Debates between Greg Hands and Gareth Thomas

There have been 7 exchanges between Greg Hands and Gareth Thomas

1 Wed 25th November 2020 UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
Department for International Trade
2 interactions (1,524 words)
2 Thu 8th October 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for International Trade
3 interactions (311 words)
3 Thu 25th June 2020 Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)
Department for International Trade
23 interactions (5,169 words)
4 Thu 25th June 2020 Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)
Department for International Trade
10 interactions (1,947 words)
5 Tue 23rd June 2020 Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)
Department for International Trade
51 interactions (9,238 words)
6 Thu 18th June 2020 Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)
Department for International Trade
28 interactions (4,115 words)
7 Thu 18th June 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for International Trade
2 interactions (190 words)

UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

Debate between Greg Hands and Gareth Thomas
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(1 week, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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While I welcome this deal and the recent announcement of the Canada deal being rolled over, I am not sure it merits the “truly historic” or “groundbreaking” description that the Secretary of State would have us use to describe it.

The problem is that, out of the hearing of the Secretary of State and her cheerleaders today, there are very few experts who think this deal is quite as good as she does. The more generous suggest privately that it is a deal just a little bit worse than the EU agreement, while even the more considered suggest that we look at the impact assessment. On the upside, from that impact assessment it is clear that trade is set to rise significantly between our two nations, and as a key strategic ally, that is welcome. However, this is a deal that, according to the Government’s own calculations in the impact assessment, will see 83% of the almost £16 billion increase in trade over the next 15 years between the UK and Japan going to Japanese exporters, while the share coming to UK exporters is just 15%. Clearly, the last thing we should do is adopt a mercantilist attitude, but a deal five times better for the other side’s exporters than for our own does, I think, merit a little pause for thought. Even Donald Trump might not have rushed to describe this as a “truly historic” triumph.

In May, the Secretary of State published alongside the Department for International Trade’s scoping objectives for a UK-Japan deal, an impact assessment showing the limited benefits of the deal she was hoping to achieve. As the impact assessment on the final deal reveals, she was not even able to reach the sunlit uplands of those limited heights. Not only will our negotiating partners apparently benefit by five times as much as our firms and employees, but the deal will apparently increase our GDP by just 0.07%, and that is in comparison with there not being a deal.

Strikingly, Ministers claim that the deal they have negotiated is better than the EU-Japan deal, but they provide zero evidence to back up that claim. Despite repeated requests, as again today, from the shadow Secretary of State in written parliamentary questions, letters and parliamentary debates, Ministers have refused to estimate what impact the deal has achieved above and beyond the EU-Japan deal. It has been 75 days since the shadow Secretary of State asked the Secretary of State why she could claim that her deal goes far beyond the existing EU deal. She again, in her opening remarks today, did not give us any figures to back up that assertion. One can only assume that the difference between the two deals is marginal at best.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) rightly drew attention to one of the other comments in the impact assessment. The Government’s estimates show that as a result of increased imports from Japan arising from the deal, there will be economic costs for the UK—indeed, a long-run fall in employment in chemical, machine and automotive production as a result of cheaper Japanese imports. There was again no word from the Secretary of State on how she plans to help the industries and communities in our country affected by those job losses.

Japan is a valuable export market for our agricultural goods. The tariff reductions agreed in the UK-Japan trade deal are almost identical to those set out in the EU-Japan deal. Important analysis by the independent UK Trade Policy Observatory found that there are just 11 out of 9,444 products where the tariffs on UK exports are set to be lower under the UK-Japan deal. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Secretary of State, pointed out, the extra concessions to the UK are striking by the lack of logic behind why Ministers sought them, as, for example, we have had no exports to Japan of any of these products, which include dried eggs and ostrich leather.

The Secretary of State has also claimed that another 70 of our food and drink products will be recognised by Japan under the geographical indication scheme, increasing their value and protecting their brand. I say this gently, but it does appear that the Secretary of State is exaggerating just a little. There are only seven, not 70, GIs recognised in the UK-Japan deal—exactly the same as in the EU-Japan deal. All that has been agreed is that the UK can apply to Japan to have more of our products recognised, with at least two Government Ministries in Japan having to be involved and deciding whether or not to grant them. There is absolutely no guarantee of success.

One of the key questions about the deal was whether the UK would be able to roll over all the anticipated agriculture benefits of the EU-Japan deal into our UK-Japan deal. In some areas, this appears to have been relatively straightforward. Tariff reductions for exports for lamb and beef, for example, are exactly the same in the UK-Japan deal as apply under the EU deal, but there does appear to be one key difference, which was alluded to in the exchange between the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State. The European Union has 25 separate tariff-free quotas with Japan for agricultural goods. The UK has managed to secure partial access to just 10. Of those 10, it would appear that the UK gets only what is left after the rest of the European Union have had their fill. I will read with interest the legal letter that the Secretary of State is going to release after this debate, but one has to ask why such a letter was required and why this was not clarified in the text itself.

A series of Members have highlighted the need for better scrutiny arrangements for trade deals going forward, from my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State to my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith)—the SNP spokesperson—the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), and, most welcome of all, the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins).

Of course, I should emphasise again the shadow Secretary of State’s great thanks to the Secretary of State for being so kind in allowing the House the opportunity to have this debate at all. Under the so-called CRaG process for considering trade deals, there is absolutely no legal requirement for this type of debate to take place. It is entirely in the Government’s gift. If the Trade Bill was amended in the other place to demand the same level of scrutiny as we are applying to the Japan deal today, how could any Member of Parliament reject such a reasonable proposition, given that at the moment we rely entirely on the generosity of the Government as to whether or not to grant a debate?

Despite the rather complacent air of the Secretary of State’s speech, I hope that the Government will not be resting on their laurels. Even after the loss of Algeria, Bosnia and Serbia, there are still 11 continuity agreements waiting to be agreed, covering some £55 billion of our trade last year. There are serious questions, too, about the UK’s future membership of the CPTPP. It is not a done deal; it will warrant serious debate in this House.

There are serious questions that the Minister of State could answer now. When will there be an impact assessment setting out what Ministers expect to be the benefits? Will we simply have to accept the provisions already in the CPTPP? Will we be a rule taker, or will we be able to be a rule maker? What will be the benefits of CPTPP for UK exports, jobs and economic growth, and what might be the downsides? What we know is that the Secretary of State has negotiated a deal with Japan that appears to put British farmers and agricultural exporters at the back of the European queue for tariff-free quota access and that, by her own Department’s analysis, benefits Japanese exporters five times as much as it does British exporters.

Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
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This has been an excellent debate, with speeches from 13 Government Back Benchers and six Opposition Members. It is an historic moment, as the Secretary of State outlined. The UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement is an historic milestone in embracing the opportunities of the UK’s future as an independent trading nation. It shows that economic powerhouses such as Japan—the world’s third largest economy—want ambitious deals with the UK and that it is possible to strike deals that go further and faster than the EU. It not only secures the benefits of the existing EU agreements, which many—and particularly the Opposition—said was impossible, but goes further in a number of key areas such as digital and data, financial services, the protection of geographical indicators and rules of origin. It was negotiated in record time, almost entirely virtually.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Greg Hands and Gareth Thomas
Thursday 8th October 2020

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Nothing in any trade deal prevents us from setting domestic pharmaceutical prices, and that would remain true in respect of CPTPP. Let me have a look at why the Scottish National party is questioning the potential to join CPTPP. I have the feeling that the SNP is just not in favour of any trade agreements; I have had a look at CPTPP members, and the SNP was against doing a deal with Canada, against doing a deal with Japan in Brussels and against doing a deal with Singapore. So I feel that whatever intricate, detailed questions he has on CPTPP, he will not support our joining it.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Government of Malaysia are delaying ratification of CPTPP because they have become concerned, belatedly, about the impact of the treaty’s provisions on Government procurement and on investor-state dispute settlements. So before our Government go full steam ahead into negotiations to join CPTPP, will the Minister provide an assessment of those provisions for our country?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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The UK is a different economy from Malaysia, and the UK has never lost a an investor dispute case through the investor-state dispute settlement. Secondly, Government procurement is a huge opportunity for this country. Just yesterday, we were delighted to see our accession to the World Trade Organisation’s Government procurement agreement, as a sure way to make sure that Government procurement remains open for UK businesses and UK procurers. A bit like the SNP, I have checked the hon. Gentleman’s record on CPTPP and he has opposed doing the deals. He voted against on Singapore, abstained on Japan and even went further than his Labour colleagues in voting against CETA—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—taking effect. A bit like the SNP, he is trying to find fault in an agreement that he has no intention of supporting, at any point.

Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)

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

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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26 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I beg to move amendment 18, in schedule 2, page 11, line 26, leave out from “section 1(1)” to the end of line 27 and insert

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

This amendment would specify an affirmative resolution procedure for regulations under section 1(1).

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the amendment in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Let me make it clear that we have tabled this amendment recognising that the affirmative resolution procedure is not a perfect process by any means. It is, nevertheless, better than the annulment procedure, which Ministers currently have locked into the Bill. An affirmative process is vital, as without it the Government will have carte blanche to introduce regulations to implement the obligations arising from our independent membership of the GPA—the agreement on government procurement—without the slightest hint of anything resembling parliamentary scrutiny.

The negative resolution procedure the Government propose for regulations under clause 1(1) is the least rigorous of all the parliamentary procedures for scrutiny available to the House. The main point of the negative resolution procedure is to allow the Government to have their way without any need to bother with parliamentary democracy. Indeed, I am told that the last time a negative instrument was successfully annulled in the House of Commons was the Paraffin (Maximum Retail Prices) (Revocation) (No. 3) Order 1979.

International treaties cannot be easily repealed, but domestic legislation can be repealed much more easily. If ever there were an example of secondary legislation crying out for proper parliamentary scrutiny and oversight, surely this is it. I remind the Committee of the evidence we heard from Rosa Crawford of the Trades Union Congress. In response to Question 70 from my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central, she pointed out:

“The GPA as it stands has no requirement for members to promote social standards in their tendering process.”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 16 June 2020; c. 49, Q70.]

The TUC is worried that, once we leave any kind of relationship with the European Union and no longer have to rely on the EU’s contract regulations, the UK Government may well roll back on those commitments to promote social standards through the tendering process that are currently locked into our law by EU directives.

Opposition Members remember—indeed, Rosa Crawford reminded us all as a Committee—that the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet have talked many times in the past about wanting to repeal EU-derived rights on working time and agency workers, and other important protections for workers’ rights. Not surprisingly, the TUC is worried that that may well be the direction of travel with procurement regulations in the future.

