House of Lords
Tuesday 13 October 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.
Introduction: Baroness Hoey
Catharine Letitia Hoey, having been created Baroness Hoey, of Lylehill and Rathlin in the County of Antrim, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Elton and Baroness Mallalieu, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Moore of Etchingham
Charles Hilary Moore, having been created Baron Moore of Etchingham, of Etchingham in the County of East Sussex, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Waldegrave of North Hill and Lord Howard of Rising, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Housing: Rent, Evictions and Covid-19
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 18 March about the complete ban on evictions and additional protection for renters affected by COVID-19, what progress they have made to ensure that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”.
I point to my relevant residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. There has been a six-month stay on repossession proceedings and we have established an unprecedented financial package. This includes spending over £39.3 billion on the furlough scheme and boosting the welfare system by more than £9 billion. There are now new court arrangements and notice periods of six months, except in the most serious cases, to help keep tenants in their homes over winter.
Does the Minister accept that this is a promise that cannot be met if mandatory evictions have resumed and infections are rising? What protects tenants in tiers 1 and 2, such as Michelle in Nottingham, who says:
“Rent alone each month is £575. I lost my job in March due to the virus and am now trying to survive on universal credit but I’m getting into debt with bills and barely have anything left for food”?
How do we now keep her safe?
My Lords, I repeat that there has been an unprecedented level of measures to support renters and we will continue to do what is needed to keep as many safe as possible, but it is fair to say that there will be cases where renters will have to potentially seek other places to live.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I am glad that housing associations have said clearly that they will not evict anyone suffering because of this crisis and are supporting residents in accessing financial help. What will the Minister do to encourage landlords to act with compassion in the coming months? Does he accept that, with a record 8 million people in England in housing need, the best way in which to protect renters in the longer term from unaffordable housing costs is to build homes for social rent?
My Lords, I commend registered social landlords for their leadership but point out that in the wider sector, according to the latest data, 89% of tenants are paying their rent in full, only 7% are in rent arrears and 4% have arrangements in place with their landlords. The vast majority of landlords seem to be acting sensibly.
My Lords, the welfare of tenants should be safeguarded fairly without destroying the financial viability of innocent landlords, who have an interest in maintaining good tenants. With rent arrears above £400 million and to avoid a future homelessness crisis, have the Government considered developing an equitable solution for both tenants and landlords by providing a financial package to pay off rent arrears built up as a direct result of the coronavirus?
My Lords, I have pointed to the unprecedented support that we have given to renters, including raising the local housing allowance, which is also important. The housing benefit bill and universal credit housing element total well over £20 billion. However, we need to get the balance right between the rights of renters and protecting and safeguarding the interests of landlords.
My Lords, my noble friend rightly refers to the recent generous increase in the local housing allowance, which will help tenants struggling with their rent. However, the increase runs out at the end of the year and, unless further action is taken, LHAs will revert to the previous, less generous levels in 2021. Does my noble friend agree that that would be a retrograde step, leading to an increase of some £54 a week for some tenants? The right thing to do would be to keep the 30th percentile at current market rents.
My Lords, in 1942 William Beveridge fought five giants—squalor, want, ignorance and the other two. He might now have added a sixth: homelessness. In order to fulfil a sacred duty—“sacred” is a word used by the Chancellor—we have to make sure that every person has a home. Homelessness exists outside the time of this virus. There are 57,000 homeless families in the UK, of which about 6,000 are in Wales. Should we not be ashamed of ourselves if we are not able to tackle this with the same vigour with which we tackled squalor, disease and ignorance in the past? Will the Minister assure me that he will make every possible effort to give this homelessness problem, not only in the short term but in the long term, his absolute first attention?
My Lords, the mission to end rough sleeping is at the heart of what this Government are trying to achieve. I point to the Everyone In programme, led by Dame Louise Casey, and the Next Steps programme, which have given significant support to ending rough sleeping. This is our endeavour as a Government.
My Lords, we all understand why the Government are seeking protection for renters affected by Covid-19. As others have mentioned, should there not also be some form of protection for landlords suffering as a result of Covid-19? A lot of landlords are elderly people and their source of income may be the rental from one property. We have to look at both renters and those who are renting.
My Lords, if we take the bigger issue behind the discussion about evictions, Britain is the only one of the G7 countries that is removing support during the period of Covid-19, ending it at the end of this year. Can we not take a leaf out of the IMF’s recommendation that we spend, spend, spend and keep the receipts? Will the Minister ask Mr Boris Johnson to save our children and our children’s children from homelessness and degradation? This Government have a responsibility if only to follow what other G7 countries are doing. Those countries are carrying on their support way beyond the period at which this Government are stopping.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. It has been a year since the Government closed the consultation on their new deal for renting, which was to lead to a Bill to end evictions for no reason. The Government are now saying that they will bring forward the promised renters’ reform Bill only when
“there is a sensible and stable economic and social terrain on which to do it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 23/9/20; col. 950.]
How do the Government define
“a sensible and stable economic and social terrain”?
What are they measuring and how will they know when the conditions to move forward with the Bill are met? If the noble Lord cannot say today how these criteria will be defined and met, will he write to let me know?
My Lords, the cost of temporary accommodation for homeless people is already in excess of £1 billion. This can only rise as hardship increases. Have the Government made any assessment of whether it would not be better value, as well as more humane, to put the money into helping people to stay in their own homes using, for example, a scheme similar to that in Spain?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Many landlords have mortgages and ongoing repair costs. What measures are proposed to protect them from the hardship imposed on them by those tenants who are financially able but who have decided that they are not willing to pay their rents in the knowledge that they can shelter under the new government umbrella from any immediate consequences?
My Lords, that is precisely why the evictions moratorium had to end. We have to protect landlords from egregious rent arrears as well as from cases of abandonment, fraud, anti-social behaviour and, in the social sector, domestic abuse. That is why the judiciary called for a start on proceedings, to focus on the most difficult cases first.
My Lords, I remind the House that the Procedure Committee has recommended that supplementaries should not last longer than 30 seconds. During the last Question there were examples of questions by Members from nearly all parties and groups that went on for longer than that. It would be of benefit to all noble Lords if Members restricted their supplementaries to 30 seconds.
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the passage of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, what progress they have made in introducing the changes required (1) to divorce procedure, (2) to court information technology systems, and (3) to online information and guidance.
My Lords, the Government are working to an indicative timeframe of autumn 2021. We are currently working with the Family Procedure Rule Committee to identify amendments to court rules. This will determine how certain key aspects of the revised legal process will operate in practice. Changes to court IT systems and online information and guidance will follow in due course.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Is the Ministry of Justice planning to use the online form to signpost potential divorce applicants to relationship support and other help, so that some may be diverted away from the process and marriages might be saved?
I assure the House that the Government will look at a signpost service from GOV.UK webpages, which will often be the first port of call for those thinking about divorce. The Government will also look for opportunities to bed, within the divorce application process, appropriate information and links about support services, such as mediation, and marriage and relationship support.
Currently, both petitioners and respondents receive up to four notifications during the divorce process. Each of these contains get-help signs linking to support services. When revising the system for processing divorces to implement our reforms, we intend to do all we can to make signposting to support services as effective as it can be.
Can the Minister assure the House that guidance will include the need for all discussions, telephone calls, emails, Facebook or WhatsApp messages and other modern means of communication to be properly recorded, so that the court can be assured that issues of finance and children have been fully explored and fairly agreed, and not imposed by a dominant partner—or, worse, by a trained and expert lawyer acting on behalf of the other party?
The 20-week rule is an important part of the Act and the Family Procedure Rule Committee is going through all the issues required. I cannot tell the noble Baroness exactly when this will happen, but it will be an important part of the procedure that will come into being in autumn 2021.
My Lords, during the debates on the passage of the then Bill, it was acknowledged that the most divisive, bitter, wasteful and expensive element of a divorce is the financial settlement and that the law on this needs reform. Without this, the new divorce law will not achieve its stated objective of no fault. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, gave a commitment on 16 March that the law on financial provision will be reviewed. Can the Minister update the House on its progress?
Yes, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, did say that. The Lord Chancellor has set up a working group to assess any evidence to change the law on financial provision for divorce. This review will be led by evidence, which is yet to be gathered, on whether there are problems with the current law. The Ministry of Justice is considering the membership and terms of reference of that working group.
[Inaudible]—the Lord Chancellor made a commitment that the Government will
“work harder to co-ordinate, to bring together the strands of policy that sit with various Departments and to ensure that we have a family policy that is fit for the 2020s”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/6/20; col. 902.]
Can my noble friend report on what progress has been made in fulfilling that pledge?
The Ministry of Justice is involved in ongoing work with other government departments aimed at strengthening families and providing more joined-up support for those facing or experiencing relationship breakdown. The first meeting of that cross-government group took place earlier this month. The noble Lord may also be aware of the £2.5 million in the Budget that the Government are investing in research on how best to integrate family services, including family hubs.
I am sure that many people already hope to avoid the horrible blame game of the present divorce system, waiting for the new system to be in place. The Minister said that autumn is the target, but that has always been the case. Can the Minister indicate whether that target will be met, because many people depend on it?
I find the sources of help signposted on the government website, particularly those provided by Relate, very clear and sensitive. But in almost every case depicted, there is an assumption that those who have started proceedings will want to continue with them. Will the Minister ask Relate to look again and take into account the fact that some people want help to stay together, in their relationship? That should be properly recognised on their website.
I hope I heard what the noble and right reverend Lord said. The 20 weeks are there specifically to make time for people to reconsider if they want to. All relationship or marital support will be online, so they can stop the proceedings if they need and want to.
My Lords, family courts have complained about trivial applications because of unresolved issues between divorcees. As a spouse can divorce their partner unilaterally, and the spouse has no opportunity to raise issues in a non-adversarial divorce process, what steps will the Government take to ensure that these conflicts can be addressed, or else there will be a large increase in applications?
My Lords, the so-called unilateral divorce by one spouse has effectively been available for nearly 50 years. It is only the basis of the divorce that can be contested, not the application itself. Interestingly, only 2% of divorce petitions are contested. By reducing the potential for conflict between divorcing parents, our reforms should make the escalation of trivial disputes into applications less, not more, likely. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has worked with Cafcass and OnePlusOne to develop the Co-Parent Hub, offering a one-stop shop for families, including alternative dispute resolution options.
Housing Delivery Test
The housing delivery test plays an important role in providing transparency about where housing is or is not being delivered. It helps to identify the reasons behind underdelivery through action plans, which are required when delivery falls below 95%. Through these, we can see that, on the whole, authorities are taking the right steps to identify the causes of reduced housing delivery and are working proactively to address these issues.
I thank the Minister. I understand what he said, but what powers do the Government believe that a council has for the delivery of a scheme once planning permission has been granted? This annual test not only monitors but also judges and punishes a council for the developer’s failure to deliver. Should this inequitable test finally be scrapped altogether or, given the uncertainty that the pandemic is causing in the construction industry, should it at least be suspended for this current year?
My Lords, speaking as a former council leader, I know that planning permissions are only extant for a certain period. The policy appears to be working. We have seen an uptick in the numbers of homes built; there have been more than 241,000, which is a greater number than before the introduction of this housing delivery test.
My Lords, having worked for a large construction company, I know how easily housing output can be affected by varying demand, the weather and the economy. With that in mind, does the Minister agree that the housing delivery test of achieving at least 95% of local authority need is nothing more than an aspiration to give an illusion of control over the unpredictable?
My Lords, the vast majority of councils—two-thirds—are building the homes that their areas need, and only 54 of over 300 authorities have below 75% deliveries. The test is working, and we will continue to maintain close communication with those authorities where it is not.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to put a similar question to the House to one that was put by my noble friend Lord Kennedy on 18 March. Over a quarter of a million planning applications have been approved by local authorities, with not a brick laid. That is the problem—getting these homes built. Can the Minister suggest how this impasse can be breached?
Getting developers to build out is a problem. Having been a local authority leader, the noble Baroness will know that you can tell those developers who are intending to build and those who are intending to hold, but planning permissions do not last for ever, and that is the main sanction that we have at the moment.
My Lords, I declare my relevant interests as set out in the register. In my council of Kirklees, the government-agreed plan is for 1,750 new homes each year. The latest figures show that there are 7,518 with live planning permissions that have not been built. Does the Minister agree that the failure to build in this typical example lies with developers and that this factor should be included in the housing delivery test?
My Lords, the ambition of the White Paper Planning for the Future, to streamline planning permission and impose building targets on local authorities fails to address the existing slow build-out rate that occurs once planning permission has been granted. Will the Government add provisions to ensure that local authorities have adequate scope to alter centralised algorithmic targets in accordance with local supply capabilities and build-out rates?
My Lords, we had a far stricter central approach under the old unitary development plan in the first decade of this year. We then had the era of local plans without any central holding to account. This is a balanced approach to ensure that the country gets the homes it needs.
My Lords, I declare my relevant interests as set out in the register. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many councils are likely to face speculative development, as they will have been unable to deliver on housing numbers in their area, for reasons entirely out of their control. Do the Government have any plans to introduce flexibility in the housing delivery test for the 2021 figures to ensure that councils are not unreasonably penalised?
My Lords, I note the concerns of my noble friend. Some authorities are raising the issue regarding the housing delivery test. It is important to keep the planning system moving as much as we can so that it is able to play its full part in economic recovery, but we will continue to monitor the situation and review whether any actions are needed.
My Lords, as others have pointed out, planning permissions do not equate to delivery of new housing. The traditional housebuilding process is slow and, as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, pointed out, prone to being prevented by the weather and other vagaries. Does the Minister agree that we need far more prefabricated housing, and can he say what the Government will do to encourage it?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to point to the importance of modern methods of construction, whether they be non-volumetric modular housing, volumetric modular housing or design for manufacturing and assembly. We need to learn from the Victorian era, when they used pattern books and a systematic approach; these will help in these difficult times.
My Lords, the housing delivery target is based primarily on the housing needs assessment in the local plan. Where the plan is over five years old, we look at the housing needs formula. Only eight councils are below the 45% delivery rate, where a presumption of sustainable development is enforced.
My Lords, on a more positive note, how can we better incentivise and help small builders and those building their own homes, as my sister did in Vermont with the help of her local school? Many small schemes could go ahead during the Covid period, providing new homes and giving a welcome boost to struggling local economies.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising the importance of getting small builders to build us out of this problem. Our reforms in Planning for the Future will make it much easier for people and communities to build and design their own homes, with a streamlined, clear and accessible planning system without delays and the associated costs, permission in principle to expedite the route to development, and local authorities identifying suitable sites for self and custom-built housing.
My Lords, the Covid crisis has laid bare the repercussions of poor-quality housing, with hundreds of thousands of families living in overcrowded, cluttered, low-quality and poorly insulated homes. Several councils have raised concerns with the Government about the impact of the slowdown on the building sector and on homes, and the consequences of permitted development, which I have raised before. They are unlikely to make any significant differences to the needs of those in social housing who have family needs. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will not inflict fines and punitive measures on local authorities, but instead support their endeavours to meet local housing needs with resources and support?
My Lords, the worst that can happen through the housing delivery test is a presumption of sustainable development. No fines can be incurred. The affordable homes programme will mean some £12 billion going towards building the social homes that this country much needs. On housing quality, as Minister for Building Safety and Communities, I am pleased to say that we are going through the pre-legislative scrutiny of the building safety Bill to ensure that we can drive that volume while ensuring that we have the safe and good-quality homes that we need.
Covid-19: Great Barrington Declaration
My Lords, the analysis of the Department of Health and Social Care, the Office for National Statistics and the Government Actuary is clear. Mitigations have prevented more than 500,000 deaths and the associated heartache. As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, it is right to look at alternatives, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Question. However, having looked at the Great Barrington declaration, we have decided that the idea of a great prevention is bad science and bad economics, and it is impractical. It would be an indefensible moral decision for any Government to take.
My Lords, the scientists from Oxford, Stanford and Harvard who are behind this declaration should surely be listened to as much as, for instance, the discredited Professor Ferguson or indeed SAGE. We know that NHS waiting lists are at an all-time high and that 3 million cancer screenings have been missed. We know that the average age of those dying from Covid is 82.4 years—higher than from other causes—and that a total of 313 people under the age of 60 and without comorbidities have died in English hospitals from Covid. Current policies are not working. Will the Government stop digging, get out of their hole and go back to first principles to determine the objective of their Covid policy, and then change tack to achieve that objective?
My Lords, I note that the 16,000 scientists supporting the Great Barrington declaration include “Dr Brian Blessed; doctor in winged flight, Z-cars and booming laughter”, “Dr Johnny Fartpants” and “Dr Johnny Bananas”. The serious point, however, is that the idea of “focused protection” is both unethical and impractical. Even if it was not, growing evidence of the impact of long Covid on the fit and young is mounting every day. On herd immunity, we currently have 8% sero-positivity, but we would need 70% for herd immunity, and it is completely improper to ask the young of Britain to suffer the risk of long Covid in order to achieve that. Winter is coming, and cold temperatures and more inside activity will raise prevalence. The great protection is simply not a conscionable option.
The noble Lord makes a very good point. Although I have not had legal advice on this, I feel sure that he is on the right track. The great protection would condemn anyone with asthma or a learning difficulty, in old age, or with any major disability or immune challenge to be locked up while society turns its back. That is not a decision that this Government are prepared to make.
My Lords, an exit from the pandemic will be achieved only when an appropriate level of population immunity is achieved, either by natural infection or vaccination. Given that the Government’s strategy is to rely on vaccination to deliver population immunity, what estimates and advice are Her Majesty’s Government receiving about the realistic timeframe, from now, in which an efficacious vaccine will have been given to sufficient numbers of people to establish that population immunity?
The noble Lord is entirely right in his analysis. The briefings from the Vaccine Taskforce to the Prime Minister are encouraging. One of the striking things about the updates is not only the promising nature of the Oxford vaccine, which is progressing very well, but the substantial pipeline of a dozen or more other vaccines that are coming through. Six of those have already been contracted by the Vaccine Taskforce on four different vaccine platforms. I am afraid that I cannot provide a firm schedule as such things are not in the gift of Ministers, but I am informed that progress is substantial.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that this so-called declaration is principally the work of the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian think tank funded by the Koch foundation and best known for its denial of climate change? As the Minister said in an earlier answer, a large number of the signatories are completely bogus. Does he agree that we should have nothing to do with fake science, which provides cover for a cull of the elderly and the disabled under the guise of herd immunity and promotes an American far-right agenda?
