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Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill

Volume 828: debated on Monday 20 March 2023

Third Reading

My Lords, it is with deep regret that the UK Government have been unable to secure legislative consent for this Bill from the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. We have also not been able to secure a legislative consent Motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly, given the lack of a functioning Executive. This is disappointing, given that the same approach was followed in the Trade Act 2021, for which the Scottish and Welsh Governments did recommend consent.

The Government have sought to agree compromises with the devolved Administrations. However, despite the best efforts of officials and Ministers, we have not been able to reach an agreement with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I remind noble Lords again that during the passage of the Bill and the deals it implements, the Government have undertaken extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations, including ministerial meetings, official-level meetings and meetings of ministerial fora, and there were 25 chief negotiator calls with the DAs regarding the Australia free trade agreement alone. In addition, as I have made clear in each debate on the Bill, I reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to consult the devolved Administrations before exercising the concurrent power in the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking through the Bill, which is a first for both the Minister and the country—our first trade deal signed following our exit from the European Union. The Minister’s enthusiasm for the Bill was always evident throughout its passage. We now have a trade arrangement with Australia and New Zealand. We will wait to see the overall and specific effects, particularly upon our agriculture sector. While the overall impact is predicted to be very limited, a factor caused by the huge distance between Australia and New Zealand and the UK, there were some specific concerns about certain Australian farming methods and the effect on small hill farmers in the UK. I suspect that these account largely for the failure to get agreement from the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

My thanks go again to the Minister and his team of advisers for their openness and, on this side, to Milton Brown, who again has shown good judgment in facilitating the progress of the Bill.


Moved by

My Lords, it has been a pleasure to take my first Bill through your Lordships’ House. I thank noble Lords for the constructive approach that has been evident throughout the Bill’s passage. We have had robust discussions and debates on the Bill. Likewise, I have had the privilege in recent weeks of engaging with Peers outside the Chamber, and I have benefited from those conversations, which have been in-depth and valuable. The experience, diligence and practical knowledge of noble Lords have challenged and tested the strength of the Bill and its underlying trade deals. I am sure noble Lords will agree that this provides reassurance to the public on the quality of our democratic processes, our accountability and the constructive challenge function of your Lordships’ House. It remains for me only to give a few specific thanks to noble Lords and others before we complete our consideration of the Bill.

First, I thank the Opposition spokespersons, the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis of Tweed, for the constructive way that they have continued to approach the scrutiny of the Bill—as well as the additional work outside in engaging with our various high commissioners, which I personally appreciated very much.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for the valuable conversations that we have shared on this legislation and her continued championing of our important agricultural sector. I hope that she has been reassured throughout the Bill’s passage through this House of the Government’s commitment to maintaining our high food standards and safeguarding measures for this sector and UK farmers within both deals. It was due to the scrutiny of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we identified the minor drafting error in Clause 2(1)(a), which has subsequently been corrected.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley, whose knowledge, frankly, makes my job all the easier as he makes the points in my speech before I get the chance to do so. It is absolutely right that I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and all the members of the IAC for their considered input.

This has been very much a team effort. Behind the scenes, the extraordinary Bill team have put in an unbelievable amount of effort. My thanks go to: James Copeland, Thomas Bingham, Donald Selmani, Jack Collins, Alex Garcia-Pineiro and Catherine Ajani. I also thank my private secretary Sehar Shaheryar and other officials who make up my private office, led by Simon Moore.

Finally, I thank the parliamentary staff, the doorkeepers and the clerks for their professionalism and continued support and to your Lordships’ House.

The Bill provides a power to give effect to our procurement commitments within these agreements, improving three areas of our existing procurement legislation in the UK. We will see benefits to our public services and companies trading in these partner countries—ultimately, unlocking billions in government contracts in a more secure way than ever before.

In conclusion, the Bill will achieve the essence of our post-Brexit vision of Britain. Some noble Lords have questioned the presence of the Government’s trade agenda during the Bill’s passage. In response I say: here it is. These deals guarantee a global interconnectedness of trade deals, with the United Kingdom at the very heart of these new routes, meaning new opportunities for our businesses and citizens. This will result in new markets for our goods and services and new ways to travel and share our cultures. To our friends, trading partners, clients, suppliers, brothers and cousins in Australia and New Zealand, I say, “Hold tight! The UK is coming.” I reiterate my thanks one final time and, with that, I beg to move.

