procedure to scrutiny of continuity agreements before regulations could be made under clause 2. Like other Opposition amendments, that would undermine the constitutional balance and upset an established, well-functioning system of scrutiny. It would also create a two-tier system of scrutiny for international agreements, whereby trade agreements on the one hand, and other important international agreements on the other, are scrutinised in an entirely inconsistent way. It is worth reminding ourselves that CRAG was designed to cover international treaties of all the types we would expect.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has said that many times. CRAG was designed and passed in this place when we were a member of the European Union. It was designed when international treaties were an EU competence, to complement the system in the EU. I read that out earlier; I will not read it out again. He wants this to be a continuity Bill, but what is the equivalent continuity of scrutiny and parliamentary process for what we were party to where CRAG was part of that European process?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:45 p.m.

It is simply not correct to say that all international treaties are subject to EU competence. Many international treaties are, of course, subject to a UK competence, and CRAG has worked well. It is worth remembering that CRAG was arrived at after an extensive period of consultation—and it may be, Sir Graham, that you voted for CRAG in 2010 as well. It was backed by both the Government party of the day, represented by the hon. Member for Harrow West, and the main Opposition of the day as a sensible way of codifying what he referred to earlier as the 1924 Ponsonby rule. The whole purpose of CRAG was to codify that long-standing rule that has served as well, including over the past 10 years. An extensive change such as this would add significant and unnecessary risk to the Government’s ability—

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 2:45 p.m.

Yes, it is an international trade agreement, absolutely correct. Where is the equivalent to the EU process that we have been party to? CRAG was party to that international trade bit of it, and yes, I accept that it applies to other elements of international treaties. Where is the continuity from the EU process to what we have now? That was the other half of my question.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:44 p.m.

Again, we are talking about continuity agreements that have already gone through a process of scrutiny in the House. I was a member of the European Scrutiny Committee pretty much exactly when the hon. Member for Harrow West was a member of the Government. There was an established process by which treaties were recommended by the European Scrutiny Committee for scrutiny in this House. Most have already been through an established process of European scrutiny.

On future trade policies, I would say that the EU has a fundamentally different constitutional set-up from the United Kingdom. Our most similar constitutional set-ups are in countries such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand, which have very successful independent trade policies, and have done for a number of decades. I am confident that our scrutiny system, as proposed, stacks up well—in fact, it exceeds those, and stacks up very favourably—against those systems in making sure that our Parliament can have its say on future trade agreements.

I stress again, however, that this Bill is not about future trade agreements; it is about the continuity of our existing arrangements. Such an extensive change as proposed in the amendment would add significant and unnecessary risk to the Government’s ability to secure and bring into effect the remaining continuity agreements by the start of 2021. That situation was not advocated by any of the witnesses we heard from. None of them said, “We want to junk all those 40 agreements and pretend that we have never had them”, from ClientEarth right the way across to the Institute of Directors. Only the Opposition seem to want to junk those agreements by voting against Second Reading of the Bill and by not having the continuity agreements in place.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 3:40 p.m.

I was intrigued by the amendment, but let us pause for a moment on what it would do. Amendment 9 would stipulate that agreements are in scope of the clause 2 power only if the underlying EU agreement were ratified, rather than signed, by end of the transition period. For the benefit of the Committee it might be useful to explain the difference. Something can be signed—but the dates on which a trade treaty can be signed, come into effect and be fully ratified are three different dates. A trade treaty can come into effect—this is the way the EU does it—when a certain number of EU countries have ratified it. I forget what that number is, but if about half of EU countries have ratified the agreement it comes into effect. Those three things—being signed, coming into effect, and ratification—happen on three different dates. Under the amendment, the clause 2 power that we currently say must relate to an EU agreement signed before 31 January 2020 would relate to an EU agreement ratified before that date.

Opposition Members will realise—I think, to be fair, the hon. Member for Harrow West covered that in his speech—that the amendment would restrict the scope of agreements that we could implement using clause 2. It would make the scope much narrower. However, it would do so in an entirely unreasonable manner. Important agreements such as the Canada one that he has mentioned would be excluded, as CETA has not been fully ratified by each individual member state of the EU, despite having been in effect for some time now.

Development-focused agreements would be similarly affected. The important matter of international development has yet to feature in discussions of the Bill—with the exception of something that the hon. Member for Putney said about it in passing. However, many development-focused agreements—those important economic partnership agreements—have been signed but not yet ratified. One example, involving the countries of the Caribbean, is the CARIFORUM agreement. In 2017 I signed an agreement with the CARIFORUM countries. We all gathered together—17 countries, I think, which was basically CARICOM—plus the Dominican Republic. We gathered together in Brussels to sign a continuity agreement. The nations of the Caribbean recognise the importance of that trade agreement, and one thing that they mentioned was its importance not just to their citizens but to the Caribbean diaspora in this country.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 3:42 p.m.

rose—

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 3:42 p.m.

No, I am not going to give way.

I think that a Member with quite a big Caribbean community in his constituency has quite a lot of explaining to do about why he is now opposed to the CARIFORUM agreement. It is a great agreement that does major good work for international development in Caribbean countries. I represent a quite substantial Caribbean community. I think its members would be alarmed if they were to learn that the Labour party is opposed to that international development agreement, which does great work among our Caribbean friends.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 3:43 p.m.

The point of the amendment is to rule out of scope agreements that have yet to be fully ratified, which includes not only the Canada agreement but the CARIFORUM agreement and important economic partnership agreements. The hon. Member for Harrow West was a DFID Minister, and I think that that might have been when some of those agreements were negotiated —with important countries such as Kenya, Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana. However, the incredibly important beneficial trade arrangements made for those countries could no longer be effective, for lack of the clause 2 power. The Opposition have a lot of explaining to do. Developing countries are as we know sometimes unable to ratify agreements fully before—

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Sir Graham. The Minister has a number of times asked us to explain things and then refused to give way. Can you perhaps shed some light on how we might overcome that apparent stand-off?

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 3:44 p.m.