My Lords, there is some shared interest with those who drafted the Great Barrington declaration. They quite rightly make observations about the impact of the pandemic on education, and we are providing £1 billion to support those whose education has been hit by Covid. They make observations about support for those who are shielding, and we have written a new letter to 2.2 million people who are undergoing shielding. However, the noble Lord is entirely right: this is Johnny Bananas science, and we will not support it.
My Lords, the Minister and I are in complete agreement about this. The scientific understanding of Covid-19 suggests that having had the virus does not guarantee immunity. In fact, cases of second infections are emerging around the world. Does the Minister agree that, until we have a vaccine, this proposal is both dangerous and uncertain, and begs the question of who decides who needs to lock themselves away, and for how long?
The noble Baroness is entirely right. Not only is the evidence of reinfection mounting—a source of huge disappointment, frankly, but something that we have to realistically face up to—but the evidence of long Covid is also mounting, with nearly one in 10 young people infected with Covid reporting some kind of ongoing illness, and many reporting extremely worrying neurological, cardiac or renal damage. This is not flu; this is not a complex cold; this is not a posh version of a duvet day. This is a very serious infection that leaves a long effect on those who are vulnerable, and even on the young and fit. We should be very wary of it.
My Lords, what we need is some stability. Yesterday, as picked up by the media overnight, Lancashire and the borough of Pendle—here I declare my interest—were put into tier 2, which was welcomed locally by people and businesses. We now hear of discussions that, by the end of the week, we might be downgraded to tier 3. This is neither stability nor understanding. What on earth is going on? Is it a shambles?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the council in Pendle which, as those in the Chamber know, has done an enormous amount to fight Covid infection and has been exemplary in its approach to containment. However, it is a sad truth that the infection is spreading, particularly among the young, and making its way through the generations. You have only to look at the hospitalisation rates today to see that we will have a serious problem as the lag is complete; in a few weeks’ time, those rates will go up. The Government are taking prompt action, which is tough and unpleasant for those involved. I deeply regret the possibility that Pendle may be hit by harder restrictions, but this is a reasonable approach and it is done to save lives.
The noble Lord is entirely right to champion the role of fitness, exercise and fresh air, and this Government are doing an enormous amount to try to keep sports going during current arrangements. He is entirely right that for families, young people and those used to the outdoors, the prospect of being locked up presents a huge challenge. No one is under any illusion: the prospect of a long winter under restrictions is deeply challenging and unpleasant. However, I celebrate and totally endorse his advocacy of fresh air and exercise.
My Lords, comment on Barrington has been destructively dismissive, so at present it seems to have little chance of acceptance. However, should the new three-tier strategy falter, will an alternative other than national lockdown be adopted which does not decimate the economy? If NHS pressures were thereby increased, have enough personnel been identified to staff the Nightingale hospitals fully, and continue other NHS work, and will they be ready for action if required?
The noble Lord is entirely right: the impact on the economy of a full national lockdown has been learned already. We know what that looks like. It is a very tough decision and it is my hope and expectation that the British public and the health system will respond to the challenge they face and will step up. I would like to guide the noble and gallant Lord to the publication by the Government Actuary’s Department, the Office for National Statistics and the Department for Health and Social Care Direct and Indirect Impacts of COVID-19 on Excess Deaths and Morbidity. It spells out in very clear terms the economic and mortality effects of letting the disease rip. Those costs are simply unconscionable.
Business of the House
Motion to Agree
That Standing Order 72 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with on Wednesday 14 October to enable motions to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) Regulations 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (High) (England) Regulations 2020 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Medium) (England) Regulations 2020 to be moved, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instruments has been laid before the House.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
This Motion will allow the House to debate the three statutory instruments relating to the new local Covid-19 alert levels tomorrow. The debate on them is taking place in the House of Commons today. This will mean that the debate will take place before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee have reported on them. The House as a whole should be very grateful to the members and staff of the two committees for the work they have done in recent weeks to turn around reports on the various health protection SIs as quickly as they have done. On this occasion, following discussions with the usual channels, it was felt that the wide-ranging nature of the new regulations warranted full debates in both Houses at the earliest opportunity. The Government will, of course, take note of anything that either committee has to say about the SI when they report on them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am a state of some confusion. I thought we were considering the Business of the House Motion relating to the consideration of Commons amendments in the hybrid House. Has that happened already? In that case I am a day late to make comments I would have made to the noble Lord. I have no comments on this Motion.
My Lords, I thank the Chief Whip for raising this. I am surprised; I thought the Leader was in the House today, and I hoped she could come to the House to raise this. I have one question. It is absolutely right that we should have the discussion first. These are made affirmative orders and the longer we wait to debate them, the more ridiculous it becomes.
I asked this through the usual channels, and I would be grateful if the noble Lord would respond. Once we get the reports from the committees, will there be an option for the House to debate them if we think it is appropriate? I would welcome it if he could comment on that because I think that would be helpful to your Lordships’ House. Other than that, I have no comment and we will support the Motion before us today.
My Lords, I am always delighted to answer questions from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, either in or out of the Chamber; I have done it for many hours in the past and, no doubt, I will continue to do so again in future.
As far as the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, are concerned, first, the Leader of the House is off to a Cabinet committee, which is why I am here on her behalf. I am happy to say that we will look carefully at what both committees have to say when they report. The structuring of the timetable for the business of the House is of course a matter for the usual channels. We will discuss that with the usual channels when those reports come out, so I do not rule out further debate or rule it in. We will take it as it comes and we will discuss this with the usual channels, as indeed we did on this Motion, and I am grateful to the usual channels for their usual constructive approach. It is worth mentioning that we have made a lot of procedural changes in a very short space of time and it has been done on a consensual basis so far.
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant document: 15th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
We come to Committee on the Trade Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. 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 invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. 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 press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect the voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
We start with the group beginning with Amendment 39. A number of noble Lords spoke to this group on Thursday in Grand Committee, but this Committee of the Whole House is a new Committee on the Bill. I now call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, to move Amendment 39 formally, so that I can put the question for the first time, and I will then call the first speaker on the speakers’ list.
39: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Conditions for trade deals: Sustainable Development Goals
(1) Regulations under section 2(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 provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.(2) Any future international trade agreement not implemented under section 2 shall only be eligible for signature or ratification by the United Kingdom if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with, and are consistent with, the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.(3) Within 12 months of making regulations under section 2(1) or ratifying a future trade agreement, a Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament a report assessing how those regulations or trade agreement is making a positive impact towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause ensures that trade agreements cannot be implemented, signed or ratified unless they are consistent with the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals.
I call the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. No? Then I call the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for bringing forward both amendments in this group. I also thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for adding his name to Amendment 39, on sustainable development goals, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for adding her name to Amendment 97 on agreements in relation to the least developed countries. All speakers last week expressed support.
We need to make sure that developed countries are not the only winners from trade, and certainly not at the expense of developing countries. We need to be mindful of the effect on those less developed so that they are encouraged and not inadvertently harmed through any unintended consequences. The winners from trade should be people and the planet. Any trade deal should help tackle inequality and the environmental challenges we face. Trade should not mean ignoring our commitments to the sustainable development goals and to a sustainable trade policy, especially now, as all nations seek to recover from Covid-19. The scheme of preferences may not be sufficient.
The pandemic has exposed global inequality and is projected to push millions of people into unemployment and poverty, even at the risk of starvation and death. It is more important than ever to bring a renewed impetus to achieve all the sustainable goals. This has been reflected in more and more councils across the country passing commitments in support of the SDGs. My noble friend and colleague Lord Collins is conducting a review on reform of the United Nations to consider how best to improve its workings to meet SDGs better. So far the UK has not been on a trajectory to meet any of the goals that the Government have committed to. No progress has been made on this since 2011.
The issue is important; the benefits of trade need to be shared with everybody, both here in the UK and in developing countries around the world.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke to Amendment 39 on Thursday and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, today. As I mentioned last week as we debated Amendment 12, our continuity programme is fully compliant with environmental obligations, such as those found in the Paris Agreement on climate change. So, too, is it fully compliant with the UN sustainable development goals.
I welcome and support the objectives of the SDGs, and I assure your Lordships that the work of my department is always in alignment with important multilateral commitments. As our continuity programme seeks to replicate existing EU agreements, it follows that it is absolutely coherent with existing international obligations, including the UN sustainable development goals, and it will remain so. On that basis, I believe that this amendment is unnecessary.
Amendment 97 would oblige the Government to lay before Parliament a further assessment of the impact of our free trade agreements with the least developed countries and lower-middle-income countries before commencing the substantive provisions of the Trade Bill, and again every 12 months afterwards. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are determined to continue playing their role as an engaged partner to the developing world. We have signed continuity agreements with the CARIFORUM states, the Eastern and Southern African states, the Southern African Customs Union bloc and others. Discussions with further developing countries continue, and my department hopes to make good progress in delivering continuity before the end of the year.
In terms of questions that were raised on Thursday relating to communication and transparency, we are committed to providing Parliament with updates on our trade programmes with the developing world, which we are delivering through our parliamentary reports, where that is relevant, a regular and productive dialogue with parliamentary committees at ministerial and official levels, and a report which the DIT will make to Parliament. I remind your Lordships that we are seeking only to replicate the provisions of the EU’s agreements with developing countries.
Ultimately, we do not believe it is proportionate or sensible to provide reports every year, when our objective is continuity with the status quo. As our continuity agreements clearly safeguard such international commitments and the Government are wholly committed to the preservation and improvement of the environment, I ask for the amendments to be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have spoken within this group, even with the slightly disjointed timing of breaking within the group. I wish to comment on a couple of things that the Minister said before I sit down. In so doing, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for the support of his party. These are cross-party efforts.
My noble friend Lady Northover, in her excellent contribution, said that our ability to negotiate around the world is helped by our good standing in the world. I think that is absolutely right. She referenced the Fairtrade Foundation, and our support for fair trade and the work of the Fairtrade Foundation is a major way to communicate how we see our trading relationships around the world. We on these Benches agree with free and fair trade—not no trade, which I think was the thrust of the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, in this group.
My amendment is not a Trojan horse for those who seek to make the case against global trade; rather it is to put markers down that our trade should be of the highest ethical approach. That is why I was so glad to hear the contributions of my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who both displayed real dedication on this topic. I pay tribute to my noble friend for his leadership of the All-Party Group on Africa.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referenced the fact that we should see our trade holistically: that is a very good way of describing it. We do not negotiate in isolation; often, we have bilateral trade negotiations but increasingly, as with the least developed countries, we are negotiating with regional groupings. They have their own development priorities, which we also support.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked where we are on the current trajectory. There was not a lot of information from the Minister on that. I can quote to her from the reply that Theo Clarke MP and I received from Greg Hands and James Duddridge on 16 September. We had written a letter in our capacity as co-chairs of the All-Party Group on Trade out of Poverty. The annexe to that letter, in reply to our request for information of exactly the kind the noble Baroness asked for, was rather depressing. The Minister said:
“The Government aim to see good progress”.
I think we all wish to see good progress. However, in regard to the SACUM EPA, which he referenced, of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho and Mozambique, only South Africa and Botswana have ratified; the others have yet to ratify. There is a mixed situation on the Eastern and Southern Africa EPA, with Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Comoros. They are eligible to join the EPA but have not yet joined; therefore, it has not been agreed with us.
On the east African community, which I singled out in my speech, with regards to Kenya, the only information is that these are discussions that are ongoing. The Government said,
“You will understand that it would not be appropriate to give further details on the status of these discussions before they have concluded”,
but Kenya has been dropped from the ongoing engagement. I am not sure if it is in order to notify to the clerk at the desk orally instead of emailing him that I would like the Minister to respond to this, but I would like information about Kenya. The reason I think Kenya is so important is that it is where Theresa May, as our Prime Minister, chose to visit to announce that the UK would be the biggest investor in Africa in the G7 by next year. That target has been dropped, with little explanation as to why. The target is now:
“We want the UK to be the investment partner of choice”
for Africa. It is rather symbolic that, despite that announcement made in Kenya, it now looks unlikely that there will be an agreement with Kenya at the end of this year.
On the final regional grouping, of Ghana, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire, discussions are ongoing. It does not paint a very strong picture about how ready we are to trade on an EPA basis rather than a WTO basis on 1 January. The Minister also did not respond to the very good question my noble friend Lady Northover asked: if that is to be the case, will the Government ensure that we stand ready to support all those countries, so that there are no additional costs for trading with us on WTO terms?
On the previous group, I was interested in the response of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, to his noble friend Lord Lansley. The committee was told, on the point about having sufficient time to scrutinise some of these agreements, that there would likely be a cliff edge if some of them were made close to the end of the year, so that there would be insufficient time to allow an extended period of scrutiny by the committee. I was under the impression that, if we have reached agreement in principle under the WTO, we can provisionally apply agreements. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify, and correct me if I am wrong, that there will not be a cliff edge, but that we will be allowed some proper time.
There is a final point to which the Minister did not respond. I was hoping that, given the amount of time between the two debates on this group, he would have been able to reply fully. I made a specific point about aid-for-trade reductions and cuts. I made the point that it is a treaty obligation in the SACU agreement that we provide aid-for-trade capacity support and technical support, but I understand that there are cuts to that. Will the Government confirm whether that is the case? I would be delighted if the Minister were able to confirm that it would not be the case, that there will be no reductions in aid-for-trade, that we will honour our treaty obligations to the least developed countries and that we will implement these EPAs according to the treaty commitments we have made, to ensure that they are able to be fully activated and implemented by next year.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Amendments 40 and 41 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 42. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
42: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Free trade agreements: impact assessment
(1) Before making regulations under section 2(1) an appropriate authority must produce an impact assessment of—(a) any costs to businesses arising from any additional regulatory requirements in connection with exporting goods and services from the United Kingdom in the course of a trade, business or profession; and(b) any additional costs to businesses arising from exporting or importing goods and services to or from Northern Ireland in the course of a trade, business or profession.(2) Prior to the ratification of any future international trade agreement not implemented under section 2, an appropriate authority must produce an impact assessment of—(a) any costs to businesses arising from any additional regulatory requirements in connection with exporting goods and services from the United Kingdom in the course of a trade, business or profession; and(b) any additional costs to businesses arising from exporting goods and services to Northern Ireland in the course of a trade, business or profession.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause requires an impact assessment is made of any additional costs to businesses arising from exporting goods and services from the United Kingdom, and within the UK’s internal market.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has said on a number of occasions: trade agreements mean little if businesses cannot operationalise them and use them to export more and import better. We on these Benches agree: we believe that the UK should be in a position for prosperity if we can have the right trading relationships around the world. To do that, we need to know what kind of barriers exist, what levels of bureaucracy have been put in place and how the Government are supporting businesses to overcome them.
Paragraph 21 of the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement with the EU says that,
“the Parties envisage comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation”.
Paragraph 22 goes on to envisage “ambitious customs arrangements”. Our motor industry, held up by the Government and others as a success story—rightly so—has called repeatedly for full implementation of the Union’s customs code and for the UK to take a different approach from the one that it has so far in ensuring that businesses have as little bureaucracy and as few barriers to trade with the European Union as possible. The SMMT, representing the industry, brings to stark attention, in its January briefing, what we face at the start of 2021:
“Basing the new UK/EU trading relationships on the provisions permissible in a free trade agreement will significantly change the administrative processes related to the movement of goods between the UK and the EU. There is a risk that the trade agreement between the UK and the EU results in increased friction at the border. Delays to the arrival of components at manufacturing plants are measured in minutes. Every minute of delay could cost approximately £50,000 in gross value added to the industry, totalling over £70 million per day. For automotive manufacturers, border delays are unacceptably disruptive, and if the sector in the UK is to remain competitive, these must be avoided.”
Frictionless trade had been the mantra, we recognise that, but now it looks as if we are going to be having it on truly Newtonian levels. The Government have, however, not chosen to carry out impact assessments on their border operating model, on the new measures to be put in place, or indeed on the costs to businesses that are going to be exporting and importing. Instead, they have chosen some business estimates of costs and ignored others.
Officials, not Ministers, confirmed that the Government’s most recent estimate on the likely necessary bureaucracy at our border ports, first published by HMRC in December 2018 and confirmed by the Government, is that there would be an additional 215 million customs declaration forms for businesses importing and exporting goods. That would apply regardless of whether Britain and the EU conclude a trade deal this year with the aim of removing all tariffs and quotas, so that is likely to happen. Can the Minister confirm that that is the latest estimate and tell us whether the Government have asked HMRC to update any of the cost estimates in light of the publication of the new border operating model, and whether that is the basis on which we should go forward? If it is then, although we were told that there would likely be a net £9 billion saving from leaving the European Union, there would also be a £7 billion cost to exporters and £7 billion to importers annually, and an extra £1 billion at least for cost of preparation plus commitments for ongoing costs. But there is no impact assessment on the business burden itself.
I do not wish to relitigate any of the arguments about European Union membership—and I knew that would get some smiles from the Benches opposite, but I genuinely do not—but the question is not whether we go back; it is about how many barriers there are for us to go forward. These are legitimate questions, because on top of this, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told MPs last Tuesday that it was estimated that up to 300,000 export health certificates would be required from 1 January next year for agricultural goods—a five-fold increase on current levels. There is a genuine concern about the burden on rural businesses from the processing costs for official veterinarians to carry this out—if they are actually available. Do the Government have contingency arrangements for the turn of the year if there are difficulties in securing these certifications?
As our amendment relates also to burdens for Northern Ireland—and there will be ample opportunity to debate the internal market legislation that is coming—I want to refer to one element of the Northern Ireland trading relationship that has been highlighted recently by the Food and Drink Federation. The federation has said that, regardless of the protocol being implemented in full and regardless of the internal market provisions—wherever they might be in due course on the customs process—there are likely to be costs on goods travelling into Northern Ireland that must comply with EU rules governing customs, VAT, plant and animal hygiene, and product labelling. This is linked with 1.5 million tonnes of food and drink travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland each year. The Government have indicated their willingness to provide some funding for businesses from Northern Ireland to offset some of the costs for this, but can the Minister explain to us what the current level is?
