Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 33rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Constitution Committee
31: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Rules of origin
It shall be the objective of an appropriate authority to negotiate as a term of all international trade agreements implemented under section 2 that goods subject to the agreement which have originated in the European Union shall be treated as if they had originated in the United Kingdom.”
My Lords, Amendment 31 is a short amendment but an important one. This is my first Bill and first amendment from the Opposition Front Benches in your Lordships’ House, so please forgive any mistakes from the outset.
Nowhere, as far as I can see, are rules of origin mentioned or dealt with in the Bill. This is worrying for a number of reasons. Most importantly, rules of origin will have a huge impact on the UK’s efforts to replicate our current EU trade agreements with other countries. Rules of origin are about how we define where a product or products really come from, and what “Made in Britain” actually means. It is important to the Bill because, if we are to take the Government at their word, this is just a Bill to allow the rollover of existing trade agreements—agreements that we currently have because of our membership of the EU and customs union. Without changes, rules of origin locally should be expressed in exactly the same way as they currently are. My concern is that they will not be. Post Brexit the EU will no longer be classified as “local”. The UK will be the new “local”. So a new definition will need to be written into these rollover trade deals, where “local”—which until leaving the EU meant inside the whole of the EU—will now mean not just the UK but the UK and the rest of the EU.
The issue of rules of origin is inextricably linked with our membership of the customs union. The big advantage now of being inside the customs union is that no tariffs or taxes are placed on imports or exports of goods traded between member states. Fulfilling the country-of-origin principle ensures that products can enjoy zero tariffs as part of free trade deals if they meet the requirement: conversely, if they do not, they will not. To give a practical example, trade deals in the car industry usually require about 55% of the components of a car to be considered as local. But most cars made in the UK have just 40% of UK-only content. If we then look at the fact that many of the subcontractors source many of their parts from abroad, a UK-made car could be less than 30% made in the UK. This is improved and passes a 55% threshold due to the fact that other manufactured parts of the car come from EU countries, currently classified as local. I ask the Minister: when we leave, how will this be addressed in each of the possible exit scenarios, as this is pertinent to the rollover of existing trade agreements? I also ask the Minister to clarify, if amendments need to be made to the text of existing trade agreements, how parliamentary scrutiny of those changes will be handled. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on moving his first amendment to a Bill. It does not get any easier—I do not wish to offer any false reassurance—but I happily concur with his remarks in moving the amendment. I have little to add except to reinforce the point that, for the UK in particular, the majority of our imports from our biggest market and an even larger majority of our exports are intermediary. They include components that are from a number of different countries and not from here.
This issue was raised briefly with the Minister on the cross-border taxation Bill. It is the complexity not just of the components but what is necessary to ensure that many UK exported goods and our imported consumer goods have a seamless transaction process. It is less about the tariffs applied and much more about the regulatory aspects and checks that will be necessary, which I shall turn to in a moment. Therefore, for our key sectors—the noble Lord mentioned automotive, but for wider engineering and overall production and for our exporters— this issue is critical.
I will cite one example from HMRC’s advice to businesses that is close to my heart, living in an area that has a rich tradition of manufacturing in textiles. It shows some of the complexity when rules of origin have to be applied. Each business has in effect to do its own certification. The advice states:
“For example, yarn spun from non-originating man-made fibres in France”,
would not be considered as originating within the EU for preferential purposes when considering whether rules of origin apply.
“However, cloth woven from that yarn in the UK would be an EU originating product, just as if the weaving had been done in France or Germany”.
That is one tiny example of where, if we do not have a customs union with our biggest market, we will have difficulty with rules of origin with our largest market and then, as we move to trade with other countries outside the customs union, we will have difficulty in deciding which are applicable for other preferential or other trade policies.
That is part of the complexity that leads to Amendment 51 in my name, which is in the view of these Benches necessary to align with our biggest market in order for us to exploit trade with other markets. We need to triangulate as little as possible, which seems to be what the Government seek. The best way to do that is through these arrangements. I understand that there is tacit agreement from the Government on this point, because the announcement last week of an in-principle agreement with Israel to roll over our agreement means that it seems that the United Kingdom is in principle considering what is in effect a rules of origin regime with the EU, the EEA, Switzerland, the Faroe Islands, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Turkey—all countries that have in effect a rules of origin regime.
It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the Government’s intention for rules of origin in the existing rollover agreements and how they consider the future. However, even if we operated under such a regime, necessary checks and certification still have to be done electronically; each exporting company has to apply its four-digit tariff heading and carry out its own checks on whether rules of origin are being complied with. If we are to have a separate anti-dumping and corrective measures system—which, incidentally, the Government promised us for consideration before the final stages of the Bill—and if we are to have a preferential rules of origin system for developing countries, we will have to have some form of check system to ensure that those countries comply with it. It is one thing to say that we will have an electronic system for our closest trading partner—but how will we know that it is not being abused by other countries that wish to circumvent it?
Up to the Lords stage, the Government said that the language as set out in these amendments would necessarily tie their hands and weaken their negotiating flexibility by having them take all necessary steps—but this is no longer the Government’s position because we see that language in Clause 6. This is now government language, where it relates it to the European medicines regulatory network. The Government seemingly do not intend to bring forward any amendments to delete that from the legislation, so if they do not then that is the government language. That means that the Government should not have any problem with accepting this language.
Secondly, the Government said, prior to yesterday, that it would be inappropriate for Parliament to set a mandate for how the Government should take forward negotiations. That is clearly no longer the case because, as the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Prime Minister herself have said, Parliament has set the Government a mandate with regards to the Northern Ireland protocol. So there is no barrier to the Government accepting the language of these amendments. As to the necessity of them, it is very clear that this is what most of the industrial sectors of this country are seeking.
My Lords, if I may add something to this group of amendments, first, I say well done to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. He passed the first test: one of the Opposition’s central jobs is to know which subjects should be raised in Committee and make sure that they are raised. He has done us a service by doing exactly that.
Turning to these two amendments, neither is practical as drafted, but we can probably leave that to one side and focus on what we want to achieve on rules of origin. The first reason it is not mentioned in detail in this Bill is that Section 17 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act effectively puts the rules of origin requirements into law. They are the same, as far as I can see, as would apply generically to rules of origin under the revised Kyoto convention. The country of origin must be identified as that country or territory in which the last substantial process took place. But that does not really answer the point.
This is where we come to the existing international trade agreements that we might roll over. They will have been constructed on the basis that any processing that took place in the United Kingdom was processing within the European Union. We cannot assume that, when these international agreements are rolled over—whenever that will be, but a couple of years from now, I hope—products originating in the United Kingdom will be defined as including processing inside the European Union. We will have become a third-party country. That is unless, in the form that they rolled over, the countries with which these agreements have been made, and with which we enter into our future agreement, accept that origination should be cumulated between us and the European Union.
If I am asking a question of my noble friend the Minister it is: can we look to cumulation between the United Kingdom and the European Union as being a feature of the rollover agreements, such that, from the business point of view, what they have understood to be the situation prior to exit day becomes the situation after exit day? That is essentially what we are looking for.
Declaring an interest, 28 years ago I was deputy director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce. That movement was and is responsible for the issuing of certificates of origin, so it understands this rather well. Of course, that applies outside the European Union at the moment. If we are in a customs union, all those problems go away, but we had that debate on day two of Committee.
If we must deal with this issue, I say to my noble friend that I hope the Government’s discussions with the British Chambers of Commerce have been productive. I know that two years ago, the movement said that, given the nature of international supply chains, ensuring that a “Made in Britain” badge can continue to be displayed proudly on products originating in this country will require us to re-enter some complex definitions of the relationship between international supply chains and origination in the United Kingdom. It also said that it was happy to work with government to look at how that might be achieved in future. I hope that this will come forward in our discussions on Report to demonstrate that the Government have an idea of what future trade agreements might say about origination to ensure that the “Made in Britain” scheme is not frustrated in circumstances where we think of a product as British.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for taking his place and for his performance today. Given his history, I am sure that negotiating procedures in your Lordships’ House will be less turbulent than in other places where he has worked. I thank both him and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for giving us the opportunity to, in my case, put questions to the Minister and probe the issue.
In particular, what will be the position in the interim period of our leaving the European Union? My noble friend the Minister pointed out in our debate— on Monday, I think—that there would be a period for these agreements, having been initialled, to be signed and approved by the relevant Parliaments. My understanding is that if we leave under World Trade Organization rules, agreements in this interim period will be on the basis of non-discrimination. So, if we, as a third country—my noble friend Lord Lansley correctly identified that we would be—chose to extend agreements to current European Union members and said, as many noble Lords have suggested, that we wished to impose zero tariffs, those agreements would have to be extended on a reciprocal, non-discriminatory basis. Is my understanding correct? In an interim period of what might be one or two years before such agreements are rolled over, whatever our preference, whatever we offered to our existing European partners would have to be offered to every other country with which we wished to trade, on the basis of non-discrimination. I do not think we have grasped that point. Obviously, it would be helpful to understand the implications for our trading arrangements.
There is deep concern among the farming community that tariffs imposed could be as high as 40% for certain products and 60% for lamb, at a time when we are exporting more meat than we ever have, historically. That would hit our producers particularly hard. It is causing real hardship in the hills because many of our farmers do not know whether to produce lamb; the supply of lamb to the home market could dry up. We would therefore import more lamb, beef and pork at a time when we should be increasing our exports there. I simply want to take this opportunity to seek answers to those queries from my noble friend.
My Lords, I have questions that arise from the previous speeches which I hope the Minister will be able to help me with. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that I am sure she recognises that, while in a no-deal scenario, for example, we could make the decision that we would reduce our tariffs to zero, she is absolutely right that we could not make them zero only for the European Union; that would also have to be done for everyone else under WTO rules, but there is no requirement for us to be treated in a reciprocal way. In fact, we would be very unlikely to be treated in a reciprocal way, because if the European Union was to look at us and say, “We will be reciprocal and offer zero tariffs to the UK”, it would then be required under its various trade agreements to offer a whole raft of countries across the globe zero tariffs, thus convoluting its entire trading system. There is an imbalance in that argument which sometimes does not quite get heard.
I cannot think of a worse situation for our farmers than finding that they have high tariffs on their exports but no tariffs to protect them from imports flowing in. Some people have said that that is ideal because it means that food costs would fall, but they would do so at the cost of wrecking, frankly, a swathe of one of our much-loved industries.
I want to pick up on rules of origin in a slightly different way, and I will refer to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has been making. When the Minister was kind enough to invite us around the table to ask questions ahead of Second Reading, I did try to press on some issues around rules of origin. As I understand it, for these rollover agreements, the UK would turn to the country with which it wishes to keep the trade agreement and say, “We would like you to treat goods made in the European Union as British content in the way you do now, in order for us to have zero tariffs when we export the goods”. I shall take a simple example, “When we export this car, we would like you to treat the European content in it basically as local content for the purposes of a zero tariff”. The officials were quite clear that the UK could do that unilaterally and that we would not need the permission of the European Union.
I then raised this with a number of people outside this environment who said, “You must be joking. Which country is going to infuriate the European Union by allowing its goods to be treated as local content for the UK unless there is some form of balancing agreement with the European Union on this issue?” In other words, the thought that you can cut the European Union out of this discussion and simply do it on a bilateral basis is incredibly fanciful. For most countries, keeping a good trading relationship with the European Union is, frankly, far more significant than having a trading relationship and rolling over the existing deals with the UK. The European Union is going to have to be engaged in some way or allow itself tacitly to be used in this way.
The Government are currently negotiating these deals, and we understand that they are currently in the process of establishing the rollover agreements. Can they tell us whether they have an understanding with the European Union that will indeed permit EU content to be treated as local content for the purposes of these trade deals, or will they be having some stern discussions with the various countries with whom we wish to have these ongoing continuity bilateral arrangements? It would be very interesting to know.
My understanding is that when South Korea was first approached about treating EU content as local content for goods whose final point of export is the UK, its answer was, “That is interesting and we think that it would be a fair thing to do, but of course we would expect goods originating in China and forming part of the content of South Korean goods to be given the same kind of benefit. We think that there is an opportunity to make sure that there is an equal playing field in this area, because negotiating with the UK is not the same as negotiating with the EU. We are now in different circumstances”. I wonder how many countries aside from South Korea which are involved in these rollover agreements have come back to the UK—I can see that Israel would not because it is not particularly in that situation—saying that they wish to have the new flexibility that we are requesting reflected in a change in the flexibility that they are being offered. It would be helpful if the Government could let us know if that is happening.
I also want to raise the issue of the cost of the whole process of trying to establish rules of origin—talk about a non-trade barrier. It is phenomenally expensive. I have given the example before of trade across the Irish border. At the moment, of course, rules of origin are completely irrelevant, but much of the economy of the island of Ireland has merged into a single economy over the last decade. I was in conversation with a small supplier selling stationery goods. The only wholesaler from which it can get its goods happens to be in the south, so a weekly truck comes over from the north. Rules of origin would require that every single item of different kind in that shipment has its own declaration. If a suit has one set of buttons, that is one whole set of declarations. For a different set of buttons, that is another. If there is a filing cabinet with black pens, blue pens, pencils and different sizes of paper, everything needs its own separate rules of origin certification. From asking around generally and talking with chambers of commerce, my understanding is that the cheapest you could get that certificate for is £30. So for this company that has maybe 20, 30 or 40 different types of product in that little truck, you are suddenly multiplying that by 30, just for that one weekly truck-load. It is a huge cost.
I also tried talking with lawyers about free trade agreements. I think a couple of other Peers were engaged in some of these conversations. I came to understand that rules of origin are such a problem that most small companies do not take advantage of free trade agreements, because to satisfy the benchmark of the free trade agreement they have to provide rules of origin certificates. Very big companies with an accounting department, a legal department, a procurement department, an IT department and whatever else, moving a large amount of identical product, can manage to do certificates of origin relatively easily. There is a cost, but it is manageable. But for a small entity the costs are phenomenal and extremely complex, because it involves intellectual property and how that is valued, the value of warranties and issues of royalties. It is an extraordinarily complex process, and therefore under many trade agreements only about 10% of the trade transactions that theoretically could benefit from the free trade agreement actually do. If a free trade agreement gets up to 40% of the eligible product taking advantage of it, that is extraordinary and an amazingly good free trade agreement.
I wonder if the Minister could help us through all this, to help us understand how much trade she thinks is dependent on being able to roll over these free trade agreements successfully; what the cost will be for companies that now attempt to use them to export directly rather than via the EU—which is how they used to stay out of having to fill these wretched forms out—but also, more fundamentally, the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raised: how are these deals now captured in these free trade agreements?
Are we able to use EU content as local content, and does the Minister accept that the EU has to have given at least tacit permission for that to happen for this arrangement to be viable? This is one of the reasons why the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is important: it asks for a reciprocal arrangement, where we give our permission to the EU to use UK product as local content in any trade deals it wishes to pursue. That creates a problem: does the EU have to now renegotiate most of its free trade deals if it wishes to continue to use UK content in order to meet the benchmark? If that is true, there is a great advantage for companies inside the EU to divert away from UK suppliers in order to pick up EU suppliers whose content can qualify under rules of origin.
My Lords, the fact that, if the Government have their way, in two months’ time we shall be dragged out of the single market is a tragedy of great proportions which will affect everyone in this country with not the slightest doubt. That is particularly sad and ironic because of the great efforts that were put into the creation of the single market, particularly by this country. There is no question that the major movers were not Lord Cockfield and Margaret Thatcher. What is more, the single market has been an inspiration around the world. As others seek to imitate the achievement and derive the great benefits that we have had, the British Government can think of nothing better than to take us out of the original single market.
This raises many practical problems, as we have seen. We have heard three extraordinarily well-briefed, considered and well-informed speeches on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Kramer. The noble Lord spoke particularly about the difficulties which will arise in connection with the definition or redefinition of rules of origin; and the noble Baronesses spoke extremely well about the threats and complexities we shall face because of the rules of the WTO and the possibility that we will suffer considerable perverse costs as a result of leaving the single market. These have never been properly considered in this country by the Government and, therefore, private individuals, trade associations and businesses up and the down the country have also not had enough time or opportunity to consider and reach a conclusion as to what the concrete impact will be in all probability on their own businesses.
