Committee (5th Day)
Relevant document: 15th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
We come to Committee on the Trade Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously. The Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect the voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
We start with the group beginning with Amendment 39. A number of noble Lords spoke to this group on Thursday in Grand Committee, but this Committee of the Whole House is a new Committee on the Bill. I now call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, to move Amendment 39 formally, so that I can put the question for the first time, and I will then call the first speaker on the speakers’ list.
39: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Conditions for trade deals: Sustainable Development Goals
(1) Regulations under section 2(1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with, and are consistent with, the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.(2) Any future international trade agreement not implemented under section 2 shall only be eligible for signature or ratification by the United Kingdom if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with, and are consistent with, the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.(3) Within 12 months of making regulations under section 2(1) or ratifying a future trade agreement, a Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament a report assessing how those regulations or trade agreement is making a positive impact towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause ensures that trade agreements cannot be implemented, signed or ratified unless they are consistent with the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals.
I call the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. No? Then I call the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for bringing forward both amendments in this group. I also thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for adding his name to Amendment 39, on sustainable development goals, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for adding her name to Amendment 97 on agreements in relation to the least developed countries. All speakers last week expressed support.
We need to make sure that developed countries are not the only winners from trade, and certainly not at the expense of developing countries. We need to be mindful of the effect on those less developed so that they are encouraged and not inadvertently harmed through any unintended consequences. The winners from trade should be people and the planet. Any trade deal should help tackle inequality and the environmental challenges we face. Trade should not mean ignoring our commitments to the sustainable development goals and to a sustainable trade policy, especially now, as all nations seek to recover from Covid-19. The scheme of preferences may not be sufficient.
The pandemic has exposed global inequality and is projected to push millions of people into unemployment and poverty, even at the risk of starvation and death. It is more important than ever to bring a renewed impetus to achieve all the sustainable goals. This has been reflected in more and more councils across the country passing commitments in support of the SDGs. My noble friend and colleague Lord Collins is conducting a review on reform of the United Nations to consider how best to improve its workings to meet SDGs better. So far the UK has not been on a trajectory to meet any of the goals that the Government have committed to. No progress has been made on this since 2011.
The issue is important; the benefits of trade need to be shared with everybody, both here in the UK and in developing countries around the world.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke to Amendment 39 on Thursday and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, today. As I mentioned last week as we debated Amendment 12, our continuity programme is fully compliant with environmental obligations, such as those found in the Paris Agreement on climate change. So, too, is it fully compliant with the UN sustainable development goals.
I welcome and support the objectives of the SDGs, and I assure your Lordships that the work of my department is always in alignment with important multilateral commitments. As our continuity programme seeks to replicate existing EU agreements, it follows that it is absolutely coherent with existing international obligations, including the UN sustainable development goals, and it will remain so. On that basis, I believe that this amendment is unnecessary.
Amendment 97 would oblige the Government to lay before Parliament a further assessment of the impact of our free trade agreements with the least developed countries and lower-middle-income countries before commencing the substantive provisions of the Trade Bill, and again every 12 months afterwards. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are determined to continue playing their role as an engaged partner to the developing world. We have signed continuity agreements with the CARIFORUM states, the Eastern and Southern African states, the Southern African Customs Union bloc and others. Discussions with further developing countries continue, and my department hopes to make good progress in delivering continuity before the end of the year.
In terms of questions that were raised on Thursday relating to communication and transparency, we are committed to providing Parliament with updates on our trade programmes with the developing world, which we are delivering through our parliamentary reports, where that is relevant, a regular and productive dialogue with parliamentary committees at ministerial and official levels, and a report which the DIT will make to Parliament. I remind your Lordships that we are seeking only to replicate the provisions of the EU’s agreements with developing countries.
Ultimately, we do not believe it is proportionate or sensible to provide reports every year, when our objective is continuity with the status quo. As our continuity agreements clearly safeguard such international commitments and the Government are wholly committed to the preservation and improvement of the environment, I ask for the amendments to be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have spoken within this group, even with the slightly disjointed timing of breaking within the group. I wish to comment on a couple of things that the Minister said before I sit down. In so doing, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for the support of his party. These are cross-party efforts.
My noble friend Lady Northover, in her excellent contribution, said that our ability to negotiate around the world is helped by our good standing in the world. I think that is absolutely right. She referenced the Fairtrade Foundation, and our support for fair trade and the work of the Fairtrade Foundation is a major way to communicate how we see our trading relationships around the world. We on these Benches agree with free and fair trade—not no trade, which I think was the thrust of the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, in this group.
My amendment is not a Trojan horse for those who seek to make the case against global trade; rather it is to put markers down that our trade should be of the highest ethical approach. That is why I was so glad to hear the contributions of my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who both displayed real dedication on this topic. I pay tribute to my noble friend for his leadership of the All-Party Group on Africa.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referenced the fact that we should see our trade holistically: that is a very good way of describing it. We do not negotiate in isolation; often, we have bilateral trade negotiations but increasingly, as with the least developed countries, we are negotiating with regional groupings. They have their own development priorities, which we also support.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked where we are on the current trajectory. There was not a lot of information from the Minister on that. I can quote to her from the reply that Theo Clarke MP and I received from Greg Hands and James Duddridge on 16 September. We had written a letter in our capacity as co-chairs of the All-Party Group on Trade out of Poverty. The annexe to that letter, in reply to our request for information of exactly the kind the noble Baroness asked for, was rather depressing. The Minister said:
“The Government aim to see good progress”.
I think we all wish to see good progress. However, in regard to the SACUM EPA, which he referenced, of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho and Mozambique, only South Africa and Botswana have ratified; the others have yet to ratify. There is a mixed situation on the Eastern and Southern Africa EPA, with Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Comoros. They are eligible to join the EPA but have not yet joined; therefore, it has not been agreed with us.
On the east African community, which I singled out in my speech, with regards to Kenya, the only information is that these are discussions that are ongoing. The Government said,
“You will understand that it would not be appropriate to give further details on the status of these discussions before they have concluded”,
but Kenya has been dropped from the ongoing engagement. I am not sure if it is in order to notify to the clerk at the desk orally instead of emailing him that I would like the Minister to respond to this, but I would like information about Kenya. The reason I think Kenya is so important is that it is where Theresa May, as our Prime Minister, chose to visit to announce that the UK would be the biggest investor in Africa in the G7 by next year. That target has been dropped, with little explanation as to why. The target is now:
“We want the UK to be the investment partner of choice”
for Africa. It is rather symbolic that, despite that announcement made in Kenya, it now looks unlikely that there will be an agreement with Kenya at the end of this year.
On the final regional grouping, of Ghana, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire, discussions are ongoing. It does not paint a very strong picture about how ready we are to trade on an EPA basis rather than a WTO basis on 1 January. The Minister also did not respond to the very good question my noble friend Lady Northover asked: if that is to be the case, will the Government ensure that we stand ready to support all those countries, so that there are no additional costs for trading with us on WTO terms?
On the previous group, I was interested in the response of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, to his noble friend Lord Lansley. The committee was told, on the point about having sufficient time to scrutinise some of these agreements, that there would likely be a cliff edge if some of them were made close to the end of the year, so that there would be insufficient time to allow an extended period of scrutiny by the committee. I was under the impression that, if we have reached agreement in principle under the WTO, we can provisionally apply agreements. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify, and correct me if I am wrong, that there will not be a cliff edge, but that we will be allowed some proper time.
There is a final point to which the Minister did not respond. I was hoping that, given the amount of time between the two debates on this group, he would have been able to reply fully. I made a specific point about aid-for-trade reductions and cuts. I made the point that it is a treaty obligation in the SACU agreement that we provide aid-for-trade capacity support and technical support, but I understand that there are cuts to that. Will the Government confirm whether that is the case? I would be delighted if the Minister were able to confirm that it would not be the case, that there will be no reductions in aid-for-trade, that we will honour our treaty obligations to the least developed countries and that we will implement these EPAs according to the treaty commitments we have made, to ensure that they are able to be fully activated and implemented by next year.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Amendments 40 and 41 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 42. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
42: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Free trade agreements: impact assessment
(1) Before making regulations under section 2(1) an appropriate authority must produce an impact assessment of—(a) any costs to businesses arising from any additional regulatory requirements in connection with exporting goods and services from the United Kingdom in the course of a trade, business or profession; and(b) any additional costs to businesses arising from exporting or importing goods and services to or from Northern Ireland in the course of a trade, business or profession.(2) Prior to the ratification of any future international trade agreement not implemented under section 2, an appropriate authority must produce an impact assessment of—(a) any costs to businesses arising from any additional regulatory requirements in connection with exporting goods and services from the United Kingdom in the course of a trade, business or profession; and(b) any additional costs to businesses arising from exporting goods and services to Northern Ireland in the course of a trade, business or profession.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause requires an impact assessment is made of any additional costs to businesses arising from exporting goods and services from the United Kingdom, and within the UK’s internal market.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has said on a number of occasions: trade agreements mean little if businesses cannot operationalise them and use them to export more and import better. We on these Benches agree: we believe that the UK should be in a position for prosperity if we can have the right trading relationships around the world. To do that, we need to know what kind of barriers exist, what levels of bureaucracy have been put in place and how the Government are supporting businesses to overcome them.
Paragraph 21 of the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement with the EU says that,
“the Parties envisage comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation”.
Paragraph 22 goes on to envisage “ambitious customs arrangements”. Our motor industry, held up by the Government and others as a success story—rightly so—has called repeatedly for full implementation of the Union’s customs code and for the UK to take a different approach from the one that it has so far in ensuring that businesses have as little bureaucracy and as few barriers to trade with the European Union as possible. The SMMT, representing the industry, brings to stark attention, in its January briefing, what we face at the start of 2021:
“Basing the new UK/EU trading relationships on the provisions permissible in a free trade agreement will significantly change the administrative processes related to the movement of goods between the UK and the EU. There is a risk that the trade agreement between the UK and the EU results in increased friction at the border. Delays to the arrival of components at manufacturing plants are measured in minutes. Every minute of delay could cost approximately £50,000 in gross value added to the industry, totalling over £70 million per day. For automotive manufacturers, border delays are unacceptably disruptive, and if the sector in the UK is to remain competitive, these must be avoided.”
Frictionless trade had been the mantra, we recognise that, but now it looks as if we are going to be having it on truly Newtonian levels. The Government have, however, not chosen to carry out impact assessments on their border operating model, on the new measures to be put in place, or indeed on the costs to businesses that are going to be exporting and importing. Instead, they have chosen some business estimates of costs and ignored others.
Officials, not Ministers, confirmed that the Government’s most recent estimate on the likely necessary bureaucracy at our border ports, first published by HMRC in December 2018 and confirmed by the Government, is that there would be an additional 215 million customs declaration forms for businesses importing and exporting goods. That would apply regardless of whether Britain and the EU conclude a trade deal this year with the aim of removing all tariffs and quotas, so that is likely to happen. Can the Minister confirm that that is the latest estimate and tell us whether the Government have asked HMRC to update any of the cost estimates in light of the publication of the new border operating model, and whether that is the basis on which we should go forward? If it is then, although we were told that there would likely be a net £9 billion saving from leaving the European Union, there would also be a £7 billion cost to exporters and £7 billion to importers annually, and an extra £1 billion at least for cost of preparation plus commitments for ongoing costs. But there is no impact assessment on the business burden itself.
I do not wish to relitigate any of the arguments about European Union membership—and I knew that would get some smiles from the Benches opposite, but I genuinely do not—but the question is not whether we go back; it is about how many barriers there are for us to go forward. These are legitimate questions, because on top of this, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told MPs last Tuesday that it was estimated that up to 300,000 export health certificates would be required from 1 January next year for agricultural goods—a five-fold increase on current levels. There is a genuine concern about the burden on rural businesses from the processing costs for official veterinarians to carry this out—if they are actually available. Do the Government have contingency arrangements for the turn of the year if there are difficulties in securing these certifications?
As our amendment relates also to burdens for Northern Ireland—and there will be ample opportunity to debate the internal market legislation that is coming—I want to refer to one element of the Northern Ireland trading relationship that has been highlighted recently by the Food and Drink Federation. The federation has said that, regardless of the protocol being implemented in full and regardless of the internal market provisions—wherever they might be in due course on the customs process—there are likely to be costs on goods travelling into Northern Ireland that must comply with EU rules governing customs, VAT, plant and animal hygiene, and product labelling. This is linked with 1.5 million tonnes of food and drink travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland each year. The Government have indicated their willingness to provide some funding for businesses from Northern Ireland to offset some of the costs for this, but can the Minister explain to us what the current level is?
This is all building to the necessity of asking the Government to report on what barriers and costs exist. We have received some indication from the border operating model to which I referred. We already know, from the document that was published last week—the 271-page border operating model—that this is going to add huge burdens at our borders. We know that there is a six-month deferral for our border processes because they have not been ready and that this is not going to be all that is necessary for this. However, what we did learn last week was that businesses are going to need permission to move their vehicles to Kent. The Government are going to require a statutory Kent access permit for businesses seeking to export from anywhere across the UK if they wish to exit from Dover. Therefore, not only do we now have a debate about unfettered access to Northern Ireland: there is not even going to be unfettered access to Kent on the M20 for those wishing to export.
We know from Michael Gove’s Statement in the House of Commons whose fault this is likely to be; rest assured, it will not be his. He said:
“Every business trading with Europe will need to thoroughly familiarise itself with new customs procedures and, whether they develop their capacity in-house or work with a customs intermediary, enhanced preparation is vital.”
This is two months away. He went on to say, referring to businesses, that,
“just 24% believed that they are fully ready.”—[Official Report, Commons, 23/9/20; col. 961.]
Therefore, in addition to the grants of support and in addition to what the Government have indicated is going to be necessary for intermediaries, we know that there are insufficient numbers of those to support businesses.
I asked at Second Reading about the number of intermediaries recruited after the Government’s undertaking to help our exporters, but the Minister did not reply. I wrote to him, and he kindly sent me a thorough reply but without the information about how many intermediaries had been hired. Can he answer that today with up-to-date information?
Finally, businesses have been calling for some clarity on this additional bureaucracy, these new barriers to export and the new burdens on importers. If businesses are going to be taking up the greater exporting opportunities that might present themselves, they need to know in advance, with a degree of certainty, what kind of barriers and burdens they face. That is why these amendments are important. I hope that the Government support the principle of them: to have as much information out there as timely and accurately as possible. It is not just for 1 January that we need to prepare; it is ongoing. That is why I hope that the Government will support these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was quite surprised to find the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, concentrating on the costs involved in the border between the UK and the EU. When I put my name down to speak in this group, I thought it was about assessing the costs of our trade with other countries. Let me be clear: I am always in favour of ensuring that the Government identify the costs and burdens on business in all of their activities, so he will not find me opposing his amendment on that ground at all.
However, his amendment is very unclear, because it is not clear what the counterfactual is: costs compared with what? In the context of his subsection (1), which is about the rollover agreements, are the costs compared with the current status quo—that is, in the implementation period—or with trading on WTO terms after 1 January, or with something else? It is very unclear. In the case of subsection (2), presumably the cost will be compared with trading with those other third countries on WTO terms because that would be the counterfactual. It seems to be highly unlikely that we would enter into a free trade agreement with another party that involved costs additional to those trading on WTO terms, so the noble Lord’s amendment does not entirely make sense.
My Lords, I shall be brief, as my noble friend Lord Purvis has already made a characteristically clear and robust case for impact assessments as set out in Amendment 42, to which I have added my name.
Given the highly complex and as yet unresolved nature of the situation in Northern Ireland as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol, does the Minister not agree that impact assessments would be particularly helpful to the business community there? An evidence-based approach would provide an opportunity to highlight any particular concerns and any additional costs that could have such a negative impact on Northern Ireland businesses, not least because of the highly complex supply lines there. Impact assessments would provide a greater understanding of the facts and allow for more effective planning and preparation, as my noble friend Lord Purvis has said.
The Minister will know that, in May, the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group submitted more than 60 detailed questions to the Government, following its analysis of the impact of the changes facing Northern Ireland businesses at the end of the transition period. However, 17 of these questions remain unanswered. Can the Minister say when he expects answers to be given to these remaining questions, most especially given that we are now just over two months away from the end of the transition period?
The Government published a detailed, 60-page document setting out the possible economic advantages of a trade deal with the United States. A detailed analysis was presented in May this year on the likely impact of a trade deal with Japan. Yet in March this year, Michael Gove told the House of Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union that there would not be an impact assessment on the UK-EU trade deal currently being negotiated. Can the Minister therefore explain what criteria is used to decide whether or not to carry out an impact assessment on any future trade deal? Can he say whether the Government intend to publish an impact assessment on the EU-UK deal and, if so, when will it be done? Will particular attention be given to the very specific set of circumstances facing Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for giving me the opportunity to probe one particular aspect under this amendment. I also note my regret that, despite the rather energetic notes my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie took when I asked about the rollover agreements with the economic partnership agreement countries, I have not had an answer to my question. I would be most grateful if I could have an update from my noble friend on that point before Thursday.
On the existing impact assessment and the EU agreements we have, it is worth noting that they account for only 15.7% of our trade. They are quite limited in size.
This is an interesting amendment because, at the virtual Conservative Party conference that we held last week on 4 October, we heard, apparently for the first time, the Secretary of State for International Trade, my right honourable friend Elizabeth Truss, announce that the International Trade Committee in the other place will receive a signed deal in advance of it being laid before the CRaG procedures and—this is what is new, certainly to me—an independently verified impact assessment on environmental, social, animal welfare and economic issues before the committee consults with industry experts and produces a report.
I want to take this opportunity to ask my noble friend whether this is new. When will the first such impact assessment be laid? Can he explain who will do the independent verification of such an impact assessment? I for one would certainly welcome such an impact assessment, as I am sure industry and consumers would, but I am slightly baffled as to who would do the independent verification. I would be very keen to learn that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for putting forward this amendment. We should also be grateful to other colleagues in the Chamber for asking key questions on this.
Bad trade deals produce clear winners and losers. Surely our task is to make sure that British businesses, including those in Northern Ireland, do not lose out in trade agreements and face unnecessary costs. British businesses have faced an incredibly tough year; the pandemic in particular has seriously impacted on UK trade. We have seen big falls in exports and imports in the three months following April 2020; the ONS found that trade exports fell by £33.1 billion in those three months, while imports fell by £29.9 billion. These were the largest three-monthly falls since comparable records began in 1997. Trade will be vital for businesses in the post-Covid recovery period. The Government should make sure that businesses do not face unnecessary costs arising from trade agreements.
I am glad that the Minister has said previously that the Government have committed to publish their negotiating objectives alongside an initial impact assessment. Can he confirm that a full impact assessment for each agreement will be published by the Government at the end of negotiations? Will this full impact assessment be reviewed by an independent body? Will the Government act on any findings that come as a by-product of the review?
There are clearly major problems for Northern Ireland. Does the Minister expect different costs for businesses exporting or importing goods and services to or from Northern Ireland to result from an EU-UK FTA and any rollover agreement for the Japan agreement? Other businesses in the rest of the UK will clearly be affected by this.
The amendment’s explanatory note also refers to additional costs to businesses operating within the UK’s internal market. Labour firmly believes that there is a need for a strong internal market so that businesses can trade freely across the UK’s four nations, which will be vital for our economy and shared prosperity. This will be discussed at length in the Internal Market Bill, which has some important implications for this Bill.
I hope that the Minister is following these debates closely. I hope that we can be reassured that the impact assessments will be transparently conducted and published, and that the Government will take note of their findings. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I accept that there are costs both ways, but we need transparency. That transparency will enable our businesses to trade better, more freely and more competitively.
My Lords, I welcome this amendment, put down by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. As I told the House on the first day of Committee, and as we have touched on since, our continuity agreements seek to replicate the effects of EU agreements, and the 21 agreements that we have already signed show that we are not diverging or introducing new obligations. These agreements are continuity by name and continuity by nature. We therefore do not think it proportionate to produce impact assessments for trade deals that only maintain the status quo. I emphasise that point because I will come to other free trade agreements later.
This is not to say that we intend to deny Parliament information on these agreements. That is why the parliamentary reports that we have committed to publish alongside signed agreements contain detailed information about the volume of trade, the composition of imports and exports, and the wider economic impact of those agreements. As I have said, we will continue to lay these parliamentary reports voluntarily, with Explanatory Memoranda, alongside each new continuity agreement. The recently signed new agreement with Ukraine will of course be treated in that way.
New FTAs are not included in the scope of the Bill—neither are the EU arrangements—but we have committed to publishing in advance of opening negotiations initial economic scoping assessments for the new FTAs setting out what impact we believe the agreements might have. At the end of negotiations, we will produce an impact assessment for the final treaty, alongside an Explanatory Memorandum, prior to it being laid before Parliament for scrutiny under CRaG. The Government believe that this strikes the right balance.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked what kind of independent assessment will be made of these assessments. I am pleased to say that those assessments will be made by the Regulatory Policy Committee. I can also let the House know that the International Agreements Sub-Committee has already received these assessments in relation to the Japan FTA, which we signed a few weeks ago. These agreements and reports have been made available to the IAC on a confidential basis. We committed that the committee would have these agreements to review in good time before the CRaG process started; I am pleased to say that I had a good meeting with the IAC yesterday where we talked through these processes. I look forward to receiving its report in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked various questions relating to trade with the EU, particularly on customs arrangements and other contingency arrangements, including Northern Ireland matters that will arise at the end of the transition period. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness on these matters.
Given these reassurances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.
My Lords, of course I look forward to receiving another letter from the Minister. I hope that he can, at least in this one, give me what has so far proved to be very elusive: simple information in answer to straightforward questions on the current level of intermediaries recruited to support our exporters on the new border operating model. The industry had indicated, which Michael Gove had agreed with, that we require an estimated 50,000. HMRC said at the end of July that 600 had been recruited. All I have been asking is what the current level is—I do not think it is unreasonable for us to know. The border operating model itself explicitly encourages our exporters to use intermediaries because the customs procedures under this model are complex and burdensome. That is the point. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who gave the context of the real pressures on our businesses exporting.
Let me address the specific and very reasonable questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. The amendment explicitly states that the costs to businesses are linked to additional regulatory requirements in regulations made under these orders. It simply is not the case that these agreements stay permanent once they have been made. Often, regulations will be required to be made in the lifetime of these agreements. I would hope that the Minister could confirm that any regulations brought forward would ordinarily have an impact assessment on the cost to businesses associated with them. The whole thrust of the last few years has been about not bringing in regulations without an impact assessment on business. That should be a straightforward thing for the Minister to confirm.
The second subsection of the proposed new clause is about new agreements, and again it is for any additional requirements to implement those agreements. There is not the necessity of a counterfactual, because they are to do with how the Government assess any additional costs to businesses from any new requirements on businesses. The reason I did major on the border operating model was this: it has of course become necessary because of us leaving the European Union, but it is a new border operating model for all exports, not just for exports to the European Union. The Kent access permit is not just for anybody wanting to export to the European Union but also to make sure that we have all of these in place. Therefore, it is right to ask what the cost will be for businesses doing that. It is also a simple fact that if they are likely to be necessary for the Kent access permit to be in place, then that will have an impact on our ports of exit for anybody exporting to any third country around the world. It is inevitable that there will be a spillover impact of any exports. I think it is justified to ask the question: what is the estimate of the cost for businesses?
Finally, I turn to what the Minister said, which was linked to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the impact assessments to be carried out on the new agreements coming forward with Japan and Ukraine. That is welcome, and I do welcome it. I was grateful for the Minister notifying me of the Written Ministerial Statement yesterday, which outlined that they would be in place. I welcome them, but the Minister will not be surprised that I think they are insufficient, as we have debated in Committee up until now. But I am grateful that this is on the record and that the Minister confirmed it.
Can the Minister also confirm that they will not simply be an economic impact assessment but a regulatory impact assessment? That is the point of the amendment in this group. It is not just whether it would be considered that there would be net economic benefits for the country, but what the net business costs are for exporters and importers, because they are not necessarily the same. Therefore, sector by sector, it will be helpful to know. If we do not have that information, we will struggle to answer the real point of the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: how do we get net benefit for our businesses in exporting, and how are we making them more competitive with others around the world if we do not have that level of business impact assessment for the regulations implementing our trade agreements?
If the Minister wishes to come back on that point, he may. He has indicated already that he will write to me, and I welcome that—if it can be done as quickly as his previous letters, I would appreciate that. I am not yet satisfied before I receive that letter, but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
Amendments 43 to 45 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 46. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
46: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade agreement with the EU: mobility framework
For the purposes of facilitating the continuation of trade with the European Union, the Secretary of State must take all necessary steps to secure a mobility framework with the European Union that enables all UK and EU citizens to exercise the same reciprocal rights to work, live and study for the purpose of the provision of trade in goods or services.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause places an obligation on the Secretary of State to take all necessary steps to secure a mobility framework with the European Union.
My Lords, Amendment 46 is in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State takes all necessary steps to secure a mobility framework with the European Union. It is strikingly similar to one that your Lordships voted to include in the last version of this Bill. I am a little disappointed with the Government, and a little sad that they did not see fit to incorporate that amendment into the body of the third version of the Trade Bill, because the House had spoken very clearly on its preferences.
I am surprised also because the Secretary of State has been voluble about the role of services in the UK’s trading future. She claims that we are the world’s second largest services exporter—I certainly do not dispute that—and Europe’s pre-eminent destination for tech investment. We rely on people to develop those services; we rely on people to take those services out and sell them around the world; and we rely on the reciprocal movement of people around the world in order for services and our services industry to thrive. This is true in a huge number of sectors, not least in areas such as the performing arts and culture, which I know will be addressed by other speakers. And yet, the message sent through the narrow criteria of the immigration Bill is really the opposite.
We live in difficult times for employment, and the statistics today from the ONS around unemployment are extremely worrying. However, I will focus on the central skills environment. Other data reported by the ONS—last Thursday, I think—finds that between 2017 and 2019 there were 32.3 million people employed in the UK workforce, of which 11% were non-British nationals, among which about two-thirds were from the EU and one-third were non-EU nationals. Within that, 12% of key workers in the health and social care sector were non-British nationals. I should remind your Lordships that this sector is desperately seeking to recruit more people; there are literally hundreds of thousands of vacancies.
As your Lordships know, the immigration Bill ushers in a new skills-based work migration system, which comes into force after the transition period. This points-based system will require applicants to reach 70 points to be able to work in the United Kingdom. Points will be awarded based on qualifications, salary on offer, ability to speak English and whether the relevant sector is suffering from staff shortages. The salary threshold has been lowered to £25,600. I would point out that this is still well above the sum earned by many non-EU key workers, particularly in and around the care sector. One thing the Covid crisis has demonstrated is that salary is not the best indicator of people’s value to our communities.
The Migration Advisory Committee is already seeking to widen the lens of migration into this country. Its latest report says:
“Senior care workers and nursing assistants are among the occupations that should be added to the”
shortage occupation list
“to relieve pressure when freedom of movements ends … Other occupations which should be added to the UK-wide list include butchers, bricklayers and welders … The MAC has also recommended additions to separate lists for all of the devolved nations … This includes extra fishmongers, bakers and horticultural workers for Northern Ireland, childminders and nursery nurses for Scotland and health professionals for Wales.”
This is a valiant effort by the MAC but, looking across the Floor to the government Benches, it is hard to believe that, when noble Lords signed up to become members of the Conservative Party, and when they handed over their membership fees, they did so in order to elect a Government to micromanage the number of fishmongers in Belfast. Is this really an approach that a Conservative Government should be even thinking of? Would not a mobility framework be better at this than trying to track and trim every sub-level of trade and profession in every region and to try to manage their supply.
I am sure that the Minister will say this Bill is only about continuity agreements. That is not strictly true, as we know, because the Government have added amendments that address the wider trade agenda. If we look at the continuity agreement with Switzerland, for example, we find that a new element has been inserted—not quite the continuity agreement. The Swiss citizens’ rights agreement is a mobility framework that provides Swiss nationals and their family members living in the UK at the end of the implementation period with the right to continue to stay in the UK. It seems that the Government are amenable to the concept of mobility frameworks in continuity agreements—at least when it comes to Swiss bankers and gold traders.
I will turn to other deals. What about the deal with Japan? I know that details are still being filtered out around this, but the EU-Japanese deal—which our deal replaces—has a mobility framework. According to the European Commission, the agreement includes the most advanced provisions on movement of people for business purposes that the EU has negotiated so far. It covers categories such as intercorporate transfers, business visitors, contractual service suppliers, and the EU and Japan have agreed to include spouses and children to accompany service suppliers or those who work for a service supplier. So we know that the European Union is amenable to negotiating such deals. Can the Minister confirm whether the UK-Japanese deal also includes a mobility framework?
I do not think that either Minister, in their heart, wants the sort of migration environment proposed by the Government. In fact, I think that they understand the stifling nature of this. But it is probably too much to expect the Minister to admit this. However, I ask him to please tell your Lordships whether the UK-Japanese trade deal contains a mobility framework such as the one in the EU deal that it agrees to replace. We know that the UK does mobility because the Swiss-UK deal has added mobility to its scope—and we know that the EU does mobility through its Japanese settlement. Why not put these two together? Why not introduce a bit of consistency? By accepting this amendment, the Minister would acknowledge that mobility frameworks are to our mutual advantage, and he would be opening Her Majesty’s Government to the possibility of an EU mobility framework. I beg to move Amendment 46.
