House of Lords
Tuesday 8 September 2020
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Introduction: Lord Frost
David George Hamilton Frost, CMG, having been created Lord Frost, of Allenton in the County of Derbyshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Shinkwin, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Herbert of South Downs
The right honourable Nicholas Le Quesne Herbert, CBE, having been created Baron Herbert of South Downs, of Arundel in the County of West Sussex, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Mancroft and Lord Hill of Oareford, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
My Lords, Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points; and I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Covid-19: Levelling-up Agenda
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to deliver on their levelling up agenda in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
My Lords, the Government have responded to the challenges of Covid-19 through unprecedented support for business and workers across the country. At the summer economic update, the Chancellor announced the Government’s plan to support jobs in every region through upgrades to local infrastructure, boosting skills and new employment support schemes.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that response, but what will the Government do to help the north-west of England to support it through the economic impacts of Covid-19?
Investing in the regions is a key part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, and my noble friend will be pleased to know that the plan for jobs announced in the summer confirmed over £300 million for priority local infrastructure projects in the north-west. I am also pleased to tell him that more than 7 million meals were claimed as part of the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme in the region.
My Lords, in 2019, the Social Mobility Unit called for a new joined-up approach from government to overcome failures in delivery of the social mobility programme. How will the Government avoid such failures with the levelling-up agenda at the difficult time of Covid? Will the taskforce insist on joined-up approaches which consult local communities about necessary action?
My Lords, I am afraid I do not have details of the Social Mobility Unit’s work before me, but the Government are doing a huge amount on this agenda. I point to the introduction of the kickstart scheme this week, which is particularly focused on young people at risk of long-term unemployment as a consequence of this pandemic.
Poor areas exist not because they have large numbers of poor people but because they have limited opportunities for people to skill up and get good paid jobs, so how can levelling-up become a reality when a report out this week shows that the UK has slipped from first to fourth place of OECD countries on the proportion of funds it spends on education and training?
The Government are doing a huge amount to respond to the challenge of education and training and provide opportunities for young people. As I just mentioned, there is the kickstart scheme, where those aged 16 to 24 will have the national living wage paid by the Government for job placements lasting up to six months.
My Lords, in some areas where employment was low, the pandemic has produced greater than average damage. What steps are being taken to mitigate this further damage?
In addition to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been running for more than six months, we are providing more support to businesses to take on new trainees, with more than £111 million to triple the scale of traineeships available.
My Lords, evidence from the Midlands Engine Observatory highlights the barriers to growth in the Midlands economy, leading to a gross value-added gap with the rest of the UK of around £76 billion. Will the Government confirm their commitment to back the work of the Midlands Engine partnership and support its calls for targeted investment to deliver on its policy of levelling up for almost 11 million people in the region?
My Lords, every place in the UK has a role to play in driving growth and the Government absolutely support the work of the Midlands Engine partnership. I am pleased to say that 30 places in the Midlands Engine region have been shortlisted for the next stage of the £3.6 billion towns fund to develop towns deals, and at Budget 2020 we announced £20 million development funding for the Midlands rail hub.
My Lords, earlier this year, the IFS Deaton review warned that the Covid economic shock would highlight and potentially worsen existing inequalities, with people on lower incomes thought most likely to work in sectors impacted by lockdown and least likely to be able to work from home. Does the Minister believe enough is being done to prevent a widening of inequality, and how does she envisage the Government delivering on their levelling-up agenda in those circumstances?
My Lords, the Government are completely committed to avoiding any widening of inequality during this pandemic. That is why, during the summer, we announced our plan for jobs. It contains three elements: protecting jobs, such as by cutting VAT for the tourism and hospitality sectors, which have been particularly affected, until January next year; creating new jobs, including through the £2 billion new green homes grant, which will create new job opportunities; and supporting jobs through measures such as the kickstart scheme.
Lord Greaves? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft.
The Government pledged to move policymakers into what Michael Gove termed
“overlooked and hitherto undervalued communities”,
yet many Civil Service jobs are now being advertised as remote working. These are not just junior roles but £60,000 and £70,000-a-year jobs, which would help level up communities. Can the Minister assure the House that when government departments move, the civil servants will have to go with them?
My Lords, the Government are committed to having more parts of government represented across the UK. That has worked very successfully with DfID, which is now part of the FCO —its office is in Scotland. We will embrace new opportunities for flexible working, but there will always be a need for in-person working as well.
In a recent campaign, Rethinking Local, the Local Government Association called for an approach to economic development that ensures that councils can continue to support businesses in their communities through place-based budgets and a locally led approach in areas such as skills and lifelong learning.
What commitments can the Government give to reassure the House that upcoming announcements, such as the comprehensive spending review and the devolution White Paper will take a localist approach, where devolving power and funding to local areas becomes the default position?
I reassure my noble friend that the Government are absolutely committed to devolving powers to local communities. During the pandemic, we have provided £3.7 billion in additional funding to councils that has not been ring-fenced. As my noble friend noted, we will be providing more information and detail on our plans for further devolution in the devolution and local recovery White Paper, which will be published this autumn.
My Lords, with the levelling-up agenda appearing to focus on the red wall seats, how do the Government propose to ensure levelling up across the whole of the country, especially with regard to non-reserved matters, such as education and health?
One of the important measures that we have announced on education is a catch-up tutoring programme, which has funding that goes to schools across the country, and particularly targets funding on those children who need most support. That will ensure that, although children have missed time at school this year, they will be able to catch up on it in future years.
My Lords, does the Minister not realise that we are dealing not just with the effect of the Covid pandemic but with 10 years of Tory austerity, and so a great deal of levelling up is needed? Specifically, can she tell me what the Treasury is doing to make sure that the money allocated for Scotland is spent by the Scottish Government on the purposes that it was intended for, and not used as a sort of nest-egg to give to their friends?
My Lords, I will not try to overturn the devolution settlement in answering the noble Lord’s question. However, I can confirm that, during the pandemic, we have provided over £8.9 billion of funding to the devolved Administrations, which includes £4.6 billion for Scotland.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. No? As all supplementary questions have been asked, we now move on to the next Question.
Housing: New Homes
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of (1) how many new homes will be needed by 2025, and (2) how quickly they will reach their target of building 300,000 new homes per year.
My Lords, the Government are committed to meeting the country’s housing need, delivering 240,000 new homes last year—the highest number in over 30 years. The Covid-19 pandemic presents a real economic challenge to the housing market, and our top priority will remain a safe, sustainable recovery. That is why we will continue to take appropriate measures to support housing supply, such as the recent Planning for the Future consultation.
My Lords, there is a dire shortage of housing in this country, especially in areas which have shown a lot of growth, such as the south-east. While I very much welcome the consultation on Planning for the Future, it does not stress the early action that we need. The proposed zoning system, about which I have some concerns, will, in practice, take an age to establish. Why do we not instead put a Macmillan-type in charge to focus on nothing else—it might even be my noble friend the Minister himself? He could make use of the planning guidance; release plots of land to help small builders, including on government-owned land; encourage builders to use planning permissions; and give rapid approval for building in local materials and styles, applying the spirit of the late Roger Scruton.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for putting me forward for a new role. There is an unprecedented amount of initiatives to boost housing delivery, including grant funding, a substantial amount of which is through the affordable homes programme; guaranteed funding to enable access to finance at lower cost; loans to enable short-term funding; and ensuring that we can accelerate the release of land and invest in the infrastructure required for housing delivery.
The Minister will be aware that council housing lists are running at over 1 million, and in my diocese, private rental is a prohibitive drain on all but the most generous of incomes. Will he outline what proportion of the 300,000 new homes will be assigned to social housing?
My Lords, in the last year, 57,000 of the 240,000 homes were affordable homes, and the Government have committed the largest single funding commitment to affordable housing in over a decade, with £11.5 billion out of the total £12.2 billion set to enable the building of affordable housing. This new programme aims to deliver more homes for social rent.
In the light of the over- whelming evidence gathered by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission of the importance of popular and beautiful design for our mental and physical health, for support for new homes and for our connectedness as local communities, what assessment has my noble friend the Minister made of the 45 recommendations of that commission for promoting health, well-being and sustainable growth in achieving the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes per year?
My Lords, the Government welcome the report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, and are at this point carefully considering its recommendations. A government response will be published in due course.
My Lords, only a quarter of households in most places have a high enough or secure enough income to buy, even with support from schemes like Help to Buy and First Homes. Does the Minister agree that we cannot achieve 300,000 homes a year by continuing to rely on the housebuilders building homes affordable to only a quarter of households? Does he agree with Professor Glen Bramley that we need to build 140,000 homes a year that are affordable to those on average and lower incomes—in other words, more than twice as many as are being built by housing associations and councils today?
My Lords, I recognise the importance of delivering housing of all types and tenures, and that is reflected in the new approach to housing need, which takes into account affordability as a key plank of the new approach to the formula. I just referred to the enormous amount of money— £11.5 billion—that is being set to deliver affordable homes in the next five-year period.
My Lords, today’s commitment to social rent as part of the new affordable homes programme is welcome, as is the Government’s housebuilding ambition of 300,000 new homes per annum. However, that is a level that the private builders have never achieved since World War II, while investment in social housing could create a countercyclical boost for the construction sector. The Minister seems to have recognised that in the announcement today, but it contains some untested and risky policies. Can the Minister assure the House that his department will take steps to ensure that these policies do not slow down the Government’s housebuilding plans at a time when they are most needed to provide new homes for lower earners and key workers?
My Lords, I can assure the House that all the new policies that have been announced recently, including permitted development rights, will be kept under review, and we will see what impact that has on housing supply.
My Lords, has the Minister seen Shelter’s latest analysis, which says that there is a backlog of 380,000 “phantom homes” with planning permission but not completed? Does he agree that the planning reforms, which may take as long as 18 months, will not be a quick-fix for this problem? Surely Oliver Letwin’s recommendation for a much greater mix of tenure is therefore suitable, and proper investment in social—not affordable—housing is where there is a market. There is desperation as well as demand, and that should be the urgent goal.
My Lords, I restate that there is a commitment to all forms of housing—all types and tenures—including social housing. That is one of the reasons why the borrowing cap on the housing revenue account was removed, so that we have seen a generation of councils build more homes than in the previous decade. I also point out that Sir Oliver found no evidence in his review that speculative land banking is part of the business model for major housebuilders.
My Lords, can my noble friend ensure that the building regulations are fully up to date and enforced, and that he will have due regard to the importance of green spaces and gardens, as we have seen during this Covid epidemic?
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that building good quality and beautiful housing is a top priority for government. The Covid pandemic has shown just how important housing is, and the importance of access to green space. I can assure my noble friend that the building regulations will be continuously updated.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. We have got to make housing more affordable right across the spectrum of need. That means more council and housing association properties available on social rents, not affordable rents. How does the Government’s housing strategy deliver those social rent homes?
I point out a number of measures. Obviously, the investment in affordable homes of £11.5 billion that I just announced is the largest investment in affordable housing in over a decade. In addition, the removal of the borrowing cap enables housing to be built. Councils have built 10 times more council housing in the last decade than in the previous one.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to drive up the construction of much-needed new homes but, with social distancing on building sites, the loss of many skilled construction workers as they return to Europe and the vagaries of the British weather, is the case not stronger now for investing in modular off-site construction, with higher safety standards, higher quality standards and improved productivity? What steps are the Government taking to increase these new methods of building the homes that we need?
My Lords, my noble friend is right in highlighting the importance of boosting the use of modern methods of construction, and we are helping to create a pipeline of opportunities to give confidence to the sector and investors. We are providing financial support for the sector through our £4.5 billion home building fund, and a further £450 million was announced for the home building fund this summer in response to the coronavirus crisis.
My Lords, in my experience of local government, I found the public to be very resistant to new development, changing from nimbys into BANANAs—build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody. Planning for the Future further reduces their ability to object, preferring instead to front-load the process involving residents in master planning and the local plan. From the Minister’s own experience, how realistic is that assertion? Given that even Conservative MPs are now concerned about the proposals, how will imposing more top-down targets result in more homes and a happier public? How do we actually engage with the public in this very serious issue?
My Lords, I recognise the antipathy for development in some places that the noble Baroness has pointed out, but two-thirds of local authorities are building in line with their housing need. The current approach and the consultation on housing need to take into account a number of factors and provide a start point for a dialogue about the number of homes that are needed to be built in next decade.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
UCAS End of Cycle Report 2019
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken, if any, in response to the finding in the UCAS End of Cycle Report 2019, published on 30 January, that white ethnic group students from state schools had the lowest entry rate to higher education.
My Lords, the Government are committed to transforming the lives of young people so that they can go as far as their hard work and talent will carry them, regardless of their background or where they live. The Government acknowledge the findings of the UCAS 2019 End of Cycle Report. Our reforms since 2010 have set out an ambitious agenda and made substantial investments in opportunities for all young people.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer. Recent Centre for Social Justice analysis of education results by ethnicity found that white British children on free school meals had performed worst at GCSE by a significant margin for many years. How will the Government improve GCSE results so that poor white boys and girls stand a better chance of getting into higher education? How do they plan to improve parental engagement in education, as teachers can only ever be part of the solution?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that, when it comes to higher education, the seeds of equal opportunity are sown much earlier. It has been the Government’s mission over the past decade, under successive Prime Ministers and Education Secretaries, to break the correlation between parental wealth and pupil achievement by raising standards for all pupils. That is what our reforms are doing, with the knowledge-rich national curriculum and more children in good or outstanding schools. Part of the reforms has also been about giving more power to school leaders and to parents, who, as my noble friend says, have a crucial role to play, such as in the opening of more than 500 new free schools.
My Lords, while it is true that the gap in HE entry rates between the most advantaged and the most disadvantaged has narrowed, nevertheless the UCAS report for 2019 shows that the entry rate for students from the most disadvantaged areas is 21%, whereas it is 47% for the most advantaged students. Moreover, the gap is much higher in universities with higher entry tariffs. What do the Government propose to do about this, given their recently stated commitment to levelling up?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out some of the distinctions between the attainment gap at different levels of pupils’ education. I am pleased to say that, on this year’s numbers, disadvantaged 18 year- olds are entering higher education at record rates; 23% of 18 year-olds in England have been granted access to higher education this year. That shows the progress that we have made but also the work that still must be done.
My Lord, there is a trade-off in sixth forms between the depth of provision and the quality of provision. If more sixth-form colleges in white, working-class areas were to narrow the range of provision and concentrate on the quality, results would go up. This is not raised in the report. Will the Government give it some consideration?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right that we need to increase aspiration for people at all levels, and our reforms to the national curriculum have been about equipping people with a knowledge-rich curriculum that will carry them as far as their talents can, whatever route they wish to pursue after the age of 18.
My Lords, the Government’s levelling-up commitments are rightly not just about regional growth but about people. Does the Minister agree that improving educational outcomes for poor white boys should be a specific part of the levelling-up commitments and a measurable part of those commitments?
First, I pay tribute to the work my noble friend did as Education Secretary to increase opportunity and drive up standards. Levelling up means setting the highest standards for all pupils and ensuring that they are helped to achieve their full potential, regardless of their background or location. We want schools to address the needs of every individual pupil using the resources available to them, including the pupil premium. As she knows, the disadvantaged white pupil cohort is the largest such group in our schools, so attracts the most pupil premium.
My Lords, universities and colleges make great efforts to improve inclusivity strategies, but can find it difficult to access the information to identify the particularly disadvantaged youngsters, such as free school meals data. Could that information be made available to them so that they can more readily identify the needy children?
That is a sensible suggestion, which I shall take back to the department. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out the important work that universities do to increase access. They work with the Office for Students to increase access to university for people from underrepresented backgrounds. A number of universities are also helping with specialist maths schools—indeed, the University of Liverpool Mathematics School opened last week.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise Professor Jon Rasbash’s research at Bristol University, which found that only 20% of attainment is attributable to school-level factors? The remaining 80% is due to pupil-level factors, half of which, he says, are “family effects”. What is the Government’s response to his suggestion that policies targeted at the family level may provide an effective means of improving pupils’ progress?
I have not seen the research that my noble friend cites, but I will certainly look it up and read it with interest. He is right that our reforms have been focused on breaking the link, as I said, between the financial background of pupils’ parents and the pupils’ level of attainment in education. As part of that, we have made a record investment in this area, including 15 hours of free early education for disadvantaged two year-olds right at the very beginning.
My Lords, while support from family is key to assisting a child’s life chances, we all remember teachers who inspired a love of learning. Does the Minister agree that schools that enhance the aspirations of children from a working-class background should be recognised as such, perhaps by measuring the number of pupils with an entitlement to free school meals who go on to higher education?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out the important work done by teachers in raising aspirations and encouraging pupils. I know that as a comprehensive schoolboy who went to Oxbridge. Part of our reforms has been about giving more autonomy to school leaders so that they can follow the evidence and do what is best to raise standards in our schools and help people go as far as their talents can carry them.
My Lords, the admissions system has barely changed since I was one of just 10% of school leavers to go to university in 1970. It is now nearly 50%, yet it is assumed that largely the same system is still fit for purpose. Palpably it is not, and one thing that must change is the introduction of post-qualification applications and an end to the corrupted system of unconditional offers of places. In Scotland there is an aim for 20% of all entrants to higher education to come from the 20% most deprived backgrounds by 2030. In light of the UCAS report, can the Minister say why in England there are no targets for the involvement of white students from lower socioeconomic groups and when the Government plan to introduce them?
My Lords, there are no national targets, but all higher education providers that want to charge higher-level fees need to have an access and participation plan agreed by the Office for Students. As part of those plans, they set the activities and targets to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to their institutions. If a provider fails to meet its access and participation plan, the OfS can hold it to account, while respecting its academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University. The A-level results fiasco has distorted university recruitment and universities face considerable costs to cope with problems not of their making. Can the Minister assure us that they will be given additional funding and assisted to meet government targets such as those affecting the underrepresented group referred to in this question, who often need additional support when they gain their places at university?
The noble Baroness is right. This has been an extraordinarily difficult year both in schools and for universities, and we have worked closely with both to make sure they are equipped to do everything they need to do to help people in this challenging year. As I say, the UCAS data for this year’s entry shows a rise in the number of people accepted to university, including a record rate of 23% of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going, which is encouraging to see in these challenging times.
My Lords, the Minister will know of the National Education Opportunities Network’s work in widening participation and outreach. Last year it found that less than 40% of universities were doing outreach with white males and less than 12% with white females. Will he please have a look at what the problem is there, in the light of his comments about access and participation? It is clearly not widespread.
I will certainly follow up on that. As I say, the Office for Students has a responsibility to work with universities that want to charge the higher-rate fees to have such plans in place and to make sure they are enforced.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking in response to the reported rise in the number of people committing suicide.