This is all building to the necessity of asking the Government to report on what barriers and costs exist. We have received some indication from the border operating model to which I referred. We already know, from the document that was published last week—the 271-page border operating model—that this is going to add huge burdens at our borders. We know that there is a six-month deferral for our border processes because they have not been ready and that this is not going to be all that is necessary for this. However, what we did learn last week was that businesses are going to need permission to move their vehicles to Kent. The Government are going to require a statutory Kent access permit for businesses seeking to export from anywhere across the UK if they wish to exit from Dover. Therefore, not only do we now have a debate about unfettered access to Northern Ireland: there is not even going to be unfettered access to Kent on the M20 for those wishing to export.
We know from Michael Gove’s Statement in the House of Commons whose fault this is likely to be; rest assured, it will not be his. He said:
“Every business trading with Europe will need to thoroughly familiarise itself with new customs procedures and, whether they develop their capacity in-house or work with a customs intermediary, enhanced preparation is vital.”
This is two months away. He went on to say, referring to businesses, that,
“just 24% believed that they are fully ready.”—[Official Report, Commons, 23/9/20; col. 961.]
Therefore, in addition to the grants of support and in addition to what the Government have indicated is going to be necessary for intermediaries, we know that there are insufficient numbers of those to support businesses.
I asked at Second Reading about the number of intermediaries recruited after the Government’s undertaking to help our exporters, but the Minister did not reply. I wrote to him, and he kindly sent me a thorough reply but without the information about how many intermediaries had been hired. Can he answer that today with up-to-date information?
Finally, businesses have been calling for some clarity on this additional bureaucracy, these new barriers to export and the new burdens on importers. If businesses are going to be taking up the greater exporting opportunities that might present themselves, they need to know in advance, with a degree of certainty, what kind of barriers and burdens they face. That is why these amendments are important. I hope that the Government support the principle of them: to have as much information out there as timely and accurately as possible. It is not just for 1 January that we need to prepare; it is ongoing. That is why I hope that the Government will support these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was quite surprised to find the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, concentrating on the costs involved in the border between the UK and the EU. When I put my name down to speak in this group, I thought it was about assessing the costs of our trade with other countries. Let me be clear: I am always in favour of ensuring that the Government identify the costs and burdens on business in all of their activities, so he will not find me opposing his amendment on that ground at all.
However, his amendment is very unclear, because it is not clear what the counterfactual is: costs compared with what? In the context of his subsection (1), which is about the rollover agreements, are the costs compared with the current status quo—that is, in the implementation period—or with trading on WTO terms after 1 January, or with something else? It is very unclear. In the case of subsection (2), presumably the cost will be compared with trading with those other third countries on WTO terms because that would be the counterfactual. It seems to be highly unlikely that we would enter into a free trade agreement with another party that involved costs additional to those trading on WTO terms, so the noble Lord’s amendment does not entirely make sense.
My Lords, I shall be brief, as my noble friend Lord Purvis has already made a characteristically clear and robust case for impact assessments as set out in Amendment 42, to which I have added my name.
Given the highly complex and as yet unresolved nature of the situation in Northern Ireland as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol, does the Minister not agree that impact assessments would be particularly helpful to the business community there? An evidence-based approach would provide an opportunity to highlight any particular concerns and any additional costs that could have such a negative impact on Northern Ireland businesses, not least because of the highly complex supply lines there. Impact assessments would provide a greater understanding of the facts and allow for more effective planning and preparation, as my noble friend Lord Purvis has said.
The Minister will know that, in May, the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group submitted more than 60 detailed questions to the Government, following its analysis of the impact of the changes facing Northern Ireland businesses at the end of the transition period. However, 17 of these questions remain unanswered. Can the Minister say when he expects answers to be given to these remaining questions, most especially given that we are now just over two months away from the end of the transition period?
The Government published a detailed, 60-page document setting out the possible economic advantages of a trade deal with the United States. A detailed analysis was presented in May this year on the likely impact of a trade deal with Japan. Yet in March this year, Michael Gove told the House of Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union that there would not be an impact assessment on the UK-EU trade deal currently being negotiated. Can the Minister therefore explain what criteria is used to decide whether or not to carry out an impact assessment on any future trade deal? Can he say whether the Government intend to publish an impact assessment on the EU-UK deal and, if so, when will it be done? Will particular attention be given to the very specific set of circumstances facing Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for giving me the opportunity to probe one particular aspect under this amendment. I also note my regret that, despite the rather energetic notes my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie took when I asked about the rollover agreements with the economic partnership agreement countries, I have not had an answer to my question. I would be most grateful if I could have an update from my noble friend on that point before Thursday.
On the existing impact assessment and the EU agreements we have, it is worth noting that they account for only 15.7% of our trade. They are quite limited in size.
This is an interesting amendment because, at the virtual Conservative Party conference that we held last week on 4 October, we heard, apparently for the first time, the Secretary of State for International Trade, my right honourable friend Elizabeth Truss, announce that the International Trade Committee in the other place will receive a signed deal in advance of it being laid before the CRaG procedures and—this is what is new, certainly to me—an independently verified impact assessment on environmental, social, animal welfare and economic issues before the committee consults with industry experts and produces a report.
I want to take this opportunity to ask my noble friend whether this is new. When will the first such impact assessment be laid? Can he explain who will do the independent verification of such an impact assessment? I for one would certainly welcome such an impact assessment, as I am sure industry and consumers would, but I am slightly baffled as to who would do the independent verification. I would be very keen to learn that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for putting forward this amendment. We should also be grateful to other colleagues in the Chamber for asking key questions on this.
Bad trade deals produce clear winners and losers. Surely our task is to make sure that British businesses, including those in Northern Ireland, do not lose out in trade agreements and face unnecessary costs. British businesses have faced an incredibly tough year; the pandemic in particular has seriously impacted on UK trade. We have seen big falls in exports and imports in the three months following April 2020; the ONS found that trade exports fell by £33.1 billion in those three months, while imports fell by £29.9 billion. These were the largest three-monthly falls since comparable records began in 1997. Trade will be vital for businesses in the post-Covid recovery period. The Government should make sure that businesses do not face unnecessary costs arising from trade agreements.
I am glad that the Minister has said previously that the Government have committed to publish their negotiating objectives alongside an initial impact assessment. Can he confirm that a full impact assessment for each agreement will be published by the Government at the end of negotiations? Will this full impact assessment be reviewed by an independent body? Will the Government act on any findings that come as a by-product of the review?
There are clearly major problems for Northern Ireland. Does the Minister expect different costs for businesses exporting or importing goods and services to or from Northern Ireland to result from an EU-UK FTA and any rollover agreement for the Japan agreement? Other businesses in the rest of the UK will clearly be affected by this.
The amendment’s explanatory note also refers to additional costs to businesses operating within the UK’s internal market. Labour firmly believes that there is a need for a strong internal market so that businesses can trade freely across the UK’s four nations, which will be vital for our economy and shared prosperity. This will be discussed at length in the Internal Market Bill, which has some important implications for this Bill.
I hope that the Minister is following these debates closely. I hope that we can be reassured that the impact assessments will be transparently conducted and published, and that the Government will take note of their findings. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I accept that there are costs both ways, but we need transparency. That transparency will enable our businesses to trade better, more freely and more competitively.
My Lords, I welcome this amendment, put down by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. As I told the House on the first day of Committee, and as we have touched on since, our continuity agreements seek to replicate the effects of EU agreements, and the 21 agreements that we have already signed show that we are not diverging or introducing new obligations. These agreements are continuity by name and continuity by nature. We therefore do not think it proportionate to produce impact assessments for trade deals that only maintain the status quo. I emphasise that point because I will come to other free trade agreements later.
This is not to say that we intend to deny Parliament information on these agreements. That is why the parliamentary reports that we have committed to publish alongside signed agreements contain detailed information about the volume of trade, the composition of imports and exports, and the wider economic impact of those agreements. As I have said, we will continue to lay these parliamentary reports voluntarily, with Explanatory Memoranda, alongside each new continuity agreement. The recently signed new agreement with Ukraine will of course be treated in that way.
New FTAs are not included in the scope of the Bill—neither are the EU arrangements—but we have committed to publishing in advance of opening negotiations initial economic scoping assessments for the new FTAs setting out what impact we believe the agreements might have. At the end of negotiations, we will produce an impact assessment for the final treaty, alongside an Explanatory Memorandum, prior to it being laid before Parliament for scrutiny under CRaG. The Government believe that this strikes the right balance.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked what kind of independent assessment will be made of these assessments. I am pleased to say that those assessments will be made by the Regulatory Policy Committee. I can also let the House know that the International Agreements Sub-Committee has already received these assessments in relation to the Japan FTA, which we signed a few weeks ago. These agreements and reports have been made available to the IAC on a confidential basis. We committed that the committee would have these agreements to review in good time before the CRaG process started; I am pleased to say that I had a good meeting with the IAC yesterday where we talked through these processes. I look forward to receiving its report in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked various questions relating to trade with the EU, particularly on customs arrangements and other contingency arrangements, including Northern Ireland matters that will arise at the end of the transition period. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness on these matters.
Given these reassurances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.
My Lords, of course I look forward to receiving another letter from the Minister. I hope that he can, at least in this one, give me what has so far proved to be very elusive: simple information in answer to straightforward questions on the current level of intermediaries recruited to support our exporters on the new border operating model. The industry had indicated, which Michael Gove had agreed with, that we require an estimated 50,000. HMRC said at the end of July that 600 had been recruited. All I have been asking is what the current level is—I do not think it is unreasonable for us to know. The border operating model itself explicitly encourages our exporters to use intermediaries because the customs procedures under this model are complex and burdensome. That is the point. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who gave the context of the real pressures on our businesses exporting.
Let me address the specific and very reasonable questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. The amendment explicitly states that the costs to businesses are linked to additional regulatory requirements in regulations made under these orders. It simply is not the case that these agreements stay permanent once they have been made. Often, regulations will be required to be made in the lifetime of these agreements. I would hope that the Minister could confirm that any regulations brought forward would ordinarily have an impact assessment on the cost to businesses associated with them. The whole thrust of the last few years has been about not bringing in regulations without an impact assessment on business. That should be a straightforward thing for the Minister to confirm.
The second subsection of the proposed new clause is about new agreements, and again it is for any additional requirements to implement those agreements. There is not the necessity of a counterfactual, because they are to do with how the Government assess any additional costs to businesses from any new requirements on businesses. The reason I did major on the border operating model was this: it has of course become necessary because of us leaving the European Union, but it is a new border operating model for all exports, not just for exports to the European Union. The Kent access permit is not just for anybody wanting to export to the European Union but also to make sure that we have all of these in place. Therefore, it is right to ask what the cost will be for businesses doing that. It is also a simple fact that if they are likely to be necessary for the Kent access permit to be in place, then that will have an impact on our ports of exit for anybody exporting to any third country around the world. It is inevitable that there will be a spillover impact of any exports. I think it is justified to ask the question: what is the estimate of the cost for businesses?
Finally, I turn to what the Minister said, which was linked to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the impact assessments to be carried out on the new agreements coming forward with Japan and Ukraine. That is welcome, and I do welcome it. I was grateful for the Minister notifying me of the Written Ministerial Statement yesterday, which outlined that they would be in place. I welcome them, but the Minister will not be surprised that I think they are insufficient, as we have debated in Committee up until now. But I am grateful that this is on the record and that the Minister confirmed it.
Can the Minister also confirm that they will not simply be an economic impact assessment but a regulatory impact assessment? That is the point of the amendment in this group. It is not just whether it would be considered that there would be net economic benefits for the country, but what the net business costs are for exporters and importers, because they are not necessarily the same. Therefore, sector by sector, it will be helpful to know. If we do not have that information, we will struggle to answer the real point of the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: how do we get net benefit for our businesses in exporting, and how are we making them more competitive with others around the world if we do not have that level of business impact assessment for the regulations implementing our trade agreements?
If the Minister wishes to come back on that point, he may. He has indicated already that he will write to me, and I welcome that—if it can be done as quickly as his previous letters, I would appreciate that. I am not yet satisfied before I receive that letter, but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
Amendments 43 to 45 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 46. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
46: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade agreement with the EU: mobility framework
For the purposes of facilitating the continuation of trade with the European Union, the Secretary of State must take all necessary steps to secure a mobility framework with the European Union that enables all UK and EU citizens to exercise the same reciprocal rights to work, live and study for the purpose of the provision of trade in goods or services.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause places an obligation on the Secretary of State to take all necessary steps to secure a mobility framework with the European Union.
My Lords, Amendment 46 is in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State takes all necessary steps to secure a mobility framework with the European Union. It is strikingly similar to one that your Lordships voted to include in the last version of this Bill. I am a little disappointed with the Government, and a little sad that they did not see fit to incorporate that amendment into the body of the third version of the Trade Bill, because the House had spoken very clearly on its preferences.
I am surprised also because the Secretary of State has been voluble about the role of services in the UK’s trading future. She claims that we are the world’s second largest services exporter—I certainly do not dispute that—and Europe’s pre-eminent destination for tech investment. We rely on people to develop those services; we rely on people to take those services out and sell them around the world; and we rely on the reciprocal movement of people around the world in order for services and our services industry to thrive. This is true in a huge number of sectors, not least in areas such as the performing arts and culture, which I know will be addressed by other speakers. And yet, the message sent through the narrow criteria of the immigration Bill is really the opposite.
We live in difficult times for employment, and the statistics today from the ONS around unemployment are extremely worrying. However, I will focus on the central skills environment. Other data reported by the ONS—last Thursday, I think—finds that between 2017 and 2019 there were 32.3 million people employed in the UK workforce, of which 11% were non-British nationals, among which about two-thirds were from the EU and one-third were non-EU nationals. Within that, 12% of key workers in the health and social care sector were non-British nationals. I should remind your Lordships that this sector is desperately seeking to recruit more people; there are literally hundreds of thousands of vacancies.
As your Lordships know, the immigration Bill ushers in a new skills-based work migration system, which comes into force after the transition period. This points-based system will require applicants to reach 70 points to be able to work in the United Kingdom. Points will be awarded based on qualifications, salary on offer, ability to speak English and whether the relevant sector is suffering from staff shortages. The salary threshold has been lowered to £25,600. I would point out that this is still well above the sum earned by many non-EU key workers, particularly in and around the care sector. One thing the Covid crisis has demonstrated is that salary is not the best indicator of people’s value to our communities.
The Migration Advisory Committee is already seeking to widen the lens of migration into this country. Its latest report says:
“Senior care workers and nursing assistants are among the occupations that should be added to the”
shortage occupation list
“to relieve pressure when freedom of movements ends … Other occupations which should be added to the UK-wide list include butchers, bricklayers and welders … The MAC has also recommended additions to separate lists for all of the devolved nations … This includes extra fishmongers, bakers and horticultural workers for Northern Ireland, childminders and nursery nurses for Scotland and health professionals for Wales.”
This is a valiant effort by the MAC but, looking across the Floor to the government Benches, it is hard to believe that, when noble Lords signed up to become members of the Conservative Party, and when they handed over their membership fees, they did so in order to elect a Government to micromanage the number of fishmongers in Belfast. Is this really an approach that a Conservative Government should be even thinking of? Would not a mobility framework be better at this than trying to track and trim every sub-level of trade and profession in every region and to try to manage their supply.
I am sure that the Minister will say this Bill is only about continuity agreements. That is not strictly true, as we know, because the Government have added amendments that address the wider trade agenda. If we look at the continuity agreement with Switzerland, for example, we find that a new element has been inserted—not quite the continuity agreement. The Swiss citizens’ rights agreement is a mobility framework that provides Swiss nationals and their family members living in the UK at the end of the implementation period with the right to continue to stay in the UK. It seems that the Government are amenable to the concept of mobility frameworks in continuity agreements—at least when it comes to Swiss bankers and gold traders.
I will turn to other deals. What about the deal with Japan? I know that details are still being filtered out around this, but the EU-Japanese deal—which our deal replaces—has a mobility framework. According to the European Commission, the agreement includes the most advanced provisions on movement of people for business purposes that the EU has negotiated so far. It covers categories such as intercorporate transfers, business visitors, contractual service suppliers, and the EU and Japan have agreed to include spouses and children to accompany service suppliers or those who work for a service supplier. So we know that the European Union is amenable to negotiating such deals. Can the Minister confirm whether the UK-Japanese deal also includes a mobility framework?
I do not think that either Minister, in their heart, wants the sort of migration environment proposed by the Government. In fact, I think that they understand the stifling nature of this. But it is probably too much to expect the Minister to admit this. However, I ask him to please tell your Lordships whether the UK-Japanese trade deal contains a mobility framework such as the one in the EU deal that it agrees to replace. We know that the UK does mobility because the Swiss-UK deal has added mobility to its scope—and we know that the EU does mobility through its Japanese settlement. Why not put these two together? Why not introduce a bit of consistency? By accepting this amendment, the Minister would acknowledge that mobility frameworks are to our mutual advantage, and he would be opening Her Majesty’s Government to the possibility of an EU mobility framework. I beg to move Amendment 46.
My Lords, in speaking in strong support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I will concentrate on the work aspect of this amendment, in particular in services and the British industry side of any reciprocal agreement that might be made. I acknowledge also the importance of study.
One would not think that, as individual groups, lorry drivers and lawyers necessarily have a great deal in common. But they do. They are both part of our huge services industry—our largest sector, providing 80% of the UK’s GDP and, according to the ONS, £95.2 billion-worth of exports to the EU, from the UK, in 2018. Looking back at the debates early last year on the almost identical amendment in the previous incarnation of the Trade Bill, it is clear that little has really changed in terms of the arguments that need to be made, or indeed with the extent to which the Government have addressed, or rather not addressed, the concerns of the sector. What has changed are the circumstances of Brexit, so that, if anything, the need for a mobility framework as 2021 rapidly approaches has become even more urgent.
