Thursday 1 October 2020
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 15th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down, and to wipe their desk, chair and any surfaces they touch. If the capacity of the committee room is exceeded, or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee.
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published by the Government Whips’ Office, along with lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments or expressed an interest in speaking on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Committee room, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister, using the Grand Committee address. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to move formally an amendment already debated should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be sought to withdraw amendments. I remind Members that Divisions cannot take place in Grand Committee.
We will now begin. On the first group, it might help noble Lords to note that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, has withdrawn, so the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans will follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I see the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, down twice on the list. He may be preparing to make two speeches, but I hope he forgives me if I call him just once, at the end, before the Minister.
Clause 2: Implementation of international trade agreements
12: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“(4A) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with and are consistent with the United Kingdom’s environmental obligations in international law and as established by but not limited to—(a) the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; (b) the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); and(c) the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that regulations made under the Bill can only be made if the trade agreement which the regulations would implement does not contravene the UK’s environmental obligations.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 12 in my name. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lords, Lord Duncan and Lord Oates, for adding their names to this amendment. That it has drawn such widespread support underlines the importance of making climate change, biodiversity and environmental protection central to the United Kingdom’s trade policy—a feature that goes totally unmentioned in the Trade Bill.
I am sure many colleagues across your Lordships’ House believe that achieving the UK’s environmental goals, including net zero by 2050, requires action across all government departments and areas of policy. Trade must be included in that. Trade agreements, including existing EU agreements, typically include national treatment of trade in oil and gas, thereby locking in dependency on fossil fuels, with high greenhouse gas emissions, while incentivising increased fossil fuel infrastructure and even fracking, which would need to be reduced in any continuity agreements.
The risks to the environment from poor trade policies are considerable. Trade agreements could promote the import of cheap higher-carbon goods, effectively off- shoring the UK’s emissions. For example, the EU’s own impact assessment of TTIP, the EU-US trade deal, predicts that it would generate an additional 11 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This would be fundamentally at odds with our international climate obligations. We must require our trade policies to be up to date and consistent with our environmental obligations.
There was consensus on Tuesday that modern trade agreements go far wider and deeper in their consequences on domestic policy. New and existing trading relationships also present opportunities for the United Kingdom to promote ambitious biodiversity and environmental standards abroad and strengthen the UK’s economic competitiveness through exports of low-carbon goods and services. This new opportunity represents a market for low-carbon goods, estimated by the Committee on Climate Change to be worth more than £1 trillion a year by 2030.
Amendment 12 simply states that regulations to implement trade agreements cannot be made unless agreements are consistent with and in consideration of the UK’s international obligations. The amendment names three main international protocols specifically—the Paris climate agreement, CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity—but is important to recognise that it is not limited to these alone. Indeed, many of the amendments grouped with this one go further and name additional international agreements, notably Amendment 40, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and other noble Lords including my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton.
I will also speak to Amendment 14 in this group, in the names of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. This restricts the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations to those that have been rolled over, as originally agreed or substantially similar to trade agreements previously agreed by the UK while a member state of the EU. The powers given to the Secretary of State under Clause 2(6) are drawn far too wide and all-encompassing, enabling the Secretary of State to modify any retained EU legislation or primary legislation, as well as to confer discretion to make subordinate legislation, delegate functions and impose penalties. This allows the Government to undermine existing standards across important areas such as food, animal welfare, production methods and environmental protections.
Amendment 22, also in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, specifically removes from Clause 2(6)(a) its tendency to Henry VIII powers. I am grateful to Greener UK and others for their public support for this amendment, and I welcome the many other similar amendments in the group, underlining how important it is that trade agreements are consistent with the UK’s obligations and endorsed by Parliament. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has achieved a precedent for such an amendment by securing climate change protections in the Pension Schemes Bill. This is an opportunity to replicate that provision in this Bill. It stresses that the UK does not want trade agreements that drive a race to the bottom in standards and environmental protections, especially when they contribute to an unacceptable and damaging global footprint. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, I have added my name to Amendment 12 in this group, and will speak to others, notably Amendments 40 and 73. As the noble Lord also said, this group deals with the critical role that trade can play in tackling climate and nature emergencies.
The Bill gives us the opportunity to shape the UK’s future trade policy for the first time in over 40 years, and represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UK to show global leadership on climate action in advance of our presidency of COP 26 next year. It allows us the chance to ensure that the UK’s trade policy aligns with existing environmental obligations and the UK’s climate goal of achieving net zero by 2050.
At Second Reading, I raised my concerns that the Bill is currently silent on climate change and highlighted the benefits which can come from ensuring that all our legislation is consistent with climate goals. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, we achieved this with the climate change provisions inserted in the Pension Schemes Bill during its passage through this House. I welcome the Minister’s positive response at Second Reading, when he said that continuity agreements will be consistent with international environmental obligations and Amendment 12 makes this explicit in the Bill. Amendments 40 and 73 go further, to ensure that future trade agreements and trade negotiations also align with our climate ambitions.
On Amendment 40, I particularly support the introduction of sustainability impact assessments. Only with such assessments will Parliament be able to sufficiently scrutinise trade deals against our current obligations made under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act, in the very limited 21-day period that the CRaG Act allows for. Sustainability impact assessments will help to incentivise trade deals which promote low-carbon imports, services and technologies, rather than those that increase global emissions, impacting the health of our planet and our citizens.
The benefits of a long-term future trade policy which can help to meet our climate and environmental goals are enormous and can strengthen the UK’s economic competitiveness through supporting exports of low-carbon goods and services. As has been said, the business opportunities of moving to a low-carbon economy were estimated by the Committee on Climate Change as being worth £1 trillion a year by 2030. UK low-carbon services are estimated to have a growth potential of 12% to 15% a year up to 2030. It makes sense from an economic, social and environmental perspective.
This is being more widely recognised. Business groups such as the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of major businesses, academic institutions, and professional and civil society organisations driving action for a sustainable and competitive economy, support amendments that aim to better align the UK’s trade policy with its environmental and climate goals, and enable sufficient parliamentary scrutiny in doing so. It believes that, without careful reference to climate change and the environment in the Bill, the terms of future free trade agreements could make it harder for the UK to achieve its domestic targets and could undermine the momentum behind its clean growth agenda.
Importantly, any explicit or implicit restrictions on the UK’s ability to implement new climate and environmental standards could create an uneven playing field for British businesses forced to compete with imports abiding by lower climate and environmental standards. The development and ratification of trade deals must also be subject to timely and close parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny. These amendments would ensure much needed consistency between the UK’s trade policy, its international position on climate change and the environment, and its domestic policy and industrial strategy goals, to which the Minister made reference this morning.
We are at a critical turning point; the next 10 years are crucial, and we have a real opportunity for global action on climate change. It is vital that future trade policy helps, not hinders, the delivery of the UK’s climate and environmental goals. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to these amendments.
My Lords, I understand that it has not been possible to reach the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank, who was due to participate remotely, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Subject to what my noble friend the Minister might say in his reply, it appears that the powers set out here go far wider than necessary to obtain the objective of the Bill in negotiating trade agreements.
I will focus my remarks on Amendment 69 in my name and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for her support. It reflects the commitment set out in our manifesto to maintain our high standards. I am mindful of the fact that the World Trade Organization would permit us, not just to maintain our own high standards, but to ensure that we can aim to protect the environment in trade-related measures, subject to certain specified conditions. This is, therefore, a probing amendment to ask my noble friend whether, in the course of international trade negotiations, particularly new ones with the US and other countries with which we hope to negotiate free trade agreements, the Government intend to push the boundaries of standards by going one step further and asking these countries to meet out high standards. The idea is not just to ensure that we are meeting our current high standards but to insist that other countries do as well.
The amendment sets out a framework for achieving that through each House of Parliament approving a Motion. The benchmark would be the minimum standards for environmental protections, food safety and animal welfare for the goods imported through the relevant trade agreements. I hope that my noble friend will be minded to support this. I entirely support what the Government say about continuing to uphold our high standards and I support the general thrust of this group of amendments, as set out in Amendment 12 and Amendment 73 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I hope that, through Amendment 69, climate change and environmental standards will form a close part of international trade agreements. We should not wait for the next COP. We should use the opportunity of each free trade agreement we are negotiating to push the boundaries of environmental protection.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. She always speaks a lot of sense and I thoroughly agree with her. I am delighted to support Amendment 40 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Oates, Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Browne of Ladyton. I also add my support to Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
As other noble Lords have said, we are at a crossroads for the environment, climate change and biodiversity. Last week, I listened to Christiana Figueres spelling out the real and present danger that we are in. She says that we have just 10 years to cut our emissions by 50% if we are to get to the net zero target by 2050. This is not a dress rehearsal; it is real life. Amendments that bind into law trade standards that protect our planet, curb emissions, encourage biodiversity and, at the same time, promote human health are quite simple on one level. They are also totally necessary. If the Government want us to believe that they are serious about what they say is their desire to meet the Paris targets, why on earth are these amendments not at the heart of the Bill, rather than being peripheral or just according to what someone says?
Trade is one of the most powerful levers that we have in the world. Business is already ahead of the Government. For instance, Coller Capital has been running a risk register for several years now and will not invest in countries or companies that depend on businesses which damage the environment or products which, in some way or another, will cause or be affected by climate change. In her excellent speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that the Aldersgate Group has set ambitious targets. It knows that if we are to be competitive in future, we have to raise our game. The CBI has also recommended that the UK’s export strategy must be augmented by a green trade focus ahead of COP 26. It even suggests that we should introduce accelerated tariff reductions in the FTAs for multilateral agreement partner countries which meet, or, indeed surpass, their Paris Agreement targets. The Government’s own proposal for its net zero review says that business is calling out for a “clear roadmap”.
We could also start to lower tariffs on low-carbon goods and services like New Zealand does. Its Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability—which was signed into law by New Zealand, Costa Rica, Fiji, Iceland and Norway—aims to remove tariffs on goods and services that protect the planet, eliminate harmful fossil fuel subsidies and develop clear eco-labelling. It says:
“Globally, countries are subsidising fossil fuel production… to the tune of over $500 billion US dollars a year.”
I ask the Minister whether he knows why and what we are doing about that. I also ask the Government whether we are considering seeking membership of that particular agreement or, indeed, trying to do something similar ourselves.
SIAs are not complicated; there is a growing demand for forest and agricultural commodities that drives greenhouse gas emissions and has negative effects on biodiversity overseas, and our current legislation does not require this to be monitored. Does not the Minister agree that this is an absurd situation? We cannot export our emissions overseas any more than we can export cruelty by allowing the import of animal products that have been reared in conditions that we would not agree with. At the moment, we do not know what damage we are doing to nature and the environment through trade because, as the WWF said in a recent report, we are importing from nations that are high risk. If we are in the dark, how is the consumer going to know what they are buying?
Finally, I think noble Lords would be surprised if I did not turn to the question of public health. What is the UK to do if we do not include amendments such as this? We are about to enter uncharted territory; we are leaving a very big bloc and rapidly trying to secure new trade deals with every other country. Of course there will be changes; there might be some opportunities in terms of good standards; but there are also risks.
Since the dawn of time, we have known that what we eat is the backbone of our health, and here are just three ways—there are many more—in which free trade deals without standards could increase ill health and obesity. For instance, I cite the increase in the availability of products that are high in fats, sugars and salts and backed by huge advertising spends. The other day, I spoke about Tim Tams. I said that they were American; they are in fact an Australian version of our Penguins. Some 91% of households in Britain already buy Penguins, but Tim Tams are going to be cheaper and heavily marketed and, sadly, the Prime Minister himself was spotted waving a packet around when he recently made the case for a free trade deal with Australia. We do not need more chocolate bars.
Secondly, if our farmers and producers are undercut by cheaper imports from overseas because overseas farmers have lower standards, our farming will erode over time. We will import more and more and it will become more processed, because that is what happens when food has to travel over long distances and last for a long time.
Finally, as we all know, the USA is very aggressive in its trade negotiations, demanding that there be no labelling or HFSS advertising restrictions. If we give in there, then, quite honestly, all the progress we have made around public health and, indeed, our environmental efforts will be for naught. The good thing is that if we protect the environment, we also protect the health of all of us. I urge noble Lords to support these amendments.
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Perhaps we will be able to come back to him. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
My Lords, it might come as no surprise that I agree with every word that has been said so far, and I support the general thrust of all the amendments in this group. I have tabled Amendment 73 and the linked Amendment 74, which comes up in a later group; ideally, I will combine these two on Report.
I hope the Minister will forgive me if I remind him of what the Government have been saying. The Conservative Party 2019 manifesto made a commitment that:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
We have heard that many times during debates on the Agriculture Bill, and I hope that is absolutely true. In relation to the pandemic, the Government have also said that they plan to deliver a UK and world economy which is stronger, cleaner, more sustainable and more resilient after this crisis. In their 25-year environment plan, the Government pledged to embed
“environmental sustainability… at the very heart of global production and trade”.
They are committed to developing a “trading framework that supports” environmental goals. That is all fantastic and I very much hope that the Government are going to live up to those commitments and promises.
My Amendment 73 is needed because risk to the environment from poor trade policies are considerable—as other Peers have already said. Free trade agreements can promote the import of cheaper and higher-carbon goods, effectively offshoring the UK’s emissions and undermining its international environmental obligations. However, the UK could and should develop a fresh approach consistent with the action needed to respond to the environmental crisis, promoting high standards and dramatically reducing the UK’s environmental impact both domestically and overseas.
The Government are very quick to say that they are achieving their carbon emissions targets, but in fact they offshore a huge amount. When we buy things from other countries, it is their carbon burden and not ours, and we are big importers. In order to ensure that trade agreements work with, rather than against, the environment, the Bill must be amended to ensure multilateral environmental agreements that are compatible with the trade deals the UK is negotiating and signing. It must also ensure that trade negotiations are conducted with nations that are fully implementing relevant multilateral environmental agreements, unless under specific conditions. Negotiating partners of the UK must be informed of our climate and environmental goals and ensure that these take precedence over any international trade agreement. I realise that this will be difficult when talking to the United States, but I am afraid that we have to do it.
In 2021, the UK will host COP 26—I hope to see many of you there—the biggest climate talks since the Paris agreement was negotiated and signed in 2015. At that stage, the UK has to show global climate leadership by ensuring that its trade policy is aligned with its environmental ambition and international commitments. These measures will ensure that the UK creates a resilient future-focused economy fit for the needs of the 21st century. This is not just about the environment and being very green; it is about human survival at comfort levels that we would all find acceptable.
Should such an amendment not be passed, the risk will remain that the UK strikes trade deals that would undermine its environmental ambitions. Of course, this is an especially great risk because the Government have still not resolved the conflicting views of various Ministers regarding trade and the environment. My Amendment 73 addresses the oversight of the Bill, which fails to ensure that trade agreements work with, rather than against, environmental policy and commitments. I am trying to be helpful here; I am actually trying to help the Government achieve their promises.
Subsection (3) ensures that trade negotiations are normally conducted only
“with nations that are fully implementing relevant multilateral environmental agreements”.
This would ensure that the United Kingdom is making the closest links and ties with like-minded nations that also wish to show climate leadership on the international stage. Subsection (4) requires UK negotiators to be clear about
“the United Kingdom’s climate and environmental goals”.
The UK and its negotiators must be clear that these “will take precedence” over a trade deal if there is any conflict between them, and I hope that the Minister can reassure me on those points.
My Lords, for the information of Members, I will say that I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has withdrawn. I call the next speaker, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.
I plan to speak mainly on Amendment 12, but I also support Amendment 40 and, particularly, Amendment 69 in this group. Leaving the European Union should not mean leaving our international obligations. Recognition of those conventions mentioned under Amendment 12 is, one would imagine, already accounted for in the existing trade agreements due to be transposed into UK law as a result of this Bill. However, without this amendment, these remain an expectation not an assurance.
I am pleased by recent statements from the Prime Minister and the seriousness of this Government in attempting to deal with the climate crisis. Furthermore, I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Government or their existing trading partners in intending to abide by our international environmental obligations. Only by omission of any explicit reference to our environmental obligations have doubts been raised.
The UK has historically taken international law and its international obligations seriously. However, what many thought was our unshakeable observance of international commitments has in recent weeks been undermined, as has been shown by the EU starting legal action against the UK over the Brexit deal in the past few hours. Amendment 12 not only ensures that we remain committed to the path of a more sustainable future, but would re-signal to the wider international community that the UK Parliament remains an institution that takes seriously the obligations of agreements we as a sovereign nation have signed.
[Inaudible.]—the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that the Government are genuinely committed to achieving our environmental and climate change objectives. In so far as I depart from him and others, it is not in relation to that but in relation to the effect of the amendments.
The amendments in this group have a number of different effects. Amendments 12 and 40 essentially bear upon the agreements to be implemented using regulations made under Clause 2, which, as the Bill is presently constructed, are the roll-over agreements that we started with from the European Union. I have no reason to understand—unless somebody tells me otherwise—that any are inconsistent with our environmental obligations, so I do not understand why it is necessary to put amendments in the Bill to tell us that we should not implement them if they are contrary to those obligations since I do not think that is the case. That is step one.
Step two is that a number of these amendments go further. They want to construct what is essentially a structure for mandating the Government to enter into future international trade agreements only in ways consistent with our international obligations on the environment and a series of other specific requirements. We will encounter this argument again and again during scrutiny of the Bill. My view is that while the Bill is an appropriate mechanism for us to improve the process of scrutiny of future trade agreements, it is not right in this legislation to attempt to construct a list of what the Government are intending to achieve in future trade negotiations. It would be a very long list. Having constructed such a long list, the Government would be unable to conduct any of those trade negotiations with any negotiating flexibility whatever. People could just look at the legislation and say, “We know what the British Government can do, and it is not very much”.
Mandating international trade negotiators in advance also means that we would trespass into the territory of removing from Governments the executive power of the prerogative and executive prerogative. We could do it, but if we are going to do it, we should do it in the context of a major piece of legislation which sets up a statutory framework for doing so. We have no such statutory framework, and I do not think we can conceive that it should be added to piecemeal in this way. I therefore cannot agree with most of Amendments 40, 69 and 73.
Amendment 21 appears to have been constructed simply to prevent the Government implementing any trade agreement with the United States. I do not know of any country outwith the criteria other than the United States, it having issued notice of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. If I understand the amendment, it would come into effect on 20 November 2020 at the earliest. Expressing a purely personal view, I hope that will not happen and that it will not be necessary.
I want to mention one or two other small things. I do not understand Amendment 14 at all since it seems to replicate what is already in the Bill. We are intending to implement agreements similar to, or the same as, those we entered into as a member of the European Union. If it is saying something other than that, it would introduce a degree of ambiguity which I do not think is desirable.