My Lords, in speaking in strong support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I will concentrate on the work aspect of this amendment, in particular in services and the British industry side of any reciprocal agreement that might be made. I acknowledge also the importance of study.
One would not think that, as individual groups, lorry drivers and lawyers necessarily have a great deal in common. But they do. They are both part of our huge services industry—our largest sector, providing 80% of the UK’s GDP and, according to the ONS, £95.2 billion-worth of exports to the EU, from the UK, in 2018. Looking back at the debates early last year on the almost identical amendment in the previous incarnation of the Trade Bill, it is clear that little has really changed in terms of the arguments that need to be made, or indeed with the extent to which the Government have addressed, or rather not addressed, the concerns of the sector. What has changed are the circumstances of Brexit, so that, if anything, the need for a mobility framework as 2021 rapidly approaches has become even more urgent.
Services depend inherently on a mobility framework. As our closest customer geographically, Europe is hugely important as a market and always will be. Yes, we can try to develop our services trade elsewhere, but putting impediments on our trade with Europe will inevitably result in a significant net loss when that trade starts to fall off, as indeed it has already as a result of a future mobility framework not already being in place—and this effect was observable before Covid. It should not be a case of either European or global trade, although that is sometimes the impression given. If anything, there is an argument that causing such impediments with Europe will detrimentally affect such trade with the rest of the world, such are the connections between countries and blocs of countries globally.
The loss of free movement on 1 January 2021 will directly impact on the effectiveness of this sector and consequently on the livelihoods of its many and various services providers, including IT, engineering, aviation, translation, and creative services. Many of these workers are self-employed and resident in both the UK and the EU. A survey by British in Europe found that 58% of respondents felt that their livelihoods would be affected by their loss of mobility rights. This finding was backed up for creative services by the Arts Council survey quoted last week on Report of the immigration Bill by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, which stated that the continuation of short-term mobility was a top priority—even more important than the loss of EU funding.
The UK-EU cross-border services working group, for whose briefing I am indebted, has identified four key areas of concern for services. The first is GDPR, including the need for an adequacy agreement. The second key area is recognition of professional qualifications. Thirdly, and at the top of the list, are mobility rights and associated concerns, including the right to render services, the right of establishment and the right to travel at a moment’s notice between the UK, EEA countries and Switzerland—including, crucially, movement between Schengen territories. Fourthly, and importantly, there is the confusion and anxiety caused by the lack of an adequately defined single framework, which is increasingly deterring European clients. British workers urgently need these matters resolved and need guidance from the Government, which they are currently not receiving.
It is curious that the professed desire of the Government is to develop our tech industries, but these concerns have not been addressed and the industry overall has not been consulted. It must be emphasised that, in normal circumstances, on-site presence is an integral aspect of the services sector. In an earlier debate, I quoted an IT worker saying, “We freelancers export ourselves.” Creative services, particularly the performing arts, necessitate a mobility framework, because touring above all is such an integral aspect of that work. Among the raft of concerns, industries such as the performing arts and media and events, share the concern about the need to move equipment across borders, again at a moment’s notice. In other industries, we should also not forget the servitisation component of manufacturing.
As Committee has made clear, trade is not just about trade; it is about the policies that define it and the effects it may have, such as on people’s health and the environment. It is also—and this is particularly true about services—about other things in a more integral way, such as cultural exchange and soft power. The ambassadorial aspect of these industries is something that we are in great danger of sacrificing. Such aspects of services, apart from the financial worth, are both essential and invaluable, and will depend on an effective and appropriate framework.
Even at this late stage, the Government need somehow to be shaken into an awareness of the importance of these concerns. If last week’s media are to be believed, an agreement on fishing might be in the offing, although that seems now to be disputed. But a deal on services is significantly more important. I repeat what I said in Committee on the immigration Bill: music, just one part of the creative services, has a financial worth almost four times the fishing industry. While one has respect for that industry, it is nevertheless incomprehensible, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out in that debate, that services should be so ignored.
One can observe a disconnect in government between on the one hand the firm, oft-repeated line that free movement has ended—now legislated for—while on the other there is considerable doubt, as the Prime Minister has himself expressed, about leaving the single market. Switzerland has resoundingly voted to maintain free movement. As some working in services have asked me, is it still not too late to have a Swiss-style deal? At present, there is the great danger that any deal we make will still be a no deal for services, and that would be a mistake.
In the previous Trade Bill, this amendment was taken to a vote and passed. If the Government do not accept this amendment, I hope we will do the same again.
My Lords, I support this amendment, which seeks to secure the continued success of the UK’s trade in goods and services with the EU, and to preserve the mobility framework that will be vital in achieving that aim. I will also focus on services, because they have undoubtedly been the Cinderella of the Brexit story or, as Sir Ivan Rogers memorably described them last year, the dog that has failed to bark.
I wondered then whether it might be that trade in goods has predominated because the at-the-border issues they involve are easier to grasp than the behind-the-border issues of domestic rules, regulations and qualifications that underpin trade in services. It might be because of the confusing range and diversity of sectors that shelter under the umbrella of services, from IT to hairdressing, education to tourism, architecture to the arts, as well as health, insurance and financial services. Or it might be because the biggest service earners—the financial and insurance services—are heavily skewed to London and the south-east: 48% of the £128 billion those two service sectors contribute to the UK economy is generated by London alone. That uneven geographic distribution and economic contribution does not sit easily with the language of levelling up, and supporting bankers and brokers may not be much of a vote winner either.
However, like it or not, this country has long been predominantly a services economy. In 2019, services contributed around 80% of UK economic activity, and they account for about 30 million jobs. The EU single market is the primary destination for UK services exports, with the UK running a trade surplus with the EU in services. This dominance of the EU for our services exports is not surprising. One of the best-established empirical results in international economics is that bilateral trade decreases with distance.
There are five modes of services traded across borders: remote, in the supplier’s country, in the consumer’s country, via fly in, fly out, and as an integral component of a traded good. That last mode of attached or embedded services—perhaps the long-term maintenance contract for a machine, for example—has been a great big growth area for the UK in recent years. The majority of Rolls Royce’s revenues come not from the sale of the aircraft engines and other goods it produces but from the accompanying services that are sold as part of the package.
In each mode there is an inextricable link between services and mobility. Service provision, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, pointed out, requires people on the ground. Services provided in this country—higher education or tourism, for example—depend on inward mobility. Services provided in other countries, including those all-important embedded services, require outward mobility. Some of our most important and successful service industries are heavily dependent on EU workers: financial services, education, health, road haulage, and, as I often remind this House, the creative industries. The Royal Institute of British Architects estimates that one in four architects working in the UK is from the EU. In tourism, 10% of workers are EU nationals, as is 6% of the NHS workforce, and we have discussed over and over again the importance of EU migrants to our care sector.
Even before Covid, the loss of free movement post Brexit threatened the sustainability and success of the UK services sector. Covid continues to have a devastating effect on parts of the sector that rely on human gatherings and interactions: hospitality, air travel, restaurants, hotels, as well as arts and entertainment. Only last week, the Lords Economic Affairs Committee heard devastating testimony about the effects of the pandemic on the UK’s cultural and creative industries. However, according to research from the LSE, Brexit will deliver a double shock to the economy. Business conditions will worsen for those sectors that have been able to better weather the Covid storm—IT, financial and legal services, for example—because of the barriers it will impose on the continuation of trade, whether or not there is a deal. These of course include the end to the reciprocal mobility that has underpinned the UK’s status as a world leader in services provision.
Sir Ivan Rogers, in the same speech I referred to earlier, suggested that the UK services industry’s needs have been sacrificed to the primary goal of ending free movement, and it is hard to disagree with him. This amendment seeks to preserve a mobility framework with the EU. In doing so, it would help preserve one of the UK’s most successful sectors, and along with that the jobs, revenues and opportunities that it provides.
My Lords, I had initially intended to take part in the debate on this amendment solely for the purpose of probing whether study, which is mentioned in the amendment, can logically be regarded as necessary for trade in goods or services. I had not expected this debate to go into our border control policies, with yet more angst over not having the same rights to travel throughout the EU as exist even today.
I would just say to noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who seems to think that Conservatives might be upset at restrictions on movement, that we voted, both in the referendum and in the last general election, to take control of our borders—that is what the people voted for. That has consequences. Noble Lords who are trying to constantly recreate what we have had in the past as members of the EU do themselves no service. We have to change what we are doing going forward. That is not to say that we cannot have sensible arrangements with both the EU and other countries to facilitate the trade in goods and services, which I fully support. However, we should not be constantly harking back to life as it was when we were a member of the EU.
My Lords, this is a very important impendent indeed, and we have cause to be grateful to all those who put it on the agenda. I have never understood how you can have an effective free market of any kind without the free movement of people. It makes a nonsense of it. In that sense, the arguments have been very well rehearsed in this debate. I would just like noble Lords to know that at least one of us on these Benches—I am sure there are many more—is very much behind the amendment.
My Lords, I will focus on the narrow words in the amendment on
“the same reciprocal rights to work, live and study for the purpose of the provision of trade in goods or services.”
I make a plea to my noble friend Lady Noakes that we are trying here to grapple with reality.
I declare an interest. I practised law for approximately three years in two separate law firms in Brussels. I want to extend the same opportunities that I had to this brave new world now that we are outside the European Union and permit our qualified solicitors, barristers and advocates to do the same. What worries me is something that has been shared today in the report looking at reciprocal rights published by the EU Committee, The Future UK-EU Relationship on Professional and Business Services. I will quote from it and make sure that Hansard gets the right reference so that everyone can find it. The report summarises the default position that has been adopted; I know that this does not fall within the remit of this Bill but our free movement with the EEA does. The committee notes that the default position of the Government is mutual recognition; that is fine, but it is not happening on the basis of reciprocity.
I want to use this opportunity to probe my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie: when he comes to reply, can he update the House as to where we are on the reciprocal arrangements, particularly with the EEA countries, under the rollover agreements? My understanding when the relevant statutory instruments went through this place was that we were, quite rightly, allowing qualified lawyers from EEA countries to carry on practising here but our qualified barristers, solicitors and advocates were not given the reciprocal arrangements. That is just plain wrong.
I recall that, at the time, a number of professionals, particularly lawyers, qualified under other jurisdictions, such as Dublin, and I was shocked to see how the cost of requalifying went up incrementally to accommodate their rights to do so. The report is very timely and highlights the fact that mutual recognition is not as reciprocal as one would hope with the EEA countries. I hope that my noble friend will put my mind at rest, as this is an area—the free movement of services—where the World Trade Organization’s record is not particularly good; it tends to be patchy. As other noble Lords have alluded to, today’s report states:
“Professional and business services are an important part of the UK economy”,
accounting for 12% of our gross value added. Others have spoken about different aspects of the economy; I just ask my noble friend that question about the professional services provided by lawyers.
My Lords, I speak from my background as somebody who has worked in logistics. I will not enter into the economic or moral arguments, although I have strong views on both. My life has been spent moving people and freight by planes, ships, lorries and trains through airports, stations and other facilities.
Last week, the Government published a large document with detailed instructions as to how this was to be carried out in future. I received part of it last night and read some of it this morning. It is very complicated and is aimed at an industry used to carrying out instructions if they are communicated in fairly simple terms and in a logical and timely fashion. The document does not pass either test; it has been published within a few weeks of our leaving the EU and, as I said, it is complicated. It has to be understood by a lot of people low down the food chain—not lawyers but lorry drivers or people operating fork-lift trucks.
I submit to your Lordships that this document does not fit the bill. It is late, complicated and will lead to massive hold-ups of people and goods in very confined spaces. That is presumably why the Government have provided so much holding space all over the country in places such as Anglesey, Warrington, Essex and Suffolk. We will have these places almost despoiled by large places where lorries wait. The Government say that is subject to local planning consents, but it is hard to get an informed local planning consent in the few weeks that exist before they are supposed to come into effect.
I have asked how permanent the local planning consents will be because, as far as I can see, these places will become massive servicing and transhipment facilities. They will have overnight accommodation, there will be office facilities and they will become havens for crime, because whenever goods or people are moved about, opportunities exist for criminals to take advantage.
How many additional customs agents will be employed? Who will pay for these new terminals? At present, generally speaking, the industry provides its own. Where are those customs agents going to come from? Are they to be recruited from companies such as Deloitte, which is apparently a specialist in taking money from the taxpayer but not providing the service it is committed to provide?
The main point is that logistics people will do what they are asked to do, but it is up to the Government to make proper arrangements. If these are inadequate, both physically and operationally, it is unacceptable for the Government to try to lay the blame not on themselves, having not prepared the ground properly, but on the operators—they are often very low-level employees—who are bound to carry it out. There was some talk in the press this week of fining the National Health Service because it is falling behind in routine operations. If that is the way the Government are going to treat the logistics industry, we are in for a very rough ride.
My Lords, I speak to offer the Green group’s support for Amendment 46 and closely associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lords presenting it, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.
I was going to be brief but I really want to respond to what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. She suggested that the amendment seeks to recreate what was lost. No, it is trying to save what is threatened: the businesses, livelihoods and professional lives of people who have, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, alluded to, spent many years studying—and invested their time, energy and finances—to develop lives that are now under serious threat.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, in her useful setting out of the different ways in which the exchange has happened, spoke about where services are an integral component of a good being sold. We think of companies that have offered long-term service contracts for goods sold into the EU and EEA and the difficulties that they might experience in continuing those service contracts unless we have the kind of mobility framework offered here. We are now on a rescue mission.
I do not think anyone else has referred to this in detail but we have to go back to what we will be missing if we do not have the opportunity for EU/EEA citizens to come into the UK under this kind of mobility framework. There is the important area of language studies. Sadly, we have seen some documentation since the vote in 2016 showing that interest in language study, at least in our schools, has actually fallen. If we are to continue to operate in this world, where we are going to have much more complex relationships with other countries in Europe than we do now, we will desperately need those language skills. The reciprocal side of this is of course that Britons have the very valuable skill of being native English speakers that they can take around the continent and beyond.
We need to have quality of language teaching and development of language skills in the UK. Most of the teaching assistants in our schools are native speakers from other parts of Europe. These are crucial issues, so I commend the amendment to the House.
My Lords, I too support the amendment. It is very important, and noble Lords who have spoken have made some very good arguments in favour of it. As we all know, free movement within the EU has been very important for education, services and other businesses as well as for people getting to know each other. It could easily and should still happen after Brexit, but that needs the Government to support the idea positively and proactively even after we have left.
Transport is of course part of mobility. It must be cheap, reliable and accessible. Although Covid-19 has caused a massive reduction in demand, it is still there and it still needs to be there. However, the situation regarding the Government’s support is still very confusing and uncertain for services and their users. I have been trying to get answers from the Government for several months on how much in loans, guarantees or grants they have given to each of the international transport sectors, by which I mean air, sea, road and rail. I have had two Written Answers saying that that information per sector is commercially confidential. Surprisingly, maybe, I got a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, this morning saying that providers have many options as to how to find money, but with no comparators.
I can see why the noble Baroness could not see tell me about comparators. If one digs a little deeper, one finds that in the maritime sector—ferries—the Public Accounts Committee recently reported that the Government had written off £85 million for cancelled ferry contracts, which included a settlement with Eurotunnel of £33 million because apparently the Government had forgotten that Eurotunnel took the same kind of traffic that the ferries do. Noble Lords will remember that the Government spent £14 million on a company called Seaborne Freight, which owned a non-existent ferry and whose terms and conditions of carriage on its website appeared to have been copied from an online takeaway.
In the air sector, airlines have had soft loans to keep them alive. The noble Baroness said in a Written Answer that the Government were
“working closely with the aviation sector to support it to ensure there is sufficient capacity”.
They have spent £3 billion on keeping the franchise railways going, and that is good, but for cross-channel rail there is not a penny to ensure sufficient capacity. According to a presentation by the High Speed 1 chief executive Dyan Crowther to the all-party rail group last week, Eurostar has received no government guarantees or support and is likely to reduce the number of trains a day that it operates, possibly to between three and five or even fewer in order to survive. These are of course low-emission services, and I remind Ministers that, according to Eurostar, if all the passengers who took Eurostar in the last few years were to transfer to air, the increase in emissions would be equivalent to 40 new Luton Airports. We love Luton Airport but the emissions from 40 of them is hard to imagine.
Is there a solution? I suggest there are many that the Government ought to adopt. The European Union Council has adopted emergency measures to give member states the opportunity to reduce infrastructure charges to zero for trains. Italy and France are thinking about it, Austria has done it and the UK could do the same; it would be nothing to do with Europe but they could do it for HS1 to reduce the track access charges to just the direct costs. That might cost HS1 about £100 million but let us not forget that the Government made about £2 billion selling HS1 to the private sector, so they could afford to do this through HS1. It would mean that all train operators got the same benefit on that loan.
I hope the Minister can provide some comfort that Eurostar services can survive, providing the availability of a cost-effective and environmentally friendly transport service for those who want to work, live or study for the purpose of trade and goods. It would be a disaster if it were forced to close.
My Lords, we all owe a great deal of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his amendment and for the very good speech that he made in support of his arguments. We have read them before but they have not gone away since we discussed them in 2019, and I look forward to seeing how the Minister responds to them. There were also some other very good speeches, particularly—although it is invidious to choose—those of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who put the case for the creative industries extraordinarily well, with a devastating analysis of the problems that they face.
This issue is primarily about how services are going to be dealt with after the transition period ends. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, put it, the issues that we face affect all trade but these days most trade in goods is also wrapped into a service that is provided; she quoted the figures for Rolls-Royce, which I think are instrumental. We need to be sure that the arrangements that are made post transition for this area are well founded and will continue. I assume that that means GATT, which will be applying, and its four pillars, which she talked about: the ability to operate in support of trade in-country, in another country, in support of the provision of services to that country and living and working there in order to provide such services as are required for that. These are important issues and we hope that they will get a full response from the Minister.
However, at the heart of the debate, in more ways than one, are the creative industries. We had an impassioned plea for more attention to be paid to the particular needs of the creative industries regarding mobility. That is not inappropriate in itself but it is also quite important to recognise that the creative industries are not having a good time at the moment, not least because of what appears to be a rather standoffish approach being taken by the Government, who question whether jobs in the creative industries are really “viable”. There is the extraordinary advert about looking for your next job when you are a ballet dancer and there is no reason why you should change, suggesting that the right thing to do is to move into cyber.
This is a bad time to raise this issue but it is one that needs to be raised. At the end of the day the creative industries, particularly the performing and visual arts, are about the personal and the sharing of personal experiences. Without people’s movement and engagement, it is difficult to see how those industries can survive, but it is important that they should. The question I want to leave with the Minister is this: will GATT be sufficient to ensure that the creative industries will thrive after the transition period comes to an end?
My Lords, I turn to Amendment 46, regarding the parameters of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I have been left in no doubt about the importance of people—or personnel, as we sometimes call them—to ensuring that UK businesses have the resources that they need. Of course, this is correct, and I can relate to it to some extent due to my business background in human resources.
I was particularly struck by the tour d’horizon of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who spoke just now about the importance of the creative industries. The noble Baroness spoke about the performing arts, perhaps understandably, including music. Soft power has also been mentioned—as, in fact, were quite a lot of sectors, including the tech sector—by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I will start with that.
There is a “however” to this, which is that the Government have made it very clear on many occasions that our priority is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021. As my noble friend Lady Noakes said in no uncertain terms—and she is right—this was at the heart of the Conservative Party manifesto and the basis on which we were elected.
The approach to the future relationship with the EU has already been extensively discussed by this House and the other place, most notably during Parliament’s scrutiny of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. We want a relationship with the EU that is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. That is what Task Force Europe, working within the Prime Minister’s office, 10 Downing Street, is pursuing.
Businesses have told us that it is important for them to be able to send their employees to other countries to deliver services on a temporary basis, so we will, of course, be open to negotiating reciprocal arrangements with the EU to facilitate this, building on the provisions that are standard in trade agreements. A reciprocal agreement based on best precedent will mean that UK citizens will be able to undertake some business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. The same would apply for EU citizens making business visits to the UK. The precise details, including the range of activities, documentation needed and time limit are for continuing negotiation.
I will pick up on a question raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh on reciprocals. Our negotiations with EEA EFTA states on a trade agreement are ongoing, so I am afraid I am unable to comment on specific policy areas, and I know that she raised a number of questions for me. However, the Government are not seeking to agree mobility arrangements with the EU beyond those that are normally contained in the services part of a trade agreement. We will negotiate commitments on a temporary entry without prejudice to the introduction of our points-based migration regime. I will answer a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox: the Japan FTA does include a mobility framework.
While we will pursue an agreement on temporary entry for business purposes, this amendment seeks to mandate the Government to reintroduce a comprehensive mobility framework that runs counter to the manifesto the Government were elected upon and a decision that Parliament took when it passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.
I will pick up on the subject of a different type of mobility. I listened with care to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I reassure him that I will liaise with my noble friend Lady Vere in the Department for Transport to respond to him. I very much took note of the points that he raised about transport in general and, particularly, in relation to Eurostar. With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister and all speakers in this short debate. As others have said, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, set forward a compelling set of reasons why a mobility framework is good not just for the individuals concerned but for the overall well-being, financial and otherwise, of this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, brought up the evidence that was laid before the Economic Affairs Committee last week; I was privy to that and suggest that the Minister might find it a good use of an hour of his time to listen to that evidence, which is about the pressure that Covid is bringing to those people. However, it is quite clear that Covid, followed by a clamping down on their mobility and ability to move around Europe and ply their trade, is the double hit that they all fear.
The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw all supported what was being said, and I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for harking back to the deft decision-making of Chris Grayling. The Government appear to have taken up a career in suggesting new careers for people, with Ministers, apps and adverts all suggesting that everybody retrains. Perhaps Chris Grayling could retrain as a fishmonger and be sent to Northern Ireland to alleviate the crisis that MAC seems to have identified there.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for bringing up mutual recognition of qualifications. I was going to speak to that issue and decided that there was too much already, so I am glad that she did. This is absolutely crucial not just to the service industry but to all sorts of industries: from teaching to veterinary services, everything requires this to work. I understand that discussions are under way, but they need to be successful: there needs to be positive resolution.
Therefore, I do not think there is a meeting of minds. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, we can assess the Minister’s response, which was short and hardly sympathetic to the amendment, which is not a surprise. It is interesting to note that, when it comes to Japan, we are prepared to have these conversations and be very open, and, when the announcement is put out, they will probably be one of the wonderful things that is lauded about that deal. Yet, somehow, in the terms of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, it is a sin to even think that we might be having this sort of discussions with our recently former colleagues in the European Union.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, “That has consequences.” As usual, she is right. I will be very happy when she can explain to people with relatives in care homes the consequences of having insufficient care, and when she can talk about there being too few key workers in sectors where we need them to help to hold our society together in times of stress. I will be very pleased when she is around explaining that those consequences are a result of decisions like this. However, with that said, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.
I am not able to call Amendment 48A by reason of pre-emption.
Amendments 48A to 53 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 54. I remind noble Lords again that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or the other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
54: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“International Trade Commission
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a body corporate called the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) within one month of the passing of this Act.(2) The ITC must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high as, or higher than, standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.(3) “Standards” under subsection (2) includes, but is not limited to, standards relating to—(a) animal welfare,(b) protection of the environment,(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability,(d) plant health, and (e) employment and human rights. (4) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of goods into the United Kingdom unless satisfied that the criteria established by the ITC under subsection (2) have been met.(5) The Secretary of State must allocate such sums to the ITC as the Secretary of State considers appropriate as required in order to perform its functions.(6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I am delighted to move Amendment 54 and speak to Amendment 55, which is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to whom I am grateful. I am also grateful to them and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for supporting Amendment 54.
At the outset, I shall refer to something that my noble friend Lord Grimstone of Boscobel said in Grand Committee on 6 October, in reply to an earlier debate. He said:
“It would require a statutory process for these food standards to be altered.”[Official Report, 6/10/20; col. GC 198.]
I should like to place on record my understanding, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that food standards are set by statutory instruments, by regulation. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to one in particular. So the regulations could be amended or repealed by statutory instrument. The reason why that is important, and why I refer to it in the context of Amendments 54 and 55, is that because of what happened yesterday there is a greater need to put these issues into the Bill to become primary legislation that can be repealed only by further primary legislation. I do not wish to dwell on what happened, but it was extraordinary. Amendment 16, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was voted down, but Amendment 18, which was passed by an overwhelming majority in this place, was taken off the table.
That begs the question that I am exploring through these two probing amendments to see whether we take them further on Report. Can the Minister say what resources in terms of staff have been made available to the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which currently has only a six-month remit? My distinct impression is that it has no staff and that every meeting convened and every press conference held is staffed by members of the Department for International Trade. Does the commission have a separate budget? If so, what we are proposing in the amendment will be miniscule in comparison to the existing budget of the commission. If it has no budget and relies completely on the resources and staff of the Department for International Trade, it is—I am sorry to use the word—a sham, an empty vessel, there in name alone, purely as a sop to the farm lobby.
That is borne out by the fact that on 29 September, a shadow trade commission was set up, the Future British Standards Coalition. It includes representatives of Sustain, the leading body, as well as the Tenant Farmers Association, Public Sector 100 and many more organisations. I understand that it will be attended by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. As far as they are concerned, there is a need for a shadow body on an ongoing basis to set the criteria for future trade agreements, to check the criteria of the existing roll-over agreements that are before us today and to report to this place, in particular, to our International Agreements Sub-Committee.
There was great dismay that yesterday’s amendment on international standards in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was not carried. I declare that I am an associate of the British Veterinary Association, as set out in the register, whose president, James Russell, said yesterday:
“If the Government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
I am going slightly further in my probing amendments and I draw my noble friend’s attention—I know he does his homework and I am sorry if I spoilt his weekend—to the paragraph on page 79 of the Henry Dimbleby report. This is the only reference I am going to make to that report and the annexe. In its recommendations to the Government, he says:
“The Government should give itself a statutory duty to commission an independent report on all proposed trade agreements, assessing their impact on: economic productivity; food safety and public health; the environment and climate change; society and labour; human rights; and animal welfare. This report would be presented alongside a Government response when any final trade treaty is laid before Parliament. Sufficient time must be guaranteed for the discussion of these documents in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and by the relevant select committees”.
Mr Dimbleby goes on to identify the procedures used by most of the jurisdictions with which we are seeking trade deals. I realise that with the exception of Japan they fall outwith the current agreement. However, the report refers to countries with international trade commissions and those with well-developed parliamentary procedures to review future trade agreements, as we are currently doing with Japan.
My question to the Minister is simple. While I understand that the conclusions are in Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy Part One report and that, regrettably, the Government’s response will not come before the Trade Bill leaves this House, what is the status of that report and of Dimbleby and others on his panel, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Will the Government follow that advice by establishing either a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission or, as set out in Amendments 54 and 55, an international trade commission? In Amendment 54, I set out what the standards would be limited to but that they could go beyond animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene, traceability, plant health and employment rights. We go on to say that the international trade commission must give advice and report annually. I hope that the Government will come forward with amendments of their own and that the report on each future trade deal will be debated.
To conclude, I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to state what resources and staffing are available to enable the Trade and Agriculture Commission to fulfil its remit, and that he will agree that statutory protection of standards, including animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection, needs to be included in the Bill, as these amendments seek to do. Will he join his adviser, Henry Dimbleby, in recognising that we need either a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission or a replacement such as an international trade commission, as suggested in the amendments. We do not want to revert to the situation in the mid-1990s, under a previous Conservative Government, whereby we unilaterally banned sow stalls and tethers to maintain our high animal welfare and environmental standards, at which point, imports were allowed from Poland and Denmark that undercut our high standards and put 50% of our pig producers out of business. I hope that my noble friend will agree that he does not wish to return to that situation.
These amendments are intended to be probing amendments at this stage, but I will listen closely to the debate and, in particular, to what my noble friend says in summing up. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure, as ever, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and speak to Amendments 54 and 55—I apologise for my voice, but I have a bit of a cold. This country has had a long and successful history as a trading nation. After nearly half a century as a member of the EU, we are about to embark on a new phase of that history. The question we are looking at here, following on from many earlier interesting debates, relates to the governance of our new trade policies. Will the control, design and execution of those policies be solely in the hands of the Executive or will there be a role, and, if so, of what kind, for Parliament, the Governments of the devolved Administrations and other bodies, such as that just described by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh?
At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that the world has moved on since the 1970s, even since last year—as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, reminded us. Therefore, government models that were appropriate in the 1970s need to be updated. The world is now a different place, and we can see that with the emergence of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, one question is how this needs to be reflected in trade negotiations, the drawing-up of trade mandates and the scrutiny of agreements.
Part of the dissatisfaction that has arisen over government policies in this area thus far is from the great secrecy in which they are being conducted. Future trade policies are being developed by the Department for International Trade, but in the utmost secrecy, with the help of severe non-disclosure agreements. This does not generate confidence. What have the Government and the DIT to hide? Why can they not consult openly and widely and share the results with us?
