Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, much as I wish we were not here, because we would not need to be here if the Government had done the decent, sensible thing and accepted the Lords amendment.

We have heard stories in interventions and substantive contributions, and in past debates, about the effect of an under-regulated secondary market that leaves fans paying over the odds for tickets, and places experiences beyond the financial reach of families. There is also a high risk involved that tickets purchased that way will not even grant entry to the events, and I had hoped that by this stage the Government might have read the room, understood that, and decided to respond in a meaningful manner. Let us be in no doubt: the Government amendment does little other than add the Competition and Markets Authority to the list of bodies that are able to enforce the already existing and inadequate rules on secondary ticket sales. As just about all Opposition Members can see, even if Government Members cannot, the existing rules are not working as well as they are intended to work.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
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My hon. Friend makes a good point about the powers given to the CMA, and I wonder whether the Government can increase the ability to finance and give capacity to the CMA to deal with this sort of stuff, or is this just something that has been passed on in paper?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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Perhaps the Minister will be able to deal with that question when he responds to the debate. Certainly the measure might bring a bit more resource, but it will also spread the resource for the CMA that little bit more thinly. The fact that the rules are not working as effectively as they need to has been evidenced in previous debates, when we have heard of obscure charging practices, of pressure to pay with countdown timers, and of the exorbitant end prices that often result.

The Government amendment is fine as far as it goes. It might bring a little more resource to the problem and a more strategic capability when tackling rule-breakers. I also gave two cheers when the Minister announced the promise of an inquiry at the tail end of the previous debate, but the Government are still not taking those practical measures that could be taken today with amendment 104B to clean up the marketplace for secondary ticketing.

Amendment 104B would involve measures such as a requirement to provide proof of purchase or evidence of title for the tickets for sale, which would forbid resellers from selling more tickets than they would legally have been able to purchase from the primary market. It would ensure that the face value and end price paid are clearly visible, along with the name and trading address of those doing the secondary vending. Crucially, it would also allow secondary legislation to be introduced, which could take account of and bring in anything from the inquiry that the Minister has announced, and it would compel the Secretary of State to have concluded that work within nine months. Contrary to what the Minister says, I believe that the measures in Lords amendment 104B are proportionate and add clearly to the existing Bill.

Lord amendment 104B is a bit like Lords amendment 104 which came before it. Indeed, it is almost the holy grail of amendments—it is popular, it does not cost anything, and more to the point it would be effective and do the right things in the right way for the right reasons. I do not think I am speaking out of turn when I say that hardly any Government in these isles, whether Labour in Wales, the SNP in Scotland or the Conservatives at UK level, are so overwhelmed with public support and good will at this time that they can afford to turn down good ideas when they are presented to them on a plate. It is therefore baffling that the Government would seek once again to steer these practical and effective measures off the road and into the ditch.

I will conclude my remarks by remarking on the “Dear Colleague” letter that was sent from the Minister yesterday, in which he expressed a clear desire to get the Bill on to the statue book without delay. Not a single Member of the House looking at the Bill in its totality would want it to be delayed, but we want it to go forward into legislation in as strong a form as it can be. That, for me, clearly means going forward in a way that can tackle the egregious abuses of people’s trust, and the reasonable expectations they have when they participate in the secondary ticketing market. Accepting the Lords amendment would allow everyone to do that, and I hope the Government will take heed of the genuine strength of view that exists on this matter, not just within this House or the other place, but outside and among the population at large, and that they will allow the Bill to progress as amended accordingly.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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I rise to support Lords Amendment 104B, which seeks to safeguard fans from the fraudulent abuse that is rife in the secondary ticketing market. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), I am really disappointed that the Government have repeatedly refused to accept the amendments to the Bill tabled by Lord Moynihan. In fact, for many years before that, they have failed to act as advised by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and her colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, supported by FanFair Alliance.

The Lords amendment includes the minimum of protection that fans deserve. It would ensure that anyone reselling a ticket has to show evidence that they have bought the ticket in the first place. As we have been hearing, that is a big issue in the secondary market, where ticket touts often list tickets that they do not own. The Lords amendment also aims to stop touts from listing more tickets to an event than they can legally purchase from the primary market.

If the Minister looks at Viagogo’s listings for BBC Radio 1 upcoming Big Weekend, he will see that touts based in Germany are selling more than 10 times as many tickets as can legally be acquired. He has said that measures to do anything about that are unenforceable, but that should not be an excuse. We cannot be standing here in this House and saying that a law that we could pass is unenforceable—it is ridiculous.

Another important measure in the Lords amendment is provision for a review to be published within nine months of the Bill passing. That is an urgent issue, and the Government must be ambitious in acting to tackle it.

I point out again to the Minister that action to crack down on ticket touting has significant support from the music industry and fans. Regulating against exploitative secondary ticketing practices is part of the manifestos put forward by music industry bodies including Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment and UK Music.

Many promoters, artist managers, venues and musicians have been highly critical of the market as it currently operates and called on the Government for urgent action to tackle the problem, but it is not just a problem for the music industry; foremost, as we have heard, it is an issue for fans. It is now commonplace for fans to miss out on tickets to sporting and cultural events only to see those same tickets on sale on a secondary ticketing site for far more money than they can afford.

With about a third of UK ticket buyers in the lowest socioeconomic bands, those inflated prices are reinforcing inequalities. The price of a ticket can make a significant difference to social and cultural inclusion, in some cases enabling marginalised or disadvantaged groups the opportunity to access events.