My Lords, one suicide is too many suicides. That is why we published a cross-government suicide prevention workplan in 2019, are investing £57 million in suicide prevention in the NHS, are rolling out suicide prevention plans across the country and are committed to working with charities such as the Samaritans and the Zero Suicide Alliance.
I thank the Minister for his reply and what the Government are doing. Unfortunately, male suicides are the worst they have been for two decades. There is particular concern among men between the ages of 45 and 49, and suicide is the highest form of death for those under 50. It is a particular concern in areas of Yorkshire and Humber. In his latest book, Professor Michael Sandel argues that this is part of a wider malaise in society. In a highly competitive society such as ours, there are those left behind without any sense of value, dignity or self-esteem. Will the Minister encourage the suicide strategy advisory group to look at what Michael Sandel has said and its implications for government policy?
The noble and right reverend Lord is entirely right that suicide is an awful form of death. Each one is worth regret, but the numbers are more complicated than he suggests, as the definitions of suicides and the coroner’s assignment of the suicide definition has changed in the period he describes. While we are all concerned about society, I am not sure I entirely agree with his sombre analysis of society’s values. I have a more optimistic outlook than he perhaps does. The Government’s suicide prevention programme entirely addresses the concerns of individuals and is, I believe, having a powerful effect.
Recently published figures show an alarming, significant increase in suicides among young people, even boys and girls aged 10. Those were pre-Covid statistics. Those statistics are heartbreaking and, I think we all agree, inexcusable. Does my noble friend believe that the social media companies are really owning up to their responsibilities in combating abuse and bullying online? Are we owning up to our responsibilities in schools to educate children about the safe use of social media and to pass on to them the wisdom and support they need?
My noble friend is entirely right to raise concerns about the role of social media in rising suicide rates among young people. We are doing an enormous amount to protect young people, incentivising every school to identify a senior lead for mental health, creating new mental health support teams and piloting a four-week waiting time to allow swifter access to specialist NHS care. We are also taking on the social media companies and demanding that they step up to their responsibilities.
My Lords, suicides in any section of our society are a tragedy, but I draw the Minister’s attention to suicides among veteran members of the Armed Forces. Evidence from the charity Veterans United Against Suicide suggests that around 69 veterans died by their own hand in 2018, 59 in 2019 and around 37 so far this year. Does the Minister agree that informal evidence is not a reliable basis for understanding the extent of this problem? Would it not be better to once again press the coroner service, when recording a verdict of death by suicide, to note whether the deceased was a military veteran?
The noble Lord is entirely right to raise the issue of veterans, who have an incredible and alarmingly high rate of suicide, one that I regret enormously. We are working closely with veterans’ charities to provide the kind of mental health support that veterans need but, all too often, that does not prove enough. His request for greater data from coroners is an idea I will take back to the department, chase down and write to him about.
My Lords, these are unpropitious times for ordinary people. Lockdown has increased the incidence of loneliness and we are hearing more tales about domestic abuse. With the furlough scheme ending soon, we have worries about the world of work and joblessness. There are increased referrals for mental health problems, and the National Union of Students tells us about the well-being of students, in these uncertain times, as they face a new university session. These all bring their own worries and pressures. All these factors might create a climate in which we see, tragically, the rate of suicides climbing.
Meanwhile, the Government are beset on all sides by energy-sapping programmes to do with the economy, health and education—and Brexit looms. We heard of the loss of a senior law officer just this morning. We have heard about the ambitious programmes of the Government, as outlined by the Minister. Can he assure us that keeping them running and in proper focus will be manageable, given all the other things the Government are being dragged down by, largely as a result of their own ineptitude?
Yes, I am glad to provide that assurance.
My Lords, ministerial claims to have the lowest suicide rate for seven years, in the fourth report, do not accord with the latest ONS figures from 1 September this year. These show that, at 16.9 per 100,000, England has the highest suicide rate since 2000, with an increase each year since the new strategy began in 2017. Alarmingly, my own region of Yorkshire and Humber has consistently had the highest suicide rate anywhere in the United Kingdom for a decade. What steps are the Government taking to evaluate their existing strategy and produce consistent statistics? What proportion of the £25 million allocated to local suicide prevention plans has been spent in Yorkshire and Humber?
I remind the noble Lord that, in July 2018, the standard of proof used by coroners to determine whether a death was caused by suicide was lowered from criminal to civil. That has had a meaningful effect on the number of suicides recorded. I am afraid the numbers for Yorkshire and Humber are not available to me.
My Lords, we need to return to statistics. Last week, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that new figures from the ONS showed that the number of suicides in England fell during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. Could the Minister confirm to the House that this was mistaken? While the figures cited by the Health Secretary are the latest reported by the ONS, the ONS also clearly said that those figures
“cannot be used to show the number of suicides with a date of death in 2020, including those that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
It is likely, it continues, that it
“reflects delays to inquests … due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
As government statistics show, the last time the suicide rate was this high was 1988. I would like to know what government resources are being applied to this and that they will not be cut back.
The noble Baroness refers to recent statistics, which are, as she rightly points out, subject to change, as coroners’ investigations land on the desk at PHE. I reassure her that the statistics suggest a difference between stress and anxiety, and clinical mental health issues. It seems that one aspect of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has not translated into a massive mental health tsunami, as feared. This is hugely encouraging and a great relief. None the less, we are committed to the mental health support that the Government provide, and continue to support charities such as the Samaritans and CALM, including through the £9.2 million recently given to them for suicide prevention and support.
My Lords, sadly, self-harm is a major risk factor for future suicide and is growing among young people. Later this month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention will be publishing a report of its inquiry looking at the support available for young people who self-harm. Having been closely involved in this inquiry, I ask the Minister whether he will commit to the Government looking seriously at its findings, which were informed by young people who had self-harmed, and to responding in due course.
The noble Baroness is entirely right that self-harm is an alarming, distressing and rising phenomenon among young people. I welcome the report that she describes, and commit to having a good look at it, when it is published.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
EU Trade Agreement
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether a future trade agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union will be secured by 15 October; and what plans they have to ensure that the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol contained in the withdrawal agreement are upheld in the event that no such trade agreement is reached.
My Lords, the eighth round of negotiations will begin in London today. An agreement is still possible, and we will continue to work hard in September to achieve it. We will also continue to work with the EU in the joint committee to resolve outstanding issues with the NI protocol. However, as a responsible Government, we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to be inadvertently compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol.
My Lords, let us be clear here. The Government promised that they would deliver a first-rate deal with the EU when the transition period ended on 31 December. Yet on the very day the chief negotiator has taken his seat in the House of Lords, he rates the chances of a deal at 30% to 40%. What has gone wrong? We look forward to hearing from him when he speaks in this House.
Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister heralded the Northern Ireland protocol as a major political victory, which the noble Lord referred to. Now, as the Northern Ireland Executive are preparing for implementation, it has unforeseen consequences. Really? Was nobody paying attention at the time? Was nobody watching?
I have three questions for the noble Lord. Can he confirm that any clauses about Northern Ireland in the upcoming legislation will be fully consistent with the withdrawal agreement and the Good Friday agreement? Also, given the shock departure today of the head of the UK’s legal department, will the Government publish a precis of the legal advice and the opinion of the Attorney-General? Finally, seeking unilaterally to override a negotiated and signed treaty has serious implications for trust in us as a nation. Can the Minister tell the House—I am happy for him to write to me if he cannot—of any previous occasion when the UK Government have overridden a binding treaty that they have ratified?
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Frost, as I can now call him, on his introduction and his outstanding service in the negotiations.
The noble Baroness asks why we have not yet reached a conclusion. In our judgment, the European Union has not been as constructive as it might have in the way the negotiations are conducted. I say to the noble Baroness and the House that I hope the legislation will be published imminently, and full time will be allowed in the House to debate the specific and important issues the noble Baroness has raised.
I will have to take advice on her point about legal opinions, and I will respond to her on that. As far as Mr Jones is concerned, the Government obviously respect his views and thank him for his service. But we are clear that we are acting fully in accordance with UK law and the UK’s constitutional norms. Without prolonging the answer, there are precedents, with which I will gladly provide the noble Baroness.
My Lords, Jonathan Jones, who was the head of the Government Legal Service, resigned this morning because he thought that the Government’s plans to override the Brexit withdrawal agreement were in breach of the Ministerial Code, which obliges Ministers to obey the law, including international law. How can the EU, or any country with which the UK is currently negotiating, have any trust in this Government to follow through on any agreement reached, when they are, in this case, clearly planning to tear up an agreement made only a few months ago?
My Lords, there is no such intention on the part of the Government. We will continue to work with the European Union in the joint committee to resolve outstanding issues on the protocol. Those of your Lordships who have followed it closely will know we are already committing and spending to undertake some of the requirements of the NI protocol. To de-dramatise this for a moment, let us see if we can get an agreement in the joint committee. I then hope that the safety net that we will be discussing on the Bill will not be necessary.
Does my noble friend recall that, shortly after the British people were so unwise as to vote to leave the European Union, Monsieur Barnier said—I think I have the right terms—that the British people needed educating, which most people translated as, “We need to teach them a lesson”. Does he share my concern that the same arguments of the last four years are now put forward by the same people, who are not reconciled to the fact that we have left the European Union and would believe—and indeed support—anything said by EU negotiators and Michel Barnier, rather than support those, such as the noble Lord, Lord Frost, working hard in our national interest in these very fraught negotiations?
My Lords, my noble friend makes pertinent points. My view is that both sides should seek to make progress. A lot of work has been done, and there have been obstacles, but we consider some of those artificial, so let us hope that they can be swept out of the way. The Prime Minister made clear again that he would like to agree a deal, but the matter cannot drag on indefinitely.
My Lords, what additional steps are the Prime Minister or other Ministers taking or contemplating to persuade individual EU Heads of Government to allow Monsieur Barnier to modify his reportedly fixed positions on a so-called level playing field and fish quotas?
My Lords, our duty is to negotiate with the European Union, and that is the proper course that we are taking. I make it a practice at this Dispatch Box to not comment on the internal affairs of the European Union, but the points the noble and gallant Lord raised are pertinent.
My Lords, given the concerns in the House about any attempt to derogate from an international treaty and the implications for the peace process in Northern Ireland, will the Minister confirm that the Government are aware that any attempt unilaterally to modify the terms of the withdrawal agreement will adversely affect the confidence of EU citizens resident here, and of British citizens resident in EU countries, in the United Kingdom’s commitments under the agreement, if treaty commitments may be set aside? What can the Minister say to reassure both categories under these circumstances, other than to undertake to honour the treaty in full?
My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest as a resident of another EU country. I do not feel that there is a wider spreading out from this. The British Government are determined to honour their obligations. We are proposing, as noble Lords will see—we will have a long opportunity to discuss this—to take a power to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect in a very specific and limited way. As for the peace agreement, I say to the right reverend Prelate that the peace agreement has an east-west aspect, as well as a north-south aspect.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the reason for Sir Jonathan Jones’s resignation was his great concern about the proposed Bill, as reported in newspapers today? I know Sir Jonathan very well, because for many years he was the head person in my department when I was Attorney-General. I know him to be a hugely talented lawyer, very experienced in Whitehall and very loyal to the Government. He would not, therefore, take issue with what the Government have said unless he really was of the view that it was inappropriate. Can the Minister confirm that the Ministerial Code still applies to all Ministers—and that includes obeying and respecting the law? Does he agree that, if this is a negotiating ploy on the part of the Government, it is at best very dangerous or at worst could be disastrous if it also has the consequence—as has been stated by one democratic representative today—of scuppering the US deal?
My Lords, I have not looked in detail at Sir Jonathan Jones’s resignation statement, nor have I read the newspapers today. I share and express the respect that all members of the Government have for him. In our judgment, the Ministerial Code has not been breached. We are clear that we are acting fully in accordance with UK law and the UK’s constitutional norms.
My Lords, I also want to pick up the question of a US trade deal. The Government have trumpeted the prospect of such a deal, but Congress at least will not approve it if the Good Friday agreement is imperilled by this Government’s non-respect of the Irish protocol to the withdrawal agreement. How do the Government expect to get a US trade deal if they imperil the Good Friday agreement?
My Lords, I completely reject the idea that the Government are imperilling the Good Friday agreement. I repeat what I said a minute or two ago: the peace process has an east-west as well as a north-south aspect, which the Government fully respect. The purpose of our approach is to protect peace in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be better if the noble Lords who are getting so excited about this just waited until the internal market Bill is published later this week?
As usual, my noble friend makes a very important point. As I have already said, we will have a great opportunity to discuss the proposals.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned, parliamentary scrutiny is very important here. Many Members of your Lordships’ House have raised concerns—especially regarding secondary legislation—that the Executive are taking more and more power for themselves. Is this another example of that, and will there be adequate parliamentary scrutiny of any changes?
My Lords, the first two sets of proposals will be in primary legislation. That will give Parliament full opportunity to debate them.
My Lords, I declare an interest as set out in the register, as chair of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce.
I have chaired a number of webinars with colleagues and friends in the Arab Middle East about what is going to happen by 15 October, and there is a great deal of concern. With the greatest respect to the Minister, he appears to have come to answer this Question with very little information about why Sir Jonathan Jones has resigned. He says he has not read the letter of resignation. That is going to increase the anxiety. There is a real sense of urgency among our trading colleagues across the Arab Middle East regarding what will happen. Do we now tell them that they must expect to trade under the WTO rules?
My Lords, I can only repeat what the Prime Minister said yesterday. We continue to seek a deal but, ideally, it will have to be in place with the European Council on 15 October.
My Lords, was it ever envisaged that all goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should be subject to tariffs? Would that not undermine political agreement in Northern Ireland?
My Lords, it was certainly never envisaged. That might be an effect of the default position. This is something which your Lordships will have the opportunity to examine. It cannot be the case that every good passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is at risk of being carried on into the European Union.
My Lords, actually, some of us did point out at the time that the default position under Article 5 of the protocol was that all goods moving into Northern Ireland would be deemed at risk of going south. We also pointed out that Article 13 meant EU export documentation for goods going the other way—from Northern Ireland to Great Britain—and that Article 10, on state aids, was capable of a very wide interpretation, with the ECJ having the last word. What was not foreseen, at least by me, was that any UK Government would seek to settle such issues unilaterally, with the domestic law purporting to override an international commitment. Pacta sunt servanda. Tearing up treaties is what rogue states do. I cannot recall us ever doing so. The Minister claims that there are precedents. Can he please name just one?
My Lords, the Finance Act 2013 contained provisions expressly disapplying international tax treaties in relation to the extent that these conflicted with the general anti-abuse rule. I have other examples. I would say to the noble Lord, whose distinguished services to our country I respect, that there were ambiguities in the protocol. For example, the arrangements of the EU refer very clearly to unfettered access. That is why we have a Joint Committee: to work out these ambiguities. Let us hope that it is still possible for it to complete its work.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Private Notice Question has elapsed.
Equivalence Determinations for Financial Services (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations
Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2020
Human Rights Act 1998 (Remedial) Order 2020
Electricity and Gas etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2020
Motions to Approve
That the draft Regulations and Orders laid before the House on 15 October 2019, 12 February, 17 June, 22 June and 25 June 2020 be approved.
Relevant documents: 21st Report from the Secondary Legislation and Scrutiny Committee, 2nd and 4th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Considered in Grand Committee on 2 and 3 September.
Sentencing Bill [HL]
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
That the Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for their interest and contributions thus far in the progress of the Bill. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have eloquently demonstrated the effects that these non-disclosure cases have on victims’ families, and have raised a number of important issues in the parliamentary stages prior to today’s Third Reading. I particularly want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for their positive engagement on mental capacity and how it is addressed in these proposals. The points they raised in Committee were of some significance, and I think I am confident in saying that their concerns have now been addressed after helpful engagement with the Parole Board.
Issues have also been raised regarding provisions for victims tracing and contact. In this regard, I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her contribution to the debate. Her amendment will be taken to the other place, and I look forward to our discussions on this matter when the Bill returns to this House. It is the intention of my noble and learned friend Lord Keen to meet the noble Baroness outside these proceedings to discuss her amendment and its effect on the Bill in more detail.
The importance of the Bill cannot be underestimated. Although narrow in scope, it has the potential to bring considerable comfort and reassurance to families who have endured unimaginable distress. I therefore hope that the Bill progresses quickly through the other place, and I look forward to discussing it further upon its return to this House.
The following Members have indicated their wish to speak: Baroness Barker and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I first call the noble Baroness, Lady Barker.
My Lords, I do not normally take part in Bills of this type on this sort of subject, but it has been a great privilege to do so this time. Let me put on record my thanks and that of others to Mrs Marie McCourt, Helen McCourt’s mother, who is responsible in effect for the Bill coming to this place. She has worked tirelessly and with great dignity, not just on her own behalf but on behalf of the small number of families who find themselves in this most awful position. Mrs McCourt was very generous with her time and gave me an understanding of why the Bill is necessary. I pay tribute to the Opposition Front Bench for the collaborative way in which they worked with us, particularly to bring about the amendment which will strengthen the requirement on the criminal justice system actively to keep up-to-date records of victims and families.
The one thing this Bill cannot do is bring about a situation in which every family will have the justice that they seek because it cannot compel people to bring forward information about where victims are buried. However, we have done our very best in this House to take these measures as far as we can and I sincerely hope that as a result of that the number of people who find themselves in the dreadful position where they do not know what has happened to their relatives becomes smaller and smaller.
My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I know that she spoke to Marie McCourt and informed the earlier stages of the debate. We are dealing with families in the most unimaginably tragic situation and Marie McCourt has shown tremendous endurance over decades to get this legislation on the statute book and for recognition of the turmoil that families in that position go through.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy has been very active in this matter, and I would like to put on record my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, who has been very receptive to the amendment that will be considered in another place and who has had a follow-up meeting to consider other matters that may be taken further. We are grateful to him and for the cross-party approach that this Bill has seen in this House.
As was mentioned by the Minister, other aspects of mental capacity were investigated further, if I can put it like that, at earlier stages of the Bill by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others. The Parole Board will have to take a very difficult decision when looking at the reason why this information has been withheld, whether it is because of mental capacity, vindictiveness or as a power play. These are very difficult decisions for the Parole Board to make but it is right that victims’ families are fully informed about the process that the Parole Board is going through and that there are active and statutorily based steps for the Parole Board to make sure that those families are properly informed. I thank the Minister for supporting this legislation.
I thank the noble Lords who have spoken. I too express my great sympathy for Marie McCourt, who has fought a tireless campaign over a number of years to see justice done for her daughter Helen.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with an amendment.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, it is a great honour to open this debate and indeed to address this House for the first time. I realise that many noble Lords will want to contribute to this very important debate, so I will set an example by keeping my opening remarks concise and to the point.