It is therefore sensible to make sure we have a proper parliamentary process that allows us to explore whether, under the cover of minor technical changes to the GPA—no doubt the Minister will suggest to the Committee that that is all he intends this process for—our contract regulations and the standards associated with them are gradually being undermined and a race to the bottom on standards is under way. We consider the affirmative resolution procedure to be more appropriate than the annulment process in the Bill. However imperfect the affirmative resolution process, it at least provides Members with the possibility of a debate and a vote, and it is then of course up to us to make proper use of that opportunity. That is the spirit of amendment 18.

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.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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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.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 2:11 p.m.

I was toying with being persuaded by the Minister until the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central. Given what he said about the amount of telegraphing that Ministers will have about the changes and given the scale of scrutiny provisions that were included in the last Bill come the end of Report stage in the Lords and the Commons, which have now been taken out of the current Bill, I fear that on this occasion, I need to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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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.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is absolutely right. We need a functioning TRA and we need a functioning trade remedies system. However, decisions that the TRA makes can be challenged and taken up to the WTO. As he knows, there is not a functioning dispute settlement process at the WTO at the moment. Why is there still such resistance from the Minister to joining the multi-party system that the EU has proposed to try to get around Donald Trump’s objection to the WTO dispute resolution process?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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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.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In the time she has been in the House, she has been a strong defender and advocate of her farming sector in and around Stafford. I can say that there will be no compromise on our standards on food safety, animal welfare and the environment, exactly as we laid out in the election manifesto that she and I were both elected on just six months ago, both collectively and individually.

This Bill is about ensuring continuity, particularly at this moment of unprecedented economic challenge posed by coronavirus. We need the power in clause 2 to replicate the effects of our current trading relationships and provide certainty to UK businesses. That includes the continuity agreements, including the Canada agreement, which the hon. Member for Harrow West has mentioned again today. I think there has been yet another shift in the Labour party’s position: last Thursday, we heard from the shadow Secretary of State that Labour was in favour of a trade deal with Canada, but now the hon. Member for Harrow West seems to be back to opposing that trade deal. There does seem to be some confusion, but the purpose of this Bill is not to sign new agreements or alter standards in any way. Without the Bill, we risk being unable to implement continuity agreements, resulting in disruption and uncertainty for businesses and consumers.

As the National Farmers Union confirmed to the Committee last week, the EU’s approvals regime for agricultural products is one of the most precautionary in the world. That regime will be transposed onto the UK statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I am pleased to say that the NFU has not expressed any concerns about the framework for mutual recognition in continuity agreements that this Bill provides, and I am grateful for the contribution of its expertise through our expert trade advisory group. As I have previously told the Committee, we have now signed 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries, replicating the terms that we had with them under EU trade agreements. Imports under continuity agreements must continue to comply with our existing import standards. None of these agreements has resulted in a lowering of the agricultural or other standards referenced in the agreement.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For the record and for the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister confirm that he can see no way in which chlorinated chicken from the US will be allowed to be sold in British stores?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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That is absolutely correct. It is a point that we have made on numerous occasions, and I am happy to make it again today.

Although this Bill relates to continuity with existing trading partners, I recognise the concerns that colleagues have about future FTAs with new trading partners, as I said during Tuesday’s debate. As the Secretary of State, my DEFRA colleagues and I have told this House and the other place on many occasions, the Government will stand firm in trade negotiations. We will always do right by our farmers and aim to secure new opportunities for the industry. Returning to the point made by my hon. Friend Member for Stafford, we would like Stafford farmers to gain opportunities to sell their high-quality produce abroad by breaking down barriers, reducing or removing tariffs, and so on. That is also very important for our agriculture; in fact, the scoping assessment for the US trade deal showed that UK agriculture would be a net beneficiary of any such deal.

All imports under all trade agreements, whether continuity or future FTAs, will have to comply with our import requirements. In the case of food safety, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland will continue to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards, and that consumers are protected from unsafe food that does not meet those standards. Decisions on those standards are a matter for the UK and will be made separately from any trade agreements.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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25 Jun 2020, 4:25 p.m.

Given the extra protections that new clause 12 would lock into law to keep the NHS safe from future trade agreements’ effectively pushing higher pharmaceutical prices or further marketisation of the NHS, we will happily support the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Dundee East. Indeed, his new clause supplements the protections that amendment 12, had it been agreed to earlier in our proceedings, would have put in place to protect our public services more generally.

We, too, are aware of the leaked documents that the hon. Gentleman referred to, revealing that discussions have already taken place in the UK-US trade talks about possible measures that the American pharmaceutical industry might want, clearly supported by Donald Trump’s chief negotiator, that would effectively push prices up. Given that we have substantially lower pharmaceutical drug costs than the US, the fact that the Americans are continuing to push such measures is profoundly worrying.

Ministers have said that the NHS is not on the table in the UK-US talks and, like the hon. Gentleman, I take that at face value, but it is worth saying that until the text of a trade agreement is published, we will have no way of knowing for sure what is in it. The precedent of the EU-Canada deal does not give reassurance in that respect, as it used the negative list approach to services liberalisation, to which he referred. The Minister will remember the considerable concern that Germany had chosen to add in carve-outs for the whole of its national health service, whereas the UK had not taken such a comprehensive approach.

The NHS Confederation and The BMJ have both published a series of concerns, setting out the ways the NHS could be undermined by a UK-US trade deal. One concern that is highlighted, which again the hon. Member for Dundee East referenced, was the use of ISDS—investor-state dispute settlement—provisions. Again, investor-state dispute settlement provisions were included in the EU-Canada deal, which Ministers count as a roll-over deal.

It would be helpful if the Minister would embrace the spirit of these new clauses, support new clause 12 being added the Bill and, in his wind-up remarks, confirm that he will not push a negative listing approach in a UK-Canada specific deal and that there will not be ISDS provisions in such a deal.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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25 Jun 2020, 4:29 p.m.

I start by thanking Opposition Members for tabling new clauses 12 and 13, which provide me another opportunity to stress the Government’s position on the NHS and our trade agenda. The Government have been clear and definitive: the NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic. No trade agreement has ever affected our ability to keep public services public, nor do they require us to open up the NHS to private providers.

We have always protected our right to choose how we would deliver public services in trade agreements, and we will continue to do so. The UK’s public services, including the NHS, are protected by specific exclusions, exceptions and reservations in the trade agreements to which the UK is a party. The UK will continue to ensure that the same rigorous protections are included in future trade agreements.

As stated in our published negotiating objectives with the US, to which I referred the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, the NHS will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table.

Those commitments are clear and absolute, but new clause 12 is unnecessary, however laudable the intention behind it is. It overlooks the fact that there are already rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify new agreements. In particular, and as we discussed on Tuesday, the UK already has scrutiny mechanisms via the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 procedure that will ensure Parliament can see exactly what we have negotiated, and if it does not agree it can prevent us from ratifying the deal.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 4:33 p.m.

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

I rise briefly to suggest to the Committee that once a free trade agreement has been signed in the future, it makes sense to have a point at which to assess the effectiveness of that agreement, perhaps to see how it has worked in practice in terms of British exporters being able to take advantage of it.

Labour Members remember only too well the Government’s decision to axe by some 60% the support to British exporters. So it will be interesting, five years down the line from the publication and signing of these continuity agreements, to see whether such a severe cut has actually meant that many British businesses have been unable to take advantage of the opportunities in a free trade agreement.

The new clause would also give us the opportunity, five years hence, to see whether the genuine concerns of many—both in this House and out—about investor-state dispute mechanisms, if they have been incorporated into agreements, have taken effect. We would be able to see the damage done to environmental protections, the health service, labour rights or human rights—any way in which they might have been affected.

Given the concerns expressed clearly to us about how many of the continuity trade agreements might actually work in practice, it is surely sensible to have the opportunity to review whether those concerns have been borne out in practice. One can think of the Norway continuity agreement, which still has no services provisions for British companies wanting to operate in service markets in Norway. That is still in some doubt, as only the goods part has been resolved. The situation is similar with Switzerland. We raised a series of concerns about the South Korea agreement and the extent to which some agricultural products, such as cheddar cheese and honey, have been affected by poor drafting of that agreement.

Given how we have thrown away some of the great advantages that Britain drew in terms of soft power from the Department for International Development being a stand-alone Department, again it will be interesting to see whether the Ghana and Kenya agreements—I thank the Minister for his letter—have been able to serve their purpose and support not only agricultural sales to the UK, but regional integration in west and east Africa.

For all those reasons, and given the huge concerns about some of the potential measures in free trade agreements, it makes sense surely—it certainly makes sense to us—to have a fixed point, five years down the line after a trade agreement has been signed, to have the opportunity for the Government to publish a full review looking at the impact.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 4:39 p.m.

New clause 15 proposes a review, as we have heard, of free trade agreements every five years after entry into force. I have already drawn the Committee’s attention to the parliamentary reports that we have voluntarily published alongside every signed continuity agreement, outlining any significant differences between the signed agreement and the underlying EU agreement. I confirm that we will continue to do so for the remaining continuity agreements.

We have a meaningful and constant dialogue with several Committees in Parliament. Those may provide a more appropriate forum for reviews of our trade agreements and an assessment of the UK’s wider trade environment and relationships. We are keen for Parliament to make its voice heard during the negotiation of our continuity programme in a way that is proportionate and productive. I also draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that six signed continuity agreements have been subject to debate in Parliament without a single one carrying a motion of regret.

As I have said many times before, our objectives for the trade continuity programme are to replicate the effects of existing EU trade agreements, which have all been subject to comprehensive scrutiny at EU level. Given that scrutiny, the parliamentary reports we have committed to publishing and the other constraints contained within the Bill, we do not believe that an additional report in the future would be an efficient use of parliamentary time. Additionally, I argue that looking at each agreement in isolation from the wider trading situation of the UK at an arbitrary point in time risks rendering any such report at best incomplete and at worst meaningless.

As a Department, we have an ongoing obligation to provide meaningful and timely information to the public, businesses and other key stakeholders on our assessment of the UK’s trading relationships. Statutory obligations anchored in specific agreements in the manner proposed by the new clause could in fact act as a constraint to the Department providing that sort of information in a timely and impactful way. As such, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw his new clause.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened to what the Minister has said. He will understand that we remain concerned that this provision was put in the Bill by the Government on Report in the Commons, and it has been taken out. The Minister who gave the assurance in writing that such reports will continue is no longer in the Department. I think we would still prefer to see the commitment in the Bill, and as a result, I intend to press the new clause to a vote.

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

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

On new clause 21, regarding the parameters of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the Government have made it clear that our priority is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021. The approach to the future relationship with the EU has already been extensively discussed not just in the previous Parliament but in this one, particularly during the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. During those debates and subsequently, the Government have been clear that we want a relationship with the EU that is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. That is what Taskforce Europe, working with the Prime Minister, is pursuing.