It is important that many venues and artists now endeavour to widen access to tickets by through-ticket pricing to certain groups, but that approach is undermined when touts use software to restrict fans’ access to the primary market and then force them on to resale sites such as Viagogo, which charge prices at the top of what consumers can bear, as we have been hearing. For example—this is disgraceful—I have been told that touts will buy up discounted tickets intended for young people, for people in wheelchairs, for carers and for others, and sell them on at the going rate on the secondary market to increase their profit margins. That has a serious impact on those consumers, who are then refused entry at the door, as well as impacting on the venue or artists that had subsidised tickets, and on the people for whom the lower priced tickets had been intended and who can no longer afford to attend the show.

I have spoken about music so far, but touting also affects other live events such as sport. Most recently, we have seen Viagogo listing up to 100 tickets for the England versus Iceland friendly at Wembley on 7 June, despite the fact that listing football tickets is illegal on unauthorised platforms—including Viagogo’s platform—for reasons of the safety of fans. When The Guardian journalist Rob Davies highlighted the listings on social media, Viagogo took down the tickets straightaway. Resale platforms should not be waiting to be caught out before complying with the law, but that is what we are seeing.

Another example of a secondary resale site having to be pushed into acting by media coverage was a recent BBC “Watchdog” report that raised concerns that some customers have not been able to receive a refund from Viagogo after being sent invalid tickets. Beth from Salisbury told the programme that she had booked a trip to Singapore to see her husband’s favourite band Coldplay as a thank you to him for his unwavering support during her cancer treatment. The two tickets to the show were bought through Viagogo for £500, but when the tickets arrived, the piece of paper said

“this is not a valid ticket”.

When she tried to get a refund, she was refused, despite the fact that Viagogo has a guarantee, apparently. In fact, it only refunded Beth’s money for the faulty ticket after the BBC “Watchdog” report. Given the weight of evidence of market dysfunction, which we have heard here and in the other place, it is disappointing that the Minister insists that the Government are already doing enough. If that is the case, why not agree to the amendment and see what comes out in the review?

Volunteers

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 2nd May 2024

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Westminster Hall
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure, Ms Nokes, to serve under your chairship today.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) on securing an uplifting debate to conclude the week. In her opening remarks, she captured very well indeed the broad sweep and scope of volunteering, and the contribution that it makes, not only to the communities that benefit from it but to the volunteers.

I cannot possibly begin to try and namecheck everybody in my constituency of whom I am aware, and there are many more of whom I am not aware who make that kind of contribution. I am sure that all Members are in exactly the same situation. However, I will just mention three groups, just to give a sense of the scope of volunteering in my constituency.

There is the Gordon Rural Action group, which in many ways fulfils the functions that many of us would recognise as being the functions of the citizens advice bureaux. It does a power of work through various initiatives and through direct help to reduce social exclusion and tackle poverty, particularly in the more rural and outlying parts of my Aberdeenshire constituency. There is also the Ellon and District Men’s Shed, which I very much look forward to visiting next week. There is also the committee that is the powerhouse behind the Victoria Hall in the town of Ellon.

The Victoria Hall in Ellon was a council-owned asset. It is a very handsome building, but it was a bit unloved; it was not really being used to its full potential. There was a community asset transfer. A really go-getting committee of local people got behind the scheme and now the building is block-booked for dancing, exercise classes and just about anything that anyone could imagine; it has even been transformed into a cinema, with all the digital projectors and everything else. The volunteers have really seized that opportunity and the Victoria Hall is now a beating and thriving hub of the town in many respects, breathing life back not just into the building but into the town.

There are also the many Rotary clubs across the district. Before life got busy with parenthood and politics, I was a very proud member of the Rotary club in Oldmeldrum and every year, through a variety of activities, we raised thousands of pounds to support both local charities and international charities. We supported the efforts of Rotary International to eradicate polio around the world. We also embarked on many other projects locally, which were also able to gain significant financial backing from other partners. We ran mock job interviews at the local school; we organised cookery and music competitions for young people; we sent young people on outward-bound educational courses, so that they could understand their own potential as individuals; and the more green-fingered among our number tended to the community garden and cut the grass at the old folks home. In addition, thanks to the combined efforts of Rotary clubs across the north-east, we put on the Haddo House egg hunt, which I think is still the single largest free public event in the north-east of Scotland and which is beloved by generations across the region.

Individual effort is crucial, but the organisations are important because they match an individual’s willingness and energy with the opportunity to contribute positively. That is good for the organisations and it is most obviously good for the broader community, but—as we have heard —it is also excellent in many respects for the individuals because of what they get out of such activity. To all the volunteers and those who help to enable volunteering, I add my heartfelt and sincere thanks for everything they do and all they contribute to the common good.

There is a long and proud tradition of volunteering. We are all used to the idea of the third sector and charities providing services in our communities with the help of volunteers, and with or without the help of Government money. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea that the Government should help to encourage and enable individuals to step in and help to do things that the state cannot, or that private business will not or perhaps should not.

When we think of volunteering in proximity to the public sector, it is probably of something like the Royal Voluntary Service running the cafés in our local hospitals, as my mother used to do at the Western General in Edinburgh, or perhaps a community transport service helping people to get around the area, rather than filling in for the full-time professional agencies of central or local government. We can also think more broadly of the work of the retained firefighting service or special constables.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, for example, has always relied on volunteers. The work of first responders in assisting the ambulance service across rural parts of the country has helped to save countless lives in situations where minutes really can be the difference between life and death. Volunteering brings a great deal to the table that central and local government can never be able to do and should never be expected to do. It is about making sure that to get the added benefit, we help people to have the time to give and offer them suitable outlets through which to give it.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central made some extremely good suggestions on how volunteering could be incentivised. I think we would possibly all agree that we live in a society where many people are underworked and many others feel greatly overworked. A lot can be done in that space to assist more people who would welcome the opportunity to volunteer.