Truth be told, I was going to allow an intervention when I had fully laid out the case, and mentioned the number of people that the trade stance that the hon. Member for Harrow West is outlining today will irritate. I have only just got started on the agreements, and the apologies that the hon. Gentleman will have to make to his constituents, and, on behalf of the Labour party, to people the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

Developing countries are sometimes unable to ratify agreements fully before they are brought into effect, often for procedural reasons in those countries, but that should not mean that we deny UK businesses the opportunity to continue trading with them, and I am sure Opposition Members would not wish to deny our world-class trade for development assistance to those states either.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 3:45 p.m.

rose—

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 3:45 p.m.

I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. Perhaps he can explain and apologise for his position in relation to those countries.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 3:45 p.m.

The party that has just abolished the Department for International Development is not in a good place to be criticising anybody for their approach to international development. The Minister knows full well, as he did with the reasoned amendment, that we fully support international development—in a way that his party, apparently, does not. Perhaps, if this is a problem because of the drafting of our amendment, he will tell us that on Report he will come back with an amendment that deals with the problems that he is taking great pains to explain.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I am certainly not coming back on Report with a drafting correction for the deficiencies in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment; that would be a novel approach to Parliament. The fact is that this amendment rules out of scope all these agreements for roll-overs. I have to say, in fairness to him, that some of these agreements were controversial; some people opposed these EU EPAs in the first place, and I imagined that it was the Labour party’s position that it opposed these EPAs. If we listen to one or two groups, for example, they think that the EPAs have been stacked too heavily in the EU’s favour.

However, I think the hon. Gentleman is now saying that actually that is not his intention, and that his intention was not to prevent their being rolled over. I think he is now saying he is suddenly in support of the continuity of these agreements, despite having voted against the Second Reading of the Bill and despite the fact that virtually every word that we have heard from the Labour Party in this Committee has been against these agreements and against these Bills.

Returning to my point about continuity, these agreements have been subject in this country to the full EU agreement scrutiny process. The delay to ratification is not in this country, but relates to individual country or state delays. There is no scrutiny gap.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 4:44 p.m.

As I have set out, the Government’s continuity programme is coherent with existing international obligations, as it seeks to replicate existing EU agreements to secure continuity for businesses and consumers. As I have made clear, we have no intention of lowering standards—environmental, labour or otherwise. The Prime Minister set out that commitment in his Greenwich speech and I have repeated it on many occasions, including today.

The UK has often led the way and exceeded EU minima on environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. I predict that we will continue to do so, thus making the amendment redundant. For example, the UK was the first country to introduce legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets through the Climate Change Act 2008. We were also the first major economy to set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from across the economy by 2050. We have cut our carbon emissions by nearly twice the EU average since 1990—by 42%.

Put simply, the UK has an extremely strong record on environmental action. I hope that the Committee will agree that the amendment is unnecessary, as we will be safeguarding and promoting, not undermining, our environmental obligations. Consequently, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Putney: it is absolutely right that we set an example to the world by honouring our Paris commitments, and honouring them in primary legislation is a formidable way of doing that. I am glad that she reminded me about fracking. There is fracking a mile from my constituency, and it causes enormous problems. Its relevance to the amendment is that the same companies engaged in fracking are able, under ISDS provisions if they are in place, to take action against the UK Government to defend their fossil fuel interests, even if the Government do not want to support such an industry and want to pursue a renewable energy agenda, so it is an important consideration.

That is why the amendment or something similar—if the Minister wants to bring it back, I will be very happy to look at it on Report—is the way to deal with this matter. We need to ensure that it is there, specified and clear in primary legislation, as part of our international trade framework, which is what the Bill should be. It is great of him to reference the Labour Government’s Climate Change Act 2008, but it is time for this Government to put such things into law as well, and this is their opportunity. I will press my amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have finished.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 4:51 p.m.

Amendment 12 would mean that the power in clause 2 could not be used to implement agreements that might restrict the delivery of public services through public monopolies, exclusive rights or nationalisation.

The amendment is not necessary, because this is a continuity Bill. None of the agreements in question restrict our ability to deliver public services in that way. We have always protected our right to choose how we deliver public services in our trade agreements. Indeed, the UK’s public services, including the NHS, are often protected by specific exclusions, exceptions and reservations in the trade agreements to which the UK is a party. No trade agreement has ever affected our ability to keep public services public.

Colleagues will observe from our record of the signed agreements that the continuity programme seeks to preserve current trading relationships and not to alter the way in which our public services are designed or delivered. The amendment is therefore unnecessary, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 4:53 p.m.

Again, through secondary legislation the Bill enables the Government to do some of the things that we have described. More to the point, however, this issue is important because of the nature of the continuity agreements that will be renegotiated. We have discussed the agreements with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Turkey. I do not know whether any of those agreements would do what I have described, but they could potentially do so because they are not just continuity agreements.

The Bill sets the framework for trade agreements, because the Government are not bringing forward a different framework or alternatives on how trade agreements will be scrutinised and how they will end up. The Government are not challenging what the United States might do. We know the concerns that exist about how the US has expressed in the past its desire to intervene in public services in this country. We should be concerned and we should put this kind of commitment into law as it relates to international trade. I will press the amendment to the vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 18th June 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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

18 Jun 2020, 2:10 p.m.

My hon. Friend is quite right: we need to make more of the opportunities available in procurement, and this kind of amendment is a way of delivering on that agenda.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Dundee East has tabled the amendment. I note his comments about waiting, to ensure that the Minister is able to respond in full and in the event that he needs additional advice. I am happy to support the hon. Member in principle, on the basis of waiting to hear what the Minister’s reply might be.

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

18 Jun 2020, 2:11 p.m.

Sir Graham, first of all, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I welcome everyone to the Committee. I think the previous Bill Committee I served on was for the previous gestation of this Bill, in early 2018, so I know from past experience that we have interesting discussions ahead in the coming days on this important legislation.