I start by paying tribute to the extraordinary people throughout our country who are tackling the coronavirus outbreak. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.
I thank all those who have extended me help, advice and friendship since I joined your Lordships’ House—in particular, my two supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, and my noble friend Lord Blackwell. I also give my sincere thanks to the doorkeepers, the Clerk of the Parliaments, parliamentary staff, Black Rod and the police officers, who have all explained the procedures of this House and, more importantly, have sometimes prevented me getting totally lost. I should also give a special thanks to my noble friend and Whip Lord Younger, whose knowledge and support has been invaluable.
Finally, I must thank my partner, my family, my friends and all those who have helped make me what I am today. My faults are entirely of my own making.
I am an ordinary person from an ordinary family, brought up in Croydon and fortunate to have been given a council scholarship to Whitgift School, from whence I went to Merton College, Oxford. As Private Secretary to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, when he was Minister for Health, and later at HM Treasury, where I helped oversee more than 25 privatisations working for my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, I got my first taste of politics.
I then became a banker at Schroders, travelling to around 50 countries exporting the skills of the City. This taught me that globalisation, trade and investment are the best routes to prosperity and peace, and that no matter what our race or creed, or whether we are rich or poor, we are all the same. The only difference is whether we have been given opportunity.
During two decades spent serving on 20 boards of major companies around the world, including chairing two of the UK’s largest financial services institutions, I learned the benefits of good governance, clear thinking and decisiveness. As the first non-military member of a front-line command board when I joined the board of the Royal Air Force’s Strike Command in 1999, and then proudly serving as the lead non-executive for six Defence Secretaries, I gained the utmost respect for our Armed Forces.
I am proud to have been asked to serve this House and our country, and I will do it to the best of my abilities. I thank noble Lords for listening to me and I am mightily relieved that that is my maiden over.
Turning to today’s business, I am honoured to move that this Bill be read a second time. As the Minister for Investment since March, I have had around 250 ministerial engagements, meeting virtually with hundreds of people from companies big and small. I have also held a number of briefings for Members of your Lordships’ House on trade matters, all of which have made me realise the vast experience and knowledge that there is in your Lordships’ House and how much I have to learn.
Above all, it has impressed upon me how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted businesses at an unprecedented speed and scale. To me, that truly highlights the importance of trade: to keep supply chains open and to ensure that we have all the vital equipment we need. In the longer term, it has shown that building resilience and strengthening the rules-based trading system will be crucial to our recovery. That means maximising the economic benefits of trade and ensuring that all parts of the UK, and companies of every size, benefit from it, especially SMEs, the backbone of British business. It means increasing the diversity of our trade—that is, both imports and exports—and reducing our exposure to future economic shocks. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to do just that: to determine our rules, defend our national interests, and champion free, fair, rules-based trade globally.
This Bill, like its predecessor, the 2017-19 Trade Bill, is about continuity and certainty—continuity of the existing trade agreements that we had in place through membership of the EU, and the certainty that continuity offers for our businesses and trading partners, plus giving the Government the vital tools that they need to secure our future as an independent trading nation.
I turn to the main elements of the Bill. First, it allows us to implement the UK’s obligations arising from the trade agreements that we are transitioning from the original EU/third country agreement, such as those with South Korea, Chile and Switzerland, thus allowing trade to continue to flow freely with our established partners. The Government have already signed 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries, representing 74% of the trade with countries with which we are seeking continuity. Every single one of these agreements illustrates the Government’s commitment to maintaining our high standards, whether in relation to the environment, animal welfare, workers’ rights or human rights.
My noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby once wrote:
“The NHS is the closest thing the English … have to a religion.”
I am sure that he meant no offence to the Lords spiritual, but he captured the importance of the NHS to the people of this country, and to this Government. We have been clear: the NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.
I know that a lot of concern has been raised about the trade deals and how they will impact our hard-working farmers. I can reassure your Lordships’ House that this Government are committed to upholding our world-class food safety and animal welfare standards. Food imported into or produced in the UK will always be safe. Chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef are not permitted for import into the UK. The independent Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland make sure that all foods comply with our existing standards. I make it absolutely clear that decisions on these standards are separate from trade agreements.
Not only have the Government put farmers and other businesses at the very heart of our negotiations but we have listened to the concerns of Parliament. We have launched the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission with representation from farming unions across the UK that will make policy recommendations to the Government. We have launched an agri-food trade advisory group to provide the Government with strategic insight and expertise throughout our FTA negotiations. I am pleased that its members include the National Sheep Association, the NFU and the International Meat Trade Association, among others. We are committed to a serious examination of what can be done through labelling to promote high standards and high welfare across the UK market. We have also published an agri bounce-back plan that will provide unprecedented help for SMEs and allow them to capitalise on the trade agreements being negotiated with the US, Australia and New Zealand.
I should like to make it clear that this Government and I are committed to transparency around the trade continuity programme. We have published voluntarily, and will continue to do so, parliamentary reports outlining significant differences between the original EU/third country agreements and the new UK/third country agreements. Regulations implementing these agreements are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I note that the 21st report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made no recommendations on the delegated powers in the Bill.
I recognise that there has been concern that upcoming continuity agreements with countries such as Canada or Singapore will go beyond continuity. Let me reassure noble Lords that this is not our intention. Where we have set out to achieve an enhanced agreement, as in the case of Japan, we have committed to additional scrutiny arrangements that closely mirror those we have put in place for new FTAs.
Secondly, the Bill allows the UK to implement our obligations under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, or GPA, once we accede as an independent party. As noble Lords will be aware, the GPA is an agreement seeking to mutually open up government procurement markets among its 20 parties. Acceding to the GPA in our own right will guarantee British businesses continued access to this £1.3 trillion a year market. That is so important. We intend to accede to the GPA on broadly the same terms as our current membership through the EU. I want to be crystal clear: becoming an independent GPA party does not restrict government from deciding how to deliver health services in the best way for the UK.
Thirdly, the Bill establishes the independent Trade Remedies Authority to protect our businesses against injury caused by unfair trading practices, such as dumping or subsidy, or unforeseen surges in imports. The TRA will deliver an independent investigation process that businesses can turn to when others are breaking the rules, and will recommend appropriate measures where necessary.
Finally, the Bill provides for the use of data to enable government to discharge its trade-related functions now that we are no longer members of the EU. It gives HMRC powers to share data with other public bodies to fulfil its trade-related functions, such as in relation to trade disputes. It provides for a data sharing gateway between departments and specified public bodies to safeguard existing trading relationships by helping ensure that trade flows freely across our borders.
Let me also be clear what this Bill is not about. It is not about implementing those FTAs we are seeking with new partners around the world, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The implementation of such agreements will be subject to separate scrutiny arrangements, and, in line with provisions included in the amendment relating to scrutiny passed during debate on the 2017-19 Trade Bill, the Government will publish their negotiation objectives, voluntarily publish impact assessments before and after negotiations, and keep Parliament updated. At the end of negotiations, treaties will be subject to the usual ratification procedures. Parliament will retain, through the CRaG process, the right to block any treaties from being ratified.
FTAs cannot change UK law; as noble Lords know, only Parliament can do that. Parliament will retain the right to reject any domestic implementing legislation necessary for a trade deal. By blocking any legislation, should it be required, Parliament can also block ratification. This is in line with similar systems, such as Canada’s, and goes further than those in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where parliaments cannot directly block ratification of a trade treaty.
The International Trade Committee in the other place has proposed to the Secretary of State a structure for providing scrutiny. The department is taking this very seriously and we will be working with it, and the International Agreements Sub-Committee, on developing this. I very much welcome this. These committees do an excellent job and I intend to maintain a close relationship with the IAC and its chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith; I know that my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary will be doing similarly in the other place. As part of this, we are committed to ensuring that committees are able to scrutinise trade deals on an ongoing basis, and, where possible, we will share information with those committees on a confidential basis.
Nor is the Bill about negotiations with the European Union on our future relationship. That too will be subject to separate scrutiny arrangements. This Bill is solely concerned with ensuring we have the right tools in place to implement obligations from trade agreements with countries that the EU had an agreement with before 31 January.
The unprecedented economic challenge of coronavirus makes the need for this Bill clearer than ever. It will ensure continuity through powers to implement trade agreements with partner countries which previously applied under the EU; it will secure continued access for UK businesses to the vitally important global public procurement market; it will establish an independent body to provide our businesses with the protection they need from unfair trade practices; and it will ensure that we have the necessary data to offer the best possible support for businesses to trade and to help their goods flow seamlessly across our borders.
In conclusion, as we recover from this economic crisis, providing certainty and predictability in our trading arrangements will be vital to securing the interests of businesses and consumers, and to fulfilling this Government’s mission to unleash the potential of, and level up, every region and nation of our United Kingdom. This legislation will provide us with the tools to do precisely this, and I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech. He has had to wait a long time to make it in these extraordinary times, but that has not stopped him performing, as he shared with us, dual responsibilities in both DIT and BEIS for the last few months. As we have just seen, the noble Lord has become rather a seasoned performer, and I am sure your Lordships will recognise that he is more than ready to take on his responsibilities with this Bill. We also look forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, and to further contributions from both.
We have more than 75 names listed for the debate today, which shows the increased level of interest in trade matters right across your Lordships’ House. We welcome this and look forward to the many and varied contributions from noble Lords.
I thank the Minister for the many virtual meetings and discussions we have had since the Bill was introduced in the other place and since he took up his position. It is possibly based on a shared background of reading chemistry at Oxford, but we have been able to develop what I hope he would agree is a good working relationship. This will be of value as we deal with some of the difficult issues raised by the Bill and as we go through its various stages during the next few months.
In his speech, the Minister spent quite a lot of time trying to persuade us that this was a simple continuity Bill, limited in scope to ensuring that we continue to benefit, after 31 December 2020, from the free trade agreements negotiated by the EU since 1972. I should warn him: his predecessor tried this argument last time round; it did not work then, and it will not work now. The arguments have not improved with time.
On the one hand, if the Bill receives Royal Assent in its present form, our trade policies will be determined within a structure with far fewer opportunities for scrutiny and debate inside and outside Parliament than are available within the EU at present. Civil society, consumer groups, worker representatives and many others—now largely excluded from the list of consultees—all had the opportunity to submit views and attend meetings and to influence the way in which the EU Parliament took its decisions.
Committees in the EU see draft mandates, receive regular reports on discussions and have the power to approve the final deals. Recent trade agreements proposed by the EU such as TTIP and the Canadian Free Trade Agreement have had material changes made to them because of input from elected Members. Because we have no existing responsibilities for trade and hence, nothing set out in current legislation, unless we amend the Bill, Ministers will be free to negotiate future trade deals using archaic royal prerogative powers, almost entirely avoiding accountability to Parliament.
No other major trading country actively prevents its elected representatives having a say in shaping, reviewing and agreeing its trade policies, and there is no other area of public policy in the UK which is off limits in the way that trade will be to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This is not acceptable. Why, when our democratic system depends largely on checks and balances on the Executive being exercised through scrutiny and review by both Houses of Parliament, are the Government trying to pretend that there is no need for this in current and future trade agreements? Volume of consultation is not a replacement for active participation in Parliament.
Our approach to the Bill is consistent with the approach we took in 2017-19, which found favour right across the House. We want to ensure that, as the UK regains responsibility for its own trade policies after five decades, we have an Act in place that sets out our long-term vision for trade—something absent from this Bill—and our plans and detailed policies to secure growth, protect rights, safeguard supply chains and tackle global challenges such as climate change and pandemics. Doing so will not only show clearly our intent and purpose but will help to build public and market confidence, which matters even more than usual in these uncertain times. This is particularly important given that questions about how we will shape our new, post-Brexit trade policies and ensure that we maintain the high standards we currently enjoy have been gaining traction among the public in recent months, not least because of concerns about lowering standards of food imports and the impact of Covid-19. Ministers can carry on claiming that this Bill is nothing more than a technical measure but they are, once more, out of step with the public, who understand that it goes to the heart of what we are as a nation and how we engage with the world.
I turn to the Bill itself. Our key amendment is based on the belief that the Government need to establish appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, be they significant changes to existing EU deals or new, freestanding FTAs. We would like to build on the first steps taken by the Government, which we welcome—they represent a change of heart—but we believe they need to go further. We will suggest that the International Trade Select Committee and the Lords’ new EU International Agreements Sub-Committee should have early access to, and the power to propose changes to, negotiating mandates, receive ongoing negotiation reports and have the power make recommendations about whether Parliament should approve trade treaties and agreements.
The current arrangements under CRaG 2010, which the Minister explained in some detail, provide only for retrospective approval, and only if the Government allow that, since they control the time in which these debates can take place. Using the negative procedure is ineffective in practice and inappropriate for such a key area of public policy.
We must also ensure that consumers, trade unions and wider civil society are fully engaged in trade policy. The new trade advisory groups, with their restricted memberships and non-disclosure agreements for those who serve, have been widely criticised, and rightly so. As presently constituted, they cannot provide the wide range of views the Government say they need —and how can they, when they do not even include consumer or worker interests?
The meretricious persiflage surrounding the new appointment to the Board of Trade, complete with its single Privy Council member and strictly limited set of advisers, is surely modelled on a comedy penned by WS Gilbert. In any case, it is no answer to the broader point about lack of parliamentary scrutiny.
Given that certain trade policy issues are not reserved, we need to ensure that the devolved nations and regions of the UK have the powers they need to deliver their responsibilities and that proper mechanisms are in place to respect the constitutional settlement, including a robust dispute resolution mechanism, should there be disagreement. Of course, this is not an issue limited to trade but, even so, the status quo is completely unsatisfactory and needs to be addressed. In this respect, the Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement and its implications for customs and tariffs across the new border in the Irish Sea needs detailed further examination; we will be raising this in Committee.
Turning to other areas of the Bill, your Lordships’ House will recall that, when considering the predecessor Trade Bill in 2019, your Lordships’ House made some 30 amendments to it. Some of the key ones covered employment rights, food, environmental standards, custom arrangements and future EU collaboration. As the then Minister put it,
“no legislation passes the scrutiny of the House without being improved … this is unquestionably true here.”—[Official Report, 6/3/19; col 615.]
Yet these changes have been stripped out of the current Bill. Even the Government’s own amendments on gender equality and reports to Parliament have gone.
During the Commons debate on the current version of the Bill, our Labour Front-Bench colleagues proposed amendments to protect current import standards in respect of animal welfare, the environment and food quality, to guarantee rights and protections for working people and to fully protect the NHS in future trade negotiations. Ministers rejected all these amendments and more, but we will be challenging these decisions again in Committee.
On other sections of the Bill, we will probe how the government procurement agreement will work in practice. At the same time, we have to make sure that UK firms can compete for the procurement opportunities on offer in signatory countries on a fair and equitable basis. I agree with the Minister that we need to strengthen the independence and integrity of the Trade Remedies Authority. The TRA cannot be effective if it is simply another non-departmental public body under the control —or, perhaps, the thumb—of the Secretary of State.
The UK is, and always has been, a strong trading nation. Labour believes strongly that trade will play a vital role in our economic future, not least as we struggle to recover from the devastating effects of Covid-19. The Government should welcome the wider interest now being shown in how we develop our trade policy, and recognise that encouraging Parliament, the devolved Administrations and wider society to play a constructive role not only strengthens their own hand in negotiations but is the right thing to do.
My Lords, I join in the welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone; he brings great experience to our House.
This Bill is a successor to the Trade Bill passed by this House last year, but significant elements have now been stripped out—primarily, the amendments agreed in the Lords. It is a Bill that reaches into the DNA of my party, as free, open and fair trade is the bedrock of our political movement. We will defend those principles as we engage with the Bill. The Bill is also about much more than continuity agreements, as the Government themselves have demonstrated in data-sharing clauses. My colleagues and I will follow the Government’s lead and use the Bill to address UK trade issues more broadly.
The amendments made by this House last year were necessary then and are necessary now. They remain crucial to underpin transparency, the devolution settlement, the future of the NHS, the Northern Ireland border, the movement of people, minimal trade barriers and, above all, safeguarding the status of Parliament with regard to treaties. Given the Government’s negative attitude to international development and aid, development issues will need to be considered in this Bill process, as will regulatory standards, climate change and sustainability, given the alarm bells that have sounded in the Government’s shaping of the Agriculture Bill.
Speaking personally, the issue that exercises me most is Parliament’s role—or the lack of it—in making trade treaties. Trade now shapes much of the economy of this country, yet, under the Government’s plans, Parliament’s role in this key area is largely reduced to that of a talking shop and bystander. When we were a member of the EU, people and organisations in the UK concerned with matters of trade and its impact could follow the negotiations in some detail because of high levels of transparency. Even more importantly, they could turn to elected representatives to challenge and change the negotiating mandate and the final treaty; that was parliamentary democracy. Now, both continuity agreements and new trade agreements will be subject only to the procedures in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—CRaG—which the Lords Constitution Committee has described as “anachronistic and inadequate”. In the Lords, this is a particularly weak power without the capacity to delay ratification; in both Houses, of course, it prohibits amendment. Ironically, it also weakens the UK’s ability to negotiate. The USA constantly refuses trade concessions, saying, “We can’t get that concession through Congress”. UK negotiators must have that same leverage.
I particularly express my respect for the Conservative MPs in the House of Commons—notably the Member for Huntingdon, Jonathan Djanogly—who stood up for Parliament and democracy. I hope Members across all parties in the Lords will have that same courage.
Let me say a few words on the trade remedies authority. Why it will get the name “authority” I simply do not understand, because authority is precisely what it will not have. An advisory body is not a regulatory body. It also means that in any dispute the UK position will be seen as politically tainted and not the work of an independent objective body testing against clear criteria. I hope that at the very least in the course of the Bill we will get some illumination on that process.
Those discussions will also help us to understand the implications of the Government’s state aid position. I belong to a free trade party very concerned about the use and distortions of state aid, except in instances of market failure. European rules have provided a constraint on inappropriate state aid. The failure to find a common state aid standard between the EU and the UK will trigger a new wave of competitive state aid and everyone will lose.
We had the bluster on Monday from the Prime Minister announcing that no FTA with the EU would be a “good outcome” for the UK. I am sure that business across the country shuddered. Then came the leak revealing that the internal market Bill will eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement in full cognisance that this will breach international law. I notice the Minister talking about the importance of a rules-based trading system and, frankly, I begin to wonder how those two actions are squared. To me, it sounds as if we are reaching some new low.
Trade is critical to the UK economy so we have to get these deals right, but more is at stake. If the Government set Parliament aside, it will diminish this country and in the end we will all lose.
