Tuesday 27 April 2021
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for the following debate is one and a half hours.
Turkey: Free Trade Agreement
Motion to Take Note
That the Grand Committee takes note of the Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Turkey, laid before the House on 24 February.
Relevant documents: 8th Report from the International Agreements Committee (special attention drawn to the agreement)
My Lords, it is a pleasure to move this take-note Motion on the UK-Turkey trade agreement, and in so doing I thank the Members who will participate in today’s debate. I note the breadth of experience that they bring on trade issues. I am also grateful to the committee for its report. The International Agreements Committee is one of the most valuable in the House at the moment, and it is serving a great role in drawing to our attention issues that we should debate. It is my pleasure to move this debate in accordance with the committee’s recommendation that we take note of the agreement.
I am also grateful to the Minister for keeping to his word in emailing me and keeping me informed of developments in his department, and I am grateful to his office, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, and the Government Whips’ Office for facilitating the debate in such good time. I am not used to that happening, and it will not go to my head—I reassure the Minister that I will not expect the Government to allow debate on any Motion within a week.
The agreement is now ratified. It was agreed on 29 December, so businesses did not have sight of it before it was operational two days later. This continuity agreement is unlike others in that it is temporary and the parties are committed to review it no later than two years after it enters into force—effectively 18 months from now—with the aim for an enhanced agreement covering services, agricultural goods, investment, subsidies, labour, sustainable development and climate. Given that the average time that it took the Government to make continuity agreements was over two years, it would be helpful to know what timescale they are working to for a full permanent agreement with Turkey.
The agreement also covers goods. Turkey is a relatively small but important trading partner with us. ONS data published on 13 April shows that, in 2020, we exported £4.8 billion of goods to Turkey, down from £5.4 billion in 2019, and imported £8.2 billion, down from £9 billion. In 2020, trading goods with Turkey represented 1.75% of all goods trade for the UK. As the Committee can see from the figures, we operate a considerable trade deficit with Turkey, so the motivation for the agreement was from Turkey and thus leverage was with us. We chose not to use that leverage.
Our trading relationship with Turkey is unique, owing to its membership since 1996 of a partial customs union with us, which reduced barriers to trade. That has now ended and those barriers have been re-erected. Therefore, downgrading to a lesser FTA arrangement has meant businesses now needing to adjust to higher import and export administration costs, more bureaucracy, slower port of entry and exit procedures, and complex rules of origin requirements.
This latter point, which the committee picked up specifically, is of great significance given the categories of imports and exports and the fact that the largest elements—vehicles, machinery and engineering—are all part of complex supply chains with EU manufacturers. The fact that we have only a temporary allowance on rules of origin, because of our failure to secure this in the TCA, will mean that there is a stage 2 level of greater burden coming with our trade with Turkey in the permanent relationships.
There is a great line in paragraph 2 of the Government’s parliamentary report:
“It is in no one’s interests to disrupt existing trade flows.”
I agree. This was also highlighted in paragraph 10 of the committee’s report, quoting from the parliamentary report:
“HM Government has worked closely with Turkey to ensure that customs processes are as simple, clear, and predictable as possible, and that any changes do not affect current trade flows.”
They demonstrably have. The ONS data released on 13 April has the latest figures showing the disruption. UK imports of goods from Turkey fell 27% from December 2020 to January 2021, down from 967 million to 714 million, and they fell further in February. Exports in the same period fell 8%, before picking up again in February, and this is on top of the year-on-year falls I cited earlier. For Turkey, we have a double- stage downgrading of free trade. The committee’s recommendation in paragraph 6 for wide consultation is very important.
The Government, in their response, said that they would consult stakeholders, but if it is simply stakeholders, that is limited. They also said that they would consult in a similar approach to the US proposed trade agreement. That had a wide consultation open to the public; I even went on to it and submitted a response. Will the Minister clarify what level of consultation there will be for the permanent trade agreement, with not just trade stakeholders to be included, but all those with an interest in the wider aspects? This is to be a comprehensive trade agreement, so as wide a consultation as possible will be necessary. I also fully endorse the recommendation in paragraph 16 of the report calling for a full impact assessment. We need to know which of the effects that we have witnessed are likely to be temporary effects, and which are systemic, because of the new barriers in perpetuity. That needs to inform differing policy responses.
The two major areas, as the committee pointed out, are short-term disruptions and long-term increased barriers. I am afraid that the Minister completely ignored that recommendation in his letter to the committee, so if he can respond to it today it would be helpful. Given the evidence that the committee received from manufacturers and those in supply chains, the Government owe the committee a response.
Given that businesses that have traded with the EU can access some form of support package and lending to tackle the Government’s new barriers with EU trade, these are the same kinds of barriers that businesses will now see for trade with Turkey, so will businesses be able to access those trade support areas too—for example, the SME Brexit Support Fund? That is contracted out to PricewaterhouseCoopers. I emailed three weeks ago, on its online inquiry form, asking for details of the fund, how PwC was being paid and how it was being administered. I have received no reply. I hope that businesses are faring better at getting a response from PwC than I have. I would be grateful if the Minister would write to me to say how much the Government are paying it for the administration of this fund.
Critically for this debate, are this scheme and the others open to businesses which trade with Turkey and which have new barriers as a direct result of the TCA with the EU? Also, there is continuing guidance now being issued to businesses exporting to the EU. Will there be the same guidance to businesses exporting to Turkey? For example, HMRC outlined, in an email to me and all others who have registered for its updates, on 1 April:
“When exporting goods from a roll-on roll-off port or any other listed locations, you, or the person submitting your customs declaration, must submit your declaration as ‘arrived’. The declaration must be submitted as ‘arrived’ in order to finalise the declaration process before your goods reach border locations, where customs controls are being staged in. If the declaration isn’t ‘arrived’,
“will not recognise that the goods have left the country.”
I have to admit that I thought this was HMRC’s April fool’s joke but it seems as if, unbelievably, if we are exporting now to the EU, we have to declare that the goods have arrived before they have left the country. Can the Minister confirm that? Is the same approach being taken for goods exported to Turkey?
Another area where the Government need to provide more information is on rules of origin. The committee has picked this up and has done us a service for analysing it carefully. The system for pan-Euro-Mediterranean cumulation of origin allows for the application of diagonal cumulation between the EU, EFTA states, Turkey, the countries that signed the Barcelona declaration, the western Balkans and the Faroe Islands. That free trade measure has now been ended for UK trade. The committee is right in paragraph 22 to call for comprehensive and detailed guidance on any new arrangements, but what is the impact assessment on trade with the other countries with which we can no longer have diagonal cumulation with the EU?
I mentioned the trade deficit that we currently have with Turkey. We operate a wide trade deficit with many other countries too, and there will of course be some areas where a deficit is not a major worry, such as in certain areas where the UK does not or cannot produce. In other areas, however, it is a concern. The answer is not in protection measures, but in securing better terms for UK exporters to market access in those countries, often through them levelling up on standards. So far in the Japan agreement, worth £15 billion, the Government say that only £2 billion of that is widening UK market access to Japan, while £13 billion is for Japanese access. The Minister replied that it was good for the UK because it allows for cheaper imports; this is in line with what was repeated by Liz Truss on Sunday when she was asked to comment on the Australian trade deficit as well.
Free trade in the 21st century should be fair trade, too. When it comes to the UK negotiating FTAs, we should do it for the benefit of UK exporters and consumers. If not, what was the point of Brexit? So far, the agreements reached by this Government will see competitive trade advantage decline as deficits grow. As an example of this agreement’s lack of using leverage, we are abolishing in it the long-standing entry-price system, designed to prevent seasonal low-cost fruit and vegetables below an agreed floor price from flooding the UK market, rendering domestic soft fruit and vegetable producers uncompetitive. Given that we have sought to have higher standards of seasonal agricultural workers’ conditions than, say, Turkey, this is important. What was the response by the soft fruit producers in Scotland and across the UK to this? Also, the EPS allows for a competitive playing field to the least developed countries, which already benefited from preferential access. What was the Government’s modelling for the impact on this? The Government have failed in this and other areas in seeking reciprocity on competitiveness. On subsidy control and others, we see Turkey having an advantage, and are yet to see what the Government are signalling to the benefit of UK exporters.
Finally, on human rights, last week the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said that we had values-based trade. The Minister has repeatedly said that trade is not at the cost of human rights. The Government have promised draft human rights clauses on trade and human rights approaches. If any agreement requires this, it is the permanent Turkey agreement. If the Minister can respond to these points and others that will be raised in this debate, I will be most grateful.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on obtaining this debate; I thank him for it because I speak as chair of the International Agreements Committee. In that capacity, I thank him also for the kind remarks he made about the committee’s work. We are very fortunate with the quality of our members, who are engaged and knowledgeable, and the quality of our staff. It is therefore important that these debates take place; I am glad that this is taking place, although three minutes is hardly adequate for other members of the committee to be able to respond to this debate.
Turkey is the United Kingdom’s 19th-largest trading partner, accounting for 1.3% of total UK trade. It represents a valuable market, especially for goods, and it was therefore important to conclude an agreement to preserve the maximum access for UK exporters and manufacturers. I accept that, because of Turkey’s close relationship and alignment with the EU, the rollover process was complex. I would have liked to be able to congratulate the Government wholeheartedly on delivering such a complex agreement in time, but there are deficiencies, to which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has already referred.
The committee reported the agreement for the special attention of the House because it considered it politically important, and because it is significantly different from the precursor EU-Turkey agreements so as to warrant debate.
Our pre-Brexit trading relationship with Turkey was governed in part by the EU-Turkey customs union. That had to be transformed into a free trade agreement —by definition and, unavoidably, that means less favourable trading terms than under a customs union. For example, there are now new rules of origin and paperwork requirements for traders. Fellow members of the committee will cover that issue and others in more detail. Although in converting the customs union to a free trade agreement the EU arrangements have been preserved as far as possible, areas that one would usually expect to see covered in a modern, comprehensive trade agreement have been excluded: services; trade in agricultural goods; investment; sustainable development. Again, colleagues will reflect on these omissions.
Two key omissions that I want to focus on are human rights and workers’ rights. Although they did not feature in the underlying EU agreements, the Government had an opportunity to push for their inclusion when negotiating the new agreement and, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has said, the negotiating advantage lay with us—we had the leverage. Their absence, therefore, appears at odds with the Trade Secretary’s vision of “values-driven free trade”. In its latest World Report, Human Rights Watch provided a damning assessment of Turkey’s continued attacks on human rights and the rule of law. Thousands of people in Turkey face arrest or worse for daring to criticise the President or the Government, with terrorism widely used as a pretext to restrict the rights of Turkish citizens. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has also previously highlighted child labour, refugee labour and hostility towards trade union membership as issues of concern.
The Minister has previously said that
“trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights”.—[Official Report, 23/3/21; col. 752]
Well, I shall ask him the first of three questions. What reassurances can he give that these matters will be pursued in the negotiations for an expanded UK-Turkey agreement, which are due to begin within two years? We welcome plans for an expanded agreement and the Government’s commitment to undertake a public consultation to inform future proposals, but my second question is: can the Minister also confirm that the Government plan to publish their negotiating objectives for the expanded UK-Turkey agreement and that, should the International Agreements Committee call for a debate on these objectives, such a request would be met? Finally, what plans do the Government have to extend their commitments to facilitating parliamentary scrutiny of negotiating objectives to all agreements that are subject to renegotiation?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on bringing this important Motion before us. His argument that Turkey was the demandeur because we run a trade deficit with it strikes me as one that was answered by his countryman Adam Smith 245 years ago in that little phrase,
“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production”.
What is the benefit of having a trade surplus? It is not as though you can keep silos filled with extra stuff. Cheaper imports are a terrific way of raising living standards for all of us, especially for people on low incomes. Exports are the stuff you want to get rid of to pay for those cheaper imports. Understanding that point, now 245 years old, seems to me the way to get to a world where we are lifting restrictions and allowing people to prosper.
Equally, trade is a remarkably poor instrument of foreign policy. Let us all accept that there are at least questions to answer when it comes to human rights in Turkey. Any kind of generalised sanctions—and I would call refusing to have an FTA the weakest form of trade sanction—are almost always counterproductive. They create a siege mentality. They hurt the wrong people—ordinary folk in the other country and in your own—while driving support to the regime of which you disapprove. There are sanctions that you can take, but generalised trade sanctions almost always fail for the same reason that they kept Castro in power in Cuba: they create a sense of people needing to rally to the authorities.
Let me make a final point on Turkey’s relationship with the customs union, which, as noble Lords have said, came to an end with this FTA. It is important to understand quite how disadvantageous Turkey’s position within the customs union was. Turkey was obliged to follow all EU concessions in talks with third countries. When the EU did a trade deal with Japan or South Korea, Turkey was required to match all the concessions, but there was no reciprocal obligation on Japan or South Korea or whoever to make the concessions vis-à-vis Turkey that they were making vis- à-vis the EU.
That position was negotiated transitionally. It was supposed to be a step to full membership. It was acceptable—indeed, it made very good sense—in those terms. However, it makes very little sense as a permanent situation for Turkey. We have huge opportunities to do what both Trade Ministers—our own and her Turkish counterpart—said when this deal was negotiated at the beginning of this year remains our ambition: to have a much deeper, more ambitious and more comprehensive commercial relationship with Turkey.
It seems pretty clear that Turkey’s EU ambitions are over; that is clear whether you talk to people in Brussels or in Ankara. I suspect that Turkey will therefore look to change the terms of its trade relationships with the European Union because, once they cease to be transitional, they become deeply unattractive. Britain should have no qualms about seeking the closest trading relationship possible with a country that for a long time guarded NATO’s flank against the horror of Bolshevism and to which we may one day look to guard our flank against religious extremism.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the IAC itself have already pointed out flaws in this agreement: no assessment of the effects on business of a transition from the customs union; no subsidies chapter; and the need to review TBTs and rules of origin.
I shall focus briefly on the absence of human rights. Turkey has a historic role in Europe; some even still see her as a potential member of the EU following the long tradition begun by Atatürk. More recently, President Erdoğan’s repressive Government have made that impossible because of their flagrant abuse of human rights and imprisonment of opposition leaders, activists, journalists and others.
The TUC has called for a suspension of the trade deal and our own IAC has received written evidence from trade unions. According to Unite:
“Over 160,000 judges, teachers, police, and civil servants have been suspended or dismissed, together with about 77,000 formally arrested.”