That is the point of my intervention. It is not reasonable to ask tens of thousands of businesses which may well be affected by the changes that the Government are trying to enforce on the country in this regard to pick through all the volumes of Hansard in the House of Commons and the House of Lords where these matters have been debated, even supposing—which was not the case on the last occasion we debated this matter—that the Government give informative answers to the questions that have been raised.
My question to the Minister today is: does she propose, or has she already perhaps set in motion, an effort to inform businesses directly about these matters; to set out for the benefit of British business in different sectors the potential threats—or indeed the opportunities, if there are any—from the policies that the Government are pursuing in this area; and to answer definitively the questions that have been raised today about rules of origin, the impact of the WTO non-discrimination rule and principle, which has been set out so well, and any other WTO rules which may have an impact on the trading conditions for British companies which are trading with either the European single market after the end of March this year or with countries which currently have trade agreements with the Union?
In that latter context—my final remark today—can we please have some absolute clarity about what is happening to those countries which currently have free trade agreements with the European Union and where we have the ambition to roll over those free trade agreements? How many countries have accepted in principle to roll over the agreement as it currently exists without any substantive change? How many countries have expressed the willingness in principle to roll over an agreement but are asking for substantive changes?
Most people, I suspect, will ask for a particular concession of interest to them. They will take the opportunity to get something if they can. At the very least, this will result in many months of discussion and negotiation. In some cases, it may require us to make concessions that will be expensive for British industry or business. We need to know exactly where we stand here. I hope the Government themselves know the answers to these questions—I sometimes get the feeling that they do not. If the Minister thinks that that is unfair she has the opportunity this afternoon to make the position absolutely clear to the House and the whole country.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on introducing this debate and focusing on rules of origin, which is the main complexity that will arise with trading goods. I suggest that this should not be exaggerated. It is the big difference between free trade areas and customs unions but I note that the Swiss, who have a free trade agreement with the EU—not a customs union—do not seem to be too upset about that. They do not seem to be calling for a customs union. They seem to be coping with all the problems that noble Lords have told this House are insurmountable; the Norwegians likewise.
The Canadians have a free trade agreement with America but are not calling for a customs union. Even our Canadian Governor of the Bank of England, when he returns to Canada and joins in the political process there, is not going to call for Canada to have a customs union with the United States to overcome all these supposedly insurmountable difficulties. They are not insurmountable and they are going to get somewhat simpler.
The EU is bringing in the REX system for self-declaration of rules of origin—you will have to do the calculations but you will not have to buy a certificate; you will just declare the origin of the goods. Of course, you will have to get it right; as with any self-declaration, you will be open to investigation and checks if there is any reason to suppose you are cheating, but it will simplify the process greatly.
Can the Minister confirm that we will be able to join the pan-Euro-Med convention on rules of origin if we have a free trade agreement with any member of that convention—for example, Israel? I believe that when you belong to it you can begin to assess diagonally, as they say, the components of your goods when you export among them. If that is open to us, it will ease things as far as we are concerned for a large group of countries.
It is less a point of the inability to trade with countries on WTO rules of origin principles—they have been established for many years and will continue, and the EU uses them with non-EU countries. The difference the noble Lord is alluding to is a mutual recognition of the rules of origin principles that we have agreed through the EU with, for example, Norway and Switzerland. This means that, as far as cumulation is concerned—and given that the majority of British imports and exports are cumulated products with our biggest market—the critical factor is the non-burden that comes with other checks that we would not have if we were a non-member of either a customs union or, indeed, a grouping that meant that all other regulations were aligned, as those countries have opted to do, and I think his position is that we should not do.
I am not sure that I said any of the things that I think the noble Lord is both telling me I said and that are not true. I suspect what he said is true but it is not what I said. Forgive me if I do not really respond to his point, which I do not fully understand.
My point was that there is the pan-Euro-Med convention which has the same rules of origin among all the countries. Cumulation is allowed between them. You can join the convention when you have a free trade agreement with one member of it—at least, that is what I am asking the Minister to confirm is the case and will be the case when we have a free trade agreement with Israel, to start with.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, talked about the costs. I do not know if she is familiar with the study of the costs—which I think is the most recent and the most authoritative—carried out by the World Customs Organization. It searched through all the previous studies and found them to be deficient. The level of cost is actually much lower than had previously been thought. That must be true if the Swiss assessment of the total cost of their trade across the borders is correct, because they believe that it is only 0.1% of the value of their trade, including the cost of complying with rules of origin.
I advise the Committee as a whole to read that report. I am sorry that I cannot give the reference but I can give the reference to a document in which the reference is given—namely, a document that I myself wrote called Fact—NOT Friction. I urge noble Lords to read it, as they will find the appropriate reference.
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is right that I have not read the document. I have just taken my information from fairly extensive conversations with companies. Perhaps they do not know what they are doing.
Perhaps the World Customs Organization knows nothing about customs, but we have to reach the judgments that we can, and certainly under the REX system the fees that the noble Baroness referred to will not have to be paid, as I understand it. However, again, I ask the Minister to confirm that.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, waxed eloquent about the single market. I take that as personal praise, as I had to introduce the whole single market legislation back in the early 1990s and spoke eloquently about how it was going to boost our trade. How sad we, and he, must be that in the ensuing 25 years our exports to fellow members of the single market have risen by just 18%. It did not have quite the big and wonderful impact that I hoped it would have and which he in retrospect believes occurred. Our trade with the rest of the world rose by 72%, so let us get these things into perspective.
The noble Lord is, once again, moving into the dangerous business of making elementary errors in the interpretation of statistics. Quite clearly, where we had a relationship with mature markets, as we did when we joined the single market, we were not going to have the same rate of growth in trade as we had with countries that were still very poor and were maybe just beginning to embark on international trade. A mature economy is not going to have the same rate of growth in trade as a newly emerging economy. It is an absolute falsehood to try to compare the two and draw the conclusions that he has drawn.
It is always a pleasure to be patronised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. As someone who passed only parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Institute of Statisticians exams, I suppose that I must give way to him if he passed part 4. I fully know the difference. If he looks, for example, at a group of countries which are at a similar level of development to ours and which trade with the EU single market, he will see that their exports rose significantly more than ours did over that 25-year period. I do not know quite why that is but it is clear that trading within the single market has not had such a big impact on our exports to the rest of the EU as I certainly expected it to have at the time and as he believes in retrospect it has had.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but I will just correct him on this matter. If he looks at the figures, he will see that France and Germany have increased their trade at a much faster rate than we have while being in the single market. The reason is that, sadly—we know that it is a big handicap for us all—productivity in this country has risen much less fast than that of Germany, France and other members of the EU.
It is quite true that other countries within the single market have increased their exports to each other more than we have—but that is not purely because of differences in productivity. Indeed, our GDP over most of that period has grown rather more rapidly than that of many other members of the single market. I do not know what the factors are but I would not just assume that it is all due to the wonders of the single market that somehow have not yet reached us.
My Lords, before addressing the amendment directly, I too warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, who is making his first contribution at the Dispatch Box today. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that it probably will not get any easier, but I very much look forward to our debates.
I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Purvis, for tabling Amendment 31. As the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, it is a short amendment, but it covers an important area. I confirm that the Government share the objective of the amendment. We are committed to ensuring that the rules of origin used in our continuity agreements enable businesses to continue to operate, as much as possible, through their established value and supply chains. That is particularly important where integration with EU supply chains is significant.
I wish to reassure noble Lords about the concerns that may have prompted the amendment. As I have stated, there are technical issues in continuity agreements that cannot be simply cut and pasted. Rules of origin are among those. We are continuing to work with third countries to deal with the issues involved, with the objective of ensuring continuity for businesses and consumers when the UK leaves the EU.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked about negotiations with partners without involving the EU. Just to clarify, the ROOs for each agreement are negotiated bilaterally between the parties. The sequence of such agreements is such that we need to negotiate bilaterally with partners before negotiations open with the EU. EU producers and exporters will benefit from EU content being treated as UK content in our continuity trade agreements, as their business arrangements will not be disrupted. I can confirm that the UK does not need to ask the EU for permission to do this.
Our approach includes using standard rules of origin mechanisms to remain as closely aligned with the status quo as we possibly can. Importantly, as Amendment 31 advocates, this approach includes seeking to ensure that UK and third-country exporters can continue to make use of EU content in their exports to one another. As my noble friend Lord Lansley correctly said, this is referred to as cumulation.
As with many other aspects of international relations, our partners understandably view our negotiations and discussions as sensitive, so we are unable to give precise details on progress at this time. Nevertheless I will reassure the Committee that discussions on rules of origin are progressing constructively. As my noble friend Lord Lilley pointed out, because there is mutual benefit there is a willingness to engage.
The Minister is clear that it is the Government’s intention unilaterally to say to all third countries that components from the EU would be considered part of UK goods. What comes with that is certification, and showing the evidence from the European Union suppliers. Currently, the European Union has its set of certifying conditions as to where products originated. Is the Government’s position that we are unilaterally saying that those component parts should be considered as from the UK? Will we be using in perpetuity all the European certification and proof of origin processes?
Let me clarify for the noble Lord. As he will be aware, rules of origin determine the origin of goods. Regulations then implement those rules of origin in domestic legislation, under the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. The certification and verification of the ROOs of each good will be consistent with current practices under the EU’s trade agreements. Exporters will need to certify the origin of their goods, as they do currently.
May I press that point a little further? Currently, a British exporter will require a movement certificate—EUR1, or EUR-MED if it applies to the pan-European Mediterranean cumulation that we have already discussed under this group of amendments —or a declaration of an invoice or commercial document, such as a packing list or consignment note. These are European Union certificates, which are recognised solely by the European Union. If we are no longer in the EU, how will our certificating process match the EU process, given that it would concern exactly the same component part?
I hoped and believed that I had addressed that question. The answer is yes: that certification would continue as it currently does. That is the information I have but if the situation is any different, I will write to the noble Lord.
I hope my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting. Just so that we are absolutely clear on which question we are having answered, it is about reciprocity. If, in relation to these agreements, we in this country are treating EU content as UK content and having it accepted as such, the question that we are looking to have answered is: will the EU’s continuing agreement with that same third-party country mean that UK content is treated as EU content for the purposes of its origination?
I believe my noble friend is posing a slightly different question. I will come on to the EU negotiations. The response was about third countries and the certification required.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is crucial, because otherwise there is a huge incentive for anyone in the EU to find an alternative supplier. Finding alternative suppliers in the UK for a product produced in Poland, Spain or wherever else is quite difficult because frequently we do not produce those particular goods. However, across the whole of the 27 it is likely that there would be a number of alternative suppliers. Our companies need to know if they are in jeopardy, which is why the question matters.
It is of course for the EU to determine what they recognise. Our priority for the EU/UK trading relationship is for it to be as frictionless as possible. What the UK has proposed is no tariffs, no quotas, no routine requirements for rules of origin for goods traded between the UK and the EU, and cumulation provisions with trading partners. Clearly the final outcome will be for negotiation between the UK and the EU.
I am sorry to intervene. I was not here for the opening speech, which is very bad of me. As I understand it, at the moment, on the assumption that we are going to reach an agreement with the EU, the EU is being very co-operative in saying that British goods should be treated as EU goods for the purposes of our agreements with other countries. There is of course a problem if we have no deal, particularly if we have an acrimonious no deal. What would the situation be then? I cannot believe that the EU would exercise the degree of co-operation on this question that it is presently demonstrating the willingness to do.
That is exactly why the Government are clear that the preference is for a deal. That is what we are trying to achieve, because it is in the best interests of the UK.
Amendment 31 also aims to tie Ministers’ hands and compromise their ability to reach agreements that are in the best interests of the UK. As the Committee will be aware, it is neither beneficial nor appropriate for this House to fetter the Government’s capability in that regard. Therefore, as it is already an objective of the Government to seek continuity through cumulation or any other technical process, it is neither necessary nor appropriate to place a legal obligation of this kind in the Bill.
The Minister might be able to help me. Clause 6(1), as introduced into this House, states:
“It shall be the objective of an appropriate authority to take all necessary steps to implement an international trade agreement, which enables the UK to fully participate after exit day in the European medicines regulatory network partnership”.
Why does that not bind the Government’s hands and restrict their freedom, when the Minister says that exactly the same language used in this amendment seems to bind the hands of the Government? Either the Government will seek to change the language in Clause 6 or they should have no problem with the language in these amendments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will be aware, that was an opposition amendment, with which the Government did not agree. The Government are reflecting on those words and I do not think he can assume that they will necessarily accept that.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the issue of what would happen in a no-deal scenario and asked whether non-discrimination would apply. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is correct; there is no reciprocal obligation if we set our tariffs at zero. That is why the Government have been clear that a deal is the best thing and we are doing all we possibly can to achieve that.
Amendment 51, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, seeks to secure a binding commitment from the EU on the EU’s own future trade agreements. As I said, our priority for the UK-EU relationship is for it to be as frictionless as possible. Regarding the objective of this amendment, we believe it is inappropriate for one sovereign state to seek such a commitment from another sovereign country or territory. Moreover, the EU would not offer the UK such a binding commitment because the EU’s own trade agreements are a matter for negotiation between the EU and its third countries. For this reason, the objective of this amendment would be an empty one for the Government. Furthermore, if the EU chose to recognise the UK content, it would be for the EU to choose how to implement that with its trading partners.
I come again to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on the cost of certifications and certification of origin. The certificates of origin used to export to each partner country will be the same as they are now. Businesses will use those certificates as they currently do. For UK-EU trade, the UK is proposing no routine rules of origin, so no additional burden will be placed on business. That of course will be for negotiation with the EU. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lilley, first, for his expertise on this matter, but also for pointing out the report—which I confess I had not read either—on the costs of compliance.
May I ask something? I do not know the answer to this question. We are talking about a no-deal scenario here, obviously. Under WTO rules, if the UK says that it will import from the EU without any requirement for rules of origin, is it required to extend that same preferential treatment—not just a tariff preference but preferential treatment—to other countries outside the EU? I thought that was embedded in the WTO regime, but I could be wrong.
My understanding is that, because it would be part of an overall agreement with the EU, it would therefore be a trade agreement under WTO terms and the same rules that apply to any other FTA would apply. Therefore, that would be accepted as one of the terms.
I am sorry, but I was asking about a no-deal scenario, because that is what this legislation is about—preparation for no deal.
I stress one more time that this legislation is not about no deal. It is about making sure that we have the capability and powers to implement, whatever happens. Plan A is for a deal and the clauses in the Bill aim to achieve the powers and make sure that we can put them into effect. We have to be prepared for no deal. I reiterate that it is not the desired outcome, but we have to make sure that the Bill has the ability to cover both.
I hope that the statement I have made, and my answers to questions, have provided clarification and some reassurance to the Committee, and I therefore respectfully ask the noble Lord to withdraw—
If my noble friend will permit me, I wanted to ask one question. I know we are not debating future agreements but the manner in which rules of origin are to be established in UK legislation in future. We should work with the chamber of commerce movement to try to make that work with the business community as well.
My noble friend might also like to note that Clause 6, which was new Clause 17 on Report in the other place, was an amendment tabled by Dr Phillip Lee, the Conservative Member for Bracknell.
I thank my noble friend for that clarification. I should have said that it was not a government amendment. But I take the point.
I meant to respond to that question. We are trying to do whatever we can to provide help to SMEs and other organisations to help trade. That includes working with them on procedures and practices which will reduce the cost of, and barriers to, trade. I confirm that we are actively engaging with the chambers. If it is not on this particular point, I will take that back to the department and make sure that we include this too.
My Lords, what is now Clause 6 was an amendment introduced by a Conservative Back-Bencher in the other place. Did I hear the Minister correctly when she said that it was still the Government’s contemplation that this might be amendable? I point out to her, in case she is in any doubt, that this would require a government amendment, which I have not seen on the Marshalled List so far. Is she saying that this is something they are actively considering for Report?
The Government do not endorse the wording of the amendment, and consider that the wording has legal and technical difficulties, so we are reflecting on what should be done.
I thank the Minister for her response, and the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for their contributions and kind words. This is an important amendment, as it looks to protect the current benefits of rules of origin classification. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said, there are benefits for both the UK and our EU partner countries, through cumulation and clarification of local goods.
A lot has been said, so I will read Hansard with interest. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 31.
Amendment 31 withdrawn.