The UK published its approach to the negotiation of a future relationship with the EU on 27 February 2020. Our approach builds on the EU’s offer of a Canada-style deal. It reflects the type of free trade agreement that should be achievable between sovereign states that respect each other’s independence, as the EU has done in the past. We will discuss with the EU how to manage our friendly relations, but any solution has to respect our legal and political autonomy. Members will be aware that there are very limited options for third-country membership of EU bodies. We have been clear that we will be operating on the basis of existing precedents and no acceptance of the European Court of Justice.

However, I acknowledge that members of the Committee are looking for reassurance about the Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU in relation to the four bodies listed in the new clause. On the European Medicines Agency, we have stated that the UK-EU FTA should include commitments to co-operate on pharma co-vigilance, and to develop a comprehensive confidentiality agreement between regulators, in line with agreements between the European Medicines Agency and Swiss, US and Canadian authorities. The UK’s published response in respect of the European Chemicals Agency states that the UK-EU FTA should include a commitment to develop a memorandum of understanding to enhance co-operation further, similar to the MOUs that the European Chemicals Agency has agreed with Australia and Canada.

On the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the UK’s published position is that we have proposed a bilateral aviation safety agreement that will facilitate the recognition of aviation safety standards between the UN and the EU, minimising the regulatory burden for industry. On the European Maritime Safety Agency, the UK is discussing with the EU how best to manage our friendly relations, but any solution has to respect our red line of no commitments to follow EU law, and no acceptance of the ECJ.

It is important to be clear that, in our negotiations with the EU, we are not asking for a special, bespoke or unique deal; we are looking for a deal like those that the EU has previously struck with other friendly countries such as Canada. I hope the confirmation of the Government’s approach to the four agencies mentioned in the new clause has reassured the Committee, and I ask the hon. Member for Harrow West to withdraw the new clause.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

Although it has been useful to hear the reassurance that the Minister has attempted to provide, we still think that seeking membership of those four specific agencies makes sense. I intend to press the new clause to a vote.

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

Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)

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

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2020, 11:34 a.m.

I am relatively new to the Trade Bill and am only catching up with the discussions that my hon. Friend and others have had about these continuity agreements. Something odd certainly seems to have happened. It is true that the Minister has managed to get a deal done with the Faroe Islands.

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

25 Jun 2020, 11:34 a.m.

On a point of order, Mrs Cummins. I think that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington just accused Lord Price, a Member of the other House, of misleading people. I do not think that that is a permissible term to use in our debates. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that term.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

No, I do not accept that. It has nothing to do with the negotiations; it is all about keeping the agreements operable. It is a matter of judgment, and our judgment is that five years is a reasonable time. It is renewable by the affirmative assent of both Houses. We think that that is a reasonable time to keep these powers in place, so that we can then make further changes as needed to keep those agreements operable, and it is renewable by both Houses.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister support our amendment to reduce the sunset period from five years to three years, as his own Government did in the previous Bill, or is he determined to reject that suggestion?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2020, 12:12 p.m.

I have just explained that we think that five years, not three, is the appropriate time, so we will vote against the hon. Member’s amendment if he has the audacity to push it. Given that the fundamental premise is incorrect, I would be surprised if he were to push it to a vote, because it is based on a misunderstanding of what the power is all about.

The DPRRC report did not indicate any concerns about the Government retaining the power to renew this clause. Amendment 17 proposes to render the clause renewable only once and for not more than a period of 10 years after the end of the transition period, but that is unnecessary. The clause can be extended only with agreement from both Houses of Parliament and only for a period of up to five years at a time. If Parliament judges that our use of the sunset clause has not been appropriate, it has the power to vote against renewal. As I have stressed before, without the ability to renew the clause, we will not have the power to ensure that signed continuity agreements remain operable, which risks the UK’s ability to fulfil its international obligations. If we do not have this power, we will need to put in place other powers. We should not do tomorrow what we can do today.

Amendments 20 to 23 propose to shorten the sunset period from five to three years. I have already explained why we need the power and the changes the power would make. We believe that a five-year period strikes the right balance between flexibility of negotiations and constraints placed on the power. Our signed continuity agreements are evidence that this is a limited, technical exercise to replicate the effects of existing obligations. Seeking parliamentary permission to renew this capability every three years, rather than five, would be disproportionate and places an unnecessary burden on parliamentary time.

I repeat that the amendments, or at least the description of them, are based on a fundamental misunderstanding. The five years are not extra negotiating time. They allow technical changes to regulations on an ongoing basis, to keep operable agreements that have already been signed. I hope that that reassures the Committee, and I ask the hon. Member for Harrow West to withdraw the amendment.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I enjoyed very much the answer that the Minister provided. In particular, it is a relief to hear that the Secretary of State has finally got round to launching negotiations with Turkey. I hope that those negotiations will be completed by 31 December, given the huge and dramatic impact that it could have on jobs and steel businesses in the UK. I gently remind the Minister of the considerable scepticism we heard from representatives of UK Steel that that would be achieved. It would be interesting to hear later in our proceedings whether Ministers have any sort of contingency plan for the steel industry, if negotiations cannot be completed in time to get a UK-Turkey deal through.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One thing the Minister can confirm, surely, is whether parts produced in other European Union countries will still count towards the value of the car or other parts that are being manufactured. That diagonal and horizontal cumulation is a standard feature of the rules of origin, and it might help to give some certainty to British car and car parts manufacturers that that flexibility in rules of origin will not be lost.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that; he makes a good point. I refer him to the deal that we have negotiated with South Korea and how it reflects on those rules. That negotiation has been completed. However, here, today, it is not my job to comment on live negotiations or discussions with our counterparts.

The hon. Member for Dundee East talked rightly about sectors that are important in different parts of the UK. He made a very fair point. He talked about the white fish sector being 10 times as important to the Scottish economy overall as it is to the UK. That makes me wonder why—if I understood him correctly—his party’s policy is to rejoin the European Union, where presumably the status of the white fish sector is even smaller than the one tenth it represents in the UK. That baffled me.

It is strongly in the UK Government interest to have good relationships with the devolved authorities on trade, which is a reserved matter, a prerogative matter. None the less, regulations interact with areas that are matters of devolved competence.

It is therefore perfectly proper both for the UK Government to have good relations and discussions with the devolved authorities, and for the UK Government to interact with sectors that are larger—I do not mean to say that they are disproportionately important—for certain devolved Administrations than others. That is one reason why I have gone out of my way since rejoining the Department to have meetings—I am checking my list of engagements—about Scottish smoked salmon, and with the Scotch Whisky Association, the Scottish Beef Association and other bodies in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as in the English regions.

Hon. Members talked about the unrestricted nature of the power, but it is not quite right to say that this is unrestricted. Any changes made are subject to the affirmative procedure, and the power is only to amend secondary legislation that is direct retained EU law, again subject to the affirmative procedure. It is not as if that is an unrestricted power.

Returning to equalities legislation, I remind colleagues of constraints in the Bill, including the fact that the affirmative procedure is required for any statutory instruments made under the power in the clause. Parliament will rightly make its voice heard on regulations made, but as the Prime Minister outlined in his Greenwich speech, the UK will always be an open, equal and fundamentally fair country. That will remain true regardless of EU membership or any other international agreement. We have not needed the EU to tell us what is appropriate in the field of equalities. For example, the EU provides a minimum of 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave, whereas Britain offers up to a year’s maternity leave, 39 weeks of which are paid, and the option to convert it to shared parental leave. Moreover, UK workers can get statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks, whereas the EU has no minimum sick leave or sick pay legislation.

Promoting respect for British values, including equality, the rule of law and human rights, is and will remain a core part of our international diplomacy. That is what our continuity programme provides, alongside certainty to business and consumers. It is not, and never will be, about undermining equalities legislation.

I turn to new clause 22, tabled by Plaid Cymru Members. For the benefit of Members who have not sat on a Bill Committee before, it is entirely possible for those who are not members of the Committee to table an amendment—I would not recommend that course of action for Government Members—as we see the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and his colleagues have done. On Tuesday, in a debate on similar issues, I set out that it is an essential principle of the UK constitution that the negotiation of international trade agreements is a prerogative power of the UK Government. The prerogative power serves a crucial role in ensuring that the UK Government can speak with a single voice under international law, providing certainty to our negotiating partners.

Of course, international negotiations are a reserved matter under the devolution settlements—an area in which the UK acts on behalf of all the nations of the UK. These important principles are complemented by the UK’s dualist approach to international law, which provides that international treaties cannot of themselves make changes to domestic law—I think we will return to that this afternoon. This approach ensures that where our agreements require changes to UK domestic law, the UK Parliament will scrutinise and pass that legislation in the normal way. Where that legislation is made by the devolved Governments, the devolved legislatures fulfil that role. It is right that Parliament and the devolved legislatures should have that role, which is why we have provided that regulations made under clause 2 will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

We have also committed ourselves to not normally using the clause 2 power to legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the relevant devolved Administration, and never without consulting them. Combined with the scrutiny mechanisms in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which the hon. Member for Harrow West was so enthusiastic about 10 years ago, those procedures will ensure that the UK Parliament can see exactly what we have negotiated, and if it does not agree with it, can take steps to prevent the Government from implementing and ratifying the deal. There are therefore already rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify a new agreement.

By giving Parliament an automatic veto over trade agreements, the new clause would cut across those procedures and undermine the important constitutional principle that it is for the Executive to negotiate and enter into deals, and for Parliament to scrutinise them. The new clause would also give the devolved legislatures an automatic veto over our agreement, which would be wholly inappropriate given that this is a reserved matter. On a practical level, a veto for the devolved legislatures would also lead to a situation in which one part of the UK could prevent the rest from benefiting from an agreement.

The Government recognise the important role that the devolved Administrations and the UK Parliament can and should play in our trade agreements, and I welcome the opportunity to put that on the record again. My Department works closely, as I have outlined, with the devolved Administrations and Parliament to deliver trade policy and trade agreements that reflect the interests of the UK as a whole, but we should do so in accordance with the long-standing principles enshrined in our constitution, rather than seeking to undermine them. I hope that reassures the Committee. I ask hon. Members not to press their new clauses, and to agree to clause 2 standing part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Maria Caulfield.)

Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)

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

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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

23 Jun 2020, 2:24 p.m.

May I start by welcoming you again to the Chair this afternoon, Sir Graham? In an oversight, I was not able to welcome Mrs Cummins this morning, because there had yet to be a contribution from the Government Front Bench, thanks to the expansive efforts of the two chief Opposition spokesmen, the hon. Members for Harrow West and for Sefton Central.