Amendments 54 and 55 suggest an alternative approach, one that has been adopted by other trading nations and found to be useful—the establishment of an international trade commission. It could play a role overseeing trade mandates and agreements, and could advise the Government and report to Ministers and Parliament. For example, as a newly independent trading nation, what rules should we be setting for our food standards and for our animal welfare and hygiene standards? What would be the impact assessment of a trade deal with, for example, the United States or Australia? How many farmers and businesses would those agreements put at risk? Such a commission could consider and report on these extremely important issues and calculations. It would draw in expertise and diverse views, and help to create a consensus that would power successive trade deals.
This is clearly a probing amendment, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the details of how such a commission might be established and what its remit might be, but a growing number of voices in the United Kingdom are calling for the permanent establishment of such a body to operate independently of the Government and to marshal a range of expertise and trade knowledge for the Government to draw on. As we have already heard, there is already a body sitting—alas for six months only—the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will do some of this work. Members of that body have joined the calls for the permanent establishment of such a commission, having seen how useful and important such a structure could be.
I am not going to pursue the arguments about high standards covered in Amendment 54. As I said on the third day of Committee, it is my belief that the Government are preparing to reduce those standards to enable them to conclude new trade agreements with the United States and Australia, among others. That is why, I believe, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was rejected in the House of Commons yesterday. As a trading nation, should we not, at the outset, be deciding for ourselves what our standards should be? Should we not be debating these issues widely? Should a trade commission not help us in that task? Surely we are not just going to roll over and accept whatever trade competitors demand of us.
One of the issues that worries me most at the moment is the way policy is being formulated. There is a line, which is agreed at the top, then enforced on Ministers, the Government as a whole and party MPs and supporters. No dissenting voices seem to be tolerated, either in ministerial positions or government departments, and Cabinet Ministers seem to compete for the approval of those running the system. The belief is that success will be achieved only by eliminating all critics and alternative views, and having only supportive or pliant Ministers in post, with a handful of people making key decisions. This was exemplified for me by the appointment of Tony Abbott to the Board of Trade. It seemed almost a two-fingered gesture to the effect: “We are laying down what is going to happen in this area of policy, and we don’t care whether you like it or not.” After all, there was no suggestion that Tony Abbott had any expertise in or detailed knowledge of British trade policies.
I fear that such an approach will not end well. Successful endeavours share many characteristics, but one major element of success is a broad range of views. Some dissenting voices are listened to. There is a need to be warned of possible pitfalls and to listen. It is important to be flexible and pragmatic. That is not how our trade policies are being developed at present, and perhaps it is why some of our negotiations are not going so well, thus far.
These new clauses in Amendments 54 and 55 set out one way in which the decision-making circle might be expanded, which a Government, embarking on a new course and needing broad support, might find beneficial and useful. I am not sanguine that they will find any favour with the Minister, the Government or, more importantly, No. 10, but I believe we have a responsibility in this House, as a revising Chamber, to suggest constructive ways of achieving and improving what the Government are seeking. I am therefore pleased to support these amendments.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and to act as a co-signatory to both Amendments 54 and 55, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Henig.
As we emphasised while the Agriculture Bill was in Committee and on Report, there needs to be an international trade commission and it needs to be permanent, not like the Trade and Agriculture Commission that is currently in place. Such an international trade commission needs to be given a budget and staff, if we are serious about it doing this job on trade. The international trade commission needs to be in the Bill and able to provide advice to the Secretary of State. There is a direct read-across to the Agriculture Bill. I regret what happened in the other place yesterday, because they missed an important opportunity to give this international trade commission the impetus and support it justly deserves.
While welcoming the temporary trade commission, I feel it needs to be made permanent and put in the Bill. There is a need for a body to consider trade agreements, as they are negotiated. This is new, charted territory for all of us, particularly for the Government and all those involved in such trade agreements. It is important to support our farmers, producers and all those in the supply chain.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, Henry Dimbleby has produced his first report. He was appointed last year to undertake this study, and he proposes such a body. He makes comparisons with those jurisdictions that do not have one and with which we are trying to negotiate future trade agreements. The industry, as was referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Henig, has set up a shadow body to examine ways of protecting standards in trade deals. There has been progress since the Agriculture Bill, and we need to take note of that and that there should above all be parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, as exists in those other jurisdictions.
There is a need for strict adherence to standards of animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, plant health, employment and human rights; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to this. It is correct that an international trade commission is required under statute to provide advice, assistance and support as and when the Secretary of State requires. It is important that the Executive are accountable to Parliament; that, quite simply, shows democracy at work.
As has been referred to, amendments to the Trade Bill were tabled in the other place to ensure that Parliament retains sovereignty of trade policy. A Conservative MP said that the failure of the Bill to secure this would be
“hard to reconcile with the idea of taking back control.”
I do not believe that having less scrutiny than existed when we were members of the EU is an acceptable position. I am clear in my unequivocal support for both these amendments, for the establishment of an international trade commission that builds on the work of the existing trade commission—which is temporary in nature—and for it to be put into statute in the Bill.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to say a few words about these two amendments. I can be a bit simpler than I had intended to be because my noble friend and the movers of the amendments say that these are probing amendments. To that extent, I want to add one or two questions of my own; I look to my noble friend the Minister for his response.
I have a feeling that, once again, these are amendments that fall into the category of trying to put into statute that Ministers should not do things that they do not wish to do. I am not quite sure why that is necessary. In this particular instance, the amendment proposes—in a number of areas relating to the environment, animal welfare and SPS—to take out of the hands of Ministers the business of negotiating the nature of the trade agreements that we are to enter into, largely tying the hands of Ministers. Ministers have been immensely clear, repeatedly, about their intention not to enter into trade agreements the effect of which would be to dilute the standards applicable by us in this country in all these respects.
What we have here says, in effect, that when we seek to enter into any agreement with other countries, we have an extraterritorial application of own standards to them. I fear that, in practice, that would mean an inability on the part of the United Kingdom Government to enter into trade negotiations with countries that apply different standards to our own. I am not sure that the signatories to the amendments have addressed the issue. They talk simply in terms of the impact in this country of the import of goods that are subject to different standards. That is a matter of domestic legislation; that is something we can stop. There is absolutely nothing that requires us to import goods that are produced to animal welfare standards that are different to and lower than our own, or that have environmental consequences that we would not accept. We are perfectly free to say no to that. The implication of these amendments, however, goes beyond that to the idea that we should not enter into trade agreements with countries that supply standards that are not our own.
I am not sure that noble Lords necessarily need to answer this, but I am not sure where the words “or higher than” have come from. What is this international trade commission supposed to do? Should it look at our standards and say, “They’re not good enough. We are going to apply higher standards to other countries than we apply to ourselves”, and seek to enforce them through the terms of an international trade agreement that we enter into with them? That seems inherently and deeply unlikely.
Finally, it was asserted by the noble Lords who put their names to the amendments that this amendment would put in the Bill something that is primary legislation and is therefore wholly applicable. What they are talking about are standards. They are not talking about regulations. In truth, what really matters is the implementation of international trade agreements in the form of regulations. For example, in a later debate, we will talk, I hope, about the implementation of our unilateral scheme of preferences with developing and least-developed countries, many of whom would find it intensely difficult to maintain standards—for example, of animal welfare or food safety and traceability—comparable to our own.
Is it noble Lords’ intention that the international trade commission should require that such regulations should have the same standards built into them, and that we would not accept goods from those countries if they were incompatible with the standards set by the ITC? That is not what these amendments say because they talk about international trade agreements. There is no international trade agreement required for us to offer unilateral preferences to these countries; therefore, perhaps it is their intention simply to exclude developing and least-developed countries from the issues they talk about. I do not think that that is their intention, but that is not the effect of their amendments.
I suggest that, in so far as these are probing amendments, let us recognise that there are some glaring deficiencies. If we come back, as I know we will on Report, to the question of how we maintain our standards in this country, let us think carefully about how we do it and recognise, with a degree of humility, that international trade agreements should not be a mechanism by which we seek to apply extraterritorial jurisdiction for UK standards to other countries throughout the world.
My Lords, I will take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in a moment. In the meantime, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to work with the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie. I am delighted to support these two amendments.
I really congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. It is almost like having a third member of the Green group sometimes. I am sure that she hates that thought and that the Minister might as well. It has been quite a slog for us during this Bill. We have repetitively talked about these issues and it is getting a tad boring.
This amendment is a mechanism to maintain trade standards that are as high or higher than domestic UK standards. For the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that means that it is okay to trade with countries that have higher standards, even though they are not the same as our standards; that is the point of this part of the amendment. He asked why this is necessary. It is necessary because we simply do not trust the Government. If he can put his hand on his heart and say that he trusts the Government—go on; no?—I will be astonished. We have fantastic Ministers here—we even have a fantastic government team—but we do not trust the Government.
This amendment addresses the criticisms raised in previous iterations of the Bill, when noble Lords suggested that defining UK standards and equivalent standards would be a difficult legislative exercise. The amendment would create a specific body to undertake that exercise, and would grant it the necessary resources to do so. That might be a bit of a sticking point but, quite honestly, it is possible to move resources around, so I do not see that as an essential problem.
My colleagues, the three noble Baronesses, have covered almost every aspect on which I should have liked to speak, so all I will say is: will the Minister commit to working with us, perhaps to find a compromise amendment ahead of Report? Otherwise, there will the inevitable Division and government defeat, which will obviously be quite exciting for many of us but probably less so for the Minister and his team. So it would be wonderful if we could see a positive way forward.
My Lords, first, I want to associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lansley. I agreed with absolutely everything that he said.
It should be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether she needs any advice on standards or the criteria to be adopted. But, of course, this amendment is not about giving advice; it is about imposing criteria on the Government. Even if it does not cross the line, it is getting very close to interfering with the Government’s use of the royal prerogative in negotiating trade deals.
As noble Lords will be aware, there is already an extensive array of bodies—the Strategic Trade Advisory Group and individual trade advisory groups with extensive memberships—advising the Secretary of State. The only purpose of this amendment is to try to impose something on the Government. Yet again we hear something that we have heard before in Committee; this amendment is coming forward because “We don’t trust the Government to do the right thing”. I have to say to noble Lords that Governments do not legislate because noble Lords opposite do not trust them. Noble Lords must accept the Government’s assurances as they are given.
I will just say something on the Dimbleby report, because we have heard a lot about it both here and in relation to the Agriculture Bill. As I understand it, this is a draft report; it is not yet final. The Government have not made any response so far, and do not intend to do so until after the final version. It would be extraordinary to try to legislate in this Bill for policy that is not yet made. I accept that this is a probing amendment today, but I hope my noble friend will not press it again on Report.
My Lords, although, as the amendment states firmly, it is not exclusively concerned with the issues of animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, plant health, employment and human rights, these are important in the context of this debate. We have repeatedly discussed them in the context of this Bill, as well as during the debate on the Agriculture Bill earlier this month. These standards matter desperately. The amendments are important because they provide belt and braces—a system whereby we can provide more effective parliamentary scrutiny.
This bears repeating as often as we like: when we came out of the European Union, the case that the Government advocated over and over again was to take back control. Well, that must mean that the representatives of the people in Parliament have control and authority. If this body helps us to take that control more seriously and to be more effective, it is a good thing, and we should not be wasting time explaining why it is not really necessary. It may be belt and braces, but it underlines the importance of the people’s representatives taking back control.
These amendments are very important indeed. Not for the first time I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on introducing it. I was also very impressed by the speech made by my noble friend Lady Henig in support of it. I do hope we will give these amendments a fair passage.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, and I agree with him that we should advance these amendments. I will address them in the context of our debates on the Agriculture Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said when she introduced this group so well—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that all the signatories have made a powerful case for this.
I wish to focus on two areas. The first is the continuous issue that the Government should be very careful with their language about statutory standards and the protection that exists for them. The second is the trade commission and where we might need to go forward on this. I want to do it also in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about the least developed countries. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, referenced this in debate on an earlier group. It was also referenced in the House of Commons yesterday. Last week, the Trade Minister, Greg Hands, was reprimanded by the Speaker for using it to make a partisan point during an Urgent Question on trade—so it is a hot topic.
I was going to say that there is a degree of misinformation, but I am not alleging that the noble Lord would seek to misinform. But the reality is different from what is being put forward about what the impact on the least developed countries would be if we were to insist on imported goods meeting our statutory standards and did not accept imported goods of a lesser standard from the least developed countries. I find that deeply offensive to the countries with which we have negotiated a trade agreement, on the basis of everything but arms and the global scheme of preferences. Those trade agreements have included measures to support countries to meet the standards at which we would then allow imports. To say that we would allow imports of less good products at a cheaper rate because they are from a poorer country would be both against the law and contrary to the trade agreements that we have reached with those countries.
The noble Lord is right that we will come on to talk about global scheme of preferences and GSP+. As he knows, this is where countries have an agreement that does go beyond simply tariffs and regulatory standards. It includes, for example, husbandry, environmental practices and labour standards in supply chains, so that we do not import goods from companies that would break domestic law in the treatment of their staff. This is now the norm in trade agreements. I do not know why the Government are wanting to argue that, by maintaining and not dropping our current standards, we are somehow acting against the least developed countries. There were zero imports of beef and poultry from least developed countries last year, for these reasons. If the thrust of the Government’s argument is that this is a bloc, and we will now open up markets for these goods which do not comply with British standards, let them say so—but I do not accept it. That, no doubt, is something we shall return to.
This leads me on to my next point. What is the correct terminology? I hope that the Minister will be very specific in the way he sums up. He has the virtue of having the entire Civil Service behind him to enable him to be very specific. So he will forgive me if I am less specific, but perhaps, when he responds to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, he can be really specific.
Victoria Prentis, the Agriculture Minister, said yesterday in the Commons that
“our current import standards are enshrined in existing legislation. They include a ban on importing beef produced using artificial growth hormones and poultry that has been washed with chlorine … Any changes to that legislation would need to be brought before Parliament.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/20; col. 69.]
As I understood it, the noble Baroness asked how the Government will consider what are statutory protections. Are they within the primary legislation, requiring primary legislation to implement them? Or is it the same as with chlorine, which I referenced in the previous group regarding information provided to me by the NFU?
The regulation states clearly that:
“Food business operators shall not use any substance other than potable water—or, when Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 or this regulation permits its use, clean water—to remove surface contamination from products of animal origin, unless use of the substance has been”
prescribed by the appropriate authority. The Minister said that the appropriate authority was the Food Standards Agency, which is correct. But the change to allow imports of poultry that has been treated with anything other than potable water can be made in a regulation, using the negative procedure, put forward by an agency. On reading what the Government said—that they would be required to bring forward legislation to change that—most people will not infer that. A change to a regulation by an agency, using the negative procedure, does not afford us the proper level of debate about the consequences.
That leads me on to the issue of what is an appropriate body to be an advisory body and to allow debate among those who have an interest, both producer and consumer. I am not sure I agree with the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She suggested that a body such as this would effectively prescribe actions to the Government. It certainly could be a body based on parameters regarding the maintenance of standards. That is not uncommon for those bodies that provide information to Ministers or for bodies that the Government consult.
It is not the case that it is only those far more cynical than I who do not believe the Government on such issues. I am always willing to give the Government a fair wind and to listen to their arguments—although yes, their record might suggest that we have to be that little bit more careful. But I do not think that the Conservative Member for Totnes, the honourable Anthony Mangnall, or the Conservative Member for North East Bedfordshire, the honourable Richard Fuller—who last night in the Commons challenged Victoria Prentis about the trade commission, asking for its life to be extended and for it to be put on a permanent footing—fall into the category of not trusting the Government.
We do not need to labour the point that the Government chose to utilise the fact that the trade commission would require money for it to be set up and therefore it was not even debated by the Commons—the lengths to which the Government seem to go to avoid considering a Lords amendment on the Agriculture Bill are quite extraordinary.
This exchange from Hansard is very informative. Anthony Mangnall asked:
“… will the Minister look to extend the purview of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to longer than six months? It should be a permanent body that is established to scrutinise our trade deals.”
That is a reasonable question. The Minister replied:
“I am afraid that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not within my gift; it is a matter for the Department for International Trade whether the work and life of that commission is extended”—
and so I pass the ball to the noble Lord the Minister. She went on to say:
“It was set up in order to feed directly into our trade negotiations with the US, Australia and New Zealand. We remain open to listening to any concerns about the operation of the commission and will continue to co-operate with DIT to ensure that it meets expectations.”
Richard Fuller then pressed her on it being on the same footing, and asked whether it might be better if it was permanent, so as to cover all agreements. The Minister’s reply was very interesting indeed:
“Whether we want to set it up for future trade agreements is something to discuss another day, but I do not agree that it has anything at all to do with the Bill.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/20; col. 72.]
Clearly, the Agriculture Minister thinks that it is over to the DIT now, with the option of re-establishing the commission when considering new agreements which are not with New Zealand, Australia or the United States. This is a very odd situation for the Government. Putting it on a permanent footing, as this amendment suggests, with a clear, forward-looking approach, is very sensible and far more pragmatic than the ad hocery of whether it should be set up again for new agreements. If the timing of the US, Australia and New Zealand agreements goes well beyond and into 2021, and the trade commission is wound up this December, will it be reconvened to look at a new set of circumstances on that basis?
The Government have unnecessarily got themselves into a bit of a muddle. This amendment, so powerfully moved by the signatories, shows the Government how they can think again and put the commission on a better footing.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the points made by the movers of this amendment in their powerful speeches. What they propose ticks a lot of boxes. It is fair to say that, as we have just heard, this is closely modelled on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and it may therefore suffer from some of the problems it has encountered in recent hours, let alone days. However, taken together, it is a bit surprising that those who drew up these proposals think that they are necessary, given that the intention behind the Government’s move is presumably to try to make sure that this whole area is tidied up and organised in a way that minimises the number of quangos and additional bodies that they have to consult, and gives them as much authority and freedom of movement as they would want in carrying out their negotiating mandates. That is of course what happens under the royal prerogative.
I took from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that this is really about trying to concretise the Government’s commitment—which they have made on many occasions, as we have heard—to our high environmental, labour, food production and animal welfare standards, and to protect our public services. A permanent commission, set up in the way that she talked about, adequately funded and properly located within the corridors of power, could contribute to that and allow a continuing review of how the Government are operating. Whether or not it is effective, I will come to in a minute.
I thank my noble friend Lady Henig for making the case for leading with our high standards. Despite the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, surely we should be saying to the world that we are proud of our high standards and that we challenge those who want to trade with us and access our markets to match us in every aspect, or to persuade us to raise them even higher. If that means that we cannot do trade deals with countries that cannot match our standards for imports, then that is the situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, clearly pointed out. It does not change things, and in any case, it is a good thing.
Further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, if it is true that food standards are set by secondary legislation—and, as he suggested, even by agencies responsible under the primary legislation to have power to change regulations—then, as my noble friend Lady Henig says, we do have a lower standard of scrutiny here. We have an obligation to do something about it. The question is what. I would prefer to see a firm commitment on the face of the Bill which sets our standards in a way that does not permit anyone to change them without full parliamentary scrutiny.
Can we see a way forward? I think we can. From what I have heard from the Minister so far today and in discussion with him, I am positive that we might be able to come forward with something. I would be happy to meet him, during the pause, to progress it. In the interim, I do not think that this amendment has got quite the essence that we are looking for. I believe that it would be perhaps better to focus more on other amendments that come forward.
My Lords, we have had yet another interesting debate where the expertise of noble Lords has been on full display, even if that meant repeating what have perhaps become familiar arguments.
Amendments 54 and 55 in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would set up a new trade body, the international trade commission. This body would be responsible for setting criteria for assessing whether provisions in FTAs on imports of goods into the UK meet or exceed domestic standards of production and would, as a result, set restrictions for which goods could be imported under trade agreements. The other place has debated whether imports would need to meet our domestic production standards—a requirement which would be in addition to meeting existing specifications such as on food safety standards—and decisively rejected such a suggestion.
The Government absolutely recognise the strength of feeling around standards and imports of agricultural products into the UK. We have not only reaffirmed our commitment to maintaining high standards during debates on both this and the Agriculture Bill, and on many other occasions, but have taken clear action. I hope to explain this in more detail shortly. However, I first ask your Lordships to consider the real effect of Amendment 54. It would establish a new, permanent and unelected body, which would set criteria for assessing and scrutinising international trade agreements before they could be laid in Parliament.
The Government consider that this would be inappropriate and harmful to the due process of parliamentary scrutiny—a process which already includes an assessment of the impacts of the trade agreement and allows time for both the International Agreements Sub-Committee of our House, and the International Trade Committee in the other place to produce an independent report on it. The amendment would suspend parliamentary scrutiny of new trade agreements until this new body had been established and the criteria set. I believe that this would harm the interests of UK businesses and consumers. Importantly, it would also leave Parliament beholden to the terms set by the international trade commission. Moreover, the establishment of such a body would place it in direct conflict with existing bodies, which already have the remit and expertise to oversee and advise on standards, such as the food standards agencies, the trade advisory groups and the new Office for Environmental Protection. The creation of an international trade commission would only cause confusion with these trusted agencies, to the detriment of all. Furthermore, the amendment would require overseas countries to produce—and demonstrate that they produce—to UK standards before we would be able to import those goods. As I said, the criteria for such assessment would rest in the hands of a new, untested and unelected trade body.
Currently, the UK imports enormous volumes of food from overseas, including from the developing world. An amendment such as this could have far-reaching and, I am sure, unintended effects, preventing the UK being able to import a range of foods, with significant knock-on effects for supply chains, businesses and consumers within the UK, as well as, importantly, for developing countries and other export partners, which send agricultural products to the UK. For example, Vietnam, Ghana and Indonesia are major exporters of coffee to the UK, and we receive large volumes of bananas from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon. The impact of this amendment, requiring countries to meet the UK’s specific standards across a range of criteria, could ultimately prohibit imports from these trade partners and, in doing so, lose a valuable income stream for those developing countries as well as, frankly, affecting the British businesses and consumers who depend on them. My noble friend Lord Lansley made some powerful points in this regard about the damage that this would cause.
The standards that this amendment seeks to protect are already enshrined in domestic statute and the Government will uphold them. Of course, any changes to existing standards would require new legislation to be scrutinised by Parliament. Decisions around standards are a matter for Parliament and will be made separately from negotiations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will agree with me, even as a new boy, that statutory instruments are a statutory process.
The Government have taken decisive action to uphold our commitments to high standards. First, we have established new trade advisory groups, including a dedicated agrifood group, which will provide technical and strategic expertise that will feed directly into negotiations. Members include such organisations as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the British Retail Consortium, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish Seafood Association, UK Hospitality and Tesco, among others. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, will accept that it would be highly prejudicial to the United Kingdom if our negotiating stance became public when we are in the middle of negotiations. We want to draw on the expertise of the members of these groups during negotiations. This is not secrecy for secrecy’s sake but common sense in asking them to keep confidential the information they receive from their privileged position in these groups.
In June, the Secretary of State for International Trade established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which brings together stakeholders from across the sector to provide recommendations that will inform the Government’s decisions and policy-making in relation to agriculture. The commission will produce a report with its recommendations and the Government have committed to laying this before Parliament. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the resources available to the commission; sadly, I do not have this information to hand but I will write to her.
The recommendations made in the Dimbleby report are under consideration by Defra and will no doubt be responded to by my colleagues there in due course; as my noble friend Lady Noakes reminded us, this report has not yet been finalised. Furthermore, we have listened to concerns around animal welfare in production and have committed to a rapid examination of what can be done through labelling to promote standards and high welfare across the UK.
Our various new initiatives and the setting up of new groups for exploring issues around standards and international trade policy are already looking to tackle some of the issues raised by this amendment. I would, of course, be very happy to meet the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to discuss these matters further. In summary, however, we consider that the creation of a further new body would risk harmful conflict with existing groups with similar functions. I hope that I have managed to reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that there is no need for the body they propose. I therefore ask that the amendment is withdrawn.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lansley, and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his response to the debate. I want to make one point. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, may not have understood my point about the unilateral scheme of preferences in developing countries. It was simply that, since Amendment 54 bites only on those international trade agreements that are subject to the CRaG process, it would not bite on the unilateral scheme of preferences at all. So, it does not do what the mover of the amendment is looking for it to do; when they look again on Report, noble Lords should—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, suggested —take it away and think about how they can support the Government to maintain and deliver our standards, rather than seek to go around them.
My Lords, I am grateful for the clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I think that we will come back to this issue.
The Minister referred to Ghana as a good example. I referenced Ghana in the previous debate. We are still engaging on whether we will have a continuity agreement with it; it has not been agreed yet. The disruption in trade with Ghana will come if we revert to a non-EPA basis at the end of the year, rather than from anything to do with anything in this amendment regarding standards.
Can the Minister state whether we currently import, or will import, any goods from GSP countries or LDCs that do not meet our standards? My understanding is that we do not and will not. We offer them tariffs that are preferential to those for other countries if they have goods to be imported into the UK that meet the standards, because that is under the unilateral trade preferences scheme, but it is not standards that we seek to reduce. The Minister said that insisting on maintaining UK standards would somehow act against least-developed countries, but that does not apply because they do not currently export to us if they do not meet our domestic standards. I wonder whether he can clarify that.
Given that, yesterday, the Agriculture Minister did not categorically shut down the requests from MPs that the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s life be extended and sent over to the DIT, is the Minister’s mind open to the longevity of this Trade and Agriculture Commission? One of the ways forward could conceivably be to extend the lifetime of that commission; we could progress on that basis.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. We will come to GSPs in a later debate; if the perceptive points he made are not answered then, I will perhaps write to him. Secondly, I always keep an open mind about the matters that we debate. We will reflect on the debate that happened in the other place last night.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who contributed. I would be most grateful if my noble friend could extend his invitation to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to myself and the other co-signatories of this amendment, and perhaps also invite the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. This formula worked extremely well with his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, who I am sure would commend it to us.
I suspected, even though I raised this in the House yesterday, that my noble friend would not have the figures on the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s budget. He will be pleased to know that I have the topical Oral Question on Thursday, when I am sure he will be able to provide those figures because they are the subject of the Question.
The International Trade Secretary herself referred to Kenya as a wonderful new country that we are going to do deals with. It subsequently found itself in a spot of bother with avocado pears; we will certainly wish to revisit that.
I do not think that any of the signatories to these amendments intend to tie the Government’s hands; indeed, I do not. The purpose of the amendments was to understand the thinking on the role of, and resources available to, the current Trade and Agriculture Commission. I have no doubt that current members of the commission do not wish to carry on, so this is an opportunity to either reappoint new members to the Trade and Agriculture Commission or revamp it into a new body, such as the one in the US calling itself an International Trade Commission.
To help my noble friend Lady Noakes, Amendment 55 specifically calls for an international trade commission to give advice and reports to the department, the Government and Parliament. It was helpful that my noble friend again clarified, in summing up this debate, that he sees statutory protections as being statutory instruments. I beg to differ. I believe that we need, fairly urgently, primary legislation in this regard, which cannot just be swept away by a negative resolution, as was addressed earlier.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage with the promise, if possible, of an amendment with my noble friend and the other co-signatories—the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis—so that we can progress these matters.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
Amendments 55 to 57 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 58. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
58: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade agreement with the EU: compliance with the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
Any trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that is subject to sections 20 to 25 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is not to be ratified unless it fully complies with the requirements of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland as part of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, as signed and ratified by Her Majesty’s Government.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 58 on the Irish protocol, I will speak to Amendments 59, 65 and 82 in my name, on the Irish Sea, and to the amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, to whom I am most grateful for their support. The amendments have been lumped together in one group, so I am afraid that my speech will be a bit longer than is customary for me. I am sorry to say that Amendments 58 and 59 are not just sensible and prudent to include in this legislation; they are absolutely essential, and I will seek agreement to put them to a vote on Report.
When this House was due to debate a Trade Bill prior to the general election last year, my colleagues and I worked on similar amendments with a similar objective: to protect the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in all its parts and prevent a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland. A year ago, this was already a strong case. It was also consistent with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which is already law and into which this House placed important text along the lines of these amendments, with the eventual agreement of the Government. I hope that the Minister will note that in his reply. However, today—one year on—including these additional protections could not be more important for this Bill and for the Internal Markets Bill, on which we will have Second Reading on 19 October.
I remember only too well the Government’s responses to myself and colleagues on a cross-party basis in 2018 and 2019 as we sought explicitly to include these protections for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. “Trust us”, they said. “Of course, we will protect the Good Friday agreement, and of course we will ensure no hard border”, they insisted. “This is superfluous and unnecessary”, we were told.
I am sorry but we did not trust them then and we definitely do not trust this Government now—not after their actions in recent weeks. We thought that they could not get any worse in their cavalier and dangerous approach to Northern Ireland—part of our United Kingdom—but they have surpassed themselves. As noble Lords will know, I had the honour to serve as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as did other noble Lords. It was a real privilege to hold that office. Those of us who have served, whether Labour or Conservative, know how unique and ever-fragile matters are on the island of Ireland.
The peace process is not done and dusted—it remains a continual challenge. That is why I and other previous Secretaries of State were so horrified when the current holder of that important office, Brandon Lewis, nonchalantly and very deliberately let it slip in the other place that the internal market Bill
“does break international law in a limited and specific way”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/9/20; col. 507.]
