Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if—(a) the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with, and are consistent with—(i) the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015,(ii) international human rights law and international humanitarian law,(iii) the United Kingdom’s obligations on workers’ rights and labour standards as established by, but not limited to, the commitments under the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on Fundamental Rights at Work and its Follow-up Conventions, (iv) the United Kingdom’s environmental obligations in international law and as established by, but not limited to, the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety,(v) existing standards for food safety and quality as set and administered by the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency and any other public authority specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State,(vi) the United Kingdom’s obligations as established by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and(vii) the sovereignty of Parliament, the legal authority of UK courts, the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law,(b) the provisions of that international trade agreement do not in any way restrict the ability to determine whether public services at a national or local level are delivered by public sector employees, and(c) the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an assessment of the potential economic, social, human rights and environmental impacts of the international trade agreement on the contracting parties.”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 8 and the other amendments in this group. Amendment 8 relates to the continuity agreement, and Amendment 53, which is also tabled in my name, relates to future agreements. We return somewhat to an earlier debate where there is perhaps more complexity than the Government have alluded to until now about some of these agreements. I shall explain why this is important before I refer to the components of the amendments.
I shall use three examples of agreements which the Government so far have not said whether they wish to replicate in the continuity agreement: Singapore, Japan and Mexico. This is more complex than the Government have alluded to so far because a European Court of Justice judgment two years ago indicated that free trade agreements should not now include investment protection components. In relation to the Japan agreement, which this Parliament has approved and which will come into force on 1 February this year, as a result of that judgment separate negotiations are now being carried out on an investment protection agreement which Japan has not yet agreed. What is the UK’s intention in rolling forward the trade and investment components, or is it just the trade component? The Singapore agreement, which has been agreed and which would be one of the agreements that we wish to take forward, has, again, been separated out. The Mexico agreement has been agreed and is going through legal scrubbing.
Those three examples, which are significant to UK trade, highlight important aspects. They represent some of the best components of what modern deep and comprehensive trade agreements can include, but they also signify the difficulties that our Government have in wanting to make them continuity agreements, simply and straightforwardly rolling them on. That is why Amendment 8 on continuity agreements is important. It is important because it now sets the principles for agreements which have been signed in principle but which, through the process of seeking continuity, might include practical changes. We do not know yet, but they might. Although we know that it is the Government’s intention that they will not, we have yet to see them or any of the details. Therefore, it is appropriate that we would want to set some criteria for how they can be rolled forward, especially if we are to take forward what the European Union is now doing, which is separating out investor protection agreements from trading agreements. Of course, these amendments relate to trade agreements, but I want to stress the complexity to highlight the fact that the principles should be set down in statute.
In recent years, UK trade, through these agreements, has been transformed to take into consideration much wider aspects than just tariffs, and that is part of the reason that consideration of investment protection is a domestic requirement, whereas other trade is an exclusive competence of the EU. It is why the Japan agreement with the EU, for the first time, includes a specific commitment to the Paris accord. The Japan agreement sets the highest standards—which we are now told by the Prime Minister are to be guaranteed—for labour, safety, environmental and consumer protection, as well as data protection, and it fully safeguards public services and has a dedicated chapter on sustainable development. Curiously, that does not seem to be a concession from the Government today, whereas it would be included in one of the continuity agreements that the EU has already agreed. However, that is not surprising because, with the growth in the wider aspects of trade in our relationships, with many more non-tariff measures in international trade agreements, the impact on domestic legislation and on wider public services is much greater.
If you go on to the EU website, you will find that there have been significant discussions with Australia on trade and sustainable development, taking into consideration provisions on trade and labour, multilateral environmental agreements, climate change, biodiversity and forests, and civil society groups. These are now core elements of how the European Union negotiates trade agreements. How did I know that these were part of the discussions with Australia? I knew because this information is made public. Transparency at the European Union level is such that I was able to find all the elements of the last round of discussions with Australia that took place in November. However, I looked in vain to find any similar background material that led to the mutual recognition agreement that the UK has signed with Australia.
It may well be that mutual recognition over wine will be very necessary, come Brexit; we will probably be enjoying Australian wine a lot more. But the point of making sure that trade agreements meet ethical standards and have a clear set of benchmarks, with a requirement on Ministers to report that they are carrying out these discussions, is now of fundamental importance. It is important because the continuity agreements may not all ensure continuity. I would not be surprised; as we have heard, the Government are seeking “as much continuity as possible”, which could mean there are likely to be some changes.
While this is relevant for the UK in agreements with Japan, Mexico, Singapore and those highly developed rich countries where we will have good trading relationships, it is also vitally important that we retain these ethics when trading with the least developed nations, or with the large number of nations that have partnership arrangements with the European Union on preferential trading agreements, or with the whole series of nations where we have zero tariffs on everything but arms.
It is absolutely necessary to have a clear element of transparency in this Parliament on how we trade with these countries, both when rolling over the agreements that we currently have in place and as we start to negotiate in the future. We must have reporting but also much higher standards and ethics checklists for how we engage in this. These amendments are, I hope, not partisan, but are supported by a very wide range of NGOs representing many hundreds of thousands of people around the country who are looking for a lead in Parliament from this House. Amendment 53 especially, as we start to engage in discussions about how our trade goes forward, reflects the highest ethical standards which are set down now for the future.
It is interesting to reflect on how, at the end of a two-year process of negotiations, the Prime Minister now seeks to make concessions out of labour market and environmental standards. These should not be issues where the Government seek to gain some kind of political advantage by making concessions; they should be core components of our trading relationships around the world. That is why I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this amendment.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 9, 15, 25 and 26 which are in my name. I also want to support the many other excellent amendments which are contained in this group. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has already said, this seems to be an area that is causing widespread concern. I hope the Government can see sense and perhaps rewrite the Bill to accommodate our concerns. In fact, I have quite a lot of concerns about the way the Bill is written; I wonder whether it needs a fairly substantial rewrite in some places. We will come on to that later.
The starting point for me in approaching this Bill is to recognise that trade deals and free trade agreements are entirely different beasts from those of times gone by when it was simply a question of reducing tariff barriers between nations or ensuring physical access to each other’s ports.
Modern trade deals are deeply political, needing decisions and agreements about interacting with one another’s laws and even overriding national laws. Trade deals are of great concern to many environmental and social justice campaigners because they can be used as a bulldozer for corporate interests to override the rights and interests of communities. As we transition from our established position in the European Union to an uncertain and undecided future, those concerns are front of mind for many of us. I first tabled some of these amendments in October last year. When I did that, even though there were then six months to go to Brexit, it felt as if time was running out. Now, only two months away from Brexit, we are no closer to averting disaster than we were back then.
I was grateful for the meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and their officials. Although it was an interesting meeting, they were unable to resolve my fundamental concern about the Bill. The Minister told me that amendments such as mine are not necessary because the Bill is only about rolling over existing trade deals and it is not the Government’s intention to renegotiate any of them, and we have heard that again today. The Government’s intention is all well and good, but good intentions are quickly broken down by the harsh realities of international negotiations. It seems obvious, as we have already heard, that other countries will take this opportunity to renegotiate terms that are more favourable to their interests, perhaps slipping things in that the EU would not allow but that the UK might be more inclined to accept, particularly if we were feeling desperate.