My Lords, this self-styled continuity Trade Bill is a building block. However, in its current form it does not contain all the necessary components. The Bill is also being brought forward in an environment of a moving target, with a degree of despondency over the Brexit endgame process now setting in, not so much because of the exiting itself but because of the manner in which we appear to be doing so. Departure on bad terms would present a Brexit double jeopardy, which is no panacea and certainly not a long-term solution. At some point the UK and the EU must and will enter into a trade deal, but at what cost and when remain in question. My single focus, together with geopolitical positioning and the upholding of British standards, is to assist in making global trade a success. I offer four observations, some good, one not so.
I returned last night from Turkey and have listened carefully to the Minister’s remarks on FTA scrutiny. However, I wish to illustrate that country as a positive example. Turkey has all the potential ingredients of a strategic relationship for the UK, one that includes a broad range of sectors and industries, ranging from energy to manufacturing and from banking to services, and includes a large domestic market with large near-neighbourhood possibilities. It is a G20 economy with a large and young population of 82 million. I am also informed that, given our good political relations, we are well-placed to expand trade and investment in both directions. We would, without reservation, be pushing at an open door—exactly the indicators we should be looking for in a global Britain. It would be helpful if the Minister had time to inform us of the status of the FTA discussions.
What is not such good news is that elsewhere—the name of the country itself is not important—a Secretary of State refused to take a Zoom call to explore a relationship with a certain Deputy Prime Minister on multiple attempts, to which there was zero response. It was one where a major British entity is present and, I am sure, would welcome a boost. This, to my mind, is unacceptable. Additionally, Whitehall does not even have the good manners to properly manage that request, so nul points on that one. In a new era of post-Brexit Britain, surely one advantage must be that we remain agile and open.
I shall conclude on two possible initiatives. First, I am instrumental in the formation of a new APPG for chambers of commerce and trade associations. Both sets of multipliers need to be a focus of attention post Brexit to make them more effective. My purpose is to draw attention to their importance and their need to assist in the UK’s trading endeavours. The Government must look beyond the narrow confines of Whitehall, build a formal process for engaging with stakeholders and ensure that trade opportunities are distributed equally across our regions, utilising local expertise to close on opportunities. We must be innovative in our approach, ensuring that the UK maintains its position on the global stage and furthering our place as a motivator for business.
Secondly, in a declared initiative to serve the UK’s interest, I have developed a trade and network platform for emerging markets, SupplyFinder.com, which provides practical tools and increases bilateral trade with solutions to serve SMEs globally for 224 countries in 14 regions, introduced in eight languages.
I wish the Minister well. There is certainly much to do, and I look forward to the opportunity of engaging on the Bill and other aspects in due course.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend the Minister to the Dispatch Box for his first Bill and congratulate him on his maiden speech. I agree with him that trade is the best route to prosperity. I wish him well with the Bill and will support him when I can.
I declare an interest as president of the Thai-UK Business Council and as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Oman. In that role, I am hugely grateful for the outstanding support that I receive from the DIT team in Muscat and here in London. I also pay tribute to the UKEF. Major trade deals often flounder due to a lack of funding but UKEF has been hugely supportive of the work that I have done in Oman.
I think the trade envoy initiative has been a success. I understand that a list of newly appointed trade envoys was due to be announced, and some countries, including Thailand, are waiting impatiently for that announcement. Can the Minister say when that might be? Asia will drive the global economic growth of the future, and the DIT’s vision statement for Asia Pacific is
“to support UK business to take advantage of the scale and breadth of opportunity in the region—promoting it as the region with the greatest potential for economic growth.”
Thailand has the second-largest economy in south-east Asia, and there are a huge number of export opportunities there for British companies. It really needs a trade envoy from this country as soon as possible.
I welcome the Bill, which introduces sensible provisions to ensure continuity and certainty for British business. I welcome the fact that the Bill will not be used to reduce standards. Our high domestic standards for labour, environmental protection and food safety will continue to apply, and imports from trade partners will continue to be required to meet those standards. None of the continuity agreements erodes any domestic standards of the NHS.
I also welcome the fact that the Bill prevents disruption to UK business and consumers by creating powers to make regulations, if needed, to assist in implementing trade agreements that will transition with existing third-country trade partners. This will help to ensure the continuity of existing trade and investment arrangements across the UK, providing certainty to workers, consumers, businesses and international trading partners.
My Lords, I strongly welcome the Minister to the House and I entirely endorse the three principles of good public policy that he set out in his speech: good government, clear thinking and decisiveness. Alas, they entirely refute the trade policy that the Government are following, which does not observe any of these three principles. This is because by far the best trade policy for this country is membership of the European Union, the second best is membership of the single market and customs union and the third best is membership of the customs union with the best deal we can get in terms of access to the single market and services.
The first policy—membership of the European Union—was the policy of every Prime Minister of every party and Government from Harold Macmillan in 1962 through to David Cameron in 2016. The third of those policies—membership of the customs union—was effectively the policy of Theresa May, and we have come to this pass because of the collapse of successive waves of good government, clear thinking and decisiveness.
However, we have to make the best that we can of the dire situation. I will make two comments on the situation in which we currently find ourselves. The first is to do with the wider trade negotiating strategy of the Government with the European Union because, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it accounts for half of our trade and dwarfs all the other potential trading partners.
If it is true, as reported this week, that the Government are proposing to unilaterally withdraw from the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol that was agreed last year, not only would that be a major issue for the Government in terms of their breach of international law—we have seen that the Government’s chief legal adviser has resigned today because he is not prepared to implement that policy—it would also be a very big issue for this House. When the legislation comes to us, we will be invited to agree to a course of action that is, frankly, unconstitutional. It is also a clear breach of the Salisbury convention, which states that, in respect of major, controversial policies, Governments should abide by their election manifestos, and the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledged to implement the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.
Therefore, it is my view, on reading about our present constitutional arrangements, that we should reject outright a Bill that involves Her Majesty’s Government abrogating the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol agreed by Boris Johnson last year.
In respect of the wider trade negotiations taking place at the moment, the two key sticking points appear to be fishing and state aid. Obviously, we want the Government to get the best deal they can in terms of fishing quotas. On state aid, the Minister said that he was the private secretary of Nigel Lawson, who would be absolutely aghast at the Government’s proposal to cast all current state aid restrictions to the winds so that they can follow a new interventionist industrial policy.
As it happens, I am to the left of the Minister and I actually support a more active industrial policy, but everyone who deals with trade and industry knows that, before you can get to a decent industrial policy, you have to have a stable economic policy, an open trading system, a stable exchange rate and clear, effective and understandable rules for takeovers and acquisitions. All of these are at stake in the Government’s Brexit policy and their trade policy in particular. I greatly regret that the Minister’s speech did not in any way reconcile the high aims and ambitions he set out at the beginning with the actual policy of Her Majesty’s Government.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech and first time at the Dispatch Box. In the short time available, I will address two issues: first, the critical role that trade agreements can play in tackling the global climate emergency and, secondly, the vital role of effective parliamentary scrutiny in ensuring that trade agreements meet our climate ambitions.
It is not so long ago that Brexiters such as Michael Gove were making lavish pledges about the role that the UK would play in pursuing an ambitious environmental agenda, freed from what they saw as the shackles of the European Union. What a distant memory that all seems now, replaced by the reality of the arch-climate-sceptic Tony Abbott’s appointment as trade adviser to the Government. When asked at a speaking event in London last week, his top tip on how to achieve success in trade negotiations was that trade negotiators needed to be encouraged
“not to be held up by things that are not all that important, and not be distracted by things that are not really issues of trade but might be, for argument’s sake, issues of the environment.”
Contrary to the assertion of the former Australian Prime Minister, the environment is both critically important and a key issue for trade agreements. As the 2019 International Chamber of Commerce report, Climate Change and Trade Agreements: Friends or Foes?, noted:
“If the world is to restrict global warming to 1.5°C, trade must be a central part of the solution… it will be impossible for countries to meet their ambitious Paris Agreement targets without strong and coherent trade and environmental policies.”
It is, therefore, very depressing that this Bill has nothing whatever to say on the subject when there is so much that we could be doing.
First, Liberal Democrats believe that we should not seek free trade agreements with any country that is not a signatory to the Paris Agreement. This means that the Government should halt negotiations on a US FTA unless and until there is a US Administration in place who are willing to play their part in combating the global climate emergency. However, given the contempt the Government apparently have for the agreements they have already signed, it may be the United States that decides that concluding an agreement with such an unreliable partner is simply not worth the candle.
Secondly, we should make it a requirement in law that all new trade agreements explicitly enshrine the right of the UK to improve environmental standards and commit parties to binding non-regression clauses.
Thirdly, we need to adopt appropriate and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms to ensure that the UK’s right to regulate in the environmental sphere cannot be curtailed in secretive investor-state dispute proceedings.
Lastly, the UK must use its seat at the WTO to reinvigorate the WTO’s efforts to pursue climate and environmental goals. In all of this, parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny of our trade approach will be critical.
Time does not allow me to say much more, so I will conclude by endorsing the comments of other noble Lords about the need for Parliament to have much stronger powers to scrutinise and, if necessary, reject trade agreements. Only then will we be able to ensure that UK trade policy can live up to its environmental ambitions rather than descending into Mr Abbott’s environmental abyss.
My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Grimstone to today’s proceedings, bringing as he does immense experience and a distinguished business career. He will certainly add greatly to the proceedings of your Lordships’ House.
The purpose of this Bill arises directly out of our departure from the European Union, but we debate this in the disturbing context of fissures that have developed in international trade, which are potentially very damaging and which all British Governments, over many years, have sought to heal while promoting free trade. Like my noble friend Lord Astor, I have been one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys since the role was introduced. This is part of a genuine attempt to improve our export and investment performance, which is now professionally organised and focused on by the Department for International Trade.
This Bill offers continuity to our businesses and consumers and builds on our excellent bilateral relationships. There are two areas that I will refer to in particular. During the dreadful appearance of Covid-19, we witnessed some unacceptable practices by some other countries. This is why the role of the Trade Remedies Authority has special resonance.
Undercutting subsidies, hidden or otherwise, quite simply harms our domestic businesses. The Government should be commended for the speed at which the TRA is being assembled, and it is encouraging that a third of the staff are now in post, having completed the comprehensive technical training programme. Will my noble friend reassure the House that the Government will continue to prioritise skills development in this important area?
What we have also learned during the past few months is the indispensable and enhanced role of technology. I therefore greatly welcome that HMRC will be able to collect and share trade-related data with the Department for International Trade, leading in turn to information sharing across all government departments—this is a really welcome development. Securing business continuity and countering the strains in global supply chains must be at the heart of our pursuit of a successful and independent trade policy.
I add one thought in conclusion: as the noble Lord alluded to, the WTO needs to be re-energised. It is very important that it plays a central and powerful role in protecting and encouraging free trade. I hope, therefore, that somebody who is very committed to this and has the evidence to show it—namely, the right honourable Liam Fox—secures the role of director-general in the future.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the warmth of the welcome that I have received in my Introduction to your House. When I told my elderly father in 2013 that I had been appointed to serve as the next Bishop of Blackburn, many miles away from his home in Sussex, he was very quiet and somewhat disappointed that my wife and I would be living so far away, but then a light came into his eyes and he asked, “Does that mean you may be invited to enter the House of Lords?” When I replied in the affirmative, he said very quickly, “Well, then, that makes it all right.”
I come, first and foremost, as a Christian who will seek opportunity to support the convictions and values foundational to our faith in Jesus Christ, and to draw attention to those many today, around the world, who are persecuted for their faith in him, and then to advocate for the right for all to enjoy freedom of speech and belief, wherever they may live, and to do so in peace.
As my accent betrays, I come also as a southerner, having worked in London, Sussex and Surrey, but for the last seven years in the north-west, serving most of the red-rose county of Lancashire. Lancashire is remarkable for the diversity of its communities and achievements, past and present, boasting that significant role in the cotton industry; a strong connection with Her Majesty the Queen as the Duke of Lancaster; the vision of George Fox on Pendle Hill; the name “sirloin” beef from Hoghton Tower; the annual shield-hanging ceremony in Lancaster Castle, which goes back to Richard the Lionheart; and, of course, the beautiful Trough of Bowland. Lancashire’s glory is not just in the past: the north-west is the home of graphene, that new super-material; of the well-known golf course at Lytham St Annes; for some, not so excitingly, of “Strictly Come Dancing” in the iconic ballroom at Blackpool Tower; and of nearly 200 clearly and distinctively Christian Church of England schools and three universities. Also, 18 million tourists visit Blackpool each year for its different attractions.
Yet Blackpool includes one of the most deprived wards in the country, and it is for that fact that I wish to speak in this debate, to urge the Government, if this Bill grants them the powers they seek, to hear and to heed the voice of the north. This House may not be relocated to York during the refurbishment period, but its eyes and ears must not be blind or deaf to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the north of our country. Talk of a northern powerhouse must not be allowed to fade away into the history books, but must energise the commitment to improve the infrastructure and economy of the north. Better transport links around the north are long overdue and would have a transformative impact on the local economy.
The impact of Covid-19 has only exacerbated and increased the inequality between rich and poor. Blackburn has an unemployment rate of almost 6%. This is much higher than the national average and, according to a recent Lancashire Telegraph article, it could be as much as 18% when hidden unemployment is included. More than 11% of Blackpool’s population is claiming support through welfare payments, the highest proportion in the country. Statistics such as these require the powers granted by the Bill to be exercised with wisdom and skill, as new trade agreements are put in place for the post-Brexit era.
As the Bishop of Blackburn, I hope to speak in this House for the great people of the north of our country and, as a Christian, to speak for the human right to believe and express that belief in public without fear or favour. Good trade arrangements can be a way to achieve prosperity for all, as has been indicated already in this debate, as well as to develop relationships with our global partners which will allow us to act as a critical friend when human rights are ignored. I hope the Bill will assist us in both these noble goals.
My Lords, the House has heard a thoughtful and exemplary maiden speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. All of us who, since his appointment in 2013, have witnessed his outstanding pastoral work in the north-west of England will not be surprised by that. Rooted firmly in the evangelical tradition of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, he and his wife Heather have, with great commitment, actively engaged with the region’s social and spiritual challenges. On appointment to his vibrant and diverse diocese, he pledged himself to promote respect for people from differing faiths and the right of all to freedom of religion or belief. In a part of the country that often feels overlooked by institutions, by elites and by government, he has said that his experiences in Lancashire, on a wide variety of issues, will inform his contributions to your Lordships’ House. On the basis of today’s curtain-raising maiden speech, those are contributions to which we will look forward with great anticipation.
I want to talk briefly about national resilience and our human rights obligations in future trade deals. Following exchanges and a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, whom I also congratulate on his maiden speech today, I gave him the Henry Jackson Society report Breaking the China Supply Chain. That report finds that in 229 separate categories of goods, the UK is strategically dependent upon China for our supplies. Equally troubling is that 57 of these categories involve critical national infrastructure, including computers, technology, telephones, antibiotics, painkillers such as aspirin, anti-viral medicines, PPE and industrial chemicals. It recommends that we conduct a national review of the industries dependent on China; make reducing dependency on China—and, indeed, other human-rights-abusing states—an aim of new trade deals; and campaign for the withdrawal of China’s “developing nation” status at the WTO. We must move the United Kingdom away from a position in which its economic dependency can be weaponised to discourage the UK from championing human rights or the rules-based order, which the Minister referred to in his speech.
Concerns, and the need for concerted action by liberal democracies, have only grown stronger following the way in which the Chinese Communist Party has tried to deploy economic coercion against Australia following its calls for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. What is the Minister’s view about a comprehensive review of national resilience? And what of human rights? In 2015, the UK enacted the Modern Slavery Act; yet over recent months, we have seen reports suggesting that many UK-based and UK trading brands are benefiting from the forced labour of Uighur Muslim communities in China. A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates that some 80,000 Uighurs are working in factories in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. Some of the same companies also turn a blind eye to the use of child labour in lethal conditions in Congolese mines.
Cross-departmental action is needed. If the Bill were amended to incorporate concerns about egregious violations of human rights—something I know is close to the heart of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—as I suggested in a letter to the noble Lord and to Ministers involved with telecommunications Bills, it would address the matters raised by Members of both Houses; not least by those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, supported my amendment to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill. I hope we will return to these questions at a later stage of the Bill.
My Lords, I also congratulate the Minister and the right reverend Prelate on their maiden speeches. I am sure we all look forward to hearing their future contributions.
However, I am sorry to say that, in this Bill, I believe parliamentary democracy and our trade interests have parted company. For more than 40 years, Britain’s trade arrangements have been negotiated by the EU, with the detail subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament. Now the Government wish to negotiate trade deals in secret and ratify them without reference to any of our democratic institutions, using the powers of an absolute monarchy.
The UK is launching itself on the world with no track record of negotiating modern trade deals and, worse than that, from yesterday’s announcement it appears that the Government think they can unilaterally rewrite signed treaties and expect to be trusted as they try to negotiate new ones. However, congressional leaders have already indicated that they will block any free trade negotiations with the UK if the Good Friday agreement is undermined, as the Government’s position would certainly achieve.
Britain has a consistent balance of payments deficit on manufacturing, which even a substantial surplus on services cannot close. Yet we are giving up our privileged access to the EU market for services, knowing that free trade deals generally do not cover services. The Government seek a trade deal with the US, knowing that the EU could not achieve one, when we are in the middle of a damaging trade dispute that is seriously undermining our Scotch whisky industry.
A President who puts America first will extract a high price for access to EU markets. Jacob Rees-Mogg has boasted many times that Brexit will deliver cheap food, but we know that this will be of a lower standard than the UK currently enjoys, in spite of the Minister’s assertions. Maybe the US will play whisky against beef, poultry and even our NHS. The threat to Scotch shortbread and cashmere saw Tory MP Douglas Ross writing in our local paper of the damage it was doing to his constituents, but that was, of course, before he suddenly became leader of the Scottish Tories. The failure of the Trade Secretary to end the damaging whisky war does not bode well for our negotiating power.
Scotland has the biggest financial services sector outside London, and a significant part of that is focused on dealing with the EU. Replacing that will not be easy, and non-EU markets will not be as easily replicated. The economic balance varies across the components of the UK; concessions on trade agreements will therefore have different impacts. Big companies can adapt to changes on terms of trade by takeover, relocation or disinvestment. Small and medium-sized enterprises do not always have such luxury.
Under the Government’s trade plans, people may not know the impact of any trade deals until after the event. That is why our Parliament should be involved in agreeing the terms of trade. If the European Parliament, the US Congress and other national Parliaments can scrutinise trade deals, why not us? Is this not what “taking back control” was supposed to mean? Or was it always going to be a cabal and cosy clique of the Brexit faithful? Is there anyone left in the Tory party, apart possibly from Jonathan Djanogly in the Commons, willing to speak up for parliamentary democracy? I believe our House owes it to them to give them another chance.