For some time, we have had the right to ask for flexible working, even if there is no entitlement to always get it. That right at least exists, but it is much harder for many small businesses or small and medium-sized enterprises to support an employee in that, no matter what other benefits that individual might get and how they might grow in the process. Even something as basic as offering greater support to employees to allow those who wish to volunteer or who need to work unconventional hours to do so—whether that is for volunteering in its purest sense or for caring responsibilities for family, a child or an older relative—could transform not just the economy, but the quality of life for millions and millions of people.

It seems incredible that until comparatively recently, someone claiming unemployment-related benefits could have been penalised through the withdrawal of benefits if they volunteered for more than 16 hours, when a volunteering position could have given them purpose and helped to build skills and confidence, which would help everybody. I am delighted that the rules have changed. Benefit claimants are now able to have their volunteering commitment recognised, and that is allowed without the penalties that existed previously.

However, there is still more to do in this space. I find myself asking why some of the most experienced in our workforce find it so difficult to scale back their hours as they approach retirement without jeopardising their position in the workplace or future pension entitlements, depending on the rules of the schemes that apply to them. Not only does continuing with such inflexibility create a disorientating shock for some people when they eventually leave the workplace on retirement, but it deprives people of the opportunities to find future roles in communities, try things out and transition to what life at the end of a career and after work might look like. It deprives people of the opportunity to transition smoothly into the post-work environment, which would enable them to do something worth while, while also helping others to make the most of what life has to offer.

If we want to look at it this way, we have quite a big society—to use a phrase that was in vogue some years ago—but we do not make that society bigger or better by making the state smaller. We could use the power of the state to help to grow that society and allow people to get more out of their life and their contribution in work and in the community, to the great benefit of all.

In June 2021, I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the community response to covid, and it is right that a lot of people volunteered and rushed to the fore in that crisis. It is saddening that much of that volunteering effort seems to have tailed off, because part of my hopes for building back better was certainly to build back better by harnessing the good will, commitment and community spirit that came to the fore during that time.

I will conclude today, much as I concluded then, that it is often in the worst of circumstances that we find the best of ourselves. Community and volunteering are intertwined with one another and with the understanding that each of us is part of something much greater and bigger than ourselves, and that our greatest calling in life, whatever we do, is to be called and to serve others. Thank you to our volunteers, thank you to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central for securing this debate, and I thank everybody for their time.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 2nd May 2024

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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A key sector of the manufacturing economy is the plastics industry, which employs 155,000 people and has an annual turnover of £28.7 billion. In July 2023, the UK Government began a consultation on the plastic packaging tax and the methodology behind it. In February, some 14 organisations signed a joint letter to the Government urging the swift publication of that consultation. When exactly do the Government expect to be able to respond to that long-overdue consultation?

Alan Mak Portrait Alan Mak
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The hon. Gentleman is right: the UK plastics industry is highly important and contributed £8.2 billion to the economy last year. I am aware of the consultation, which is led by the Treasury, and I will ensure that he gets a reply.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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In 2017, Boris Johnson claimed the UK was “first in line” for a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States. While negotiations opened in May 2020, no progress has been made since October of that year. When does the Secretary of State expect to be able to deliver this alleged Brexit benefit, and what does she think will arrive first—a trade deal with the US or pints of champagne to toast it with?

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Richard Thomson Excerpts
John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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We will have to preserve our souls in patience for the Minister’s closing remarks. I will declare victory very shortly. It has been a helpful set of interventions, and I thank him for that.

My final point is not related to these Lords amendments, but to a commitment that the Minister made at the Dispatch Box on Report in response to an amendment on better regulation that I had tabled with the support of a great number of parliamentary colleagues. He made a commitment that a set of conclusions, matching a set of standards whose wording he and I had agreed in advance, would be in place before the Bill receives Royal Assent. Clearly we are getting close to that date—I hope very close—and I understand that a Government White Paper may be in the offing, but I am not sure whether that will arrive before Royal Assent. My point is intended not to delay Royal Assent, but to bring forward the White Paper or whatever document the Government may be thinking of.

Based on conversations I have had so far, I am also concerned that not all the commitments the Minister made from the Dispatch Box may be in that White Paper. I therefore urge him to make sure that between now and Royal Assent, he works assiduously with his fellow Ministers to make sure they have got the memo that should gone round after he made those commitments.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Scottish National party Members continue to support this Bill, and we support each of the Lords amendments. Notwithstanding the rather dizzying pinball rattle of interventions that went on between the Minister, the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), I will be a bit of a traditionalist stick-in-the-mud and stick to the wording in the amendments and the Bill, no matter what references might be made subsequently to the ghosts of debates past in Hansard.

On Lords amendment 9 and “proportionate” versus “appropriate”, it might seem to people outside this Chamber that we are dancing on a pinhead, but such distinctions matter. It is important that decisions of the Competition and Markets Authority should be allowed to stand wherever they deserve to, but that means not allowing unnecessary wriggle room to creep in for entities with deep pockets to challenge decisions not on the basis of principle, but on the grounds of what those entities consider proportionate. We consider that replacing the word “proportionate” is appropriate in this case, and we support the Lords amendment on that basis.

Lords amendment 13 reinserts the word “indispensable”. As the shadow Minister said, that term is well understood in competition law, but it also happens to be proportionate and appropriate in this case. It is entirely possible to envisage anti-competitive behaviour that can bring about consumer benefit either as a direct or indirect consequence, but we are clear that any benefits that arise should be such that they cannot be done without or forgone and that the test should be set accordingly.

With Lords amendments 26, 28, 31 and 32, we have believed throughout the Bill’s passage that the judicial review level is the appropriate appeals standard, rather than a full merits review. That is why we support those Lords amendments.

Draft Post Office Network Subsidy Scheme (Amendment) Order 2024

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

General Committees
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this afternoon, Ms Vaz. The Scottish National party is happy to support the measure before us. I would like to place on record our strong support for the post office network and everybody who works in that network to provide the services it does. Post offices provide an absolutely vital public service at the heart of each community in which they are located.