I ask the Minister again now: can she guarantee that none of these trade deals will be renegotiated? It is possible that things were unclear during our meeting but we must know now. We are only weeks away from the Government needing to sign on the dotted line, so this should now be a much simpler question to answer. If it is guaranteed that none of our existing trade deals is being renegotiated, and all of them are simply being rolled over with the exact same terms, then most of my amendments become obsolete. That would be a great situation, and I would be perfectly happy. However, without a clear and unequivocal statement to this Committee that there will be no renegotiation and no change in terms, we must make clear and unequivocal amendments to the Bill.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 13. The purpose of my amendment is extremely clear: to seek to maintain our present high standards of UK agricultural products. At the same time, however, I support other amendments in this group regarding animal health, hygiene and welfare standards and wider environmental concerns. I regard this issue as extremely important not just for the present round of trade treaty rollover negotiations, which of course it is, but as a signal for the future. I felt that the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, were very pertinent to this point. I want to make it very clear to both present and future trade negotiating partners that we in the UK intend to maintain our present high standards in a number of areas such as agricultural products and food standards.
I too am grateful to the Minister for meeting me last week. She made it clear that her priority was to get these current trade deals finalised with as much speed as possible—yes, the word “continuity” was mentioned—and said there was a necessity for flexibility in the negotiations. I understand all that. The problem, as we have heard today, is that not all the parties to these negotiations may just agree to roll these deals over; they may want to look at some things again. I want to signal to the Government as strongly as possible how important we feel our present high standards to be.
Ministers apparently agree with me, because on a number of occasions they have been asked about our present high food standards and they all say that they have no intention of departing from them and intend to stick to them. If that is the case, then surely we have no problem in writing that in the Bill. What is the problem? If we all agree that these high standards are essential, then I do not understand why they cannot be in the Bill. I understand that my inadequate attempts to formulate the appropriate proposal may be the problem. I would then say to the Government, “Fine. You can see what I and other people are after. Take that sentiment away and put it in whatever form meets your requirements”. I cannot understand how they can just ignore this important issue. If Ministers share my views on high standards, there must be a way of encapsulating this in the Bill in some form. I am very flexible; I do not mind how it appears in the Bill, but I really feel that it should be there.
Food standards and the negotiations about them are going to be a major issue not just for these rollover trade deals but for the future. We keep hearing talk about the possibility of us joining the Pacific trade group. I think there was a meeting with people from New Zealand or Australia only today and we hear again about this possibility. But that would inevitably mean moving away from EU standards and our current high standards for food and agricultural products. Therefore, every time we hear these sorts of discussions about joining this group, we are alarmed; we want to know, if that is the case, will we then lower our standards? We cannot have it all ways. We also know how American agribusinesses are hungrily eyeing British markets. We know perfectly well that they want to flood our country with cheap chlorinated chickens and other food that does not meet our present high standards. Therefore, I believe we have to make it clear from the outset that we will not agree to this.
The Government should be left in no doubt whatever about the strength of feeling across the country on this issue. I ask them to make it clear in negotiations taking place now and in the future that food standards will not be lowered in any way. I strongly believe that everybody in this country will want this to be acknowledged. That is why I have tabled this amendment.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 14 and I join in supporting Amendment 13 and much of the sentiment behind Amendments 9, 25 and 26. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the meeting I had with her. I entirely support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, as to why it is important to have these points in the Bill. If you look at the gross value added of agriculture, it contributes over 10% to the economy of the Yorkshire and Humber region alone. Exports of food and drink from the UK are worth £16.4 billion per annum.
I would like to say a word about marketing. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, raised a very important point here, which I discussed in the private meeting I had with the Minister. Our exports to China, for example, have grown by over 60% because the agricultural attaché in Beijing is paid 90% by the industry levy and 10% by the Government. If we are doing so well there, surely we should heed the requests from the NFU, farm organisations and the food and drinks industry to have similar specialists in other key markets. The sooner we do that, the better. I am half-Danish and it is a source of some surprise to me that Denmark exports a higher share of its food to countries such as China than we do. It is a country of 6.5 million; we are a country of 60 million. We have a lot of catching up to do, but we are clearly on the right track with the agricultural attaché.
In supporting the theme of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I would like to put two questions to the Minister before we return to this on Report. First, if the Government are not prepared to put this in the Bill, what commitment can my noble friend the Minister give the Committee this evening that in any free trade agreement the Government conclude with overseas trading partners, all food imported to the UK will be produced to food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection standards which are at least the equivalent of those currently required by producers in the UK? Secondly, can my noble friend explain how the Government intend to set out, in clear and unambiguous terms, how they propose to ensure that food imports into the UK will adhere to our environmental and welfare standards, in the context of WTO obligations? I will not repeat the examples that have been given, but over 20 or 30 years and under different Governments—many noble Lords have served as Ministers for Agriculture—we have increased the cost of food produced in this country, at the consumer’s will, to have the highest environmental, welfare, food safety and hygiene standards. Those cannot now be swept aside in this bid to have cheap food. We have to pay the cost of producing that food.
I notice that we will discuss amendments to Clause 6 relating to other bodies, such as the European food standards agency, but I hope the Minister will agree to our continuing participation in the European food safety alert system. The horsemeat scandal could have led to casualties. People could have died if it had been a food safety issue. Fortunately, it was passing off—it was a form of fraud—but we need to commit on a continuing basis to the food alert system that we have in place. To date the Government have been silent on that. I hope my noble friend will take this opportunity to commit to it.
I hope that when the Minister sums up the debate she will give a formal commitment and agree to write into the Bill those verbal agreements that have been made by the Secretaries of State for Defra and International Trade. Amendments 9, 13 and 14, grouped with Amendments 25 and 26, go to the heart of ensuring that the food safety, food hygiene, environmental standards and welfare we currently enjoy will continue once we have left the European Union.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 10. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for his explanation. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we know from history that trade is good for Britain and for other countries, including developing countries. I am nervous about writing too much into the Bill, as I will explain.
Noble Lords will recall from Second Reading that I very much support the Bill. Whether we have a satisfactory agreement or, less welcome, a no-deal Brexit, we need to write existing trade agreements into UK law. My noble friend the Minister has explained that all the necessary measures have not been included in previous Brexit legislation. This House rightly tries to support the orderly conduct of government and we have a duty to do so, whatever our views on Brexit. That must include preparing our statute book, either for 29 March or a later date, following a delay to Article 50 or a transition period. It would be irresponsible not to make preparations. Indeed, a lot of these measures should already be agreed, with commencement dates to be slotted in later.
I tabled this probing amendment, which is in effect an alternative to Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for two reasons. We should avoid lumbering the Bill with detailed requirements that could put in question some existing trade agreements, might encourage costly legal challenge to agreements drawing on the criteria, and might fetter our ability to negotiate sensibly with third countries, either as we move from being a member of the European Union to being a third country or during future trade negotiations.