Tellingly, among those expressing their horror were Secretary of State Lewis’s two immediate Conservative predecessors, Julian Smith and Karen Bradley. Add to that multiple previous Prime Ministers and Attorneys-General, not to mention the Northern Ireland envoy of the current President of the United States, the Democratic nominee for President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
We must vote decisively to add the provisions in these amendments to this Bill, soon to the internal market Bill, and to any other relevant Bill that comes before us. The Government may not respect the law any more, so the law must tie the Government’s hands appropriately. We must leave no stone unturned, no route open to them to wriggle out of. I regret to put it so firmly, but I am afraid that that is what we are dealing with. Even without the developments of recent weeks, we need Amendments 58 and 59. We have included a specific obligation to fully respect and implement the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as included in the withdrawal agreement that this very Government agreed, and this Parliament ratified.
As I have said here before, sadly, this Prime Minister, his Ministers and advisers, continue to try to pretend that Northern Ireland is no different from anywhere else—that it is just another border, just another straightforward place. I might have given Kent as an example of a straightforward place but, of course, we now know that the Government are actively preparing for a hard border there too.
Let us remind ourselves why we have the Northern Ireland protocol. The border, of course, is the key sensitive issue, over which much blood has been spilt over the generations, and much suffering endured. It is a 300-mile border with 300 crossings, unlike almost any other border in the world, but there is more to the protocol than the border. We have the unique arrangements under the Good Friday/Belfast agreement for north-south co-operation—no less than 157 different areas of cross-border work and co-operation in Ireland, north and south.
These areas are the things of everyday life; they go well beyond animals and food and we must not ever have a new border erected to block or discourage them. People can travel to and fro, do business, get educated or get health treatment, as if the border were invisible. I shall give just a few examples of these arrangements: food, tourism, schools, colleges, farming, fighting crime, tackling environmental pollution, water quality and supply, waste management, bus services, train services, cancer care, GPs and prescriptions, blood transfusions, gas supply, electricity supply and, yes, co-operation on health pandemics as well.
Almost every one of these areas is about people’s everyday lives and almost all were linked to the European Union, and Ireland’s and the UK’s common membership of it since 1973. With regret, I accept the reality that we have left the European Union, but that is precisely why we have this Irish protocol: to ensure there is no interference with or disruption to those arrangements, either through no deal, reneging on the protocol or any new trade agreements we may someday strike with other partners. For if there were to be, it would be a major step backwards, making the Irish border a contentious matter again, with all the danger to peace and stability that that will mean. We must prevent that happening at all costs.
I have said it in your Lordships’ House before and I will say it here again: the work of successive UK and Irish Governments in helping courageous and visionary leaders in Northern Ireland was all about taking down borders, not putting them up. These amendments would ensure that our Government stay true to that vital mission.
I turn to Amendments 65 and 82, covering the Irish Sea question. Northern Ireland faces great uncertainty as we exit the transition period. Although the Northern Ireland/Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement guarantees Northern Ireland free access to and from the single market of the European Union for goods, three areas of grave concern still exist. The first is what the future UK-EU relationship will look like; the more distant this is, especially if there is no deal, the greater the impact of the protocol when it comes to the movement of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. This means that internal UK trade is potentially in play here; this is why it has been picked upon by the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, but in a way that only increases the risk to that slim certainty that Northern Ireland had, and only increases the likelihood of no deal and of badly damaged trust.
Secondly, there is uncertainty about how the protocol will operate in practice. The trader support service is a vital element in this operation, but there are still some 60 “known unknowns” when it comes to how the protocol is to be enforced. The doubt instigated by the Government’s move in the internal market Bill escalates concerns from merely being about practice to being about the very legal status of this protocol itself.
Thirdly, there is uncertainty about Northern Ireland’s status with regards to free trade agreements. Although it will be de facto in the European Union’s customs union and single market, it looks as though Northern Ireland will not benefit from the free trade agreements held by the EU. This could prove to be severely disruptive to its export markets. More directly, there are worries that, for all the promises of the Government, Northern Ireland will be effectively excluded from the UK’s future free trade agreements too. While your Lordships’ House can do little to affect the first of these three concerns, Amendments 65 and 82 seek to address the other two.
Amendment 65 would ensure that Northern Ireland goods are not discriminated against. The UK has said that Northern Ireland will benefit from access to its new free trade agreements. This makes sense, on one hand, because Northern Ireland is in the UK customs territory. However, it is not straightforward, because the EU customs code will be applied in Northern Ireland, as will its standards for the production of goods. As a consequence, there is a possibility that when it comes to free trade agreements, a potential free trade agreement partner will say, “Hang on, what’s the story with Northern Ireland? Why will our goods have to go through customs procedures to get into it, and why do EU goods have free access into Northern Ireland, and thus potentially unfettered access into Great Britain?” These things make it difficult to deal with the UK as a single entity. What will the UK do in such a scenario and in response to such a free trade agreement negotiating partner?
There is a risk that Northern Ireland will not be included in future UK free trade agreements, or that there will subsequently be discrimination against Northern Ireland goods, or even new customs processes when entering Great Britain. This is a particular risk as long as there is no serious anti-avoidance regime to stop Republic of Ireland or EU goods passing off as Northern Ireland goods and thus getting free access into Great Britain, undermining ones from the rest of the world. Even more fundamentally, there is a question about the status and labelling of Northern Ireland goods, because these have to follow EU rules on labelling as well, of course, as on standards. Because Northern Ireland goods will be produced in accordance with EU rules under the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, this amendment would ensure that Northern Ireland goods, in particular, will not be discriminated against as a consequence of any new UK free trade agreements.
Ministers often pooh-pooh these concerns, but take the very practical example of a perfect storm coming in Northern Ireland when it comes to food poverty. This is because of increase grocery costs for goods coming from Great Britain, especially for those in rural communities reliant on small retailers. Add to that jobs lost from the coronavirus pandemic and the growing numbers on universal credit—up from 58,000 in February this year to 108,000 in May and, I guess, more since—which is proven to increase food poverty, as any families living on universal credit can testify.
One in five individuals and one in four children in Northern Ireland is in relative poverty. A fifth of children in Northern Ireland are growing up in absolute poverty. There is a greater proportion of children in Northern Ireland on free school meals than in any other region or nation of the UK, and the first people to suffer if the costs of groceries rise are the poorest and most vulnerable.
What Northern Ireland needs most is a UK-EU deal to build on the protocol and be implemented in a way that avoids hard borders anywhere around the region. It also needs the assurance that it will benefit from future UK deals. These amendments mean that there will be smooth movement for rest-of-the-world goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, thus helping Northern Ireland consumers realise any benefits of future UK free trade agreements. They also mean that future UK free trade agreements should not lead to any new fetters on movement of goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain.
I now turn to the trader support service addressed in Amendment 82. It was established to facilitate trade from Great Britain and rest-of-the-world goods into Northern Ireland, but it is currently only for a two-year period. Amendment 82 extends that support indefinitely for goods from outside the UK, including goods that transit through the rest of the UK. I very much hope the Minister will see the virtue and sense in this.
The trader support service is the most substantive move by the Government to demonstrate that they will operate the protocol and act to smooth the impact of doing so on Northern Ireland businesses and consumers. However, it concerns not only Great Britain goods entering Northern Ireland but also those goods entering Northern Ireland via Great Britain from the rest of the world. The trader support service essentially means that the costs and administrative burden of managing the impact of the protocol will not fall on the Northern Ireland consumer, for that is where business costs ultimately end up.
At the moment, the trader support service is just for two years: January 2021 to December 2022. This means that there is deep uncertainty for Northern Ireland regarding access for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, including the costs and complexities of import declarations and safety and security declarations.
Putting the trader support service into legislation as a long-term commitment for trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would be essential to security and long-term planning for businesses in the Northern Ireland economy, not least because the trader support service is for goods that enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain that are coming from any third country—that is, Great Britain and the rest of the world. If the trader support service is to be free to use for all imports to Northern Ireland from the rest of the world, this helps ensure that Northern Ireland is not discriminated against as a result of the protocol.
I very much hope that the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, will accept these four amendments. We are always grateful for his courtesy, decency and diligence in responding to amendments such as this, and for his conduct in the House. I hope that, if he has any technical issues of drafting, he will offer to address these with us. Otherwise, it is my hope that we will vote on Report on these Cross-Bench supported, all-party amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, as a co-signatory of these amendments. Coming from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, where I was born, grew up, was educated and served as a Member in the other place, a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a Minister, I am only too well aware of the impact that the European Union had in Northern Ireland. Clearly, we do not want to see borders in the Irish Sea or on the island of Ireland.
I cast my mind back to the early 1990s and the Maastricht treaty, which allowed the border to be evaporated in many ways and opened up the whole island to trade with each other and with the island of Great Britain. The Good Friday agreement established the infrastructure that facilitated north-south co-operation, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly and those important east-west considerations through the British-Irish Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has elaborated quite considerably the impact of these amendments, which I fully support and concur with. They deal with the need to protect the Northern Ireland protocol, which ensures that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the intrinsic quality and content of the Good Friday agreement as characterised in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to prevent the return of a hard border on the island and the protection of Northern Ireland free trade agreements in the GB context.
Amendment 58 means that, in any trade agreement with the EU, there must be compliance with the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to prevent that hard border. Being part of the EU ensured the eradication of that border; there was seamless trade which bolstered the economy of both parts of the island, particularly the counties which straddled the border, which is some 300 miles long, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to. It would be impossible to have tariffs, as there are so many crossing points and the costs of such infrastructure would be highly prohibitive and a disincentive to our economy and society. We have grown so much together; the very fact that we have the restoration of those political institutions is characteristic of that ongoing work.
The bottom line is the UK’s commitment to north-south co-operation, the guarantee of avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure, and the checks and controls that must be compatible with the overall withdrawal agreement. That is how we understand the Northern Ireland protocol. It is important that it not be undermined by the internal market Bill which comes to your Lordships’ House next week for Second Reading.
Amendment 59 addresses the need for the continuation of north-south trade and the prevention of customs arrangements at borders. It means honouring the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland Act, and the withdrawal Act—both of those are international treaties, and the internal market Bill should not be allowed to override them.
Amendment 60 is Northern Ireland-GB specific. All trade agreements must benefit every part of the UK equally, with no exclusions. This is needed to avoid the risk that Northern Ireland is excluded from future UK free trade agreements due to the complexity of its differential arrangements. There is a condition that no free trade agreement can be concluded by the UK if it does not apply equally to all regions and nations of the UK. This is to prevent Northern Ireland being excluded, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, from free trade agreements. This was raised last Thursday in the fourth session of Committee.
Amendment 65 intersects with the Northern Ireland protocol. As Northern Ireland goods will be produced in accordance with EU rules under the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, this amendment will ensure that Northern Ireland goods will not be discriminated against as a consequence of any new UK free trade agreements.
The trader support service, which supports businesses moving goods from Britain into Northern Ireland, will simply be temporary. Amendment 82 would ensure long-term commitment to it. At the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, it will be for only two years. However, putting it into legislation as a long-standing commitment from Britain to Northern Ireland would be essential to security and long-term planning for the Northern Ireland economy. It would also be of assistance to free trade agreements, because the trader support service is for goods that enter Northern Ireland from Britain that are coming from any third country. It would also involve no extra costs and would cover the cost of export health certificates. We also have to take note of the changed circumstances because of the rising levels of poverty, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to, and the growing reliance on food banks at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic.
I urge the Minister to give very positive consideration to these amendments and to support them. If we do not get support today, we will come back on Report. It is important that the intricate sets of relationships that have already been created on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain, which have allowed free movement of people and trade and have bolstered the economies on both islands, are allowed to persist and continue. Those intricate sets of relationships need to be developed because they break down barriers in the minds of people and on the islands, and the last thing we need is the establishment of new borders and new islands.
I can remember travelling to the Republic of Ireland as a child. You were stopped at the border, and customs clearance guys on either side asked your parents very deep and pressing questions about what might have sounded like trivial matters. Thankfully, that day has long gone. We do not want to see a restoration of that or the imposition of any such barriers because it simply injures trade, stops important business, and prevents local communities, which have so many connections with each other, growing.
I am very happy to support these amendments, and I recommend them to your Lordships’ House for positive consideration. I hope that the Minister will consider approving them.
My Lords, I agree with Amendment 58 and I hope all noble Lords agree with it, because it is our shared intention. I am pretty sure that it is the intention of those negotiating on the part of the European Union that they will enter into an agreement that is thoroughly and completely compatible with the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
However, the main point I want to make, apart from a subsidiary one on Amendment 82, is that this is neither necessary or, in truth, effective. Noble Lords will recall a number of occasions in Committee when we discussed carefully the distinction between on the one hand the ratification of treaties and on the other their implementation into domestic legislation. In this instance, we already have in domestic legislation the enforcement of this principle. It is in Sections 21 to 24 and Schedule 3 to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which says, not least in Section 24, that Ministers of the Crown can make no alteration to the Belfast agreement. Therefore our domestic legislation already provides for our compliance with the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The point is that the purpose of this is to say that we will not ratify an agreement with the EU if it does not say that. I hope it will say that, but if it were not compatible, in any case it would have no effect in domestic law because domestic legislation already says that.
However, I point out that we will come on to discuss this in this Chamber on Monday—although I may not be participating—in the Internal Market Bill, when we will be discussing a domestic legislative provision which would enable Ministers to disapply aspects of the protocol. The fact that the EU-UK agreement was or was not ratified does not change that. The question is about how the EU agreement with the United Kingdom is translated into domestic legislation. If we have that provision in the Internal Market Bill, the protocol could be disapplied, notwithstanding what is in the EU-UK deal. My view is that we should not have such a provision in the Internal Market Bill, but we will come on to debate that later.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the supporters of the amendment that they might like between now and Report to consider, first, what will happen on the Internal Market Bill, which I submit is of legislative significance, and, subject to that, whether they really need to argue that the deal with the European Union should not be ratified. I do not think that would be helpful in this context.
I will make one smaller and subsidiary point about Amendment 82. Only today, my noble friend Lord Agnew, speaking on behalf of the Treasury, said, “I can’t pretend that I am not worried that we haven’t nailed all this down.” By “all this” he meant all the provisions for the arrangements for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Time is short and the complexities are considerable. The trader support service is still being put in place. I therefore hope that my noble friend in responding to this debate will be able to say comforting things about the implementation of the trader support service. Amendment 82 does not have the effect that is claimed for it. It says that people should be able to access the trader support service at no cost. It does not say that there must be a trader support service, and it does not say that it must last beyond two years. If that is the intention of the supporters of the amendment, I rather agree with them. However, the trader support service is at the moment an administrative scheme. It would be simpler and better for Ministers to say that they are perfectly willing to review the need for that service and to continue it for as long as there is an agreed need among those who are trading with and through Northern Ireland and maintain it as an administrative scheme.
It is always a pleasure to speak to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hain on Northern Ireland affairs. His commitment to Northern Ireland is second to none, and he always speaks with great authority and concern.
The progress towards building a better future for Northern Ireland and indeed the Republic has been remarkable. However, it is a human story in which very many people have been involved and committed themselves. A great deal has been happening at the community level in Northern Ireland. Central to all that has been the need for trust. A great disturbance was caused to that healing process based on trust when we came out of the European Union because the minority population in Northern Ireland had always felt that when we were in the European Union, they had the authority of the institutions of Europe, not least the court and everything, which were there to reassure them. That was a big shock.
We then negotiated the protocols. The protocols again are crucial not just technically in trade matters but as a process of building a situation in which there can be trust and faith in the future. It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of the Good Friday agreement. Let us never forget that the Good Friday agreement became possible by the magnificent work of Tony Blair and his colleagues, but also because of the work done, before Tony Blair took office, by John Major and his colleagues.
We have a huge responsibility and we must never do anything inadvertently or indirectly—as well as directly —to undermine that process of trust building and confidence in the future. These should be our guiding principles in all that we are tackling in trade matters and I am glad that we have my noble friend Lord Hain watching it like a hawk.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity with this small group of amendments to press forward some of the evidence that we heard on the EU Environment Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit. While my noble friend Lord Lansley said that this amendment should not be needed, I rather regret that it may be and I would like to take this opportunity to press my noble friend the Minister in this regard.
The Government have made a commitment under the Northern Irish protocol that there will be unfettered access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. The position on exit summary declarations is as yet unclear and the discussions between the Government—presumably Defra and the Department for International Trade—and the Assembly in Northern Ireland do not seem to have been going as straightforwardly as one would wish.
In the letter that we wrote to the Minister—I believe in September, so we probably have not had a reply—we highlighted the need for training and awareness raising in what information gathering those we heard from, including farming organisations, freight operators and other businesses involved in this trade, will be required to make and submit under the new checks and controls. Those we heard felt, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said, that they would benefit hugely from a trusted trader scheme. It would be interesting to hear what state that is at.
With those few queries, I would be grateful if my noble friend could respond to the serious issues that were raised. This is pretty much the 11th hour. We are now in the middle of October and these checks and controls presumably are meant to be in place ahead of 1 January. These amendments provide for us to obtain an update at a timely moment.
My Lords, I wish to speak only to Amendment 82 in this group. I generally try not to speak on matters about Northern Ireland, because life is too short.
I completely agree with what my noble friend Lord Lansley said on the trader support service. In particular, I am sure that, if there were a need for further support at the end of the two years, any responsible Government would ensure that such support was available. I remind noble Lords that it is a temporary facility in order to help traders become accustomed to the new arrangements, whatever they finally turn out to be. It includes training. It is not to take over from the traders handling the paperwork; it is to train them so that it becomes part of their everyday activities. In that context, two years may well still be enough, although I accept that there is uncertainty at the moment.
The amendment says that the service can be accessed at no cost—that is, of course, no cost to the trader, but there will be a cost to the public purse. I just say to noble Lords that, if they pass the amendment, they are walking straight into financial privilege.
My Lords, I will be brief. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, have outlined clearly the sad and urgent need for these amendments. I particularly commend the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, speaking from the heart from a lifetime of experience on the ground. Lives and businesses have been peacefully and productively intertwined between Northern Ireland and Ireland and must not be torn asunder.
It is a year since I came into your Lordships’ House. I did not appreciate then—although, in retrospect, perhaps I should have, given that it was just after the unlawful Prorogation of the other place—that in 12 months’ time I would have to join a broad coalition of fellow Peers speaking up simply for the rule of law, the Government having explicitly disavowed adherence to it.
We are daily reminded of the fragility, instability and weakness of our current institutional arrangements and the pressing need to make the UK a modern, functional democracy. I go back to a paper from the Constitution Society in 2019, which noted:
“We have long assumed that those who rise to high office will be ‘good chaps’”.
The gendered nature of that phrase is telling but not my main point. The paper concludes that general standards of good behaviour among senior UK politicians can no longer be taken for granted.
Reflecting on the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that these amendments are unnecessary because they are already covered, my response would be that, on an issue of this importance, we need to seek every possible protective mechanism in these circumstances. That is the context in which these amendments come before us. The practical reality is that they create laws that then may well have to be enforced on the Government. I urge the proponents to pursue them to the utmost.
My Lords, in his eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out the background and the history to this important group of amendments on Northern Ireland. I am pleased to have been able to add my name to the amendments. I am also delighted to have received the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on Amendment 58, although I felt that there were perhaps some contradictions in his argumentation. I look forward to seeing him in our Division Lobbies when we come to vote on this on Report.
We heard some extremely passionate speeches from other noble Lords, in particular from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who has also signed these amendments and who spoke so movingly about the realities and threats that we face on the ground in Northern Ireland. I shall limit my remarks to Amendments 58 and 59.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, if a year ago there was already a strong case for these amendments, since the introduction of the internal market Bill they have become ever more important to safeguarding the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. I hope that these amendments, or similar, will be retabled on Report, so that we can test the opinion of the House.
It is worth briefly recalling how the Government have taken us to this point. We are in this situation because from the outset the Government have promised a series of incompatible things, namely that the whole of the UK would leave the customs union and the single market, that special status for Northern Ireland was ruled out and that there should remain no border on the island of Ireland.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, so powerfully said, since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, trade, business and complex supply lines on the island of Ireland have all developed against the backdrop of membership of the EU single market and EU trade policy. These positive links across the island of Ireland are perhaps one of the reasons why the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
We then had the flawed deal proposed by Theresa May’s Government—but which was, perhaps, arguably better than the agreement that we now have—which ultimately failed. Then in January of this year, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act, including the Northern Ireland protocol, was passed into law. We should recall that that protocol was agreed by this Government as part of the withdrawal agreement; it is not something that was imposed by Brussels. It is therefore a sign of the rather peculiar times in which we are living that a cross-party group of Peers are having to defend what is this Government’s own stated policy.
The Northern Ireland protocol is, we believe, the very minimum that is acceptable to defend and maintain the progress made on the island of Ireland. It is there to maintain the peace process and to prevent a hard border. Amendments 58 and 59 are both, in essence, restating what is—and I hope will still be—the stated policy of the Government. If there is any uncertainty, then that is also of the Government’s own making, with the introduction of the internal market Bill. On that basis, I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to this debate and to these amendments.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate at a very high level. Of course, that is inevitable if you have a former Secretary of State and a former Minister of the Province lending their expertise and knowledge to the issues that we have before us. My noble friend Lord Hain was very precise when he said that it was a difficult group to speak to, because there seemed to be two parts to it, and almost a third one with the trader support service, as we have discussed. However, I think we gained by having all three amendments discussed together, focusing on all the problems facing this troubled area, and by having drawn to our attention, which we need from time to time, the hope and enthusiasm that there is for a future in the Province as a result of the changes that were brought forward through the Good Friday agreement and subsequently.
I just have two or three small points to make. My noble friend Lord Hain was right to suggest that, irrespective of recent events, we probably would have wanted to return to this issue in this Bill at this time from the prospect of international trade because of the concerns of people in the Province about how they will be treated as part of the United Kingdom. That has doubled in focus—if that is a possible term—because we are now aware of the machinations that the Government have thrust into the debate by seeking to legislate in the internal market Bill; but, of course, that will be for next week. We have to deal with where things are at the moment, with the international outrage over the breaches in international law that have been threatened. It is right, therefore, to ensure that, at the end of the day, the Government are forced to respect the law as it currently stands and have no wiggle room to change it.
Secondly, picking up the points made by both my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, there is much more to the Northern Irish protocol than simply issues relating to the border, important though they are. It would be completely beyond any sensible movement if we were to engage in a process that led to a block or discouragement in growth in the confidence and security that the Good Friday agreement has provided across all aspects of everyday life in Northern Ireland. It is, indeed, the cornerstone of peace and security there, and we change it at our peril.
Turning to Amendment 65 and the questions that it raises about the Irish Sea and its position in relation to the borders of both the European Union and Great Britain, I am beginning to think that this is beginning to adopt some of the aspects of the Schleswig-Holstein question of the last century or two, or even of Schrödinger’s cat, since we are talking about trying to legislate for an area that is simultaneously both a member of two customs unions and subject to variables in terms of the operation of the law, depending on which way it is facing. My noble friend Lord Hain was right to point out that we still do not know enough about where the EU-UK agreement will leave us; we do not know how the protocol will operate in practice and what will happen in the next few years; and we are uncertain about where the Northern Ireland operation will be in relation to the free trade agreement with the EU. Will it align more towards the EU, or will it be more like the FTAs that the UK will negotiate; and if that is the case, how will we make sure that they are properly applied? There are lots of questions here, and the amendment helps to clarify the issues. Whatever the truth of that is, Northern Ireland needs an assurance about how it should go forward.
On the trader support service, it might well be defective in law, but the intention is very clear. I hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, he can give support to the idea that it continues.
My Lords, the amendments in this group all relate to various aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol. Amendments 58 and 59, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, seek to make the ratification of any future UK-EU international trade agreement contingent on compliance with the protocol. I listened very carefully to the hard-hitting and long speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I am very aware that he speaks passionately on Northern Ireland matters as an ex-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and that he spoke again today with great passion. We have been clear that we remain completely committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We are committed to implementing the protocol in a flexible and proportionate way, protecting the interests of both the whole United Kingdom and the EU.
Our proposals for implementing the protocol will deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market, ensure that there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK’s customs territory, discharge our obligations without the need for any new customs infrastructure for Northern Ireland, and guarantee that Northern Ireland businesses benefit from the lower tariffs that we deliver through our new free trade agreements with third countries. This approach is, in our view, the best route for commanding the broadest possible support across the whole community in Northern Ireland, respecting the myriad ways in which lives and livelihoods are intertwined right across our United Kingdom. This came out, again, in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
The Bill that we are debating here does not address the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Other than the government procurement agreement, it is concerned only with continuity agreements: that is, agreements to which both the EU and the relevant third country were signatories before exit day. While I understand the noble Lord’s concerns, there will be better opportunity to debate them elsewhere. In accordance with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, both Houses will have the opportunity to debate any UK-EU future trade agreement before it is ratified. Similarly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, acknowledged—and the reasons were eloquently outlined in the speech of my noble friend Lord Lansley—noble Lords will soon have a chance to debate their concerns regarding the protocol when the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill reaches this House all too soon, on Monday, for scrutiny.
I turn now to Amendment 60, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lady Altmann. As I set out during our debate last week on devolution, the Government have engaged closely with the devolved Administrations and have taken significant steps to improve this Bill. I hope this was made clear in the remarks that I made last week. I would like to take this opportunity to inform your Lordships that the Scottish Parliament consented to grant an LCM to the Trade Bill last week. I hope that this illustrates the close engagement that the Government have undertaken and will continue to undertake with the devolved Administrations.
On Amendment 65, the Government will ensure unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, ensuring that businesses and individuals will be able to move goods from Northern Ireland into the rest of the United Kingdom on the same basis as now, while also benefitting from new trade deals. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will ensure that businesses based in Northern Ireland have true unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom by ensuring that they benefit from mutual recognition and are not discriminated against. This will be the case whatever the outcome of negotiations with the EU.
On Amendment 82, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, I am pleased to say the new Trader Support Service—the so-called TSS—that the Government are introducing, will provide an end-to-end service that will guide traders through all import processes. It will provide extensive support to businesses engaging in new administrative procedures resulting from the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. It is a free service available to all traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and those importing goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the world.
In response to various questions on TSS, I shall give a little more detail. It will offer the following core services. The TSS will benefit trader education by educating businesses about what the protocol means for them and the steps they need to take to comply with them. Secondly, it will support businesses when submitting declarations and advise them about additional documents and licences they will need; for example, a permit is needed to import endangered species. It will provide a complete service that submits relevant declarations into CDS, submits relevant safety and security declarations into HMRC’s import control system, the ICS, and in some circumstances will transmit transit declarations on NCTS.
In answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Lansley, the TSS and its future will be reviewed after two years. My noble friend Lady Noakes asked about costs. She will know, and I want to emphasise, that the TSS is a unique intervention, backed by £200 million of government funding.
I hope that these explanations address your Lordships’ concerns and that they will not wish to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Stevenson and all those who have spoken in this debate, beginning with my noble friend Lady Ritchie, who speaks with authority as someone affected daily by our decisions in this Parliament. She spoke eloquently about the intricate relationships so carefully and painstakingly built over decades to break down barriers. We must not do anything that reverses that process.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said that he agrees with Amendment 58, but that it is not necessary because it is already in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, rightly argued that in the internal market Bill a part of the protocol is being repudiated. I say with some sensitivity and moderation to the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, that there is a lack of trust regarding the Northern Ireland-Irish protocol situation that has been engendered by the Government themselves.
The Government signed up to a protocol that they are now seeking to undermine through the internal market Bill, breaching international law and breaching trust with Dublin so painfully built over careful decades of negotiation and relationships. The relationship between Dublin and London now is terrible, and I can totally understand that as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We should never have got into this situation. As the noble Baroness rightly says, it is ironic that a group of cross-party Peers is having to defend what is nominally the Government’s own policy but which they are undermining. That is why these amendments are absolutely necessary.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said the Trader Support Service would be extended if needed, so why not put it in the Bill through the amendments concerned? If there is a technical issue, the Minister can come back on Report and propose the addition of a regulation allowing the Government to extend it. Presently, it is limited to two years. I am puzzled about the Minister’s response. Effectively, he is saying that he agrees with these amendments in principle, but that on the one hand there is no need for them and on the other there is an opportunity for them later. I say gently to him that there is always supposed to be an opportunity later, but the reality is that by the time later comes it is too late. A trade deal may not have been struck with the EU and the consequences will already be a fait accompli.
I say again to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that Northern Ireland is unique, and because it is unique these provisions need to be placed in statute in a way in which they would almost certainly not in other parts of the UK. It is Northern Ireland’s tangled history, bitterness and bloodshed, and all the complex relationships built to overcome that make these amendments absolutely necessary. The Minister promises that there will be no barriers to the intentions behind these four amendments. If so, why not agree to them? Why not remove any distrust and uncertainty by agreeing to them going into the Bill?
On the Trader Support Service, the Minister did not address the uncertainties felt particularly by Northern Ireland businesses and businesses trading into Northern Ireland from the UK. The situation feels extremely fluid to them, as it does to me. No one knows how all this will fall out. No one know the relationships, checks and customs arrangements that will be across the Irish Sea and what burdens they will put on people. As the Government have conceded, despite the Prime Minister’s initial denials, there will be processes involved, compliance required and forms to fill in, albeit online. This will require time and resource from Northern Ireland businesses already hard-pressed and under pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
The Minister says the situation will be constantly reviewed, but there are lots of uncertainties about trade into Northern Ireland from the rest of the world, including the UK. The purpose of the amendments, particularly Amendments 65 and 82, is to nail down those uncertainties. If the TSS might need to be extended, why not make it indefinite? What are we not being told?