Amendment 22 does something completely different. It removes the power to modify retained direct principal European Union legislation. We went over this in some detail the previous time this Bill was before us, two years ago. I still do not understand why this is necessary in so far as the power is already in the Government’s hands under Schedule 8 to the EU withdrawal Act 2018. Perhaps the Minister will explain why it is additionally necessary to legislate in this way now.
Finally, although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is not with us, his spirit moves with us none the less. If one looks at Clause 2(6) one will see that line 26 states:
“Regulations under subsection (1) may, among other things, make provision”
and then there is a list. On 20 March 2019, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, asked what “among other things” meant and why that phrase was there. The subsection is there to say that the regulations may make provision in a number of specific respects, but the drafters have given Ministers additional freedom to do what exactly? Since these are roll-over agreements, it seems to me that the words “among other things” are not necessary. At the time, my noble friend Lady Fairhead said that it was an interesting point and she would take it away and think about it. Therefore, if they have thought about it, they have put it back in the Bill having thought about it, or else they did not think about it and have simply reproduced the Bill and it is as pointless now as it was then. Perhaps the Minister will kindly tell us what “among other things” in that line means.
My Lords, I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the other noble Lords who have signed his Amendment 12. As the Committee should be aware, the United Kingdom has been a leader in standing up internationally for high environmental standards around the world. As the Minister made clear at Second Reading, all the continuity agreements that we have been and are negotiating are fully compliant with our international obligations, including the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is unnecessary to constrain the Government’s freedom in negotiating trade agreements with countries, including developing countries which may not have adopted the same environmental standards as we have, because that might have unintended consequences. Furthermore, the Paris Agreement targets only carbon reduction, but does not fully address the equally great national security challenge of providing clean energy for the whole planet, particularly in a world that needs more energy, not less.
As for Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I am not quite sure what its purpose is. As I understand it, it would prohibit the application of the powers created in this clause for the purposes of an enhanced continuity trade agreement such as that which we have agreed with Japan. Why would the noble Lord and my noble friend wish unduly to restrict the freedom of our negotiators to take any available opportunity to include enhancements to any continuity agreement?
As for Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, I oppose it for the reason suggested by my noble friend Lord Lansley. It seems to me that it is designed to prevent a trade agreement with the United States, and that would have a negative effect on the economy and deny opportunities to British exporters and food producers.
Amendment 40, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, is similarly unnecessary. In any case, your Lordships have received repeated assurances that none of our continuity agreements will deviate from the high standards that we apply to environmental issues, similar to human rights, as debated in a previous group. The Minister has already reassured the Committee that the Government will continue to publish parliamentary reports with each continuity agreement.
It will not surprise my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering to hear that I do not support her Amendment 69. It is clear that the Food Standards Agency has the powers to permit, or not, the sale of any foods which might be imported under FTAs. The amendment also seeks to require alignment of our agricultural marketing standards with those of the EU, which we have left. I agree with my noble friend that high animal welfare standards are a laudable objective, and we have done relatively well in this country in this area. However, I think she is incorrect to argue that animal welfare is exactly the same as animal health and hygiene. We will be free to set our own regulations after the end of the transition period. I earnestly trust that we will move quickly to adopt standards that are WTO compliant, unlike those of the EU, which in certain respects conflict with the WTO’s SPS agreement.
As my noble friend the Minister said at Second Reading, it is not within the gift of the UK Parliament to legislate on animal welfare standards for overseas countries. The Government have been clear that we have no intention of lowering standards, and we have fulfilled this commitment through our deeds. None of the 20 agreements already signed has reduced standards in any area. As the Minister said at Second Reading, it will be the job of the food standards agencies to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards and that consumers are protected from unsafe food that does not meet those standards. Decisions on those standards are a matter solely for the UK and are made separately from any trade agreements. I ask the Minister to confirm that that remains the Government’s position.
For similar reasons, I am also opposed to Amendments 73 and 74 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In any case, does my noble friend the Minister not agree that the Government would obviously not seek to enter into an international trade agreement without any merit with any nation? Neither should we expect only to enter into agreements which share precisely our positions on all multilateral environmental agreements.
My Lords, there is surely nothing more important than addressing climate change, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others have made clear. It is difficult to see that any trade agreement could possibly be justified if it is in contradiction to what must be an overriding national and international aim. Trade agreements must at the very least be consistent with our climate goals, and certainly must not undermine those commitments. I am sure that the noble Viscount will note the cross-party nature of many of these amendments.
My noble friend Lord Oates is very sorry that he cannot be here today, as he is attending a funeral. Amendment 12 in the name of Lord Grantchester and others, including my noble friend Lord Oates, means that any trade agreement we make must be consistent with our commitments under the Paris climate change agreement, CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity. That is surely a given, and yet we know that this does not mean that such aims are built into trade deals. In Amendment 21, my noble friend Lord Oates and others make the case here stronger still: that trade deals can be made only with those who have signed up to the Paris Agreement, or not served notice that they intend to leave.
If after the debate we heard in the United States this week the American people decide that they wish to have Mr Trump as President for the next four years, then no trade deal could be undertaken with the United States, which will have pulled out of the Paris Agreement by then, having given the necessary three years’ notice and a fourth year to implement that—the four-year provision that President Obama very sensibly put into the Paris Agreement.
Amendment 40 spells out the commitments further. Clearly, it is vital that any trade deals do not undermine the United Kingdom’s climate goals or UK businesses as we seek to develop green industries here. The Government have said that this is what they wish to do, but the removal of support which had been put in place during the coalition period rather belies that case. Yet here we are, in the run-up to COP 26—as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned —which we are co-hosting with Italy: we must show to the world leadership in this area, if we are going to persuade other countries to sign up to the necessary commitments.
The substance of these amendments should be fully acceptable to the Government. Those who say that the amendments in this group are not necessary should not then worry if they are added, because they will not cause problems. But even in rollover, things must be updated—the other side will certainly do that.
The noble Viscount will be familiar with the force of cross-party amendments. He will, I am sure, be familiar too with speeches written for Ministers in these circumstances which state that amendments are flawed or not appropriate for a Bill. If he has passages like that in his speech, he has time enough now to cross them out, because he knows that he will need to answer the substance of what we are saying here. I therefore look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 40. As we deepen and strengthen our global trading relations, we cannot ignore our environmental commitments. I support this amendment because it means that our environmental obligations, as outlined by international law, cannot be undermined by future trade deals.
This must be a green Brexit. The Government’s election manifesto stated that they will not compromise on our high environmental protections in any future trade deals. Without this amendment, these are promises without actions. The international agreements laid out in this amendment are about not just environmental protection but our health and well-being, and are for the benefit of generations to come.
In the interests of time, I will outline only three of these international agreements. First, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution has helped reduce pollution levels across borders and improve human health. As we have seen during lockdowns, the rapid decline in air pollution has had a positive impact on the health and well-being of people and nature in the UK and internationally. By honouring our commitment to this convention in this amendment, we can continue to protect the health of people and ensure that we do not undermine the improvements made as we recover from the pandemic and restart the economy.
Secondly, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is included in this amendment. It is about not just maritime jurisdiction but managing resources in a sustainable manner. The issue of fish stocks in UK fishing waters has been a prominent debate in Brexit. By continuing our commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, we can ensure that the quality and productiveness of our fish stocks are maintained. It is essential for both our biodiversity and the long-term livelihood of our fishermen.
Thirdly, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is a key mechanism for monitoring greenhouse gas contributions and plays an important role in reducing emissions in the fight against the climate crisis. Global trade has an environmental footprint. For instance, 30% of carbon dioxide emissions are from freight transport. As we develop trading relations, we must ensure that we stay on the path to net zero emissions by 2050. This amendment means that we will continue to protect the environment in a way that does not restrict trade. It is an opportunity to make trade more sustainable by supporting investment in greener sectors and turning away from polluting industries to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
This amendment would also ensure that, within 12 months of making regulations or ratifying a trade agreement, a report assessing the impact of regulations on our environmental obligations is presented to Parliament. This is key in ensuring that we are held accountable and have fully considered the implications of any deal. If the UK is to be a leader in sustainability, this amendment must be supported. Without it, we lack a meaningful commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
The Government assure us that they are putting green at the heart of the coronavirus recovery. The Prime Minister has said that he wants the UK to be seen as a leading example in enabling a global green industrial revolution. Supporting this amendment would enable us to be an effective environmental leader, especially as we prepare to host COP 26 next year.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has already referred to the Henry VIII powers and questioned why they are repeated in this Bill when, to a large extent, they are available in the withdrawal Act. Amendment 22, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, gives us an opportunity to look at one part of that. It would delete the Henry VIII power contained on page 2, in paragraph (a) in line 27. That is a power to modify
“retained direct principal EU legislation or primary legislation that is retained EU law”.
That sounds rather obscure, but it is an opportunity to change significant standards, using Henry VIII powers to modify substantive primary legislation by means of statutory instruments. We all know what problems these powers present, as they are very topical at the moment. The powers can be exercised by UK Ministers or by Ministers in devolved Administrations, described as “appropriate authorities” in the clause. They put Ministers in the position that they probably have to worry a little less about what Parliament will think or do about what they are negotiating.
The Explanatory Notes say that this provision
“does not allow for regulations to make or extend criminal offences, charge fees, amend primary legislation other than retained EU law, or create new public bodies.”
The Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, raised this issue in the context of the previous Trade Bill, and pointed out:
“We are not persuaded by the Government’s position that it is sufficient for the power in clause 2 to be constrained presumptively rather than explicitly. We recommend that the restrictions on the power be included in the text of the Bill.”
That is a perfectly reasonable request by the committee.
There is a context to it, or a context to our consideration of it. We have just been through a series of parliamentary rows and debates about the use of powers under the public health Act of 1984. I say the use—it was the fairly incompetent use of them, because every prosecution that relied on that legislation and orders made under it failed. Convictions were overturned because of confusion about the regulation-making power that the Act provided, and confusion about whether the individuals to which the provisions were applied could reasonably be expected to be infected or simply be put under these provisions for their own benefit, for which the legislation did not provide.
Continuity trade deals post Brexit are not the same as a pandemic, but they are surrounded by issues of urgency and claims of exceptional circumstances. It is in such contexts that powers of delegated legislation get abused or overused. When that happens, we ask why Parliament created such wide powers and why we allowed it in the first place. The answer usually is that it was by ignoring what the Delegated Powers Committee, the Statutory Instruments Committee or the Constitution Committee said at the time and relying on the fact that Governments will always do the right thing, won’t they? Well, Governments will not always do the right thing, sometimes for profoundly objectionable reasons and sometimes because they think that the need to get on with things overrides any of these considerations. There is a case for making the legislation clear on the limits on the use of power to repeal or modify existing primary legislation and that provision ought to be in the Bill. There is still time to put this right at Report.
My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Beith, in the thrust of his comments, although I agree very much with them. The overuse of Henry VIII powers is certainly a matter that we need to give considerable attention to.
I apologise if the signal is breaking up. I have a download speed of 1.45 and an upload speed of 0.57, which makes the signal unstable. That is obviously a problem when working remotely, as I am doing.
I strongly support the thrust of Amendment 12 and all the rest of the group. There can be no doubt that the EU has rightly placed considerable emphasis on environmental and climate change matters. If—sadly, to my mind—we are moving away from having a significant proportion of our trade with the EU to a position whereby our trade is likely to be much more with third-world countries, valid concerns arise. That is not to say that changes in trade patterns are necessarily a retrograde move; they are not. Clearly, there are opportunities as well, provided that we are not trying to secure imported goods that are cheaper because they have been manufactured or extracted in a manner that ignores the need to safeguard our planet with regard to the impact of manufacturing on global warming or biodiversity.
It is not acceptable, in this day and age, for the UK to duck its international obligations in these matters to get cheap goods or, particularly, cheap raw materials. When one considers the way in which the environment is being despoiled in many countries, particularly in South America, we must flag up these concerns from day one of our new international trading era. We must establish a firm understanding that we shall not trade away our duties to the planet to make a quick buck.
How we in this Committee can flag up our firm commitments in these matters is to write such safeguards as provided by these amendments into the Bill. Indeed, I find it incomprehensible that Members in the other place should not have done that already. In the absence of political will in another place to make such obviously desirable and necessary steps, we, if not in this Committee then certainly at Report, should insist without hesitation that we have such provision in the Bill that we eventually return to another place.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lansley has eloquently made one of the points that I was going to make, which is that most of the amendments in this group relate in practice to continuity agreements only, because they relate to regulations made under Clause (2)(1) of the Bill, and Clause 2 relates only to continuity agreements. I accept, however, that noble Lords are trying to frame their arguments in a broader context of any trade agreement. If that is the case, their amendments will not do that—although some of them do—so they are not achieving their desired effect.
It is important to recognise that the Government have been clear in their policy towards the environment and the Paris accord. In rollover agreements that have been agreed to date, there has not been a single issue of concern to those who seek to reinforce those agreements to which we have committed in relation to environmental protections and other matters. As a general principle, we do not clutter up every single bit of legislation with general policy positions unless they are absolutely necessary, which clearly they are not in this case, or you would end up with an impossibly long list of items that you are trying to remind the Government is their policy.
I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on trying to confine trade negotiations to nations that are implementing multinational environmental agreements. I think we have to see trade, which is what the Bill is about, in a much broader context. It is not just about living out our environmental ambitions or any other one single thing. Trade is about the economic health of this country, and the more we try to pretend that international trade agreements are about achieving other objectives, the less likely we are to achieve effective international trade agreements that benefit our economy. We need to keep in perspective what it is we are trying to do with the Bill.
I fully accept that trade agreements should not conflict with our own environmental objectives—we do not need to write that in the Bill—but we do not have to restrict ourselves unnecessarily in relation to the parties with which we will deal. I am thinking in particular of trade agreements that we will want to negotiate in due course with developing countries, which may well not be able to achieve or aspire to the kind of standards we wish to achieve. Nevertheless, bringing those countries into the group of nations which will encourage and enable them to grow their own economies in order to do some of these things is a desirable thing in its own right. We must not set the bar so high that we make trade too difficult.
I will not comment on Amendment 22 in the light of what my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Lord, Lord Beith, have said. There is a question about whether or not this is necessary, but we do need to make sure that we can amend retained EU law. We have left the EU, and one of the reasons we did so was to take back control of our own laws, which does mean the ability to change retained EU law. Whether we need Clause 2 to do that, I know not, but we do need the power to do it.
Lastly, on Amendment 69, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I was absolutely astonished to find that one of the new conditions that my noble friend wishes to impose on a trade agreement is not lowering marketing standards for agricultural products. I really do not think that we need to protect the sizing of kiwi fruit and tomatoes; that is the least of the concerns. To set that up as an insuperable hurdle to a trade agreement is to lose all sense of proportion.
My Lords, before I start, I should apologise for any noise that may interfere. There is a demonstration outside and every now and then, the volume increases.
There are a number of amendments in this group on a broad range of environmental protections. I do not intend to speak to all of them, save to say that I support them and hope that, on Report, the movers can work together to amalgamate them satisfactorily. I will, however, single out Amendment 40 which provides for the laying before Parliament of a report assessing the impact of our environmental obligations. That will be very important.
I am going to spend the rest of my time speaking to Amendment 21, to which I have added my name. In 2015, to those of us for whom climate change represents a real and looming existential threat, the Paris Agreement was received with relief. It commits Governments to submit their national plans to cut emissions and ultimately, each party to the agreement will have to do their bit to keep the rising global temperature to well below 2 degrees centigrade and to pursue efforts to limit it further, to 1.5 degrees centigrade. International agreements are initially signed to signal intent to comply but become binding only through ratification, so it is a worry when Governments do not ratify. Seven countries have not yet ratified the agreement: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan and Eritrea.
Turkey stands out as the only member of the G20 not to have formally endorsed the deal after Russia ratified it in October 2019. Turkey is a member of the OECD, with high economic ambitions. It has very good renewable resources and therefore the potential to reduce emissions quite significantly; and yet, it still plans massive expansion of coal-fired power stations. Turkey’s emissions increased by 135% between 1990 and 2016. This cannot go on: it really must join the rest of the G20 and signal its intent to move ahead on this agenda.
I turn to the US, which is the second largest emitter after China, accounting for 13% of global emissions. The US is still on the UN list of the original 187 countries to have ratified. However, as my noble friend Lady Northover said, it began the procedure to withdraw from the accord in 2019 and will leave on 4 November this year, I believe. President Trump remains a climate change denier. No one knows what the US elections will bring, but one thing is for sure: a Biden presidency will put the world on a much safer trajectory. Let us hope that it happens, and that it is not too late for action subsequently.
In the meantime, let us make Britain’s values and priorities clear. Action on climate change is not a “nice to have” option: it is an imperative. If, next year, we are to have a successful outcome to our presidency of COP 26 and a successful presidency of the G7, we must refuse to do business with rogue states. That sounds harsh, does it not? But if I were referring to Russia or China, one would not recoil at such a statement. The fact is that we cannot tackle climate change, halt species loss and save our oceans if we have double standards.
My Lords, as a member of the new EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, I support any attempts in this debate to improve parliamentary scrutiny, although that is not the subject of this amendment. Our committee has already examined the promising Japan FTA and much of the less promising US FTA, and we are moving on to Australia, New Zealand and, beyond that, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The Government have given us plenty to think about. Of course, much hangs on the overarching EU agreement, which we all await impatiently, because it affects the success of all the others.
The Minister has already acknowledged the value of our scrutiny under CRaG and that of the Commons’ IDC. I also believe that she shares my concern that CRaG is amendable and that all these FTAs and treaties should reflect the latest thinking on such issues as human rights and the SDGs, mentioned in the previous amendment.
The Minister said on Tuesday that work is being done on supply chains. It is a learning process, and I appreciate that this Bill is about continuity agreements, which already safeguard such issues. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has reminded us of that, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, says that we are cluttering up the legislation. However, these issues are relevant because of the multitude of agreements on the horizon. Today’s amendments are about the environment and climate change, which are subjects of massive public concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said on Tuesday that we live in different times and under rules that are mainly a consequence of our long EU membership. High environmental and technical standards are what producers, traders and investors now want and expect.
We have already heard of a range of issues that constitute possible improvements, if not to this Bill then to future agreements. I recognise how difficult it is for a Government to accommodate all the interests represented, especially as they will have to be fitted to different agreements and different countries. Formal consultation with stakeholders and the public, as well as with Parliament through explanatory memorandums, correspondence and debates, is now an accepted part of CRaG procedure, and we must celebrate that.