I recognise from discussion today that new FTAs will be the subject of future legislation, so I oppose Amendment 8 overall, although my amendment derives from it. However, there is one aspect of it with which I have some sympathy: the provision that specifies that agreements should not restrict the Government’s ability to determine whether public services are carried out by the private or the public sector. The reason is that, as a Business Minister, I was peripherally involved in the EU negotiations on TTIP and we—both the UK and the EU Commission—made a mistake by not making it clear right at the beginning that the draft did not require us to limit the NHS’s ability to keep health administration and procurement in the public sector; nor, indeed, did we have it in mind to use the agreement for that purpose. The understandable emotion around the NHS and confusion on that point led to widespread opposition to TTIP and made it impossible to conclude anything ahead of the 2016 US election. I support outsourcing—I draw attention again to my entry in the register of interests—but some operations are better kept within the public sector. At any rate, the Government of the day should have choice in that matter.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that we will not fall into the TTIP trap again, and will support my amendment or, if it is not appropriate, explain that she understands the thrust of the point I am trying to make.
My Lords, I support the sentiments behind most of the amendments in the group, although perhaps not the exact wording. My focus is on environmental standards, their vital nature and why they are at risk under the current government proposals.
When we discussed Amendment 4, I made the point that it is much easier to be ambitious about standards if you are part of a pack, part of a group—which we were, we were one of the 28. When we are working on our own in a more isolated position negotiating bilateral agreements, even if they are allegedly rollover bilateral agreements, it is less easy to be robust and ambitious.
Environmental standards are vital in transitioning continuity agreements, but the other point, which has already been made, is that whatever we do in the continuity agreements is a harbinger, a signal, of how we want to handle negotiations on new deals, including deals with countries such as the USA and Brazil, where we know that big environmental issues will arise, particularly in agricultural trade deals. Agricultural standards impact not only on food standards and safety and animal welfare but on the environment. We do not want the chlorinated chicken debate replicated in individual trade deals for the future.
We need the Government to use the Bill to guarantee that all free trade agreements ensure, for example, that food imports meet the UK’s environmental, food safety and animal welfare regulatory standards. That should be the case in all negotiating mandates as well as in the subsequent agreements that flow from them. Import into the UK outside a free trade agreement is much trickier, but it is still vital that the Government set out very soon that they propose to use current World Trade Organization rules to maintain standards.
I will speak briefly to Amendment 15, the non-regression proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. International trade agreements have the potential to undermine or weaken essential standards, as we know from the TTIP negotiations, which have already been mentioned. Non-regression commitments are common in existing trade agreements, and a meaningful commitment to non-regression provides a useful safety net. All international trade agreements implemented pursuant to the Trade Bill should incorporate that principle. Indeed, we need to go further. We need to widen their scope and strengthen their enforceability if they are to help deliver the Government’s promises to improve the state of the environment.
The Minister will say that we should be reassured that the Bill is only about continuity—I am rapidly coming to hate the word “continuity”—and that we are carrying across, not renegotiating conditions, but nothing in the Bill assures that. The Government have said tonight that only changes essential to ensuring continuity will be considered, but we know that when this was debated in the other place, the question was raised as to whether other Governments will want to agree deals with us without substantive changes. Indeed, Michel Barnier said a year ago that,
“partners around the world may have their own views”.
The message to the Government there is that it takes two to tango and although we do not want to renegotiate any conditions, there may be strong pressures to do so in the rollover process. Government needs to give a signal that we are absolutely clear about not negotiating any weakened standards.
The test of the Government’s mettle in all this will be how quickly we can get as many agreements as possible under our belt, both rollover and new, to demonstrate that they understand what Brexit is all about and are making real progress in trade. Although I hesitate to ascribe to the Government any dirty tactics, the reality is that, when push comes to shove, environmental standards will get the boot. We have had umpteen assurances from the Government that they are highly committed to maintaining all sorts of standards, including on the environment. The Command Paper, Preparing for our Future UK Trade Policy, said:
“The Government is fully committed to ensuring the maintenance of high standards of consumer, worker and environmental protection in trade agreements”.
Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, said:
“Let me try and state in letters that are as big or as bold or as clear as possible: we won’t be signing trade deals that mean British producers are undercut on animal welfare or environmental standards”.
The Prime Minister has made that point; indeed, today’s Statement reinforced how important environmental standards are and that they would not be compromised by the Brexit process. If we have all these assurances from government, I invite the Minister to say, “Since that’s what we really want to happen, we are going to enshrine it in this Bill”.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I welcome the sentiment behind the amendments—in fact, I welcome their substance, but with one exception. I am uneasy about Amendment 25. I may have misunderstood it, but it seems to fall into a slightly different category—Amendment 15 is perhaps partly in that category, too.
I apologise for picking up one of the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, because she shames us all with her enthusiasm and hard work, but Amendment 25 seems slightly different because it would lay down a requirement on the Government to require something from the other participating Government in the agreement. Paragraph (b) requires that goods should,
“have been produced to standards that are comparable in effectiveness to those of the United Kingdom in protecting food safety, the environment and animal welfare”.
On the environment, India will be burning more coal next year than this year, and more the year after than next year. In China, coal will remain a very large part of the power mix. Would the amendment debar the Government from doing trade agreements with India or China in respect of goods produced using power? It would seem quite a wide provision to require the Government to require something from the other Government. I may have misunderstood it. I also recognise that it would only enable the Government to do these things; it would not require them to do them, yet I am not sure that the distinction indicates a real difference. If it was on the statute book, the Government might feel obliged.
Amendment 15 raises the question of non-regression. As I read it, and I may be wrong about this, too, it would place an obligation on the Government to require that the agreement incorporated the principle and that the principle applied to both sides—not just to us but to the other side. I may have misread that, but, if so, my point about China and India perhaps applies to it, too.
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I wish I could say that I had thought that far ahead. If I had, I would still have tabled the amendment because I meant the methods of production and that sort of thing, rather than all the ramifications of a nationwide carbon burden. It is a very good idea and I will bring it back, so I thank the noble Lord for giving me the benefit of his advice.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and thank him for having introduced this debate and moving his amendment. I also congratulate those who tabled the other amendments in this group. I will make only a couple of observations.
After a long life in politics I get very disturbed about self-deluding sentimentalism and effective legislation. We have all sorts of aspirations about food safety and hygiene. We also have aspirations about our commitments to the third world and the rest. But the test of effectiveness is whether the muscle is there in the legislation to turn these aspirations into reality. This is where we have to face the truth: a market will of itself not look to all these interests. The one firm principle operating in the market is of course price and profit; after a long life, let alone in politics, I am totally convinced that you have to have some other absolutes within that. The absolutes concern turning these aspirations into reality.
I am so glad that my noble friend Lady Henig spoke to her amendment with so much feeling and conviction. If we are serious about food hygiene, why can Ministers not put it into the Bill? What is behind their real, underlying position? Is it going to interfere in some way with the liberty of people in future to undercut these aspirations—indeed, these principles and policies which we have established in the past?