Let me start by being in complete accordance with the words the hon. Member for Sefton Central said at the end of our minute’s silence, in paying tribute to the first responders and the emergency services in Reading at the weekend. We owe them all a debt of gratitude for the public response that took place.

Amendment 4 would mean that, before regulations were made under clause 2, the process of parliamentary scrutiny set out by the Opposition in new clause 5 or amendments 6 or 7, as appropriate, would need to be completed. I take this opportunity to remind hon. Members that the power in clause 2 is needed to provide for the continuity of existing trading relationships, not to implement free trade agreements with new trading partners. It will ensure that the UK continues to benefit from the EU-third country agreements to which we were a signatory before exit day.

During the evidence sessions, we heard from a very diverse group of witnesses, ranging as widely as the Institute of Directors, the CBI and ClientEarth, that the Government’s continuity programme was sensible and reasonable. Indeed, Parliament has so far ratified 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries. That accounts for £110 billion-worth of UK trade in 2018, which represents 74% of the trade with countries with which we were seeking continuity before the withdrawal agreement was signed. Those agreements were, of course, subject to extensive scrutiny in their original form as EU agreements. The main purpose of the power in clause 2 is to replicate existing obligations in current agreements. Additional new scrutiny, on top of what we already have in place, would not be a proportionate use of parliamentary time for existing agreements.

To reassure Parliament, we are going further and providing additional measures to constrain the power in clause 2 and provide extra scrutiny for any resulting legislation. All regulations made to implement obligations under these arrangements will be subject to the affirmative procedure, and the power is also subject to a five-year sunset period, which can be extended only with the consent of both Houses. We will discuss the sunset clause under a later group of amendments. Moreover, we have voluntarily published parliamentary reports—alongside continuity agreements—outlining any significant differences between our signed agreements and the underlying EU agreement.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 2:27 p.m.

The Minister is referring to the voluntary tabling of reports. At Report stage of the last Trade Bill, Ministers were going to put that on the statute book. Why the change this time?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:28 p.m.

I will come on to that shortly, but in brief, the proof has been in the pudding. For each of those 20 agreements, we have published the report. The reports have been available for Members of both Houses to study. A few of the reports have been made subject to a debate in the Lords. None of those Lords debates resulted in a motion to regret on the ensuing agreements. I would say this: rather than trusting in our word, trust in our deeds. We have published those reports and we will continue to do so.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I simply make the point that the most significant of the so-called continuity trade agreements—with the exception of Singapore and what Sam Lowe described as phase 1 of the South Korea agreement—have yet to be rolled over. Locking into law reports on the significance of those agreements would, I suspect, attract substantially more interest than the other reports have attracted so far.

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.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I plan to come to constraints on that power shortly. He rightly said that on the face of it, the power is broad, but there are significant constraints on its use. We must not forget that the continuity agreements are already in effect, and have already been scrutinised through previous processes in both the Commons and the Lords.

I draw the Committee’s attention to our track record. Of the 20 signed continuity agreements passed through CRAG, their lordships have recommended six for the attention of Parliament, most recently the UK-Morocco association agreement on 9 March 2020. As I have said, not a single one of those debates carried a motion of regret. Due to the limited scope of the continuity agreements for which we intend to use the clause 2 power and the existing opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny, the scrutiny procedure set out by the Opposition in new clause 5, to which I will turn in due course, would be disproportionate and unnecessary. That consequently means that amendment 4 is unnecessary.

I will now turn to amendment 5, which would seek to bring new FTAs within the scope of the Bill. The Government are only seeking a power in this Bill to ensure the continuity of trading relations with our existing partners, with whom we previously traded as a member of the EU. The Bill is not, and never was in its previous form, a vehicle to implement agreements with partners, such as the USA, that did not have a trade agreement with the EU before 31 January 2020.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In relation to amendment 5, will the Minister confirm that there is no current legislative requirement for the Government to hold either a debate or a vote on any UK-US deal they negotiate?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:32 p.m.

We have been absolutely clear in the process we have laid out. The publication of the negotiation objectives and the economic impact assessment, the fact that we have reported back at the end of the first round with a written ministerial statement, and the fact that we will publish an impact assessment at the end of the deal all show our commitment to parliamentary scrutiny of deals as we go forward.

Then, of course, there is the procedure under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Harrow West would be rather more proud of that procedure, because I had a look around at the members of this Committee and studied their dates of arrival in this place quite carefully. I worked out that two members of this Committee voted for that procedure in 2010: myself and him. The only member of this Committee who was here in 2010 and did not vote in favour of CRAG is the hon. Member for Dundee East. Not only that: the hon. Member for Harrow West was a member of the Government at the time, in an international-facing Department to which CRAG was highly relevant, so he would have been part of the team that put forward CRAG 10 years ago. Miraculously, he is now against it. Perhaps he could explain that.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What the Minister’s brief may not have told him was that the provisions that implemented the relevant CRAG power came into force as a result of his Government’s decision in November 2010, but that is by the bye.

The Minister gave a skilful and studious non-answer to the direct question I posed. Let me give him another opportunity to confirm that there is nothing in legislation at the moment that requires a debate or a vote on any future UK-US deal that his Government may negotiate.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Sir Graham, you will know that under CRAG it is up to Parliament to determine whether to have that debate. Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the agreement and its ability to study the economic impact of that agreement are absolutely clear. On top of that, any legislative changes that would need to be made as a result of any future trade agreement would have to go through both Houses of Parliament in the usual way.

It is understandable that colleagues are keen to make their voices heard on new FTAs, and as a result the Government have said repeatedly that we will introduce primary legislation to implement new FTAs where necessary. As I have just said, that primary legislation will be debated and scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way, and I can assure Members that Government will draw on the expertise and experience in Parliament when delivering our trade agenda.

Those are not just warm words; I invite the Committee to look at our track record. If we take the current negotiations with the USA as an example, before negotiations began, we launched a public bundle, including our negotiating mandate and a response to the public consultation that we had conducted as well as an initial scoping assessment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement in the House, and she and I have engaged with colleagues intensively. During negotiations, we have committed to keeping Parliament updated. Indeed, the Secretary of State provided a statement to Parliament on 18 May with a comprehensive update on progress in the US talks. These updates will continue as the negotiations proceed. We have said that once negotiations conclude, we will introduce implementing legislation, if it is required. Any agreement will also be subject to CRAG, which will provide further opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny.

I must stress that scrutiny of FTAs with new countries is a conversation that must take place separately from consideration of the Bill. Hon. Members such as the hon. Members for Harrow West, for Sefton Central and for Dundee East have expressed valid concerns about what will happen, and my door remains open to discuss such concerns at a future date. Nevertheless, we must not threaten this essential piece of continuity legislation by having discussions about the future.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the spirit of openness about future free trade agreements to which the Minister says he is committed, can he confirm to the Committee, given the concerns that exist about a potential UK-US deal, that there will not be any investor-state dispute settlement provisions in a future UK-US deal?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

I was being very generous in saying that my door was open, but it is not open to discuss the content of the current negotiations with the US. That, of course, is a matter—in the proper way—for statements to Parliament, but that is a live negotiation, so what may or may not be in that negotiation is probably a matter for that negotiation.

We laid out our negotiation objectives, in a document that I commend to the hon. Gentleman, on 2 March. It lays out our objectives in the talks, which are live at the moment, so it would be inappropriate for me to go down that road. However, my door remains open to having further discussions with all the Opposition parties about the scrutiny of future free trade agreements.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Sir Graham, I think a comparison of how the UK and European Union do international treaties is a debate for another day. I do not think the two political systems are comparable. The approach proposed by the UK has greater parliamentary scrutiny than that of many Commonwealth counterparts that use the Westminster system—it is more extensive than that of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Command Paper that the Minister’s colleagues published last February committed the Government to publishing reports at the end of each negotiating round. Is that still a commitment and practice that the Minister recognises, or has his Department and new Secretary of State gone back on that?

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.

Break in Debate

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.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 2:47 p.m.

I am sure that the Minister would not wish to imply that the majority of witnesses simply supported the existing parliamentary scrutiny processes for trade agreements in general. It was clear that we heard a majority saying that, for new free trade agreements, the current parliamentary scrutiny set-up was not good enough.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:44 p.m.

I am not saying that; I am clearly saying that the witnesses we heard from were, I think, unanimous in saying that the continuity agreements were important for the UK economy and trade. They would share my surprise at the opposition of the Labour party to rolling over those agreements, many of which were negotiated when Labour was in government, including the hon. Member for Harrow West. He was the Trade Minister when two of the agreements were negotiated by the European Union. I would love him to tell us what he was doing at the time. If he finds the agreements so objectionable in 2020, what on earth was he doing in 2008 or 2009 being party to the negotiations that led to those agreements being put in place in the first place? Perhaps he will tell us, or write to the Committee to explain.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23 Jun 2020, 2:49 p.m.

What we find objectionable is the lack of proper scrutiny in the process. That is the significant issue. I gently say to the Minister, he has not so far advanced an answer—I am agog to hear it—to the criticisms of a whole series of witnesses, from the business community and the trade union movement to trade exporters, about the failure of the Government to give Parliament a proper debating and voting opportunity on big new free trade agreements, such as a UK-US deal.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

23 Jun 2020, 2:49 p.m.

We are going slightly around in circles, conflating the continuity arrangements and future free trade agreements. I will happily debate with the hon. Gentleman the merits of our proposals for future free trade agreements. I reiterate that my door remains open to his suggestions as to how we might scrutinise future free trade agreements. However, the Bill is about continuity arrangements for the 40 or more EU agreements that we currently have. Many of the witnesses, whatever they said about future trade agreements, were unanimous in talking about the importance of the continuity agreements.

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Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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23 Jun 2020, 2:51 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I was going to come on to describe the Opposition’s panoply of amendments taken in their entirety; at the moment, I am still going through the deficiencies in each of the amendments. When we put them all together, they seek fundamentally to rewrite the constitutional balance in this country in terms of international agreements. That is properly a matter for the Executive and for royal prerogative, as scrutinised by Parliament.

Once again, I remind colleagues that continuity agreements have already been subject to significant scrutiny as underlying EU agreements. I say again that we believe that the existing constraints in the Bill are proportionate and provide Parliament with sufficient opportunities to scrutinise agreements. I have drawn Members’ attention to the 33rd report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the 2017-2019 Trade Bill, which raised no concerns about the delegated powers of the Bill and welcomed our move to introduce the affirmative procedure for any regulations.