These figures may be out of date because a lot of prisoners have been released due to the pandemic but the European Commission’s Turkey 2020 Report came down heavily on Ankara, saying that there had been “serious backsliding” on the rule of law and fundamental rights. It mentioned the “deterioration of democracy”, the exclusion of civil society and new problems with refugees. That report may have prompted the recent promises from President Erdoğan to write a new constitution, apparently turning over yet another new leaf. We on the committee were also concerned to hear that Turkey has withdrawn from the Council of Europe convention on violence against women, signed in Istanbul; this issue came up again in our debates on the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Despite all this, human rights and workers’ rights are unspecified in this agreement for some reason, which must be a bad mistake. Our committee report was too polite to insist on a more specific reference; we simply asked the Government to make greater use of the review clause to update the agreement and introduce a full section on human rights.
There seems to be no argument for treating Turkey any differently from other countries with which we have new trade deals—on this, I part company with the previous speaker—and I hope that the Minister will agree that this is a lacuna. Therefore, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said, we look forward to hearing exactly what the Government’s negotiating objectives are in the new agreement.
My Lords, it is good for the democratic process that the International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member, scrutinises treaties and that we should have a timely debate today, which I welcome.
I suggest that there are at least three templates that we should develop for the foreseeable future: first, that the Government publish their negotiating objectives quite clearly; secondly, that there should be explicit advice that the Government have raised human rights and workers’ rights, as already mentioned—as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, we urge the Government to use the review clause in the agreement to introduce human rights and workers’ rights provisions; thirdly, that in the absence of successfully achieving our negotiating objectives and where we have to fall back on WTO terms in all our treaties, it should be tabulated, and we should have a running score on what we are falling back on.
On the first issue, we were concerned at the lack of an explicit confirmation that the Government would publish their negotiating position. Since then, we have received information in the terms already referred to, and I am concerned about the words of the reply. I am not quite sure what to make of the assurance received that:
“The Government will be able to comment in due course on how the publication of negotiating objectives will be handled in the case of our existing FTA with Turkey.”
It sounds more like Mandarin than English to me. Perhaps the Minister will give me a translation.
Secondly, on human rights and workers’ rights provisions, we have made our position quite clear, as other noble Lords have done already. I fear that these issues are sometimes approached with a tick-box mentality, bowing to them, as I suspect one does, when world leaders meet but getting very little in return. The TUC expressed great concern last year that Turkey was ranked among the 10 worst countries for workers’ rights according to the International Trade Union Confederation. I need not go further than what we have heard in this debate; I certainly assert in the same way.
Over the past few months, we have developed a good relationship with the Government as regards the devolved Assemblies. I am anxious to ensure that that is pursued and followed up, because it is important not only that they are consulted but that we are informed when they have concerns. This is now coming through loud and clear. It is vital that Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh are all consulted as part of the economic development of this country. I am certainly hawkish on this matter, for which I make no apology, having been one of the architects of Welsh devolution. With those few words, I indicate my agreement with the committee’s report.
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. Lord Kerr? No? As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, has withdrawn, I shall call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and perhaps we can return to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for securing this debate and for the way in which he introduced it. I also thank our chair, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for his introduction to the report, albeit necessarily brief.
I want to complement it by talking about just one issue, that of subsidies, which I hope will illustrate what we are keen to see happen in the year or two ahead. Obviously, the rollover agreement does not carry forward the EU state aid regime, since we are departing from that, but it puts nothing in its place. That is not entirely surprising, not least because the EU-Turkey report from October 2020 says at page 58:
“Legislation to implement the State Aid Law, originally scheduled to be passed by September 2011, has still not been adopted”,
adding that there is no state aid inventory in Turkey. It notes that the administrative mechanism for the state aid legislation has been abolished, and that government support for certain priority investments, including a national automobile factory, is going ahead under the 11th development plan, including 400 product groups in strategic sectors where, as the European Commission’s report says,
“The amount of state aid granted for this investment is not disclosed, contrary to the commitments under the EU-Turkey Customs Union.”
So putting in place a state aid or subsidies agreement with Turkey at present does not work for the EU and it would not work for us.
However, that does not mean that we should not clearly put it in our negotiating objectives. It would not suffice for us to leave it in a WTO subsidy format because, as we know, the WTO format leads only to complaints by countries and is essentially retrospective, and damage must first have been established before the point at which any subsidy can be challenged. By contrast, the UK-Japan agreement, in articles 12.5 and 12.6, has specific provisions about sharing of notifications and the ability for each party to seek further information and to engage in consultation. That, of course, can mean, if necessary—I hope it will not be necessary too often —a complaint at the WTO that a subsidy is contrary to its provisions or some mitigating measures being taken by agreement.
At the moment, I think that we as a committee and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade and Export Promotion—its chair is to speak next; I am a vice-chair—are very interested in moving from continuity agreements to full free trade agreements and seeing what those objectives will look like for a free trade agreement in the future. In this particular instance, I am keen to see something like the Japan agreement reflected into our negotiating objectives with Turkey.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and to contribute to the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.
It has always seemed to me that the debate on Turkey is split into two intractable camps. I have noted carefully the remarks of those critical of Turkey but consider that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, struck the right note. If one had to draw up a priority list of countries around the world with which we should ally for multiple strategic reasons, Turkey would without question be in the champions’ league. Having done the rounds in Ankara, it is clear to me that Turkey is a country that looks equally favourably towards the UK. Simply put, the UK needs Turkey for multiple reasons as we embark on a world journey, with Istanbul being one of the geostrategic hubs ranking alongside London, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore or São Paulo.
Turkey commands influence beyond its frontiers. We always have regard to our values, but some detractors might cite one kind of challenge or another, some of which we have been hearing about this afternoon. However, this agreement allows interest from both sides to get this show on the road, from which values and understanding will emanate. Sir Dominick Chilcott, our ambassador in Ankara, sums it up well in his briefing. I hope he will forgive me for quoting it:
“What influence we will have will best be done through contact and dialogue. Boycotting Turkey or imposing sanctions is unlikely to be productive and risks alienating a country that is a NATO ally and an indispensable partner in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration.”
For all the above reasons I am opening a regional hub for Eurasia for a global project covering 224 countries. The rapprochement between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel, combined with the President’s improved overtures towards Israel, make for a more harmonious region at large and is certainly helpful.
As to the question “Why Turkey?”, the country has a population of 83 million, a highly educated population at large and a huge pool of skilled and low-cost labour with production diversification potential. It is a central corridor of the silk road, with an exchange rates advantage. It has NATO’s second largest military and a burgeoning defence technology sector, and it has borders with many of our front-line issues—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Balkans, with Russia and Ukraine across the Black Sea.
In conclusion, there can be no greater anticipation and mystique than, having traversed the continent, to be pulling into Istanbul station on the Orient Express, taking in the first sight of the Bosporus, visiting the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, putting a toe-hold into Asia and being enchanted by the swirling dervishes after an excellent dinner. I wish this FTA well.
I wanted to raise three points and one more general one. First, British goods exporters are now at a disadvantage compared to their EU competitors because we are outside the 1996 EU-Turkey customs union and hence European rules of origin cumulation. I understand that; what I do not understand is why in this agreement, unlike the original 1963 EU-Turkey association agreement, there is nothing on services. The balance of trade in goods heavily favours Turkey, and that is likely to worsen. Could we not have got something in exchange on services? Could the Minister say whether we tried and, if so, why we failed?
Secondly, the agreement contains nothing on human rights, as other noble Lords have mentioned. During our debates on the Trade Bill, the Minister assured us that human rights would be at the heart of trade policy. President Erdoğan’s Turkey, flouting ECHR calls for the release of civil society leaders, is surely a paradigm case, or at least should be. So why the lacuna in the agreement? Did we try to fill it? If so, why did we cave in?
Thirdly, I predict that the Minister will remind us that an enhanced agreement is to be negotiated and the gaps in this one can be filled then—but is that plausible? Precedent is a powerful weapon in negotiation. Passes once sold are not easily recaptured. Moreover, have not we missed the moment of maximum leverage? Precisely because the balance is in the Turks’ favour, they will have been anxious that we should not revert to WTO terms, bringing in new UK tariffs on their goods. Our hand was stronger in 2020 than it will be when negotiations restart. How come we missed the boat?
That brings me to my more general point. When roll- over agreements do not duplicate previous arrangements, they seem on the whole to make them slightly worse. The Mexico agreement is another which leaves UK exporters less competitive than their EU rivals will be. Did the department, in its rush to prove that it can negotiate agreements, sacrifice quality for quantity and content for quantum? Did we put ourselves under time pressure, and are there lessons to be learned from that—for example, for our negotiation with Australia? Are not we again risking seeming overly eager? I look forward to the Minister’s replies.
I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on securing the debate before us today. I echo the concerns expressed by the chair of the International Agreements Committee on Turkey’s human rights record. What was particularly embarrassing was the blatant flouting of women’s rights by the recent treatment of the EU President on her recent visit there, which does not show Turkey in the best light.
I focus my remarks on the asymmetry of the deal that has been reached in this albeit temporary free trade agreement with Turkey. That is against the backdrop of seeing the latest food and drink exports to the EU—our largest exports sector—suffering a fall of 76% in January and down nearly 41% in February. I struggle, against the detail of the agreement before us today, to see the advantages of these rollover and so-called enhanced agreements. Perhaps I am missing something, so I should be very grateful if the Minister could point out the particular advantages of the deal before us. Obviously, it is a matter of regret to me, working so closely with the farming community, that agricultural goods have not been included, and I urge my noble friend to give us a date when they will.
I have a couple of specific questions relating to paragraphs 27 and 28 of the excellent report of the International Agreements Committee, about the fact that the UK-Turkey agreement reverts to World Trade Organization arrangements for addressing technical barriers to trade, which is apparently a
“consequence of Turkey’s alignment with the EU and the lack of mutual recognition of conformity assessments in the UK-EU”
trade agreement. The committee heard that this
“will result in significant costs for some UK businesses trading with Turkey and that it will affect supply chains.”
I ask my noble friend: is that the case and can he put a figure on those costs or any disruption to the supply chain? I imagine that it is not as severe as that with the existing European Union, but it behoves an answer. I also ask: what specific progress has been made given that the committee concluded that
“Continued cooperation between the UK and the EU on technical barriers to trade is … critical for the UK-Turkey trade relationship”?
My Lords, I, too, serve on the committee and pay tribute to our excellent chairman. I also thank the Minister for his constructive engagement with the committee and my noble friend for securing this debate.
As we have heard, this is a rather modest FTA, which is explained only in part by Turkey’s continued customs union with the EU. The limited negotiating objectives rather suggest that the Government wanted a quick deal rather than a quality one and, frankly, nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said changes the fact that, given the strong hand we had, it is surprising that, rather than waiting two years before negotiating a more comprehensive deal, we did not seek more in this deal.
After all, the deal is vital for Turkey—its most important since the 1995 customs union with the EU, it says. They export more to us than we do to them. Without a deal, tariffs on exports to the UK would have cost Turkish losses of £1.7 billion, so it is disappointing that we did not seek to include more in the deal. After all, we are a service economy, yet trade in services is not covered, nor is investment, public procurement, digital trade and much else. As we have heard, Turkey has a poor record on human rights, yet, despite the Government’s vision of a values-driven free trade and the Minister’s claims that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights, they are not covered. Given Turkey’s equally poor record on workers’ rights, it is disappointing that they too are excluded.
I very much hope that in the Minister’s response, as others have requested, he will say how all those issues will be discussed in the forthcoming discussions on an enhanced agreement, but there are a number of remaining questions. The committee sought an assessment of the additional cost of the FTA to UK businesses. While acknowledging that the administration costs of new customs paperwork, such as declarations of origin, could have “substantive impacts” on trade in goods, the Minister has still not provided any estimate, so I hope he does today. As with other agreements, the committee is anxious to compare the situation pre and post Brexit.
The Government are also confident that the impact on supply chains will be minimal, yet they describe the ending of the cumulation of content from other PEM signatories as “a notable difference”. Can the Minister tell us how a notable difference has only a minimal impact on supply chains?
On tariff rate quotas, which were resized and calculated on historic usage, can the Minister explain whether the new TRQs contain sufficient headroom to support UK businesses which seek to expand trade with Turkey? The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, discussed subsidy and state aid in detail, so I ask one simple question. We know that, under the deal, any disputes will now have to be referred to the WTO. Can the Minister explain how that will be done when there is no requirement for the parties even to notify each other of subsidies that have been granted?
Finally, picking up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I hope that the Minister will also update us on the current review of technical barriers to trade.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for introducing this debate. It is timely, given that the Turkish free trade agreement was ratified by both sides and came into force last week. I draw the Committee’s attention to my relevant interests in the register as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Turkey. I certainly join other noble Lords in welcoming this most useful report from the International Agreements Committee, which draws attention to some important points. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on those.
I want to use my limited time to make one simple plea. I urge the Minister to continue to make a follow-on, more comprehensive Turkish FTA a high priority in his department’s very full trade policy agenda. I do this for three obvious reasons. The first is to help British business. British companies engaged in the Turkish market certainly need the more stable trading environment and level playing field that a trade agreement can bring. They are in this market because they see Turkey as a strong long-term opportunity despite short-term headwinds, including, as we have heard, concern about the rule of law and human rights. I echo the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley: those companies see an entrepreneurial trading nation of more than 80 million people, half of whom are under the age of 31, with a high standard of education, excellent technical skills and an economy that has in the recent past shown itself capable of economic growth rates of more than 5%.
My second reason also echoes points made by other noble Lords. The UK’s interest in moving to a more comprehensive deal is strongly reciprocated by those on the Turkish side. They will undoubtedly be tough negotiators, but we are Turkey’s second-largest export market. Also, the Turkish Government and certainly Turkish business recognise the potential for deepening the trading relationship, not only in areas such as services and agriculture but in more innovative sectors such as cleaner energy, tech and data science. So we continue to have leverage.
My third, more general point is that, if we are to make a success of global Britain, surely Turkey is the kind of country with which we need to engage more closely and openly. Certainly there are these headwinds around, but we are long-standing NATO allies with shared concerns about terrorism, migration, regional instability, organised crime and many other issues. An open, innovative, comprehensive free trade agreement with Turkey will be an essential part of this important wider relationship.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for introducing this debate. Turkey is our 19th-biggest trading partner, with the total trade volume amounting to £18.7 billion in 2019. The Government stated that they intended
“to ensure that customs processes are as simple, clear, and predictable as possible”.
Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this is most encouraging? However, notwithstanding these additional customs checks, Turkish exports to the UK increased by nearly 13% in the first quarter. The benefits of trade derive from imports as well as exports, as my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere explained so well.