Post offices are certainly at the heart of those communities. While I certainly would not underestimate their importance in the urban communities that we serve, they have a particular significance in the rural communities that we serve, where they may indeed be the last commercial premises in a settlement. With the retreat of banks, post offices have all too often become the cash handlers of last resort for people and businesses. It is absolutely vital that the existing level of service and coverage provided by the Post Office is not diminished in any way, and that the Post Office is, wherever possible, in a position to expand both coverage areas and the services provided from each post office.

We wholly accept that the subsidy is required in order to provide that level of service. However, it remains a matter of regret that in recent years there has been a reduction in the services that the Post Office has been allowed to offer, affecting the business that can be transacted at any post office, particularly with the retrenchment in the financial services products that the Post Office is able to offer. That has placed additional pressures on operators, and has arguably sometimes made it less attractive to run a post office operation. I certainly do not think it could be argued that it has done anything to reduce the overall levels of subsidies required to support the network.

As I say, I am happy to support this measure on behalf of my party, but I would seek assurances from the Minister, in common with Opposition spokespeople, that this revised cap—albeit a significant uplift in the cap—will not impede the delivery of compensation for anyone affected by Horizon, should sudden rapid progress be made, in terms of the amounts that need to be paid out and the number of settlements. I also seek assurances that the level the subsidy is capped at will not impede the ability of the Post Office to carry out business-as-usual operations. If it looks likely that either or both of those scenarios should transpire, we will be back to look at increasing the subsidy cap, should that be required.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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Like everybody else, let me start with a moment of consensus. It was a privilege to be present for the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Damien Egan). On my visit to his constituency, I did not get to see the beacon that he mentioned, but that is clearly an oversight on my part and I hope to rectify it at some point. May I be the first to congratulate his sister on her wedding? Brothers who usurp their sisters are brave men, and only being elected to this place is a justifiable reason for doing so.

I am going to contradict my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) in that I think we have to talk about Brexit in this debate, not least because the Government have talked about Brexit in promoting the benefits of the CPTPP, and the people of the UK deserve better. They need to understand what is being offered to them and what is being done to reflect their growing recognition of the severe damage that this Tory hard Brexit has done to the British economy and to British businesses.

I rise to support not only the amendments tabled by my Front-Bench colleagues, but the concerns that have been raised about democratic oversight and scrutiny of those who might join the CPTPP. I will also speak to new clause 9, which I have tabled. I am pleased to say that it has support from across the House, including among people who disagree on whether Brexit has been a good idea. When so much fantasy has dominated the debate, it is about time we had some facts.

New clause 9 refers to the very real experience of British business right now of the damage that Brexit has done. Research suggests that £140 billion has already been drained from the economy; those trading opportunities and business opportunities have gone. The average Briton is £2,000 worse off, and in my London constituency people are £3,500 worse off. British businesses are crying out for support and help with trade. Research from the University of Sussex last year showed that only 6% were positive about Brexit, and seven in 10 manufacturers reported problems with their supply chain. That is why it matters that we look at the CPTPP.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am here not to oppose joining the CPTPP, but to hold the Government to account. It is Government Ministers, as well as their chums and various right-wing think-tanks, who promoted the idea that we should not worry about the damage that Brexit under their watch has done to our economy, because programmes such as the CPTPP were going to replace all those trading opportunities and be the hallowed ground that British business could look to.

The Trade Secretary herself said:

“Our accession to CPTPP sends a powerful signal that the UK is open for business and using our post-Brexit freedoms to reach out to new markets around the world”.

She is one of the milder advocates for the idea that not only has Brexit been a roaring success, but that the CPTPP will add to those trading opportunities.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that CPTPP+UK is an equivalent economic power to the EU-28”,

said Shanker Singham of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Goodness me, what a claim to be making. I tabled new clause 9 because I think British business and this place deserve to know the truth about the relative merits of such partnerships and the challenges to our businesses and communities, particularly small and medium-sized businesses struggling with the impact of Brexit, as well as whether help is indeed coming.

The honest truth is that nobody wants to name consistently the impact of this partnership deal, not even the Secretary of State herself. Mark Littlewood, who is also from the Institute of Economic Affairs, has claimed:

“The benefits to Britain will likely be significantly greater than some official estimates driven by static economic models.”

The challenge to that argument is that, when we ask anybody who promotes it what the actual data might be—where the evidence is that this will be the help needed by British businesses that are being clobbered by Brexit, with all the rules, regulations and tariffs they are now facing—we get the Facebook setting response of “It’s complicated”. That is not good enough for British business.

Even the Secretary of State tried that model with the Business and Trade Committee, telling it that she disputed the idea that the results or the benefits to British businesses of joining the CPTPP would be small, but she could not give an alternative model or an alternative number to give people some crumb of hope that they might actually solve the problems in their supply chain.

All we are left with are the claims of greatness—claims that disintegrate on hard contact with the here and now about what is actually being proposed and what actual damage has been done by Brexit. Here and now, British businesses find that Brexit border taxes are increasing, although I note that today in a written ministerial statement the Government have decided to rewrite some of those Brexit border taxes, which are due to come in at the end of April. So that is great for British businesses! That is stability and planning, when even the Government do not know how much they are going to charge people. The CPTPP is supposed to reduce the tariffs and non-tariff barriers we now face as a direct result of having left the European Union, because after all it is about reducing tariff barriers.