I also congratulate the Minister and the right reverend Prelate on their maiden speeches, which gave us a taste of what is to come—something we can look forward to, I think.
Like some noble Lords, I am sorry that we need this Bill at all. Our trading arrangements have been well looked after by the system we have followed for the last 40-plus years. As someone who has had a little to do with the European Union, I reflect that there is much higher democratic oversight by the European institutions of the trade agreements as they are negotiated, and a far greater opportunity for the European Parliament to intervene, approve and—crucially—amend and deal with these things as they are negotiated.
One of the weaknesses of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act is that it was not passed for this purpose. It was passed at a time when withdrawal was not even on the distant agenda, and it is not fit for purpose for what we want to do. The time limit of 21 days is frankly not only woefully inadequate but the wrong way of going about things. Parliament should be involved as treaties develop, not presented with them at the end.
If you read the Government response to the reports we debated yesterday in Grand Committee, you will see the number of times that the Government said that they “may” take account and “could” envisage looking at—but there were no firm commitments to Parliament at all. Of course, we also have four bodies of Parliament—the International Trade Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Constitution Committee and our own EU Committee—all of which have severe reservations about this procedure. We are not in a good place.
When we talk about Australia and the United States, people have said that the Government of Australia have stronger powers, but they are much more beholden to what is called the trade committee of the Australian Parliament. We have no equivalent of this committee. Robert Lighthizer wants us to follow the science, as he says, but the United States Senate and the House of Representatives do not follow the science; they follow the democratic wishes of their constituents, and good for them. We need to look a lot more firmly at what we are dealing with.
Finally, I shall say a word about the National Health Service. I do not go along with the shroud-wavers who say we are going to have a US system. I have said many times, “Of course we’re not”, because the Conservative Party relies on the votes of the aged. However, we must have structures in place which do not let investor protection and dispute resolution procedures override the democratic will. We cannot have NHS price control mechanisms undermined. We need a clear defence of the NHS and, frankly, we need it in the Bill. I challenge the Minister to bring something forward that will achieve that objective.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to hear two maiden speeches. I particularly appreciate the speech from the right reverend Prelate, who pointed out the yawning gaps of inequality of this country.
Trade affects us all, and I believe the Government will be taken aback by the power of public opinion in the next few months, as campaigns are unleashed in which people say that they do care about what they buy and where it comes from. As a nation we import a great deal—several billion pounds more each month than we export. Therefore, what we buy in the shops is down to all of us, and we care about it.
I appreciate that it is important to have as many agreements as possible in place by the end of the year, but it is crucial that these do not result in an increase in our global emissions. We face a particular risk here as the biggest net importer of CO2 emissions per capita in the G7—it makes up 43% of our emissions. If we are to reach net zero, we have to do more than just think about it. We must take active steps; we cannot load other people with this problem. As has been noted, the appointment of Tony Abbott to his job is not a good sign in this direction.
I welcome the announcement the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, of a review of diligence in terms of deforestation; this is a good thing. The lungs of our planet have been considered fair game by us all for a long time—a free for everybody type of parking space. However, this due diligence needs to extend to a full sustainability impact assessment across all international agreements. If we can do that, the points mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alton would also get picked up by Parliament.
Only with a sustainability impact assessment will Parliament be able sufficiently to scrutinise trade deals against our current obligations made under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act. These are not notes on the back of a postcard; they are agreements to which we have signed up. We have to do this; we cannot fudge around. SIAs will also create really good incentives for countries that wish to trade with us, so that they too stop turning a blind eye to production methods directly and indirectly accountable for high emission levels.
If we have good SIAs, we would be able to incentivise all carbon-neutral trade through tariff systems which recognised these benefits. We all know that, in the long term, low-carbon products work out cheaper. They are cheaper financially, and they are cheaper and better for all of us.
To quote a recent report by the Aldersgate Group:
“Long term certainty that the UK’s trade policy will be coherent with the net zero emissions target”
is essential to attract private investment. That is true, and this is our golden opportunity to do it.
We led the world in the Industrial Revolution, and we must lead the world in this green revolution. It is not just that our children will love us for it—they will hate us if we do not.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and on his willingness to take on—and even bravery in taking on—such a role at this time. The details of the Bill will be considered at a later stage, but I agree with the overall assessment of my noble friend Lord Stevenson that this is not a simple continuity Bill; it raises many important matters that should be the subject of amendments. I also agree with others who expressed concern about the Government’s overall trade policy priorities. There is a lot of confusion about the Government’s intentions in their trade policy. Recently, Michael Gove visited Northern Ireland and said, “You are having the best of both worlds because you have access to the EU single market as well as the UK’s internal market”. We could all benefit from access to the EU single market if the Government simply changed their approach to their trade policy. There are huge issues of concern to Northern Ireland and it will be desperately important both politically and economically that these get resolved properly.
The Government have also been criticised by the Road Haulage Association for inadequate preparation. It is extremely worried and alarmed at the prospect of no deal—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who was introduced today. In response, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said, “Well, we’ve dealt very well with the supply chain during the Covid crisis, so there won’t be any problem in future”. However, at the moment we are still in the EU and benefiting from those trade flows and supply chains.
The Government have talked a lot about sovereignty, and it is true that we will be a sovereign country, able to do trade deals. In any trade deal, however, there are two sovereign partners, so there must be respect and a willingness to compromise in the overall interests. I am worried by the false patriotism in the Government’s approach; it is acting against our true interests, which is to have a close trading relationship with our biggest market and nearest neighbours—a market, incidentally, we had a key role in creating and the rules of which we have hugely influenced in recent years.
I would like the Government to rethink this Bill and their trade policy, before this country has to pay an unacceptable price, both economic and political.
My Lords, I add my own welcome and congratulations to the Minister and to the right reverend Prelate. I share all the concerns expressed by my noble friends and many noble Lords about the lack of proper scrutiny provisions in this Bill. Global digital trade is increasingly important in the post-Covid world. Its rules must be established, however, through bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.
Two areas where special scrutiny is required, particularly their place in the global digital and creative economy, are intellectual property protection and data transfer. It is crucial in future FTA’s negotiated by the UK that we do not concede or dilute our IP standards as part of trade negotiations. Indeed, they should be enhanced. These core protections include—it is quite a list—adherence to international treaties related to copyright, trademark, design and other intellectual property rights by our trading partners; maintenance of the UK’s “no fault” injunctive relief powers; robust enforcement measures for IP rights and infringement; strong design rights, particularly regarding unregistered designs; balanced copyright exceptions that uphold standards such as the Berne three-step test; no broadening of any liability shields for online platforms; retention of sovereignty over exhaustion rights and no shift to an international exhaustion regime; retention of artist resell rights; reciprocal rights of representation; reciprocal public performance rights for all music rights holders for their works, recordings, public performances and broadcasts; no mandatory transfer of source codes, algorithms or encryption keys as a condition of market access; and support for the development of AI through aligning text and data-mining rules with our own.
On the second major issue, data transfer, we need to ensure that data can flow across borders. It is essential for digital trade, particularly e-commerce, supply chains, data collection and data analytics through the Cloud. We have discussed the need for data adequacy in this House many times. In a significant ruling last month, in the case of Schrems II the European Court of Justice ruled that the privacy shield framework which allows data transfers between the US, the UK and the EU was invalid. Cloud services and data exporters from the EU will have to rely on standard contractual clauses. The UK will need to develop its own regime, similar to the EU’s adequacy framework, to ensure that personal data transfers to third countries outside the EU are protected, in line with the principles of the GDPR. We also need to ensure there is no enforced localisation of data or separate treatment for cross-border flows of financial data, as the Minister will understand only too well.
I look forward to the Minister’s response on these issues and how scrutiny will be guaranteed in the future.
My Lords, I salute the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in covering so many issues so quickly, and I congratulate the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their maiden speeches.
After 40 years of leaving trade negotiations to the European Commission, the UK Government are now discovering that trade is an emotive and difficult subject which depends on defined interests, respect and enforceability. All three elements require consent, most obviously delivered through our democratic institutions. The Welsh Parliament is responsible for articulating Wales’s interests, supporting its economy and enforcing its laws, yet this Trade Bill largely ignores these responsibilities, as if devolution never happened. The UK Government require the Welsh and Scottish Governments to enforce trade deals decided in secret which they had no part in formulating. All four nations must surely be required to consent to trade deals struck in their names. Such deals must be subject to parliamentary approval in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast, as well as Westminster.
Trade is the life blood of the Welsh economy, worth £18 billion last year. While Wales is a proud global partner, the fact is that over 60% of our exports goes to the EU. Welsh food and drink exports were directly worth over £530 million in 2018, without adding any economic multiplier. This underpins Wales’s rural economy, and agriculture is a devolved competence of the Welsh Parliament. It is therefore vital that food production standards are enshrined in legislation and in any trade deals that follow, and that this is safeguarded by the necessary consent of all four Parliaments.
While I welcome the Trade and Agriculture Commission, giving it a six-month remit was farcical; it should be permanent. If we are to secure trade agreements to replace the European markets we now stand to lose, the Government must work for, and with, all four nations of these islands, not just the City of London. They must guarantee the democratic rights of each nation, provide legal protections for our public services, including the NHS, and make binding commitments to maintain standards. We must reform the investor-state dispute mechanism, not least to deal with the global socioeconomic consequences of Covid-19. I welcome the moves by the European Commission to consider a new multilateral investment court to replace the flawed ISD system. I hope the UK Government will engage positively with that proposal.
We now face a no-deal Brexit, which the Prime Minister sees as a good outcome. However, he would never have secured his general election majority on that basis. Last year, MPs voted to reject a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances. The original trade Bill assumed that we would get a deal. The Government are now prepared to renege on the international treaty they signed on Northern Ireland. Is Britain’s word worth nothing? The Bill should not pass until the Government have made fully transparent their plans for further trade legislation relating to Northern Ireland, have clarified how that Bill might impact on the Trade Bill, and have committed to working in partnership with the Parliaments of all four nations of these islands.
My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend to his position on the Front Bench and commend him on his maiden speech to the House. We very much look forward to his contributions to the House. Equally, I welcome the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn.
The Bill is about trade agreements. They influence the standards, protections and regulations that shape the kind of society we live in, which is why it is so important for Parliament to have a greater say than is provided for currently. Publishing objectives, keeping Parliament updated and allowing Parliament to block treaties are not the kinds of powers that the British people would expect us to exercise over issues that are so fundamental to the type of country in which we live.
I support the setting up of the Trade Remedies Authority to protect businesses against others who break the rules—which brings me to the issue of rules. I hear my noble friend talk about our high standards on the environment, workers’ rights, human rights and so on, but successful international co-operation surely requires compromise and the acceptance of others’ standards, too. However, so far, it seems that the Government believe that only our own rules count. That way lies conflict. Posturing, threatening or bluffing are not normally the way to achieve successful outcomes in an international sphere.
My noble friend outlined objectives that I fully support: maximising the economic benefits of trade, especially for small businesses; reducing exposure to economic shocks; defending our national interests; and continuity and certainty. To be frank, as an economist, I still struggle to understand how leaving behind the free trade we have as an EU member can possibly maximise the benefits of trade. Brexit is about politics, not business or trade, but I am delighted that we have agreed 20 continuity arrangements for those deals that we already enjoyed as an EU member. Could my noble friend let the House know how we are progressing with future arrangements with countries such as Canada, Singapore and Turkey, which have not yet been ratified?
I echo the concerns about the NHS and standards, and look forward to debating the Bill further as we go through its process.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his place in the House. I also welcome his maiden speech and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who gave a rather more convincing advertisement for Lancashire than the Minister did for the Bill.
I recognise that, in the circumstances, some of the Bill is necessary, but it is largely defined by what it omits, starting with parliamentary scrutiny. Yesterday, we were pressing for at least the equivalent scrutiny given to all treaties, particularly trade treaties, by the European Parliament—as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has just explained. But the new Bill omits much more than constitutional issues and parliamentary scrutiny. There are, in effect, no provisions for the protection of our food standards, which means that future trade deals could undermine the high standards of UK agriculture and the health of our nation and animal population.
There are other provisions that ought to be part of our approach to trade in the new circumstances. There are no provisions on employment standards—not even commitments to basic ILO conventions on workers’ rights or even protections against slavery. No consideration of basic human rights is included at all, yet it is in many extant EU trade agreements. We have to recognise that some of the countries that the Government are targeting for future trade agreements, such as China or Brazil, have regimes whose contempt for human rights and environmental protection is blatant. Ministers will of course say that the Bill relates only to continuity agreements, but even in that context some of the arrangements with the EU also raise issues of human rights—take the case of Turkey as an example. The Bill is not just a continuity Bill; it sets the tone for our approach to trade much more widely.
We know that the big prize for the more extreme Brexiteers is a trade agreement with Trump’s America. Frankly, that prospect raises deep anxieties about food standards, animal welfare and US pharma companies’ ambitions for the National Health Service market and the provision of healthcare. The Bill will protect us from none of that.
I hope that the Minister listens to the House and tells his colleagues that at least some of these provisions need to be introduced to the Bill before it ends its process through Parliament.
My Lords, the UK is one of the greatest trading nations in the world. It is an open economy and one of the largest recipients of inward investment, often in the top two in the world. The Bill is extremely important to maintain that. First, I welcome my noble friend Lord Grimstone. We have known each other for many years, and I congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech.
There are those who wish that the Bill had been wider in scope and said more about trade strategy, linking to other policy areas and to sustainability, with maybe more consultation. On the other hand, we recognise that time is limited and that there is more work to be done. It is essential that trade defence measures are in place and that we are in a position to roll over a trade deal.
I am president of the CBI and our members have expressed concerns around the scope of the NDAs, which seems to go far wider than just texts for negotiating—perhaps the Minister could comment on that. There are also concerns about the restrictions on sharing information outside the UK, the length of application, and obligations for organisations to ask for confidentiality clauses with employees. On rollover and replicate, the issue is not the Bill but the real-world challenge of negotiating trade agreements—these still have to be negotiated. The DIT has negotiated a number of trade deals—I believe up to 20 now—but some still need to be completed.
Then there is the aspect of business involvement. There should be more explicit language about consultation. While the Government have been keen to roll over some trade deals, in some cases rolling over is difficult; for example, in matching EU deals. Would the Minister comment on a country such as Switzerland, for example? Business basically wants continuity of trade; we do not want a cliff edge, in any way. So far as the Bill does that, we wholeheartedly support it.
We welcome the setting up of the Trade Remedies Authority. The role of business is to submit benefits of experience and to have an integrated view. Will the manufacturing sector and others be represented on the TRA to build confidence and widen the circle of expertise?
We can make international comparators. Many countries, such as Australia and the United States, give clearly defined roles to their legislatures as part of the process of negotiating and concluding treaties, whereas the UK Parliament provides nothing near that.
The CBI has developed 10 recommendations on how to build a world-leading UK trade policy: build a strong mandate underpinned by business engagement; secure comprehensive buy-in for the negotiations by publishing mandates; set up a high-level Strategic EU Trade Advisory Group (SETAG); establish a series of thematic working groups to tackle cross-cutting issues; expand the remit of ETAGs; appoint a new chief business trade envoy to co-ordinate the gathering of business intelligence, ensure coherence of policy, and provide businesses with a single point of contact; take business delegations to negotiating rounds to strengthen the UK’s presence and give negotiators easy access to technical expertise; publish proactively the membership of advisory groups; release summaries of negotiating rounds as they are completed; and use non-disclosure agreements only when essential.
My Lords, I welcome both maiden speeches this afternoon. I understand the need for the Bill to ensure the proper functioning of the Government’s procurement, to enable the rollover of EU trade agreements and to allow HMRC to have access to detailed trade data. I understand too the reasons for the new Trade Remedies Authority to advise on the conduct of international disputes and unfair trading. However, the Bill cannot just be technical. What is in the Bill and what is missing from it will be highly relevant to our consideration as it progresses. This should include food standards for imported agricultural goods and the exclusion of publicly funded health and care services from trade agreements. It should also include issues related to climate change and regulatory co-operation, and ethical considerations related to third countries.
I hope the Minister will clarify three specific issues. First, our Parliament should surely have the power to agree the Government’s negotiating objectives in any new trade agreement. It should also have the same statutory powers as exist in many other countries to scrutinise and ratify a finalised agreement. Secondly, there is also a need for better scrutiny of the Trade Remedies Authority. There seems to be a lack of accountability to Parliament in its structure and functions. At the very least, it should report annually to Parliament. Thirdly, could the Minister explain, in the context of the Agreement on Government Procurement, how it fits with the Government’s plans to enhance state aid within the UK and for the Government’s levelling up agenda, which will require very substantial public investment? What consideration have the Government given to areas of potential conflict in procurement?
Finally, do the Government accept the need to honour geographical indicators in future trade agreements? I ask because, in their agreement with the EU, the Government have rightly committed themselves to them “unless and until” there is a new trade agreement in place. But, if there is no trade agreement with the EU, we must continue to honour geographical indicators, which, in itself, is good news. But what discussions have there been with US negotiators on this matter, since it appears that they do not wish to be bound by them? Will we continue to honour our current agreements on geographical indicators, or will the Government give priority to securing a US trade agreement?
My Lords, we have heard two excellent maiden speeches this afternoon, from my noble friend on the Front Bench and from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I thank them both; they were very moving and very effective. Of course, that is not surprising, when this is the most vital Bill that this country has faced for many a long year. It is all about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
I had the privilege of working for the Reckitt & Colman (Overseas) group for a fair number of years, in Calcutta, where I covered the whole of eastern India, and in Colombo, which was of course then Ceylon, trying to learn the language—I got O-level Hindi. I did it in depth. If you are going to export, you have to do it in depth. Subsequently, I became a director of one of the largest advertising agencies, responsible in particular for clients who were involved in exporting.
I look at the list of countries in the continuation agreement area, and I am sorry to say that I do not see much of the Commonwealth. I see discussions on Singapore, but that is almost about it apart from part of the Caribbean. I therefore say to my noble friend on the Front Bench—I declare an interest as president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka and as active in all the south Asian countries—that that area is hugely friendly to our country. They want to be involved. I say that as one who goes regularly every year, as far as I can, to that part of the world. They are anxious to enter into agreements. I suggest to my noble friend on the Front Bench that we have to have very senior people in our embassies and in our high commissions who are well briefed on what the opportunities are and who can see the possible opportunities. For my money, I would like to see the deputy high commissioner or the deputy diplomat in those and other countries being appointed from senior businesspeople.
As someone who has been in the world of advertising and marketing, I know that the promotion of exports is not new. In the old days, we used to have the British National Export Council, then the British Export Corporation, which was talked about, with, potentially, an international exhibition centre at London airport.
The mention of London airport brings up two issues: the air freight and airline business is absolutely paralysed at the moment, and somehow or other we must ensure that the structure is kept there and that the third runway gets built.