32: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade agreement impact assessments
(1) Before the end of the initial five year period after an international trade agreement has been implemented under section 2 of this Act, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament—(a) an assessment of the qualitative and quantitative impact of the agreement on—(i) the economy, broken down by the different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England,(ii) the environment,(iii) human rights standards,(iv) labour standards, and(v) individuals with protected characteristics under section 4 of the Equalities Act 2010,in the United Kingdom; and(b) an assessment of the qualitative and quantitative impact of the proposed trade agreement on—(i) the economy,(ii) the environment,(iii) human rights standards,(iv) labour standards, and(v) individuals with protected characteristics under section 4 of the Equalities Act 2010,in any other state which is a proposed signatory to the agreement.(2) Before the end of the initial five year period after an international trade agreement has been implemented under section 2 of this Act, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament an assessment of the extent to which the provisions of the agreement conflict with, or are consistent with—(a) the provisions of international treaties ratified by the United Kingdom;(b) the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015;(c) the provisions of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;(d) domestic human rights law;(e) international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including but not limited to—(i) the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,(ii) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,(iii) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,(iv) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,(v) the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, (vi) the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families,(vii) the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,(viii) the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and (ix) the Convention on the Rights of the Child;(f) the United Kingdom’s obligations on workers’ rights and labour standards as established by the United Kingdom’s commitments under the International Labour Organisation’s fundamental conventions, including but not limited to the Declaration on Fundamental Rights at Work;(g) obligations relating to animal sentience by which the United Kingdom is bound, or any principles relating to animal sentience to which the United Kingdom adheres, and any provision in domestic law (including retained EU law) relating to animal welfare standards and the welfare of animals in the production of food;(h) the principle of eliminating poverty;(i) the United Kingdom’s environmental obligations in international law and as established by, but not limited to—(i) the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,(ii) the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and(iii) the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety;(j) offences under section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour);(k) the sovereignty of Parliament;(l) the legal authority of UK courts;(m) the rule of law; and(n) the principle of equality before the law.(3) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for the assessment to be laid before the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.(4) In preparing the assessment under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall consult—(a) the Scottish Ministers, the First Minister or the Lord Advocate,(b) the Welsh Ministers, and(c) a Northern Ireland devolved authority.”
My Lords, we move from future prospects and problems around definitions and what other partners will do to a matter which will lie very much in the hands of the Government as we go forward. As and when trade agreements become the responsibility of this Parliament, there need to be procedures for establishing how and on what basis these are agreed, but also, as is the subject of Amendment 32, for reviewing our progress in carrying these forward.
The amendment is rather full. It contains a long list of issues so it is perhaps not a probing amendment, but I hope the Minister will accept that we would be open to further discussion on the wording. It is meant to set out broadly all the issues that we think need to come into play on this issue but the detail itself could be subject to discussion.
I hope all Members of the Committee will agree that we need to have a system under which we have confidence that any trade negotiations taking place on behalf of the people of this country are subject to effective periodic review of the issues involved, what the process will be and how many dimensions are involved in the consultations and engagement with the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments, as well as the involvement of those affected by the negotiations, such as consumers, those who work in the industries concerned and the companies themselves.
Of course, there is an issue about what impact these trade agreements will have regionally, not just across the national regions but within England in particular, with variations that will need to be picked up. We need to make sure that Parliament, in assessing how these trade deals are done, has access to all the information that is required.
The whole process is set out in Amendment 32. Amendment 81, in the name of my noble friend Lord McNicol—he did so well with his previous amendment that we have given him the afternoon off to recover, so I am speaking for him on this amendment; we are working together, of course, as noble Lords would expect—sets out in more detail the question of independence for the responsible body. There are many candidates for that. We do not need to go into it, but it is important that there is separation between those who set up and agree trade agreements and those who review them for the benefit of the public interest.
This issue can be developed across various activities. I think there will be contributions from those who will wish to see more stress placed on the social rather than the economic issues. The Government are involved in international treaties that will come into play on this. There is a great deal to be said about how you would do this, with what process and everything else. The amendment attempts to set that up. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 64 in my name in this group. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, to the joys of tabling amendments. They provide the ability to lead scrutiny and discussion of significance in a very freewheeling way. I was also going to say “succinct”, except that the previous group, on rules of origin, took nearly an hour.
My amendment is inspired by Amendment 32, which was just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. However, having studied other amendments to the Bill and the Government’s reaction to them, I have opted for a simpler formula in the hope that this might attract support across the Committee. It provides for a review, after five years, by the Secretary of State of the impact and effectiveness of each international trade agreement under Clause 2, but it deliberately omits the long list of criteria in Amendment 32. That is because I believe in simplicity. I do not believe we should lay down detailed areas that the review should cover, worthy though they may be. As we know, policy priorities change over time and the review should be conducted from a contemporary perspective.
I pray in aid a precedent that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, will remember well: the report on innovation and economic growth provided for under the Intellectual Property Act 2014. I believe that was the result of an amendment that he tabled during the passage of that Act. As a Minister, I found the process of producing the report every year very helpful, as did the Intellectual Property Office. In fact, its CEO confirmed that to me only last week.
I have some doubts about the wisdom of setting up a special compliance monitoring agency, as proposed in Amendment 81, which is also in this group. It seems a big stick, given the Bill’s scope. However, on a separate point, compliance would appear to be in the purview of a general review of effectiveness. I have provided for such a review to be laid before the devolved Parliaments, to which the noble Lord attached importance, because I believe this would be a good way to keep them up to date, ensuring that the reviewers, looking back, think about their interests as well as English and UK interests. Such a review would also cover SMEs, which we discussed in another long debate last week. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister.
My Lords, I have great sympathy with Amendment 81 in the noble Lord’s name. It struck me, as a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, that one result of our leaving the European Union will be that we have, in effect, a single market within the United Kingdom, while, for the implementation of trade agreements, some elements of those agreements will be under the auspices of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, if it comes to compliance, the body that has entered into the agreement with the third country will be the United Kingdom if the United Kingdom Government are also a regulatory body to the devolved Administrations for areas for which they have executive and legislative competence. That is potentially an uncomfortable situation. There is merit, therefore, in considering how the United Kingdom might have, in effect, the equivalent of the European Commission. What will be the bodies that operate across the United Kingdom that will consider compliance with trade agreements? It sits uncomfortably if the UK Government are that body when it comes to the component parts of the UK that have both ministerial and legislative competence for those.
Turning to my Amendments 52 and 60, one of the issues concerning what the Government call continuity agreements, which they are seeking, is that they might not just be temporary rollover agreements: they might last a long time. They will be treaties in their own right which, by definition, will be permanent, but the regulations that come with them to translate them for ratification could well be permanent or, at the very least, operate for three-year terms, which could be indefinite if they are renewed. On the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, made about a five-year period, the option I have put forward is that, in advance of Parliament being asked at the end of the initial three years about the impact on the United Kingdom, before decisions have been taken on whether they should be renewed or whether the Government might seek to go back and consider the contents of those agreements, that is the appropriate time for reporting to be carried out. Therefore, it is important at that stage, in advance of the end of the initial three-year period, that a review is carried out of the impact on the UK and specifically on the nations and regions. We know from both Governments’ data, information from the devolved Administrations and academic research that trade deals with countries that have a particular bias in certain sectors affect some parts of the United Kingdom more than others, whether car manufacturing in the north-east of England or food and drink in Scotland. Therefore it is very important to specifically mention the nations and regions.
It is also important, as suggested in subsection (2) of my proposed new clause in Amendment 52, that we have a means by which we can test what has been said repeatedly—that we could trade with those countries better if we were not part of the single market than if we had continued to be part of it.
Amendment 60 looks forward to any proposed future trading relationship between the UK and the EU and its impact on the British economy. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this amendment because it has already been agreed in principle to publish modelling of what the impacts on the British economy would be for some of these areas, even if—and this is the most charitable way of describing it—the Government had to be persuaded to publish this information rather than allowing MPs to enter a darkened room to study it in private. Now that this information is out in the public domain and the principle is there, economic modelling of the impact of our relationship with the EU, depending on the way forward and the options taken on that trading relationship that are to be negotiated, is very important. After last night’s vote in the House of Commons, it is even more important, given that whatever alternative arrangements are considered which have an impact on our future trading relationship, we will need to know what kind of impact they will have on the British economy and its different parts.
Regardless of that, it is necessary now for us to consider what architecture we put in place to consider the impact of our trading relationships with countries around the world on the different parts of the United Kingdom and then on the United Kingdom as a whole. It will be even more important given that the European Union has been and will continue to be our biggest trading partner, so that we do not repeat the process we have had over the last two years and try to reverse engineer what the likely impact will be. We are starting to establish some of that framework now, which is why Amendment 60 has been tabled. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to it. If it is not accepted in this precise language, I hope that the Minister may be able to present in some form of language that there will be consideration of the architecture of how we look at the economic impact across the UK of the future relationship with our biggest trading partner.
My Lords, I will intervene on the Bill, which is not my normal territory, although I have 20 years’ experience of working on equalities issues in your Lordships’ House. I will speak in support of Amendment 32, in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, which requires the Government to lay before Parliament a qualitative and quantitative assessment, after five years, of the impact of new international trade agreements on human rights standards and people with protected characteristics under domestic equality law, among other things. It also provides transparency on the impact of such agreements on fundamental rights. As far as I can tell, the UK Government are a party to all the bodies mentioned in this amendment, so this should not be an issue and there should be no question about it. I should like some assurance from the Minister that, over the next five years, we will comply with all these international treaties on human rights and equalities.
I agree with noble Lords who said that compliance with equalities has to be judged by an independent body—I certainly know that. It should not be judged by the Government themselves. I thank the Equality and Human Rights Commission for its briefing on this subject. Its concern is that we,
“retain the UK’s equality and human rights legal framework as we leave the EU”,
and we ensure that,
“the UK remains a global leader on equality and human rights”,
after we leave the European Union. That is consistent with the UK being an open and fair place to live and do business. Certainly, if the Government do not accept the length of this amendment, I hope that they will accept the spirit of it, and that that will be expressed at the next stage of the Bill.
My Lords, I also have sympathy with the concept of impact assessments. After all, they will apply equally to rollover agreements and future trade agreements, so it is perfectly appropriate to raise this issue and discuss it at this stage of the Bill. I also agree that it is important to have an independent body and not the Government themselves as a monitoring body, and that there should be arrangements to cover all parts of the United Kingdom equally and fairly. I am persuaded by the argument for simplicity in all this, therefore I support my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s amendment in particular. There is a danger in making lists, because they can become out of date.
My Lords, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and others of the same gist are remarkable. In my 35 years in Parliament, I do not recall Parliament ever having subjected any trade agreement negotiated by the European Union to the level of scrutiny which it is proposed that future trade agreements negotiated by ourselves should be subjected. This is remarkable evidence that the Opposition are converted to the merits of having an independent trade policy because it will mean that we can influence it and work it to our own advantage. Of course, that would not be the case if we had a customs union-type arrangement similar to Turkey. Turkey does not participate at all in the negotiation of European free trade agreements with others, but is simply a pawn in those agreements. We would be too, if we were in a customs arrangement with Europe but not part of Europe—in other words, if the policy of the noble Lord’s party were to become effective, as I am sure he would agree—and those sorts of assessments would become irrelevant.
More substantively, in the past when I was involved in negotiating the Uruguay round, for example, one thing that disturbed me was the difficulty of becoming accountable to the House—then the House of Commons—for what I was doing. It is quite difficult for Ministers to be accountable for something that they are negotiating, because they can always come back and say, “We got the best possible deal. If it hadn’t been for my brilliant negotiation, it would be even worse”. It is very hard for the House to respond to that. That left me feeling uneasy. If we can find a way to ensure that negotiations are properly reported, assessed and held accountable to the House, that is a good thing. One of the bad consequences of them not being accountable is that officials did not take the job of being accountable to Parliament at all seriously. They felt they were accountable to the international organisations with which they were negotiating. One needs to be worried about that and it is why it is important that we have accountability. If Parliament holds Ministers accountable, officials will be responsive to Ministers and to what the House wants—not to what international organisations and their peers in other organisations want.
That is not a party-political point. When I made that point in the Commons, my Labour opposite number came up and said it was exactly the sort of thing she experienced, not in trade matters but in other matters. Where she was not responsible to the House, officials did not take that responsibility seriously. The noble Lord and his colleagues are on to something important with their approach, which I prefer to the simplicity of the approach of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. When we have our independent trade policy, it will be important to find ways to hold Ministers to account.
My Lords, these amendments strike at the heart of the issue, because the Bill contains no provision for greater parliamentary involvement in trade agreements. Parliament’s role in UK treaties is much more limited than the democratic scrutiny given to EU trade agreements. It has no formal role in negotiations, does not have to debate, vote on or approve them. I follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said: for EU trade agreements, the Council gives the European Commission a mandate to negotiate on behalf of member states and authorises the signature and conclusion of agreements. The European Parliament does not take part in the negotiations but is kept fully informed at all stages, questions the Commission and can issue non-binding but politically important resolutions. The European Parliament’s consent is usually required before trade agreements can be concluded. National parliaments also scrutinise EU trade negotiations through their own EU scrutiny processes. In the UK, draft Council decisions on signing, provisionally applying or concluding an agreement are deposited and scrutinised by the EU scrutiny committees in both Houses, and may be debated on the Floor of the House or in committee.
We are now considering our own treaty negotiations but no obligation to inform or consult Parliament. Parliament has no formal role, structures or procedures for scrutinising treaties, does not have to debate, vote on or approve treaties and has limited and, as yet, unused power to delay ratification. This is really dangerous. EU trade agreements require the consent of the European Parliament and, in some cases—what are called mixed agreements—ratification by member states. We are talking about our trade with the European Union which, whichever way you look at it—the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that trade outside the European Union is increasing at exponential rates—makes up almost 50% of our trade.
On top of that are countries that account for 17% or 18% of our trade. That is a list of, whichever which way you count them, more than 50 countries around the world from Albania to Ukraine, including Morocco and Egypt. We have European Union free trade agreements with those countries. In total, that makes up two-thirds of our trade, but we are living under the magical illusion that if we give the Government the power to negotiate and roll over all those agreements, many of which have taken many years—the Canadian agreement took eight years—we as one country of 65 million people will try to negotiate on the same basis as the largest trading bloc in the world of 500 million people. We expect countries to just roll those agreements over.
I ask the Minister: how many countries have agreed, at the stroke of midnight, to roll over those agreements? It is utter nonsense. They will renegotiate with us full-time and it will take a long time. For our proportion of trade with the European Union to decrease will take a long time.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, includes in its proposed new subsection (2)(k) “the sovereignty of Parliament”. That is what we are talking about here. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentions in her Amendment 64 trade agreement impact assessments at the end of a five-year period:
“the impact and effectiveness of each international trade agreement implemented”.
Amendment 31, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, suggests a new agency for compliance monitoring. All this is about giving Parliament more of a say—more power over the Government, rather than their having unfettered rights to do these trade deals. This is the problem with Brexit: the Henry VIII powers in Bills that we have already debated, where the Government have power to just push through legislation without going through the normal stages, which are so thorough, in both Houses. Now they are trying to do the same thing with trade agreements.
Of the UK’s 10 biggest trading partners, seven are from the EU and eight are from Europe. Under the gravity model, there are two variables: the distance between two countries and the size of their economies. There is no surprise that we do a lot of our trade with the European Union. Yes, China’s trade is increasing, but the gravity rule means that it will take time for it to come anywhere close to the trade we do with the European Union. Look at it historically, before we joined the EEC; look at the decline in EU trade as a proportion of our trade and the increase of other trade. Whichever way you look at it, the EU 15 or 20 years from now will be at least 40% of our trade. The Commonwealth countries in total make up less than 10% of our trade. That includes India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
What are we asking for? We ask for the right of Parliament to set a thorough mandate to govern each trade negotiation, the right of the public to be consulted as part of setting that mandate, transparency in the negotiations, and the right of Parliament to amend and reject trade deals. Other developed countries incorporate many of those elements into their negotiations.