I turn to amendment 7, which seeks to apply the super-affirmative procedure to any regulations made under clause 2 to implement FTAs with new countries, if the other amendments were to be carried. I will not recap why new FTAs are not included in the application of the Bill. However, I reiterate that we will introduce implementing legislation for new FTAs, if required, which would mean the proposals in the amendment are unnecessary.

Amendment 19 would extend the aforementioned procedures to any regulations made jointly with the devolved authorities. I have outlined the reasons why we do not believe those procedures are necessary. I can also assure colleagues that our approach with the devolved Governments is based on regular dialogue and consultation.

I thank Opposition Members for tabling new clause 5, which outlines in some detail the Opposition’s proposal for how current and future trade agreements might be scrutinised. I have already remarked that this is a continuity Bill and therefore not the place for discussing our wider priority FTA programme or our approach hereto. However, I am happy to reiterate to hon. Members the Government’s commitment to appropriate parliamentary involvement.

I believe we share common ground, insofar as we agree that Parliament should be able properly to scrutinise trade agreements and have sufficient information available to it in order to do so. The Government have ensured that that information is provided through sharing negotiating objectives, responses to public consultations and economic assessments. The amendments go beyond what is needed and, as hon. Members will be aware and as my hon. Friend the Member for Witney pointed out, cross the line that separates the powers of Parliament and the Executive.

We must respect that initiating, negotiating and signing international agreements are functions of the Executive, exercised under the royal prerogative. New clause 5 would have serious consequences. It would both undermine that cornerstone of our constitution and limit the Government’s ability to negotiate effectively and in the best interests of UK businesses, consumers and citizens.

To be clear, the prerogative power is not just a historical throwback or a constitutional quirk. It serves an important purpose in enabling the UK to speak with a single voice as a unitary actor under international law. It ensures that our partners can trust in the position presented during negotiations. It is the same principle that applies in similar Westminster-style democracies with sophisticated trade negotiating functions, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Setting aside for a moment the significant constitutional issues that we have just examined, the proposals are also unworkable in a practical sense. First, treaty texts are liable to change significantly right up to point of signature. As they say, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” Sharing texts as we go might be a waste of parliamentary time, as they could quickly be made redundant. It is also not in line with the practice of our FTA partners, including the US, let alone Australia or New Zealand. Those countries will have legitimate expectations of confidentiality around key negotiating texts in our trade negotiations with them.

Final texts of agreements—which, after all, are what matters—are already laid in Parliament for 21 days under the CRAG process, and the Commons has an option to restart CRAG, potentially indefinitely. The Government have gone well beyond the requirements of CRAG and its statutory obligations, in line with our commitment to transparency and scrutiny, by providing Parliament with extensive information on negotiations. For the trade talks with the US on a new FTA and with Japan on an enhanced FTA, the Government have set out their negotiating objectives alongside a response to the public consultation, as well as an initial economic assessment prior to the start of the talks. Ministers have also held open briefings for MPs and peers both at the launch of the US talks—I held one myself—and after the conclusion of the first round.

We will continue to keep Parliament updated on negotiations as they progress, including close engagement with the International Trade Committee in the House of Commons and the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee in the other place. We are committed to publishing full impact assessments prior to the implementation of the agreements. That provides Parliament with more than sufficient information to scrutinise the Government’s trade agenda properly.

Turning to new clause 6, I hope that on the issue of consultation, the Opposition will note the Government’s strong record of consulting widely with the public and key stakeholders on our trade agenda. The Government’s consultation on our priority FTA programme attracted 600,000 responses, making it one of the largest consultations ever undertaken by Government.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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23 Jun 2020, 2:57 p.m.

I want to press the Minister on the proposals that were in the Command Paper last year. He has not quite answered us on that. The Command Paper said clearly that the Government would work with a Committee and give it access to sensitive information that is not suitable for wider publication, including private briefings from negotiating teams. On the record, is the Minister willing to confirm that they will do that with the International Trade Committee and the relevant Lords Committee, or not?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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23 Jun 2020, 2:58 p.m.

I should be clear that the Command Paper was published by a previous Government in a different parliamentary context. However, we have in our approach so far followed what was set out in the Command Paper in relation to publishing negotiation objectives and impact assessments, and reporting back after the first round. I would again ask for confidence in our deeds, in terms of our overall commitment to parliamentary scrutiny.

In line with our commitment, we have published the Government’s response to the consultations on FTAs with the US, Australia and New Zealand, and on an enhanced FTA with Japan. In relation to sustainability impact assessments, as the EU calls them, the Department has published, and will continue to publish, our own scoping assessments for each of our new free trade agreements, prior to negotiations commencing. As with the published UK-US, UK-Japan, UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand scoping assessments, those include preliminary assessment of the potential economic impacts, the implications for UK nations and regions, the impact on small and medium-sized enterprises, the environmental impacts, and the effects on different groups in the labour market, including whether there are any disproportionate impacts on groups with protected characteristics, arising from an FTA with the partner country.

The scoping assessments attracted quite a bit of attention, not least because of all the nations and regions of the UK that would benefit from the US trade agreement, Scotland would benefit the most, followed by the west midlands and then the north-east of England. Those are good things. We are proud of that, and of the fact that we published the assessment.

We are committed to publishing full impact assessments once negotiations have concluded and prior to the implementation of the agreements, when the effects of an agreement can be better understood.

On the point about standards raised in new clause 6, I encourage hon. Members to look at our record on negotiating agreements. We said we would not lower standards, and we have not, as can be seen from the parliamentary reports we published on each of the 20 agreements. None of the 20 agreements that have been signed to date involved any reduction in standards.

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In the Command Paper published in February last year, the Government committed during negotiations to publish and lay before Parliament a round report following each substantive round of negotiations. Does that commitment still stand or has it been axed, like the commitment to give sensitive information to a Select Committee of the House of Commons?

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23 Jun 2020, 3:02 p.m.

Nothing has been axed; all I am saying is that the Command Paper was produced at a different time. What we have done is to follow the Command Paper in publishing, for example, the written ministerial statement at the end of round one of the talks with the US. That has greatly enhanced parliamentary scrutiny, as has publishing the negotiation objectives and the scoping assessment of who would be most likely to benefit from the agreement.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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Will the Minister give way?

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23 Jun 2020, 3:02 p.m.

I will make a bit more progress.

As with new clause 5, new clause 8 contains a number of practical flaws in the proposed system. Those flaws would undermine negotiations and disadvantage the UK. I understand that colleagues are keen to remain abreast of negotiations, and the Government are supportive of that endeavour, as I have outlined. I point hon. Members not just towards our commitments to share information but towards our record on the recent US negotiations, which I have mentioned.

Ultimately, this debate boils down to whether we believe that it is right that the UK Government, supported by experts, civil service negotiating teams and advisers, are able to negotiate international agreements on behalf of those who elected them, drawing on the expertise and views of Parliament and of the devolved authorities, via strong scrutiny mechanisms. Or do we believe that Parliament itself should be in control of the negotiations, determining who we negotiate with and how, and within what timeframes?

It seems clear to me that in the national interest, the former scenario must be right. It ensures that when our partners face the UK around the negotiating table, they know that it has a credible single voice—one that is represented by the UK Government alone, after they have consulted with the devolved Administrations and drawn on the extensive expertise in this House and the other place, via close engagement and scrutiny processes, such as those we have here for international agreements.

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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.

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23 Jun 2020, 3:43 p.m.

On a point of order, Sir Graham. As the Minister knows full well, we are not opposed to the agreement. We simply want better scrutiny arrangements. What arrangements are there for me to correct the record in that respect?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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Sir Graham—

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23 Jun 2020, 3:47 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, because I thought the Opposition were opposed to the Canada deal, so if we were to fall outside the Canada deal, they should be celebrating that. The Labour Front Bench opposed Canada in 2017, and I think they have opposed it again today. We are in discussions with Canada and we believe that there is time to do a roll-over agreement, but to do that we need the powers in the Bill. Amendment 9, which I think the hon. Lady has co-sponsored, would delete Canada from the list of agreements subject to the power, so if she votes for this amendment—if indeed there is a vote on it—she will effectively be preventing the roll-over of the Canada deal.

I will come to a conclusion. I was very surprised by this amendment. I praised the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sefton Central, last week for the attention he had given to oral questions earlier that day, but now I am not sure whether he really paid enough attention. He may have missed hearing the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), say from a sedentary position that she is in favour of CETA, the Canada agreement, and that she voted for it at the time.

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: she did vote for it at the time, and that is obviously the Labour party’s new position. We know that sometimes in political parties, particularly when we are in opposition, there can be a new position and it takes a while for that new position to filter out across the whole party, but I am a little bit surprised that the new position has not filtered down to her own Front-Bench team, let alone the whole party, because they are trying to say they do not want to roll over the Canada agreement for an agreement that their shadow Secretary of State was praising only last Thursday. I find that approach absolutely bizarre.

If amendment 9 were to be accepted, there would be no UK-Canada trade agreement to roll over in the scope of clause 2. Labour said one thing in the Chamber last Thursday, but is saying precisely the opposite in Committee. Our Canadian friends will look on askance, as will our friends from the Caribbean, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and so on.

This is a continuity Bill. There is certainly continuity in the Labour party’s confusion on trade. When it came to the original Canada agreement in the vote of February 2017, Labour split three ways: 68 of its members followed the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) in voting for the CT agreement; 86 broke with the right hon. Member for Islington North and voted with the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury in favour of the agreement; and the rest abstained.

I think I heard the hon. Member for Harrow West then say that he regretted the fact that there had not been a debate about the Canada agreement on the Floor of the House. I spent a few years in the Whips Office. One of the first rules of being a Whip in Opposition is never bring a debate on which your own party is divided to the Floor of the House, let alone something where you are divided three ways and your leader is in the minority view. Now he is saying that he regrets that it was not brought to the Floor of the House.

We should vote down amendment 9, because it would rule out of scope Canada, the Caribbean and many other important trade agreements that the EU has negotiated. The UK was part of that negotiating team. They are very important trade agreements. We would like to see the continuity of those trade agreements, as do our constituents and UK businesses. I urge hon. Members to vote against amendment 9. Indeed, I hope the Opposition withdraw the amendment.

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23 Jun 2020, 3:52 p.m.

The Minister has been at his most diversionary with that characteristically chutzpah-led speech. As he knows only too well, constitutionally, the Government are able to sign and ratify international agreements. He went on at some length in his winding-up speech on the previous group of amendments about how wonderful that process was.

The Minister does not need the Trade Bill to sign agreements with CARIFORUM, Canada or Vietnam. The powers are already there for the Government to do so. If Ministers think the provisions in the Bill relating to those clauses are so important, one wonders why they did not bring the Trade Bill back in the last Parliament. It fell because Ministers chose not to bring it back, not because of opposition from the Labour party.