As the Secretary of State and I made clear on Second Reading, the Bill is about ensuring continuity and providing certainty for businesses and consumers as the UK strikes out once more as an independent trading nation. We will use the freedom that we have gained through our departure from the EU to negotiate trade agreements with new partners, but we also remain committed to seeking continuity in our trade relationships.

I will turn to the amendment in just a moment, but let me be absolutely clear. I have not spoken about the Bill since Second Reading, and I was genuinely surprised that the Opposition parties opposed the principle of it. The Bill consists entirely of wholly sensible proposals to secure the continuity of more than 40 trade agreements and our continued membership of the World Trade Organisation’s government procurement agreement, and to allow UK trade defences.

I hope that the Opposition parties will reconsider their principled opposition to the Bill after all the scrutiny that we are about to have and on Report, and will consider voting for it on Third Reading.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He said that smaller organisations find it difficult to win contracts, and that is why the Government have to use their authority and make sure the regulations are in place. Amendment 26 is about small and medium-sized enterprises, and it should absolutely cover social enterprises too, many of which are SMEs. It is essential that such things are in regulations to support the sorts of enterprises that my hon. Friend describes, and to pursue socially valuable activities. I will come to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 a bit later, which was initiated by a former Conservative MP, Chris White, and passed with the support of the coalition Government. It gives more detail in this area.

Similar descriptions are applied in amendment 25, which mentions,

“environmental exceptions and carbon considerations”.

The current UK minimum standards take into account energy and water use, carbon footprint, resource efficiency, and life-cycle costs in order to set minimum standards of sustainability for Government purchases. Our standards need to be protected, both in terms of maintaining these procurement standards and of ensuring that our schedules at the GPA remain up to date with the action needed to address the climate crisis. If we allow the public procurement regulations to lapse, we will not include such provisions as those I have just described, which are picked up in amendment 25. I know that Ministers take this seriously because the point was made in oral questions just this morning. I cannot remember whether it was the Minister of State or the Secretary of State who quoted the Government’s attitude towards the climate crisis and the achievement of net zero, but it certainly was quoted by Ministers this morning.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Yes, I did.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

It was you. I knew you wouldn’t sit there quietly.

I am glad that the Minister did mention it, because he is absolutely right, but without the support of the regulations, it is that much harder. The climate crisis will not be addressed unless there is intervention—and substantial intervention. Public procurement policy through the GPA is one very important tool in the toolbox in achieving those objectives.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 3:07 p.m.

No, not yet, because I have not finished answering the hon. Gentleman’s first question. He really needs to wait, rather than intervene. We can certainly discuss the point further. I have raised it at length with officials and with the Ministers’ colleagues, and it needs to be addressed. It may well be that officials were speaking out of turn. I am prepared to believe that, and I have not made a big issue out of it previously. The bigger point is that we are losing out on expertise, and we have lost out on the potential during this crisis for better procurement and supply of PPE and, in the case of the firm in America, of testing capacity and capability. That is not sensible and it is not where we need to be. I am happy to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman later, but I suggest that we move on.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I would not usually intervene on the shadow Minister, but perhaps I could bring this to a satisfactory resolution by inviting him and the hon. Member for Warrington North, who raised a similar issue, to write to me with the details of what has happened. I will get the Government to investigate what is alleged to have taken place, and will copy in members of the Committee. That is probably a reasonable way of seeking resolution. We would all be very concerned about companies in any part of the UK being discriminated against because of their geography.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 3:09 p.m.

I am grateful for that offer. It is something that we have already done with Ministers, but I am happy to revisit it. It may be that revisiting it would be helpful now that some time has elapsed since the response to my case—I do not know about that of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North—was received. It is important to recognise that we are trying to improve the situation so that we do not have such problems, whether they are authorised by Ministers or not. I am not going to stand here and say that the Minister and his friends authorised that kind of comment, but I am afraid that it happened, and I think the Minister’s offer is a good one. We need to find out why and ensure that it does not happen again, so I will take him up on that.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:12 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about raising the quality of opportunities available, but that will not be done through the GPA.

Let me explain that. Overall, the effect of the amendments would be to place on the Secretary of State a statutory requirement to have entered into negotiations with the 20 parties to the GPA on each of the four areas before creating the ability to make the regulations, and then to report on the outcome of those negotiations to Parliament. It would be an unusual approach for the Secretary of State to enter into negotiations with each of the 20 before implementing the general regulations that could implement any changes to obligations that would result from acceding to the GPA.

I will deal with a few of the individual points raised. I was surprised when the hon. Member for Sefton Central mentioned something about a filibuster. He certainly made a comprehensive speech. When I was in opposition, I remember doing an actual filibuster; I spoke for one hour 49 minutes on beer duty.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:13 p.m.

Don’t do that now.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:14 p.m.

I certainly will not do that now, but I recall making an unlikely entry in the Manchester Evening News the next day. At the time—I think it was the Finance Act 2008 or 2009—the paper had something called the lads index; I am not sure that it would have that these days. As I recall, it took Hansard for the day and gave something like five points for every Member of Parliament who mentioned “Coronation Street”, three points for “Manchester United” and one point for “beer”. The next day, it reported a shock brand-new entry at No. 1 in the lads index, the Member for then Hammersmith and Fulham, Greg Hands, who with in excess of 300 mentions of the word “beer” had catapulted himself to the top of the lads index for that year.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:21 p.m.

I accept that intervention, but I would say that my three hon. Friends have been here, I think, for six months, six months and about three years so far, and the commitment that they have shown in that time matches quite favourably with the commitment that the hon. Gentleman has shown over his 23 years of membership of this House.

I think the take-away was the hon. Gentleman’s praise for Margaret Thatcher’s share-owning democracy. I remember him as a Minister in the new Labour years, which he referred to; maybe he thinks it is now safe to return to those new Labour years and his view of those years before the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) took over the party. We live in hope.

I hope I have persuaded the Committee that opening negotiations within the GPA will undermine our independent accession to the GPA and thus our ability to advance UK public procurement objectives. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw his amendments.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:22 p.m.