Services depend inherently on a mobility framework. As our closest customer geographically, Europe is hugely important as a market and always will be. Yes, we can try to develop our services trade elsewhere, but putting impediments on our trade with Europe will inevitably result in a significant net loss when that trade starts to fall off, as indeed it has already as a result of a future mobility framework not already being in place—and this effect was observable before Covid. It should not be a case of either European or global trade, although that is sometimes the impression given. If anything, there is an argument that causing such impediments with Europe will detrimentally affect such trade with the rest of the world, such are the connections between countries and blocs of countries globally.
The loss of free movement on 1 January 2021 will directly impact on the effectiveness of this sector and consequently on the livelihoods of its many and various services providers, including IT, engineering, aviation, translation, and creative services. Many of these workers are self-employed and resident in both the UK and the EU. A survey by British in Europe found that 58% of respondents felt that their livelihoods would be affected by their loss of mobility rights. This finding was backed up for creative services by the Arts Council survey quoted last week on Report of the immigration Bill by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, which stated that the continuation of short-term mobility was a top priority—even more important than the loss of EU funding.
The UK-EU cross-border services working group, for whose briefing I am indebted, has identified four key areas of concern for services. The first is GDPR, including the need for an adequacy agreement. The second key area is recognition of professional qualifications. Thirdly, and at the top of the list, are mobility rights and associated concerns, including the right to render services, the right of establishment and the right to travel at a moment’s notice between the UK, EEA countries and Switzerland—including, crucially, movement between Schengen territories. Fourthly, and importantly, there is the confusion and anxiety caused by the lack of an adequately defined single framework, which is increasingly deterring European clients. British workers urgently need these matters resolved and need guidance from the Government, which they are currently not receiving.
It is curious that the professed desire of the Government is to develop our tech industries, but these concerns have not been addressed and the industry overall has not been consulted. It must be emphasised that, in normal circumstances, on-site presence is an integral aspect of the services sector. In an earlier debate, I quoted an IT worker saying, “We freelancers export ourselves.” Creative services, particularly the performing arts, necessitate a mobility framework, because touring above all is such an integral aspect of that work. Among the raft of concerns, industries such as the performing arts and media and events, share the concern about the need to move equipment across borders, again at a moment’s notice. In other industries, we should also not forget the servitisation component of manufacturing.
As Committee has made clear, trade is not just about trade; it is about the policies that define it and the effects it may have, such as on people’s health and the environment. It is also—and this is particularly true about services—about other things in a more integral way, such as cultural exchange and soft power. The ambassadorial aspect of these industries is something that we are in great danger of sacrificing. Such aspects of services, apart from the financial worth, are both essential and invaluable, and will depend on an effective and appropriate framework.
Even at this late stage, the Government need somehow to be shaken into an awareness of the importance of these concerns. If last week’s media are to be believed, an agreement on fishing might be in the offing, although that seems now to be disputed. But a deal on services is significantly more important. I repeat what I said in Committee on the immigration Bill: music, just one part of the creative services, has a financial worth almost four times the fishing industry. While one has respect for that industry, it is nevertheless incomprehensible, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out in that debate, that services should be so ignored.
One can observe a disconnect in government between on the one hand the firm, oft-repeated line that free movement has ended—now legislated for—while on the other there is considerable doubt, as the Prime Minister has himself expressed, about leaving the single market. Switzerland has resoundingly voted to maintain free movement. As some working in services have asked me, is it still not too late to have a Swiss-style deal? At present, there is the great danger that any deal we make will still be a no deal for services, and that would be a mistake.
In the previous Trade Bill, this amendment was taken to a vote and passed. If the Government do not accept this amendment, I hope we will do the same again.
My Lords, I support this amendment, which seeks to secure the continued success of the UK’s trade in goods and services with the EU, and to preserve the mobility framework that will be vital in achieving that aim. I will also focus on services, because they have undoubtedly been the Cinderella of the Brexit story or, as Sir Ivan Rogers memorably described them last year, the dog that has failed to bark.
I wondered then whether it might be that trade in goods has predominated because the at-the-border issues they involve are easier to grasp than the behind-the-border issues of domestic rules, regulations and qualifications that underpin trade in services. It might be because of the confusing range and diversity of sectors that shelter under the umbrella of services, from IT to hairdressing, education to tourism, architecture to the arts, as well as health, insurance and financial services. Or it might be because the biggest service earners—the financial and insurance services—are heavily skewed to London and the south-east: 48% of the £128 billion those two service sectors contribute to the UK economy is generated by London alone. That uneven geographic distribution and economic contribution does not sit easily with the language of levelling up, and supporting bankers and brokers may not be much of a vote winner either.
However, like it or not, this country has long been predominantly a services economy. In 2019, services contributed around 80% of UK economic activity, and they account for about 30 million jobs. The EU single market is the primary destination for UK services exports, with the UK running a trade surplus with the EU in services. This dominance of the EU for our services exports is not surprising. One of the best-established empirical results in international economics is that bilateral trade decreases with distance.
There are five modes of services traded across borders: remote, in the supplier’s country, in the consumer’s country, via fly in, fly out, and as an integral component of a traded good. That last mode of attached or embedded services—perhaps the long-term maintenance contract for a machine, for example—has been a great big growth area for the UK in recent years. The majority of Rolls Royce’s revenues come not from the sale of the aircraft engines and other goods it produces but from the accompanying services that are sold as part of the package.
In each mode there is an inextricable link between services and mobility. Service provision, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, pointed out, requires people on the ground. Services provided in this country—higher education or tourism, for example—depend on inward mobility. Services provided in other countries, including those all-important embedded services, require outward mobility. Some of our most important and successful service industries are heavily dependent on EU workers: financial services, education, health, road haulage, and, as I often remind this House, the creative industries. The Royal Institute of British Architects estimates that one in four architects working in the UK is from the EU. In tourism, 10% of workers are EU nationals, as is 6% of the NHS workforce, and we have discussed over and over again the importance of EU migrants to our care sector.
Even before Covid, the loss of free movement post Brexit threatened the sustainability and success of the UK services sector. Covid continues to have a devastating effect on parts of the sector that rely on human gatherings and interactions: hospitality, air travel, restaurants, hotels, as well as arts and entertainment. Only last week, the Lords Economic Affairs Committee heard devastating testimony about the effects of the pandemic on the UK’s cultural and creative industries. However, according to research from the LSE, Brexit will deliver a double shock to the economy. Business conditions will worsen for those sectors that have been able to better weather the Covid storm—IT, financial and legal services, for example—because of the barriers it will impose on the continuation of trade, whether or not there is a deal. These of course include the end to the reciprocal mobility that has underpinned the UK’s status as a world leader in services provision.
Sir Ivan Rogers, in the same speech I referred to earlier, suggested that the UK services industry’s needs have been sacrificed to the primary goal of ending free movement, and it is hard to disagree with him. This amendment seeks to preserve a mobility framework with the EU. In doing so, it would help preserve one of the UK’s most successful sectors, and along with that the jobs, revenues and opportunities that it provides.
My Lords, I had initially intended to take part in the debate on this amendment solely for the purpose of probing whether study, which is mentioned in the amendment, can logically be regarded as necessary for trade in goods or services. I had not expected this debate to go into our border control policies, with yet more angst over not having the same rights to travel throughout the EU as exist even today.
I would just say to noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who seems to think that Conservatives might be upset at restrictions on movement, that we voted, both in the referendum and in the last general election, to take control of our borders—that is what the people voted for. That has consequences. Noble Lords who are trying to constantly recreate what we have had in the past as members of the EU do themselves no service. We have to change what we are doing going forward. That is not to say that we cannot have sensible arrangements with both the EU and other countries to facilitate the trade in goods and services, which I fully support. However, we should not be constantly harking back to life as it was when we were a member of the EU.
My Lords, this is a very important impendent indeed, and we have cause to be grateful to all those who put it on the agenda. I have never understood how you can have an effective free market of any kind without the free movement of people. It makes a nonsense of it. In that sense, the arguments have been very well rehearsed in this debate. I would just like noble Lords to know that at least one of us on these Benches—I am sure there are many more—is very much behind the amendment.
My Lords, I will focus on the narrow words in the amendment on
“the same reciprocal rights to work, live and study for the purpose of the provision of trade in goods or services.”
I make a plea to my noble friend Lady Noakes that we are trying here to grapple with reality.
I declare an interest. I practised law for approximately three years in two separate law firms in Brussels. I want to extend the same opportunities that I had to this brave new world now that we are outside the European Union and permit our qualified solicitors, barristers and advocates to do the same. What worries me is something that has been shared today in the report looking at reciprocal rights published by the EU Committee, The Future UK-EU Relationship on Professional and Business Services. I will quote from it and make sure that Hansard gets the right reference so that everyone can find it. The report summarises the default position that has been adopted; I know that this does not fall within the remit of this Bill but our free movement with the EEA does. The committee notes that the default position of the Government is mutual recognition; that is fine, but it is not happening on the basis of reciprocity.
I want to use this opportunity to probe my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie: when he comes to reply, can he update the House as to where we are on the reciprocal arrangements, particularly with the EEA countries, under the rollover agreements? My understanding when the relevant statutory instruments went through this place was that we were, quite rightly, allowing qualified lawyers from EEA countries to carry on practising here but our qualified barristers, solicitors and advocates were not given the reciprocal arrangements. That is just plain wrong.
I recall that, at the time, a number of professionals, particularly lawyers, qualified under other jurisdictions, such as Dublin, and I was shocked to see how the cost of requalifying went up incrementally to accommodate their rights to do so. The report is very timely and highlights the fact that mutual recognition is not as reciprocal as one would hope with the EEA countries. I hope that my noble friend will put my mind at rest, as this is an area—the free movement of services—where the World Trade Organization’s record is not particularly good; it tends to be patchy. As other noble Lords have alluded to, today’s report states:
“Professional and business services are an important part of the UK economy”,
accounting for 12% of our gross value added. Others have spoken about different aspects of the economy; I just ask my noble friend that question about the professional services provided by lawyers.
My Lords, I speak from my background as somebody who has worked in logistics. I will not enter into the economic or moral arguments, although I have strong views on both. My life has been spent moving people and freight by planes, ships, lorries and trains through airports, stations and other facilities.
Last week, the Government published a large document with detailed instructions as to how this was to be carried out in future. I received part of it last night and read some of it this morning. It is very complicated and is aimed at an industry used to carrying out instructions if they are communicated in fairly simple terms and in a logical and timely fashion. The document does not pass either test; it has been published within a few weeks of our leaving the EU and, as I said, it is complicated. It has to be understood by a lot of people low down the food chain—not lawyers but lorry drivers or people operating fork-lift trucks.
I submit to your Lordships that this document does not fit the bill. It is late, complicated and will lead to massive hold-ups of people and goods in very confined spaces. That is presumably why the Government have provided so much holding space all over the country in places such as Anglesey, Warrington, Essex and Suffolk. We will have these places almost despoiled by large places where lorries wait. The Government say that is subject to local planning consents, but it is hard to get an informed local planning consent in the few weeks that exist before they are supposed to come into effect.
I have asked how permanent the local planning consents will be because, as far as I can see, these places will become massive servicing and transhipment facilities. They will have overnight accommodation, there will be office facilities and they will become havens for crime, because whenever goods or people are moved about, opportunities exist for criminals to take advantage.
How many additional customs agents will be employed? Who will pay for these new terminals? At present, generally speaking, the industry provides its own. Where are those customs agents going to come from? Are they to be recruited from companies such as Deloitte, which is apparently a specialist in taking money from the taxpayer but not providing the service it is committed to provide?
The main point is that logistics people will do what they are asked to do, but it is up to the Government to make proper arrangements. If these are inadequate, both physically and operationally, it is unacceptable for the Government to try to lay the blame not on themselves, having not prepared the ground properly, but on the operators—they are often very low-level employees—who are bound to carry it out. There was some talk in the press this week of fining the National Health Service because it is falling behind in routine operations. If that is the way the Government are going to treat the logistics industry, we are in for a very rough ride.
My Lords, I speak to offer the Green group’s support for Amendment 46 and closely associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lords presenting it, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.
I was going to be brief but I really want to respond to what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. She suggested that the amendment seeks to recreate what was lost. No, it is trying to save what is threatened: the businesses, livelihoods and professional lives of people who have, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, alluded to, spent many years studying—and invested their time, energy and finances—to develop lives that are now under serious threat.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, in her useful setting out of the different ways in which the exchange has happened, spoke about where services are an integral component of a good being sold. We think of companies that have offered long-term service contracts for goods sold into the EU and EEA and the difficulties that they might experience in continuing those service contracts unless we have the kind of mobility framework offered here. We are now on a rescue mission.
I do not think anyone else has referred to this in detail but we have to go back to what we will be missing if we do not have the opportunity for EU/EEA citizens to come into the UK under this kind of mobility framework. There is the important area of language studies. Sadly, we have seen some documentation since the vote in 2016 showing that interest in language study, at least in our schools, has actually fallen. If we are to continue to operate in this world, where we are going to have much more complex relationships with other countries in Europe than we do now, we will desperately need those language skills. The reciprocal side of this is of course that Britons have the very valuable skill of being native English speakers that they can take around the continent and beyond.
We need to have quality of language teaching and development of language skills in the UK. Most of the teaching assistants in our schools are native speakers from other parts of Europe. These are crucial issues, so I commend the amendment to the House.
My Lords, I too support the amendment. It is very important, and noble Lords who have spoken have made some very good arguments in favour of it. As we all know, free movement within the EU has been very important for education, services and other businesses as well as for people getting to know each other. It could easily and should still happen after Brexit, but that needs the Government to support the idea positively and proactively even after we have left.
Transport is of course part of mobility. It must be cheap, reliable and accessible. Although Covid-19 has caused a massive reduction in demand, it is still there and it still needs to be there. However, the situation regarding the Government’s support is still very confusing and uncertain for services and their users. I have been trying to get answers from the Government for several months on how much in loans, guarantees or grants they have given to each of the international transport sectors, by which I mean air, sea, road and rail. I have had two Written Answers saying that that information per sector is commercially confidential. Surprisingly, maybe, I got a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, this morning saying that providers have many options as to how to find money, but with no comparators.
I can see why the noble Baroness could not see tell me about comparators. If one digs a little deeper, one finds that in the maritime sector—ferries—the Public Accounts Committee recently reported that the Government had written off £85 million for cancelled ferry contracts, which included a settlement with Eurotunnel of £33 million because apparently the Government had forgotten that Eurotunnel took the same kind of traffic that the ferries do. Noble Lords will remember that the Government spent £14 million on a company called Seaborne Freight, which owned a non-existent ferry and whose terms and conditions of carriage on its website appeared to have been copied from an online takeaway.
In the air sector, airlines have had soft loans to keep them alive. The noble Baroness said in a Written Answer that the Government were
“working closely with the aviation sector to support it to ensure there is sufficient capacity”.
They have spent £3 billion on keeping the franchise railways going, and that is good, but for cross-channel rail there is not a penny to ensure sufficient capacity. According to a presentation by the High Speed 1 chief executive Dyan Crowther to the all-party rail group last week, Eurostar has received no government guarantees or support and is likely to reduce the number of trains a day that it operates, possibly to between three and five or even fewer in order to survive. These are of course low-emission services, and I remind Ministers that, according to Eurostar, if all the passengers who took Eurostar in the last few years were to transfer to air, the increase in emissions would be equivalent to 40 new Luton Airports. We love Luton Airport but the emissions from 40 of them is hard to imagine.
Is there a solution? I suggest there are many that the Government ought to adopt. The European Union Council has adopted emergency measures to give member states the opportunity to reduce infrastructure charges to zero for trains. Italy and France are thinking about it, Austria has done it and the UK could do the same; it would be nothing to do with Europe but they could do it for HS1 to reduce the track access charges to just the direct costs. That might cost HS1 about £100 million but let us not forget that the Government made about £2 billion selling HS1 to the private sector, so they could afford to do this through HS1. It would mean that all train operators got the same benefit on that loan.
I hope the Minister can provide some comfort that Eurostar services can survive, providing the availability of a cost-effective and environmentally friendly transport service for those who want to work, live or study for the purpose of trade and goods. It would be a disaster if it were forced to close.
My Lords, we all owe a great deal of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his amendment and for the very good speech that he made in support of his arguments. We have read them before but they have not gone away since we discussed them in 2019, and I look forward to seeing how the Minister responds to them. There were also some other very good speeches, particularly—although it is invidious to choose—those of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who put the case for the creative industries extraordinarily well, with a devastating analysis of the problems that they face.
This issue is primarily about how services are going to be dealt with after the transition period ends. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, put it, the issues that we face affect all trade but these days most trade in goods is also wrapped into a service that is provided; she quoted the figures for Rolls-Royce, which I think are instrumental. We need to be sure that the arrangements that are made post transition for this area are well founded and will continue. I assume that that means GATT, which will be applying, and its four pillars, which she talked about: the ability to operate in support of trade in-country, in another country, in support of the provision of services to that country and living and working there in order to provide such services as are required for that. These are important issues and we hope that they will get a full response from the Minister.
However, at the heart of the debate, in more ways than one, are the creative industries. We had an impassioned plea for more attention to be paid to the particular needs of the creative industries regarding mobility. That is not inappropriate in itself but it is also quite important to recognise that the creative industries are not having a good time at the moment, not least because of what appears to be a rather standoffish approach being taken by the Government, who question whether jobs in the creative industries are really “viable”. There is the extraordinary advert about looking for your next job when you are a ballet dancer and there is no reason why you should change, suggesting that the right thing to do is to move into cyber.
This is a bad time to raise this issue but it is one that needs to be raised. At the end of the day the creative industries, particularly the performing and visual arts, are about the personal and the sharing of personal experiences. Without people’s movement and engagement, it is difficult to see how those industries can survive, but it is important that they should. The question I want to leave with the Minister is this: will GATT be sufficient to ensure that the creative industries will thrive after the transition period comes to an end?
My Lords, I turn to Amendment 46, regarding the parameters of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I have been left in no doubt about the importance of people—or personnel, as we sometimes call them—to ensuring that UK businesses have the resources that they need. Of course, this is correct, and I can relate to it to some extent due to my business background in human resources.
I was particularly struck by the tour d’horizon of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who spoke just now about the importance of the creative industries. The noble Baroness spoke about the performing arts, perhaps understandably, including music. Soft power has also been mentioned—as, in fact, were quite a lot of sectors, including the tech sector—by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I will start with that.