In the US, our biggest single trading partner, the US Government must undertake meaningful public consultation before negotiating, release all negotiating text to a large representative panel and subject deals to an affirmative vote by Congress. Congress is also entitled to amend deals unless it waives that right. What are we doing sitting back and allowing the Government to take control? Parliament and the people of this country need to take back control.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, as he has said a great deal of what I was going to say, and I am not going to repeat it. I would underscore, to the Minister, the general frustration at this point in time of knowing that we, the UK Parliament, know far less about the negotiations that are proceeding with these rollover and continuity agreements than we would have known had we been in the European Parliament and this was a trade deal that was being negotiated by the EU. We would have been far more informed, consulted and engaged. That loss of democratic input is exceedingly frustrating. This is not a terribly good sign for the future. I hope very much that, having decided secrecy is the way forward for these continuity arrangements, the Government change their mind before they go on to any new arrangements.
Amendment 60, in the name of my noble friend Lord Purvis, would insert a new clause, “Additional review of the impact of the proposed future trading relationship with the EU on the United Kingdom economy”. Another general frustration is that, at this point in time, we still do not have the Government’s assessment and analysis of the impact of the deal that Theresa May has negotiated—never mind the one that she may negotiate—on the future economy of the EU.
If noble Lords will remember, in November the Government published EU Exit: Long-term Economic Analysis, which modelled a number of scenarios including the Chequers deal, but did not actually model the deal that was on the table. I am sure it was inadvertent—I said it on the day—but the Chancellor, when speaking on various media outlets, therefore quoted the economic consequences that came from an analysis of the Chequers deal, not from an analysis of the deal that Mrs May had then staked as her option and choice. The numbers were starkly wrong as a consequence. All of us had advice from various different institutions—I cannot remember whether it was the IFS in this particular case—that, if we wanted to dig through the numbers and find something close to May deal, we had to choose a set of numbers called “modelled White Paper with 50% non-tariff barrier sensitivity”. We were told that would give us better numbers, and they were dire compared to the numbers that were in the charts for the Chequers deal. I never want to see a Chancellor of the Exchequer—I fully believe it was inadvertent—quoting and talking to the British public about a set of outcomes which his own document counters significantly.
It seems to me that, if the Government were to undertake to provide us with accurate figures or their best estimate of an accurate forecast, that would be exceedingly helpful for the complicated discussions we are involved in. It would be helpful, even today, to have the figures for the May deal, never mind the May deal as it is to be adjusted. I am really quite shocked that, having known they handed us wrong numbers in November, the Government have not given us reasonable and rational numbers now.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis, for tabling Amendments 32 and 52. I note the noble Lord’s statement that we should not focus too much on specific wording. I am very taken by the suggestion of my noble friends Lady Cooper and Lady Neville-Rolfe that simplicity is a good approach, but I would welcome any conversations about specific wording.
As the House is aware, we are seeking continuity as far as the existing EU trade agreements are concerned. This means the existing impact assessments of the existing trade agreements that the EU is in will continue to be relevant. They have already enabled Members of both Houses, as well as the public, to consider the impact to the UK. There is an impact assessment, for example, of the EU’s free trade agreement with South Korea. It is online, and it has been available since February 2010, alongside many others that are also available online.
As for a broader evaluation of policy, the Government also undertake evaluations of the impact of their policies as a matter of course. In addition, I am happy to confirm that we are developing proposals for how monitoring and evaluation can best be conducted when the UK takes responsibility for our own trade policy. I would be happy to meet noble Lords to reflect their views, and I take to heart my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s suggestion of a contemporary approach.
Further, the Government have already committed, through Clauses 3 and 5 of the Trade Bill, to lay in Parliament a series of reports explaining our approach to delivering continuity in each of our existing trade agreements. They will also explain, if any, significant changes to and the economic impact on the new UK bilateral agreement when compared to the existing impact assessment. We believe that this is proportionate and better suits this unique programme, which seeks to preserve existing benefits rather than establish new ones. In the earlier debate before Committee, we made a firm commitment to bring forward proposals on our future trading relationships. We have been clear: we will ensure that Parliament plays an appropriate role when the UK has its own independent trade policy.
I am not trying to avoid the questions of my noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, about future parliamentary scrutiny. On the Floor of the House, I have been clear that we will bring forward proposals because we understand fully how critical proper parliamentary scrutiny is. I have stated, and am happy to restate, that I am open to suggestions. We are looking at the suggestions of the ITC in the other place and waiting for input from the Constitution Committee. This issue will be covered in much more detail by my noble friend Lord Younger in the debate on the next group of amendments, so with the leave of noble Lords I will leave that to him.
On Amendment 60, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the Government have met their commitment to provide Parliament with a robust and extensive analysis of the long-term economic impact of our future trading relationship with the EU. As I understand it—we can discuss this if I am incorrect—the amendment asks for a short-term analysis. However, as the Chancellor said in his letter in reply to the Treasury Committee, the cross-government group is not suited to provide analysis of short-term impacts. Within their statutory mandates, the Bank of England and the OBR produce short to medium-term forecasts for the UK economy. The Bank of England has already provided the Treasury Committee with its analysis of short-term impacts and the OBR will continue to update its forecast in line with its mandate.
The amendment also asks for the economic impacts of the backstop to be modelled but, as the Chancellor made clear, the backstop is an insurance policy that neither side wishes to use and, if triggered, would be explicitly temporary. Furthermore, there is not yet sufficient specificity on detailed arrangements for modelling purposes. This would be a matter for further discussions through the joint committee; without such detail, the Government would not be able to model its impacts meaningfully. Ahead of further discussions on those arrangements, Ministers have a responsibility not to release information that could reveal or imply potential negotiating positions.
I am sorry, but the Minister has rather shocked me by saying that she will not handle the next amendment. It is probably the most important amendment we will discuss, concerning negotiation mandates and so on. The Minister gave an answer on the Government’s thinking that her noble friend will, I am afraid, find inadequate if he repeats it. I assume she is aware that this House has said that the Report stage will not proceed until the Government have tabled amendments on this matter. Can she confirm that that is the Government’s understanding?
I am happy to confirm that.
I turn to Amendment 64. Trade continuity agreements, which Clause 2 would be used to implement, simply continue the effects of existing EU trade agreements. Many of the benefits are already being reaped by UK businesses. I hope that my noble friend can take comfort from my reassurance in my responses to Amendments 32 and 52, and I would like to reassure her further by confirming that any impact assessments published at the time the agreements we are transitioning came into force remain valid. On the international agreements referenced by my noble friend, I can confirm that we have not changed our commitment to them. The process of exiting the EU will not alter the UK’s commitment to upholding either international laws or our international commitments. These include commitments on climate change and the sustainable development goals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Hooper both raised issues in a number of areas such as human rights, labour and environmental standards around the world. In an earlier debate in Committee we confirmed that we will proudly continue to comply with those international obligations. In response to the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on monitoring by independent bodies, I can confirm that that too will continue.
I turn now to Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. Let me be clear that the Government will continue to ensure that Parliament and the devolved Administrations play a crucial role in the scrutiny of the UK’s trade agreements. We are in discussions at both official and ministerial level on this.
Specifically in relation to compliance, I must stress that the UK will not bring into force any international agreement without first ensuring that it is fully compliant with its obligations. Where we are transitioning existing ratified EU trade agreements, we have been complying with those agreements as a member of the EU. We are working hard to ensure that we continue to be compliant after leaving the EU, for example by using the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act to make UK law operable without reliance on the European Communities Act 1972. Any secondary legislation necessary to ensure that we are in compliance will be made before ratification, following the usual parliamentary processes. This means that we will start from a point of being in compliance with our agreements. We would expect the same of our international partners. This is simply what is required when it comes to making international treaties.
Normally within trade agreements there are mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing the agreement through bodies such as joint committees. This applies both to our compliance and the compliance of our partner countries. We will of course look to replicate the functions of these existing mechanisms. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned that we should make sure that we reflect the regions and the devolved Administrations. Again, I am happy to meet with him to discuss how that can be done. We will operate the mechanisms according to the terms specified in the relevant agreement. These will of course differ by agreement, but we will be accountable for compliance overall. I hope that this reassures the Committee, and I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, it is pretty much an open secret that amendments of the type we have just spoken to are usually tabled by Oppositions when they have very little to say about a topic. You call for a review and that usually ties up the civil servants for days trying to work out what that is supposed to do. It gets the Minister into a knot and allows you to have a relatively easy passage, especially if the Bill is a bit boring at that particular point. That is not what has happened today, and indeed we have been reminded that it has worked in the past. I recall the discussion during the passage of the Intellectual Property Act and it has worked out well.
There is a case here for thinking really hard about what we want to see happen as a review. I accept absolutely that my amendment is ridiculously overspecified and gold-plated. I am happy to learn from noble Lords who have served as Ministers and those who have experience of this on the other side. We could probably with advantage put together quite a sensible, minimalised amendment which would cover the ground. The Minister spoke about wanting to meet to discuss this; that would be worth while. If we can get sensibility, scale and scope in a reasonable approach, we can make some progress here.
I do not think this can just be left to the passage of time. It is true that the Bill as currently drafted has considerations of reviews, but these were late additions and are not well drafted. We have already noted earlier in Committee that while Clauses 3 and 5 make provision for reports to be provided, Clause 4 provides an opportunity for Ministers to duck out of that; and they deal with the process of agreement, not of review. I therefore think there is a bit of a lacuna here in the Government’s approach. We may be able to resolve it by statements in the House, but there may be a case for having at least something in the Bill to cover it.
Other points were made in this very rich debate. I do not think we need to look too hard—I was going say to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, but he is not in his place. The EU model, although it exists and operates, is not perfect, and there is already much documentation on how it needs to be improved if it is to be effective. The question of independence is not dealt with in the current drafting of the Bill. I think there is a sense around the Committee of a coming together on this issue. We should take advantage of that—a meeting would be very useful—and I look forward to being able to make some progress on this in a relatively easy way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
33: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Establishment of Committee on Trade Agreements
(1) A body corporate called the Committee on Trade Agreements is to be established consisting of nine members who are to be drawn both from the members of the House of Commons and from the members of the House of Lords in accordance with the provisions in Schedule (Committee on Trade Agreements).(2) Negotiations towards a free trade agreement may not commence until the Secretary of State has laid a draft negotiating mandate before the Committee and it has been approved by a resolution of that Committee.(3) Prior to considering a resolution approving a mandate relating to the negotiation of a free trade agreement, the Committee must produce a sustainability impact assessment in accordance with the provisions in Schedule (Committee on Trade Agreements). (4) Before either House of Parliament may approve by resolution the text of a proposed trade agreement in accordance with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, the Secretary of State must lay the text of the proposed agreement before the Committee and that text must be approved by a resolution of that Committee.(5) Prior to considering a resolution approving the text of a free trade agreement under subsection (4), the Committee must produce a report setting out a recommendation in relation to the ratification of the agreement.(6) The Secretary of State must lay the report produced under subsection (5) before both Houses of Parliament.(7) Schedule (Committee on Trade Agreements) contains further provision about the Committee.(8) In this section, “free trade agreement” refers to any agreement between the United Kingdom and one or more partners that includes components that facilitate the trade of goods, services or intellectual property including but not limited to—(a) Free Trade Agreements (FTA);(b) Interim Association Agreements, Association Agreements (AA);(c) Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA);(d) Interim Partnership Agreements;(e) Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA);(f) Global Agreements (GA);(g) Economic Area Agreements (EAA);(h) Cooperation Agreements (CA);(i) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreements (CETA);(j) Association Agreements with strong trade component;(k) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships (TTIP);(l) Investment Protection Agreements.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 33 I will introduce some of the discussion topics raised by the other amendments in this area. I look forward to the response from the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, who is standing in on this issue. The subject of the amendment is, as previously described by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, a key—probably the most important—part of the Bill. I take his advice and am happy to try to man up and make sure that I establish the case in the sorts of terms he would like to see. We have also had contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, which have set out some of the scene, so I do not think we need to go right down to the very basics of it. I would like to focus on some of the principles that are important in trying to assess this issue.
We are talking here about how Parliament and wider civil society get engaged with a process that we in this country have not really had much direct involvement with since 1972 because the function we are talking about—trade—has been a sole competence of the EU. Yes, there have been occasions when issues have come back but, as we heard in earlier discussions, they have not been very detailed and there has not been proper scrutiny. I think there is a general feeling that the procedures set out in the CRaG Act 2010 do not now satisfy those with an interest in this area.
I have eight principles that I think should inform our discussion. These are: how do the Government intend to ensure that formal consultation with external stakeholders, in advance of any negotiation mandate being drawn up, is exercised? How do the Government intend to ensure proper transparency of trade negotiations and negotiating mandates, and what role will Parliament play in that process? How do the Government intend to ensure maximum transparency in advance of those consultations? Obviously, they are constrained to some extent by issues that would be regarded as necessary to be taken under some level of secrecy if they involved security or other issues, but how will that transparency happen? In particular, how will the Government prepare proper impact assessments and make these available to inform the debate?
There is a general question about reviewing reporting on trade agreements after a specified time period, but also in relation to progress—we touched on this earlier, but it is part of a principle that we need to build in from the beginning. How do the Government intend to ensure that parliamentarians are able to access the negotiating texts? Without knowledge of the texts, very little scrutiny can take place. Some texts will be very sensitive, but nevertheless it is important that there is a mechanism under which they can be reviewed and discussed.
What will be the formal process or procedure for the ratification of trade agreements? The current arrangements under CRaG are not satisfactory. What will be the formal procedures for changes that need to be brought forward—not new trade agreements but how, particularly in light of the need for broader discussion and debate, we amend and change agreements found to be deficient, unfair or working badly in relation to any aspect of our economy or our part of the country?
Those are the issues the amendment seeks to open up. Again, it is gold-plated—I accept that—but it is important that we see the full range and depth of the issues raised and I hope to have a good debate around that. I beg to move.
I support Amendment 33, about which a great deal was said in the debate on the previous amendment, although some of the contributions more properly belonged to the discussion of this amendment. I have no hesitation whatever in suggesting that this is probably the single most important article in this legislation—except that it is not there, of course, at the moment, but it needs to be there.
Why is it so important? It is because until now the British Parliament has had no clear role in giving mandates or setting out the broad lines under which the Government should negotiate trade agreements, nor has it had any proper system for oversight of them. Possibly that did not matter in the far distant days before we joined the European Union, but it certainly matters now when free trade and other trade deals are, as the Government have said again and again, at the heart of their Brexit strategy. Britain’s ability to negotiate on its own on trade is at the heart of the Government’s pleading to back their deal.
This is really urgent now because the Government have made it urgent by refusing to take no deal off the table. If they took no deal off the table, as the Spelman amendment passed by the House of Commons did last night, we would have time to look at this. However, if no deal remains on the table—and the Prime Minister has said that it does—we have to realise that the Bill we are now discussing may be operational in 60 days’ time on 30 March this year. As currently drafted, the Bill says nothing about approving mandates before the Government can negotiate on trade with a particular country. That is a lacuna which cannot be left unfilled.
When he replies, I would like the noble Viscount the Minister to repeat what the noble Baroness the Minister said: that the Government will table amendments before Report and explain how they believe that Parliament’s authority should be established in the context of an independent trade policy. I agree that it may not be needed on 30 March and we would be mad to leave without a deal on 29 March. But the Government have decided to go on saying that we may and therefore we had better be prepared. I hope the noble Viscount will deal with that point as soon as he starts his response.
The substantive issue at stake relates to the provisions—or lack of them—for parliamentary mandating and oversight of all negotiations with third countries once we are able to conduct them on our own. They are important because without them, if the Bill remains as it is currently drafted, together with the provisions for the approval of international agreements, the only say that Parliament will have will be after the Government have conducted and concluded negotiations and then put before Parliament an up or down, yes or no agreement to what is in them. That is what we call in this House, when we are talking about statutory instruments, the nuclear option. It would be absurd if we went into the conduct of an independent trade policy with nothing for Parliament except the nuclear option. What does the nuclear option mean if it is ever deployed? It means that the Government would in good faith have negotiated with a third country—reached agreement with it, settled all the tariff details and the non-tariff barriers—and then the deal gets rejected. How much negotiating credibility would we have left after that? Zero.