That was quite some debate. I was very impressed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, who made some formidable comments and demonstrated her knowledge of the subject matter in relation to environmental matters and the ILO. I certainly appreciated her reminding us all about the importance of ensuring that we follow the sustainable development goals in everything we do in this country. I look forward to more of her contributions in the remaining time this afternoon and in next week’s sittings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West spelled out in more detail some of what he said in interventions. He made a reference to my relationship with the co-op; I should tell him that, like him, I am a member of the Co-operative party—I think he knew that, but had temporarily forgotten—and come from a very proud family of co-operators. My mum, having been a director of the co-op for very many years, taught me well on that subject. I agree with everything he said in that respect, and he quite rightly referred to the sensible nature of our amendments.

I will give the Minister credit for one thing. Unlike some of his parliamentary colleagues, he did not try to name any footballers at Manchester United and get them wrong, so I suppose that is in his favour. However, I think he might have got confused between this set of amendments and the next set. Having double-checked what he said, I should tell him that the reviews that we are requesting are in the next set of amendments.

The amendments in this set call for negotiations with our partners, so there is no suggestion that we would require the Government to look at Government Departments that no longer exist. We can assure the Minister that that is not a concern that he needs to consider. He mentioned what, I think, all hon. Members on this side referred to regarding the public procurement regulations. The issue here is that under UK retained law they were implemented in 2015 for a five-year period and therefore expire at the end of December this year. If the Minister will tell us that they will be reinstated when they expire, that would be undoubtedly helpful, but that is not what he said in his response to the debate, so I am still concerned.

We entirely support our accession to the GPA; we made that clear in the reasoned amendment, and we make it clear again this afternoon. The amendments are about trying to ensure that we retain the provisions in the GPA to ensure continuity, but we also ensure continuity initially by ensuring that there is continuity of what is in the public contracts regulations. That is the issue, because without the public contracts regulations continuing alongside our annexes in the GPA, procurement policy in this country will be significantly weakened. A big part of why we tabled the amendments in the first place was to ensure continuity.

The amendments attempt to ensure that we do not see that as a standstill situation, and that we are pushing the Government to enhance the regulations as much as possible in order to achieve the sorts of policy objectives that Ministers have set out, and that the Opposition have referred to in our contributions this afternoon. I do not think the Minister addressed the points made in the debate we have had on these amendments; some of what he said was about the next group. He made decent points about the difficulties of those reviews, but that comes next. I ask the Committee to support these amendments, and we will push them to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:40 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I do not know whether the Chair of the Committee was aware of that, but he is now and I think he will welcome the change. He is always somebody who likes to be consulted, as we well know, so I think he would agree with me that this is a welcome move for additional consultation.

I have set out that the powers in clause 1 can be useful, but I want to be clear with the Committee about what they cannot be used for. The clause 1 powers cannot be used to implement any wholesale renegotiation of the GPA, or of the UK’s market access offer. Any such changes would require further primary legislation.

I hope I have persuaded the Committee that there would be no benefit in carrying out extensive reviews after regulations under clause 1(1) have been made. I ask that hon. Members do not press their new clauses to a Division, and I commend clause 1 to the Committee.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:42 p.m.

I think this is the first time in the Minister’s parliamentary career that he has ever admitted he was wrong—[Laughter.] I give him credit for being gracious enough to do so. We may have seen history in the making.

The Minister does this a lot. He claims we are against something when we are not. We spelled out in our reasoned amendment last time, and we spelled it out in our reasoned amendment this time, that we support the accession of the GPA. We voted against the Bill as a whole because we oppose the Bill as a whole. That does not mean that we oppose everything in the Bill. He knows that, but he keeps saying it. I know he likes to have some fun.

I do not object to the suggestion of asking the International Trade Committee and the Lords treaties Sub-Committee to take on additional roles, although I share the slight surprise of the hon. Member for Dundee East about the fact that the Chair of the International Trade Committee was not consulted before the announcement was made. That is not the real issue, however. The issue is that the new clauses request a review of the regulations. They do not request a review of the membership or proposed new members, so that is a rather different point. I hope that the International Trade Committee would be asked to review any proposed changes to the regulations in discussions and negotiations with our partners. I do not object to the same thing for potential accessions, but that is a rather different point from the one we were making. Having said that, and as I said in my opening remarks, they are probing provisions and we will not be pressing them to a Division.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Implementation of international trade agreements

Trade Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
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)
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Leaving the EU: Future Trade Remedies

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Tuesday 17th April 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

17 Apr 2018, 5:33 p.m.

I very much agree with the hon. Lady. It is perfectly possible and quite likely that of those nine members, one or more will originate from the devolved nations. The point is, however, that they should be appointed for their expertise in assessing some of these quite technical aspects, such as the determination of dumping, the calculation of injury and so on. The point is not to appoint them to represent a nation, region or particular stakeholder of the UK, but to have an interest across the board. She mentioned the possibility of satellite offices. I gave an indication of the likely size of the body.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

17 Apr 2018, 5:33 p.m.

I am puzzled by the Minister’s answer, as I was when he said the same thing in the Bill Committee. I do not understand why he does not see the benefit of having a mixture of independent members, who quite rightly have the expertise that he sets out, and a number drawn from different interest groups. There could be a balance of the two to reflect the needs of the different parts of the economy and the United Kingdom.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

17 Apr 2018, 5:34 p.m.

I feel that I have already answered this. We want a set of people who have expertise in the subject matter, rather than who come from a particular perspective, body, nation or region. That is the most important thing. Returning to the question of location, I think satellite officers would add cost, but I stress to the hon. Member for Livingston that we have yet to make a decision on where the location of the body should be. Again, that will be driven by where we can access the expertise that would be needed for this Trade Remedies Authority. I mentioned earlier that the Department for International Trade has placed a significant part of its operation in Scotland, for example through the oil and gas team in Glasgow, so as a Department we are not averse to placing something in one of the devolved nations of the UK.