I have been deeply involved for much of my life in the third world, which is tired of sentimentalism. The third world wants to see policies that are really going to be effective. It is when we come to trade that this is tested. Are we going to enable third-world countries to build up their economies and look to the interests and well-being of their people, or are we going to turn them into playgrounds for people who are trying to make money? It involves having some discipline in the process and saying that the aspirations which we have held high are actually effective in our trade policy.
I really do not want, in the context of the Bill, to go down as just another sentimentalist who is a completely hapless victim of the open-market, liberal economics principles which are not accountable in effective legislation to the interests of real people in real situations—not least, the well-being of us all in what we eat and our ability to enjoy good health. The people who have moved and spoken to these amendments have done a very good job on our behalf and I hope that they will pursue the issues on Report.
My Lords, I have not put my name to any of these amendments, but I am very sympathetic to them and, had they not been tabled, I think I would have tabled some. My difficulty, having sat and listened to our earlier debates, is that this is just a Bill to allow us to transpose existing laws into our UK law; it is not really looking forward to trading after that has happened. So I ask my noble friend, before I go into the particular detail I wish to raise: if it is not appropriate at this stage, when is it appropriate during the passage of the Bill? Because somewhere, it must be, and I am not quite sure as to where.
I shall take the amendments as they are and follow the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Perhaps I should declare, as others may, that we are in the farming industry, and while livestock is not our particular area, we produce grain that obviously feeds livestock, and therefore we do have a family interest.
On the question of the rollover and how long this will last, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised very clearly, I ask my noble friend how long she sees this period carrying on for before we look to new deals.
The standards we set in this country are very high, and I believe it is quite right that they are so, but it is not surprising that many of my producer colleagues, particularly those who produce livestock meat and all that side, are very concerned about the long-term interests of their industry. They are quite fearful about imports perhaps coming in at a lower standard. One has to appreciate that, if that did happen in a big way, there would be many farmers who are producing food for us in this country who would not be there in the future. I think that the House has to get that under its belt. It is very easy to think that we can get food anywhere: we go into the supermarket and the shelves are filled. Yes, that is true, but we are dependent on so much of that coming in from abroad, so we need not to protect our industry but to understand the challenges it faces. I do not think producers are looking for special treatment, but they are looking to have that equal trading that many of us wish to see.
When I look at the CLA briefing—I declare that I am a member of the CLA and I was with the NFU earlier today—it says it wants to see exports of UK food outside the EU grow, and we would all support that. It thinks that free and fair trade between the UK and other markets outside the EU is a positive government ambition, and it supports any new free trade deals which meet that ambition. However, in seeking these trade deals it is imperative that equivalence of standards is met—that is what this debate is about—in order to prevent the undercutting of UK markets by the introduction of products that meet lower environmental or animal welfare standards. It believes that that would be very detrimental. Today I met NFU colleagues from East Anglia who were highlighting that.
Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, concerns environmental protections. This question is for her rather than for the Minister. Are we looking to protect the environmental standards that we have in this country, as opposed to the standards that they do not have in their countries at the moment? For example, is it acceptable to pull down rainforests to grow soya or other products, or should that be something which we have in mind ourselves as a detrimental step? So many aspects of the debate we are having tonight are hugely important, but I am not quite sure whether the noble Baroness’s amendment is seeking to protect UK standards as they are at the moment or whether she is thinking about international trading standards as well. There is a great difference between the two.
I thank the noble Baroness for her question; I seem to be answering more questions than the Government Front Bench at the moment. Obviously, there is the issue of bringing up other countries’ environmental protections; the noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is not desirable to start knocking down primeval forest to start growing soya for our cattle, and so on. Some of my amendments would partly help to raise other countries’ protections, although my specific aim was that we do not lower our own.
I thank the noble Baroness; I assumed that she would mean exactly that. However, it poses some questions to me on her amendment, which I slightly struggle with. On food safety and food health, we have clearly set out standards in this country as to what is and is not applicable, and I cannot see that changing.
I agree with my noble friend Lady McIntosh entirely. The Bill as it currently is deals with the trade as we know it today, and refers to trade being able to carry on tomorrow, after Brexit. It does not—unless I have not read it through carefully enough—look further into the future. It would be a great shame if at some stage we do not have a discussion about that. There needs to be something in the Bill, somewhere—I cannot decide whether this is the right moment and the right time, or whether we should come back to it. The very nature of agriculture and farming is that it is a very long-term project; you do not come in and out of it quickly. You invest a lot of money in the future, we now have much more technology and things have changed enormously. There needs to be a certain degree of certainty, which I have not read in the Bill as it is.
Is there any chance that the Minister in her response could reflect the strong commitment that Michael Gove has certainly given to our sector and to the country in general to maintaining those standards? We look forward to having the Agriculture Bill, which, as we know, is still stuck in the Commons. It has achieved its Second Reading and Committee, and is parked there—it has gone no further forward. We look forward to seeing that. We do not have a chance to debate that, but trade is hugely important in this Bill. We need something in the Bill which gives a certain degree of confidence to people involved in the food industry; I do not think that I need to tell any noble Lords that the food industry is worth over £112 billion and employs over 3 million people. You are not talking about peanuts. This is a huge industry, and many people in it—I refer to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe—are in small and medium-sized businesses. You are not talking about big businesses, although there are some, but about a lot of people who have a small interest in trying to produce food and supply the needs of our country and, more importantly—
I hope that I relayed that in what I said earlier. It is hugely important. We are very lucky in this country to have food of an extremely high quality. I say “Best of British” over and over again; as a producer I would, but I believe in it.
However, I also look to the future, when we can export more of our high-quality food as well. Clearly, I am looking to the Minister to give some sort of directional steer to us, because at the moment we are slightly in unknown circumstances. We know what the Bill is trying to do, but we do not know what will happen in the future, nor do we know when we will be able to look at the Agriculture Bill, in which the two overlap. However, I am grateful for all the amendments that have been put down, because they have given us a chance to look at where we are, to look ahead and to raise quite a few important international questions on the whole question of welfare, the way we produce and the environment.
My Lords, I want to raise what probably feels like a niche issue from a slightly different angle; it seems relevant when we are talking about amendments dealing with the regulation of performance and the environment. If I may, I will do so through an example, although I think that the example probably applies in many other areas.
When I was a Minister at the Department for Transport, I dealt briefly with a niche industry in the UK: specialist car manufacturers, sometimes known as small and ultra-small volume manufacturers. Noble Lords will know their names: Lotus, Williams, Aston Martin and so on. The industry is almost uniquely British; a few Italians may play in the same arena, but globally the industry is essentially British. It has managed to thrive because the EU has recognised the significance of the industry through its turnover of around £3.5 billion per year. That is not insignificant, although it is not on the same scale as agriculture.
The EU has been willing to carve out special provisions for this group of manufacturers, which often cannot meet performance and environmental standards in the way that mass automobile manufacturers can and should. It has managed to open up global markets for those cars by incorporating those niche provisions in its trade agreements: 65% of these cars are exported. The largest market is the United States, where environmental and performance standards are never really an issue; it starts from a very low base. The manufacturers get permission to sell these cars in the EU, which is the next-biggest market, followed by South Korea and Japan. It is only because of the EU’s size that it has been able to create those niche opportunities for this industry. I am interested to know whether the UK believes that it can continue, in its rollover arrangements, to provide that ongoing protection to what one might describe as a somewhat resented industry, even though it is rather successful.