I agree that what is being suggested—devising proper provisions to provide mandating and oversight—is not rocket science but it requires a fairly delicate touch, partly because this Parliament has never fulfilled that function before. It is not all that difficult. The EU has structures that do precisely that. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that the template of the European Union’s structures is not quite right for this Parliament but it shows that it can be done and how it can done, if that is what you want to do. It shows how the Council, composed of elected representatives of the member states, has to mandate any negotiations before they start. It shows how it provides oversight. It deals with how it endorses negotiations when they have been concluded. It is probably quite a good place to start for the Government when they devise—as I hope they will—these provisions.
There is also a strong role now for the European Parliament, which is part of the mandating, approval and oversight processes. It is not impossible to do. The European Union has conducted some extremely successful negotiations under these oversight and monitoring provisions. Take, for example, the agreement on Japan, which is about to enter into force—not a small matter when you are talking about the largest and fourth-largest economies of the world agreeing on free trade. It has been conducted very successfully. The Parliament has had its say, the Council has had its say and it has worked. I hope the Government will give very careful thought to all that.
I can see—and I think this was raised in the discussion we had before we committed the Bill—that there is a real worry about confidentiality. How do you ensure that the mandating, oversight and so on do not involve damage to the Government’s negotiating position? That is not rocket science either. We have a Joint Committee that deals with intelligence and security and there are no leaks from that that I know of—none that have been damaging to the national interest anyway. I am sure we can devise a system that has those characteristics and is secure from leaks.
I do not know whether the exact formula that the noble Lord has put forward in his amendment will be the right one. I am sure there are different ways of doing this. It is for the Government to say how they want to do it but I ask them—please—not to quarrel with whether they are going to do it. That will not be acceptable to this House. I hope they will not. I think we would be quite inadequately provided for if we do not have a system of this sort with a Joint Committee—or however it may be described—to do it.
I therefore wait with interest to hear what the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, says in reply. I remind him again that without adequate and reasonably prompt positive reaction to the filling of this lacuna, this Bill is going nowhere. It is as simple as that. That is what this House voted for when we had the debate before the Bill was committed. I look forward to seeing some government amendments in the very near future. Although I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, he himself has said—very wisely, I thought—that he did not think it was necessarily the final word in wisdom and that every detail did not have be as it was; this is something that the Government have to provide. I hope that the noble Viscount will tell us that that is what they are going to do. He might even tell us when they are going to do it. I hope he will also say that the coverage of it will be the coverage here—mandating and oversight by both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 59 and 71 to 74. They are quite distinct. Amendment 59 most certainly does not meet the Hooper test of brevity but I can dispatch it fairly quickly—no doubt to the great relief of colleagues in the Committee—because it may be considered a continuity amendment. It replicates the need for a meaningful vote process for the future relationship with the EU as we go through the withdrawal agreement process. It need not be controversial but it provides for the necessity for Parliament to authorise the agreement. It provides for that to be in primary legislation and sets out the procedures should the Commons resolve against the agreement. If we leave, this will be necessary for our future trade agreement with the EU to avoid a repeat of the “running down the clock” situation. Therefore, it is right that we have this put in place now.
Amendments 71 to 74 are perhaps the core of that element and have formed part of the discussions so far about the role of Parliament going forward. In a moment I will come to a live case study of a continuity agreement to show that this is not just about the future policy but is relevant now. Fundamentally, the reason that Parliaments around the world—the elected bodies other than simply the Executives—are now involved at early stages of trade negotiations is that trade negotiations are now markedly different from how they were 30 or 40 years ago.
By definition, the European Union now enters into discussions on deep and comprehensive trade agreements. In the past, the agreements were primarily about tariff rates and little else, but now trade agreements take into consideration the impact on domestic law of environmental standards. The social, economic, environmental, gender, human rights, labour, development and regional impacts are all core components. If you look at the most recent trade negotiations that the European Union has carried out with British participation, whether it is with Singapore, Japan or Canada, they have included sections on the development and sustainability goals. There are now clear positions when it comes to human rights, labour development and the impact on local communities. These are core parts of the trade negotiations that we have embarked on, and that is why the United States, Australia and the European Union have a much wider role for their Parliaments throughout the process. The Government’s position is in stark contrast to that: we would simply use the existing treaty provisions, which are not only out of date but will prove ineffective.
The only other aspect of ratification of treaties under the Constitutional Reform Act concerns what Mr Hollingbery, the Trade Minister, said in oral evidence to the International Trade Committee. He said that, although he did not want Parliament to have binding votes on these agreements, there was one aspect where he thought that Parliament should have an overrule. He said:
“But I do believe that Parliament should be able to opine upon the outline approach”.
Parliament being able to opine on the outline approach of trade negotiations might be a slightly unfortunate turn of phrase but the Government have given some indication that they are willing to consider it. I think that on the previous group the Minister gave an indication of that kind, and I agree. We are looking forward to hearing the Government’s position on the amendments to the Bill and to them giving a clear steer.
In the spirit of assisting the Government, these amendments in my name, with back-up from many civil society organisations, suggest what I consider a quadruple lock of parliamentary involvement from the outset in considering the sustainability impact so that there is a degree of transparency for all the different aspects that I mentioned earlier—the social, economic, environmental, gender and human rights impacts and so on.
One reason why that is important to me is that when I co-chaired with the Nigerian Trade Minister a commission for an all-party group on trade and development in the Commonwealth, it became abundantly clear to me that, to be a force for good in the world, trade also now has to take into consideration all those components. The British trade approach could be an especially good force for good for development around the world. We know that until recent years trade agreements have not been proactive in the areas of gender, human rights or those parts of society that have not been economically empowered. We could see trade agreements not simply as protective measures or as things where we are fearful of giving away British negotiation positions; we could see them as potential forces for good.
The second element of Parliament being involved in setting a mandate by resolution is a proactive mechanism for that. It is why this is now established in the European Union and I believe it would be of great merit for our Parliament to be involved in it. The third component proposed in the amendments is transparency, involving Parliament and the people, whom ultimately we all represent, because they are likely to be a key part of these trade negotiations. We know from the previous examples how difficult some trade negotiations can be, and that is when we look at the impact on both our communities and those of the country with which we are signing up to an agreement. The final component is scrutiny before signing, which I believe to be of fundamental importance. That quadruple lock is important. In essence, it is simply a way of replicating British representation through the European Union.
We have elected representatives in the European Parliament who take part in the early stages of negotiations. There is a very helpful document called Negotiating EU Trade Agreements: Who Does What and How We Reach a Final Deal. It is very straightforward and simple. It shows that even in preparing the position that it will take, the Commission publishes its negotiating directives online and sends them to the Parliament. The Parliament is informed at the earliest stage of the process and even prior to that. After each negotiating round, reports are presented to both the Council and the European Parliament, as was the case in the latest round involving Australia. I tried looking on the British Government’s website to find out about our discussions that led to the mutual recognition agreement with Australia but there was nothing. That was in stark contrast to the position with the Commission.
The fourth stage is that, when the Commission plans to table negotiation proposals, it informs the European Parliament about them, and it then informs the European Parliament at every stage of the developments, keeping it updated. The Parliament is then able, through its Committee on International Trade, to pass resolutions on the progress of those processes. When the negotiators from the two sides come close to finalising the text, the Commission tells the Parliament. The Commission also informally sends the text to the Parliament. In finalising the process, the chief negotiators of both parties usually initial the text of the proposed agreement to mark the end of the negotiations and that text is sent to the Parliament. The 10th element of the process is that, after both sides sign, the Council examines the proposal for conclusions and sends the agreement to the Parliament for its consent. The 11th stage is consideration by the committee of what to recommend to the plenary, and consent or no consent is then given to the agreement. There are 12 parliamentary stages in the negotiating process.
We understand that the Government have made only two agreements so far. One is with Switzerland. The text from the Swiss party was immediately put online; the text from the British side came subsequently. But we should do a case study of the announcement last week of what our Government said was an agreement in principle to sign a free trade agreement with Israel, while the Israeli Minister, Eli Cohen, said that the text was “concluded” on 23 January. I asked the Library to find a copy of that agreement—but there is none. I understand from the Government that the text will be placed in the House alongside an explanatory memorandum and an associated parliamentary report in due course, once the agreement has received signature.
If we had been following the stages under the European system, things would have been different. The European Parliament would already have been involved in the content of the talks, and been allowed the parameters for discussion. The Parliament would then be told that the negotiators were close to finalising the agreement, and the texts would be sent at an informal level to the Parliament. Once the agreement had been initialled, the initialled text would immediately be sent to the Parliament. I understand that, if it is an agreement in principle, but we do not know whether our text with the Israeli Government has been initialled; perhaps the Minister can clarify that. If it were then signed, that text would be included too.
Potentially, therefore, there are five steps when the European Parliament would have been involved—whereas we are not. Why is that fundamentally important? The Israeli agreement is a good example. It touches on many aspects of international law, human rights and domestic legislation. Our domestic legislation, in addition to the European agreement, on the treatment of goods from the illegally occupied territories and settlements, means that we as a Parliament should be aware at the early stages of what our Government are discussing with the Israeli Government.
To find out only at the last stage, when we can do nothing other than to delay or not to ratify an agreement, is not appropriate. So I hope that the Government will be able to confirm the current status of this live example of a continuity agreement. Can the Government confirm, on the record, that they have initialled an agreement that does not put into any question the status of products from the illegal settlements, and that we will honour our decade-long commitment in how we treat this agreement? When will they bring forward the text of the agreement?
This is a live example of a continuity agreement, on which there is not the transparency that the Government claim that they wish to bring about. We seek, at the very least, to replicate the position that British representatives have in the European Parliament. We also seek to ensure that the role of elected bodies is not diminished in the proper negotiation of these deep and comprehensive trading agreements.
The noble Lord has drawn attention to the issue of scrutiny by the European Parliament. In listening to him, it occurs to me—he may wish to agree—that one of the difficulties is that the UK Parliament is so underresourced. Do we have the resources to carry out the type of scrutiny to which he draws attention?
I believe we do. Not only are we resourced in Parliament, but we are resourced in this House. Our committees do a remarkable job in scrutinising both European legislation and secondary legislation. As we approach the Bill, many noble Lords stand ready to scrutinise proactively and constructively some of the proposals. But we cannot do that if our role is only at the last stage. Indeed, the Government would be much more effective in securing final agreements on such arrangements if Parliament were involved at the early stages. If that principle had been applied to the process of negotiating our withdrawal, we might now be in a different position.
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, before he had to hurry off, spoke of transparency as if it were a threat to negotiation. Speaking to another amendment earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who has more contemporary experience than the noble Lord, spoke of her regrets about the TTIP negotiation, and the fact that the NHS brouhaha that blew up around it scuppered, or terminally injured, that negotiation. Transparency is not a prerequisite just because it is a good thing; in the modern world it is needed to get consent for such things to happen. In the world we live in today, such negotiations can be stopped—and if we think the TTIP negotiation was an example of that, we have not seen anything until we have seen a US treaty being negotiated. Transparency is not just a good thing; it is an enabler, which allows us to have such treaties.
My Lords, forgive me for stretching the definition of repetition, but before I address the amendments in detail I would like to underline the fact that the Bill concerns continuity for our existing EU free trade agreements as we leave the European Union. I mention that without wishing to revisit the emphasis that we placed on the word “continuity” on Monday last week. Scrutiny of new free trade agreements is not part of the Bill, nor is scrutiny of our future relationship with the EU.
I really plead with the noble Viscount not to say that again. We all know that if, through inadvertence or incompetence, the Government take us over the cliff on 29 March, this Bill—by then, presumably, an Act—will be the only instrument we have to guide our trade policy. Therefore, will he please stop saying that it is only about continuity and admit, as his noble friend Lady Fairhead did when replying to an earlier amendment, that it is meant to be capable of providing for both eventualities? Will it provide not only for the eventuality in which it is a continuity measure that lasts for the transitional period—what is sometimes laughingly called the implementation phase, in which nothing is implemented—but for circumstances in which we have to operate an independent trade policy on 30 March 2019?
I had only just started, and I stand by my words, because I was about to go on to say that, none the less, I understand the desire of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, to debate these issues today—and that is what we have just done. I also appreciate the desire to understand how the Government intend to fulfil our commitments to transparency on and scrutiny of future FTAs as we exit the EU.
The amendments on future FTAs pursue many aims, which the Government understand. To be helpful to the House, during my remarks I will give as much information as I can on progress and process on FTAs. I will also answer the question raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—but not just yet—and will agree with the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Fairhead.
Amendments 33 and 99, which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, spoke to, seek to ensure that Parliament has a significant role in free trade agreements via the creation of a new Joint Committee. Amendments 71 to 74, which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, spoke to, seek to achieve similar outcomes through imposing obligations on the Government in relation to mandate-setting, transparency and scrutiny before signature. I will address those amendments together.
First, I shall give a little context. Brexit does not change the fundamental constitutional principles that underpin the negotiation of international treaties. The making of treaties, including international trade agreements, is a function of the Executive. At the same time, it has long been held—and this Government continue to hold—that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise treaties effectively. In 2010, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act confirmed, after a process of consultation, the respective roles of the Government and Parliament in treaty-making. The Government will continue to support and facilitate parliamentary scrutiny of treaties under CRaG.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the Israeli trade agreement. There is agreement in principle on an FTA, but subject to—
If I may be allowed to complete this point, I will then give way to the noble Lord. There is agreement in principle on an FTA, but it is subject to a few remaining technical issues so the final text is not quite ready. When a continuity agreement is finalised, it will be laid with an Explanatory Memorandum and report.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He mentioned that the Government are for scrutiny, so why are these amendments required? The amendments have been tabled because there is a complete lack of parliamentary participation in the Trade Bill. Surely he can understand the uneasiness of this House. The Government tried to railroad the implementation of Article 50 without the permission of Parliament, and the case had to go all the way to the Supreme Court for Parliament to have a say. The Government then tried to withhold a meaningful vote from Parliament, and Parliament had to fight for that. The Government tried to hide their legal advice and Parliament had to fight for its disclosure. Now we have Henry VIII powers being implemented left, right and centre and a Trade Bill acting in a similar way over future trade agreements.
Those agreements are going to be hugely difficult to negotiate. They take a long time to implement, as I know. India has only nine bilateral free trade agreements with other countries, and not one with a western country. This process is going to be hugely difficult, and it looks as if Parliament is going to be cut out of it altogether. We are wrecking the constitution of our country and the balance between the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary. I do not think the Minister can just say, “We are allowing scrutiny”.
If the noble Lord will allow me to continue, he will see that I am not saying that Parliament has been cut out of this altogether; far from it. I said at the beginning of my remarks that I would give as much information as I could, and I hope it will give reassurance to the noble Lord and indeed the whole Committee.
I am sorry to trouble the Minister but I have one question. I did not quite understand what he meant just now by the word “finalised” when he talked about the treaty with the Israelis. If he meant that the treaty would be a signed done deal and would then be brought to Parliament so that we could look at it, would we scrutinise it? Would it be like an SI, whereby we cannot impact the terms in any way, so we simply have the nuclear option of accepting or rejecting it? The message of this House has been that we regard scrutiny as something far more contributory than that, involving engagement in the process at a much earlier stage. That is why we are extremely troubled. Will the Minister clarify exactly what he means by “involving Parliament”—after the fact or before the fact?
As I said earlier, I have some more remarks to make about the process for future trade agreements. What I said about the Israeli agreement was that when a continuity agreement is finalised, it will be laid with an Explanatory Memorandum and report and will be under the affirmative procedure.
I will briefly touch on what we have already committed to in this area. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade reiterated in an Oral Statement that Parliament should have a crucial role to play in future free trade agreements. The Government will ensure that parliamentarians are given the opportunity to consider the level of ambition of the Government’s approach to negotiations and the potential implications of any agreements. We will lay our outline approach to each negotiation before both Houses in order to facilitate that before we begin negotiations. During negotiations the Government will keep both Houses updated on progress, including providing analysis of appropriate points. Once an FTA has been negotiated, it will need to be implemented and then ratified. I remind the House that free trade agreements cannot of themselves change domestic law.
To implement a new trade agreement with a new partner, the Government will bring forward a bespoke piece of primary legislation for each new trade agreement that requires changes to legislation where there are no existing powers. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the new legislation in the normal way.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; his contributions are helpful. This may be a technical point, because we have had an element of that statement from the Government at Second Reading. There could be a marked difference regarding a trade agreement that could have a big impact on our country, but which does not require any changes to primary legislation. If a trade agreement does not require any changes to primary legislation because that is still on the statute book, the Government are proposing that no measures be brought to Parliament to approve—only the primary legislation, if that does not currently exist. The case made by noble Lords is that a trade agreement in its own right needs to come forward for authorisation, regardless of whether it requires additional primary legislation. That is the point we need to get across.