I congratulate the International Agreements Committee on its report, which drew the UK-Turkey agreement to the special attention of the House because it is politically important and because, although its overarching objective is to maintain provisions in the precursor EU-Turkey agreements, it differs from them in certain important respects. It introduces rules of origin requirements on industrial goods traded between the UK and Turkey. It also omits certain technical barriers to trade and aspects of competition policy. Some provisions of the agreement rely on the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement and are subject to review after the TCA formally enters into force. The agreement does not cover services, which account for only 19% of the UK’s trade with Turkey, but it is good news that a review intended to enhance the agreement is set to start within two years. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that services trade and subsidy notifications similar to those in the Japan CEPA might be useful enhancements?
It is welcome that the Government have issued guidance to assist firms exporting to and importing from Turkey but the new rules of origin declarations, particularly against the background that Turkey is not allowing one single declaration for multiple shipments but is requiring separate declarations for each shipment, create difficulties. Credit is due to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, my noble friend the Minister and their team for sorting out such a large number of continuity free trade agreements during December, including this complex deal with Turkey, which is, I understand, the fifth-biggest trade deal that we have negotiated since Brexit.
Turkey is also an important partner for geostrategic, security and other reasons beyond trade, as was pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. I look forward to hearing other noble Lords’ contributions and the Minister’s winding-up.
My Lords, it is good that we have an opportunity to debate this trade agreement because that fulfils a commitment given by the Minister as the Trade Bill passed through this House, and more particularly because this agreement is a seriously disturbing one. I note, incidentally, that it was not the object of the surge of hyperbole from the Secretary of State for International Trade which usually greets the conclusion of an agreement; this is not surprising when you look at the content.
Why so? Many recent trade agreements fall into the category that I would describe as running to stand still: they just roll over the trade access which the UK already had as an EU member state. But this agreement does not clear even that low bar. The new requirements for rules of origin checks and the absence of cumulation provisions with other countries in the region will in fact leave British exporters to Turkey worse off than they were when we were inside the EU-Turkey customs union, and therefore at a competitive disadvantage to EU exporters to Turkey with which they were previously on a level playing field. Will the Minister confirm that that is in fact the case and say where the UK will be left if and when the negotiations between the EU and Turkey to strengthen and possibly expand their customs union, which are, I understand, likely to begin soon, lead to agreement?
The other equally if not more disturbing feature is the absence of any provisions covering human rights. Did we seek such provisions? There can be few countries in the world with which we are currently seeking to conclude a preferential trade agreement in which some provisions on human rights are more necessary. I recall the Minister’s eloquence about such provisions in trade agreements when we debated the Trade Bill. Here is a country which is locking up journalists, members of parliament and academics, all with scant or no due process, and we have no locus for raising these matters. Will the Minister at least give an assurance that human rights issues will be raised when the two-year review of this agreement falls due, and that the UK will press in those negotiations for this lacuna to be filled?
As a final thought, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, will send a copy of his contribution to this debate to President Trump in Mar-a-Lago. It is fortunate, perhaps, that Mr Trump has had his Twitter account cut off because the response might be a little startling.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for securing this debate. I echo those who have welcomed this first-stage agreement, set in the context of the wider political ramifications. Turkey is an important and valued trading partner for this country, a member of NATO and politically and strategically critical to our interests. Her territories span the great divides of the world: to the north, the states once tied to the former Soviet Union; to the east, the volatile areas of the Middle East; to the south, the occasionally turbulent north African countries; and to the west, Europe. Our bilateral relationship is long-standing and important in this context, for, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has said, it is in both our and Turkey’s national interests to continue to encourage stability and prosperity through trade.
One reason this initial agreement is so important is that it can bind our aspirations closer to Turkey, with immeasurable consequences for Cyprus, NATO, Europe and peace in the eastern Mediterranean. So, the context of this welcome agreement is important as we debate its merits and wider ramifications, fully recognising, as others have, the importance of our negotiating ability to fill the gaps identified today in the follow-on agreement. Freed from EU constraints, we have a remarkable opportunity to improve this critical partnership. As suggested by Ayhan Zeytinoğlu, the chair of the Economic Development Foundation, it is possible that Ankara and London could develop a special relationship in the post-Brexit period, using the free trade agreement and the more comprehensive trade and economic ties built on this deal as its backbone.
While we recognise the potential for enhanced political relationships, this FTA should be praised for entrenching co-operation in key areas of mutual interest, including the automotive sector, engineering and white goods, while recognising that there is much more to be done. Deeper economic co-operation can now be pursued, and this should not be regarded lightly in the negotiations to come, for the UK ranks second among Turkey’s export partners. However, this FTA is unfinished business. It signals the start of a new relationship and a new negotiation. Opportunities now exist for working closely together, blending, for example, the strengths of the UK’s expertise in the fields of investment and finance and Turkey’s agricultural, manufacturing and textile industries. There will be opportunities for mutual co-operation, which should be grasped and strongly supported by the Government.
As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, alluded to, it was no passing platitude for President Erdoğan to welcome this deal as the most important trade deal since its 1995 customs union with the EU. The opportunity now exists to pursue closer economic and political ties while being frank and open about our differences. Turkey has gained an important and influential bilateral friend where, as fellow members of NATO, we can work with greater freedom and energy to build stronger Mediterranean, African, Caucasian and Middle Eastern policies than ever before. I congratulate the Government on this initial step.
My Lords, the UK and Turkey are both close neighbours of the EU. This will be an important economic relationship in the years ahead for both our countries. We are both members of NATO, as we have heard. The continuity agreement was a huge relief for many sectors just before the transition period ended. A wide range of manufacturers were naturally nervous, from textiles to automotives. For example, auto manufacturers would have faced a 10% tariff, so full credit goes to the Department for International Trade for getting the agreement secured in time. The continuity programme has been a success, with the vast majority of the EU FTAs rolled over. We now need to plan and look ahead, and the CBI, of which I am president, sees potential to increase investment flows and strike a modern agreement to include digital and services trade. Global trade and investment will be critical for our economic recovery. The Government’s ambition to open doors for UK companies globally, particularly in services, where we have huge advantages, is important. Does the Minister agree?
In my role as CBI president, I have been pleased to work with its Turkish counterpart, TÜSİAD. Together, our organisations will support the Governments in the talks that are continuing to ensure business interests are maximised. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for securing this debate. As we have heard before, Turkey is the UK’s 19th largest trading partner—so, top 20—with 1.3% of the UK’s total trade. In 2019, trade in goods and services between our two countries was worth almost £19 billion. To put that in context, it is similar to Canada, with around £20 billion, Australia, with around £20 billion, and India, with around £24 billion. Almost 8,000 UK businesses exported goods to Turkey in 2019, so this agreement ensures that we can continue to import under preferential tariffs compared with no agreement. This supports importers of textiles, where the annual increase in estimated duties would have been around £102 million under WTO terms. Tariffs applied to UK imports of washing machines and televisions will remain at 0%, compared to up to 2% and 14% respectively under WTO terms.
It is vital that the UK-Turkey supply chains are protected for automotive manufacturers. For example, car parts for Ford are imported from the UK into Turkey to be assembled into Transit vehicles, and one-third of those vehicles are then re-exported back to the UK. In under two years, we have now reached agreements with 62 countries and the European Union. That is almost £900 billion of UK trade. I give full credit to the Department for International Trade. The Government’s ambition is to secure free trade agreements with countries that cover 80% of UK trade within three years. This is ambitious, but it is possible. Australia, for example, has 70% of its trade covered by free trade agreements.
In conclusion, Andy Burwell, director for international trade and investment at the CBI, said:
“This agreement will maintain bilateral trade worth over £18 billion … Businesses and government must now look to growth, creating the trading relationships which will build a competitive, dynamic and progressive future economy.”
My Lords, I join the chorus of approval of and appreciation for the International Agreements Committee for its excellent report on the UK-Turkey trade agreement. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for securing today’s debate. The parliamentary scrutiny of such agreements is crucial and an important part of what has come to be known as the Grimstone rule, the current rule by which we are able to scrutinise trade agreements, as agreed during the passage of the Trade Bill. As the Minister said in February, the Grimstone rule includes the commitment for the Government to,
“facilitate requests, including those from the relevant Select Committees, for debate on the agreements.”—[Official Report, 23/2/21; col. 724.]
I therefore thank the Minister and the Government Whips for demonstrating how quickly a debate can be organised.
Just as scrutiny is necessary, clarity about how quickly debates can be arranged is also necessary. This would allow Ministers to inform partners and businesses of accurate timelines for ratification and allow them to plan accordingly. Parliament is just doing its job today, and it is in the Government’s power to improve the Grimstone rule to clear up any uncertainties.
Turning to the detail of the agreement, we believe that it is very important from the economic point of view. As we heard from my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, Turkey is our 19th largest trading partner. In 2019, trade in goods and services between Turkey and the UK was worth £1.87 billion. It is welcome that the agreement will allow the key imports and exports to continue. However, the committee states:
“It is therefore not a comprehensive free trade agreement: it does not cover services trade, investment, substantive public procurement provisions, or digital trade.”
Moreover, we do not know its full economic impact, like many of the new continuity agreements or even the UK-EU FTA. Why do Ministers have an aversion to publishing economic impact assessments of agreements that they negotiate?
The UK-Turkey trade agreement does not roll over the EU-Turkey customs union, but introduces new rules of origin requirements, as we heard. These changes have certainly been felt by business. SMMT has said that automotive businesses have reported significant challenges since the agreement was provisionally applied and faced additional burdens related to origin certificates. The IAC asked the Government to provide an impact assessment of additional costs on UK businesses as a result of these changes. In response, the Government have said:
“if traders fulfil the Rules of Origin requirements, then the tariffs they are charged will stay the same as previously. The very few exceptions where there are minor changes to tariffs … will have minimal impact on trade flows.”
What are these exceptions? What trade flows in which sectors could be affected? When will updated business guidance on rules of origin be published?
The other notable differences are in human rights and workers’ rights, as we have heard. The agreement does not include provisions on human rights or workers’ rights, with the Explanatory Memorandum stating that the agreement
“covers trade in goods only”.
I remind the Minister that the International Trade Union Confederation has named Turkey as one of the world’s top 10 worst countries for workers. The International Agreements Committee’s report said:
“We regret the absence of any reference to human rights and workers’ rights in the Agreement and call on the Government to explain how it proposes to uphold its vision of ‘values-driven free trade’ in respect of the UK-Turkey relationship.”
We share that concern. What is becoming abundantly clear from the Government’s approach is that they have sought to do the bare minimum to replicate the human rights requirements in existing EU trade agreements.
This all raises the obvious question of whether the Government still believe in the principle that the UK has supported and which has been adhered to by the EU since 2009—that all trade agreements should contain as an essential element a human rights clause. The Minister told the House during the passage of the Trade Bill that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. So what happened here?
As the IAC noted,
“the UK-Turkey Agreement is not intended to be permanent”
and the Government aim to develop an “enhanced” agreement following a review within two years. As part of this, why will not the Minister accept the committee’s recommendation for the Government to hold an early public consultation?
Since the agreement was negotiated, the Government have published their integrated review, which outlines how they want to work with Turkey going forward, stating that it should be a partnership on a
“focused set of interests where we can find common cause, such as values, free trade and a commitment to transatlanticism.”
Values and trade are to be considered equally when the Government look to improve the economically important agreement for businesses and workers alike—and there is significant room for improvement.
My Lords, I am pleased to be here today to discuss the UK-Turkey free trade agreement and respond to this debate. I very much welcome the fact that the business managers found time for this debate today, and I hope that it illustrates to noble Lords our commitment to parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements.
As ever, I thank noble Lords for their contributions, which were, as always, erudite and perceptive, and I extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for tabling today’s Motion. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the International Agreements Committee not just for their work in general but for drawing special attention to the UK-Turkey FTA. It would be remiss of me not to make a point of thanking the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, for his contributions today, because of his work, which we value very much, as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Turkey, for which we are very grateful.
Noble Lords have raised a number of detailed questions, and I suspect that I shall not have time to deal with them all. Those I am unable to answer during this short debate I shall of course deal with by writing to noble Lords and placing a copy of the letter in the Library.
The UK-Turkey free trade agreement plays a vital role in providing continuity of effect of our trading arrangements as far as is possible and, through doing so, helping to benefit a range of sectors. It is gratifying that this agreement is already having a tangible impact. For instance, Ford has said that the UK-Turkey FTA is “extremely significant” for its business, following the very good news that engines for a new Transit van model will be built at the Dagenham plant and exported for vehicle assembly in Turkey. Of course, it is business such as that which is at the essence of why we have trade agreements.
Ratification of the agreement has now been completed by the UK and Turkey, and the agreement entered into force on 20 April 2021, thereby ending uncertainty for business. A new rules of origin protocol was implemented in domestic regulation on 14 April—I completely understand that some noble Lords may not have been completely familiar with that. It will bring the agreement in line with the rules of origin under the UK-EU TCA, which will help to streamline the operation and implementation of the FTA. In answer to noble Lords’ concerns, which I completely understand, I hope that these new rules of origin address the teething issues experienced by some businesses during provisional application of the FTA.
I can confirm for the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, that updated and detailed guidance for business on the new rules of origin protocol has been issued on GOV.UK. I am confident and hopeful that this extensive guidance and the FTA as a whole will serve small and medium-sized enterprises and large businesses alike.
In answer to the points made by my noble friend Lord Lansley and others, I note that subsidies could not be adopted in our FTA with Turkey under our continuity mandate as this would have required the UK to continue to follow EU state aid rules after Brexit. This would not have been consistent with the UK’s policy direction in leaving the EU, and would limit our ability to set our own rules. As I will touch on further in a moment—I hope that this answers the question from my noble friend Lord Lansley—we have the opportunity to agree more bespoke terms on subsidies with Turkey in due course. In the meantime, as has been noted, subsidy issues between the UK and Turkey are governed by the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, providing obligations to notify goods-related subsidies. Of course, it is important that countries respond to their obligations under these rules.
With the news that the European Parliament will be voting on the UK-EU TCA today, and in answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the Government look forward to commencing a review of the “Technical Barriers to Trade” chapter of the UK-Turkey FTA. It was agreed with our Turkish friends that this review will occur within three months of entry into force of the UK-EU agreement, as per the agreement text.
As we have heard, the UK-Turkey FTA includes a broad review clause that commits both parties to commencing, within two years of entry into force, a review of the agreement with a view to modernising and expanding it. This is highly important because, of course, the agreement that we rolled over to form this present agreement was a customs union agreement. As such, it dealt only with goods, which is why it does not have in it the wide range of topics that we would expect to find in a comprehensive FTA and why our negotiators did not cover this area. It would have been impractical to do so under our mandate.