On marketing, I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are pretty tired. They need a complete revamp. On trade associations, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, talked of an all-party parliamentary group, and I would be more than happy to join it.
I am disappointed that there appears to be a row between Her Majesty’s Government and the UK Association for International Trade, or in particular with HMRC. We do not need this at this point in time, and I suggest that my noble friend bangs a few heads together.
My noble friend and others will get support from ECGD, the Road Haulage Association, and so on. However, we also need our universities on side. We need to know that the young people coming forward really understand the importance of exporting and the interaction between people. On the question of interaction, much needs to be done. There needs to be much of it, and, frankly, we cannot afford for officials to be sitting at home, having very little interaction.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the House in this debate to the Luxembourg Rail Protocol, which needs a minor amendment to the Trade Bill. It would enable the Government to move forward with ratification, which would help rail operators and manufacturers encourage foreign investment into the UK and support UK exports of rail equipment. It mirrors something which has existed for some years in the air sector, and it is caused by a problem of getting finance for things that move and can be taken away.
To introduce it very quickly, the Luxembourg Rail Protocol to the Cape Town convention is an international treaty which will make it easier and cheaper for the private sector to finance all types of railway rolling stock, from locomotives to passenger and freight wagons, metro trains and trams, and so on. I believe from earlier discussions that it has government and cross-party support, and it needs a statutory instrument, as long as that is authorised by primary legislation. The protocol to the Cape Town convention creates a new global system for protecting and prioritising creditor rights in relation to secured financing or leasing of all types of rolling stock. This includes a facility to register security interests in an international registry, and it is the first common global system for uniquely identifying rail equipment. As noble Lords will know, rail equipment, like aircraft, has a habit of being moved if it is in the owner’s interest to do so.
It reduces creditor risk, the legal cost of financing and the cost of capital, and will relieve central and local government of the burden of financing or underwriting the procurement of new rail equipment. It will also provide the opportunity for government to refinance cost-effectively existing equipment. Of course, for exporters of rail equipment, which we hope will continue and grow after Brexit, the treaty will make manufacturers more competitive, particularly by levelling the playing field against Chinese competition, which many industries fear quite a lot. It will create valuable new markets and facilitate lower risks.
As I said, the UK has already adopted the Cape Town convention’s protocol applying to aircraft. It has signed but not ratified the rail protocol. Post Covid, this is all very important, so I propose to put down a few small amendments to Clause 2 to allow this convention to be ratified within the wider definition of the implementation of international trade agreements.
My Lords, I commend the maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and the Minister—particularly his remarks on small businesses, because that is the focus of my brief remarks today.
I am glad the Government have confirmed our accession to become independent members of the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement. This can be of great benefit to SMEs. Opportunities covered by the GPA market are estimated to be worth £1.3 trillion per year across the 20 parties to the agreement. The United States, South Korea and Japan have all put annexes to their GPA schedules to allow them to set aside and disapply regulations on behalf of small businesses and other organisations. I believe these provisions would enable parity of support for small businesses in accessing markets, against larger ones. Can the Minister confirm that the Bill has this provision and, if not, whether he would be open to considering an amendment to incorporate it in the Bill?
The Bill sets up the trade remedies authority, designed to protect UK businesses from unfair trading practices. This looks like a good thing, but when will we have further details, particularly on the TRA’s governance structure and accountability?
Key to small businesses’ exporting success is financial assistance, which should be obtainable through UK Export Finance—but UKEF is currently subject to inquiry from the Commons International Trade Committee. Could the Bill be used as an opportunity to lay out some of the UK’s future trade structures to make UKEF more accessible, user-friendly and, frankly, fit for purpose?
Small businesses will play an important role in the UK economic recovery post Covid. They are more agile and faster to market with new products and services in an uncertain world. The FSB reports that 78% of its exporting members export outside the EU, although this represents only just over one in five of its membership. The potential is there for the number of small business exporters to double.
Finally, what could the Government do through this Bill to make the prospect of exporting more appealing and seem more possible to small businesses by encouraging them and simplifying the process?
My Lords, it is exciting to be on the speakers’ list twice—once physically and once virtually—but I will trouble noble Lords with my thoughts only once. I start by giving a warm welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I was glad to hear him mention the contrasting miracles of graphene and “Strictly Come Dancing”. He will be a great addition to our House.
This Bill is not very different from the Bill introduced in this House in 2018 on which I spoke at some length. It provides for the continuity of EU trade agreements where possible on a bilateral basis and sets up the UK-only arrangements for procurement and an independent trade remedies authority. Not much has changed, although some of the Lords amendments have been stripped out.
However, the context is very different. Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister—a welcome change—and won a decisive election victory. We have left the EU and the nature of any FTA with the EU makes our international trading arrangements even more important. Continuity arrangements have been agreed and scrutinised effectively by the EU Committee of this House. We have produced 22 reports on 50 different Brexit-related agreements, and I thank our brilliant clerks.
Trade negotiations with Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the US are very active and the Department for International Trade has been strengthened enormously, most recently with the addition of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on an earlier visit to the UK. I am now chairman of the UK-ASEAN Business Council—one of my interests in the register—and can assure noble Lords that in the ASEAN region, which is dynamic and growing, he is well regarded for the important trade agreements he concluded in Asia.
We have also welcomed my noble friend the Minister, with his global business experience, to his role, and at last today we heard his maiden speech. He has an amazing record and network, but for me the most important qualities he highlighted were clear thinking and decisiveness. These should be much valued in our Government today.
I welcome the return of this Bill and the Minister’s clear introduction and look forward to supporting its rapid passage through our House. I have a particular interest in data and intellectual property and thank the Alliance for IP for its usual briefing. I know that these areas are important to the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Clement-Jones, and I look forward to working with them on the usual cross-party basis.
I sympathise with many of the points made about parliamentary scrutiny and hope to bring to our debates my experience on trade issues within the EU in the European Parliament and on the European Union Committee. I also endorse everything my noble friend Lord Naseby said, his practical ideas on export promotion and the intriguing ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on rail rolling stock. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, I care a lot about the role of small business in trade.
The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. I am sorry but we cannot hear him at all. We may have to move on to the next speaker and return to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, afterwards. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.
My Lords, I believe I am unmuted. What an excellent debate. I join the welcome from across the House to the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn.
The Bill in its current form is at best a missed opportunity and at worst something a little more troubling still. It is a missed opportunity to safeguard parliamentary sovereignty and respect for devolution and for detailed scrutiny of trade policy. As others have said, it provides a lack of structures for that purpose. I also draw your Lordships’ attention to the sweeping delegated powers that are a key feature of this legislation, to which I really hope many noble Lords will return at future stages.
It is a missed opportunity to prioritise human rights, workers’ rights, food standards and, in particular, the fight against impending climate catastrophe as pillars of ethical trade policy in the vital years ahead. In its current form, it is a missed opportunity to enshrine protections for the world-envied treasure that is our National Health Service, watched in admiration by ordinary vulnerable people everywhere and especially during this current terrible pandemic—yet stalked greedily by many corporate interests that would seek to plunder its sensitive datasets and commoditise the healthcare that, in Britain at least, has been seen as a universal human right for 72 years.
The Government say—the Minister said it very ably—that this is just continuity legislation, so we need not seek extensive safeguards here. No doubt we will in due course be asked time and again to trust the Executive and their new personnel. But the likes of Mr Tony Abbott, with his expressed views and values, are on the way in to this Administration at just the time when the likes of Sir Jonathan Jones, head of the government legal department, appear to be on their way out. In the light of all this, I really hope that, following this passionate, expert and visionary debate, your Lordships’ House will feel confident to approach the Bill’s future stages with muscular scrutiny and confident amendment, especially in relation to rule of law issues.
My Lords, I start by welcoming the maiden speeches of the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, whose focus on inequality is very welcome. The Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has stated:
“With democracy and human rights as the central principle of the FCDO mission, we can bring together the UK’s values, its global mission, and its responsibilities as a world-beating international development institution.”
Those are fine words indeed, but they would have greater force if underpinned by the opportunity presented by the Bill, but that has not happened. Not only that, but Parliament’s role to set objectives, scrutinise deals and evaluate the impact on fundamentals, such as public well-being, climate requirements, human rights and international development, has been diminished. The second time around for the Trade Bill means that some of the essential safeguards won last time may be lost, given the Government’s majority. However, this House has a responsibility to uphold parliamentary sovereignty, and I will support amendments that seek to do so. To date, we have had nothing but promises from Boris Johnson to protect us from the vagaries of countries such as the US or Brazil while they are led by men whose principles and values we do not share.
I move on to the dual challenges of climate chaos and Covid-19. Some 50% of the UK’s carbon footprint appears elsewhere in the world. The Bill is an opportunity to do more to invest in green trade and use Aid for Trade support to help developing countries transition into renewables. The upcoming leadership of COP 26 gives us a real opportunity to lead on fossil fuel subsidy reform, starting with the UKEF. In 2019, the Environmental Audit Committee stated that UK Export Finance supported fossil fuel projects to the tune of £2.6 billion over the previous five years, the vast bulk of it going to low and middle-income countries, compared with just £104 million for renewable energy. It is not enough to stop subsidies for coal production. The parlous state of planetary ecosystems dictates that subsidies for oil and gas should also be consigned to history.
I end by speaking about equitable access to treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 for the developing world. Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome, has said:
“For as long as COVID-19 is present somewhere, it is a threat everywhere … Governments, industry and philanthropy must pool resources to pay for the risk, the research, manufacturing and distribution.”
A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Wellcome found that most people think that Covid-19 treatments and vaccines should first be made available to those who need them the most, wherever in the world that need is greatest. Does the Minister agree, and does he agree that trade arrangements have their part to play to deliver this?
We will attempt to return to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers. I have spoken before about the need to better harness the value of healthcare data in the UK. Today I want to draw attention to the need for clear provisions on data trade in the Bill, where they could usefully assuage concerns about privacy and patient safety, as well as help guarantee that economic benefits flow from the next generation of data-driven health services.
The Government have indicated that the Bill will enable the UK to take back control, so its provisions should ensure that we retain the sovereignty that implies. Others have called for a specific, if broad-ranging, carve-out for the NHS with this in mind. I ask the Minister whether he is minded at least to consider introducing a carve-out for publicly funded healthcare data processing services in the United Kingdom. This could be achieved here by guaranteeing the application of a pertinent national treatment limitation clause to new trade agreements and is, in some senses, consistent with the Government’s existing policy concerning the offshoring of such sensitive personal data. In the light of the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Schrems II case, as discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, it would also indicate that the Minister takes privacy and the concerns expressed by the public in this regard seriously.
The Government must negotiate new trade agreements with countries which subscribe to an increasingly protectionist approach to intellectual property, and I am concerned that the effect of provisions in some agreements could be to reduce access to the algorithms that underpin them—in particular, where developed countries seek restrictions on forced disclosure of digital technology, treating source code and algorithms as trade secrets. Can the Minister assure noble Lords that it is his clear intention to safeguard us from all mutant and potentially lethal algorithms in healthcare when the Government negotiate digital elements of new trade agreements?
Finally, does the Minister agree that it is of the utmost importance that the UK Government do not find themselves in the invidious position of being sued for taking decisions about the processing of publicly funded healthcare data in the future, not least given the scope for them to contribute to economic growth through the Government’s life sciences industrial strategy? If so, will he consider amending the Bill to ensure that no investor-state dispute settlement clauses may be introduced to new trade agreements where they would impact policy-making, regulation or the provision of services underpinned by publicly funded healthcare data in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate on their excellent maiden speeches, and I welcome the Bill; it is necessary and workmanlike. But neither critics nor supporters should exaggerate its importance. Critics claim that it would lead to privatising the NHS, undermine environmental standards and threaten animal welfare. They have nothing to fear. Those things are outside the scope of the Bill. The Government certainly have no such intentions, and Parliament would not let them happen. But there is a tendency on all sides of the debate to exaggerate the importance of trade deals. They are useful and desirable, but their impact is much smaller than generally thought.
This was brought home to me when I was Trade Secretary. I had to implement the single market programme, held as the deepest ever free trade arrangement. I also had to negotiate the Uruguay round, which halved tariffs and set up the WTO. I made bullish speeches about both, and how they boosted our exports, but neither had the impact I anticipated. Indeed, UK exports to the 14 original members of the single market have stagnated since then, having grown at less than 0.5% per annum—barely 10% over the past 20 years. By contrast, our exports to the 14 largest countries with which we trade just on WTO terms have risen by 88% and now account for 37% of our goods exports worldwide. Our exports to countries with which the EU had negotiated trade deals—the subject of this Bill—have risen considerably faster than our exports to the EU itself, but by less than our exports to countries with which we have no trade deals, and therefore trade on WTO terms.
I have sympathy with noble Lords who call for a greater role for Parliament during trade negotiations. I felt uneasy about the lack of accountability to Parliament when negotiating the Uruguay round. Accountability can strengthen a negotiator’s hands, not just in dealing with the other side but in galvanising his own. Civil servants work their socks off when they know a Minister will have to defend their actions in Parliament, but if that synergy does not exist—how should I put this to the Minister who was an official when I was a Minister?—officials feel freer to pursue their own agendas. But I reluctantly concluded then, as I do now, that though we should consult and report to Parliament, since nothing is agreed until everything is, so negotiation is inevitably a matter for ministerial prerogative and Parliament can only accept or reject.
I urge noble Lords to support this Bill, which will carry forward the modest benefits that existing trade agreements provide. But let us recognise that what really drives trade is producing goods and services that people want to buy and getting out and selling them.
My Lords, I too would like to welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who is not in his place at the moment, and of course the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone. He has been very reassuring—one might say emollient—and has made some quite definitive, optimistic statements about what the Government will or will not do about the NHS and our food standards. I very much hope that the Government will not let him or us down.
It was almost exactly two years ago to the day, on 11 September 2018, at 5 pm, that I spoke on an earlier version of the trade Bill here in your Lordships’ House. I looked it up today, and most of what I said is still valid and true. I pointed out, for example, that the Government’s idea of trade is based on outdated ideas; I complained about the Henry VIII powers in the Bill; and I complained about the fact that, as I mentioned yesterday, when I voted to leave, I had no idea it would be possible to mess it up so badly. Of course in that debate, all Peers had unlimited time to air their views—one element of normality that I doubt the Government want back.
This legislation will have far-reaching impacts in economic, democratic and constitutional areas. Trade deals are no longer just about removing tariff barriers between countries. Modern trade deals can change vast areas of public policy, such as food standards, environmental protections, working conditions and the privatisation of public services. Protection of our NHS and of our food and animal welfare standards is very popular—definitely the will of the people. A trade deal can make huge changes to our hard-won rights and protections. I wonder when the Government are going to make these changes positive. We have scrutiny powers that are 40 years out of date, and taking any more power away from Parliament would be deeply anti-democratic.
We know that the USA is pushing for us to reduce our food standards to allow it to import food that would currently be deemed unsafe and just plain disgusting by British consumers. We hear a lot about chlorinated chicken, but the unsanitary, diseased conditions of American mass-farming are scarier than the use of chlorine. We should be glad that American chicken is chlorine-washed, because that makes it a little safer to eat. I am sure noble Lords know that someone eating food in the United States is 10 times more likely to contract food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses than if they were eating in the UK.
We have an opportunity here to rethink what trade means and what trade deals are. Trade does not have to be a race to the bottom or to the cheapest; it can be used as a way to work with other countries to create good jobs and improve living standards. Instead of working together to bargain away workers’ rights and environmental protections, we could make deals in which we agree collectively to strengthen our standards. It is possible to be ethical about these things and to shape policy for the good, with an eye to the impact on climate change. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is not in her seat at the moment, for her comments on climate change, and for saving me the effort of repeating them.
I have here a little wheat-sheaf from the NFU, which is all about Backing British Farming—I hope it does not mind me using it a day early—and that is exactly what we should do. We should be thinking locally and not internationally. Moving food around is not a smart way of operating.
My Lords, I also welcome the maiden speeches by the Minister and the right reverend Prelate.
The UK faces the economic consequences of the global pandemic amplified by a no-deal Brexit. The Government have now admitted that, even with a Canada-style deal, non-tariff barriers and checks by the EU will come into force. Incredibly, the Government’s border operating model will create an internal UK border in Kent, with truckers required to acquire a Kent access permit, or KAP, for the required paperwork before travelling, on penalty of a £300 fine.
The Brexiteers seem to remain under the delusion that they can replace the EU market—the richest and biggest in the world, and which constitutes nearly half of our trade—with new agreements with countries such as the US, which constitutes 16% of our trade; Japan, which constitutes just over 2%; and Australia and New Zealand, which constitute less than 1%. Leaked government forecasts suggest that a trade deal with the US would benefit the UK economic output by only about 0.2% in the long term. Japan has been reluctant to agree a deal more favourable than its existing agreement with the EU. As for Australia and New Zealand, they have a combined population of 30 million, compared to the EU’s 450 million.
For the last couple of years, the Department of International Trade has been scrambling to roll over the 40 or so existing EU agreements with over 70 countries, constituting another 10% of our trade, excluding Japan. The DIT website shows that roughly half of these countries have signed rollover deals, often with human rights provisions watered down. The Bill fails to provide for essential parliamentary scrutiny of such future trade deals, as recommended by the Institute for Government to protect, among other important matters, human rights, workers’ rights and the environment. Parliamentary scrutiny should extend to the UK’s future membership of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement to protect public services, such as the NHS, which are at risk from grabs by US companies under the Government’s agenda.
Then there are the reckless briefings in the media to renege on the Irish protocol in the EU withdrawal treaty, which would mean the UK defying international law, not to mention poisoning relations with by far our biggest trading partner and undermining the Good Friday agreement.
The spurious claim that, cut off from open access to the EU, Brexit would enable the UK to make advantageous trade deals is unravelling before our eyes. The Bill does nothing to mitigate the disastrous economic consequences of no deal, or a thin-deal Brexit, now tragically in prospect.
My Lords, I also congratulate the Minister and the right revered Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their maiden speeches.
I wish to speak about the impact of the Bill on food and farming. During the passage of the Agriculture Bill, it was made abundantly clear that the food and farming industries are extremely concerned about the Government’s push to secure trade deals with some countries outside Europe. Our current animal welfare and health standards are totally in line with those in Europe, and the nations of Britain have an unrivalled high record in this area. Consumers and farmers alike are concerned that the new trade deals will mean that food produced to lower animal health and welfare standards will begin appearing on our supermarket shelves. This food is likely to be cheaper because less stringent production methods have been used, and it will not be labelled as such. The result will be that our own farming industry will be undercut by these products, and farmers will find that the market for their excellent produce will dwindle.