The noble Lord makes a good point. I reassure him that what is also very important is that the negotiation and scrutiny of these trade agreements has to allow for a certain flexibility. I will go on to say a little more about the process, because implicit in it is that treaties between different types of countries using different types of products can be extremely different, as the noble Lord will be aware, so flexibility is very important.
The legislation must be brought forward before ratification, as I was saying. The same will be true of our future relationship with the EU, which will surely require detailed implementing legislation. I hope this demonstrates that the Government are already committed to Parliament being able to shape and scrutinise future trade agreements. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said about current processes and steps in considering trade agreements. However, since July work has been taking place in both Houses to consider Parliament’s role in future free trade agreements. The Constitution Committee has an ongoing inquiry into the parliamentary scrutiny of treaties. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is inquiring into human rights protections in international agreements, and that touches on Parliament’s role. In the other place, the International Trade Committee published a report just after Christmas that makes a number of recommendations in this area.
To assist the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the Government are listening carefully to these views and we are conducting our own work. We have little quarrel with his remarks and aspirations, and I hope there is agreement there. We recognise, not least following the resolution of this House on Monday, that more detail is needed on how we envisage Parliament—and particularly this House—being involved in the scrutiny of trade agreements. The question of how Parliament scrutinises future FTAs must be answered, with the benefit of close and considered dialogue between the Government and Members of Parliament. I have listened to the contributions of noble Lords today, and I assure the Committee and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we will reflect on them seriously. I confirm again that we will bring forward our proposals with more detail before Report.
That is very helpful. As the Minister knows, the devolved Administrations have also submitted evidence to the International Trade Committee in the Commons and are participating in the revision process. The devolved Administrations were mentioned specifically in the resolution of this House last Monday. I wonder if, in advance of the Government bringing forward any of their proposals, they could write to noble Lords or give a clear statement on how they envisage the devolved Administrations, and potentially the regions of England and the combined authorities, having an active role.
I thank the noble Lord for that. It does indeed take us back to the debate we had last week, and I hope he remembers that I gave certain reassurances on that point. What I can say—without having the details in front of me—is that, as he knows, there is ongoing dialogue with the devolved Administrations to ensure that they are kept fully in touch with what we are doing. That will be the general tenor of the ongoing discussions as we look forward to FTAs.
I would like to pick up on some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, in the last debate as they are relevant to this point. He asked how our approach differs from the role of the European Parliament in EU trade negotiations. He may well know this but I shall spell it out: the European Parliament’s role operates in relation to EU trade policy. We are offering scrutiny for the UK Parliament at every stage of the process in a way that is appropriate and proportionate to the UK constitutional context. In the UK, the power to make treaties is a power held by government, but the context of the negotiations will be different. The European Commission negotiates free trade agreements representing the interests of the 28 member states. It is given the mandate to do so by the Council, and final agreements are approved by the European Parliament and the Council before they can come into force. UK-only free trade agreements will be negotiated by the elected Government in the best interests of the UK. The Ministers responsible for the negotiations are directly accountable to Parliament.
My noble friend might also reflect that there is some truth in what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, reminded us of in previous debates. American negotiators often find there is significant benefit in having what I think they describe as “Congress reserve” in negotiations—what we might call “parliamentary reserve”. That sense of engagement with Parliament during the course of negotiations is important in itself. What happened last night in another place might give anybody engaged in such negotiations pause for thought; it is important that they know during the negotiations that they can take Parliament with them.
I said at the beginning that this is likely to be a wide-ranging debate; my noble friend’s remarks will indeed be fed into the processes being considered at the moment.
I would like to address a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who asked what access parliamentarians would have to negotiating texts. We take seriously our commitment to keeping Parliament apprised of the Government’s negotiating intentions. That is for the purposes not just of transmitting information but of inviting scrutiny and allowing Parliament and its committees to take informed views. While we support Parliament’s important scrutiny role, Ministers have a specific responsibility, which Parliament has endorsed, not to release information that could undermine our negotiating position. On transparency more generally, I reiterate our commitment to a transparent approach. We are developing proposals for the release of updates on negotiations; we will bring these forward shortly.
Let me say more about the consultation process, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. The amendments also seek to ensure wide consultation on FTAs, which is a good idea; indeed, that is the approach the Government are taking. We conducted one of the largest consultation exercises ever undertaken for the new FTAs we are considering with partners without an existing FTA with the EU—the US, New Zealand and Australia—and for our potential accession to CPTPP. This included a 14-week public consultation open to all businesses, individuals and other organisations in the UK and abroad, and 12 outreach events throughout the UK, including in each of the devolved nations. We have also conducted ongoing engagement with stakeholders on trade policy, including “town hall” style briefings, roundtables with different groups of stakeholders, regular stakeholder briefings and webinars designed to engage with smaller and regional stakeholders.
I would also like to touch on impact assessments. I do not propose to address—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is being very tolerant. He may recall that I mentioned on Second Reading that I took part in one of those consultations, posing—if that is the correct word—as a Scottish business and taking part in the Government’s consultation on the prospective trade agreement with the United States. I mentioned then and repeat now that in that consultation, I was presented with no information about what the parameters of any trade arrangements with the United States were likely to be. In effect, I was being asked questions the parameters of which I did not know. That is not meaningful consultation. Can the Government reflect on the consultation process they have carried out? I do not believe it was sufficiently meaningful.
I am listening to the noble Lord. I do not know the details of that negotiation, but I will take that back and reflect on it. There may have been some very good reasons why the information was not forthcoming, but I will reflect on that and write to the noble Lord with some information.
I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for some of the remarks he made about what the Government are likely to do before Report in tabling their own amendments on the negotiating process. That was helpful and it will be good to look forward to that. However, in everything he said, I am afraid I detect an unwillingness to give Parliament a role at a time when it would really help. Everything he said involves decorating the final stage—the approval of an agreement already negotiated—with all sorts of wonderful bells and whistles. We all know that then you have only the nuclear option. You have concluded the negotiations and, if Parliament objects, you cannot amend the text that has been negotiated with the third country. If it objects, it can reject the agreement and that will be very damaging for the national interest and the relationship with that country.
I listened very carefully to the noble Viscount. At one stage, he claimed that the Government would negotiate on trade as the Executive and under their right to do so. That is just the problem. The word “mandate” did not come into a single thing he said. All I can say—politely, I hope—is that when the Government table their amendments, the word “mandate” had better be there. If it is not, I think they will get badly stuck. It is not magic. The mandates under which the European Union negotiates are quite general; they are not specific about this or that tariff, but they are very helpful in setting the parameters under which the negotiations are conducted. I believe the Government would benefit from that, so please think a little about the word “mandate”.
Again, I listen carefully to what the noble Lord says. The best way to answer him is to say that I will indeed feed back his views. They are somewhat negative—somewhat too negative, I would argue. I have spent a lot of time spelling out the details of processes and procedures, as far as I can. Before I give way to the noble Viscount, I also mention that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that we were going to table amendments on Report. I want to make it absolutely clear that I have pledged to come forward with proposals before Report. I give way to the noble Viscount.
I thank the noble Viscount. With the greatest respect, I think it would be fair to describe the Government’s record on bringing ratification processes before Parliament as patchy. When the noble Viscount goes back to his department, I ask him to consider the Government’s record in the ratification timing process, so that that can be included in some way, either in this amendment or the Bill at large.
That is a helpful contribution from the noble Viscount. I think he has some experience in these matters, so I will certainly pass that on. I would like to move on fairly rapidly to talk about impact assessments, but I do not propose to address the aspects of these amendments regarding impact assessments in this speech, as the issue was addressed in earlier Committee debates and I believe the Government’s position is clear. Nor will I revisit the assurances that we have already given on our absolute commitment not to lower standards through trade agreements.
Let me move on to the future relationship with the EU. One amendment in this group—Amendment 59, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—is targeted specifically at our future relationship negotiations with the EU. I appreciate what the noble Lord is trying to do here in replicating Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. However, Section 13 was drafted for the very particular context of our withdrawal package under Article 50. It is not an appropriate or necessary mechanism for Parliament to approve our future relationship treaties with the EU. With Section 13, we knew what form of documents were coming to us for approval. We then judged it necessary to create a role for Parliament over and above the existing provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, or CRaG, to ensure that the withdrawal agreement treaty and the accompanying political declaration could be considered as one package.
This amendment, however, is grappling with the difficulty of trying to legislate for a treaty or treaties where the number and form of those treaties is not yet known. The amendment attempts to bypass this issue by linking its provisions to any trade agreement that,
“gives effect to any or all of the provisions set out in the framework for the future relationship so far as they relate to trade”.
However, this leaves it unclear which treaties would be caught and whether it would remain active long into the future, beyond the conclusion of our future relationship negotiations. The Committee can be reassured that our future trade agreements with the EU are bound to be subject to the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Furthermore, those agreements will almost certainly require detailed implementing legislation, which means that the arrangements could not come into force without the authorisation of Parliament. No doubt this is a question to which we will return. I hope this reassures the Committee and that noble Lords will withdraw, or not move, their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his extensive response. He has been attempting, within the constraints he is undoubtedly under, to give us as much information as he can. I will need to read Hansard to be absolutely sure what we have and have not been promised. I certainly heard the word “amendment” in one of his sentences, but it may have been a misunderstanding on my part. If there are not to be amendments to this Bill, I am intrigued—that is parliamentary language for “a bit confused”—about what exactly the Government are going to offer us to resolve the obligation placed on the House by the Motion passed in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition relating to progress on this Bill, which is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has also raised.
We can hope that the two aspirations at play here come together, because despite the Minister’s valiant attempt to remind us that this is a continuity Bill—an aspiration negated in the second amendment after we started this process, and continually ignored in every amendment we have discussed so far—we should get real and understand that the mess we are in will not be helped by having an artificial distinction between what is a continuity issue and what will be a non-continuity issue, or, in other words, the real world in which we live. We need to get this right, and we on this side of the House have offered—I am sure the party on my left has also offered—to work through this with the Government, and that offer remains on the table. We will meet at any time, at the Government’s request, to see if we can come together to make something of this that will work for the future, because it is that important.
That said, I endorse what has been said by others: any attempt to rely on the procedures in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 will be doomed to failure. The Government have to get over that hurdle before we can make significant progress. The 2010 Act is inadequate as a process, and would be inadequate under any terms, because it allows the Government to use the negative resolution procedure for secondary legislation, so that the treaty we agree comes into law automatically, irrespective of any opposition or amendments Parliament might want to make, provided it has been laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days. That is not the right process, as we are talking about trying to get Parliament to engage with the process by bringing it back to the mandate arrangements, and allowing Parliament plenty of time, lots of information, a good process and a proper committee structure for proper decisions to be reached in the public interest. The Government should not play games with procedures and say, “We’ve got that already, so why are we bothering about it?” This needs to be dismantled and rebuilt in a way fit for the 21st century.
A new system is required, and the time has come. If there is any doubt about the interest in that, the Minister should be aware that six major business federations—the CBI, the BCC, the EEF, the ICC, the IoD and the FSB—have taken the unprecedented, in my experience, step of bringing forward a joint statement with the TUC, Unite, the Trade Justice Movement, the Consumers’ Association, Which? and other industry bodies calling for a proper model of consultation and scrutiny to govern the UK’s policy-making process in the future. The Government cannot ignore that; it has to be something that they will do.
We will come back to this, whether in the form articulated by the Minister, or in amendments we consider at later stages. I hope there will be a Report stage, because the Bill is important and needs to go through, but the danger is that delay or difficulty in coming forward with something clear enough for this House to respond to will mean the Government finding themselves in real difficulty on the Bill. I do not say that lightly; the last thing we want to do is use procedural issues to hold back what is, at its heart, a good piece of legislation, which we support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
34: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Division of agricultural tariff rate quotas
It shall be the objective of an appropriate authority to take all the necessary steps to ensure that after exit day the division of agricultural tariff rate quotas with the European Union remains at the same level as prior to exit day.”
My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. Tariff-rate quotas have been set for mostly agricultural products, to allow some countries preferential access to the EU single market below the tariff rate set for those products. The UK does not have its own national tariffs but merely shares in the amounts set for all member states across the EU. This is most important to the agricultural sector and industry, as it sets out the quantity that comes into the EU at preferred competitive rates, bearing in mind that products still have to be compliant with the relevant EU standards.
On exit, these TRQs at EU level will need to be split between the remaining states and the UK. The proposal agreed between the EU and UK is that the product quota should be split according to the relevant usage or consumption of the product in the UK and EU. The difficulty arises on the specific quantities, as there is a lack of data to inform the division. Although there is detailed information on the point of arrival of products into the EU, there is not the same detail regarding where the product may be consumed. The EU and UK, in bilateral discussions, have agreed to adjust the schedules without triggering renegotiations under Article XXVIII of GATT. This was submitted in October 2017. However, it was almost immediately challenged by the large exporting countries, such as the US, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.
I cannot overstress how critical this issue is to British agriculture and the nation’s consumers. It is revealing that so many glib answers are often proposed in the current impasse over Brexit. From a lack of information and knowledge, poor judgments are made, leading to a lack of appreciation of the consequences. I am sure I do not need to explain to the Minister the delicate balances in the market, where price volatility results from small changes in supply, quite irrespective of the huge discrepancies in tariffs under preferential treatment and other third countries that have allowed managed change to take place.
To give one example, Britain’s sheep exports, with large implications for the Welsh economy, comprise more than one-third of production, with almost all of it destined for Europe. This trade is virtually one-way, with minimal imports from the EU. Without agreement, and a smooth transition, tariffs to the EU would render this trade immediately uneconomic. The seriousness of the issue was underlined by a joint letter from the British Retail Consortium, signed by the chief executives of all the major supermarkets—Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S and Waitrose, among others—only two days ago. The BRC stated that it wanted to maintain the same tariff-rate quotas. The wording of the amendment signifies that it is a probing amendment to ask the Government to provide some certainty in their answers to the challenges, and their approach to the future.
Amendment 54, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, calls for a report to Parliament, and I look forward to the noble Lord’s remarks. The concern is that access to the home market—and, hence, the vibrancy and well-being of agriculture and the rural economy—will be sacrificed as a pawn in negotiations in rolling over trade deals to be ratified by third countries in the future, especially in relation to the interests of other industries. The Committee has already debated the fear that standards would also be under jeopardy. It is imperative that the UK Government continue to maintain the present TRQs. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 54 is in my name. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, pointed out, the division of the tariff-rate quotas is of great importance to parts of the UK economy, especially the rural economy, but it is also important to our trading partners. Some likely trading partners when it comes to agriculture have already stated their concern about the agreement the UK and EU have reached.
I admit that this amendment was prepared with the expectation that there would be more than a month between the Act coming into force and exit day. That was a naive hope. I thought that the Government might have been able to have this legislation on the statute book long before, but with the delays that have occurred I admit that one month would be tight between the Act receiving Royal Assent and potential exit day. Nevertheless, the core element of the amendment, which seeks to get clarity on the UK’s position, is important. Clarity is sought in two areas: first, what our current position is regarding discussions with third countries about the division of the tariff-rate quotas; and, secondly, how the Government would consider the impact of these decisions on our economy.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, indicated, agreement was reached between the UK and the EU in 2017. He was right that that provoked immediate objections. The countries considered that the changes proposed by the EU and the UK for the division of the tariff-rate quotas amounted to more than simple rectification of the schedules. The European Parliament said in a report to its own committee that the changes had,
“involved less flexibility and market access for their exporters”.
Its stated objections to the EU-UK quota subdivision, saying that,
“other concessions should compensate for the loss of market access”.
These are the questions that the European Parliament is asking the Commission about what concessions there are likely to be. The questions the European Parliament is asking the Commission are ones that this Parliament should be asking our Government.
The expectation might be that we will want to trade on certified WTO schedules. As the Minister said previously, it is not necessary for us to trade under these, but they are desirable because they mean that the negotiations, on which concessions could be provided, are not ongoing, and that concessions have either been provided and then accepted and settled, or that there are ongoing negotiations in which we have to monitor what concessions are being offered to secure the prize of certification. My amendment asks for a report from the Government to be clear about what that position is.