This is why it is important that, as per the review clause—I hope that this answers a number of noble Lords’ fears—the UK and Turkey have committed to considering trade in agricultural goods, trade in services, investment, subsidies, sustainable development, the environment, climate change, labour, anti-corruption, the digital economy, small and medium-sized enterprises and intellectual property as part of the review. I am pleased to say that this is not an exhaustive list and absolutely does not preclude other areas being discussed.
Perhaps I may make a special reference to climate change in the review clause. I suggest that noble Lords note that the preamble of the UK-Turkey FTA recognises the importance of urgent action to protect the environment and combat climate change and its impacts, and the role of trade in pursuing those objectives.
It would be premature for me at this stage to predict the ultimate scope or outcome of negotiations on the comprehensive agreement, but I assure noble Lords that my department will at the appropriate time, as we have done before and as we have committed to do again, undertake wide stakeholder engagement to ensure that views are properly gathered and represented. Of course, I will make sure that noble Lords have a full opportunity to participate in that.
The Government will at the appropriate time make it clear how the publication of negotiation objectives will be handled in the case of enhancing our existing FTA with Turkey. I am happy to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the Government will keep Parliament and, most importantly, the IAC updated on these developments. I look forward to discussing with him nearer the time how the appropriate scrutiny and transparency will be maintained in respect of this agreement. I can also confirm that we will of course engage with the devolved Administrations, as we always do, throughout this process on areas of devolved interest. Naturally, once negotiations are concluded, the usual scrutiny and ratification process will be followed. It would not surprise me if we were here again in a couple of years’ time redebating the new agreement.
As a final point of reflection, a number of noble Lords have raised the important matter of human rights and labour rights. Given the huge importance that we mutually attach to these issues, I am happy to deal with them now.
As noble Lords have heard me say many times before—but there is no harm in reiterating it—the UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally. The Government are clear—and I make it clear again today—that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. It is not a binary choice.
Our experience is that political freedom and the rule of law are vital underpinnings for prosperity and stability, and that, by having strong economic relationships with partners, we are able to have open discussions on a range of issues, including—I stress this—human rights and labour rights. On this basis, these matters will remain an important issue in our relationship with Turkey and we will continue to raise human rights and labour rights where necessary with the Turkish Government at a senior level.
It should be noted that EU-Turkey trade arrangements, as underpinned by the 1963 association agreement between the EU and Turkey, did not contain human rights clauses. As I explained previously, it was essentially a customs union matter, so there were no human rights clauses to carry over into a UK-Turkey FTA at this stage. I should make it absolutely clear that this should in no way be taken as an indication that we do not take extremely seriously the question of human rights.
In conclusion, the UK-Turkey free trade agreement provides continuity of our trade arrangements with Turkey post Brexit so far as is possible at this stage. I believe that we have achieved a successful outcome that has been welcomed by business. Most importantly, we have secured a strong commitment from Turkey to engage before the end of next year in a further enhancement of the agreement which, I am happy to re-emphasise, the Government will consult further on in due course.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that it is always substance, not the clock, that determines our trade negotiation strategy.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. As I said at the beginning, I will of course write to noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on some of the detailed points that were raised. I look forward to engaging with noble Lords on UK-Turkey trade relationships in the future.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s final comment. He always honours his commitment to follow up things in writing, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and his committee will reflect on his closing remarks.
I wish to reflect briefly on two points made in the debate. First, of course, it was a delight to have the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, reference Adam Smith in a trade debate. I think that Adam Smith totally nailed it on consumption—I am a free trader—but he was weak on diagonal rules of origin cumulation, regulatory equivalence and supply chain standards, which is the realm of trade in which we now have to operate. Of course Smith said that
“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production”,
but not all production is fairly competitive in terms of subsidy control—as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to—labour rights, environmental standards and supply chain human rights approaches, which have all been addressed in contributions throughout the debate. I live in the Scottish Borders and have close links with the textile industry there. We know that approximately 60% of workers in the garments industry in Turkey are unregistered. We wish to see improvements in the production of Turkish garments so that our consumers can make informed choices.
Even if the purpose of the FTA is to seek continuity, my noble friend Lord Foster and other noble Lords indicated that we wish to see further improvements. It is right to ask what the Government’s intentions are for supporting UK exporters as well as UK consumers. If we are to have a fair approach on subsidy control, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated, it is of great importance that we have more information from the Government. It is of interest to me that, under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, there are now greater strictures on subsidy notification and control for a business in Scotland selling to a consumer in England than there is for a Turkish business selling to a consumer in England. That cannot be sustainable if we have a trade policy that is looking for subsidy control to be equitable internally and externally.
It was not entirely convincing for the Minister to say that the Government had a limited mandate for some of these decisions. The Government set their own mandate, which was different from the one that they had for the discussions with Japan, so I think it was valid to highlight how the Japan agreement included elements which are not in the Turkey agreement.
Those two points having been made, and given the Minister’s commitment that he will come back to address some of the other points, I close by mentioning the valid request made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. I welcome the Government’s intention to publish negotiating objectives and that they will have a discussion with the committee about parliamentary scrutiny of those. I think that there is great interest not only in the House but among the public about our trading relationship with Turkey, and I hope that, if the committee calls for a debate on those mandates, we will have a full debate in the House on what should be a good deal for the UK and for Turkey. The Minister is right on that point: we will be returning to this topic.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 4.05 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.
International Accounting Standards (Delegation of Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations, which were laid before the House on 1 February, aim to address matters relating to company reporting arising from the UK’s exit from the EU. I shall refer to these regulations as the delegation SI.
International financial reporting standards—IFRS—are a set of international accounting standards used in over 125 countries around the world, including Australia, Canada and across the EU. In a world with growing economic interconnectivity, accounts prepared in accordance with high-quality international accounting standards provide the consistency and reassurance that investors require to confidently invest in capital markets. The Government are committed to IFRS as standards that drive improvements in the quality and comparability of financial reporting, facilitate investment across borders and build links for investors and regulators between capital markets. The UK is the largest single user of IFRS, with over 15,000 economically significant UK companies now using the standards. This includes all publicly traded companies, which are required to use them to prepare their consolidated accounts.
Legislation made in 2019 provided post-transition period continuity for IFRS by transferring all existing EU-adopted IFRS into UK law to form “UK-adopted international accounting standards”. I shall refer to these regulations as the principal regulations. The principal regulations also provided a mechanism for IFRS to be adopted for use in the UK after the end of the transition period. This action meant that the Secretary of State has been able to adopt crucial amendments to IFRS for use in the UK, including amendments relating to the ongoing interest rate benchmark reform. This was, however, intended only as an interim measure. The principal regulations also provided for the delegation of the adoption functions to an expert body.
The purpose of the delegation SI is straightforward. In line with the intent of the principal regulations, it will delegate decision-making powers on the adoption of IFRS to the recently established UK Endorsement Board. The board will have two primary responsibilities: it will be responsible for the analysis and adoption of IFRS for use in the UK, and for influencing the development of IFRS by the International Accounting Standards Board.
To adopt a standard, the endorsement board will need to be satisfied, first, that its application is likely to be conducive to the UK’s long-term public good; secondly, that the standard meets the criteria of understandability, relevance and comparability; and thirdly, that its application would not be contrary to the principle that accounts provide a “true and fair” view. In addition, decisions on the adoption of IFRS can be taken only following consultation with stakeholders with an interest in the quality and availability of accounts.
I turn to the endorsement board’s influencing work. While it is beneficial for the UK to maintain alignment with international standards, it is also important that those standards work for the United Kingdom. That is why influencing the development of IFRS by the International Accounting Standards Board is one of the board’s key responsibilities. Effectively performed, this will mean that UK interests are addressed during the development process and final standards reflect the needs of UK stakeholders.
These are substantial responsibilities, but the endorsement board has been equipped to meet those needs. Clearly, the calibre and expertise of those involved in the decision-making process is vital. The appointed board, led by Pauline Wallace, is talented, experienced and diverse. Its membership includes preparers of accounts, members of accounting firms and academics and investors; an economist will also be recruited over the coming months.
Further, we recognise that the board’s decision-making, although independent, cannot overlook the regulatory context. As such, those in attendance at endorsement board meetings will also include representatives from the relevant government departments, the FCA and the Bank of England. These observers will be involved in discussions but not the final decision-making stage, in order to maintain the board’s independence.
The endorsement board’s terms of reference were adopted at its first meeting in March and are available on the board’s website. The terms of reference are structured around guiding principles of accountability, independence, transparency and thought leadership. They provide for an active and transparent adoption process that is receptive to the views of stakeholders and reflects the long-term public interest. In drafting the terms of reference and the establishment of the endorsement board, we involved a broad range of stakeholders with an interest in IFRS, including regulators, at each stage of development. We are grateful for their insight and commitment.
I now move to the oversight of the endorsement board. The board is an independent unincorporated association supported by a subsidiary of the FRC via a service-level agreement. This agreement will include support in the areas of HR, finance and IT equipment to enable the board to carry out its work.
I have already stressed that the endorsement board’s decision-making will be independent. However, this does not mean that it should be beyond the reach of those with wider responsibilities for the integrity of company reporting. As such, a key principle of the adoption process will be transparency, with both the discussions and the outcome of adoption decisions being made publicly available.
The endorsement board will be accountable to the Secretary of State for how it performs its delegated functions, and the Secretary of State will, in turn, lay the endorsement board’s annual report before Parliament. The board will also report, in a publicly available document, on its governance and due processes to the FRC. I should add that the Secretary of State will also retain the ability to make regulations to amend or withdraw the delegation if it appears to the Secretary of State that the delegation is no longer in the public interest.
With the appointment of an interim chair, board members, the recruitment of a secretariat and adoption of the terms of reference, we have completed important steps to establish the endorsement board. The cost of this has been approximately £2 million over the past two years and we expect future ongoing costs of £2.9 million per year. These ongoing costs will be funded using the FRC’s levy on preparers of accounts. This will put the cost of the endorsement board to those who benefit most from IFRS.
In conclusion, I hope noble Lords will agree that delegating statutory powers to the UK Endorsement Board will support the UK’s long-term public interest and maintain high standards of UK company reporting. I commend the regulations to the Committee and ask it to support and accept them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as a practising actuary, as the remit of the UKEB extends to actuarial matters. Accounting standards are important, but it needs to be understood that they are not a neutral revelation of some absolute underlying truth. They inevitably incorporate views that, overtly or covertly, represent a particular view of how the economy should be run. In effect, they play a role in determining how economic power gets allocated and who gains and who loses. Hence the need for strong democratic oversight, including a role for Parliament. In other words, accounting standards are too important to be left to accountants.
This point was acknowledged by the Government, with the claim that parliamentary accountability has been built into the constitution of the UKEB, as the Minister just explained. Unfortunately, experience makes us doubtful that what is proposed will be sufficient. Too much of the involvement occurs after the event and is reactive rather than proactive. In my brief time in the House, I have already referred on several occasions to the phenomenon of regulatory capture; I see nothing here to allay my fears.
A couple of points arise directly from these regulations. First, once again, we see the delusions of the Brexiteers laid bare. The claim that the UK can exercise greater autonomy in accounting standards because it is outside the EU is nonsense. In practice, we have become rule takers rather than rule-makers when we worked with our European partners. International accounting standards are set far from our shores where, in reality, there is Hobson’s choice.
Secondly—this is my main point—the record to date of international financial standards does not inspire confidence. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Sikka will provide chapter and verse, but I want to say something about the standard with which I am most familiar: International Accounting Standard 19, on employee benefits. This comes of course under the aegis of the UKEB.
There are many reasons for the regrettable decline of defined benefit pension arrangements in the private sector over the past 20 years. We have ended up with the vast majority of private sector defined benefit schemes closed completely, closed to new members or closed to future accrual. Increases in life expectancy and low interest rates have certainly had a role in bringing about the increased cost for corporate sponsors.
Nevertheless, one of the key drivers in this decline has been how pensions are accounted for, as laid down by the international standard. The International Accounting Standards Board says that it sets accounting standards within
“a conceptual framework of understandability, relevance, reliability, comparability and timeliness.”
That is fair enough, but this has been interpreted as meaning an emphasis on the use of market prices, whether actual market prices or derived market prices where the thing being valued is not traded in a market. In valuing pension costs, what we have ended up with is a discounted cash-flow valuation using a market-determined discount rate to estimate pension liabilities and market prices to value pension assets.
The problem is that this disregards the true nature of a pension scheme, as it plays out over many years into the future. Such an approach has been detrimental to the sustainability of defined benefit schemes because it removes any respect for the interaction between pension assets/liabilities and asset liability cash flows when both are valued at a single point in time using discounted cash flows. Corporate accounts should recognise amounts that better reflect the long-term nature of a defined pension obligation.
The result of this approach is volatility in assets and liabilities, hence the need to recognise substantial and often volatile pension deficits in the statement of the sponsor’s financial position. These deficits are an artefact of the valuation method, but it leaves corporate managers to wish to divest the company of such liabilities. Therefore, applying fair-value accounting to defined benefit pension obligations has hastened the decline of such schemes as corporate managers increase the rate at which these schemes are closed to new members and to future accrual.
From this one example, I hope that noble Lords will forgive my lack of confidence in the international financial standards. Perhaps the Minister could give us in his reply a bit more detail on what real advantages we will gain from proceeding along the lines set by these regulations.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton. I agree that the decline of defined benefit schemes, which he outlined, is something to be regretted; they were extremely valuable to millions of employees but, sadly, action by both parties over many decades has led to their virtual demise. However, today’s debate is about the broader issue of international accounting standards, and I thank my noble friend the Minister for his explanation. I refer to my interests in the register as a director of Secure Trust Bank and Capita, and a shareholder in some international companies, including Tesco, where I served for many years, hence my knowledge of pensions, and lived through the introduction of international accounting standards.
As a supporter of free trade and the benefits of comparative advantage, I favour global standards, for the reasons the Minister highlighted. I also favour using UK strength in financial services to participate in the international standard-setting process for accounting conventions; we have done so for many years, and that has been beneficial. Now that we are out of the EU, it is essential that we play our part directly. There is, however, a major problem: an enduring fight between the proponents of prescription, often favoured by Brussels, and principles-based rules which are essentially meant to reflect common sense. I have always been in favour of the latter because I worry about burdens and costs, which always end up being passed on to the consumer.