Much has been said about the importation of food products from the United States, where its chickens are washed in chlorine to compensate for the poor welfare standards they are raised in. Its cattle are injected with hormones to increase their muscle weight, but this does very little to improve their flavour. Some years ago, when out for a meal with our family who live in Alabama, one member of the family commented that her steak had no flavour at all. I believe that this is the norm, and why many Americans add rubs and spices to their steaks to make them palatable.
It is not that the US wishes to import our own excellent food products, with the exception of Scotch whisky. It is unlikely to have Aberdeen Angus beef in its supermarkets or some of our excellent cheeses on its shelves. This is not an agricultural two-way street that the Government are taking us down. There is a total lack of regulation in the US of genetically modified crops and food. In Britain, currently such GM and GMO foods are strictly regulated, and consumers can be confident that they are being protected. No such reassurance will be provided for goods coming from the US.
It is vital that British farmers are protected from the effects of poor-quality imported food and that the British consumer is similarly protected from food that is not suitably labelled with its country of origin, method of breeding and production. I look forward to the Minister’s reassurance that the Trade Bill will not undermine our current agriculture industry.
My Lords, I am no trade export but, as a Californian IP litigator, a Devon farmer and father to an American family, I want to understand what a US-UK trade deal might look like and the process by which it will be reached. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who is to be congratulated, along with the right reverend Prelate, on an excellent maiden speech, and I am grateful to his team for the updates, but I am concerned by the opacity of the process and the ad hoc nature by which information is made available.
I sought trade negotiation expertise at London’s leading international law firms, but there is none. The experts are all in Brussels, and therein lies an issue. Britain thinks of itself as a great trading nation, and once we were, but that was decades ago. Right now, we are pure novices, yet we are negotiating with the world’s most experienced trade teams—the US, the EU, Japan and others—under considerable pressure, at very short notice and in the teeth of Covid-19.
Parliamentary oversight and transparency are essential, but the Government’s cloak-and-dagger approach can foster only mistrust and uncertainty in our negotiating counterparts. They need to know that our negotiators represent the British people and not merely vested interests promoted by the Government.
For months, I have wanted to know the composition of the expert trade advisory group for agriculture, but details have not been forthcoming. We all know the vast agricultural interests that drive trade negotiators in the US, particularly with the presidential election looming. We cannot say the same for our negotiation team. Can the Minister please explain whether this obfuscation is a deliberate government policy and, if it is, can he explain what benefit it serves?
Returning to our rich trading heritage, 400 years ago next week the “Mayflower” set sail from Plymouth—a timely reminder that European settlement of North America was about trade, along with other things. While undoubtedly that was key to the development of Great Britain and its Empire, it was decidedly not a good development for the indigenous peoples of North America or west Africa. Trade was made for the subjugation of others in the quest for better-priced commodities. Given the importance of the Black Lives Matter campaign, what assurances can the Minister give that our trade deals will not exacerbate discrimination and the exploitation of minorities?
Finally, we have heard much on climate, animal husbandry and food standards, and much of that pertains to the Agriculture Bill, so I will not repeat myself here, save to reiterate a plea that we be cautious of overprotecting our markets but, rather, focus on promoting our low-carbon, high-welfare agricultural products. The US and other major economies will soon adopt net-zero targets similar to our own, and we should become world leaders in the export of agritech and environmental science expertise.
My Lords, first, I declare my interests in trading companies, as listed in the register.
When I first opened the Bill, I wondered why much of it was necessary. It had never occurred to me that HMRC could not already do what is permitted under this Bill. Was this collection of data done anyway and then stopped? Surely the data collection was necessary to make the figures accurate. Clearly, HMRC has trouble with the regulations.
I have heard it said by business leaders that the GDPR is one of the most burdensome regulations that Parliament has produced. Business leaders are usually not very good at explaining which bits of regulations they would like to see changed, but almost all can say something bad about the details of the GDPR. I am glad that the Bill will remove some of that regulatory burden from HMRC and the Government. That is a good step in starting to remove the burden from business. Perhaps these clauses reveal excellent communication between HMRC and the department. HMRC has a problem; the Government step in and solve it. That is great. When will any department ask for the details of similar problems being dealt with by business and solve them? Regulations, like taxes, are costly and need to be reduced as soon as possible.
A few years ago in a debate about salesmanship, my noble friend Lord Grade gave a spellbinding speech about how salesmanship is undervalued by British business, and I agree with him completely. Furthermore, I suggest that trading ability is in the same category. Some historians argue that it was the 18th-century world traders rather than the 19th-century manufacturers who were responsible for the pre-eminence of the British economy up to the First World War. Whatever the merits of their trade, one can certainly admire their bravery in travelling all over the world without a way to get home in a hurry. Even nowadays, there is a large element of bravery and imagination in setting up a sales business, selling British goods to places that have not bought them before. However, these people are usually not helped by more legislation, and on the whole the British Parliament should do its best to ensure that they are hindered to the minimum extent. I think that the Bill achieves that, but the amendments talked about this afternoon would carry the ability to get in their way substantially.
The amendments debated and rejected in the other place will no doubt reappear here. No doubt they will be enthusiastically supported by a majority in our House, and no doubt they will be rejected all over again. The concept of trade democracy sounds seductive, but we would all agree that democracy produces uncertainty. Many noble Lords started their career in this House following the result of an uncertain election, but certainty and stability are important to a trader. The world is getting smaller, but it is certainly getting more complex and unpredictable.
For some years, I was lucky enough to be chief executive of a group of companies, one of which had the majority market share in the sale of bus doors to Hong Kong. Perhaps that dates me, as the idea of profitably sending a crate of glass and aluminium assemblies from Beverley in Yorkshire to Hong Kong is a bit unlikely, however skilled the workforce in my favourite factory was. But that trade was so extraordinary that it was difficult to explain, and certainly no Government were able or needed to help it. However, we had heroes ready to leap on to a plane to Hong Kong at no notice to solve a customer’s problem, and those sorts of diligent people are not those who have a great deal of time for politics. Traders trade despite regulations, not because of them, so I doubt very much that the sorts of amendments proposed for this Bill will be designed to increase trade between British companies and overseas customers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord the Minister on his maiden speech, as I do the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. The Minister’s presentation was a lot clearer than his Bill. I support everything that my noble friends Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Whitty said. In his opening remarks, the Minister referred to the Trade Remedies Authority and gave an assurance that it would be independent. I think that we need some guarantees about that, and I hope that the TRA will be treated better than the Competition and Markets Authority has been.
I want to concentrate on competition and state aid infrastructure. Let us look at the extraordinary history of the Government’s handling of the future responsibilities of the CMA. They moved from designating the CMA as the domestic regulator with proposals to provide additional interim financial support. Subsequently, in February 2020, that draft regulation was withdrawn and the Government now maintain that ratification of the withdrawal agreement with the EU means that a domestic regulator might not be needed at all—from winning the lottery to possible abolition. I have no idea why the chairman of the CMA, the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, resigned, but I can take a good guess.
Despite close questioning in June from the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord Lamont, and my noble friend Lord Wood about the void in policy, the Minister, Paul Scully—same Minister; different Government—maintained that the Government were “working on options” which would be discussed with key stakeholders in due course. There was no hint that policy on the CMA would change as a result of the withdrawal Act, and I am not sure which is worse—being disingenuous or making it up as you go along.
There are complex issues around state aid, not least of which is what structure will be established for consultation with the devolved Administrations, and what strategy the Government will adopt. What is the future for the CMA? How will it tie in with the Bill? If the Government are content that the WTO rules are sufficient, how can they persuade the devolved Administrations that they will get a fair deal?
My Lords, I welcome the speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, not least because I speak as Lord McNally of Blackpool, and it was encouraging to hear him talk about some of Blackpool’s problems and some of its successes, because both should be remembered.
I also welcome the Minister, not just for this Bill but for his vast knowledge of China. I suspect that his experience will be needed now as much if not more than when he was encouraging the golden age of our relationship with China. I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, an admiration for his wonderful bedside manner—but the wrong policies put forward in a wonderful bedside manner are still wrong, so I hope that he will listen to some of the experience in this House during the task ahead. It cannot be suggested that this is just some kind of nodded-through technical Bill to cover matters already discussed and decided. The evidence against it is far too strong.
I also ask the Minister to read the report of yesterday’s Grand Committee debate about the powers of Parliament. The CRaG Act was produced when we were firmly ensconced in the EU, and it is stretching credulity too far to suggest that its powers and responsibilities do not need to be reviewed, as is true of the royal prerogative.
We cannot allow this Bill to be nodded through as a mere technical transition of existing and agreed measures. Too many sectors, from intellectual property to the Green Alliance, from farmers to the BMA, have asked for their interests to be better protected during the passage of this Bill. Too many sectors have had their concerns fobbed off with “it’ll be all right on the night” bravado from Ministers. I was interested in the warnings of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. There is a very real danger that a Government desperate to prove that they can get trade deals will indulge in a race to the bottom, putting at risk environmental, work and safety standards, and creative and cultural assets. I urge the Minister to look again at the Djanogly amendments, which were not carried in the other place, because nothing would give greater confidence in the intentions of the Government than if they were to bring the Djanogly amendments back and pass them in this House.
My Lords, I add my good wishes and congratulations to the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their excellent maiden speeches.
Since I participated in the consideration of last year’s Trade Bill, and as things have moved on since then, it was most helpful to hear from the Minister the ways in which this Bill differs. I hope and trust that many of the forceful arguments raised in your Lordships’ House then have influenced the Bill before us—although that is not obvious.
Many of the things which I welcome and support have already been said and, in the short time available, I shall only emphasise that I agree with the argument that a trade agreement in itself does not create trade. We need boots on the ground, fully equipped with enthusiasm, perseverance and appropriate languages, but a trade group agreement can facilitate trade, and it is perhaps worth noting at this point that a double tax treaty can also make a difference. As many of your Lordships know, I have an interest and involvement in the countries of Latin America and am president of the All-Party Group on Latin America. In that context, I am interested not only in the continuity of trade agreements, but in developing and enhancing them. I am delighted that the agreement with Chile is one of the 20 agreements already ratified, but can the Minister give us any information on continuity regarding the EU-Mercosur agreement? After years of negotiation in which we were fully involved, it appears to be close to completion, but not within our membership timetable. Since important markets in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay await us, and since under the EU-Mercosur rules we cannot enter into unilateral agreements with individual countries, I would welcome the Minister’s views on future plans.
Finally, I welcome the Government’s assurances that powers in this Bill will not be used to reduce standards. In the good old days of our membership of the European Union, we were rather given to gold-plating EU rules and regulations in any event—for example, on paternity leave, flexible working and one of the strictest ivory bans in the world. That approach augurs well for the future. In the past, the Government could blame Brussels if anything went wrong, so I hope that they are now ready to face the future without a scapegoat. I hope and feel sure that your Lordships’ scrutiny of the Bill will ensure that it leaves the House a better Bill.
My Lords, congratulations are due to the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their maiden speeches.
In just a few weeks’ time, the UK will fully and finally leave the EU. There is very little time for the British Government to secure a trade agreement. Serious questions are now being asked about whether they want a deal at all. Lest we be in any doubt, to preserve our economy in these islands there needs to be a trade deal, and while this Bill deals with very technical issues to make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements, there is a glaring omission: the need for both Houses of Parliament to scrutinise the trade deals, as happens in other institutions.
An area of this Bill that has been totally eclipsed by the internal market Bill due to be unveiled shortly is that of trade relations between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and between Ireland and the UK. I understand that in the other place today, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland indicated that it would represent a breach of an international agreement. I find it totally inexplicable that the EU withdrawal agreement—an international agreement between the UK and the EU—could be unilaterally undermined by the British Government. Can the Minister provide us with further details on that, because it is essential to any trade deals and to any discussion on the Bill?
We have to think about the Northern Ireland protocol. There are various issues and concerns to be addressed. What happens if Northern Ireland is excluded from UK free trade agreements? What measures will be put in place to minimise this risk? What mitigating measures will there be to prevent Northern Ireland being outside all free trade agreement areas? To be absolutely sure, we would like to see standards for agriculture and trade enshrined in this legislation so that it coincides with the Agriculture Bill and those standards do not lie outside legislation. The same goes for our National Health Service, which is not up for marketisation.
My Lords, I too welcome the maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and of the Minister. I too made my maiden speech from the Dispatch Box, 19 years ago.
This Bill is about standards—standards of governance and transparency and standards of food. In respect of governance and transparency, it is crystal clear that the Bill has to be amended to allow Parliament a greater degree of scrutiny of trade deals. I will support something like new Clause 4, which was promoted in the Commons on a cross-party basis, but we need to go further. I shall be tabling an amendment based on the Food Standards Act 1999. It will propose that the Trade Remedies Authority have the same rights as the Food Standards Agency to publish its advice. This will guarantee its operational independence.
I am sure that, by now, the Minister’s private office is thoroughly embarrassed by the lack of attention to detail because he referred to the Food Standards Agency as an entirely different body.
The Conservative manifesto is clear on pages 42 and 54 about animal welfare. On page 57, it is very clear about not compromising on high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. However, there is nothing in the Bill on that. It is true that more Conservative voters than Labour voters support the United States’ policies of chlorine-washed chicken, dairy products treated with antibiotics and meat treated with hormones. In a recent YouGov survey, 15% of Tory voters polled supported chlorine-washed chicken, against 3% of Labour voters. The figures were 13% and 3% for dairy products treated with antibiotics and 12% and 5% for hormone-treated meat. These figures are not very high, even for Tory voters, are they, Minister? Overall, in the same poll, 80% of the public said they found such policies unacceptable. As high a figure as 87% opposed the removal of labels showing the origin of meat products, which is what the United States wants. It will take a really brave Minister to try these policies out.
Southampton University has shown that washing with chlorine does not take all the nasty bits out. Nothing is risk free, but we have been safer in the EU than we will be outside it. When we leave on 31 December, we will lose the use of RASFF—the rapid alert warning system for food and feed. Some eight alerts per day are issued, warning of hazards such as salmonella in meat products, mercury in fish products and aflatoxins in fruit, nuts and vegetables.
Finally, I return to the first two points I made about governance and transparency. I am not alone in detecting a high stench of corruption in this Government. The searchlights of openness and transparency are the weapons needed to combat this stench. They should be inserted into this Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their excellent maiden speeches.
In the very limited time available to speak in this debate on the critical Trade Bill, I will concentrate my remarks on trade with Africa, acknowledging my interests as set out in the register. I have acted as a political co-ordinator for the parliamentary offices for budget oversight throughout the SADC region of southern Africa.
The Government stress the importance of trade agreements with Africa, particularly in a post-Brexit era. African economic growth outstrips many parts of the globe and many African countries have a common affinity with the United Kingdom—shared language, laws and accountancy practices. There is, however, an overwhelming desire to break the historic pattern of exporting raw materials and food and importing manufactured goods from the West. Instead, African countries are building trading agreements between them, supported by regional transport links rather than links merely to the nearest port.
This brings me directly to the development of treaties entered into with the European Union. Many African countries have signed economic partnership agreements but a number, notably Kenya, have stopped short of ratifying them in their Parliaments. In discussions with finance Ministers from Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and other SADC members, with a deputy director-general at the UN and with senior parliamentarians from Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium and Ireland, it became clear that the EPAs, which had been developed from co-operation agreements that gave ACP exports preferential access to European markets, were deeply controversial. There are fears that the EPAs are undermining the sustainability of ACP countries and their regional integration processes. In this context, the status of the UK’s trade and development agreements with African countries at the end of the UK-EU transitional period is a crucial issue.
I would be grateful if the Minister could acknowledge the urgent need to clarify the status of the UK’s new free trade agreements with blocs of eastern and southern African countries. To these must be added others in east and west Africa which have yet to be concluded. In particular, regarding the Southern African Customs Union, which was formed in 1910 and is the oldest customs union in Africa, can the Minister say if the agreement has been ratified by all parties? If not, which parties have ratified it and which have not? Will the new trading agreements be fully operational from 1 January 2021? What aid for trade commitments have the Government made since these agreements have been signed? What new aid for trade commitments for these countries will the UK Government be making in the financial year 2020-21 to accompany these agreements?
My Lords, I welcome the Minister; I am sure he will continue to bring much experience and expertise to his role. I also welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and thank him for his excellent maiden speech.
For Britain, trade must never fade. For centuries we have been an international trading nation but, after 47 years in the European Union, Brexit has once again given Britain the power to make trade agreements for itself.
Trade is not just about money and finance. International trade is an agent for peace. There are many examples in the Bible, for instance where the Israelites made a treaty with the Phoenicians. They organised merchant trading ships which travelled so far that some of their round trips took as long as three years. These not only resulted in great wealth but brought peace to what was then the known world.
I am delighted that the Government have already concluded 20 continuity trade agreements with 48 countries, which accounted for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018. This represented 74% of the trade with nations with which we were seeking continuity before leaving the EU. As someone of Caribbean heritage, I am delighted that this includes the CARIFORUM trade bloc, of which my parents’ birth land of Jamaica is a member. I was increasingly concerned that our preoccupation with the EU countries for more than four decades was overshadowing our close historical, religious, royal and cultural ties with the Commonwealth. Now that the news cycle is more centred on black and other ethnic minorities—at least for the time being— I am glad that Brexit can make the Commonwealth family even stronger.
At present, Parliament’s role in the trade agreement process is defined by Part 2 of what is known as the CRaG Act 2010. The CRaG Act process has been described as inadequate and unfit for purpose by no less than four senior parliamentary committees. We should remember that, when the Act was passed, the UK did not make trade agreements by and for itself. Scrutiny of such agreements fell within the scope of the European Union. Will the Minister recognise that, since things have changed and we are no longer part of the EU, it now has to be in our interests for the UK Parliament to be given greater powers to scrutinise future trade agreements? Scrutinise does not mean mutiny or interference, but oversight in order to make the whole better.
I acknowledge that the Trade Bill establishes a new Trade Remedies Authority. I know that two senior executives have resigned in recent months, but I wish this new body well.
I welcome this Bill because, crucially, it enables the UK to implement in domestic law obligations that the UK signs with countries which have had existing agreements with the EU.
Covid-19 has put great financial strains on this nation, so rebuilding our economy is vital. It is through trade that an even greater Britain will emerge from the economic shade.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend the Minister and the right reverend Prelate on their excellent maiden speeches. In warmly welcoming the Bill, I want to focus on how the Government can deliver the priority they attach to the achievement of frictionless trade in current and future trade deals.