There is a real question of trust which the Government needs to address, not to noble Lords who have supported the amendments but to businesses in Northern Ireland that feel extremely uncertain presently and are very worried about their future. This is especially the case for those who trade across the Irish Sea and are worried about the extra cost burdens at a time when they can least afford it. I therefore hope that the Minister will reconsider these amendments. I would be very happy to take a phone call from him about any technical changes that he might want in order for the Government to agree to the amendments and avoid a Division on them on Report.
Amendment 58 withdrawn.
Amendments 59 to 63 not moved.
We come now to Amendment 64. I remind noble Lords, as before, that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
64: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament in relation to each year from 1 January 2021, prepared as soon as practicable after the end of that year, including—(a) the measures adopted by the Secretary of State to secure the benefits of the international trade agreements entered into by the United Kingdom, and which are in force during the course of that year; and (b) the trade and export promotion strategies which the Secretary of State proposes in order to realise the economic benefits of those international trade agreements to enterprises in the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require Ministers to report to Parliament on how the benefits of new Free Trade Agreements are to be realised, including the trade and export promotion strategies they intend to adopt.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to move Amendment 64, the purpose of which is to seek from Ministers an annual report, starting after the end of 2021, showing what measures they have taken to exploit the benefits of the trade agreements into which the UK has entered and setting out how they propose to maximise the realisation of those benefits in future.
I should say that I was recently appointed the vice-chair of an all-party parliamentary group for trade and export promotion. Happily, it has gathered support from all sides of this House and the other place, led by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and Gary Sambrook in the Commons. It is timely that we should come together in this new all-party parliamentary group since it is important that we support businesses as part of the global Britain exercise to realise the benefits of trade and exports across the world. In many respects, globalisation has stopped. The expansion of global trade had stopped even at the end of 2019 and has gone backwards in 2020, for obvious reasons. The difficulties of achieving export activity and entry into markets in the midst of a Covid crisis are palpable. Businesses need our support and help; I hope that one thing we can do is ensure that the voice of business and those organisations that speak for and represent it will be heard here in this House.
My noble friend the Minister and I probably hark back to the days when we were responsible for trade policy in the British Government. I remember that, when I was a civil servant in the Department of Trade and Industry, I was responsible for the chemicals and petrochemicals aspect of the generalised system of preferences. We had shared competence with the European Commission in those days before we lost it altogether. The point is that those of us who have experience of managing trade policy in the British Government have to be, almost by definition, in our 60s or older. So we are learning afresh; happily, the Department for International Trade is learning fast and operating on a broad canvas.
However, the bandwidth inside the DIT for this task is taken up with the business of putting trade agreements in place. That is a vital job but we cannot afford to lose sight of the job that is also an essential part of the DIT: leading our trade and export promotion activity. The DIT does not do that alone—it does it with other departments across Whitehall, not least the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—but it is not down to all of us, not just government, to achieve this. It is down to businesses, chambers of commerce—including the International Chamber of Commerce and bilateral chambers of commerce around the world—and trade associations to make this happen, but they need to know what the government strategy is to do so.
I want to say in passing that there is a tendency—President Trump is particularly guilty of this sin—to take a mercantilist approach to trade deals. When we make a trade deal, he seems to think that he can directly manipulate the volumes of trade between countries as a result of that deal. In fact, he is beginning to find that that does not happen; in truth, we should not expect it to. We are, I hope, facilitating, liberalising and expediting trade, but that requires the activities of businesses and traders to make it happen. The volume of trade is a direct result of their activities, so we need to enable them to exploit trade deals.
Also, it is far from the case that what is written into a trade deal necessarily results in exploitation by businesses. Preferential rates are often not used by many businesses. Tariff rate quotas are often not used by businesses in one country even though they are available for trade in another. The use of these trade deals is instrumental; we need to make it happen.
Unlike the amendment that we were talking about earlier, I hope that this one asks Ministers to do something that they want to do: set out the strategy for realising and exploiting the benefits of the trade agreements that we will, I hope, increasingly enter into—not just the continuity agreements that are the subject of this Bill, but the many international free trade agreements that are to follow. As we do that, I hope that a flexible strategy will come forward from Ministers soon.
I reiterate those two points. First, I hope that it is soon because we should have such a strategy in place before the end of the implementation period at the point at which we are operating once again as an independent trading nation. It is necessary for business to be able to see what “global Britain” looks like when we have not only left the European Union but exited the customs union.
Secondly, the strategy must be flexible. None of us knows how we will be able to access global markets easily in the course of the next year, possibly even the year after. These are intensely difficult times for traders. Some of the conventional ways of doing things—you do your market research, go into a market, participate in a trade mission, attend a trade fair, meet people, create relationships and build your business—will not be able to be done as easily as they have been done in the past. That is why it is all the more important, as we are hoping to do through the all-party group, for the Government to work with and through organisations such as chambers of commerce, bilateral chambers, trade associations and those who are able to work in-market alongside our embassies—in particular, to work in-market and in a commercial sense to create market opportunities for businesses.
For example, when I was at the British Chambers of Commerce 30 years ago, we took on responsibility from the department for the export market research scheme. It is important that we have a strong export market research programme in the years ahead and in the strategy to come. I hope that Ministers will publish a strategy in the weeks, rather than months, ahead to show how they will exploit markets and how “global Britain” is going to work. I hope that that will be clear about the sectors that can look to the Government for support and the nature of the support that they will receive. I hope that it will be equally clear about how we are going to operate in markets where priority markets exist and how the Government are going to do that.
I declare my interest in the register as the UK chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. A good example is the UK-Japan economic partnership agreement. It goes further than the existing EU agreement in respect of digital trade; I understand that our embassy in Tokyo has for the first time appointed a digital attaché. I hope that we will see a build-up of activity in markets by the Government, but also by the business communities, to make these trade agreements not only real, in the sense that we spent a lot of time discussing them, and not just signed, ratified, authenticated and implemented. Implementation is not a legal process; it has to become a market-orientated process.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to say that these amendments are not necessary because the Government are firmly fixed on renewing their trade and export promotion strategy—the last time they did so was in 2018, I think, but so much has happened since then—and setting it out soon in a way that really engages business organisations and the business community in making real the ambitions of global Britain, to which I think we all subscribe. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has succinctly made the case. The final countdown to the United Kingdom embarking on a new chapter in our proud journey has arrived. Transparency and inclusiveness are needed now more than ever. The noble Lord should be thanked for tabling these amendments. The word “trust” has been uttered many times in Committee. These amendments would assist that process. For a nation that built its reputation as a great trading nation, it is surprising how little is understood about how trade impacts. Taking the public’s trust is an imperative. These amendments would provide an important demonstration that the Government are serious about making trade work for everyone, and the promotion of international best practice. Demystifying trade, enabling all stakeholders to understand how it benefits the economy, and demonstrating that to the regions and communities up and down our land is essential.
It is time to look at these issues with fresh eyes, and to bring a more inclusive approach to finding solutions to the challenges we face. By inclusive, I refer to the United Kingdom’s multi-sector business organisations, together with representatives of consumers, civil society and workers. Strong social partnership between government, business and unions is the only way to deliver the required results. After all, a sustainable and inclusive approach would translate into economic growth, jobs and the maintenance of high standards.
Common rules and standards are the best mechanism to reduce red tape and bureaucracy and ensure that we all trade on a level playing field. An annual report, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, would help ensure that robust mitigation strategies are in place to assist companies in understanding, for example, the new trade preferences available and how they can benefit. The noble Lord has flagged that an export strategy should be in place by year-end. This would be extremely commendable.
Lessons learned from the past, to effectively distribute the benefits of trade and how to achieve it, are paramount. To that end, and relevant to the issues before us this afternoon, an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade and Export Promotion has indeed been launched, which I have the honour of co-chairing. Gary Sambrook, in another place, takes the lead, with MPs across the family of nations being actively involved. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, kindly referred to this and he is a key participant. I am grateful to him for drawing attention to it. We are certainly working on a full programme, including, quite extraordinarily, a call at 4 am to review progress with a secretariat headed by Chris Southworth. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, and the noble Lords, Lord Lansley, Lord Mann and Lord Purvis, are vice-chairs, contributing much with their combined wisdom. It offers constructive consideration of the issues that bring us together today, bringing together international trade policy, trade promotion, investment and trade finance under one roof, and into an inclusive forum. The APPG is ably supported with a secretariat run by an organisation that lives and breathes trade, the International Chamber of Commerce.
This morning we had our first meeting, made up of 30-plus organisations from around the UK, to learn of concerns and proposals. From this point, we will invite Her Majesty’s Government to attend these meetings, as I have little doubt that they will find areas of interest, in the spirit of delivering better solutions and outcomes that build confidence and trust in trade.
I end where I began, in supporting these amendments. We must work as a team united, so that the UK can go forward as a global player, but not before sorting ourselves out internally. I endorse the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and encourage the Government to adopt the amendment to the best benefit of us all.
My Lords, I certainly support all that my noble friend Lord Lansley said about the importance of trade promotion and export promotion. Clearly, this is vital to underpin our success in a post-Brexit world. I also support the intention that underlies the amendment, which is to facilitate holding the Government to account for their delivery in those areas. I find it difficult, however, to support the amendment itself.
All amendments that call for reports need to be treated with a certain amount of scepticism. There is already a vehicle for delivering what the amendment asks for, which is the annual departmental report. If my noble friend had expressed his amendment in terms of a government-wide delivery on his aims, I could understand the need for it to be a free-standing report, but his amendment focuses on the Department for International Trade. Therefore, the annual report for the Department for International Trade should suffice.
There is also the International Trade Committee in the other place. We tend to be somewhat dismissive of the other place’s ability to scrutinise legislation well, but one of the things it does do well is to hold individual government departments to account. If you take the combination of a departmental report and the International Trade Committee in the other place, we have the mechanisms to achieve the very noble intents lying behind this amendment.
My Lord, I personally welcome the idea of the Secretary of State laying a report before Parliament. I have a feeling that the Secretary of State may not be minded to do so.
I am reminded of the fact that I started my political career in the European Parliament, where one of my functions was to advise my noble friend Lady Hooper, who very kindly found a letter from 1983 that I think we should frame. When I became a Member of the European Parliament for Essex North and Suffolk South, rather than an adviser to MEPs, one of the things I enjoyed the most was leading delegations of businesses to countries such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and introducing them, through department of trade contacts, to their opposite numbers, prior to them joining the European Union. It seems a bit sad, now that we have left the European Union, but they have the benefit of all my good work in that regard.
I would like to congratulate my right honourable friend Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, for being brave enough to appoint, to my certain knowledge, the first-ever agricultural attaché to China, based in Beijing. They have been there now for possibly two or more years. It could even be five years—time flies. The consequences of that single act have been magnificent. Malton Bacon Factory has been a beneficiary to the tune of millions every year because it produces pork, and we do not eat the parts that Chinese consumers take to be very appetising such as pigs’ trotters, snouts, tails and ears. The very fact that we have had a commercial attaché based there goes to the heart of what we can do. I think they are paid something like 80% by industry.
The thinking behind the amendment is very good, and I would like to see more of it. The balance is about right in terms of funding by the industry itself, but there could be some pump-priming from various departments, such as in the case I mentioned of agriculture. I hope we can learn from other countries such as Denmark, which obviously remains in the European Union. In its exports of food, particularly farm products, Denmark punches way above its weight, as we found when I led a small delegation there from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee from the other place. Denmark has a whole network in countries such as China, and indeed other European Union countries, where it uses a little bit of state funding but mostly industry funding to market, export and promote its own goods. This is something Deliciously Yorkshire has done very cleverly at a regional and national level, and I hope it is something we can roll out. I hope my noble friend will look favourably on this amendment in that regard.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for moving this amendment. It has allowed us to generate a very high degree of cross-party support, and it is to be commended for that. I will try to respond to a valid point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, with regard to how reports are put together and where they best fit. I hope she does not mind me saying from these Benches that she made a good point, and that she can accept that, but maybe we need to just tweak it. If we tweak it, we may generate overwhelming consensus on this point.
I preface my remarks by referring to the work of the new all-party parliamentary group, which was so well laid out by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. I declare that I too am an office bearer for that group. I commend the noble Lord, other members, and the International Chamber of Commerce on their energy and direction in getting this group established. The noble Lord will forgive me if I ask that he does not invite me to any 4 am calls with the group, but I will be glad for him to send me the minutes of any discussions. In a moment I will touch on why that might be important.
I have been involved in politics since before I was elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament representing the Borders constituency, an area extremely rich in textile heritage and industry. Having been born and brought up in that region, I have an enormous admiration for exporters. They are in many respects unsung heroes and the work that they do in supporting the UK economy can never be overestimated. They are not only men and women who trade, but pioneers searching out competitive new markets. They have to overcome many barriers, from languages to what can be very bad behaviour by companies in other countries, often on very low margins. They are at the front end. We can perhaps help them with getting cross-party support in our new trading relationships going forward from next January. I hope that the all-party group will focus on that.
I hope the Minister knows that I am sincere when I say that I will look at the Japan agreement. I will be looking at whether we are securing better market access for our textile exporters as well as guaranteeing Japanese market access to ours. As for myself and many friends of mine in the Borders, we are still stung by the multifibre agreement and the “cashmere wars”, and we know some of the challenges. This has been a long preface, but I am passionate about this.
In many respects, the support that we need to give our exporters as we go forward will be meaningfully different from what it has been in the past. I want to reflect on the different profile of trade. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned this; I want to add some figures that I have seen from the WTO, which are quite stark. Between 1995 and 2015, the overall global most-favoured-nation tariff rate had declined from 6% to 4%; the tariff reductions had been very good. However, over a fairly comparable period from mid-2000 to 2015, non-tariff measures had grown from just over 1,000 to 2,500 as recognised by the WTO. By and large, that is because countries that are becoming more prosperous regulate their own domestic markets, introducing more standards—this links with the debate on the previous groups. On the one hand it is harder to export to those markets; on the other, those countries are operating on a basis comparable to us.
In many respects, the support that we give to our businesses allows them to understand some of these markets much more and to navigate their way around the non-tariff measures that those countries have put in place. Our whisky industry has become expert at this. In many respects, the Government learn as much from our whisky industry as many other businesses can learn from government about how to operate in the competitive global market; as we go into the “new world”, this will be important. As much as we want to advance and support our exporters, our competitor countries are doing that as well if not better.
Just before I came into this House seven years ago, the coalition Government proposed an export strategy linked with an industrial strategy. When Vince Cable, who was in the business department, launched the strategy, he highlighted an interesting figure, saying that we had 220,000 online retailers, exporting more than the rest of Europe’s exporters combined. We were leaders in online retail, by far. We have lost the edge on that now; our competitors, including Germany, have seen a comparable exporting advance while we have plateaued. In no area where the UK leads in one year can we assume that we will lead in every year to come. As the world becomes more competitive, so do our major competitors in Europe and other developed countries.
That is reflected in some of the figures with regard to our overall trade approach. It has been interesting to see the negotiating objectives for our prospective American agreement and, now, the Japan agreement. I searched the two substantial documents concerned and in neither was our trade deficit with those countries mentioned at all. We have significant trade deficits with Japan and with America. Germany and France have trade surpluses in both goods and services, although we have seen a huge growth in services.
There are no easy answers, but growing our exporters through an updated export strategy, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated, would be a very worthwhile objective for the Government. Even if we realised all the potential benefits in the new Japan agreement, we would still have a trade deficit with Japan. Our focus should be how we operationalise any of these agreements —the Minister and I agree strongly on this—to create an advantage.
I read a slightly worrying report in September in the Financial Times, where concern was expressed by Export Partners UK, which represents 41 trade associations. The article highlighted the fact that the trade show access programme funding has been cut as a result of the lack of physical trade shows, while other countries such as Italy, France and Brazil have given extra support to their exporters within the virtual world. I am sure that the Minister will not be able to answer straightaway but, if can he confirm the position on support for our exporters at this very difficult time, that would be very useful.
Before I conclude, I will respond as promised to the valid point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She is absolutely right regarding the annual report. I had an inkling that she might mention, or question, the validity of putting in reports, and whether this would be overburdening the Civil Service; she has mentioned requests for certain reports in debates on previous groups. I looked again at the DIT annual report. There is certainly scope for it to be expanded, but this is very much a report about the DIT’s performance as a government department, its accountability, auditing and finance. It has sections on overall exports, investment and trade policy and global Britain. However it does not get to the nub of the point made correctly by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about how we operationalise our trade agreements, and the markets within the countries concerned, and where particular business support is necessary rather than looking at this in totality.
I thought that the Government would move ahead of what they had said they would have. This addresses the point made by the noble Baroness directly. On page 9 of the Command Paper of spring 2019, the Government said:
“We will … publish an Annual Trade Report.”
I believe the Government’s intention was that this would be an update on all negotiations, but they did not leave it at that. As far as I understand it, the Government committed in that Command Paper to an annual trade report. That would be very much in the spirit of this amendment. If it is still the intention—and if it were to highlight areas of the market and sector support for our exporters—we would be able to benefit from that.
Can the Minister clarify that it is indeed the Government’s intention to publish an annual trade report? If not, we may have to revisit this issue because it is important if we are to benefit, as the Government say we will, from our new trading environment. We must make sure that our businesses understand where and how significant the support is and, ultimately, how successful it is. We will not be able to stand alone when our competitors are moving apace. None of us want that because we all want the UK to prosper. I therefore hope that the Minister can give a positive response.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his amendment on trade promotion and strategies. It has stimulated an interesting debate. It is interesting to me because it provides me with the an opportunity of agreeing, for once, with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, about the need to make any trade promotion strategy government-wide, which goes without saying. It is also interesting because the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned the trade in pigs, our influence on China and how we might learn from its ability to market pigs’ trotters. It is some years since I consumed a pig’s trotter, but the thought of it fills me with great joy.
As has been mentioned throughout these debates, trade offers many benefits to UK businesses and will play a vital role in our post-Covid recovery. The Government must make sure that when they sign trade deals those benefits are shared across SMEs and large companies, as well as different regional groupings.
The amendment usefully refers to trade and export strategies, and I shall pick up a few points on the Government’s approach, especially their export strategy. Their stated ambition is to increase exports from 30% to 35% of GDP, with the Department for International Trade and UK Export Finance playing a key part in achieving that goal. Their previous ambition of increasing exports to £1 trillion by 2020 was not achieved. The National Audit Office has criticised the evidence underlying the strategy to increase exports to 35% of GDP and has said that it is not clear how stretching such an ambition is and that the timetable in which the target is expected to be achieved is not clear. The Public Accounts Committee has also said that it is unclear how the DIT’s work is well-linked to the Government’s export strategy ambition.
I have questions for the Minister. How and when will the Government achieve their 35% target? How are the overseas networks of DIT and UKEF staff working closely together to avoid missing export opportunities? The Federation of Small Businesses supports the 35% target but would welcome a grant scheme to support smaller businesses in particular—which is where we look for growth—looking to invest in new export processes. Are the Government giving that active consideration? It goes without saying that we need a strategy that actively promotes trade internationally in these new times, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, called them, as we find our way in the new world free of the EU. We must have that strategy in place, and this debate has highlighted that. Colleagues have brought into it the valuable experience, knowledge and insight that they gained from the all-party parliamentary group.
The Minister in the other place has said that he is developing a new export strategy. What is it to be and when will it be published? Can we have more debate on it and can the House expect to have regular updates and reports based on it?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his amendment and his wise words in his introduction, honed by his years of experience.
As discussed when I met my noble friend to speak about this amendment, international trade agreements are not worth the paper they are written on if businesses and consumers are not educated and enabled to take advantage of their contents. I also fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the need to operationalise those agreements. He and I were in complete agreement when we discussed this. I therefore agree that it is right that the Government should regularly review the benefits realised through the measures adopted for the international trade agreements they negotiate and the trade and export promotion strategies that they deploy. The strategies are vital, and I and all my ministerial colleagues in the department are well-seized of this.
The new all-party parliamentary group for trade and export promotion is an important development, and I am pleased to thoroughly endorse it. The energy of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, as co-chair, and its eminent sponsors will surely lead to its success.
Coming to the substance of the amendment, I hope that my noble friend will be pleased to hear that my department already has plans to publish such a report every two years. I hope that noble Lords will appreciate that the two-year period is appropriate because to do so more regularly would be overly burdensome for the department to pull together and would provide insufficient time to monitor the benefits realised. I assure noble Lords that the fact that the period is two years rather than one year in no way means that we do not agree on the importance of this topic.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to the trade access programme. I am well aware from my contacts with SMEs how valuable many of them find it, and I will write to give him an update on its present stature.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that we are fully seized of the points he makes and that my domestic and international colleagues work closely together on this. If at any time a conversation with me or my ministerial colleagues would help him, we would be happy to have one.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Lansley is reassured that the Government share the objective behind his amendment and that our proposal for a biannual report meets it in a proportionate way. Consequently, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his response and to all those who took part in the debate. Everyone expressed their views in a positive way, and there was widespread support for the amendment’s objectives. I particularly thank my noble friend for his support for the objectives of the all-party parliamentary group. We look forward to working with him, his ministerial colleagues and officials in trying to ensure that we engage fully, not only here in Parliament but with the business community, in making that happen.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, not least for referring to the Federation of Small Businesses. In the report it published earlier in the year relating to SMEs and more recently when Make UK published its report on exports, it was abundantly clear how important it will be for us as a country to bring small and medium-sized businesses into export markets, not only in Europe, to which many have been accustomed, but beyond it. Thirty years ago, I set up an active exporting scheme through the British Chambers of Commerce that mentored small businesses to help them get into exporting activity. I hope that we can look at schemes of that kind because it is important to make that happen.
It was a very interesting debate about the nature of reports. I gently say to my noble friend Lady Noakes that the amendment refers to “the Secretary of State” because “the Secretary of State” is every Secretary of State, not just the Secretary of State for International Trade—so it can within the amendment be a cross-governmental report.
I am perfectly satisfied with the biannual report promised by my noble friend. The key thing is that, first, we have a new strategy soon and, secondly, when it is renewed, it is not simply a means of holding the Government to account for what has happened—important as that is—or the trade statistics, valuable as those are, but so that businesses can see how the Government will put resources behind the strategy to help them be more successful in the markets they are looking to in the year, or two, or three, ahead. That is what they critically want: stability in a strategy from government and the resources that they know they can rely on to get into those markets and support them. I am very grateful to my noble friend for the way in which he responded to the debate and, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 64 withdrawn.
Amendment 65 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 66—Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I understand that neither the noble Lord nor anyone else listed to speak wishes to move this amendment.
Amendment 66 not moved.
Amendment 67 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 68. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
68: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Agreements with states accused of committing genocide
Regulations made under section 1(1) or section 2(1) are revoked if the High Court of England and Wales makes a preliminary determination that they should be revoked on the ground that another signatory to the relevant agreement has committed genocide under Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, following an application to revoke the regulations on this ground from a person or group of persons belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or an organisation representing such a group, which has been the subject of that genocide.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to nullify trade arrangements made under this Bill if the High Court of England makes a preliminary determination that they should be revoked on the ground that the proposed trade partner has perpetrated Genocide.
My Lords, we come now to Amendments 68 and 76A, which are being taken together. Amendment 76A supersedes Amendment 68 and takes into account remarks made by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, when we debated Amendment 33 on 29 September. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and me yesterday at a meeting attended by another Minister, Greg Hands MP, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, but I also thank my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine and the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Forsyth, for being co-sponsors, and all noble Lords who will either speak today or who have indicated their willingness to support the proposition at later stages.
Thanks, too, to the founders of the Coalition for Genocide Response, Luke de Pulford and Ewelina Ochab, for their valiant efforts in driving this on. Particular thanks, though, to Members of another place for their supportive, bipartisan references to the amendment in their recent Westminster Hall debate entitled “China: Labour Programme in Tibet” and yesterday’s debate on Uighurs. The former leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, told the House that
“should such a new clause come to the Commons, I will absolutely support it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/10/20; col. 119WH.]
In yesterday’s debate, triggered by 100,000 signatures sent in a petition to Parliament, Shabana Mahmood MP said that she hoped that her colleagues on the opposition Front Bench would back the amendment. In parenthesis, I should mention that I am an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Uighurs, Tibet and Hong Kong.
It was back in March 2016 that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, my noble friend Lady Cox and other noble Lords strongly supported an amendment responding to the unfolding genocide against Yazidis and other minorities in northern Syria and Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made a characteristically powerful intervention. The Government resisted the amendment and repeatedly told the House that genocide was a matter for the courts.
We did not leave it there, and the admirable Member for Congleton, Fiona Bruce MP, a lawyer, tabled a Motion in the Commons declaring those events to be a genocide, in line with the legal definition of genocide set out in the convention on the crime of genocide of 1948. Although the House of Commons passed it with overwhelming all-party support, the Government again resisted it, saying that only international courts could determine a genocide. This is a circular argument—indeed, a vicious circular argument.
The Government say that the International Criminal Court is the appropriate court of law, neglecting to add that a referral to it from the Security Council will almost always be resisted by the use of a veto by a permanent member. Does anyone seriously believe that the Chinese Communist Party would refer itself to the International Criminal Court to establish whether it had committed genocide in Xinjiang against Uighurs. Waiting for international institutions to act soundly is very commendable, but is a convenient fiction, especially for those who think it should just be business as usual.
What happens in this cycle of buck passing? Following the debate in 2016, it is estimated that 10,000 Yazidis were kidnapped or killed by Daesh, and approximately 3,000 Yazidi women and girls were forced into sexual slavery and are still missing. Many other minorities suffered similarly, as I heard and saw for myself when collecting evidence in northern Iraq a few months ago. For the past four years, Mrs Bruce and I have tabled genocide determination Bills to break the circle—and here, in this Bill, we have the opportunity to do just that.
So how would the provision work? During the debate in Committee on Tuesday 29 September, the noble Lord raised his concern that the continuity agreements do not involve trading partners who are most likely to be the most serious abusers of human rights, and that a country such as China would not have been within the scope of the amendment. However, with the help of the Public Bill Office, to which I am grateful, Amendment 76A takes those points into account and, in summary, nullifies trade arrangements made under the Bill if the High Court of England makes a preliminary determination that they should be revoked on the ground that the proposed trade partner has perpetrated genocide.
I particularly draw the attention of the Committee to the words that such deals would be revoked if
“another signatory to the relevant agreement or any future trading partner that has hitherto traded with the UK, regardless of whether they have a formal trade agreement, has committed genocide under Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, following an application to revoke the regulations on this ground from a person or group of persons belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or an organisation representing such a group, which has been the subject of that genocide.”
As for scope, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, rightly insisted during the Committee proceedings last week that it is for Parliament, not government departments, to determine what falls within the scope of the Title of a Bill. Therefore, this amendment is in scope. However, another argument is now also being deployed. The amendment may be in scope, it says, but this is not the Bill in which to do it; this is not the right time or place. However, as Sir Iain points out, that is a standard line that he himself was told to deploy and use during all his years as a Minister. It is never the right time and never the right Bill.
This is a convenient moment to remind the House of the promise given by a government Minister at the Dispatch Box of your Lordships’ House at the conclusion of Report on the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill. Following speech after speech from all sides pointing to human rights violations in Xinjiang and the direct links of Huawei and the companies in supply chains that use slave labour, the Government agreed to rewrite an amendment on human rights violations and to bring it back at Third Reading. That Bill of course continues to be deferred, and it is no secret that the Government have been unable to draft the promised amendment. Hence, an opportunity is presented here for the Government to honour their promise and to use this vehicle not for the Christmas-tree purposes of hanging on it every issue under the sun but to meet an obligation entered into in Parliament and to act on an issue that enjoys bipartisan and bicameral support.
So how would this provision work in practice, and who might it affect? The key is that the court would decide whether there is enough evidence to justify a predetermination. The threshold is incredibly high. Furthermore, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead pointed out, if they so wished, the Government would have the right to have a contradictor present in the court to argue against such a predetermination. I thank my noble and learned friend for his invaluable advice, not least in pointing me to the High Court of England and Wales rather than the Supreme Court as the relevant body to make the predetermination.
Currently, the most obvious global contenders for predetermination are China and Burma for their crimes against Uighur and Rohingya Muslims. However, if state collaboration in countries such as Syria and Iraq against ethnic or religious minorities, such as the Yazidis, were proven, they too could fall within the terms of the amendment. However, we should be clear: the threshold is exacting, and the amendment will not stop any trade with any country until the High Court has made a preliminary determination that there is a prima facie case of genocide, with the Government able to deploy a contradictor in the court.
The crime of genocide—often described as the crime above all crimes—is carefully defined in the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. Article II of the convention states that
“genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
As a signatory to the convention, we are required to prevent genocide, to protect those affected by genocide and to punish those responsible. However, if no judicial authority declares a genocide to be under way, we are not obliged to act—hence the vicious circle.