These amendments, alongside those on international development and the SDGs, catch my attention because they are about the planet we live on. I have spent my working life learning about conditions in other countries, and it is not difficult to agree with the conservationists and the climate changers that much more must be done to adapt the world to a more carbon-free economy. When it comes to trade, the UK has a huge advantage: it is historically a famous trading nation and is one of the foremost countries adapting to climate change and acquiring scientific and technical know-how to help other countries. Non-EU agreements must surely include proper references to international obligations, as set out in these amendments.
Last week, the Commons International Trade Committee discussed the opportunities on the environment coming up in the CPTPP—the trans-Pacific partnership agreement, of which much is expected. These include not only the Paris targets, the rules governing renewable energy, carbon reduction and transport costs, but also tighter collaboration on the handling of emergencies, such as floods and forest fires, and even an environmental tax or tariff. New Zealand’s Prime Minister is a pioneer of sustainable trade. She is also critical in the developed world’s poor response to climate change. Through the CPTPP and the UN, she will no doubt offer good advice, even to Australia, on these issues.
The mutual benefits for global trade and sustainable development in trade agreements are fast coming up the agenda. As we enter a new era of free trade, the Government would do well to pay them more than lip service. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is right: it is a matter of human survival.
My Lords, I first thank my noble friends, Lord Grimstone, the Minister, and Lord Younger of Leckie, together with their officials, for the time they gave me yesterday to discuss my concerns on this and other amendments.
Rather like the Agriculture Bill, we have a slight overlap of amendments. Inevitably, I am afraid that I will have to touch on Amendment 23 from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and Amendment 17, which relates to investor-state dispute settlements. I will major a bit more on those when we come to them, but they are interlinked, because of Amendments 69 and 73.
The earlier amendments, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Oates, refer to the international agreements. This is a continuity Bill, and I have little doubt that this Government—my Government—and indeed a Government in the colours of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester would abide by their international agreements. What concerns me more, however, is the wording picked by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering in Amendment 69, where she talks not of international agreements, but of
“standards established by primary and subordinate legislation in the United Kingdom”
and, in Amendment 73, where the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talks about the
“appropriate authority to take action in pursuit of the UK’s climate and environmental goals”.
I am in total support of the Government in their ambition that climate change and environmental issues should be right at the centre of our trade policy. I hope that, when he sums up, my noble friend will confirm that that is indeed the Government’s position. My noble friend Lord Grimstone told me that yesterday, but it would be nice to have it on the official record.
However, my problem lies in looking at other countries that have tried to impose stricter standards other than international agreements and then get taken to court under ISDSs. I have two examples that I will expand upon. The first is Philip Morris v Australia in 2015. Philip Morris lost that case, and rightly so, but the problem was that it cost Australia 22 million Australian dollars, which seems an unnecessary amount of money for our Government to have to fork out if they are taken to court in a similar case. The other case that I shall mention at this stage is Cargill v Mexico, where Cargill was awarded $77.3 million when it won a case against a tax on high-fructose corn syrup that was introduced to address health concerns.
There are two prongs to these amendments, as I see it. One is the actual wording and one is what happens when you do not have the wording and how exposed are the Government? As we look forward, as most noble Lords have said, we want to ratchet up our standards, our laws and the way we tackle the environment and climate change, but it would be a tragedy if we let this Bill go through and it did not give us the chance to help to protect the Government to be able to do that as and when they wanted to in the future.
My Lords, I regard this group of amendments as vital. I thank my noble friend Lord Grantchester and the others who have put their names to the various amendments and given us the opportunity to express our support.
Already in this debate, various speakers have particularly attracted my attention, but I would like to say how much I appreciated the thoughts of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who seemed to talk about the real nature of the world and our responsibilities within it and how these amendments relate to that. I think he was right.
What do these amendments deal with? First, they deal with food security, which is obviously vital to the British people. Food security covers not only the adequate supply of food but means that the quality of food is such that it sustains the well-being of the population. At a time when we are deeply concerned about the pressures on the health service and the rest, we are preoccupied—or we should be—with the problems of obesity in our society. A healthy diet is vital. Therefore, anything that is done to strengthen commitment in this area is important.
These amendments also deal with vital subjects such as biodiversity. Biodiversity is in major crisis at the moment. It is not just in decline; it is a catastrophic decline which can begin—indeed before very long—to threaten the human species itself. They also similarly deal with endangered species. We know in the same way how far our existence is interlinked with nature and the glorious variety of species in the world. Again, the decline in the number of species is not just a matter to note; it is a matter of profound concern.
We all know about climate change. There is no way that we can stop it, of course, because sometimes we assume in our arrogance that the human race is infinite, but we are not; the planet is not infinite. Eventually, we know that it will disappear back into the sun or whatever, but we can at least prolong the span of life of our own species and, by recognising our interdependence with other species, those as well. We all care deeply about environmental standards. We have spent hours considering the Agriculture Bill which is to have its Third Reading today. It puts the importance of animal welfare to the fore and we spent hours debating that. All of these things are central to the quality of the life we want to live—the very continuation of the life we want to live and which our children and their successors will able to live. These amendments meet that.
We have heard it asked today: why are we worried about these issues? The Government have given us assurances. I hope I will be forgiven, but I think that there is a certain amount of scepticism in society at large, not least among people like myself, about what the assurances really amount to in terms of effective commitment. That is why it is so important to put these things into the Bill. If Ministers say, “We have already committed ourselves, so why do we need this?”, why not put it into the Bill? The Ministers who have given these undertakings will not be there forever and we do not know what their successors will want to do or the attitude they will have. That is why, again, it is important to take every opportunity to ensure that the commitment is set out in the Bill and thus cannot be easily avoided. I thank those noble Lords who have put forward these amendments and I am glad to support them.
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. He is not available at the moment. We will move on to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, it is a sobering fact that, as we discuss this important group of amendments with regard to the UK adhering to international obligations, the European Union has today issued a letter of formal notice on a potential infraction where we have breached an international agreement. That is the backcloth against which we must consider all the groups of amendments to come: how we as a country want to be seen around the world as a nation that adheres to its national obligations. Those on climate change and the environment, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, indicated in opening the debate on this group so well, are obligations that the UK is a party to.
I want to speak first to Amendment 21 in the name of my noble friend Lord Oates who, as my noble friend Lady Northover has said, cannot be here today because he is at a funeral. The amendment is also signed by my noble friends Lord Fox and Lady Sheehan. I shall also address the cross-party Amendment 40 which is also in the name of my noble friend Lord Oates but has been spoken to very eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I am sure that if the noble Lords, Lord Duncan of Springbank and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, had been able to take part in the debate on this group, they would have done so. I am grateful for their support.
I turn first to Amendment 21, which should be looked at in the context of other amendments to Clause 2 to expand the provisions of the Bill to agreements that have been signed as part of the EU and now, going forward, to new agreements. As such, the amendments limit the scope of the use of implementing powers to all agreements only with countries that are party to the Paris agreement. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change deals with greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation, mitigation and finance. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan indicated, the Paris agreement was signed in 2016. As of this year, it has been signed by 196 states, while 189 have become a party to it, with the only significant omissions being Iran and Turkey. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and others have said, in June 2017, the US President, Donald Trump, announced his intention to withdraw from the agreement. However, reassuringly for some of us, Joe Biden the Democrat candidate, signalled as recently as Tuesday night that if he is successful in the election, he will seek for the US to rejoin.
Our amendment is perfectly clear and I will show how to some extent it links with Amendment 40. The Paris agreement is now a foundation block for the global effort at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is simply impossible to strip out the efforts to tackle climate change without also adapting trading practices. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has indicated, this is an area where these can be seen in separate lights. It is worth reminding the Committee that low-carbon exports alone in goods and services from the UK in 2018 were worth £5.3 billion. If you add on top of that UK legal consulting, investment products and the UK’s global leadership in arbitration and the City of London with the financial options it offers for sustainability products, we are a world leader in global trade on the environment and sustainability. It is, I think, a simple fact that for the UK to be an independent global trading nation, any deep and comprehensive free trade agreement that we would be willing to enter into should be part of and consistent with our Paris climate agreement.
We have taken this approach as a result of being a member of the EU. If the Government do not consider that we should continue with this, can they explain why not? In essence, the Government seem to be seeking continuity in our trading relationships, but not continuity in the legal framework for climate that we have helped to shape and were a part of in the European Union.
I have in my notes a reminder to reference the fact that Ministers will probably say that they can be trusted, given the continuity agreements that we have signed already, and that it is government policy not to move away from those. But every time the Government say that, in my view it strengthens the argument that if that is the consensus across the political parties, there is merit in making it a statutory function. At a time when the Minister is telling the Committee that we need have no concern about climate change commitments, Liz Truss appointed Tony Abbott as the UK trade commissioner. I shall remind the Committee what I said at Second Reading: in 2017, he told the Global Warming Policy Foundation that
“it’s climate change policy that’s doing harm. Climate change itself is probably doing good.”
I think that the UK approach should be stronger than that.
Until now, the approach has been that, as I have mentioned, the European Union has had in its free trade agreements so far a trade and sustainable development chapter. I want to address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. He seemed to suggest that this approach, which is set down in European Union law, should no longer be the British approach and that British trade agreements should not have a trade and sustainable development chapter in them. I believe strongly that they should and that it is in our interests that they should. Why will the Government not replicate the approach of maintaining agreements with trade and sustainable development chapters in them? As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, if it comes to the opportunity to enhance agreements, this is the chance to do so because it is the trade and sustainability chapters in the agreements, especially with the least developed countries and those with which we have EPAs, that are the mechanism of dialogue in order to enhance them.
I turn to the United States. I have reflected on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. He seemed to suggest that these amendments would be restrictive. He may be aware of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act 2015 which sets the parameters of US trade policy. Section 2 sets the trade negotiating objectives of which subsections (5) and (7) are
“mutually supportive and to seek to protect and preserve the environment and enhance the international means of doing so.”
That legislation by Congress, which the noble Lord says restricts the trade representative of the United States—I think it empowers them—states, as far as Congress is concerned, the remit of what the United States will negotiate. The consequence of what President Trump has said with regard to those international agreements has been significant, because the United States’ legislation states that it can agree a free trade agreement with a country only where both are party to the same international obligations.
The consequence of our amendment is not that it would prevent an agreement with the United States if it is not party to the Paris Agreement; that consequence is from Trump’s decision to remove America, which means that we would not be able to have an agreement with America if we say that we want a trade and sustainability chapter in our agreement. If I am incorrect, I hope that the Minister will correct me when he sums up this debate.
The American decision is, in effect, putting us in a bind. Do we continue with the position we have had up to now, which is to have a trade and sustainability chapter aligned to the Paris commitment, or do we accept what President Trump has said, which is, “That is ruled out if you want an agreement with us, because I have withdrawn America from it”, and the congressional legislation says that America can be party only to an agreement that both parties are party to?
We see other countries with which we wish to grow our trade—China and South Korea, and Europe of course—investing in advanced materials, electronics, vehicle and other technologies. Over time, many expect those technologies to become commercially competitive and bring trade advantages. If we are pegging ourselves to be alongside Tony Abbott and Donald Trump, we are missing a huge opportunity for the British economy to take advantage of being aligned with the fast-growing sustainability economic markets around the world.
I conclude on this point: Amendment 40 is a sensible provision in our view to set the criteria of our international obligations for climate change but also to require an impact assessment of how it will be beneficial, or whether there need to be changes in the British economy. This is in line with reports already carried out through the European Union. To me, it would be an irony if we had rollover trade agreements from the European Union —identical to those by which the European Union is trading, which have an annual impact assessment of how trade and sustainability is being progressed—and then we, who have rolled them over, stop having an assessment of how they are benefiting both our economy and those of the other countries, especially the least developed countries. This amendment simply seeks continuity of the impact assessments that we have already agreed to within the European Union.
I hope that the Minister will be able to allay my fears with regard to the American position and state categorically that we are not adopting a Tony Abbott and Donald Trump approach, but want a British approach, leading the world on trade and sustainability.
My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. There have been some heartfelt speeches, with not a little similarity to those made during the recent passage through this House of the Agriculture Bill, as my noble friend Lord Caithness pointed out. I have been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling about the importance of environmental protection as it has been linked by Peers to trade. Some powerful speeches were made by many, including my noble friend Lord Sheikh, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.
I will first address Amendment 12, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, my noble friend Lord Duncan and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, which would stipulate that Clause 2 could be used only to implement trade agreements which are fully compliant with named international environmental obligations, including the Paris climate change agreement. We understand and share the public’s support for the UK’s high standards of environmental protection. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, put it more eloquently and extensively than I, but there is so much to do when it comes to fighting climate change. However, this Government have already done a huge amount to protect and improve the environment.
Our departure from the EU offers a unique opportunity to design policies that drive environmental improvement with a powerful and permanent impact tailored to the UK’s needs. As set out in the 25-year environment plan, our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. It is worth emphasising that we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. We are doubling our international climate finance spend to £11.6 billion by between 2021 and 2025. The UK has world-leading capabilities in areas including offshore wind, smart energy systems and electric vehicle manufacture. As I read my newspaper last week, I noticed that the sales of electric and hybrid vehicles recently overtook the sale of diesel vehicles, which is interesting progress. As your Lordships have already heard, none of our 20 signed continuity agreements has reduced environmental protection in any area, and nor will they.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, raised three important concerns about FTAs which do not have standards included. I remind her that decisions on standards are not made in FTAs; they are domestic decisions which are and always will be made in Parliament. No FTA in itself has the power to change standards. Giving evidence to the Bill Committee in the other place, a representative of ClientEarth, a leading environmental law charity, described our approach to continuity as “sensible”. The Trade Justice Movement, the NFU, the Confederation of British Industry and others agreed.
Let me now address Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh. During the passage of the Bill in the other place, the Government were accused of attempting to deliver upcoming agreements which go far beyond our mandate for continuity. I emphasise that that is not the case and, as my noble friend Lord Lansley said, we have stayed true to our mandate of reproducing the original EU agreements, subject only to the technical changes required to make the agreements operable in a UK context.
In some areas, significant technical changes to agreements are required to make them work in a UK context. In these circumstances, the power would be used to make the necessary changes to UK domestic law to ensure that the obligations under the agreement are met. Let me give your Lordships an example: resizing quotas with a trading partner to reflect the fact that the UK comprises a different share of a partner country’s trade than did the EU.
Your Lordships will be aware that the Government have recently reached agreement in principle for a UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership, which analysis shows could increase bilateral trade by £15.2 billion and offer a £1.5 billion boost to the UK economy. This agreement locks in the benefits of the EU-Japan deal and, picking up on my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s argument—and her hopes—goes even further in a number of areas, such as digital and financial services. By excluding this agreement from the scope of the Bill, the amendment would deny UK business and consumers the benefits which the agreement will bring. Your Lordships will already be aware of the enhanced scrutiny package which we have provided, reflecting its status as an enhanced agreement. The Government do not need this power to negotiate or sign agreements, but to implement in domestic law the obligations which arise from them. The “substantially similar” standard is ambiguous and would, unfortunately, introduce an element of uncertainty to the scope of the power.
I will address Amendment 21, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Oates, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. We believe that it is not required—there, I have said it, which will not please the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, but I will give my explanations.
I have set out the Government’s commitment to maintaining the UK’s high standards of environmental protections and our ambitious targets for the future. In addition, of the 40 continuity agreements that we are seeking to make, every partner country has signed the Paris Agreement, although it has not yet been fully ratified by all partners. I remind your Lordships that this Bill cannot be used to implement any free trade agreement with the United States, as it did not have a free trade agreement with the EU on exit day. We have already said that we will bring forward separate legislation for new FTAs if required.
Turning to Amendment 22, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, while I understand the concerns that some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, have raised about this power, without it our continuity agreements would be inoperable, which in turn would disrupt the trade flows on which businesses and consumers rely. This power is necessary. It is proportionate and constrained. It is proportionate because it allows solely for the amendment of primary legislation that is direct principal EU legislation or primary legislation that is retained EU law. Obligations in continuity agreements often fall into one of these two categories, which is why this power is needed.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, said that he did not think that the Henry VIII power is sufficiently constrained and urged the Government to listen to, among others, the Delegated Powers Committee on the use of these powers. I was pleased to see—I hope that he will have seen it, too—that the Delegated Powers Committee in its 21st report expressed no concerns at all over the delegated powers in this legislation. In fact, I point out to the noble Lord that the committee has twice considered this and raised no concerns on either occasion.
On Amendment 40, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Oates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, I can confirm that our continuity agreements and the underlying EU agreements on which they are based are in full compliance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and every other international environmental obligation named in the amendment.
Amendment 69, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, seeks to achieve similar outcomes to the amendments that we have already discussed. It would give Parliament a greater role in determining whether food, animal welfare and environmental standards have been weakened. It would also amend the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 to oblige Her Majesty’s Treasury to have regard to these standards when establishing tariffs and duties.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard spoke about unintended consequences and I draw your Lordships’ attention to two that the proposed new clause could have. The first relates to the impact on the developing world, from which we import a huge amount of food each year. Due to the predominance of agriculture in the economies of developing countries, increasing barriers to trade between these countries and the UK could have an exaggerated effect on the economies of countries with which we sign an FTA. It is not economically viable for firms in the developing world to produce goods to multiple sets of standards for different export markets. Higher standards inevitably lead to higher costs, which could in turn lead to less demand for products and exports from these countries.
The second unintended consequence is the disruption posed to UK consumers in the price and availability of foodstuffs. The effect of the amendment could be to disrupt agri-food imports provided under FTAs entering the country in the short and possibly longer terms, while also jeopardising relationships with friendly trade partners, who would be concerned about this unique and unilateral action. When it comes to developing countries in particular, the UK imports predominantly raw food and ingredients, such as tea, cocoa and bananas, among other things. Where these imports are included within FTAs, they would be required to prove that they meet the UK’s domestic environmental standards, among others, before they could continue to be exported to the UK, which would put businesses in developing countries at risk. It would also disincentivise developing countries from seeking new opportunities through FTAs with the UK. On the proposed amendment to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act, I assure the Committee that consideration for food, animal welfare and environmental standards underpins government policy in every department.
On Amendment 73, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the UK will continue to be bound by those international multilateral environmental agreements —MEAs—to which it is party. The amendment, however, goes beyond the UK’s MEA commitments. It could prevent the UK from negotiating and agreeing international trade agreements with many countries at a time when the Government’s priority is to promote free trade as well as to improve the trade and export opportunities for sectors where increased trade can provide both economic and environmental and climate benefits. In other words, there is merit for us, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard mentioned. The proposed new clause could hinder both our trade and environment and climate ambitions by restricting the opportunities for dialogue with trading partners and limiting the constructive dialogue and good will that are key to making positive progress as the UK leads globally on climate change at COP 26 and more broadly.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about continuity agreements and rolling over national treatment obligations, particularly for oil and gas. Many continuity agreements also roll over sustainability chapters of EU agreements, which are extremely high-standard provisions. The UK-South Korea continuity agreement is an excellent case in point. Our parliamentary report for that agreement reaffirms our firm commitment to the Paris Agreement.