I am also keen on learning from history, and I have two lessons for today and then a couple of questions on the regulations before us. The first lesson reflects the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002 in the United States—a typical example of overreaction to a financial crisis. There had been a failure to enforce accounting rules properly in the case of Enron, WorldCom and others, but the correct response to that was to enforce the rules properly, not to make them excessively complicated. I know from direct experience that Sarbanes-Oxley stopped some companies listing in New York at the time and encouraged others to delist, admittedly with the welcome effect of boosting growth in London. The extraordinary prescriptions it introduced were costly and bureaucratic and yet it did not prevent the 2008 financial crisis. Remember: accounting standards affect most businesses of any size, not just financial services; some 15,000 are subject to them in the UK, according to the Minister’s helpful introduction.
The second lesson of history is the emerging evidence that economic growth, which is how we can make everyone better off, can be explained in part by the stripping away of impediments. There is a fabulous book on this subject, free from modern fashion, which I borrowed from the Lords Library: Barriers to Growth by Eric L Jones, published in 2020. It explores the slow dissolution of such barriers in English history. In brief, the book suggests that the increase in the rate of economic growth in recent centuries reflects the removal of institutional and environmental barriers that held it back before the Industrial Revolution and which were then progressively relaxed over the following centuries. This is not the occasion to set out the many fascinating strands of the thesis developed in the book, although I would commend the section on how tithes retarded increased productivity in agriculture. The essential point is that all ages have their concerns and obsessions which have as a major—perhaps the major—effect the retarding of economic growth. My concern is that, in our age, what I call bureaucratisation is such a failing, and that today’s SI is an example of it.
I am not really convinced that we need a quango to endorse international standards—this new UK Endorsement Board. I understand that it will enable us to make sure that international standards are not missing a vital dimension and to reflect UK stakeholders’ needs, as the Minister explained. However, when you create such a body it will find work to do; people will want to write strategies and have a work programme. It will have a comprehensive diversity programme, although I note that it will be served, on HR, IT and finance, by the FRC. I would have left the work with BEIS and its civil servants, some of whom are extremely talented and will no doubt be conducting the international negotiations on accounting standards. We have too many regulators.
We are, however, where we are today. I ask my noble friend, who I know takes a welcome interest in corporate governance, from a practical perspective to enlarge on the criteria he will set. Page 3 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“the Secretary of State retains the function to amend the criteria for determining whether the use of an IFRS is conducive to the long term public good of the UK.”
What sort of things are we talking about? My main concerns would be: first, relative UK competitiveness; secondly, simplicity and clarity, to the extent that that is possible; and, thirdly, sensible timing in the introduction of new IFR standards, with more flexibility where that is justified. In my experience, IFR standards, while welcome conceptually, have often come in at difficult times, been expensive in accountants’ fees and diverted management damagingly.
Will Ministers be able to control any of these things, or will they just be in the hands of the new body, the new chair—Pauline Wallace—and anyone she appoints? If so, how will we ensure that a common-sense business voice, including the voice of smaller business, is heard?
While I am on my feet, I take this opportunity to remind the Government of interest in this House about the nature of the audit and governance package which is now out for consultation. It would be extremely helpful to have an oral briefing from BEIS on this subject while there is still some time to influence the content.
I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Sikka.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join this debate.
The Government claim to be “taking back control”—that slogan has been used quite a few times—but there is no sign of that in this statutory instrument. In common with the Financial Reporting Council, the newly created Accounting Standards Endorsement Board will primarily rubber-stamp the international accounting standards, better known as the international financial reporting standards, or IFRS. These standards are produced by the International Accounting Standards Board—the IASB.
The IASB is a subsidiary of the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, and it is registered in the US state of Delaware. The sole reason for that was actually to avoid tax on its income. That fact alone disqualifies the IASB from acting as a standard setter, but the Government permit it to effectively set standards for the UK. The IASB is subsidised by the big four accounting firms and major corporations, among others. This enables the funders to pull levers and exercise undue influence—in other words, the IASB is already captured.
One of the UK’s biggest failures has been to build durable accounting institutions. We had the Accounting Standards Steering Committee, which morphed into the Accounting Standards Committee, the Accounting Standards Board, the Accounting Council, and now the Accounting Standards Endorsement Board. The names have changed but the entity remains colonised by scandal-ridden big accounting firms and corporations. There is no independence from corporate interests. The legislation does not require the endorsement board to hold open board meetings and it does not owe a “duty of care” to any individual stakeholder. The statutory instrument exempts it from liability, which means that there are weak pressure points upon it to advance the welfare of various stakeholders or even consider the negative impact of accounting standards.
The US has robust accounting standards which are set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. This enables the authorities to respond to scandals. By contrast, the UK has abandoned its capacity to set accounting standards and the Government look to the IASB to respond to UK scandals. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards highlighted the failures of IFRS, including fair value accounting and the demotion of prudence. We are still awaiting meaningful reforms. The collapse of Carillion also highlighted failures of fair value accounting, good will and reverse factoring; we are still awaiting reforms some two years later. The Government can say only that they are waiting for the IASB to act; meanwhile, accounting scandals continue.
Regulators such as the Prudential Regulation Authority have already learned to ignore some aspects of corporate financial statements of banks and regulated entities, especially items such as good will and capitalised software costs. Just think of the costs of looking through these documents and working out entirely different numbers. The end result is that we have two sets of financial statements: one published by companies in accordance with international accounting standards and another modified by the PRA. I hope the Minister will tell us which one is more credible.
The Government’s recent consultation paper Restoring Trust in Audit and Corporate Governance mentions possible reform of distributable profits, which requires consideration of capital maintenance. However, IFRS have no clear concept of capital maintenance. Company financial statements add up random numbers based on historical costs, amortised costs, net realisable values, present values, fair values and just plain guesses. The end result is that companies are not maintaining any financial or real capital. It is impossible to address issues around illegal dividend payments within the Government’s policies. The international accounting standards are the residue of their political games rather than what stakeholders or any set of investors might need. Contrary to what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said earlier, they do not improve the quality of financial reporting.
I will illustrate that with an example relating to accounting for related party transactions. These are the material transactions that occur between a company and the parties who are in a position to exercise significant control over it. There was a time when such transactions were disclosed, but they are not disclosed now. As the US refused to accept IFRS, the IASB sought to enrol China in its project. Many Chinese companies are controlled by the Chinese Government. They did not like the related party accounting standard because they were not keen to disclose transactions between them and the companies they controlled. Did the IASB make a stand? No. It exempted Government-related companies from disclosing related party transactions. It is hard to understand the UK Government’s enthusiasm for adopting accounting standards shaped by the Chinese Government.
We all know that accounting rules affect the calculation of profits, leverage, liquidity, solvency, risks, wages, dividends, pensions and taxes. These have a direct impact on the distribution of income and wealth. Only Parliament has a democratic mandate to adjudicate on such matters. However, the Government have transferred such authority to unaccountable corporate elites and weakened Parliament. This legislation is against our national interest.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, and to agree with everything he has said.
Under what the Minister referenced as the principal regulation, Regulation 7 states that an international accounting standard may be adopted only if it is not contrary to the principle that accounts must give a true and fair view of the undertaking’s assets, liabilities, financial position and profit or loss. The same provision applies for consolidated accounts, taken as a whole, as far as concerns members of the undertaking. The Secretary of State is now delegating adoption power to the endorsement board; the board and its members are being exempted from liability for getting it wrong, unless it is in bad faith.
Some might find it strange that, while there is a consultation going on about the liability of auditors and company directors for getting it wrong, those endorsing the standards that can well be part of it going wrong are absolved, unless it is in bad faith—and I think that there is some of that about, or at least conflict of interest.
The Brydon review categorically said that accounting standards are forward-looking accounting estimates and judgments, and therefore cannot be true in the literal sense. This is quoted in the restoring trust in audit consultation, which also says that
“consideration of ‘true and fair’ needs to go beyond … compliance with the financial reporting framework”.
It goes on to say that the Government are
“not aware of any systemic issues”—
so let me give a few.
Accounts that are prepared on a going-concern basis require an audited assessment of whether a company is capable of being a going concern or not. If accounts contain unrealised gains, as allowed by IFRS, those gains are not cash and cannot be used to service debt, pay down debt, invest in other assets or make distributions to shareholders. How, then, can auditors sign off the accounts of a company as a going concern if the facts required to assess that position are totally masked by the standards? The incurred loan loss provisioning problem had that effect in banks that collapsed: losses were hidden and banks were not going concerns. Even now, the PRA makes adjustments to get to the true loss-absorbing values.
With the proposed new insurance standard IFRS 17, the issues go further than unrealised profits and credit is given to reduce liabilities not merely for unrealised gains but for anticipated future income, giving the appearance of capital. This cannot be proper accounting. These unrealised gains and this anticipated income cannot be used to service debt, pay down debt or invest in other assets, and nor do they have any value as collateral. No way is this true and fair, and anyone endorsing it would surely have to be nobbled.
This seems to aptly describe the UK Endorsement Board. Three were members of the former Accounting Standards Board, which has approved defective accounting standards in the past. Several were partners in accounting firms at the time that banks were collapsing. Mr Ashley, a former ASB member, was also a career KPMG partner, which the UK Endorsement Board website fails to note. Of course, KPMG was the auditor of Carillion and HBOS. In the case of former ASB member Ms Wallace, at least the website references her connection to PwC, the auditors of Northern Rock, but it is silent about her time at Arthur Andersen. The board includes another recent PwC partner, and a partner from Grant Thornton, which is currently defending itself in connection with the auditing problems of the collapsed Patisserie Valerie. There is no mention that board member Kathryn Cearns worked for the ASB and then for the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills which, as well as providing defence advice to PwC and KPMG, also instructed the ICAEW’s counsel to give the dubious true and fair legal opinions for the FRC, from which the Government eventually distanced themselves, as I discovered in FoIs. Liz Murrall, an employee of the Investment Association, and Paul Lee, a consultant to the Investor Forum, are also on the Endorsement Board, and both those organisations are dominated by insurance companies, the accounts of which will benefit from using IFRS 17.
Who is there to represent the public interest and act on the known lie that Brydon and the Government’s consultation acknowledge—that accounting standards alone cannot be true and fair? Who is there to represent the policyholders of insurance companies who, barring more government bailouts, will be the victims if accounting standards cause them loss? One could hardly wish for a more biased view, and no wonder they need protection from liability. This is a bad SI and we do not need this UK Endorsement Board.
This instrument delegates current functions of the Secretary of State in relation to international accounting standards to a new UK accounting standards Endorsement Board, making the UKEB responsible for the adoption of international accounting standards for use within the UK.
We see the need to ensure that the international standards, which have now been put in place across the world, are properly placed in the UK context, particularly given the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. There is also a context in terms of being an independent body that can bring those standards forward and into the mainstream of UK accounting life in good order. With confidence behind it, the UK can be seen to be playing its part in international structures that are now the norm for those accounting standards.
While not looking to oppose the change, I have some questions for the Minister. The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The Secretary of State sets the terms of reference for the UKEB.”
I have seen that the draft terms of reference for the board have been published, so when will the final terms of reference be published? The draft terms of reference say that the Secretary of State will appoint a chair. What advice did the Secretary of State get, and from whom, concerning the appointment of its inaugural chair, Pauline Wallace? The only activity of the UK Endorsement Board so far has been to bring itself into being, and that has been done via a rather curious route. First, the chair was appointed by the Secretary of State, and the chair then essentially constructed her own board. That is not absolutely normal practice. The board normally elects the chair rather than the chair electing the board.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, produced a lot of research about the members of the board. How can the board’s independence and accountability be guaranteed? Most members appointed to the board are accountants, so there is the potential danger for the board to reflect its own view of the profession on the profession itself. How will the Government ensure that this will not happen?
The Explanatory Memorandum states that
“the UKEB will be funded by increasing the FRC’s levy on preparers of accounts using IFRS.”
How much will the levy be increased by and how much will it be raised by annually? It has been reported that the FRC expects the overall cost for the financial year to increase by £6.1 million—not the £2 million that has been stated by the Minister—of which half will cover the cost of setting up the UK Endorsement Board. I wonder whether the Minister recognises this cost.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee drew the SI to the attention of the House. It said that the UKEB
“will operate as an unincorporated association with support of the Financial Reporting Council … We note that these changes will mean additional responsibilities for the FRC at a time when the FRC itself will be undergoing transformation into the new Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority.”
Can the Minister explain what will happen when the new audit, reporting and governance authority is set up? Will it continue to fulfil the support functions?
The UKEB’s terms of reference will be set by the Secretary of State and will require the UKEB to report at least annually to the Secretary of State on its technical decision-making and to the FRC on adherence with its governance and due process. How regular does the Minister expect these reports to be? Would once a year be enough? I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some clarity to these questions.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their insightful contributions to this debate. The many points raised have demonstrated the need for the measures contained in the delegation SI and the support that they will give to users and preparers of accounts. Businesses up and down the UK continue to face uncertain trading conditions, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The delegation SI provides reassurance for UK-registered companies using IFRS, on a mandatory or voluntary basis, that the Government remain committed to these global standards and their role in the UK’s company reporting framework. Further, we will use the strengths of the UK’s accounting and finance sectors to contribute to the future development of IFRS and to ensure that UK company interests are taken into account. I believe that the board will develop a reputation as a major voice on the global accounting stage.
I will now deal with some of the points raised in debate. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, asked a question on parliamentary accountability. As I set out in my opening speech, Parliament will have oversight of the Endorsement Board’s activities and the board will be required to report on its technical decision-making to the Secretary of State on at least an annual basis. The Secretary of State will, in turn, be required to lay that report before Parliament. The Secretary of State must also, separately, lay a report each year on the carrying out of responsibilities related to the adoption of international accounting standards.
The statutory criteria for the Endorsement Board means that it must consider the long-term public good when deciding to adopt a standard, together with the costs and benefits, and any effects on the economy. The whole point of the UKEB is for the UK to decide on its adoption for use in the United Kingdom. While the UK was a member of the EU, the European Commission decided on adoption; now, the UK can make its own decisions on what standards are used.
The key advantages of IFRS are the high-quality, transparency and comparability that the standards bring to financial statements. They are now in use in over 125 countries, including the majority of the G20 states, all EEA member states and 93 major securities exchanges around the world. If the UK is to continue attracting international investment, it is in our interests to maintain alignment with these international standards. This was recognised by Parliament when continued use of IFRS in the UK was approved in 2019. A dedicated and independent Endorsement Board is more easily able to recruit the expertise needed for decision-making and influencing the future direction of IFRS. It is also better placed to conduct the outreach required to assess the impacts of adoption in the UK. A separate board is also consistent with the approach taken by many other countries that use IFRS, including Australia and Canada.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe referred to the Sarbanes-Oxley regime on internal controls in the US. I understand that this has had some benefit in terms of fewer US companies having to restate their accounts, but I respect my noble friend’s knowledge of potential negative impacts. The Government’s current audit reform and corporate governance White Paper includes proportionate proposals on internal controls. I would be very happy for my officials to brief my noble friend on the White Paper as a whole; I know that she has already had some meetings on it.