There were genuine concerns about the future of a UK-Canada trade pattern. On this side of the House, we repeat our concern that if Ministers cannot agree to roll over a deal with one of our oldest allies where the Queen is Head of State, it prompts questions about the effectiveness of the Department for International Trade. This was a probing amendment, which we will not push to a vote. The point about scrutiny remains on the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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23 Jun 2020, 4:19 p.m.

As we have heard, amendment 10 intends to prevent the clause 2 power from being used to implement agreements that do not comply with existing international obligations on human rights, the environment and labour rights. Let me be absolutely clear: our continuity programme is coherent with existing international obligations as it seeks to replicate existing EU agreements, which are, of course, fully compliant with such obligations. By transitioning these agreements, we reaffirm the UK’s commitment to those international obligations.

I have said it before, but I am happy to repeat it as often as the Committee would like: we seek to provide certainty and stability in trading relationships for UK businesses and consumers, not to modify or dilute standards. None of the 20 agreements already signed has reduced EU standards in any area. Committee members can consult the parliamentary reports that we publish alongside continuity agreements detailing any changes required to transition the agreement to the UK context. These will confirm precisely what I have said. We will continue to publish these reports for remaining continuity agreements, so that hon. Members can satisfy themselves that we have not defaulted on our commitment not to reduce standards. That includes the agreement with Vietnam.

I am happy to look into the specific complaints that some Opposition Members have made on labour rights, but it would be helpful for me to understand whether they are in favour of the EU-Vietnam agreement. That was not really clear to me. The Opposition keep wanting to have their cake and eat it, saying that they like EU agreements but then trying to pick holes in them and saying that we should not roll them over because of some of the arrangements within them. The EU-Vietnam agreement is scheduled to come into effect on 1 August, so UK businesses will be able to take advantage of that agreement from 1 August.

As the Prime Minister outlined in his Greenwich speech, the UK has a strong history of protecting human rights and promoting our values globally. We will continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations. The hon. Member for Harrow West asked for examples of primary EU law that will be transitioned as a result of using these powers. To be clear, we intend to use the powers only for a limited number of obligations, most principally in relation to fully implementing conformity assessments and procurement matters in domestic law via secondary legislation.

To be clear, the human rights commitments in the joint statement that we made with South Korea do not enable the suspension of any of those human rights dialogues that are under way. The Colombia agreement, which is part of the EU-Andean agreement that has also been signed, has seen no weakening of labour rights; there have been some technical changes to that agreement, but none relating to labour rights, so far as I am aware. The continuity agreements signed have not changed those in any way.

The hon. Member for Warrington North mentioned action against the far right and other hate groups preaching violence. I can tell her that the Government are wholly united in our approach to making sure that that is exactly the case, but it is worth reminding ourselves that we are talking about existing trade agreements with those counterparts, not a new agreement as such.

The hon. Member for Putney talked about the commitment to the sustainable development goals. The Government are absolutely committed to the SDGs, but again we are talking about existing trade agreements. I will plough on, because we do not have an awful lot of time. The hon. Lady and her colleagues need to work out what it is that they want. On the one hand they seem to strongly support the EU and perhaps want the UK to rejoin, but on the other she seems, by the sound of it, to oppose the detail of virtually every one of the EU’s trade agreements. Opposition Members need to get clear in their minds whether they are pro-EU—in which case they might be in favour of the EU’s trade agreements—or anti-EU. That was not clear to me at all.

The hon. Member for Putney rightly says that human rights clauses in international trade deals are very important. We agree, which is why we are preserving their effects in these roll-over agreements. The Government have been clear that any future trade deals must work for UK consumers and businesses, upholding our high regulatory standards. The UK will remain committed to world-class environmental product and labour standards. We will not weaken these protections after the transition period ends. Our continuity agreements will safeguard, not undermine, our international obligations. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw his amendment.

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I had not intended to speak and I will be brief. I wish to amplify and expand on the concern that I raised in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central regarding the continuity agreements for Kenya and Ghana. If those agreements are got wrong, they threaten the progress that both countries have made, and potentially that of other countries around them, in trying to achieve the sustainable development goals.

The concern is that what is currently being put to those countries by UK negotiators is a continuity agreement that requires them to sign up to something that risks regional integration in east and west Africa. Kenya and Ghana seek to work closely with the least developed countries that surround them as part of the trading blocs. Those LDCs want to continue to be part of a preference scheme, so Kenya and Ghana are caught in a trap between their desire to work very closely with their neighbouring countries and wanting to ensure that they can still trade on very good terms with the UK in, for example, bananas and cocoa.

Why is working with regional blocs so important? Because it is trade at a regional level in Africa that is likely to lead to faster development, more jobs being created, and, crucially, the development of more manufacturing jobs at a local level. When a no deal was about the happen last October, the UK Government proposed a transitional protection mechanism that would have included Ghana, Kenya and others in a similar position.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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I should apologise; I had not realised that the hon. Gentleman wanted to intervene on me on this issue. I undertake to write to him about Ghana and Kenya, and to copy in members of the Committee. The situation involving both those counterparts is complicated and would be best served not by a debate about this particular amendment, but more broadly were I to contact the hon. Gentleman.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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The Minister has made a gracious intervention and offer, which I am happy to accept. On that basis, I am happy to conclude my speech.

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23 Jun 2020, 5:21 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 27 and 28.

The amendment is designed to remove the Henry VIII powers from the Bill. In its write up of the Trade Bill, Linklaters noted that constitutionally, the Government are already able to sign and ratify trade agreements with minimal reference to Parliament. The Trade Bill is designed to shortcut this process and to authorise the Government to implement the new agreements directly, by Executive act. To help them to do that, the Government seek to use Henry VIII powers to enable them to amend various bits of EU legislation, as they think appropriate, using regulations.

Liberty and others have argued that that represents a fundamental breach of Parliamentary sovereignty. The Committee has already debated the considerable weaknesses in the Bill in terms of opportunities for scrutiny. It is true that in comparison with the previous Trade Bill, Ministers have made a minor concession and agreed to the use of the affirmative process, but we can see no reason for the scale of the power grab represented by the Henry VIII powers in subsection (6)(a), and our amendment seeks to take them out.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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23 Jun 2020, 5:23 p.m.

I will now address amendment 14. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the amendment would remove the power to modify direct principal EU legislation, or primary legislation that is retained EU law, in order to implement obligations arising from continuity agreements.

It is important for Members to understand that without this power, we would, unfortunately, be unable to implement our obligations and we would risk being in breach of international law. It would also mean that our agreements were inoperable, adversely impacting upon UK businesses and consumers. I feel reasonably sure, Sir Graham, that that is not something that any Member of this Committee would support.

In addition, not only is this power necessary, but it is proportionate and constrained, because it only allows for the amendment of primary legislation that is retained EU law. Since trade continuity agreements will have been implemented substantially through EU law, the power is necessary to implement any technical changes that keep the agreements operable beyond the end of the transition period.

The Government have constrained the power as much as possible while ensuring that it is still capable of delivering continuity in our current trading relationships, which benefit businesses and consumers in every constituency represented by members of this Committee. To provide reassurance to Parliament, we have added a five-year sunset provision, which we will turn to shortly, and any regulations made under the clause 2 power will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

I ask Members not to take my word for it, but to take the word of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, who raised no issues with the delegated powers in this Bill, gave it a clean bill of health and praised the introduction of the draft affirmative procedure for any regulations made. I hope that, in the light of the explanation that I have given, the Committee is reassured that not only is this power necessary, but it is proportionate and constrained. As such, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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23 Jun 2020, 5:17 p.m.

I do not intend to press the matter to a vote, in the interests of time. I am not convinced by the Government’s argument, and we may return to the matter at Report stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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23 Jun 2020, 5:30 p.m.

New clause 16 would put on the face of the Bill a joint ministerial committee, and give it powers to discuss international trade issues with the devolved Administrations. The Labour party brought the devolution settlements into effect. It has continued to champion the rights of the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, through the devolved Administrations, to use to good effect the rights and powers devolved to them under the settlements.

In the new world, post-Brexit, we need the devolution settlements to be slightly updated to reflect the significance of the international trade agreements that will be negotiated. Putting into statute the joint ministerial committee and effectively establishing a ministerial forum for international trade seems to us to be the most sensible way to lock in proper consultation between Whitehall and each of the devolved Administrations.

One area of potential future negotiations where discussions on trade at joint ministerial committee level might well be needed is that of geographical indications, given the significance to the Welsh economy of Welsh lamb, for example, and to the Scottish economy of Scottish salmon and Scotch whisky. One recognises that the Administrations will understandably want to make sure that those industries are properly taken into account in future trade agreements, given the considerable number of jobs dependent on them in those countries.

GIs raise a further issue—the question of who has the power to legislate on them during the implementation of a trade agreement. My understanding is that that remains an issue. The most recent Cabinet Office revised framework analysis, published in April last year, stated that Ministers believed there were four areas that were reserved but subject to continued discussion. Two of those seem to me to have strong relevance to international trade. One is state aid and one is food GIs. If the question of who has power to legislate on those issues has not yet been fully resolved, it is surely all the more important to establish a formal forum for serious discussions between Ministers in the devolved Administrations and the UK Government on what should or should not be in a future trade agreement.

I have some sympathy with the argument that the hon. Member for Dundee East has advanced, but one of the problems with his amendment was encapsulated in an exchange in the fourth sitting of the Committee on the previous Trade Bill, between the former Trade Minister Mark Prisk and the then Trade spokesman for the hon. Gentleman’s party—I believe that that was the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). In column 116 of that sitting, the then Minister asked whether the hon. Lady thought that Welsh Ministers should have the power to veto a deal that was hugely in the interest of Scottish whisky. As a result, I gently suggest to the hon. Member for Dundee East that when we seek to press new clause 16 to a vote—perhaps on Thursday—he may be open to supporting that as a sensible route to managing the inevitable slightly differing priorities of each of the devolved Administrations and, potentially, the UK Government too.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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23 Jun 2020, 5:34 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the important issues raised in the amendments, which I think are fundamentally on different topics from those that we have dealt with for much of today. There is significant common ground between the Government and the Opposition parties. I welcome the hon. Member for Dundee East to the debate, for his first contribution today. It was noticeable that he chose not to take part in the chaos that ensued earlier when the main Opposition party’s Front Benchers struggled with whether they are for or against the Canada agreement and so on. He wisely decided to sit that one out.

Under the UK constitution, the negotiation of international trade agreements is, as I have already made clear, a prerogative power of the UK Government. It is also a reserved matter, where the UK Government act on behalf of the whole UK. When exercising that reserved power, the Government have made clear that they will deliver trade agreements that benefit all parts of the UK—I have already referred to the scoping assessment for the US deal, showing that Scotland would be the nation or region of the UK that benefited most—unleashing the potential of businesses from all four countries of the United Kingdom.