My noble friend Lord Lansley asked about the expression “among other things”. I will do my best to answer his question. “Among other things” has been included to provide the flexibility needed to implement our international obligations. This does not provide a blank cheque, as the items listed in Clause 2(6) are conditions for how “among other things” is interpreted. For example, it would not allow the power to be used to modify primary legislation that is not retained EU law.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Purvis, asked why there are no environmental protections on the face of the Bill. I remind noble Lords that this is simply a framework for the legislative implementation of continuity agreements. My noble friend Lord Lansley alluded to the fact that parliamentarians will debate and vote on the substance of continuity agreements through the use of the affirmative procedure on any implementing regulations.
My noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Trenchard asked about underlying EU agreements and whether they are compliant with international standards. They made a number of sensible points, specifically the fact that this Bill is required only for the rollover of the EU trade agreements, which themselves are fully compliant with international obligations.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh made a good point about pushing future FTA partners to meet environment standards. I agree with her. That is why, specifically in reference to the US, we set out in our negotiating objectives our aim to ensure that the parties reaffirm their commitment to international standards on the environment and labour; to ensure that parties do not waive or fail to enforce their domestic environment or labour protections in ways that create an artificial competitive advantage; to include measures that allow the UK to maintain the integrity and provide meaningful protection of its world-leading environment and labour standards; to secure provisions that support and help further the Government’s ambition on climate change and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including promoting trade in low-carbon goods and services, supporting research and development collaboration, as well as maintaining both parties’ right to regulate in pursuit of decarbonisation; and, finally, to apply appropriate mechanisms for the implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution of environmental and labour provisions.
My noble friend Lady Noakes did us a service by bringing us back to our purpose. I again remind noble Lords that the powers in this Bill are needed to provide continuity of trading relationships with existing trading partners. Our record on environmental action is clear and I therefore ask for the amendments in this group not to be pressed.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Younger for explaining in some detail the negotiating mandate we have agreed with the US. Could he confirm that this extends to animal welfare, as well as environmental protection standards, which is the subject of Amendment 69?
I was a little confused when my noble friend Lady Noakes talked about tomatoes. I had not talked about tomatoes, but there we are. The Minister referred to “unintended consequences”, which I am loath to envisage, and specifically to tea, cocoa and bananas. I understand that they are largely covered by fair trade provisions for marketing in the UK. Is that indeed the case?
I thank my noble friend for that. I am not sure that I can be drawn to talk about tomatoes. The best thing I could do, particularly for the points on the US, is to write to her with a full answer on animal welfare, which I could attempt, but also on tea, cocoa, bananas and the fair trade question.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who spoke on this group of amendments. The Bill is an opportunity to restate trade policy in the important area of environmental protections, in support of the UK’s international obligations. With COP 26 next year, when the Government must be a global leader on the climate emergency, the UK must set an example to the rest of the world by drawing attention to trade that is built on international commitments entered into with so many multilateral agreements.
I hear again that the UK cannot impose regulations on overseas jurisdictions. I merely reply that we already send inspectors into factories and workplaces in countries such as India and Bangladesh, to check on their work practices in the manufacture of clothing. The nature of trade agreements has changed considerably since the UK entered the EU, when it ceased to be the sole competent authority on trade matters, a point acknowledged by the Minister in his reply to an earlier debate on Tuesday. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beith, for his remarks on the powers subject to annulment by Amendment 22. Your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee has not been entirely satisfied by the Government’s reply on this presumptive power.
However, I listened carefully to the reply from the Minister and the many contributions regarding how the Committee may return to the issue later, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment for further consideration.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 13. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
13: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“(4A) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not in any way restrict the ability—(a) to make public services at a national or local level subject to public monopoly;(b) to make public services at a national or local level subject to exclusive rights granted to private operators; and(c) to bring public services at a national or local level back into the public sector for delivery by public sector employees.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that regulations made under the Bill can only be made if the trade agreement which the regulations would implement does not contravene the ability of a UK government to take public services back into public ownership.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to open this important group and move Amendment 13 in my name. I indicate, at this point, that I shall be supporting Amendment 51. Protecting public services must be a priority for any Government, but we must not let bad trade deals limit the ability to provide this protection. In doing this, allowing services to be brought back into public ownership is one of the important tools Governments should not give away lightly or easily in negotiations. Concerns are well documented about how standstill and ratchet clauses in agreements can lock in levels of privatisation and other forms of liberalisation and accelerate them, which will limit the scope of future Governments to take sensible steps, when services are not being properly provided, to bring them back into the public sector.
Most US trade deals also contain forms of investor-state dispute settlement, which could allow foreign investors to sue the UK Government for actions that threaten their profits, including renationalising parts of the former public sector. ISDS does not pose a hypothetical threat, but a very real one. The Portuguese Government were sued using ISDS when the metro in Lisbon was returned to public ownership. ISDS clauses in bilateral investment treaties are being used now to prepare a series of cases against the UK Government for pausing construction contracts during the pandemic.
The TUC is particularly worried that the Bill does not exempt all public services from trade agreements, as this would allow part-privatised services to be included in commitments to reduce barriers to trade. When part-privatised services are included in this way, they cannot be brought back into public ownership as this would be regarded as a barrier to other countries being able to access the UK market. Only last week, the TUC expressed concern about the UK’s intention to join CPTPP, since CPTPP has no general exemption for public services.
Amendment 13 would ensure that regulations made under the Bill to implement agreements can be made only if they do not contravene the ability of a UK Government to take public services back into public ownership. Public services provide an essential public good. Ministers must not forget that as they seek to clinch a trade deal at any cost.
I indicated I will be strongly supporting Amendment 51, in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton, to protect the NHS and publicly funded healthcare services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK. If the Covid crisis has taught us anything, it is how reliant we are on the NHS and care services. The idea of them being put out to tender to foreign companies fills most of us with dread.
The Minister will undoubtedly say that the Government have made clear that the NHS will not be on the table in any trade deal, especially with the US. I am sure he will stress that we will not be paying higher prices for drugs, nor moving patient data across the Atlantic, but the US negotiating objectives for a UK FTA, in the section on procedural fairness for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, clearly call for “government regulatory reimbursement regimes” to provide
“full market access for U.S. products.”
The US President has clearly said that foreign Governments extort “unreasonably low prices” from US pharmaceutical firms, and he directed his trade negotiator to make the issue
“a top priority with every trading partner.”
The Prime Minister also made clear in a Telegraph article that he supports an insurance-based healthcare system for non-essential treatments.
I sense we are losing clarity, but we can provide it by supporting the amendment of my noble friend Lady Thornton. I believe that the lack of scrutiny mechanisms for trade agreements and the Government’s desire not to put NHS protections in the Bill are connected, and I am not the only one. The British Medical Association has said that under the Bill
“Parliament does not have adequate powers to guide and scrutinise trade negotiations and the current process provides no legal mechanism to directly influence or permanently block trade agreements. This could mean the UK enters into trade deals that have significant impact on public health and the domestic healthcare sector without Parliament having a meaningful role in scrutiny.”
We should heed that warning.
Global Justice Now has also found that the US wants its companies to have unrestricted access to UK data, including NHS health records. The value of this health data is estimated at £10 billion a year. The Bill in its current form could allow UK data to be moved to servers in America and stop the NHS from analysing its health data without paying royalties. This cannot be right and is not within the spirit of our approach to our healthcare system. Let us commit in statute to protecting our beloved NHS in trade deals, especially during this pandemic when we are relying on it the most.
My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 51. I thank my noble friend Lord Bassam for setting the scene for this debate. The amendment inserts a new clause into the Trade Bill which protects the NHS and publicly funded health and care services from any form of control from outside the United Kingdom. Like my noble friend, I thank the BMA and the Trade Justice Movement for their briefings and the Library for an excellent brief. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for their support.
The Government are pressing ahead with trade negotiations with the United States, the EU and elsewhere, despite there being no system of transparency or scrutiny of trade deals. Your Lordships’ House passed an amendment to the previous Trade Bill on parliamentary scrutiny. Since then, the Government have not made good on promises to give Parliament a say in new trade deals. Noble Lords should support a similar amendment to this Bill. The Trade Bill should be amended to protect the UK’s high food and animal welfare standards, and to protect the NHS and public health from provisions in trade deals.
The Covid crisis has hit global trade. It is essential that the UK’s trade policy maintains the right to regulate, protects the NHS and supports countries in the global south. We are concerned that, at present, Parliament does not have adequate powers to guide and scrutinise trade negotiations. My noble friends Lord Stevenson and Lord Lennie explained this to the Committee on Tuesday and the current process provides no legal mechanism to directly influence or permanently block trade agreements. This could mean the UK entering into trade deals that have a significant impact on public health and the domestic healthcare sector without Parliament having a meaningful role in scrutiny. As the Trade Bill is currently the only legislative vehicle for Parliament’s oversight of trade negotiations, we believe that additional scrutiny mechanisms are vital to protect the NHS and public health as the UK begins to negotiate independent free trade agreements in earnest.
As my noble friend said, this amendment seeks to ensure that our NHS is protected. It is necessary because this Government, and the one before them, have form in this area. Last year, noble Lords discussed the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill. It gave the Secretary of State powers, as the Constitution Committee put it, to make any healthcare deal with anyone, anywhere in the world. I am pleased to say that your Lordships’ House successfully refocused that Bill on to the issue of 27 million European health insurance card holders and their interests at the time, instead of laying the groundwork for trade deals involving our NHS. On 5 February last year, I said that
“it seems to open the door to healthcare negotiations across the rest of the world. In other words, it also lays the basis for trade and foreign affairs discussion concerning healthcare. One must ask: which countries do the Government have in mind, and for what purpose and why is the Bill addressing world issues and not limited to the European Union?”—[Official Report, 5/2/19; col. 1484.]
That was remedied by your Lordships’ House. However, it is clear that if that Bill had been agreed as originally drafted, it would have opened the way for this Government already to be in negotiations with the USA and others, and to give them open access to our NHS.
While the Government have repeatedly pledged that the NHS is “not on the table” in trade negotiations, leaked documents reveal that that is not the case, as my noble friend Lord Bassam outlined. Let us be quite safe. The Trade Bill should be amended to protect the NHS; we should have these safeguards in place, in statute. It is vital that the Bill protects the health and social care sectors by safeguarding future options for rolling back either privatisation or restructuring. We need to protect our right to restructure our health and social care services into a more collaborative model. Trade agreements must not be permitted to lock in current or higher levels of privatisation within the NHS in England, nor lead to privatisation in the devolved nations without their say so.
To do this, the Bill must ensure that the health and social care sectors are excluded from the scope of all future trade agreements. The Bill must rule out investor protection and dispute resolution mechanisms in UK trade deals to ensure that private foreign companies cannot sue the UK Government for legitimate public procurement and regulatory decisions that we decide to take with regard to our public services, including the NHS. If a future Government want to change the structure of the NHS, they must not be prevented from doing so by trade deals.
It is worth noting that an EU investment treaty recently resulted in the Slovakian Government being ordered to pay €22 million in damages to a foreign private health insurance firm after it decided to reverse the privatisation of its national sickness insurance market. Investor protection mechanisms have also been used extensively to challenge public health initiatives like tobacco plain packaging. There is a great deal at stake here. We need to include protections to ensure that NHS price control mechanisms and the UK’s current intellectual property regime are maintained.
My Lords, I begin by addressing Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton—ably introduced by him—to which I was pleased to attach my name. Looking at this, I cannot but think of the many wearying social media debates I engaged in about how our membership of the European Union did not stop the bringing of disastrously outsourced public services back into public hands. But that is now all history. I think all sides of the House can agree about what won the 2016 referendum. The result was a clear direction from the public on this, if not much else: take back control. That must surely apply, as a matter of priority, to public services. I look back to the 2012 Olympics, an age ago now, but it is hard to forget the G4S security fiasco, when the Army had to step in. That is what has now happened with our railways: the control that the public has long been asking for. I recall that, even in 2015, a majority of Conservative voters wanted to see our railways run for public good, not private profit. It is what should happen with the disastrously underperforming, privatised, national Covid test and trace system. The private sector can always walk away. It makes a mess and leaves the public sector to pick up the pieces. The service users suffer, the providers are loaded with debt, the public pay more and a few walk away with the profits, usually stashed in a handy tax haven.
Given the rigid ideology of the Government, I will not even ask the Minister to agree with me, but I will ask him to agree with the idea of democracy, of keeping options open, including the option to take back control of public services. It is a legal principle that one Parliament cannot bind future ones, but locking us into trade deals where a country has given its word does, presumably, have that effect under the rule of law. The amendment does not force the Government to do anything, despite the obvious public good of bringing public services back into public hands. It does prevent the closing down of democratic decision making: it keeps control. I invite the Minister to tell me why keeping our options open is a bad idea and to support Amendment 13.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has ably laid out the detail of Amendment 51, to which I was pleased to attach my name alongside those of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Fox. There is little doubt that, of all the elements of the Trade Bill, protection of the NHS has attracted the greatest attention. As many Peers have already reflected in the Committee, this is a reminder that trade Bills are of far greater public interest and concern now than they were when this House and the other place last considered them. It is a powerful path for the argument for new systems of oversight equal to those our MEPs enjoyed and the US Congress regularly utilises.
I recall taking part in a march in 2014 with the group called 999 Call for the NHS. It started in Jarrow, following in famous footsteps, although I only walked the Luton to Bedford leg. We stopped for a comfort break at an establishment along the route. A young man behind the bar asked: “Why are we suddenly so busy?” We told him: “We are marching against the privatisation of the NHS.” He said: “What? It still says NHS above the door of my doctor’s surgery.”
Of course we know that that is not true: there is significant privatisation already. To cite just one statistic, 13% of in-patient mental healthcare beds in England are privately run. In Manchester, patients have a 50:50 chance of being admitted to a privately owned hospital and a one in four chance of the bed being provided by an American-owned company. We have lost control in significant areas of the NHS. This amendment makes sure that we can take it back and not lose further control.
Finally, I will refer briefly to Amendment 75. We have yet to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and I look forward to her explanation, but my eye notes with approval the amendment’s provision against the use of investor-state dispute settlement procedures—another great threat to public democratic control and decision-making and something that the Green Party has long campaigned against. Protection of access to generic affordable drugs and preventing excess windfall profits for pharmaceutical companies: I cannot see anything not to like in this amendment.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 75 in my name. Intellectual property rights, if governed badly, can result in monopolies and unethical practices, particularly when it comes to pharmaceutical companies and medicines. In recent years, these practices have become more commonplace. Indeed, the NHS’s spiralling drugs bill led even the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to recognise that pharmaceutical companies are trying to, in his words, “rip off taxpayers”, and that big business must be more socially responsible. Something must be terribly wrong. In an interview in the Times, he condemns profiteering on products that rely on government-funded research and NHS patient data.
In the UK, high prices have put pressure on national health budgets and led to the rationing of treatments—for example, on breakthrough medicines for hepatitis C and cancer. There are also significant delays for cystic fibrosis patients to get access to the drug Orkambi given the unaffordable price that the pharmaceutical company Vertex was demanding. It took years of stalled negotiations between NICE and Vertex and the threat of a compulsory licence to push Vertex to lower the price. In the meantime, 200 people died. The breast cancer drug trastuzumab—I hope I said that correctly—is unavailable to the vast majority of women across the developing world because Roche holds multiple patents on the drug in South Africa, blocking biosimilars from being sold in the country until 2033. This is despite the fact that trastuzumab is included in the WHO’s essential medicines list.
These and other examples of unethical pricing regimes by pharmaceutical companies prompted me to put forward my Amendment 75. It aims to ensure that a Government’s right to use internationally agreed safeguards—such as they are in medicines—to protect public health, with a particular focus on securing access to less costly generic medicines, is not undermined or restricted by international trade agreements to which we are a party.
The amendment is rooted in the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, which is a binding international human rights treaty that we in the UK ratified in 1976. The ICESCR ensures the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including—and this is the part that is pertinent to the amendment—the right to the highest attainable standard of health. What Government would not aspire to the best available healthcare for their citizens? But whether they would want that or not is immaterial; if they are a party to the ICESCR then this is a statutory duty that they owe their citizens. That is the point of the amendment. It puts on the face of the Bill something that is not just nice to have but that the Government are already committed to and should be proud of: to proclaim their commitment to the highest standard of health for all their citizens.
As we have already heard on numerous occasions, modern FTAs are not solely about trade. They are much broader and seek to nudge the world to become a better place, setting conditions on such things as human rights, environmental standards and food safety. To that list we should add fair access to medicines. What we have seen instead is a trend to increasingly use trade agreements to further the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, putting these above public health needs. We see FTAs that increasingly include provisions that affect pharmaceutical pricing upwards and have a negative impact on access to medicines. For example, we see provisions relating to the unreasonable strengthening and expansion of intellectual property rights, sometimes for the most trivial of reasons such as changing from a powder to pill form. We also see provisions relating to pharmaceutical regulatory processes and investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, mechanisms. I have sought to address these in proposed new subsection (3) in the amendment.
For some time, stress fractures have been appearing, such that these provisions that affect the health of people have been a key point of concern and contention in nearly all modern free trade agreements. The recognition of the impact of these on the poorer nations of the world led the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement to include public health safeguards. These were reaffirmed in the 2001 Doha declaration, which is an addendum to the TRIPS Agreement and public health. The essential elements of these public health safeguards are addressed in proposed new subsection (3). They include compulsory licences; exhaustion of intellectual property rights; data exclusivity, including clinical trials data, often gathered by the NHS; patent linkages; and ISDS. I will expand just a little on the last two.
Patent linkage describes a system in which drug regulatory authorities—for example, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—cannot approve a generic version of a medicine that is under patent. In most countries, regulatory authorities approve medicines on scientific grounds alone. They do not act to police IP rights, and it is unreasonable to ask them to do so. The patent linkage system originated in the US and does not currently exist in the same form in the UK or the EU—let us keep it that way.
In conclusion, I will say a little about the insidious ISDS resolution mechanism. ISDS suits have been used to challenge public health measures, requiring Governments to engage in costly ISDS tribunal cases, to defend, for example, a Government’s right to implement tobacco plain packaging laws as happened in Australia, and as more eloquently talked about by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. A case against the Government of Canada was raised by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for $500 million over the invalidation of two of the company’s patents, which would have allowed for generics to be produced. The fear is that ISDS would offer an avenue for companies to challenge health-related legislation such as pharmaceutical price control measures—for example, NICE processes. It would affect NHS procurement and tendering processes, and other elements of the health system and public health measures would come into scope.