The practical effect of that is illustrated by the Armenian genocide of 1914 to 1923. It is still unrecognised by the United Kingdom as a genocide. It involved the systematic mass murder and expulsion of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians carried out in Turkey and adjoining regions, and was referred to here in your Lordships’ House only yesterday in the context of the current unfolding events in Nagorno-Karabakh. In an intervention last week, I reminded the House of Hitler’s infamous remark as he prepared the Final Solution: “Who now remembers the Armenians?” In yesterday’s debate in another place, Siobhain McDonagh, the MP for Mitcham and Morden, movingly said of Xinjiang:
“If we look on, history will condemn our unforgivable cowardice and ask why those in power did not act.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/20; col. 40WH.]
Increasingly, we might ask, “Who now remembers the Tibetans?”, and in the future will other perpetrators of genocide ask, “Who now remembers the Uighurs?”
Perhaps I may give another example of the vicious circle. The United Nations report into mass atrocities in North Korea, chaired by the eminent jurist Michael Kirby, a judge in Australia, described North Korea—a country I have visited, and I should declare that I am a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for North Korea, which I founded—as “a state without parallel”. The report called for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court. It has never happened because this of course would require a referral by the United Nations Security Council, where China would use its veto.
What sort of evidence would be laid before the High Court to short-circuit the vicious circle and to upend the impotence to which the cynical misuse of the veto and the subversion of United Nations agencies has led? During the debate on Amendment 33, we heard allegations from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about forced organ harvesting in China, targeting Falun Gong practitioners. We have heard many accounts from Xinjiang of forced labour, the removal of people from their homes and villages, the creation of what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, described as concentration camps, the prevention of births, and the destruction of cemeteries, identity and culture. There are almost 400 prison camps in Xinjiang and more are being built. The Muslim faith and culture, language and identity are being obliterated and a surveillance state enforces compliance.
In August, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews stated in a letter to the Chinese Ambassador:
“The World will neither forgive nor forget a genocide against the Uighur people”,
“the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago”.
Having seen a video of shackled and blindfolded Uighur Muslims being led from trains to camps, Dominic Raab said this is
“reminiscent of something not seen for a long time.”
Professor Adrian Zenz, a German scholar, describes it as
“the largest detention of an ethno-religious minority since World War II”,
while Joanne Smith Finley, a Newcastle University academic, has described what she calls
“a slow, painful, creeping genocide.”
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has described the region as
“a massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy, a ‘no rights zone’, while members of the Xinjiang Uyghur minority, along with others who were identified as Muslim, were being treated as enemies of the State based on nothing more than their ethno-religious identity.”
I urge noble Lords to read the harrowing testimony of Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur who managed to escape, who says:
“Each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently, and I could feel the pain in my veins. I thought I would rather die than go through this torture and begged them to kill me.”
There are increasing reports of Uighurs being subjected to DNA tests, and there is significant suspicion that they have been targeted for forced organ donation and biometric surveillance.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, in the final judgment of his independent tribunal into forced organ harvesting in China, concluded:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale … Falun Gong practitioners have been one—and probably the main—source of organ supply … crimes against humanity against the Falun Gong and … Uyghur … had … been proved beyond reasonable doubt”.
On 6 October, 39 countries issued a joint statement on the human rights situation in Xinjiang at the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee, stating
“We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang”.
A report published last week by the US Department of Labor detailed the list of goods produced by forced labour and child labour. It described the appalling conditions and indoctrination endured by over 1 million Uighurs and said that the “vast scale of abuse” must
“serve as a notice for the world to ask questions, take action, and demand change.”
Shockingly, western fashion brands and big-name companies simply turn a blind eye. In a call this morning with Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, who is based in Washington, she told me that over 400 members of the House, from across the political divide—extraordinary given the toxicity often of US politics—had come together to insist on a rebuttable presumption on goods from China, requiring companies to demonstrate that they had not been manufactured by slave labour.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, insist last week that
“The UK is committed to the principle that there must be no impunity for perpetrators of genocide”.
He is right: there must be no impunity, but no lucrative trade deals either. Genocide should be bad for business, but it has not been in the past and it is not now. Think of Nazi slave labour and beneficiaries such as IBM and Volkswagen, which even built a labour camp next to one of its factories to ensure a supply of labour. Think of Hugo Boss, Kodak and Siemens; Siemens even ran factories inside concentration camps, including at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. Extermination through labour: what is happening to the Uighurs and others is comparable.
To summarise and conclude, Amendments 68 and 76A do not take a blunderbuss approach but are carefully designed to hit a target. They could not easily be used in trivial or vexatious cases. They are a proportionate response to a monstrous crime. They build on the almost unanimous support of Peers for such a threshold, expressed on Report on the telecommunications infrastructure Bill, and would therefore enable the Government to honour their promise, given during that debate, to find a suitable legislative vehicle to take the matter forward.
I have no doubt that the Minister shares my abhorrence and that of other noble Lords. I hope that even though he will feel duty-bound to resist many amendments to the Bill, he will recognise the unique nature of this amendment and will, between now and Report, work with the movers to incorporate it into the legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise for not being here at the start of this Committee. I had to chair the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords to which the Governor of the Bank of England was giving evidence.
I support these amendments and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his tireless commitment to championing the cause of so many people suffering persecution and genocide around the world. Who on the Front Bench could have heard that speech and not felt an absolute obligation to accept these amendments or some variation on them? This House can be proud not only of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but also of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the indefatigable way in which they bring the appalling atrocities happening around the world to the attention of this House and of the country.
I want to focus on China, a country with detention without trial for bloggers, journalists, academics and dissidents; of televised forced concessions; of torture, genocide, enforced organ harvesting, compulsory sterilisation, forced labour and the destruction of crosses and their churches. I have referred to this in the House before, and to the evidenced-based report by the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission entitled The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China, 2013-2016. It makes for very disturbing reading. It details how a pastor’s wife was buried alive while protesting at the demolition of a church in Henan province and how Falun Gong prisoners were forced to donate organs to high-ranking Chinese officials.
Giving evidence to the commission on organ harvesting, the Chinese-born actress, Anastasia Lin, said that such acts force us
“to confront the question of how humans—doctors trained to heal, no less—could possibly do such great evil”.
Her answer was:
“The aggressors in China were not born to be monsters who take out organs from people … It’s the system that made them do that. It’s the system that made them so cold-bloodedly able to cut people open and take out their organs and watch them die.”
As a consequence of her criticism of the regime, Ms Lin’s family was threatened by state security agents and her Canadian sponsors were asked by the Chinese consulate to withdraw their support.
Last century, China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but somehow it has not got around to ratifying it. The assaults on Tibetan identity and the oppression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang are mirrored in Mongolia. My right honourable friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith wrote about this in last week’s Daily Telegraph. He reported that there are 3 million Uighurs in detention camps and he rightly pointed out:
“As China carries out these human rights abuses while systematically breaking World Trade Organisation rules, too many businesses act as apologists for China”.
We must now take a lead in challenging this behaviour. We saw how Huawei found friends in high places, with the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley, no less, chairing its UK board and Sir Mike Rake, a former president of the CBI, joining the board, together with a former head of UK Trade & Investment, Sir Andrew Cahn and the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, Sir Ken Olisa. I do not know what the UK board of Huawei does but, since public exposure, many of these people have scuttled off it. Speaking out against China’s egregious breaches of human rights has not been one of their functions.
This amendment is a start to holding China and others to account. In a Written Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton—I call him my noble friend—the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said:
“We have a policy of engagement with China and our approach will remain consistent even if difficulties emerge.”
We are talking about atrocities and genocide. This is why this amendment and its supporting amendment —which takes account of the Minister’s comments—need to be taken on board in the Bill. I hope the Minister will support it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has withdrawn, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Forsyth. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, set out the case so comprehensively that I will not detain the House in repeating some of these egregious abuses.
I want to come at this from another angle that speaks directly to the UK’s trade policy and our values and obligations on the international stage. States carry moral weight, so the amendment is entirely pertinent to this Bill.
Thinking about this amendment made me reach for my copy of Philippe Sands QC’s excellent book East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity. Anticipating resistance to our amendment, I hope to explain why Amendments 68 and 76A are relevant. They will only apply in the most extreme and egregious cases as affects international law and UK trade policy. My arguments go directly to the distinction between the crime of genocide and the broader illegality of crimes against humanity.
At the Nuremberg trials of 1945 and 1946, two outstanding prosecutors, Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin, part of the British and US teams, determined that international laws were needed relating to a pattern of state behaviour that could no longer be allowed to stand and that they were categories of human rights violations that needed to be given a name and recognised—“genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. For Lauterpacht, who was an academic at Cambridge, the killing of individuals, if part of a systematic plan, would be a crime against humanity. For Lemkin, the focus was genocide: the killing of the many with the intention of destroying the group of which they were a part.
As Philippe Sands explains, for a prosecutor today the difference between the two is to do with establishing intent. To prove genocide, you need to show the act of killing was motivated by an intent to destroy the whole group, whereas for crimes against humanity no such intent has to be shown. He explains that proving intent of genocide is extremely difficult, as those involved tend not to leave a paper trail—he should know, being the foremost prosecutor of such attempts.
Lemkin went on to win the argument at the United Nations, as in December 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It was the first human rights treaty of the modern era. Lauterpacht’s contribution inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of 1948, ironically adopted by the General Assembly only one day after the genocide convention that same December. The law of crimes against humanity has primarily developed through the evolution of customary international law and is not yet an international convention.
But turning to when and where this particular provision from this amendment may be used, it is fair to say the world is more respectful of both individual and group rights, but not universally—hence the suffering of the Rohingya people in Burma and the Uighurs in China. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have spoken about the crimes against them, and this House is well versed in this situation over several years.
I want to close by quoting Raphael Lemkin from a letter he wrote in 1946, which is quoted by Sands. He wrote the letter two years before the genocide convention was agreed. He wrote the letter when he despaired that it would become international law, and he said:
“we cannot keep telling the world in endless sentences: Don’t murder members of national, racial and religious groups; don’t sterilise them; don’t impose abortions on them; don’t steal children from them; don’t compel their women to bear children for your country; and so on. But we must tell the world now, at this unique occasion, don’t practice Genocide.”
If the United Kingdom’s values are to stand for anything in trade, international relations and its footprint on the international stage, they must stand for that.
My Lords, I salute my noble friend Lord Alton for bringing the amendment forward in the style to which we have become accustomed, for he has always been a champion not just of the underdog but of those who are on the verge of death and torture. I rely on his description of genocide and that of my noble friend Lady Falkner. The definition is a complicated one and it is quite correct for the amendment to rely on the High Court to decide whether a country is guilty of genocide.
It is a sad day when we have to debate this, but the amendment is perfectly in keeping with the trade amendments that we have been discussing all day, because we can see the thread: morality and trade go together. The amendment is a very good example of that.
It is sadly no longer the case that genocide is something of the past. We have many modern examples of genocide or steps toward it: the Darfuris in Sudan, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Christians in Nigeria, the Yazidis. We must now ensure that UK business and consumers do not support or profit from forced labour inflicted on the Uighurs in China. It is shameful that China is in such a position that it controls so many international organisations and enables itself to be free from any attack on its behaviour. That is what makes the amendment so important.
I quote Yehuda Bauer, an Israeli historian who himself escaped from a possible Holocaust and was able to get to Palestine in the days when the United Kingdom prevented most refugees entering Palestine. He said:
“Politics that are not based on moral considerations are, at the end of the day, not practical politics at all. It is out of these considerations that I beg you to permit me to repeat here what I said, exactly eight years ago, in a speech to the German Bundestag: I come from a people that gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Let us agree that we need three more commandments, and they are these: thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a victim; and thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.”
He writes in a new book:
“I can no longer bear the speeches void of content and packed with clichés of presidents, prime ministers, rabbis and others … What does it actually mean to say ‘Never again’ when genocides keep recurring? It’s just an empty slogan.”
We are learning that in this country. Holocaust remembrance is a major event every year, but building monuments will not do it. There are countless memorials around the world to genocide and atrocities, but they do not help the victims or teach other countries to change their behaviour. We cannot block China because of the unfortunate structure of the Security Council.
Some people say that we will at least be able to bring the perpetrators to justice, but the number of trials before international tribunals is actually quite small. Yes, there was the Nuremburg tribunal. A Japanese war general was put on trial. Tokyo war crimes were tried. There was a tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for Rwanda and for Cambodia, and the trials of Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor. But they are ex post facto: the murders and genocide happened before the trials. It is too late for those who died. There is no indication that the punishment of a trial awaiting them has deterred mass killers.
Moreover, the International Criminal Court does not have universal jurisdiction and its stances are partial. Indeed, President Trump gave an executive order in June threatening consequences against anyone who supported this court. There is now a perception in many quarters that the International Criminal Court has not fulfilled the expectations of its founders. The court’s proceedings are cumbersome and lengthy. Many of those accused are still at large, including Omar al-Bashir, the former President of Sudan. Some €1.5 billion have been spent, and there have been only three convictions for core international crimes. Cumbersome procedures, ineffective prosecutions against high-level alleged perpetrators and weak internal management are among the current criticisms of the International Criminal Court.
We are therefore left with nothing else that we can do apart from taking in refugees and supporting this amendment. I wish that there were mechanisms for going into the countries of the accused and rescuing those who are suffering from genocide or coming near to it, but it seems that we cannot do that. Supporting this amendment and perhaps hitting them where it hurts, which is in trade, is the only thing we can do. I cannot see any reason for the Government not to accept it. I support both of these amendments wholeheartedly.
Owing to an error in the listing, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, will speak later. Meanwhile, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his consistent support for oppressed people around the world. That is not in any doubt whatever; nor is the sincerity of the intent behind the amendment. I would, however, like to query whether it will achieve what the noble Lord thinks it might.
I will speak to the revised format of the amendment and concentrate on free trade agreements, not the GPA under subsection (1). The regulations under Section 2(1) apply only to continuity trade agreements. As I understand it, at the moment there is no agreement with either China or Myanmar that would qualify to be implemented by regulations under Clause 2 of this Bill, so I do not think that the amendment will achieve what noble Lords want it to. It would be quite difficult to repurpose the amendment to tackle future trade agreements because what the court could not do is revoke the trade agreement. The only thing that could be got at is some of the implementation legislation. It would be quite difficult to find a formulation that allowed the High Court to revoke, in effect, an international trade agreement. As I have suggested, I do not think that the mechanism of going to the implementation measures will actually work.
In addition, I believe that Parliament has a clear role when new free trade agreements are entered into. If Parliament does not like the counterparties or believes that they might be involved in either genocide or any other form of abuse—my noble friend Lord Forsyth spoke as much about human rights abuses as he did about genocide itself—it can decide not to ratify a free trade agreement and not to implement any legislation that is required to implement such an agreement. However, it is very difficult to go back and undo a free trade agreement once it has been made and ratified. I suggest to my noble friend that even if the courts were able to do that, I do not believe that they are the right place for what is essentially a political decision.
I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, has withdrawn so I call the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this amendment. I agree absolutely with those who argued that it is inconceivable that the Government will not accept it.
The situation in China is of course appalling, but if we are going to introduce this legislation and further the cause of justice, we must be consistent. That means that we have to try to do everything possible to avoid arbitrariness, in which cases to be brought become, in a sense, historically arbitrary, because there are too many cases of what appears to be genocide in the world.
It is not just a matter of genocide; the definitions of genocide are clear and you can make an absolute stand. The problem is the issues which are marginal; there is also the problem of the immense human suffering, inhumanity and abuse of human rights and so on, which do not formally become genocide but which are appalling.
The one point I want to make in this context is that if the House, as I am sure it will, overwhelmingly approves this amendment—my congratulations to all those who have brought it forward—this must be the point at which we take extremely seriously, in all our trade deals, abuses of human rights, suffering and injustice. I do not hesitate to make the point.
An example of this is Yemen. Why do we prevaricate on Yemen when it is absolutely clear that we are very much implicated, indirectly, in what is happening there? That has great significance for our trade policy towards Saudi Arabia and others. We must be consistent. This is a wonderful opportunity to mark a point of no return, where as a nation we become known for consistency and firmness in our approach to the application and fulfilment of human rights and the protection of people in the name of humanity across the world.
My Lords, I hope noble Lords can hear me; my computer is claiming that my bandwidth is low, but I hope I am none the less audible. I was going to speak to Amendment 68, but my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has explained the significance of Amendment 76A, which I therefore support.
Some noble Lords have already gone beyond the term “genocide”, but the narrow scope of this amendment is very important. It is a term for which, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, there is a very high and exacting threshold, which is important. In a speech on Raphael Lemkin, Michael Ignatieff suggested:
“Those who should use the word genocide never let it slip their mouths. Those who unfortunately do use it, banalise it into a validation of every kind of victimhood.”
It is clear that we should not fall into the trap of calling any sort of human rights abuse genocide, but there are cases where it is important that we acknowledge that something is genocide.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have had more than one exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Goldie and Lady Anelay of St Johns, when the latter was a Minister, in which Ministers of State have repeatedly suggested that while genocide is obviously a heinous crime, they cannot bring it forward and say that it is genocide—that is only for the courts to decide. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, that gets us into the most awful vicious circle. How do we ever get to the point where something is declared a genocide and used as a reason not to engage in trade, for example?
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has already raised her concerns about these amendments, suggesting that it is a political decision. I believe that Amendment 76A has found a way to get us beyond the political, because it refers to a preliminary ruling by the High Court. It is hugely important that as a country, we stand up for what we believe in. It is not acceptable simply to say that genocide should be shown no impunity, but then to accept that it cannot ever be brought as a case if the UN Security Council member states have a veto.
This is rather a clever amendment, which I strongly support, and I hope that it has cross-party support. It is not about politics but about values, morality and ensuring that we do what we believe in as a country. We have heard so many examples this evening of cases of genocide that I will not rehearse any more. I will say only that if the Minister cannot accept Amendment 76A, perhaps he might consider tabling a government amendment that would put this issue on the face of the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has withdrawn, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, so I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
My Lords, I have great sympathy for the thinking that lies behind these amendments, and I have huge admiration for the unremitting way that my noble friend Lord Alton carries on his campaign to root out genocide and to bring its perpetrators to justice wherever they can be found. It is a hard struggle. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide now seems, with hindsight, to be a deplorably weak instrument for dealing with the challenges we face today. It was indeed the first such treaty of the modern era, as my noble friend Lady Falkner pointed out, but it is simply not up to the job.
It was conceived in the mid-1940s as a reaction against the Holocaust that the Nazis’ policy of extermination had created in Europe. It was assumed that it would be enough to require the contracting parties to enact the necessary legislation and, having done so, to require them to bring those within their jurisdiction who were charged with genocide to trial. But we can now see, in today’s world, how ineffective and perhaps naive this relatively simple convention is.
The UN convention against torture of 1987, which we became familiar with in the case of Senator Pinochet, is a much more powerful instrument. He had travelled to this country for health reasons and, no doubt to his great surprise and dismay, found himself open to proceedings brought against him under that convention in Spain. This was because he had travelled to this country, which was one of the signatory countries that was bound by the convention to extradite him to be tried there. The Law Lords in this House, of whom I was one, upheld the Spanish prosecutor’s request, although in the end Senator Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile. I mention this just to make the point that the torture convention is a much more far-reaching instrument, although even it would probably still fall short of what is needed to deal with the crime of genocide in the countries where it is now prevalent, which have been referred to this evening, simply because those countries would almost certainly refuse to release the perpetrators to a country where they could be brought to trial.
We have to make the best of what we have. We cannot go down the direct route of bringing the perpetrators to trial here, so some other route must be found. We cannot just turn our backs on this appalling crime, and we must be grateful to the noble Lord for doing his very best to see that we do not. The greatest barrier that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has faced has been in trying to devise a mechanism for bringing the issue before our courts. We have to do this here, because there is no standing international tribunal that has universal jurisdiction in this matter.
Our courts can deal only with those over whom it has jurisdiction according to our rules, and as a general rule it can deal only with crimes committed here in this country. Parliament may give our courts extraterritorial jurisdiction over offences committed abroad, but it must do so expressly, and the accused person must be in this country when and if he is to be tried here. We have had extraterritorial jurisdiction in the case of the murder of British nationals committed abroad, since 1861; and, more recently, in the case of the taking of hostages, since 1982; torture, since 1988; and terrorism, since 2000. But even if genocide had been on the list, without a strong UN convention that would enable us to get the people who really matter here to be tried it is almost impossible. So what else can be done?
The procedure which the noble Lord has chosen has my full support. Let me bring the bare bones that we see before us to life. There are two very important advantages, which I think are worth mentioning. First, you need to have someone with a relevant interest to bring a proceeding before the court; the person or group of persons referred to in these amendments will almost certainly satisfy that requirement. This in itself is a big step forward.
Secondly, what it provides will allow for due process in a hearing in full accordance with the rule of law. By this I mean that notice of the proceedings will be served on the Secretary of State and on a representative of the other signatory to the agreement, as they must both be given a right of reply. This is to enable the Secretary of State to appear and present such arguments as he or she thinks fit, and the other signatory, if it wishes, will have that opportunity, too. This is important, because the court will wish to test the argument in support of the application that is brought before it. There will be two questions before it: first, can the court be satisfied that the crime of genocide has been committed; and, secondly, should it grant the remedy to which the amendment refers?
I wish to stress that the procedure the noble Lord proposes is a very serious matter, not a mere formality. It will result, if it proceeds, in a fully reasoned judgment by one of our judges. That is its strength, as a finding by a judge in proceedings of this kind in the applicant’s favour will carry real weight, quite apart from the effect it will have on the relevant agreement. I think that it will achieve its object, but if a refinement in its wording is needed to be sure that it will do so, that refinement should certainly be made. I, too, very much hope that the Minister will support this amendment.
My Lords, it is imperative that we support Amendment 68, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. I commend him on his excellent speech; he did indeed speak from the heart.
At the outset, I would like to say that in 1972 my family and thousands of Asians were expelled from Uganda by General Amin. I have personal experience of ill treatment being imposed on innocent people by a tyrant. I have spoken previously about crimes against humanity in your Lordships’ House. I would like to declare that I am the co-chair of the APPG for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.
I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on this amendment, which sends a clear message that the UK will not be associated in any way with regimes found by law to be committing genocide. The amendment would mean that regulations made under this Bill to authorise the implementation of trade agreements would be revoked if the High Court of England decides that they should be, on the grounds that a signatory to a relevant trade agreement has committed genocide.
The amendment would also grant the right to persons or groups of persons belonging to national, ethnic, racial or religious groups that have been subjected to genocide to oblige the UK courts to request that a trade agreement be revoked. It is right that the High Court decides, as the court will be impartial and decisions will be arrived at logically.
In 2017, the Conservative Party published the Kigali declaration affirming our commitment to prevent and punish genocide. The declaration states:
“Whether at home or abroad we will seek to protect individuals and groups who are targeted because of their identity, from hate crime to genocide to violent extremism. Our responsibility to protect begins at home but extends around the world.”
This requires us to ensure that any potential violation of human rights is considered before doing business with any country. If the United Kingdom maintains trade agreements with states committing genocide, we risk being seen as complicit in these crimes and we send a message that our trading partners may commit genocide without any consequence.
This amendment must be accepted, because the UK is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the 2005 Responsibility to Protect commitment. Furthermore, the International Criminal Court in 2001 incorporated the Rome statute into English law. These commitments mean that we have a legal and moral obligation to act against genocide.
I and other Members of your Lordships’ House spoke on Second Reading of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill about the treatment of Uighurs and Falun Gong in China. Evidence of the Uighur genocide is growing. The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders has estimated that 1 million Uighurs have been detained and organs are being harvested on a massive scale. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute report suggested that 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019, and they are likely working under forced labour conditions while supplying global brands.
The proposed amendment is modest. The United States has gone much further to condemn and punish those responsible for those human rights abuses. Earlier this year, Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which places sanctions on officials responsible for oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang. US companies with operations in Xinjiang have been compelled to ensure that their supply chains are free from forced labour.
Furthermore, US Customs and Border Protection has issued five withhold release orders barring imports from such producers of cotton, apples, hair products, computer parts and other goods in the Xinjiang region. The House of Representatives recently passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with almost unanimous support from both main parties. If this law, which now has to go to the Senate, is passed, it will ensure that goods made with forced labour in the Xinjiang region will not enter the US market.
Through these Acts, the United States holds the Chinese Government accountable and ensures that Americans do not benefit from goods created by forced labour or under potential genocide. This amendment goes some way towards this, by giving UK courts the option to remove trade co-operation with states found to be perpetrating genocide, establishing a principle that may be taken further in future legislation.
This is a modest amendment, but it has limits in practice. By its referral to Sections 1(1) and 2(1) of the Bill, which concern the implementation of the UK’s obligations in the Agreement on Government Procurement—the GPA—the powers that it would grant to the High Court would not pertain to all trade agreements but would only apply to the 48 members of the GPA, to which China is currently acceding. Furthermore, the amendment would mean that any successful application in the High Court would not prevent trade with a genocidal regime but would only mean that the existing trade agreement was revoked. This power is an important symbolic gesture to demonstrate the United Kingdom’s condemnation of genocide and our refusal to co-operate with those who perpetrate it.
It is important that we accept this modest amendment, to ensure that the UK is never seen to condone acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. We must establish a precedent, which must be built on, as there is nothing currently in UK legislation to ensure that trading is aligned with obligations on the prevention or punishment of genocide.
My Lords, this has been a passionate debate on an appalling subject: the brutality of man against man. It should be a given that we do not have a trade deal with a country that is responsible for genocide, but pressure can be irresistible and there will be little scrutiny of new trade deals going forward. As ever, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for ensuring that human rights are always at the forefront. I do not know how he can sleep, with all that he knows threading itself around his mind. Not everyone can do what he does. It is easier to turn aside, but we cannot and must not do so with this Bill.
We discussed this issue, as the noble Lord explained, at an earlier stage of the Bill. The Minister argued then that the Bill deals with continuity agreements and that they do not involve trading partners who might be implicated here. In the light of that earlier discussion, the movers recast Amendment 68 so that culpable regimes are more easily identified, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. He also makes the point that the purpose of the Bill is drawn more widely than simply continuity agreements, including making
“provision about the implementation of international trade agreements”
and similar wider definitions. That is why Amendment 76A is within scope.
The United Kingdom is a signatory to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was established after the Nazi genocide. Many said then, “Never again”, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, powerfully said, those are often empty words. As a signatory, we are required to prevent, protect and punish. The legal definition and threshold are set very high, as others have said. We know the difficulty of seeking international agreement that genocide has been carried out. After much delay and prevarication, a genocide was declared in Rwanda. However, even the Human Rights Council, set up to try to ensure that those whose record means that they should not qualify to be on it, now has its hands tied by those elected to be its members, including, of course, those Security Council vetoers, Russia and China.
The International Court of Justice has determined that the actions of Myanmar in relation to the Rohingya Muslims are genocide, but the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has pointed to the limits of the ICJ. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has cited the conclusions of the China Tribunal, headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice, whose work in the Balkans war crimes trials gives him the most terrible background to lead this, with crimes against humanity proved beyond all doubt. However, we also know that the scales are tipped when it comes to holding China to account. My noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham makes clear the hurdles for holding anyone to account on genocide.
Given the difficulty of establishing this internationally, the amendment proposes that the High Court should be asked to make a determination. I agree with my noble friend Lady Smith and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that that is an astute way to do this. If the court believed that the threshold of the 1948 genocide convention had been reached, trade arrangements with the offending country would be nullified. We need various means, including some of those mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I am struck by the noble and learned Lord’s conclusion on the rule of law here and the strength that that brings to this issue. The arrangement proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is in keeping with those that some key American lawyers are now arguing should be applied to the UN Security Council, which could itself be taken to the ICJ if it is not addressing genocide, given the responsibility of each country to adhere to the convention.
One would hope that amendments such as these were not required and no doubt the Minister will say so, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. However, we know that genocide continues to take place and we must face that. It is easier to turn away and that is why we must put this protection in the Bill.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his amendment and his excellent speech, which said everything that needs to be said around this very difficult area, with considerable skill and a huge amount of information that we will need time to absorb.
The House seems united in the view that this is a serious issue that has a lot of support and needs to be implemented. I will be interested to hear how the Minister responds to it. What is most attractive about the amendment is the innovative use of the courts as a way of trying to give a point of factual accuracy around which decisions can be taken. I have not seen this before; it is not something that we have ever had proposed and it is worthy of further consideration. Indeed, it may have wider applications.
That puts the House in a bit of a spot. If it is clear that there is a way of checking, in a way that is respected in the use of our courts, to assess whether or not an action needs to be taken, are we not put on notice to live up to our responsibilities as signatories to this convention to prevent, protect and punish? Indeed, if we care about our moral values as a nation, we should have no grounds not to support the amendment.
Having said that, I wonder whether it is worth picking up one or two points that suggest that a bit more work on the amendment might make it achieve even more. Others have picked up on the question of why it is applied only to rollover agreements when it has the capacity to deal with all free trade agreements. Although this is a terrible thing to say, why stop at the issue of genocide? Are there not other egregious issues that would need to be considered in the same class as genocide? As my noble and learned kinsman Lord Hope said, the torture convention may well be an opportunity for further thinking around this area.