There is a “however” to this, which is that the Government have made it very clear on many occasions that our priority is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021. As my noble friend Lady Noakes said in no uncertain terms—and she is right—this was at the heart of the Conservative Party manifesto and the basis on which we were elected.
The approach to the future relationship with the EU has already been extensively discussed by this House and the other place, most notably during Parliament’s scrutiny of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. We want a relationship with the EU that is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. That is what Task Force Europe, working within the Prime Minister’s office, 10 Downing Street, is pursuing.
Businesses have told us that it is important for them to be able to send their employees to other countries to deliver services on a temporary basis, so we will, of course, be open to negotiating reciprocal arrangements with the EU to facilitate this, building on the provisions that are standard in trade agreements. A reciprocal agreement based on best precedent will mean that UK citizens will be able to undertake some business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. The same would apply for EU citizens making business visits to the UK. The precise details, including the range of activities, documentation needed and time limit are for continuing negotiation.
I will pick up on a question raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh on reciprocals. Our negotiations with EEA EFTA states on a trade agreement are ongoing, so I am afraid I am unable to comment on specific policy areas, and I know that she raised a number of questions for me. However, the Government are not seeking to agree mobility arrangements with the EU beyond those that are normally contained in the services part of a trade agreement. We will negotiate commitments on a temporary entry without prejudice to the introduction of our points-based migration regime. I will answer a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox: the Japan FTA does include a mobility framework.
While we will pursue an agreement on temporary entry for business purposes, this amendment seeks to mandate the Government to reintroduce a comprehensive mobility framework that runs counter to the manifesto the Government were elected upon and a decision that Parliament took when it passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.
I will pick up on the subject of a different type of mobility. I listened with care to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I reassure him that I will liaise with my noble friend Lady Vere in the Department for Transport to respond to him. I very much took note of the points that he raised about transport in general and, particularly, in relation to Eurostar. With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister and all speakers in this short debate. As others have said, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, set forward a compelling set of reasons why a mobility framework is good not just for the individuals concerned but for the overall well-being, financial and otherwise, of this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, brought up the evidence that was laid before the Economic Affairs Committee last week; I was privy to that and suggest that the Minister might find it a good use of an hour of his time to listen to that evidence, which is about the pressure that Covid is bringing to those people. However, it is quite clear that Covid, followed by a clamping down on their mobility and ability to move around Europe and ply their trade, is the double hit that they all fear.
The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw all supported what was being said, and I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for harking back to the deft decision-making of Chris Grayling. The Government appear to have taken up a career in suggesting new careers for people, with Ministers, apps and adverts all suggesting that everybody retrains. Perhaps Chris Grayling could retrain as a fishmonger and be sent to Northern Ireland to alleviate the crisis that MAC seems to have identified there.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for bringing up mutual recognition of qualifications. I was going to speak to that issue and decided that there was too much already, so I am glad that she did. This is absolutely crucial not just to the service industry but to all sorts of industries: from teaching to veterinary services, everything requires this to work. I understand that discussions are under way, but they need to be successful: there needs to be positive resolution.
Therefore, I do not think there is a meeting of minds. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, we can assess the Minister’s response, which was short and hardly sympathetic to the amendment, which is not a surprise. It is interesting to note that, when it comes to Japan, we are prepared to have these conversations and be very open, and, when the announcement is put out, they will probably be one of the wonderful things that is lauded about that deal. Yet, somehow, in the terms of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, it is a sin to even think that we might be having this sort of discussions with our recently former colleagues in the European Union.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, “That has consequences.” As usual, she is right. I will be very happy when she can explain to people with relatives in care homes the consequences of having insufficient care, and when she can talk about there being too few key workers in sectors where we need them to help to hold our society together in times of stress. I will be very pleased when she is around explaining that those consequences are a result of decisions like this. However, with that said, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.
I am not able to call Amendment 48A by reason of pre-emption.
Amendments 48A to 53 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 54. I remind noble Lords again that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or the other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
54: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“International Trade Commission
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a body corporate called the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) within one month of the passing of this Act.(2) The ITC must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high as, or higher than, standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.(3) “Standards” under subsection (2) includes, but is not limited to, standards relating to—(a) animal welfare,(b) protection of the environment,(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability,(d) plant health, and (e) employment and human rights. (4) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of goods into the United Kingdom unless satisfied that the criteria established by the ITC under subsection (2) have been met.(5) The Secretary of State must allocate such sums to the ITC as the Secretary of State considers appropriate as required in order to perform its functions.(6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I am delighted to move Amendment 54 and speak to Amendment 55, which is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to whom I am grateful. I am also grateful to them and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for supporting Amendment 54.
At the outset, I shall refer to something that my noble friend Lord Grimstone of Boscobel said in Grand Committee on 6 October, in reply to an earlier debate. He said:
“It would require a statutory process for these food standards to be altered.”[Official Report, 6/10/20; col. GC 198.]
I should like to place on record my understanding, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that food standards are set by statutory instruments, by regulation. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to one in particular. So the regulations could be amended or repealed by statutory instrument. The reason why that is important, and why I refer to it in the context of Amendments 54 and 55, is that because of what happened yesterday there is a greater need to put these issues into the Bill to become primary legislation that can be repealed only by further primary legislation. I do not wish to dwell on what happened, but it was extraordinary. Amendment 16, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was voted down, but Amendment 18, which was passed by an overwhelming majority in this place, was taken off the table.
That begs the question that I am exploring through these two probing amendments to see whether we take them further on Report. Can the Minister say what resources in terms of staff have been made available to the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which currently has only a six-month remit? My distinct impression is that it has no staff and that every meeting convened and every press conference held is staffed by members of the Department for International Trade. Does the commission have a separate budget? If so, what we are proposing in the amendment will be miniscule in comparison to the existing budget of the commission. If it has no budget and relies completely on the resources and staff of the Department for International Trade, it is—I am sorry to use the word—a sham, an empty vessel, there in name alone, purely as a sop to the farm lobby.
That is borne out by the fact that on 29 September, a shadow trade commission was set up, the Future British Standards Coalition. It includes representatives of Sustain, the leading body, as well as the Tenant Farmers Association, Public Sector 100 and many more organisations. I understand that it will be attended by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. As far as they are concerned, there is a need for a shadow body on an ongoing basis to set the criteria for future trade agreements, to check the criteria of the existing roll-over agreements that are before us today and to report to this place, in particular, to our International Agreements Sub-Committee.
There was great dismay that yesterday’s amendment on international standards in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was not carried. I declare that I am an associate of the British Veterinary Association, as set out in the register, whose president, James Russell, said yesterday:
“If the Government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
I am going slightly further in my probing amendments and I draw my noble friend’s attention—I know he does his homework and I am sorry if I spoilt his weekend—to the paragraph on page 79 of the Henry Dimbleby report. This is the only reference I am going to make to that report and the annexe. In its recommendations to the Government, he says:
“The Government should give itself a statutory duty to commission an independent report on all proposed trade agreements, assessing their impact on: economic productivity; food safety and public health; the environment and climate change; society and labour; human rights; and animal welfare. This report would be presented alongside a Government response when any final trade treaty is laid before Parliament. Sufficient time must be guaranteed for the discussion of these documents in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and by the relevant select committees”.
Mr Dimbleby goes on to identify the procedures used by most of the jurisdictions with which we are seeking trade deals. I realise that with the exception of Japan they fall outwith the current agreement. However, the report refers to countries with international trade commissions and those with well-developed parliamentary procedures to review future trade agreements, as we are currently doing with Japan.
My question to the Minister is simple. While I understand that the conclusions are in Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy Part One report and that, regrettably, the Government’s response will not come before the Trade Bill leaves this House, what is the status of that report and of Dimbleby and others on his panel, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Will the Government follow that advice by establishing either a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission or, as set out in Amendments 54 and 55, an international trade commission? In Amendment 54, I set out what the standards would be limited to but that they could go beyond animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene, traceability, plant health and employment rights. We go on to say that the international trade commission must give advice and report annually. I hope that the Government will come forward with amendments of their own and that the report on each future trade deal will be debated.
To conclude, I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to state what resources and staffing are available to enable the Trade and Agriculture Commission to fulfil its remit, and that he will agree that statutory protection of standards, including animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection, needs to be included in the Bill, as these amendments seek to do. Will he join his adviser, Henry Dimbleby, in recognising that we need either a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission or a replacement such as an international trade commission, as suggested in the amendments. We do not want to revert to the situation in the mid-1990s, under a previous Conservative Government, whereby we unilaterally banned sow stalls and tethers to maintain our high animal welfare and environmental standards, at which point, imports were allowed from Poland and Denmark that undercut our high standards and put 50% of our pig producers out of business. I hope that my noble friend will agree that he does not wish to return to that situation.
These amendments are intended to be probing amendments at this stage, but I will listen closely to the debate and, in particular, to what my noble friend says in summing up. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure, as ever, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and speak to Amendments 54 and 55—I apologise for my voice, but I have a bit of a cold. This country has had a long and successful history as a trading nation. After nearly half a century as a member of the EU, we are about to embark on a new phase of that history. The question we are looking at here, following on from many earlier interesting debates, relates to the governance of our new trade policies. Will the control, design and execution of those policies be solely in the hands of the Executive or will there be a role, and, if so, of what kind, for Parliament, the Governments of the devolved Administrations and other bodies, such as that just described by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh?
At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that the world has moved on since the 1970s, even since last year—as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, reminded us. Therefore, government models that were appropriate in the 1970s need to be updated. The world is now a different place, and we can see that with the emergence of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, one question is how this needs to be reflected in trade negotiations, the drawing-up of trade mandates and the scrutiny of agreements.
Part of the dissatisfaction that has arisen over government policies in this area thus far is from the great secrecy in which they are being conducted. Future trade policies are being developed by the Department for International Trade, but in the utmost secrecy, with the help of severe non-disclosure agreements. This does not generate confidence. What have the Government and the DIT to hide? Why can they not consult openly and widely and share the results with us?
Amendments 54 and 55 suggest an alternative approach, one that has been adopted by other trading nations and found to be useful—the establishment of an international trade commission. It could play a role overseeing trade mandates and agreements, and could advise the Government and report to Ministers and Parliament. For example, as a newly independent trading nation, what rules should we be setting for our food standards and for our animal welfare and hygiene standards? What would be the impact assessment of a trade deal with, for example, the United States or Australia? How many farmers and businesses would those agreements put at risk? Such a commission could consider and report on these extremely important issues and calculations. It would draw in expertise and diverse views, and help to create a consensus that would power successive trade deals.
This is clearly a probing amendment, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the details of how such a commission might be established and what its remit might be, but a growing number of voices in the United Kingdom are calling for the permanent establishment of such a body to operate independently of the Government and to marshal a range of expertise and trade knowledge for the Government to draw on. As we have already heard, there is already a body sitting—alas for six months only—the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will do some of this work. Members of that body have joined the calls for the permanent establishment of such a commission, having seen how useful and important such a structure could be.
I am not going to pursue the arguments about high standards covered in Amendment 54. As I said on the third day of Committee, it is my belief that the Government are preparing to reduce those standards to enable them to conclude new trade agreements with the United States and Australia, among others. That is why, I believe, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was rejected in the House of Commons yesterday. As a trading nation, should we not, at the outset, be deciding for ourselves what our standards should be? Should we not be debating these issues widely? Should a trade commission not help us in that task? Surely we are not just going to roll over and accept whatever trade competitors demand of us.
One of the issues that worries me most at the moment is the way policy is being formulated. There is a line, which is agreed at the top, then enforced on Ministers, the Government as a whole and party MPs and supporters. No dissenting voices seem to be tolerated, either in ministerial positions or government departments, and Cabinet Ministers seem to compete for the approval of those running the system. The belief is that success will be achieved only by eliminating all critics and alternative views, and having only supportive or pliant Ministers in post, with a handful of people making key decisions. This was exemplified for me by the appointment of Tony Abbott to the Board of Trade. It seemed almost a two-fingered gesture to the effect: “We are laying down what is going to happen in this area of policy, and we don’t care whether you like it or not.” After all, there was no suggestion that Tony Abbott had any expertise in or detailed knowledge of British trade policies.
I fear that such an approach will not end well. Successful endeavours share many characteristics, but one major element of success is a broad range of views. Some dissenting voices are listened to. There is a need to be warned of possible pitfalls and to listen. It is important to be flexible and pragmatic. That is not how our trade policies are being developed at present, and perhaps it is why some of our negotiations are not going so well, thus far.
These new clauses in Amendments 54 and 55 set out one way in which the decision-making circle might be expanded, which a Government, embarking on a new course and needing broad support, might find beneficial and useful. I am not sanguine that they will find any favour with the Minister, the Government or, more importantly, No. 10, but I believe we have a responsibility in this House, as a revising Chamber, to suggest constructive ways of achieving and improving what the Government are seeking. I am therefore pleased to support these amendments.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and to act as a co-signatory to both Amendments 54 and 55, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Henig.
As we emphasised while the Agriculture Bill was in Committee and on Report, there needs to be an international trade commission and it needs to be permanent, not like the Trade and Agriculture Commission that is currently in place. Such an international trade commission needs to be given a budget and staff, if we are serious about it doing this job on trade. The international trade commission needs to be in the Bill and able to provide advice to the Secretary of State. There is a direct read-across to the Agriculture Bill. I regret what happened in the other place yesterday, because they missed an important opportunity to give this international trade commission the impetus and support it justly deserves.
While welcoming the temporary trade commission, I feel it needs to be made permanent and put in the Bill. There is a need for a body to consider trade agreements, as they are negotiated. This is new, charted territory for all of us, particularly for the Government and all those involved in such trade agreements. It is important to support our farmers, producers and all those in the supply chain.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, Henry Dimbleby has produced his first report. He was appointed last year to undertake this study, and he proposes such a body. He makes comparisons with those jurisdictions that do not have one and with which we are trying to negotiate future trade agreements. The industry, as was referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Henig, has set up a shadow body to examine ways of protecting standards in trade deals. There has been progress since the Agriculture Bill, and we need to take note of that and that there should above all be parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, as exists in those other jurisdictions.
There is a need for strict adherence to standards of animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, plant health, employment and human rights; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to this. It is correct that an international trade commission is required under statute to provide advice, assistance and support as and when the Secretary of State requires. It is important that the Executive are accountable to Parliament; that, quite simply, shows democracy at work.
As has been referred to, amendments to the Trade Bill were tabled in the other place to ensure that Parliament retains sovereignty of trade policy. A Conservative MP said that the failure of the Bill to secure this would be
“hard to reconcile with the idea of taking back control.”
I do not believe that having less scrutiny than existed when we were members of the EU is an acceptable position. I am clear in my unequivocal support for both these amendments, for the establishment of an international trade commission that builds on the work of the existing trade commission—which is temporary in nature—and for it to be put into statute in the Bill.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to say a few words about these two amendments. I can be a bit simpler than I had intended to be because my noble friend and the movers of the amendments say that these are probing amendments. To that extent, I want to add one or two questions of my own; I look to my noble friend the Minister for his response.
I have a feeling that, once again, these are amendments that fall into the category of trying to put into statute that Ministers should not do things that they do not wish to do. I am not quite sure why that is necessary. In this particular instance, the amendment proposes—in a number of areas relating to the environment, animal welfare and SPS—to take out of the hands of Ministers the business of negotiating the nature of the trade agreements that we are to enter into, largely tying the hands of Ministers. Ministers have been immensely clear, repeatedly, about their intention not to enter into trade agreements the effect of which would be to dilute the standards applicable by us in this country in all these respects.
What we have here says, in effect, that when we seek to enter into any agreement with other countries, we have an extraterritorial application of own standards to them. I fear that, in practice, that would mean an inability on the part of the United Kingdom Government to enter into trade negotiations with countries that apply different standards to our own. I am not sure that the signatories to the amendments have addressed the issue. They talk simply in terms of the impact in this country of the import of goods that are subject to different standards. That is a matter of domestic legislation; that is something we can stop. There is absolutely nothing that requires us to import goods that are produced to animal welfare standards that are different to and lower than our own, or that have environmental consequences that we would not accept. We are perfectly free to say no to that. The implication of these amendments, however, goes beyond that to the idea that we should not enter into trade agreements with countries that supply standards that are not our own.
I am not sure that noble Lords necessarily need to answer this, but I am not sure where the words “or higher than” have come from. What is this international trade commission supposed to do? Should it look at our standards and say, “They’re not good enough. We are going to apply higher standards to other countries than we apply to ourselves”, and seek to enforce them through the terms of an international trade agreement that we enter into with them? That seems inherently and deeply unlikely.
Finally, it was asserted by the noble Lords who put their names to the amendments that this amendment would put in the Bill something that is primary legislation and is therefore wholly applicable. What they are talking about are standards. They are not talking about regulations. In truth, what really matters is the implementation of international trade agreements in the form of regulations. For example, in a later debate, we will talk, I hope, about the implementation of our unilateral scheme of preferences with developing and least-developed countries, many of whom would find it intensely difficult to maintain standards—for example, of animal welfare or food safety and traceability—comparable to our own.
Is it noble Lords’ intention that the international trade commission should require that such regulations should have the same standards built into them, and that we would not accept goods from those countries if they were incompatible with the standards set by the ITC? That is not what these amendments say because they talk about international trade agreements. There is no international trade agreement required for us to offer unilateral preferences to these countries; therefore, perhaps it is their intention simply to exclude developing and least-developed countries from the issues they talk about. I do not think that that is their intention, but that is not the effect of their amendments.
I suggest that, in so far as these are probing amendments, let us recognise that there are some glaring deficiencies. If we come back, as I know we will on Report, to the question of how we maintain our standards in this country, let us think carefully about how we do it and recognise, with a degree of humility, that international trade agreements should not be a mechanism by which we seek to apply extraterritorial jurisdiction for UK standards to other countries throughout the world.
My Lords, I will take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in a moment. In the meantime, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to work with the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie. I am delighted to support these two amendments.
I really congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. It is almost like having a third member of the Green group sometimes. I am sure that she hates that thought and that the Minister might as well. It has been quite a slog for us during this Bill. We have repetitively talked about these issues and it is getting a tad boring.