In a time of Covid, with its unresolved issues of accessibility for all to vaccines and treatments not yet in existence, we must be uncompromising in our determination to project our values and our priorities. I hope that the Government will look upon this amendment positively and sympathise with its aims.
I should say that I am considering bringing the amendment back on Report, and I hope that those noble Lords who would have spoken in support of the amendment had they been able to put their name down in time to meet the very early deadline will then be able to do so.
My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 51, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to which I have added my name. I also look forward to the comments of my friends, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. Under normal Committee circumstances, we would have enjoyed debating some of these amendments.
In my view, this is the most important amendment for our highly valued NHS. Any trade deal that allows someone to own and manage or have access to any patient data, in no matter how small a way, is a threat to our NHS. The greatest perceived or real threat is from a trade deal with the USA that includes any part of the NHS. Our health service is free at the point of need; the USA healthcare system, on the other hand, is based on ability to pay. That in itself defines what the motives will be for any USA organisation wanting to get involved in any aspects of our NHS.
The Government repeatedly say that our NHS will not be on the table and that it is not for sale. What does that mean? The Government and NHS England already allow private contractors to bid for health services. Recent examples are Deloitte and Serco, for Covid-19-related services. Tennessee-based Acadia runs nearly a third of mental health beds, and the Priory Group has won many NHS contracts. Centene, a subsidiary of Centene Corporation, a tech and logistic provider, works with many GP practices. Palantir, an American data-mining company, is contracted to track, model, and analyse data from Covid-19. Optum, a subsidiary of the giant US health provider UnitedHealth, has contracts with many CCGs.
It is said that the citizens of the UK are not bothered who provides the service, as long as it is free when they need it, but they will if the taxes have to go up, services become poor and they have to pay for extras. While our health service is not perfect in every way, we get a bigger bang for our buck, despite being one of the least funded of OECD countries. Commercial companies may not wish or be allowed directly to run clinical services, but may be interested in managing the services. NHS England is moving to integrated care services, devising systems to be able to run such services. American companies such as UnitedHealth and other IPOs may well be interested in running regional services, with a contract that allows them to keep any surplus as profits. They could do that only by cutting services, particularly in secondary care.
The jewels in the crown of our NHS are information and data. A national health service that in the near future will be completely digitised is a goldmine of data, estimated to be worth well over £10 billion a year —data that is a goldmine for developing artificial intelligence, robotics and so on. No one in the world has such a database. Add to this the genomics data that UK has for both patients and population that is unique in the world makes the NHS highly attractive for developing and testing of personalised medicines. Digitised patient information is of immense value for doing clinical trials with stratified patients. There is no other country in the world that can so quickly identify patient groups required for such trials, as demonstrated recently in a clinical trial of a US-manufactured drug, conducted with speed and lower cost, mostly in the United Kingdom. It is this kind of information that makes our NHS is so valuable; any pharma, biotech, medical devices or diagnostic company would be mad not to want to get its hands on it.
The Government have said that they would welcome companies to come and help innovate. That is an invitation. The unicorn companies we wish the UK to develop will become a reality, but the UK will not be the owners. Of course, it could all be for good, except that it will be profit driven. Why is it that USA has the most expensive healthcare system in the world and delivers one of the worst outcomes in health? The big pharma companies say that we pay too little for our medicines, as already mentioned, through our regulatory system and medicines reimbursement regime. While I accept that NICE methodologies need a review, pharma would want much more than that in any UK-USA trade deal. I declare an interest here: in October 1997, I submitted a paper developed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to establish a national institute of clinical effectiveness, which became the NICE of today, to the then Minister of Health in the Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington. So I may have some right to comment on the methodologies of NICE.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, said, even when medicines patents run out, US pharma would seek data exclusivity to prevent cheaper drugs being produced. For all those reasons, why would any country negotiating a trade deal not wish to have any aspects of our NHS to be part of it, particularly the USA? To be able to get a share of delivery of service, manage or procure for any part of NHS is a profitable prize in itself; to be able to get hold of even a part of the health and patient data, with the possibility of owning it, is a prize measured in billions of dollars.
The only way to keep our NHS in our hands is to rule out any possibility of it being included in any trade documents maybe through mechanisms of positive listing or legislation in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will be committed to do this at Report. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I shall speak to Amendment 51, to which I am a signatory. Before I do that, I commend my noble friend Lady Sheehan, who spoke eloquently on her Amendment 75, one part of which was about the dangers of price gouging. She mentioned a number of different ploys, as did the noble Lord, Lord Patel. But there is another one, whereby companies gain control of the generic and the replacement for the generic, then seek to phase out the generic. That has been happening recently. Perhaps the Minister can explain how, in trading terms, we can combat that kind of behaviour.
The dangers of ISDS, which were set out by my noble friend Lady Sheehan and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, are real and present. I look forward to the Minister’s response to their speeches on that issue.
Amendment 51 is designed to protect the NHS from potential dangers. If we are setting out on the great ship of global trade, it may be a lifebelt. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is right that this Bill is the only game in town for Parliament to exert its views, and this issue is of real concern to many Members of both Houses. That is why we are right to be having this discussion today.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was brilliant and devastating as he described the threats to our health service—threats that it is already facing. He described how we are on the brink of serious dangers, which the amendment highlights and seeks to avoid. The stakes are high, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, set out when speaking to an earlier group of amendments. The NHS is a huge potential market for any national economy with which we might wish to conclude a trade deal, not least, of course, the United States of America. However, we should acknowledge that it is also clear that the UK is in a position to continue to benefit substantially from the right relationship with international medical service and pharmaceutical companies, and we have to get that balance right between closing and opening our borders.
As we heard in the debate on the first group of amendments, without safeguards, those dangers and that balance can be upset. There is a risk that international access to the NHS will give opportunities for businesses—to be clear, they are working in their own interests, which can and will undermine the autonomy and universality that underpins the NHS. This is understandable; businesses make decisions that maximise their success, and the Government have to operate within that environment. So this amendment helps the Government ensure that they can create the right relationship with the private sector. It makes sure that control of health and care services cannot pass out of this country, either explicitly or by accident or stealth.
There are commercial implications here; it is not just about social and clinical reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, set out, there is huge value here, and it is absolutely beholden to this Government to lock that value in for British people. If there is £10 billion-worth of value in that data—as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, suggests—I want it to be reinvested in our health services, not given back to the shareholders of international pharmaceutical companies. That is right and proper because that data belongs to the people of this country, and they will consent to the use of that data—do not forget that informed consent is an important part of this—if they believe that it is going to benefit the wider society in this country. They will be much less enthusiastic about it if they see it as a few shareholders in Switzerland or the United States.
So I believe the Prime Minister’s sincerity when he says what he does about the NHS; of course I do. But this amendment helps codify the Prime Minister’s words. At the same time, it puts in place something that our negotiators can use to their and our benefit. They might say “I’d like to talk about this, but Parliament won’t let me”. The Secretary of State has said:
“The UK will, like every other sovereign country, assert its ability to set its own laws and regulations in line with our WTO commitments, reflecting our own circumstances and ideas.”
This amendment is an example of a law that reflects the UK’s very particular circumstances and the special status of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom’s economy and social economy. Accepting it is a way of gaining the confidence of the country that such agreements are not selling off the NHS bit by bit. It is also one of the issues that the Government will need to work very hard at responding to when we get to Report on the Bill.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with this group of amendments, and Amendment 51 in particular. I will make a very brief contribution. In summing up the last debate, my noble friend Lord Younger very helpfully shared with us the negotiating mandate the Government have achieved with the United States in particular. I think it would put our minds at rest if, in summing up this small group of amendments, my noble friend could repeat the contents of that negotiating mandate, particularly as regards any possible negotiating mandate as regards the health service. I know we have had repeated assurances that that is the case, but I think it would be very helpful to know what actually is covered in the negotiating mandate and whether there is any window at all for an aggressive approach to be made by the United States in this regard.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lord Patel have very eloquently spoken to these amendments. They are incredibly important, and I strongly support them. We have to protect the NHS and publicly funded healthcare services across the UK from any control from outside the UK. To do otherwise would cost us dearly and would, in the end, prevent us looking after our own, because we would be told what to do from outside.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has shown, all aspects of the NHS and social care must be protected from trade agreements at every level. We need to maintain the option of reversing the privatisation which has already occurred, if that is what we decide to do in the future, and we must be free to create collaborative health and social care. Trade agreements must not drive us into some kind of locked-in increased privatisation of the NHS or, indeed, force any such change in the devolved nations. The health and social care sectors must be excluded from the scope of all future trade agreements, otherwise we will find that the NHS is irretrievably undermined.
On maintaining quality, we are world leaders in pharmaceutical research and development, yet access does not always match innovation. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has pointed out that in the first year of a new medicine being launched, only one-fifth of eligible patients in the UK get access compared to those in France and Germany. Our ability to regulate and maintain the quality and safety of medicines and medical devices must not be undermined by some small sub-paragraph in a trade agreement that slips by almost unnoticed.
In addition, medicines and medical devices must remain affordable in the UK. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society highlighted the huge extra cost to the NHS after Essential Pharma disclosed plans to cease production of Priadel, its cheapest lithium carbonate product, due to restrictions on permitted pricing. The suggested alternatives for bipolar disorder owned by the same company can cost at least 10 times as much.
So this is not only about who runs the NHS today. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, our NHS databases are extremely valuable. They are a resource for our future research and development and, from that, for our future economic development. If we lose them through a trade agreement, we will irretrievably damage our future economic development.
I now turn briefly to Amendment 75, which ensures that the Government can uphold the right of citizens to access medicines under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of healthcare. Modern free trade agreements are used increasingly as vehicles to further pharmaceutical industry interests ahead of public health needs. They increasingly include clauses on intellectual property, pharmaceutical regulatory processes and investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms that affect price and decrease access to medicines. To secure affordable access to medicines, the Government must be able to grant compulsory licences, deal with exhausted intellectual property rights, strengthen patentability criteria and determine what constitutes a national emergency, as laid out in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause. The Covid pandemic has shown why we must always be able to make technologies available quickly, widely and at the lowest cost. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, pointed out, generics are not always cheaper in a complex market that can easily be manipulated.
Our NHS database is extremely valuable, and its value is increasing. It cannot be thrown away. There are times when short-term industry profits are not good for patients and delay access to affordable medicines and health technologies. These amendments aim to secure our healthcare for the future. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that informed patient consent requires a patient to know whether data is held, what it is used for and how it can be manipulated, even when it is anonymised. They would rightly be outraged if that data is allowed to put profits in the pockets of other countries, knowing that it will never be ploughed back into the NHS—certainly not at 100%.
My Lords, I will intervene only briefly, initially to support my noble friend Lord Bassam in some of the examples he gave. Dispute settlement in trade deals is pretty important as is what is put into the deal. I am not clear about—but I hope I am—whether “public services” includes critical infrastructure. As far as I am concerned, the two go together. I would cite energy, for a start, because one can see the problems we are going to have with energy in this country with the collapse of the nuclear deal. We must have a mix. There is a good chance that the lights and the gas may go out and the Government may want to move at some point to take monopoly control of the service. They ought to be able to do that, but there are too many sticky fingers for my liking in the issues involved and therefore I think the idea behind the amendment by my noble friend Lord Bassam is very good.
I want to make a brief point about Amendment 51 on the health service. I thought the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, was devastating with its list of companies. Do not get me wrong, I have no objection to the NHS or other public services using the best available management tools, techniques and individuals to provide services but making use of them is not the same as handing over ownership. That is where one has to draw the line. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, made a very fair point. The public do not care who is providing the service as long as it is there when they need it, free at the point of use. He went on to say that they will care when their taxes go up. That point is when someone, such as the Prime Minister, will say, “You can avoid that by buying some insurance.” It is the slippery road to push us down the insurance route. I know we are all nice people in the Lords but frankly I do not trust the Prime Minister.
My Lords, many of the debates here take me back to 2012, and I look forward to the contribution from my former boss, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I want to speak in support of Amendment 75 in the name of my noble friend Lady Sheehan. She has laid the amendment out effectively and comprehensively. There has long been tension between those marketing and those purchasing proprietary medicines and generics. Clearly, where pharmaceutical companies invest in research and development they should be rewarded for that, but we also know how expert the industry is at claiming R&D when that is beyond what they have actually done.
This issue plays out in the NHS but also internationally, particularly in developing countries where basic medicines may not be affordable and dependence on generics is vital. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the pandemic has shown how important this is. It reinforces that we are all interlinked. An infection that affects the community in one part of the world is within days potentially spread worldwide. It is in all our interests that disease is countered everywhere, as well as that being the right thing to do.
As my noble friend Lady Sheehan said, Amendment 75 affirms the Government’s right to use internationally agreed safeguards to protect public health, including securing access to more affordable generic medicines. As she said, earlier FTAs often focused on tariffs and trade in goods, while in the past couple of decades FTAs have become more comprehensive. Of course, many such developments are welcome in terms of ensuring standards, as we have been discussing, but provisions can also inappropriately protect monopolistic business. As I have said, genuinely innovative companies have a case, but their role can be exploited. In recognition of this, the WTO’s TRIPS agreement included public health safeguards. These were reaffirmed in the 2001 Doha declaration. Protecting genuine innovation has therefore already been addressed by the WTO, and it is important that these proposals are taken forward. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I shall start with Amendments 51 and 75, dealing with protecting the NHS and access to medicines. The Government’s position on this is clear: they are committed to the NHS and to high standards of public health, and they are committed to ensuring that any trade agreements will respect that. We have been quite explicit on that. What noble Lords think that other countries such as the US might want from a trade agreement is, frankly, not relevant and should not be driving the content of this Bill.
In my view, these amendments are part of the continuing public scaremongering about my party’s approach to the NHS. Indeed, I was surprised to find noble Lords mentioning the existing and long-standing involvement of private sector companies in the NHS, some of which are owned by non-UK interests, in derogatory terms. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I celebrate the fact that we use private sector services where it makes sense in the delivery of healthcare services, and the fact that we use them to a marginal extent in the NHS does not affect the Government’s commitment to the NHS nor their determination to protect it. I wish that noble Lords would hear that. I was frankly shocked to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said about not trusting the Prime Minister on the NHS.
The real reason I put my name down to speak on this group is that my attention was caught by Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. I know that he is an old-fashioned Labour man and that, deep down, he will want to nationalise or renationalise anything that moves. Indeed, I first met the noble Lord when we were debating private finance initiatives back in the 1990s. Needless to say, the noble Lord opposed anything to do with the private sector being involved, and I have to say that I lost that debate, but it was, of course, before the Labour Government of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, came in and took up PFI with such misguided enthusiasm that they practically wrecked the finances of the NHS. However, I say to the noble Lord that he cannot seriously think that a Conservative Government will put in a Bill introduced by them references to public services being subject to monopoly or exclusive rights or, more importantly, allowing them to be brought back into the public sector as if those are good things. I accept that sometimes they are necessary things, but the thought that we would legislate as if they are good values to protect in legislation is, frankly, for the birds.
My Lords, I want to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about today’s drugs not always necessarily being the cheapest. I accept that, but on the other hand, I am sure he would agree that in the overwhelming range of medicines, today’s drugs are highly valuable and economic.
I remember that during my time as director of VSO, I attended a training course for medical personnel of all kinds, doctors, nurses and so on, who would be going off to take up exacting assignments in the poorest parts of the world. The lecturer was absolutely brilliant. He was an eminent physician who has gone on to even more eminent positions. At a certain point he dished out two pieces of paper each to everyone in the room. He said, “Please write down on one piece of paper the last drug that you prescribed for a patient. On the second piece of paper, please write down the name of the last drug that you took.”
The lecturer collected these in and then went into a state of outrage—he was a very effective performer—saying, “You are going to do vital medical work in various parts of the world”. As he went through the bits of paper, he said, “Look at this! You know that, for this patented drug, there is a generic drug available at a cheaper rate. You know that—why have you done it?” People were just flummoxed; they did not know why they had done it. They had got into a culture where too much of the sale of medicines was in the hands of PR and advertising companies that were, on the back of drugs, making a lot of money by finding more attractive ways of presenting things that were available generically.
I also remember at that time that, in Bangladesh, there was a great deal of concern because we were trying to support a factory—an enterprise—that was making generic drugs available in Bangladesh. My goodness, the moves that were afoot to try to undermine the viability of that company.
I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for having introduced her amendment because, if there is one thing that we must hold dear, it is that we cannot allow any further privatisation of the health service by the back door. It is inadvertent sometimes, but sometimes it is quite deliberate by those who try to manipulate trade deals in the interests of their own countries and industries.
I also commend very warmly my noble friend Lord Bassam. He is absolutely right that it is vital that Governments of all persuasions have available without inhibition the opportunity to introduce public ownership where it becomes essential. We again know that there have been too many dangers that these rights may be curbed. We have had a peculiar situation in Britain where, because of the curbs that already exist, we have had nationalised companies in other European countries running British rail systems. That is just absurd. We must not open the door to the possibility that more of that could occur. My noble friend is absolutely right to have brought his amendment into the context of the Bill.
My Lords, I say first that I very much agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Noakes had to say, which means that I can save myself saying some of those things by thoroughly agreeing with her, in particular on the point she made about the disinformation about private ownership in the NHS.
When the noble Lord, Lord Patel, whom I regard as a friend, makes his points, he has to answer the following question. Is it his proposition that when the Priory Group, which was a UK company for many years, was bought by an American company, that should have been prevented by the UK Government? That is the question that he has to answer. In fact, it was not prevented by the UK Government, and indeed for decades Governments in this country have allowed foreign ownership of UK companies. If we were to stop that, it would of course have very big implications for the investor relationship that we have with other countries. However, that is not what we are proposing, and I do not think that it is what either the Official Opposition or the Liberal Democrats are proposing, so it does not really have any force as an argument.
More to the point is whether anything in our trade relationships and trade agreements that we enter into prejudices our ability to have a National Health Service free at the point of use, paid for out of general taxation and controlled by us as a public service? There is nothing in those trade agreements that allows that. In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee—she might care to look at the evidence that has been given—is examining in detail the Government’s proposals for negotiations with the United States on a prospective free trade agreement. That expressly excludes any measures that would have any impact on the NHS or on our ability to control our pharmaceutical pricing and supply system. That is very clear; she can look at it.
