Skip to main content

Trade and Agriculture Commission and Trade Remedies Authority

Volume 806: debated on Thursday 15 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the budget for (1) the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and (2) the Trade Remedies Authority.

My Lords, the commission members are unpaid and are reimbursed for reasonable travel costs. They are supported by a secretariat run by DIT, made up of officials from various government departments and paid for out of their respective departmental budgets. We estimate the cost of the commission’s secretariat to be £770,000 over the duration of its term. The 2020-21 financial year budget for the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate is £12,210,307. Once established, provisions will be made in accordance with usual procedures to fund the TRA.

My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. It confirms that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not independent but run entirely by the Department for International Trade. Will my noble friend concede that there is a widely held view that the commission should become a permanent body or, as suggested by his adviser, Henry Dimbleby, replaced by an independent, permanent body to make sure that the commission and its standards are statutory, and that it has its own budget, resources and staff. Otherwise, it is a sham, an empty vessel, and is not able to do the work that it has been charged by the Government to do.

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not agree with my noble friend. The commission is an independent body and is made up of independent-minded representatives from across the agriculture, retail, consumer, hospitality, animal health and environmental sectors. It questions their integrity to think that they are other than completely independent.

With regards to the Trade Remedies Authority and its resourcing, given that we are fast approaching the end of the transition period and in an uncertain climate, if I may put it that way, can my noble friend assure us that the authority will, come January, have sufficient resources to be effective and capable of supporting ongoing and topical tariff issues between Boeing and Airbus, given all the implications for competitiveness and manufacturing, which means so much for employment, particularly in Wales?

My Lords, current plans are for the TRA to have 129 posts. Currently, more than 75% are filled within the TRID. I am certain that there are enough resources and the authority will be able to undertake the duties given to it.

My Lords, during our debates in Committee on the Trade Bill, Ministers have resisted making amendments to align trade policy and agreements with our environmental and climate obligations in the Bill. They have, however, assured us of

“the Government’s commitment to addressing the global environmental challenges that we face.”—[Official Report, 13/10/20; col. 1068]

What mechanisms will they put in place to ensure that the TRA and the Secretary of State receive appropriate advice on climate and environmental considerations? Will there, for example, be consultation with the Committee on Climate Change?

My Lords, the Government take their responsibility towards climate change and net zero extremely conscientiously. I can reassure the noble Baroness that we take advice from and consult all those bodies as appropriate when we are considering FTAs.

My Lords, the Trade Remedies Authority is basically about locking the stable door after the horse has bolted and dumping has occurred. Given the Minister’s statement, it has a generous budget compared with that of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which is about maintenance of standards and preventing dumping before it happens. Is that a sign of how unimportant the Government believe the Trade and Agriculture Commission to be, as already signalled by its stunted remits and limited period of existence?

My Lords, with all due respect, I do not accept the hypothesis advance by the noble Baroness. The Government have been clear that we will not sign a trade deal that will compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. We are a world leader in these areas and this will not change.

My Lords, the Government’s extraordinary move to trigger the Parliament Act to prevent MPs from even debating a Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill on a trade standards commission was described by the Tenant Farmers Association’s chief executive George Dunn as,

“a shocking piece of political chicanery to prevent MPs from a vote on this important piece of legislation.”

If, at Report on the Trade Bill, we seek to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, indicated, will the Minister assure the House that there would be no such chicanery, as described by the Tenant Farmers Association, and that we would be able to pass an amendment that the Government would allow MPs to have a view on?

My Lords, I am happy to remind and perhaps educate the noble Lord on how parliamentary procedures work in this area.

Decisions on financial privilege are taken by the Speaker, following clear parliamentary procedure. The Government do not have any input into this process.

My Lords, after the Trade Bill receives Royal Assent, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint the TRA chair and its non-executive directors and approve the appointment of the TRA chief executive officer, all without independent scrutiny or parliamentary approval. How do those authoritarian powers protect the TRA’s operational independence and ability to make impartial assessments, as required by the Bill?

My Lords, we will be debating these matters during the Trade Bill Committee this afternoon, when I will cover the topic in more depth. However, I can assure the noble Lord that, in appointing people to the TRA board, we will strictly adhere to the code on public appointments and make sure that people who are appointed are all completely fit for purpose.

My Lords, I refer my noble friend to the letter in the Times this morning from the admirable president of the NFU, Minette Batters, in which she makes a plea for Parliament to,

“take back control of our trade policy”,

so that British farmers are,

“not undercut by imports that would be illegal to produce here”.

There is widespread concern on these matters that is given voice by Minette Batters. Can my noble friend give an encouraging reply to her concerns?

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not seen that letter, but I will certainly read it afterwards. The Government are focused on getting trade deals that protect and advance the interests of our farmers and consumers. If a deal is not the right one for our farmers, we will walk away from it.

My Lords, the Trade and Agriculture Commission has been given a very tight timetable within which to produce what we hope will be a meaningful report. Does the Minister accept that the timetable, as given, may be difficult, and would he be willing to extend it if necessary? How soon can we expect a report from the commission to be tabled before the House for Parliament to discuss?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that the TAC has a fixed term, as set out in its terms of reference. Members of the commission accept their appointments on that basis and, I am sure, feel satisfied that there is sufficient time. At the end of the TAC’s term, it will submit its advisory report, which will be presented to Parliament by the Department for International Trade at that time.

My Lords, I welcome with pleasure the appointment of the president of the Farmers Union of Wales—a union I worked for as a legal adviser when I was a young man—to the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Specifically, what are the objections to extending the period of the commission’s remit, and when will it publish its reports?

My Lords, the commission has a specific task: to provide strategic advice to the Government and write a report on a particular area. As I said previously, it will produce its report at the end of its six-month term and that report will be presented to Parliament. I am grateful for the noble and learned Lord’s acknowledgement of the quality of at least some of the commission’s members.

When this report is completed, on what basis will it be submitted to Parliament? Will it be a document of which we are to take note? Will we have an opportunity to debate it or change the legislation if necessary? How much power will Parliament have once this report is published?

I am sure that that will be discussed in the usual channels and considered by the Leader of the House at the appropriate time. If I find more information, I will write to the noble Lord.