While I support what has been said today about the proposal and I want to give whatever assistance we can to the movers of the amendment, I suggest that maybe there should be other discussions before we reach Report, because what is said in the amendment goes with the grain of so many other amendments that we have looked at around the question of human rights that it would be good to see if we could find something that brought them all together. We need something that is helpful to the broader causes that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, espouses but is capable of bringing in other issues that other Members of the House also care about.
My Lords, I turn to Amendments 68 and 76A in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, which seek to ensure that any regulations made under Clauses 1 or 2 are revoked in the event that the High Court makes a preliminary determination that they should be revoked because the partner country has committed genocide. I was very thankful for the opportunity to discuss the amendments with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra yesterday.
I unequivocally reiterate the Government’s commitment to upholding human rights and opposing genocide in all its forms. It is the British Government’s policy that any judgment on whether genocide has occurred is a matter for judicial decision, rather than for government or non-judicial bodies. Our approach is to seek an end to all such violations of international law and to prevent their further escalation, irrespective of whether these violations fit the definition of specific international crimes. Any determination as to whether war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide have occurred is a matter for competent courts after consideration of all the evidence available in the context of a credible judicial process.
As your Lordships are aware, the Bill enables the Government to ensure continuity in relation to specific agreements we were party to through our membership of the EU. These agreements met international obligations in respect of human rights and we have maintained, and will continue to maintain, those obligations in the agreements we sign. Should we have any concern about the behaviour of any partner country in relation to human rights abuses, we would take it up with them through the appropriate channels. In continuity agreements —the subject of our deliberations today—there are often suspensive clauses that allow us to suspend agreements in the event of human rights breaches.
We have heard again today, as we did during the debate on Amendment 33, the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. The examples he gave of the Uighur Muslims in China are truly chilling. I understand and share his concerns; the Government condemn any human rights abuses, including the egregious situation in China. As the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place on 6 October, this is not something that we can turn away from. The UK Government are playing a leading role in co-ordinating international efforts to hold China to account for these violations and we will continue to do so. We will of course continue to raise these concerns with Chinese officials.
I do not disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the amendment he and other noble Lords have tabled being within the Bill’s scope. However, and I say this with regret and almost in a sense that I am using bureaucracy to counter the most passionate arguments that we have heard today, Clauses 1 and 2 can be used only to implement the GPA and non-tariff obligations from those continuity agreements we signed as a member of the EU before exit day. China is not a party to the GPA. Additionally, China does not have a free trade agreement with the EU, so Clause 2 cannot be used to implement any future free trade agreement with it.
I am of course very happy to discuss these matters further with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the other sponsors of the amendment. I reassure noble Lords that the Government take issues relating to genocide extremely seriously. I hope, for the reasons that I have offered, that the noble Lord will have confidence to withdraw the amendment.
There are no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the way in which he has addressed the Committee, but also for the time he has given, not just yesterday but at previous meetings, and throughout the discussions we have had so far. I know that he is trying to be constructive about this. I know that he would rather it were not in this Bill but he speaks for the entire Government, not just the silo of the Bill or his own department, when he addresses your Lordships’ House. I remind him of what I said earlier specifically about the undertakings that his own Government gave from that same Dispatch Box that an amendment would be crafted in response to the telecommunications infrastructure Bill. That has been addressed in neither the Minister’s reply nor the correspondence I have had with him and other departments involved in this. Indeed, at a previous meeting, not only was the Department for International Trade represented but the DCMS, Home Office and Foreign Office. I have done my best to try to weave this across government departments and to get a response from all the Ministers involved.
We have an opportunity inside this legislative vehicle. I will not pretend that I have the skills or the ability to craft amendments in ways that overcome the bureaucratic hurdles that the Minister referred to a few moments ago. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, say that he thought this was an innovative use of the courts. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, talked about this as being a different way of approaching the issue. Others have talked about the astute nature of the amendment in trying to navigate these difficult waters.
When the Minister says that he has unequivocal opposition to genocide in all its forms and that is the Government’s position, I do not doubt that. I applaud it. I referred earlier to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the unequivocal stand that he has taken on these issues. But the question for me, therefore, is: what can we do about it? It is almost as though the spirit—the shadow—of Raphael Lemkin has been here throughout the debate. My noble friend Lady Falkner was the first to mention Lemkin, but so did the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others. Raphael Lemkin lost 49 of his relatives—49 people were murdered in the Holocaust who were direct relatives of his—and coined this word: genocide. It is not a word to be used lightly. Again, I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who made this point, rightly: it is not hyperbole. This is a word that should be used only in very extreme circumstances. That is why the amendment is crafted to do precisely that.
It is interesting that the Minister said that this was not a political decision but a judicial one. In my correspondence with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, this is an area about which we have disagreed because she herself has said that she thinks it should be a political decision. But the Government’s position is that it is a judicial one. Yet this gets us into the vicious circle I described earlier, where there is no competent court because of the vetoes used to prevent it being dealt with at an international level.
That takes me to the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. We were treated to an extraordinary, spellbinding and authoritative description by someone of huge standing. He told us at the conclusion of his remarks that this amendment will achieve its objective. However, he said that if refinement is necessary, he hopes that the Government will be willing to participate in providing it between now and Report. He said that it provides due process in accordance with the rule of law, and throughout the debate other noble Lords have commented on the importance of the rule of law in these circumstances. He also said that this is a very serious matter and that we have provided a mechanism in the amendment to tackle it. My noble and learned friend is a very wise man with huge judicial experience, and I hope that the Committee will take due note of what he said.
Everyone who has participated in the debate has made a valuable and interesting contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the immense inhumanity and suffering experienced by so many people, and he said that it should be written into the DNA of all our trade agreements that we should act accordingly when doing business. As others have done, he talked about the importance of our values and where they stand in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, reminded us that business has a duty to ensure that it does not profit from genocide. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said that morality and trade must walk hand in hand, and that we must hit where it hurts. My noble friend Lady Falkner reminded us not only of the origins of the word “genocide” but its implications in the way that we proceed in trying to deal with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said that the amendment would send a clear message. He talked about its symbolic importance and the creation of precedence. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us of the manipulation of international bodies. She specifically referred to the Human Rights Council, where even today more votes are taking place on its membership. It seems rather like the burglar and the watchdog becoming one and the same thing when China has such a leading role in an organisation of that kind.
I will conclude in a moment. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said that there are other egregious offences that we might also wish to deal with. I simply say to him that, if that were possible, I wish that we would. However, the man who tries to go everywhere ends up going nowhere, and the man who tries to catch every hare ends up catching none.
The amendment is carefully drafted for a specific and particular purpose, which is to try to catch those who have been responsible for the kinds of genocides that we have heard about—the historic genocides that have been mentioned in the debate and those being perpetrated in the world today. Yet, in the end, my view is that the stories will not determine events. If the amendment were agreed, the High Court of England and Wales would decide whether there was a case to be answered. In those circumstances, it would trigger the removal of the agreements that had been entered into, whether they were past agreements or not. Therefore, I remind your Lordships to look again at the wording of the recast amendment, which was drafted after listening very carefully to what the Minister said at an earlier stage.
I hope that, as we go away from the debate tonight, we will see this as the beginning of a continuing discussion with the Government. The Minister should surely see the political realities after hearing the spokesmen for the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats and people from the Cross Benches, and, perhaps even more importantly from his point of view, voices such as those of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Blencathra, and the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith MP, who is willing to co-sponsor this amendment in the House of Commons if it is incorporated into the Bill. Having seen and heard some of those realities, I hope that the Government will now work with us to iron out any imperfections in the amendment and to bring it back on Report in a better form. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 68 withdrawn.
Amendment 69 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 70. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press to a Division this or any other amendment in the group should make that clear in debate.
70: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade negotiations with the EU: adjustment period
It shall be an objective of Her Majesty’s Government in negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union to secure an implementation period after IP completion day, allowing industries with just-in-time supply chains, including the farming sector, to make business-critical changes.”
My Lords, I am delighted to speak to Amendments 70 and 95. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, had very much hoped to speak this evening, as he has very kindly co-signed the amendments, for which I thank him. One of the idiosyncrasies of our procedures meant that he was not able to get on to the right Marshalled List. I know that he will be following proceedings very closely and I thank him warmly for his support. I look forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Lansley speak to his amendment on free zones. Free ports are something that I support, and anything that we can do to increase people’s understanding of free ports and the fact that we could join and create as many free ports as we liked while we were members of the European Union is all to the good.
The purposes of Amendments 70 and 95 are straight- forward. They look to introduce a short period of adjustment following the end of the formal transition period at the end of this year, particularly in relation to any free trade agreements with the EU, but also with our economic partnership agreements and rollover agreements under the Bill. This would allow industries in the farming sector to make business-critical changes following the outcome of these negotiations. Also, for business viability, it refers to the introduction of measures to facilitate trade with our partners, both in the EU in a future trading agreement and our current economic partners, with the EEA, EFTA and others, in the rollover and continuity categories of agreements. Also, again, it looks to the minimisation of compliance costs for the farming sector, including minimising veterinary checks and physical inspections on large volumes of food products moving between the UK and our partners, particularly the EU.
I know that many of these issues were touched on in the earlier amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, so I take this opportunity to stress that we are dealing here with perishable goods, particularly fresh meat and produce. This is a particular source of concern to the British poultry business, which hopes that we will continue to have tariff-free access to the EU market to ensure quality, affordable British food. We should realise how important poultry is as an industry: more than half the meat we eat in the UK is poultry and 1 billion birds are reared for meat every year. The UK is the fourth largest producer of poultry meat in the EU and is about 60% self-sufficient.
We are very heavily dependent on trade. It is generally understood that, for trading purposes, your closest market is your best market, because obviously the cost of transport will be lower, and with this being fresh produce and, as I said, perishable, it is extremely important that we remove as many barriers as possible.
These are intended to be probing amendments, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie, when he comes to sum up, will be able to put my mind at rest that it will be part of an objective in negotiating trade and continuity agreements as well as any eventual agreement with the EU to secure such an implementation period, allowing industries with just-in-time supply chains, including the farming sector, to make these business-critical changes.
I am acutely aware of the impact of this particularly on the Northern Irish border with the Republic of Ireland, so any light that my noble friend can shed on this would be extremely helpful. Equally, when I ask, in Amendment 95, to look at
“the minimisation of veterinary checks and physical inspections on large volumes of food products”,
I am aware of the shortage of veterinary scientists in this country. Has my noble friend and his department addressed this in this regard?
I therefore seek to achieve a commitment that the trade will be as frictionless and seamless as possible, as we were promised when we decided to leave the European Union. This will continue to be the case with the EEA, EFTA and the EU. With those few remarks, I beg to move Amendment 70.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity, in this group, to follow my noble friend Lady McIntosh. She will forgive me if I do not speak to her two amendments but instead confine myself to Amendment 93 in my name, which relates to free zones and free ports. These are essentially the same thing; they are called free zones in the legislation that establishes the procedure for making them.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the debate on 4 February 2019 on the previous Bill that was brought forward. I had a debate whose purpose was to propose a consultation on the future designation of free zones; of course, there were and are no free zones. The Minister at the time, my noble friend Lord Bates, replied to me on that subject then. I was asking for a consultation, and he said that he was not able to offer one but that
“The idea has been advocated”—[Official Report, 4/2/19; col. 1349.]
by himself and a number of others in the north-east, including the local MP Rishi Sunak. I see that time has moved on.
I am raising the same subject but do not need to ask for a consultation on the part of the Government, because they have now had one and are readying themselves, I hope, to respond to the product of that consultation. Back in February 2019, my noble friend said at the end:
“I am not able to be more helpful than that to my noble friend at this point, much as I may wish to be”.—[Official Report, 4/2/19; col. 1349.]
So I am looking to my noble friend on the Front Bench again today to be as helpful as he wishes to be.
What is the point of my amendment now, if it is not to have such a consultation? It is to do two things related to the legislation which establishes free zones. The Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 sets out the relevant power: it is a power to be made by order by Treasury Ministers. As far as I could tell, having taken advice in this matter, it is an order-making power exercisable by Treasury Ministers which, because it is not in the form of a regulation, is not subject to any parliamentary procedure. However, if we were to adopt my amendment, we could make it
“subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament”.
Otherwise, it would not have a parliamentary procedure, which would mean that it would not be possible for either House to pray against an order if it felt that there was something wrong in the designation of areas.
The other thing my amendment says is that, before making such an order designating an area as a free zone,
“the Treasury must consult persons whom they consider representative of those people and enterprises situated in the area to be designated.”
I completely understand that there is a degree of bureaucratic burden involved in this. The Treasury has had a consultation about free zones and many organisations have responded to it. The Treasury will come forward with a proposal to designate certain areas, not necessarily coastal ports—for example, they might include Heathrow or a number of airports. Geographically, they could in fact be anywhere in the country. The point is that when it does that, having received what is in effect an application from a location to have a free zone, the application may not necessarily have carried with it the consent and approval of the people living in such an area.
I cannot see why they would necessarily object, but it is always a principle to say that, if an area is going to be designated for these purposes, the Treasury should have satisfied itself that the people living in that area will have been consulted about such a designation. So the Treasury and the Government are making progress on free zones, and this might be an opportunity for my noble friend to inform us about the progress of that exercise and, I hope, to respond by suggesting that for the future it would be good to proceed in the way that my amendment proposes.
My Lords, I will speak only to Amendment 70 in this group. We voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016 and that has been confirmed several times. We have left the EU but are currently in a one-year implementation period, which expires at the end of this calendar year. I do not believe that any further implementation period is needed, and I particularly do not think that one is needed in the context of an agreement with the EU.
The amendment says it shall be an objective in negotiating a trade agreement with the EU to secure a further implementation period—clearly ignoring the fact that we have already legislated for no further implementation period. But, if there were any issues, they would be most likely to bear on people who are exporting under WTO terms after the end of this year. So the amendment is not going to achieve the effect of helping those with complex supply chains, because those with complex supply chains who are expecting the arrangements with the EU, as part of a free trade agreement, to deliver the certainty they require will be of a much smaller order of magnitude than in the context of having no deal. We know that the Government want to achieve a deal, but it is not yet clear that we will be able to do so—so I could never support Amendment 70.
My Lords, I rise as someone with many years of experience in supply chains, including just-in-time supply chains. This area is often a problem in trade agreements, and indeed in the operation of such free trade agreements. I remember all the difficulties affecting our shoppers when quotas and rows between the EU and China held up bras and shoes on the high seas—not perishable, but as important as chicken for many of us. Food is trickier than goods, as noble Lords will remember from strikes affecting Channel crossings and the Icelandic ash cloud.
The point I want to make is that EU exit, or any continuity or future trade agreements, are likely to lead to changes in supply chains. We should embrace this, and I am afraid that I am not convinced that we need Amendments 70 and 95.
My own view is that the combination of more border checks, whether we agree a deal on trade with the EU and EEA or not—that is the reality—will change trade flows. New FTAs will bring changes in tariff schedules, rules of origin and perhaps new provisions on standards. This could be a huge opportunity at home for British industries and parts of British agriculture, as buyers turn to home production to avoid the complexities. Of course, they will also face competition, but I know from experience as a business executive that competition makes business sharper and better.
There may be a need for some transitional arrangements in EU or other FTAs—fisheries is an obvious area—and even help for small firms wrestling with new checks. But we should not seek an additional transition period with the EU, as my noble friend Lady Noakes has just said. We should not try to preserve existing systems in aspic, however good the intentions of those debating this Bill today. We will do much better if we lead the way in embracing the opportunities of EU exit and of new trade agreements.
My Lords, I shall speak first, briefly, to linked Amendments 70 and 95, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I note that a Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, today found himself getting some attention for a claim that traders were taking a “head-in-the-sand” approach to trade post Brexit. I do not think that I could do better in response than quote the chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation:
“If any traders have their head in the sand it’s because, after many frustrating months awaiting critical answers, they probably think it’s more likely they’ll find those answers in the sand than they will from the Government.”
That was coming from an organisation which is not, I think it would be fair to say, a natural critic of the Government. I hope that the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, do not accurately reflect the view of the Government, and in particular that they do not indicate that they do not understand the extremely difficult position of small businesses, with so much else to deal with at the moment. We do not want to risk seeing them battered further on an uneven playing field by larger firms that are more likely to have the resources to react—something to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, just alluded.
I want to speak mostly to Amendment 93, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I appreciate the chance to support an amendment in his name, since we have had some disagreement on other elements of this Bill. I think that this is the first time that the issue of free zones has come up in this Committee, and I want to express the Green group’s strong opposition to the whole concept, noting that there were seven free ports in the UK at various points between 1984 and 2012 and that they were seen to have failed. Going back to the 1980s is surely not the answer for today.
I also note that the European Greens have been strong in their opposition, highlighting the links of free ports and free enterprise zones to tax avoidance, as exposed in the Madeira papers. To quote the historian, Quinn Slobodian, what they do is
“splinter the world into jurisdictions engaged in a constant competition to attract multinational companies, locking nations into a global ‘place war’ to offer businesses the most enticing incentives and the lowest labour costs.”
However, today we are mostly focusing not on the principle but on what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has created in his amendment, which is at least the chance of some democratic oversight and, crucially, a commitment to some local consultation. I would like to see in this amendment both a stronger position on local consultation and national oversight, noting that the impact is not only in the immediate area but in other economically similar areas, which are likely to see a loss of business and jobs to new zones. However, I hope we can return to that on Report. I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response and perhaps what plans the Government have, particularly on local consultation and oversight, if they wish to push ahead with this revival of an old, neoliberal failure.
My Lords, when I saw this grouping, I hoped that these speeches would identify the golden thread that linked them together. There is not one, so I will speak to them separately. I will talk to Amendment 93, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, before coming to the other two.
I, too, agree with the noble Lord’s conjecture that there should be some parliamentary process that brings these free zones into being. I am not a fan of them, and I do not think our party is either. We think that they tend to move activity around rather than create new or larger activity, but that is not the point that we are here to debate, which is how these things are brought about and approved. I do not know about your Lordships, but I have been involved in a hell of a lot of statutory instruments in the past while, and they seem to be on some very big issues and some very trivial issues. It seems that there is no allergy in your Lordships’ House to taking on statutory instruments and trying to make decisions. Therefore to add a few more—I guess there would be a few free zones—does not seem a hugely controversial issue.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about applications coming in that had not had any form of local consultation, I can give him one idea of where people might object. There will almost certainly be planning things that will happen subsequent to the creation of a free zone, unless it is already an industrial zone. If you look at the sprawl outside airports, you start to see distribution centres and warehousing and all sorts of planning things. If I was a local resident living on the edge of or just outside somewhere that wanted to be a free zone, I would start to worry about some of those kinds of issues. So traditional planning issues would come forward—some would call them nimby and others straightforward—which would create problems, and do so for local politicians if not national ones. I am therefore very supportive of Amendment 93.
On Amendments 70 and 95, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that it would not work, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said that manufacturers and so on need to embrace change. They may be right in both those instances, but I should caution a little compassion for the individuals concerned who are trying to make a business work. They are trying to do so when they still do not know what the rules are and in the face of all sorts of other pressures, not least Covid but also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said, immense international pressure and price pressure on what they are trying to do. Therefore, while the noble Baronesses might be right, I ask them, and in particular the Minister, to approach this with some compassion. Change is easy enough for some people. My father milked cows. You do not suddenly go from producing milk to producing pork pies overnight. Those kinds of changes can and do happen, but they do not happen at the turn of the year, when, eventually, the rules emerge.
I have one final point. Perhaps all of us could spend some time reading the latest edition of the GB-EU border operating model. I think my colleague my noble friend Lord Purvis, has mentioned it before. It should be compulsory reading for everyone working on this Bill. It is 138 pages, and every page has a list of at least 10 to 20 things that have either been changed or inserted in the latest edition, which was published last week. These are the things these people who have to change or get on with it have to embrace. It is hugely difficult to understand; it is a massive issue. So, the helpful slogan
“The UK’s new start: let’s get going”
is somewhat missing the point.
There is a huge amount to be done between now and the turn of the year, and the Government and the people in this Chamber need to have some air of understanding the extent to which it is threatening people’s livelihoods and putting them under pressure. These amendments are just two ways of trying to alleviate that. Overall, there has to be a wider understanding of the role of government in getting businesses past this huge change which is happening.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for their amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, this is a slightly big reach for a group, but it has been worthwhile because we have had a bit of a fishing expedition dressed up as amendments and out of that have come a few fish, so that is quite good. It will be interesting to hear the Minister try to respond in full measure to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and I am certainly looking forward to that.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has discovered a whole new area of interest with this identification of powers held by Treasury Ministers that are not subject to parliamentary approved procedure. That does sound a little exciting, even at this late stage of the day. We have primary and secondary legislation and now we have tertiary legislation. Perhaps, the noble Lord could speculate when he comes to respond how many more powers are buried deep in arcane laws and subplots that we have yet to discover. I look forward to hearing from him.
My Lords, I do not know about fishing expeditions, but let me turn to Amendment 70 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering regarding securing an adjustment period with the EU after the end of the transition period. The Government have been clear, and I have made it clear today and on many occasions over the past few months, as has my noble friend Lord Grimstone, that our priority is to ensure we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021. We want a relationship with the EU that is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and is centred on free trade. As I have said today, that is what we are pursuing.
At the second meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee in June, the Government formally notified the EU that they would neither accept nor seek any extension to the transition period. The moment by when an extension could be agreed has now passed. The transition period will end on 31 December 2020, as enshrined in UK law. Any extension would only defer the moment at which we are in charge of our own destiny. An extension to the transition period would also bind us into future EU legislation without having any say in designing it, but still having to foot the bill as we would still have to make payments into the EU budget. We need to be able to design our own rules in our best interests without the constraints of following EU rules.
The “The UK new start: let’s get going” campaign clearly sets out the actions people and businesses need to take to prepare for the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. I took note of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and he is right to highlight these matters, but I reassure him that businesses have no excuse for not knowing about the matters that need to be addressed. Over the coming weeks, we will be intensifying our engagement with businesses to ensure they are well-prepared to seize the opportunities it will bring.
I turn to Amendment 93. If there is a theme to this short debate, it has been the considerable comment made by a few Peers about free ports or free zones. As one noble Lord said, they are one and the same thing. I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his foresight in this area; it was during the 2017-19 Bill that my noble friend raised the issue of free zones, as I remember—and I remember the response from my noble friend Lord Bates at the time. I warmly welcome his support for the Government’s policy in this area.
The Government plan to introduce up to 10 free ports across the UK. I have to disagree with the general sentiments raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, because these will be national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK. They can attract new businesses and spread jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities up and down the country. Specific locations will be chosen according to a fair, open and transparent allocation process, which will include significant input from the port, local authority, local enterprise partnership, local businesses, and other local partners, ensuring robust consultation with the local area.
As my noble friend Lord Lansley highlighted, the Government ran a consultation on their free ports proposals earlier this year, and a response was published by the Treasury on 7 October that sets out the final policy in detail. Further policy on the allocation process, including a clear bidding prospectus setting out what free ports will offer and how interested parties may apply, will be announced by the Treasury in due course. I hope that my noble friend will agree that this is my helpful response; the narrative of this story has not quite finished.
My noble friend also raised the issue of the use of free zones in combination with other initiatives, such as enterprise zones. This is an important point, which I am sure that the aforementioned Chancellor and my colleagues in the Treasury have heard.
I turn to the new clause proposed in Amendment 95 by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which seeks to grant powers to reduce costs for the farming sector of complying with legislation related to the import and export of goods, including through minimising veterinary checks and physical inspections. We should be clear that government is already taking all necessary steps to support the farming sector after the end of the transition period. However, first we should highlight that export checks are set by trade partners as a condition of market access, and it is not within the Government’s gift to change these. In relation to import checks, we already carry out important physical checks on EU imports of live animals, and from January 2021 these will continue to be carried out at destination.
Secondly, the Government are committed to supporting businesses at the border after the end of the transition period. An updated publication of the Border Operating Model is now available for businesses and the agricultural sector, while the Government are holding a series of trader readiness forums open to just-in-time businesses. In addition, the Government are planning a series of seminars to support the agricultural sector through any new changes. Of course, noble Lords will be keenly aware of the support that we hope to provide to the agricultural sector through the Agriculture Bill, which, as noble Lords know only too well, is currently proceeding through the Houses.
I recognise my noble friend’s intention to support key businesses at the border, but I assure him that the appropriate actions are already taking place, and that it is important for legislation, such as this Trade Bill, to be passed to grant businesses security and continuity after the end of the transition period. In light of these explanations, I would ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.
My Lords, I have received a request from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to speak after the Minister.
The Minister said in his repudiation of, or comments on, my points that businesses have no excuse for not knowing what they have to do. At the end of what I said, I asked for some empathy, and I do not think that that is a particularly empathetic response. I shall give two excuses that they might have. One is that dozens of those rules were published only last week and the other is that they might be quite busy trying to keep their businesses alive in the middle of a global pandemic.
The noble Lord makes a very good point and I hope that he will not take this as being unempathetic; I am just making a point that focuses particularly on Brexit and the transition period. Putting aside the obvious huge problems that businesses are facing at the moment, there has been more than enough time—four years—for businesses to prepare. We have done our best to support them during this period.
My Lords, I think my noble friend was doing quite well until that last remark. Saying “four years to prepare” when we have not even heard what the situation will be on the Northern Ireland border is not quite the approach I would have hoped for. My noble friend did not answer the question about the number of available vets. This is a source of great anxiety to many, particularly those with livestock as well as products crossing the border. I hope that my noble friend will be able to put my mind at rest on that at some point.
I agree entirely with what my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe said with regard to home-produced substitutions. To a certain extent, that should already be happening given that those involved in home-produced food have come into their own during Covid; other priorities are maintaining our existing markets and opening up third-country markets for trade in poultry, other meat and breeding stock.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who said that it is all very well to embrace change, but businesses need to know what that change is before they can do so. Certainly, all the evidence that we have heard as recently as this September, along with a letter that we have followed up with a different department, Defra, as regards the rules for the checks and controls on the borders, make it incumbent on us to get information out as best we can.
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate these issues. I have listened to what my noble friend Lord Lansley said. I just hope that we do not get to the situation that we can see in Luxembourg, which has almost more free zones than it has territory. If my memory is correct, Luxembourg has a very large number of free ports in comparison with the size of that state. However, I find it difficult to share in the enthusiasm of realising our destiny until such time as I am 100% sure of what our destiny will be. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.
Amendment 70 withdrawn.
My Lords, we come now to the group commencing with Amendment 71. I remind noble Lords that anyone who wishes to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and that anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
71: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade agreements involving health and care technology
(1) Regulations under section 2(1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the condition in subsection (2) is met in relation to the agreement.(2) The condition in this subsection is that any agreement which relates to trade in medical algorithms, technology or devices must explicitly allow, in the case of any traded algorithm or data-driven technology which could be deployed as a medical device, for the methodology for processing sensitive data to be independently audited or scrutinised for potential harm by an appropriate regulatory body in the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would ensure that traded data-driven medical devices which recommend or inform treatment and care would not be beyond scrutiny by an appropriate body.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, for the opportunity to speak today about trade agreements involving healthcare data and technology and, in moving Amendment 71, I shall speak also to Amendment 72 in this group.
Noble Lords will be aware that I am a long-standing advocate for the use of patient data to provide better healthcare, and some will know that my motivation is personal to the extent that the treatment of my sister, before she passed away, very sadly, was impacted by the poor flow of healthcare information. Therefore, noble Lords can rest assured that in tabling these two amendments I do not seek to restrict the free flow of data or to introduce obstacles to vital research and innovation. I do, however, wish to guarantee patient safety in our increasingly data-driven health service and, allied to that, continued government control of publicly funded healthcare data as we move beyond the transition period post Brexit to forge new trading relationships.
The noble Lords, Lord Bassam, Lord Patel and Lord Fox, drew attention to the need to protect data controlled by the NHS in the context of trade agreements in their contributions to this Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, also sought protections for
“publicly funded health and care services.”
Here, however, I am recommending that specific protections be included in the Bill. These are required first and foremost because the circumstances we find ourselves in at present are such that none can doubt the need to prioritise the safety of the public, as new treatments and technologies are developed in the face of the Covid pandemic and will be traded under both existing and new agreements that Her Majesty’s Government might enter into with other countries. They are also required because publicly funded health data processing services and IT systems for which NHS England and NHS Improvement, or NHS Digital, have overarching responsibility may or may not be regarded as “health and care services” in the context of trade agreements.
The effect of Amendment 71 would be to introduce a new clause to the Trade Bill to ensure that any source code or algorithm underpinning traded medical devices, which might recommend or inform treatment and care, is not beyond scrutiny by an appropriate body—thereby enshrining in law the Government’s commitment to patient safety. It reflects concerns that inclusion of provisions akin to those outlined in Article 19.16 of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement might be requested of the UK Government in future, if that has not already been the case in its negotiations with the Japanese Government over recent weeks—as has been reported by the media—and others who might assist the UK in acceding to the CPTPP. Here, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, last week in Grand Committee that the Bill amounts to continuation legislation, but the lack of transparency regarding trade negotiations and access to the detailed text of existing trade deals, to which the UK is a party, is such that noble Lords cannot be assured of the position that the Government have and will otherwise agree.