All three amendments relate to rollover agreements; they do not talk about future trade agreements. Therefore, the debate about the American free trade agreement is irrelevant to these amendments. I looked at one example —the Canada-EU agreement, which is able to be rolled over with the benefit of implementation through this legislation. A description on the EU legal database of Chapter Nine of the agreement on cross-border trade in services says that
“this chapter fully upholds governments’ ability to regulate and supply services in the public interest.”
On Chapter Eighteen, which relates to state enterprises, monopolies, and enterprises granted special rights or privileges, it says, in terms:
“The rules ensure that both parties have the full freedom of choice in the way they provide public services to their citizens.”
There is a general exception which says that provision can be made
“to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.
I think that the proposers of amendments of this character have to look at what they are proposing and ask whether it changes anything. The rollover agreements comply with those requirements, and therefore the legislation is entirely robust.
I rather deprecate the idea that one proposes amendments and, before listening to the debate, says, “Well, I might bring it back on Report”. I suggest to noble Lords that they listen to the debate and, if they propose to bring back an amendment back on Report, they redesign it so that it bites on future trade agreements. At least we could then have a debate that was relevant. There is nothing in what is proposed here in relation to health or public services, in particular, that bites in any sensible way on the existing trade agreement.
We should remember that these trade agreements do not change domestic law. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for example, that the law of the land says that you cannot introduce charges for NHS services other than by new primary legislation. That is the only way in which it can happen. Therefore, we do not need to trust the Prime Minister; it is in the law. Of course, one can change anything through primary legislation, but the Prime Minister has not done so, and I can confidently say to noble Lords that I know that he will not do so to introduce charging for NHS services. He would not get it through even if he tried.
Therefore, I do not quite get any of this. Frankly, Amendment 13 feels a bit as though the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, wants to ignore the result of the last general election. If the election had gone another way and Jeremy Corbyn had become Prime Minister, he could have done these things and trade agreements would not have stopped him. It is the election that stopped him, and not trying to legislate to stop trade agreements being irrelevant.
I want to mention one other thing, because it is important to mention it here. In Amendment 75, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talks about access to medicines and so on. It feels a bit like we did not legislate in the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Act 2017—but we did, and only three years ago. That Act gives our Government the absolute right to control the price of medicines, both patented and generic. If any noble Lord wants the Government to do something about it, the law already allows them to. They might say that the Government will not do it, or that they are not acting quickly or strongly enough, but the legislation provides for it. There is nothing in trade agreements that stops us doing it.
My final point is on the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. We will come back to this again in a later group, but in that group I want to talk about a different issue. My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about Philip Morris. I declare an interest. In 2010, I sat with the then Australian Health Minister and, in a conversation at the OECD, we agreed that one of the things that I would do in the United Kingdom was initiate a consultation into the plain packaging of cigarettes. As it turned out, the fact that we had initiated such a consultation in the United Kingdom was relevant in helping the Australians to win their case, because it was clear that it was not simply them doing it—other countries were pursuing this in a similar fashion for public health reasons.
Banning investor-state dispute cases of that kind is not sufficient. As it happens, Philip Morris lost its case due to an abuse of process, because it set up a company in Hong Kong purely for the purpose of utilising the Hong Kong-Australia treaty. However, tobacco companies managed to secure the support of five Governments, in Ukraine, Cuba, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, to take a case to the WTO. They lost that case, so we do not really need to ban investor-state dispute settlements—although for the purposes of these rollover agreements, the European Union has effectively not accepted ISDS, and there is a separate investor court process. Even so—even when we trade on WTO terms—we have to be aware that we could be challenged. But Australia won that case and, in the appellate judgment in June this year, brought by Honduras and the Dominican Republic, they won again. They did so because there is an exception for public health measures in the WTO structure. I am not sure in all this where these amendments are trying to take us. I think we have the protections and the government commitments that we require.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for stating in very clear terms the benefit of putting into statute some of the restrictions on some of the activities of our political leaders, so that we do not need to trust them, because these are in the law. I hope that when it comes to future groups in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and others will remember those very wise words of counsel that it is important to have things in writing in our statutes to protect our valued principles and institutions. I am grateful to the noble Lord for doing that.
As my noble friend Lord Fox pointed out—this is at the heart of the debate on this group—the NHS is not just a greatly valued health and social service for our nation but is seen by many as a great economic asset. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is right that, when it comes to procurement and the provision of services, there is a great deal that is provided by the private sector. In the debate on the first group, I highlighted that about half the public procurement of the entire UK Government relates to health and that around one-quarter of the beds in the mental health service in the north-west of England are operated by an American health operator. I made no judgment about the good or bad side of that, but simply stated it as a fact. And it is a fact that the United States wants to expand market access to the provision. The question that then comes is: what is the limit and, as my noble friend Lord Fox indicated, what is the right balance? That is a question for the Government.
The Government have stated, as they would say, “categorically”, that the NHS is not for sale. Michael Gove was in the Scottish Parliament just this week, and he said to MSPs:
“The NHS is not for sale under any circumstances.”
My question is: what does he mean by the NHS? For many people, intellectual property and pharmaceuticals, the access to and price of medicines, the delivery of services, the buildings that people are in, and the employers of the people providing those services, are the NHS. We can outline concerns about some of the risks of a trade agreement facilitating greater market access for the provision of the private service situation from America, but what is the Government’s view about the limits of that? This is a genuine and legitimate question that Members speaking on this group have asked.
Before I move on to Amendment 75, in the name of my noble friend Lady Sheehan, reference was given to the potential American deal. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is absolutely correct that much of the Bill is about how the continuity agreements are in operation; he cited the existing agreements that we have and he cited CETA. On IP and ISDS, which we will come to later, there is a different approach, which we want to explore further.
One of the things that gave us a degree of reassurance —there was of course debate on CETA and the health service; I remember that very clearly—and one of the differences was that British parliamentarians were able to take part in discussions agreeing the mandate for CETA when it came to the remit and extent to which health and pharmaceuticals and intellectual property would be within the agreement. The INTA committee in the European Parliament would have seen the text of the mandate and the negotiation position, the offer from the European Union and a draft text before it was signed, and it would have seen the final text before it went for a final review. None of us in this Committee will have any opportunity to have any of the equivalent for the American deal. It is therefore right to ask probing questions, especially since the question asked—I think by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—was: what do the Americans want? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that wanting something is not getting it. However, knowing what they want, and asking the Government what their position is on whether we are offering it, is correct scrutiny.
What do the Americans want? As we have heard, on intellectual property they refer to TRIPS, and page 8 of its negotiating mandate says it wants to
“ensure that the Agreement fosters innovation and promotes access to medicines, reflecting a standard similar to that found in U.S. law”.
When it comes to procedural fairness for pharmaceutical and medical devices, it wants to:
“Seek standards to ensure that government regulatory reimbursement regimes are transparent, provide procedural fairness, are nondiscriminatory, and provide full market access for U.S. products.”
We know what the American request is. We have not seen any of the negotiating offer from the UK—any counter-offer or any draft text—and the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has not been provided with any draft text, as far as I am aware. Therefore, it is right to have in this Bill, at this time, proper questions along those lines. If the Government do not say what they mean by the NHS and the extent to which market access is open to new American providers then we must have the continuation of scrutiny.
On Amendment 75, I think my noble friend did the Committee a great service in bringing this amendment forward. My noble friend Baroness Northover has given the international context, as part of the debate on this group is around the international considerations. I am a member of the International Relations and Defence Select Committee, and we published a report in July this year which highlighted some of the truly drastic impacts of Covid-19 on Africa. We looked not just purely at the health elements but at the economic impacts. Of course, any economic impacts on the continent of Africa are also trade impacts for the United Kingdom’s relationship with those countries.
The African Trade Policy Centre of the UN Economic Commission for Africa has seen a 40% fall in African exports and GDP has effectively halved. The worst-case scenario looks like GDP falling by $120 billion, and UN ECA estimates point to Covid-19 pushing 27 million people into extreme poverty while imposing £44 billion to £46 billion in additional health costs. We know that those additional health costs will also incorporate what is likely to be a huge burden on many countries to provide vaccines and other medical support for a long-term, sustainable recovery from Covid-19.
It is right that my noble friend has raised the issue of the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration and whether the United Kingdom should activate, under that TRIPS Agreement, the ability of taking products over patents and then making them accessible. They would be accessible not just here in the United Kingdom but through a trading relationship. It is absolutely right that she has made that case. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has pointed to the Government’s capability to do that. My question to the Minister is: is it the Government’s intention to do it?
Canada did it in March. Canada Bill C-13—
“An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19”—
authorised the Government of Canada to supply
“a patented invention to the extent necessary to respond to a public health emergency that is a matter of national concern.”
The Prime Minister indicated that Canada’s role within that is not just at home but abroad. If Canada was able to do that in March, knowing what the likely global impact would be not only on Canada but on the least-developed countries in the world, what is the UK’s position? If we have not activated that agreement, why not? If it is the Government’s intention to do it, how will they implement it?
My Lords, I am sure noble Lords remember that when they first entered your Lordships’ House, they would occasionally find it hard to remember how to get from A to B. There have been times during this debate, echoing the words of my noble friend Lord Lansley, when I thought perhaps I had wandered into the wrong Committee Room by mistake, because a lot of what we have discussed—in what has been a most stimulating debate—did not seem to relate to the purpose of the Bill, which is the rollover of continuity trade agreements. Leaving that to one side, I turn first to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, which would mean that the Clause 2 power could not be used to implement agreements that restrict the delivery of public services through public monopolies, exclusive rights or nationalisation.
As noble Lords know, we need the powers in the Bill to ensure continuity of trading relationships with existing partners. To date—I say yet again—we have signed 20 agreements with 48 countries, accounting, I am pleased to say, for £110 billion of trade in 2018 numbers. I can confirm that none of these signed agreements have impacted our ability to deliver public services effectively. We have always protected our right to choose how we deliver public services in trade agreements and will continue to do so. No trade agreement has ever affected our ability to keep public services public and that will not change. I am happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, a complete reassurance on that. I also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that we will not do anything that impugns the democratic control of these matters.
Noble Lords will observe from our record of signed agreements that the continuity programme is seeking to preserve current trading relationships, not alter the way in which our public services are designed or delivered. If this is not an unparliamentary term, I think it is a red herring to suggest otherwise.
Amendment 51, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to stipulate that regulations can be made using Clause 2 of the Trade Bill only if the agreement does not undermine the way in which the NHS is delivered as a public good, universal and free at the point of service.
No one listening to the debate could be in any doubt of the important place that the NHS has in the nation’s heart. I am pleased to put on record that I and the Government share the sentiment behind the noble Baroness’s amendment. We have been consistently clear about our commitment to the guiding principles of the NHS: that it is universal and free at the point of need. I tell the Committee the same thing that my colleague, the Minister for Trade Policy, told the other place, that
“the NHS is not and never will be for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.”—[Official Report, Commons, Trade Bill Committee, 25/6/20; col. 315.]
The Government will ensure that no trade agreements will affect our ability to keep public services public.
I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Patel, refer to various private contractors and how they are used by the NHS, but I was encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, acknowledging that these contractors can play a valuable role, at times, in patient care. Any decisions about the use of commercial companies in the NHS are for the NHS, and the NHS alone, to take in the interests of the NHS and patients. That in no way amounts to a privatisation of the NHS in any form. I can say categorically to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that no FTA is a back-door route to the privatisation of the NHS. No FTA can trade away National Health Service data. These points are therefore not relevant to what we are debating today.
I understand noble Lords’ concerns over the NHS and its place in our trade agreements. The Government were elected on a manifesto that contained the promise that the NHS will not be on the table when we are negotiating trade deals. As I have said, the NHS will remain a universal service, free at the point of use. The NHS is always protected through a range of exceptions, exclusions and reservations in trade agreements. Although our ambitious programme of new trade agreements is not in scope of this Bill, of course, as my noble friend Lord Lansley has emphasised, the Government will ensure that the very same protections are included which safeguard the National Health Service.
Our negotiating objectives for FTAs with the USA, Australia and New Zealand confirm that we will not be negotiating any agreement which threatens the NHS. For example, in the US mandate, we have said we will protect the right to regulate services, including the NHS; and we will continue to ensure that decisions on how we run public services are made by the Government, not by trading partners.
We have heard various noble Lords express concerns about what the United States might wish to do. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that privatising the NHS is a negotiating objective of the United States. If it is, I wish it good luck with that, because it will not succeed. It is not in our negotiating mandate. Of course, in a negotiation, other partners are free to express whatever aspirations they may have, but there is a world of difference between the other party expressing what it might want and what it might get. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Noakes: there is some scaremongering going on here. We have heard noble Lords frequently quote what goes on in the health services of the United States, which of course are so different from ours. They quote what the United States might wish to do with our National Health Service but I say plainly: it ain’t going to happen, because our mandate specifically excludes it.
I turn to Amendment 75. When we are negotiating trade deals, the price that the NHS pays for medicines will not be on the table. The sustainability of the NHS is an absolute priority for the Government and we are clear that, in any negotiations on future trade agreements, we could not—and will not—agree to any proposals on medicines pricing or access that would put NHS finances at risk or reduce clinician and patient choice.
A number of noble Lords have raised the topic of generic medicines. That is an important topic but, in order to ensure that noble Lords get a full answer, I will write to them on it, if I may.
The UK has a world-leading intellectual property regime, which achieves an effective balance between rewarding research and innovation and reflecting wider public interests, such as ensuring access to medicines. I will answer a question that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked: the UK remains committed to the Doha declaration on public health, the TRIPS Agreement and the agreed flexibilities that support access to medicines, particularly during public health emergencies in developing countries and the least developed countries. We will ensure that our future trade deals respect and do not contravene the Doha declaration. This commitment has been included in all our negotiating objectives with FTA partners. If the noble Lord, Lord Fox, feels that I have not fully answered him on that point, I would of course be happy to discuss it further outside this session.
Intellectual property rights exist to provide incentives to create and commercialise new inventions, such as life-changing vaccines. Thank goodness that our pharmaceutical companies, which have often been referred to as creatures of evil during this debate, are doing their work on developing life-changing vaccines. The UK believes that a robust and fair intellectual property system is a key part of the innovation framework that allows economies to grow while enabling society to benefit from knowledge and ideas.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that the ISDS may prevent renationalisation of the privatised parts of the National Health Service. We will come to this in much more detail in a later group but, for now, I just say that the Government are clear that investment protections and ISDS will never force the privatisation of public services or jeopardise essential NHS provisions. ISDS claims can only lead to compensation when the tribunal finds that treaty commitments or obligations have been breached. It cannot force a state to change its law. Therefore, to be absolutely clear, ISDS will not oblige the Government to open the NHS to further competition, and overseas companies will not be able to take legal action to force us to do so. Of course, the Bill cannot be used to implement an FTA with the US, but, in a US FTA, ISDS will not force privatisation of the NHS.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about parliamentary scrutiny, and I am sure we will be spending a long time on that in a future session. However, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, made a point about Parliament having an appropriate role in the scrutiny of trade agreements. With all humility, I wish to correct the noble Lord: Parliament does have the statutory power to block the ratification of trade agreements under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Specifically, in the case of the other place, it can prevent the ratification of a treaty indefinitely.
I come to my conclusion and reiterate that the sustainability of the NHS is an absolute priority for the Government. That is why we are clear that, in any negotiations on future trade agreements, we could not, would not and will not agree to any proposals on medicines pricing or access that would put NHS finances at risk or reduce clinician and patient choice. These are red lines for us, and I absolutely reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on this point. I therefore ask that the amendments in this group be withdrawn.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.
I thank the Minister for his explanation. The Minister faces two main problems with this Bill. The first is the lack of transparency, which many noble Lords have mentioned during the debate. Until there is transparency, the Minister may be in some trouble over the issues of public services, particularly the National Health Service.
The second problem is this: I know that the Minister is relatively new at his job but it is our job to test Bills and decide what is relevant. Nothing is more relevant to most of the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate than the safety and security of the National Health Service, so my conclusion is that the Minister would perhaps be wise to discuss this issue with us between now and the next stage of the Bill. Can we meet and discuss it? Of course he reassures us and of course we know what the policy is but, with the exception of two or three speakers today, I think that we would all feel a lot safer if this measure were in the Bill.
I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. If she, as an experienced hand, is prepared to lend some of her experience to a new boy, I would be delighted to receive it. I cannot think of a better person to have a meeting with to enable me to do that. I meant absolutely no discourtesy at any point about the scrutiny of this Bill.
I have also received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, in his remarks, the Minister referred twice to the mandate that the negotiators have for a future trade deal with America and stated that the mandate excludes the NHS. The language that the Government have always used is that they do not have a “mandate” for these negotiations, but “negotiating objectives”. If there is a mandate, as the Minister referred to, will he write to me about what it is? If he would prefer that to be confidential, he can write just to me, but it would also be beneficial and helpful if he wrote to the International Agreements Sub-Committee about it.
Secondly, the Minister must have been briefed before the debate on this group of amendments on both the consequences and the global implications of my noble friend Lady Sheehan’s very proper amendment, which raises these questions. My question to him—on the Government’s policy on utilising the TRIPS flexibilities that exist for medicines patents, which could then be available through our trading relationship with the least developed countries—could not have been more specific. He did not respond to it in his winding-up speech, so what is the Government’s position there? If they have not implemented legislation, as Canada did in March, why not?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. I draw no distinction between our negotiating objectives, which were made public before we started the US FTA negotiations, and the mandate. When I used “mandate”, I was referring to our negotiating objectives. I apologise if that caused the noble Lord any confusion. I will write to him on his point about TRIPS.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton.
My Lords, this has been a very long and wide-ranging debate on amendments which are pretty simple in their effect. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have supported my amendment and the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton in particular. The thing that has impressed me most is that that support has come from right across the political spectrum with the notable exception of the Minister, my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, took me back to the time in the 1990s when she and I were engaged in fairly ferocious debate on the potential of PFI. As she courteously reminded the Committee, it was a debate that she lost. She then went on to say that I had been scaremongering. I do not think I was scaremongering then, and I do not think I am scaremongering today with this amendment, because it is pretty modest. It seeks to ensure that services can be taken back into the public service. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, in a way it is trying to help to codify the Prime Minister’s words and commitments to keeping the public services public and being able to use the public sector in a particular way. That is the modesty of that amendment, and I am surprised that the Minister has not been able to accept it.
Surely, if he wants to reassure us—he worked very hard to, and I congratulate him on his reply—the most reassuring thing to do would be to accept our amendment to the Bill and put beyond any doubt the Prime Minister’s commitment by ensuring that we could keep services public, protect public services and bring things back into the public service where we needed to. Imagine if we were in a position now, with the Covid epidemic, where for some reason or another we had precluded us having the ability to bring back in-house test, track and trace. That would be disastrous. It is evident to all of us that test, track and trace as it is currently being operated by a number of private sector operators is not performing as well as it should. To say, ludicrously, that we could not use the public service to rectify that and improve it would surely be absurd. In a sense, that is where my argument leads: we should be able use the public service in that way.