As with the debate we had on the previous group, I was able to secure information about what had happened at the WTO market access committee in October, and the position of the other countries and of the EU. I was able to see the text of a Council regulation, EC32/2000—the proposal to modify the implementation of the tariff-rate quotas bound in the GATT. The discussions that took place between the Council and the European Parliament have been reported on. On 14 November the Parliament decided to enter into inter-institutional negotiations based on the Council’s report on its proposal. In none of that has it even been suggested that there could be a role for our Parliament in discussing with the Government the potential impacts of the concessions offered to secure approval for our TRQ division. The provisional agreement reached with the Council at the Parliament on 10 December to discuss what the European Union’s position would be is in stark contrast to this place, where there have been no equivalent proceedings with the British Government.
If we are not going to be involved as the European Parliament is on the European side, at the very least we need a report on what the likely impact will be after the Bill becomes an Act, if it does so. On that basis, I hope the Government will accept that we need much more information not only about the current standpoint but, similar to what the European Commission has provided to the European Parliament, on what the likely impact will be.
My Lords, I declare my family’s farming interests. I have read and reread the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I have a couple of queries, so I have to ask whether he and my noble friend the Minister can help me.
My worry is this: the amendment would surely tie the UK Government to whatever the rate is at that moment and not look towards the future. There is no timeframe or limit on this, as far as I can see. My concern is whether this means that the negotiation would not allow for the improvement of the UK’s share in a particular agricultural tariff-rate quota. As a result, would the amendment close the door to meaningful discussions of recent changes to the UK share of a particular quota?
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said. He is a great ambassador of long standing for standards and equality, and on fair trading for agricultural goods in general; I hope I am as well. He is quite right to raise the whole question of fair trade and the standards that are set for our producers. When we first discussed this last Monday—I think; I lose track of where we are at—we talked in great depth about the expectations of a product, how it is produced and the responsibilities and standards set.
I do not think I need to ask the Government to pay exceptional attention to the needs of the agricultural industry, but the noble Lord raises a very important point regarding sheep farmers in particular. Sheepmeat is not eaten as much in this country as it used to be, but it is exported widely. Trade with Europe is very important and I hope there will be trade beyond Europe, but I wondered whether he could explain the way the amendment is written, because I have apprehensions about it. Will my noble friend the Minister be able to explain? Maybe she does not share my slight concerns but I felt they were worth raising. The thrust of the amendment is right but I am not sure that the wording is.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—on what I think might be his birthday—on moving the amendment. I repeat my concerns relating to the earlier group of amendments, not just for the hill farmers of Wales but for the hill farmers of the north of England, including North Yorkshire, County Durham and Northumbria, and Scotland, as well as other parts of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord raised his concerns in an interesting way but I have to echo my noble friend Lady Byford’s concerns, which she so ably addressed. It would be helpful for the Minister to explain whether our understanding is correct and what the relationship is between this amendment and the earlier tariffs we discussed, and whether, if we were to introduce the zero-rate tariff, this would equally be of concern with this amendment.
My Lords, I would like to put in a brief word here. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will recall that, towards the end of the time when she and I were crossing swords on agricultural policy, the issue of agricultural trade multilaterally fell down in the Doha round precisely on this issue of tariff-rate quotas. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Grantchester—who was also present on those occasions—is a probing amendment to see how we are going to deal with the situation for imports.
Our exports, to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady McIntosh, referred, are also vitally important, but we need to have a line from the Government in relation to the existing tariff quotas for European imports with a number of our trading partners. It is not necessarily in the interests of those trading partners to preserve what is de facto the UK share of imports from them to the whole of the EU. Some of them are fly enough to actually notice that their bargaining position in relation to the UK on its own might be slightly greater than their bargaining position in relation to the EU as a whole. It is therefore not entirely surprising that, in these existing potential rollover treaties, there might be some attempt to change the amount of imports that the tariff quota allows into the UK. That itself, of course, is potentially a danger to our domestic production in many of these areas. However, assuming that it will be an easy task simply to roll over all of these existing EU-wide treaties is one of the features of the Government’s complacency.
Of course, the issue becomes even more important when rather bigger agricultural producers might actually be approached by us, or approach us, for a free trade agreement down the line, when their interests will undoubtedly be to press for very high import quotas— from Brazil, America or Australia—in any potential free trade agreement that we are seeking to make primarily on behalf of our manufacturing and service sectors. It might well be something on which we need to put down a marker now.
The Government might have some difficulty with the wording of my noble friend’s amendment, but we need to know what their position is on this. Otherwise, we will be presented with a whole series of treaties that incorporate the existing division, which might not be to our benefit and, more importantly, will set a precedent for how we are going to deal with future treaties and agricultural trade within that context.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Purvis, for tabling Amendments 34 and 54 and for giving this House the opportunity to discuss this important area. I entirely agree with the concerns that have been raised, particularly on areas such as agricultural products, affecting farmers and rural areas, which were addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and my noble friends Lady Byford and Lady McIntosh. I would like to take these two amendments together, because there is a fair amount of overlap in the questions that each amendment raises. I would also like to do so in some detail, because they cover a very technical area and I hope that my clarification will help—that is the aim of what I am trying to do.
We have tariff-rate quotas both in the existing EU FTAs that we are working to roll over and in our WTO schedules. A different approach is required for each, which I am happy to explain. In doing so, I will also address each amendment first as it refers to the EU FTAs and then as it relates to the WTO TRQs. I will first address TRQs in EU free trade agreements. The EU has been clear that it will not revise its free trade agreements with third countries as a result of the UK exiting the EU. This is because usage of those quotas tends to be low. The UK is therefore engaging directly with our trading partners to agree new TRQs to apply under the continuity agreements, and we are making good progress. We are agreeing TRQs for the same products at levels that protect existing trade flows. We will continue to report fully to Parliament on the TRQs agreed as part of our Clauses 3 and 5 reports on changes to the agreements. Amendment 34 would therefore be impossible to implement in respect of EU FTAs, as there is no division with the EU to refer back to.
On Amendment 54, as I mentioned, the Government have already committed to lay before Parliament for each transitional FTA a report that sets out any substantial changes to trade-related matters. These reports will include details of changes to the TRQs. Let me assure noble Lords that the reports will also include an indication of the impacts associated with the changes to the TRQs. However, we would not expect there to be substantial business impacts from changes to TRQs, as we are maintaining TRQs for the same products sized at a level which protects existing trade flows.
On the EU Council decision relating to the modification of TRQs, to which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred, I am happy to write to the noble Lord on that point and I will put a letter in the Library.
I turn now to the TRQs found in our WTO schedules. Here, the Government have taken quite a number of steps, and in addressing these amendments I believe it would be of value to noble Lords if I walked through them. To prepare to leave the EU, the United Kingdom has had to establish its own schedules of goods and services at the WTO. In doing so, we have taken the approach that we should maintain our current obligations as far as possible. This was announced to both Houses through Written Ministerial Statements on 5 December 2016. While much of our goods schedule is directly replicable—for example, our bound tariff rates—some parts, such as tariff-rate quotas, are not. Quotas are not directly replicable because they are a quantity coming into the EU 28, as your Lordships will know, and if they were exactly replicated this would lead to an expansion of market access into both the EU and the UK. This is why the Government agreed a co-operative approach with the EU to apportion WTO tariff-rate quotas, based on historic trade flows. This was agreed in October 2017 and communicated publicly through a joint letter by the UK and EU ambassadors to the WTO.
The UK schedule was finalised in July 2018. We sent it to the WTO on 19 July, and once again both Houses were informed through Written Ministerial Statements. Our schedule then began its formal three-month certification period on 24 July. That period was completed on 24 October. While most WTO members agreed with our approach, as I and the Secretary of State for International Trade once again explained through Written Ministerial Statements laid on 25 October, some WTO members have argued that their market access has been reduced by our approach to TRQs. This is why we announced the Government’s intention to enter GATT Article XXVIII negotiations on TRQs at the WTO to establish whether the apportionment we have proposed is a fair representation of the UK’s current rights and obligations.
Between October and 21 December, when the Government formally launched the Article XXVIII process, work was completed to prepare the necessary trade data and the notification for our Article XXVIII process to begin. We are now in the first phase of this, a 90-day notification period that lasts until 21 March 2019, during which WTO members can examine our TRQ trade data and register an interest in negotiating with us. After this, the UK will examine those claims and determine with whom and on which commodities we will be negotiating under Article XXVIII.
I should also mention briefly the EU’s corresponding transition at the WTO. The EU has launched its own Article XXVIII process, as it, of course, apportioned the EU 28 TRQs with the United Kingdom. It formally started this on 22 July 2018. The reason it was able to do so before the UK is because it did not have to establish a new schedule of its own. Our process and that of the EU are legally distinct and are being pursued separately. However, they are linked in that they derive from the same initial obligation, and WTO partners will need to be convinced that their access to the EU 27 and UK markets will be no less favourable once both processes are complete. So our processes are separate but complementary.
My noble friend Lady Byford raised the issue of whether we could improve on them in the future. Our main focus in this phase is on continuity, ensuring that there is as much certainty for farmers and businesses as possible—that is our first aim. The future is another issue, but our primary focus now is continuity.
The Minister has been exceptionally helpful and very clear, but I hope she will be able to address one question. If we leave without an agreement with the EU and this process of negotiation is under way, what will bind us to have the same position as the EU when it comes to what is being queried: namely, the methodology of the division of the timeframe and the statistics? It seems that if we leave without an agreement, there is no mechanism whereby we can consistently have the same position as the EU. At the moment, we have the same interest because of the agreement signed, but that is not a binding agreement that we have with the EU going forward. What, then, would link us to ensure that we have the same position? If that is not in place, a third country, quite rightly, would have doubts as to whether the EU position would be the same as that of the UK, and vice versa.
My understanding—again, I will write to the noble Lord if this is not the case—is that the apportionment approach that was being used is utterly within WTO provisions and normal practice. The WTO laws will dictate how that process works and, therefore, as I said, the EU is pursuing its own Article XXVIII and we are pursuing ours; they are separate legally but obviously complementary. On the noble Lord’s specific question about what else oversees that, I think it is more the WTO, but if that is incorrect, I will write to him.
I am grateful for that, and the Minister is helpful. That leads on to my next point, which is that the countries themselves have said that other concessions could compensate for the loss of market access. Negotiations are therefore, by definition, discussions about whether the UK and the EU continue to hold to their agreement or whether other compensation concessions could be offered. My question applies similarly to that. At the moment, we have a united position with the European Union. If we leave without an agreement, nothing is in place to ensure that concessions that could be offered to compensate for the loss of market access will be united between the UK and the EU. That raises questions about whether, when it comes to the discussions with third countries, they will seek different concessions from the UK. That opens up the whole issue that we are fearful about: will we offer different concessions to other countries which would potentially have a negative impact on our own industry?
I said that I will write to the noble Lord. I tried to address that in my first answer, and this is an inevitable follow-on question from that, should my answer not have been correct. However, they are two separate legal processes.
The Minister has been tolerant. Perhaps I lack all the understanding I should have in this area, but my understanding is that, to be effectively a member of the WTO, it is necessary that the schedules are approved by all the existing members—the Minister can correct me if that is wrong. There can be temporary permissions when one is progressing along a path, but in effect any member country has a veto, and that does not have to have a reasoned basis. If any country felt that these new arrangements—the split of the tariff-free quotas, if you like, that was on offer to them—was not fair, it could not only argue that the arrangements were unfair but could simply say, “I don’t like this. Give me something better. And if you don’t give me something better, I’m not going to sign off on your schedule”. That means that we are then hampered in functioning, even on WTO rules. Can the Minister help me with that relationship?
I will try. First, the UK is already a member of the WTO; it was a founder member and it is a member. When its schedules have been lodged, they become the schedules, and even if they are not certified, we can continue to operate on that schedule. I committed to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, following a conversation we had following some press reports about certification and whether one country could operate; I have the draft of the letter and am about to sign it, and again, I will put a copy of that in the Library. It is clear that a country can operate on an uncertified schedule; indeed, the EU 28 is currently operating on a schedule which is not an EU 28 schedule. All that is set out in detail in this letter, which I hope will provide satisfaction.
Having now laid before your Lordships the steps the Government have taken at the WTO, I turn again to Amendments 34 and 54. We have made our proposed apportionment of WTO TRQs on the basis of the best data available to us regarding recent patterns of trade in the relevant products, so that any apportionment does not distort existing trade patterns. However, we have always said that, should trading partners have alternative data, we would be prepared to examine that in order not to distort trade flows in these commodities. If allowed, Amendment 34 would prevent us doing this, and, in doing so, would undermine one of the UK’s obligations to our WTO partners at the moment when we are re-establishing and reasserting ourselves as an independent member of the WTO.
Amendment 54 requests a report detailing our progress on GATT Article XXVIII negotiations. I trust that the Government’s frequent updates on our WTO transition reassure this House that the Government are committed to keeping Parliament informed at every stage of this process. We will continue to update Parliament as we progress and complete our Article XXVIII process.
The report in Amendment 54 also requests an assessment of whether the objections raised by other countries that gave rise to our Article XXVIII negotiations affect the UK’s ability to trade on our goods schedule after we leave the EU. I hope that I addressed that in my previous answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. We will be able to use and base our trade policy upon our goods and services schedules even if they remain uncertified at the point they become operational—whether that be after the conclusion of the implementation period or in a no-deal scenario in April 2019. We are also able to negotiate, sign, ratify and bring into force trade agreements with uncertified WTO schedules. This situation is not without precedent. Indeed, the EU has done precisely this for years while signing several trade agreements, including with Canada and Japan.
Given the broader work already in train, the impact these amendments may have on that and the Statements that the Government have made and will continue to make throughout our trade policy transitions, I ask that these amendments be withdrawn.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers and explanations. Once again, I am grateful to the Committee for allowing me to come forward with this probing amendment to understand better the processes and procedures that the Government are currently undertaking. They will be of great importance to large sections of our economy. They were put forward in the context of continuity—very much, as the noble Baroness said, of rolling forward existing trade flows. Hence, I was very happy to take questioning and probing from the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady McIntosh, on the amendment’s meaning. The answer is that I wanted to get the subject matter down for debate and to understand it better—and, indeed, to underline the difficulties of the word “improvement”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, used for how we might want to change things and go forward. Obviously, improvement means different things to different stakeholders in the process.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitty for explaining the background so comprehensively. What is really referred to is market access. Does improvement mean better market access, and for whom? How does this affect other stakeholders and the balance of interests between the countryside, the food chain and consumer interest and consumer prices? I was not really coming from the angle of an importer or an exporter, but I wanted to have the issue debated. The Minister has provided a lot of background interest and information that will certainly take a lot of reading and reflection.
Finally, the process outcome still seems far from clear. We will be talking about the apportionment that can result from it and how this may still give rise to anxieties and the balancing of those interests. Having made those remarks, I am very grateful to the noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have taken part in this little debate. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 34 withdrawn.
35: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Internal energy market
It shall be the objective of an appropriate authority to take all necessary steps to implement an international trade agreement which enables the United Kingdom to fully participate after exit day in the European Internal Energy Market.”
My Lords, Amendment 35 seeks to set the objective that the UK should fully participate in the European internal market after exit from the EU. This wording may also need to be examined. However, it is once again merely a probing amendment to enable the Government to provide more clarity on their intentions in the Bill and in future scenarios. Full participation may be said to imply continued membership in the internal energy market. While the Government have now been clear that leaving the EU will also include leaving Euratom, they took some time to explain what the close relationship with Euratom would mean. We now know that it means full duplication of regulations and regimes. However, what is the situation regarding the internal energy market, and—turning to Amendment 36—how does this outcome bear on the internal all-Ireland energy market?