This amendment is a mechanism to maintain trade standards that are as high or higher than domestic UK standards. For the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that means that it is okay to trade with countries that have higher standards, even though they are not the same as our standards; that is the point of this part of the amendment. He asked why this is necessary. It is necessary because we simply do not trust the Government. If he can put his hand on his heart and say that he trusts the Government—go on; no?—I will be astonished. We have fantastic Ministers here—we even have a fantastic government team—but we do not trust the Government.
This amendment addresses the criticisms raised in previous iterations of the Bill, when noble Lords suggested that defining UK standards and equivalent standards would be a difficult legislative exercise. The amendment would create a specific body to undertake that exercise, and would grant it the necessary resources to do so. That might be a bit of a sticking point but, quite honestly, it is possible to move resources around, so I do not see that as an essential problem.
My colleagues, the three noble Baronesses, have covered almost every aspect on which I should have liked to speak, so all I will say is: will the Minister commit to working with us, perhaps to find a compromise amendment ahead of Report? Otherwise, there will the inevitable Division and government defeat, which will obviously be quite exciting for many of us but probably less so for the Minister and his team. So it would be wonderful if we could see a positive way forward.
My Lords, first, I want to associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lansley. I agreed with absolutely everything that he said.
It should be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether she needs any advice on standards or the criteria to be adopted. But, of course, this amendment is not about giving advice; it is about imposing criteria on the Government. Even if it does not cross the line, it is getting very close to interfering with the Government’s use of the royal prerogative in negotiating trade deals.
As noble Lords will be aware, there is already an extensive array of bodies—the Strategic Trade Advisory Group and individual trade advisory groups with extensive memberships—advising the Secretary of State. The only purpose of this amendment is to try to impose something on the Government. Yet again we hear something that we have heard before in Committee; this amendment is coming forward because “We don’t trust the Government to do the right thing”. I have to say to noble Lords that Governments do not legislate because noble Lords opposite do not trust them. Noble Lords must accept the Government’s assurances as they are given.
I will just say something on the Dimbleby report, because we have heard a lot about it both here and in relation to the Agriculture Bill. As I understand it, this is a draft report; it is not yet final. The Government have not made any response so far, and do not intend to do so until after the final version. It would be extraordinary to try to legislate in this Bill for policy that is not yet made. I accept that this is a probing amendment today, but I hope my noble friend will not press it again on Report.
My Lords, although, as the amendment states firmly, it is not exclusively concerned with the issues of animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, plant health, employment and human rights, these are important in the context of this debate. We have repeatedly discussed them in the context of this Bill, as well as during the debate on the Agriculture Bill earlier this month. These standards matter desperately. The amendments are important because they provide belt and braces—a system whereby we can provide more effective parliamentary scrutiny.
This bears repeating as often as we like: when we came out of the European Union, the case that the Government advocated over and over again was to take back control. Well, that must mean that the representatives of the people in Parliament have control and authority. If this body helps us to take that control more seriously and to be more effective, it is a good thing, and we should not be wasting time explaining why it is not really necessary. It may be belt and braces, but it underlines the importance of the people’s representatives taking back control.
These amendments are very important indeed. Not for the first time I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on introducing it. I was also very impressed by the speech made by my noble friend Lady Henig in support of it. I do hope we will give these amendments a fair passage.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, and I agree with him that we should advance these amendments. I will address them in the context of our debates on the Agriculture Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said when she introduced this group so well—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that all the signatories have made a powerful case for this.
I wish to focus on two areas. The first is the continuous issue that the Government should be very careful with their language about statutory standards and the protection that exists for them. The second is the trade commission and where we might need to go forward on this. I want to do it also in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about the least developed countries. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, referenced this in debate on an earlier group. It was also referenced in the House of Commons yesterday. Last week, the Trade Minister, Greg Hands, was reprimanded by the Speaker for using it to make a partisan point during an Urgent Question on trade—so it is a hot topic.
I was going to say that there is a degree of misinformation, but I am not alleging that the noble Lord would seek to misinform. But the reality is different from what is being put forward about what the impact on the least developed countries would be if we were to insist on imported goods meeting our statutory standards and did not accept imported goods of a lesser standard from the least developed countries. I find that deeply offensive to the countries with which we have negotiated a trade agreement, on the basis of everything but arms and the global scheme of preferences. Those trade agreements have included measures to support countries to meet the standards at which we would then allow imports. To say that we would allow imports of less good products at a cheaper rate because they are from a poorer country would be both against the law and contrary to the trade agreements that we have reached with those countries.
The noble Lord is right that we will come on to talk about global scheme of preferences and GSP+. As he knows, this is where countries have an agreement that does go beyond simply tariffs and regulatory standards. It includes, for example, husbandry, environmental practices and labour standards in supply chains, so that we do not import goods from companies that would break domestic law in the treatment of their staff. This is now the norm in trade agreements. I do not know why the Government are wanting to argue that, by maintaining and not dropping our current standards, we are somehow acting against the least developed countries. There were zero imports of beef and poultry from least developed countries last year, for these reasons. If the thrust of the Government’s argument is that this is a bloc, and we will now open up markets for these goods which do not comply with British standards, let them say so—but I do not accept it. That, no doubt, is something we shall return to.
This leads me on to my next point. What is the correct terminology? I hope that the Minister will be very specific in the way he sums up. He has the virtue of having the entire Civil Service behind him to enable him to be very specific. So he will forgive me if I am less specific, but perhaps, when he responds to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, he can be really specific.
Victoria Prentis, the Agriculture Minister, said yesterday in the Commons that
“our current import standards are enshrined in existing legislation. They include a ban on importing beef produced using artificial growth hormones and poultry that has been washed with chlorine … Any changes to that legislation would need to be brought before Parliament.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/20; col. 69.]
As I understood it, the noble Baroness asked how the Government will consider what are statutory protections. Are they within the primary legislation, requiring primary legislation to implement them? Or is it the same as with chlorine, which I referenced in the previous group regarding information provided to me by the NFU?
The regulation states clearly that:
“Food business operators shall not use any substance other than potable water—or, when Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 or this regulation permits its use, clean water—to remove surface contamination from products of animal origin, unless use of the substance has been”
prescribed by the appropriate authority. The Minister said that the appropriate authority was the Food Standards Agency, which is correct. But the change to allow imports of poultry that has been treated with anything other than potable water can be made in a regulation, using the negative procedure, put forward by an agency. On reading what the Government said—that they would be required to bring forward legislation to change that—most people will not infer that. A change to a regulation by an agency, using the negative procedure, does not afford us the proper level of debate about the consequences.
That leads me on to the issue of what is an appropriate body to be an advisory body and to allow debate among those who have an interest, both producer and consumer. I am not sure I agree with the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She suggested that a body such as this would effectively prescribe actions to the Government. It certainly could be a body based on parameters regarding the maintenance of standards. That is not uncommon for those bodies that provide information to Ministers or for bodies that the Government consult.
It is not the case that it is only those far more cynical than I who do not believe the Government on such issues. I am always willing to give the Government a fair wind and to listen to their arguments—although yes, their record might suggest that we have to be that little bit more careful. But I do not think that the Conservative Member for Totnes, the honourable Anthony Mangnall, or the Conservative Member for North East Bedfordshire, the honourable Richard Fuller—who last night in the Commons challenged Victoria Prentis about the trade commission, asking for its life to be extended and for it to be put on a permanent footing—fall into the category of not trusting the Government.
We do not need to labour the point that the Government chose to utilise the fact that the trade commission would require money for it to be set up and therefore it was not even debated by the Commons—the lengths to which the Government seem to go to avoid considering a Lords amendment on the Agriculture Bill are quite extraordinary.
This exchange from Hansard is very informative. Anthony Mangnall asked:
“… will the Minister look to extend the purview of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to longer than six months? It should be a permanent body that is established to scrutinise our trade deals.”
That is a reasonable question. The Minister replied:
“I am afraid that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not within my gift; it is a matter for the Department for International Trade whether the work and life of that commission is extended”—
and so I pass the ball to the noble Lord the Minister. She went on to say:
“It was set up in order to feed directly into our trade negotiations with the US, Australia and New Zealand. We remain open to listening to any concerns about the operation of the commission and will continue to co-operate with DIT to ensure that it meets expectations.”
Richard Fuller then pressed her on it being on the same footing, and asked whether it might be better if it was permanent, so as to cover all agreements. The Minister’s reply was very interesting indeed:
“Whether we want to set it up for future trade agreements is something to discuss another day, but I do not agree that it has anything at all to do with the Bill.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/20; col. 72.]
Clearly, the Agriculture Minister thinks that it is over to the DIT now, with the option of re-establishing the commission when considering new agreements which are not with New Zealand, Australia or the United States. This is a very odd situation for the Government. Putting it on a permanent footing, as this amendment suggests, with a clear, forward-looking approach, is very sensible and far more pragmatic than the ad hocery of whether it should be set up again for new agreements. If the timing of the US, Australia and New Zealand agreements goes well beyond and into 2021, and the trade commission is wound up this December, will it be reconvened to look at a new set of circumstances on that basis?
The Government have unnecessarily got themselves into a bit of a muddle. This amendment, so powerfully moved by the signatories, shows the Government how they can think again and put the commission on a better footing.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the points made by the movers of this amendment in their powerful speeches. What they propose ticks a lot of boxes. It is fair to say that, as we have just heard, this is closely modelled on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and it may therefore suffer from some of the problems it has encountered in recent hours, let alone days. However, taken together, it is a bit surprising that those who drew up these proposals think that they are necessary, given that the intention behind the Government’s move is presumably to try to make sure that this whole area is tidied up and organised in a way that minimises the number of quangos and additional bodies that they have to consult, and gives them as much authority and freedom of movement as they would want in carrying out their negotiating mandates. That is of course what happens under the royal prerogative.
I took from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that this is really about trying to concretise the Government’s commitment—which they have made on many occasions, as we have heard—to our high environmental, labour, food production and animal welfare standards, and to protect our public services. A permanent commission, set up in the way that she talked about, adequately funded and properly located within the corridors of power, could contribute to that and allow a continuing review of how the Government are operating. Whether or not it is effective, I will come to in a minute.
I thank my noble friend Lady Henig for making the case for leading with our high standards. Despite the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, surely we should be saying to the world that we are proud of our high standards and that we challenge those who want to trade with us and access our markets to match us in every aspect, or to persuade us to raise them even higher. If that means that we cannot do trade deals with countries that cannot match our standards for imports, then that is the situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, clearly pointed out. It does not change things, and in any case, it is a good thing.
Further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, if it is true that food standards are set by secondary legislation—and, as he suggested, even by agencies responsible under the primary legislation to have power to change regulations—then, as my noble friend Lady Henig says, we do have a lower standard of scrutiny here. We have an obligation to do something about it. The question is what. I would prefer to see a firm commitment on the face of the Bill which sets our standards in a way that does not permit anyone to change them without full parliamentary scrutiny.
Can we see a way forward? I think we can. From what I have heard from the Minister so far today and in discussion with him, I am positive that we might be able to come forward with something. I would be happy to meet him, during the pause, to progress it. In the interim, I do not think that this amendment has got quite the essence that we are looking for. I believe that it would be perhaps better to focus more on other amendments that come forward.
My Lords, we have had yet another interesting debate where the expertise of noble Lords has been on full display, even if that meant repeating what have perhaps become familiar arguments.
Amendments 54 and 55 in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would set up a new trade body, the international trade commission. This body would be responsible for setting criteria for assessing whether provisions in FTAs on imports of goods into the UK meet or exceed domestic standards of production and would, as a result, set restrictions for which goods could be imported under trade agreements. The other place has debated whether imports would need to meet our domestic production standards—a requirement which would be in addition to meeting existing specifications such as on food safety standards—and decisively rejected such a suggestion.
The Government absolutely recognise the strength of feeling around standards and imports of agricultural products into the UK. We have not only reaffirmed our commitment to maintaining high standards during debates on both this and the Agriculture Bill, and on many other occasions, but have taken clear action. I hope to explain this in more detail shortly. However, I first ask your Lordships to consider the real effect of Amendment 54. It would establish a new, permanent and unelected body, which would set criteria for assessing and scrutinising international trade agreements before they could be laid in Parliament.
The Government consider that this would be inappropriate and harmful to the due process of parliamentary scrutiny—a process which already includes an assessment of the impacts of the trade agreement and allows time for both the International Agreements Sub-Committee of our House, and the International Trade Committee in the other place to produce an independent report on it. The amendment would suspend parliamentary scrutiny of new trade agreements until this new body had been established and the criteria set. I believe that this would harm the interests of UK businesses and consumers. Importantly, it would also leave Parliament beholden to the terms set by the international trade commission. Moreover, the establishment of such a body would place it in direct conflict with existing bodies, which already have the remit and expertise to oversee and advise on standards, such as the food standards agencies, the trade advisory groups and the new Office for Environmental Protection. The creation of an international trade commission would only cause confusion with these trusted agencies, to the detriment of all. Furthermore, the amendment would require overseas countries to produce—and demonstrate that they produce—to UK standards before we would be able to import those goods. As I said, the criteria for such assessment would rest in the hands of a new, untested and unelected trade body.
Currently, the UK imports enormous volumes of food from overseas, including from the developing world. An amendment such as this could have far-reaching and, I am sure, unintended effects, preventing the UK being able to import a range of foods, with significant knock-on effects for supply chains, businesses and consumers within the UK, as well as, importantly, for developing countries and other export partners, which send agricultural products to the UK. For example, Vietnam, Ghana and Indonesia are major exporters of coffee to the UK, and we receive large volumes of bananas from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon. The impact of this amendment, requiring countries to meet the UK’s specific standards across a range of criteria, could ultimately prohibit imports from these trade partners and, in doing so, lose a valuable income stream for those developing countries as well as, frankly, affecting the British businesses and consumers who depend on them. My noble friend Lord Lansley made some powerful points in this regard about the damage that this would cause.
The standards that this amendment seeks to protect are already enshrined in domestic statute and the Government will uphold them. Of course, any changes to existing standards would require new legislation to be scrutinised by Parliament. Decisions around standards are a matter for Parliament and will be made separately from negotiations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will agree with me, even as a new boy, that statutory instruments are a statutory process.
The Government have taken decisive action to uphold our commitments to high standards. First, we have established new trade advisory groups, including a dedicated agrifood group, which will provide technical and strategic expertise that will feed directly into negotiations. Members include such organisations as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the British Retail Consortium, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish Seafood Association, UK Hospitality and Tesco, among others. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, will accept that it would be highly prejudicial to the United Kingdom if our negotiating stance became public when we are in the middle of negotiations. We want to draw on the expertise of the members of these groups during negotiations. This is not secrecy for secrecy’s sake but common sense in asking them to keep confidential the information they receive from their privileged position in these groups.
In June, the Secretary of State for International Trade established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which brings together stakeholders from across the sector to provide recommendations that will inform the Government’s decisions and policy-making in relation to agriculture. The commission will produce a report with its recommendations and the Government have committed to laying this before Parliament. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the resources available to the commission; sadly, I do not have this information to hand but I will write to her.
The recommendations made in the Dimbleby report are under consideration by Defra and will no doubt be responded to by my colleagues there in due course; as my noble friend Lady Noakes reminded us, this report has not yet been finalised. Furthermore, we have listened to concerns around animal welfare in production and have committed to a rapid examination of what can be done through labelling to promote standards and high welfare across the UK.
Our various new initiatives and the setting up of new groups for exploring issues around standards and international trade policy are already looking to tackle some of the issues raised by this amendment. I would, of course, be very happy to meet the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to discuss these matters further. In summary, however, we consider that the creation of a further new body would risk harmful conflict with existing groups with similar functions. I hope that I have managed to reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that there is no need for the body they propose. I therefore ask that the amendment is withdrawn.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lansley, and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his response to the debate. I want to make one point. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, may not have understood my point about the unilateral scheme of preferences in developing countries. It was simply that, since Amendment 54 bites only on those international trade agreements that are subject to the CRaG process, it would not bite on the unilateral scheme of preferences at all. So, it does not do what the mover of the amendment is looking for it to do; when they look again on Report, noble Lords should—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, suggested —take it away and think about how they can support the Government to maintain and deliver our standards, rather than seek to go around them.
My Lords, I am grateful for the clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I think that we will come back to this issue.
The Minister referred to Ghana as a good example. I referenced Ghana in the previous debate. We are still engaging on whether we will have a continuity agreement with it; it has not been agreed yet. The disruption in trade with Ghana will come if we revert to a non-EPA basis at the end of the year, rather than from anything to do with anything in this amendment regarding standards.
Can the Minister state whether we currently import, or will import, any goods from GSP countries or LDCs that do not meet our standards? My understanding is that we do not and will not. We offer them tariffs that are preferential to those for other countries if they have goods to be imported into the UK that meet the standards, because that is under the unilateral trade preferences scheme, but it is not standards that we seek to reduce. The Minister said that insisting on maintaining UK standards would somehow act against least-developed countries, but that does not apply because they do not currently export to us if they do not meet our domestic standards. I wonder whether he can clarify that.
Given that, yesterday, the Agriculture Minister did not categorically shut down the requests from MPs that the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s life be extended and sent over to the DIT, is the Minister’s mind open to the longevity of this Trade and Agriculture Commission? One of the ways forward could conceivably be to extend the lifetime of that commission; we could progress on that basis.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. We will come to GSPs in a later debate; if the perceptive points he made are not answered then, I will perhaps write to him. Secondly, I always keep an open mind about the matters that we debate. We will reflect on the debate that happened in the other place last night.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who contributed. I would be most grateful if my noble friend could extend his invitation to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to myself and the other co-signatories of this amendment, and perhaps also invite the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. This formula worked extremely well with his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, who I am sure would commend it to us.
I suspected, even though I raised this in the House yesterday, that my noble friend would not have the figures on the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s budget. He will be pleased to know that I have the topical Oral Question on Thursday, when I am sure he will be able to provide those figures because they are the subject of the Question.
The International Trade Secretary herself referred to Kenya as a wonderful new country that we are going to do deals with. It subsequently found itself in a spot of bother with avocado pears; we will certainly wish to revisit that.