Let us look at the data we have to hand and whether we can really judge this partnership as offering that salvation. It has been claimed again, this time by The Daily Telegraph, that the bloc will represent 16% of global GDP, “leap-frogging the combined EU.” It is currently 10% of global GDP—but you know the Telegraph and figures—compared with 14% for the European Union. It is said that the CPTPP member countries have a combined population of 500 million and a GDP of £9 trillion. That is fantastic; we can be part of trading with them—nobody would dispute that that would be helpful to British businesses. There is a small reference point to take into account, however. Although the EU is of a similar size with a GDP of £11 trillion, the total value of our trade with the EU is £557 billion. That is 45% of our total trade, but that trade is falling as a direct result of Brexit, because it used to account for 55% of UK exports.

That is because, for all the smoke and mirrors and all the bluster about the CPTPP, there is a simple fact: geography matters. We can fight many things in life but air miles and transportation costs are not among them. Our ability to trade with our nearest neighbours easily and freely matters to British business far more than anything we could do with those further away. That is why the Government’s own impact assessment tells us that the CPTPP might only make 0.06% of difference to our GDP, or £2 billion. That is in part because we already have trade deals with most of the countries from when we had them as part of the EU. So only a further 0.33%—not 33%—of total UK trade will come under the new trade agreements.

The reality in all this and the conundrum we face is that this trade partnership will only really be a big deal if more countries join. I am sorry the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Sir Liam Fox) is no longer in his place. He was disappointed that the United States of America were not part of the CPTPP. It will only be the game changer that people talk it up to be if more countries join. Then we would be looking at the Indo-Pacific region. Right here, right now, that is not what we are signing up to and that is not what is being offered to British business. That is why scrutiny and looking at who else might join matters, but it is also why new clause 9 matters. It is not fair to British business to suggest that help is coming when help there is none.

Membership of the CPTPP bears no comparison to EU membership. The sum it will generate is just one fiftieth of what the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates Brexit has already cost the UK economy. Indeed, it estimates that leaving the single market means that our GDP will be 4% less over the next 15 years, and some have estimated that GDP has already reduced by 5% as a result.

In 2022, the UK exported £340 billion-worth of goods and services to the EU. By way of comparison, we exported £64 billion-worth of goods and services to the CPTPP countries. New clause 9 is about being honest with British businesses about where those markets lie and where they should invest their time. It is also about understanding that free trade is not just about tariffs; it is also about regulations and the non-tariff changes we face. It is about understanding that this deal could lead to a lowering of food standards and problems with our food supply chain. It could affect our ability to sign a sanitary and phytosanitary deal with Europe that might help remove those silly Brexit border taxes which mean that in a couple of weeks our constituents are going to be asking us why there are food shortages and food inflation and loads of lorries queued up at Dover trying to get to Sevington. It could lead to challenges for our environment, too: my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) rightly raised questions about palm oil and deforestation. There is an absolute irony in those who championed Brexit and who now champion the CPTPP not seeming to understand what the investor-state dispute settlement provisions are and the lack of democratic accountability and lack of control we might have. I do not know who is taking back control under those circumstances, because it is behind closed doors.

Clearly, we could have been working on other deals as a country that would have made a bigger difference to British business. That is why the amendments and new clause are so important. Our constituents demand that we ask those questions and get those answers from Government about the tariffs that are being retained and the impact that they will have, such as for British cheese producers. After all, Canada’s dairy industry is being protected—no Wensleydale for Winnipeg. The Trade and Agriculture Commission has warned of the potential increased costs of products due to tariff reductions, because UK producers will be held legally to higher sustainable standards. It is also about the rules of origin and details around what content is allowed.

Nobody is disputing that it is helpful to have content accumulation, because it helps with those difficulties within supply chains. Ministers have made much about that, but the reality is that had they spent as much time on the pan-Euro-Mediterranean convention, we would have far greater benefits for British business. That convention binds together more than 60 bilateral trade agreements within the Euro-Mediterranean area. It is not just the EU; it is much broader than that. There are 23 contracting parties, each with free trade agreements between them and a single rules-based origin protocol.

British businesses and those struggling supply chains could have got much more help, had we looked at what would really benefit them and just admitted the geography at stake in all this. We have short-changed ourselves and we are short-changing the British public if we try to claim that the CPTPP is in any way compensation for the damage that Brexit is doing.

In challenging those on the right who claim that the benefits of CPTPP will far outweigh the problems of Brexit—their hope and intention is that UK accession will kill off any likelihood that we will ever be part of the EU customs union or single market, as in that article in The Daily Telegraph—and that we could not have dynamic alignment, we have to recognise that that is just not true. There is plenty of evidence that whatever we did, we could rethink, and thank goodness for that. When things are at stake for British business, it is only right that we ask those questions. There is a process for changing regulations as we join the CPTPP that can be reversed if we can do a deal with Europe and work out what is in the best interests of British business. The only way we can do that is if we have the facts, and that is what new clause 9 is about.

Whether Members agreed with Brexit or opposed it, they should support new clause 9 and that ethos of having the data. If I am wrong and the CPTPP is the light at the end of the tunnel for British business, let us prove it, stand behind it and celebrate it. Nobody wants to see British business struggling as a result of Brexit with no help in sight. Every Member in this House should get behind the idea that we need good economic modelling. We should understand the extent of alignment, what new trade regulations on carbon pricing might do for British business and what is happening to trade volumes as a result of these partnerships. Without the new clause, we will not get that data. We will still get the Facebook answer of, “It’s complicated. We cannot really tell you.” All the while, global Britain is going-broke Britain—it is gutted Britain, with businesses across the country facing reams and reams of paperwork because of Brexit, with no end in sight, because this Government will not put British business first and renegotiate with Europe for a closer deal.

I am sorry that new clause 9 has not been selected for decision. I understand why, but I hope that Members will join me in demanding better for British business when it comes not just to trade deals, but to our relationship with Europe, because every manager of a small business in this country right now will be looking at all the paperwork, all the complications, all the further regulations and excessive costs and frankly the fact that the Government cannot even tell them what they will charge them on the Brexit border tax, and they will be coming to our constituency surgeries asking for help. We owe them the respect of having an answer.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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May I say what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy)? She makes an excellent case for rejoining the European Union. I could have scarcely put it better myself, and I hope her leader is listening. She makes some important points, any teasing aside, about the importance of economic data and of being able to model the impacts of the Government’s decisions.