The regulations set out what is meant by long-term public good. They particularly require regard to be paid to the following matters: whether the use of the standard is likely to improve the quality of financial reporting; the costs and benefits likely to result from the use of the standard; and whether the use of the standard is likely to have an adverse effect on the economy of the United Kingdom, including on economic growth. The board will be required to consult with those representatives of users and preparers of accounts before adopting a standard, including smaller business where that is relevant.
Regarding the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, the Endorsement Board will be bound by the same assessment criteria that Parliament approved for the Secretary of State. These are based on established principles for financial reporting, including that the standards are not contrary to the principle to provide a true and fair view of an undertaking’s financial position, and that they are conducive to the long-term public good. There is also an obligation to consult persons representative of those with an interest in the quality and availability of accounts.
It is true that the IFRS Foundation is registered as an overseas company incorporated in Delaware, where it is classified as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organisation. In the UK, the foundation’s tax is calculated on the basis of notional trade, where publications revenue is offset by the costs of developing the published materials. This was agreed with the UK authorities in 2006 and is set out in the foundation’s latest annual report. The terms of reference require meetings and decisions to be held in public. Its initial meetings have been held in public and are available to view on its website. The key advantages of IFRS are the high quality, transparency and comparability they bring to financial statements; they are prepared following extensive consultation and consideration.
Regulated entities are required to prepare separate accounts for investors and the market at large. These are separate from those produced for the regulator, which is considering the entity’s solvency and liquidity position to understand the impact on the system as a whole, and the two have two separate purposes. Accounts prepared under IFRS are general purpose accounts designed to meet the needs of a wide range of investors, finance providers and stakeholders. The proposals in this SI do not change the existing capital maintenance and distributable profits regime in the Companies Act. As I said earlier, the international standards are used in more than 125 countries, including Australia and Canada and across the EU.
Moving on to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, the conditions of the EU withdrawal Act do not provide the powers to create a new statutory body to endorse IFRS. The Endorsement Board is therefore an unincorporated association, comprising the chairman and the board members. Resources and funding are provided by the existing body, the Financial Reporting Council. The Endorsement Board has been designed to be accountable and open to scrutiny by government and stakeholders, and there are statutory requirements for reporting to the Secretary of State, to the FRC and to Parliament.
IFRS are not incompatible with the requirement to show a true and fair view in UK company law. Section 393 of the Companies Act 2006 sets out the overriding requirement that directors must not approve accounts unless satisfied that they give a true and fair view of a company’s financial position, notwithstanding the accounting standards used in their preparation. Additionally, the legal criteria for adopting a new or amended IFRS for use in the UK already includes a provision that a standard cannot be adopted if it would be contrary to the requirement for accounts to provide a true and fair view of the undertaking’s financial performance and position. Accounts prepared under IFRS are general purpose accounts, designed to meet the needs of a wide range of investors, finance providers and stakeholders and, as I said earlier, the proposals in this SI do not change the existing capital maintenance and distributable profits regime in the Companies Act.
The Endorsement Board secretariat has commenced some of the foundational work that will be needed to inform the assessment of IFRS 17. This includes conducting a survey of insurance companies and establishing an insurance technical advisory group. The work is expected to escalate in the coming months and will include outreach with representatives from stakeholder groups across the UK’s insurance sector, including preparers of financial statements and investors. As the recent announcement of the board members demonstrated, membership is representative of areas with an interest in the quality and availability of accounts. This naturally includes representatives with experience in the biggest accounting firms, as their expertise and insight will be invaluable. However, as the board composition demonstrates, those with experience in smaller firms are also valued as board members, and no one on the board has an existing role at any of the big four accounting firms.
Pauline has over 30 years’ experience in the development of accounting standards and I am delighted that she is the inaugural chair of the Endorsement Board. Her experience and technical knowledge of the standards has been invaluable during the work so far and there is no question in my mind that she is the right person to lead the board. She retired from PwC in 2013 and in my view this provides a sufficient gap between the end of Pauline’s employment by a big four firm and appointment as chair of the UK’s Endorsement Board, without any danger of being unduly influenced by the policies of a former employer. In addition, the terms of appointment for members of the board require it to comply with the terms of reference. The Secretary of State could take action if the terms of reference were being disregarded, including the ultimate ability to revoke the delegation.
Moving on to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, the terms of reference are already published on the UKEB website, and these are intended to be finalised after the completion of the parliamentary debates. All board members are, of course, required to act independently and in the UK’s long-term public good, including not showing preference to special interests. The Endorsement Board has been developed with Sir John Kingman’s review of the FRC in mind, and we envisage ARGA’s role in relation to the board to be similar to the FRC’s role.
To close, I reiterate that the action taken by these regulations represents the best way forward for adoption of IFRS in the UK’s long-term public interest. The endorsement board is ready, now is the time for it to take on its functions, and I commend this statutory instrument to the Committee.
I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for the following debate is one hour.
Employment Rights Act 1996 (Protection from Detriment in Health and Safety Cases) (Amendment) Order 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I beg to move that the order, which was laid before the House on 17 March 2021, be approved.
I want to begin with some important background to this statutory instrument. The UK is unique in having three employment statuses for employment rights—self-employed, limb (b) worker and employee—when most other countries, including in the EU, have two: self-employed and employee. Those in the category of workers known as limb (b) workers have a more casual employment relationship than employees and are entitled to a basic set of rights, such as minimum wage and holiday pay. The limb (b) worker employment status allows for much-needed flexibility in the labour market.
Sections 44(d) and 44(e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which implements the EU health and safety directive into domestic law, gives employees the right not to be subjected to detriment by their employer for leaving or refusing to return to their workplace. It also gives employees the right not to be subject to detriment for taking steps to protect themselves or others in circumstances of danger that they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent.
Moving on to what this statutory instrument does, in May 2020, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain brought a judicial review against the Secretaries of State for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Following comprehensive proceedings, the High Court found in November 2020 that the UK had not fully implemented the EU’s health and safety framework directive into domestic law in Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, concluding that some protections were available only to employees while the court held that they should also extend to limb (b) workers.
The claim succeeded only in part: the court accepted that the UK was not required to extend unfair dismissal to limb (b) workers and had properly implemented the general obligations of the health and safety framework directive. The Government accepted this judgment and are therefore proposing this order, which will extend these protections from detriment in health and safety cases to all workers, not just employees—as had previously been the case. The court also held that the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 should also be extended to limb (b) workers. I am assured by officials at the Health and Safety Executive that work is under way to consult and extend these regulations to all workers through an additional statutory instrument due to be laid later this year.
These important protections have proved even more essential for employees who have continued to work throughout the pandemic and for those who are returning to work as businesses emerge from lockdown. It ensures that employees have the legal protection that they need to act to ensure their own safety and the safety of others without fear of suffering detriment for doing the right thing. This includes protecting them against being denied promotion or training opportunities.
Having considered the court judgment, we agree that limb (b) workers should also benefit from these protections. This does not represent a major change as limb (b) workers represent a small share of the workforce. However, that does not make it less important, as these workers will undoubtedly have a significant role to play in our economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. That is why the Government would like to clarify the UK’s understanding of the health and safety framework directive by amending Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
This Government are committed to protecting workers’ rights and supporting workers through the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, making the UK the best place in the world to work. Clarifying our interpretation of this directive in the light of the High Court judgment will mean that more people are protected by these provisions.
On scope, the changes made to Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act in this SI will apply in England, Scotland and Wales. Employment law is devolved in Northern Ireland. However, we have discussed this statutory instrument with the Northern Ireland Administration; they have laid legislation to the same effect, which will come into operation in parallel subject to the Northern Ireland Assembly procedure.
Given that limb (b) workers represent a small share of the workforce, the direct cost to business of this change is expected to be very low. We also do not expect the amendments to have a significant and disproportionate cost or impact in any region across England, Scotland and Wales.
In conclusion, this change is necessary to clarify the Government’s interpretation of the health and safety directive. It will ensure that all workers are covered by these protections and that we build back better from the pandemic by maintaining the highest standards when it comes to workers’ rights in the UK labour market. I therefore commend this order to the Committee.
I thank the Minister for her explanation of what she quite rightly describes as a small but important change. I congratulate the Independent Workers’ Union on its court victory and the work done in relation to tackling what is not a new challenge but something that emerged many years ago with the lump, the dock labour schemes and the challenges of ensuring that those who were not self-employed but not directly and fully employed obtained the rights that the rest of the nation and employees take for granted.
Thinking back to my time as Work and Pensions Secretary, it is strange that we always assumed that workers and employees were one and the same thing. It has to be said, I had never come across “limb (b)” before. I hope I do not again, because I do not find it a very attractive proposition. With the vast changes now taking place in the labour market, securing rights for these workers—who, strictly speaking, are not employees, at least at the moment, but have the partial rights that employees have—needs to be taken with the view of what is happening, the challenges that will come and the way in which people find themselves in a kind of limbo.
I hope that, when she winds up, the Minister will concede that there is still much to be done; for instance, on the TUPE, or transfer of undertakings, rights of these workers—let us call them limb (b) workers—where there is a change of owner of the company that, strictly speaking, employs these workers, whose health and safety rights we are securing today with this clarification arising from the court judgment last November.
It is important that we get on the record that there is still work to be done in this area. I note that there will be a further statutory instrument later in the year, but it would be really helpful—given the Minister’s welcome commitment to workers’ rights in the context of being a great country in which to work and to be employed—if we indicated that consideration of these further areas is being undertaken. This will ensure that the flexibility in the workforce that she described morphs into something more acceptable in terms of the Ubers of this world, and that those who find themselves working in entirely different ways to the past—sometimes knowingly and with their consent, sometimes because of necessity and without their wholehearted willingness to do it—obtain the rights and privileges that others have.
The better off you are, the more lucrative your employment is likely to be and the more likely you are—until you reach the dizzy heights of portfolio working—to have really secure conditions and effective rights. Of course, the corollary at the other end of the spectrum is that you do not. Those who have are once again given unto, and those who have not sometimes see the little they have taken away. I hope that the Minister will reflect on this in responding.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who clearly knows a thing or two in this area, not least from his time as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for setting out so clearly the effect of the order. There is a particular significance in these provisions. At the moment, the effect of the order is to extend protection, or to recognise the extension of protection, which according to the law—and I agree with it—should have been there anyway, to workers as well as to employees, or limb (b) workers as they are termed. Like the noble Lord, I do not particularly like the term.
Many of those workers will be working in the gig economy, and they will now share the right not to be subjected to a detriment if they leave their workplace or refuse to return to it because they believe that they are in serious or imminent danger. This could be, for example, protection from disciplinary action or suspension of pay. Thus if a worker were reasonably to believe that Covid-19 posed a serious and imminent danger, refusing to return to work would be protected. That seems to me entirely right.
As my noble friend noted, in the case involving the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain last year, the High Court recognised that many members of the union who are in the gig economy, often acting as private-hire drivers or couriers and providing essential services during the pandemic and who have been feeling at risk, should be protected by these provisions along with people who have contracts of employment. Such feelings could be due to inadequate PPE, for example, or failure to implement social distancing by particular businesses, making workers fearful of their position.
These regulations may therefore be much used as we emerge from lockdown, despite the R rate coming down. I hope they will help highlight the importance of social distancing and hygiene as we emerge from the shadow of Covid. I applaud the Government for being committed to updating the legislation and taking this action following the court case—quite rightly.
What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that appropriate publicity is given to this measure? Specifically, what are HMG doing to ensure that trades unions, employers’ organisations, citizens advice bureaux and other relevant organisations are prepared for the coming into effect of these provisions at the end of May this year?
My Lords, I join the applause for the Minister and the Government for introducing this statutory instrument, but the Government need to go further than this limited extension of rights. They should also remedy the unjustifiable exclusion of various classifications of workers for other key rights. A worker’s legal status determines the suite of rights to which she is entitled. Many employers seek to arrange for their workers the status to which the fewest rights attach—hence the profusion of litigation, most recently in Uber and in the case brought by the IWGB as to what the status of given workers is. The law on workers’ status is both complex and illogical, a situation that benefits only employers and lawyers.
There are now in fact five classifications of worker, by which I mean those who earn their living by supplying their labour to another. They are: the employee, with full statutory rights; the limb (b) worker, with limited statutory rights—this designation relates to Section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act; the false self-employed worker, with next to no statutory rights; the personal service company worker, who has no statutory employment rights other than hypothetically against the company of which she is the owner; and, lastly, the genuinely self-employed, in business on her own account with her own customers or clients but without statutory employment rights.
We need legislation to sort this out which adopts a binary solution, with, on one side, workers entitled to all statutory employment rights and, on the other, those genuinely self-employed, in business on their own account with their own customers or clients. I hope the Minister will tell us that the long-awaited employment Bill will do that and that it will be announced in the Queen’s Speech in May. In case not, I have entered such a Bill in the Private Members’ Bills ballot. Otherwise, anomalies will persist, as this statutory instrument shows. It gives protection against detriment for refusing dangerous work to both employees and limb (b) workers, but protection against dismissal for the same refusal—Section 100 of the Employment Rights Act—is reserved to workers only while limb (b) workers remain excluded.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, who is very knowledgeable from his legal background in employment law. I thank the Minister for her explanation of the regulations, which I welcome. I welcome the extension of the protection to workers as well as employees, but, like the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Blunkett, I believe there is a need to go further.
There is a belief that by making only this limited change the Government have failed to address other, similar shortcomings in the law that disadvantage a vulnerable group of workers. While supporting these regulations, I, like other noble Lords and the TUC, believe that the Government need to go further. They should also remedy the improper exclusion of workers from other key rights, which should include protections when a business is taken over and rights to collective consultation in redundancy situations that have been the subject of legal cases.
There is now an important opportunity to remedy some key unfairnesses in UK employment law that disadvantage many of the most exposed members of our workforce. Limb (b) workers should be accorded the same basic rights as employees. What steps will the Government take to remedy this anomaly in future legislation—perhaps bringing forward an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech? This issue has become more apparent during the pandemic because many limb (b) workers have limited employment rights. They include carers, food delivery workers and parcel delivery workers. Many of these people have been the backbone of our economy during the pandemic and have been most exposed to the risks of Covid. They took many risks and placed their health and security in jeopardy. It is important that they are not forgotten as the UK rebuilds its society and economy.