I do not think that any of the signatories to these amendments intend to tie the Government’s hands; indeed, I do not. The purpose of the amendments was to understand the thinking on the role of, and resources available to, the current Trade and Agriculture Commission. I have no doubt that current members of the commission do not wish to carry on, so this is an opportunity to either reappoint new members to the Trade and Agriculture Commission or revamp it into a new body, such as the one in the US calling itself an International Trade Commission.
To help my noble friend Lady Noakes, Amendment 55 specifically calls for an international trade commission to give advice and reports to the department, the Government and Parliament. It was helpful that my noble friend again clarified, in summing up this debate, that he sees statutory protections as being statutory instruments. I beg to differ. I believe that we need, fairly urgently, primary legislation in this regard, which cannot just be swept away by a negative resolution, as was addressed earlier.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage with the promise, if possible, of an amendment with my noble friend and the other co-signatories—the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis—so that we can progress these matters.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
Amendments 55 to 57 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 58. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
58: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade agreement with the EU: compliance with the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
Any trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that is subject to sections 20 to 25 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is not to be ratified unless it fully complies with the requirements of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland as part of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, as signed and ratified by Her Majesty’s Government.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 58 on the Irish protocol, I will speak to Amendments 59, 65 and 82 in my name, on the Irish Sea, and to the amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, to whom I am most grateful for their support. The amendments have been lumped together in one group, so I am afraid that my speech will be a bit longer than is customary for me. I am sorry to say that Amendments 58 and 59 are not just sensible and prudent to include in this legislation; they are absolutely essential, and I will seek agreement to put them to a vote on Report.
When this House was due to debate a Trade Bill prior to the general election last year, my colleagues and I worked on similar amendments with a similar objective: to protect the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in all its parts and prevent a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland. A year ago, this was already a strong case. It was also consistent with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which is already law and into which this House placed important text along the lines of these amendments, with the eventual agreement of the Government. I hope that the Minister will note that in his reply. However, today—one year on—including these additional protections could not be more important for this Bill and for the Internal Markets Bill, on which we will have Second Reading on 19 October.
I remember only too well the Government’s responses to myself and colleagues on a cross-party basis in 2018 and 2019 as we sought explicitly to include these protections for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. “Trust us”, they said. “Of course, we will protect the Good Friday agreement, and of course we will ensure no hard border”, they insisted. “This is superfluous and unnecessary”, we were told.
I am sorry but we did not trust them then and we definitely do not trust this Government now—not after their actions in recent weeks. We thought that they could not get any worse in their cavalier and dangerous approach to Northern Ireland—part of our United Kingdom—but they have surpassed themselves. As noble Lords will know, I had the honour to serve as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as did other noble Lords. It was a real privilege to hold that office. Those of us who have served, whether Labour or Conservative, know how unique and ever-fragile matters are on the island of Ireland.
The peace process is not done and dusted—it remains a continual challenge. That is why I and other previous Secretaries of State were so horrified when the current holder of that important office, Brandon Lewis, nonchalantly and very deliberately let it slip in the other place that the internal market Bill
“does break international law in a limited and specific way”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/9/20; col. 507.]
Tellingly, among those expressing their horror were Secretary of State Lewis’s two immediate Conservative predecessors, Julian Smith and Karen Bradley. Add to that multiple previous Prime Ministers and Attorneys-General, not to mention the Northern Ireland envoy of the current President of the United States, the Democratic nominee for President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
We must vote decisively to add the provisions in these amendments to this Bill, soon to the internal market Bill, and to any other relevant Bill that comes before us. The Government may not respect the law any more, so the law must tie the Government’s hands appropriately. We must leave no stone unturned, no route open to them to wriggle out of. I regret to put it so firmly, but I am afraid that that is what we are dealing with. Even without the developments of recent weeks, we need Amendments 58 and 59. We have included a specific obligation to fully respect and implement the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as included in the withdrawal agreement that this very Government agreed, and this Parliament ratified.
As I have said here before, sadly, this Prime Minister, his Ministers and advisers, continue to try to pretend that Northern Ireland is no different from anywhere else—that it is just another border, just another straightforward place. I might have given Kent as an example of a straightforward place but, of course, we now know that the Government are actively preparing for a hard border there too.
Let us remind ourselves why we have the Northern Ireland protocol. The border, of course, is the key sensitive issue, over which much blood has been spilt over the generations, and much suffering endured. It is a 300-mile border with 300 crossings, unlike almost any other border in the world, but there is more to the protocol than the border. We have the unique arrangements under the Good Friday/Belfast agreement for north-south co-operation—no less than 157 different areas of cross-border work and co-operation in Ireland, north and south.
These areas are the things of everyday life; they go well beyond animals and food and we must not ever have a new border erected to block or discourage them. People can travel to and fro, do business, get educated or get health treatment, as if the border were invisible. I shall give just a few examples of these arrangements: food, tourism, schools, colleges, farming, fighting crime, tackling environmental pollution, water quality and supply, waste management, bus services, train services, cancer care, GPs and prescriptions, blood transfusions, gas supply, electricity supply and, yes, co-operation on health pandemics as well.
Almost every one of these areas is about people’s everyday lives and almost all were linked to the European Union, and Ireland’s and the UK’s common membership of it since 1973. With regret, I accept the reality that we have left the European Union, but that is precisely why we have this Irish protocol: to ensure there is no interference with or disruption to those arrangements, either through no deal, reneging on the protocol or any new trade agreements we may someday strike with other partners. For if there were to be, it would be a major step backwards, making the Irish border a contentious matter again, with all the danger to peace and stability that that will mean. We must prevent that happening at all costs.
I have said it in your Lordships’ House before and I will say it here again: the work of successive UK and Irish Governments in helping courageous and visionary leaders in Northern Ireland was all about taking down borders, not putting them up. These amendments would ensure that our Government stay true to that vital mission.
I turn to Amendments 65 and 82, covering the Irish Sea question. Northern Ireland faces great uncertainty as we exit the transition period. Although the Northern Ireland/Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement guarantees Northern Ireland free access to and from the single market of the European Union for goods, three areas of grave concern still exist. The first is what the future UK-EU relationship will look like; the more distant this is, especially if there is no deal, the greater the impact of the protocol when it comes to the movement of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. This means that internal UK trade is potentially in play here; this is why it has been picked upon by the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, but in a way that only increases the risk to that slim certainty that Northern Ireland had, and only increases the likelihood of no deal and of badly damaged trust.
Secondly, there is uncertainty about how the protocol will operate in practice. The trader support service is a vital element in this operation, but there are still some 60 “known unknowns” when it comes to how the protocol is to be enforced. The doubt instigated by the Government’s move in the internal market Bill escalates concerns from merely being about practice to being about the very legal status of this protocol itself.
Thirdly, there is uncertainty about Northern Ireland’s status with regards to free trade agreements. Although it will be de facto in the European Union’s customs union and single market, it looks as though Northern Ireland will not benefit from the free trade agreements held by the EU. This could prove to be severely disruptive to its export markets. More directly, there are worries that, for all the promises of the Government, Northern Ireland will be effectively excluded from the UK’s future free trade agreements too. While your Lordships’ House can do little to affect the first of these three concerns, Amendments 65 and 82 seek to address the other two.
Amendment 65 would ensure that Northern Ireland goods are not discriminated against. The UK has said that Northern Ireland will benefit from access to its new free trade agreements. This makes sense, on one hand, because Northern Ireland is in the UK customs territory. However, it is not straightforward, because the EU customs code will be applied in Northern Ireland, as will its standards for the production of goods. As a consequence, there is a possibility that when it comes to free trade agreements, a potential free trade agreement partner will say, “Hang on, what’s the story with Northern Ireland? Why will our goods have to go through customs procedures to get into it, and why do EU goods have free access into Northern Ireland, and thus potentially unfettered access into Great Britain?” These things make it difficult to deal with the UK as a single entity. What will the UK do in such a scenario and in response to such a free trade agreement negotiating partner?
There is a risk that Northern Ireland will not be included in future UK free trade agreements, or that there will subsequently be discrimination against Northern Ireland goods, or even new customs processes when entering Great Britain. This is a particular risk as long as there is no serious anti-avoidance regime to stop Republic of Ireland or EU goods passing off as Northern Ireland goods and thus getting free access into Great Britain, undermining ones from the rest of the world. Even more fundamentally, there is a question about the status and labelling of Northern Ireland goods, because these have to follow EU rules on labelling as well, of course, as on standards. Because Northern Ireland goods will be produced in accordance with EU rules under the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, this amendment would ensure that Northern Ireland goods, in particular, will not be discriminated against as a consequence of any new UK free trade agreements.
Ministers often pooh-pooh these concerns, but take the very practical example of a perfect storm coming in Northern Ireland when it comes to food poverty. This is because of increase grocery costs for goods coming from Great Britain, especially for those in rural communities reliant on small retailers. Add to that jobs lost from the coronavirus pandemic and the growing numbers on universal credit—up from 58,000 in February this year to 108,000 in May and, I guess, more since—which is proven to increase food poverty, as any families living on universal credit can testify.
One in five individuals and one in four children in Northern Ireland is in relative poverty. A fifth of children in Northern Ireland are growing up in absolute poverty. There is a greater proportion of children in Northern Ireland on free school meals than in any other region or nation of the UK, and the first people to suffer if the costs of groceries rise are the poorest and most vulnerable.
What Northern Ireland needs most is a UK-EU deal to build on the protocol and be implemented in a way that avoids hard borders anywhere around the region. It also needs the assurance that it will benefit from future UK deals. These amendments mean that there will be smooth movement for rest-of-the-world goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, thus helping Northern Ireland consumers realise any benefits of future UK free trade agreements. They also mean that future UK free trade agreements should not lead to any new fetters on movement of goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain.
I now turn to the trader support service addressed in Amendment 82. It was established to facilitate trade from Great Britain and rest-of-the-world goods into Northern Ireland, but it is currently only for a two-year period. Amendment 82 extends that support indefinitely for goods from outside the UK, including goods that transit through the rest of the UK. I very much hope the Minister will see the virtue and sense in this.
The trader support service is the most substantive move by the Government to demonstrate that they will operate the protocol and act to smooth the impact of doing so on Northern Ireland businesses and consumers. However, it concerns not only Great Britain goods entering Northern Ireland but also those goods entering Northern Ireland via Great Britain from the rest of the world. The trader support service essentially means that the costs and administrative burden of managing the impact of the protocol will not fall on the Northern Ireland consumer, for that is where business costs ultimately end up.
At the moment, the trader support service is just for two years: January 2021 to December 2022. This means that there is deep uncertainty for Northern Ireland regarding access for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, including the costs and complexities of import declarations and safety and security declarations.
Putting the trader support service into legislation as a long-term commitment for trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would be essential to security and long-term planning for businesses in the Northern Ireland economy, not least because the trader support service is for goods that enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain that are coming from any third country—that is, Great Britain and the rest of the world. If the trader support service is to be free to use for all imports to Northern Ireland from the rest of the world, this helps ensure that Northern Ireland is not discriminated against as a result of the protocol.
I very much hope that the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, will accept these four amendments. We are always grateful for his courtesy, decency and diligence in responding to amendments such as this, and for his conduct in the House. I hope that, if he has any technical issues of drafting, he will offer to address these with us. Otherwise, it is my hope that we will vote on Report on these Cross-Bench supported, all-party amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, as a co-signatory of these amendments. Coming from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, where I was born, grew up, was educated and served as a Member in the other place, a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a Minister, I am only too well aware of the impact that the European Union had in Northern Ireland. Clearly, we do not want to see borders in the Irish Sea or on the island of Ireland.
I cast my mind back to the early 1990s and the Maastricht treaty, which allowed the border to be evaporated in many ways and opened up the whole island to trade with each other and with the island of Great Britain. The Good Friday agreement established the infrastructure that facilitated north-south co-operation, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly and those important east-west considerations through the British-Irish Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has elaborated quite considerably the impact of these amendments, which I fully support and concur with. They deal with the need to protect the Northern Ireland protocol, which ensures that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the intrinsic quality and content of the Good Friday agreement as characterised in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to prevent the return of a hard border on the island and the protection of Northern Ireland free trade agreements in the GB context.
Amendment 58 means that, in any trade agreement with the EU, there must be compliance with the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to prevent that hard border. Being part of the EU ensured the eradication of that border; there was seamless trade which bolstered the economy of both parts of the island, particularly the counties which straddled the border, which is some 300 miles long, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to. It would be impossible to have tariffs, as there are so many crossing points and the costs of such infrastructure would be highly prohibitive and a disincentive to our economy and society. We have grown so much together; the very fact that we have the restoration of those political institutions is characteristic of that ongoing work.
The bottom line is the UK’s commitment to north-south co-operation, the guarantee of avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure, and the checks and controls that must be compatible with the overall withdrawal agreement. That is how we understand the Northern Ireland protocol. It is important that it not be undermined by the internal market Bill which comes to your Lordships’ House next week for Second Reading.
Amendment 59 addresses the need for the continuation of north-south trade and the prevention of customs arrangements at borders. It means honouring the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland Act, and the withdrawal Act—both of those are international treaties, and the internal market Bill should not be allowed to override them.
Amendment 60 is Northern Ireland-GB specific. All trade agreements must benefit every part of the UK equally, with no exclusions. This is needed to avoid the risk that Northern Ireland is excluded from future UK free trade agreements due to the complexity of its differential arrangements. There is a condition that no free trade agreement can be concluded by the UK if it does not apply equally to all regions and nations of the UK. This is to prevent Northern Ireland being excluded, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, from free trade agreements. This was raised last Thursday in the fourth session of Committee.
Amendment 65 intersects with the Northern Ireland protocol. As Northern Ireland goods will be produced in accordance with EU rules under the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, this amendment will ensure that Northern Ireland goods will not be discriminated against as a consequence of any new UK free trade agreements.
The trader support service, which supports businesses moving goods from Britain into Northern Ireland, will simply be temporary. Amendment 82 would ensure long-term commitment to it. At the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, it will be for only two years. However, putting it into legislation as a long-standing commitment from Britain to Northern Ireland would be essential to security and long-term planning for the Northern Ireland economy. It would also be of assistance to free trade agreements, because the trader support service is for goods that enter Northern Ireland from Britain that are coming from any third country. It would also involve no extra costs and would cover the cost of export health certificates. We also have to take note of the changed circumstances because of the rising levels of poverty, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to, and the growing reliance on food banks at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic.
I urge the Minister to give very positive consideration to these amendments and to support them. If we do not get support today, we will come back on Report. It is important that the intricate sets of relationships that have already been created on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain, which have allowed free movement of people and trade and have bolstered the economies on both islands, are allowed to persist and continue. Those intricate sets of relationships need to be developed because they break down barriers in the minds of people and on the islands, and the last thing we need is the establishment of new borders and new islands.
I can remember travelling to the Republic of Ireland as a child. You were stopped at the border, and customs clearance guys on either side asked your parents very deep and pressing questions about what might have sounded like trivial matters. Thankfully, that day has long gone. We do not want to see a restoration of that or the imposition of any such barriers because it simply injures trade, stops important business, and prevents local communities, which have so many connections with each other, growing.
I am very happy to support these amendments, and I recommend them to your Lordships’ House for positive consideration. I hope that the Minister will consider approving them.
My Lords, I agree with Amendment 58 and I hope all noble Lords agree with it, because it is our shared intention. I am pretty sure that it is the intention of those negotiating on the part of the European Union that they will enter into an agreement that is thoroughly and completely compatible with the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
However, the main point I want to make, apart from a subsidiary one on Amendment 82, is that this is neither necessary or, in truth, effective. Noble Lords will recall a number of occasions in Committee when we discussed carefully the distinction between on the one hand the ratification of treaties and on the other their implementation into domestic legislation. In this instance, we already have in domestic legislation the enforcement of this principle. It is in Sections 21 to 24 and Schedule 3 to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which says, not least in Section 24, that Ministers of the Crown can make no alteration to the Belfast agreement. Therefore our domestic legislation already provides for our compliance with the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The point is that the purpose of this is to say that we will not ratify an agreement with the EU if it does not say that. I hope it will say that, but if it were not compatible, in any case it would have no effect in domestic law because domestic legislation already says that.
However, I point out that we will come on to discuss this in this Chamber on Monday—although I may not be participating—in the Internal Market Bill, when we will be discussing a domestic legislative provision which would enable Ministers to disapply aspects of the protocol. The fact that the EU-UK agreement was or was not ratified does not change that. The question is about how the EU agreement with the United Kingdom is translated into domestic legislation. If we have that provision in the Internal Market Bill, the protocol could be disapplied, notwithstanding what is in the EU-UK deal. My view is that we should not have such a provision in the Internal Market Bill, but we will come on to debate that later.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the supporters of the amendment that they might like between now and Report to consider, first, what will happen on the Internal Market Bill, which I submit is of legislative significance, and, subject to that, whether they really need to argue that the deal with the European Union should not be ratified. I do not think that would be helpful in this context.
I will make one smaller and subsidiary point about Amendment 82. Only today, my noble friend Lord Agnew, speaking on behalf of the Treasury, said, “I can’t pretend that I am not worried that we haven’t nailed all this down.” By “all this” he meant all the provisions for the arrangements for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Time is short and the complexities are considerable. The trader support service is still being put in place. I therefore hope that my noble friend in responding to this debate will be able to say comforting things about the implementation of the trader support service. Amendment 82 does not have the effect that is claimed for it. It says that people should be able to access the trader support service at no cost. It does not say that there must be a trader support service, and it does not say that it must last beyond two years. If that is the intention of the supporters of the amendment, I rather agree with them. However, the trader support service is at the moment an administrative scheme. It would be simpler and better for Ministers to say that they are perfectly willing to review the need for that service and to continue it for as long as there is an agreed need among those who are trading with and through Northern Ireland and maintain it as an administrative scheme.
It is always a pleasure to speak to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hain on Northern Ireland affairs. His commitment to Northern Ireland is second to none, and he always speaks with great authority and concern.