The other achievement of the EU because of its power, breadth and size is its vigorous and strict standards for mass-market cars, despite its significant exception to deal with this essentially British industry. The EU will have no interest in continuing that arrangement post Brexit; as I said, some cars are made in Italy, but no Government anywhere else in the EU will be concerned about this issue. The industry is already very concerned that, following no deal, it may find the EU quick to eliminate the carve-out. That is possible and it is a serious question, but another question concerns whether the carve-out can be preserved in these rollovers and continued in future arrangements when the UK will be negotiating from a much weaker position.
Can the Minister help us work our way through this? I suspect that this industry is not the only niche one. As the Minister will know, the EU has been very good about providing opportunities for highly specialist and select industries that are specific to one of its member countries. I suspect that my experience with the automotive sector is repeated elsewhere. The EU uses its large heft to protect the relatively small. Can the Minister give us some clarity, since these deals are being negotiated as we speak?
My Lords, I fully accept the Government’s assurances in relation to this group of amendments that there is absolutely no intention to lower standards and that the existing protections for consumers will be preserved. However, as has been shown in the discussions so far, there is a cause for concern. While the British Government intend to roll over the agreements without making any change, there is some uncertainty about whether the other parties with which we will be negotiating have the same point of view. The issues have been discussed sufficiently for me not to repeat what has been said, but I suggest that there are a couple of safeguards which have not been mentioned.
The global demand for British goods is based on our high standards. People buy British goods not because they are cheap but because of their high quality. Therefore, to disregard food standards would undermine any possibilities in that area. I understand that the EU withdrawal Act ensures that all existing EU environmental law will continue to operate in UK law. That again provides businesses and stakeholders with certainty.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. We have stressed throughout the debates about Brexit how important European law has been in driving UK environmental law. However, there are still whole swathes of environmental law in the UK which were actually invented by us. They are not yet safeguarded and could be undermined by trade deals.
My Lords, I agree with much of what has been said in the debate and your Lordships will be pleased to know that I will not repeat the arguments. I shall also try not to be one of the dreamers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. In speaking to Amendment 10, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, talked about services and I agree with much of what she said. She stressed the need to ensure that the Government retain the right to decide where services are delivered from. Unfortunately it turned into a double-edged sword when she then conflated that with the removal of much of the substance of the amendments proposed by my noble friend. Having heard the debate, I hope she feels that perhaps it would be as well to leave it in.
The Prime Minister has today singled out two elements of what we find in the general thrust of the amendments before us. She has said,
“we will embed the strongest possible protections on workers’ rights and the environment”.
That concedes a weakness in that area where there was a perception that the Government were perhaps seeking to water down those standards and presumably that is what the Prime Minister is seeking to avoid. But only those two areas have been chosen although there are many other important elements which have been considered in this debate. That puts the areas which are not on the Prime Minister’s list at a disadvantage. That is why it is important to ignore the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and seek to put the elements set out in these amendments into the Bill. They would add food quality, animal health, hygiene and welfare, ethical standards and so on.
The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Hooper, were quite right to point out that our food is sold on the back of our high-quality agriculture. It is special, but you cannot be special if you are producing food to a lower standard. I think that we should be a little worried and suspicious if these standards are not included in the Bill.
We have heard some warm words from Defra which have been quoted by other noble Lords, but we have also heard some disquieting words coming from other departments, particularly that of the Minister herself, the Department for International Trade. However, I exonerate her from being one of the people saying these things.
When it comes to negotiating other standards— I know we are on a continuity kick here—what we say on continuity counts for what comes later. That is absolutely central and is why this debate has been really important. There have been noises off around deals with the United States and other things, and standards will be a key part of that negotiation. Unless we draw firm lines here in this Bill and beyond, those standards will be in play. I do not think we want them to be in play.
Finally, I come back to Amendments 8 and 53 in the name of my noble friend Lord Purvis. Proposed paragraph (c) of Amendment 53 states that,
“the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an assessment of the potential economic, social, human rights and environmental impacts of the international trade agreement on the contracting parties”.
This, and nothing else, is the single most important part of this debate. We need to ensure that the DIT has the competence and people who can do that work, and we need to support these amendments.
My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to the standards in regulations in rolling over EU trade deals and future trade policies and agreements. As has been said, especially by my noble friend Lady Young, rolling over trade deals needs the agreement of counterparties—this is inherent in procuring a government trade deal. This is not guaranteed in a no-deal scenario. As the UK leaves the European Union, we must ensure that the UK seeks to maintain the highest standards and to comply with international aims and agreements. I declare my interest as a farmer in receipt of EU funds.
I will refer first to Amendments 8 and 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. He has spoken on the very pertinent conditions the UK should seek to emulate. I am pleased that the Committee has the opportunity to debate the necessity for the UK trade policy to comply with international law, obligations and shared aims—all part of a modern trade deal.
Later in our proceedings in Committee, my noble friend and colleague Lord Stevenson will seek in amendments to enshrine the Government’s international responsibilities on trade. Amendments 8 and 53 will ensure that trade agreements are consistent with international norms. I am pleased in particular by the inclusion of the provisions of the United Nations sustainable development goals. It is paramount that the UK’s trade endeavours seek to do more than merely advance our own self-interest, as so eloquently argued by my noble friend Lord Judd. This includes the abolition of poverty, the eradication of diseases and efforts to rid the world of the harshest of inequalities. Each of these aims, as part of the UN’s SDGs, requires a cross-departmental approach from the UK, and that includes the Department for International Trade. As we look further down these amendments, we also see that aside from the UN SDGs, such agreements must comply with other such norms as those tackling discrimination, climate change and the erosion of human rights, as well as other issues that we will discuss—all righteous efforts that the Department for International Trade would do well to encompass into future agreements.
As debated earlier, this legislation, in seeking to roll over existing trade agreements previously in the competence of the EU, must also include opportunities for the Government to set out their future policies and demonstrate the parameters within which their future policy will be guided—indeed, what future trade policy should achieve. These amendments would ensure that the future trade policy achieves the advancement more than just of the UK but of the wider world.
Amendments 10, 13, 14, 25 and 26 make provision to ensure that Governments are compliant with particular standards pertaining throughout the UK. I welcome the amendments and thank the noble Baronesses for tabling them, even if the precise wording may need redrafting. It is vital that agreements do not compromise the quality of UK food and agriproduce, which has a proud international reputation that consumers insist on and which farmers are proud to maintain. It should be the responsibility of Parliament to insist to the Government that they uphold these standards so that the public’s trust in the procurement of their food is not undermined. These amendments propose that that be underpinned by statute.
For those who argue that such an amendment is unnecessary to protect food standards, I will briefly mention the United States’ Defect Levels Handbook, which allows standards that would include 30 insect fragments in a 100 gram jar of peanut butter and 3 milligrams of rat droppings per pound of ginger. Those are significantly below EU-wide standards. In search of trade agreements for the import and export of goods, the UK cannot compromise on food standards and allow a dispensation for access to UK markets of these levels of contamination while UK producers maintain their higher standards.