I rise to speak to new clause 10, which is in my name, but first I would echo a number of voices from various parts of the Chamber that have expressed regret that we have before us a narrow Bill to ensure compliance with the requirements of the CPTPP, rather than a debate on the substance and fundamental principle. That is something on which, collectively, we could do much better.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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May I take this opportunity to thank the Clerks for all the assistance that they have given throughout the scrutiny process, and to offer heartfelt thanks to the researchers who support my group for the help that they have given me throughout the passage of this Bill?

Those on the Treasury Bench will no doubt be delighted to hear that the SNP will not seek to divide the House on this Bill. We have never said that there could not be advantage from the CPTPP, but we could not be clearer that it offers a poor substitute for the trade deals that were left behind as a result of our leaving the European Union. Let us remind ourselves that, with the CPTPP, we have essentially swapped the four freedoms of the European single market—a market of half a billion consumers, right on our doorstep—for an agreement with a combined economy of almost half the size on the opposite side of the world, which takes only 8% of our exports. It seems to be a bit like putting an Elastoplast on an amputation.

The Government’s impact assessment, which I know is highly contested, even by the Government themselves, indicated that the long-term increase in trade will be worth £2 billion a year, or 0.06% of GDP. We are all aware of the parable of the hare and the tortoise, but I am not sure that many tortoises could live long enough to make up that ground. Whatever benefits do arise—at this point in time, they look distant and minimal at best—they will always and forever be less than we could have had in different circumstances.

Along with others, throughout the passage of the Bill, I have sought to warn the Government that they should find a way to quantify the impacts of CPTPP, and the risks right across a range of sectors that will be affected by it. We will remain vigilant, and will hold the Government to account, where the outcomes justify it. I suppose that I should not disturb the bonhomie that there has been, but one big question remains: will all those on the Front Bench be reunited to discuss any further trade deals before the Prime Minister has to call an election? I await the answer with bated breath.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 7th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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The trade and co-operation agreement has hit small and medium-sized exporters the hardest, as most do not individually have the capacity to deal with the additional bureaucracy and paperwork created by that trade deal. Does the Minister recognise that the TCA has disproportionately damaged the competitiveness of SMEs? What support can the Government offer SMEs to recapture the market share they have lost in Europe since then?

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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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While the UK Government struggle to support small and medium-sized enterprises exporting to Europe, they are providing a £600 million export guarantee to INEOS so that it can build the largest chemical plant in Europe for 30 years in Antwerp, Belgium. Why can the UK Government find £600 million to support that investment, but not match the £500 million that the Scottish Government are investing in domestic energy transition at home?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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UK Export Finance does not give the money; it provides guarantees to loans that are being provided by banks. There is quite a significant distinction: we have not given that money; we have guaranteed a loan. The reason why we provide those guarantees is that they guarantee jobs to British businesses. There is a big difference between a loan guarantee and giving money. If he would like more of an explanation on that, we are happy to provide one to him.

Post Office Board and Governance

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 28th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank my hon. Friend for his work on this issue as one of my predecessors; I know that he was as keen as I am to ensure that full and fair compensation is paid to all individuals. As I said, there is no limit to the amount of compensation that we will set aside to ensure that people are compensated properly for this horrendous scandal.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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In the week that we heard that more than 250 postmasters whose lives and reputations were damaged by Post Office Ltd died before they could get justice, yesterday we found another layer of Post Office Ltd’s organisational dysfunction. On 19 February, the Secretary of State informed the House of bullying accusations against Mr Staunton, only for us to find out yesterday that those accusations related to another individual entirely. Could I first ask the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect—not just for the manner in which he goes about his business with regard to the Horizon scandal—whether the Secretary of State misled the House by telling Members that Mr Staunton was under wider investigation for bullying? Secondly, will the Minister now respond positively to requests from the Scottish Government and the Northern Irish Executive to reconsider introducing legislation that could lead to a swift UK-wide exoneration for the postmasters affected?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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To be clear, we terminated Mr Staunton’s role as chair of the Post Office not because of bullying accusations. There was an 80-page report, which he referred to yesterday, and which I have not read. He freely admitted in yesterday’s evidence session that he was named in that report. To what extent, I do not—[Interruption.] Well, that is what Mr Staunton said; he said that it was to a very minor extent. I do not know that, I do not think the hon. Gentleman knows that, and I think we should wait for the investigation to conclude before we make a judgment on that. The point was not about the allegation itself; the point was that, as Mr Staunton admitted yesterday, he interfered with the investigation. That is unacceptable, and if we had not acted in the way that we did, I think that the hon. Gentleman and others would be calling us to account for why we did not act when somebody had tried to suspend or interfere with an investigation into his own conduct.

I am aware of the Scottish and Northern Irish Governments’ position on legislation. Of course we will continue to discuss that with them. There are some separate devolved issues around the judicial systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is the reason we have done it differently. We are happy to continue our dialogue on it.

Draft Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Tuesday 27th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

General Committees
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Mr Hosie. On behalf of my party, I very much welcome the statutory instrument. It is important to recognise that we are broadly congratulatory on the greater flexibilities, but I will mark a waypoint on the public record about how far the UK still lags behind other jurisdictions.