My Lords, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Purvis, who is, unfortunately, unable to be here this afternoon. We thank the Minister for his comments, as well as his patience and expertise during the passage of this Bill. We thank the Bill team for their help and support, as well as the Labour Front Benches and Cross Benches. We also thank Elizabeth Plummer in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office, without whose help I do not think that my noble friend Lord Purvis and I would have been where we are today. We support the passage of the Bill and thank the Minister for his help.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on steering his first Bill successfully through the House—my congratulations go too to the whole Bill team. I am grateful to him for the time he took at every stage to talk me through. He knows of my disappointment that the Scottish Government have withheld their consent, and that this is not the deal that the British farmers would have hoped for; but we live to fight another day and I look forward to future trade Bills coming through.

My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lord Kerr would have loved to be here. I am speaking on behalf of the Cross Benches. I was a member of the IAC until January; the Minister will remember that we had some animated conversations when he first came on the scene. He has kindly sent me a handwritten letter since then. I was sorry to miss the debate last week on agriculture but I welcome the assurances that he gave then. I am speaking now only to congratulate the Minister on taking this enabling Bill through to the end. I am glad that he has obviously enjoyed the exercise. He is not going to be one of those uncomfortable Ministers on the Front Bench, if I can put it that way.

I remind the Minister of one thing that we discussed: the need for HMG to develop a proper trade policy that explains to people what the UK stands for; that is what he was talking about just now. By this I do not mean a checklist but a framework for FTAs in which there is more mutual understanding, in advance, of the issues involved. This does not breach secrecy rules but helps the process of consultation with stakeholders—and there are many stakeholders.

We said in our report that the FTA was politically significant because it offered an insight into the Government’s vision for trade in the absence of a policy. Australia and New Zealand was a relatively easy start in this as we have so many common values and standards with them, but they are not typical of the CPTPP, which is coming quite soon and offers much wider challenges. All I ask is that the Minister and the department continue the dialogue with the IAC that was already started with the previous Secretary of State; as the Minister knows, it is an ongoing process, and perhaps he could confirm that in his reply.

My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the Minister for skilfully conducting the debates on this important Bill, which I think will lead to much greater things in our future. I want to put before him three issues, almost housekeeping issues, that have arisen during the handling of the legislation, one of which has just been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

I declare an interest as a member of the International Agreements Committee, where the issue of trade policy and how specific or general it should be has been a matter of lively discussion. That is of course relevant to everything that we have been talking about.

I ask the Minister to keep the three points that I want to comment on in mind when we enter into future discussions on these sorts of areas in FTAs, of which there are going to be plenty more. First, the CRaG system—the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—has come under a bit of strain, and the question has arisen as to whether, when the other place resolves that something should not be ratified, the 21 days that then follow are enough to get the appropriate debates organised, or whether in fact the Government are not obliged to have a debate and maybe it does not fit into parliamentary time and the net effect can be that there is no debate at all. Perhaps that is an area that needs looking at again.

Secondly, the whole of the CRaG system depends on the assiduity, energy and powers of the committees. The resources on the clerical and research side of many committees, including all the ones that I have served on for 30 years, have been second to none, and have been particularly superb here in the House of Lords itself—but are they enough, given the size and number of the treaties that are coming through? We are not even talking about the EU treaties that are handled by the International Trade Committee; we are talking about thousands and thousands of treaties and agreements, let alone instruments, pouring through day by day. Today’s giant Executive generates a continuous flow, a cascade, of these things. Do the committees have the resources and underpinning that committees in similar parliamentary systems to ours, here in Europe and elsewhere, seem to have? Should there have been harder thinking about whether, in a modern society with a modern Parliament trying to hold the Executive to account, the resources of committees are the key—the physical resources, clerical resources, research resources and back-up, and the power to summon and so on. These are all matters of lively discussion that have arisen in this area.