Once again, an industry is calling out for clarity over trading arrangements as the UK leaves the EU. In the event of no deal, the outcomes become even more precarious and pose risks to the functioning of the UK energy market. Energy and climate should be among the first topics covered in negotiations to preserve security of supply and aid completion of the modernisation of the UK’s energy system, which requires tens of billions of pounds in investment in a smart power grid and low carbon transport and heating to underpin the competitiveness of all UK business. Electricity and gas cross-border trading is an increasingly important part of efficient markets. Net imports of electricity accounted for 4% of the UK’s power supply in 2017 and 47% of gas arrives via pipelines from Europe. Increased interconnection and a proposed doubling of these connectors with neighbouring markets are planned—for example, from Peterhead—and will help balance the security of power supplies.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McNicol for tabling his Amendment 36, to which I am also speaking in this group. It draws attention to the challenges posed by the integration of the island of Ireland’s single electricity market. Also included in this group is Amendment 46, which proposes that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Will the UK continue to participate through membership of the internal market to avoid disruption across both Ireland and the UK and maintain a low cost-efficient power supply through integrated systems under common international environment laws? Losing access could lead to higher bills for consumers and potential disruptive effects, and raise critical issues regarding the EU emissions trading scheme. It is important that the Government provide clarity. I beg to move.
I am not speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Teverson, the absolute expert on these Benches on these issues, but simply to ask a number of questions in support of those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. He rightly points out that one of the core relationships that currently exists between Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, is energy. It is something that has perhaps not had the same profile or publicity as border checks, but it is very significant to consumers on both sides of the Irish Sea. It is of interest to me, as someone who represented a Scottish Borders constituency, that Northern Ireland’s security of electricity supply depends on the supply of natural gas from Moffat, which is just outside my former constituency and supplies 100% of its gas requirements. After the UK’s exit from the EU, Northern Ireland will continue to source 100% of its gas from Great Britain. As a consequence, the integration of the energy market for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland now depends on an integrated single electricity market. The interconnectedness of energy is something that political agreements will have great difficulty disentangling. The request for clarity on the current position is very important. It is even more important given that there is now a real prospect of leaving the European Union with no agreement. The Government have said in their position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland that,
“the new framework relevant to the energy market in Northern Ireland and Ireland should … facilitate the continuation of a single electricity market covering Northern Ireland and Ireland”.
But how this is to be done separate from the European Union raises significant questions. I hope the Minister is able to respond to this.
The evidence provided by Minister Richard Harrington to the Lords committee is interesting. He said:
“Whether we are in the EU or not in the EU, it is in the interests of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to continue a shared electricity system … We are held up in sorting this out only by the progress of the general talks in Europe”.
The question mark over where we currently are with these general talks in Europe means that it is urgent that we have clarity on the current position on securing agreement on a shared electricity system. The real question in leaving without an agreement with the EU is whether that raises issues with regard to maintaining the single internal energy market.
The final point on which I ask for clarification from the Minister is that it is not just the operation of the market on a regulatory basis that is of importance. The market operates primarily because of the free movement of people and professionals and the regulatory systems that surround it. We also know that when it comes to the operation of the market there is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. What is the Government’s position on the jurisdiction of the legal supervision of how such integrated electricity markets will operate?
Free movement of people and clarity on jurisdiction are core elements of why we believe that moving from the European single market will cause real damage. The integrated single electricity market is a case study in itself in how it operates effectively at the moment and why question marks over its future need to be addressed. Clarity, as sought by the amendment, is necessary. I hope we can secure it from the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who made some important points about the energy market, especially on the island of Ireland.
Amendment 46 is consistent with the provision of the EU withdrawal Act after a near-identical amendment passed by your Lordships’ House was accepted by the Government last summer. The central purpose of the UK’s, Ireland’s and the EU’s shared objective of avoiding a hard border is to protect the hard-won peace and reconciliation. That peace process was begun by the Good Friday agreement of 1998 but is still just that: a process—which is now, I think, sadly in reverse. Although it would be wrong to overstate the link between that and recent dissident IRA activity, specifically the car bomb in Derry/Londonderry, it does demonstrate the willingness of paramilitaries to exploit the current Brexit uncertainty and devolved government limbo to undermine the fragile peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said last week in this House.
The border is often described as the Irish border. It is not just that: is the UK’s land border with Ireland and the EU. Therefore, it is our responsibility as much as it is Ireland’s and the EU’s. Some 110 million person crossings take place over the border every year. Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.8 million, exports £3.4 billion over the border. It is by far its biggest export destination outside the UK and the first export destination for new and growing enterprises. At least 5,000 Northern Ireland companies, and probably many more, trade with their neighbours over the border. Tens of thousands of people live on one side and work on the other. Supply chains operate across the border without impediment. For instance, each year, more than 400,000 lambs and 750 million litres of milk are exported from Northern Ireland to Ireland for processing; 4.6 million heavy goods vehicles and light vans cross the border every year, along with 22 million cars. These crossings take place all along a 300-mile border with 300 crossing points.
A little-noticed document published on 7 December by the Department for Exiting the European Union lists no less than 157 different areas of cross-border work and co-operation on the island of Ireland, many of which have been facilitated by Ireland and the UK’s common membership of the EU. Almost every one of those areas concerns people’s everyday lives, and almost all are linked to the European Union and Ireland’s and the UK’s common membership of it since 1973.
Life has become pretty normal for most people in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years or so. Like anyone else in the UK, people there go to jobs near to them or in the next town. They go to doctors, chemists and hospitals near to them. They buy local fresh food. They use trains, buses and roads to get around.
The difference is that for many in Northern Ireland, the next town can be in a different jurisdiction. If we get Brexit wrong, it will cause serious inconvenience and cost. But for British and Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland, getting Brexit wrong will bring immediate and harsh consequences; many aspects of normal life will be much harder or even impossible. People live on one side of the border and work on the other. Because of EU rules that the UK helped to make, cancer care and ambulance services are run jointly across that border. You can get a prescription on one side and medicines on the other because of more EU rules that we share. Cheaper energy and more choice across the island of Ireland again exist thanks to those common EU rules. Cross-border work and co-operation on the island of Ireland, facilitated by EU laws, covers livestock movement on farms straddling the border, food safety, tourism, schools, colleges, farming, fighting crime, tackling environmental pollution, water quality and supply, waste management, GPs, blood transfusions, bus services, train services, gas supply, electricity supply and so on.
All those things add up to making life feel normal after, just 20 years ago, the Good Friday agreement all but finished the violence and murder which killed thousands of people, including many in Britain. The border being invisible today is a big part of that peace process and we must not let Northern Ireland go backwards by putting up any new barriers.
It is those very low-level, ordinary aspects of daily life that are the real signs of the precious achievement of the peace process. Although I strongly reject the Prime Minister’s deal, I cannot and will not join those attacking what is known as the Irish backstop. Any Brexit deal of any kind must include this insurance policy or backstop. It is an insurance policy: a rainy-day back-up plan in the event that a new UK-EU trade deal is not ready by the end of 2020—or beyond. It is a sensible policy to be used only if needed—and everyone hopes it will not be—to ensure that the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland remains open and invisible.
It is not just that Ireland and the EU will not accept it any other way; nor should we in the UK. Whatever happens with Brexit, it is vital we protect what we have achieved together in Northern Ireland in the past 20 to 30 years and avoid any hardening of the border in any way. I call on our fellow politicians to stop playing politics with Northern Ireland, as so tragically happened in the House of Commons yesterday, and insist on an insurance policy regarding the border. We should also demand an end to attacks on the Irish Government, who, in insisting on the backstop, are merely fulfilling their obligations under the Good Friday agreement, as we in the UK should also be doing.
The UK and Irish Governments, along with the EU, were right to prioritise the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations. Your Lordships’ House has rightly focused on it too, not least because the blunt truth is that maintaining an open border always was the Achilles heel of a hard or no-deal Brexit.
Experts argue that there are four key ingredients for successful border management: first, trust and co-operation between authorities and agencies on both sides; secondly, the harmonisation of these agencies’ approaches; thirdly, the application of common standards to minimise the need for checks and controls in the first place; and, fourthly, the use of technology to improve efficiency. Those arguing that technology can solve all the Irish border Brexit problems are plain wrong. It may help, but whether a border is frictionless depends on the rules being applied to movement across it being the same either side—it is the rules themselves, not so much the means used to facilitate enforcement of those rules. Yet Brexiteers seem unwilling to acknowledge that leaving means a growing divergence of the rules on either side of the border. Their conundrum is that divergence is something they favour to build their free-trade, deregulated, low-tax nirvana— fantasy, I think—otherwise, they argue, what is the point of Brexiting?
The UK and Ireland have their common—I stress, common—obligations under the Good Friday agreement to ensure peace, stability and progress. The agreement contains two approaches to this that directly affect the border: intensification of British-Irish and north-south co-operation, and de-securitisation. De-securitisation meant not only the removal of security installations but the British Government’s commitment to bringing about measures appropriate to and compatible with a normal, peaceful society. The last remnants of the militarised border were removed only 12 years ago.
It is simply no good politicians or commentators saying, “Nobody wants a hard border so there won’t be one”. There will be if we do not stop it, because if we Brexit without a deal or without a backstop, both Ireland and the EU will have responsibilities to ensure protection of the single market and customs union. The UK will have its own responsibilities, including meeting World Trade Organization requirements, which in turn mean a hard border.
It goes far beyond customs. A quick glance at the list of areas covered by technical notices for no deal—published by the UK, Ireland and the EU—shows quite how exposed the Irish border region will be. Everything from animal breeding standards to VAT vehicle standards will require urgent fixes, and in many cases these cannot be made unilaterally. The UK is disentangling itself from the EU and its legal environment—the very environment that makes the border as open as it is, created by common EU rules, including on customs. Ireland does not have the competence to negotiate separately with the UK on these matters as it no longer has exclusive sovereignty over the things that the backstop covers. The Irish Government can make some concessions over the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland—for example, hauliers not needing international driving licences to work across the Irish border—but these are limited. When it comes to customs and trade and a wide range of regulatory areas, the decision is not Ireland’s but the EU’s. The consequences of no deal are ominously clear.
The chief spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, spelt this out bluntly last Tuesday week:
“If you were to push me to speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it is pretty obvious you will have a hard border, and our commitments to the Good Friday agreement and everything we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact … So of course we are for peace. Of course we stand behind the Good Friday agreement, but that is what no-deal would entail.”
Ireland has avoided talking about what it would do in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU, and Mr Barnier did seek to clarify the spokesman’s comments, focusing on the UK’s own responsibilities in the event of no deal or no backstop. The truth is, border controls would be mandatory under both EU and WTO rules—if we exit without a deal or if there is no backstop. There can be no cobbled-together, sticking-plaster solution to this problem, and the Taoiseach was correct when he said:
“We would have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that would mean full alignment so there would be no hard border”
That is what Amendment 46 is designed to secure, in line with both the UK’s responsibility as a guarantor of the Good Friday agreement, and as a nation—so far, at least—respected for upholding its international and bilateral obligations. I hope the Government will accept Amendment 46; otherwise, we will need to vote on it on Report, especially after the dangerous torpedo the House of Commons launched last night at the Irish border backstop, the Irish Government and the Good Friday agreement.
My Lords, I need to manage noble Lords’ expectations as to what I am going to be able to say. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has given a polemic based on his deeply held views on the situation in Northern Ireland, born of great experience and service. I do not think I will be able to persuade him on this issue and Amendment 46, so he will doubtless come back to it on Report. I will, however, put some important points on the record regarding where, as of today, Her Majesty’s Government stand on these crucial issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, talked about the internal energy market. Again, I have to be careful: I am not able to give him an answer at this stage, beyond that set out in the political declaration. I know he has read that carefully, along with the explanatory note; section XI deals with energy co-operation.
Let me first put some comments on the record about the nature of the internal energy market, and then I will turn to the single energy market and north-south co-operation, addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. The Government continue to support the development of energy interconnectors—which bring benefits to countries at both ends of the cables, including improved security of supply and the lowering of prices for businesses and consumers—and support efforts to decarbonise. That is why we set out in the political declaration that both the UK and the EU should co-operate to support the delivery of cost-efficient, clean and secure supplies of energy and gas, and to ensure as far as possible that efficient trading over our interconnectors continues. Our aim is to secure the best possible future arrangements for trade in energy, and which achieve the objectives set out in the declaration, to which I referred.
On the effect of the shared wholesale market, the all-Ireland single electricity market provides significant benefits to consumers and the economy in both Northern Ireland and Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, alluded to. It is also an example of north-south co-operation on the island of Ireland. The Government are firmly committed to facilitating the continuation of a single electricity market in any EU exit scenario. The agreement reached on the single electricity market annexe, as part of the Northern Ireland and Ireland Protocol to the withdrawal agreement, should ensure that the SEM is maintained. We also expect to reach an agreement with the EU on a future economic partnership that will maintain the SEM without engaging the backstop. As set out in a technical note on electricity trading, published in October 2018, which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to, we will take all possible measures to maintain the SEM in the event that we are unable to reach an agreement. Even in this scenario, which I stress—
Perhaps I might add some clarification. The Minister has just said that not all of the Northern Ireland protocol is now up for renegotiation—as the Commons have voted for—only part of it. He said that the energy component of it is going to carry on. So which parts of the backstop are being renegotiated and which parts are not?
I have been on the Front Bench long enough to see a curveball lumbering down the crease. If the noble Lord will forgive me for not taking a swing at it, at such a delicate time, I do that in all seriousness because I want to get the wording precisely right in relation to this. The noble Lord has heard the remarks that I made in relation to the annexe to the Northern Ireland protocol, and that is the position. If we have more to say, I will certainly say that ahead of Report, but even in the worst scenario—
I did not intend to bowl a curveball or even a googly—or anything. It was genuine point. The Government’s position now is that they are seeking to renegotiate the whole protocol, commonly known as the backstop. If that is not the case, Parliament needs to know, because we understand that the Government are now seeking a renegotiation of part of the agreement. We know that the European Commission has said that this is not up for renegotiation. If the Government are telling the Committee that only part of it is being renegotiated, that is really significant, because at the moment we understand that the whole element is being renegotiated.
I am happy to put some additional comments on the record for the noble Lord, in that spirit. Last night, the majority of MPs said that they would support a deal with changes to the backstop, combined with measures to address concerns over Parliament’s role in the negotiation of the future partnership relationship, and commitments on workers’ rights. We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We are keen to work with the Government of Ireland to ensure that the SEM will continue in any scenario, and welcomed their statement in December that they were engaging intensively with the EU to ensure that the single electricity market would continue. I hope that this provides some reassurance.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, we have been consistent in our commitment to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, upholding the Good Friday agreement and maintaining the conditions for north-south co-operation. We are delivering on those commitments. We negotiated a withdrawal agreement that delivered on those commitments in good faith; we have worked hard to build support for it in Parliament over many months. It was clear to the Prime Minister, having met parliamentarians from all parties, that a change to the backstop would be necessary to get the agreement through. The Prime Minister was clear that there are a number of ways to do that and that she will work with colleagues from all parties, and with the EU, to secure changes that command the support of Parliament. Although the Government will seek to secure legal changes to the backstop, their commitment to avoiding a hard border and maintaining the necessary conditions for north-south co-operation remains undiminished.
In a paper published earlier this month, the Government set out their commitments to Northern Ireland, including: a legal guarantee that the backstop could not be used to alter the scope of north- south co-operation; a role for a restored Northern Ireland Executive in UK-EU discussions, through the Joint Ministerial Committee, on matters concerning Northern Ireland; a commitment to seek the agreement of a restored Northern Ireland Assembly before new areas of EU law could be added to the protocol; and a legal guarantee that Northern Ireland businesses will continue to enjoy unfettered access to the entire UK market.
Let me be clear: the Government are committed to ensuring that any arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland respect the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. The UK recognises our unique relationship with Ireland. The UK-Ireland relationship should continue to operate through the well-established three-stranded approach set out in the Good Friday agreement. At this stage, I am unable to add to the remarks I have already put on the record, but I thank noble Lords for the opportunity to make them. I know that we will come back to this issue on Report but in the meantime, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. As the Minister said, this issue relates not only to the energy market but to crucial aspects of the UK border on the island of Ireland, as spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hain, whom I thank for his remarks.
Returning to the amendments on energy, I am sure that co-operation between industries from member states will continue on a practical basis, but against the challenges of modernisation with low-carbon energy, a clear commitment from the Government could settle the issue. Interconnectors are not the only relevant things here, as the internal energy market provides challenges to the Government on other aspects, such as continued participation in the EU emissions trading system. I note that the Minister was most careful with his words, which the Committee will study with interest. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 35 withdrawn.
Amendment 36 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.43 pm.