In relation to the UK’s agricultural regime, the Committee must be aware that, as the UK leaves the CAP, there will be enormous changes and volatility for the farming industry to adapt to, which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, drew attention to. In this moment, it must be must be assured that there will not be lower standards of competition in the food chain.
Linked to agriculture is the matter of animal welfare, and the Committee must be assured that high protocols of care are maintained in the UK’s future trading policy. When it comes to our environmental standards, which Amendment 15 also deals with, we must be equally vigilant to ensure that agreements cause no erosion of standards. Sustainability must be at the heart of the UK’s approach, taking heed of previous examples where agreements have caused environmental harm—and could do again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said. Negotiations should not lead to the derogation of the natural environment either in the UK or in the nations of the trading partners. The time to tackle the effects of climate change is also reducing and I hope that the Government will not seek to put fundamental environmental principles to one side.
Amendment 10 concerns public services. As we seek to renegotiate trade agreements, there will be tremendous pressure for DIT officials to succumb to the demands of all other Governments, yet the management of public services—an issue that carries great public interest —should not be bargained away. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is correct to be anxious with regard to the NHS, at the very least. I hope that the Minister will offer particular clarity on the Government’s position on this, in addition to other matters.
While these amendments deal with the standards and conditions that UK trade agreements must comply with, my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, also raised the question of the process whereby these deals will be assessed and measured—the framework around compliance, which has so far not been clarified by the Government. Parliament needs a strong voice in this process. International trade offers opportunities for prosperity and benefit to the economy, but that cannot be at the expense of domestic standards in food, animal welfare and the environment or of international best ethics and practice.
My Lords, the richness and intensity of this debate demonstrates the expertise in this Committee and the importance of getting this right. I assure the Committee that the Government are committed to upholding and strengthening our high standards in food safety, the environment and animal welfare as we leave the EU. In her Florence speech, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister reconfirmed this, saying we are,
“committed not only to protecting high standards but strengthening them … we will always be a country whose pitch to the world is high standards at home”.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will not only provide a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU but will ensure that all existing EU laws on standards continue to apply in the UK. Leaving the EU means we now have a unique opportunity to design a set of policies to drive environmental improvement with a powerful and permanent impact tailored to the needs of our country.
Amendment 8 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I reassure noble Lords that this amendment is not necessary. The process of exiting the EU will not alter the UK’s commitment to upholding international laws and our international commitments. This includes commitments on climate change and the sustainable development goals. The UK is a world leader in our strong commitment to human rights, labour and environmental standards around the world. We will continue proudly to comply with our international obligations, a point I am happy to reiterate.
Additionally, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State stated during the passage of the Trade Bill in the other place that our aim in undertaking this transition programme is to seek continuity of effect of existing trade agreements. This is not an opportunity to renegotiate terms. We are clear that, given the time pressure to have these agreements in place before we exit, there is neither the intention nor the opportunity for the UK Government or our trading partners to change the effects of the existing agreements. This is a technical exercise to ensure continuity in trading relationships. It is not an opportunity to renegotiate the current agreements. As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, we have to make sure that we do not make it overly cumbersome. Third parties to whom we have talked on all the continuity agreements have stressed their interest in continuity; it is in our mutual interest. That is where the hypothetical hits reality: this is in their interest and the interest of their consumers and businesses.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to investor protection dispute settlements. There is a later group of amendments in this Trade Bill debate relevant to that and, in the interests of time, I wonder whether we can move discussion of that to then. I see that the noble Lord is happy with that suggestion.
Turning to Amendment 9, let me reassure the House that the scope of the Trade Bill is to ensure the continuity of effect of existing EU trade deals. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked about standards in deals with India and China. I reiterate that the power in Clause 2 could not be used to implement a trade agreement with those countries because the EU does not have trade agreements with them and the Clause 2 power is limited to countries with which we have a trade agreement.
As the Clause 2 power is intended only as a vehicle for changing UK law as a result of our entry into continuity trade agreements, it is clear that it will not be used to make changes to UK standards. This is in line with public commitments that the Prime Minister and Ministers from across Government, including from Defra and DIT, have made on the maintenance of the current standards. It would not be logical for the UK to lower our rigorous levels of protection in order to secure a trade deal, as demand for UK exports is based on our reputation for quality. As the Secretary of State for International Trade said:
“Let me tell the House that Britain will not put itself at the low-cost, low-quality end of the spectrum, as it would make no sense for this country economically to do so, nor morally would it give us the leadership we seek. I believe there is no place for bargain-basement Britain. High standards and high quality are what our global customers demand, and that is what we should provide”.—[Official Report, 6/7/17; col. 1365.]
My noble friend Lady Hooper stressed that powerfully.
My noble friend Lady Byford talked about future free trade agreements but they are not part of the Bill. This is all about continuity of the existing ones. We will bring forward proposals for future free trade agreements in the coming weeks, and I am happy to reiterate the commitment made in the other place by the Secretary of State for International Trade that Parliament will have the ability to inform and scrutinise those agreements in a timely and appropriate manner.
We want to achieve the same outcome of maintaining our standards, but if we were to amend the Bill in this way, we would be likely to delay ratification of agreements—something that neither we nor our partner countries want. We appreciate the concern about scrutiny of agreements. On earlier amendments we covered the scrutiny procedures at length and the need to make sure that the House has the ability to look at these continuity trade agreements. The amendment would duplicate some of that process. I would argue that, particularly given the time pressure, there will be good opportunities for Parliament to scrutinise the trade agreements that are being transitioned.
Amendment 10, tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, would ensure that the Clause 2 power would not be able to make provisions in international agreements that restricted the ability of public sector employees to deliver public services. I hope that I have already been clear that the Clause 2 power will not be used to do such things, as it will be used only to deliver continuity. These changes would require reopening negotiations with third countries and that would constitute a change in policy, which would not be continuity. I reassure my noble friend that the UK Government, not our trade partners, will continue to make decisions about public services. Public sector jobs are under no threat whatever from this agreement or any other.
The Minister has just said that our public services are not at threat from this agreement or any other, but the United States has been very clear that its two primary objectives in a free trade deal with the UK are access to the full range of public services and for there to be a private option. It has been very clear about that—one can talk to any of the healthcare companies. That surely falls into the category of other agreements that she has just described.
I would refer to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, for example. Nothing in CETA prevents the UK regulating in the pursuit of legitimate public policy objectives, such as in relation to the NHS, whose protection is of the utmost importance for this Government. We will continue to ensure that decisions about public services are made by UK Governments, not our trade partners. Moreover, rather than negatively impacting the public sector, our trade continuity programme will safeguard jobs and support our public services.
I completely understand what my noble friend the Minister says about the United States. That is for the future, not for today. Before we get to Report, it would be helpful to be clear about whether there are provisions in the other agreements that we are rolling over that might have a deleterious effect on this choice that we want British Governments to be able to make on whether to put a procurement project into the public sector or the private sector. I suspect that the answer is that there is not a problem at all, but it would be good to have that clarified.