I do not want to labour the point, but the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) goes on about his reasoned amendments. Mr Hollobone, given your long years in the House, you know perhaps better than anybody that when you put down a reasoned amendment, it normally means that you wish to vote for the reasoned amendment, because you wish to propose some way in which to improve the legislation, but you would not normally vote for a reasoned amendment and then vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. My point is that by voting against the Second Reading of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman showed that he disagreed with the central core of the Bill, part of which, of course, is to set up the Trade Remedies Authority.

This Government firmly believe in the benefits of free trade—I will come back to some of the other points raised in a moment—for consumers, earnings and jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South spoke powerfully about the importance of the ceramics industry for his constituency, which is a huge UK success story as an industry. Other hon. Members have spoken about their own local industries as well. Our manufacturers benefit from trade. Manufacturing makes up 8% of our economy, but most of our exports. I think we all agree that free trade does not mean trade without rules, whether product safety or IP protection; some of the most important rules will be our system of trade remedies.

WTO members are permitted to take action where their domestic industry is suffering harm as a result of unfair trade practices such as dumping, where foreign companies sell their products in the UK for less than they are sold at home, or subsidies, which let foreign companies sell goods in the UK at a lower price than they would otherwise be able to. Members can also act in response to harm caused by unexpected surges in imports. In such cases, members can introduce safeguard measures to give industry time to adjust against unexpected surges in imports. Well-functioning trade remedies can level the playing field for domestic industry, by counteracting any unfair subsidies, dumping or unexpected import surges. They can also deter dumping and unfair subsidies from happening in the first place. It is important to have these first and foremost as a basic matter of fairness. Our industries should not lose contracts and our workers should not lose jobs because a foreign company has gained an unfair advantage. It would also be unfair if jobs were lost that could have been saved if only industry had been given time to adjust. That is why we are introducing a rigorous and robust system of remedies, which provides for the full suite of powers offered under WTO rules.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South raised points about existing EU trade remedies. He should bear it in mind that we have just finished a call for evidence on the existing EU trade remedies. That call for evidence closed on 30 March. The response was good. We will be looking at our response to that in due course. We have been clear that when we operate our own trade remedies system, we will transition those measures in the EU system that matter to UK business. We received over 70 responses from producers and other interested parties in that consultation. Most importantly, I can assure hon. Members there will not be one day when a UK industry that needs protection from unfairly traded imports will be left alone.

I will quickly answer the point made by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe about a transparent approach. The Government will use secondary legislation to set out the details of the TRA’s framework. That is very important. Mr Hollobone, you will know from your years in the House that secondary legislation is not on the face of it particularly welcomed by legislators, but it is important in this case to be able to have a dynamic body of law that particularly reflects recent WTO case law, rather than write all of these details on to the face of the two Bills that are currently passing through the House of Commons. In particular this secondary legislation will include the different dumping methodologies and the level of remedy required to address injury to UK industry. We are meeting trade bodies in the coming days to talk about some of those details. In the future, the TRA will set out the way in which it has carried out its calculations in any investigation as part of a commitment to transparency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South asked about the de minimis threshold. At what level would an investigation simply not be taken on, because the amount of product produced in the UK was below a particular amount? If UK producers have a negligible share of the total UK market, the TRA would not initiate an investigation, as it would be unlikely to result in measures. For example, a company could be the only producer of widgets in the UK and therefore meet the WTO requirements to bring a case, but if that company produced a negligible proportion of the widgets actually bought in the UK—in other words, the total market that is there—putting duties in place would have a disproportionate effect on the rest of the market, much of which would not necessarily be consumers, but could be other businesses and industries purchasing that product. That is why we will have a de minimis threshold.

In special cases, the TRA could choose to waive the threshold, which, by the way, we have not yet set. That would help to avoid a scenario in which an industry’s market share is negligible precisely because of the impact of dumped imports, or in cases involving an emerging UK industry struggling to establish itself in the face of dumped or subsidised imports. I assure my hon. Friend that it will reflect a de minimis level, but there will be exceptions. The TRA will be able to overrule.

My hon. Friend asked whether EU measures will be transitioned for the full five years. We have agreed that EU trade remedy rules and regulations will continue to apply during the implementation period. We will assess which EU measures matter to UK industry, which the call for evidence that closed last month did, and maintain those measures at their current level until the TRA reviews them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gordon mentioned agricultural imports. Our trade remedies framework will enable the TRA to investigate unfairly subsidised imports where they are injuring UK agricultural producers and to take action where appropriate. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working on a safeguards regime for agricultural products to address the issues that my hon. Friend identified.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster asked whether the TRA should consist of two bodies. There are, of course, always different views. There is not an exact parallel. We have looked at systems across the world, as she knows from the evidence I gave to the Committee. However, I believe that we are setting up the TRA with the right level of independence to allow it to reach informed and objective conclusions, which includes clear projections for the TRA’s independence, impartiality and expertise. Other countries that use a single-body trade remedy system include Australia and New Zealand.

It is standard practice for the chair and the non-execs to be ministerial appointments. The other members would typically be appointed by the chair. That is the practice we have followed in relation to the Trade Remedies Authority.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 29th March 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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

29 Mar 2018, 10 a.m.

GKN has total sales of £10.4 billion, £9 billion of which are outside the UK. Profits from its operations in 30 countries around the world are repatriated to the UK. It will not be much of a global Britain if the Secretary of State’s approach is to stand idly by while a business like GKN that is so vital to our international trade is allowed to be subject to a hostile takeover that can lead only to its break-up and sale. Why has he stayed so silent on such a crucial issue for our trading prospects?

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

29 Mar 2018, 10 a.m.

The allegation that anybody has stood idly by is utter rot. On Monday—perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not been following the news—my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary issued an open letter to Melrose, the company that is doing the bidding, to request certain safeguards for employees, and so on, if the bid was successful. Melrose has responded, agreeing to give those very assurances. We took action on this days ago. He needs to keep up with the news.

Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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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.

Break in Debate

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Break in Debate

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.

Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
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
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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

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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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
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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

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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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
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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.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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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 (Fifth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
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

Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 25th January 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

If I understand the hon. Lady correctly, she asks about signing up to the GPA and the schedules to the GPA. I might add that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Brent North said, the UK’s joining the GPA will actually be subject to a separate process in Parliament. There might be a question about which authority within these islands has a right to administer a particular part of the GPA. For example, the relevant Scottish body might be the right body in Scotland, the relevant UK body in England, the relevant Welsh body in Wales, and so on.

The approach I described is essential for providing continuity to UK businesses, workers and consumers. As set out in our recent trade White Paper—this is the nub of the argument—we will not normally use these powers to amend legislation in devolved areas without the consent of the relevant devolved Administration, and we will certainly never do so without first consulting them. It is crucial to understand that.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State made the point that there is nothing in the Bill about a formal consultation. Does the Minister accept that point, and does he accept the need for such a formal process in the Bill?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jan 2018, 3:05 p.m.

It is crucial to draw out what we are talking about. This is about transitioning existing agreements that are already in effect right across the United Kingdom. As I have already laid out, the Secretary of State and I have met the devolved Administrations in different capacities and in different ways. Our officials have certainly exchanged a lot of views on that.

I will come on to where we are with future trade agreements in a moment. Our intention is to involve fully devolved Administrations, devolved Parliaments and so on in that process.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jan 2018, 3:05 p.m.

On Second Reading, the Minister acknowledged that there may well be changes to those existing agreements. In the case of Norway and Turkey, can he confirm that that would almost certainly have to happen? Otherwise, they would cross the Government’s red lines. What consultation does he anticipate in those situations?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jan 2018, 3:06 p.m.

As you know, Mr Davies, perhaps better than anyone, it certainly it is not for me to suggest what may or may not happen as part of the ongoing negotiations with the European Union. Clearly, aspects of the European economic area agreement will be dependent on those. It is our intention for there to be no substantive changes in those agreements as we go forward and transition. It is very important to understand that.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jan 2018, 4:31 p.m.

The Government have been clear that we do not seek to renegotiate existing trade agreements. In leaving the EU, we seek to maintain continuity in our existing trade and investment relationships. As such, we seek no change in the effects of our existing agreements as we leave the European Union. Therefore, special review procedures, as proposed in new clause 8, for example, are unnecessary.

The powers in the Bill will be used only to transition the existing trade agreements that the EU has signed up to prior to exit day. The Bill does not relate to the negotiation, signature or implementation of future free trade agreements. We have taken that approach for a specific reason: we want Parliament to play a vital role in the scrutiny of future trade agreements, as it always has done. In the trade White Paper, we made it clear that our future trade policy must be transparent and inclusive, and that Parliament will be engaged throughout the process. We will continue to respect the role of Parliament when agreeing the terms of future trade agreements.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jan 2018, 4:31 p.m.

Is the Minister giving us an undertaking that there will be an affirmative or super-affirmative scrutiny process in Parliament on the new trade agreements?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jan 2018, 4:31 p.m.

All that will be considered in due course. We will bring forward proposals in the coming months on how Parliament will interact with future trade agreements.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jan 2018, 4:36 p.m.

Again, I stress that Parliament has the right to vote on the implementation, but we also must remember that these will be agreements that are substantively the same as the current agreements. The reason I intervened on the hon. Gentleman—when I think he confirmed he was quite content with the existing EU scrutiny procedures—is that of course all of those agreements have been through the existing EU scrutiny procedures. I was not necessarily with him in the Chamber or upstairs each time one of those EU trade agreements went through, I think he was satisfied with those procedures at the time.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jan 2018, 4:37 p.m.

Is the Minister categorically saying that there will be no changes to the agreements that we are describing as corresponding agreements before they come through?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jan 2018, 4:37 p.m.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the evidence of the International Trade Committee, if that is in order. We had a good round about this at the Select Committee yesterday—some of the members of the Select Committee are here or are at least members of the Bill Committee—and we are quite clear that 70-plus partners have been engaged in this process. All 70-plus have agreed in principle; none has raised objections in principle to doing this. There is no reason that they necessarily would want to change the substance. They need continuity in their trading arrangements in the same way that we do.

The hon. Member for Brent North claimed that a wide range of stakeholders provided oral evidence calling for greater scrutiny mechanisms for future approved trade agreements. I think that was a fair comment. There were a number of views on how our future scrutiny arrangements might be, but I think the evidence session showed just how varied and complex the views on this matter are. It is right that we take the time to think through our options carefully. Let us not rush ahead and put in place arrangements that may not be fit for purpose. That is why we will be returning to future trade agreements in the future.

We will return to Parliament with proposals on future free trade agreements, on which we will seek views in due course. Accepting these amendments and new clauses would frustrate our ability to fully consider all of the issues and options in the round. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Brent North to withdraw the amendment.

Trade Bill

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Tuesday 9th January 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9 Jan 2018, 6:43 p.m.

I will not, because I have an awful lot to get through.

Labour supports having new agreements for trade with those countries with which we currently have arrangements through our EU membership—hence our reasoned amendment. Anyone who has run a business knows that it is far more productive to maximise the benefits of existing relationships before developing new ones. It costs far more and takes far more time to negotiate new contracts, and that maxim applies to agreements between countries as well as those between businesses. It is simply not credible to expect existing trade with the EU to be replaced by trade elsewhere for many years—a point that was made very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) with her story of the pig trotter protocol. In recognition of just how important existing trade arrangements are, it is therefore important to agree new trading arrangements both with current partners of the EU and with the EU itself.

The democratic deficit in the Bill is the reason for our objections and for the second part of our reasoned amendment. What happened to the agreement not to legislate on matters that affect the devolved Administrations without the consent of those Administrations? The White Paper included the pledge to obtain that consent. What happened to that pledge? Has the Secretary of State considered the fact that he is undermining the devolution settlement?