It is worth noting that an employment tribunal recently found, in a non-binding judgment, that a limb (b) worker falls within the scope of “employee” for the purposes of TUPE, something that has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. What legislative steps will the Government take to address this anomaly in relation to the TUPE rights highlighted by that tribunal?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. I join in the thanks to my noble friend the Minister for her clear and comprehensive introduction to the regulations.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I had not been familiar with the term “limb (b) workers”, but I recall that when I was first elected as a Member of the European Parliament there was a group of workers—known at the time, as I understand it, as agency workers —who gave rise to particular concerns. I believe that that has now been addressed in both UK and European legislation. There was a particularly tragic case where a worker from Essex went to work on a site in Germany which had dangers and, very sadly, was fatally injured. That was a catalyst for changing those regulations to make sure that agency workers were brought within the remit.
I welcome the regulations and want to pursue a couple of questions with my noble friend—I would be grateful for her response. If I understood her correctly, she said that the rights extended to limb (b) workers were restricted. I think I heard her say that there would be minimum rights and holiday pay. To what extent might other statutory rights be extended? I imagine that minimum rights include sick pay and other statutory rights that any worker is entitled to.
Secondly, in what regard can limb (b) workers be equated to or differentiated from zero-hour contract workers where they are excluded from other rights—if not in respect of danger—to which permanent and full-time workers are entitled? I entirely endorse my noble friend’s desire for a flexible workforce, and I know that there are many part-time workers, particularly women, who may be returning to work either having had a child or having completed caring duties for parents and other relatives. It is in the interest of the Government and especially employers to ensure that we are deemed to be as flexible as possible.
I thank my noble friend for bringing forward these regulations. It is important that we bring limb (b) workers within the terms of reference as set out in the court judgment. I will be delighted to lend the regulations my support.
My Lords, as the Explanatory Memorandum states, this SI has been prepared by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, or BEIS. It amends Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The Act currently gives employees the right not to be subjected to a detriment by their employer for leaving or refusing to return to their workplace or for taking steps to protect themselves in circumstances of danger which they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent. This amendment will repeal Section 44(1)(d) and (e) and insert a new provision at Section 44(1A) which will provide other employees and limb (b) workers with the right not to be subjected to detriment in health and safety cases. The territorial application of this instrument is to England, Wales and Scotland.
Following the judicial review brought by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain against the Secretaries of State for BEIS and the Department for Work and Pensions, this order is being introduced in response to the High Court’s judgment. The High Court found that the UK had failed to fully implement two EU directives in domestic law, as protections were applied only to employees, while the court held that they should also extend to limb (b) workers. Limb (b) workers tend to have a more casual employment relationship and are entitled to a basic set of rights such as the minimum wage and holiday pay.
As a result of the High Court judgment, the Government have committed to updating the legislation quickly to ensure clarity as to workers’ rights and will consult directly key trade unions, ACAS and the citizens advice bureaux in preparation for employers and workers contacting their organisations.
This is an important instrument to protect workers from bad employers who have used zero-hours contracts and other tactics to exploit workers.
My Lords, having served for a number of years—about 20 I think—as a member of an industrial tribunal, I have a particular interest in this subject. I read with interest yesterday a Times article headed, “U-shaped pandemic jobs crisis hits older and younger workers”. My comments today focus on what steps the Government can implement to help workers, whether employees or limb (b) workers, in the current climate and beyond.
It is clear that those over 50 years old, and the 16-24 age category, are being hit by job losses at a greater rate than the others. While some of these jobs may return, many will do so in the gig economy as flexible workers rather than as employees. In some cases—mostly the youngsters—this may suit the person in question; but in many cases, it is all that is on offer, so workers have a stark choice. The changing nature of our workforce needs to be reflected in legislation and move with the times. We ought not to see permanent employee jobs replaced with flexi-workers just to avoid employment rights and protections. I fear that as furlough ends, we will see many employers looking for this softer option. Today’s order recognises the rights of workers to protections currently afforded to employees, and I urge the Government to look beyond this to see what else they could introduce to help people as we emerge from this pandemic.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. We make up what might be called one of the smaller unions in your Lordships’ House, being the two Australian-born women in it. It is seldom that I can with so few qualifications welcome a statutory instrument in Committee. It is such an important statutory instrument for workers who have been trapped in often low-paid, dreadfully insecure, exploitative employment, fearing for their safety. When this comes into effect, they will be in a better position.
The background to this statutory instrument is interesting. Huge credit, as others have said, goes to the International Workers’ Union of Great Britain, with subsidiary credit to our judges, increasingly forced into defending the legal rights of the vulnerable in our society against the inaction—or outright oppressive action—of the state and big business. Of course—dare I say it—credit also goes to the two EU directives that the court held should also extend to those who are known as limb (b) workers.
The chief credit, however, goes to the International Workers’ Union, with which I have been delighted and honoured to work with for many years, from some of the delightfully musical protests with the University of London cleaners to the ground-breaking pickets by City Sprint bicycle couriers back in 2015. Seldom have I used the hashtag “campaigning works” with the good- news hashtag with such pleasure as in this case.
However, given the general level of agreement in this debate, and the clear legal framework here, this seems an appropriate time to ask the Minister about the Government’s plans for further protections for workers—about which the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, was inquiring —particularly insecurely employed workers and particularly in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a number of noble Lords alluded to, that has left so many workers in a parlous and desperate financial situation, making them even more vulnerable to exploitative employers.
Given the important role of that innovative union in securing this statutory instrument, what consideration have the Government given to removing some of the restrictions that make the UK the most difficult place for workers to organise in western Europe—a situation that has existed for decades under Governments of multiple political hues? Given the low pay and un-unionised status of workers in some of the most deprived areas of the nation—South Yorkshire, with its low wages and high levels of job insecurity, comes to mind—strengthening the possibility for unions to co-ordinate and organise workers and secure their rights would be a positive way forward in delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
My Lords, we have heard some very interesting speeches, a number of which have focused on the position of workers at the bottom of the pile—I do not like the term limb (b) workers any more than anyone else. The Government must ask themselves what sort of society might emerge if we allow a large proportion of the workforce to be sunk in a situation where they do not earn enough money to afford a house or put any money away for a pension. In the end, these things will come back to haunt the Government, unless they intend—I hope they do—to bring forward some sort of employment rights measure. I would not go as far as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in my description of what is necessary, but I think most workers who are doing a good job are entitled to a certain amount of security and protection in what they do, and to enjoy holidays and other benefits that their colleagues enjoy.
So I hope that, in summing up, the Minister will give us some indication, as the noble Lord, Lord Hendy asked, that there will be something in the Queen’s Speech which will put our employment rights legislation on a better footing than it now is.
My Lords, limb (b) workers, which this instrument relates to, can be found in any sector, but, as we have heard, they are particularly common in the gig economy. The TUC estimates that one in 10 adults—about 4.7 million people—engage in gig economy work. It can be fragile, insecure work, with one-sided flexibility. Working people need a Government who will stand behind them, not a Government who fail to protect them or who correct mistakes far too late.
This statutory instrument represents a failure of government: a failure to ensure that workers have the same rights as before Brexit, and a failure to protect workers during a pandemic. These changes were made only following a judicial review brought by the International Workers’ Union for Great Britain against the Government, in which the High Court found that the UK had failed fully to implement two European Union directives in domestic law, as protections were applied only to employees when they should have been extended to limb (b) workers.
This instrument proposes amendments to Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act to correct this mistake and extend the right to protection from detriment to limb (b) workers if they are in circumstances of danger when coming to and going from work. I want to understand from the Minister, first, why the Government, during a pandemic, wanted to take a case concerning the health and safety of workers to the High Court. Can the Minister confirm when the Government were first made aware of the issue with implementation? How much did the court case, which the Government lost, cost the taxpayer?
Sadly, this mistake is being only partially rectified today. The EM states:
“Work is also underway to consult and extend The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992/2966 to all workers through an additional statutory instrument due to be laid later this year.”
Why has this not been a priority? When will the regulations be published?
Such a mistake cannot happen again. Therefore, will the Government conduct a review into the implementation of all EU directives concerning workers’ rights which are retained in domestic law to ensure the rights have not been diluted? We need insecure workers to be properly protected, so I hope the Government will bring forward their long-delayed employment Bill straight after the Queen’s Speech.
I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this debate. I am glad there is broad agreement in this Committee that the UK has a strong record for setting high standards on workers’ rights. We have always been clear that we will continue to ensure that workers’ rights are protected. We are proud of our limb (b) worker status, which allows much-needed flexibility in the labour market while providing “day one” workers’ rights and protections, which undoubtedly will have a significant role to play in building back better from the Covid-19 pandemic.
This statutory instrument will ensure that all workers are protected from detriment in health and safety cases in the workplace. In particular, this includes having the right not to be subjected to detriment by their employer for leaving or refusing to return to their workplace. It also includes the right not to be subjected to detriment for taking steps to protect themselves or others in circumstances of danger which they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his thoughtful and supportive contribution which, as always, was well informed by his experience. There is always a delicate balance to be struck between protecting the rights of workers while retaining the flexibility of the labour market that makes the UK an attractive place to do business.
The UK has a strong record for setting high standards on workers’ rights and we have always been clear that we will continue to ensure that workers’ rights are protected. As laid out in our manifesto, we will bring forward measures, when parliamentary time allows, to establish an employment framework that is fit for purpose and keeps pace with the needs of modern workplaces.
My noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth asked about government plans to ensure the change is publicised. We have plans to engage organisations to publicise the amendment and help businesses and individuals understand the new regulations. In particular, we have plans to engage ACAS and Citizens Advice. We have also engaged the CBI, TUC and IWGB following the laying of this legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, asked about legislation to resolve employment status and when the employment Bill will be introduced—a question asked by a number of noble Lords. The rationale for having a separate limb (b) worker status for rights is that it allows, as I have said, for increased flexibility in the labour market. A limb (b) worker has fewer obligations and responsibilities to their employer and, as a result, they are entitled to a basic set of rights, including national minimum wage and holiday pay et cetera, rather than the full suite that employees get.
We are clear that any reforms we bring forward will require us to consider the needs of our labour market today. This is why we continue to work with stakeholders to understand the needs and challenges of modern workplaces to ensure that our vision of a labour market is fit for purpose. The reforms will form part of the Government’s plan to build back better, enabling a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and grow a business. We intend to bring forward the employment Bill when parliamentary time allows.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked about the Government’s legislative plans. I thank the noble Baroness for her useful contribution on the important topic of TUPE. I will have to write to the noble Baroness on this topic because I do not have enough briefing to give a sensible response at this stage. I have laid out our commitment to the employment Bill already, which we will bring forward when parliamentary time allows.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked to what extent other rights would be extended to limb (b) workers and how limb (b) workers could be equated to or differentiated from zero-hours contract workers. Zero-hours contract workers have a part to play in a modern, flexible labour market. They help support business flexibility and provide choice and opportunity of employment for young people, students, those with caring responsibilities or those wishing to retire early.
These contracts are useful where work demands are irregular or where there is not a constant demand for staff. Some types of work are driven by external factors that are out of the employer’s control. This can happen in a range of sectors, including, for example, hospitality, leisure and catering. However, they should not be considered an alternative to proper business planning and should not be used as a permanent arrangement if it is not justifiable. An individual’s employment rights are determined by their employment status and not the type of employment contract they have, such as a zero-hours contract.
My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked what else can be introduced to help workers as we emerge from the pandemic. The Government are committed to bringing forward an employment Bill that will help us to build back better. This will enable a highly skilled, productive workforce and ensure that the flexibility of the labour market is not impeded by any encroachment on workers’ rights.
Since the publication of the Good Work Plan, the Government have made good progress in taking forward a range of commitments that support our flexible labour market while ensuring the protection of workers’ rights. These have included measures such as: extending the right to a written statement of core terms of employment to all workers; quadrupling the maximum fine for employers who treat their workers badly; closing a loophole that sees agency workers employed on cheaper rates than permanent ones; introducing key information documents that give agency workers more information about how they may be engaged and paid before they join an agency; and reforming rules to align the incentives of employers and workers when applying for and taking annual leave.
We have also banned the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts to give workers more flexibility. This means that an employer cannot stop an individual on a zero-hours contract looking for or accepting work from another employer. It also prevents an employer stipulating that the individual must seek their permission to look for or accept work elsewhere.
We have provided unprecedented support to workers throughout the Covid-19 crisis. So far, the furlough scheme has helped 1.2 million employers to pay the wages of 9.9 million jobs across all sectors of the economy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, asked about plans for further protections for workers, especially those in insecure employment in the light of the pandemic. The Government recognise concerns about employment status and are considering options to improve clarity, making it easier for individuals and businesses to understand which rights apply to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, asked about the IWGB case in the High Court, including how much the case cost the taxpayer and when the Government were first made aware of it. He also asked about the PPE regulations. It is right that the courts were able to consider all details of the case before coming to a conclusion. The claim succeeded only in part: the court accepted that the UK was not required to extend unfair dismissal to limb (b) workers and had properly implemented the general obligations of the health and safety framework directive. The Government chose not to appeal the judgment and are clarifying their understanding of the EU directive when transposing into domestic law.
The amendment to the PPE at work regulations contains a legal duty to consult, which is why we are not bringing the SI forward just yet. The Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Work and Pensions expect to lay this legislation later in the year. Covid has had a profound effect on the labour market, so it is only right that we take time to consider the impact of our reforms to ensure that they address the challenges of today and achieve change that works for all. We will continue to work with stakeholders, and we will bring forward detailed proposals in due course.
As I mentioned, officials at the Health and Safety Executive have assured me that work is also well under way to extend the protections of the PPE directive to limb (b) workers, as well as to employees, to align with the court ruling. This work is on schedule.
To close, I underline once more that these regulations will help workers across the country during this coronavirus pandemic and beyond, providing all limb (b) workers and employees with the right not to be subjected to detriment in health and safety cases. I commend these draft regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, the Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.55 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for the next debate is one hour.
Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) (High-Risk Countries) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the Government are committed to combating money laundering and terrorist financing and recognise the threat that economic crime poses to our financial system. Illicit finance not only damages our reputation as a global financial centre but can impact on our national security by undermining the integrity and stability of our markets and institutions. Furthermore, illicit finance can impact opportunities for legitimate business in the UK and cause serious social and economic costs through its links to serious and organised crime.