I will give two examples across the North sea. On the length of parental leave, Norway allows 49 weeks of parental leave, with 15 weeks reserved for each parent. Sweden allows 480 days of parental leave, with each parent, if there are two, allowed 240 of those days. While we recognise the flexibility that this legislation will bring, let us not forget how far behind many other prosperous northern European societies we are. With that said, anything that makes it easier to take paternity leave and encourages its uptake must be a good thing. To that extent, we very much welcome the flexibility brought by the legislation on the timing of the leave, the notice required to be given in order to take up that leave and the flexibility in how it is taken.

To speak personally as a father of two, when I took some parental leave after the birth of my first child, the first week certainly was not terribly restful, and getting back to work was actually a blessed relief in many respects. The poor girl was tongue-tied. That was not noticed in the hospital, and feeding her became far more of a challenge that it ought to have been, which was to her great detriment. However, having flexibilities in the legislation might have helped us to navigate that. At the time, I was a local authority councillor; I had a great deal more flexibility than many other people—certainly many other fathers—in how I could manage my workload to balance home life and get as much of those precious early few weeks with both my children after they were born as I could. I certainly benefited from that, and I hope that as a family unit we all benefit from it going forward. As the Minister said, there is a considerable body of evidence showing that when fathers are involved in caring for their children and in their upbringing, a range of better outcomes result across the course of everyone’s lives.

I will veer off momentarily to say how important this legislation is in tackling gender inequalities. At Prime Minister’s questions on International Women’s Day, I highlighted a report by the pension firm Scottish Widows that showed that women were retiring with a pension pot worth £123,000 less on average than men. Further, a woman aged 25 today would be on track to retire with a pension pot £100,000 less than her male counterpart.

There is no doubt that a whole range of reasons that contribute to that, including discrimination and attitudes in the workplace, a large part of which come back to the differences that emerge after people go on to start a family. Anything that recalibrates attitudes and which not just allows but encourages men to play a more active role in the upbringing of their children, in particular to get involved at that early stage, hopefully breeding good habits that go on as their children grow up, has to be a good thing.

There is no single measure that will tackle that gender inequality, particularly that gap. Rather, a series of small measures such as this one will start to make the difference. I very much welcome the flexibilities in the regulations, but we need to remember that there are other places that are doing this much better than us in the overall amount of leave for parents of whatever gender, and I firmly believe that we should aspire to improve that as well.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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First, let me say that we on the SNP Benches are also not looking to divide the House. I thought that I might get the opportunity to pre-empt the jibe that is often made about how my party is against trade deals, but the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) got there first. I saw that those on the Labour Front Bench also took a sideswipe with their rather nonsensical jibe. I freely admit that we have yet to find a deal signed by this Government that we are happy to support. Fundamentally—I say this again—we are in favour of good trade deals and we are not in favour of poor trade deals. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Totnes is very, very excitable. For the purposes of Hansard, he is asking me to name one, but the sad fact is that I cannot name one that has been signed by this Government. Trying to help those on the Treasury Bench and Back Benchers understand the difference feels a bit like Father Ted trying to explain to Father Dougal the difference between cows that are small and cows that are far away.

In common with the shadow Minister, we are not saying that there cannot be some advantages of the CPTPP deal, but what we could not be clearer about is that, taken in their totality, all the trade deals signed to date—or even those that could have been signed had negotiations not failed to get off the starting block, or those that have hit the buffers in recent days—are a very poor substitute for the trade deals that we have left behind. In the manner in which it chose to leave the European Union, the UK managed not only to create trade borders with 27 other countries, but, unfathomably, to create one with itself, when it created a trade border down the middle of the Irish sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In the CPTPP, we have essentially swapped the four freedoms in Europe of goods, capital, services and people, in a market of half a billion people with a GDP of over £15 trillion, which was right on our doorstep and which already took over 40% of our exports, with a much lesser deal, with a combined economy of almost half the size, on the opposite side of the world, which currently takes only 8% of our exports. A great deal of growth would need to happen in that market—somewhat implausibly I have to say—even to come close to matching what has been left behind.

The economic benefits of joining the CPTPP are pretty small. I know the Government do not like these figures being repeated—which seems as good a reason as any to go on and repeat them—but the UK Government’s own impact assessment indicated the long-run increase in GDP would be £2 billion, or 0.06% of GDP. The OBR even had it as 0.04% in the long run. As John Maynard Keynes said:

“In the long run we are all dead.”

In a written answer to me dated 11 September last year, the then Minister of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), said that the impact assessment, where the £2 billion figure had come from, had

“been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee”.

I went and had a look at what the Regulatory Policy Committee had to say in order to get an idea of what “the long run” might actually mean. The Committee’s document said:

“When compared to projected levels of GDP or trade in 2040 without the agreement, the FTA’s main impacts (based on central estimates and in 2021 prices) are that…UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to increase by £2.0 billion.”

What the Minister said in his reply will therefore be correct, just not for a further 16 years or so. In the meantime, we have a real, immediate drop of 4% in GDP resulting from Brexit, leaving our economy permanently driving with the handbrake on.

I understand that the Government intend to adhere to the Sewel convention on this occasion and will seek the legislative consent of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies for the Bill. The Government should do that for every piece of legislation that comes through this place, not just performatively whenever they are confident of getting a positive response. While the benefits of free trade are obvious, there is also an obvious benefit to having tariffs in place. Tariffs serve a purpose; they are not just about protectionism, as some would have it.

I was encouraged to hear the Secretary of State say that we would never compromise on animal welfare standards, but one sector where that is in real danger of happening is the egg production sector. I see the Minister for Trade Policy wrinkling his brow. He and I have had an exchange on this before. The sector is worth over £1 billion to the UK economy. Tariffs exist currently to protect the industry from imports from mass-producing jurisdictions such as India and Mexico, which have lower standards than we insist on for our domestic producers, and that our consumers rightly demand.