It is a tradition, of course, and a matter of practice that in Grand Committee one should not press one’s amendment to a vote and one cannot, but this is an issue that we will have to return to when we get to Report. Although I shall read the Minister’s words of reassurance with great care, I do not think there was sufficient in them to provide the Committee or the House with the sort of reassurance and trust that we seek. This afternoon I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I think your Lordships will want to return to this on Report, and I rather hope that we do.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendment 14 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 15. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
15: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the appropriate authority has published a report reviewing the impact of any changes brought about by that international trade agreement on the existing law of intellectual property.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to explore issues that could be damaging to intellectual property law.
My Lords, in the digital era in particular, intellectual property is the lifeblood of our creative and tech industries. As the Alliance for Intellectual Property points out, the UK’s IP framework has a number of features that protect UK consumers and reward UK creators and inventors. It is quite possible that our trading partners may wish to reduce or water down these protections. To ensure that the UK’s IP framework will continue to deliver significant economic benefits, it is paramount that the UK does not concede or dilute its current IP standards as part of trade negotiations; indeed, they should be enhanced.
Ensuring that we will retain or enhance these core protections involves asking ourselves the following questions for each trade agreement. For instance, on international treaties generally, will the UK encourage all our trade partners to promote both the ratification of, and adherence to, terms of international treaties for the recognition and enforcement of copyright, trademark design and other intellectual property rights? With regard to trademarks, will we resist the introduction of proof of use?
With regard to maintaining the UK’s injunctive relief powers, in the UK rights holders can apply to the civil courts for no-fault injunctive relief. Will the UK Government ensure the preservation of their no-fault injunctive relief regime? With regard to design rights, will our negotiators ensure that the current level of protection is not weakened and that such protection is available to all UK designers, particularly regarding unregistered designs? With regard to copyright, will we make sure that the copyright term of 70 years after death is preserved? New Zealand, by contrast, has only a 50-year term.
With regard to copyright exceptions, will future free trade agreements negotiated by the UK include balanced copyright exceptions and limitations, and uphold standards such as the Berne three-step test? Will we resist any adoption of US-style fair use?
With regard to the liability of online platforms, will the UK oppose any obligations under any trade agreement, particularly with the US, that would broaden liability shields for online intermediaries or digital platforms? Will the UK ensure that its negotiators work together with the US to simplify the DMCA notice and takedown provisions and embrace a sharing of best practice within the US and UK systems? The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, which I strongly support, would give this wider and greater force regarding children.
With regard to site blocking, will the Government make sure that our site-blocking provisions for pirate sites are protected and included in free trade agreements? It seems they have not been in the Japan free trade agreement. With regard to sovereignty over exhaustion rights, will we ensure that exhaustion continues to be a sovereign issue for the UK, that it is not prescribed in any trade agreement and that there is no shift to an international exhaustion regime?
With regard to the artist resale right, the ARR ensures that UK visual artists receive a modest royalty when their work is resold on the secondary art market. Will we be maintaining the ARR and pressing for it to be included in all future trade agreements? With regard to reciprocal public performance rights, will the Government press the countries that we are negotiating with to provide for full payment for all music rights holders from the use of their works or from recordings, public performance and broadcast?
With regard to source codes, will we be preventing the mandatory transfer of source codes, algorithms or encryption keys as a condition of market access? With regard to data, will we be supporting the development of AI through aligning open government data and text and data mining rules with our own? Lastly, with regard to robust enforcement measures, the effective enforcement of intellectual property rights and infringement is crucial for ensuring the integrity of future trade agreements. Will we be ensuring that effective mechanisms for enforcement are in place so that rights holders have the ability to enforce IP laws within these jurisdictions?
These are all significant aspects of IP rights that have hitherto been relied on by our exporters and service providers. The Minister assured me at Second Reading:
“As he will know, our intellectual property regime is consistently rated as one of the best in the world. One of our priorities will be to ensure that future trade agreements do not negatively impact on standards in this area and that our regime will promote trade in intellectual property.”—[Official Report, 8/9/20; col. 747-78.]
But how will we know for sure in advance? Here is a classic example. The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys points out that in the UK’s negotiating objectives under “Intellectual property” on page 11, the Government commit to:
“Secure patents, trademarks, and designs provisions that: are consistent with the UK’s existing international obligations, including the European Patent Convention (EPC), to which the UK is party”.
In the corresponding US negotiating objectives, the US Government state that they will seek provisions governing intellectual property rights
“that reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in US law.”
As CIPA says:
“These UK and US objectives are not fully aligned, and a similar non-alignment may well arise in negotiations with other countries. This carries the serious risk of creating damaging uncertainty about the UK’s continuing membership of the EPC”.
Let us take two more examples. The July letter of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, about the New Zealand negotiations on intellectual property gave very little away. In his slightly fuller letter on the Japan agreement in September, he said:
“New protections for UK creative industries—British businesses can now be confident that their brands and innovations will be protected. We have gone beyond the EU on provisions that tackle online infringement of IP rights, such as film and music piracy.”
That is all well and good, but it is precious little information on such an important subject. We should know in advance through a specific report what the IP situation on each trade agreement will be so that we can be assured that the relevant protection and provisions are in place. That is what this amendment does.
I turn briefly to Amendment 16 on data flows to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, will be speaking and which I have signed. However, I do not want to steal any of her thunder. It is sufficient to say that this was not dealt with by the Minister at Second Reading. It supports the free flow of data and regulated access to data sets; ensuring that data can flow across borders is essential for digital trade, in particular for e-commerce consumption and supply chains and the use of data collection and data analytics through the cloud and otherwise.
In his September letter on the Japan agreement, the Minister said that cutting-edge digital and data provisions had been agreed. Again, how are we to judge? How are we to judge, too, the impact of any safe harbour or privacy shield provisions on our wider digital economy, especially in the light of Schrems II? Already, the Government’s consultation on a national data strategy with its promise to remove legal barriers to data use are problematic. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, that the Government Digital Service is carrying out a risk assessment. What impact will that have on our trade agreement negotiations?
All of this argues for a specific impact report prior to a trade agreement being signed in respect of data flows. I shall leave the Minister to the mercies of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 16 in my name, which requests a similar report on data. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for their support. I in turn support Amendment 15 in their names on intellectual property. This is an issue on which we have worked together over many years, and of course the Minister, my noble friend Lord Younger, is something of an expert on IP, so I am hopeful of making progress and look forward to his response.
Our amendment on data is possibly even more important than that on IP, if that is possible. Data is like the electricity on which it depends: it allows everything to work and permits communication and analysis across the world. Data flow now underlies almost every aspect of our lives from financial services to the food supply chain, from defence to the music industry. The cloud is everywhere; it has made some people very rich, and has radically changed the market valuations of the world’s companies—here I refer to my own registered interests.
However, unlike IP where there are well-established international frameworks and bodies, in data there is inadequate international alignment of standards, and that has led to disputes between the EU and the US, as I know only too well as a former Minister with responsibility for data. The combination of the GDPR and the European Court ruling on Schrems caused huge problems that we solved with the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework. Led by my right honourable friend Matt Hancock and my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde, who is now of course our esteemed Chief Whip, we put the GDPR and associated changes on to the UK statute book so that the UK would be declared equivalent to the EU and data could continue to flow after EU exit. We still await clarity on that equivalence decision, which is important to many sectors and is a matter of much concern to the EU Scrutiny Committee on which I have the pleasure of sitting.
However, more important for today and even more worrying, is another very significant ruling on 16 July 2020 by the European court. It ruled that the privacy shield failed to limit access to data by US authorities
“in a way that satisfies requirements that are essentially equivalent to those required under EU law.”
It seems that we are in a mess, and that that will have implications for any trade agreement between the UK and the US if we also want a free trade agreement with the European Union, as many noble Lords and I do. I welcome the Minister’s thoughts on how we get out of this hole.
At the same time, I thank our exuberant International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, for arranging for me to talk to our experts on another relevant issue. This was possible clashes between the data provisions in the Japan agreement —on which I heartily congratulate the Government—and those in the draft EU free trade agreement and other possible free trade agreements under negotiation. I found that discussion reassuring and would be delighted if the Minister could put some of the department’s reflections on the public record, either in winding up or in a follow-up letter, ahead of Report.
On IP, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, a great expert in his field, has said almost all that needs to be said. IP underpins a huge part of our service-based economy and matters to manufacturing too. Think of patents, brands or trademarks. It is vital that we do not dilute our standards as part of our new or continuity trade agreements. I particularly highlight reciprocal rights of representation with the EU, US and others, design rights, copyright and effective enforcement of the IP rules we have both nationally and internationally. There are particular problem areas in enforcement, such as blocking pirate sites, which has already been mentioned and which was sadly not covered in the Japan FTA.
Rather than delay the Committee, I will follow up with some detailed points provided by the Alliance for Intellectual Property. It works tireless to support the work of the cross-party APPG for Intellectual Property, which has already been exploring some of these issues with the IPO. We will be looking for assurances before Report, especially on sorting out reciprocal rights of representation for trademark attorneys, both in any US trade agreement, if that could be achieved, and in relation to the EU and EEA, where we have a major problem. This will put a hard-working sector of UK professionals at serious risk and will occur, deal or no deal, when transition ends. Fortunately, provided the Government take early action here at home, this is soluble. I look forward to the Minister’s response to these various amendments and the chance for an early discussion.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 34 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, and the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Holmes of Richmond. I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly as chair of the 5Rights Foundation.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the online safety of UK children and other vulnerable users is not compromised in any UK trade deals, which is of particular relevance to the trade deal between the UK and the US for two reasons. First, the US has recently taken a determined stance in this area and inserted a requirement for recipients of US trade deals—including Mexico, Canada and Japan—to accept aspects of the broad and hugely contested US domestic law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which even the US Attorney-General William Barr describes as enabling
“platforms to absolve themselves completely of responsibility for policing their platforms”
and an IP regime that unduly benefits the mega corporations of Silicon Valley.
Secondly, such broad protection from any liability threatens to put a chill on, if not undermine entirely, existing UK law and threatens the efficacy of the much-anticipated online harms Bill. By contrast, Amendment 34 would make negotiators unable to agree to terms in any trade agreement that did not uphold the UK’s regime of child online protection.
New paragraph (a) captures laws and undertakings in current UK legislation and treaties. This would allow the Government to cite treaties such as the UNCRC, which the UK has ratified but the US has not, and also domestic legislation that has already been passed, for example protections for children from pornography in the Digital Economy Act 2017.
New paragraph (b) specifically refers to the data protections brought into law on 2 September in the form of the age-appropriate design code, an initiative introduced and won in the House of Lords by a similar all-party grouping. It is already having a profound impact on the safety and privacy of children online around the world. New paragraph (b) also ensures that the Data Protection Act 2018 is protected more generally, since the code is built on the broader provisions of the DPA.
New paragraph (c) would allow the Secretary of State to determine that domestic legislation which protects children online can be subject to a carve-out in trade agreements. We cannot directly protect a Bill that is yet to be brought forward but, if this amendment were adopted, the advances promised by the online harms Bill, such as a duty of care tackling the spread of child sexual abuse material, and the introduction of minimum standards, could all be upheld.
Finally, the amendment defines children as persons under 18. This is crucial, since the US domestic consumer law, COPPA, has created a de facto age of adulthood online of 13, an age of maturity that flies in the face of our law, our culture and all known understanding of childhood development.
Turning to the amendment’s relevance to the Bill, I have listened carefully to the Minister, who is at pains to point out that the powers of the Bill are limited to continuity agreements. However, much has been repeatedly said about the lack of parliamentary oversight of the UK’s values as a new trading nation. The Committee can only judge the Government’s priorities on what is in front of it, and I am hopeful that their long-term commitment to making the UK the safest place for a child to be online will be one such priority.
I am not an expert in trade, but I have consulted widely with colleagues and legal experts who are. Their collective confusion would suggest that it remains unclear to what extent agreements between the EU and the US in relation to data flow, data protection and liability services might be considered in scope under language about mutual recognition agreements, which we have yet to hear much about. The Library’s briefing on the Bill points to the fact that:
“The bill does not specify that the new agreement between the UK and a partner country must replicate or be similar to the original EU agreement.”
Were the EU-US agreements to bring these into scope, this leaves a great danger that the safety of UK children will be undermined through the mechanism of a Trade Bill with no oversight or challenge. When the Minister responds, I would appreciate some clarity that this is not the case.
I want to be clear about what it would mean if we sign away the UK’s right to protect children online. The tech sector would be able to continue to regulate itself, meaning more young people having their data harvested and used to recommend dangerous self-harm and suicide content. More games with no breaks or save buttons would trap children in twilight worlds of gaming. More children would be suggested as potential friends to strange adults through risky design features, and more would face the images of their horrific sexual abuse being circulated online forever. These are just some of the harms that the code and the upcoming online harms Bill are designed to end. All would be at risk if the tech companies get their way—as they are furiously lobbying to do—through the “back door” of a Trade Bill. This is not a risk we need to take.
I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that amendments of this nature hamper the free hand of trade negotiators and, simultaneously, give sight to trade partners of the UK’s red lines. I hope he will forgive me for saying that that is indeed my intention.
I will finish by hijacking a comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, during Tuesday’s Committee to point out that it is not only those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench who want their anxieties to be answered in the Bill. Online harms are an issue that causes anxiety to Members of all parties in both Houses and to vast swathes of the public. There was undoubtedly a majority in the country for releasing the UK from its European trade partners, which forms the context for the Bill, but there is a far greater majority in the country for regulating technology companies. A survey undertaken last year by 5Rights showed that 90% of parents wanted internet companies to be required to follow rules to protect children online, and 67% of those wanted them to be enforced by an independent regulator or the Government.
I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has sought to reassure me on Zoom and by letter that the Government will try to maintain their ability to protect users from emerging online harms in a UK-US trade agreement, and I very much welcome his personal commitment to child online safety. However, given the importance of the issue, I ask the Government to put that reassurance in the Bill. It is not scaremongering. The US, at the behest of the richest and most powerful companies in the world, has already inserted Section 230 into each of its recent trade agreements. As the UK becomes the author of its own priorities in the world, there must be no greater priority than putting beyond doubt that it will not trade away the safety and security of its children.
Therefore I ask the Minister whether he can persuade the Government to adopt the substance of the proposed amendment and, in doing so, categorically take our kids off the table.
My Lords, next to speak are the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, but they are not present and are not logged on to Zoom. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has withdrawn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My Lords, Amendments 15 and 16 speak for themselves, but I just want to take a moment to say how glad I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has brought her amendment on safeguarding. The significance and importance of this cannot be overemphasised, and I hope that she will find support from across the House.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. No? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, but I particularly want to speak to Amendment 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. This issue is particularly dear to my heart. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the Minister will say that this does not fall within the remit of the Trade Bill, which simply deals with continuity agreements, but by that very fact this feature to do with online child safety is of vital importance. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has comprehensively addressed this amendment. She has clearly said that its purpose is to ensure that the online safety of children and other vulnerable users is not compromised as a direct consequence of clauses that appear in free trade agreements.
As we are already aware, the UK does not have a highly developed system of negotiation. As the Bill stands there is no parliamentary oversight, meaning that the terms of the agreements are exclusively in the hands of the negotiators and the Government of the day. This is of particular concern in the area of online protection, for two reasons. First, this is an area on which the US has already taken a determined stance and inserted a requirement for recipients of US trade deals to accept aspects of a broad and hugely contested US domestic law unduly benefiting the mega corporations of Silicon Valley in the USA. Secondly, such a broad lack of liability threatens to undermine or put a chill on the existing UK law and the much-anticipated online harms Bill, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron.
Overall, the amendment would make negotiators unable to agree to any trade agreement that did not protect children online to the same degree as UK domestic legislation and treaty obligations. I suppose, in summary, this amendment would copper-fasten, ensure and safeguard UK domestic attitudes, legislation and guidance, protecting children’s safety online as a necessary requirement of any trade agreement. I submit that it should be in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has withdrawn, so I call again the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.
My Lords, I apologise because I did not unmute myself, but I think that Lady Sheikh has managed to unmute me.
I support Amendment 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. While the internet is a space for innovation, expression and communication, it can also be damaging. As our digital world develops and innovates, so do the risks of online harm. Children are increasingly exposed to inappropriate content, grooming, harassment, malicious behaviour, misinformation and breaches of privacy. Two-thirds of vulnerable children and young people, supported by Barnardo’s sexual exploitation service, were groomed online before meeting their abuser in person.
Social media companies have failed to prioritise children’s safety. Last year, the NSPCC found that more than 70% of reported grooming took place on the main social media networks—Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. The global platforms are not taking enough responsibility for content on their sites, or being held accountable. More needs to be done to verify user identities, monitor harmful content and handle reports of abuse effectively. Harmful content and activities have a damaging effect on children’s mental and physical well-being and can lead to exploitation, trafficking, substance abuse and radicalisation. Those impacts are rarely short term; they stay with the children for the rest of their lives.
The UK is committed to being the safest place in the world to be online, and we must do more. We need better safeguards, and I urge the Government to prioritise the online harms Bill, which will be world leading in safety requirements and holding the industry accountable. As we leave the European Union and continue to develop our place in the digital world, we must ensure that our standards and goals are not jeopardised. We recently signed a trade deal with Japan; this historic agreement will advance digital standards through data provisions that maintain and improve digital safety. This year, Japan was ranked first in the child online safety index for low cyber risks. Those risks refer to bullying, misuse of technology, the detrimental effect of gaming and social media, and exposure to violent and sexual content.
In the UK-Japan trade deal, the rights and protection of children online have not been undermined, as Japan shares a similar ambition to ours for legislative standards. But what will happen when we look to sign with other countries that do not have the same level of protection? Unlike Japan, the United States came 22nd out of 30 countries in the child online safety index for cyber risks.
Although this is only one aspect of the index, it shows that children are particularly at risk online in the United States. We cannot expose our children to the same abuse. The new trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada has created a legal shield for tech companies, whereby the service providers are not held liable for content on their platforms or the harm it may cause to users. This fails to hold social media companies to account, and is not an effective safeguard for children.
Supporting the amendment would mean that our existing protections could not be traded away, and would ensure that we could fulfil our duty of care to children. If we do not support the amendment, we risk undermining our commitment to create a safer world online for the protection of children. Furthermore, if we do not do this, we could cause a situation in which social media giants are not transparent in how they deal with abuse online, and may be less accountable.