I can clarify that the UK’s public health sector is protected by specific exceptions and reservations in all EU trade agreements. As we leave the EU, the UK will continue to ensure that those rigorous protections are included. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe alluded to this when referring to the mistakes that were made in TTIP. The noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Grantchester, also talked about the importance of making sure that those specific exemptions and reservations continue, which they will.
I apologise for interrupting the Minister when she has gone past what I was particularly concerned about, which is the protections on health, animal welfare and that sort of thing. The Minister talked again about intentions—“The Government intend”—but I did not hear her say, “The Government will do this”, that they will allow these protections to continue to exist. It is all about intentions, not reality.
I am seeking to reassure the House because what we are agreeing in the withdrawal agreement is that all those obligations that we are party to come over as a result of the EU withdrawal Act. We remain parties to exactly the same international commitments made before, during and after we leave the EU. Nothing in that changes. I am trying to convey that this is about continuity of the existing obligations. We are not changing them; they are therefore being brought across as they stand.
I turn now to Amendment 13, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and Amendment 14, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, which focus again on standards. Amendment 13 restricts the use of the Clause 2 power if it has the effect of lowering market standards for agricultural products below EU standards. Amendment 14 extends this to animal health, hygiene or welfare standards for agricultural products. I hope noble Lords will let me try to address any concerns over trade agreements leading to a change in standards for those agricultural products.
Our trade agreements must work not only for UK consumers, businesses and farmers but also for the environment. The global demand for British products is based on our high standards; people buy British not because it is cheaper but because of its high quality. To disregard standards would be to undermine the future of our farmers and of the British exporters. The Government have already announced a new environment (principles and governance) Bill to ensure environmental protections will not be weakened as we leave the EU. We have finished a consultation on a new body, which promises to hold the Government to account on the environment, and have published our 25-year environment plan which sets out our goals.
There is one small flaw in the short term, which is that we will not have that Bill completed or the new agency established if we leave the EU at the end of March. How will the Government ensure that the duties and responsibilities which that organisation and that Bill would have delivered are not lost sight of during the period—which we do not know the length of—before they come in to being?
The noble Baroness raises an important point. That is why we are seeking an agreement and implementation period which will allow that timing. I can say that the Government will establish our own world-leading green governance body, the “Office for Environmental Protection”, or OEP, to champion and uphold environmental standards in England.
I am sorry, but I have a question for the Minister—this may be my mistake in not having followed other legislation closely enough. My understanding is that this will have far fewer teeth than its existing European counterpart, so that it can say things, but it cannot in any way enforce. I understand that the British Government demanded that it should not have enforcement powers.
I think the Minister understands that there is a difference. It is often said that this body can hold the Government to account, for example through an affirmative statutory instrument. It cannot actually stop the Government doing anything, because there is no mechanism that enables it to enforce against the Government. My understanding is that this is a different example; this new body will not be able to enforce. That is completely different from its current equivalent in the European Union. I would hope that the Minister at least recognises this, even if she defends it and says that the difference does not matter. I would be interested to know why she might think it does not matter, but I hope that at least she recognises it.
Before the Minister responds, I would like to say that we do not have that Bill in front of us. What is being proposed is quite rightly reflected by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, but it is up to us to ensure that when that legislation comes those safeguards are built in. I will be one who strongly fights that corner, because it is no use having a body established if it cannot actually hold anyone to account at the right time. Forgive me for intervening on my noble friend the Minister, but I think we need to await the detail, which we do not have at the moment.
That well illustrates the fact that the Minister and the Government should not pray in aid a body not yet agreed by Parliament or approved in terms of its powers and responsibilities, and which is not going to be in existence for some time. It is probably not very safe for the Government to assume that that body will necessarily go in the direction that they want it to.
I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for saying those words. This is a Bill, and the whole purpose of it going through will be that it gets scrutinised. These concerns and changes will be raised, and it will go through in the usual way. I am happy to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about where we are on the Bill but, like all legislation, when it is going through that is the right time to challenge it, and that Bill will be challenged in the same way as I would expect others to be.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last year:
“I have been very clear that Brexit will not lead to a lowering of our high food, animal welfare and environmental standards. This will remain at the heart of our approach as we negotiate both with the EU and with new trading partners around the world”.
The view of the Government is that it is very clear under the withdrawal Act, as well as under our existing international commitments, that we do not need to add them in because it will happen as a result of the withdrawal Act and would therefore be an unnecessary addition. We have made it clear on animal sentience, for example, that we will continue to maintain and enhance our reputation and ensure that any necessary change required to UK law is made in a rigorous, comprehensive way to ensure that animal sentience is recognised after we leave the UK.
Clause 2, as I keep stressing, is to enable the continuity of the existing relationships. It is to ensure that we can continue the effect of the existing EU third-country agreements that the UK already participates in as an EU member.
My guidance is that it is because it will already happen as a result of the withdrawal Act so it is unnecessary. There is also the risk of including some but maybe leaving one out. That is my understanding, but clearly this may be a matter that we take up on Report.
The vast majority of these EU agreements are already in operation and have not resulted in a lowering of standards on animal welfare, the environment or food safety. The powers in the Trade Bill will be used not to lower standards but only to implement obligations. As I said before, it is not the intention—nor do we have the opportunity or time—to make changes; it really is about rolling over. I can hear from the mood of the House that this may not satisfy or reassure, but it is certainly the guidance that we have had. I am sure that this will get brought up again on Report.
I will move on to Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The EU has pushed to include trade and sustainable development chapters, including provisions on environmental protections, in its free trade agreements since the free trade agreement completed with South Korea. In general, these point to commonly held international standards on environmental protection, agreed through multilateral environmental agreements, and commit each party not to reduce these protections in a manner affecting trade. Again, these commitments will be retained as we transition these agreements. However, these commitments do not prevent us improving our protections as we see fit. The UK will be bound by international multilateral environmental agreements to which it is party and we are committed to upholding those obligations. We will continue to collaborate with our European and global partners to protect our environment.
The withdrawal agreement contains non-regression clauses on environmental and labour standards. The UK already has some of the highest standards in the world in place and noble Lords should be confident that we will maintain high regulatory environmental standards once we leave the EU. A reciprocal non-regression commitment would mean that neither party could lower its regulatory standards below current levels. The UK will maintain its high regulatory standards for the environment and we are committed, as I said, to upholding our obligations.
With reference to Amendment 15, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the Government will ensure that our high environmental protections are maintained. We will also transition all EU FTAs, including the provisions on environmental protections provided within these and the commitments not to reduce our commitment to international standards. I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who sought an answer on this.
Turning to the concerns raised on standards in Amendment 25, this amendment would ensure the UK could ratify trade agreements with third countries only if those agreements ensured that imports complied with food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards set in primary and subordinate UK legislation. I have already pointed to the requirements of the CRaG, which ensures that Parliament can block trade agreements. As a result, we are absolutely clear that all existing commitments relating to standards and regulations will remain in place. Far from reducing standards, this Bill is about preserving the beneficial arrangements that consumers and businesses enjoy. This includes the high regulatory standards embedded in our existing agreements. I say again that the Bill is not about making provision for future free trade agreements; this amendment goes beyond the purpose of this Bill.