The Minister responded, again not inaccurately, that the UK does not import many eggs. Well, eggs are quite fragile. It is difficult enough sometimes to transport them from the shops back to our kitchens intact, let alone right around the world—but of course the egg products that we are talking about are liquefied or even powdered egg products, which once put into a shipping container can be transported around the world at comparatively very low cost. It would not require a huge amount of displacement in the market to get a foothold if those products were allowed in under the terms of the CPTPP. Let us be under no illusions: for all that it is a £1 billion domestic industry, once egg producers are gone, they are gone and they are not coming back, so there is a real risk of harm and of our standards being undermined whatever level we choose to set them at domestically, because the tariff that was there to maintain a block on imports that did not meet those standards will effectively have been taken away.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) quite understands what is about to happen with the border target operating model that fits alongside the legislation. A health check certificate and a consignment charge will be required for eggs and egg products imported from Europe, with no equivalent health check or standard required for eggs imported from CPTPP countries, thus creating an imbalance and making the scenario that the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) is talking about more likely, because of the way in which eggs are produced in this country in collaboration with Europe.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. One of the ironies here is that because our borders will no longer be protected by food import checks at Rotterdam, there has basically been a free-for-all in terms of the standard of products that can come in. I welcome the fact that there will be checks in order to protect our biosphere, but that comes at a financial cost that will hit consumers hard at a time when food inflation remains high and we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis. That is just one example of the red tape that we were told would be cut by Brexit not being cut sideways; it has been cut lengthways, creating far more of the stuff.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Moving away from eggs, which I do not think will be the major export from Malaysia or other far-eastern members of the trans-Pacific partnership, let us look at the opportunities for Scotland. In the last year or so there have been bumper sales of Scottish whisky. Whisky sales in Singapore are up by some £90 million, and in Malaysia they are up over £30 million. The opportunities arising from being able to export tariff-free to Malaysia will mean a substantial increase in our single most important food and beverage export. Does the hon. Member agree that we should not underestimate the opportunities for Scotland in all this?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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My point about eggs—I will stay on this subject for a bit—related to India and Mexico, which are major producers. Of course Scottish MPs are interested in good trade outcomes for Scotland, but we look to trade more than just whisky. While any increase in our share of the international spirits market is welcome, it would have done us much more good if the Government with control over domestic duties had not whacked an 11.1% increase in duty on that product last year. I say as gently as I can to the hon. Member that it is not just tariffs that are significant; many jurisdictions take their cue for the taxes levied on a product from the duty set in this country. I contend that we set a very bad example—I hope that he might agree—when whisky is taxed so highly in comparison with other alcohol products in the UK domestic market. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I did not quite catch that. I invite the hon. Member to intervene on me, if he wishes to make a point.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was just making the point that taxation raised here is spent on important issues in the United Kingdom. That of course includes, under the Barnett formula, significant subsidies by the English of Scotland.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
- Hansard - -

What a load of absolute codswallop. It may have escaped the hon. Member’s notice that every part of the UK is in deficit. I do not think that a single part of the UK, perhaps not even London or the south-east, raises more in taxation than it receives in public expenditure, so can he please park the patronising trope about England subsidising everywhere else? Scotland creates one of the highest levels of gross value added of any part of the UK outside the vortex of London and the south-east, which suck in every aspect of capital and talent.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the spirit of trying to bring the debate back to the fantastic opportunities for Scotland, as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Brunei, I was delighted to go to Aberdeen to meet a number of Scottish companies in the incredibly important business of decommissioning and renewal in the oil and gas industry. Brunei has signed a deal worth, I think, £350 million with Scottish business. That is not subject to any controversy.

May I also say that the hon. Member’s contribution to this place is incredibly useful? It is a very good symbol of why members of the SNP and Scottish Members of Parliament are so valuable to the Union, and to debates such as this in the British Parliament. Long may you be welcome here in Britain.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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We seemed to be being pulled back to the topic, but now I am being tempted to go off down another rabbit hole. While I thank the hon. Member for his generous comments, I know exactly what side my bread is buttered on. I am a long-standing supporter of Scottish independence because I have a simple belief that the best people to run Scotland and make decisions about Scotland are those who have chosen to make their life there. With all due respect to this place and its traditions, I think that we could do a far better job from the Parliament in Edinburgh.

I will get back to the purpose of the debate, as entertaining as that no doubt was for all concerned. The SNP retains concerns about the ability to apply investor-state dispute settlements under the CPTPP. A deal for Canada has, for now at least, hit the buffers, but it was concerning that there was no indication from the Government of any side letters about investor-state dispute settlements similar to those applied in respect of the FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. There is real concern that investor-state dispute settlements could have an impact on standards and decisions taken here.

We firmly believe that trade deals done right can channel and create potential to support decent jobs and raise standards, not just domestically but globally. It is therefore worrying that the ethos of the CPTPP means effectively abandoning the precautionary principle, which places the burden of proof on the producer to show that a product is safe. Instead, the burden will be on the regulator to prove that something is a danger before action can be taken. That can only act as a downward pressure on standards. The committee on regulatory coherence will no doubt also become a focus for this issue, whether we are talking about antibiotics in agriculture, the impact of decisions on deforestation, or something as iconic as palm oil; we have already agreed a 12% tariff on imports from Malaysia, irrespective of the impact that that would have.

We have further concerns about the impact on workers’ rights and domestic conditions. There is the risk of being undermined by lower costs elsewhere, resulting from lower standards on labour rights and obligations, or lower regulatory standards more broadly. We are concerned about the impact that that could have on our public services, and our ability to set domestic laws and regulations could come under challenge, either from the economic forces that are unleashed or through the ISDS mechanism.

All things considered, the Government have made a blustery and boosterish contribution, while being very blasé about and dismissive of the concerns raised. As I said earlier, the SNP will not seek to divide the House on the Bill this evening, but we certainly look forward to exploring all those issues further in Committee.