The Bill is silent both over Parliament’s involvement in scrutiny and its ability to block any trade agreement. Trade agreements concluded by the EU are subject to scrutiny by its Committee on International Trade at the European Parliament and by our own European Scrutiny Committee. Crucially, the loss of both scrutiny provisions leaves a vacuum—as pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who spoke of the cloak of darkness, and for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), who reminded us of the concerns raised by the Institute for Government.

The No. 1 problem with the Bill is that Parliament is being sidelined, which will allow the attack on workers’ rights and the opening up of our public services to the highest bidder that many on the Government Benches want to see. We know of the Secretary of State’s desire for a deal with the US, so that its healthcare companies can enjoy a big payday at the expense of our NHS, and we know, too, of his views on employment rights. He told us:

“It is too difficult to hire and fire, and too expensive to take on new employees”—

his words. The Bill allows him to start his race to the bottom by opening up public services and cutting workers’ rights by enabling him to change domestic law to do so, all in the name of that being the price of agreeing new deals.

Other clauses in the Bill anticipate the need for the UK to join the government procurement agreement in its own right. The GPA gives access to contracts with foreign Governments—an area in which UK businesses need to do better—and we support the creation of a trade remedies authority, but the TRA needs to balance the interests of stakeholders, not simply back the import of cheap goods and services at the expense of UK manufacturing. The Secretary of State is looking very smug again. [Hon. Members: “He always looks smug.”] Yes, he does. He talks about consumers at the expense of producers, but successful economies balance the needs of both. [Interruption.] He is sitting there talking about steel protection. I am coming to that, so I am glad he mentions it.

The Government’s track record on trade defence and remedies is a further cause for concern. It was this Government who blocked attempts by the EU to protect our steel industry against cheap Chinese steel through their insistence on the application of the lesser duty rule and their refusal to allow the EU to take the necessary actions. At a time when the use of a lesser duty rule is being reduced elsewhere, the Government are out of step in wanting to continue with its use.

We also have concerns over the independence of TRA appointees. How independent will they be, when it is the Secretary of State who appoints them? We have just seen in the universities sector how easily the Government reward their friends by appointing them to do their bidding and how this can go badly wrong. Yes, Toby Young, we mean you. Questions have also been raised about the composition and actions of the Trade Remedies Authority. How will all stakeholders be represented—producers and trade unions, as well consumers? What about representatives from the devolved Administrations, who understand the needs and legal frameworks of the different nations of the UK, and what about representatives of local government?

Where is any proposed parliamentary oversight or scrutiny of the TRA? The mechanism to ensure that the TRA delivers a fair and level playing field for UK businesses, alongside workers and consumers, was raised yesterday during the Second Reading debate on the customs Bill. I am glad that the Financial Secretary is here, because we are none the wiser following his inadequate comments in that debate. The Bill also allows for data sharing with foreign Governments. Although the data to be shared is for trade purposes only, we know that some Governments share information between different Departments, the United States being a prime example.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell)—unfortunately I missed her speech, as I had to rapidly leave the Chamber—and my for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid). The Bill, with its Henry VIII powers, gives Ministers the right to agree deals with far-reaching consequences, with no opportunity for scrutiny or rejection. That cannot be right. If a deal is not in the interests of the people of this country, our sovereign Parliament should be able to scrutinise and reject it, yet powers are being handed to the Secretary of State with no checks and balances for Parliament. Taking back control so that the Secretary of State can allow foreign companies access to our public services and cut workers’ rights, consumers’ rights and environmental standards—I rather doubt that that is what those in my constituency who voted to leave had in mind when they did so.

We will have no opportunity for proper scrutiny, completely inadequate checks and balances, and no right to a meaningful process in Parliament for trade deals. This Trade Bill, like the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill before it, is deeply flawed. That is why we tabled our amendment, and why we are opposing the Bill.

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

9 Jan 2018, 6:50 p.m.

As you know, Mr Speaker, it has become almost a tradition in this place to pronounce, when winding up a debate, that it has been interesting, thoughtful, helpful, vigorous or useful. This debate has been all those and more. Above all, it has been illuminating. It has illuminated the chaos of the stance of Her Majesty’s official Opposition, as did last night’s debate on the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill. It has revealed the deep divisions within Labour on anything to do with trade, customs and markets. It seems that whenever a Division is called on those matters—bear in mind, Mr Speaker, that it is of course the Opposition who call the Divisions—Labour descends into its own chaos.

When we considered the Queen’s Speech, 49 Labour Members backed an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) in favour of staying in the single market and the customs union. That was contrary to the manifesto on which they had fought only days earlier. On CETA, the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada, only 68 Labour Members followed the official line from the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and voted against it, whereas 86 voted with the Government and their free-trade instincts in favour of the agreement. As one of them put it, “If you can’t have a trade agreement with Justin Trudeau’s Canada, who can you have a trade agreement with?”

When we considered the Ways and Means motions for the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill just before Christmas, 28 Labour Members rebelled by backing an amendment in favour of staying in the customs union. Last night, 219 Labour Members voted against the Second Reading of that same Bill, which means that they are opposed to the UK’s having, post Brexit, any scheme of trade preferences for developing countries.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 23rd November 2017

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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The hon. Gentleman mentions the European Parliament. Perhaps he might have a word with his own colleagues, who have sought in the recent vote in the European Parliament to frustrate the process of us even talking about trade with the European Union to start with. The purpose of trade remedies measures is to address injury caused to domestic industry. The lesser duty rule provides adequate protection to achieve the same so that industry can operate on a fair playing field and without imposing unnecessary costs on downstream industry and consumers.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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23 Nov 2017, 9:55 a.m.

I should remind the Minister that it was this Government that argued against trade remedies in Europe and that failed to protect our steel and ceramics industries. That is why it is not surprising that manufacturers are concerned that the new trade remedies authority will focus on consumer interests at the expense of businesses and jobs. What assurances can the Minister give that it will not always seek to apply the lesser duty rule? Will he now commit to include social and environmental criteria in the remit of the trade remedies authority, so that the UK does not become the dumping ground for goods that can no longer be dumped in the EU?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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We have taken robust action on steel in concert with the European Union, and we are playing an active role within that. The Government of course recognise that overcapacity is a significant global issue, which is why we have been working proactively through the EU and our G20 partners. The hon. Gentleman seeks to downplay the interests of consumers in all of this, but they will be absolutely vital and at the heart of our trade remedies process—exactly where they deserve to be.