I am sorry, I know it is late. To use CRaG as the safety net for this seems to be rather the wrong way around. We should be getting any future agreement right, rather than relying on the CRaG process to fix it. I think perhaps the Minister should look at this the other way around and get it right the first time.
Earlier in the debate, we went through the process for agreeing these continuity agreements. We have not talked about the scrutiny for future trade agreements, but maybe there was some confusion in how I articulated this.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and my noble friend Lady Byford raised a number of important points about future free trade agreements but I think we agreed to defer those to later in Committee. We have already been clear that we will introduce bespoke legislation as necessary to implement those future free trade agreements. The Secretary of State for International Trade has already launched four consultations on prospective future trade agreements and announced that the Government will introduce bespoke primary legislation as necessary to implement these.
Turning to Amendment 26, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the Government have listened to representations from stakeholders both within and outside Parliament on this point. In response, the Government have already amended the legislation in the other place so that the interests of producers are explicitly stated as one of the factors for consideration, just as the new clause before us seeks to do. This completed the list of core considerations when setting the tariff, while not making it unmanageably long.
The Government acknowledge the wide-ranging impacts that changes to import duty can have on the economy. The Secretary of State and Her Majesty’s Treasury will have regard to many factors when recommending and setting the rate of import duty applied to goods in the standard case. It would, however, be inappropriate and unrealistic to specify an exhaustive list in the Bill.
I hope that noble Lords will see that the Government take extremely seriously interests relating to animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection, and that we have taken active steps to ensure that this is reflected in our trade policy. In particular, I want to be clear that the Government are committed to upholding and strengthening our high standards in food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare as we leave the EU.
We have made it clear that as we leave the EU we will maintain and enhance our reputation as a global leader on animal welfare. The Government will ensure that any necessary changes required are made rigorously and comprehensively to ensure that animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.
On food standards, the Food Standards Agency has stated:
“From day one we are committed to having in place a robust and effective regulatory regime which will mean business can continue as normal”.
However, the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Act relates to matters of national taxation. It had the status of a Bill of aids and supplies, similar to a finance Bill. This status as a Bill of aids and supplies is usual for Bills dealing with taxation and, in accordance with established practice, such Bills are not amended by this House. I ask noble Lords to consider that the other place has a well-established privilege over financial matters, which the Act that this new clause seeks to change falls under.
I turn to the point the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made about specialised automobiles. That concerns the debate about the power of being in the EU as a negotiating body and that of the UK on its own. I have only a small addendum on specialised automobiles. I went to a country in Asia recently where there was a particular issue with exactly that sector. Representing HMG, I was able to point to the issues that would create on this very specialised and highly prized sector in this country. Changes were made. The noble Baroness talked about whether the EU would be as protective. She will know that the EU cannot act in a discriminatory way. The power of consumers is also very strong. We could have a much longer discussion about the power, but I did not want to leave that lying.
I turn to Amendment 53, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I have already spoken at length about most of the standards that the amendment seeks to protect. We are absolutely clear that public health and public safety will be paramount. Under all international agreements, any country is allowed to regulate on human and animal health. On my noble friend’s particular request about the food safety alert agency, I know that, as with a number of agencies, it is the Government’s intent to participate as fully as possible. I do not know specifically about the food safety alert agency, but I am happy to write to her on that.
I will briefly touch again on public services. We have been clear that protecting the NHS is of the utmost importance. Public services are under no threat from this Bill. We will continue to ensure that decisions are made about public services and outcomes are delivered for UK citizens that are made by UK Governments, not our partners. The NHS has robust protection under existing EU FTAs and this Government fully intend that to continue.
At the heart of a stipulation of an impact assessment against such a long list of criteria appears to lie concern that the Government will lower our standards through our trade policy, whether that be on the environment, labour rights or our adhering to international obligations. We have asserted before, and I am pleased to do so again before the Committee, that we want to uphold our standards. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, and this will continue as we leave the EU.
We want to ensure that economic growth, development and environmental protection go hand in hand. I hope that that reassures the House and I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister. She may have got the author of Amendment 53 slightly mixed up in her thorough summing up, but at this time in the evening, and speaking as one who is looking forward to sampling a wee dram of one of our country’s best exports at the highest standards, the Minister may be forgiven.
There is a paradox at the heart of this issue. I mentioned the complexity of some of the trade deals that the Government seek to take forward with Mexico, Singapore and Japan. They are either in force or agreed but components of them require further discussion. That means that it is relevant, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and others have said, to bear in mind that they will be considering the future when we have asked for them to be rolled over.
To prove the point, we need to look at the only example that the Government have so far published: Switzerland. The Swiss themselves, although the Government have not said so, said explicitly that this agreement could serve as the basis for future economic trade relations. Interestingly—perhaps unhelpfully for the Government—they frame it as part of their “mind the gap” strategy on the basis of what they term the disorderly manner in which the UK may leave the European Union. We can rely on the Swiss to be frank and honest.
The paradox also exists that the rolled-over agreements will be on the basis of the existing EU regulations that the Government have committed to putting into law, which we could follow in three-year tranches under the Bill, again and again, but the Government have said that the justification for leaving the European Union is to change the way that we operate our trade policy. There is no surprise that when we are asking countries to roll over the trade agreement, but telling them at the same time that we are likely to want this agreement in place for us to have the flexibility to negotiate trade agreements based on separate regulations, they have been slightly resistant.
My amendment, and others in the group—I appreciate all the contributions from all the Members who have spoken—is an attempt to establish some basic principles and ethics. This is exactly the right moment to do that. Since 2010, the European Union has insisted on having sustainable development chapters in trade agreements. That has been positive for the world. It has been consistent in the contributions of colleagues who have tabled amendments that our argument is not just about concern that the UK would reduce its standards. One reason why we want to operate to the best standards is that if we are opening our markets to other countries, we do so to countries who are increasing their standards across the piece in environmental and labour law, and so on. It is an overt ambition of the Vietnam agreement that we use that clout as an economic market. That addresses the point of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we should move standards up.
Finally, I am still scratching my head about all the Minister’s comments about how unnecessary it is to have something in the Bill because the Government have given their assurances. When it comes to workers’ rights and the environment, the Government have said time and again that we need not worry, so why did the Prime Minister say just today that she would provide Parliament with a guarantee that we would not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment? That is our concern: that the Government can give an assurance but when it comes to putting something in legislation they pull back until they have to.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He has been a leader in this regard. He will remember when I had the privilege of supporting other Members in taking through the 0.7% development Act. It is only when commitments given at a political level are enshrined in law that we can be reassured. That is our ambition with these amendments. However, I accept what the Minister has said at this stage. I shall not press the amendments. We will come later in the Bill to disputes and the other aspects of trade referred to by the Minister. For the moment, and on the basis of what the Minister has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendments 9 to 15 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
House adjourned at 10.27 pm.