For trade to be frictionless, there must first be mutual recognition between trading partners of the standards relating to the goods and services being traded. Secondly, there must be mutual recognition of a regime of accredited conformity assessments that verify that those goods and services are complying with those standards. This mutual recognition of standards and accredited conformity assessments already underpins many international trade agreements around the world. It is therefore unsurprising that standards and accreditation, with their critical role in underpinning trade, are treated as global activities and are overseen by international organisations made up principally of the relevant national institutions of most of the world’s economies. In the UK, the relevant national institutions are: the British Standards Institution, or the BSI, the UK’s national standards body; and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, or UKAS, the UK’s national accreditation body. Here I should declare an interest as chair of UKAS.
UKAS and the BSI are leading lights in the international organisations that oversee the global role that standards and accreditation play in facilitating frictionless trade. Accreditation at national and international level is the highest level of assurance that permits the free movement of products and services. The OECD estimates that 80% of global trade involves some form of conformity assessment which enhances competitiveness by demonstrating that products and services meet the requirements of Governments and consumers. In short, mutually recognised accreditation, alongside mutually recognised standards, is a tried, tested and well-proven combination for delivering frictionless trade.
In closing, I ask the Minister to confirm that the mutual recognition of standards and accredited conformity assessments derived from the UK’s national standards and accreditation bodies operating through international frameworks will be central to the UK’s trade negotiations and future trade agreements.
My Lords, I too welcome the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, to his place and welcome his maiden speech. As chair of Standard Life, he brought strong strategic direction, clarity and consistency to the company over many years, which ensured that it survived and thrived in difficult times for many other companies in financial services in this country. As he said, at the heart of that was good governance. I hope he is able to bring some of that to help his colleagues in the Government in these troubled times.
I want to make two points. The first is in relation to parliamentary scrutiny and engagement with the devolved Governments and Parliaments. One of the reasons we are in this place—by that I mean moving towards the final stages of Brexit—is the decline in trust in politicians, government and institutions over recent years. While the Government’s intention might be to try through Brexit to bring back some of that trust and to deal with some of those issues, I do not believe that we can deal with the problem of trust among the general population in institutions and Parliament by reducing the role of Parliament in scrutinising trade agreements and other important decisions. I urge the Government to look at this in a positive way and to enhance the role of Parliament, not diminish it, as they bring trade agreements back home to the UK.
I also urge them to take the same approach in relation to the involvement of the devolved nations and their Governments and Parliaments, because early engagement with the devolved nations can ensure that we have better, not worse, trade agreements. We will have more unity in the country—unity of purpose and of implementation—if we are able to secure that engagement, and therefore better agreements at the end of the day.
I also urge the Government to think positively in a wider sense about trade. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned this in relation to some of the developments that are taking place across Africa in these times. We need trade agreements that serve not only the economic interests of the UK and its population but do not make climate change worse or increase the inequity in the world and therefore all the many problems of migration and conflict that result. Our trade policy should not only ensure that we have strong democratic accountability at home but that we have a real sense of purpose abroad.
I think—I hope—we all have a shared objective in trade that is free and fair but that also grows the global economy, as well as our own, and ensures that more people in the world can secure its benefits, and therefore a better life and better opportunities.
My Lords, I congratulate both maiden speakers on their excellent maiden speeches.
The Government assure us that this is a continuity Bill, but that is not totally true. That is not all that it is. The Government also assure us that food and environmental standards will be maintained, but will they? On what basis should we trust a Government that have not stuck to a single edict they have issued during the coronavirus pandemic and who only today have signalled their intention to renege on an international treaty? What is the comfort that underpins their assurances? Words seem very cheap. The Government assure us that they are putting green at the heart of recovery, but assurances are not the actualité. If all those things are the case, why not underpin those assurances with legislation?
This Bill is not simply about continuity rollover of trade agreements, because it enables further change to be enacted by secondary legislation. Assurances that anything major would be the subject of further legislation sadly count for nothing. Perhaps the Minister would like to explain exactly who would be the arbiter of a minor technical change which rightly could be dealt with by an SI and who would not. When you add in the absence of any commitment to discuss or consult on proposals for changes that might well be contained in these extensive powers, one cannot help but be left with suspicions. The Trade Bill is vulnerable to major changes, with new trade agreements that bear scant relationship to a simple rollover.
This need not be a bad thing. I would argue that it could be an opportunity to change to even better environmental and food standards and work conditions, which we should be looking at post Covid. Covid has bequeathed us an opportunity to do things differently. With the scales gone from our eyes, we can see the unacceptable level of inequality that bedevils our country. We can see that the planet needs us to take the radical action that Covid forced on us, and that there has to be a better balance between “what’s good for me” and “what’s best for us”—an aspiration for the common good rather than only individual advancement. Let us really take back control and use this as an opportunity to build back better.
With a majority such as that enjoyed by this Government, it can only strengthen their negotiating position and validation of outcome by having input from Parliament and others. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, they say. Openness, transparency and proper scrutiny will not only reassure those of us who are, to put it politely, sceptical of the Conservative Government’s agenda but will strengthen their position.
My Lords, following the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, my interest in this important Bill is in how it deals with the devolved authorities. The sensitivity of arrangements relating to trade cannot be overstated. Plans are already being made by the Scottish Government for the holding of a second referendum on independence after the elections to the Parliament at Holyrood in less than eight months’ time. This is an increasingly perilous time for those who believe in the union. Anything that might be seen as failing to respect the desire of the Scottish Government to be free to run their own affairs as they choose in this crucial area and set their own standards will be seized on by supporters of the campaign for independence. I will leave that warning on the table for now and concentrate on the Bill.
There are two points to which I wish to draw attention. First, international relations and the regulation of international trade are reserved to the UK Government here at Westminster, so the devolved authorities have no formal role in the negotiation or approval of these agreements. However, the implementation of an international trade agreement in the devolved nations is a devolved matter, and there are bound to be cases where the content of an international trade agreement will affect an area of devolved competence. We can see how the Bill deals with the exercise by the devolved authorities of their powers in that regard in Schedule 1, which states that
“no provision may be made … unless it is within the devolved competence”.
There can be no complaint about that, and the absence of any attempt now to limit what may be done here within a devolved competence is as it should be. However, we are told that:
“No regulations may be made by a devolved authority … about any quota arrangements … unless … after consulting with a Minister of the Crown.”
This looks like a constraint on the exercise of devolved powers so it needs to be explained and justified. What is the purpose of that provision? Can we be assured that it is consultation for information only and is not intended to fetter those powers in any way?
Secondly, conspicuous by its absence from the Bill is any provision about what would happen if the power in Section 2 to modify retained EU law were to be used by Ministers of the Crown to amend legislation in the devolved areas. It is often said, when issues of this kind are raised, that such powers are not normally used without the consent of devolved Ministers, but why in a matter of such importance as this does an unqualified requirement for consent not appear in the Bill? There is not even a requirement to consult the devolved Ministers before doing so, in sharp contrast to what Schedule 2 says that those devolved Ministers must do. Why not? What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. Can the Minister assure the House that those Ministers will at least be consulted and their consent sought before any such provision is made amending legislation in the devolved areas?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I welcome them both to the House and look forward to working with them over the next few months.
I broadly welcome what is in the Bill so I would like to focus on what is currently not in it. I recognise that the UK has a proud history as a trading nation—we are an island so we are completely dependent on trading—but we are leaving the trading bloc of 500 million consumers of which we have been a part for nigh on 50 years. Currently there is no reference to a body that would advise the Government on future trade deals and indeed rollover trade deals, so I welcome the non-statutory body of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Parliament has an important decision to make on what the future of that commission should be. I would like to see a permanent advisory body on a par with the Migration Advisory Committee and the climate change committee, and indeed those trade advisory bodies that countries such as Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia have, which advise their Governments on and measure each trade deal against those criteria.
I pay tribute to my noble friend’s predecessor, my noble friend Lady Fairhead, who got and summed up the mood of the House and indeed accommodated a number of amendments that improved the previous Bill. Obviously it is a disappointment that those amendments have been lost, and I hope that the Minister will use his good offices to reinstate them. However, perhaps one rollover agreement that we do not want to see as a model is that which we reached with the Faroe Islands, whereby we take £200 million-worth of goods from it, mostly fish, but export only £90 million-worth of products to it.
Secondly, I welcome that the Government and the Minister today have said that we will not lower our standards of production. However, the flipside of that, as referred to by Henry Dimbleby in his first report on our food strategy, is that we must not allow produce to enter the UK that is to a lower standard. I want to take the opportunity of this Bill to ensure that that is written into it. I would also like to see on the advisory board a British official, perhaps one currently working for the Commission, who has a track record and experience of negotiating trade agreements.
While I welcome the Bill, I think there is too much reliance on delegated powers and we need to see much more in the Bill itself.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their maiden speeches. I particularly commend the right reverend Prelate on mentioning inequalities and human rights; he is one of very few Peers to have mentioned those issues.
I want to ask some questions about the old trade association agreements made in 1995 between the EU and other countries. Israel in particular springs to mind. I have been told, after Questions to the Government, that the terms of the old EU association agreements have been adopted in the new agreement between the UK and Israel. This trade agreement was signed as long ago as August 2019 with, as far as I know, no parliamentary scrutiny at all. The terms of the new agreement, as in the old one, include Israel’s commitment to observing human rights and democratic principles, and adopt,
“as a main objective, the encouragement of regional cooperation with a view to the consolidation of peaceful coexistence and economic and political stability.”
Those are fine words.
The Government of Israel allow the constant humiliation and persecution of the Palestinian people under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Land is stolen, crops are destroyed, water is restricted and almost always polluted, and electricity is rationed to a few meagre hours a day. Children are harassed and badly treated in prison, and many have been killed; in fact 3,000 children have been killed in the last 17 years. Homes are demolished and families made homeless. I could go on and on, as noble Lords know. Is this Israel’s adherence to the terms of the new trade agreement? Is this how it respects human rights? We can no longer fall back on the European Union for a decision—not that it ever took a lot of action. The monitoring of the terms of the agreement is now our responsibility and ours alone. Will the Minister tell the House how this monitoring is to be done?
Looking further across the world to other trading partners, why do we continue to trade with Myanmar, despite its treatment of the Rohingyas? This was raised with me by Bangladesh officials over a year ago when I visited that country. Saudi Arabia is another tale of violation of basic human rights, while the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned China and its treatment of the Uighurs. Are we to put no conditions that have to be adhered to on these other countries?
I remind the Government of the pledge in the Export Control Act, passed in 2002, not to sell arms to countries that would use them for internal repression or external aggression. Those are also fine words. On this and other issues, when is our country going to practise what it preaches?
My Lords, I too congratulate the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on their excellent speeches. I also thank the Minister for introducing the Bill, which puts in place measures that support the UK in achieving an independent trade policy, ensuring that the British taxpayer gets the best deal while public sector organisations and government departments continue to benefit from increased choice and value for money on contracts.
The Bill creates a new independent body, the TRA, which allows businesses to liaise with negotiators as deals progress, importantly keeping stakeholders informed in a timely manner and protecting British businesses from unfair trading practices or unforeseen surges in imports, as we have seen with the dumping of steel in the past. As someone who lives near Scunthorpe, I note that British Steel produces some of the best-quality steel in the world. It stands ready in the global market, supported by excellent SMEs in the supply chain. I am pleased to see that the powers in the Trade Bill will not be used to privatise the NHS, to which the Government are committed.
Lincolnshire, where I live, is noted for being the bread- basket of the UK, supporting farmers, producers and exporters in maintaining and enhancing their critical edge in global trading. Under a free trade agreement, great importance will be attached to ensuring that the standards to which imported goods are produced—including animal welfare standards—are as high as, or higher than, our own. I particularly welcomed the banning of veal crates in the UK 16 years before the EU banned them. On the environment, too, the UK was the first major economy in the world to enshrine in law the requirement to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. People want to see a doing Government.
The Bill creates a new discretionary legislative gateway to allow data sharing from specified public authorities, most notably the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Secretary of State for International Trade, with other Ministers of the Crown supporting their functions in relation to trade.
To support the UK as an independent trading nation, we must have a robust independent trade policy. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise any legislation required to implement the treaty in the normal way. I support all four areas in the Trade Bill and look forward to the next stages as it progresses.
My Lords, I too offer my congratulations and very best wishes to the new Minister. It is slightly depressing that we have to make the case for basic parliamentary scrutiny to a Government who, once again, seem intent on minimising it but, yet again, this is what we have to do. The degree of parliamentary scrutiny provided for in the Bill is laughably thin; as some noble Lords have observed, we are faced today with a proposal to approve fewer scrutiny powers and control over trade agreements than when the UK was a member of the European Union—so much for taking back control.
The European Parliament, a body so often disparaged as lacking legitimacy and plagued by democratic deficit, has access to timely information about trade negotiations, access to negotiating texts, and is able to vote on the final outcome. We have an archaic provision that trade falls under the royal prerogative, with Parliament involved only at the end of the treaty-making process, at a time when it cannot influence the substance and text of the treaty.
I use the word “archaic” because the world of trade deals has transformed since the last time the UK had competency in trade policy, in the early 1970s, in a way that demands updating the commensurate powers of Parliament. Trade deals then were fundamentally about tariff reductions and associated border measures. They attracted little public attention and raised few wider concerns, and thus enjoyed little debate and scrutiny in national Parliaments. Now, in 2020, trade agreements have huge implications for public policy across a range of areas, from farming and food, to the digital economy, healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and even education. Proper prior parliamentary scrutiny, including the opportunity to question and challenge Ministers at a formative stage of the proposal, is appropriate in an age when the scope, implications and public concern on the substance of trade agreements is light years greater than it was 50 years ago.
Secondly, unfashionable as it is to say it, proper parliamentary scrutiny would improve the quality of decision-making. Ministers who know that their decisions will be examined by Parliament are, I suggest, more likely to make proposals robust enough to survive scrutiny.
Thirdly, proper parliamentary scrutiny would help rebuild public trust over whether policymakers are responding to public concerns on issues such food standards, where polling suggests that there is significant public lack of trust.
Fourthly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, explained from his experience, requiring legislatures to approve a negotiating mandate can provide strength, not weakness in international negotiations by providing constraints on those negotiators. Therefore, I strongly support the proposals set out eloquently by my noble friend Lord Stevenson at the start of this debate.
Like trade, the decision to deploy the Armed Forces is also an area traditionally reserved for the royal prerogative. Yet Parliament has been asked to debate on both Armed Forces deployment and prerogative power on several occasions since 2003. In 2011, the Government suggested that a convention had emerged whereby the House of Commons should debate before such deployment. As Emily Jones, a trade expert and my colleague at the Blavatnik school at Oxford University, has argued, a similar practice could be adopted for trade agreements, with the Government committing to a full debate on a substantive Motion prior to ratification of any trade agreement that the relevant scrutiny committee deems of interest. Back in 1867, Walter Bagehot —often quoted, I know—remarked:
“Treaties are quite as important as most laws, and to require the elaborate assent of representative assemblies to every word of the law, and not to consult them even as to the essence of the treaty, is prima facie ludicrous.”
Personally, I am with Bagehot; perhaps the Minister can tell us why he is not?
My Lords, I have two points. The first concerns the human rights clause in trade agreements. Our continuity agreements have kept the human rights clause from the FTAs we have been part of through the EU. However, when they are developed into full FTAs, will the Government go further than the EU’s vague and non-binding clause and add rigorous monitoring and annual review process with NGO input and penalties for unacceptable practices? There is precedent: the FTA between Canada and Colombia included an annual review because of Colombia’s poor human rights record. The UK should make this non-negotiable. Will the Minister agree to give this serious consideration?
My second point concerns the importance of language skills in negotiating agreements and supporting businesses to grow their export markets. I declare interests as co-chair of the APPG on Modern Languages and vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. The Government assume that English alone will suffice in trade negotiations, with back-up from professional interpreters where necessary. However, for 40-plus years, EU officials have negotiated our trade agreements and UK nationals have been dramatically underrepresented among them, largely because so few had the required language skills to compete for posts. Negotiations with Egypt, Mexico, Vietnam or Turkey, for example, would be hugely improved if DIT officials had some facility with relevant languages. What, if any, assessment of current and future language needs has been made?
This Bill also creates the mechanism to help businesses in their export drive. Does the Minister agree that language and communication skills should be at the heart of the data collection and bespoke exporting promotion activities triggered by the Bill? Lack of language skills, local knowledge and cultural understanding are barriers to export growth. The CBI says that languages are critical for the UK’s global competitiveness, but the economy is losing over £50 billion a year in lost contracts because of the languages deficit. If you cannot read the initial tender documents, you cannot bid for the contract, and they are by no means always written in English.
UK businesses are largely in an anglophone bubble, with 83% of SMEs operating only in English, and the biggest language deficits are for the fastest-growing markets. By contrast, SMEs that invest in language skills can increase the ratio of exports to sales by 37%. To be sustainable, UK businesses must be encouraged and incentivised to invest in language skills and not just adopt a quick-fix approach through Google Translate or using native speakers as and when needed.
Therefore, will the Government set an example with multilingual trade negotiators and use this Bill to get businesses out of their anglophone bubble and into a multilingual 21st century where speaking only English is as much a disadvantage as speaking no English?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his appointment and excellent maiden speech. He brings a breadth of experience and expertise to your Lordships’ House.
I support this Bill, which, while being fundamentally about continuity, is also about redefining and strengthening our trading relationships across the world. Today, I am particularly interested in what this means for the emerging and frontier markets that are among our growing trading partners.
I have been actively involved in promoting trade and investment with other countries and have volunteered to deliver keynote speeches at multiple high-level conferences organised by DMA Invest in London, including with the Governments of Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea.
I have witnessed an appetite to do business with the United Kingdom on the part of overseas countries. Following my visit to Tajikistan last year, where I was a guest of our ambassador, we have begun organising the first Tajikistan summit for next year. We have a series of engagements with the Government of Nepal beginning with a great conference this month, and I would be pleased if my noble friend the Minister would accept my invitation to speak at it. We are also in discussion with two other embassies about the possibility of future events.
Over the past few years, the importance of economic co-operation and bilateral relations has become more prevalent. The UK is a leader in development and a powerhouse of trade and diplomacy. We have 280 overseas missions, including embassies and high commissions. On my visits overseas, I have seen how the DIT is increasingly geared to actively promote trade and deliver excellent training of people’s business skills.
Following the recent merger of DfID and the FCO, this Bill enables us to streamline our global strategy further, focusing in particular on how we can tackle the climate crisis, inequality and the pandemic collectively. This Bill will reflect our commitment to fair trade and improving access to markets for developing countries. We need to ensure that we have the correct tariffs to support the import of added-value products successfully and fairly.
In making it easier to do business, we cannot ignore our environmental commitments. We must promote green energy, the development of green technology and green skills. That is how we can inspire environmental incentives not just to maintain standards, but to improve them, and accelerate our environmentally friendly business activities in the UK and abroad. We have a great deal of knowledge and expertise on Islamic finance, and we must actively promote the industry overseas, which would result in mutual benefits. In this regard, I decl