That is why the Government are focused on making the UK a hostile environment for illicit finance. As part of this work, we have taken significant action to tackle money laundering and to strengthen the whole system response to economic crime. Underpinning these efforts are the money laundering regulations, the legislative framework which sets out a number of requirements that businesses falling within its scope must take to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. These requirements include the need for firms to implement measures to identify and verify the people and organisations with whom they have a business relationship or for whom they facilitate transactions.
Additionally, the regulations require financial institutions and other regulated sector businesses to carry out greater scrutiny or “enhanced due diligence” in respect of business relationships and transactions involving so-called “high-risk third countries”. These are countries that have been identified as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter- terrorism financing regimes and that pose a significant threat to the UK’s financial system. The statutory instrument under discussion today amends the definition of a high-risk third country in the money laundering regulations.
Let me explain the background to this instrument, which I note was reported by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee as an “instrument of interest”. At present, the definition of a high-risk third country in the money laundering regulations is linked to retained EU law and references the list of countries identified by the European Commission as high risk. This list was previously updated via EU law, which now no longer has an effect in the UK. If our legislation is not amended, the list will become outdated and could leave the UK at risk from those with poor money laundering and terrorist financing controls. Furthermore, the UK will risk falling behind international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force, the global standard setter for anti-money laundering and counter- terrorist financing measures.
This instrument will therefore amend the money laundering regulations to remove references to the EU’s high-risk third countries list and instead insert a new list of countries identified in Schedule 3ZA. This will be the UK’s new autonomous high-risk third countries list. It will mirror exactly the list of countries identified by the Financial Action Task Force as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes, and it will keep the UK in line with international standards.
The change which I have just outlined will allow us to continue to protect businesses and the financial system from those who pose a significant threat, while ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of global standards in combatting money laundering and terrorist financing.
I thank all noble Lords for their examination of this important legislation. In summary, this instrument will create a new autonomous list of high-risk third countries. Businesses that fall under the scope of the money laundering regulations and that deal with these countries must take extra scrutiny measures. In addition, this instrument will ensure that the money laundering regulations remain up to date and ready to respond to the threat posed by nations with poor money laundering and terrorist financing controls.
This instrument will enable the money laundering regulations to continue working as effectively as possible to protect the UK financial system. It will allow the UK to continue playing a full part in the fight against economic crime. I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting this legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument in his usual straightforward manner. I support it and, for once, I cannot quibble with its need for a hasty introduction within the 21-day limit. In the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism no time should be wasted. The need to add new countries to the list surely takes precedence over the need for a 21-day period before the legislation can come into force.
The Government have decided that they no longer want to be bound by the European Commission’s list of states which require extra money laundering precautions. They have opted instead to adhere to the Financial Action Task Force list although, in practice, this amounts to a very little change.
The need for vigilance is clear. The threat of terrorism is omnipresent. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant—ISIS—continues to pose a threat, as it has access to resources which enable it to carry out or inspire terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda and its various affiliates still pose a threat, and there are countless hostile forces, both organised and rogue, which can do harm to civilised nations. The proceeds of money laundering are their cash in hand. Money laundering is certainly not a victimless crime. It needs to be hounded out and this legislation is part of the process.
The Financial Action Task Force has set itself up as the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. More than 200 countries and jurisdictions are signed up to its policies. However, I wonder whether its methods are any longer entirely reliable in giving us the list we require. For instance, Russia does not feature on the list of countries which should be subject to increased vigilance. I wonder why. We are told by FATF that Russia has an in-depth understanding of its money laundering and terrorist financing risks and that it has policies and laws to address these risks. That might be enough for the FATF, but can the Minister tell us whether it is enough for the British Government? Do they feel comfortable with the FATF list about where particular vulnerabilities lie? It seems to me—and to others—that Russia has a framework aimed at preserving what it wants to preserve and not at protecting the rest of the world from money laundering.
Richard Gordon, the director of the Financial Integrity Institute at Case Western Reserve University, points out that what the FATF endeavours to measure is not results but the processes that are in place to detect and deal with money laundering. None of the measures takes account of political concentration or a lack of independence of the judiciary. They would not serve to protect external countries from a threat posed by money laundering to fund terrorism.
Terrorism comes in many shapes. Russia is known to like to interfere with electoral processes, both in the US—where sanctions are now being imposed on it because of that—and in the UK, where its interference in our elections and our referendums is now clear. That interference is funded by money laundering. Does the Minister think that the FATF list should be the one on which we place such reliance, or should we go further with our new-found independence and construct our own list?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, and to agree with her, as I turn to the same subject of Russia. In broad terms I certainly support the order before us today, but Russia is an astounding omission, if I may put it that way. I declare an interest in that I am banned from going to Russia, as of about six years ago, I think because of something somewhat disobliging that I said while I was still a Member of the House of Commons. I am not quite sure what it was, but I may have been a little bit rude about Mr Putin. Anyway, I was surprised to be banned because I thought I was so unimportant; I still think this, but they obviously feel I am a good person to ban. I would have liked to go to Leningrad—that is, St Petersburg—since I have never been there.
The Times reports today that the Foreign Secretary has announced sanctions against 14 Russians involved in massive tax fraud, as was exposed by Sergei Magnitsky who, of course, was tortured to death in prison. If any noble Lord listening has not read Red Alert by Bill Browder, I commend it. It is very readable but also extremely concerning about the behaviour of Putin’s regime. What about money laundering? Well, you do not have to be an aficionado of “McMafia” to know about Russian oligarchs in this country, some of whom I am sure—perhaps all—have made their money legitimately, although that is not what we are told. They have come here and bought up high-end property and much else: football clubs, newspapers, all sorts of things. We need to look at how this money came to be here; frankly, it is extremely concerning.
In the latest edition of the New Statesman, which is not a publication that I often quote, an article about Alexei Navalny says:
“Imagine if Western governments were to show a shred of Navalny’s bravery; by closing loopholes facilitating money laundering… Imagine if Britain dammed the flow of hot money through London’s financial and property markets; if Germany halted the … Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline”.
Of course, that is a journalist writing, but I regret to tell my noble friend the Minister that the UK’s reputation, to which he referred, has been damaged. It is known throughout the world that a huge amount of hot money has been laundered through the UK. This measure is intended to prevent a certain amount of that, but a lot of that hot money has come from Russia.
Putin’s regime is known as—and is—a kleptocracy. He and his cronies have enriched themselves enormously in the last 20 years, and we should be looking at that. This is about money laundering and terrorism. What was the attempted murder of Skripal, and the actual murder of the woman in Salisbury, if not state-sponsored terrorism with money that should not have been available to use? Can the Minister tell us what measures Russia has in place to prevent money laundering? He said that this is the criteria for being on the list. It seems to me that few, if any, such measures are in place. I regret to say that we have allowed a huge amount of Russian money—stolen money—to be laundered in this country.
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for his introduction to this debate. It was very precise and to the point. I declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of Transparency International UK.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the SI makes clear that it is intended to update the provisions of the fourth money laundering directive and the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. A principal policy objective is to update and enhance European legislation in line with international standards on combatting money laundering and terrorist financing. Billions of pounds of suspected proceeds of corruption are laundered through the United Kingdom each year. Money laundering is a key enabler of serious and organised crime. Over 100,000 businesses covered under the regulations are required to know their customers and manage their risks.
The UK Anti-Corruption Coalition believes that in terms of perceived gaps in the Government’s approach, they should bring forward economic crime legislation at the earliest opportunity to implement the reforms, together with the foreign property register. I understand that the legislation for this is now waiting to be put through Parliament, having originally been committed to be completed and in operation by 2021. Perhaps the Minister could provide us with an update in his reply. There is also a call for legislative reform to the Criminal Finances Act to ensure that loopholes in it exposed by the latest unexplained wealth order judgment are addressed urgently.
There is a sense that too many professional body supervisors have no appetite to enforce the regulations and are riven with conflicts of interest. There is also the concern that the money laundering supervisors do not meet the specific criteria for effective supervision laid out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2016. Overall enforcement of the money laundering regulations appears, at best, to be patchy.
Transparency International points out that the United Kingdom banking sector acts as an entry point into the UK economy, with leaked banking data showing the movement of billions of pounds in criminal and suspicious funds. Analysis revealed that clients at 72 UK banks and branches sent or received over £750 million in suspicious funds, mostly between 2005 and 2015. Clients at just 10 banks were responsible for sending or receiving more than 90% of these funds. These transactions involved more than 3,100 British bank accounts. However, more than £575 million was paid into just five bank accounts. Surely, this is a clear, transparent case of money laundering on a grand scale. When questioned, all these banks insisted they had strict anti-money laundering measures in place.
The United Kingdom’s anti-money laundering supervision system is disjointed, with real issues regarding conflicts of interest, the quality of supervision, and insufficient and inadequate civil sanctions. Will the Government take note and act on Transparency International’s recommendations for reforming the anti-money laundering supervisory regime? I asked that question in an earlier debate. In particular, will they strengthen the ability of supervisors to provide a credible deterrent, protect the independence of anti-money laundering oversight and remove conflicts of interest, remove weaknesses in the supervisory regime, and ensure that police and supervisors pursue breaches of money laundering regulations through prosecution?
Finally, an overhaul of the United Kingdom’s anti-money laundering regime is vital for preventing money laundering and protecting the United Kingdom’s international reputation. Revelations in the latest FinCEN files leaks, including that the US Treasury considers the UK a high-risk jurisdiction, should serve as a wake-up call.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this measure and to other noble Lords who contributed to the debate. The statutory instrument, although a formality in many senses, returns us to an area that your Lordships’ House has taken a great interest in over a number of years. This instrument has been laid under the “made affirmative” procedure. While we are never huge supporters of that way of doing business, I am grateful to officials for providing a justification in the Explanatory Memorandum. It is useful to know that the relevant firms were forewarned of the change. It is also reassuring that the Government have acted swiftly to align with the list agreed by the Financial Action Task Force.
This is another of the areas affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. We have always tried to play a constructive role as the Government seek to replicate or redesign the structures that came through EU membership. Given the extent of cross-border transactions in the modern age, tackling money laundering necessitates international co-operation such as that provided by the FATF. Despite the use of “made affirmative” procedures, it seems that this mechanism for specifying high-risk countries works. Whether other aspects of the Government’s new regime will function as intended remains to be seen; we will keep a watchful eye on this in the months ahead. Of course, this list will need to be updated periodically to reflect any changes made by the international task force, as is acknowledged in paragraph 6.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum. Can the Minister confirm the anticipated procedure for future change?
If I may, I want to ask about money laundering matters separate to the designation of high-risk countries. While other commitments limited his involvement in the Financial Services Bill, he will know that the topic was explored in Committee. In response to amendments from my noble friend Lord Eatwell, the Government outlined several steps that are being taken to strengthen the UK’s hand in this fight. Can the Minister provide a progress report on these initiatives either in his response or in writing? He will be aware that, in recent years, the FATF has made a number of recommendations to the UK Government. We would not expect all these changes to occur overnight but I am sure that noble Lords on all sides would be comforted if signs of progress were able to be seen.
We must leave no stone unturned in our fight to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Designation of these countries under the new UK regime is a welcome first step, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on the Government’s wider efforts.
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for their thorough consideration of the statutory instrument. It is an important subject and some excellent points have been made.
My noble friends Lady Wheatcroft and Lord Robathan asked about the challenge of ensuring that the UK’s new autonomous list mirrors those countries that have been identified by the Financial Action Task Force in its public documents as having deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing controls. By aligning its approach with that of the Financial Action Task Force, the UK is in line with international standards, and the identification of countries is underpinned by the FATF’s methodology and assessment processes. It remains open to the UK to review the list and amend it according to our own assessment of risks if necessary.
On the FATF’s assessment of Russia, the judiciary’s lack of independence and corruption were both highlighted in its report. For example, the FATF noted that levels of corruption are especially high in Russia. The money laundering regulations require enhanced due diligence in a range of situations that present a high risk of money laundering or terrorist financing, not just where a transaction or business relationship involves a country that is listed as high-risk.
When assessing if there is a high risk of money laundering or terrorist financing, a number of factors are taken into consideration, including geographical risk, when countries have been identified by credible sources as having high levels of corruption, such as terrorism. The high-risk third countries list should not be viewed in isolation. Enhanced due diligence, which comes through the money laundering provisions, is applied regardless of geographic risk in certain situations, such as when a customer or potential customer is a politically exposed person, family member or known close associate of a politically exposed person. Under the money laundering regulations, the regulated sector is also required to apply enhanced due diligence in any other case which by its nature could present a higher risk of money laundering and terrorist financing, including where there are geographic factors.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is also concerned and asks about transparency and beneficial ownership. The Government are committed to ensuring that our anti-money laundering regulations support the identification of criminal and terrorist financing activity, without placing disproportionate burdens on the regulated sector. In answer to the challenge from the noble Lord, I want to be clear on the Government’s intention to introduce a package of reforms to limit the risk of misuse of companies, including by verifying the identity of people managing or controlling companies, providing the registrar with new powers to query and remove information and investing in investigation and enforcement capabilities. This was set out in September last year in our response to a consultation on Companies House reform. We will legislate on that reform programme when parliamentary time allows.
On AML supervision, we remain committed to ensuring that our AML/CTF regime is robust and responsive. The Treasury already works closely with the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision, known as OPBAS, to ensure high standards of effectiveness and consistency among supervisors.
I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and how the list will be updated. The Government intend, before updating the list, to use the affirmative procedure to ensure alignment between the UK’s high-risk third countries lists and the Financial Action Task Force lists, which are updated three times a year and, therefore, we have the flexibility to do the same.
On implementing the FATF’s recommendations in the UK following the report of July 2019, the Government and private sector have jointly published a landmark economic crime plan, which provides a collective articulation of the 52 actions that the UK is taking to tackle economic crime and, in particular, prioritises risk areas by filling in the gaps identified by the Financial Action Task Force’s mutual evaluation report. Key actions include the reform of the suspicious activity reporting regime and improving supervision of anti-money laundering compliance in the regulated sector.
On progress, the Government are bolstering the UK Financial Intelligence Unit with an addition of more than 70 new staff, enabling more feedback of reports and better analysis of suspicious activity reports. As outlined earlier, these regulations introduce a new, autonomous high-risk third countries list, which will ensure that the UK legislation remains up to date and continues to protect the financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing. This legislation represents the UK’s new approach to high-risk third countries; it will allow the UK to take its own view on which countries are high risk without referencing EU legislation and remain in line with international standards in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 6.24 pm.