I recognise the important role that the devolved Administrations can and should play in that endeavour, not only as representatives of their respective nations’ interest, but because we know our trade deals will interact with areas of devolved competence. As such, my Department has worked and will continue to work closely with the DAs on our trade policy.

Turning to new clause 16, I will explain why I think it is unnecessary and impractical, although the principle of engagement behind it is one that I share. The new clause seeks to create a statutory role for a joint committee of the UK Government and the devolved Administrations as a forum to discuss trade policy, but such an arrangement is already in place.

During the passage of the Trade Bill 2017-19, the previous Secretary of State for Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), committed to establishing a new bespoke ministerial forum for trade with the devolved Administrations, in recognition of the importance of this relationship. That forum had its inaugural meeting in January and meets regularly to discuss our approach to trade negotiations, including key areas such as our objectives for the US trade agreement.

I am also happy to put on record my commitment to continuing to work closely with the devolved Administrations at all stages of trade negotiations, not only through the ministerial forum for trade, but via bilateral ad hoc engagement to reflect the sometimes fast-paced nature of trade negotiations. Indeed, I spoke about the US free trade agreement with all my counterparts in the devolved Administrations last month and have also recently written about the Trade Bill and other trade policy issues.

My former ministerial colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) travelled to Belfast in February to meet colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive to discuss trade policy. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Dundee East, I restate the commitments made by my right hon. Friend, when he was a Minister, in his March letter to the Scottish Minister Ivan McKee.

In short, we are already delivering the engagement envisaged by proposed new clause, and we have achieved that while continuing to observe the important constitutional principles enshrined in the devolution settlements. In contrast, this proposed new clause would give the devolved Administrations a statutory role in the reserved area of international trade negotiations, which would be constitutionally inappropriate.

Nor is this proposed new clause practical. It would lock us and the DAs into prescribed ways of working under the existing intergovernmental memorandum of understanding, a document last updated in 2013. It would constrain our ability to develop and adapt bespoke engagement mechanisms as we embark on negotiating our first UK trade agreements for more than a generation.

Turning to amendment 8, the powers created by this legislation will be used for the purpose of transitioning trade agreements with those countries that the UK had agreements with through its membership of the EU. That will ensure certainty, continuity and stability in our trade and investment relationships for businesses, citizens and trading partners in all parts of the UK.

As parts of these agreements touch on devolved matters, this legislation will create concurrent powers. We have sought to put in place concurrent powers to provide greater flexibility in how transitional agreements are implemented, allowing each devolved Administration to implement the agreements independently in some cases, while also allowing the UK Government to legislate on a UK-wide basis where it makes practical sense to do so. This approach permits greater administrative efficiency, reducing the volume of legislation brought through the UK Parliament and through the devolved legislatures.

I recognise that the devolved Administrations and members of this Committee seek reassurance that those powers will be used appropriately. The Government have already made clear that we will not normally use them to legislate within devolved areas without the consent of the relevant devolved Administration or Administrations, and never without consulting them first. I am, of course, happy to restate that commitment here.

It is not appropriate, however, to put that commitment on a statutory footing, as, like new clause 16, it would give the devolved Administrations a statutory role in the reserved area of international trade, undermining the important constitutional principles enshrined in the devolution settlements. We recognise that the technical implementation of international obligations in devolved areas is a devolved matter. However, as I have explained, the decision on which international obligations the UK enters into is a reserved matter and a prerogative power exercisable only by the UK Government. This rightly ensures that the UK Government can speak with a single voice under international law, providing certainty for our negotiating partners and the strongest possible negotiating position for the whole of the UK, for the benefit of all of the UK.

A statutory consent provision in the Bill would in effect give the devolved Administrations a veto over a reserved matter. This would be highly constitutionally inappropriate and could lead to a situation where international agreements applied in some parts of the UK but not others. This would be a fundamental weakening of our Union and the long-established principle that in the matter of international relations the UK Government negotiate for all parts of the UK.

Additionally, placing the commitment on a statutory footing could open us up to convoluted and lengthy procedures in which the courts were asked to determine in minute detail what was reserved and what was devolved. This is disproportionate and would create significant uncertainty for UK businesses, undermining the fundamental purpose of the Bill, which is to maximise certainty and continuity of trading arrangements. Our commitment to not normally legislate in areas of devolved competence without consent, and never without consultation, strikes the proper balance between providing sufficient reassurance to the devolved Administrations while preserving international relations as a reserved matter. It is a sincere commitment that we will honour, as we have honoured the commitments made to the devolved Administrations on the Trade Bill 2017-19.

For example, we committed to seeking suggestions from the devolved Administrations on the optimal way of recruiting non-executive members for the Trade Remedies Authority, which we will discuss on Thursday, with regional knowledge, skills and experience, and we fulfilled that earlier this year.

Our new independent trade policy absolutely calls for engagement with the devolved Administrations and respect for the important role that they can and should play, but it does not call for fundamental shifts in the nature of devolution or the weakening of powers that Parliament agreed should remain reserved to the UK Government. We have worked collaboratively with all the DAs to ensure that the Bill enables us to transition arrangements in a way that delivers for the whole UK. Our existing commitments, which I have restated today, provide sufficient reassurance to the devolved Administrations on the issues covered by the amendments. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Welsh Government have recommended consent to the relevant clauses of the Bill.

I hope I have been able to satisfy hon. Members that we have recognised and met their objectives in this amendment and that the hon. Member for Dundee East will withdraw it.

Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)

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

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for International Trade
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.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 2:12 p.m.

I am sure we would be happy to reconsider if the Minister committed at this point to being sympathetic to some of the amendments we have tabled—for example, on extending scrutiny opportunities and extending the Bill to cover future free trade agreements. I will look sympathetically at his request if he will look sympathetically at ours.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 2:23 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. He is an old sparring partner of mine over different years and different Sessions. It would be impossible for me to commit to that today, because there is still the opportunity, as I understand it, for further amendments to be tabled, so it would be impossible for me to either rule in or out opposing all future amendments.

I want to say a quick word on the practicalities for Members who are on their first Bill Committee. Due to the social distancing requirements, as you mentioned, Sir Graham, there is no one to pass notes to the Hansard reporter. Normally, the Minister also has with him or her a small group of officials, but they are unable to be with us today, also due to social distancing. On occasion, therefore, if a Member has an extremely technical question—I am just trying to think of a good example; perhaps it would be something about diagonal accumulation rules in the EU-Faroes agreement—it may be necessary for me to write to them. However, I commit that if I do write to a Member, I will of course copy the information to all members of the Committee.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 2:17 p.m.

That may be one of the issues on which the Minister needs to write to the Committee. He will know that there have been long-standing concerns about British companies’ ability to get access to public procurement markets in an honest way, in, for example, China and Russia, given the levels of support that the Governments there often give to their own companies. The market is not necessarily an honest and level playing field. I understand that China and Russia are in the process of acceding to the GPA, but it might be helpful at some stage for the Committee to understand how far along the journey to accession those two countries are. They are potentially critical for British companies that want to get into the procurement markets there.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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18 Jun 2020, 2:19 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very good question. I do not have current information about how far down that process China and Russia may be. Of course, both those countries are members of the WTO. It would, ordinarily, not be unnatural for them to seek membership of the GPA, but, of course, the GPA does not include all members of the WTO—it has 20 members, and they are typically western liberal democracies. Australia is the most recent to join. I imagine that China and Russia joining would become a significant issue on the international stage, and at the WTO.

If the UK were not an independent member of the GPA in its own right—or if it were to fall out—our ability to influence accessions would be very much diminished. That is another good reason to be a member of the GPA—so that we can exert UK influence on the global stage to make sure that accessions are in the interests of the wider world community, as well as UK businesses and taxpayers.

The reciprocal nature of the agreement supports the public sector to get the best value for every taxpayer pound that it spends. Those benefits will increase each time another party joins. Each new party that joins increases the procurement opportunities available to UK businesses and public sector bodies.

Turning to amendment 29, the powers in clause 1 will enable us to give effect to our international obligations on joining the GPA as an independent party, and to make changes as necessary in response to specific circumstances that may arise from time to time after our accession. Examples might be changes to reflect, and arrange for, the accession of other parties to the GPA—the hon. Member for Harrow West mentioned a couple of possible future members—or to make the necessary adjustments where parties leave the agreement. The ability to make these changes is essential to allow us to keep in line, and up to date, with our international obligations.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will understand that there have been concerns about acceding to the GPA and doing so at a time when we have exited the European Union. One concern relates to how low the threshold is for other GPA members to potentially get access to central Government contracts, thereby potentially putting at a disadvantage British companies wanting to win those contracts. What reassurance can he offer British companies that are potentially beginning to seek out opportunities to win central Government contracts that they will not lose out against other countries’ companies?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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19 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

It is a good question, but the assurance I would give is that our intention is to join the GPA with substantially the same arrangements as we currently have as members of the EU. That will give the assurance of continuity as we move forward.

The power in the clause is appropriately drafted to ensure that our international obligations will be fully complied with, including by making changes to national law, where appropriate, using the power in this clause. The use of the power is expressed in the usual way. I say to the hon. Member for Dundee East that we have expressed these powers using quite a usual formulation, allowing authorities to make regulations in the circumstances set out. If the wording were to be changed from “may” to “must”, as proposed in the amendment and as he suggests, changes would need to be made in all circumstances covered by clause 1. There would, however, be certain circumstances where it would not be appropriate or necessary for regulations to be made. For example, a dispute with another party might be resolved without the need to make any changes at all to domestic regulations. Likewise, not all modifications of another party’s appendix I will require changes to domestic law. On that basis, I ask the him to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a serious and important point about the contribution that co-operatives can make. If I may, I will return to the intervention from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who asked me to extol the benefits of trade. I will certainly do that, but I do not think our country should sell itself short, which is why we have tabled these amendments. In a former life, in happier times, I served as Minister for Trade Policy. As a result, I am an enthusiast for the benefits of trade, but there are caveats to that enthusiasm. If the hon. Gentleman stays awake and enthused, he will listen to examples of our enthusiasm for trade, as well as some of our concerns about the Bill.

I will conclude my remarks by noting the significant potential for co-ops to help deal with some of the issues arising from our ageing society. By 2030, the number of people who need help to wash, feed, or clothe themselves in this country will have doubled to some 2 million. That will place heavy burdens on local authorities and national Governments who seek to procure the support to help those vulnerable people. With a bit of imagination from procurement managers, co-operatives could help to meet those needs, and I suggest that they would also provide a good service. That will require imagination and proper Government support and thinking about procurement, so that co-operatives, and small and medium-sized businesses—they are mentioned in amendment 26 —can benefit from those procurement opportunities. That is another reason why the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central are spot on.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:10 p.m.