Many nations are increasingly adopting a more protectionist stance to technology, treating source code as a trade secret. At times, this approach is extended to algorithms. In the case of medical device technology, this is a serious concern that has the potential to put patient safety at risk where such code cannot readily be scrutinised. During the Second Reading of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, the Minister for Innovation, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, assured us that patient safety is his top priority in introducing legislation designed to protect the public while stimulating healthcare innovation. I urge noble Lords to adopt an equally rigorous approach in establishing a framework for our future trading relations. There must be no trade-off between patient safety and the desire to see the UK become among the best places in the world to develop, test and deploy an array of next-generation medical devices.
The effect of Amendment 72 would be to introduce a further clause to the Bill. Subsection (2) would protect publicly funded data processing services and IT systems for which NHS England and NHS Improvement, or NHS Digital, have overarching responsibility from any form of control outside the UK.
Subsection (3) would ensure that Her Majesty’s Government retain control of access to healthcare data for the purposes of research, planning and innovation, consistent with its own policy framework and associated regulations. This would include the national data opt-out, which exists to safeguard patient privacy, and its Code of Conduct for Data-Driven Health and Care Technology, particularly principle 10, which governs the derivation of fair benefits for the NHS in respect of the research and commercial usage of publicly funded healthcare data.
The amendments that I have tabled offer specific protections that pertain to the scrutiny of data-driven medical device technology in the interests of patient safety and control over publicly funded healthcare data processing services and IT systems. The Government have recently published their National Data Strategy, which champions the use of data to
“transform our public services and dramatically improve health outcomes nationally.”
For this strategy to be a success, it is crucial that the Government take back and retain control of their ability to make policies, regulate and provide medicines, medical devices and data processing services that safeguard and enhance the health of the nation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, to protect the healthcare data generated by the NHS as well as the safety and rights of the patients and citizens it exists to serve. I commend the way in which he introduced these amendments.
I have spoken on Second Reading and earlier in Committee about the need for data adequacy to ensure that personal data transfers to third countries outside the EU are protected in line with the principles of the GDPR. By the same token, we must protect NHS data, especially given the many transactions between technology, telecoms and pharma companies concerned with NHS data. Harnessing the value of healthcare data must be allied with ensuring that adequate protections are put in place in trade agreements if that value is not to be given or traded away.
Amendments 71 and 72 would introduce clauses to the Bill to help guarantee patient safety where the data-driven medicines and medical technologies feature in a trade agreement. These are products and services that are bound to grow in number and novelty in the future, as a direct result of both the ongoing Covid-19 health emergency and the accelerated use of new technologies. Given the number of healthcare-related amendments that have been discussed in Committee, it is very clear that there are fundamental concerns about protection of the NHS and the safety, efficacy and cost of the healthcare services that it delivers. There is the potential for the Government to lose control at precisely the moment they propose to take it back. That is why I have put my name to, and support, Amendments 71 and 72.
In July, in the case of Schrems II, the European Court of Justice ruled that the privacy shield framework, which allows data transfers between the US, the UK and the EU, is invalid. That has been compounded by the recent ECJ judgment this month in the case brought by Privacy International. In future, data exporters will have to rely on standard contractual clauses. Relying on standard contractual clauses in healthcare is simply not acceptable. Relevant to Amendment 72 in particular, there is a common assumption that, apart from any data adequacy issues, data stored in the UK is subject only to UK law. This is not the case: in March 2018, the US Government enacted the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, or CLOUD Act, which allows law enforcement agencies to demand access to data stored on servers hosted by US-based tech firms, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google, regardless of the data’s physical location and without issuing a request for mutual legal assistance. In practice, data might be resident in the UK, but it is still subject to US law.
Data cannot, therefore, simply be considered UK sovereign, and it is notable that Amazon Web Services gave a full response to more than 1,259 subpoenas, search warrants and court orders between January and June of this year. AWS’s own terms and conditions, which form part of its agreements with the UK Government, do not commit to keeping data in the region selected by government officials if AWS is required by law to move the data elsewhere in the world. Key and sensitive aspects of government data, such as security and access rules, usage policies and permissions, may also be transferred to the US without Amazon having to seek advance permission. Similarly, AWS has the right to request customer data and provide support services from anywhere in the world.
The Cabinet Office Government Digital Service team, which sets the Government’s digital policy, gives no guidance on where government data should be hosted. It simply states that all data categorised as official —the vast majority of government data, but including law enforcement, biometric and patient data—is suitable for the public cloud, and instructs its own staff simply to use AWS, with no guidance given on where the data must be hosted. The costs of AWS varies widely, depending on the region selected—and the UK is one of the most expensive regions. Regions are physically selected by the technical staff, rather than the procurement team or the security team. I should say that Amazon Web Services has a contract with NHSX, so that should be set in this context.
The free flow of data across borders, in principle, is of crucial importance, as the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, said. However, I hope this example illustrates that control of policy and regulation as to what that data is and who it is shared with should be retained by the UK Government. In fact, that is not even enough existing control over government data. In particular, retention of control over health data, health service planning, and research and innovation is vital if the UK is to maintain its position as a leading life sciences economy and innovator. That is what these amendments would ensure.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, is to be congratulated on bringing these amendments to the forefront of our discussions and considerations, not least because, as he said, at the heart of them is an attempt to guarantee patient safety. That should be a paramount reason for giving them the active consideration we are.
As the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, said, there is a significant value to NHS data for a number of reasons: expanding research, testing technology, better under- standing of diseases and, of course, improving treatments. The fiscal value of NHS data cannot be underlined strongly enough—imagine its value if an insurance company were to find, for instance, access to data concerning test, track and trace.
The value of all this data is estimated to be around £10 billion a year, but, as I have mentioned before, the Bill in its current form could allow UK data to be moved to servers in America and stop the NHS being able to analyse its own health data without paying royalties. We should not pretend that tech companies and US drug giants do not recognise the value of all this data; the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has given ample voice to that argument.
Last year, it was revealed that pharma companies Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly paid the Government for licences costing up to £330,000 each, in return for anonymised health data. The Government, as has been said earlier, have also given Amazon access to healthcare information, and DeepMind was given access to the data of 1.6 million patients at the Royal Free Hospital.
As we have touched on before in a previous group, Labour supports protecting the NHS, including its data and publicly funded health and care services, from any form of control from outside the UK in trade deals. I have already pulled out the inconsistencies in the Government’s position. They say the NHS is not on the table in trade talks, but they will not put protections on the face of the Bill. What have they got to hide? They do not want to improve scrutiny mechanisms for trade agreements, and I think we should be concerned and highly worried about that.
I am not the only one to recognise this: more than 400 doctors and health professionals have urged the Government to amend the Bill and ensure that health services are not on the table in future trade deals. They have also argued that free trade deals risk compromising the safe storage and processing of NHS data. Let us commit in statute to protecting our beloved NHS in trade deals and making sure we can use valuable data to provide the most cutting-edge care for patients here in the UK.
My Lords, I will address Amendments 71 and 72, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Freyberg. I express my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, having heard the background to his interest in health data. Before I turn to the detail of these amendments, I hope I made clear on the second day of Committee the Government’s absolute commitment that the NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.
I have heard your Lordships’ concerns that medical data or access to suitable medicines may be affected by our programme of trade agreements. I am pleased to reassure your Lordships that this is not the case. As noble Lords know, the NHS is usually protected through a range of exceptions, exclusions and reservations in trade agreements. The Government will continue to ensure that the same rigorous protections are included in future trade agreements, safeguarding the NHS against the privatisation that we are often accused of plotting. Our published negotiating mandates for the US, Australia and New Zealand make the Government’s commitment to the NHS crystal clear: it is not for sale.
We need the powers in this Bill to provide continuity of trading relationships with existing partners, avoiding disruption for businesses and consumers. Our continuity programme does not seek to change the way in which public services or health services are delivered. None of the 21 agreements we have signed has had any substantive effect on the way in which health services will be provided.
Amendment 71 stipulates that regulations could be made using Clause 2 of the Trade Bill only if they allowed for the scrutiny of medical algorithms, technology or devices with respect to the methodology for the processing of sensitive data. I reassure your Lordships that before any medical device can be placed on the UK market, it must have been assessed as complying with the Medical Devices Regulations 2002. These regulations cannot be superseded by a trade negotiation without further legislation.
The MHRA is the designated competent authority that administers and enforces the law on medical devices in the UK. At the end of the transition period, the role of the MHRA in the UK will be the same as now. It will retain sovereignty over all aspects of medical device regulation in the UK, regardless of any FTAs agreed. Furthermore, the Government are clear that health and care data should only ever be used and/or shared where used lawfully, treated with respect, held securely and where the right safeguards are in place. The UK’s high standards of data protection will be maintained in all trade agreements. In other words, these are decisions for Parliament and Parliament alone. Your Lordships, and colleagues in the other place, will have full oversight over continuity agreements through the use of the affirmative procedure for any regulations made relating to medical devices.
I turn to Amendment 72. This stipulates that regulations could be made using Clause 2 of the Trade Bill only if they do not restrict our ability to process and manage patient, public health and social care data, and if they contain an explicit exclusion of investor-state dispute settlement for access to medical data. No trade agreements, whether with continuity partners or new FTAs, will affect our ability to decide which services involve private providers. The Government are acutely aware of the strength of feeling on these issues in this House and of our colleagues in the other place. I repeat: the NHS is not, and never will be, on the table, not least because your Lordships would not allow it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that it is absolutely crucial that data is always protected to the highest standards, including when the NHS enters into partnerships with research and commercial organisations. NHS organisations must continue to meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability and ensure that partnerships have explicit benefits to patients and people in the UK. Decisions made about the use of health and care data will prioritise patient and public benefit and ensure that data is kept safely and securely.
As I have said before, none of the 21 agreements we have signed makes any provision for investor-state dispute settlement in the UK. However, because our signed agreements do not have explicit exclusions relating to ISDS for patient data, this amendment would force us to return to negotiations with all 21 partners and seek the introduction of this exclusion. This cannot be a proportionate step.
I have confirmed to your Lordships that our health service will be protected through trade negotiations. However, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which will also progress through Committee in this House in the coming weeks, may be a suitable vehicle if your Lordships consider that further reassurances on this technical subject are required. I would be happy to facilitate a conversation to that effect if it would be helpful.
I hope that these reassurances will give your Lordships confidence that the NHS will not be harmed by our trade agreements and that the amendment can therefore be withdrawn.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister so I call the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. I will take him up on his offer to facilitate further discussions on the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill.
I take the point that the Government prize the privacy, safety and security of citizens above all else, including their data rights, and have not and would never relinquish control of policy-making or regulation in respect of the same. However, the Minister will be aware that the pandemic has given rise to significant emergency powers on healthcare data, which the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has made plain are required to combat the virus.
He also indicated that the Government mean to retain some of those powers in future, which implies additional responsibilities to steward healthcare data in an ethical manner resting with central government for the foreseeable future. Without Amendment 72, I do not see how the Minister could commit to doing so, since it is clearly necessary for the Government to retain the ability to assess and audit any and every medical algorithm, technology, device and use of data for the delivery of safe, effective and lawful care to their citizens, free from commercial, state or any other limitations on the UK’s sovereign control.
The Minister also mentioned the continuity legislation; as such, provisions to protect the NHS are not required, because existing trade deals already provide such protections. Where such provisions might exist for health and care services, they are distinct from data-driven products in the form of medical devices—which are the subject of a dedicated Bill that is also making its way through Parliament, as the Minister just said—and data-processing services and IT systems for which the NHS has overarching responsibility. The former are widely anticipated to grow in number and novelty as a direct result of the pandemic, and the primacy of patient safety should therefore be reflected in the Bill. The latter are in the news daily—not always for the best reasons. The reliance of the UK economy on them is now such that I am sure the Minister would agree that it is imperative that Her Majesty’s Government retain control of and sovereignty over them.
I shall take back what the Minister has said and reflect on it further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 71 withdrawn.
Amendments 72 to 76A not moved.
Clauses 3 to 5 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 77. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and that anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 6: Provision of advice, support and assistance by the TRA
77: Clause 6, page 4, line 22, at end insert—
“( ) analysis of how proposed measures align with the United Kingdom’s environmental obligations in international law.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment provides that, when the Trade Remedies Authority provides the Secretary of State with advice, that advice includes analysis of how any trade remedy measures being proposed would align (or not) with the United Kingdom’s environmental obligations in international law.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, and Lady Kramer, who have added their names to my Amendment 77. I also welcome and support Amendment 83A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, which is in this group. In these amendments, we return to the discussions on how we align the UK’s future trade policy with our climate and environmental obligations. When we discussed these issues on the second day in Committee, there was considerable support from all Benches for such alignment and for ensuring that those obligations and targets were in no way undermined by future trade agreements.
The Minister was sympathetic to these objectives but argued that the previous amendments were unnecessary because the Bill was focused on continuity agreements. We may return to that debate as a later stage but, for now, Amendment 77 approaches the issue from a different perspective—that of the new Trade Remedies Authority, which is very much something for the future.
Amendment 77 aims to ensure that the trade dispute process and any advice and guidance given to the Secretary of State by the new Trade Remedies Authority factor in climate and environmental considerations. If the UK’s climate and environmental goals and obligations were omitted from the advice, discussions and negotiations surrounding a trade dispute, there is a real risk that the Secretary of State would not be considering all the impacts of any proposed trade remedy measure. Amendment 77 is one simple step that the Government can take to minimise the risks that could arise from narrowly focused trade policy and its impact on our environmental and climate goals.
The new Trade Remedies Authority will provide advice on trade remedies to the Secretary of State. Its aim is to protect domestic industries against injury caused by unfair trading practices such as dumping subsidies or unforeseen surges in imports. The Government have confirmed that one of the key roles of the Trade Remedies Authority will be to provide an assessment of the economic impact of a particular trade remedy. However, as well as the economic impact, it is vital that any assessment includes the impact that the proposed measures would have on the UK’s climate and environmental obligations under international law, such as the Paris Agreement.
Trade policy is about economic impacts, of course, but it is also about more than that, as the passionate debate on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, earlier this evening demonstrated only too clearly. Ensuring high environmental standards and entering into trade agreements that align with our climate and environmental goals clearly can bring additional economic and social benefits. Equally, a failure to factor in climate and environmental considerations when advising on a trade dispute could lead to unintended consequences.
If a proposed remedy were to cut across the UK’s climate and environmental goals, this would be highly relevant information and it would be essential that the Secretary of State were fully informed—and not just the Secretary of State; Parliament and the public would need to know as well. For that reason, I will be very supportive of Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about making advice from the TRA public, when we come to it.
This is a straightforward issue. It is about ensuring that a climate and environmental lens is put across the advice given by the Trade Remedies Authority on trade disputes. This Bill is currently silent on climate and the environment—the defining issue of our age. In the year leading up to COP 26, the importance of the UK showing climate leadership is clear. This amendment will be one small demonstration of our commitment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 77 in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Kramer. I also support Amendment 83A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
We have had lots of opportunities in this debate, and have rehearsed the environmental aspects at great length, but it is good to have another opportunity to remind the Minister of the strength of feeling on this issue. It is worth saying again that nothing is in a box, and so it is not appropriate to talk about trade and trade policy as only an economic manoeuvre. Trade has a huge impact on every aspect of our lives, from the price of tomatoes to how much pollution gets washed into our seas, and so we must be very responsible when we are a trading partner.
The Institute for Government, which calls itself
“the leading think tank working to make government more effective”
has raised some problems concerning our national environmental sustainability. It has been a year since we signed up to a zero-carbon target and we have just over a year until we host COP 26, when we will be held accountable for our progress, or lack of it, on the environment. At the moment, the UK is a long way off track, and there is no credible plan for meeting that zero-carbon target. Trade will be crucial in helping us to meet it. We have reduced emissions, particularly in the power sector, but emissions now need to fall in much more difficult sectors where progress has stalled. This will go to the heart of people’s lives. It is for us to ensure that we achieve these things, not from a point of view of some imaginary global perspective, but for the here and now, for everybody’s lives in the UK and globally.
The various impacts of climate change, including hotter summers and more severe flooding, have barely been acknowledged by this Government. A local firefighter recently told me that they now spend more time dealing with floods than with fires, yet the Government do not see fit to give them dedicated funding for that. This is a Government who are unable to see the interconnectedness of everything. There has been a dire lack of political leadership, but there is a way forward if we can develop a coherent plan which includes all our trade commitments, with emissions targets for each sector of our economy. This would give businesses some certainty, which at the moment they are missing.
We also need a consistent regulatory system for each sector, co-ordinated work across the whole of government —I nearly laughed when I said that—minimising the costs of transition to a zero-carbon economy and consent by public and politicians. That means being transparent and explaining what we are going to do, so that there is buy-in from everybody.
Finally, there must be effective scrutiny. When there is no scrutiny, mistakes are made. Scrutiny is what this House is for. We do the effective scrutiny to try to prevent the Government from making some gross errors.
This amendment would be a welcome addition to the Bill, but it needs the binding force of some of the amendments discussed earlier. This is an opportunity for the Minister to detail exactly how the Government will analyse the environmental impacts and obligations of trade agreements.
My Lords, this is an important amendment. On matters of the environment, there has been a lot of rhetoric and aspirational thought. There are international agreements to which we are, I hope, firmly signed up. However, the point about moving forward on the environment is that we need muscle. We should be talking far more about how our trade policy can assist in fulfilling our obligations under existing environmental policy. It is too easy to begin a process of erosion whereby, for reasons of rationalisation or whatever, we begin to backslide. The amendment is a step towards ensuring that that cannot happen.
Part of our obligation in environmental policy is to ensure that the burdens that fall and the challenges that come to third-world countries are given pride of place. For that reason, we must regard fulfilling our obligations towards third-world countries as very much part of fulfilling our environmental obligations. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for having introduced this amendment and it will certainly have my support.
My Lords, I apologise for being a late newcomer to Trade Bill proceedings, but other Bills and committees have conspired against my taking part thus far. I want to speak in favour of both these amendments and to explain Amendment 83A, in the name of my noble friend Lady Kramer and to which my name is added in the latest Marshalled List.
Whereas Amendment 77 relates to TRA advice, Amendment 83A relates to the economic interest test used as part of determining the final level of trade remedy measures. In the test, there is analysis of a range of socioeconomic matters in order to conclude whether the application of a trade remedy that is otherwise justified by virtue of dumping, subsidy or a surge in imports and that is causing harm to UK industry is also in the UK’s overall interest. Although the test broadly follows the EU’s Union interest test, as commented in the Brick Court Chambers blog on 24 September, it
“has the potential to play a strengthened and more prominent role than has been the case to date with the EU”.
I would add that, perhaps obviously, it can be more granular when applied to an individual country.
Under the economic interest test, the remedy can be diminished or set aside if stakeholder interests harmed by the remedy disproportionately outweigh those of the industry harmed, along with its related stakeholder effects. Amendment 83A requires that environmental obligations be part of that analysis. It is a probing amendment, not least because it would need to be put into Schedule 5, as well as Schedule 4, to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act in order to cover safeguarding measures as well, but I am sure that noble Lords understand the point.
Paragraph 25 of Schedule 4 to that Act lists the things that must be taken into account in the economic interest test. These are: industry, consumers, geographic areas, particular groups, the competitive environment and the structure of markets. Although there is a sweep-up provision enabling the TRA to consider anything that it considers relevant, the environment, with its unique importance—one could say for the future of everything—should surely have a place among the compulsory considerations.
By way of example, I recall discussions some time ago about solar panels and whether it is better to have cheap ones that everyone can afford, and hence greater deployment, or to have ones that protect an industry and jobs, and which will last better for the longer term, especially if the domestic industry goes. Added to that is the question of how you take account of carbon-dumping in the manufacture. Such socioeconomic wrangles are no simple matter, and there might not always be an environmental angle, but if this kind of weighing-up is to be done then environmental aspects should be in the mandatory checklist.
My Lords, I shall intervene briefly in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and speak to Amendment 77. We all know that carbon, and in particular net zero by 2050, are currently important political topics. I am afraid that, as far as many people are concerned, that is often where it starts and more or less where it ends, and thereafter it is thought to be something to do with the Government.
In recent months, in my capacity as chairman of the Cumbria local enterprise partnership, I have been involved on the fringe of how carbon policies should be developed and applied in the county. The key to doing that is to develop a language and accounting standards appropriate to accurately measuring the important aspects of the matter and then generating debate about it. The trouble is that to most people these things are at best unfamiliar, very often counterintuitive and almost incomprehensible.
We cannot, I believe, make serious progress in this area—to be serious, progress has to be accepted by the population at large—unless there is a widespread understanding and acceptance of these things in the same way as traditional accounting and economics are the basis of current politics. Green accounting and green economics will be as important as traditional accounting and economics. Indeed, they already are, and we are going through a revolution that is just getting under way. That has already been mentioned in the discussion about this amendment.
On top of that, if ever John Donne was right, it was when he said that no man is an island. I have been criticised by my scientist friends for saying that increasing the levels of carbon in the atmosphere is like putting the globe into a microwave. That may be bad science, but I think it makes the point. It is the globe that is the battlefield upon which this contest is fought, so it does not matter where the emissions originate; they impact everywhere. Therefore, as is frequently and rightly commented, how our economic life impacts both domestically and on the rest of the world is not simply a domestic issue, hence the importance of the amendment. I believe that it goes back to metrics, the language and engendering an understanding of the issues.
The crucial point about this particular topic is that it cannot be kept in a silo. Environmental policies and problems affect everyone around the globe. It is therefore very important that the Government take the lead in ensuring that these matters enter the general debate of political discourse, and it seems to me that what we are discussing with this amendment would be a very good place to start. We could begin to show that we are serious about what we are saying and to uphold our country’s credentials as one that is concerned about the environment.
My Lords, in speaking to the amendments I declare my interest as chair of the advisory committee of Weber Shandwick UK and as a non-executive director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
The Government’s policy on climate change, particularly their policy of net zero UK emissions by 2050, is a laudable one that is widely supported across this House, but regrettably one of its most notable features is the absence of any plan to achieve it. Just last week, in answer to a Question in the House from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about sponsorship of COP 26 and concern that oil companies among others might use it for a spot of greenwashing, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, told the House:
“We are looking for companies committed to reaching net zero by 2050 with a credible short-term action plan to achieve this.”—[Official Report, 6/10/20; col. 516.]
In view of that Answer, I asked him whether he did not think it was time that the Government themselves had a credible short-term action plan to meet that goal. He agreed that it was, but, sadly, that one does not exist, although it is promised—“shortly”, I think he said, which I am afraid did not give me much reassurance.
As a consequence, despite the Government’s welcome repeated commitment to the goal of net zero and their wider climate change policies, they consistently take actions that are incompatible with reaching it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, noted in moving this amendment, the Bill says nothing at all on climate change, which further underlines the lack of joined-up thinking in the Government’s approach. We need, therefore, to scrutinise very carefully every piece of legislation and every element of government policy to ensure we are making it easier, rather than harder, to reach our collective goal. Trade policy is no different. Consequently, we need to ensure that we have a proper assessment of our trade policy and its impact on our climate goals and our international obligations. As part of that assessment, we need to understand how trade remedy measures align with those international environmental obligations. Amendment 77, as we have heard, provides exactly that important analysis, and Amendment 83A addresses the economic interest test.
As my noble friend Lady Bowles said, it is important to ensure that the unique factor of climate change has a role in that economic test. In recent years, there has been a tendency, as noble Lords may be aware, for countries to resort increasingly to unilateral trade remedy measures, including against environmental goods—again, my noble friend Lady Bowles raised this issue. I give, as examples, Chinese measures against US and South Korean exports of polysilicon; EU measures against solar PV technologies, bicycles and biofuels; and US safeguard tariffs on solar cells and modules imported from China, as well as tariffs on Vietnamese and Chinese wind turbines. We have to have a way, in trade remedies, of ensuring that we are taking international and domestic environmental obligations into account. Therefore, I hope the Minister will address himself to these issues.
Given the late hour, I will not detain the Committee further, but these amendments raise very serious issues which I hope the Government will address.
My Lords, I, too, am extremely sympathetic to these amendments and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for bringing them forward. As she argued, trade policy is about much more than trade, and it is truly shocking that the Bill is currently completely silent on climate change and its impact on the environment.
These amendments would encourage the Trade Remedies Authority to take account of our environmental obligations and give advice to the Secretary of State accordingly. As colleagues have previously said, the issues of climate change and environmental protection should be central to all our future considerations of trade policy, but this goes totally unmentioned in the Bill.
Labour believes that achieving our environmental goals, including net zero by 2050, requires action across all areas of policy. For that reason, trade must be included in that, so the TRA should play its part, too. My question is very simple: can the Minister confirm how the TRA will take account of UK environmental obligations, and will he please enable it to give that advice to the Secretary of State?
My Lords, I have already spoken during the course of this Bill of the Government’s commitment to addressing the global environmental challenges that we face. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that we should continue to debate these very important matters, not just for the UK but for our whole planet. On this at least, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Jones and Lady Kramer, and I are in full agreement. However, we cannot accept the amendments, and it is incumbent on me to explain why.
Amendment 77, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Kramer, would create a new role for the TRA when it provides advice and support to the Secretary of State, by requiring it to analyse impacts on the UK’s international environmental obligations. This amendment would fundamentally change the function of the TRA, which is being established to act as the UK’s investigatory body for trade remedies. Its core role will be to determine whether to recommend imposing trade remedy measures, in accordance with the rules set out in the relevant WTO agreements. Its role does not and should not extend to providing expertise on the UK’s international environmental obligations. To do so would detract from its function as the UK’s investigatory body for trade remedies. This expertise lies elsewhere across other departments and NDPBs, and requiring the TRA to duplicate it is both unnecessary and wasteful.
I turn to Amendment 83A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, but spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted. The amendment would add further criteria to when the Trade Remedies Authority or the Secretary of State consider whether anti-dumping or anti-subsidy remedies meet the economic interest test. Specifically, it would require the UK’s environmental obligations to be taken into account, as far as they are relevant. As with the previous amendment, the primary focus of trade remedy cases is, and has to be, protecting domestic industry from injury where appropriate. Trade remedies cases are not the vehicle for progressing the UK’s domestic or global ambitions on environmental issues, although environmental implications could be considered by the Secretary of State as part of her consideration of whether the measure is in the public interest. On this basis, I would ask that the amendments be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who contributed to this short debate. Of course, I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. Ministers at the Dispatch Box—and I do not doubt their sincerity—talk about the Government’s commitments in this area, but we hear more talk about general commitment and less talk about specific actions. Time is running out; we are behind in our own targets for reaching net zero by 2050, and I maintain the view that, as legislators, it is important that we put a climate focus on every policy and piece of legislation. In the area of trade, with its international repercussions, there is an overwhelming argument for so doing. But perhaps we will revert to these issues, and the Bill’s silence on climate issues, at a future date. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 78. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate. I inform the Committee that if Amendment 78 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 79.
78: Clause 6, page 4, line 25, leave out from “TRA” to end of line 28 and insert—
“(c) protect the TRA’s operational independence and its ability to make impartial assessments when performing its functions.”
My Lords, under the Bill, the UK’s current Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate, part of the Department for International Trade, will be replaced at the end of transition by the Trade Remedies Authority. Responsibilities that fell to the European Commission under the common commercial policy during the years of our membership will be ours to decide, but in this arena no one acts in a vacuum. The TRA powers in the Bill reflect three separate agreements of the WTO: the agreement on the implementation of Article VI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, commonly known as the anti-dumping agreement; the agreement on subsidies and countervailing measures; and the agreement on safeguards.
However, how we position ourselves is not simple. The EU, for example, has in recent years made its own findings of significant distortions in exporting economies, and those decisions may be challenged in the dispute settlement proceedings of the WTO. Where will we in the UK position ourselves?
Our economy, whether the Government like it or not, is deeply interlinked with the EU economy, so that many actions against the EU will also encompass the UK. Some way will have to be found to co-operate with the EU, and, often, to synchronise trade remedies—or, frankly, businesses will be left in a completely impossible position. The European Commission has ongoing investigations in at least 20 cases, including multiple cases against China, the USA and India on goods ranging from steel and biodiesel to electric bicycles and tableware. It is also a complainant and, in other cases, a defendant in a number of cases in the WTO dispute resolution system that have consequences for the UK.
So it is crucial that the TRA is operationally independent and impartial in its assessments as it deals with complaints brought to it by industry or—I hope rarely—investigates concerns brought by the Secretary of State. But, if it is to have standing and credibility, it must be seen to be above international, electoral and party politics. Under the current Government, this is not easy, as illustrated by the article on “shaking up the state” in last week’s Financial Times. In discussing bodies such as the TRA, one of Boris Johnson’s allies is quoted as saying that
“Labour stuffed these bodies with their people; now it’s our turn.”
That is not an appropriate reputation for a body such as the Trade Remedies Authority.
I have done my best to trawl through this Bill, the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 and the raft of related SIs, but I have yet to find any unambiguous statement that the TRA is required to be operationally independent and impartial in its assessments. The Government might say that both are implied in clauses that deal with the behaviour of the Secretary of State towards the TRA. Those clauses include a “must have regard” in Part 2, and again in the “Guidance” paragraph of Schedule 4. However, |your Lordships will be aware that a “have regard” only sometimes has consequences. I have worked for years now with financial regulators who consider a “must have regard” as pretty light touch.