The pandemic has reinforced the importance of the digital world in our lives. When we return to normality, we must have better safeguards. We should not just maintain our existing safeguards; we should endeavour to strengthen them. The amendment would mean at least that our existing laws, and therefore the rights of our children, were protected. I hope that it will be accepted.
My Lords, in responding to the last group of amendments, the Minster, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, expressed surprise at the broad nature of the debate. I would say to him, perhaps facetiously, “Welcome to the House of Lords”. I fear that this group may tempt his colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, to make a similar observation, but I ask that he does not. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said at the end of the previous debate, the nature of these debates highlights serious concerns that noble Lords have, and the Government should take them seriously, even when they are not necessarily on the face of the Bill.
This is a very good example of that. I shall not speak in detail about Amendment 34, because the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made a very powerful speech. I am also glad that Lady Sheikh managed to get the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, online, because he made a very strident contribution on something that is extremely important.
Similarly, I am not going to talk much about intellectual property. On this issue I bend the knee to my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones—and, frankly, so should Her Majesty’s Government. I suggest that the Minister should give my noble friend’s words, and particularly his questions, special attention, because they are serious and important issues that face a lot of companies in this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, spoke strongly on data flow. At the risk of provoking the ire of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, I have to say that I agree with her. Her issue is absolutely fundamental—and I shall expand a bit on that.
I have previously quoted the “exuberant” Secretary of State, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, describes her. Here is another quote, from a speech she made to the WTO almost exactly a year ago:
“We believe it is high time to reform digital trade rules so that they are fit for the 21st century, reducing restrictions to market access to support e-commerce and ensure the free flow of data across borders.”
Yet despite this enthusiasm or exuberance, I sense that there are problems when it comes to squaring the conflicting pressures that are mounting around the free flow of data across borders. Indeed, when the Minister kindly invited myself and others to a facilitated discussion on the progress of the US-UK trade deal, I was surprised and shocked by the insouciant response to my question on data adequacy and the issue of reconciling US and EU data rules. It was a very short answer, and to us, it did not show a full understanding of the challenge.
However, it is not just about GDPR. I will talk in a little detail about Schrems II, which my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones raised, because it is an important cloud hanging over what we seek to achieve. To remind your Lordships, in that ruling the European Court of Justice, the highest court of the EU, found on the adequacy of the protection provided by the EU-US data protection shield. To explain, it wrote in its press release that
“the requirements of US national security, public interest and law enforcement have primacy, thus condoning interference with the fundamental rights of persons whose data are transferred to that third country.”
It added that
“mechanisms in the EU-US Privacy Shield ostensibly intended to mitigate this interference are not up the required legal standard of ‘essential equivalence’ with EU law.”
Broadly, the US’s prioritization of digital surveillance in the view of the court collides directly with European fundamental rights.
That is a sobering ruling, which spells danger for UK trade aspirations and sets some alarm bells ringing regarding the UK’s surveillance regime. Her Majesty’s Government need to reflect on this very seriously when talking up the potential for a UK-US trade deal that includes data, and they should contrast that stark ruling with the freebooting statement from the Secretary of State with which I opened. By the way, I assume that Her Majesty’s Government are probably having to reflect on this ruling in their efforts to tie down data adequacy with the EU when the transition period runs out. Perhaps the Minister can use this opportunity to update us on progress with these discussions with the EU.
This is not a trivial issue, and we need to demonstrate in this country that we take it seriously. As a starting point, accepting Amendments 15, 16 and 34 would be a very good idea.
My Lords, I will be relatively brief because much of what I want to say has been covered by the other speakers, not that I could ever have competed with the tour d’horizon that was the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the expertise also shown by the former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. It was also a bit of a tour de force, since it touched on every issue there is to touch on in terms of intellectual property. Indeed, if the noble Lords were minded to follow that up with amendments to back up some of the points they were making, the glacial progress we are making so far on the Bill would turn into a complete and utter standstill. So much is going on here, and so many things need to be addressed, that I am almost tempted to go into cahoots with them to try to see whether we can pick them out. Perhaps I will resist that one.
Both Amendments 15 and 16, taken together or separately, are helpful in the sense that, as others have said, they pick up some of the rather considerable concerns that we are all hearing from the IP sector about the future, about what is going to happen to personal data flows and, indeed, about what is going to happen to our IP industry, which is so vital to the UK economy and our cultural industries. They seem to be very sensible information-gathering amendments that do not impose any great burden on the Government, and they would help to inform the situation as we reach the turning points at the end of this year. I hope that they commend themselves at least in outline to the Minister.
Underlying this, as I have already said, is a real concern in the industry about the data adequacy agreement. Where are we? It would be helpful if there were anything that the Minister could say about the timescales, what plan B will be, and whether the adequacy issues will fall at the hurdle because of the concerns about Schrems. These are all very alive and interesting. It is a small group of people who perhaps do not have the public ear in the way some of the other issues that we have been discussing have, but they are just as important.
Amendment 34 is in a different vein, but it raises similar issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has a wonderful record in this area and we should listen to her with great interest. The good point that she made in relation to the debate that we are concluding is that, whereas in the past there have been discussions around the House in relation to what might be put in place to constrain the Government in any future deals that they might wish to carry out, that argument cannot be used here because this legislation is still in progress. The worries that she made clear, which I fully support—that the very high-level approach taken by the UK Government up until now will be frustrated by this issue needing to be moderated in the light of the need to do deals—are very real. We have heard enough from those who spoke in this debate to recognise that this will not go away and needs to be addressed.
The point about the issues raised by the recent US agreements and the USMCA about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act will not go away. No doubt it would prompt the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, had he put his name down, to say what he said already —that that is for the future, not for now. We have to have a debate about this, and whether it is now or later, the Government cannot duck this very important issue that matters so much to the people of this country.
My Lords, I will first speak to Amendments 15 and 16, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Stevenson, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. I thank them for their engagement on the Bill and for their wider work over many years on the vital issue of intellectual property. As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, this debate is rather reminiscent of six years ago when I was somewhat steeped in intellectual property in the old BIS department. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, was my opposite number, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe was my successor. This could therefore, perhaps, be described as a continuity debate on a continuity Bill.
These amendments would require the Government to publish reports detailing the impact of a trade agreement on intellectual property and data flows before they could make implementing regulations under Clause 2. I am proud to say the UK’s IP regime is consistently rated as one of the best in the world. That is a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Now that we have left the EU, in line with our WTO commitments, the Government will continue to maintain our high level of protections of intellectual property. Let me say that at the outset. We recognise that an effective intellectual property system needs to strike a balance between supporting the UK’s world- class technology sectors to research and innovate and reflecting wider public interests. This balance will be reflected in our approach to intellectual property when striking new free trade agreements.
None of the 20 continuity agreements we have signed has weakened IP protections in any way, replicating as they do the provisions in the underlying EU agreements. They do not introduce new or diluted provisions in the fields of IP, data flows or any other areas. As a result, we heard positive endorsements of the Bill during Committee in the other place from service-oriented industries including the Advertising Association, the Institute of Directors and EY.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, invited me to take the questions that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I say at the outset that I should and do take his questions seriously. One of the points that he raised was: will the Government include a wide range of specified provisions on IP in the trade agreements? Given that this is a continuity Bill, I suggest to him that the answers to his question can be found in the status quo. He mentioned negotiations on IP with the USA and New Zealand, which are not included in the scope of the Bill. However, DIT Ministers hold regular briefings with Peers on the progress of negotiations; I have attended at least two, and I encourage him to join up next time round.
Further to this, the noble Lord asked about the question of IP in our negotiating objectives in the US agreement. If he would like more information on our approach to IP in the negotiations with the USA, he can consult our negotiation objectives. Giving him a bit more detail, I assure him that, first, we will secure copyright provisions that support UK creative industries through an effective and balanced global framework. We will project UK brands while keeping the market open for competition, and we will promote transparent and efficient administration and enforcement of IP rights.
We have already mentioned the parliamentary reports we publish alongside signed agreements explaining our approach to delivering continuity. We believe that publishing additional reports alongside these would slow down the process of concluding agreements and increase the bureaucracy involved. In fact, taken cumulatively, all of the amendments tabled to the Bill by your Lordships would compel the Government to publish no less than 11 new reports alongside every single continuity agreement we sign. I believe that this would not be a good use of time or resources, and I hope the Committee agrees with that.
The UK has long been, and remains, a strong supporter of an open, rules-based international trading system. The WTO’s TRIPS—which was referred to in the debate on the last group—sets out the minimum standards for trade in intellectual property across all WTO member nations. As the UK updates the terms of its WTO membership, we will be making sure that we remain compliant with the TRIPS agreement and, as part of future trade deals, the UK will look to refer to—and improve on—the standards set out in international agreements.
With regard to future FTAs—although they are not included in the scope of this Bill—we support ambitious and liberal provisions that support international cross-border data flows while understanding the importance of ensuring that personal data protections are not put at risk. The UK Government are committed to ensuring that uninterrupted data flows can continue between the UK, the EU and other countries around the world. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the free flow of data, including personal data, is crucial to international co-operation in the modern world, but it must be underpinned by high data protection standards. We are equally committed to ensuring high standards of data protection and privacy after the end of the transition period.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, mentioned in his remarks the 2020 Schrems II judgment, which I will say a few words about to help him with some more information. As I said earlier, the UK Government are committed to ensuring high data protection standards and supporting UK organisations and businesses is very important. The UK Government are reviewing the details of the judgment in the case referred to earlier—Schrems II— and considering its impact on data transfers for UK organisations.
As he may know, the UK Government intervened in the case, arguing in support of standard contractual clauses—so-called SCCs—and are pleased that the court has upheld this important mechanism for transferring data internationally. Therefore, the UK may independently take steps to address issues arising from the judgment after the transition period. The Government are working with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that updated guidance on international data transfers will be available as soon as possible. The Government will continue to work with the commissioner’s office and international counterparts to address the impacts of this particular judgment.
The Government have been clear that FTAs do not provide a legal basis for the cross-border transfer of personal data. I make it clear that this will be controlled by our domestic data protection legislation. Moving forward, as we develop our trading relationships with other countries, our approach must be transparent and inclusive. We are working closely with a wide range of stakeholders to develop our priorities around trade and intellectual property, including the devolved Administrations, industry and consumers. Getting the right outcome for UK inventors, creators and consumers will be key. Given that we are seeking to replicate commitments in existing EU trade agreements, I do not believe that producing further reports, in addition to those we already publish, alongside each signed agreement is necessary or proportionate.
I now turn to an important part of this debate. Amendment 34 is intended to prevent the Clause 2 power being used to implement continuity agreements which do not comply with existing domestic and international obligations regarding the important subject of the protection of children and other vulnerable user groups using the internet. We heard passionate speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. I want to be clear, perhaps echoing the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, that this Government are, and must be, committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online and for children to be online. We carefully consider any interaction between trade policy and online harms policy in trade agreements. I can confirm that we stand by our online harm commitments, and nothing agreed as part of any trade deal will affect that.
In 2019, as the noble Baroness and others will know, the DCMS published the online harms White Paper, with the initial government response in February this year, setting out the direction of travel. The DCMS will publish a full government response to the White Paper consultation later this year. This will include more detailed proposals on online harms regulation and will be released alongside interim voluntary codes on tackling online terrorist and child sexual exploitation, as well as abuse content and activity. The DCMS will follow the full government response with legislation, which is currently being prepared and will be ready early next year.
It should come as no surprise that our continuity programme is consistent with existing international obligations, as it seeks to replicate existing EU agreements, which are themselves fully compliant with such obligations. By transitioning these agreements, we are reaffirming the UK’s commitment to international obligations on protecting young and vulnerable internet users, which is so important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked whether the agreement between the EU and the US on data services should be considered in the scope of the Bill and be able to be rolled over. The scope of the Bill applies to either FTAs or agreements that relate mainly to trade between a partner country and the EU signed before the UK left. She will know that we are in negotiations with the US on an FTA, as I mentioned earlier, and we will bring forward separate legislation on that if required. I hope that that gives her enough reassurance at this stage.
Our continuity agreements will safeguard, not undermine, our domestic protections and international commitments regarding online protection of young and vulnerable internet users. In the light of those reassurances covering all the amendments, I hope that Amendment 15 will be withdrawn and that noble Lords will not press Amendments 16 and 34.
My Lords, I have had two requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Stevenson. I now call the noble Lord, Lord Fox.
I thank the Minister for his response on Schrems II, which was very helpful. I would like just one further detail. Can he confirm that the advice, when it comes, could concern where databases are domiciled? If so, the advice needs to be made available earlier rather than later so that companies are able to comply. Therefore, can he give some indication of the timetable for when business might get some guidelines so that they can work out their new data management policy?
Absolutely. That is a very fair question from the noble Lord. As he will expect, I do not have a timeline, so the best thing for me to do is to look at his question and write to him, giving whatever information we have from the department, together with any extra information that might be helpful to him.
I have also had a request from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, to speak after the Minister, but I now call the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.
My Lords, I apologise if I did not make myself very clear when I was speaking earlier, but the Minister did not seem to answer my point. If we are talking about the standards set for any rollover agreements covered by this legislation and—as we hope to persuade the Government—the future free trade agreements that are still to be negotiated with other countries, what standards of child protection can the Government assert they will use if legislation that is going to contain that has not yet been put into primary legislation? For example, he mentioned the commitment in a White Paper, and presumably there will have been legislation, on an issue that deals with child harm. It deals specifically with the question of whether or not the future basis under which this would be done is a duty of care. These are quite important and quite difficult concepts. If they are not there they do not give us a standard. If they are delayed, or in some way changed as they go through the parliamentary process, they may not eventuate into a situation which can be used. My question remains: is this not an issue where it would be helpful to the Government to have something very clear on the face of the Bill that dealt with that particular issue of child harm, which as we have heard, is so important to the people of this country?
I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron.
I believe I should respond to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, if I may. The noble Lord makes a very fair point. It is fair to say that this is, just by dint of the coincidence of timing, tied up with all the work we are doing on the online harms White Paper. He will know that more detailed proposals on the regulations will be released alongside the interim voluntary codes. We need to look at this in tandem with what we are doing with free trade agreements. That is the answer I can give to him at the moment. Again, I will write to him with more details on this because it is a very important subject.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for asking half of my question, but, as the Minister just said, it is tied up with online harms, we are tied up with trade—I think that is our collective anxiety, if you like. At what point do these things start impacting on each other in ways that are negative to children? The reason for having a standard going in is to make sure that children are not victims of what happens over the next months and so on. I want to make that point.
I have another question, if the Minister would be kind enough to answer. He mentioned, a couple of times, high standards of data protection, but does he mean the standards that we negotiated so long and so heavily during the passage of the DPA 2018? Are those the standards, and will those remain the standards, or are we talking about some other general high standards of data protection?
To answer the second question from the noble Baroness, we could well be. I think I have said, in other respects, when we do finally leave the EU after the transition period, because we will have left the EU it will be up to us to look at our standards and raise them if we think that is right. On the way forward on online harms, which is very close to the heart of the noble Baroness, I reassure her that there is a lot of cross-departmental work going on here. Although this is DCMS-led, I reassure her, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Grimstone, that the DIT and other departments are working together on the way forward, bearing in mind the White Paper.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. It was useful to be reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, of his antecedents. I remember many happy hours discussing copyright exceptions—I think it was from 2013 onwards —and I am sure it was one of the Minister’s favourite jobs at the time, with all the minutiae of intellectual property involved.
This has been a relatively short but, I hope, well-argued debate and I am grateful to those who supported not only my Amendment 15 but Amendments 16 and 34, which I strongly support as well. If we were looking for an order of priority, Amendment 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is the absolute touchstone for this debate. She referred to putting an intentional red line in the negotiations, a very powerful phrase. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said that children’s safety should not be traded away again, which really emphasises the importance of this. The point was made that we do not yet have all the legislation we need in this area, therefore any negotiations need to take account of future legislation. It is a really tricky one. The Minister has a wonderful bedside manner and used the word “reassure” on a number of occasions, but this is a really difficult and important area. Personally, I am not 100% reassured and if the noble Baroness wanted to bring her amendment back on Report, many of us would give her a great deal of support.
Turning to data, I agree with my noble friend Lord Fox: the one thing giving business sleepless nights is the whole issue of data adequacy and data flows. Post Schrems, that is a really difficult area. The Minister mentioned it and the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, answered a Written Question from me recently about the taskforce. It is urgent that we should have those guidelines in place. It is not adequate that people should simply have to rely on standard contractual clauses, especially for small business, as it will imply that they have to take a great deal of legal advice. I should say that since I no longer charge by the hour, I have no direct personal interest in that. However, it is a serious area and I hope it is being taken on board at speed.
On the IP front, there was a kind of multiple-choice questionnaire which I hope the Minister will use in future negotiations to tick or cross, as the case may be. The big problem is that this all demonstrates the feeling that the scrutiny process is inadequate, whether on continuity agreements or new agreements. The Minister says that the amendments would require another 11 reports, or whatever the tally would be, but that demonstrates a theme that has run through Second Reading and Committee so far: that the level of scrutiny we are being given over free-trade agreements is inadequate. Whether on things such as IP and data, which are crucial to business, or things which have a greater moral and societal foundation, as in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, this is about the opportunity for scrutiny not being adequate at this point.
I will obviously withdraw the amendment, as we are in Grand Committee, but we are, in a sense, still back with the feeling that we have to go much further on scrutiny. If that involves 11 reports, so be it: these are important agreements for our future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 17. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
17: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the international trade agreement does not contain any form of investor-state dispute settlement mechanism applicable to any part of the United Kingdom in relation to a claim brought by a foreign investor against a United Kingdom public authority except to the extent that—(a) the laws of the United Kingdom administered in the courts and tribunals of the United Kingdom so provide, and(b) a person (whether or not an investor) domiciled in the United Kingdom has equal protection under those laws and equal access to redress for any such claim in those courts and tribunals.( ) In this section “public authority” includes the Crown, Parliament, an appropriate authority as defined in section 4(1), a local authority, and any person who has functions which include functions of a public nature.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would preclude the subjection of acts and decisions of UK public bodies to claims for compensation by foreign investors under ISDS or other multilateral investment courts or tribunals. It would not preclude a foreign investor relying on UK domestic law or the UK’s judicial system.
I am in your hands, Chair. I see what the time is, and my speech to move this amendment will not be as short as the interventions I made earlier in our discussions of the Bill. I cannot guarantee that I will finish by 7.30 pm, I am afraid. Do you wish me to proceed? Should I break in the middle of my speech? How should I conduct it?
Motion to Adjourn
Committee adjourned at 7.26 pm.