We have had a far-ranging debate, but I will speak to amendments 24 to 27. The amendments seek to place a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State to enter into negotiations with GPA parties, with the aim of advancing policy objectives across labour standards, environmental protections, SME participation, and public health in UK procurement opportunities covered by the GPA, and—crucially—before making regulations under clause 1(1).

Let me remind Committee members of our approach to the UK’s GPA succession as a whole. As I have said, we intend to join the GPA as an independent party on substantially the same terms that we had as an EU member. That approach will support a swift accession at the end of the transition period, and preserve the access of UK businesses to procurement opportunities covered by the GPA, which are estimated to be worth £1.3 trillion annually.

Ensuring continuity in the terms of the UK’s participation will not prevent public procurers from taking into account a range of factors when conducting procurement. Social, labour and environmental considerations can continue to be taken into account, as they are today, so long as they are consistent with the UK’s international obligations, including, importantly, under the GPA, non-discrimination obligations. Those obligations already apply to the UK under our current GPA membership.

Indeed, the UK has an active procurement policy agenda on SME participation, sustainable procurement, social value, and labour considerations. As an independent party with our own voice, we will have the opportunity to engage other GPA parties on those issues—for example, via the GPA work programmes, other multilateral forums or bilateral channels. Unless we succeed in securing the UK’s independent accession, the UK will not be party to those discussions within the GPA. Parliament will be updated on developments across those areas through the Department for International Trade annual report, which will be published each year from 2021.

On amendment 27 on health, let me reassure the Committee that the UK’s GPA coverage does not cover healthcare services. It does cover goods and certain services above a specific value threshold procured by the NHS, such as medical equipment, cleaning and building management services, which keeps those types of opportunities open to overseas competition. That helps to ensure that the NHS can access vital resources at competitive prices. Contracting out such non-healthcare services—it is important to stress that—has been a long-standing practice within the NHS across successive Governments that frees up money to be spent on frontline delivery.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:09 p.m.

rose—

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:11 p.m.

I will take the intervention from a member of the last Labour Government, which played an active role in this aspect of the GPA when he was in office.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:12 p.m.

I remind the Minister that we are not opposing accession to the GPA. We are merely seeking to make sure that our country benefits properly from GPA membership. He gave the example of cleaning, but I gently remind him that cleaners in the NHS and more generally are often very low paid, so anything that we can do, as amendment 24 sets out, to help to raise the quality of jobs in cleaning services must be sensible. Surely the Minister recognises that, given the covid emergency that we are all experiencing.

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.

Break in Debate

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.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Sir Graham. Surely that is not within the scope of the Bill. I ask the Government Whip to intervene, and encourage you to restore order as well.

Break in Debate

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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18 Jun 2020, 4:19 p.m.

I accept that, but the additional 4,000 cars a day going over Putney bridge into the hon. Lady’s constituency as a result of the closure of Hammersmith bridge has certainly not improved air quality—shall we put it that way?

The hon. Lady raised concerns and, I think, quoted the TUC in relation to continuity agreements with South Korea and Colombia. It is worth pointing out that both those agreements have been rolled over with largely identical wording on labour provision and workers’ rights, so those concerns are not valid. The UK takes labour rights extremely seriously, of course, and UK legislation already provides for robust measures to tackle such issues as human trafficking. Continued GPA membership will not affect that.

In September 2019, the Government announced new measures designed to ensure that Government supply chains are free from offences of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking. The hon. Member for Harrow West, in what I think was an impromptu speech, made some good points on co-operatives. I am delighted to see that on this side of the aisle, we immediately trounced him with the commitment to co-operatives from my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble, for Arundel and South Downs and for North East Derbyshire.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I heard applications to join the Co-operative party and the all-party parliamentary group for mutuals; I did not hear any new commitments towards co-operatives. None the less, I do not wish to indicate in any way that I was not encouraged by the contributions of the three Conservative Members, but it would have been nice to hear from the Minister an offer of additional support for co-operatives.

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.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I hope to be equally brief. I have some sympathy with the amendment. I recognise the appetite of the hon. Member for Dundee East to prevent overreach by the Government in adding to legislation via secondary legislation anything that they think is a “nice to have” rather than a fundamental and necessary consequence of a trade agreement. Our biggest concern is that the Bill will not deliver the effective meaningful scrutiny of either so-called roll-over agreements or the larger agreements to come, such as the US trade deal and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, on which the Government have begun negotiations.

Taken as a package with the Command Paper from February last year on parliamentary scrutiny of future FTAs, the Government’s failure to include in this Bill several amendments that were tabled on Report in the Commons in February 2018, and in the Lords, raises concerns about Government overreach. We hope to tackle those issues with further amendments that we have tabled to clause 2. I recognise that devolved Administrations will worry that the devolution settlements might be further undermined by Government overreach because of the use of the word “appropriate” instead of “necessary”. We have some sympathy with that concern, as indicated by one of our amendments further down the line.

The witness from the CBI made a striking intervention on Tuesday morning when he said that business was desperate for certainty. To get certainty, Parliament needs to have more say and involvement in future trade agreements, otherwise we risk the development of a situation of considerable mistrust, undermining the appetite of business to take up the opportunities offered by new trade agreements. Our amendments seek to prevent that from happening by locking in more opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny. I suspect the hon. Member for Dundee East does not intend to press this amendment to a vote. In that spirit, I have flagged up some of our concerns about the Bill, which we will address in the group that begins with amendment 4.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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18 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

Speaking to amendment 30, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Dundee East, I can assure him that all regulations made under the clause 2 power to implement international trade agreements will be both necessary and appropriate. The power is needed to implement obligations arising from continuity trade agreements into domestic law over time and in all circumstances. Our expectation is that the power will be mainly used for obligations relating to procurement or mutual recognition of product conformity assessments. To be clear, it cannot be used to implement tariff-related provisions. Without such an ability to make changes, the UK would be at risk of being in breach of our international obligations. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that that does not happen. The proposed amendment would prevent that by constraining the vires or scope of the regulations that can be made under clause 2, particularly when using the concurrent powers to legislate in areas of devolved competence.

I can assure colleagues that the powers in the Bill will be used in a proportionate way and that consultation with colleagues in the devolved Governments and elsewhere is a fundamental part of our approach. The Government view “appropriate” and “necessary” as synonymous, and our intent is only to make use of the regulation power where it is needed to fulfil obligations under agreements. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Dundee East to withdraw his amendment.

Break in Debate

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18 Jun 2020, 4:58 p.m.

I was moving on to say where there might be concerns about an investment treaty that warranted the type of scrutiny that the Bill allows, and the Bill could allow even more of that type of scrutiny if the Government accepted later amendments. There are absolutely major concerns around the ISDS provisions in some investment treaties; I am sure that we will come to discuss those concerns when we debate other amendments.

The International Trade Committee has highlighted other aspects of investment treaties about which there are concerns, such as the question of sustainable development provisions in investment treaties so that developing countries can postpone investment liberalisation if they need to for various developmental reasons.

There have also been concerns in the past about performance requirements in investment treaties: conditions attached to foreign investors by host states, such as stipulating that a certain quantity of domestic inputs into goods that are being produced have to come from the host country.

For those reasons, therefore, we want to make sure that the Bill allows proper scrutiny in relation to any of those concerns that might or might not be raised by a future investment treaty. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

18 Jun 2020, 4:59 p.m.

Amendment 31, which has been tabled by the hon. Member for Dundee East, seeks, as he pointed out, to modify the definition of an international trade agreement. Our definition of an international trade agreement is drafted so that it will sufficiently capture the range of agreements that we currently access through the European Union. That includes free trade agreements but also stand-alone mutual recognition agreements, or MRAs. By changing the definition, the amendment would limit important elements of trade that businesses and consumers rely on.

As Members know, provisions under free trade agreements are wider than simply goods and services; the point was made by the hon. Member for Dundee East. That is an essential fact of modern trade agreements that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment overlooks. The amendment would create an unnecessary risk that important agreements became out of scope of the powers, leaving us unable to ensure continuity of trading relationships for UK businesses and consumers. He drew attention to tariffs but, legally, we cannot use clause 2 for tariffs, as he knows, because that has to come under the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018.

Amendment 15 seeks to limit the range of agreements that the UK will be able to sign outside FTAs. Specifically, again, that would have an impact on our stand-alone mutual recognition agreements. As Members will be aware, the UK has signed agreements that replicate the effects of existing EU arrangements for mutual recognition of conformity assessment. Those arrangements ensure continuity for UK manufacturers and businesses, meaning that they are able to continue having UK testing bodies certify that their products meet the regulations of other countries. The alternative would be to send our products for testing in other countries, significantly increasing costs and making many exports unviable.

The international trade agreement power enables continuity agreements to come into effect. That includes continuity MRAs. Amendment 15 therefore risks the UK being unable to fulfil obligations arising from continuity MRAs. If stand-alone mutual recognition agreements were taken out of the scope of the power, the UK would not be able to amend product-specific UK legislation to ensure that we were able to implement fully our obligations stemming from the continuity MRAs. Not only would that harm the UK’s standing on the international stage but, more importantly, it would materially impact on UK businesses and their employees at a time when they need to be able to maintain and grow their trading relations. No member of the Committee would want to see that.

An example of that power are the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2016 as covered by the mutual recognition agreement that the EU has with the United States, which reduces regulatory barriers to trade for goods such as microwave ovens. We seek to replicate the effects of that MRA, allowing businesses and consumers to continue to benefit.

I hope that I have been able to reassure the Committee about the reasoning behind the Government’s approach. I ask hon. Members to withdraw their amendments.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Greg Hands and Gareth Thomas
Thursday 18th June 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the last International Trade questions in May, my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) asked about reducing global tariffs on soap, which average at 17% among World Trade Organisation members and range as high as 65% in some countries. The Minister of State said that it was a very good question and that the Government were working tirelessly to reduce or remove those sorts of barriers. I am sure that that has been the case, so will he tell us what progress he has made on the specific issue of soap tariffs over the past month?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
- Hansard - -

Mr Speaker, you will know that on 20 March, which was the start of the UK lockdown, the EU Commission wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and HM Treasury alerting them to the existence of the potential mechanism by which tariffs in VAT could be waived on certain imports in the light of the covid-19 crisis. We have identified more than190 products that are in scope, ranging from PPE to soaps and disinfectants. When these products are imported by an organisation covered by the relief, the tariff will be zero.