The progress towards building a better future for Northern Ireland and indeed the Republic has been remarkable. However, it is a human story in which very many people have been involved and committed themselves. A great deal has been happening at the community level in Northern Ireland. Central to all that has been the need for trust. A great disturbance was caused to that healing process based on trust when we came out of the European Union because the minority population in Northern Ireland had always felt that when we were in the European Union, they had the authority of the institutions of Europe, not least the court and everything, which were there to reassure them. That was a big shock.
We then negotiated the protocols. The protocols again are crucial not just technically in trade matters but as a process of building a situation in which there can be trust and faith in the future. It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of the Good Friday agreement. Let us never forget that the Good Friday agreement became possible by the magnificent work of Tony Blair and his colleagues, but also because of the work done, before Tony Blair took office, by John Major and his colleagues.
We have a huge responsibility and we must never do anything inadvertently or indirectly—as well as directly —to undermine that process of trust building and confidence in the future. These should be our guiding principles in all that we are tackling in trade matters and I am glad that we have my noble friend Lord Hain watching it like a hawk.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity with this small group of amendments to press forward some of the evidence that we heard on the EU Environment Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit. While my noble friend Lord Lansley said that this amendment should not be needed, I rather regret that it may be and I would like to take this opportunity to press my noble friend the Minister in this regard.
The Government have made a commitment under the Northern Irish protocol that there will be unfettered access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. The position on exit summary declarations is as yet unclear and the discussions between the Government—presumably Defra and the Department for International Trade—and the Assembly in Northern Ireland do not seem to have been going as straightforwardly as one would wish.
In the letter that we wrote to the Minister—I believe in September, so we probably have not had a reply—we highlighted the need for training and awareness raising in what information gathering those we heard from, including farming organisations, freight operators and other businesses involved in this trade, will be required to make and submit under the new checks and controls. Those we heard felt, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said, that they would benefit hugely from a trusted trader scheme. It would be interesting to hear what state that is at.
With those few queries, I would be grateful if my noble friend could respond to the serious issues that were raised. This is pretty much the 11th hour. We are now in the middle of October and these checks and controls presumably are meant to be in place ahead of 1 January. These amendments provide for us to obtain an update at a timely moment.
My Lords, I wish to speak only to Amendment 82 in this group. I generally try not to speak on matters about Northern Ireland, because life is too short.
I completely agree with what my noble friend Lord Lansley said on the trader support service. In particular, I am sure that, if there were a need for further support at the end of the two years, any responsible Government would ensure that such support was available. I remind noble Lords that it is a temporary facility in order to help traders become accustomed to the new arrangements, whatever they finally turn out to be. It includes training. It is not to take over from the traders handling the paperwork; it is to train them so that it becomes part of their everyday activities. In that context, two years may well still be enough, although I accept that there is uncertainty at the moment.
The amendment says that the service can be accessed at no cost—that is, of course, no cost to the trader, but there will be a cost to the public purse. I just say to noble Lords that, if they pass the amendment, they are walking straight into financial privilege.
My Lords, I will be brief. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, have outlined clearly the sad and urgent need for these amendments. I particularly commend the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, speaking from the heart from a lifetime of experience on the ground. Lives and businesses have been peacefully and productively intertwined between Northern Ireland and Ireland and must not be torn asunder.
It is a year since I came into your Lordships’ House. I did not appreciate then—although, in retrospect, perhaps I should have, given that it was just after the unlawful Prorogation of the other place—that in 12 months’ time I would have to join a broad coalition of fellow Peers speaking up simply for the rule of law, the Government having explicitly disavowed adherence to it.
We are daily reminded of the fragility, instability and weakness of our current institutional arrangements and the pressing need to make the UK a modern, functional democracy. I go back to a paper from the Constitution Society in 2019, which noted:
“We have long assumed that those who rise to high office will be ‘good chaps’”.
The gendered nature of that phrase is telling but not my main point. The paper concludes that general standards of good behaviour among senior UK politicians can no longer be taken for granted.
Reflecting on the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that these amendments are unnecessary because they are already covered, my response would be that, on an issue of this importance, we need to seek every possible protective mechanism in these circumstances. That is the context in which these amendments come before us. The practical reality is that they create laws that then may well have to be enforced on the Government. I urge the proponents to pursue them to the utmost.
My Lords, in his eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out the background and the history to this important group of amendments on Northern Ireland. I am pleased to have been able to add my name to the amendments. I am also delighted to have received the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on Amendment 58, although I felt that there were perhaps some contradictions in his argumentation. I look forward to seeing him in our Division Lobbies when we come to vote on this on Report.
We heard some extremely passionate speeches from other noble Lords, in particular from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who has also signed these amendments and who spoke so movingly about the realities and threats that we face on the ground in Northern Ireland. I shall limit my remarks to Amendments 58 and 59.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, if a year ago there was already a strong case for these amendments, since the introduction of the internal market Bill they have become ever more important to safeguarding the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. I hope that these amendments, or similar, will be retabled on Report, so that we can test the opinion of the House.
It is worth briefly recalling how the Government have taken us to this point. We are in this situation because from the outset the Government have promised a series of incompatible things, namely that the whole of the UK would leave the customs union and the single market, that special status for Northern Ireland was ruled out and that there should remain no border on the island of Ireland.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, so powerfully said, since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, trade, business and complex supply lines on the island of Ireland have all developed against the backdrop of membership of the EU single market and EU trade policy. These positive links across the island of Ireland are perhaps one of the reasons why the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
We then had the flawed deal proposed by Theresa May’s Government—but which was, perhaps, arguably better than the agreement that we now have—which ultimately failed. Then in January of this year, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act, including the Northern Ireland protocol, was passed into law. We should recall that that protocol was agreed by this Government as part of the withdrawal agreement; it is not something that was imposed by Brussels. It is therefore a sign of the rather peculiar times in which we are living that a cross-party group of Peers are having to defend what is this Government’s own stated policy.
The Northern Ireland protocol is, we believe, the very minimum that is acceptable to defend and maintain the progress made on the island of Ireland. It is there to maintain the peace process and to prevent a hard border. Amendments 58 and 59 are both, in essence, restating what is—and I hope will still be—the stated policy of the Government. If there is any uncertainty, then that is also of the Government’s own making, with the introduction of the internal market Bill. On that basis, I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to this debate and to these amendments.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate at a very high level. Of course, that is inevitable if you have a former Secretary of State and a former Minister of the Province lending their expertise and knowledge to the issues that we have before us. My noble friend Lord Hain was very precise when he said that it was a difficult group to speak to, because there seemed to be two parts to it, and almost a third one with the trader support service, as we have discussed. However, I think we gained by having all three amendments discussed together, focusing on all the problems facing this troubled area, and by having drawn to our attention, which we need from time to time, the hope and enthusiasm that there is for a future in the Province as a result of the changes that were brought forward through the Good Friday agreement and subsequently.
I just have two or three small points to make. My noble friend Lord Hain was right to suggest that, irrespective of recent events, we probably would have wanted to return to this issue in this Bill at this time from the prospect of international trade because of the concerns of people in the Province about how they will be treated as part of the United Kingdom. That has doubled in focus—if that is a possible term—because we are now aware of the machinations that the Government have thrust into the debate by seeking to legislate in the internal market Bill; but, of course, that will be for next week. We have to deal with where things are at the moment, with the international outrage over the breaches in international law that have been threatened. It is right, therefore, to ensure that, at the end of the day, the Government are forced to respect the law as it currently stands and have no wiggle room to change it.
Secondly, picking up the points made by both my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, there is much more to the Northern Irish protocol than simply issues relating to the border, important though they are. It would be completely beyond any sensible movement if we were to engage in a process that led to a block or discouragement in growth in the confidence and security that the Good Friday agreement has provided across all aspects of everyday life in Northern Ireland. It is, indeed, the cornerstone of peace and security there, and we change it at our peril.
Turning to Amendment 65 and the questions that it raises about the Irish Sea and its position in relation to the borders of both the European Union and Great Britain, I am beginning to think that this is beginning to adopt some of the aspects of the Schleswig-Holstein question of the last century or two, or even of Schrödinger’s cat, since we are talking about trying to legislate for an area that is simultaneously both a member of two customs unions and subject to variables in terms of the operation of the law, depending on which way it is facing. My noble friend Lord Hain was right to point out that we still do not know enough about where the EU-UK agreement will leave us; we do not know how the protocol will operate in practice and what will happen in the next few years; and we are uncertain about where the Northern Ireland operation will be in relation to the free trade agreement with the EU. Will it align more towards the EU, or will it be more like the FTAs that the UK will negotiate; and if that is the case, how will we make sure that they are properly applied? There are lots of questions here, and the amendment helps to clarify the issues. Whatever the truth of that is, Northern Ireland needs an assurance about how it should go forward.
On the trader support service, it might well be defective in law, but the intention is very clear. I hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, he can give support to the idea that it continues.
My Lords, the amendments in this group all relate to various aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol. Amendments 58 and 59, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, seek to make the ratification of any future UK-EU international trade agreement contingent on compliance with the protocol. I listened very carefully to the hard-hitting and long speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I am very aware that he speaks passionately on Northern Ireland matters as an ex-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and that he spoke again today with great passion. We have been clear that we remain completely committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We are committed to implementing the protocol in a flexible and proportionate way, protecting the interests of both the whole United Kingdom and the EU.
Our proposals for implementing the protocol will deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market, ensure that there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK’s customs territory, discharge our obligations without the need for any new customs infrastructure for Northern Ireland, and guarantee that Northern Ireland businesses benefit from the lower tariffs that we deliver through our new free trade agreements with third countries. This approach is, in our view, the best route for commanding the broadest possible support across the whole community in Northern Ireland, respecting the myriad ways in which lives and livelihoods are intertwined right across our United Kingdom. This came out, again, in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
The Bill that we are debating here does not address the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Other than the government procurement agreement, it is concerned only with continuity agreements: that is, agreements to which both the EU and the relevant third country were signatories before exit day. While I understand the noble Lord’s concerns, there will be better opportunity to debate them elsewhere. In accordance with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, both Houses will have the opportunity to debate any UK-EU future trade agreement before it is ratified. Similarly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, acknowledged—and the reasons were eloquently outlined in the speech of my noble friend Lord Lansley—noble Lords will soon have a chance to debate their concerns regarding the protocol when the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill reaches this House all too soon, on Monday, for scrutiny.
I turn now to Amendment 60, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lady Altmann. As I set out during our debate last week on devolution, the Government have engaged closely with the devolved Administrations and have taken significant steps to improve this Bill. I hope this was made clear in the remarks that I made last week. I would like to take this opportunity to inform your Lordships that the Scottish Parliament consented to grant an LCM to the Trade Bill last week. I hope that this illustrates the close engagement that the Government have undertaken and will continue to undertake with the devolved Administrations.
On Amendment 65, the Government will ensure unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, ensuring that businesses and individuals will be able to move goods from Northern Ireland into the rest of the United Kingdom on the same basis as now, while also benefitting from new trade deals. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will ensure that businesses based in Northern Ireland have true unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom by ensuring that they benefit from mutual recognition and are not discriminated against. This will be the case whatever the outcome of negotiations with the EU.
On Amendment 82, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, I am pleased to say the new Trader Support Service—the so-called TSS—that the Government are introducing, will provide an end-to-end service that will guide traders through all import processes. It will provide extensive support to businesses engaging in new administrative procedures resulting from the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. It is a free service available to all traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and those importing goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the world.
In response to various questions on TSS, I shall give a little more detail. It will offer the following core services. The TSS will benefit trader education by educating businesses about what the protocol means for them and the steps they need to take to comply with them. Secondly, it will support businesses when submitting declarations and advise them about additional documents and licences they will need; for example, a permit is needed to import endangered species. It will provide a complete service that submits relevant declarations into CDS, submits relevant safety and security declarations into HMRC’s import control system, the ICS, and in some circumstances will transmit transit declarations on NCTS.
In answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Lansley, the TSS and its future will be reviewed after two years. My noble friend Lady Noakes asked about costs. She will know, and I want to emphasise, that the TSS is a unique intervention, backed by £200 million of government funding.
I hope that these explanations address your Lordships’ concerns and that they will not wish to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Stevenson and all those who have spoken in this debate, beginning with my noble friend Lady Ritchie, who speaks with authority as someone affected daily by our decisions in this Parliament. She spoke eloquently about the intricate relationships so carefully and painstakingly built over decades to break down barriers. We must not do anything that reverses that process.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said that he agrees with Amendment 58, but that it is not necessary because it is already in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, rightly argued that in the internal market Bill a part of the protocol is being repudiated. I say with some sensitivity and moderation to the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, that there is a lack of trust regarding the Northern Ireland-Irish protocol situation that has been engendered by the Government themselves.
The Government signed up to a protocol that they are now seeking to undermine through the internal market Bill, breaching international law and breaching trust with Dublin so painfully built over careful decades of negotiation and relationships. The relationship between Dublin and London now is terrible, and I can totally understand that as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We should never have got into this situation. As the noble Baroness rightly says, it is ironic that a group of cross-party Peers is having to defend what is nominally the Government’s own policy but which they are undermining. That is why these amendments are absolutely necessary.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said the Trader Support Service would be extended if needed, so why not put it in the Bill through the amendments concerned? If there is a technical issue, the Minister can come back on Report and propose the addition of a regulation allowing the Government to extend it. Presently, it is limited to two years. I am puzzled about the Minister’s response. Effectively, he is saying that he agrees with these amendments in principle, but that on the one hand there is no need for them and on the other there is an opportunity for them later. I say gently to him that there is always supposed to be an opportunity later, but the reality is that by the time later comes it is too late. A trade deal may not have been struck with the EU and the consequences will already be a fait accompli.
I say again to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that Northern Ireland is unique, and because it is unique these provisions need to be placed in statute in a way in which they would almost certainly not in other parts of the UK. It is Northern Ireland’s tangled history, bitterness and bloodshed, and all the complex relationships built to overcome that make these amendments absolutely necessary. The Minister promises that there will be no barriers to the intentions behind these four amendments. If so, why not agree to them? Why not remove any distrust and uncertainty by agreeing to them going into the Bill?
On the Trader Support Service, the Minister did not address the uncertainties felt particularly by Northern Ireland businesses and businesses trading into Northern Ireland from the UK. The situation feels extremely fluid to them, as it does to me. No one knows how all this will fall out. No one know the relationships, checks and customs arrangements that will be across the Irish Sea and what burdens they will put on people. As the Government have conceded, despite the Prime Minister’s initial denials, there will be processes involved, compliance required and forms to fill in, albeit online. This will require time and resource from Northern Ireland businesses already hard-pressed and under pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
The Minister says the situation will be constantly reviewed, but there are lots of uncertainties about trade into Northern Ireland from the rest of the world, including the UK. The purpose of the amendments, particularly Amendments 65 and 82, is to nail down those uncertainties. If the TSS might need to be extended, why not make it indefinite? What are we not being told?
There is a real question of trust which the Government needs to address, not to noble Lords who have supported the amendments but to businesses in Northern Ireland that feel extremely uncertain presently and are very worried about their future. This is especially the case for those who trade across the Irish Sea and are worried about the extra cost burdens at a time when they can least afford it. I therefore hope that the Minister will reconsider these amendments. I would be very happy to take a phone call from him about any technical changes that he might want in order for the Government to agree to the amendments and avoid a Division on them on Report.
Amendment 58 withdrawn.
Amendments 59 to 63 not moved.
We come now to Amendment 64. I remind noble Lords, as before, that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
64: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament in relation to each year from 1 January 2021, prepared as soon as practicable after the end of that year, including—(a) the measures adopted by the Secretary of State to secure the benefits of the international trade agreements entered into by the United Kingdom, and which are in force during the course of that year; and (b) the trade and export promotion strategies which the Secretary of State proposes in order to realise the economic benefits of those international trade agreements to enterprises in the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require Ministers to report to Parliament on how the benefits of new Free Trade Agreements are to be realised, including the trade and export promotion strategies they intend to adopt.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to move Amendment 64, the purpose of which is to seek from Ministers an annual report, starting after the end of 2021, showing what measures they have taken to exploit the benefits of the trade agreements into which the UK has entered and setting out how they propose to maximise the realisation of those benefits in future.
I should say that I was recently appointed the vice-chair of an all-party parliamentary group for trade and export promotion. Happily, it has gathered support from all sides of this House and the other place, led by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and Gary Sambrook in the Commons. It is timely that we should come together in this new all-party parliamentary group since it is important that we support businesses as part of the global Britain exercise to realise the benefits of trade and exports across the world. In many respects, globalisation has stopped. The expansion of global trade had stopped even at the end of 2019 and has gone backwards in 2020, for obvious reasons. The difficulties of achieving export activity and entry into markets in the midst of a Covid crisis are palpable. Businesses need our support and help; I hope that one thing we can do is ensure that the voice of business and those organisations that speak for and represent it will be heard here in this House.
My noble friend the Minister and I probably hark back to the days when we were responsible for trade policy in the British Government. I remember that, when I was a civil servant in the Department of Trade and Industry, I was responsible for the chemicals and petrochemicals aspect of the generalised system of preferences. We had shared competence with the European Commission in those days before we lost it altogether. The point is that those of us who have experience of managing trade policy in the British Government have to be, almost by definition, in our 60s or older. So we are learning afresh; happily, the Department for International Trade is learning fast and operating on a broad canvas.
However, the bandwidth inside the DIT for this task is taken up with the business of putting trade agreements in place. That is a vital job but we cannot afford to lose sight of the job that is also an essential part of the DIT: leading our trade and export promotion activity. The DIT does not do that alone—it does it with other departments across Whitehall, not least the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—but it is not down to all of us, not just government, to achieve this. It is down to businesses, chambers of commerce—including the International Chamber of Commerce and bilateral chambers of commerce around the world—and trade associations to make this happen, but they need to know what the government strategy is to do so.
I want to say in passing that there is a tendency—President Trump is particularly guilty of this sin—to take a mercantilist approach to trade deals. When we make a trade deal, he seems to think that he can directly manipulate the volumes of trade between countries as a result of that deal. In fact, he is beginning to find that that does not happen; in truth, we should not expect it to. We are, I hope, facilitating, liberalising and expediting trade, but that requires the activities of businesses and traders to make it happen. The volume of trade is a direct result of their activities, so we need to enable them to exploit trade deals.
Also, it is far from the case that what is written into a trade deal necessarily results in exploit