Exiting the European Union and Global Trade

Debate between Greg Hands and Bill Esterson
Thursday 6th July 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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6 Jul 2017, 4:48 p.m.

I thank the Minister for the correction. No doubt the fee note will be in the post.

The Government have promised to deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have inside the single market and customs union, and Labour will hold them to account on that commitment. We recognise that once we leave the EU a transitional period is vital to avoid a cliff-edge for the UK economy.

The Government have still failed to set out a coherent international trade strategy for when the UK has formally left the EU. We have called on them to publish an international trade White Paper. The UK needs clarity on this issue as never before. It is unacceptable to take the country into an uncertain future that includes our exiting the EU without a comprehensive plan on international trade. Such a plan must be presented to and properly scrutinised by the British people and their elected representatives in Parliament.

A White Paper must set out what the Government’s plans are for future international trade, outlining negotiating principles and trade policy objectives, including which industry sectors will be prioritised and which will not. Clarification of what was meant in the Lancaster House speech by hybrid customs arrangements needs to be set out. The Government say that they intend to pursue closer trade links with Commonwealth partners to make up for any lost trade with the EU, which currently accounts for 44% of our exports. However, none of the UK’s top 10 export partners is a Commonwealth country.

The spring Budget statement revealed that this Government are out of ideas when it comes to boosting exports and tackling the productivity slump forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility. This is a Government who talk big on trade and Brexit, but who have failed to provide the support for British businesses wishing to export and grow into new markets.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that the UK’s trade in goods deficit has increased by £2.6 billion. Our imports are on the rise while our exports are failing to catch up. Despite the Government’s bombastic talk of Britain leading the world as a trading nation, our trade performance on their watch has been weak.

British small and medium-sized enterprises and trade bodies have repeatedly called on the Government to do more to deliver real support to potential exporters. The Government have ignored them, focusing instead on the big corporations and on arms sales. They have systematically delayed SME funding for overseas trade shows and have, over the years, decreased the budget for such funding. They should be maintaining the tradeshow access programme and, crucially, delivering it on time—not delaying it by four months as has just happened.

The Government need to maximise support for those wishing to export and make it clear what their mission is and what their vision of trade is. They need to bring forward the White Paper and say what their view is of transitional arrangements, how they will deliver frictionless trade outside the EU with the EU and, above all, to put forward the priority of jobs and British businesses first.

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade and Investment (Greg Hands)
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6 Jul 2017, 4:52 p.m.

May I thank Members for what has been a very useful debate? I think that 17 Members have spoken in the first general trade debate since the formation of the Department last summer. Let us consider for a moment the significance of this new Department of State. It was 10 years ago, almost to this month, that Labour abolished the word “trade” from the name of every Government Department. One of Gordon Brown’s very first decisions was to eliminate entirely the word “trade”. The creation of this new Department shows the determination of our Prime Minister to put trade at the heart of Government. May I praise the free trade vision that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined earlier today?

First, let me say a few words on today’s foreign direct investment data, showing a record-breaking number of FDI projects coming into the UK in the financial year just finished. Inward investment into the UK is estimated to have safeguarded nearly 108,000 jobs last year. Our trade officials have helped to secure more deals than ever before—up 7%—so a big thank you to all our staff around the world.

May I just remind Labour Members that the trade deficit, which they talked about at one or two points today, is down considerably since we inherited the position in 2010—down a considerable £5.6 billion? At the same time, exports to the EU have increased by 11.3%, but exports outside the European Union have increased by 34.6%, which is a very significant figure.

We had calls from the Labour Opposition for clarity from the Government—this from a party whose leader calls free trade a dogma. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) says that Labour Members are “principled free traders”. We remember his clarity on the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. On the Monday in Committee, he supported CETA, but on the Tuesday, he called for a Commons vote on it on a deferred Division. Then on the Wednesday, he urged his party to vote down CETA, but it rebelled against him by a margin of 85 to 67. He says he is in favour of free trade but he seems to be against all free trade deals.

There is one final point that the hon. Gentleman might want to note. He talked about his hon. Friend for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. Now, he might not have been watching on 8 June, but the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is now on the Conservative Benches and is now my hon. Friend, not the hon. Gentleman’s.

We had some excellent maiden speeches, including a first-class maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Dockerill). She spoke with limited notes, which was welcome, and paid tribute to Dame Angela Watkinson, a friend of mine and many others. My hon. Friend talked eloquently about Upminster, a place I know well as its name is on the front of every single train I take each morning on the District line. I rarely get there, but I am looking forward to visiting one day. She mentioned the sale of council homes in London and how important that still is today, and she presented a positive and uplifting vision for the future of this great country. We thank her and welcome her.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Ms Lee) talked about her predecessors, whom I knew well, Gillian Merron and Karl MᶜCartney. She did not mention another predecessor, Dick Taverne, who of course left Labour to join the Social Democratic party. From the content of her speech, it sounded like there is little chance of that happening in her case. I congratulate her on her speech and welcome her to this place.

We heard from the new hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone)—one of the longest constituency names and the second largest constituency, too. He clearly knows it well and I am sure that his predecessor but one, the late Charles Kennedy, would have been very proud of his speech in this House today.

We heard from the new hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley), who made an accomplished maiden speech. It is refreshing to hear Scottish accents coming back to the Labour Benches. She made some good points on welfare and I think we would all agree that people need a hand up, not a handout.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham). My hon. Friend the Member for Stone mentioned the Labour split on the single market. I have seen 11 Queen’s Speeches in this House, and although I have occasionally seen a Government rebellion on an Opposition amendment, I have to say that I have never seen an Opposition rebellion on an Opposition amendment—