My third point is a bit of a puzzle, but we are going to hear a lot more about it: the question of consent from the devolved Administrations. I need to have one thing clarified for me. I thought foreign policy was a reserved matter under the devolution legislation that we passed through both Houses. When the Holyrood Parliament refuses consent, I want to know under what powers it is doing that. As the Minister has indicated, that does not actually stop a Bill proceeding and being enacted, but it is a rather curious situation when, if the devolved Administrations have views on this, they can just sit there and not provide consent. Is it because they think Scotland should have some separate relationship with Australia and New Zealand—I cannot believe that is the case—or is it simply some inner procedural matter where they do not feel there has been adequate consultation? Either way, it is a very uncomfortable situation to encounter. My noble friend has handled it excellently, but these things sit there and require some hard thought if future Bills of this kind, of which there will be many, can be conducted in a reasonable way where Parliament feels that it really is getting a grip on what is happening.

I greatly appreciate noble Lords’ comments. I think I was so keen to get this Bill through that I slightly jumped the gun. I apologise to those noble Lords who were waiting to speak. I greatly appreciate the personal comments towards my own enthusiasm. I have hugely enjoyed the process of working with so many noble Lords in the first of what I hope will be a series of very exciting, exhilarating and profitable trade deals for the whole of the UK.

I have always been very specific, as have the Government, that this is a journey. We are very keen to hear how we can engage better. It is absolutely in the interests of the Government and these trade deals that there is a broad consensus around their power and effect to elevate our economy to new heights; otherwise, we will not be able to broadcast the ramifications and specifics of the trade deals to the country and people will not take advantage of them. Personally, I am continuing to engage at all possible points.

I am delighted to answer a few of the questions. In terms of the committee resourcing, I will certainly take that away. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for raising that. The IAC under the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has done a very good job. A number of noble Lords have spoken to that today and during the debate. It is certainly worth making sure we have the resources in this House to ensure we are scrutinising according to the appropriate CRaG process.

The noble Lord touched on the consent issues. They have clearly been an important feature of the debates around these trade deals. It does not necessarily look like we have resolved them for future trade deals. However, as the noble Lord rightly said, these are reserved powers. If you consult your Walter Bagehot, as I did over the weekend, he makes it very clear and is absolutely right that the Executive should be making treaties and be given the freedom of rein to implement them across the entire United Kingdom.

Having said that, we have made huge efforts to consult and engage with the devolved nations. I personally made extra efforts, which I would not describe as effort at all but part of a necessary process of good governance and communication, to ensure that devolved nations felt that they had a way in to this process. It is absolutely confirmed that our negotiators spend a great deal of time with officials from all parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that their views are fed in. This reflects on the sort of trade we are trying to do in terms of the specific industries of these nations. We are one United Kingdom, and our power in negotiating global trade deals comes from that fact. It would be a great mistake to try to abrogate that for any reason. Having said that, consultation and communication are paramount to us, and I personally commit to them.

Will my noble friend confirm that the Bill is about incorporating into domestic legislation the procurement provisions and chapters of the treaty? Although treaty making may be a reserved power, the implementation of the procurement-related legislation reflects directly on devolved matters. That is why consent should have been provided by the devolved Administrations.

I thank my noble friend for that comment. I do not believe that is necessarily the case, in the sense that this is a procurement Bill relating to a trade deal, so it is right that concurrent powers can be initiated. I believe that is the case. That is certainly how we have operated on the premise of this Bill.

We wanted to gain consent because that is good practice, but, as I say, we focused on consultation and communication, which has achieved the same goal. The whole point of this Bill and the trade deal it underpins is that it will lead to greater trade, more commerce and economic activity and greater wealth creation for the entire UK, which we should celebrate.

If I may come to a conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their extremely helpful scrutiny. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned. It proves the power and point of this Chamber. Any of the body politic who discuss significant revision of the powers of this Chamber should think very carefully about the actions taken on this Bill. Through the scrutiny of this House and the participation of individual Members, we have been able to draft a more effective Bill and draft it correctly, for which I am extremely grateful. I am very excited about the opportunities that the Australia and New Zealand trade deal will give us, our citizens and this nation. With that, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with an amendment.